Tuesday, December 15, 2015

License to Kill

Jakub Rozalski
[Permis de tuer]
[Lizenz zum Töten]
[Licenza di uccidere]

[This post is, once again, a rerun, but its subject seems quite timely. As you watch the political establishment in the US go through its usual antics, ask yourself: are they even capable of understanding the fact that they have already lost the empire?]

The story is the same every time: some nation, due to a confluence of lucky circumstances, becomes powerful—much more powerful than the rest—and, for a time, is dominant. But the lucky circumstances, which often amount to no more than a few advantageous quirks of geology, be it Welsh coal or West Texas oil, in due course come to an end. In the meantime, the erstwhile superpower becomes corrupted by its own power.

As the endgame approaches, those still nominally in charge of the collapsing empire resort to all sorts of desperate measures—all except one: they will refuse to ever consider the fact that their imperial superpower is at an end, and that they should change their ways accordingly. George Orwell once offered an excellent explanation for this phenomenon: as the imperial end-game approaches, it becomes a matter of imperial self-preservation to breed a special-purpose ruling class—one that is incapable of understanding that the end-game is approaching. Because, you see, if they had an inkling of what's going on, they wouldn't take their jobs seriously enough to keep the game going for as long as possible.

The approaching imperial collapse can be seen in the ever worsening results the empire gets for its imperial efforts. After World War II, the US was able to do a respectable job helping to rebuild Germany, along with the rest of western Europe. Japan also did rather well under US tutelage, as did South Korea after the end of fighting on the Korean peninsula. With Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, all of which were badly damaged by the US, the results were significantly worse: Vietnam was an outright defeat, Cambodia lived through a period of genocide, while amazingly resilient Laos—the most heavily bombed country on the planet—recovered on its own.

The first Gulf War went even more badly: fearful of undertaking a ground offensive in Iraq, the US stopped short of its regular practice of toppling the government and installing a puppet regime there, and left it in limbo for a decade. When the US did eventually invade, it succeeded—after killing countless civilians and destroying much of the infrastructure—in leaving behind a dismembered corpse of a country.

Similar results have been achieved in other places where the US saw it fit to get involved: Somalia, Libya and, most recently, Yemen. Let's not even mention Afghanistan, since all empires have failed to achieve good results there. So the trend is unmistakable: whereas at its height the empire destroyed in order to rebuild the world in its own image, as it nears its end it destroys simply for the sake of destruction, leaving piles of corpses and smoldering ruins in its wake.

Another unmistakable trend has to do with the efficacy of spending money on “defense” (which, in the case of the US, should be redefined as “offense”). Having a lavishly endowed military can sometimes lead to success, but here too something has shifted over time. The famous American can-do spirit that was evident to all during World War II, when the US dwarfed the rest of the world with its industrial might, is no more. Now, more and more, military spending itself is the goal—never mind what it achieves.

And what it achieves is the latest F-35 jet fighter that can't fly; the latest aircraft carrier that can't launch planes without destroying them if they are fitted with the auxiliary tanks they need to fly combat missions; the most technologically advanced AEGIS destroyer that can be taken out of commission by a single unarmed Russian jet carrying a basket of electronic warfare equipment, and another aircraft carrier that can be frightened out of deep water and forced to anchor by a few Russian submarines out on routine patrol.

But the Americans like their weapons, and they like handing them out as a show of support. But more often than not these weapons end up in the wrong hands: the ones they gave to Iraq are now in the hands of ISIS; the ones they gave to the Ukrainian nationalists have been sold to the Syrian government; the ones they gave to the government in Yemen is now in the hands of the Houthis who recently overthrew it. And so the efficacy of lavish military spending has dwindled too. At some point it may become more efficient to modify the US Treasury printing presses to blast bundles of US dollars in the general direction of the enemy.

With the strategy of “destroying in order to create” no longer viable, but with the blind ambition to still try to prevail everywhere in the world somehow still part of the political culture, all that remains is murder. The main tool of foreign policy becomes political assassination: be it Saddam Hussein, or Muammar Qaddafi, or Slobodan Milošević, or Osama bin Laden, or any number of lesser targets, the idea is to simply kill them.

