Tom Engelhardt: Washington – War Party Ascendant

By Tom Engelhardt, a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs the Nation Institute’s His new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books), has just been published. Originally posted at TomDispatch

It was the end of the road for Chuck Hagel last week and the Washington press corps couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about writing his obituary. In terms of pure coverage, it may not have been Ferguson or the seven-foot deluge of snow that hit Buffalo, New York, but the avalanche of news reports was nothing to be sniffed at. There had been a changing of the guard in wartime Washington. Barack Obama’s third secretary of defense had gone down for the count. In the phrase of the moment, he had “resigned under pressure.” Sayonara, Chuck!

With a unanimity that crossed political lines, the accounts read as if written by a single reporter. The story went something like this: two years earlier, President Obama had brought in Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and former Republican senator with a reputation for being leery about the overuse of American military power, to wind down the war in Afghanistan, rein in military critics, and put the Pentagon budget on something closer to a peacetime footing. After a bruising Senate confirmation hearing from which he never recovered, he proved poor at “messaging” the president’s policies, had a “crappy relationship” with National Security Adviser (and Obama buddy) Susan Rice, proved a weak manager at the Department of Defense as well as a “weak link” in the Obama national security team, and could never break into the president’s tight-knit circle of insiders who — everyone agreed — had a nasty habit of “micromanaging” America’s wars (rather than, it seemed, letting the military do what needed to be done). In the end, the president “lost confidence” in him. It was a “mutual” firing or at least Hagel had advanced somewhat voluntarily toward the edge of the cliff before being pushed off.

A subcategory of Hagel reports also bloomed, again adding up to something like a single story.  In them, various journalists and commentators offered instant speculation on whom the president would invite to fill Hagel’s post. Topping everyone’s “short list”: Senator and former Army Ranger Jack Reed of Rhode Island, war fightin’ liberal and former Pentagon official Michèle Flournoy (much beloved by neocons and Republicans), and hawkish former Pentagon “weapons buyer” Ashton Carter (the ultimate nominee). Unfortunately for the press, Reed and Flournoy promptly made mincemeat out of the collective wisdom of the moment, emphatically removing their names from consideration. Politico reported the Flournoy rejection this way: “Flournoy’s withdrawal comes amid speculation President Barack Obama is looking for a candidate who would be deferential to a White House that’s increasingly exerting control over Pentagon decisions.”  Nothing, however, could stop the march of the news, whose focus simply switched to other potential job applicants. Striking was the eagerness of assorted journalists and pundits to act like employment agency headhunters vetting exactly the same list of candidates for the president.

Such journalism, of course, qualifies as the very definition of insiderdom and it led, implicitly or explicitly, to the crowning of Barack Obama as a “war president” for the final two years of his term. In the end, however, the media was less reporting on developments than reproducing them. The result: a record as collectively claustrophobic as post-9/11 Washington itself.

These days, it’s often pointed out by those who pass for Washington critics of the Obama administration that the crises are backing up like a Thanksgiving traffic jam across a remarkable swath of the planet — and that the president’s national security team has proven “dysfunctional” when it comes to dealing with them. It’s seldom acknowledged, however, that the most essential crisis isn’t in Ukraine or Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan or Iran, but in Washington. There, a bankrupt 13-year-old policy of war to the horizon remains, unbelievably enough, in the ascendancy and “war fever” seems to be breaking out yet again.

In this context, it’s curious that four crucial aspects of war, American-style, were missing from the blitz of Hagel reportage. Here’s a rundown.

1. The War Party Ascendant: It’s always best to start with the obvious, even if everyone prefers to ignore it.  So let’s begin with the simple fact that the recent midterm elections swept the Republicans into the Senate in dominating numbers and strengthened their already dominating control of the House of Representatives.  In war terms, this has only one meaning: a flock of new (and old) hawks heading into Washington.  In truth, though, on such issues there is really only one party in the nation’s capital and that’s the War Party.  In addition, if Washington commentary is to be believed, the next secretary of defense will be an unmitigated war-fighter.  The math for dummies explanation on that: no other candidate nominated by a Democratic president would have a hope in hell of making it through a confirmation process overseen by the assumed new head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain.  Add in an occupant of the Oval Office resigned to war presidency status and you can already see the big picture coming into focus.

Recent moves have only emphasized the latest war trajectory.  Just post-election, the president doubled the number of advisers in Iraq (with hints of more “boots on the ground” to come and the possibility of actual combat troops lurking somewhere in the prospective future).  Next came news that those advisers were being hustled into the country at a double-time pace.  Soon after that came word that more air power — A-10 Warthog jets and Reaper drones — was being transferred to the Iraq/Syria theater.

Meanwhile, in a reversal of a long-stated position — that the American combat role in Afghanistan was to end this year — the president recently issued a secret directive green-lighting just such a role, both on the ground and in the air, for 2015.  Soon after, the new Afghan president, clearly under American pressure, lifted a ban on controversial U.S.-supported “night raids” in his country, and reports began filtering out that the trajectory of withdrawal was about to end and extra U.S. troops would be added to the Afghan mix in 2015.

In other words, in the country’s two most active war zones, escalation and mission creep are already the order of the day.  Meanwhile, the pressure of Congressional war hawks has only been increasing when it comes to the Obama administration’s single major, unwarlike diplomatic initiative that might stand some chance of success: the Iranian nuclear talks.  At the same time, pressure to act more fiercely on Ukraine, including allowing the Pentagon to sell arms to its military, was on the rise.

Admittedly, the War Party has its factions and its disagreements.  Its members are quite capable of savaging each other.  (Just check out what Senator McCain did to Chuck Hagel at his confirmation hearings for secretary of defense and then what he did to President Obama in defense of Hagel after his removal from office.)  One thing is evident, though: in the twilight of the Obama era, the power of the War Party is on the rise, along with that of the national security state.

