“When we convince the American people that it will be a long war.”
--Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, after the 9/11/2001 attacks, answering a reporter's question, “How will we know when we've won the war on terror?”
A generation ago, when the Reagan administration came into office, they announced that their foreign policy would be "a war on terror." They rejected with scorn the Carter administration's assertion that the theme of American foreign policy should be the promotion of human rights (a pious hope at best under Carter, who supported US client dictators in Iran, Indonesia, Nicaragua, and elsewhere).
Seven presidential terms later, the Obama administration – with its great attention to how something is said – was perfectly willing to continue its predecessors' policies in this regard, but they knew that the name had to be changed. After the attacks of 9/11/2001, the Bush administration had seized that old Reagan trope and proclaimed a new "War on Terror." Donald Rumsfeld – an apparatchik of the Reagan administration, including “Special Envoy to the Middle East,” while CEO to some of the most disgusting big business enterprises in the country – then Bush's defense secretary, pointed out that the real object of the talk of a “war on terror” was the American people. He was admitting that a rationale had to be found for a long war that the American elite was determined to continue, but that the American populace opposed. The 9/11 attacks were a wonderful excuse. “Terrorism” could take the place of “Communism,” as the bete noire that would justify America's imperialist actions around the world, particularly in the Middle East.
Barack Obama understands perfectly well that prosecuting the war was the primary task of the role that he so avidly sought through the long presidential audition. At his "100 Days" press conference on April 29, he turned aside a question on the federal government's responsibility for the economy by saying, "I don't want to run auto companies. I don't want to run banks. I've got two wars I've got to run already..."
The real reason for the Long War that Rumsfeld – and now Obama – wished to promote, stretched back deep into the twentieth century. During World War II the US State Department described the Mideast is the “most strategically important area of the world,” and the area's vast energy resources – oil and natural gas – as “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” In the years since then, oil companies and their associates have reaped colossal profits; but, even more importantly to the US, control over two-thirds of the world’s estimated hydrocarbon reserves – uniquely cheap and easy to exploit – provides what Obama's foreign policy adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski called “critical leverage” over European and Asian rivals, what the State Department many years earlier had called “veto power” over them.
Noam Chomsky points out, "Note that the critical issue is control, not access. US policies towards the Middle East were the same when the US was a net exporter of oil, and remain the same today when US intelligence projects that the US itself will rely on more stable Atlantic Basin resources [i.e., those of the Western hemisphere plus west Africa]. Policies would be likely to be about the same if the US were to switch to renewable energy. The need to control the 'stupendous source of strategic power' and to gain 'profits beyond the dreams of avarice' would remain. Jockeying over Central Asia and pipeline routes [notably in Afghanistan] reflects similar concerns."
With Israel as its "local cop on the beat," as the Nixon administration put it, the US has conducted a generations-long war for the control of energy resources in a 1500-mile radius around the Persian Gulf -- from the Mediterranean to the Indus valley, from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia – and not because the US is dependent on Mideast oil: less than 10% of the oil the US imports for domestic consumption comes for the Middle East.
And it should by now be clear that – whether we call them al-Qaeda, Taliban, insurgents, terrorists, or militants – the people whom we're trying to kill in the Middle East are those who want us out of their countries and off of their resources. In order to convince Americans to kill and die and suffer in this cause, the Bush administration repeatedly lied about the situation, from trumpeting the non-existent weapons of mass destruction to outright forgery. But the Obama administration continues to utter the biggest lie, that the US is fighting a "war on terror," as they expand the war to Pakistan, which they see as the center of opposition to US control of the region.
The real reason for the Long War had to be hidden, because whenever it was described candidly, it was rejected by a majority of the American people. So, because the US government's description of the war was so fundamentally mendacious, it was reduced to increasingly ridiculous euphemisms. Thus the “Global War on Terrorism,” was relabeled the “Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism” (“G-SAVE”) by Rumsfeld's Pentagon – which is now outdone in absurdity by Obama's people, who have decreed that their murders shall be know as “Overseas Contingency Operations”! The cream of the jest came early, when someone in the Bush administration noticed what the acronym for the preferred title for the invasion of Iraq – “Operation Iraqi Liberation” – spelt. The unconscious speaks the truth.
