America’s addiction to war


They can’t help themselves. Whatever the situation, the reaction of U.S. policymakers is more war.

Weak economy? War will get things going. Strong economy? Military spending will cool it off.

Two wars in the Middle East (Afghanistan and Iraq) finally winding down (because we’ve lost and people are sick of them)? Time to ramp up secret arms sales to a pair of pipsqueak insurgencies (Libya and Syria).

Other superpowers love militarism. But only the United States would send troops, rather than aid workers, to people devastated by natural disasters like tsunamis and earthquakes … even within the U.S.

As Joel Andreas put it in his seminal graphic novel-format comic, American politicians are addicted to war. And we — even those who identify with the antiwar left — are like an addict’s long-suffering spouse, trapped in a dysfunctional relationship where we enable the militarism we claim to deplore.

The ruling elite’s addiction to militarism is fully visible in U.S. President Barack Obama’s announcement that he plans to re-invade Iraq. He’s starting small, with a few hundred military advisers and probably airstrikes via the precise, never-fails, cares-so-much-about-civilians technology of drones. Sending a few hundred military advisers was, of course, how JFK initiated America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

But we’ve already been through all that in Iraq. We invaded. We propped up a wildly unpopular pro-U.S. puppet regime. We fought. We lost — and lost big. We withdrew. Now our pet autocracy is collapsing. In Vietnam time, it’s 1975 in Iraq. This is supposed to be the part where we burn stacks of $100 bills, push Hueys into the sea, shove desperate locals off the roof of the embassy in Saigon/Baghdad and get out.

Twenty or so years later, we come back and invade the right way — as obnoxious tourists and predatory sneaker company executives.

What’s up with Obama? Why is he treating Iraq like it’s Vietnam in 1962 — as though this were one of those hey, let’s just send a little help and see what happens affairs — as in no way, no how will “combat troops” (as opposed to noncombat troops) go in again, unless they do?

Even by presidential standards, Obama’s behavior is bizarre. Somewhere in the multiverse there must be one version of this story in which a half-dozen Cabinet members, steeled in their resolve by the support of the Secret Service, rush into the Oval Office and bundle the president off to an institution that can give him the treatment he seems to require.

Alas, we live here. In this weird-ass country, the president’s re-invasion of Iraq is supported by 320 million enablers — not least of whom is the media.

It’s not just the sickening worship of all things soldierly, as when so-called journalists say “thank you for your service” to armchair generals who will never be on the wrong end of a shot fired in anger. The media drowns us in so much misinformation that it’s impossible for all but the most dedicated between-the-lines readers to come to an intelligent assessment of the facts.

Consider, for example, The New York Times. Given how often the paper has gotten burned by its pro-militarist establishmentarianism (supporting the failed right-wing coup attempt against Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq, not returning Edward Snowden’s phone call), you’d think its editors would be reluctant to support Gulf War III.

And yet, a June 17th piece bearing the headline “Your Iraq Questions, Answered,” in which Times reporters reply to readers, is illustrative.

One reader asks: “ISIS [aka ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the Islamist insurgent militia threatening the U.S. puppet regime of Nouri al-Maliki, currently in control of half the country] seems to have legit online following. Is this reflective of support on the ground?”

Rod Nordland, Kabul bureau chief but reporting from Iraq, replies: “ISIS has a huge and very aggressive social media operation, but I don’t know how anyone could characterize that as a legitimate following. I suspect a lot of their followers, clicks and retweets are voyeuristic because the material posted is so bloody and savage, and ISIS is completely unapologetic about it. Hopefully, most of their following is aghast.”

So much for any smidge of journalistic objectivity. Then things turn stupid:

“Most people in the territory ISIS controls do not seem terribly supportive of them, but they hate the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government far more, and ISIS takes pains to treat the Sunnis in their dominions with consideration — at least at first. That is the central challenge that the Iraqi government faces, to convince people in ISIS-dominated areas that their government wants to include them, and has more to offer than the ISIS extremists.”

