May 01, 2007

Songs of Death

It is indisputably true that the destruction, suffering and death that result from war, and in particular from a completely unjustifiable war of aggression, should not be the subject of neurotically displaced hilarity and mirth. As a preliminary matter, I note that it is a nice philosophical question whether finding amusement in other people's guts being ripped out and their bodies and minds being forever destroyed is morally worse, and if so to what extent, than failing to do anything to stop such devastation when one is capable of so acting. The Congressional Democrats are in the latter position -- but at least they aren't laughing about it, so I suppose that's all right. It's always of the utmost importance to observe the proprieties and social norms of our unalterably corrupt political discourse.

The Democrats aren't singing about it, either. John McCain was recently the target of much criticism for his musical version of, "Let's Have Another Glorious War, Maybe with Nukes This Time!" Bizarre, to be sure, but that's hardly anything new in the McCain saga. It was also tasteless and more than a little stomach-churning. If (which I consider virtually impossible) the American people install McCain in the White House (or if he should even become Secretary of Defense), they will have invited Rod Serling to write coming chapters in the American psychodrama, a tale which now threatens to lurch from the ludicrously laughable to the ungraspably monstrous, frequently offering both elements simultaneously. I occasionally think of a hopefully never-to-be-actualized future President McCain as Billy Mumy in one of many deservedly famous episodes from The Twilight Zone, "It's A Good Life," bombing entire countries into the cornfield of nuclear winter. But I suppose that part could be played by the current Bush as well or, in principle, by any number of Democrats.

But many writers and bloggers were appalled at McCain's antics. He "was rightly taken to task for his hee-larious 'Bomb Iran' number," while other bloggers wondered if McCain was "nuts." That last linked post refers to a Congressional vote that McCain missed, the one "to end the occupation of Iraq." Huh. Which vote was that? We've seen the calamitous results of Bush and his followers believing their own propaganda; it's no less dangerous when liberals and progressives do the same. (There will be much more on that subject in my upcoming series on the lethal tribalism that has effectively destroyed whatever vestiges of seriousness remained in our national debate.)

One might very legitimately wonder exactly why so many liberals and progressives disapproved so vehemently of McCain's performance. After all, the leading Democratic presidential candidates offer the identical prescription for Iran, and their overall foreign policy objectives are just as deplorable as McCain's. Ah, but they don't sing it. I guess these critics don't like music, or at least that particular song. They want their plans for Armageddon provided straight. As for me, if the world is going to be altered fundamentally, I'd just as soon have a song first, as minimal as its musical value might be in this instance.

Make no mistake: there is no significant difference whatsoever between McCain's tuneful "Bomb Iran" and, as two prime examples, what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have to offer. Last week, I noted both Senators' views, and I discussed Clinton's perspective a bit more in a subsequent entry. Let's review Clinton's remarks one more time:
Democratic presidential candidate and New York Senator Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that it might be necessary for America to confront Iran militarily, addressing that possibility more directly than any of the other presidential candidates who spoke this week to the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Clinton first said that the US should be engaging directly with Iran to foil any effort to gain nuclear weapons and faulted the Bush administration for "considerably narrowing" the options available to America in countering Iran.

Still, she said, all avenues should be explored, since "if we do have to take offensive military action against Iran, it would be far better if the rest of the world saw it as a position of last resort, not first resort, because the effect and consequences will be global."
For a much fuller argument as to why this foreign policy perspective is so disastrously awful, see my essay, "Morality, Humanity and Civilization." Please note that Clinton is talking about "offensive," not defensive "military action." Even if a threat does not exist at present, and even if it is not likely to exist for five or ten years or longer, we are to be the sole arbiters of when a possible alleged threat is "intolerable," on the basis of standards that we alone determine -- and we are then "entitled" to launch an attack on a non-existent threat so as to bring the targeted country into accordance with our unappealable demands. In short: we are entitled to run the world. Period, end of story. Moreover, as I noted last week, Clinton's comments make clear that it would be nice "if the rest of world" thought our resort to bombing, possibly with nuclear weapons, was a "last resort," but it is hardly a requirement -- and it need not even be true. How is this different from what McCain believes, or Bush for that matter? It isn't, not in the slightest degree or detail. When you add to this the fact that Hillary Clinton endorses the state's use of torture -- in "emergencies," of course, but emergencies only of the kind that ooze out of the neural misfirings of hack Hollywood writers whose mental faculties are wrecked forever by heavy abuse of illicit substances and/or by immovable stupidity -- it is a wonder to me that any so-called "liberal" or "progressive" would even consider supporting her presidential candidacy for a second. Ah, but she might be "electable" -- and if the goal is solely to install a member of one's own tribe in the White House, no matter how criminal in mind and deed she might be, Clinton's monstrous sins fade into insignificance. Simultaneously, identical sins remain monstrous if practiced by Republicans. So much for principles, consistency, or minimal coherence.

