'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Normalization of the "War on Terror" 

2007 will soon come to a close. We are over 6 years removed from 9/11, and over 4 and 1/2 years removed from the invasion of Iraq. 9/11 initiated the "War on Terror", the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the seizure of purported terror suspects around the world, their rendition to other countries where they can be more readily subjected to torture and their indefinite incarceration at facilities around the world under dehumanizing conditions. Hundreds of thousands, if not over a million people have died as these measures have been arbitrarily implemented.

After participating in numerous protests against the anticipated invasion of Iraq in 2002 and early 2003, and then, engaging in civil disobedience after it was launched, I expressed my great fear to my friends: the occupation would become normalized, that is to say, that it would be incorporated into the background mosaic of our lives by the government and the media. The public would come to see it as an immutable part of their existence, akin to paying taxes and sitting in cramped seats on airplanes. In retrospect, I should have expanded the focus of my concern to the "war on terror" in its entirety.

Despite everything that has happenend, Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, the forced feeding of hunger striking detainees at Gitmo and airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan that kill large numbers of civilians, there is no reason to believe there is any political prospect of ending the "war on terror". Just the notion of curtailing its excesses is out of the question. It has been incorporated into the background noise of our lives. The surge in Iraq, we are assured, is a success, even Harry Reid, in his own circumspect way, says so.

How did this happen? One is tempted to say that it was inevitable, given the postmodern state of contemporary politics and social life, the alienation of people from any belief that they can organize as a class, a coalition or an amorphous political movement to insist upon radical change, and perhaps, it was. Even so, we should not hesitate to indict those responsible for it.

Bush has stated that Iraq is the central front of the "war on terror", and he is correct in so far as the end of the occupation of Iraq necessarily means the end of the "war on terror", the reduction of it to scattered rear guard actions in places like Afghanistan, the Caucasus, Indonesia and the Phillippines. MoveON.org, and the politically expedient liberals associated with it, have played an essential role in making sure that the occupation continues without restraint. From 2003 through 2005, it assiduously refused to condemn the occupation of Iraq, but it did fetishize the US troops enforcing the occupation against the Iraqi people. By doing so, it laid the foundation for the firewall that the Bush Administration has relied upon to obtain funding from a compliant Democratic Congress.

After all, according to Bush, anyone who cuts funding for the occupation, or even places conditions upon it, is endangering the troops. Such an argument has cut through congressional opposition like a knife through butter because it is the inescapable destination at the end of the path blazed by MoveON.org. If you are concerned because the troops lack sufficient body armor and find themselves exhausted by long tours of duty, one after another, as MoveON.org implored us, time and time again, then how can you plausibly suggest that the occupation be brought to an end by cutting funding for the war? Of course, you can't. And, quite logically, at the end of the day, MoveON.org didn't, capitulating to the passage of the first funding bill after the Democratic election victory in November 2006.

It encourages one to turn the old saying inside out: with enemies like this, who needs friends? With the first tests of the presidential campaign ahead, it is evident that there is no movement within the political mainstream that will seek to end the occupation of Iraq and abandon the "war on terror". All the major Democratic candidates demand more defense spending, not less, and all of them exhalt the virtues of counterinsurgency. With the exception of some idealistic direct action proponents and counter-recruitment efforts, there is no organized social effort that presents the prospect of transforming American foreign policy in a more humanistic direction.

Instead, one looks forlornly to the daily activity of floor traders in bonds and currency. Subject to the dictates of market manias and software programs, it is more likely that they will ultimately bring down the curtain on the American Empire than the political activism of an atomized populace. In a sense, that would be fitting, as a generation of neoliberals have advocated for the primacy of markets over democratic political processes.

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