Staying the Course: the Long March of Middle East Destruction

Photo by The U.S. Army | CC BY 2.0

When falsely convicted Andy Dufresne bored a hole through the Shawshank prison wall over the course of two decades, narrator “Red” says that Andy always liked geology, and that geology, like digging through a prison wall with a rock hammer, is just a matter of “pressure and time.” It’s much the same when it comes to American imperialism. Particularly the conquest of the Middle East, one of the longest-running projects in the U.S. pantheon. Our 16 seasons in Afghanistan counts as our longest foreign engagement to date. Even those living in a self-imposed media bubble of New York Times, CNN, and NPR are fully cognizant of this imperial project. George Bush called it the “Long War.” It can’t been disguised, even by the miserable mainstream media, where deception is an art form unknown to the deceived. Still, the causes and conditions of that project are as yet unclear to the masses. Mostly because the MSM daily reminds us that although we are on the right side of history, we are surrounded by crackpot Arabs, socialist lunatics, irrational Chinese, African bandits, and splenetic Slavs. Our borders are forever under attack. We must be eternally vigilant to ward off the thief in the night. This script was prepared in the ashes of World War Two, when our national security planners gleefully recognized that all the European nations had destroyed themselves fighting fascists, and that America had emerged comparatively intact. Our magnanimous brain trust quickly put together a plan to get its hands on Middle East oil, maintain our outsized consumption, violently snuff out any socialist movements rising from the European rubble, and scare the living daylights out of the exhausted population with demented fables of communist infiltration. It would require a garrison state, where the majority of money was dumped into the bottomless pit of defense spending. More or less everything was accomplished as planned.

Fast forward to the Nineties. We’ve nearly obliterated and poisoned Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. We’ve watched the Reagan administration max out the American Master Card and run backchannel guns to terrorists in Nicaragua. We’ve observed Bill Clinton spend half his presidency denying rape, murder, and ceaseless sexual assault charges. Of little interest were the birth defects and land mines that continued to plague Southeast Asia, the metastasizing military-industrial complex, and the Serbian test run for NATO as a global enforcer. Out of this morass of blood, lechery, and hubris emerged the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), which proclaimed that America needed to reassert itself abroad, not unlike the postwar thought leaders wanted to, although this time we would do it with a full-blown confidence that we alone could and should shape the world economy. We would discard effete diplomacy, intimidate anyone who challenged our supremacy, manufacture evidence on demand, and shock, awe, and amputate recusant societies wherever they stood in the way of ‘free-market democracy’ and its corollary, unfettered access to coveted natural resources. And like the post-war plan that was stimulated by a global catastrophe, it would take a cataclysm to set the new plan in motion. That was 9/11. Either the freshly minted neoconservatives got extremely lucky, or got extremely clever. In either case, a brazen new world was thrust upon us, and the neocons seized the day.

The Plan In Place

We’ve all heard the best recitation of the plan by now. General Wesley Clark, proud executor of the Serbian bombing campaign, was moseying around the Pentagon shortly after 9/11, perhaps enjoying the frisson of power and spitballing new conquests to ponder. But what Clark encountered was even beyond the pale for him. Wesley Clark’s offhand revelation that by late 2001 the Bush administration had mapped out a plan to ‘do’ seven countries if five years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. Stunning for some. A confirmation for others. An answer to prayer for some on the fringe, where the occasional cheer could be heard deep in the swamps of American paranoia. The jingoism was turned on full blast. We must attack them there before they attack us here. The War on Terror is self-defense. They hate us for our freedoms. This crusade is not about religion. If it weren’t for 9/11, we wouldn’t have to obliterate half the Middle East.And so on.

From Bush to Barack

What is interesting to observe is what’s happened since 9/11. Reformed cokehead Dubya Bush, his snarling Svengali (D. Cheney), misanthropic philosopher (D. Rumsfeld), vile Paul Wolfowitz and useful idiot Colin Powell, smashed Afghanistan and set fire to Iraq. Unfortunately for these visionaries, their masterplan for a free-market Brigadoon was bogged down by religious slaughter (also called ‘sectarian strife’) and all manner of miscommunication, premature victory celebrations, errant cash drops, wild missile strikes, leaked war crimes, and fruitless torture in countless dark sites. By the time the exhausted regime limped across the finish line, the public had had enough of this ill-starred confederacy of dunces. The sentient half of the electorate that bothered to show up at the polls in 2008 enthusiastically embraced a reedy African-American from Chicago with charisma to spare and a calming demeanor that assured even the most inveterate racist that this was not an angry black man. Selling himself as the embodiment of change, Obama swept into office, soundly defeating a lantern-jawed crackpot from Arizona who’d built his reputation by having been tortured while strafing Vietnamese villages during our imperial slaughter of South Asia, and by clamoring for campaign finance reform that never happened.

