In a normal country, war is front-page news. It is a big deal to invade and bomb another nation. Most of the world’s people can probably name all the foreign governments their own government is at war with. If any other industrialized nation were bombing Pakistan, for example, and displacing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, the average taxpayer would be aware. It would be the biggest news story. If you are a typical person living in a normal country, and your government threatens to invade, say, Eritrea, you would probably hear something about it. And you would probably even want to know where Eritrea is on a map.
The United States is not a normal country. If it ever was one, it certainly isn’t now. Its imperial foreign policy has long made it special, and now that it’s the world’s lone superpower — with an effective monopoly on aerial warfare, calling the shots as to who can have nukes, claiming the unilateral right to start wars against anyone — the U.S. government has become so belligerent, and especially in remote lands, that American wars have become routine, its casualties relegated to the back page.
This decade has obviously been especially bad. Nine years ago, the Twin Towers fell, the Pentagon was hit, and the United States, its government and political culture, fell under a spell of mass delusion that still shows no signs of abating. It has been nine whole years since 9/11, and it is starting to look like the "post-9/11" insanity that marked America under Bush has become a permanent feature of the American landscape.
Looking around at what has happened in these last nine years, we are reminded of what a long period of time this is in the modern age. iPods took the world by storm and became obsolete. Such movies as the Lord of the Rings trilogy forever changed film in ways we now take for granted. Trashy reality TV conquered most of the airwaves, but television has at the same time blossomed into a bona fide art form, with HBO, Showtime and even network TV producing programs of a quality previously unimagined. The internet has gone from being a ubiquitous convenience to becoming the major network of all communication, to which practically every other communicative and technological medium is to be connected.
In nine years, we’ve seen the housing market boom and bust. We’ve seen, according to the hyperbolic media, our nation’s greatest environmental disaster, one of the worst natural disasters, and a nearly unprecedented financial collapse. And speaking of the old media, the giant newspapers still seemed like leaders in 2001. Now they look like a dying breed, with whole enterprises selling for literally less than a single issue at a newsstand price. Meanwhile, many consumer goods, including food staples, have nearly doubled in cost. China is now the second biggest economy in the world.
And certainly, nine years is quite some time in the lives of actual people. We all know folks who’ve had children or passed away. Kids have grown from losing their baby teeth to taking their SATs. We’ve been to many weddings.
On the political scene, in the last nine years we have watched nearly two full terms of one president and half a term of another — two presidents who represent different parties, opposing sides of the culture war and, ostensibly, contrasting approaches on how to govern the country. We’ve seen the Republicans capture the federal legislature and then lose it all again. We’ve seen both parties undergo significant rhetorical makeovers.
But one thing that hasn’t changed at all is U.S. foreign policy, and the entire American style of responding to supposed threats abroad with the brute force of war and the continual expansion of government power at home.
This is not to say that there was a qualitative break in U.S. policy nine years ago, not even as far as the Muslim world was concerned. The U.S. overthrew Iran’s government in 1953, installed a dictator and taught his goons how to torture. The U.S. backed Saddam and his ilk from the late 50s through the 1980s. The U.S. engineered the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and continued to meddle in that country, radicalizing Islamist fighters and helping to create the modern fanaticism there. In the 1980s, the U.S. government bombed Libya and encouraged Saddam to invade Iran, even as President Reagan secretly sent weapons to Iran. In 1990, the U.S. government started a war with Iraq that has essentially continued to this day. Clinton bombed Iraq and Afghanistan. In the decades leading to 9/11, it is fair to say that the U.S. government directly or indirectly murdered millions of innocent people in its interventions in the Middle East and Central Asia. Every president from Eisenhower through Clinton shares some of the blame.
But there has been something particularly insane about U.S. policy since the events of 9/11. Previous limits upon imperial boldness, even if they existed only out of pragmatic concerns, have been swept aside. What was once considered beyond the pale is now accepted as normal.
Abroad, there is the war with Iraq that seems crazy even for the U.S. empire. It used to take something like the Soviet Menace, with tens of thousands of nuclear weapons — or someone like Hitler or Tojo, with some of the mightiest militaries on earth — to scare the living daylights out of Americans. But the Iraq war showed that the most ludicrous of pretenses — that a lame duck dictator like Saddam, who had never attacked the United States and showed no signs of doing so, was somehow a threat to America — could now be used to justify a project to "liberate" and bring democracy to a whole nation that itself was cobbled together by the West, held precariously intact under a brutal strongman, and that would inevitably fall short of American dreams of democracy no matter how many times its people voted.
Then there’s the fact that the U.S. government now goes to war, and is peripherally involved in even more wars, without anyone in America seeming to care. This is an era when threatening Eritrea is the least of it. The U.S. supports an Ethiopian invasion of Somalia — barely a blip in the news. The U.S. backs an ally, Israel, that invades its other ally, Lebanon, and maybe the talking heads care for about a day. The U.S. is essentially at war with its own nuclear-armed ally, Pakistan — and many Americans have no clue. The U.S. backs suicide bombers in Iran with possible ties to al Qaeda who are bent on changing Tehran’s government — not that most Americans even know the difference between Iran and al Qaeda, Persians and Arabs or Sunni and Shi’ia. And then, when an airplane passenger fails in his attempt to kill Americans on Christmas Day with explosives hidden in his underwear, the media scream that perhaps it’s time to wage war on Yemen. No one of prominence even mentions that Obama was already bombing Yemen, days before the underwear bomber almost struck.
