Militaries always need enemies to justify their existence and expansion, says author.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, many Americans hoped that the Cold War would collapse with it, that a “peace dividend” would lead to the shrinkage of the Pentagon, and that bloated military spending would be reallocated.
The mantra of that moment was “the enemy is dead”.
It was momentary.
|“This war [on terror] was never really just about terrorists, of course. It’s largely about keeping the military-industrial complex steaming ahead.“|
It was soon replaced by a silent “long live the enemy”, as the terror war replaced the Cold War. This war was never really just about terrorists, of course. It’s largely about keeping the military-industrial complex steaming ahead with all of its jobs in key congressional districts, while sustaining the profits earned by military contractors.
A war economy always needs a war. The big secret in Washington is that American capitalism needs Pentagon socialism to survive.
The attack on the Twin Towers became a justification for a vast expansion of military activity without end. Dick Cheney predicted this new war would be a long one, estimating it could last 50 years.
Ten years of that 50 have elapsed with no real end in sight. The threat posed by Osama bin Laden was waved in our faces every day as the face of evil, even as experts on Afghanistan kept reporting that there were fewer and fewer foreign jihadis in the country. The shrinkage of their forces did not stop the media from highlighting the endless threat they represented.
‘Primo enemy status’
The background was all but buried: how the US abandoned Afghanistan after the mujahedeen forces it funded drove the Soviets out. Washington stood by in silence while a civil war fought by competing warlords pulverised the country, killing 50,000 people.
The US later encouraged, recognised and began making deals with the Taliban before 9/11, because some US policymakers saw them as a “stabilising” force – until their brutal treatment of women and girls became too visible and led to global outrage.
|“After 9/11, when we failed to nail bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the Taliban was given primo enemy status even though they were not the people who attacked us.“|
After 9/11, when the US failed to nail bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the Taliban was given primo enemy status even though they were not the people that attacked it. The US went after them, and invaded their country to satisfy popular demands for payback, and, in part, because we couldn’t find bin Laden’s networks after he slipped away.
Is there even an al-Qaeda? Many “experts” disagree. Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the House of Commons that “al-Qaeda” is not really a terrorist group, but a database of international mujahedeen and arms smugglers used by the CIA and Saudis to funnel arms and money into Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. They have since turned up in Pakistan, Yemen, North Africa and Syria. If it existed, it was a decentralised global movement, what Coca-Cola claimed to be – a “multi-local corporation”.
The point is, the US needed an enemy and the Taliban soon filled the bill. The US has been at war with the Taliban for a decade, but it’s a war we seem to be losing and, at the same time, losing public support for.
As political scientist Michael Brenner explains:
|“This endless crusade has achieved a state of perpetual motion generated by a confluence of dogmatic ideology, intellectual obstinacy, cynical political calculation and the exertions of powerful financial and professional interests. Today, the enterprise – or at least 90 per cent of it – looks to be divorced from reality.”|
Just as television morphed from factual/reality programming to reality-based programming, a terror narrative was conjured up and reinforced in all media. The media companies soon turned their programming into a comic book-like weapons system – “weapons of mass deception”.
Getting the ‘bad guy’
This endless politically symbolic war narrative needed a “victory”, especially for the home front funding it. Just as the killing of Saddam Hussein provided an epiphany in the Iraq war, the dramatic killing of bin Laden put the icing on the cake in Afghanistan.
The US’ brave big-game hunters finally got the “bad guy”. Even if the killings did not make that situation any better from a US military point of view, it gave the US bragging rights. In life (and on TV), these enemies became the face of evil, propagandised as modern-day Hitlers.
|“These enemies became the face of evil, propagandised as modern day Hitlers. In death – and unable to talk back – they became living symbols for use in political campaigns.“|
In death – and unable to talk back – they became living symbols for use in political campaigns. Saddam played that role for Bush, and now Osama plays it for Obama.
Remember, warfare today is more about perception than reality.
