Imperial delusions


The feeble response of the Democratic majority in Congress to the war—meekly submitting to the threat of Republican filibusters, signing all the checks for fear of being anti-troops, etc.—made me wonder if maybe the Cheney crime syndicate had warned leading Democrats that their loved ones could meet with “accidents” if things went too far. (It’s a measure of how low we’ve sunk in the last seven years that I no longer dismiss such ideas as implausible.) A more likely scenario, perhaps, would be that some government official or other has whispered secret spook knowledge into Democratic ears—something so downright scary that the poor dears are willing to line up and salute whenever required. The public space, our space, has been stripped of all meaning and value, and “true” knowledge relegated to the realm of “intelligence”—that dark place that inspires fear and obedience in the hearts of sheep-like politicians. We citizens are outsiders now. We don’t know why, or how, or even what things are really happening in the stinking corridors of power.

In the larger scheme of things, however, the continuation of a war hated by a majority of Americans indicates a deeper struggle than our conspiracy theories can account for. Rational heads have been offering solid ways to pull out of Iraq for the last four years. The best that the war party has offered in response is that Iraq will descend into chaos if we leave—as if it hadn’t already been brutalized and demolished into chaos long ago. We’re asked to believe that something would happen in Iraq that would actually be worse than what’s already happened. The truth is that the pro-war forces couldn’t care less about the chaos and destruction, now or in the future. If they did, they wouldn’t have conducted their occupation in so brutal and uncaring a fashion. The administration wouldn’t be renewing the contract of Blackwater, for instance—a mercenary outfit that is hated and condemned by the very government that we’re supposedly supporting in Iraq.

There seems to be very few lawmakers in Washington who are willing, even at this late stage, to take a stand against the war. The dominant narrative has to do with failure and incompetence—the war has been poorly waged; it has not succeeded in its mission; it’s draining our resources. The most daring statement the average Democrat is willing to make is that the war was a mistake. At the same time, of course, they must assure us of their unflagging respect and support for our brave men and women, who have done a magnificent job, etc.

Why the hell are we still in Iraq? Because we are, and therefore we can’t leave. As absurd as it sounds, this is the actual reason.

The Cheney gang represents such a hard lurch to the right that we now tend to note the differences between the two political parties more than the similarities. We’ve heard the anti-Nader folks sputter with indignation at the statement that there’s no difference between Republicans and Democrats. Well, of course there is a difference. The trouble is, there’s not enough of a difference to really solve our problems. The members of the political establishment in this country are united, for the most part, in one thing: a faith in American empire.

There have been imperial tendencies throughout our history, of course. The U.S. waged war on Mexico and the Philippines, to name only two examples. But it was the end of World War II, with Europe in shambles and America in possession of the bomb, that gave a big boost to our imperial pathology. Now it was our duty to police the world and fend off the Soviet threat, and to that end the elites established a permanently expanding military budget. Sure, Russia and China were dangerous, but it just so happened that you could make huge amounts of money keeping the world safe, and power eventually became a self-perpetuating rationale.

Between 1946 and the present, it has become virtually impossible to question the propriety of American empire in public and be viable among the political elites in Washington. Militarism has been so thoroughly equated with patriotism that there is no mainstream voice challenging its validity.

There is probably a sizable percentage of the American public—whether it’s a majority or not I don’t know—that doesn’t care about being a superpower, but just wants to make a decent living, have decent education for their kids, and live a safe, prosperous life. Many of us probably aren’t fully aware that we’re being duped, that empire isn’t really benefiting us in the long run. In any case, that point of view has been marginalized.

The mind-set runs so deep that it is practically unconscious. More than once I have heard local news anchors refer to our soldiers in Iraq as “defending freedom.” It’s not so much a statement about the justice of this particular war as it is an assumption that the military is automatically defending “freedom,” no matter what it does. This is one way it works on the ground. In the bigger picture, it means that “America” cannot possibly be wrong—and in this formulation “America” is a military empire.

Garry Wills remarked years ago that the famous Stephen Decatur quote, “My country, right or wrong,” is truly patriotic in that it recognizes the possibility that my country could be wrong. The imperial version of patriotism, on the other hand, does not allow for such distinctions, or for any exercise of individual conscience against the assumed purity of “America.” This is all in keeping with a militarist mind-set. In the military, you obey orders. You don’t question. It’s a top-down hierarchy, a dictatorship. You’ll notice the frequency of the term “commander in chief” these days when referring to the President. This is not an accident. Constitutionally, the President is not the commander in chief of the citizenry, only the armed forces. But now we’re all being conscripted, whether we like it or not.

