Monday, December 14, 2009

The Permanent Government triumphs again

“One of the myths of the international community is that the United States likes war. And the reality is, other than the first two or three years of World War II, there has never been a popular war in America.” (Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, as reported in the New York Times, Dec.13).

Just so. Why then do we get all our wars? The career of Robert M. Gates, a retread from the Bush administration, offers an important clue. Whatever the people and the voters may want, what we get is what is decreed by the most powerful criminal class in human history: the Permanent Government ensconced in Washington, DC.

Here is a revealing anecdote. In 1964, so the story goes, a naive conservative announced his intention to vote for Barry Goldwater. A friend counseled: “Don’t do that. If you do, the Vietnam War will escalate.” The conservative disregarded the advice and voted for Goldwater. Soon the results became evident. "My friend was right," remarked the naive conservative. "I voted for the Republican candidate and, lo and behold, there are more troops in Vietnam." Of course the escalation was ordered by the Democratic victor in the election, Lyndon B. Johnson.

The moral is that once the Washington consensus has congealed, what the people want is immaterial. The apparatchiks have made up their minds. What will be is what they have decided. Democracy has nothing to do with the matter.

As Justin Raimondo has aptly noted, this high-handedness is particularly egregious when it comes to going to war. Of course, the military-industrial complex plays an important role, particularly when it meshes with the local interests of Congresspeople in getting reelected. Recall the classic cartoon in which a politician points to an elaborate weapon. “This is the perfect product,” he exults. “The parts are made in all 435 congressional districts!” Nowadays, most of them are made in Asia. No matter, the Permanent Government can adjust to almost anything.

At all events the ultimate decisions are not made in the boondocks, where ordinary people live. They are made by powerful elites, like those individuals who serve on the Council of Foreign Relations. These miscreants owe their prestige and income to their constant promotion of overseas intervention, ranging from application of “soft power” to open warfare. They are the reason why we are maintaining more than 800 bases throughout the world.

So the will of the people is routinely thwarted.

It is even possible to rally the public to support, temporarily at least, policies that are clearly not in the national interest. A good example is Obama’s appalling Oslo speech a few days ago. As Glenn Greenwald noted, this was “the most explicitly pro-war speech ever delivered by anyone while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Greenwald goes on to observe that it “was such a clear and comprehensive expression of his foreign policy that it's now being referred to as the ‘Obama Doctrine.’  About that matter, there are two arguably confounding facts to note:  (1) the vast majority of leading conservatives -- from Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich to Peggy Noonan, Sarah Palin, various Kagans and other assorted neocons -- have heaped enthusiastic praise on what Obama said yesterday, i.e., on the Obama Doctrine; and (2) numerous liberals have done exactly the same.”

Why are the neocons so enthusiastic? The answer is obvious, for the Obama doctrine is almost identical to the Bush doctrine. In Oslo Obama harped upon what he termed the right to wage wars unilaterally. He did not stop there, but went on to outline a wide array of circumstances in which war is supposedly "just." The doctrine of Just War, I note parenthetically, is a dubious relic left over from medieval scholasticism. Given the right skills of casuistry, almost any war can be considered just.

According to the Bush-Obama doctrine there is no need for those old-fashioned criteria of being attacked or facing imminent attack by another country. Consistently enough, the president explicitly rejected the nonviolence espoused by Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi as too narrow and insufficiently pragmatic for a modern commander-in-chief like Obama to embrace. The United States is endowed--almost divinely, it would seem--with the mission to use war to combating "evil.” The president then hailed the U.S. for underwriting global security during the last six decades. No wonder the world is such a stable and harmonious place!

It is not in any way surprising that the neocon hawks are applauding Obama’s speech; so much of it was devoted to parroting their core beliefs. Not only do the neocons favor aggression and confrontation as a matter of course, they can also assure themselves that “we were right all along.” 

Much harder to explain is why the liberals were so enthusiastic. Why did they find the speech so inspiring and agreeable?  As Glenn Greenwald remarks, “is that what liberals were hoping for when they elected Obama:  someone who would march right into Oslo and proudly announce to the world that we have a unilateral right to wage war when we want and to sing the virtues of war as a key instrument for peace? “

Think back again to the dilemma about who to vote for during that previous megadisaster, the Vietnam War-- Johnson or Goldwater: Tweedledum or Tweedledee. It doesn’t matter because, as always, the fix is in.


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