As for Obama, I suppose I ought to thank him -- for his foreign policy address last week provides one of the most complete proofs I could require for the central arguments in my ongoing series, "Dominion Over the World." In those essays, I am examining the historical, political and cultural forces that led to the development of the consensus view of our governing class and of the foreign policy establishment: that the United States is entitled to be the world hegemon, and that no other nation is ever to be permitted to challenge our absolute rule. I have also pointed out that, ever since the entrance of the United States into World War I, the Democrats have been in the vanguard of fashioning and implementing this policy, and that they have launched far more calamitous overseas interventions than the Republicans. Bush is an abhorrent exception to this general rule (although it is certainly true that Reagan had a frequently deplorable record in this regard); historically, however, the Democrats have demonstrated far more uniformity and tenaciousness in ensuring global control for the United States.

Obama provides evidence for my contentions at every point, so let's examine a few key passages from his speech. Toward the beginning of his address, Obama says:
I reject the notion that the American moment has passed. I dismiss the cynics who say that this new century cannot be another when, in the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, we lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good.

I still believe that America is the last, best hope of Earth. We just have to show the world why this is so. This President may occupy the White House, but for the last six years the position of leader of the free world has remained open. And it’s time to fill that role once more.
The ahistorical arrogance of this is breathtaking (or nauseating, take your pick). Obama's hegemonic ambitions are noteworthy in their scale: "the American moment" is to extend for "this new century." This is the undiluted embrace of "American exceptionalism," which I have discussed in detail: see my first Iran/foreign policy series, in particular "Messianic Zealotry as Foreign Policy" and the discussion there of the "Idea of Progress"; and the new "Dominion" series too, especially this installment and this one. Those essays discuss some of the internal inconsistencies and contradictions of the "exceptionalist" doctrine, one for which no one has ever been able to provide a convincing proof. Such a failure is unavoidable, since no such proof exists or is possible.

Let me very briefly mention another insurmountable problem in this view, and that is its assumption of omniscience. Note the famous formulation, which almost every politician robotically repeats: "the last, best hope of Earth." Well, "last" and "best" until another candidate appears better able to fill the generally accepted requirements for world leadership. Consider one instance of what I mean: if we continue on our present path, it is more than likely that "this new century" will see a significant economic weakening in the U.S., perhaps even a financial collapse. It is further likely that at some point in the next 50 or 100 years, our currently unparalleled military strength will be surpassed by China, for example. If China has undergone some not unimportant transformations of its own by that time (which is also far from unimaginable), China might then be able to make claims like Obama's with much more truth and conviction than the United States.

This point is in addition to the fact that every great civilization of the past has, in some form, made claims like those made by "American exceptionalism." Their time came and went, as will ours. But as I recently observed, our ignorance is close to perfect: we have rendered ourselves incapable of grasping the past, the present or the future. Understanding developments over broad historic periods is a task for which we are singularly unsuited, and our sole concern remains today and tomorrow, and at most the next election. In addition, to talk accurately and sensibly about such matters flatters the vanity of neither the political class nor Americans more generally. Even though it is the truth, no one wants to hear: "The United States represented a revolutionary and glorious political development at its founding. But the original principles upon which this nation rested began to be seriously eroded only one hundred years later, and today they are all but vanished. Unless we again radically alter our path, we are headed to the trash heap of history, like every nation of once great achievement before us." Such views need not apply: they will not garner large campaign contributions, they will not lead to speaking engagements, and they will certainly not get you to the White House.

