ISIS Ukraine
ISIS Ukraine

When I tuned in to US president Barack Obama’s televised speech on his plans for war against the so-called “Islamic State,” I expected exactly what we got — a bland sundae of pseudo-patriotic drivel topped off with some whipped cream of big bucks for the military-industrial complex and the cherry of regime change in Syria. What I didn’t expect was a bon mot homage to a previous era:

“[W]e are not about to send American boys 9 or 10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.” — US president Lyndon Johnson, October 21, 1964

“[W]e cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves …” US president Barack Obama, September 10, 2014

A curious inversion: LBJ’s remark came near the end of the “advisor” era in Vietnam and prior to the massive, direct US military intervention there. Obama’s reprise comes after nearly a quarter century of massive, direct US military interventions in Iraq and proposes to make history run backward into an “advisor” scenario. Curious, but clearly not accidental.

We all remember how Vietnam ended. After two lost ground wars in Asia in the last 12 years, after recourse to the history book accounts of the post-WWII era, you might expect Obama to have learned a lesson by now. And you’d be right.

Unfortunately the lesson he’s learned isn’t the obvious one (mind your own business, America!). Rather it’s that modern American wars aren’t meant to be “won.” The measure of success since 1945 is not military victory over a defined enemy, but dollars fed into the maw of “defense” contractors – the more and the longer the better.

Obama’s perverse hat tip to LBJ might have been better framed as an invocation of Harry Hopkins, US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s closest political confidant. Hopkins summed up the past history and future goals of all states in 1938 thusly: “[S]pend and spend and spend, and tax and tax and tax, and elect and elect and elect.” World War II put the military-industrial complex at the center of the “spend, tax” web. It has remained there ever since and has every intention of remaining there until the end of time.

Nearly 65 years after the first shots of the Korean war, the US still maintains a force of nearly 30,000 troops along the 38th Parallel. Nearly 75 years after VE and VJ Days, the US still maintains huge garrisons and naval presences in Europe (nearly 70,000 troops) and the Pacific (80,000).

The purpose of these gigantic perpetual deployments? To justify expenditures of hundreds of billions of dollars per year on weapons, gear, ships, planes, barracks and so forth, all provided by our politicians’ friends in the “defense” industry. The killing isn’t the point, except to the extent that the weapons wear out, the ammunition gets consumed, etc. so that more stuff can be bought.

Vietnam was a long and lucrative war but pretty much a one-off affair. When it was over it was over.

The aim of successive US administrations in the Middle East seems to be a return to the Vietnam model, with some helpful modifications. The mythology of ISIS as a substantial (even, in the overheated words of certain Capitol Hill crazies, “existential”) threat to the US, combined with its actual status as an amorphous, ill-defined bogeyman that can never really be “defeated,” lends itself well to the further extension of 24 years of war.

And the aim of the current administration in Ukraine? To extend NATO’s 70-year career, on its own model and on that of Korea, instead of letting a long since militarily pointless “alliance” shuffle off to the retirement home.

The usual leading and fixed question set on matters of war is: “Can the state afford to have this war?” Quickly countered with “can the state afford to NOT have this war?”

The real question we should be asking ourselves is “can we afford the state and its perpetual wars?”

3 COMMENTS

  1. No country can afford any war is the answer to your drivel! True the US can build marvels for war but they are for the big wars not for factions like ISIS!

    Yes they are real or have you not seen the beheading’s lately!

    Or maybe you haven’t seen what Putin controls which is over 200,000 dead in Syria!

    You see there is something missing from your article and that is how these factions in the Middle East and in Africa are getting their military equipment.

    One thing no one ever brings up is why Putin is so set on building manufacturing plants for his weapons and selling them to whom ever he wishes which is always “the faction”!

    Putin knows all he has to do is build AK-47’s and AK-103 then sell them to ISIS and the US will have to use their missiles!

    Cost effective? No! But it’s better than sending in forces and Putin knows it! It’s his game and he wants to do everything possible then sit back to watch the show.

    Personally I’m hoping the sanctions stay in place and if Putin brings his forces into the newly controlled Eastern Provence of the Ukraine there will be even more sanctions. Russia believes the UK can’t live without natural gas this winter but I believe Russia can’t afford to cut it off!

    The UK has been producing at 75 to 80% normal production and they can increase to 95 to 100% leaving Russia in the cold. True they signed with China to sell all they can handle but there is one small problem! It will be two to three years before the pipeline project is complete!

    With the Rouble hitting an all time low I’m betting Russia can’t survive! So if Putin crosses the Ukraine line after the signing today the people of Russia had better think hard about getting rid of Putin!