But Afghanistan has got to be the most insane example of what’s going on. This is the war that marks the shift since 9/11 — even more than Iraq. The U.S. realists, in one of their only foreign policy successes ever, used Afghanistan against the Soviets, knowing it was the graveyard of invading empires. Now the U.S. is, in the midst of a recession, tripling down on a completely unjust and completely unwinnable project to save Afghanistan from its own tribal people, win the war on drugs there, bring freedom to the land and defeat a terrorist network that barely even exists in the country.
This is a reminder of why it’s so important to oppose a war before it begins. The Afghanistan war was always a terrible idea. Nine years ago, a few Americans stood up and pointed out that the 9/11 attacks were retaliation for U.S. foreign policy, which must be changed if we are ever to address the problem of terrorism. But these voices were in the minority. More than 90% of Americans cheered the invasion of Afghanistan. Now many on the left think it was folly, but the U.S. can’t pull out. Or they are quiet because their beloved president is doing the killing.
The Democrats practically all backed this war, and in both 2004 and 2008 attacked Bush for “neglecting” Afghanistan. Obama always promised us he’d be even worse on this war than his predecessor. It almost inspires nostalgia for Bush, who was essentially no more aggressive than Obama but who seemed to get away with less.
Obama has meanwhile "ended" the war in Iraq by keeping 50,000 troops there — troops involved in shooting and killing. Then there are the 100,000 contractors and permanent bases. Americans are snoozing. Who cares about Iraq? That’s so 2003. And on the civil liberties front — detention, rendition, surveillance, even the unilateral presidential right to assassinate US citizens he deems terrorists — Obama has pushed the envelope further than Bush. But what’s the big deal? Even conservatives who think Obama a totalitarian tyrant don’t seem to care about these, his most totalitarian and tyrannical policies.
As for the national debate about U.S. foreign policy, there is none. The idea that the minority was pushing even on 9/12 — that the attacks were blowback from decades of U.S. aggression — is still hardly more discussed than it was back then. Ron Paul made it a somewhat common point of discussion back in 2007, but since then, who has even touched upon the fundamental nature of 9/11? Instead, Americans are divided as to whether to blame all of Islam or whether to blame radical Islam, when revenge over U.S. aggression is the true motivation behind the anti-U.S. attacks, and stopping the wars is the only answer.
But far from finally being open to the truth of blowback and the insanity of the Afghanistan project, and far from having learned from Iraq to distrust U.S. war propaganda, the American people appear to have forgotten about these wars, to have stopped caring about U.S. foreign policy, except to be worried, once in a while, about the next supposed foreign threat. The media claim, without justification, that Iran is getting close to having a nuke. The press, year after year, spins a story up about how Iran is just one year away, but there is no proof this is even an Iranian goal, and practically no one ever talks about the Non-Proliferation Treaty to which Iran is a signatory, except to dishonestly imply that Iran has violated it. A poll this year reveals that 70% of Americans believe Iran already has a nuclear weapon — an astonishing accusation that the U.S. establishment has never outright articulated. But just as the Bush administration, without ever saying it, got Americans to believe that Saddam was behind 9/11, the powers that be are now doing nothing to dissuade the American public from these dangerous misconceptions about Iran. Indeed, all the actual aggressiveness is coming from Washington, in the form of sanctions and threats, and is directed against the Iranians — not the other way around.
Will the U.S. really go to war with Iran — a nation that has never attacked America, a nation that offered its support right after 9/11 in the fight against al Qaeda, a nation that would be even more unconquerable than Iraq and could become the trip wire for world conflict? Is the government going to challenge another country when it’s already in the middle of more than two wars with no end in sight? In a normal country, this would be an easier question to answer.
It is just an accepted fact that the wars and siege mentality must continue, that we cannot give up the empire lest we surrender to the terrorists. Instead, we must give away more and more of our freedoms for which we are supposedly hated. And how much longer can this charade go on? How much longer will the president be seen as the proper arbiter of life or death for all people everywhere, the judge, jury and executioner at the top of the U.S. justice system, with no territorial bounds on his power? How much longer will we deal with increasing humiliations at the airports, the rapid militarization of our police, the economy-crushing Pentagon that seems to double in size every few years, the demonization of Muslims that has become so commonplace? Will the U.S. be occupying Afghanistan nine years from now?
And it goes without saying that the U.S. government hasn’t even caught Osama bin Laden. Not that his capture would vindicate the million killed, the trillions squandered and the liberties smashed in this war. This would be obvious to people in a normal country.
But the madness will end, eventually. The bad dream that is post-9/11 America must at last give way to something else. If the people don’t get sick of it and demand that it end, or military defeat doesn’t do it, the U.S. empire will simply run out of money. Its days are numbered. It’s just tragic and sickening that many more will die before that happens.