Sunday, December 4, 2011

He is Us

Thursday the U.S. Senate made an interesting choice.

It departed from the post-9/11 world, where we were "at war" with the people who planned and performed an act of political violence, and entered the post-post-9/11 world, where we are "at war" with those people who support, in various ways and to various degrees, the people we went "to war" with after 9/11.

Now I'm not going to pursue this further; those of you who have read my previous writing here know how I feel about that. And I don't think that this was a dramatic step beyond - it really just formalized what my country has been doing for most of the past decade or so. It's a tad depressing to realize that the notion that the entire world is now a "battlefield" is so unexceptional that it passes without general comment. But not surprising.

But I'd just like to observe that, to me, the fascinating part of all this is how much it reflects the convergence of our "warriors" and the "warriors" we officially fear, hate, and despise.

Here's Pentagon counsel Jeh Johnson on the entire notion of presumption-of-innocence in a nation "at war" - "U.S. citizens do not have immunity when they are at war with the United States. Johnson said only the executive branch, not the courts, is equipped to make military battlefield targeting decisions about who qualifies as an enemy."

And here's shoe bomber Richard Reid on why he wanted to blow up a planeload of civilians: "I am at war with your country. I’m at war with them not for personal reasons but because they have murdered more than, so many children and they have oppressed my religion and they have oppressed people for no reason except that they say we believe in Allah."

Got it?

So my question is - how and when does it end?

Does it EVER end?

How CAN it ever end?

If the "enemy" is everyone you hate...and the "war" consists of when, where, and who you want it to be, whether you're an individual with a grudge, or a government official pondering a potential for some present - or even future - "danger" can you ever say that the "war" is over?

Because I cannot see any serious political figure or faction on the U.S. scene that disagrees with this broad formulation that "We Are At War!". Democrats, Republicans...everyone I see and hear, everyone who is in a position to actually effect U.S. policy...all appear to agree in one form or another that We Are At War and that our national foreign, military, and economic policy MUST be shaped by that.

And the people we are "at war" with are in large measure fantasists, goofballs that truly believe in bin Ladin's Caliphate opium-dream, or just angry and vengeful because we have killed someone they care about, or are in it for some other sort of personal revenge. That's not a war that's fought for policy that ends with a peace treaty; that's the sort of "war" that only ends with a grave.

So...does this mean that the United States will be "at war" for the rest of my life?


  1. FDChief: "So my question is - how and when does it end?"

    I think we have just witnessed a clear action which tells us it doesn't. The few that will be subject to this new approach will just reinforce the beliefs of the many that "The Enemy" moves among us and cannot have any rights. We have passed the tipping point.

  2. Agree with Al, we have passed the "tipping point". I would also say that there will be an increasing tendency to blur the distinctions between "external" and "internal" enemies . . . these profound changes reflect political changes in our own country and have little to do with external threats whatever they might be . . . imo.

    The elites are feeling uneasy in their massive mansions and fear the rubes might get some strange notions in their heads . . . if fear fails to work its magic, then a real crackdown will follow.

  3. I think the hard part for me to understand is how seamless this all seems. I see this as something of a "bridge too far" as well. Much as I disagreed with the policies that grew out of the original AUMF I could at least see some sort of logical progression there. This seems to ensure that the endline will keep moving as we do; all the original AQ mooks are captured or killed? Now we have to "fight" the supporters of the original AQ. Kill or capture all of THEM? Then it's on to the supporters-of-the-suporters. Etcetera, etcetera...

    And while I tend to agree that the primary beneficiaries of this war-that-never-ends are those who are already benefiting from it, what worries me is - as I mentioned in the post - there just doesn't seem to be anyone in a position to change things who DOESN'T benefit in some way. There just doesn't look to be a game-changer out there other than people who are on the margins of power, people like (for all that he's a fruit-loop on other ways) Rand Paul or Nader or Gian Gentile.

    I know you're writing a piece on Gentile's essay on COIN, seydlitz, so it's instructive to compare his position relative to real power to his polar opposite, Petraeus. Gentile seems to me to be vastly more realistic about the costs and benefits of farkling about in FID, and that gets him...what? No one in D.C. so much as dares seriously suggest we stop fucking about in central Asia, while our man Petraeus promises impossibilities that are taken as "serious" by everyone who matters.

    It's just damn frustrating, not so much because I see it as a republic-breaker (I'm not THAT pessimistic - it just seems to me like a Hapsburg-Spain-in-the-Low-Countries sort of running sore that's contributing to our overall troubles) but because I don't see a way out.

