The U.S. without a war is like an apple pie without apples
A Nobel Peace Prize recipient is among the loudest voices for war nowadays. Better, this Nobel Peace prize recipient has unchecked power to wage war and uses it willfully in a variety of nations. Perhaps best, this prize-winning peace president has set out a plan to make a desert and call it peace, for which a grateful power structure might well give him yet another prize.
Such absurdity dominates the world we live in now, because people in governments are committing us all to irrational choices based on no credible public explanation. Examples are myriad, but President Obama’s shrill war cries at the United Nations offer a paradigm of the present bloody moment that is, in part, a near-parody of grandiloquent George W. Bush doing his most preening strut as a feckless “war president.”
The following excerpts from President Obama’s long and specious 39-minute speech to the U.N. on September 24, 2014, are chosen to highlight the contradictions and deceits so carefully packaged with familiar, false pieties about imaginary realities. The pitch is fraudulent from the moment the president begins, with a pseudo-lofty, tripartite cliché untethered from the real world:
“We come together at a crossroads between war and peace; between disorder and integration; between fear and hope.”
Yes, every moment is a crossroads between war and peace in some place, a moment waiting for some commander somewhere to cross the line and start killing “enemies.” The president’s moment at the U.N. was NOT, for him or anyone else, a “crossroads” – he had long since proceeded straight across the intersection, extending the Iraq War of 2003 into its second decade; he had already escalated that war into Syria; he had long since carried on wars in Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and who knows where else. He has no legal authority to expand wage these wars, but he knows he has no Congress or court or any other opposition with both the will and the standing to challenge his decision for more killing in the blood zones of the Middle East.
There is no “crossroads between disorder and integration,” a meaningless construction about conditions that may exist independently or simultaneously. “Integration” is an especially absurd word to apply to the police states that stretch from Iran to Egypt. U.S. policy has failed for decades to promote even the most elementary, necessary integration of Israelis and Palestinians. U.S. policing now, as ever, only heightens the disintegration among Sunni and Shia. Disorder is the hallmark of the region, and the West has only made it worse for centuries. The present U.S.-sponsored war only increases the disorder, with no promise and little likelihood of a happy ending.
In the words of Chicago mayor Richard Daley circa 1968, commenting on his city’s police riot with unintentional accuracy: “The policeman is not here to create disorder. The policeman is here to preserve disorder.”
And so it has been with the American presence in the Middle East, where the world’s policeman helped to preserve disorder for decades before ratcheting up the intensity in 2003 by bringing fresh chaos to Iraq and the rest of the region. As the self-appointed policeman of the world, the U.S. has much to regret and atone for.
And there is no “crossroads between fear and hope.” These are emotions that often coexist, not artifacts from a Pentagon planning project. If truth were told, there are no crossroads at all in this moment of American “leadership.” There is only a headlong president whose hope now is that fear will lead to dead bodies strewn across several landscapes, and that those bodies will make him look good.
In his U.N. speech, President Obama moved from his imaginary crossroads into a couple of paragraphs of selective happy talk about progress, peace, poverty and prosperity. These remarks coming from an escalating commander-in-chief were not without irony as he cited the U.N. as “a unique achievement – the people of the world committing to resolve their differences peacefully, and solve their problems together.” Moments later, without explanation, this became “the failure of our international system.” Rhetoric requires no real basis in fact so long as choice emotive buttons get pushed effectively:
“The brutality of terrorists in Syria and Iraq forces us to look into the heart of darkness.”
If this line has meaning, it’s not likely a suggestion to review the brutality of others in the region, least of all our “allies.” And the line is surely not a humble recommendation to explore the dark heart of American methods of torture and killing over the past decade, and it’s not an expression of willingness to end the brutal penal colony at Guantanamo, where innocent and possibly guilty alike suffer without hope until they die. These horrors, like drones assassinating wedding parties, are brutalities that President Obama has failed to “look into,” much less tried to degrade and destroy.