The diseased heart of Obama's address is to be found in this passage:
In today’s globalized world, the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people. When narco-trafficking and corruption threaten democracy in Latin America, it’s America’s problem too. When poor villagers in Indonesia have no choice but to send chickens to market infected with avian flu, it cannot be seen as a distant concern. When religious schools in Pakistan teach hatred to young children, our children are threatened as well.

Whether it’s global terrorism or pandemic disease, dramatic climate change or the proliferation of weapons of mass annihilation, the threats we face at the dawn of the 21st century can no longer be contained by borders and boundaries.

The horrific attacks on that clear September day awakened us to this new reality. And after 9/11, millions around the world were ready to stand with us. They were willing to rally to our cause because it was their cause too – because they knew that if America led the world toward a new era of global cooperation, it would advance the security of people in our nation and all nations.
While I do not minimize the (possibly) serious dangers of avian flu, it must be acknowledged that this is a novel justification of the notion that the U.S. must continue to maintain the greatest military in the history of the world, as Obama goes on to insist. It appears we must be able to invade, nuke or otherwise coerce every nation on earth into doing our bidding -- so that the world will be safe for healthy chickens. And here I had thought the Marx Brothers all were dead.

This is the Open Door world carried to impossible, entirely unrealizable and ridiculous extremes. The door is not only open: the door and the entire structure in which it had been installed have been obliterated. The United States must be the global hegemon so that every human being eats well, is properly educated, and has a good job, until every society and culture is thriving and properly "democratic" in the form we alone will dictate, and until there is a (healthy) chicken in every pot. You will see that I did not exaggerate in the slightest when I wrote last week:
Iraq has not altered the fundamentals of our foreign policy in any significant way. Our ruling class continues to believe the United States is "the indispensable power," and that we have the "right" to direct events across the globe, and intervene whenever we deem it necessary for the protection of our "national interests." But those "interests" have long been defined in a manner which can justify almost any intervention, anywhere, any time. What we would vehemently condemn others for doing, including the invasion and occupation of a country that did not threaten them, is permitted to us, and to us alone. No action is prohibited to us, while only those actions are available to others that we choose to permit. At the end, Cho was enraged, megalomaniacal, and probably insane. What are we to say of the United States government?
It is a measure of how embarrassingly thickheaded our political debates are that anyone can consider Obama to be "original" in any respect at all. At every point of importance, Obama has fully absorbed what has been the consensus view in foreign policy for the last sixty years (and longer). Nowhere is that clearer than in this passage:
We must maintain the strongest, best-equipped military in the world in order to defeat and deter conventional threats. But while sustaining our technological edge will always be central to our national security, the ability to put boots on the ground will be critical in eliminating the shadowy terrorist networks we now face. This is why our country’s greatest military asset is the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States.


Our men and women in uniform are performing heroically around the world in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable. But the war in Afghanistan and the ill-advised invasion of Iraq have clearly demonstrated the consequences of underestimating the number of troops required to fight two wars and defend our homeland. That’s why I strongly support the expansion of our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 Marines.
As I detailed in Part V of the "Dominion" series, the United States now spends more on defense and the military than the rest of the world combined. At the end of that essay, I wrote:
According to this worldview, we are the world's sole superpower, and we should be. We are morally entitled to dictate events around the world, and we are right to have our way. And that is the actual root of almost all the current complaints about the parlous state of Iraq: we have not successfully had our way. This failure, made before the entire world, damages our "credibility," and it lessens our influence. Such an outcome is impermissible for our governing class, and for those who support it. Moral considerations find no place in these calculations.

