November 02, 2007

One Hundred Routes to War, One Hundred Ways to Hell

Almost two years ago, in writing about the effects of any foreign intervention that is not a demonstrably necessary act of self-defense, I identified what I considered to be the most important principle regarding interventions of this kind. Events of the last few years have proved once again that I can confidently rest upon this formulation:
Intervention always leads to more intervention: the first intervention leads to unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences, which are then used as the justification for still further intervention. That intervention in turn leads to still more unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences, which are then used as yet another justification for still further intervention. The process can go on indefinitely, and the ultimate consequences are always disastrous in the extreme.
The earlier essay traced in broad outline the more notable examples of this principle beginning with the entrance of the United States into World War I, extending throughout the entire remainder of the twentieth century, and now reaching into the twenty-first century. I then noted:
These are only some of the very bitter fruits of foreign intervention: uncontrollable consequences are always set loose and, all too often, those consequences are directly opposed to what the original stated purpose had been. And yet, like the insane man, we repeat this behavior over and over again, insisting that this time the result will be different, and it will finally work -- and we'll get exactly the result we want, and no others at all.

Given the complexity of factors involved in interventions of this kind -- the complicated issues of history, culture, politics, and society and the endless variations involving how these factors interact within one country and among different countries -- the desired outcome simply cannot be dictated in this manner, no matter how great the military forces at one's disposal. You would think the current experience in Iraq would prove that, once and for all.
But of course, the criminal catastrophe in Iraq -- including the unleashing of a monstrous genocide -- has proven nothing of the kind to the ruling class, including the foreign policy establishment.

Because the U.S. ruling class's commitment to world hegemony remains absolute, every prominent national politician now beats the drums for an attack on Iran. I have been over this ground at length; see "The Worsening Nightmare," "Songs of Death," and the numerous other essays linked in those pieces for the details. Faced with the increasingly likely nightmare of an attack on Iran and its unending lethal consequences, a number of writers, particularly of the "progressive" variety (which designation bears no relation at all to what the Progressive movement in fact stood for historically), find comfort in the purported wisdom and resistance to bloody insanity of this kind that resides in "the American people." I noted Digby's recourse to the notion that "the American people" wouldn't stand for such an attack in "The Worsening Nightmare"; here's another recent post which speaks of this fictitious entity as the defense of last resort (and which I referenced toward the conclusion of, "It's Called the Ruling Class Because It Rules").

To characterize such effluvia as naive in the extreme is the kindest thing one can say, and it does not even begin to capture the degree of error and self-delusion involved. Fact: "A majority of likely voters – 52% – would support a U.S. military strike to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon, and 53% believe it is likely that the U.S. will be involved in a military strike against Iran before the next presidential election, a new Zogby America telephone poll shows."

Americans’ fears about Iran have grown sharply over the last few months as efforts by the United States and Europe to slow Tehran’s nuclear program have been firmly rejected, a poll found.

More people in this country now rate Iran as the biggest threat to the U.S., 27 percent, than say that about any other country, including North Korea, China and Iraq, according to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.


"The threat from Iran has really penetrated, with two of three saying Iran’s nuclear program represents a major threat," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center. "Among people who have been following news about the issue, there’s even greater concern."


Two-thirds or more of those polled said they think that if Iran develops nuclear weapons, it is likely to attack Israel, Europe or the United States. Even more, 82 percent, say it’s likely that a nuclear-armed Iran would provide nuclear weapons to terrorists.
As I observed in another context, the trouble with propaganda is that it works. All of this is hysteria-driven lies; again, see my earlier essays noted above for the details.

We should additionally note that the same progressive bloggers who (usually) decry this sort of propaganda will undoubtedly support the Democratic presidential nominee -- and whoever that nominee is, he or she will be someone who repeats the identical propaganda. As for Hillary Clinton, she enthusiastically embraces the propaganda and amplifies it still more.

