Friday, February 17, 2012

Paranoid Superpower

In an era when U.S. national security has been visibly and painfully challenged by networked, non-state terrorist gangs and its own corrupt uber-rich, the revelation that every American is looking wild-eyed over his shoulder for the  “next enemy” should come as no surprise. Keeping one’s eyes open is good, but the panic seen in American eyes today is embarrassingly close to paranoia.

America is so frightened of tiny terror gangs that it is destroying whole societies, one after the other, and in the process generating vastly more hatred and contempt for the U.S. than has ever before existed in the history of this country. The mindless overuse of American military force is generating hatred be cause of its viciousness (torture in Abu Ghraib, attacks on hospitals in Fallujah, and the endless drone campaign with its endless stream of innocent victims that seems to have no limits at all). And ironically, that same overuse of American military force is generating contempt because, in the short ten year span of this new era of war against people who are not even attacking us, the unstoppable American military machine has shown itself incapable of winning…anything. It can destroy everything; that much is clear. Yet, it could not, either directly or via its various proxies, win in Gaza, Lebanon, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, or Afghanistan. Still, after each failure to achieve sustainable, beneficial victory, the machine charges on, targeting an even bigger adversary.

More to the point from the perspective of U.S. national security, the American panic is dangerously self-defeating. In our desperate search for a Hitlerian- or Soviet-scale enemy (surely there must be one, now that we have put all our eggs in the military basket and have a monstrous war budget equal to the total of the whole rest of the planet), we are completely overlooking the real danger: ourselves.

Woe be to any adversary stupid enough to launch a blitzkrieg against America: such an enemy would be vaporized. But such an enemy does not exist. No one has the remotest ability to attack the U.S. Maginot Line, nor any intention of doing so.

Lacking any real and present danger from enemies with serious capabilities and urgent aggressive intent, Uncle Sam is rushing in all directions simultaneously…and tripping over his own feet. Washington’s clumsy response to the Arab Spring, which left the superpower fearfully peering into shadows in search of terrorists or consoling outdated dictator clients, made U.S. elites look clueless.  Blatant contradictions between Washington’s rewarding of vicious repression in Bahrain (by giving more aid) and Yemen (by giving Saleh a visa) while condemning similar repression by Assad remain unresolved, thereby diminishing America’s stature and global appeal. Washington’s approach to Pakistan is even worse – endless slaughter of innocents by drones alienating precisely the population whose goodwill it needs. Most tragic is the visible trembling of official Washington before the mighty Netanyahu, such a warmonger that his own military/intelligence team is revolting in the name of Israeli security. Washington cannot even guide its closest regional client down the path of long-term security, instead plying it with the matches that seem likely to burn the house down.

What is it that Washington wants? Does it want Arab democracy or Arab submission? Does it want Israeli security or a tiny Israeli garrison state surrounded by an increasingly radical and angry Muslim world? Does it want Iran determined to make trouble for the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan or a regional understanding that would facilitate a peaceful American military withdrawal in return for Iranian cooperation to create a mutually beneficial zone of Central Asian stability? So far, no one knows…least of all the officials in Washington.

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