Potomac Fever: Washington's Insane Clown Posse Rides Again

Below is my column in the latest print edition of CounterPunch. It was written last month, just after Barack Obama’s latest public embracement of the Potomac Empire’s Grand Philosophical Theory of International Statecraft: “More rubble, less trouble!” There may some overlap with my last post on this site, which developed a few of the ideas first explored in this article. The text below has been slightly revised and expanded from the print version.

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The Peacey Prizey Prez has spoken, and the word he brings is — war! Not just war back in our old stomping grounds of Iraq, where the Imperial Winepress has been squeezing out the grapes of wrath for nigh on quarter of a century now. Nay, he bringeth us vast new fields to plow, in the ancient land of Assyria, therefore to make us fruitful with engorged blood.

Yes, it’s Iraq War III, or perhaps Sykes-Picot Revisited, or maybe even the Eighth (or Ninth or Forty-Fifth) Crusade of the Christian West Against the Infidel Saracens. Call it what you will, we are once more firmly embarked on a fruitless (and, we are fervently assured, bootless) quest for loot and dominance in Mesopotamia and environs. As always, these raw and bestial impulses are being gussied up in noble tropes; over the centuries, the rhetorical shadings change, but the propaganda message is always the same: the forces of good are fighting to save civilization from evil, world-devouring savages.

The bumper-sticker bromides offered by Obama in his White House revival of the long-running George Bush classic, “Bullshit in Babylon,” might have been simple, but the situation itself is as murky as the middle of the Hundred Years War. A gurgling stew of warring factions, shifting alliances, secret deals, base betrayals, panic reactions, cynical ploys and — above all — a pack of blundering, blithering idiots at the top, thrashing mindlessly and murderously back and forth. Tactical twits, yes, but united by a single, steady strategic goal: to maintain and expand the power and privileges of their respective ruling classes by any means necessary.

Obama’s speech was the usual farrago of arrant, transparent lies — delivered with his characteristic affectlessness. This is perhaps Obama's one redeeming feature as a leader: not only does he obviously know what a sick joke the whole set-up is -- he also can't hide this grim awareness. His whole aspect radiates unbearable tedium at going through the motions required to satisfy the American public’s insatiable craving for self-righteousness; hence the bromides, the pieties, the cartoon narratives and threadbare paeans to our holy “exceptionalism," delivered in a tranked-out drone. Poor guy: all this boring katzenjammer to get through – just to get on with the ugly, bloody business of empire.

Then again, this “redeeming” feature of awareness is also doubly damning: for Obama clearly knows that the course he has embarked upon will lead — inevitably, inexorably, without fail — to the death of thousands of innocent people and unimaginable suffering for millions more, as the poisonous fruits of America’s endless Terror War bear crop after crop in the years, the generations to come. He knows this is what he is doing, he knows what the results will be — but he is going forward anyway, like Macbeth stepped so far in blood that there is no point in turning back now.

To be sure, Obama sought to downplay the significance of this new American-made hellstorm of death. Taking pains to differentiate his military aggression in the region from his predecessor’s military aggression in the region, Obama likened this new effort to his existing campaigns of bombing, drone terrorism and death squads in Somalia and Yemen. He apparently thinks this comparison somehow puts him on the moral high ground. (“Hey, I’m a retail state terrorist, an upscale boutique merchant of death, not some vulgar wholesaler like that guy from Texas.”)

Much can be said about the specifics of the new Age of Insanity being ushered in by Obama and the other pipsqueaks of the Western world. For instance, how America and its allies have created the present crisis through the Hitlerian rape of Iraq in 2003, the deliberate division of the occupied land into corrupt sectarian enclaves, and the arming of extremists to foment civil war in Syria. (And that's just taking the last few years into account; never mind the genocidal slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis through sanctions, the millions killed in the region through America’s double-dealing prolongation of the Iraq-Iran War, the American-Saudi founding of the global jihadi movement to hotfoot the Soviets in Afghanistan, and so on and on back through the decades.) Not to mention the instigation of a new Cold War through the backing of violent regime change in Ukraine and the relentless, reckless push of NATO to Russia’s borders, which will likely fuel a new arms race and another era of nuclear brinkmanship.

Unpacking the details of the festering, multifarious evils of this new imperial “surge” is important work, and we should support all those who are carrying it out. This is especially vital in regard to younger people. There are whole generations coming of age who have never known anything but the howling echo chamber of post-9/11 militarism, fear, aggression and state murder. Anything and everything that can smuggle nuggets of truth to them, to “inoculate them with disillusionment” (in Henry Miller’s phrase) is to be encouraged.

But on another level, the situation embodied by Obama’s speech defeats all rational commentary and analysis. There is no longer even a pretense of reason or consistency behind the official enunciations of American policy. The system — the whole system — is now given over entirely to permanent war: hot war in Muslim lands, cold war in Eastern Europe, class war against the 99 percent at home. [As I noted here earlier,] that’s their only consistency. That’s their only casus belli. That’s all they know.