Thursday, 13 June, 2024

US elites think war is a bloodless chess game


Donald Trump may act like a schoolyard bully and an impetuous infant, but he is not the only one to blame for recklessly bringing the world closer to a catastrophic war. While the responsibility for approving the assassination of Qassem Suleimani, Iran’s top general, in a drone strike near Baghdad international airport is certainly his, Trump’s actions would not have been possible without the deep infrastructure for war that lies at the core of the American political system, especially since 2001.
War is mundane
After the “War on Terror” began, the United States – already a deeply militarised country – essentially abdicated public deliberations of war and peace when Congress passed the Authorisation for Use of Military Force (AUMF). The executive branch has been invoking the AUMF for almost two decades as its primary legal basis for military operations around the world.
Put another way, war isn’t hell. War is mundane.
We’ve already arrived at the point when even the Senate armed services committee couldn’t tell you who, precisely, the United States is at war with, as a must-hear 2014 episode of the show Radiolab made clear.
This corrosive lack of transparency recently led a bipartisan group of lawmakers to add language to the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA), the annual defence budget bill that would have required Trump to get Congress’s approval before striking Iran. That bill failed in the Senate, which Trump will no doubt interpret as freeing his hand even more when it comes to war with Iran. As Representative Ro Khanna tweeted, “Any member who voted for the NDAA – a blank check – can’t now express dismay that Trump may have launched another war in the Middle East.”
I hear the objections to this point already: Trump is so lawless, some will probably say, that none of this legal parsing matters much. But it’s this legal infrastructure of waging war – notably assassination by drone – that makes Trump’s actions possible in the first place. And that drone programme was legally expanded and entrenched by none other than Barack Obama. Considerable responsibility lies with Obama and all those within the Democratic establishment who continued the march toward today’s manifestation of the imperial presidency, which itself began under George W Bush.
And, of course, Iran would not even be a powerbroker in Iraq if Bush and his administration had not overseen what is one of the largest crimes against humanity of our time: namely, the invasion, occupation, and destruction of Iraq. With over a million of their people dead, their country in ruins, and corruption rampant, the Iraqi people are the unheralded victims of the recent strike.
Over the past months Iraqis had been peacefully rising up to protest the sectarianism of their political system and lack of opportunity to improve their lives, only to be viciously gunned down by their own government. Stuck precariously in an escalating proxy battle between Iran and the United States, their fate is bound to get worse. But the struggles of the Iraqi people will remain largely invisible to the American public because we like our wars to be uncomplicated, to be caricatures of war, to be wars between identifiable good guys and bad guys, between cowboys and Indians. And make no mistake. Muslim are today’s Indians.
This all leads to a media fascination with war that is dreadfully simplistic and sometime almost gleeful. The cheerleading the American media radiates when discussing US military manoeuvres would disturb Americans if such joy were expressed by any other country, yet it continues without self-reflection. And January 2020 feels like the return of 2003.
Following the assassination of Suleimani, Fox News had on Ari Fleischer and Karl Rove, as if the Bush administration were still in Iraq. CNN interviewed Max Boot, a loud supporter of the 2003 Iraq invasion, and CNBC published an op-ed titled America just took out the world’s No. 1 bad guy. In the media and political ecology of the United States, war isn’t a catastrophe of inhuman proportions. War is a parlour game.
There is no doubt that the Iranian regime carries out a merciless foreign policy across the Middle East. Suleimani won’t be missed by many – especially in Syria, where he assisted the Assad regime’s bloody prosecution of the Syrian civil war – but he will soon be replaced.
The irony – or is it more of a tragedy? – is that until this assassination there were budding signs of possible thaws and shifts in the region. Iran and Saudi Arabia were engaged in peace talks in Pakistan, and while the talks hadn’t yet yielded a positive outcome, they had been putting pressure on both Iran and Saudi Arabia to hash out a shared vision for Yemen’s future. At the same time, some of the largest anti-government protests Iran has seen in years also took place. All of this will probably now evaporate.
Duplicitous comment
I worry for what comes next and I already lament the unnecessary deaths, from all sides, that will inevitably come. But, in the United States at least, nothing will change as long as our culture worships war without its consequences and as long as our politicians believe that war is good for their careers.
“In order to get elected, #BarackObama will start a war with Iran,” tweeted citizen Donald Trump in November of 2011. Today, people are laughing in smug disgust at his duplicitous comment. But this isn’t only about Trump. It’s about the deep infrastructure and logic of war that pervades American culture and the US political establishment. And it’s about the need for that to change.
(Bayoumi is professor of English at Brooklyn College, City University of New York and author of the award-winning book How Does It Feel To Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America)
-The Guardian