Hail the Conquering Hero. Obama at the UN in a superbly orchestrated scenario calculated to strike terror into one and all: massive airstrikes, as so many trumpets announcing his arrival, and before, a panoramic view of the new nuclear-bomb facilities and thirty-year plan of nuclear modernization (factories for warheads, delivery systems modernized and/or on the drawing boards), Valhalla peeping from the distance in the Potomac mists.
America has become unrecognizable, World Conquest in the air we breathe, a POTUS Caligula-like who feigns the persona of Mother Theresa, utterly corrupt in his professions of peace as he rolls out what has become shock-and-awe demonstrations to which the world, under duress, is becoming accustomed. Nothing out of bounds: Tomahawk missiles from offshore, waves of airstrikes, business as usual. Not a drop of hesitation, as lawyers dust off 9/11-era authorization for what is proving a never-ending onslaught, today, terrorists, tomorrow, Russia, the next day, China, then perhaps day after, dissidents, such that remain, in America itself, a rapacious, devouring, demiurge of insatiable conquest-at-any-cost.
Would ISIS even exist, had not the US sought to control the Middle East ever since the deposition of Mossadegh in Iran, the military build-up and defense of Israel, the American military bases throughout the region, the invasion of Iraq (fill in the in-between blanks, and carry forward to today)? America has not learned that repression breeds resistance, that counterrevolution establishes interconnections among the oppressed, that occupations and spheres-of-influence cannot (thank goodness) be made permanent. In every sense of the word, the US has CREATED what it now calls terrorism, the fruit of unwanted intervention, power politics, installing regimes which do our bidding.
New York Times reporter Peter Baker (authoritative White House mouthpiece) presents valuable data in his article, “In Airstrikes, U.S. Targets Militant Cell Said to Plot an Attack Against the West,” (Sept. 23), in which it is evident the bowling pins (terrorist groups) are to be knocked down in a row, one popping up no sooner than the other has been attacked. Here ISIS, then Khorasan, the new star in the firmament. “American forces took advantage of the airstrikes against the Islamic State extremist group in Syria,” he writes, “to try to simultaneously wipe out the leadership of an unrelated cell of veterans of Al Qaeda that the White House said Tuesday [Sept. 23] was plotting an ‘imminent’ attack against the United States or Europe.” The “imminent” attack, he states later in the article, remains unproven (although because officially pronounced, he therefore finds credible).
American military resourcefulness: “The [senior] officials said they had been contemplating military action against Khorasan in recent months, but President Obama’s decision to hit the Islamic State’s forces inside Syria provided a chance to neutralize the other perceived threat.” There are perceived threats under every bed in Washington officialdom. But then NYT’s slight demur: “Several officials said Khorasan had an advanced plan for an attack involving a bomb that could pass undetected through airport security systems, perhaps by lacing nonmetallic objects like toothpaste tubes and clothes with explosive material, ALTHOUGH [my caps.] officials offered no details in public and did not provide specifics on how soon an attack might be carried out.” Nevertheless, bomb the hell out of them.
Orchestrated Grand Entrance: “The air campaign against Khorasan and the Islamic State got underway even as Mr. Obama flew to New York to meet with world leaders gathering at the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly.” And why not, given the brazen violation of international law? Baker continues: “Mr. Obama did not seek United Nations permission for the military campaign, but he presented the strikes as the collaboration of a multinational coalition that included five Arab nations: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain.” Truly a multinational coalition (ha), although, again, all news reports point to overwhelming US participation—the latest spin on the “friends and allies” theme used to legitimate American wars and interventions hiding behind others’ skirts. And then the Obama flourish on arriving in New York, stated “during a hastily arranged photo opportunity” with Arab dignitaries: “’Because of the almost unprecedented effort of this coalition, I think we now have an opportunity to send a very clear message that the world is united.’”
From Saudi Arabia to Bahrain, speaking for the whole world, a united world—what presumptuousness. Even Baker has to admit, “Still the bulk of the military efforts were conducted by American forces, and reaction in the Middle East was mixed.” No matter, only the usual suspects (enemies): “President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, which is allied with the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, said the airstrikes were illegal because they were not conducted with the approval of Syria’s government, a point later echoed by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, another ally of Syria’s.” This last, however, is significant, so much involving the Middle East having to do with bloodying Putin’s nose and seeking confrontation with Russia, as part of the next stage in claiming US global hegemony.
The UN appearance of Obama’s is largely a US advertisement of impunity in its actions, ISIS the ideal or archetypal villain to which all might oppose, as America qua leader of counterterrorism thus burnishes democratic credentials in positioning its military forces for the wider campaign of intimidation or, if that doesn’t work, to degrade and destroy (Obama’s new equivalent of “Don’t Tread On Me”) the Enemy the US has clearly identified. The very coming together of the UN meeting, the bombing of Syria, and the revelation of extensive and expanding nuclear preparations (Broad-Sanger article in The Times which I analyzed recently in CounterPunch), all suggest an acceleration of provocative military moves aimed at the longer-term realization of America’s total military-political-economic-ideological dominance in the world.
