War By Other Means

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

We live in a world where arrogance and power are concentrated to an unbelievably fine point, while responsibility is diffused into a global mist. A few fanatics can plot and wage a war, stirring up consequences infinitely beyond what they are capable of imagining, then retire, when things go bad, into a luxury tinged with disgrace.

Meanwhile, the consequences keep reverberating, as we are witnessing in Iraq right now, amid the charade of troop withdrawal and power transfer. The threat of cataclysmic civil war looms, promising to add immeasurably to the legacy of suffering and environmental damage this multi-trillion-dollar fiasco has already produced.

Allow me to make a point I don’t think anyone has yet articulated, maybe because it’s too obvious. What we lack as a species is a moral-spiritual force for healing that is the equivalent – or even one one-millionth the equivalent – of shock and awe bombing, let us say, or any of the great mechanisms of destruction we have developed over the millennia in our obsession with dominance. Indeed, warmongers in their delusion imagine that destruction is healing, that a few thousand civilian dead (who swell to a million before they’re done) are a small price to pay for the gift of democracy.

While peace, which is infinitely complex, and war, which is complex only in its unintended results, are not parallel concepts, I invite all peace-minded people to think about the gap between our capacity to destroy and our capacity to heal, and then imagine, as a socio-spiritual exercise, what it would take to bridge that gap.

What brings all this to mind is the ongoing news of the fumbling nuances of withdrawal: of the false claims and damage-control reportage, where “winning” is now presented as nothing more than the happy return of the country we destroyed to some competent governing force – as though that were the point all along. Mission accomplished! In other words, while we are allegedly in the process of ending this hellish war, we have no idea how to create peace, and can only talk, or even think, about it in terms that justify the war that preceded it. Such “peace” is no more than war by other means, with truth still the first casualty.

The embedded media, for instance, continue to pledge their allegiance to what’s left of the war they once enthusiastically propagandized, talking about “troop withdrawal” but failing to mention the 320 military bases that will remain in U.S. control or the 130,000 independent contractors (mercenaries) who, along with an equal number of U.S. troops, will remain in Iraq unaffected by the Status of Forces Agreement we signed in November.

Perhaps most infuriatingly, they continue to worship at the altar of “our mission” – second on the sacred hierarchy only to “our troops” – and breezily invoke it at every opportunity (e.g., the $100 billion war-spending bill will help us complete our mission in Iraq), without ever discussing what, precisely, that mission is. This is especially the case since the marquee lies that launched the war (WMD, etc.) have been discredited.

Yet “our mission” is not simply a hollow shell. Behind these words lurks something real, and a little more sinister: our interests.

In order to assess not only the withdrawal process but all future U.S. policies (including that eerily inevitable “next war” the military fondly fantasizes about), we need to take a clear-headed look at the stew of interests and goals that bonded over the course of decades into the iron will to wage what, in 2002, Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama called “a dumb war.”

Here follow what I think are the five main points of our mission, nicely synthesized (at least the first four) in an essay by Daniel Luban of Political Research Associates, writing for RightWeb.irc-online.org. Have they been accomplished? Are they worthy of us? Was war, even setting aside moral concerns, a reasonable means to achieving them? Are they still operative?

A. Oil. Obviously. Though as Luban makes clear, the point of the war wasn’t a mere oil grab but rather the overthrow of an untrustworthy despot who controlled too much oil and might have ambitions (as demonstrated by the invasion of Kuwait) to control more. This has long been not only a neocon but a liberal preoccupation, as exemplified by the 1980 “Carter Doctrine” that declared the Middle East to be vital to U.S. interests.

B. Israel. This is not subject to public discussion, but there is a bipartisan commitment to perceived Israeli security needs that are hotly debated in Israel itself but regarded as gospel, so to speak, in the U.S.

C. A post-9/11 display of how tough we are. Cheney and Co. promoted the idea, as Luban writes, “that the attacks humiliated and weakened the United States, and that the country needed to take down some sufficiently prominent regime in order to demonstrate its power.” Afghanistan, alas, wasn’t big enough.

D. Spreading democracy. Weird bipartisan pseudo-altruism, especially popular among those indispensable liberal hawks. Some might consider this aspect of our mission ironic – from the administration that stole the 2000 election and was organizing the theft of 2004’s.

E. Get Saddam’s 9 mm Glock as a trophy for the Boy Warrior president. Accomplished.

Of these, A and B continue to be operative, with D the happy face lie that masks what could be our permanent occupation of Iraq. Only the tawdry aspects of our mission are served by violence and none of them justifies “the next war.”