The Jubilation Of The Hegemonists

They’re back in charge in Washington, they will always despise Obama, and they will demand, in the end, ground troops. Wieseltier takes a victory lap:

New varieties of half-heartedness would be disastrous. Shall we not do stupid stuff? Fine, then. Not bombing ISIS in Syria would be stupid stuff. (Where is the border between Syria and Iraq?) Not transforming the Free Syrian Army into a powerful fighting force would be stupid stuff. Not armingand in every other way standing behindthe Kurds would be stupid stuff. Andhere comes the apostasy!not considering the sagacious use of American troops would be stupid stuff.

The obsolescence of the American army is not a conclusion warranted by the war in Iraq. In our determination not to fight the last war, we must not pretend that it was the last war. If the president’s ends in his campaign against ISIS are justified, then he must not deny himself the means. The new government in Baghdad may work out or it may not. Our allies may agree to share the toughest burdens of the campaign or they may not. The outcome of this multilateral effort will depend on the United States. It still comes down to us. Why are we so uneasy with our own moral and historical prominence?

No more half-heartedness! Just go to war in the Middle East again – actually attempt to reconstruct two now-imaginary countries, Iraq and Syria – but with one proviso: we’re all in. No ground troops should be ruled out – which means their involvement becomes inevitable. The multi-sectarian, complex forces and counter-forces in the civil wars of what was once Iraq and what was once Syria can all be mastered by American military power – just like the last Iraq war, remember?

Note this line:

In our determination not to fight the last war, we must not pretend that it was the last war.

But we are going to war in the same place we just left! And we are doing so for the very same reason we were the last time around – because a Sunni insurgency does not trust the Shiite-dominated government that we installed and still support. We have no new capabilities that make all our previous mistakes avoidable again. We are once again trying to control the uncontrollable and manage the unknowable in places we know far less about than our enemies, just as we once did – and without any clear, tangible threat to the US. This “last war” began in 1991, it was extended in 2003, it is now being extended again, after the briefest of lulls, for the indefinite future. America is becoming nothing but a war machine, forever fixing the conflicts we create, supported by a Beltway elite with no accountability for anything they have ever said or written in the past.

For some, a forever war against evil everywhere on earth is what gets them up in the morning. I understand how this is genuine, even admirable in its compassion and care. But it is not prudent; it has been proven a failure already; it has cost us a trillion dollars and countless lives and limbs. To believe it will be different this time is the definition of insanity.

Update from a reader:

You wrote:

For some, a forever war against evil everywhere on earth is what gets them up in the morning. I understand how this is genuine, even admirable in its compassion and care. But it is not prudent; it has been proven a failure already; it has cost us a trillion dollars and countless lives and limbs. To believe it will be different this time is the definition of insanity.

I understand trying to ascribe non-malevolent motive here, but I want to make a point that I am somewhat loathe to make, given how the term is often abused: this is chicken-hawking at its most extreme.  The group of neocons and establishment Washington pols (with the media right behind them) that perpetually agitate for war and “boots on the ground” give up NOTHING by their clockwork bellicosity.  They won’t spend years of their lives living in a tent in the desert, their families won’t feel the stress of multiple deployments, their children won’t be blown up by an IED.  Someone else’s will, and they’ll go on agitating for endless military engagement all around the world, forever.

It is inappropriate to cry “chicken-hawk!” every time America decides it needs to use force.  That would be illegitimate – a country can’t function that way.  But at what point do we need to look perpetual-war agitators in the eye and say, “If you really think evil is taking over the world, if you want America to fight constantly, then it is your turn.  Go enlist.  Bring your son and your daughter with you.  Then come back and tell me if you think we need to fight over there.”

I won’t hold my breath.

You Go To War With The Warmongers You Have

by Freddie deBoer


Though the left is often seen as home to only pacifists and those who see the hand of imperialism in all proposed military action, there is also a healthy strain of messianic militarism on our side. I regularly engage with lefties who believe we should be “doing something” for the people of Syria, although what that something entails is not consistent or clear. In this telling, the Syrian uprising is a legitimate revolutionary force, the Islamists among them a small corruption that doesn’t jeopardize a post-Assad future, and the situation such that the United States could deploy military power in a way that increases stability and humanitarian outcomes rather than degrades them. These lefties believe in revolution, and they want the United States to be a revolutionary power.