And so far we’re only talking about surface manifestations of bedrock reality in Washington.  After all, ever since 9/11, that city’s political denizens have considered themselves in an eternal “wartime.”  Of course, part of everyday life in that “war capital” involves Republicans and Democrats scrambling for political advantage by squabbling endlessly over who’s rash and who’s a wimp when it comes to war policy.

The Republicans brand the president incompetent or far worse, while the president (the man who shot Osama bin Laden) endlessly thanks the troops for their valor and service while donning military paraphernalia to emphasize his strength and resolve.  But underneath all the maneuvering, the War Party thrives.  You simply can’t operate in Washington without in some fashion declaring your fealty to wartime thinking and the sanctified post-9/11 dead air that goes with it.  No alternative possibilities, no other options are on that “table” on which “all options” are always said to sit in the nation’s capital.  Should you not toe the line, the national security equivalent of excommunication is in order.  “Washington rules,” in Andrew Bacevich’s phrase, do rule the day, while new thinking is unwelcome.

Recent exhibit number one: as November wound down, Rand Paul, the son of the country’s leading libertarian non-interventionist and a man who clearly has his eye on the White House, felt obliged to more or less literally “declare war” on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in order to pledge his fealty to the War Party.

On this issue, as the Hagel coverage indicates, Washington is a suffocating place when it comes to any thought that hasn’t been thought before.  (When, by the way, was the last time you heard someone in that town mention the word “peace”?)  In the end, Hagel, who came to regret his reluctant vote to invade Iraq, evidently proved an uncomfortable fit.

2. Election 2016 as an Intra-War Party Affair: In the wake of the invasion of Iraq, Bush v. Kerry in 2004 was, of course, a war election; 2008, however, proved a curious rarity, an election about war in which Americans generally thought they had voted for an anti-war candidate (as, of course, did the Nobel Prize Committee, which — to use an ill-chosen phrase — jumped the gun in 2009 by awarding its peace prize to Barack Obama just as he was about to officially “surge” in Afghanistan).  The 2012 election was a status quo one in which, thanks to the bin Laden raid, the president had inoculated himself from Republican charges of wimpism even as he had seemingly fulfilled his previous campaign promise to end the war in Iraq.

2016 is already shaping up as a War Party election all the way.  It goes without saying that whichever Republican candidate emerges from the pack will be a war-firster, while the leading Democratic candidate of the moment, Hillary Clinton, is another war-fightin’ liberal of the first order.  No wonder Flournoy, who refused to be considered for secretary of defense now, would reportedly like to work for Clinton’s future administration in the same capacity.  Sign of the times: Clinton already seems to be gathering support from a crew of neocons who had their moment in the Bush years and evidently hope to have it again.  Right now, no matter who wins in 2016, it’s shaping up to be war to the horizon in Washington.

3. The Military Rides Ever Higher: Among the strangest aspects of the Hagel coverage was the picture painted of the relationship between the military and the White House in this period.  Despite a mind-boggling infusion of funds since 9/11 and the exponential growth of the national security state, reading the Hagel stories you might be forgiven for thinking that the military was an essentially powerless, oppressed, and frustrated crew under the thumb of hopeless goof-balls at the White House. (Nor was it ever suggested that, constitutionally speaking, this is exactly what the relationship should be, no matter who occupies the Oval Office as commander in chief.)

In fact, there are signs that the military, while indeed frustrated — who wouldn’t be given the last 13 years of American war and the prospects for the latest conflict in the Middle East? — is actually riding ever higher in the nation’s capital.

In this context, the person to keep an eye on is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.  If Hagel lost the president’s confidence, according to numerous reports Dempsey is the one who gained it.  If Hagel wasn’t much for messaging, the same can’t be said of Dempsey.  He’s been testifying up a storm before Congress and commenting in significant ways on war policy in the Middle East.  Though he’s only the head of the “staff,” he has increasingly sounded like a bona fide civilian secretary of defense, speaking out on foreign policy issues, including U.S. relations with Israel and the importance of making American troops available for actual combat duty in Iraq. (This is, of course, something the president had emphatically ruled out).  He’s also spoken in ways that have not been common for military commanders in our civilian system of government.  He has politely contradicted the president on a number of occasions.  He is also credited with getting Obama to launch the first airstrikes of the new American war in the Middle East.

It seems clear that the military high command has struggled with this president over war policy since 2009, when a fierce set of arguments over how fully to “surge” in Afghanistan — the conflict the president had called the “right war” in his election campaign — burst into view.  Generally, though, little has been seen of this struggle since then.  Still, to believe that a military clearly frustrated by its wars and a high command that now fears another campaign on the road to nowhere in Iraq and Syria is under the thumb of the president and his insular national security team is to mistake a fantasy construct for reality.

4. A Failed Experiment in War: Above all, it’s a wonder that all those journalists and commentators writing about Hagel expressed neither amazement nor befuddlement when it came to accepted thinking in Washington about war, American-style.  The nation’s capital has been conducting an experiment in war-making for more than 13 years now: there have been full-scale invasions and occupations, counterinsurgency struggles that lasted years, special ops raids of every sort, the application of overwhelming air power in a variety of ways, including an air intervention in Libya, drone assassination campaigns across the backlands of the Greater Middle East, the loosing of cruise missiles, even the first cyberwar in history.  Trillions of dollars have been spent; American troops have been deployed to war zones over and over again; almost 7,000 American lives have been lost (while thousands of active duty soldiers and reservists have, in the same period, committed suicide); tens of thousands of Americans have been wounded in action, hundreds of thousands of civilians and enemy fighters in those war zones have died, and millions of people have been uprooted and sent into internal exile or forced out of their countries.  In the process, significant parts of the Greater Middle East and more recently Africa have been destabilized in devastating ways.

