That the United States has an unhealthy relationship with war might be inferred from a history in which there are only sixteen calendar years—since 1775—in which its armed forces have not been deployed against somebody somewhere in a hostile situation and from Tom Engelhardt’s ability to count six wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and the Global War on Terror) in which the country is now engaged in his introduction to an article by William Astore in which the latter reprises Chalmers Johnson’s comparison of militarism in the United States to that of the end of the Roman Republic. That this president has an unhealthy relationship with war might be inferred from his decision to override the advice of Defense Department and State Department lawyers and to refuse to seek Congressional approval for our adventure in Libya.
That this country’s elite may be sociopaths might be inferred from the consistency with which they lie about their reasons for going for war. That this president is a sociopath may be inferred from the self-delusion with which he rationalized his “surge,” his escalation in Afghanistan. And from the self-delusion here:
“The administration gave its opinion on the War Powers Resolution, but it didn’t answer the questions in my letter as to whether the Office of Legal Counsel agrees with them,” [the House speaker, John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio] said. “The White House says there are no hostilities taking place. Yet we’ve got drone attacks under way. We’re spending $10 million a day. We’re part of an effort to drop bombs on Qaddafi’s compounds. It just doesn’t pass the straight-face test, in my view, that we’re not in the midst of hostilities.”
Barack Obama apparently solicited numerous opinions, and received several which disagreed with these two top lawyers who had advised him to seek congressional approval under the War Powers Act. As Charlie Savage writes, “Presidents have the legal authority to override the legal conclusions of the Office of Legal Counsel and to act in a manner that is contrary to its advice, but it is extraordinarily rare for that to happen.”
Until now, every president, beginning with [Richard M.] Nixon himself, has argued that the [War Powers] Act is unconstitutional because it infringes on the president’s authority as “Commander-in-Chief”. At the same time, however, they have been careful to comply with the Act’s notice requirement – as Obama did two days after deploying U.S. forces over Libya.
In this case, Obama tried to argue that U.S. actions in Libya do not amount to hostilities. “That claim went over like a lead balloon with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who – while most are unlikely to pull the plug on Washington’s three-month-old military involvement – have been unable so far to agree on a resolution authorising the operations.” And indeed, in a frame where support for “our troops” cannot ever mean keeping them out of harm’s way, and
While President Obama has insisted that no American military ground troops participate in the Libyan campaign, small groups of C.I.A. operatives have been working in Libya for several weeks as part of a shadow force of Westerners that the Obama administration hopes can help bleed Colonel Qaddafi’s military, [U.S.] officials said.
The C.I.A., which Chalmers Johnson calls “the President’s private army,” also “helped safely recover [a crashed F15-E] fighter jet’s weapons specialist, who was first picked up by rebels. The pilot was rescued by Marines.” That a clandestine force was needed to effect a fighter plane crew rescue would seem to undermine any notion that our air attacks on Libya are somehow “friendly” or even “neutral.”
So Obama is lying again. The refusal to seek permission, even where it would most likely be given, as is the case even with Libya, or to be truthful about reasons for going to or expanding war, in light of a mostly secret global crusade (largely against Muslims) suggests a determination to preserve a purported unaccountable, unfettered prerogative to wage war with any forces anywhere at any time. I’m neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist. But something’s up here. And so I pulled a volume off my shelf written by a highly regarded psychiatrist and started leafing through the pages. Very quickly, perhaps too quickly, my eyes fell upon this passage:
As a psychiatrist concerned with history, I have in my past work explored the destructive excesses of our times—Nazi genocide, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Chinese Communist “thought reform,” the Vietnam war, and the apocalyptic forays of Aum Shinrikyo and other cults of the late-twentieth century. Each of these expressed a powerful impulse to destroy the existing world so that it might be purified and renewed. The Nazis had a vision of renewing the world biologically by ridding it of “defiling” races and bad genes. In dropping atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, the United States sought not only to end a bloody war but also to display its awesome power and so to alter and reshape the postwar world to come. Chinese thought reform aimed at rooting out bad thoughts and ill-formed minds associated with an old and corrupt regime and way of life in order to purify, politically and ethically, a vast society. In Vietnam, villages, towns, and parts of cities had to be sacrificed and so destroyed in order to be “saved” from Communism. And Shoko Asahara, the guru who formed the Aum Shinrikyo cult, dedicated it to achieving a biblical Armageddon in order to bring on a world of spiritual perfection.
These extreme twentieth-century dreams and expressions of totalistic control and mass killing were bound to reverberate in the twenty-first century. On September 11, 2001, some of those reverberations became all too cruelly evident. My past work suddenly became current.
