October 11, 2009

Perspective on the GWOT

Filed under: Afghanistan, Corporatism, Disaster Capitalism, Global War On Terror, Globalization — Tags: — Russ @ 3:53 am
In last Sunday’s NYT James Traub had a think piece on permanent war and its limits. While not perfect, and not a public interest, anti-war piece by any means, it was better than much of the stuff you see in the MSM. Answering it paragraph for paragraph I found myself to be starting to compile a sort of catechism, or at least the precursor ingredients of one, which I thought I’d post.

Over the next few weeks, Barack Obama must make the most difficult decision of his presidency to date: whether or not to send up to 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, as his commanding general there, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has reportedly proposed.

40000 troops to Afghanistan = the equivalent of 40000 fighting for domestic corporatism. Let that be our heuristic.

This summer, Mr. Obama described the effort in Afghanistan as “a war of necessity.” In such a war, you do whatever you need to do to win. But now, as criticism mounts from those who argue that the war in Afghanistan cannot, in fact, be won with more troops and a better strategy, the president is having second thoughts.

They’re really fighting a domestic class war. The Afghan theater, just like the Iraqi, is primarily a distraction and a laundering facility through which taxpayer money can be funneled to connected corporations.

A war of necessity is presumably one that is “fundamental to the defense of our people,” as Mr. Obama has said about Afghanistan. But if such a war is unwinnable, then perhaps you must reconsider your sense of its necessity and choose a more modest policy instead.

It’s not a war of necessity, except from the point of view of propping up “growth”, securing oil, for the sake of the corporatist system. From that point of view it’s temporarily “winnable”, meaning that it can be sustained for awhile with wealth looted from the public, which is all that matters.
It’s a permanent war; each aspect of it, each operation, each theater, is temporary and opportunistic. The opportunities sought are primarily resource-oriented (oil), and beyond that to open up frontiers for disaster capitalism.
There is no “victory” envisioned or intended. Administration hawk Holbrooke said “we’ll know [victory] when we see it.” This is code to all in the know. There’s no time limit, no discrete end, no exit strategy. It’ll go on for as long as if physically and politically possible.

The conservative pundit George Will suggested as much in a recent column in which he argued for a reduced, rather than enhanced, American presence in Afghanistan. Mr. Will cited the testimony of George Kennan, the diplomat and scholar, to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Vietnam in 1966: “Our country should not be asked, and should not ask of itself, to shoulder the main burden of determining the political realities in any other country. … This is not only not our business, but I don’t think we can do it successfully.”

Mr. Kennan’s astringent counsel has become piercingly relevant today, as Americans discover, time and again, their inability to shape the world as they would wish. Indeed, George W. Bush’s tenure looks in retrospect like an inadvertent proof of the wisdom of restraint, for his ambitious policy to transform the Middle East through regime change and democracy promotion largely ended in failure. The irony is that Mr. Obama, who as a candidate reassured conservative critics that he had read and absorbed the wisdom of Reinhold Niebuhr, Mr. Kennan and other “realists,” is now himself accused of ignoring the limits of American power, like Mr. Bush or Lyndon Johnson, in his pursuit of victory in an unwinnable war.

Most people apparently can’t help themselves. They really can’t believe that America can’t do anything it damn well pleases. Even the now-majority who oppose the Afghan war still look at it in cost-benefit terms, not in terms of it can’t be done.
Corporatists, of course, have a different measure.

The idea that American foreign policy must be founded upon a prudent recognition of the country’s capacities and limits, rather than its hopes and wishes, gained currency after World War II, possibly the last unequivocally necessary war in American history. At the war’s end, of course, the global pre-eminence of the United States was beyond question. But Mr. Kennan, Mr. Niebuhr, Hans Morgenthau and others tried to imbue their sometimes-grandiose fellow-citizens with a rueful awareness of the intransigence of things.

Actually, even WWII was “necessary” only given globalist premises. That was true of most of the combatants. America’s participation was no more necessary than that of Germany or Japan.

“The problems of this world are deeper, more involved, and more stubborn than many of us realize,” Mr. Kennan said in a 1949 speech to the Academy of Political Science. “It is imperative, therefore, that we economize with our limited resources and that we apply them where we feel that we will do the most good.”

The realists won that debate. Mr. Kennan argued that a policy of confrontation with Stalin’s Russia, advocated by the more fervent anti-Communists, would be neither effective nor necessary; the Soviets, rather, could be checked by “intelligent long-range policies” designed to counter — to contain — their ambitions. Of course he lost in Vietnam, where the nation-building dreams of a generation of cold war liberals came to grief. The neoconservatives who came to power with George W. Bush were just as dismissive of the cautionary sprit of realism as the liberals of an earlier generation had been, and thought of themselves as conservative heirs of the idealistic tradition of Woodrow Wilson.

