Friday, December 12, 2008

Enemies Erstwhile and Otherwise

Threats Getting Threadbare

With a new administration as enthusiastic for change as it is respectful of business as usual, it looks like a good time to review the threat board. We Americans love God but can’t live without the devil. Satanic threats, virtually all of which we create for ourselves, justify our empire, prop up our economy by way of “defense” spending, and scare us into sticking with the status quo.
For decades we had the “evil empire” embodied by the quondam commies. Then there was the “axis of evil” among atheist Koreans, Shiite Persians and Sunni Mesopotamians (imagine what they jabbered about at their secret cabals?). Nowadays, we have only the rubric “terrorism” to flog the foreigners we deem disobedient. Though it’s not particularly accurate or enlightening, it is a scary word signifying that we must let our government run roughshod lest those satans slay us in our sleep. And, of course, it’s a single word. If you pejoratize our enemies with more than one word you tax the public’s attention span.
Which raises the problem that our most familiar threats are suffering senility and don’t drum up the dread they used to. The Cuban Revolution is going on 50, with a frail but still feisty Fidel about to gall his 11th American president. Washington still dubs his regime a threat to the western hemisphere, while the western hemisphere, with the isolated exception of the U.S., enjoys increasingly cordial relations with the tropic isle we used to call the “pearl of the Antilles.” Obama apparently accepts that Cuba should remain a threat but says he favors some minor amelioration. We’ll still try to starve Cubans to death, but will allow exiles here to send table scraps to their relatives. And we’ll close Guantanamo so it will no longer be a sobriquet for torture, but revert to being a nasty example of imperial armed robbery.
Across the Caribbean, Venezuela, a country that never fought a war beyond its borders, is sharing the calumny we dump on Cuba. While we tar him as an autocratic ogre, President Chavez is working hard to unify Latin America on the European model, making our old backyard into their brand new mall. On his side is the utter disgust most Latins have for the so-called Washington consensus economics that kept them so poor for so long. Venezuela’s been on the threat board for a decade now. It ain’t going nowhere.
An old standby is Kim Il Jung, North Korea’s erstwhile boy dictator, now nearing 68 and reportedly suffering from stroke and such. North Korea sits on a peninsula surrounded by three far more powerful countries it would not dare attack. It was virtually wiped out when it tried to reunite with South Korea by force in 1950 and has since had so little to do with the rest of the world that it’s known as a “hermit kingdom.” Nevertheless, Washington continues to label it a danger to all Asia and beyond. Ashton Carter, a high diplomat in the Clinton administration, gave up the game when he revealed the real reason we oppose nukes in the North. When other countries have nukes, we lose our “leverage” over them, he said.
Also going gray is our Persian paranoia. It’s been 30 years since Washington began scaring us with the ever imminent and inevasible threat from Iran and its never quite perfected nukes. Our leaders lately tell us that Iran now plans to target everything from Israel to Iceland once it perfects the missiles to carry its still developing nukes. As my father used to say, if we had ham we could have ham and eggs if we had eggs. Of course, no one asks and no one explains why Iran, a country that hasn’t attacked anyone for 270 years, wants to commit suicide by rocketing its oil customers in Europe. Here, Obama figures to follow exactly the same policy as Bush, with a few diplomatic niceties added for window dressing. Our aim in Iran is exactly the same as it was back in 1953 when we overthrew its democratic government and imposed a bloody dictator. As Kissinger has said, we regard Iran’s oil as our own and mean to get it back.
Afghanistan, which joined the threat board seven years ago with 9/11, has been at more or less continuous war since the early 70s--that would be the 670s. Other countries love to invade it and the Afghans enjoy fighting them off. I don’t know why, since there’s little there to fight over. All I remember from my trip back in ‘73 was the dirt cheap hash, delicious melons and handsome rugs. Obama says he will change Bush’s policy by making the war there bigger and bloodier.
Syria’s been on the threat board for 60 years. Since it’s not strong enough to fight off its neighbors, let alone attack them, it has lost land on the Golan to Israel and its position in Lebanon to the U.S. Since they don’t have much oil, the Syrians don’t make the top of our shit list. We always seem to threaten them as an afterthought.
As as wrote back in the summer (Iraq Going, Going, Gone, July 22), the Iraqis have no reason to accept subordination to our empire and we have no way to force them, having shot our bolt militarily. After 40 years, the far more capable Israelis have yet to pacify four million starveling Palestinian imprisoned on a few patches of land. Any hope of the U.S. doing better in Iraq was always a pipe dream. The recently agreed withdrawal agreement codifies a more or less total American defeat. Not that the war was a total loss. We’ve got $50 billion of Iraqi oil receipts in our banks. You can be sure the big boys will find a way to hang on to that stash. Meanwhile, we move our shock and awe show to Afghanistan as control of the Middle East and its energy drifts back to the people who live there.