Well, I would simply start by asking: is the United States military in the habit of supporting revolutionaries? What about the history of this country compels you to think that it has the capacity to support revolution, or any interest in doing so? If the United States goes to war, it doesn’t go with some hypothetical benevolent military machine. It goes to war with its actual existing military machine, under the auspices of the same-old warmongering politicians and officials, and with the same old military leadership. We don’t have some spare revolutionary force lying around. So: do you want to break bread with those people? Do you want to give your support to them? Do you want them to do what they do? Because that is a necessary precondition of getting involved. The neocons who want us to get into every war are not suddenly going to throw up their hands and say “we’re sitting this one out, the lefties have got it.” You are free to say that you don’t want to get involved with Bill Kristol and his cronies. But they will most certainly get involved in your war.

There are more arguments against intervening in Syria than I can count. The first and most salient is the only argument we need against calls for more righteous bloodletting: should implies can. The United States went to war under ostensibly humanitarian pretenses in Iraq. We had over 100,000 troops stationed there, and the result was a humanitarian calamity, limitless slaughter. We sent cruise missiles to liberate the people of Libya, and the country has descended into civil war and chaos. Saying that we should free the Syrian people implies that we can. But for now, I want left-wing advocates of military intervention in Syria to recognize: anything that the United States does, will be done in the way that the United States always does it. This will not suddenly become the country you want it to be. And no matter how much you wish it were different, you will be lying down with the Tony Blairs and the Dick Cheneys and the Weekly Standards and the Commentarys. They will be getting involved, and they will exercise more control than you ever can. That’s reality.

Back in a rare moment of clarity, before quickly rediscovering his cruise missile liberalism, Peter Beinart wrote an apology for his previous support for the war. He explained that he had come to learn “a painful realization about the United States: We can’t be the country those Iraqis wanted us to be. We lack the wisdom and the virtue to remake the world through preventive war.” That was true then, and it’s true now. Because the United States is not that country. Because everything about our history, recent and distant, teaches you that this country does not rescue. It doesn’t liberate. It supports dictatorships, destroys enemies, secures resources, destabilizes countries, drops ordnance, and generally imposes its will. But it does not liberate, and no amount of wishing will make it the kind of power you want it to be.

(Image from HuffPo’s “True Chyrons For Bush-Era Iraq War ‘Experts’“)

The Empire Is Striking Back

The Obama administration is now facing a real test of its resolve in Iraq. The depressing but utterly predictable resurgence of Sunni Jihadism in a country broken in 2003 and never put back together again by the “surge” has been so successful and the Iraqi government so weak that even Kurdistan is now at risk. The policy now is to do enough – but no more – to keep the Kurds in the game, keep the Yazidis on planet earth and push the Iraqis in Baghdad to get real. I felt queasy when the president announced this intervention and feel queasier two Hillary Clinton Awarded The 2013 Lantos Human Rights Prizedays later. Even though attempted genocide creates a uniquely grave crisis, as soon as the US is committed militarily to an open-ended endeavor in that country, and is in any way dependent on the Iraqis to take the lead, then we are at the mercy of that country’s profound dysfunction once again. It is quicksand. One foot in and you start sinking.

Or you can think of Iraq as perhaps the least reformable of all welfare dependents. Chronically divided, disintegrating yet again at a particularly explosive moment in Middle Eastern madness, it will always seem on the brink of some disaster or other. The temptation to go in again – especially since we gave it tens of thousands of corpses and years of trauma to add to its chaotic polity – is great. And Obama’s signature achievement so far has been his steadiness in resisting that vortex, in defusing Jihadism rather than giving it yet more reason to be inflamed, in being that rare president capable of internalizing what most Americans want – rather than what Sunday talk show blowhards demand.

He still has a chance to do that – but it will be much, much tougher now. Give the hegemonists some blood in the water, and they will soon swarm, demanding more war, and more meddling. You can see that dynamic in the idiotic ravings of John McCain who wants a full-scale war against ISIL – or in the classic scare tactics of Butters, with the inane idea that we have to fight them over there or they will come here. It is madness as strategy – madness that already created catastrophe. But no one responsible for that catastrophe in Washington was ever held mccainmariotamagetty.jpgaccountable – they’re doing their damndest right now to make sure war criminals are white-washed as well  – and so their ability to snap back right to 2003 is intact.