President Obama too is clearly committed to the long-term and invariant US policy of controlling the energy resources of the Middle East. And the means have been clear for two generations: military power, exerted directly by the US or by its clients – notably Iran (1953-79), Israel (from 1967), and the "moderate" Arab regimes (Saudi Arabia, Egypt after 1979, Iraq until 1990).
The policy faces opposition from two groups: the American people, who are reluctant to go to war; and the people of the region, who are reluctant to be colonized. In a devastating guerrilla raid in that war, a resistance group killed thousands of Americans in the home country on 11 September 2001. Al-Qaeda said that they did it because of (a) the murderous sanctions on Iraq, (b) the oppression of the Palestinians, and (c) the American military presence in the Muslim holy places.
In his campaign for president, Obama proposed to deal with the two groups by killing the latter ("take them out," in a favorite phrase of his) and persuading the former, the American people -- whom he took to be the greater danger. In his audition piece for the US elite, the well-named "Audacity of Hope," he advertised his ability to co-opt them. In that book Obama wrote -- setting aside three million dead and a devastated country -- that "the biggest casualty of [the Vietnam] war was the bond of trust between the American people and their government."
He presented himself as the agent to restore that "bond of trust" – i.e., to convince the bulk of the American population that their interests coincided with those of the elite policy-makers, when in fact it was clear that they were directly opposed. In this case Americans' opposition to going to war clashed with the elite desire to control the Middle East -- and there was no draft to rely on, because the US conscript army had revolted during the war in Vietnam. And the greatest anti-war demonstrations in history had occurred around the world before Bush's invasion of Iraq.
Obama demonstrated his ability to co-opt the US anti-war movement by convincing Americans that he was the "peace candidate," even though in office he has shown himself more aggressive and violent than Bush, from Palestine to Pakistan. But he has so far been more adept that Bush in implementing that constant policy, at home and abroad.
As a principled rather than merely "pragmatic" opponent of the Long War, Justin Raimondo, editor of the excellent site Antiwar.com, is certainly right to say, "I am truly at a loss to describe, in suitably pungent terms, the contempt in which I hold the 'progressive' wing of the War Party, which is now enjoying its moment in the sun. These people have no principles: it's all about power at the court of King Obama, and these court policy wonks are good for nothing but apologias for the king's wars."
On Friday 27 March 2009 “Barack Obama announced, with a flourish of falsehoods and fearmongering, his grand plans to escalate the 'AfPak' War,” wrote Chris Floyd. “His much-vaunted 'strategic review' was simply a bureaucratic exercise to determine how best to tweak and refine the policies already adopted by the Bush Administration and its military managers -- all of whom were of course retained by Obama. Again, this was to be expected. After all, 'continuity' has been his watchword -- or rather, it became his watchword right after he was swept into office as the self-proclaimed embodiment of the public's desperate longing for change.”
Many people thought that Obama's review would result in a winding-down of the war, or even a withdrawal from the country the US attacked in 2001. (The US government said then that it was going after Osama bin Laden, but it's real motive was the long-standing US policy of colonial control of the region: when the Afghan government offered to negotiate the surrender of Osama bin Laden, the US government refused -- and bombed the country instead, as it had planned.)
But Obama announced war, not peace, for Afghanistan and the region. Making the truly amazing (and quite false) claim that "The United States of America did not choose to fight a war in Afghanistan" (both he and his predecessor had done exactly that), Obama promised a wider war. With another contestable assertion -- "The United States of America stands for peace and security" (families of the civilians killed by US Predator rockets in Afghanistan and Pakistan might reasonably doubt that) -- he vowed to "use all elements of our national power to defeat Al-Qaeda" -- although al-Qaeda constitutes a small fraction of the resistance in Afghanistan.
Richard Holbrooke, Obama's plenipotentiary for AfPak, worked vigorously to destroy the attempts by the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan to make peace with their insurgents. The US needs the war, to justify its military control of the region. Peace would reasonably lead to the withdrawal of foreign troops -- notably American.