Just before coming to New York, the helicopter as backdrop, Obama announced on the White House lawn: “’Once again, it must be clear to anyone who would plot against America [Putin and Li fit the description, while unmentioned in the script] and try to do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people.’” The problem is, in official American eyes, everyone who stands in the way of US hegemony is a terrorist, unless willing to submit. As for Khorasan, with which we began, “one senior counterterrorism official… said the group might not have chosen the target, method or even timing for a strike. An intelligence official said separately that the group was ‘reaching a stage where they might be able to do something.’” Kudos for Baker here, in ferreting out negative opinion.
The point, manufacture scares, antecedently, construct the context which makes anti-American actions plausible, thereby enjoying both the privileges of intervention/domination and legitimating formula that justifies further such actions, perpetual war for perpetual suppression for perpetual supremacy, a monstrous cat chasing its tail never satisfied, never appeased, an insatiable appetite for… what? If I said, capitalism, that would be simplistic, for it’s a corroded form of capitalism, beyond political economy, even perhaps imperialism, more like the death throes of a decaying civilization bent on bringing the rest of the world with it.
My New York Times Comment on the Baker article, Sept. 24, follows:
Obama is a varsity hurdler, leaping over all barriers: no congressional authorization for war-engagement (violation of US Constitution), no permission from legitimate Syrian government (violation of international law), and nearing the finish line, what next? Provocative moves on Russia and China–already in evidence?
The Obama administration, with a cast like Kerry, Rice, Power, Rhodes, supported by Brennan at CIA and the crew at NSA–not a shred of pretense left that it and the Democratic party are any less belligerent, warmongering, absolutely callous to the civilian deaths they are inflicting, than the Republicans.
A bipartisan death machine now in high gear. These airstrikes so obviously orchestrated in timing to coincide with Obama’s appearance at the UN. He seems to need a tonic–large-scale force–to enable him to appear on the world stage. And so, America is fully living up to its doctrine of Permanent War–keep the juices flowing (like in Strangelove) to prove to ourselves and to the world our power, strength, moral virtue.
How many more do we have to kill to demonstrate our Exceptionalism and Virtue? We don’t realize that with every Nazi-like act of barbarism, we create still more terrorists, still more enemies–until the Middle East will become a bloodbath-through-air power. If Khorasan is indeed real, and not another deliberate propaganda scare, how many more will be borne after that one is destroyed, in response to US intervention and atrocities?
Obama’s address to the UN General Assembly Wednesday [Sept. 24] was a megalomaniac’s delight, a go-for-broke historical moment in which he advanced US claims to global leadership on three fronts: lead a world coalition against Islamic terrorism, ditto against the Ebola virus, and a narrower coalition against Russia, purposely conflated as America’s mission to move the international community out of darkness into the refulgent splendor of US-defined light. The Ebola mission a late-comer (just as now also, climate change) is to add respectability to the push for a return to the militarily-underwritten hegemonic expansion reclaiming unilateral dominance in a fragmenting world order: a decentralization of world power as Russia and China dispute US unilateralism’s proclivities to war, intervention, and the right of financial-commercial penetration.
This is a new ball game, and Obama thinks he’s Babe Ruth—long since dead. Indeed, Ruth would be the least of it, for the Bambino didn’t have to bully, exaggerate, dissimulate, or, for that matter, assassinate, to prove himself. Obama needs a war machine to prove his legitimacy. He needs massive surveillance and massive airstrikes, constant intervention and constant engenderment of fear, fist pumps with the military and intelligence communities and fist pumps with the bankers of Wall Street, if he is to walk tall, confident in his world class pretentions as here before the General Assembly.
Khorasan is the latest Scare to force acquiescence and final submission of the American people so that they will accept a state of permanent war, a class structure of widening disparities—already great—of wealth, an ideology anti-humane in its denial of PUBLIC dedication to the social welfare (from aggressive action on the climate-and-environmental fronts to heightened performance on health care and a vitalized social safety net). One would think, from Obama’s hype about Khorasan, coming as part of a blitzkrieg propaganda offensive this week alone, the UN speech one of several activities and signs having a snow-ball effect, that a massed (and masked) terrorist organization was infiltrating the Homeland, when, as we learn from Mark Mazzetti’s NYT article, “A Terror Cell That Avoided the Spotlight,” that “its size seemed to fluctuate, but that it consisted of approximately TWO DOZEN OPERATIVES [my caps.], most of whom came to Syria from Pakistan and Afghanistan beginning in 2012.”
Mazzetti implies the not-coincidental timing of its revelation: “The group’s evolution from obscurity to infamy has been sudden: The first time President Obama publicly mentioned the group was on Tuesday [Sept. 23, one day before the UN speech], when he announced he had ordered an airstrike against it to disrupt what American officials said was a terror plot aimed at the West.” As for the terror plot, passed off as about to happen (hence, his ordering an airstrike), his own national-security people undercut him (an unusual occurrence): They’ve “given differing accounts about just how close the group was to mounting an attack, and about what chance any plot had of success. One senior American official on Wednesday [Sept. 24] described the Khorasan plotting as ‘aspirational’ and said that there did not yet seem to be a concrete plan in the works.”