More than that couldn’t be done short of permanent brinksmanship and probably nuclear war. Of course, the Cold War itself was also a permanent war scenario for corporatists. It wasn’t optimal compared to New World Order neoliberal globalization, but it was still pretty good.

Now, as Americans debate whether or not to double down in Afghanistan, it’s striking how opinion is divided not according to left and right, or hawk and dove, but rather by the difference between the Wilsonian “what we must do” and the Kennanite “what we can do.”

What must American freedom seekers, freedom lovers do? We must fight the war for freedom here on the homeland front. But that requires dismantling the Global War on Terror.
Our arguments:
1. They have no “must”; it’s a war of choice. The real war on terror has already been won.
2. They morally should not. It’s a war of rapacity.
3. They economically and physically cannot; in Afghanistan they politically cannot.

Stephen Holmes, a left-leaning law professor at New York University, recently wrote a critique of General McChrystal’s plan that almost exactly echoed Will/Kennan: “Turning an illegitimate government into a legitimate one is simply beyond the capacities of foreigners, however wealthy or militarily unmatched.”

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a hawkish Democrat, has reportedly urged the president to devote less of the country’s energies to Afghanistan in order to apply them where they will do the most good — Pakistan. On the other hand, advocates of the proposed new strategy, like Peter Bergen, an expert on Islamic terrorism, invoke America’s “obligation” to the Afghan people and the strategic catastrophe that would come of ceding the country to the Taliban. One side reasons from the means, the other from the ends.

Warmongers try to lie about America’s alleged obligations. America’s obligations are at home, where we’re entering a Depression. The obligation is to get out.
(MSM alert: Why is Bergen called “an expert on Islamic terrorism” while Holmes is “a left-leaning law professor”? Like he’s some kind of hippie. How about just “law professor” and “right-wing ideologue”? I bet he’s just as much an “expert”, whatever that even means in this context of broad politics, as Bergen is.)

In the real world, of course, the distinction between these two very different dispositions is a fluid one. After all, in a true war of necessity, like World War II, a state and a people summon the capacity to do what must be done, no matter how difficult. So the objective question at the heart of the current debate is whether the battle for Afghanistan represents such a war, or whether — like those for Vietnam or Iraq — the problem that it presents can be solved by less bloody and costly means.

Democracy has spoken twice:
1. A majority of the people don’t want it.
2. The rich themselves, on whose behalf the wars are fought, refuse to fight or sacrifice. That proves they don’t morally value it. That proves that their vile bloodlust is purely venal and parasitic.

Americans broadly agree that their government must at all costs prevent major attacks on American soil by Al Qaeda. But there the consensus ends, and their questions begin: Do we need to sustain the rickety Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai in order to achieve that objective? If so, will a combination of overwhelming military force and an accompanying civilian surge not only repel the Taliban but make Afghanistan self-sustaining over the long term?

Just as with Diem, propping up the Karzai gang is no way to accomplish anything. They have no legitimacy.
The Taliban won’t be repelled. Just as with the Vietcong, every advantage in a war of attrition lies with highly motivated nationalist guerrillas, none with high-maintenance high-expense mercenaries who don’t understand the country or the cause.

The leaked McChrystal plan argues both that we must and that we can, and that a more modest effort “will likely result in failure.” Critics like the military analyst Andrew Bacevich insist, by contrast, that we cannot and that we need not — that Americans can contain the threat of jihad through such measures as enhanced homeland defense. Others have argued for a middle course involving a smaller troop increase and less nation-building.

Yeah – careerist failure for the generals. To be sure, Obama installed McChrystal to change the plan and make a troop request. McC’s just doing what he was put there to do. He’s Obama’s guy. O was gung-ho and now he’s waffling. He was all for the war, but now that his domestic agenda’s going off the rails he’s getting flaky about the war too.
Bacevich has the right idea; and middle-of-the-road, muddling through, is just cowardly and stupid. It’s the worst of both worlds, in both the practical and moral senses.

George Kennan was right about the cold war. But the question now is whether “containment” is also the right metaphor for Afghanistan, and for the threat of Islamic extremism. Containment (Mr. Kennan also used the imagery of chess and the pruning and pinning of trees) is a metaphor of geographical contiguity. Soviet ambitions could be checked here, conceded there. America’s adversary was not, Mr. Kennan insisted, a global force called Communism; it was Russia, an expansionist but conservative power. By that logic, the United States could lose in Vietnam with no lasting harm to itself.

