First published at TeleSur English, October 18, 2014
The nightmare totalitarian state envisaged by George Orwell in his famous dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty Four was one of endless war. The subject populace of “Oceana” was kept in a perpetual state of militarized hatred and fear regarding a shifting array of always supremely evil foreign others. Endless war drove Oceana’s hierarchical and impoverished economy and kept the toiling masses focused on hideous, threatening enemies abroad, raging and cowering under the supposed protection of their many-sided dictatorship at home.
“A Kind of 30-Year War”
Leading members of the supposedly liberal (even “left” by the reckoning of FOX News and right wing talk radio) US Democratic Party would certainly recoil at any analogies between them and Orwell’s warmongering state. Still, it’s hard not to detect a chilling commitment to permanent war in the recent comments of two top imperial Democrats angling for power and legacy in the post-Obama US. Four days ago (I am writing on the morning of October 10th), former Obama Defense Director and CIA chief Leon Panetta (also a former Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton) told USA Todayreporter Susan Page that “America should be prepared for a long battle against the brutal terrorist group Islamic State that will test the resolve – and the leadership of the Commander in Chief” (Page).
“I think we’re looking at a kind of 30-year war,” Panetta told Page, adding that the campaign he envisions will “have to extend beyond Islamic State (IS) to include emerging threats in Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere.”
“Elsewhere” – that’s quite a geographical scope…all of planet Earth, consistent with the fact that U.S. Special Forces are now present in 134 “sovereign” countries and Washington’s operation of more than 1000 military installations in more than 100 nations. As far as US planners have been concerned in the post-Cold War era, “we own the world.”
Then we have Hillary Clinton, who enjoys a strong chance of becoming the nation’s next president. Speaking earlier this week to an elite Canadian think tank in Ottawa, Obama’s former Secretary of State proclaimed the New War against IS a “long-term struggle” from which the U.S. would turn away “at our peril.” She added that the campaign must include “an information war on social media….as well as an air war.”
They Obey Other Considerations”
“Thirty years” and “long-term” is being polite. It is also misleading. Washington is continuing with a Forever and Everywhere War with no single or clear enemy that has been underway since at least September 12, 2001. As many U.S. intelligence and policy elites certainly know well, moreover, U.S. military interventions and the broader longstanding heavy US imperial presence in the (more than just coincidentally) oil-rich Middle East fuels and expands “anti-American” Islamic jihad there and across the Muslim world. Launched thirteen years after an epic terror attack on the “homeland” (9/11) that was a predictable and to some degree predicted “blowback” response to U.S. imperial presence and provocation in the Middle East, the US War on/of Terror is a viciously circular self-fulfilling prophecy in which cause and effect become hopelessly interwoven. The more Washington socio-pathologically bombs and drones the Muslim world, the more easily jihadists find recruits to help expel the Infidel Invaders. And U.S. planners know it. As the distinguished Middle East scholar and US foreign policy critic Gilbert Achcar noted eight years ago, “U.S. officials do things knowing they will breed terrorism, but they do them nevertheless, because they obey other considerations, which for them are far more significant than the lives of civilians.”
Obama as Insufficiently Imperial
Panetta’s comments came in connection with the release of his of new memoir Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace (how’s that for a narcissistic and Orwellian title?). In the volume, Panetta criticizes the militantly imperial and brazenly Orwellian Obama for making the supposedly noble “30 year war” more difficult by not being militaristic enough. Obama “lost his way” and damaged U.S. world “leadership” (translation: imperial power), Panetta feels, by not insisting that Iraq keep a residual U.S. military force past 2011, by not arming Syrian rebels in 2012, and by not authorizing air strikes against Syria last year. In a similar vein, Hillary Clinton’s memoir Hard Choices (released last spring) finds Obama insufficiently hawkish and imperial on numerous fronts, including Russia and Afghanistan. She faults Obama for not adequately supporting Egypt’s murderous dictator Hosni Mubarak and Israel’s expansion of illegal settlements in Palestinian territories.
(Panetta told Page that Hillary will be a “great” commander in chief as U.S. corporate media persists in the manufacture of childish suspense about whether or not Ms. Clinton is running for the White House in 2016. Do bears defecate in the woods?)
It might seem stupid and self-defeating for “liberal” Democrats to advocate the US doubling down yet again on the very militaristic, imperial, and (let’s be honest) terrorist policies that fuel the Islamist terrorism US policymakers claim to loathe. Didn’t Albert Einstein once usefully define insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”?
