Thursday, October 11, 2012

 Why America's Empire Never Achieves Its Goals

From AlterNet:

By all the usual measuring sticks, the U.S. should be supreme in a historically unprecedented way. And yet it couldn’t be more obvious that it’s not, that despite all the bases, elite forces, private armies, drones, aircraft carriers, wars, conflicts, strikes, interventions, and clandestine operations, despite a labyrinthine intelligence bureaucracy that never seems to stop growing and into which we pour a minimum of $80 billion a year, nothing seems to work out in an imperially satisfying way. It couldn’t be more obvious that this is not a glorious dream, but some kind of ever-expanding imperial nightmare.

This should, of course, have been self-evident since at least early 2004, less than a year after the Bush administration invaded and occupied Iraq, when the roadside bombs started to explode and the suicide bombings to mount, while the comparisons of the United States to Rome and of a prospective Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East to the Pax Romana vanished like a morning mist on a blazing day. Still, the wars against relatively small, ill-armed sets of insurgents dragged toward their dismally predictable ends. (It says the world that, after almost 11 years of war, the 2,000th U.S. military death in Afghanistan occurred at the hands of an Afghan “ally” in an “insider attack.”) In those years, Washington continued to be regularly blindsided by the unintended consequences of its military moves. Surprises -- none pleasant -- became the order of the day and victories proved vanishingly rare.

One thing seems obvious: a superpower military with unparalleled capabilities for one-way destruction no longer has the more basic ability to impose its will anywhere on the planet. Quite the opposite, U.S. military power has been remarkably discredited globally by the most pitiful of forces. From Pakistan to Honduras, just about anywhere it goes in the old colonial or neocolonial world, in those regions known in the contested Cold War era as the Third World, resistance of one unexpected sort or another arises and failure ensues in some often long-drawn-out and spectacular fashion.

More here.

It was very likely Jonathan Schell who first figured this out very shortly after the Vietnam War in his book about the Nixon administration, The Time of Illusion: a small but determined band of insurgents supported by the local population can freeze a superpower in its tracks, and no amount of fire power can stop it from happening.  That is, you can defeat a nation state's military, but you can't defeat a people that doesn't want to lose.  That's what happened in Vietnam.  That's what happened in Afghanistan, first with the British, then with the Soviets, and now with the United States.  It happened in Iraq, too, even though we continue to characterize that conflict as a victory--I suppose it is a victory if define it in terms of granting Iran a lot more hegemonic power in the region than it had before we invaded, but that's another story.  The bottom line is that, in the 21st century, gargantuan armed forces such as our own encounter diminishing returns the larger they get.  And because our military is, by far, the largest in the history of humanity, we're well into the realm of spending billions to get a dollar's worth of bang.  If even that.

The essay linked above attributes a lot of the motivation for transmuting so many of our foreign policy problems into military problems to a sort of lockstep herd mentality among the Washington establishment, you know, the old military industrial complex and its vast influence over our leaders.  But that doesn't explain why "strong military defense" continues to be a winning campaign issue, why so many rank-and-file Americans always support an ever larger military, even though we break strength and size records year after year after year, why the slightest diplomatic sleight always elicits calls for military response.  Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran.  What is it about the American culture that makes us want to pull out guns and fuck people up?  Why are we like this even when it has become mind-numbingly obvious that there are profound limits to what we can actually accomplish abroad using armed force?  When we are laying off teachers and firemen in order to channel our wealth and prosperity into a military that is designed to neutralize Nazis and Soviets even though no threat of this sort has existed for decades?

I don't really know the answer to these questions, but it is telling, I think, that our national anthem is a hymn to war and destruction, rather than an ode to democracy and freedom.