While aiming for the head of an organization is a favorite technique, the general populace gets its share of murder too. How many funerals and wedding parties have been taken out by drone strikes? I don't know that anyone in the US really knows, but I am sure that those whose relatives were killed do remember, and will remember for the next few centuries at least. This tactic is generally not conducive to creating a durable peace, but it is a good tactic for perpetuating and escalating conflict. But that's now an acceptable goal, because it creates the rationale for increased military spending, making it possible to breed more chaos.

Recently a retired US general went on television to declare that what's needed to turn around the situation in the Ukraine is to simply “start killing Russians.” The Russians listened to that, marveled at his idiocy, and then went ahead and opened a criminal case against him. Now this general will be unable to travel to an ever-increasing number of countries around the world for fear of getting arrested and deported to Russia to stand trial.

This is largely a symbolic gesture, but non-symbolic non-gestures of a preventive nature are sure to follow. You see, my fellow space travelers, murder happens to be illegal. In most jurisdictions, inciting others to murder also happens to be illegal. Americans have granted themselves the license to kill without checking to see whether perhaps they might be exceeding their authority. We should expect, then, that as their power trickles away, their license to kill will be revoked, and they find themselves reclassified from global hegemons to mere murderers.

As empires collapse, they turn inward, and subject their own populations to the same ill treatment to which they subjected others. Here, America is unexceptional: the number of Americans being murdered by their own police, with minimal repercussions for those doing the killing, is quite stunning. When Americans wonder who their enemy really is, they need look no further.

But that is only the beginning: the precedent has already been set for deploying US troops on US soil. As law and order break down in more and more places, we will see more and more US troops on the streets of cities in the US, spreading death and destruction just like they did in Iraq or in Afghanistan. The last license to kill to be revoked will be the license to kill ourselves.


Zoltar said...

The wild turkey indigenous to the part of the country in which I live has long been admired as a handsome and intelligent bird that challenges the wits of those who would hunt them. By contrast, domestic turkeys, the product of selective breeding, when panicked may run into a pile and suffocate each other. Turkey chicks have been known to starve while standing in the feed put out for them.

Orwell’s conjecture about the fabled stupidity of a failing empire’s purpose-bred ruling class bears the ring of truth. How else to explain officials who are unable to grasp the necessity of nurturing the respect and good will of the rest of humanity, or even maintaining a habitable planet?

The highest priority that they can apprehend is to keep things exactly as they have been – as if that were possible.

Larkin said...

"We need to feel safe here in the Homeland."
Maintaining the illusion is as important as anything..

The first time I heard the term, "The Homeland", I thought to myself, "Now this is new."
I was amazed how quickly the "commentators" on cable news adopted the term. It was literally, overnight as if orders were handed down from on high..
Where did it come from and is homeland really a proper noun?
The unique and most significant thing about the term "Homeland" is that it implies, dominion abroad.
A grandiose word like Homeland instills consciously or otherwise, the mantle of exceptionality and without discussion or so much as a question, we believe it.
Personally, I refuse to use it but I am amazed at how many seemingly intelligent people have picked it up without skipping a beat.
Just a bit before my lifetime in an age when the importance of mass media was just beginning to be understood and used, Germany referred to itself as Deutsches Reich. In 1941 when the German juggernaut was heading towards Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad, Germany suddenly became, Grossdeutsches Reich or Grossdeutschland. (Greater Germany)
At that time, did Germans quickly adopt the new name?

Paul Warfield said...

Excellent post. Thank you.

Unknown said...

Here is a perfect example:
Admiral John Kirby, now a State Department spokesman admits he nearly failed history at U of Southern Florida:

So of course he is a perfect spokesman for the US empire, because he's an idiot, and believes and does what he's told.

NowhereMan said...

Judging by the symptoms described here, we're in the advanced stages of collapse as we speak. That's a very ominous indicator for US involvement in world events of late. Very ominous indeed! I'm betting use of the nuclear trump card is more likely now than almost anytime since their inception. I simply can't imagine any scenario where our current leadership retreats quietly into the long night of historic irrelevance, American Exceptionalism being what it is and all that, without breaking them out for one last party. Should be quite a bang!

Ixtlan said...

People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage. John Galbraith

Everyone should pop over and download The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer to understand why it's over for the human race. http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

DeVaul said...