Chris Floyd continues, “Even so, to see the expansion of the AfPak War finally, formally promulgated, and to realize what this really means, not in terms of the ludicrous political theater of Washington and the media, not in the war-game fantasies of think-tankers and armchair warriors, but in the actual costs -- the death and suffering of thousands of innocent people, the ruinous chaos and the violent hatred engendered, the massive financial corruption and gargantuan debt added to our already corrupt and bankrupt system, the further coarsening and brutalization and militarization of our society, and again, because it bears repeating, the physical and emotional destruction of countless human beings whose only crime was to be born in a region targeted by the Great Gamesters of the world, the warlords in turbans and those in Brooks Brothers suits, the gangsters in the alleys and in the corridors of power -- this is a bitter and sickening thing.”
What should Obama do, instead? The answer is obvious: he should stop killing people. We seem to think that because someone becomes head of government – particularly the U.S. government – he can order killing without being liable for murder. But that excuse is not accepted by the million people driven from their homes in northwest Pakistan by terror attacks by missiles from unmanned American aircraft – ordered by Obama at a rate much greater than that employed by the Bush administration – and attacks by the Pakistani army, demanded by the wretched Holbrooke. It's not accepted in the rest of the world, and it should not be accepted by us.
As Noam Chomsky puts it, “Invading armies have no rights, only responsibilities. Among them are the responsibility to pay reparations for their crimes, and to hold the guilty accountable. A crucial responsibility is to pay careful attention to the will of the victims” – and few doubt that the will of the victims of America's generation-long invasion of the Middle East is that America leave – troops, corporations, mercenaries, and all.
The Obama administration is making what Arthur Silber wrote of Iraq almost three years ago apply also to AfPak, and throughout the Middle East:
“Given the immense, incalculable destruction we have caused, we are obligated to provide significant financial aid to Iraq for the foreseeable future. In light of the damage this catastrophe has already caused to our economy, that is a formidable prospect -- but it is markedly superior to continuing to pour billions of dollars down the drain of this murderous occupation. And we must be responsible for our actions, and especially for our gravely mistaken and immoral ones. To the extent amends are possible, we must offer them. No amount of money will ever make up for the lives that have been lost and those that have been irrevocably damaged, but we must do whatever is possible. That will still not merit forgiveness for our actions, but at least we will have acted with a minimal sense of honor. Beyond this, 'we' should do nothing but get out. Get out. Every single goddamned American. Out, within months. To hell with the disgusting lie about 'combat troops.' All Americans, out...”
But Obama's administration, as was only to be expected, is a vast propaganda operation for ongoing American polices. This administration simply does with lying and misdirection what the last did with callow openness. What those policies would be under a Democratic administration was seen clearly by some before the election. The historian Howard Zinn wrote as follows a year ago, in the midst of the presidential campaign:
“...we can be sure that the Democratic Party, unless it faces a popular upsurge, will not move off center. The two leading Presidential candidates have made it clear that if elected, they will not bring an immediate end to the Iraq War, or institute a system of free health care for all. They offer no radical change from the status quo. They do not propose what the present desperation of people cries out for: a government guarantee of jobs to everyone who needs one, a minimum income for every household, housing relief to everyone who faces eviction or foreclosure. They do not suggest the deep cuts in the military budget or the radical changes in the tax system that would free billions, even trillions, for social programs to transform the way we live.
“None of this should surprise us. The Democratic Party has broken with its historic conservatism, its pandering to the rich, its predilection for war, only when it has encountered rebellion from below, as in the Thirties and the Sixties. We should not expect that a victory at the ballot box in November will even begin to budge the nation from its twin fundamental illnesses: capitalist greed and militarism...”
Zinn's prophecy was exact. Obama was avid for the job of running the elite's Long War; but his first task has turned out to be to protect the elite's even longer-running protection racket, American capitalism. Whether he will be able to hoodwink the American people adequately to keep both confidence games going, remains to be seen.
C. G. Estabrook is a retired visiting professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the host of "News from Neptune, the TV Edition," on Urbana Public Television and on the website newsfromneptune.com; he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org