Keeping Score On Our Wars
I once worked with a woman who showed up late every morning with a different excuse. She finally got canned after telling the boss that her hair hadn’t dried yet.
I was reminded of her while listening to Obama the other night giving us yet another excuse for a bigger and better war in Afghanistan. Such speeches are always the same except for the name of the nation in which we have decided to kill people and break and take their stuff. Since my childhood, and excluding World War II, the list has included the Philippines, Greece, Korea, China, Lebanon, Angola, Congo, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Mozambique, Guyana, Panama, Grenada, Serbia, Somalia, Venezuela, etc.
To be fair, some of those were only air strikes, raids or government overthrows rather than full-bore invasions. If you go back in history to the days when we grabbed off a big hunk of Mexico, invaded Canada thrice, stole Spain's empire, nabbed Hawaii, had our Marines collecting on sovereign loans for our bankers, and our war fleets opening new markets in Asia, you can add a couple of dozen more. And if you tote up our global military interventions over the 233 years of our history, we make the Romans, whose empire lasted 500 years, look like homebodies.
Washington’s excuses for all these armed excursions are inevitably implausible since they're cover stories. Our empire makes war for imperial reasons, then pretends in public that its motives are defensive and/or idealistic . Like my colleague’s excuses, those motives keep changing. There’s been Manifest Destiny, the white man’s burden, christianizing the heathen, teaching the wogs a lesson, war to end war, antifascism, anticommunism, restoring order, nation-building, combating drugs, and lately antiterrorism.
If tardiness was the common thread in my co-worker’s dismissal, greed is the glue that holds our wars together. No matter the reason we’re fighting this time, a few of us are making money on war all the time. So steadily profitable has war become that conservative commentator John McClaughlin says that we have entered upon “an orthodoxy of continuous war.”
Interestingly, if you read through Obama’s speech, he doesn’t give much indication of what victory might look like. At best, there’s hope that the Taliban can be routed and that the thieves market in downtown Kabul can maintain the pretense that it’s a national government. There’s also the usual blather about throttling al Qaeda. This reminds me of the joke about the fellow who comes to see Jerry Lewis claiming that he’s found the cure for muscular dystrophy. “Are you absolutely sure?” asks Jerry. “Absolutely!” replies the visitor. Jerry then produces a gun and shoots the guy dead.
More interesting than Obama’s war speech this week was the release of a Senate Report affirming that the Bush administration let bin Laden and and his cohorts escape from Tora Bora. Why not? There would have been no reason to continue their war if if there was no more al Qaeda!
Such revelations are barely news anymore. The imperial impulse has implanted itself so deeply in our souls by now that we assume that the other 95 percent of the world is there for us to buy off, borrow from, or bomb, as we see fit. Like political campaigns that grew from an election season cottage industry to a non-stop billion dollar business, so our wars are becoming just another permanent economic sector, like sneaker retailing. Wars are good business, as we used to say in Vietnam days. Invest your kid!