Exit Strategies

The Real National Interest


The proles may be on the verge of forgetting about it, but we're now into the 13th week of what was supposed to be a brief, airborne operation to assist a rag-tag group of freedom fighters in their noble cause to rid the world of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The justification for the mission—for those who are, like me, often having difficulty keeping the various and changing justifications for our various and lengthening wars missions to promote peace and democracy straight—was to hasten the overthrow of Hitler version 48.1.9 and prevent unnecessary civilian deaths due to the alleged tendencies of Col. Gaddafi's forces to do nasty stuff to civilians in rebel-occupied areas. The actual results of the mission, predictably, have been…

  • the prolongation of what would've probably been a relatively brief conflict, had Libya's professional military not been interfered with in their attempts to crush the aforementioned rag-tag rebels; and...
  • an unpleasantly high number of civilian deaths—no small number having been caused by our new-found, rebellious friends, who seem to delight in doing nasty stuff to loyalist civilians who come under their control.

I was prompted to finally put pen to paper by a recent article at AltRight, which started out quite well, but in the end didn't really deliver much substance. Instead, introducing a relatively plausible explanation of past U.S. foreign policy (particularly during the reign of Bush the Younger); alluding to imperial overstretch and failure of the overarching policy of creating a “vertically-integrated hyper-empire”; and pointing out the relatively obvious discontent of the peoples of various places in the world who have been enjoying the pleasures of American aircraft bombing their infrastructure into the stone age in the name of peace and democracy for the past umpteen years. Where this leaves us in terms of a foreign policy in the post-Bush era is left for us to figure out on our own (although apparently it has something to do with chaos theory).

I'll hasten to point out that the general trend of American foreign policy doesn't seem to have actually changed much—to the chagrin of the hippie douchebags who drooled over themselves while voting for their Mocha Messiah and his pledges for Change®.

Actually, Messrs. Shishkin and Spencer, and a large army of other pundits (OK – one other guy) all seem to be rather missing the point of it all, so I'd like to offer my own interpretation of things.

U.S. foreign policy, since the beginnings of the last century, has been extremely effective in achieving its true goals. People fail to grasp this because they seem bent on evaluating this policy relative to the purposes that it logically should be serving—to wit, the best interests of America and its people—instead of relative to the purposes that it actually is serving. Ergo, the statement that essentially defines the three articles I linked to above...

American foreign policy is insane because it does not serve the interests of America...

...is false because American foreign policy is not intended to serve the interests of America. Instead, to understand the logic of America's foreign policy, one must first establish what its purposes are and judge the results of this policy in this light.

The scope of this analysis will be limited to US Near- and Middle-Eastern policies, from the first Iraq War to the unpalatable ménage-à-trois we are currently mired in.

The key to understanding these policies rests in a simple, logical exercise. Answer the question:

What is an existential threat to a nation-state?

Ignoring Operation Desert Storm for a moment, let's bear in mind the original justifications for our current, life-long engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq—Terrorism (or Terrrrrrism as President Dubya would articulate it). We have to fight them there—otherwise we'll be fighting them here. Remember that? Afghanistan as the Euro-Disney equivalent for Al-Qaeda and their mean and smelly friends the Taliban. Iraq as the sponsor of Terrrrrr everywhere...and fixin' to give nuculer weapons to terrrrrrists.

Reflecting on our question (and bringing to a welcome end my horrifying attempts to imitate that trained monkey's brutal, verbal assaults on our mother tongue): Is terrorism an existential threat to the nation-state? The answer, of course, is no.

The nation-state (or coalitions thereof) is the existential enemy of the nation-state.

Terrorism is not only notan enemy of the nation-state, but it can be a useful tool in solidifying support for the nation-state, when said state promotes itself and its aggrandizement of power as the necessary means of effectively protecting them from terror. Terrorists can never be an existential threat to an external nation-state, because they cannot defeat a modern, standing army, occupy another country, and install themselves as its rulers. The entire concept is preposterous. Internal “terrorists” (often known as rag-tag rebels, when certain folks find them to be useful) can certainly overthrow their own nation-state—but that's another question entirely. And it's relatively clear that U.S. foreign policy is usually supportive of such internal terrorists, whether they be Kurds or Shiites (or Sunnis–depending upon what day of the week it is) in Iraq, whichever warlords happen to be on the outs this month with the Taliban in Afghanistan, whoever the hell the current crop of dusky heroes are in Libya, ad nauseum, ad infinitum. So let's be clear here. Washington is not opposed to terrorism in general. Washington is opposed to certain terrorists. Sometimes.

U.S. foreign policy within the time-frame and geographical region being addressed has in fact been constructed around this two-part principle and can be entirely understood and judged relative to it.

