Playing with nuclear fire

The argument that a criminal political system remains the only option for change came to mind as I read Larry Everest’s chapter, “Iraq: Phase Two in an Unbounded War on the World,” in Dennis Loo and Peter Phillips’ book, Impeach the President. Everest discounts this possibility and calls for mass protest to compel policymakers to action.[1]

Everest’s chapter remains important today because he highlights how all the justifications for the war on Iraq were false, how the war on Iraq was a criminal act (among the many of which the Obama administration resists investigation[2]) and because he explains the unstated reason that “the U.S. establishment felt that [Saddam] Hussein’s regime was undermining its control of the Middle East and impeding its ambitions globally.”[3] It is the latter of these reasons that is most interesting to me today, because not even eight years after the invasion of Iraq, it is now abundantly clear that 1) the threat to attack the next country on the neoconservative hit list, Iran, lacks any credibility whatsoever;[4] 2) the U.S. paid a very high price, in both blood and treasure, to enhance Iranian political influence in Iraq, presumably to the detriment of U.S. interests;[5] and 3) the at best dubious outcomes in the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan have undermined the status of the U.S. as the world’s sole superpower.

Indeed, while most U.S. citizens continue to view their country as “exceptional,” entitled to lead the world towards “democracy,” they “believe the U.S. is currently at risk of losing its unique character.”[6] As the cognitive dissonance of their country manifestly becoming something other than what, pledging allegiance every morning in school, they were raised to think it was, the question of what happens next, particularly for those who have access to military weapons becomes urgent.

In the past I have worried that the transition from superpower status to that of just another country combined with climate change-induced food shortages and mass migrations[7] might lead some apocalyptic evangelical Protestants, notably in the U.S. Air Force,[8] identifying their country as “good,” to perceive that the final battle between “good” and “evil” is at hand (as Ronald Reagan thought in 1981;[9] to bypass the human-designed permissive action links on nuclear weapons and to launch them. If anything, the decline of the U.S. has been more precipitous than I anticipated, both in geopolitical and economic terms,[10] while mass migration has yet to make itself apparent.

But a renewed focus on the link between violent political discourse and violent political actions has appeared with the attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords. While most discount the relationship, and indeed most people are not motivated to political violence by such words, it seems that aggressive people might be.[11] And while neoconservatives should not be confused with isolationist capitalist libertarians, who in turn should not be confused with social conservatives (of, for example, an evangelical Protestant variety), it appears that self-described conservatives themselves are often not so clear on these distinctions.[12] It would be unreasonable to expect that some of the most aggressive Tea Partiers—13 percent of whom think violence against the current U.S. government is justified[13]—are not in the military; some in the military and in some police departments call themselves “Oath Keepers” and they include “birthers” and “truthers” and capitalist libertarians.[14] It simply would not take that much to impel them to action.

What all this means is that under certain circumstances, a right wing militia uprising might find support from elements in the U.S. military and in local police departments. It might draw upon nuclear-equipped units. If enough soldiers’ families sense what Hacker and Pierson have to say about government transferring wealth from the poor to the rich,[15] support for this uprising might spread like wildfire among the troops. It might find support elsewhere. But any assumption that any such rebellion could be immediately put down by forces loyal to the government should be more carefully considered.

A prudent government would take steps to relieve the pressure on the working class that feeds the desperation that feeds a sense that people will need to take matters into their own hands. It doesn’t appear that our government is prudent.[16]

  1. [1]Larry Everest, “Iraq: Phase Two in an Unbounded War on the World,” in Impeach the President: The Case Against Bush and Cheney, Dennis Loo and Peter Phillips, eds. (New York: Seven Stories, 2006).
  2. [2]Shashank Bengali, “Other countries probing Bush-era torture — Why aren’t we?” McClatchy, August 18, 2010,…; William Fisher, “Outrage Mounts over Bush’s Waterboarding ‘Confession’,” Inter Press Service, November 11, 2010,; David Johnston and Charlie Savage, “Obama Reluctant to Look Into Bush Programs,” New York Times, January 11, 2009,; Susie Madrak, “Wikileaks: Obama Pressured Spain Into Dropping Bush Torture Prosecutions,” Crooks and Liars, December 2, 2010,…
  3. [3]Everest, 114.
  4. [4]Reese Erlich, interview for Tehran Bureau, “‘Conversations with Terrorists’: Face to Face with the Bogeymen,” October 25, 2010,…; Dov S. Zakheim, “The Military Option,” Tehran Bureau, October 25, 2010,…
  5. [5]Neil Arun and Abeer Mohammed, “Rise of Iran reveals polarized Iraq,” Asia Times, April 9, 2010,; Suzanne Maloney, “How the Iraq War Has Empowered Iran,” Brookings Institution, March 21, 2008. Retrieved from; Gary Sick, “Is Iraq Shifting to Iran?” Daily Beast, November 16, 2009,…; Barbara Slavin, “U.S. wary of Iranian influence in Iraq,” USA Today, February 12, 2004,
  6. [6] Jeffrey M. Jones, “Americans See U.S. as Exceptional; 37% Doubt Obama Does,” Gallup, December 22, 2010,
  7. [7]Andrew C. Revkin, “Growing Pentagon Focus on Energy and Climate,” New York Times, February 1, 2010,…
  8. [8]Matthew Harwood, “Share No Dominion: The Lonely, Dangerous Fight Against Christian Supremacists Inside the Armed Forces,” Truthout, July 11, 2010,…; Bryant Jordan, “AFA Religious Survey Called ‘Flawed’,”, October 30, 2010,….; Mike Ludwig, “‘Underground’ Group of Cadets Say Air Force Academy Controlled by Evangelicals,” Truthout, September 30, 2010,…; Nadia Prupis, “Family Escalates Fight Against Air Force Academy for Allowing On-Campus Proselytizing,” Truthout, December 22, 2010,…
  9. [9]James Bennet, “Nuclear Options,” Atlantic, September 2010,
  10. [10]Alfred McCoy, “Taking Down America,” TomDispatch, December 5, 2010,,_taking_dow…
  11. [11]Emily Badger, “Linking Uncivil Rhetoric With Violent Acts,” Miller-McCune, January 22, 2011,
  12. [12]Lee Drutman, “America Not as Politically Conservative as You Think,” Miller-McCune, January 14, 2011,…
  13. [13] kos, “13 percent of Tea Partiers are dangerous extremists,” Daily Kos, January 17, 2011,
  14. [14]Alan Maimon, “Oath Keepers pledges to prevent dictatorship in United States,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, October 18, 2009,; Justine Sharrock, “Oath Keepers and the Age of Treason,” Mother Jones, March/April 2010,
  15. [15] Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010).
  16. [16]David Benfell, “Pushing government luck,” January 15, 2011,; David Benfell, “The Obama administration is as dangerous as the Bush administration,” January 15, 2011,

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