And the greatest throwback to 2003 in this respect is Hillary Clinton. So far as one can tell from her interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, there is no daylight between her and John McCain or even Benjamin Netanyahu – but a hell of a lot of space between her and Barack Obama. The interview confirms my view that she remains neoconservatism’s best bet to come back with bells on. It appears, for example, that her boomer-era pabulum about foreign policy on the Jon Stewart show – “We need to love America again! –  was not an aberration. She actually means it. And once we believe in ourselves again – don’t look at that torture report! – it will be back to the barricades for another American century of American global hegemony. And why not start in Syria and Iraq? I mean: she’s already hepped up about the threat of Jihadism –  and what could possibly go wrong this time? If only we believe in America!

You know, when you’re down on yourself, and when you are hunkering down and pulling back, you’re not going to make any better decisions than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward. One issue is that we don’t even tell our own story very well these days.

Just forget that this country destroyed its military deterrence and its moral authority by the war that Clinton favored and has never fully expressed remorse for. Forget the trillions wasted and the tens of thousands of lives lost and the brutal torture we authorized and the hapless occupation that helped galvanize Jhadism, let’s just feel good about ourselves! And do it all again!

And so try and find a real difference between John McCain and Hillary Clinton on these topics. It’s certainly the same “fight them over there so we don’t fight them over here” fear-mongering:

One of the reasons why I worry about what’s happening in the Middle East right now is because of the breakout capacity of jihadist groups that can affect Europe, can affect the United States. Jihadist groups are governing territory. They will never stay there, though. They are driven to expand. Their raison d’etre is to be against the West, against the Crusaders, against the fill-in-the-blank—and we all fit into one of these categories. How do we try to contain that? I’m thinking a lot about containment, deterrence, and defeat.

Well, actually, their raison d’etre is not to be against the West. Right now and for the foreseeable future, it is about defeating the apostates of Shia Islam and wimpy Sunni Islam. It’s about forcing other Muslims to submit to their medieval authority – with weapons left behind from the last American interventionist project. The West for these Jihadis is a long, long way away. But not for Clinton or for McCain who see Benjamin Netanyahu Chairs Weekly Israeli Cabinet Meetingevery struggle anywhere as involving the US because … America! And that’s when you realize how fresh Obama was and how vital he has been – and how in foreign policy, a Clinton presidency is such a contrast to his.

Among those most eager for a return of the past is, of course, Benjamin Netanyahu. And you see in the interview with Goldberg how closely Clinton’s views mirror his. She hits every single neocon talking point: the Israelis have no responsibility for the killing of hundreds of children because “there’s no doubt in my mind that Hamas initiated this conflict … So the ultimate responsibility has to rest on Hamas and the decisions it made.” That’s almost a paraphrase of the Israeli prime minister or Joan Rivers (take your pick of the nuance artists). And Clinton even backs Netanyahu’s recent dismissal of a two-state solution! Yep: she’s not just running to succeed Barack Obama, there are times in the interview when it seems she’s running against him:

“If I were the prime minister of Israel, you’re damn right I would expect to have control over [West Bank] security, because even if I’m dealing with [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas, who is 79 years old, and other members of Fatah, who are enjoying a better lifestyle and making money on all kinds of things, that does not protect Israel from the influx of Hamas or cross-border attacks from anywhere else. With Syria and Iraq, it is all one big threat. So Netanyahu could not do this in good conscience.”

Again, you see how fresh Obama was. And what more could the entire neocons wish for? Oh wait: yes! They can also get their most cherished of dreams – a new war on Iran! Listen to Clinton parrot every AIPAC trope:

“I’ve always been in the camp that held that they did not have a right to enrichment,” Clinton said. “Contrary to their claim, there is no such thing as a right to enrich. This is absolutely unfounded. There is no such right. I am well aware that I am not at the negotiating table anymore, but I think it’s important to send a signal to everybody who is there that there cannot be a deal unless there is a clear set of restrictions on Iran. The preference would be no enrichment. The potential fallback position would be such little enrichment that they could not break out.” When I asked her if the demands of Israel, and of America’s Arab allies, that Iran not be allowed any uranium-enrichment capability whatsoever were militant or unrealistic, she said, “I think it’s important that they stake out that position.”

Clinton’s position is Netanyahu’s. And that’s important to understand. If you want a United States with no daylight between it and any Israeli government, whatever that government may do, vote for Clinton. If you want someone who believes the Libya intervention was the right thing to do, vote for Clinton. If you think America’s problem is not torture or drones or destabilizing occupations or debt but that we don’t tell the world how great we are enough, then vote for Clinton. If you really long for 2003 again, vote for Clinton.