So when I recently read some of the pixilated encomia to the wisdom of these all-knowing, peace-loving "average" Americans, I briefly entertained what I found to be a pleasing fantasy. Doubtless these progressive bloggers greatly admire Gore Vidal, as they should. Given Vidal's courtly and gentlemanly manner, I think a credible scenario might involve Vidal sitting down to chat with some of these profoundly misguided types, perhaps in his comfortable library. He would listen to these appeals to the wise American people and how these "ordinary" Americans would resist another call to war, especially one coming in the midst of the ongoing Iraq slaughter. I see Mr. Vidal listening closely to such vacant musings, devoid of history and shorn of facts, and I hear him wonder aloud: "My dear children, wherever do you get such notions? I think perhaps you should read a bit more."

And one of his visitors might ask: "Are there any books in particular you would recommend, Mr. Vidal?" Mr. Vidal gestures to the thousands of books lining his walls and says, in a voice limned with the fatigue of a long life that has borne witness to endless folly and ignorance of this kind: "All of them. Come and see me again when you've finished."

I very much doubt that Vidal would disagree with Robert Higgs' description of "the American public" that I noted in, "Let Us All Become Cowards":
No one should be surprised by the cultural proclivity for violence, of course, because Americans have always been a violent people in a violent land. Once the Europeans had committed themselves to reside on this continent, they undertook to slaughter the Indians and steal their land, and to bullwhip African slaves into submission and live off their labor—endeavors they pursued with considerable success over the next two and a half centuries. Absent other convenient victims, they have battered and killed one another on the slightest pretext, or for the simple pleasure of doing so, with guns, knives, and bare hands. If you take them to be a "peace-loving people," you haven’t been paying attention. Such violent people are easily led to war.
Vidal has often made similar observations himself. But let us wonder about Vidal's reaction no longer, for here is Vidal with a new article. In that piece, he excerpts Morris Berman's, Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire. Vidal writes:
Mr. Bush, as God knows best, is no Augustine; but [the British historian Charles] Freeman points to the latter as the epitome of a more general process that was underway in the fourth century: namely, ‘the gradual subjection of reason to faith and authority.’ This is what we are seeing today, and it is a process that no society can undergo and still remain free. Yet it is a process of which administration officials, along with much of the American population, are aggressively proud." In fact, close observers of this odd presidency note that Bush, like his evangelical base, believes he is on a mission from God and that faith trumps empirical evidence. Berman quotes a senior White House adviser who disdains what he calls the "reality-based" community, to which Berman sensibly responds: "If a nation is unable to perceive reality correctly, and persists in operating on the basis of faith-based delusions, its ability to hold its own in the world is pretty much foreclosed."

Berman does a brief tour of the American horizon, revealing a cultural death valley. In secondary schools where evolution can still be taught too many teachers are afraid to bring up the subject to their so often un-evolved students. "Add to this the pervasive hostility toward science on the part of the current administration (e.g. stem-cell research) and we get a clear picture of the Enlightenment being steadily rolled back. Religion is used to explain terror attacks as part of a cosmic conflict between Good and Evil rather than in terms of political processes.... Manichaeanism rules across the United States. According to a poll taken by Time magazine fifty-nine percent of Americans believe that John’s apocalyptic prophecies in the Book of Revelation will be fulfilled, and nearly all of these believe that the faithful will be taken up into heaven in the ‘Rapture.’

"Finally, we shouldn’t be surprised at the antipathy toward democracy displayed by the Bush administration. ... As already noted, fundamentalism and democracy are completely antithetical. The opposite of the Enlightenment, of course, is tribalism, groupthink; and more and more, this is the direction in which the United States is going. ... Anthony Lewis who worked as a columnist for the New York Times for thirty-two years, observes that what has happened in the wake of 9/11 is not just the threatening of the rights of a few detainees, but the undermining of the very foundation of democracy. Detention without trial, denial of access to attorneys, years of interrogation in isolation—these are now standard American practice, and most Americans don’t care. Nor did they care about the revelation in July 2004 (reported in Newsweek), that for several months the White House and the Department of Justice had been discussing the feasibility of canceling the upcoming presidential election in the event of a possible terrorist attack.” I suspect that the technologically inclined prevailed against that extreme measure on the ground that the newly installed electronic ballot machines could be so calibrated that Bush’s heirs would win handily no matter what (read Rep. Conyers’ report (.pdf file) on the rigging of Ohio’s vote).