  4. Maybe we're missing the actual logic behind all this . . .

  5. seydlitz,
    When i did the DKil. essay/book report you begged off b/c you were coined out.
    What leads you to write on it now?
    Strange days.

  6. jim-

    The Gentile article is short, only two pages and it touches on stuff beyond just COIN. DKil was a whole book, and with the stack of stuff I have to read, some of which for work, I begged off due to the amount of material involved.

    I was following your book review thread though . . . what happened to it?

    With all the war noise centered on Iran, strange days indeed.

  7. There just doesn't look to be a game-changer out there other than people who are on the margins of power, people like (for all that he's a fruit-loop on other ways) Rand Paul or Nader or Gian Gentile.

    Because there are a huge lot of people in this country who are making a nice living off this business of war.

    Pogo's immortal words, "We have met the enemy, and he is us." Top of the heap in DC, down through the Congress folk who see to it the armaments industry lobbyists and the companies they represent are well-fed to kick back some serious campaign money at election time plus some extra to make life liveable, down to the workers who make good money and want to see their jobs continue and want security for themselves and families.

    IOW, the American Dream turned vampirish, sucking the lifeblood of their country here at home and that of foreigners overseas, War being the Good Business that it is.

    The infamous MIC is us, or actually the privileged who benefit, as you write, from it. Fear and ignorance from the rest of us keep it humming just fine, thank you very much.

    In the category of ( alleged ) Fruit Loop, Michael Moore, although I would put him into the category of "Expositor of American Culture" or "Slightly Flawed Chronicler of the Decline of the American Empire".

    From his "Bowling for Columbine", the whole thing is worth the ten minutes, but bump it to start at the 3:40 minute mark to the end of the clip. "We Are Columbine"

    I honestly haven't a clue how to end this, but as for an historical event in the future causing it to stop, I'm thinking along the lines of some kind of catastrophic breakdown of this war & armament complex, through the sheer weight of it all.

    Our government and we won't stop it, not that we're incapable of doing such a thing.


  8. bb - "I honestly haven't a clue how to end this, but as for an historical event in the future causing it to stop"

    I'm going the other way, Basil. If you take a look at large tyrannical empires in recent history (Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, Maoist China), you see that they typically overplay their hand and die in a single generation. The bigger question is "how long can it last?"

    Now that the government has officially turned against the governed, the next logical step is to start fearing the lower level members of the government. Eventually members of the House and Senate will become viewed as terrorists because the terrorist-citizens voted them into power. A modern government CANNOT survive alienating its own people.

    That's not to say that what comes after will be anything resembling pretty...

  9. I wrote this as a comment on my blog, but I think it's worth repeating here.

    One of my huge disagreements with the whole Kilcullen/COIN school is that I think they miss the biggest issue. They insist that COIN CAN be done "right" if the FID nation gets the host nation to do the right thing, to reduce or resolve the internal problems that have generated Kil's "Accidental Guerrillas".

    But my observations and experience suggest that the sorts of governments that generate the vast bulk of these rebellions are and always incapable of "doing the right thing" because of their extreme polarization and dysfunction. They aren't what we think of as a "government" but rather a faction-in-power that exists to deliver tax-harvests to those in the faction.

    (As an aside, this sort of government CAN suppress internal rebellions WITHOUT significant Western help (see: Sri Lanka) but they do it Chechnya-style, with maximum genocide-y methods that Western militaries can't use)

    Anyway, my point is that most of us grew up in the Fifties and Sixties when the U.S. government was unusually fraternal. Both parties had their nutballs; Dixiecrats for the Dems, Taft Republicans. But there was this big overlap in the middle between the Stevenson Dems and the Eisenhower/Rocky Republicans. Both sides accepted the basic goals of a stable middle class, a welfare safety net, labor peace through middle-class wages for the working stiffs, and a tight rein on the plutocrats.

    But civil rights, the Great Society, and the rise of the Birchers/Teatards in their original Goldwater and then Reaganaut forms changed the game. The Dixiecrats became Republicans, the Rockefeller Repubs became the "moderate" Dems, and we have moved a LOT closer to the sort of "government" you'd see in Zimbabawe or Iraq, where the entire goal isn't some sort of general welfare of the "nation" but the protection and enrichment of each party's faction - hence the ludicrous pandering to "the base".