Think of it as a radical experiment involving what our latest two presidents have called “the greatest force for freedom in the history of the world” and “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known.” Despite ongoing wars and operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia, among other places, the results of that experiment are in.  No single war, intervention, or minor conflict in which the U.S. military has taken part in these years has even come close to achieving the objectives set out by Washington and most have proven outright disasters.  In just about every case, armed intervention, whatever form it took, demonstrably made matters worse, increased the destabilization of whatever country or region was involved, and led to the creation of more extremists and terrorists.

Imagine for a moment a lab that ran a series of experiments for 13 straight years in almost every imaginable combination through one disastrous failure after another and then promoted the experimenters and agreed to let them repeat the process all over again. This would defy logic or simply good sense anywhere but in Washington.

To summarize: 13 years later, the War Party is ascendant.  It controls Congress.  The president is visibly, if with his usual reluctance, placing his bets on war.  The military is riding high.  The end of all calls for serious Pentagon budget cuts is clearly in sight.  And more of the same is undoubtedly in the works, no matter who wins the 2016 election.

That’s the “new” Washington.  Peacetime?  A fantasy creation of lefties, libertarians, and noodle heads.  Peace?  A dirty word that no self-respecting politician would be caught using.

Meanwhile, the war hawks are crying out for more.  At the moment, all the pressure in Washington is focused on the ramping up of its various wars and crises.  Iraq War 3.0 and Syria War 1.0 are to expand.  Afghanistan seems again to be a war on the rise.  The pressure is increasing to make Cold War 2.0 ever hotter and to ensure that negotiations with Iran over a nuclear deal will prove less than fruitful.  Drone wars are ongoing.  Special forces ops are raiding away.  Thirteen years later, we are yet again floating on what seems to be a rising, not ebbing, tide of war and the one qualification for a new secretary of defense is that he or she be a hot, not a cold, warrior.

This is the working definition of a bankrupt policy and yet you could read about the latest changes in Washington’s war establishment until you were goggle-eyed and never quite know it.

Congratulations, then, are in order for the War Party.  In the face of a seemingly obdurate reality, it has somehow perfected a system of war boosterism that operates like a dream (though some might call it a nightmare).  When it comes to war, in other words, Washington is now effectively insulated from failure.  There may be 17 major interlocked intelligence outfits in town, but rest assured, there’s no intelligence in sight. So party on!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. steviefinn

    Very scary, & there doesn’t appear to be anyway to stop them – tragic that their bloodlust will most probably result in repeating the same old mistakes at the cost of very many others.

    ” America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter, and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves “.

    Abraham Lincoln.

    1. Jim Haygood

      Fitting, since Lincoln was the president who introduced total war for an ideological objective (‘to preserve the union’).

      1. theinhibitor

        Exactly. He fought so we would not be sundered from WITHIN. All wars must have an ideological objective: it’s how you get people to fight. Any statesman worth his salt knows this. And Lincoln wasn’t even close to the first.

        However, we fight only external wars now. We overreach left and right simply to boost the contracts awarded to the military-industrial complex. And don’t kid yourself that spending means results. It doesn’t. Where we have put our money in building a massive navy and airforce, the Russian’s have put it toward communications and ballistics. It doesnt take a genius to figure out how much more efficient a long-range missile is in comparison to a clunky aircraft carrier. And China could stomp over us no matter how large our military becomes.

        In addition, our foreign policy as shown by Kerry in his repeatedly disgusting cluelessness, is so bad that’s it has actually degraded the US as a whole. But some will say that US corporations are the largest, blah blah…well their interests are not national by any means. Who’s to say goldman won’t be run by a chinese ceo in the future?

        Ineptitude, inefficiency and greed. It’s happened before, and it’s happened again. Doesn’t seem like humans evolve much in terms of culture or society…

        1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

          Can someone please mention the pervasive cultural component of American Permanent War? We’ve decided as a society that death and killing are not just to be baked into the core of how our economy survives, but should also inform our entire cultural narrative. Send your kids to see the latest in “entertainment”, Clint’s movie entitled “Sniper”. Pistol-packing psychos walking the aisles of Wal-Mart, with TV shows around the dial extolling just how “cool” and “free” that is. “Support the Troops” even if they are killing children around the globe just so some billionaire doesn’t miss a coupon payment. Even better, let some pimply-faced sh*thead in a bunker in Virginia turn a wedding party into a red mist, that way he can be home in time for the next episode of “American Death Cult”. Let’s call it what it is: a culture that embraces murder as an acceptable form of human conduct.

          1. nOMAS

            “Let’s call it what it is: a culture that embraces murder as an acceptable form of human conduct.”

            No big shock. This is the same “culture”, (haven’t we degenerated into some kind of non-culture? Can a “culture” that cant produce music or art anymore actually be defined as a culture? ) which claims that every function of human existence, no matter how essential or minute, can be redefined as a “market” transaction ?

          2. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

            I’ve thought about my comment a lot since I posted it and came back to see if there were any responses. Interesting that nobody decided to say ” No, Pod, you’re so wrong! Of course our culture does not “embrace murder as acceptable human conduct”! So I feel like Sgt. Friday: “just the facts, ma’am”. Pervasive violence packaged as entertainment? Check. Extra-judicial pre-crime murder of innocents (hard to argue this one with 4% of drone strikes killing “al-Qaeda”)? Check. Glorification of military culture including its spread to local police forces? Check. I wish it didn’t but I think my observation stands.

  2. Working Class Nero

    To understand the War Party we have to make a little analogy with Christian Theology. If The Trinity is at once One and Three, then so it is with the War Party. In this case there are two consubstantial political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, who together form the Holy Binity, two political parties in one War Party.