We are assured daily by advertisers and/or politicians that we are the richest, most envied people on Earth and, apparently, that is why so many awful, ill-groomed people want to blow us up. We live in an impermeable bubble without the sort of information that people living in real countries have access to when it comes to their own reality. But we are not actually people in the eyes of the national ownership: we are simply unreliable consumers comprising an overworked, underpaid labor force not in the best of health....
I emphasize again the phrases: "along with much of the American population," and "most Americans don't care." Most Americans don't care about the genocide in Iraq, and most Americans aren't even aware of it. Most Americans don't care about the destruction of liberty here at home, and most Americans know nothing about what has happened in recent years to the foundations of our government. I challenge any reader to ask 10 or 15 people encountered at random in your travels today to tell you what habeas corpus is, and what its status at present is in America. Don't ask people interested in politics to the extent you are; ask some of those "ordinary" Americans who are so wise and so peace-loving. If even one of them can tell you, I will be astonished. (I've performed this experiment myself, more than once. The results are uniformly dismaying in the extreme. "Ha---beas...what?" Even if the question is asked more informally -- "What was the basic foundation of all American freedoms?" -- the result is unchanged.) Some time ago, I noted that we are becoming the stupidest nation on Earth. So much for "the last, best hope" of the planet; so much for "the American people."

To return to intervention and its lethally destructive and uncontrollable effects: although an attack on Iran represents the gravest threat facing us in the immediate future, it is a serious error to think that the U.S. and Iran exhaust the list of significant actors in this deadly drama. That list is now much longer than you might think. For this is one of the disastrous consequences of intervention over a period of many decades -- and in fact, the Western powers' interventions in the Middle East have gone on for more than a century: the possibilities for catastrophe multiply in every direction, and the routes to what may literally and finally be a war to end all wars can barely be counted. More than one hundred years of unjustified, unnecessary and uniformly disastrous interventions have brought us one hundred routes to hell.

You should read Alastair Crooke's article, "Ticking Clocks and 'Accidental' War," in its entirety. In the final section of that piece, Crooke describes in detail how any one of the following flash points could trigger a wider Middle East war: Lebanon, Syria, the Salafis, Iraq itself, Pakistan, Turkey, and instability in the West Bank. I would suggest even these hardly exhaust the possibilities. The word "accidental" is properly placed in quotes: a wider war would be "accidental" only in the sense that the particular trigger cannot be predicted, and may even have been unintended. But that a particular route to war may be unintended does not mean that war itself is unintended. To the contrary: what the U.S. ruling class wants and intends to have no matter what is "Dominion Over the World." If war is the necessary means to that end -- and it is -- then war it will be. And the American public will be on board. As the recent polls indicate, the American public is already on board. Americans are not remotely antiwar: they have only turned against the Iraq catastrophe because we are losing, and losing very obviously and before the entire world. If we had gone into Iraq, swiftly and effectively kicked a lot of ass (what's one more genocide, after all?), and established even a minimally effective, brutal colonial government, the American public would be inordinately proud of that fact, and also of the criminal aggression that had led to that result. The American public objects only to the fact that the United States -- "the culmination of human development," with the most powerful military ever known and a global empire of bases -- has been humiliated.

For a vicious, murderous bully, the best cure for humiliation is to administer a brutally, cruelly savage beating, and the sooner the better. That is the task that our ruling class, with the public willingly following, is now so intent upon. We may not know precisely when or in what form that beating will come -- but the missiles will fly, the bombs will fall, and possibly millions will die. Hegemony and dominion demand no less.

Thus ends our lesson for today.