    And while the Democratic base is a mess, an inchoate congeries of this and that, the GOP base is flat-out fucking looney. They believe six impossible things before breakfast - and one of them is that a nation can "be at war" for decades and as long as it doesn't interfere with the sales at Wal-Mart it doesn't matter.

    So the GOP will go over the cliff before they admit there's even a problem...and the Dems are incapable of even voicing the dimension of the problem, much less coming up with game-changing ideas to solve it.



    I wish I had an idea of how to avoid or circumvent this mess, but I don't. The only people at this point suggesting anything that seems remotely sane to me are derided as goofballs.

    And yet Herman Cain and Paul Ryan get paid to make policy.


  10. Pluto: "Eventually members of the House and Senate will become viewed as terrorists because the terrorist-citizens voted them into power. A modern government CANNOT survive alienating its own people."

    Only those who try to consistently buck the will of the MIC. Which would mean zero Senators. Note that Rand Paul, once he got a shot at actual power, turned standard GOP to get the nomination - Senators have blocking power; Reps, like Ron Paul, have none - after watching that family play, I now suspect that Ron Paul is deliberately playing a guy who talks a lot but won't make a difference.

    Meanwhile, in the House, a simple majority rules, and it doesn't have to be from the same party, so blowhards can be safely allowed to blow (again, see Ron Paul, and many others).

    I suspect that a Senator who gave signs of actual problems (not just bucking for bribes) would be squelched by other Senators + the NSA and other spy programs.

    Problematic media can be dealt by buying/firing it for the mass media. The internet is still a problem, but from what I've gathered Twitter is Under Control - they make sure that trending topics which are subversive don't trend, if you know what I mean. The current internet censoring bill will help; it allows for suppression due to claimed 'copyright infringement', no proof needed.

    The powers that be in the USA are actually in a sweet spot - they've gotten one party so wh*red out that their only problem is the faction which believes the rhetoric, and the important parts of the other party co-opted, so that rumblings can be contained. The media, as pointed out above, is largely contained, down to the point where the dissenting voices cause little trouble, but can be used as proof that we're still a 'free' country.

    As for the one generation rule, note that Nazi Germany was the only one of the three which actually crashed and burned in one generation.
    Stalinist Russia persisted after Stalin quite nicely, slowly falling behind for just under 40 years. And that was after the twin disasters of Stalin and Hitler. Maoist China lasted a while, even through Mao's blunders, and is now shifting shape into a new system, with many of the old communist elites making sure that their children will be part of the new capitalist elites.

  11. And the system can live with open, running, syph*l*t*c sores for generations - it'll just immiserate more and more of the 99%. The ones who aren't immiserated will tend to cling to the right's propaganda that everything is the fault of the immiserated.

    The big problem will be from Wall Street, because they're still in bubble-and-crash mode, to the tune of trillions of US$. I won't be surprised at another crash this decade, and the right-wing elites in Europe are working hard to crash Europe next year, only because they failed this year.

  12. OT but interesting:

    NYTimes OP-Ed by Ian Toll, essentially a short bio of Yamamoto.

    My favorite line: "He was one of the few Japanese leaders of his generation who found the moral courage to tell the truth..."

  13. wourm: Not really all THAT much off-topic.

    Yamamoto was a realist. The Japanese Empire was in a bind in 1941; the U.S. had embargoed the petroleum that they needed for their little adventure in conquest in China and SE Asia. Their only options at this point was to stop trying to conquer the Asian mainland (which the government wasn't going to do for a number of reasons, most of them related to foolish hubris and aggrandizement) or grab the Indonesian petroleum producing areas.

    Yamamoto told his superiors that this would drag the U.S. into the war, and that within 6 months the superior industrial power of the U.S. would put his fleet on its heels and keep it there. Short of saying "Make peace, you fools!" he gave it to them straight from the shoulder.

    They nodded politely and told him to go ahead with the war planning, and began their trip towards Hiroshima that sent millions to Hell along the way.

    Sadly, Yamamoto's tradition is our own now; we know, or should know, that these Islamic gomers are a product, not a cause. That until the Muslim arc produces its own Enlightenment that they will sprout like weeds whenever there are social, economic, or political problems in the Islamic world (and given the generally shitty level of social and political development there such problems are a feature, not a bug).

    So "fighting" these guys is like Yamamoto trying to beat the U.S.; the best we can hope for is a decades-long draw. But like the Japanese government in 1941, we're mesmerized by the fantasy of military victory and can't or won't see that we can, as Sun Tzu warned, win 100 victories and still not achieve our desired result...