There are still so many unanswered questions about bin Laden, his role and his liquidation, but the media has mostly moved on even as a stubborn and brilliant former investigative Pakistani military officer, Shaukat Qadir has not.
Qadir has spent thousands of his own money mounting a detailed investigation, which now appears in a Kindle monograph titled “Operation Geronimo: the Betrayal and Assassination of Osama bin Laden and its Aftermath”. (Interesting how the killer Seals who iced bin Laden named their operation after a military campaign against a great Native American leader!)
His research led him to reveal that an ailing bin Laden was forced out by his own movement in 2003, and US Intelligence knew it.
I wrote to the former brigadier, who told me that’s maybe why Bush had dismissed Osama as a threat.
He also told me:
|“As you so perceptively observe, Obama needed a new threat. In the overall context, the perceived threat in the US is now from Islam. However, some countries/organisations need to be identified as the ‘Enemy’. The assassination of OBL made Obama, like the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq did for Bush, a ‘war-time’ president. An image he is carefully nurturing since.
The assassination of this pitiful wraith of a human being – and mind you I have no love lost for OBL or al-Qaeda – was celebrated in the US.
Had his face been shown on the media, most decent American citizens would have been just as ashamed as they were when they saw Saddam being dug out of his hole, or when Gaddafi was killed.”
Without going into all his details of the internal machinations, he believes there was another subtext to the operation.
“I believe that in this case this operation was not only politically motivated, it was part of a well-orchestrated psychological war to destroy the image of the Pakistan army.”
A moral calamity
No wonder that Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, told the Senate in 2007 that the war on terror has become so overblown that it is “a mythical historical narrative“. He called Iraq a “historic, strategic and moral calamity”.
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But that didn’t stop either war. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz reported that $3-5tn had been spent on Iraq, and that it had been very bad for a faltering American economy.
No one in the ruling elite in both parties seemed to care. They didn’t ask deeper questions because they didn’t want to know the answers – answers that would have exposed their greed and slavish loyalty to the Pentagon, and questioned the dominant political and media narrative.
In fact, according to the experts who really understand the consequences of both wars, they now look like very bad ideas – although ones with so much momentum, and money behind them, that they have taken on a life of their own.
Michael Brenner asks:
|“What is the threat that justifies these expenditures? Americans’ collective image of the ‘war on terror’ project is of hordes of fanatical Muslims scaling the outer walls of the Republic with turbans, scimitars between their teeth and terrifying cries of ‘Allah Akbar’ on their lips. They are legion. Heroic Americans clad in the colours of the CIA, FBI and Homeland Security man the battlements – repelling the jihadis with arrows, stones and hot pitch. Some join the uniformed military to sally forth in punitive raids to smite the enemy before he can muster his forces for the next, inevitable onslaught. All this is sheer nonsense inspired more by scary TV shows and films than deliberate thinking.”|
So if you are looking for an explanation of why the wars go on, despite a majority of the public opposing them, you can’t get hung up in debating their pros and cons. They are an extension of an imperial policy that is about perceived national and economic self-interest, not values.
|“Why do you think it’s taken so long to launch the 9/11 trials, and why are they being scheduled during a presidential election?“|
Look for answers in the minutia of budgets and appropriations detailing who gets what, not in the endless speechifying about our love of democracy.
Why do you think President Obama is using his ordered killing (rather than his capture for trial) of bin Laden as a campaign issue? Is it because, unable to fix the economy, he is running as “warrior-in-chief”?
Why do you think it’s taken so long to launch the 9/11 trials, and why are they being scheduled during a presidential election?
Why do you think that an elite institution like Yale University has hired and honoured former General Stanley A MacChrystal, who ran a brutal counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, as a guest lecturer on “leadership”? (An earlier American leader denounced as a war criminal, Walt Rostow, a key LBJ advisor on the Vietnam War, became the dean of the Yale Law School.)
Old soldiers never die; they just graduate to the Ivy Leagues.
This is all part of the militarisation of the American economy and culture. Militaries always need enemies to justify their existence and expansion. Once they have one, they are reluctant to let it go.