    Now these two hypostases don’t always get along with each other. To understand this we will make a comparison with prostitution. If AIPAC is the customer, our two parties are the prostitutes, occasionally jealously competing with each on how to best service their customer. (Notice that I have stayed completely gender neutral in my language)

    A real world example of this phenomenon is nicely encapsulated in this by quote by Debra Wasserman Schultz:

    Wasserman Schultz said Republicans were “undermining Israel’s security by suggesting that the United States and Israel don’t have anything other than a unique and close and special relationship. It undermines Israel’s security to its neighbors in the Arab world and to its enemies. And we need to make sure that the fact that there has never been and will never be daylight between the two parties or the support for Israel that we have in the United States, that that is conveyed to Jewish Americans across this country. That’s our responsibility. It’s the responsibility we’re asking all of you to take on.”

    Seems like the Republicans were whispering in AIPAC’s ear and offering even more enthusiastic servicing than the current Democratic regime was in the process of performing. Wasserman Schultz schizophrenically manages to attack the Republicans while simultaneously upholding the sacred Binity all in the same paragraph.

    Chuck Hagel was as anti-Israeli as you can be in US politics. Now sure, this is an exceedingly tight spectrum – some might say you need to use an electron microscope to even see it. Maybe we could understand it better through Freud’s concept of the “narcissism of small differences” but in any case these minuscule divergences in shading do exist.

    And this ever so tiny difference in Hagel’s views toward Israel was a strong signal to Iran that any military action was on hold during the nuclear negotiations. Those negotiations recently stalled and were extended for seven more months. And so switching SecDefs is clearly a signal to Iran that military action is back on the table.

    And so to confirm the obvious, the Times of Israel reviewed Ash Carter’s from an Israeli-centric point of view and came up with:

    Pentagon front-runner Carter, quietly supportive of Israel, loud on stopping Iran


    His first official trip to Israel was in 2013 — shortly after a visit by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. Carter met with Ya’alon, then-national security adviser Yaakov Amidror and Defense Ministry Director Udi Shani, who hosted an official dinner for him.

    Observing members of the Oketz IDF Canine Unit, Carter told the soldiers that “protecting America means protecting Israel, and that’s why we’re here in the first place.”

    A close reading of the article does suggest some concern about his relative lack of pro-Israeli public statements. On the other hand he has been more than loud and proud on the subject of Iran’s nuclear program.

    1. Carolinian

      I suspect you are getting perilously close to the truth with this comment. One key feature of current journalism elites–as exemplified for example by the Washington Post editorial section–is their complete devotion to Israel’s security interests. In practice this means keeping the U.S. actively engaged foreign interventions and stamping out any dangerous isolationist tendencies. Thus the constant invocations of Munich and warnings of appeasement as though we were all still living in the 1930s. A warmongering America is not in America’s interest but it is most definitely in Israel’s interests–at least as they see it. Indeed many of our more controversial policies, such as the use of drones, originated in that perpetually belligerent nation.

      Of course this isn’t the only thing motivating the Washington warmongers. “War is the health of the state” and the will to power will always be with us. Plus for many people it is highly profitable. Probably only extreme events will change the country’s course at this point. Certainly no sixties style movement seems to be on the horizon, striving to “give Peace a chance.”

      1. Banger

        I think the mood of the country is changing. The outpouring of opposition to the police-state tendencies in Furgeson and Staten Island is very real. I don’t know if that translates to a new anti-War movement. But everything depends on how the media covers the War-Party. With police brutality and cruelty we have videos and direct reporting that the media cannot ignore–with War–it is different because the media can easily make up stories about what is happening–which they do constantly.

        1. sleepy

          Regarding the rising popular tide against police violence, I have also wondered if it might become the trigger for something else. I have some fairly conservative friends who are as shocked as anyone else about the Ferguson and Eric Garner events and have at least some feelings of state betrayal. Perhaps it’s a growing awareness that the violence could ultimately be aimed at them as well. Add to that economic insecurity, a general disgust with government surveillance and the endless drain and stupidity of endless wars. The fact that they and most Americans are opposed to those things yet know full well that the government is completely oblivious to their concerns, hopefully is giving rise to an emperor has no clothes moment.

          1. NotTimothyGeithner

            There has been a noticeable a sense of outreach to Obama for help in the signs and protest interviews. Obama’s opinion was sought over earlier issues, and his promise of ending racial profiling (an empty promise) and more toys for storm troopers didn’t send anyone home. The protests grew. Empty promises won’t fly.

            1. Sam Adams 2014

              Obama lost the American people when he abandoned ‘hope’ for dispair and changed nothing. That is his legacy.

        2. washunate

          Banger, I think the media is a very interesting bellwether of what has happened. The corporate media was already discredited by the 1990s, so you have people in their 30s and 40s today who look at a talking head or ad-influenced newspaper editorial and instinctively see a used car salesman (or worse).

          More fundamentally, that’s on the increasingly rare occasion that they are exposed to the corporate media at all. The persistence of the decline, the perspicacity and permanence with which Xers and Millennials have abandoned the corporate media is impressive and causing far-reaching consequences. For example, here’s a look at the evening news audience of the big three networks:

          More and more, people are producing and distributing content themselves, deciding both what is important and what to say about it. And calling out factually challenged statements from the establishment in practically real-time.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Oh wow! I bet he lists “jazz” on his facebook interests too! Between that ad support for failed policies, he is a real cool dude.

      2. diptherio

        The first thing I thought when Carter’s name and resume was forwarded for Def. Sec. was: I wonder what kind of music he’s into?

        Carter: I will enjoy listening to the wonderful cultural creations of this country’s people of color, while overseeing the destruction of the places from which their ancestors originated.

        Prez: Now this is my kinda’ guy, folks!

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          It does show how out of touch the White House is. They are going to put President Cool on display when people want results. The worst part is they think this will work.