She may be the only option – if the GOP nominates a full-bore pro-torture neocon. But isn’t it amazing that after the catastrophes of the Bush-Cheney era, both parties could effectively be running neocons for the presidency in 2016! Welcome to Washington – where the past is always present, amnesia is a lubricant, and the leading Democrat is running as a neocon. That change you could believe in? Not if Washington has the final say.

The Neocons Double Down On Gaza

As the brutality and slaughter in Gaza shocks the global conscience, there are a couple of options for the current American right. One might be to reconsider their lockstep support for anything Israel does, including its settlements, and perhaps observe that occupying Arab land and attempting to wipe out an insurgency tends not to go well for a Western power (see Iraq, etc.).  The other is to double down on everything, blame Hamas solely for the staggering suffering in Gaza – and call for yet more bombs, yet more shelling and yet more mass killing. Call the latter the Cheney option. As to the possibility that a campaign that would kill thousands more Gazans might spawn even deeper resistance, and ever more radical successors to Hamas, Continetti dismisses it:

Say Islamic Jihad replaced Hamas tomorrow. Would we be able to tell the difference? How would its rhetoric be more genocidal, its propaganda more manipulative, its aims more maximalist, its tactics more barbaric than what Israel experiences now? Would Islamic Jihad have two Palestinian Mickey Mouses exhorting schoolchildren to kill Jews, rather than one? …

Yes, there would be costs to regime change in the Gaza Strip. But the choice is not between a costly policy and a cost-free one. The choice is between the costs of removing a terrorist group from power and the costs of leaving it injured but able to fight another day. To prevent a fourth war, to bolster ties with the Sunni powers, to improve the chances of a two-state solution, to help the Palestinians, above all to secure Israel, the decision is clear. Destroy Hamas. End the war. Free Gaza.

Free Gaza from its own population? Because do you really think that, after what Israel has done to them, Gazans will choose the IDF over Hamas? It’s as brilliant an idea as re-invading Iraq (which many neocons also support). And it’s staggering to me that in order “to improve the chances of a two-state solution”, countless Gazan children have to die but not a single brick should be removed from the settlements in the West Bank. But the classic neocon view that in all fights, the only option is to up the ammo, seems sadly resurgent. Jonathan Tobin piles on:

Those who claim there is only a political solution to the problem fail to understand that in the absence of a military solution it won’t be possible.

Until something happens that will eliminate the Palestinian force that is determined to keep the conflict red-hot and is prepared to sacrifice their own people in order to advance that objective, there is no point to those who criticize Israel for not creating a Palestinian state. Though it has been blockaded by Israel, Egypt, and the international community since the 2007 coup that brought Hamas to power there, Gaza has functioned as an independent state for all intents and purposes since then. Its government’s sole objective has been to fight Israel, pouring its scarce resources into rockets, tunnels, and other military expenses while—despite Hamas’s reputation as a “social welfare organization”—doing virtually nothing to better the lives of its people. So long as it is allowed to stay in power that won’t change and, no matter how many cease-fires or negotiations John Kerry sponsors, peace will never happen.

Let’s note that the level of rocket fire from Hamas was at an all-time low in 2103 and 2014, and came back in force when Netanyahu launched a sweep of all Hamas sympathizers on the West Bank as revenge for a rogue unit that had killed three Israeli teens. The people who are just as responsible for keeping this conflict “red-hot” as Hamas are the Likudniks stealing more Palestinian land on the West Bank every day. In fact, they have a mutual interest in exactly this kind of extremism. Responding to Joe Scarborough’s change of heart, Allahpundit makes the same point:

I can understand being indifferent about which jihadi group runs Gaza or mildly preferring Hamas just because Israel has already collected so much intelligence on them. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. (Netanyahu himself apparently favors that approach.) If you take the “whatever comes next will be worse” logic to its ultimate conclusion, though, you’re forever left defending whichever bunch of degenerates is in charge at the time. Israel can’t oust Hamas because then Al Qaeda might take over; if Al Qaeda takes over, Israel can’t oust them or else ISIS might move in. If ISIS moves in, Israel can’t oust them or else a portal to hell will open in the ground and Hitler and Bin Laden will emerge from the earth to rule Gaza together. And so on.

Maybe, just maybe, Allahpundit will recall that al Qaeda did not exist in Iraq till the US invaded; and that ISIS has a direct line in its existence from that moment of chaos. We helped create Jihadism in Iraq by occupying it. Why one earth would Israel manage to suppress Jihadism in Gaza by the same tactics – except this time, by a permanent occupation?

The costs of never reviewing history is that you make the same mistakes again and again.