Once comfortably at the controls of the imperial machine, Obama saw that Bush had already ‘done’ Iraq and Afghanistan, and decided himself to handle Libya and Syria, and get a head start on Somalia. By the end of his glittering eight years of austerity and trillion-dollar bailouts, the military had run amok, bombing seven countries in a never-ending display of hostility toward Muslim nations. They dropped 23,000 bombs in 2015 and 26,000 a year later. Syria was on fire, and Libya was a smoking ash pile, from which the first hints of slave trade were beginning to sprout. Not only that, but American forces were refueling Saudi fighter jets and giving their air force targeting information about Houthi rebels in Yemen, not to mention selling the KSA an endless stream of guns and ammunition to enforce their criminal siege of Yemeni society. All while New York Timesreporters tapped out maudlin odes to the new Saudi prince, the black-bearded MBS, who was hastily leaving his mark in the form of bloodshed, famine, and cholera. And this is not to mention that Kiev had been handed over to fascists with our backing while Obama’s drone armada was zig-zagging across the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa, trying to lock down on suspicious teens sporting the signatures of terror. Before leaving office, the lanky community organizer told reporters, “Turns out I’m really good at killing people,” before uncomfortably apologizing to no one in particular because, “We tortured some folks.” As soon as he vacated the throne, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient began accepting six-figure checks from Fortune 500s as back payment for services rendered.

From Obama to The Donald

Disgusted by the lack of change from this soi disant changemaker, a smaller percentage of the electorate turned out to elect a billionaire Washington outsider known for his overt sexism, racism, inherited wealth, and large hotel signage bearing his name in fake gold lettering. He had, however, acknowledged the shitty state of the American working class and said he would change things in a big way. His much-reviled opponent spent her time dressing in white pant suits, looking innocent and kind, deleting incriminating emails, hiding fat checks from Saudi misogynists, tweeting positive sentiments about girls and women, and generally hoping her gender would vault her into the presidency. Alas, Lying Donald won the election thanks to some criminal gerrymandering and racist voter purges by his adopted Republican Party. His party members, though they preferred kinder, gentler forms of capitalist exploitation, begrudgingly accepted him, emerging from conclave to announce that they preferred illegitimate power to no power at all.

Once ensconced in office, this flap-haired, spray-tanned cretin noticed that his predecessor had already ‘done’ Libya, Syria, and Somalia. So he decided to do Iran and North Korea. On the Iran side, this would require dismantling the vast inspection regime the erstwhile constitutional professor had saddled the Tehranians with. The turbaned neoliberal theocrats had foolishly attempted to accommodate our savage beltway imperialists only to discover there was little point in negotiating with terrorists. Obama more or less had to ink a deal with Iran, given the takfiri dumpster fire raging across Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan on his watch. Better a holding pattern than having to watch Benjamin Netanyahu feverishly scribble more time bomb sketches in the UN. But as it turned out, Bibi and Mossad were not the least pacified by the JCPOA exhaustively negotiated by Obama’s estimable errand boy John Kerry, doting husband of Heinz Ketchup heiress Teresa Heinz. Now, taking his cues from Tel Aviv, the portly hotelier in the Oval Office has hired an unhinged psychopath as his national security advisor, a man who was there at the creation of PNAC itself. John Bolton’s advice will doubtless be to launch an aerial blitzkrieg against Iran’s nonexistent nuclear weapons labs, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may soon materialize in the UN Security Council with grainy photos of dusty Airstreams whipsawing across the Iranian plateau, trying to cook up hydrogen bombs as they dodge NATO missiles.

Time to Pillage

The gist of the story should be plain. The United States government is an imperial capitalist juggernaut that is pursuing a singular policy of global domination regardless of which half of the duopoly inhabits the White House (built by black slaves in 1792). There’s a checklist in the Oval Office consisting of the seven countries Wesley Clark named, with Russia and North Korea having been penciled in as late additions. Each president crosses one or two off the list and leaves the rest to his successor. Trump will likely attempt to wreck Iran and possibly North Korea. Whoever follows him will soon be faced with the dreadful task of toppling the Russian Federation itself, the central obstacle to total hegemony, along with its partner China. And yet, neoliberal economists have already infiltrated the inner sanctum of the Kremlin, so there is a certain amount of intellectual decay already infesting the upper echelons of power. But whether these ideologues, like Washington’s dupe Mikhail Gorbachev before them, will prove capable of capsizing the country remains to be seen. As Red said, it’s all just a matter of pressure and time.

What is striking is that this strategy is being executed before our eyes and yet so many of us still believe in the binary construct of the duopoly. If we just elect a Democrat, we can breathe a sigh of relief. If we just elect a Republican, we can get the country back on track. Despite the obviousness with which that original plan is being accomplished by both parties, few are ready to sunder our duopolistic plutocracy. Perhaps because, as Ken Burns’ narrator in The Vietnam War said, the we didn’t quit the slaughter “because it seemed easier to muddle through, than admit that it had been caused by tragic decisions made by five American presidents belonging to both political parties.” Easier for us, because the bombs fall elsewhere. Also because the western media has disfigured the narrative itself, leading us to think we are not cold-bloodedly prosecuting a permanent war based on a strategy of global dominion. We are, as Burns so subtly argues, “decent people” who fall prey to “fateful misunderstandings” and “tragic decisions.”

They are nothing of the sort. Those fateful choices and misjudgments are actually a long-term strategy of pressure and time. The consequences are often predictable, as in Serbia, and if they aren’t, they are tolerated, no matter how “tragic,” if our objective has not been reached. This vestigial attitude, still clinging to life from another era, must go. It remains in the diminishing pockets of the Democratic Party, this baseless notion that we mean well, and our slaughters are mistakes rather than premeditated murder. In some ways it seems that the lingering credibility of the Democrats, frayed and sophistic as it is, is all that stands between a disturbed population and the end of a discredited system. It’s time to awaken one and entomb the other.

Jason Hirthler is a veteran of the communications industry and author of The Sins of Empire and Imperial Fictions, essay collections from between 2012-2017. He lives in New York City and can be reached at