The first part—the idea that the nation-state or state coalitions are the existential enemy of the nation-state, is a concept that is as old as the nation-state itself. Cardinal Richelieu (when he wasn't starving to death thousands of French people who disagreed with him on certain, arcane Christian principles) also understood this, and his basic foreign-policy objectives were maintained by the French state up until Bismark outsmarted Napoleon III and forced the Parisians to invent tasty recipes for dogs, cats, and rats. The second part probably has historical precedents, too—but I'm too lazy to look any up right now, so you'll have to take my word for it. If it's a new concept, it's a good one in any case.

But wait a minute, I hear you saying...Afghanistan (or Iraq, or Libya, or whatever the sandbox of the month happens to be) couldn't possibly be an existential threat to the U.S. of A.! Well, actually the idea that Saddam Hussein might just be crazy enough to launch some of his super-secret, invisible (to this day even) nukes against 'Mmmmurca was sort of floated around back in the day...but let's not confuse ourselves...that was just one of a multitude of piles of bullshit being stuffed down the throats of the Western world's citizenry by Bush, Cheney, & Co. But we're getting close to our answer now; because Iraq (and Libya, and Iran, and Syria, and...you get the picture) as nation-states had the potential to become existential threats to another country. A really important country. Maybe the most important country in the universe. Yes, you guessed it. And of course, if you don't believe it is the most important country in the universe, you're an anti-Semite. Furthermore, if you actually write down or say out loud that somebody, somewhere might think it is the most important country in the universe, then you're an anti-Semite, too. Just to be clear, you need to know it...but you can't say it.

Saddam Hussein's Iraq was a secular dictatorship that effectively united a disparate body of rather fertile people who didn't like the most important country in the universe. The purpose of Operation Desert Storm was to create a situation where the Iraqi people would “spontaneously” overthrow President Hussein. When that didn't happen, Operation Iraqi Freedom was conceived...and now the Iraqis have enjoyed the pleasure of seven years of glorious freedom, which they endeavor to enjoy between bomb-blasts and blackouts.

Libya was rather small potatoes, methinks—but the Powers That Be are playing for all the marbles here, and they figured they could make it happen (and they have, haven't they?).

In summary, the goal is two-fold:

  • To destroy any nation-state in the Near- or Middle-east that could conceivably, alone or in coalition with other nation-states, actually create a counter-balancing force against Israel's unilateral domination of sandbox politics and either force the Israelis to treat the Muslim and Christian Palestinians as (Egads!) human beings or even threaten the Israeli state itself.
  • To encourage anti-American and anti-Western sentiment amongst local populations, in order to foster additional terrorist actions directed against Western peoples – or at the very least, to encourage and promote animosity between Westerners and Muslims in the Near and Middle East. Such terrorist acts are impotent in terms of actually causing true pain to the West (at least to the people in the West who matter); they amount to, rather, a desperate lashings-out of largely impotent peoples. But these lashings-out serve the useful purpose of forcing the cattle free citizens of the West into identifying more strongly with their nation-state (or supra-state) bodies, the instruments of power held by these states (e.g. standing armies, state police), and into supporting ever more oppressive laws that encroach on their freedom (enacted in the interests of “protecting their freedoms,” of course).

In closing, the foreign policy goals of the United States have been remarkably successful at achieving their objectives.

Today, every nation-state within Israel's sphere of interest that existed at the turn of the century is either in the hands of a monarchical kleptocracy in bed with Western powers, in a total state of disarray, or currently under attack from either external military forces or “spontaneous” internal rebellion. (As an aside, note how we have not stopped our kleptocratic friends in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain from dealing brutally with their uprisings.)

There are, however, at least two partial failures that should be mentioned: I am quite sure that it was intended and expected to use American outrage after 9/11 to not only drive the U.S. into the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also against Iran, too. I also believe that propaganda and media sentiment was intended to completely blur or eliminate the lines separating Al Qaeda and other anti-Western nasties, on the one hand, and Palestinian “terrrrrrists,” on the other, in the mind of Westerners—to the extent that we would give Israel a free hand in brutalizing the Palestinians and taking whatever scraps of land and infrastructure these poor souls are still able to eke out an existence on. We haven't been prodded into attacking Iran—yet. And once in a while, some quiet peeps from the corner will emerge, forcing the fulminating Israelis to moderate their land-grabbing...or at least pretend to, once in a while. At least they haven't started mechanized killing of the Palestinians—yet.

The fact that these policies are exhausting the resources of the United States is not relevant to the major actors. Indeed, one could posit that the exhaustion of the United States is symptomatic of the kind of control being exercised on the nation. Whether this kind of control is ultimately self-defeating, in that it will lead to the downfall of the political actors host country is an important question. But then, that's another article...