3/1 – Eve Ottenberg: Wars and More Wars: The Sorry U.S. History in the Middle East

The American republic morphed well over a century ago into an empire of many endless wars. With U.S. troops still in Syria, Iraq, Somalia and numerous African countries, with over 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and a war budget of roughly one trillion dollars a year, it’s no surprise that one of our main exports is weapons and that arms merchants call the shots in Washington. Presidents come and go, but the wars don’t: they drag on. And when a president does manage to extract the country from one of these military quagmires, as Biden did in Afghanistan, he gets nothing but grief.

This only serves to encourage barbarity – like freezing Afghanistan’s $7 billion in the bank, while Afghans starve due to the U.S. having bombed their country back almost to the stone age. Afghans need their funds. They have an absolute moral right to them, as most of the world recognizes, because famine kills them in greater numbers without those monies. Indeed, after the U.S. military departure, reparations would have seemed to be in order. But no. Washington just stole their money and walked away.

Critiquing this ongoing, multi-war U.S. fiasco over many years is professor Andrew Bacevich. His new book of essays, On Shedding an Obsolete Past, collected from over the past half decade, hammers it home over and over: the U.S. must change course, because the current one is not only unsustainable, it is wrong. Bacevich has a bone to pick with elite centrists like New York Times columnist David Brooks, former president Bill Clinton, prominent Dem John Kerry and the deceased senator John McCain, all of whom “see a world that needs saving and believe that it’s America’s calling to do just that…In fact, this conception of America’s purpose expresses not the intent of providence, which is inherently ambiguous, but their own arrogance and conceit. Out of that conceit comes much mischief. And in the wake of mischief come charlatans like Donald Trump.” With this misbegotten notion having dominated American political life for decades, it is no wonder, as Bacevich writes that “the evils afflicting our nation, lie beyond the power of any mere president to remedy.”

So if the president can’t, who can? An informed, adult population firmly convinced of the wickedness of racism, war and rampant materialism – Dr. Martin Luther King’s trio of American evils, to which Bacevich several times refers. Such people must control the levers of political power, preferably through an unbought congress and media. Unfortunately, they do not. Not even close.

As a result, many Americans still cherish – are indeed utterly blinded by – twentieth century political illusions. The claim that the U.S. “is a force for good in the world…irreplaceable, indispensable and essential,” is, Bacevich writes, “a falsehood of Trumpian dimensions…What this country does need to recognize is that the twentieth century is gone for good… It’s past time to give the narratives of the twentieth century a decent burial.” What, you ask, will replace them? Try recognizing the reality and coming devastation of climate change, and doing something about it. Then there’s the problem of gargantuan economic inequality. And there’s plenty more. I’m sure we can figure out what these dilemmas are if we put our collective mind to it. But don’t hold your breath for the current Washington administration. “Sadly, Joe Biden and his associates appear demonstrably incapable of exchanging the history that they know for the history on which our future may well depend.”

To say Bacevich deplores U.S. military adventures is an understatement. He thinks they should never have happened – from Panama to Iraq to “Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Afghanistan, Sudan, the Philippines to Afghanistan (again), Iraq (for the third time) or Syria, authorization by the United Nations Security Council or Congress ranked as somewhere between incidental and unnecessary.” So they were illegal. Worse – they were imperial. Worse still, they were evil.

Eve Ottenberg 31 december 2022

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