        2. Jay M

          He’s one of those kewl kids whose first name sounds like a last name and last name sounds like a first name. I bet his middle name is a real tongue twister.

    2. Doug Terpstra

      Spot-on analysis. Fits all seemingly chaotic events surrounding Iran, escalation in Afghanistan, Iraq, ISIS, Syria, Ukraine, Russia, and oil-price disaster-engineering. Israel is the tail wagging the US dog.

    3. diptherio

      We have the R/D binity (did you just make that word up? nice!) joined together by Industry (oil and armaments). So what we have is RID: Republicans and Democrats joined together around the interests of a small group of Industrial Robber-Barons.

      We need to get rid of RID.

      1. Working Class Nero

        Actually “binity” is a real word but of course I had to look it up. Apparently it’s only used in serious theological discussions where unity, binity, trinity are a series. In any case I thought the word was pretty funny and fit for the purpose.

        1. EmilianoZ

          The 2-prostitute model is pretty much universal. You can replace AIPAC by any lobby as the costumer the 2 prostitutes are fighting about.

          One question is: can the 2 prostitutes collaborate if the costumer wants a 3-some?

          Unfortunately, a 2-pimp model would be more accurate since in the end we’re the ones servicing the costumer.

          1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

            With the Rectification of Names (which I confuse with the School of Names sometimes), proper words are important.

            Are they kept women (and men) or prostitutes?

            The former have only one customer, while the latter need as many as possible to cover room and board, plus overhead charged by the ‘overseers.’

    4. Fiver

      I don’t think Netanyahu or AIPAC ever did, or will take war with Iran off the table if Iran is allowed a research/reactor/medical etc., nuclear program no matter how many layers of protection. I see the extension in the context of the oil price crash as part of a final push to crack Iran (and Russia, which is heavily invested politically in Iran) on this, and perhaps even its relations with Syria and Hezbollah. The Saudis and their US allies in oil and on Wall Street are obviously critical to the strategy. Iran will have to say “No” to anything Israel/AIPAC (House and Senate Republicans and Democrats) will minimally demand or forfeit its sovereign right to share the benefits of nuclear science. Israel ‘s position is entirely indefensible, but when was the last time that mattered?

  3. David Lentini

    In the end, it all comes down to power, which means money and voters. If the public would rise up the way it did in the Viet Nam War days, things would wind down quickly. But the hidden feature of our All Volunteer Armed Forces was, as Andrew Bacevitch points out, that Washington has insulated the public from our wars. So, all the press, through the government and the military-industrial complex, now functions to keep the public anesthetized with distractions and fearmongering to cancel the voters from the power equation. That leaves only the money, which always loves a good war.

    1. Banger

      The government itself just does what it does by its own internal logic which is to keep budgets going. It is the press that is the culprit in not reporting the truth about nature of the collective threats we face, the way the wars have been fought, and the extraordinary corruption that is in full sail in Washington to a degree and on a level that is unprecedented.

    2. Whine Country

      My $.02, as a Viet Nam Combat veteran:
      War + All Volunteer Military = Public ambivalent
      War + Draft = Public engaged
      The Press is the Press and a negligent factor

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Yeah, you may want to check your dates. Vietnam lasted a very long time and was larger than Iraq and Afghanistan. There is a certain nostalgia for the past, but Americans weren’t that engaged in 68. The media was co-opt ed then too. Up until Cronkite had enough, he dutifully reported the Pentagon propaganda.

        1. David Lentini

          The war in Viet Nam had a number of phases; the phase that most peole consider to the “war” was from ’65–’71. The serious phase of escalation started in ’65 and the serious draw-down came in ’72. See here. About 25% of all who served in-country were draftees, so not surprisingly the sentiment against the war tracked the troop escalation. See here.

          I have no nostalgia for that time, and I agree the press was pretty supportive until Tet. But I do think the draft helped keep the press from becoming as complicit as it is today by reminding the public we had an active war on our hands.

  4. James

    Nazi Nation 2.0 bravely soldiers on. Having defeated the Nazis (in our own minds at least), it was inevitable that we would one day become the Nazis, only better (New! Improved!). It took us awhile, but success is now on the horizon. A full-spectrum, worldwide militarized police state is now firmly within our grasp. On the plus side, the population bomb should be no problem whatsoever once this behemoth hits full stride. Let the eliminations begin!

    1. Fiver

      “A full-spectrum, worldwide militarized police state is now firmly within our grasp.”

      I believe that is precisely the belief in the upper echelons of power in Washington and New York.

  5. kjboro

    Excellent post! Still, the body of the post contradicts this otherwise accurate insight: “Despite ongoing wars and operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia, among other places, the results of that experiment are in. No single war, intervention, or minor conflict in which the U.S. military has taken part in these years has even come close to achieving the objectives set out by Washington and most have proven outright disasters. In just about every case, armed intervention, whatever form it took, demonstrably made matters worse, increased the destabilization of whatever country or region was involved, and led to the creation of more extremists and terrorists.”
    Au contraire. As Tom makes abundantly clear, the primary objectives of all these wars have been achieved: electoral victories for the War Party; profits for the military industrial complex and national security state complex.

  6. Banger

    All the war talk is a sign of weakness not strength. As the article above points out American wars have been a disaster–they cause more conflicts, more pain, more suffering and more money. The War Party, which is really a Party that has two goals: 1) political: U.S. society has little sense of cohesion and, therefore, external threats are needed to give the State its power as people, increasingly, lose faith in the central government; 2) money: the MIC is a fool-proof way to easy money and in Washington, increasingly, money talks–and the beauty is that the way the procurement and contracting system works there is no need to get results.