There is little if anything the Islamic State has done to earn the hyperbolic fear-mongering it gets from this administration and the Fox network’s echo chamber. There is perhaps no grisly act the Islamic State has committed that has not been committed by the U.S. and/or its allies, with the possible exception of posting videos of beheadings on YouTube. Beheadings themselves are commonplace in countries like Saudi Arabia.
It’s not the beheadings that separate the brutality of the Islamic State from the brutality of others near and far, it’s the deployment of pictures of beheadings that has upset polite societies well-steeped in their denial. Posting such videos, censored as they are, has achieved a metaphorical beheading: leadership in the U.S. and elsewhere has lost its head over a theatrical provocation as effective emotionally as it is unimportant geopolitically. Some forty countries are now at war against a threat of minimal proportions, largely as a gut reaction to a disturbing movie. That’s not so much a heart of darkness as a head of darkness.
President Obama speaks from a darker heart when he refers to “Russian aggression” with nomeaningful context. Failing to acknowledge the civil war in Ukraine, the U.S. president promises to “support the people of Ukraine,” when he means only some of the people of Ukraine:
“We call upon others to join us on the right side of history – for while small gains can be won at the barrel of a gun, they will ultimately be turned back if enough voices support the freedom of nations and peoples to make their own decisions.”
In countries all over the world, from Iran and Cuba to Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as all of Latin America, the United States has consistently opposed and often crushed “the freedom of nations and peoples to make their own decisions.” Even when native movements adopted their own versions of American founding documents the U.S. was not assuaged, as the Vietnamese learned at horrendous cost in the face of American brutality that makes the Islamic State look like a bunch of Quakers.
President Obama does not acknowledge this imperial history any more than his government’s present imperial imperative. As far as Ukraine goes, the fault is all with Russia, according to the president, who even lies about MH-17 to reinforce his phony bill of particulars. He certainly omits reference to his favored Ukrainians burning opponents alive in Odessa. Nowhere does he acknowledge anything like a Western-supported coup in Kiev that established an illegitimate government with a neo-Nazi tinge, whose war crimes in the east are documented by U.N. observers. Nowhere does this Nobel peace laureate acknowledge twenty years of Western stealth aggression against Russia, in which his own administration remains active.
With no apparent shame or sense of irony, the president refers to reducing nuclear arsenals and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons as “the kind of cooperation we are prepared to pursue again—if Russia changes course.”
Actually, these are things worth pursuing for their own sake, and if anyone needs to change course, it’s the West, the U.S./NATO/EU/IMF and the rest. The way the president couches it is intellectual fraud and moral blackmail.
The president takes a similar, not-our-fault-and-not-really-our-responsibility approach to various other issues, including poverty and climate change, where the evidence is to the contrary. Long as it is, the speech at the U.N. does not gain in coherence. The president who recently said he doesn’t have a strategy apparently still has no strategy, unless casting blame is somehow strategic:
“But as we look to the future, one issue risks a cycle of conflict that could derail such progress: and that is the cancer of violent extremism that has ravaged so many parts of the Muslim world.”
In context, the president’s implication is that Muslim extremists prevent the rest of the world from dealing sensibly with climate change. Read the speech, these are in consecutive paragraphs. And these bad Muslims are fearfully powerful:
“… they have embraced a nightmarish vision that would divide the world into adherents and infidels…. And it is no exaggeration to say that humanity’s future depends on us uniting against those who would divide us along fault lines of tribe or sect; race or religion.”
Or as President Bush put it thirteen years ago: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” The presidential rhetoric of 2001 lives on in the presidential rhetoric of 2014. Moments later, President Bush added, “This is the world’s fight. This is civilization’s fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.” Then he lied his country into war in Iraq.
In other words, it absolutely is an exaggeration to say that “humanity’s future” depends on fighting the Islamic State, a force numbering in the thousands, a force without nuclear weapons, and virtually defenseless against attack from the air. Like so many other governments and rebels, the Islamic State has committed atrocities, perhaps on the scale of Lidice, Wounded Knee, Suchow, My Lai, Dublin, or other mass killings. President Obama charges the Islamic State with committing “the most horrific crimes imaginable,” which is flatly untrue. Islamists have not perpetrated a Holocaust or the atomic vaporization of a city. These are accomplishments of Western civilization.
