Monday, September 15, 2014

Battlefield Earth

Why Obama's war with ISIS is bound to fail, and why the "War on Terror" will never end.

In May of 2013, President Barack Obama announced his plan for "wrapping up" the "War on Terror." While his supposed end-game for the now 13-year-long, Cold War-style conflict seemed more rhetorical than substantive, Obama has now dropped even his efforts at the former and recommitted the U.S. to the nebulous, open-ended battle.

Last week, the president outlined his "strategy" for defeating the al-Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. I put the word "strategy" in quotes because, despite what Obama and the corporate media would have you believe, there is nothing at all unique about Obama's plan for destroying this latest incarnation of al-Qaeda. His solution is the same as that of George W. Bush: More war.

In his address, the president went to great lengths to stress his intention not to have "boots on the ground," in Syria or Iraq. Instead, his strategy relies primarily on air-strikes and drones. Perhaps he believes this will make his plan for defeating ISIS more palatable to an American public largely fed-up with endless wars.

But whatever empty military jargon we use to describe this latest American combat mission--"Targeted strikes," "Coordinated attacks," "Surge," etc.--the end result will be the same: Innocents slaughtered, families torn apart, neighborhoods obliterated, and a further stoking of anti-American sentiments.

As the editors of the Socialist Worker note in a recent Op-Ed ("The U.S. won't fix the disaster it caused in Iraq," 09/10/2014), "Revving up the war machine will only add to the suffering and violence."

They write:

...That war [the latest campaign in the "War on Terror"] will be waged in the name of stopping more horrors in the Middle East and protecting the security of the U.S. But the American empire will do nothing of the sort. As they have for more than 10 years already--not to mention a century of imperialist aggression before that--the warmakers of Washington will only make the world more unstable, more oppressive and more violent.

It is worth noting, as the SW editors point out, that ISIS--or, for that matter, any incarnation of al-Qaeda--was not present in Iraq before the United States' 2003 invasion. Just as we originally armed and trained Osama bin Laden during the Soviet-Afghanistan war, the so-called Islamic State is a product of our own imperialist overreach.

Like Othello's Iago, we are blinded by hubris, power, and greed. We sow the seeds of our own destruction. "This is the night," the manipulative Iago acknowledges, "that either makes me or fordoes me quite."

And so it goes. Thirteen years after the brutal--yet perversely romanticized--Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States has not relinquished its war posture one iota.

Obama "ended" Bush's illegal and unfounded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (if we take "ended" to mean he scaled them down slightly), only to provoke further "dirty wars" in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, and Syria. Where Bush utilized quasi-legal doctrines of "pre-emptive strike," and private military forces, Obama prefers unmanned predator drones. Where Bush and his sadistic sidekicks attempted to legally justify the most heinous acts of torture, Obama simply kills the bad-guys--even if they are U.S. citizens.

Then, for good measure, he kills their kids, too.

The "War on Terror" is, perhaps by design, a war against an ambiguous, ever-changing enemy. This enemy--be it al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban, or al-Shabaab--has no central country or base of operations. It is everywhere. "The world is a battlefield." And this is to say nothing of the utter inanity of waging a war on an abstract--and subjectively defined--tactic.

As such, the "War on Terror" is potentially endless--which is, as George Orwell noted in 1984, the entire point. "The war is not meant to be won," Orwell wrote of Oceania's state of permanent war, wherein the enemy-nation constantly changes, "it is meant to be continuous."

Hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance... In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and the object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia, but to keep the very structure of society intact. 

By keeping its citizens in a state of perpetual fear, the power elite are better able to control them. This constant, often irrational fear (of terrorism, communism, another economic crash, etc.) makes citizens more willing to trade-in their freedoms and civil liberties for the facade of security. As a result, we have become the most photographed, video taped, and otherwise surveilled nation in human history.

Thirteen years after 9/11 (which, curiously, has yet to earn itself any other, more proper-sounding historical name like "Pearl Harbor," or "D-Day") we continue to promote this infantile notion that we were attacked because the Islamic world, "hates our freedoms."

Putting aside whether the prolonged wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, etc. have actually made us any appreciably "freer" as a nation, the truth is the 9/11 hijackers were likely motivated more by anger over nearly a century's worth of U.S. invasions, occupations, coup d'etats and imperialism in the Middle East.

But this sort of critical self-reflection falls outside the sphere of what Noam Chomsky calls "acceptable discourse," and is, therefore, immediately dismissed by the corporate media, which prefers to keep things simple.

Erstwhile presidential candidate, Ron Paul, discovered this the hard way during a 2008 Republican presidential "debate." Say what you will about Paul's libertarian economic philosophies--many of which are admittedly frightening. While a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he was a consistent voice against war, military-spending, and the relentless rollback of our civil liberties.

Through our unending military invasions, drone attacks, and imperialist slaughter of innocents, we inflict the same barbaric violence upon others that we so vehemently decry when unleashed upon ourselves. And with this latest campaign of military aggression, Obama has all but solidified his codification of the "War on Terror."

Unless "We the People" nonviolently revolt--in whatever ways we can, no matter how seemingly insignificant--we, like the citizens of Orwell's Oceania, will remain forever locked in a state of permanent war.

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