    While it is true the American people are stunningly ignorant despite generations of public education (shouldn’t that tell us something about our “education” system?) and largely unable to reason beyond the daily tasks they must perform at work, the fault lies with the MSM and the entertainment media. These two institutions, along with the education system, are the chief enablers of War, War, War as a viable policy. They create a strange and ludicrous mythology about the world that is largely a fantasy. The world most Americans are told exists really doesn’t exist. If most of what you tell the public is fiction it’s easy to get everyone riled up about some “enemy” whether that enemy exists or not.

    The wars the U.S. has been involved in since WWII have mainly been pointless and wasteful by any standards even those of the fictional world the MSM has created. Powerful political societies sink or swim on the quality of their elites. However nefarious the American elites were through much of our history–there were enough statesmen in key positions to avoid disaster and even to prosper the country. Today elites have little interest in the fate of the United States of America or, at least, not the real one. Ideology is now an even bigger requirement for public office than it was in Stalin’s time. Officials have to spout inane and insane slogans or they are barred from public office. It is up to the media to deconstruct the ideology of the War Party. Lobbying government or Congress is utterly pointless–if you want to put in effort lobby the media.

    1. Doug Terpstra

      War is not a disaster for disaster capitalists. For those who make a killing from industrial-scale murder, war is not at all “pointless and wasteful”, so stabilizing countries and reducing conflict and terrorism are the antitheses of their objectives. That is what makes Obama’ lecture to Ferguson protesters — “there is never an excuse for violence” — such infuriatingly hypocritical sermonizing.

      It appears that Englehardt is finally relinquishing his lesser-evil assessment of Barack Obama, but he still allows him the incompetence excuse, as if, after six long years, he and his carefully-chosen cronies truly know not what they do. Hagel’s firing is only the latest evidence. Never attribute to incompetence what can only be explained by malice or avarice.

      1. Fiver

        Right you are. In terms of a mis-match between what was needed and what happened during his Presidency earns it the status of world-historical disaster – the consequences of missing that monumental, flashing fork in the road leading away from the Empire of Oil, Israel, Wall Street Mega-fraud and Department of Security and Psychosis are far more profound than 9/11, the Financial Crisis or both put together, as the one and only imperative for Obama was to reverse that insane course. He could’ve done it had he been genuine, tough and determined – that’s how badly beaten down the Republicans and Wall Street and the military’s thirst for wars were in January 2009. The stars were aligned – but he was false.

  7. blucollarAl

    The late Jonathan Schell on the Vietnam War: “It’s often said that truth is the first casualty of war. In Vietnam, however, it was not just that the United States was doing one thing while saying another (for example, destroying villages while claiming to protect them), true as that was. Rather, from its inception the war’s structure was shaped by an attempt to superimpose a false official narrative on a reality of a wholly different character.”

    Similarly today. Only instead of the pseudo-religious narrative (idolatry, really) of anti-communism, today we have the ideology of anti-Islam. In both cases a nebulous Enemy, able to assume many evil shapes and disguises, is working worldwide to threaten the very existence and continuation of “American values” and “the American Way of Life”. This Enemy must be confronted with overwhelming force anywhere and everywhere it is detected in any and all of its many manifestations. It is a kind of “meta-propaganda” that is used to justify all sorts of otherwise dubious smaller propaganda including the obsessive and irrational identification of U.S. interests with the state of Israel (“the outpost of democratic values in the region” and “bulwark against Islamic terrorism”, we are told).

    As long as this false religion is sold to and accepted by the overwhelming majority of the American people, and as long as the long list of dubitable and even pernicious foreign policy decisions can be rationalized to the people under the horizon of this “Us vs. the Others, Good vs. Evil, the Elect vs. the Damned” ideology (ironically a similar ideology to that of our “extremist” enemies), we will continue to have the situation described by Engelhardt and other reflective critics of American imperialism. That is, as long as every weekend we pray at our religious services for the “brave men and women in uniform protecting our precious freedoms” and as long as we all rise at the 7th inning in baseball stadia around the country to sing “God Bless America” after being told by the p.a. announcer to “stand up for America”, we are blind to the reality in which we live.

    As others on this site have noted, and as I can confirm as someone who lived through the period as a university student and young (protesting) adult, what politically woke America up to the Vietnam mythology was perhaps more than anything else the looming presence of the military draft. When you are threatened with involuntary conscription into a conflict that may result in death or maiming, you damn well want to learn what the whole thing is really about and whether it is worth the cost. Nothing like a uniform and rifle and orders to ship out to a jungle (or desert) to motivate you to cut through the bull s*** of propaganda and zero in on the heart of the matter. And when you then realize what is really going on, you hit the streets in numbers.

    Keep in mind, however, that even during the Vietnam era, many, perhaps most Americans, particularly older ones who did not face a draft, continued to support Johnson, Nixon, and “the boys in uniform” as well as swallow the anti-communism mythology in whole measure. But what mattered then, in contrast to today, was, more than anything else, the draft. Among other things that also helped were different economic conditions, a (slightly) less oligarchical politics, a different mass media condition: more decentralized in ownership and still with real reporters who had cut their teeth in the heyday of American print journalism, and a different set of educational and career ideals among many university students. Combined with the draft threat, these undergirded a willingness to politically engage in highly visible and ultimately effective ways on the part of a minority that grew to eventually reach the critical mass necessary to effect genuine change.

    1. sleepy

      I think you raise a good point. Israel? check. MIC? check.

      But as you allude to, I think messianic American exceptionalism added to the mix should not be left out. Maybe it’s just an ideology our leaders think still works to enable the public, yet polls say otherwise (a recent pew poll held that Americans would far rather see a multipolar world than a unipolar one), so perhaps our leaders actually, truly, believe their own exceptional b.s. and truly believe we spread freedom everywhere. OTOH, that’s such an absurd belief, it’s hard to tell.

      1. Banger

        I don’t think the American Exceptionalist religion is doing well as you say–but all the more reason the media and government officials have redoubled their efforts to frame everything in terms of “good” vs. “evil” or “us” (whatever that is) vs. “them.” It is a sign of desperation on the part of the oligarchs as they try to find some unifying idea to hypnotize the people with.