Bad as it was, Islamist treatment of Yazidis in Iraq came nowhere close to the Turkish genocide of Armenians in the early 20th century. Yet genocide-denying Turkey is a much-desired ally. And the president, citing “videos of the atrocity [of beheading],” says somewhat hysterically of the enemy du jour:
“No God condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.”
And the way the United States will do this is to bring more war, death, and suffering to a region already hostile to the West for its centuries of abuse. But the president presumably knows that some God condones that terror. For all his high-pitched condemnation of Islamic State beliefs, the president omits their nurturing safe haven in Saudi Arabia, where the state religion is a conservative Sunni belief system with much in common with the Sunnis of the Islamic State. Saudis have supported the Islamic State for years. Saudi Arabia is a police state that allows the open practice of no religion other than Islam.
For the United States, this is not division “into adherents and infidels,” this is just a quirk of a major oil producer. Besides, as the U.S. president told the U.N., the real problem is elsewhere:
“It is time for a new compact among the civilized peoples of this world to eradicate war at its most fundamental source: the corruption of young minds by violent ideology…. We must offer an alternative vision.”
The answer to the whole problem turns out to be marketing! And not just any marketing, marketing to the young!
So war is just marketing by other means? And marketing is way more persuasive than justice? And blaming victims, the young who have no effective power to change anything happening to them now, is an intellectually tenable position? And it’s a moral perspective? And God condones it?
The president’s “final point” is:
“… the countries of the Arab and Muslim world must focus on the extraordinary potential of their people – especially the youth.”
This may sound like patronizing nonsense, but perhaps the president means it as another example of “the freedom of nations and peoples to make their own decisions.” Or perhaps not:
“If young people live in places where the only option is between the dictates of a state, or the lure of an extremist underground – no counter-terrorism strategy can succeed…. No external power can bring about a transformation of hearts and minds. But America will be a respectful and constructive partner.”
We’re talking to you, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and Kuwait and other police states, the president seems to say, and we don’t really mean anything by it, we just have a home audience that needs gulling.
The Islamic State has few if any friends, so bombing its people has little or no immediate political cost. Better, they can be punished without disrupting much of the oil business, while at the same time boosting the arms business. Down the line there may be blowback – again – but that’s down the line.
And besides, America is exceptional, and that exceptionalism means that God condones whatever we do, or as the president puts it:
“… we welcome the scrutiny of the world…. we fight for our ideals, and are willing to criticize ourselves…. we hold our leaders accountable, and insist on a free press and independent judiciary…. we address our differences in the open space of democracy – with respect for the rule of law….”
That’s part of the ideal, to be sure.
The reality is that each of the five most recent presidential administrations has committed war crimes (and other crimes), for which almost no one has been held accountable and some have received presidential pardons. Government secrecy continues to expand, police state tactics continue to spread, the “free press” is controlled by fewer and fewer people, and this president has responded to these trends by criminally charging more reporters than all his predecessors combined.
The president, who wages war without legal authority, concludes:
“The people of the world look to us, here [at the U.N.], to be as decent, as dignified, and as courageous as they are in their daily lives. And at this crossroads, I can promise you that the United States of America will not be distracted or deterred from what must be done…. Join us in this common mission, for today’s children and tomorrow’s.”
The candidate of hope and change in 2008 has somehow become the president of war and fear in 2014, channeling his predecessor’s rhetoric while pursuing similar policies somewhat less recklessly. How did this happen?
Somehow this U.S. president has reached the point of making an Orwellian argument that war is peace, that war is decent, dignified, and courageous, even (or especially) against an outnumbered, militarily helpless, hapless, non-state enemy (a “muscular new course,” the New York Times called it). And why, why should this one-sided war be waged?
Do it for the children – or at least for the ones who survive. That’s what it comes down to in President Obama’s crie de guerre.
William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
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