What we’re seeing, then, in our present Middle East debacle, is a desperate struggle to maintain the delusion of empire. A rational person might think that it would be a simple matter to admit failure and make the best of a lousy situation. But it’s impossible for an imperialist to ever admit failure. That’s equated with “losing” a war, which contradicts the image of the triumphant and benevolent superpower. To the imperialist, pulling out of Iraq would mean that we may no longer be able to enforce our special imperial privileges. Other groups or countries will be encouraged to challenge American hegemony. The imperial project is like a house of cards, or a string of carefully stacked dominoes. The old “domino theory” from the Cold War was really an expression of a mental insecurity. To manage the entire world, to steer everything in the direction of American interests, to hold a thousand competing forces in the grip of American military and economic power, is a never-ending task. The alternative is to be only a republic, a nation among nations, which is just what the founders intended, but they were apparently not ambitious enough for the modern brave-new-world crowd.

Whatever happens in Iraq, however long it takes for the U.S. to withdraw its forces from that country, and I do hope it will be soon—the overriding issue facing the country is whether we want to continue the game of world empire, or purge ourselves of this madness. The longer we continue, the more degraded our political and economic process, and our domestic life, will become. The military will become more and more dominant in our lives until we eventually succumb to some sort of martial law. At some level, although not completely a conscious one, the public has become fed up with the whole enterprise, but the people who own the country are still completely into the game, and won’t give it up without a struggle. The question becomes how spectacular the failure will have to be for the edifice to really start crumbling.


~ by cdash on April 10, 2008.

16 Responses to “Imperial delusions”

  1. Dash:

    Beautiful piece of writing, my friend. I believe in certain ways that George W. Bush’s presidency has been the most successful on its own terms than any in the history of the United States or that of too many democratic republics. The old rule of thumb is that no one every gets everything he wants. I believe every other president gave a little here or there whether for political, ethical or moral reasons. Let us not forget the last “I’m moving to Canada” president, Ronald Reagan. First chance at summitry with Gorbachev, he took. Every debate in Congress involved lots of trade-offs and after all the rhetoric was spewed, Reagan and O’Neill would settle it over whiskeys. Reagan did not eliminate AFDC; he raised its allocation. And I’m not even saying Reagan was good or that I agree with him, because he wasn’t and I don’t.

    But Reagan was certainly a “better” president than George W. Bush has been in terms of the well-being of the USA and the dignity of the office of the presidency, but he wasn’t as SUCCESSFUL as Bush was in terms of winning every argument and exerting complete control — and Reagan was popular, don’t forget.

    I’ve stopped trying to figure out what makes Americans tick because the country doesn’t figure heavily in my future plans. I do have a sense, however, that Americans really like video warfare and will vote for it over just about anything if given the binary choice the Republicans have learned to ALWAYS present.

    I also believe that a sensible fiscal policy brought about by ending this ludicrous commitment to an imperial state is the first step toward economic well-being.

    There may be a well-meaning core or ever a well-meaning majority of Americans out there who are ready for something like that, but I’m Missouri on the proposition: SHOW ME. Then I’ll believe.

    If anyone disagrees with anything above, I’d like to add some provisos (1) if you care to debate it here at Jonestown, stop. You don’t need to. I’ll stipulate that you are right and I am wrong, a priori, ex-ante, whatever(2) If you do, however, WANT a vigorous debate, take it up with me at my spot:

    My goal here was to praise Dash. That’s it.

  2. Imperialistic notions, such as that militarism, have certainly crept into the everyday language of America, especially with the talking hairpieces who are still the main source of information for a good chunk of America. You pretty much summed it up: we’ve been conditioned to never accept failure, no matter what kindly old Mrs. Schlockengruber said in third grade.

    And Kelso hit it, video warfare. We’re so much more of a visual culture than ever before and the careful manipulation of panem et circenses keeps the level of apathy up.

  3. Indeed and most excellent essay. Have you read Chalmers Johnson’s triology – Blowback, the Sorrows of Empire, and Nemesis. We are an over reaching, we are living in fascism. Your paragraph that mentions from 1946 -on basically described it again to me. We are soaking in it. Its a fascsist Oligarchy – NWO. yep.

    Many of us , predicating and feeling what the MSM finally is copping to, DUH a recession – go figure. The Imperialists are oppressing us. The Machinisns of Marshall Law , right up to detention camps are IN PLACE already.(KBR)

    The Homegrown Terrorist Act, real ID , the Patriot Act as per your def of the conflation of the militarism and patriotism describes. Well its all beyond conspiracy theory – its reality. Anyone who dissents about imperialist policy or rejects the delusion of Superpower is SUSPECT.