        Most Americans don’t like the “other” and take great pains to be conformists and be part of a groupthink of one kind or another. There’s always talk about “thinking outside the box” but that’s extremely rare in our society unless its about making money. Few people want to live outside the box–I’ve seen people swallow all kinds of denial just so they can be “normal.”

  8. Noonan

    “Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

    James Madison

    1. Ulysses

      Nice! Here’s a slightly more recent analysis:

      “For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance. To return to the agricultural past, as some thinkers about the beginning of the twentieth century dreamed of doing, was not a practicable solution. It conflicted with the tendency towards mechanization which had become quasi-instinctive throughout almost the whole world, and moreover, any country which remained industrially backward was helpless in a military sense and was bound to be dominated, directly or indirectly, by its more advanced rivals.

      Nor was it a satisfactory solution to keep the masses in poverty by restricting the output of goods. This happened to a great extent during the final phase of capitalism, roughly between 1920 and 1940. The economy of many countries was allowed to stagnate, land went out of cultivation, capital equipment was not added to, great blocks of the population were prevented from working and kept half alive by State charity. But this, too, entailed military weakness, and since the privations it inflicted were obviously unnecessary, it made opposition inevitable. The problem was how to keep the wheels of industry turning without increasing the real wealth of the world. Goods must be produced, but they must not be distributed. And in practice the only way of achieving this was by continuous warfare.

      The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. Even when weapons of war are not actually destroyed, their manufacture is still a convenient way of expending labour power without producing anything that can be consumed. A Floating Fortress, for example, has locked up in it the labour that would build several hundred cargo-ships. Ultimately it is scrapped as obsolete, never having brought any material benefit to anybody, and with further enormous labours another Floating Fortress is built. In principle the war effort is always so planned as to eat up any surplus that might exist after meeting the bare needs of the population. In practice the needs of the population are always underestimated, with the result that there is a chronic shortage of half the necessities of life; but this is looked on as an advantage.”

      And, of course:

      “The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact.”

      George Orwell pretty much nailed it more than six decades ago!

  9. voxhumana

    I wrote a song a few months ago, titled it “Pax Americana” and here are my lyrics:

    Politicians talking shit
    The passive people swallow it
    Where’d everybody go?
    Making money, pushing stocks
    In corporate suits with rigid cocks
    Hard for their portfolios.
    They laugh at us, say we deny
    The bliss that being rich inspires
    Ignoring and deriding
    All the rage that is surrounding
    The world they own.

    They entertain, they mesmerize
    But if you look for truth with eyes
    That see through the show
    Then you gotta know
    It’s not some holy mystery
    It’s just another history
    of chances lost
    and all it cost
    To live outside of bad and good
    Giving up on would and could
    The neolibs and neocons
    Their pretty fibs and ugly bombs
    All plain to see
    An endless misery
    How shocked and awed are we?

    The crime of war always obscured
    The winners get to write the words
    Salute the flag and join the herd
    Fucking absurd

    Many reasons why to just turn away
    To smile and talk about the lovely day
    Red, white and blue won’t turn to gray
    You gotta love the U.S.A.

    But behind the curtain sit the guys
    So certain that the kids should die
    They’re killing children with the sky.
    Goodbye, America, goodbye.

    -CPT Copyright © 2014

  10. 6th-generation Texan

    Although lacking details from the most ancient records, historians can trace the big picture of the rise and fall of human empires all the way back to ancient Sumer – and while the details may differ, the overall cycle is distressingly familiar.
    The story of our own Amerikan empire bears more than a few striking similarities with that of Rome and its offshoot Byzantine descendant (and the infamous “Byzantine politics” are beginning to look rather tame in comparison with that of our own detested “Beltway Bandits”).
    Perhaps the most illuminating comparison, however, is with the Athenian Empire after its hijacking of the anti-Persian Delian League. Of particular concern should be the potential parallel of the utterly disastrous Syracuse expedition with that of the U.S. military’s foray into Afghanistan, the “Graveyard of Empires”.
    The U.S. forces there are situated in a land-locked country with only two lines of communication to the home country: through Pakistan and Russia. Outrage over the American drone campaign on their soil caused Pakistan at one time to suspend transit of NATO supplies through its territory; diplomatic relations remain precarious, to say the least.
    A route through Iran need not be seriously considered.
    That leaves the rail line through Russia as the current main lifeline to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Yes, that would be the same Russia that the Washington war hawks are now doing their utmost to provoke a shooting war with.
    The geopolitical situation is so ludicrous it would be considered incredible farce – if the potential consequences were not so catastrophic.
    Thucydides related in agonizing detail how hubris destroyed the Athenian Empire, and the current gaggle of what passes for America’s “elites” would do well to study that tragic tale. Sadly, however, it does indeed appear to be true that “those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad….”

    1. Banger

      Thanks for mentioning Thucydides–no one who hasn’t read him should be allowed to make foreign policy or report on it. I would recommend all the classical historians–they all offer wonderful insights into our world.

        1. Ulysses

          A good classical education will never be a sufficient guarantee of a humane spirit, as the Kagan example so aptly illustrates. OTOH, many people do build on the foundations of such an education to become engaged, and critical students of their own times, as the example of Chris Hedges shows.

          I certainly hope that Banger isn’t proposing knowledge of Greek and Latin as a prerequisite for public service, as this would surely exacerbate the evils of elitist ruling class groupthink already so evident in the halls of power in D.C. !!

        2. Banger

          If you want to engage the Kagans of the world in a creative dialogue–should they be ever open to that you had better have a knowledge of those historians. Kagan and company have read the right books–they just are stuck in the past. The problem isn’t with the classical historians but with the goals of the neocons–their goal is to establish a rigid hierarchy with themselves at the top. My goal is the opposite–I want to empower people and dispense with such structures eventually.