But Al Qaeda, and jihadism generally, is a global force that seeks control of territory chiefly as a means to carry out its global strategy. It has no borders at which to be checked; its success or failure is measured in ideological rather than territorial terms — like Communism without Russia. Mr. Kennan often suggested that America’s own example of democratic prosperity was one of its most powerful weapons during the cold war; and plainly that is so today as well. That is one weapon with which the threat of Islamic extremism must be challenged; but it is only one.

Yes, jihadism is exactly like globalization, except that globalization is infinitely more powerful and far more aggressive. In the global war of ideology, it’s not the miniscule Islamic movement which glorifies itself by the name of “jihad” which is the real threat to America, but the stateless, rootless cosmopolitans of globalism.
It’s the jihad of multinationals which oppresses us. It’s corporate fundamentalism which preys upon us. It’s the American Taliban, not the Afghan, which assaults our freedom.
The world knows this better than Americans themselves. Everyone knows America is no longer democratic or prosperous. Everyone knows American neoliberalism and neoconservatism bring not democracy but tyranny, not prosperity but slavery.

The question boils down to this: How grave a price would Americans pay if Afghanistan were lost to the Taliban? Would this be a disaster, or merely, as with Vietnam, a terrible misfortune for which the United States could compensate through a contemporary version of Mr. Kennan’s “intelligent long-range policies”? If the latter, then how can Americans justify the immense cost in money and manpower, and the inevitable loss of life, attendant upon General McChrystal’s plan? How can they gamble so much on the corrupt, enfeebled and barely legitimate government of President Karzai? Why insist on seeking to do that which in all probability can not be done?

The real question is, what if GWOT corporatism continues to win at home. The answer is, disaster.
Is it a war of necessity or of choice?
It’s a war of corporate profit. Democracy rejects it, has chosen against it. The rich refuse to fight, so it’s not worth it even to them at that price.
From the American citizen’s point of view, it’s a war of choice. Indeed, it’s a private war. It is necessary from the corporatist point of view; without it their oil and their primitive accumulation frontiers run out all the more quickly.
That imposes a different war of necessity on us, the American people. We must fight and destroy the predators who have hijacked our country. That means we must defeat their war of choice, which is part of their hijacking.
What about terrorism? The administration itself admits that Al Qaeda has been largely defeated. We’ve won the reality-based part, the real war on terror. A much lower-cost, lower-footprint maintenance program can do the job from here.
Meanwhile the Muslim street has withdrawn its support from the jihadists. They’re tired of the whole thing.
The only thing that still inflames Muslims and renders the militants sympathetic in their eyes is American imperialism itself.
What is this war really about?
Peak Oil, in class terms, means:
1. Imperial war at taxpayer expense and blood,
2. To secure oil for the rich.
3. As Peak Oil sets in, grabbing that oil will require ever more public blood and money. Just as physical depletion means the energy return on investment of drilling gets worse and worse, so the geopolitical equation, the oil return on investment of wealth and blood, gets ever worse.
4. Meanwhile the rich become ever more totalitarian and violent in the face of the growing political resistance to the whole program.
That’s it in a nutshell: the foreign policy of a first world corporate government, a former superpower behaving as an emergent economy, under the circumstances of energy descent.
That’s what America’s up against. What’s our “we must” and “we can”? We must and can fight the real enemy, seeking a great triumph for American freedom, and a step in the right direction toward a new, renewed prosperity in the aftermath of the oil age.


  1. I think you’re right that it’s a resource war. The two main resources Afganistan has is a land route for a natural gas pipeline from the Caspian Sea area, and the world’s (illegal) opium production. Because it’s not a complete land route to the Indian Ocean, expect there to be more wars either in Pakistan/Turkmenistan or in Iran.

    You might legitimately ask what the U.S. wants with the world’s illegal opium production (isn’t it supposed to be destroying capacity)…but I’ll let you ask that question.

    Comment by Yakkis — October 11, 2009 @ 11:48 pm

  2. Yes, the US corporate dream pipeline scenario is the TAP – Turkmenistan natural gas through Afghanistan to Pakistan, which could perhaps be extended to India making it the TAPI. (There’s also the Nabucco plan to pump gas from the Caspian region to Europe bypassing Russia. The Europeans probably wouldn’t care if Iran was the source, but American bigotry forestalls that, so who could source it? They too are looking to Turkmenistan.)

    The nightmare scenario (for American corporatism) would be Turkmen gas instead heading the opposite direction, through Russian pipelines to Europe, while Iranian gas is piped straight to Pakistan and perhaps on to India, for the IP or IPI line. The Russians are doing all they can to bring these about.

    Comment by Russ — October 12, 2009 @ 4:02 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: