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General News    H3'ed 11/23/20

Tomgram: Danny Sjursen, What If They Called an Election and Nothing Changed in the War State?

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Here's the strange thing. In 2016, Donald Trump campaigned vociferously to end America's forever wars and yet, as he fruitlessly fights departing the White House four years later, he's probably going to leave more troops (and air power) garrisoned across the Greater Middle East and Africa than were there when he first arrived. American soldiers are still in Syria, still in Iraq, and still in Afghanistan. And in his last moments, he's still talking about removing some -- but not all -- of them. In 2019 (the last period for which we have figures), the U.S. dropped a record number of bombs on Afghanistan. Similarly, in the first seven months of 2020, there were more U.S. air strikes in Somalia than during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama years combined (and Kenya might be next). No matter that, in each case, the president invariably claimed that the U.S. military was heading out the door. As it turned out, he proved the easiest president imaginable for the officials of the national security state to bulldoze, bully, or sneak around. Think of him as the classic sucker-born-every-minute when it came to this country's forever wars.

And here's an even stranger thing. Hardly noticed in the hubbub, oil well by oil well, suppressed environmental regulation by suppressed environmental regulation, he's become ever more committed to making forever war on the planet itself.

What a "wartime" president Donald Trump has, in fact, proved to be!

Now, in his own chaotic fashion, whether he thinks so or not, he's going to turn over both versions of forever war to Joe Biden. In that context, TomDispatch regular Danny Sjursen, author most recently of Patriotic Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War, considers the national security state's forever-war system that captured The Donald and now seems about to become part of the Biden years. God save us, if it truly does turn out to be a forever system. Tom

What President Biden Won't Touch
Foreign Policy, Sacred Cows, and the U.S. Military
By Danny Sjursen

In this mystifying moment, the post-electoral sentiments of most Americans can be summed up either as "Ding dong! The witch is dead!" or "We got robbed!" Both are problematic, not because the two candidates were intellectually indistinguishable or ethically equivalent, but because each jingle is laden with a dubious assumption: that President Donald Trump's demise would provide either decisive deliverance or prove an utter disaster.

While there were indeed areas where his ability to cause disastrous harm lent truth to such a belief -- race relations, climate change, and the courts come to mind -- in others, it was distinctly (to use a dangerous phrase) overkill. Nowhere was that more true than with America's expeditionary version of militarism, its forever wars of this century, and the venal system that continues to feed it.

For nearly two years, We the People were coached to believe that the 2020 election would mean everything, that November 3rd would be democracy's ultimate judgment day. What if, however, when it comes to issues of war, peace, and empire, "Decision 2020" proves barely meaningful? After all, in the election campaign just past, Donald Trump's sweeping war-peace rhetoric and Joe Biden's hedging aside, neither nuclear-code aspirant bothered to broach the most uncomfortable questions about America's uniquely intrusive global role. Neither dared dissent from normative notions about America's posture and policy "over there," nor challenge the essence of the war-state, a sacred cow if ever there was one.

That blessed bovine has enshrined permanent policies that seem beyond challenge: Uncle Sam's right and duty to forward deploy troops just about anywhere on the planet; garrison the globe; carry out aerial assassinations; and unilaterally implement starvation sanctions. Likewise the systemic structures that implement and incentivize such rogue-state behavior are never questioned, especially the existence of a sprawling military-industrial complex that has infiltrated every aspect of public life, while stealing money that might have improved America's infrastructure or wellbeing. It has engorged itself at the taxpayer's expense, while peddling American blood money -- and blood -- on absurd foreign adventures and autocratic allies, even as it corrupted nearly every prominent public paymaster and policymaker.

This election season, neither Democrats nor Republicans challenged the cultural components justifying the great game, which is evidence of one thing: empires come home, folks, even if the troops never seem to.

The Company He Keeps

As the election neared, it became impolite to play the canary in American militarism's coal mine or risk raising Biden's record -- or probable prospects -- on minor matters like war and peace. After all, his opponent was a monster, so noting the holes in Biden's block of Swiss cheese presumably amounted to useful idiocy -- if not sinister collusion -- when it came to Trump's reelection. Doing so was a surefire way to jettison professional opportunities and find yourself permanently uninvited to the coolest Beltway cocktail parties or interviews on cable TV.

George Orwell warned of the dangers of such "intellectual cowardice" more than 70 years ago in a proposed preface to his classic novel Animal Farm. "At any given moment," he wrote, "there is an orthodoxy... that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is 'not done' to say it... Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness."

And that's precisely what progressive paragon Cornel West warned against seven months ago after his man, Senator Bernie Sanders -- briefly, the Democratic frontrunner -- suddenly proved a dead candidate walking. "Vote for Biden, but don't lie about who he really is," the stalwart scholar suggested. It seems just enough Americans did the former (phew!), but mainstream media makers and consumers mostly forgot about the salient second part of his sentiment.

With the electoral outcome now apparent -- if not yet accepted in Trump World -- perhaps such politeness (and the policing that goes with it) will fade away, ushering in a renaissance of fourth estate oppositional truth-telling. In that way -- in my dreams at least -- persistently energized progressives might send President Joe Biden down dovish alternative avenues, perhaps even landing some appointments in an executive branch that now drives foreign policy (though, if I'm honest, I'm hardly hopeful on either count).

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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