Belaboring the Obvious

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

We Have Met the Enemy...

... and he is us. So said Walt Kelly through his cartoon character, Pogo, about the environmental crisis that was just beginning to bloom in the public consciousness.

In a democracy, that's the way things work. We elect the schlubs. It's our fault when things go wrong (might be part of the reason why the latest Pew World Attitudes Project survey shows that the world thinks even less of us today--we were stupid and did again in 2004 what was ill-advised in 2000). Let's just ignore for the moment that the election might have been stolen--both times, in different ways--and simply say, we let the bastards get close enough to steal it or win it.

The same is probably true of where we find ourselves with the various wars in play around the world thanks to the Bushies. No one has been looking for a serious debate on the merits of the course of action taken. It is almost as if it were a forgone conclusion that we would use military force against Afghanistan because of the attacks on 9/11.

But, let's review. It was not national consensus, but, rather, the "Bush Doctrine" that we would strike countries pre-emptively and would use military assets to go after al-Qaeda. Another president might have done things entirely differently, might have used his intelligence assets and those of friendly countries around the world to bring the planners to justice. Another president might have thought long and hard about the symbology of strikes against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Might have come to some understanding of the perceptions the perpetrators had. Might have concluded that permanent bases in the Middle East were not advisable. Might have seen that US support for tyrants and absolute monarchs in that region--in order to keep cheap oil flowing--was a bargain only for multinationals, which didn't have to foot the diplomatic and military bills for such policies.

Another president might have, after reading the intelligence and the history and thinking long and hard about it, might have concluded that the advisories against launching a land war in Asia were correct. Might have had second thoughts about cozying up to yet another military dictator in Pakistan to fight a war in Afghanistan. Might have thought about the experiences of the British and the Soviets in that region, and then thought the better of turning a government upside-down.

But, Bush is the person who was there at the time, not some other president, because we helped put him there. And Bush wanted an excuse for a war, maybe enough excuses for more than one war. That would be his legacy, that would be how he gained "political capital" and would do the things he wanted and "have a successful presidency." Bush and his cohort got to call the shots. They wanted wars. They started them. They wanted to be as brutal as they imagined their enemies to be. They twisted the law to see that their enemies suffered during torture. They put presidential power above the power of law, and told themselves they could do anything at all if they felt it was necessary to combat "evil" in the world, wherever they encountered it.

And, as we have seen, that policy has created even more terrorism around the world. And, once Bush had his war, destroyed Afghanistan yet again, even one of the suspected perpetrators of 9/11 was no longer in the forefront of his consciousness, as he admitted in March, 2002. To Bush, extracting vengeance on indiscriminate targets was the same as bringing the villains to justice. Besides, his mind, such as it was, was focused on contriving the evidence necessary for the next war.

It's no wonder that many people now think that the diplomatic efforts underway with Iran are a ruse, a diversion, and that an attack on that country is inevitable. It's the Bush way. We take that way almost for granted now--that the military will be used, regardless of the nature of the problem, and even if it prevails for the news cameras in a few weeks, the battles will go on and on. It is, after all, the way things have been for nearly the past five years.

Maybe for the past sixty years. Ever since WWII, presidents have seen the military and the paramilitary functions of the intelligence services as their private armies, attacking countries as they see fit. The rest of the world knows that far better than Americans do. What is different today is that Bush and Cheney are doing it out in the open, and without regard for even the most cursory diplomacy.

In so doing, they have tapped into a minority in the country that crave war as something which gives their own lives meaning, and in a most peculiar way. They don't want to participate in those wars. They don't want that sort of risk. But, they do want to be 50-yard line front-row spectators of U.S. military action against other countries. The peculiarity comes in that many of those people are not embittered veterans of the war in Vietnam who felt they had been cheated then of victory. They are young, college-educated, single-mindedly and ideologically neo-conservative. They have grown up with the belief that this is the destiny of the United States. That many seem to relate military action to video games says more about the culture than about them, though.

This is a relatively new phenomenon, but not exactly unknown. After all, it was George W. Bush, the object of their affection, who militantly argued for continued war in Vietnam while in college, and then used his father's influence to get him into the Texas Air National Guard, where proximity to that war would be at a minimum, flying a plane that had been decertified for use in that war.

