[dehai-news] America's Wars of Self-Destruction


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From: wolda002@umn.edu
Date: Tue Nov 18 2008 - 21:54:00 EST


America's Wars of Self-Destruction

Monday 17 November 2008
by: Chris Hedges, Truthdig

    War is a poison. It is a poison that nations and groups must at times
ingest to ensure their survival. But, like any poison, it can kill you just
as surely as the disease it is meant to eradicate. The poison of war
courses unchecked through the body politic of the United States. We believe
that because we have the capacity to wage war we have the right to wage
war. We embrace the dangerous self-delusion that we are on a providential
mission to save the rest of the world from itself, to implant our
virtues-which we see as superior to all other virtues-on others, and that
we have a right to do this by force. This belief has corrupted Republicans
and Democrats alike. And if Barack Obama drinks, as it appears he will, the
dark elixir of war and imperial power offered to him by the national
security state, he will accelerate the downward spiral of the American
empire.

    Obama and those around him embrace the folly of the "war on terror."
They may want to shift the emphasis of this war to Afghanistan rather than
Iraq, but this is a difference in strategy, not policy. By clinging to Iraq
and expanding the war in Afghanistan, the poison will continue in deadly
doses. These wars of occupation are doomed to failure. We cannot afford
them. The rash of home foreclosures, the mounting job losses, the collapse
of banks and the financial services industry, the poverty that is ripping
apart the working class, our crumbling infrastructure and the killing of
hapless Afghans in wedding parties and Iraqis by our iron fragmentation
bombs are neatly interwoven. These events form a perfect circle. The costly
forms of death we dispense on one side of the globe are hollowing us out
from the inside at home.

    The "war on terror" is an absurd war against a tactic. It posits the
idea of perpetual, or what is now called "generational," war. It has no
discernable end. There is no way to define victory. It is, in metaphysical
terms, a war against evil, and evil, as any good seminarian can tell you,
will always be with us. The most destructive evils, however, are not those
that are externalized. The most destructive are those that are internal.
These hidden evils, often defined as virtues, are unleashed by our hubris,
self-delusion and ignorance. Evil masquerading as good is evil in its
deadliest form.

    The decline of American empire began long before the current economic
meltdown or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It began before the first
Gulf War or Ronald Reagan. It began when we shifted, in the words of the
historian Charles Maier, from an "empire of production" to an "empire of
consumption." By the end of the Vietnam War, when the costs of the war ate
away at Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and domestic oil production began
its steady, inexorable decline, we saw our country transformed from one
that primarily produced to one that primarily consumed. We started
borrowing to maintain a lifestyle we could no longer afford. We began to
use force, especially in the Middle East, to feed our insatiable demand for
cheap oil. The years after World War II, when the United States accounted
for one-third of world exports and half of the world's manufacturing, gave
way to huge trade imbalances, outsourced jobs, rusting hulks of abandoned
factories, stagnant wages and personal and public debts that most of us
cannot repay.

    The bill is now due. America's most dangerous enemies are not Islamic
radicals, but those who promote the perverted ideology of national security
that, as Andrew Bacevich writes, is "our surrogate religion." If we
continue to believe that we can expand our wars and go deeper into debt to
maintain an unsustainable level of consumption, we will dynamite the
foundations of our society.

    "The Big Lies are not the pledge of tax cuts, universal health care,
family values restored, or a world rendered peaceful through forceful
demonstrations of American leadership," Bacevich writes in "The Limits of
Power." "The Big Lies are the truths that remain unspoken: that freedom has
an underside; that nations, like households, must ultimately live within
their means; that history's purpose, the subject of so many confident
pronouncements, remains inscrutable. Above all, there is this: Power is
finite. Politicians pass over matters such as these in silence. As a
consequence, the absence of self-awareness that forms such an enduring
element of the American character persists."

    Those clustered around Barack Obama, from Madeline Albright to Hillary
Clinton to Dennis Ross to Colin Powell, have no interest in dismantling the
structure of the imperial presidency or the vast national security state.
They will keep these institutions intact and seek to increase their power.
We have a childish belief that Obama will magically save us from economic
free fall, restore our profligate levels of consumption and resurrect our
imperial power. This naïve belief is part of our disconnection with
reality. The problems we face are structural. The old America is not coming
back.

    The corporate forces that control the state will never permit real
reform. This is the Faustian bargain made between these corporate forces
and the Republican and Democratic parties. We will never, under the current
system, achieve energy independence. Energy independence would devastate
the profits of the oil and gas industry. It would wipe out tens of billions
of dollars in weapons contracts, spoil the financial health of a host of
private contractors from Halliburton to Blackwater and render obsolete the
existence of U.S. Central Command.

    There are groups and people who seek to do us harm. The attacks of
Sept. 11 will not be the last acts of terrorism on American soil. But the
only way to defeat terrorism is to isolate terrorists within their own
societies, to mount cultural and propaganda wars, to discredit their ideas,
to seek concurrence even with those defined as our enemies. Force, while a
part of this battle, is rarely necessary. The 2001 attacks that roused our
fury and unleashed the "war on terror" also unleashed a worldwide revulsion
against al-Qaida and Islamic terrorism, including throughout the Muslim
world, where I was working as a reporter at the time. If we had had the
courage to be vulnerable, to build on this empathy rather than drop
explosive ordinance all over the Middle East, we would be far safer and
more secure today. If we had reached out for allies and partners instead of
arrogantly assuming that American military power would restore our sense of
invulnerability and mitigate our collective humiliation, we would have done
much to defeat al-Qaida. But we did not. We demanded that all kneel before
us. And in our ruthless and indiscriminate use of violence and illegal wars
of occupation, we resurrected the very forces that we could, under astute
leadership, have marginalized. We forgot that fighting terrorism is a war
of shadows, an intelligence war, not a conventional war. We forgot that, as
strong as we may be militarily, no nation, including us, can survive
isolated and alone.

    The American empire, along with our wanton self-indulgence and
gluttonous consumption, has come to an end. We are undergoing a period of
profound economic, political and military decline. We can continue to dance
to the tunes of self-delusion, circling the fire as we chant ridiculous
mantras about our greatness, virtue and power, or we can face the painful
reality that has engulfed us. We cannot reverse this decline. It will
happen no matter what we do. But we can, if we break free from our
self-delusion, dismantle our crumbling empire and the national security
state with a minimum of damage to ourselves and others. If we refuse to
accept our limitations, if do not face the changes forced upon us by a
bankrupt elite that has grossly mismanaged our economy, our military and
our government, we will barrel forward toward internal and external
collapse. Our self-delusion constitutes our greatest danger. We will either
confront reality or plunge headlong into the minefields that lie before us.

http://www.truthout.org/111708D
    --------

    Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in
Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. His column
appears Mondays on Truthdig.

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