When that phone call came around six a.m. last week telling President Obama he'd been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I had to think he turned to Michelle and said, "Honey, our life together has just gotten more surreal." I was hoping that he would politely refuse it, perhaps making a statement later that morning along the lines: "...since circumstances have placed me in the unfortunate position of prosecuting two wars at the present time, I cannot accept...." It would have introduced a refreshing note of truthfulness among friend and foe alike.
Much of the chatter on the Web about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially regarding causes and justifications, I regard as childish and silly. I especially follow the political podcasts issued by Slate and The New Yorker Magazine. They are garrulous without being especially astute. They seem to think we're in Afghanistan, for instance, in order to stabilize a central government, presumably a democratically-elected one. I don't think the Pentagon or the State Department give a rat's ass about the Afghan state or how its hard-bitten denizens scratch a living out of the tortured landscape there. Our motive there since the initial whacking of the Taliban government in 2001 has been to use it as the eastern geographic wedge against Iran, with Iraq as the western wedge, making a nice sandwich of Iran between two garrisons of US Wonder Bread. Hold that thought for a moment while I digress.
The debate about Iraq has been equally dumb for the past six years. The Left still thinks it was about the contingent "lies" employed around the "weapons of mass destruction" issue. Their indignation is pegged to their own swallowing of these "lies" at the critical moment of voting to support military action -- that is, they are pissed off at themselves, especially for making people in a foreign land feel bad. I always believed there was a larger motive for invading Iraq: the strategic need to kick the ass of an Arab nation as an answer to the 9/11 attacks -- regardless of whether Iraq instigated 9/ll or not. My view is not a popular one, to put it mildly, especially among my fellow Democrats, but I think it is closer to the truth.
Why poor Iraq? Because Iraq as a geographical entity was best situated as a US Middle East police station between Iran and Saudi Arabia and because Iraq's leader at the time, Mr. Saddam Hussein, was addicted to mischief-making in the region. Finally, because Saddam Hussein was ethnically Arab and the Arab world needed to get the message that knocking down skyscrapers full of American citizens was not okay (again, whether Saddam had any part in 9/11 or not). And, no, the invasion of Afghanistan was not enough because the Afghani people were not ethnically Arabs, so whatever we did there in 2001 did not really count except as a desperate prophylactic measure.) In summary: Iraq was therefore the best candidate for an ass-kicking in the Middle East. I will get to the consequences shortly.
Before I go a step further, I must anticipate the angry mail that will pour in from the 9/ll conspiracy sector -- the people who believe Dick Cheney or GW Bush or both (along with thousands of CIA and Pentagon worker bees) directed the attacks, or secretly placed explosive charges to bring down the buildings, or fired a missile at the Pentagon.... I regard the true believers of this fucking nonsense as hopelessly brain-damaged -- and warn that I will delete your tiresome rehearsals of these scenarios, so don't bother trying to "correct" me.
Many are no doubt wondering what could possibly be of "strategic" value about kicking anybody's ass geopolitically. Let me put it this way: there are varieties of discourse between the different peoples of this planet that occur on a plane above the conventional understanding of diplomatic push-and-pull, especially where acts of war are concerned. These varieties of discourse are not recognized by the current dominant American mentality, which is of the therapeutic type, based on the idea that the behavior of individuals and groups can be modified and even improved if they feel better (especially about themselves). I blame my own generation, the Boomers, for establishing this wishful ethos as the basis for all the policy of our time, foreign, domestic, municipal, classroom, household.... The Millennials, when they out-grow their adolescent angst, will not be so foolish, I guarantee you. And my fellow Boomers will feel it personally as the Millennials cut the funding for their bedpan service.
The strategic value was in sending a message to Radical Islam: the dogs of war are now loose... any further major shenanigans will be opposed violently. Whatever else might be said about the beef between the Radical Islam and the USA, there have been no further acts of war here on the scale of 9/11. Perhaps our adversaries are content that we have committed suicide by securitized debt and they are enjoying the spectacle of watching the American economy slide down history's cloaca maxima. Personally, I think if another violent aggression had been staged by "terrorists" on the 9/11 scale soon after that, our response would have had to be the turning of some Islamic capital cities into ashtrays -- but I venture into the realm of the hypothetically unutterable.
I would argue that to some degree the Iraq War has been a more successful project than many think, if only temporarily and partially. For one thing, it has mostly taken the form of a hazardous occupation, that is, a kind of ugly post-war, rather than a high-attrition "hot" war as normally understood, even by Vietnam standards. But it has been successful in a way that few well-intentioned foreign policy kibbitzers would probably grant: it has allowed the USA to operate a police station in the Middle East for a decade. Why is this necessary or desirable? Because the world depends on a reliable oil supply out of the Middle East and would descend into chaos if that supply was interrupted. This is apart, even, from the USA's desperate need for the 10 percent of our oil that we get from the region. Have we prevented chaos in the Middle East or only provoked it? That will be an interesting question for the next generation of PhD candidates. Maybe postponing it for a decade was the best we might have hoped for under the circumstances, though we did nothing at home to make use of that lull. You might say the US military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan has prevented Iran from assuming hegemonic domination of the Persian Gulf. If you are one of the kibbitzers I cite above, and you are enjoying the ride in your Toyota Prius and the heat in your house, the regular re-supply of your local supermarket, and maybe even the electric juice to your broker's Bloomberg terminal, then you'd better include these amenities in your ruminations over the ongoing geopolitical calculus.
The combination of extreme resource dependency and religious fanaticism is a fatal equation for the Middle East. They are angry, crazy and often savage people who own something we can't live without, and we are overfed buffoons, often savage ourselves, who think we can make them like us -- whether they like it or not. Again, personally, I don't believe the status quo will persist a whole lot longer. The US economy is radically de-complexifying (i.e. crashing). Part of this will be expressed in the bankruptcy of US military capacity -- at least where supporting troops-on-the-ground in foreign lands is concerned, and probably overseas bases, too. The US could get in trouble with other sources of foreign oil (think: Mexico) before anything chokes off the Middle East. But in one way or another, the US will soon become both capital-and-energy-resource-challenged to an extreme, perhaps to the extreme where we can't feed ourselves. Our problems in running the nation as it has been set up to run -- as a colossal demolition derby with sideshows of bargain shopping and infotainment -- are insurmountable if one accepts the majority view that it is "non-negotiable."
Our only hope, really, is a conscious campaign to manage our own process of de-complexifying, before the universe manages it for us, whether we like it or not. One tragic part of this -- among many and for many parties -- is that we did not use the last decade of relative world stability to get that process underway here. Even President Barack Obama is complicit in this failure. For instance, instead of cash-for clunkers, he could have gotten the trains running on time between New York and Chicago. I wonder, is there a prize for leaders who can get their nation's priorities straight.
For a complete list of books by James Howard Kunstler and purchase links, click here.