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Tomgram: Ira Chernus, Now Who's The Enemy?

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Let's face it: since 9/11 everything in our American world has been wildly out of proportion. Understandably enough, at the time that attack was experienced as something other than it was. In the heat of the moment, it would be compared to city-destroying or world-ending Hollywood disaster films ("It was like one of them Godzilla movies"), instantly dubbed "the Pearl Harbor of the twenty-first century," or simply "A New Day of Infamy," and experienced by many as nothing short of an apocalyptic event inflicted on this country, the equivalent of a nuclear attack -- as NBC's Tom Brokaw said that day, "like a nuclear winter in lower Manhattan," or as the Topeka Capital-Journal headlined it in a reference to a 1983 TV movie about nuclear Armageddon, "The Day After." It was, of course, none of this. No imposing imperial challenger had struck the United States without warning, as Japan did on December 7, 1941, in what was essentially a declaration of war. It was anything but the nuclear strike for which the country had been mentally preparing since August 6, 1945 -- as, in the years after World War II, American newspapers regularly drew futuristic concentric circles of destruction around American cities and magazines offered visions of our country as a vaporized wasteland. And yet the remains of the World Trade Center were regularly referred to as "Ground Zero," a term previously reserved for the spot where an atomic explosion had occurred. The 9/11 attacks were, in fact, mounted by the most modest of groups at an estimated cost of only $400,000 to $500,000 and committed by 19 hijackers using our own "weapons" (commercial airliners) against us.

However, the response from a Bush administration eager to strike in the Greater Middle East, especially against Iraq's Saddam Hussein, was to act as if the country had indeed been hit by nuclear weapons and as if we were now at war with a new Nazi Germany or Soviet Union. In the process, Bush officials took that first natural urge to go apocalyptic, to see our country as endangered at an existential level, and ran with it. As a result, from September 12, 2001, on, the confusion, the inability to see things as they actually were, would never end. The Bush administration, of course, promptly launched its own "global war on terror." (GWOT was the acronym.) Its officials then made that "global" quite real by insisting that they were planning to fight terrorism in a mind-boggling 60 or more countries around the planet.

Fifteen disastrous years later, having engaged in wars, occupations, or conflicts in at least seven countries in the Greater Middle East, having left failed or failing states littered in our path and spurred the spread of terror groups throughout that region and beyond, we now find ourselves in the age of Trump, and if it isn't obvious to you that everything remains dangerously out of whack, it should be. Consider the set of former military men and associated figures the new president has appointed to run the national security state. As TomDispatch regular and professor of religious studies Ira Chernus points out today, they uniformly believe -- shades of GWOT -- that our country is in a literal "world war" at this very second, and they seem to believe as well that its fate and the planet's are at stake, even if none of them can quite decide whom it is we're actually fighting. This struggle against, well, whomever, is so apocalyptic that, in their opinion, our very "Judeo-Christian" civilization is at stake. (Hence the recent Muslim ban, even if not quite called that.) On all of this, Chernus offers their own grim, whacked-out words as proof.

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Who could deny that, by now, many Americans have lost the ability to see the world as it is, put much of anything in perspective, or sort out genuine threats from fantasy constructs? As a result, we're led by delusional officials overseen, as if in some terrible Hollywood flick about the declining Roman Empire, by a mad, driven leader (who may be quite capable, in a matter of months, of turning the whole world against us). If you don't believe me, just plunge into Chernus today and into a fantasy war and an apocalyptic fate that supposedly awaits us if we don't fight to the death against... well...

Perspective, context, proportion? Sorry, we don't grok you, Earthling. Tom

Field of Fright
The Terror Inside Trump's White House
By Ira Chernus

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What kind of national security policy will the Trump administration pursue globally? On this issue, as on so many others, the incoming president has offered enough contradictory clues, tweets, and comments that the only definitive answer right now is: Who knows?

During his presidential campaign he more or less promised a non-interventionist foreign policy, even as he offered hints that his might be anything but. There was, of course, ISIS to destroy and he swore he would "bomb the sh*t out of them." He would, he suggested, even consider using nuclear weapons in the Middle East. And as Dr. Seuss might have said, that was not all, oh no, that was not all. He has often warned of the dangers of a vague but fearsome "radical Islam" and insisted that "terrorists and their regional and worldwide networks must be eradicated from the face of the Earth, a mission we will carry out." (And he's already ordered his first special ops raid in Yemen, resulting in one dead American and evidently many dead civilians.)

And when it comes to enemies to smite, he's hardly willing to stop there, not when, as he told CNN, "I think Islam hates us." He then refused to confine that hatred to "radical Islam," given that, on the subject of the adherents of that religion, "it's very hard to define, it's very hard to separate. Because you don't know who's who."

And when it comes to enemies, why stop with Islam? Though President Trump has garnered endless headlines for touting a possible rapprochement with Vladimir Putin's Russia, he also suggested during the election campaign that he would be tougher on the Russian president than Hillary Clinton, might have "a horrible relationship" with him, and might even consider using nukes in Europe, presumably against the Russians. His apparent eagerness to ramp up the American nuclear arsenal in a major way certainly presents another kind of challenge to Russia.

And then, of course, there's China. After all, in addition to his own belligerent comments on that country, his prospective secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and his press secretary, Sean Spicer, have both recently suggested that the U.S. should prevent China from accessing artificial islands that country has created and fortified in the South China Sea -- which would be an obvious American act of war.

In sum, don't take the promise of non-intervention too seriously from a man intent, above all else, on pouring money into the further "rebuilding" of a "depleted" U.S. military. Just who might be the focus of future Trumpian interventions is, at best, foggy, since his vision of The Enemy -- ISIS aside -- remains an ever-moving target.

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Suppose, though, we judge the new president not by his own statements alone, but by the company he keeps -- in this case, those he chooses to advise him on national security. Do that and a strange picture emerges. On one thing all of Trump's major national security appointees seem crystal clear. We are, each one of them insists, in nothing less than a world war in which non-intervention simply isn't an option. And in that they are hardly kowtowing to the president. Each of them took such a position before anyone knew that there would be a Donald Trump administration.

There's only one small catch: none of them can quite agree on just whom we're fighting in this twenty-first-century global war of ours. So let's take a look at this crew, one by one, and see what their records might tell us about intervention, Trump-style.

Michael Flynn's Field of Fright

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("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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