“Their goal is to save what they care about in ways that they know.” — Tom Englehardt
“Beyond here lies nothing:/Nothing done and nothing said.” – Bob Dylan
The political class has failed us. At every level, they have failed us. Republican and Democrat, they have failed us. Liberal, conservative and centrist, they have failed us. They have lived on lies, and lived by lies, for so long that they no longer know how to comprehend the truth, much less communicate it or – God forbid – act on it. And so they plow on deeper into the darkness, in zombified pursuit of pointless goals, heedless of the signposts warning of danger, like some demented wagon train dragging a load of dead mules toward the edge of a cliff.
Political failure is nothing new, of course. Deliberate deceit – and egregious self-delusion – are nothing new. Misrule and evil on the part of elites are nothing new. But the great churning engines of the American Empire – especially its war machine – are infinitely more vast and powerful than anything seen on earth before. Its inextricably entwined economic and military forces permeate the globe. Nowhere on earth can you completely escape the tourbillions of these forces; yet because of this same pervasive reach, there is now no place on earth that cannot send its shock waves back up the line, roiling the imperial heartland itself. The very magnitude of the American power structure makes the consequences of its crimes and failures more destructive and widespread: the difference between your house being hit by a cannonball or by a cruise missile.
I am, I suppose, what most people would call a cynic. I don’t see how anyone who has followed American politics for as long as I have – some 40 years now – could be anything else. To quote Uncle Bob once more, when it comes to politics, “I ain’t lookin’ for nothin’ in anyone’s eyes.” I expect to be lied to. I expect to hear horseshit and fairytales wrapped up in threadbare pieties and Orwellian doublespeak. I expect power and money and militarism to carry the day. Even so, I must admit my guts lurched with queasy dread last week when Barack Obama announced, with a flourish of falsehoods and fearmongering, his grand plans to escalate the “Af-Pak” War.
Not that I was surprised by any of it: both the truth-abusing rhetoric and the war-expanding intentions have been hallmarks of Team Obama’s Afghanistan policies since the early days of his presidential campaign. And Obama, eager to establish his tough-guy cojones, was killing civilians in Pakistan and ordering up an Afghan surge just as soon as he climbed into the Imperial cockpit. His much-vaunted “strategic review” was simply a bureaucratic exercise to determine how best to tweak and refine the policies already adopted by the Bush Administration and its military managers — all of whom were of course retained by Obama. Again, this was to be expected. After all, “continuity” has been his watchword — or rather, it became his watchword right after he was swept into office as the self-proclaimed embodiment of the public’s desperate longing for change.
Even so, to see the expansion of the Af-Pak War finally, formally promulgated, and to realize what this really means, not in terms of the ludicrous political theater of Washington and the media, not in the war-game fantasies of think-tankers and armchair warriors, but in the actual costs — the death and suffering of thousands of innocent people, the ruinous chaos and the violent hatred engendered, the massive financial corruption and gargantuan debt added to our already corrupt and bankrupt system, the further coarsening and brutalization and militarization of our society, and again, because it bears repeating, the physical and emotional destruction of countless human beings whose only crime was to be born in a region targeted by the Great Gamesters of the world, the warlords in turbans and those in Brooks Brothers suits, the gangsters in the alleys and in the corridors of power — this is a bitter and sickening thing. And no amount of foreknowledge or cynicism makes it any easier to bear. The day it gets easier, the day your cynicism makes you shrug off the horror — “So what else is new?” — is the day your soul dies.
The wagon train with its rotting cargo keeps lurching on. A change of drivers has not meant a change in direction. As Tom Englehardt points out, in both foreign policy and on the economic front, the Obama Administration is trying frantically to preserve an imperial system that is cracking under the weight of its own immoral excesses, its own arrogance and willful ignorance. But owing to the latter, their only solution is to do more of the same things that have plunged the system into severe crisis.
In fact, the domestic side of their efforts is even more radical, more shocking than Obama’s dull-witted “continuity” in Terror War. The new administration is openly transferring trillions of dollars to a small core of financial elites, in effect placing the rest of the country into a state of economic peonage to these remote and unaccountable overlords — who have, astonishingly, used the fear and suffering created by their own actions as an opportunity to take their domination of society to even greater heights. What Obama and his economic team are abetting is, as Simon Johnson and others have noted, nothing less than an oligarchic coup d’etat. I lived through one of those in Russia in the 1990s, and it was not a pretty sight. And again, because the scale of the American power structure is so much greater, so too will be the far-reaching, long-lasting consequences of this coup.
I’ve never been a starry-eyed idealist. I’ve never preached the counsel of seeking the perfect at the expense of the good. And I’ve never believed that any single politician or administration could take office and magically transform the nature of the American empire overnight. I acknowledge the aptness of the metaphor used by many of Obama’s defenders: the image of a sea captain, beset by virulent opponents on the bridge, struggling to turn a vast ocean liner in the opposite direction, in the midst of a raging storm. That would indeed take a long time, and tremendous effort, and require stoic patience from the passengers.
But that is not what is happening. The long, hard, thankless effort that it would take to roll back the bloated global empire of bases and curtail the power of the oligarchy (for you can’t do one without the other) has not even begun. Obama is not trying to wrest the ship of state toward a new direction; he is deliberately and willingly continuing on the same disastrous, destructive course as before. Every day carries us further and further away from the shore, and makes any effort to reverse course that much harder — if indeed, it is still possible at all.