Know Your Enemy

Neoconservative Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer has been exercised lately (“Terror and Candor,” National Review Online, July 3)  about the “cowardice” of the Obama administration in refusing to identify “Islamic extremism” as the  enemy in the War on Terror.

When we survey the destruction inflicted on this country by terrorism, Krauthammer says, we should look the enemy square in the face and pronounce him guilty by name.

Fair enough.

Reporting after the earthquake in Haiti revealed a massive toll of death and homelessness (230,000 and a million, respectively), and the immense damage to transportation and utility infrastructure. When power, sanitation and clean water supplies are cut off, water-borne epidemics ensue quickly. With a population weakened by hunger from a breakdown of the food distribution system, the rider on the pale horse gets busy.

Let’s compare the toll on human lives and infrastructure from that natural disaster to those of a couple of entirely manmade disasters. NATO deliberately targeted power and water infrastructure in Serbia, in order to demoralize the civilian population. As NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said, “If President Milosevic really wants all of his population to have water and electricity all he has to do is accept NATO’s five conditions and we will stop this campaign.” And in Iraq, the death toll from two decades of strategic bombing, sanctions and infrastructure damage is into the millions. The United States unleashed the equivalent of two Haiti earthquakes on two defenseless countries. The penalty for disobedience to the new hegemon is death from the skies.

The neoconservatives of the Project for a New American Century agitated for both wars with everything they had.  The organization’s name says it all: Their goal is to lock the United States permanently into place as the world’s sole military superpower, and destroy any nation that challenges that supremacy. In the case of Iraq, despite all the lies about WMDs and ties to Al Qaeda, all the neocons really cared about, in the words of Michael Ledeen, was a demonstration effect:  To “pick up a crappy little country” — any country, it didn’t matter which one — and “throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” Well, I guess a million people who died from incineration, starvation, or excreting their collapsed intestines with dysentery, know those guys meant business.

So if we’re naming enemies, neoconservatism’s death toll stacks up pretty favorably against that of “Islamism.”

But neoconservatism is just a more virulent, more explicit and shameless, version of the bipartisan “national security” policy that’s dominated the American state since WWII. Just as much as the neoconservatives, the “moderates” and “liberals” agree that — in Noam Chomsky’s words — “we own the world.” They all agree that the United States should be the sole military superpower, enforcing a system of world order. They all agree that the U.S. has legitimate “national security” interests that extend to telling countries all over the world what to do, and maintaining an Empire of hundreds of military bases in dozens of countries. Like the “liberals” in Vietnam, they think Iraq was a “mistake.” But they don’t dispute the “right” of the United States to initiate such wars when it’s “necessary.”

It’s as true of Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright, and John “Plan Colombia” Kerry as it is of Dick Cheney and Richard Armitage. When liberals talk about “putting the grownups back in charge,” those are the kinds of people they mean. People who are just as willing to inflict megadeaths when “necessary,” but don’t quite — you know — get into it so much.

The real enemy behind the untold millions of deaths inflicted by Empire are what C. Wright Mills called “Crackpot Realists”:  The sane, sensible, serious people who know what needs to be done to keep the only world they know running, and just quietly do it. As C. S. Lewis put it, the greatest crimes in human history were committed by men with clean fingernails and pleasant, well-modulated voices, sitting in tastefully appointed offices. For these people, a global system of corporate neoliberalism enforced by the United States, the G20, the World Bank and UN Security Council is the only conceivable way of doing things. And to keep this system going — as the only possible basis for what they call “peace and prosperity” — they do what’s “necessary.” When there’s “collateral damage,” they regret it. But they don’t flinch from the task. Because, after all, America is the indispensable nation.

To quote science fiction writer Ken MacLeod:  “You know how this stuff ends? It ends with your cities in rubble, your capital occupied, and your leaders hanged.”

Krauthammer says “the first rule of war is to know your enemy. If you don’t, you … ignore the real causes that might allow you to prevent recurrences.”

Indeed.

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