    Sorry for such a long comment but I promise I could have written more! But when you say Middle East you need to say Putin’s name in the same breath! Unless your Russian then you make excuses for him while saying nothing but bad about the US!

    By the way why is Russia the only country in the world with a population over 100 million that is actually shrinking in population?

    My thought is everyone that can will try to escape!

    • Kevin,

      Thanks for your comment. To be blunt, I was on the fence as to whether to submit the piece you’re replying to outside of the US since it is mostly directed at an American audience. Here’s the best I can do by way of reply:

      1) I don’t carry any water for Putin. As titular head of Russia’s political class, he’s more or less up to the same games as the American political class — expanding his power, serving various masters (including but not limited to Russia’s arms industry), etc.

      2) As an anarchist, I naturally want to see states in general topple, but of course that can be a messy thing. If I had one comment to make to a European audience about US “bear”-baiting, it would be that when there’s a real price to be paid, the most likely candidates to end up paying it are, in addition to Ukraine, the Baltic states. Putin would love to have a) an excuse and b) the ability to bring Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia back under the Russian heel. Ukraine is shaping up as the excuse; whether the ability is there or not, I don’t know (let’s be realistic — it depends largely on whether NATO would take a stand or walk away with tail tucked).

      If Putin was looking for this kind of standoff, the US delivered it to him on a silver platter. And even if he wasn’t, the US has created a dangerous situation with the culmination its 10-year “color revolution” campaign to install a less Russia-friendly government in Kiev.

      Best regards,
      Tom Knapp

      • Mr. Knapp first of all I do apologize for saying “drivel” to begin with and I thank you for posting my comment. At the time I had been awake for nearly 24 hours so I was being shortsighted. Since my retirement I spend more time reading overseas media’s trying to make sense of what is occurring on foreign soils. When I read your article I was incensed by the fact you compared the Presidents statement to LBJ. We all should be respected in our indifference’s and since I now have slept I will just say I agree to disagree.

        In Iraq alone there is an Army of 331,000 active at present but they have no command and control. When I heard 800 ISIS fighters had routed 3,000 I came to the conclusion their Commanders and Generals were probably given their positions by higher authorities because they were family or friends and not because of expertise.

        It boggles the mind to believe a country of 32 million and an Army of 331,000 cannot defend itself from 16 to 30,000 terrorist. But they can’t and have pleaded with the US to help! As I stated before the US doesn’t want to put soldiers on the ground but we most likely will but using the Iraqi Army while furnishing command and control from the ground and air. But one of the sad facts of the Middle East is religion rules the hearts of all who live there more than any governments can in the rest of the world. You may be an anarchist and want states to topple but what is left when they do? The best answer is the state will exist with only what is left which in Iraq’s case would be religion after their Government disappears. What does that mean? Basically you’re back to the stone ages!

        As I stated I read as much as possible in as many regions as possible and finding many facts most do not hear in their own media. Of course there are many hardliner media’s in Russia but there are also quite a few liberal media’s and it is those I have found information on Putin’s intent.

        In January an article published in Prvada showed intent of using the Ukraine for its military industrial complex’s while another showed their plans to recreate the old Soviet Union. Putin has slowly started to take the region back using force in three states and installing his own heads of states in others. When Putin stated there were no Russian soldiers in Ukraine two media’s online and television stations in Russia said different. The media’s online were The St. Petersburg Times and The Moscow Times!

        But my statement that Putin is supplying arms to organizations outside of Russia is one that was hard to prove up until the US sanctioned eight individuals in the Middle East recently. Since then media’s in three countries tied Putin to the arms including Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood.

        Could this be the beginning of the end for his regime? I doubt it but combining this with the fighting in Ukraine, the ruble, recession and Gasprons losses it’s possible! In Russia Grigory Revzin who was the head of this year’s Venice Biennale and is a historian and architectural critic was fired because of an article he had published. In his article he stated “that any possible conflict in Ukraine would unite educated Russians against Putin.”War — this is a transformation of all Western-leaning citizens — that is, the absolute majority of successful, educated, self-sufficient city dwellers”. When he was fired his staff of 28 resigned so they may not do too well in Italy this year! But the article shows there maybe unrest already existing in Russia.

        I apologize again for writing so much and I could probably write a book on Putin’s plans including Africa, Venezuela, Brazil, Cuba and Nicaragua. Again thank you for responding but most of all letting my post be shown to your readers! If this comment isn’t posted I would understand.

        Sincerely,
        Kevin

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