Approximately two dozen operatives, yet a heavy bombing campaign, the placing of the Homeland on high alert, even the shifting of attention from ISIS to this new sinister menace facing America. Fakery, opportunism, deceit? Am I surprised? One final quote from Mazzetti: While several Obama aides said “the airstrikes against the Khorasan operatives were launched to thwart an ‘imminent’ terrorist attack,” other “American officials said that the plot [concealed explosives to blow up planes] was far from mature, and that there was no indication that Khorasan had settled on a time or location for the attack—or even on the exact method of carrying out the plot.” But Obama was set to go, in a speech before the General Assembly that I will examine momentarily.
The transcript is from the Washington Post (Sept. 25); The Times had only Mark Landler’s account, with a few highlights from the speech. But even his coverage had value in showing how Obama’s themes were interrelated and ambitiously occupying advanced ground in claiming world leadership. His article, “In U.N. Speech, Obama Vows to Fight ISIS ‘Network of Death,’” (Sept. 24), says as much right off the bat: “President Obama on Wednesday charted a muscular new course for the United States in a turbulent world telling the United Nations General Assembly in a bluntly worded speech that the American military would work with allies to dismantle the Islamic State’s ‘network of death’ and warning Russia that it would pay for its bullying of Ukraine.” One has the feeling, as now, that Obama projects on to the Enemy traits which best describe America, particularly the policy and well-crafted art of bullying. Also, Landler is being overly kind, for in addition to “dismantle,” one must add degrade and destroy.
As per the Obama myth, assigned to him, but which, when it suited his convenience, he accepted and played along with—the “cool” POTUS, cerebral, contemplative, always reluctant to commit himself until all the facts are in—Landler dutifully transmits: “Two days after ordering airstrikes on dozens of militant targets in Syria, Mr. Obama issued a fervent call to arms against the Islamic State—the once-reluctant warrior now apparently resolved to waging a twilight struggle against Islamic extremism for the remainder of his presidency.” Obama, now Man of Action—avenue of new-found popularity, just as Nobelist (whilst still harboring aggressive intent, made clear by, among other things, continuities in policy with Bush) was the avenue to ’08 election and throwing a liberal patina around interventionist-corporatist-militarist record. “’Those who have joined ISIL,’” he proclaimed, “’should leave the battlefield while they can. For we will not succumb to threats, and we will demonstrate that the future belongs to those who build, not those who destroy.’” Drone strikes, saturation bombing, paramilitary operations for regime change, I guess, build, and not destroy.
Another brief glimpse, from a not by any means hostile source: “[ISIS] was only the most urgent of an onslaught of global challenges that have given the United States no choice but to take the lead: from resisting Russia’s aggression against Ukraine to coordinating a response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa…. Mr. Obama on Wednesday spoke more like a wartime leader…. In addressing the Ukraine crisis, Mr. Obama used his strongest language yet, portraying Russia’s incursions as an affront to the principles of the United Nations and promising to levy a cost on President Vladimir V. Putin.” One would think Putin was a member of ISIS in good standing, or roaming West Africa spreading the Ebola virus.
Let’s look briefly at the speech. It is so porous with phony idealism, a Candyland of Universal Human Rights, of noble thoughts uniting the world religions, of selfless America battling disease and global warming, that touching down on specific policy is difficult. The two main areas are counterterrorism and Russia. Here my interest is the latter, Obama’s discussion having the effect of dashing cold water on the piling of platitudes one on top of the other, as to negotiation, international harmony, interconnectivity, and, on nuclear disarmament, an outright obfuscation of America’s rapid advancement in the research and development of more lethal weaponry and the means of their delivery.
On Russia, then, first the grandiloquent introduction to the attack: “Fellow delegates, we come together as United Nations with a choice to make. We can renew the international system that has enabled so much progress, or allow ourselves to be pulled back by an undertow of instability…. For America, the choice is clear. We choose hope over fear. We see the future not as something out of control, but as something we can shape for the better through concerted and collective effort. We reject fatalism or cynicism when it comes to human affairs; we choose to work for the world as it should be, as our children deserve it to be.” No comment on my part.
Obama states: “Russia’s actions in Ukraine challenge this post-war order [idyllically pictured in the speech, as though there had not been a Cold War]. Here are the facts. After the people of Ukraine mobilized popular protest and calls for reform, their corrupt President fled…. This is a vision of the world in which might makes right—a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another, and civilized people are not allowed to recover the remains of their loved ones [the downed airliner, cause prejudged by the US] because of the truth that might be revealed. America stands for something different. We believe right makes might—that bigger nations should not be allowed to bully smaller ones; that people should be allowed to choose their own future.”
Peace, friendship, negotiation—the only solution, therefore: “America and our allies will support the people of Ukraine as they develop their democracy and economy. We will reinforce our NATO allies, and uphold our commitment to collective defense. We will impose a cost on Russia for aggression, and counter falsehoods with the truth. We call upon others to join us on the right side of history….” This is practically a declaration of war; even the imagery gets mixed with the position toward ISIS.
Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.