Anyone who has studied history or read Che Guevara — which you’d hope an employee of The New York Times might have done — knows that ISIL, as a guerilla army outgunned and outmanned by the central government it seeks to overthrow, would never have gotten as far as it has without substantial support among civilians.

Even more egregious than Nordland’s failure to convey this truism to Times readers is his closing combination of childlike naivete and taking sides.

Al-Maliki has been in office for eight years. If he were interested in building a pluralistic post-sectarian political coalition, rather than ruthlessly excluding all but his own Shiites from positions of influence, he would have done so by now. Even with ISIL on the road toward Baghdad, he hasn’t shifted his Shiite-centric approach.

With the most respected news source in the U.S. spoon-feeding such nonsense, it’s no wonder we can’t break free of the militarist traps laid for Pentagon generals by defense contractors, for the president by his generals and for us by the president.

When’s the last time you read an uncompromising antiwar opinion on the op-ed page of a major newspaper? Have you ever seen someone completely against war interviewed on network television news — even on “liberal” MSNBC? Even the state radio for the intellectual elite, NPR, rarely grants airtime to experts who oppose militarism. I’m an addict — to news — and I can honestly say that it’s rare to see more than one antiwar talking head on TV in a year … and that’s on daytime shows with low viewership.

As long as the alternatives to war aren’t allowed a voice, our addiction to war is safe.

Ted Rall is a political cartoonist and writer. © 2014 Ted Rall

  • Only libertarians are consistent critics if war. Socialist exponents are simply purterbed by victimisation; sensing a ready market in need rather than any principled position given that they are champions for collect extortion, majoritive or otherwise. Witness Ron Paul and other libertarian critics around the globe.

    • phu

      So you’re saying that either being anti-war is a sufficient condition for being libertarian, and that anyone who is not a libertarian but is also anti-war is an unprincipled, exploitative socialist who only cares about victimization? That’s a pretty over-the-top, unsupported generalization.

      If you’re trying to make the point that war can’t always be avoided and that being critical of all positions in all wars — not simply the fundamental fact of war, but the fighting itself, in all instances — is short-sighted, then I agree with you. I’m not sure what else you would be saying, unless you just wanted to criticize and generalize about people who are against war, but in any other context I can’t find any real point in your post.

      • I didn’t say that. I’m saying libertarians were a leading light of the repudiation of war. Obviously libertarians don’t sanction the initiation of force (i.e. 9/11th), but they could never have financed a war against Al Queda without tax extortion. They probably would have adopted a more modest, targeted approach against Al Queda. But you would probably find most will say, that the Middle East is not not the place to start defending rights…that starts in the West…where said rights are rapidly being diminished. It would say, ring fence the Middle East to stop them impacting us. Defend the oil and any sheikdom that controls it.
        In fairness…I could have said more…but travelling so…not.

  • Kyle

    Last time I checked less than 300 special forces in non-combat roles is not an invasion. Particularly, when the host country requests far more US presence.

  • LM O’Brien

    Truly brilliant article.
    The rest of the west just looks on and collectively shakes its head. We know that the US military complex and bankers own the US Congress and nothing can change that.

  • James Smith

    >Other superpowers love militarism. But only the United States would send troops, >rather than aid workers, to people devastated by natural disasters like tsunamis >and earthquakes … even within the U.S.
    Really? Japan sent the SDF in after the tsunami, British troops regularly shore up flood defenses. The army is a well-equipped, well-trained organization – what excuse could there be for not using them in times of natural disasters? In fact it’s probably the best use for any domestic force.
    Unless you have evidence that the US deliberatly restrained aid workers without good reason) to send more troops into a region.
    There were (and are) plenty of aid workers in Iraq. But it’s an incredibly dangerous job – doesn’t it make more sense to use people trained to work in a warzone over civilians?