Along these lines, Chalmers Johnson observes that “all empires, it seems, require myths of divine right, racial preeminence, manifest destiny, or a ‘civilizing mission’ to cover their often barbarous behavior in other people’s countries.” For the U.S., that ideology to be universalized for the presumed benefit of all people everywhere is so-called capitalist democracy (for which, read oligarchy). But it’s that word totalistic that resonates with the 9/11 Commission Report, which Johnson quotes:
9/11 has taught us that terrorism against American interests “over there” should be regarded just as we regard terrorism against America “over here.” In this same sense, the American homeland is the planet.
And the word totalistic aligns with the massive number of bases, a number larger than the Pentagon is able to accurately assess, which Johnson characterizes as U.S. colonies (a description which would seem to suit at least the largest and best developed) spread across the globe, a zealously-pursued policy of limiting host country sovereignty over U.S. personnel and facilities, and a determination to ensure that no country or alliance of countries may accumulate sufficient power to threaten the United States or its interests. And the latter might explain this seemingly odd statement from a senior Chinese Army official:
“Although China’s defense and military development has come a long way in recent years, a gaping gap between you and us remains,” [Gen. Chen Bingde, whose position in Beijing is roughly the equivalent of chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff] said through an interpreter. He added, “China never intends to challenge the U.S.”
So it seems that even China worries about appearing to constitute a threat to the United States.
It might safely be said, that whatever the merit of any of the six wars the U.S. is now engaged in, the very fact that it is engaged in six of them is evidence of a loss of control, a lack of balance; that the U.S. finds itself in conflict in so many places suggests an inability or an unwillingness to resolve conflict through peaceful means, that it relies too heavily on military power. The militaristic mindset that Johnson and Astore point to suggests that war is our preferred means of resolving disputes, that our elite are irrationally violent.
That pathologically violent oligarchy very clearly now includes Barack Obama. And somehow, for the sake of our planet and the sake of our species, we must take our elite’s all-too-lethal “toys” away.
- David Benfell, “A peace loving nation,” DisUnitedStates.org, October 18, 2009, http://disunitedstates.org/?p=738↩
- William J. Astore, “Siamese Twins Sharing the Same Brain: How the Military and the Civilian Are Blurring in Washington,” TomDispatch, June 14, 2011, http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175404/tomgram%3A_william_astore%2C_american_militarism_is_not_a_fairy_tale/; Tom Engelhardt, “Tomgram: William Astore, American Militarism Is Not A Fairy Tale,” TomDispatch, June 14, 2011, http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175404/tomgram%3A_william_astore%2C_american_militarism_is_not_a_fairy_tale/; Chlamers Johnson, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (New York: Metropolitan, 2006).↩
- Charlie Savage, “2 Top Lawyers Lost to Obama in Libya War Policy Debate,” New York Times, June 17, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/18/world/africa/18powers.html↩
- Norman Solomon, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2005).↩
- David Benfell, “War is the first resort of a war criminal,” DisUnitedStates.org, December 1, 2009, http://disunitedstates.org/?p=940↩
- Savage, “2 Top Lawyers Lost to Obama in Libya War Policy Debate.”↩
- Savage, “2 Top Lawyers Lost to Obama in Libya War Policy Debate.”↩
- Jim Lobe, “Obama’s Claim of Libya War Powers Widely Disputed,” Inter Press Service, June 17, 2011, http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=56135↩
- Lobe, “Obama’s Claim of Libya War Powers Widely Disputed.”↩
- Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, “C.I.A. Agents in Libya Aid Airstrikes and Meet Rebels,” New York Times, March 30, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/31/world/africa/31intel.html↩
- Johnson, Nemesis, 90.↩
- Adam Goldman, “Sources: CIA officers aided in pilot rescue,” Air Force Times, March 30, 2011, http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2011/03/ap-libya-cia-officers-aided-pilot-rescue-033011/↩
- Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe, “U.S. ‘secret war’ expands globally as Special Operations forces take larger role,” Washington Post, June 4, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/03/AR2010060304965.html; Jeremy Scahill, “Obama’s Expanding Covert Wars,” Nation, June 4, 2010, http://www.thenation.com/blog/obamas-expanding-covert-wars; Scott Shane, Mark Mazzetti, and Robert F. Worth, “Secret Assault on Terrorism Widens on Two Continents,” New York Times, August 14, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/15/world/15shadowwar.html↩
- Robert Jay Lifton, Superpower Syndrome: America’s Apocalyptic Confrontation with the World (New York: Thunder’s Mouth, 2003), 4-5.↩
- Johnson, Nemesis, 76.↩
- National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, The 9/11 Commission Report, 2004, http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/911Report.pdf, 362.↩
- Johnson, Nemesis.↩
- Robert Burns, “Chinese general: We’re no match for U.S.,” Army Times, May 18, 2011, http://www.armytimes.com/news/2011/05/ap-chen-says-china-no-match-for-us-051811/↩