We have power undreamt of in world history -- but our governing elites can never have enough. Our strategy of global dominance causes untold human suffering, it severely (and probably permanently) undermines our economic well-being and causes profound economic dislocation, it increases the threats we face -- and they still can never have enough. After the Iraq catastrophe, one would think that a reassessment of this strategy would be a minimal requirement. But our elites do not agree: we must increase our military budget, and increase the size of our military -- and everyone applauds the further increase of our already immense power.

Occasionally, I have referred to the phenomenon of pathology as foreign policy. When one contemplates these facts, it is very hard to conclude that anything other than pathology is involved. Our strategy is indefensible, irrational and immensely destructive, and yet almost no one questions it. But this particular pathology is so inextricably woven into our myths about the United States and about ourselves as Americans, that we believe this is simply "the way things are," and the way things ought to be.
With regard to our unprecedented military strength and reach, every prominent voice in every sphere tells us we need more, more, more: Harry Reid, Bush, and even Think Progress and Atrios. On this subject, none of these people and almost no one else at all would recognize or seriously consider an opposing original perspective if it walked up to them, introduced itself using one-syllable words, and proceeded to punch them in the nose, gut and groin simultaneously. Noninterventionism is a word in a language from another galaxy. They all believe we are entitled to run the world, and our birthright is to have our way. To make certain we always do, we must have more, more, more! More weapons, more soldiers, more bombs, all of which inevitably and necessarily means more death. Well, it's a program.

I began this essay discussing Iran. Here is Obama on that subject:
While we work to secure existing stockpiles of nuclear material, we should also negotiate a verifiable global ban on the production of new nuclear weapons material.

As starting points, the world must prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and work to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. If America does not lead, these two nations could trigger regional arms races that could accelerate nuclear proliferation on a global scale and create dangerous nuclear flashpoints. In pursuit of this goal, we must never take the military option off the table.
This is exactly what Hillary Clinton maintains, and given these views, it doesn't matter in the least that Obama goes on to say: "But our first line of offense here must be sustained, direct and aggressive diplomacy." As in Clinton's case, Obama says he will initially utilize diplomacy. But if we don't get our way through diplomacy, then...,"Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran." Without the music.

There is much more that could be said about Obama's truly awful speech, but with these points as the foundation, all the rest is only necessary implications and details. Obama's program is, quite simply, endless interventions across the globe, for any reason at all and on any basis we choose. No one, and no country, is safe from our interference. We will determine the goals, and we will determine whether others are meeting them in the required manner. We are the final arbiter of what is permissible and what is not; there is no appeal from the court convened by America's governing elites.

The unsurpassable arrogance of this perspective reveals itself again at the conclusion of Obama's remarks:
Now it’s our moment to lead – our generation’s time to tell another great American story. So someday we can tell our children that this was the time when we helped forge peace in the Middle East. That this was the time when we confronted climate change and secured the weapons that could destroy the human race. This was the time when we brought opportunity to those forgotten corners of the world. And this was the time when we renewed the America that has led generations of weary travelers from all over the world to find opportunity, and liberty, and hope on our doorstep.


The American moment has not passed. The American moment is here. And like generations before us, we will seize that moment, and begin the world anew.
As is true with every candidate for national office, Obama regularly proclaims the seriousness and depth of his religious convictions. I had thought that one of the bedrock principles of such convictions was humility, and a recognition of the limits of human knowledge and what ought to be the limits of human action.

But there is nothing remotely humble about any of this at any point, just as there is nothing humble about the prevailing views of the foreign policy establishment. People who hold these beliefs have not one God, but two: a God in Heaven, and a God on Earth. Their God on Earth is America: it is all-powerful and should be so, it is all-knowing, its beneficence alone makes progress and civilization possible, for which mankind should be properly grateful -- and its wrath is terrible. They will construct the world in their own image, and nothing and no one will be permitted to oppose them.

The governing class, including the foreign policy establishment, have been convinced of the truth and rightness of this view for over 60 years. This view led us into Korea, into Vietnam, into Latin America, into the interventions of the 1990s, into Afghanistan, into numerous other interventions, and into Iraq. Hillary Clinton believes it, so does Obama, so does Bush. With only one or two exceptions, every national politician believes it.

America is God. God's Will be done.

Hold the music.