Monday, December 19

The View From Centrist Command

Andrew Bacevich, "The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq marks the end of American supremacy". December 16

SO the wingnuts are growing concerned they may sound too detached from reality to win a national election. This is the principle difference between a wingnut and a centrist.

In fact, it may damn near be the only difference.
In American history, every now and then we get a definitive ending. The crash of October 1929 ended the Roaring Twenties;

Um, well, Professor, it didn't, actually. It may've damped the spirits of people who owned a lot of stock, but the Great Depression didn't begin for another six months or so. I wasn't there, and my people were Midwestern farmers and railroadmen, so they didn't do much if any Roaring, or Flapping, or Stock Speculating. Anyway, my point is that if you wanna talk American historicity, not history, let's call it that.
VJ Day ended World War II. The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq this month, while less dramatic, also marks the passing of an era.

Unfortunately, not the Era of Unwarranted Hubris. Nor the Era of Extraordinary Stupidity, nor Resistance to Brick-Wall Reality, nor of Imaginary Military Supremacy.
Launched in 2003 amid assurances of a rapid victory, the war is ending nearly nine years later with the United States settling for considerably less. Undertaken to demonstrate our supremacy, the war has instead revealed the stark limits of American power. It has laid waste to the post-Cold War era of great expectations once thought to define the future.

Y'know, it's fucking remarkable: while the Cold War was going on there were vast numbers of Americans who understood that our power--our multiple-global-destruction power--was extraordinary limited in application, consisting, mainly, of our ability to destroy human life as we knew it. And that question had been settled as a practical matter--meaning "answered" not "the people on the wrong side of the argument shut up"--in Korea, the first motherfucking time we tried to use our military hegemony and H-bomb supremacy to dictate to the rest of the world, and realized it was no substitute for actual fighting. Yet here we are.
Remember the 1990s, which opened with the Soviet Union in its death throes and the United States riding high? The Cold War reached a peaceful conclusion, and a new historical chapter, seemingly rich with promise, dawned. Led by the United States — its preeminence affirmed in 1991 by Operation Desert Storm — the world was moving from darkness into light.

Historicity, not history; I remember a lot of idiots talking that way. I don't recall it making any of them correct.
The first claim was ideological: The collapse of communism signified the triumph of liberal democracy, a victory deemed definitive and irreversible; viable alternatives for organizing society had ceased to exist.

Okay, it's possible that you and I just differ as to the extent that these claimants can be believed. My answer is "Nada".

Then again, perhaps it's because I paid attention to their commitment to "democracy" from the 50s t0 the 90s.
The second claim was economic: The end of the Cold War had unleashed the forces of globalization; with the unimpeded movement of goods, capital, ideas and people, previously unimaginable opportunities for wealth creation beckoned.

Yes. Yes it did. For them.

This is the thing that kills me about American right-wing corporatism masquerading as economic "freedom": when, exactly, did it triumph over the Marxist critique? Because a corrupt authoritarian regime begun in its name collapsed in a heap of paranoia and militarism, suddenly the moral pre-eminence of those who control the means of production was established for all time?

Y'know, Soviet military spending bankrupted the largest nation on earth. And instead of this being seen as a cautionary tale about our own out-of-control militarism, it somehow became proof positive of the inherent superiority of capitalism, the guarantee that our brand of political perfection was the One True Path, and, somehow, that John Paul II really was infallible.

Did we use that Cosmic Demonstration of our own superiority to, I dunno, end poverty, provide for basic medical care, replace fossil fuels, work for international brotherhood? No. Just in case you weren't paying attention. We used it to scream bloody murder about a Peace Dividend.
The third claim was military: Advanced information technology was revolutionizing warfare; armed forces able to exploit that revolution would gain unprecedented effectiveness.

Of course the interesting thing about that--aside from the fact that it merely recapitulates the "Whoever gets the A-bomb/H-bomb/atomic-powered airplane/controls Indochina/lands on the Moon" routine--is that it didn't prevent us from continuing to spend outrageous sums on Old Technology.
History had rendered a verdict: The future belonged to America and to those who embraced the American way.

And History, as we all know, is written by the most objective observer available.
For anyone unwilling to accept that verdict, there was U.S. military power. “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist,” journalist Thomas Friedman wrote in 1999. “McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”

Y'know, actually, that was for all those willing to accept the verdict. It's what they really meant, in fact.
Then came 9/11, which left the almighty superpower looking less like history’s architect than its victim. From the outset, President George W. Bush’s response to this affront sought not simply to avert further attacks on the American homeland, but to quash suspicions that history might not be tilting in America’s direction after all.

Isn't it curious how America is History's Annointed and The Country That Can't Face the Truth?
As measured by the number of U.S. troops killed, maimed or otherwise scarred, the Iraq war ranks as a comparatively modest affair. Even taking into account the far larger number of civilians killed,

First I've heard of it…
injured or displaced, Iraq trails well behind the really big wars of the modern era. Not casualties but consequences define the significance of this lamentable episode. There it ranks ahead of Korea and Vietnam — neither marking a decisive historical turn — and even alongside World War II.

Fer cryin' out loud: Korea should have marked that historical turn. Vietnam did, but the Military-Industrial Complex, as the old saying goes, didn't know it was dead, and forgot to fall down. Instead it bankrolled a forty-year effort aimed at obfuscating the history of those wars, and re-militarizing American sentiment. I don't know how committed the Defense establishment is to advanced information technology, but I do know that when the chips are down and they need a Jessica Lynch or Pat Tillman, pronto, it's Old Fashioned Lying gets the call.
The beliefs to which the end of the Cold War gave rise — liberal democracy triumphant, globalization as the next big thing and American dominion affirmed by a new way of war — have all come to rest in that unmarked grave reserved for failed ideas. Those who promoted and persisted in the Iraq war wielded the shovel that helped dig the hole. This defines their legacy.

It'd be nice if it took the shovel out of their hands, too. No such luck.

5 comments:

Ufotofu9 said...

Love it

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I posted your link and a quote in the comments, Doghouse.

For the halibut.
~

prairie curmudgeon said...

"Those who promoted and persisted in the Iraq war wielded the shovel that helped dig the hole."

That shovel as described by Bacevich in earlier writings, happens to be the American Way of Living or that part of it facilitated by our high energy and resource dependent life ways or death ways if you insist. Reagan's legacy was Americans' perception that he would not negotiate away their claims to these world resources. We all have this shovel in our hands. And we dig the hole deeper each and every day just by existing and living the American way and sharing the "gift" through global capitalism.

ckc (not kc) said...

Undertaken to demonstrate our supremacy...

...not sure that this comes across "as intended", but I appreciated it nonetheless

KWillow said...

Americans are quite willing and able to cut back on oil consumption: it was the car companies that destroyed the Electric Car back in the 90's. It is our own government that refuses to adequately fund alternate energy research, or provide 1/10 the financial assistance to non-oil energy tech that they currently provide to Oil Companies.

When gas prices shot up to $5+ per gallon, Americans cut waaay back, so much in fact the oil companies grumblingly lowered prices.