  4. Could it be time to read Catch 22 again? And start hoping for Nuremberg in November?

  5. Kelso, that was quite witty about Bush’s “success.” It reminds me of when my brother said that Bush was the most “perfectly incompetent” President imaginable. It’s not just that he fucks things up. He consistently turns everything he touches to shit. Yeah, so that’s some kind of success–in Humpty Dumpty land.

  6. Hello, Dashiell.
    The best information I have (from Nir Rosen’s prepared remarks, 02Apr08) tell me that the American military presence is holding back a genocide.
    It’s Sarajevo II waiting to happen.

    The “Victory” in Iraq will be a political one, not a military one. And the political strategy pursued thus far has been a failure.
    The military held their own.

    The Bush administration is simply diplomatically inept.
    It’s not likely that there could be a political solution under their guidance.

  7. Here’s a Crazy Question, why do we have to be “Pro-Troops” anyway?

    Republicans are quick to say, “Well, it’s a voluntary military. They knew what they were getting into.”

    If that’s the case, then doesn’t that mean the men, and women in Iraq are there because they want to be there?

    And if they want to be there, then why should I support them?

    When the cops used tear gas, and fire hoses on blacks did Americans say, “What they’re doing is immoral, and I don’t agree, but they’re just doing their jobs, so, I’ll support them?”

    Just a thought.

  8. Because they’re defending our freedom from evildoers. Haven’t you been paying attention for the last seven years?

    If I may be serious for a moment – you in the back, shut the fuck up – I hear you. I always see bumper stickers saying “My Son Is A Marine.” I never see bumper stickers saying “My Son Is A Teacher.”

    Sure, troops are necessary. So are waterpipes and schools and books and crops and roads and cultural artifacts. We don’t feel like joining. Does that make us less worthy than those that did because they might get shot at or have to shoot? In this case, for something immoral, like your cop analogy.

  9. For Mr Graves:
    When I went in, I was offered Fireman as a guaranteed A school, due to my test scores on the ASVAB.
    Fireman is a fairly prestigious position. It has a very technical training school. Excellent education opportunity, sounds great.
    Only problem is the Fireman is the fellow that pushes the button to send the missiles off whenever the order is given, “Fire!”

    So, I refused that school (with a two-yr enlistment) to take a less prestigious A school. Not that I’m against killing people, but that I’m against killing people that someone else says is my enemy. I would prefer to make such weighty decisions for myself.

    Then in basic, there were Navy ships shelling West Beirut from 50 miles offshore. We all thought we were going to war at that time.
    And though I knew that it might come to it that I would sacrifice my life to save my shipmates, I was secretly pleased that I would never be the one to push that button to send those missiles in to an occupied city.

  10. I fall somewhere in the middle on all this. I believe there’s sense in what ProgTrad writes about the US military holding its own. I just don’t know enough about military history or technology to offer an opinion worth anything, so I’ll use this particular space to learn something.

    While there are certainly parallels with Vietnam, Iraq2 as conceived by it’s civilian planners wsa a more difficult job, I would think. We do know that at this peak level of troop presence (300,000 and change including about half mercenaries) the force is smaller, and the idea of coming into the middle of a multi-way civil war (three main Muslim sects and their many permutations making up Iraq, plus Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel) had to have been a tougher task than defeaing the Viet Cong and its portion of the occupation opposing South Vietnamese, no? Yet, if the estimates of US and coalition casualties are close and we add on 1/3 again for mercenaries, it’s something like 5500 dead as a result of Iraq2 compared with over 40,000 dead as a result of Vietnam.

    If, on the other hand, Iraq2’s goals were merely to ensure the death of Saddam Hussein, secure the oil, build a “green-zone”, have a 70/30 chance of maintaing a puppet governement with a fantasy “constitution” not to mention the world’s most marvelous American Embassy, not only has Iraq2 not been the tits-up Vietnam was, it also has been a success. Is that the right way to look at it? I really don’t know because this isn’t my area. I’d like to get informed though.

    Someting else occurred to me kind of along the lines of where FARILANE was going in his comment. It would seem that to operate today’s military hardware would require a tremendous degree of scientific and mathematical training. To be a successful flag officer one would either have to have excelled at one of the USA’s service academy (no mean feat) or have demonstrated such intelligence and bravery in combat over and over againt to receive the necessary battlefield commissions.

    I begrudge no one their faith in higher beings although I have none myself. I do have to wonder, though, given the conflation of Christianity and Islam in this affair, if the fact of a very superstitious brand of Christianity being the prevailing theology, if such a condition is not holding back the United States military in some way.

    Let’s face it: you need Einstein to build and fire these weapons but Einstein is anti-thetical to the brand of religion that would appear to underlie this exercise. Please see Generals Boykin and Pace for details. And your president.

