Any Effective Anti-War Movement Must Readjust Its Understanding Of What War Is
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has kicked off yet another round of “Iran is totally gonna nuke us any second now you guys” ejaculations. This is of course another demand that we accept unsubstantiated claims from a proven liar about another longtime target for neoconservative regime change, and I’d like to tap out a few thoughts about war and how to oppose it as pertains to the latest trend in neocon Iran shenanigans.
I’ve been writing about rape a lot these last few days, partly due to where I’m at in my personal rabbit holing and probably also partly because of where the zeitgeist is at with the Kavanaugh and Cosby stuff in the news. So since we’re already on the subject I hope people don’t mind if I kick off this piece with another rape analogy.
Until relatively recently, most people had a wildly different understanding of what rape is than how it actually tends to show up in real life. Even today, saying the word “rapist” tends to conjure up a very unrealistic image for many people: a stranger in a ski mask grabbing a female jogger and dragging her off into the bushes and leaving her severely injured, or something similar. Because such an event is rare, there was a belief that rape itself was something rare; it didn’t say anything about the majority of rapes which don’t entail severe physical injury, or the rapes which are inflicted by acquaintances, friends, coworkers, partners, family members, prison mates, partners, exes and spouses. Rape is common, and, like murder, the perpetrator of a rape will most likely be someone the victim knows.
Just as our society is readjusting its understanding of what rape is and how it tends to happen, it is important for any antiwar movement to readjust its understanding of what war is and how it tends to happen.
In a 2006 article titled “The Vietnam Syndrome Mutates” by the neoconservative publication The Atlantic, the author discusses how after the Gulf War in 1991 Bush Senior crowed that “The specter of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands of the Arabian Peninsula… By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all!”
“Vietnam syndrome” was a term used to describe the reluctance of the US citizenry to sign off on direct military interventionism after that disastrous war, asking “Is this another Vietnam?” any time the subject of military action anywhere in the world came up. There was a hope among the pilots of the US war machine that the Gulf War had shown the American public that it could again begin trusting Uncle Sam with the responsibility to sign off on winnable, necessary military interventions at minimal cost that nobody would regret. And for a very brief period, until his son led the empire into another disastrous invasion in Iraq, the elder Bush was right. And then, as The Atlantic mourns, Vietnam syndrome mutated into Iraq syndrome.
And to this day those two disastrous wars remain the primary “Remember the Alamo” calls of the peace movement. Any proposal that looks like a conventional ground war is instantly opposed and rejected by war resisters in particular and the broader public in general, which is obviously a good thing, but it also means that people aren’t keeping their eyes peeled for less conventional acts of war which can be just as disastrous.
We are now at a strange juncture in geopolitical dynamics wherein anyone paying attention knows that China is scheduled to surpass the US as the dominant superpower before too long unless something drastic happens, and so the US-centralized empire is working frantically to tilt the world stage in its favor before then, but it needs to use a much softer touch than it would like because Iraq soured the public attitude toward war. General Wesley Clark once described how after 9/11 the Pentagon had planned to keep toppling noncompliant governments after Iraq, over five years following up Saddam’s overthrow with regime change wars in “Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.”
Iraq didn’t go as planned, but that didn’t deter the imperialists from their agenda, they just had to find another way to go about it. In order to get their regime change operation underway in Syria, for example, the empire flooded the nation with heavily armed terrorist factions and implemented what is possibly the single most sophisticated war propaganda campaign in human history to manufacture consent for more direct intervention. It implemented the same strategy against Libya with far more success. In both those interventions, longtime targets for regime change were attacked in a way which killed thousands upon thousands of people to advance imperialist agendas and destabilized the region in a way that has adversely affected the entire world, just as with Iraq. But, unlike Iraq, they didn’t involve full-scale ground invasions or conventional warfare.
Because of the loss of American life and the unwanted refugee crises which have ensued from US imperialism in Iraq, Libya and Syria, those interventions by the Bush and Obama administrations are aggressively condemned by populist right-wingers. But, because the populist right broadly supports the Trump administration, they remain largely blind to the fact that it is doing essentially the same thing to Iran that the Obama administration did to Libya and Syria. Forgiving and excusing this administration’s starvation sanctions (the only form of warfare in which it is considered acceptable and appropriate to target civilians with deadly force), escalated covert operations by the coup-staging sociopaths at the CIA, coziness with the MEK terror cult, and an elevation of virulent Iran hawks to the highest levels of his cabinet, right-wing populists sustain a narrative that this administration has a vested interest in peace, leaving only leftists, some libertarians, and what remains of the near-extinct antiwar Democrats to oppose this administration’s Iran warmongering.
I insist, as I always have, that if there’s ever to be an effective antiwar movement in the US it will necessarily involve a loose coalition of rank-and-file citizens from all across the political spectrum, but before that can happen there’s going to have to be an evolved understanding of what war is and how it operates. We’re going to have to circulate the understanding that both of America’s mainstream parties are fully devoted to the agenda of war in all its forms, so just because you got someone into office whom you happen to like doesn’t mean you get to relax your antiwar vigilance or give anyone the benefit of the doubt. And we’re going to have to circulate an understanding that war doesn’t always look like planes full of American soldiers unloading onto foreign shores and shooting at anyone who gets in their way. More and more, it’s going to look like a deadly combination of starvation sanctions, increasingly sophisticated psyops, CIA covert ops, empire-armed extremist factions (with funding often coming through opaque and unaccountable gulf state allies), a few airstrikes mixed in as needed, and extensive coordination with other branches of the empire like Israel.
In order to oppose something, you’ve got to understand how it works. The old ways of thinking aren’t serving us anymore. We need to expand our understanding.
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