      1. Ulysses

        One of many gems from the great historian:

        ” Some legislators only wish to vengeance against a particular enemy. Others only look out for themselves. They devote very little time on the consideration of any public issue. They think that no harm will come from their neglect. They act as if it is always the business of somebody else to look after this or that. When this selfish notion is entertained by all, the commonwealth slowly begins to decay.”

        1. 6th-generation Texan

          My vote for the most insightful observation by Thucydides: “The strong do what they will, while the weak suffer what they must.”

          Today the USA ignores international law, sovereign borders, and any and all civilized legal and customary restraints in its lust for world hegemony. Its unmatched military forces inflict untold damages and suffering on weaker nations and peoples who get in the way of that goal.

          Over the course of history, a few empires have had the fortune to just gradually “fade away”. Most, however, have ended in catastrophic collapse (the Aztec and Inca Empires being notable recent examples, along with the numerous empires that disappeared as a consequence of World War I).

          A half-century spent studying the record of human folly on this planet leads me to the conclusion that the American Empire will collapse within my lifetime (assuming I live at least another 5-10 years). Karma is indeed a bitch, and the payback for the U.S. when it is no longer a “strong” but a “weak” nation is not pleasant to contemplate. I can only hope that my children and grandchildren will eventually be able to build a better society upon the ruins….

          1. Fiver

            I think what we’ve been seeing over the last couple of years Russia/China is exactly the US trying to corner its key opponents now rather than later. Picking the fight with Russia exactly where Russia had to draw a line was no mistake. Regardless of outcome, China can only view the US as a direct threat to Chinese control of China. That’s the part the US media always leaves out: the current opponent has witnessed what has happened to all the previous opponents for no sane reason, so quite reasonably prepares for a fight, is blamed for taking an aggressive posture, incidents become hostile and away you go…

            Or the West could finally back off and set about putting its own house in order.

    2. Jay M

      It takes a 6 gen Texian to get down in the weeds and pull out the Syracuse expedition for our edification. They stripped the hills bare to build the ships and dissipated their treasure for armor, weapons and supply, and a relative handful made it out alive. Of course, they didn’t have the “world reserve currency” at their back.

    3. knowbuddhau

      That’s what I’m thinking. The lessons from history are not encouraging.

      In addition to the mad machinations of empires, there’s a religious element. People who believe life is a holy war, with the tyrant-engineer of the universe naturally on their side, can’t be expected ever to make peace with the same fervor that they make war. Peace is a sacrilege. Onward, Christian soldier!

      And like fallen empires before us, the War Party spends money on the military at a rate that would make a drunken pharaoh blush. I take it as an objective measure of their terminal imperial madness.

      They can’t imagine any other way of being in the world without incurring a risk of going to hell forever. If at first (2nd, 3rd, … 13th) they don’t succeed (and the hubristic effort, to remake the world in their own image, can never succeed), they’ll just double down. TINA. Well, there is, but (in their lunatic beliefs) it would mean *personally burning in hell forever and ever, fully aware of every agonizing moment, amen. So they terrorize the world as they themselves are terrorized by their god.

      What will they do as it all goes to hell around them: change their evil ways? Or pile “lucky stiffs” and mountains of treasure ever higher on the altar of their waning dominance?

      The droning and looting will continue until morale improves.

  11. Paul Niemi

    Did the war party load the President into a palanquin and carry him away? Perhaps, but at least this one is somewhat reluctant. No, there are two radical experiments going on. The first is the unusual exercise in projecting power around the globe militarily. The second is financing it by an unprecedented expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet. I should say that for the war party it is all about the money, because they all have hands in the cookie jar. But how does the situation return to sanity? The answer is this war obsession is not being paid for completely by taxes, and what is not paid for by taxes will redound in inflation. To see, just go to the grocery store. The checkout line is becoming like a gauntlet. Eventually angry voters will throw more bums out, and the war partiers will have to attach to new hosts.

  12. Bill Frank

    Add to all the above the recently passed resolution in the House, supported by over 400 of our “representatives.” Check out H. Res. 758. It is a rambling recitation of outright lies about the situation in Ukraine. Certainly a piece endorsed by the war mongers. Truly disgusting.

    1. steelhead23

      Thanks for bringing that up. While the resolution is one of those “we don’t like what you did” resolutions that does not authorize the prez. to send troops or weaponry to Kiev, it sure as hell sets the stage for so doing. Of the 421 U.S. Representatives who voted on that resolution, exactly ten men and women of good conscience voted against it. TEN! I’m appalled.

      I would encourage everyone who hates war to contact their state reps who voted for this bill to let them know how you feel.

  13. 6th-generation Texan

    “the war partiers will have to attach to new hosts.”

    The neocons have already migrated from the “Scoop” Jackson Democrats to the Bush Republicans, they apparently have infiltrated the Obama administration, and word is that they are now preparing to fully return to their roots in a Hillary Clinton presidency. These despicable parasites have already mastered the art of successfully migrating to and from different political hosts. Unfortunately for the American people, their ultimate host is simply the American body politic — which the bastards are apparently going to end up killing….

  14. TG

    Well there is Ted Cruz, who at least temporarily derailed Obama’s plan to destroy the Syrian government. He’s also against the surveillance state etc.

    Of course Ted Cruz thinks we should actually enforce the laws against illegal immigration, just like FDR, so that American wages are not constantly driven down in order to make Mark Zuckerberg even richer. This clearly defines him as an extreme far-righter who should never be president. Better constant war than high labor costs.

  15. nothing but the truth

    this is the direct result of the mad money theory which basically gives almost a supernatural status to the government where it can do anything without any costs because it can always print money to pay its bills.

Comments are closed.