    Color me confused. I got no answers on this one just a lot of questions.

  11. dash

    that was the best piece of writing on this subject i have read. you summed up everything i think of this country, its current ‘soul’ and the completely fucked-up and evil leadership we have

    Why the hell are we still in Iraq? Because we are, and therefore we can’t leave. As absurd as it sounds, this is the actual reason.

    that is SO true…

    when you have a society that is based on empire and imperial dreams — well just ask the British, the Romans, The Mongols and the the Nazis about holding empires…….

    bush and co keep marching us up to a combination of 1984 and Mein Kampf while the collective population sleeps their way through the next American Idol episode — basically we just dont care. how ANYONE can support bush after what he has done to the military, economy and fiber of this country is beyond reason. i still know people who think Condi is a dreamgirl and Bush has our best interests at heart.

    we are doomed. there is no doubt in my mind

    and fairlane — i am with you. i am so tired of “if you dont support the troops you are a traitor and a commie” i feel sorry for them that they are forced to fight for bush’s ego and not a real reason — and i wish they could vote this douchebag off the island

    no one forced them to join. period. and i am sure 99% of them wanted to join the military with the Condos — just like Private Benajamin

  12. PT, your central point hits one of the nails on the head: I’d rather make the decision myself, and by joining, that decision is in the hands of others.

    Heh. Kelso, like everything with nuance, there are no answers, and I have none myself. 🙂

  13. D-CAPny: I share your frustration and your anger. I share FAIRLANE’S. I am a pacifist by inclination, to the point that I am very happy that with the results of the U.S Civil War, and WWs I & II, yet I well know from ordinary American history that none were fought for reasons which match my ethics and morality.

    If good can come out of three wars, why then is ALL WAR wrong on its face? Why is this particular war “wrong?” I feel very strongly that way, but I don’t really know the answer. I’ve written before that if Bush had addressed the nation in 2002 with this: “We are moving on Iraq and hope to move on Iran subsequently because our best economic, intellectual and human capital are in our military and I feel empire is in the best interests of the nation,” I would have screamed blue murder and protested like crazy. I would, HOWEVER, have UNDERSTOOD.

    I don’t understand what the goals or missions are in Iraq2, Afghanistan a la Uncle Sam, or the Iran adventure hanging fire. I don’t understand why the US is so close to starting something in my neck of the woods. I don’t understand why most Republicans were so pro-Taiwan and pro-Tibet a decade ago yet so pro-PRC today, when nothing other than economic conditions have changed.

    I absolutely agree with you and Fairlane about the amrketing of these ars and the souvenir trappings. Repulsive.

    I do,however, need to fill in large gaps in my knowledge of international affairs, war, diplomacy, military technology and empire plus how all inter-relate before I can come down hard on a side.

    My “heart” if you will is with you, but I’m not 100% convinced that I’m right.

    Now, on many of the personages of all this, we are in accord. Rice has been the most useless NSA and SoS probably in US history. Poeell is a complicated guy but uttimately one too weak to fight off the devil on his right shoulder. a lot of people were in it for the money, we’re in many ways traitorous to the USA while using your pacifi9sm and mine to brand us the traitors.

    I BELIEVE the wars fucked up the economy beyond repair. I just don’t know it they were morally or ethically WRONG.

    I just feel that way. STrongly. As you do.

  14. I think the parallel to Bosnia is more accurate than Vietnam.
    It’s a failed state breaking apart.

    I believe that the real reason for the invasion was a personal vendetta. The oil was just a bonus.

    Now that no stable government exists, the situation is different.
    Al-Qaeda in Iraq is more of an organized crime unit that real terrorists, making money through extortion and highway robberies.

    The Sunnis would be pretty much wiped out without the Americans there to provide some level of security.
    Now there’s a power struggle among the Shia, between Badr in the south, and al-Sadr around Baghdad.

    There is no military solution.
    Whatever solution there is will be a political solution. And currently we lack the diplomatic skills to achieve that.

    Not saying that the military strategy and methods weren’t flawed.
    There was a lot that could have been done differently.
    Have to work with what you’ve got. Can’t reach into the past.

  15. Dash – Nice work here man. I don’t have much to add that the other commenters have not already done except to say that the United States stands at a fork in the road of it’s future. There are two roads to take here — we can go the way the Brits did and intentionally give up its imperialistic dreams or we can go as the Romans did and be completely overrun and left in ruins. I have no doubt that our “American” society, in its present form, is collapsing. But what we become after this implosion is complete is still in question.

  16. […] gets a letter from America 11. GT: Most considered piece on Iraq that I’ve read all week – although the competition […]

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