I too remember the adoption of the term "Homeland". Having lived in Germany, I understood this as an ominous development. It corresponds to "Motherland" for Russians or "Fatherland" for Germans or "Rome" for the Romans. Other countries have used different names to describe the core from which they originally came, but the official adoption of such a term means you live in an empire and there is no longer any pretense or attempt to hide that fact. I've noticed that DC functionaries now use the term American Empire or just empire and never use the word Republic.

Interestingly, these terms are not formulated by those who actually live in the core. They will simply use the terms "home" or "our land" or something similar. It is the servants of the ruling class who spend most of their time away from the core who eventually come up with these terms because they have spent so much of their lives in the numerous imperial provinces that they feel a need to distinguish between the two and also to use as a propaganda tool to make those who live in the "Homeland" afraid if they should lose one of the provinces.

When you have a Homeland, it must be protected by a buffer zone (imperial provinces), or it will become "vulnerable" to attack. This helps justify the expenditure of vast sums to hold the outer provinces while the core slowly dies.

I remember this article from long ago. It is an excellent summary of how an empire rises from seemingly nothing at all and from some of the most unlikely places.

Linda Thompson said...

I am assuming that one of the events that led to the reprinting of this blog was the American bombing of the hospital in Afghanistan that was solely operated by the organization Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF). This was a trauma center that treated civilian and military casualties of the ongoing conflicts. It was operating as a neutral hospital in a war zone and accepted all injured patients who came to get treatment for their injuries, whether battle related or not. They operated under the International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Conventions within guidelines related to their neutrality in a known war zone. They provided their GPS coordinates to all the combatants in the area as a matter of routine and the US forces had those coordinates as did the Afghan forces. There was no way this was an accidental event or some kind of collateral damage. I am a long time contributor to their excellent work in 70 countries that have been the victims of the ravages of war as the American empire enters its terminal phase. I had just received a special report on the attack on the hospital from the MSF yesterday and was shocked to find out that this was not just a single bombing run. The attack on the hospital lasted from 60 to 75 minutes. It killed 13 of the medical staff, 10 patients and 7 others whose bodies were so completely burned that they are unrecognizable. Many others were injured. The hospital is destroyed and has been closed. The medical staff continued to care for their patients as best they could, even during the attack, and were doing surgery on desks and kitchen tables in an administrative building that was not as damaged by the attack. MSF is asking for an international investigation of this atrocity and they have a petition online to provide support for such an investigation. The US would not be allowed to control the procedures or influence the findings. They have more that 500,000 signatures already. Anyone interested in supporting their efforts to hold the US accountable for this attack can go to www.change.org/evenwarhasrules. This is to try to pressure the president to assent the the independent investigation. I am an American and a physician. I think we are about to find out whether we have become the evil empire. I would not bet against it after this.

Anonymous said...

It's the shocking inability of U.S. officials to acknowledge the double standard with which we conduct foreign policy that amazes me. By our government's logic (e.g., Hussein and Gadaffi were bad guys so they deserved to die), what is to stop China, for example, from saying, "You know, the U.S. is a bad actor - they kidnap, imprison, torture and murder individuals and invade and occupy and destroy sovereign countries in violation of international law. Let's overthrow their current government and install somebody who we like better."
Similarly, the only thing I could think about when all the Frightwingers were calling to block the U.S. border to prevent entry of any Syrian refugees was this: how about also calling for the U.S. to stop crossing the borders of Muslim countries with our drones, military and bombs?

Anonymous said...

"... it becomes a matter of imperial self-preservation to breed a special-purpose ruling class—one that is incapable of understanding that the end-game is approaching."

Way too much inbreeding going on in that "special-purpose ruling class" -- just look at those who would be president running in this current, way-too-early silly season. I thought we had dodged a bullet when the peons decided not to elect McCain and his Caribou Battie, but looking back on these past 7 years I can't, in all good conscience, say that anymore.

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it -- we never really learned it, did we?

jetstove said...

And now we enter the most dangerous of times. The transfer of power is never gentle; the wounded and dying beast will strike out indiscriminately at friend or foe. I predict the final result will be the Balkanization of the United States with chest thumping and patriotic/religious speeches to convince the fence sitters who might oppose the new emergent (nuclear armed) fiefdoms complete with petty tyrants. Only a matter of time until the US uses nuclear weapons on itself in a self destructive fury. A terrible end to the promising republic. I wonder if Russia or China will be taking in refugees?