But let’s not assume that democratic common sense and since regard for peace, security, and the common good are the real driving forces behind US policy. That’s a naïve premise. Achcar’s reflection bears repetition: “US officials…obey other considerations.” Numerous powerful corporate and military interests have strong selfish reasons to not really want different results in the Middle East. It’s not polite to say, but (Orwellian as it may sound) permanent war is profitable to the U.S. Deep State military-industrial-complex, including such giant and powerful Pentagon-subsidized entities as Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin. Today, as the young Noam Chomsky observed in 1969, the costs of empire are spread across society as a whole while the benefits accrue to the wealthy corporate and financial few. An update to Chomsky’s reflection can be discerned in a recent reflection by Glenn Greenwald:
“A state of endless war justifies ever-increasing state power and secrecy and a further erosion of rights. It also entails a massive transfer of public wealth to the ‘homeland security’ and weapons industry (which the US media deceptively calls the ‘defense sector’)….Just yesterday, Bloomberg reported: ‘Led by Lockheed Martin Group (LTM), the biggest U.S. defense companies are trading at record prices as shareholders reap rewards from escalating military conflicts around the world.’ Particularly exciting is that ‘investors see rising sales for makers of missiles, drones and other weapons as the U.S. hits Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq’; moreover, ‘the U.S. also is the biggest foreign military supplier to Israel, which waged a 50-day offensive against the Hamas Islamic movement in the Gaza Strip.’ ISIS is using U.S.-made ammunition and weapons, which means U.S. weapons companies get to supply all sides of The New Endless War; can you blame investors for being so giddy?…This war – in all its ever-changing permutations – …enables an endless supply of power and profit to flow to those political and economic factions that control the government regardless of election outcomes.”
War Pays for Some: “A Hunt for Cash”
That’s something for the leading liberal pundit, partisan Democrat, and converted Obama fan Paul Krugman to reflect on. “War,” Krugman informed New York Times readers last August, “doesn’t pay” anymore, if it ever did for “modern, wealthy nations.” This is particularly true, Krugman feels, in “an interconnected world” where “war would necessarily inflict severe economic harm on the victor.”
There’s truth in his argument if by “war” we mean only major military conflicts between large and industrialized states. Such conflagrations are more than unlikely in our current “ultra-imperialist” (Karl Kautsky’s term) era marked by massive cross-national capital investment and global market inter-penetration. But many elites in rich nations, the US (the world’s sole military superpower) above all, still and quite reasonably see am economic payoff in undertaking military engagements in mostly poor and “pre-modern” but resource-rich nations and regions. In a more classically national-imperialist vein, Washington remains committed to the use of military force in pursuit of the control of Middle Eastern oil (and other strategic energy concentrations around the world) because of the critical leverage such control grants the US over competitor states.
The biggest flaw in Krugman’s argument is his failure to make the (one would think) elementary distinction between (a) the wealthy Few and (b) the rest of us and society as whole when it comes to who loses and who gains from contemporary (endless) war. As the venerable U.S. foreign policy critic Edward S. Herman asks and observes:
“Doesn’t war pay for Lockheed-Martin, GE, Raytheon, Honeywell, Halliburton, Chevron, Academi (formerly Blackwater) and the vast further array of contractors and their financial, political, and military allies? An important feature of ‘projecting power’ (i.e., imperialism) has always been the skewed distribution of costs and benefits…The costs have always been borne by the general citizenry (including the dead and injured military personnel and their families), while the benefits accrue to privileged sectors whose members not only profit from arms supply and other services, but can plunder the victim countries during and after the invasion-occupation.”
Krugman should be embarrassed by the recent release of veteran New York Times investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize-winner James Risen’s latest book Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 2014). Currently facing prosecution by the Obama administration for refusing to divulge an inside government source for his earlier reporting on warrantless federal wiretapping, Risen argues in his new book that “The…global war on terror has become essentially an endless war. It started with a search for justice. And I think, 13 years later, it’s become a hunt for cash.” The main driving force behind this “endless war” is a large corporate “military and homeland security complex” that rakes in lucrative profits – attained largely in secret and with significant levels of fraud – that are fed by the relentless selling of fear.
Such is the logic of endless imperial war, an Orwellian U.S. complex with a stark state-capitalist twist in the second decade of the 21st century. This is another among many reasons to revisit an essay titled “The Orwell Diversion” (1986), written by the late Australian propaganda critic Alex Carey and included in his 1997 book Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda Versus Freedom and Liberty. Carey argued that the most relevant long-term threat to liberal democracy has never come from the state totalitarians of the Stalinist left or the fascist right. It comes instead from the homegrown, big business-connected “Respectable Right” that arose within the liberal-democratic societies of the West (chiefly the U.S.) largely to protect concentrated corporate power against its key domestic enemy – the popular democratic tradition.
Twenty eight years after Carey’s essay, the Soviet Union has long ago joined Nazi Germany in history’s proverbial dustbin and the last classic 1984-style regime (if such a thing has ever existed) limps along in North Korea. A “homeland”-grown version of Big Brother stalks the corridors of domestic and imperial power and rules behind the scenes of the “marionette theater” of partisan political warfare in Washington, wearing the uniform of the respectable right, now richly bipartisan – including corporate-imperial Democrats of endless war like Hawk Hillary, Barack Obomber, and Leon “Thirty Years” Panetta. Beneath the eco-cidal 1% that owns more wealth than the bottom 90% of US citizens, the common good and people in whose name this respectable bipartisan right rules suffer. As usual, the economic and imperial elite has other considerations, serious matters of wealth and power that trump the mere general welfare.
Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, September 2014).