In a way more obvious than in previous wars, this is a function of a class war that has been fought, fairly silently, since WWII. Republicans have determined that they should be the ruling class, and with some few exceptions, happily forgo military service toward that end--one can't go on to be part of that ruling class if one is dead. And yet, part of the philosophy of that presumptive ruling class is neverending war. Inevitably, that means these people (for practical purposes, "us") expect to benefit from the sacrifices of others, but only so long as those sacrifices lead to them becoming part of the ruling class. Disparaging the military service of other not-Republicans who want to intrude in the halls of power is a necessary adjunct of their policy. The hypocrisy of it doesn't even enter into their calculations.

It's not about the United States as a whole. Rather, it's about who controls it, and what those determined to control it want to accomplish. And most Americans give that very little thought, just as they give very little thought about the consequences of war, the consequences of what Hamilton and Washington called "foreign entanglements." Since WWII, the United States, either overtly or covertly, has been involved in warfare of some sort against the people of more than twenty countries: Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Honduras, El Salvador, Libya, Lebanon, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Angola, Nicaragua, Cuba, Somalia, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Grenada, East Timor, Colombia, and others.

What distinguishes all these countries? They are poor, small, not well-armed and all have served, in one way or another, as proxies for the neo-cons' larger ideological enemies--China and the now-defunct Soviet Union. All have been manipulated, in one way or another, to protect U.S. right-wing regional interests, both ideologic and economic.

Most Americans don't have personal animosities toward the rest of the world (they are, after all, famously ignorant about that world outside their borders)--they inherit those feelings from the press and the various ministrations of our government and the think tanks on which it depends for policy. In short, they inherit those attitudes from the ruling class. They have forgotten (or never knew) all the warnings by the country's early leaders against war, against great standing armies as the surest way toward debt, against "foreign entanglements." In a country supposedly run by the people for their own interests, we have instead become a nation of people willing to be led--by a ruling class, for their interests, rather than in furtherance of our own.

Ask almost any American if they would like to see Osama bin Laden and his associates on trial, and they would likely say, "yes, of course." Ask them if there's a likelihood of that happening with the military now controlling the "war on terror" and there would be a much different mix of answers, more likely guided by the ideology of the respondent rather than an appraisal of the situation. Ask an American today about the need for a military spread out across the world, and they might say, without thinking much about it, about "protecting America's interests." Where did that line come from? From the ruling class. We are encouraged to think of someone else's oil as our own (or, more specifically, ours to obtain at the greatest possible profit). We want to believe the arguments about spreading "freedom" and "democracy," without thinking. It makes us feel better about doing bad things.

We want to believe all this bullshit, and we dislike the people, the dissenters, who remind us that it is, indeed, bullshit. That feeling is reinforced by the ruling class, by their court jesters who scream, "treason," at every threat to the version of our history that the ruling class prefers. We want to be led by a ruling class, because life is simpler that way.

We don't want to admit that we are the biggest bully in the world neighborhood. We won't admit that the huge amounts of money we spend on our military and war do not benefit us in any measure equal to the expense. We can't admit that it's hypocritical for our leaders to describe us as "nation of peace" when they then start wars of opportunity. We don't want to admit that the people in control of the country are interested in profit, not freedom (after all, they are doing everything possible to limit our own freedoms while promoting it elsewhere).

We won't admit that we keep voting in that ruling class, those same people who expect us to sacrifice our blood and treasure to help keep them in power. We haven't stopped to ask ourselves, who's side are they on? One day, maybe sooner than we think, this process of spending more and more on a military which is used to protect "U.S. interests" may bankrupt us, and before we ever ask ourselves what "U.S. interests" actually means. We keep going to war without ever defining terms. We refuse to admit that we've been pretty stupid about this business of self-governance.

Most lately, we've let a few fanatical political minorities join forces to intimidate us into protracted war, convince us that corruption in government is normal and that their homemade god wants it that way--and then have told us that we should pay for it all with our taxes, and that they should not be required to do the same.

Pogo was right.


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