Whoopee, we're all gonna die.
- Country Joe McDonald
I like to call it The War of the Heads. ISIS beheads people one-on-one, up-close-and-personal on You Tube while the United States of America and its coalition of cautious or secret partners prefers "decapitation," as in using powerful F16 bombs and drone rockets to whack off metaphoric heads.
It's easy to work up a vengeful frenzy sitting on our couches watching the medieval slicing off of heads. Especially when it's heads we recognize! It's harder to get worked up about people we don't know who die much more horrible deaths in the buildings we obliterate in an instant. We sometimes watch the buildings go up in a fiery cloud on our TV screens. But not to worry, no one is doing You Tube videos of the heads and torsos inside the buildings incinerated into a fine dust of biological matter and concrete. You have to be a local Arab or Muslim helping to drag the extant pieces of humanity out of the buildings to feel the call to vengeance from these F16 and drone hits.
In a New York Times op-ed, Thomas Friedman goes deep and explains how President Obama's challenge at this historic juncture is to make the Arab/Muslim world recognize it's an abject failure as a culture. It must accept the need for a ruthless imperial killing campaign to destroy the psychopathic ISIS killers. Don't pause and consider that ISIS was directly spawned as a vengeance reaction to this kind of thinking and killing in the first place. No, keep thinking it's all because Arabs and Muslims are a backward civilization in need of cleansing. I imagine getting the Arab/Muslim world to go for Friedman's line should be easy -- about as easy as someone like me getting the Exceptionalist/Imperialist world to recognize its blunders and debacles.
Over at Fox, Bill O'Reilly was on a tear advocating the creation of a 25,000 member mercenary killing force to be led by US officers. An American Foreign Legion for the 21st Century. A well-paid, highly-trained, international killer-force immune to progressive US politics and capable of working around the Constitution. O'Reilly loves to defend the Constitution -- except when it's inconvenient. The point is to make killing bad guys easier. Then all you have to do is decide who the bad guys are, which is a simple matter as long as the secret meeting is limited to the right people.
Most Americans were going about their lives so they were late getting the memo that their nation was again at war in Iraq. Oh, and Syria too. This time, lies weren't even necessary. The sophist legal pretzel-twisting of the Constitution left over from the previous administration still worked. War really began to sink in when one day Brian Williams of NBC opened his show with the usual stirring intro music and whooshing graphics and the line: "Here's the latest about what our enemy is up to." When the bombing moved to Syria, most Americans turned from their TV sets and hollered into the kitchen: "Hon! Where is Syria?" Congress and its Profiles In Porridge decided to let the Nobel Peace Prize winner in the White House have his way with the place. Mister President, you may be the hated son of an African socialist, but go ahead and soften the place up. Once you're up to your privates in war muck, maybe we'll start asking questions and, like peeved inmates in the asylum, throw feces at you.
As US aircraft bomb Syria and Iraq, our much-touted Sunni Arab "allies" --Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar -- try their best to hide behind the potted palms. The Emirates has learned enough modern PR tactics of distraction to feature a female lead pilot dropping a few bombs somewhere. Nicely progressive for backward Arabs, don't you think? These Sunni nations, of course, are all in various stages of obscene dictatorial rule and so fearful of their own people that they're cautious of setting off rebellions that might disrupt their fiefdoms. Saudi Arabia has financial connections with ISIS and regularly does beheadings for various misdemeanors. Turkey is petrified of ISIS craziness seeping across its border and stirring up its separatist Kurds. Egypt is silent because its crooked generals killed thousands in the street to steal the nation from duly-elected moderate Muslims. Of course Israel isn't part of the coalition of bombers. That would escalate the war from the absurd to the apocalyptic. This didn't stop Prime Minister Netanyahu from doing his bit to whip the war into a greater frenzy by comparing his Gazan nemesis Hamas to The Islamic State. Just like ISIS, we were told, Hamas seeks "world domination."
"When it comes to their ultimate goals Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas," Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly. Yep, all you have to do is look at photographs from Gaza these days and it's clear Gazans are set on world domination. We need to crush them in their lairs like vermin. It makes you wonder about all those people in the Warsaw ghetto set on world domination.
Americans have been told US soldiers will be training "moderate" Sunni Arabs in Saudi Arabia. Their role in the unfolding drama will be as "boots on the ground" under the US aerial show-of-force. Strategic thinkers in what disgruntled enlisted soldiers like to call "the head shed" are now in secret figuring out just who is a moderate and who is a bad guy in Syria. The training will take at least eight months. Syrian President Assad had been going easy on these so-called moderate militias opposing him, but once he read in the Times about our plans to train them he opened up a ruthless new killing campaign to crush them. So moving from Syria to Saudi Arabia may be prudent right now. Those remaining will just have to cope.
Are you following this so far? Because it gets even stranger. While we're on record that we hate Assad and want to overthrow his Syrian government, Assad is our best ally against the ISIS killers (The Islamic State) who have taken over Anbar Province in adjacent Iraq. Assad wants to work with US forces on the anti-ISIS mission, since he would greatly benefit from ISIS disappearing. Iran also wants to work with the US to degrade and destroy ISIS. But the US hates Iran even more than it hates Assad. President Netanyahu excoriated Iran as a demon state in his UN Speech; he's afraid the US will crawl in bed with Iran over ISIS and soften on Iranian nuclear weapons. So while Assad's Syria and Iran straddle The Islamic State we want to destroy, the US must act as if they don't exist in the equation. We don't see you! The fact the George W. Bush Administration handed the keys to Iraq over to Iran's Shiite friends ... well, let's not mention that gorilla in the room.
As a constantly ratcheting-up vengeance cycle, this god-awful mess gets even worse. As part of its vengeful actions in the post-Iraq War period, ISIS has apparently called for "lone wolves" to do beheadings in Europe and the US. Next, a lunatic in Oklahoma is fired from his job and runs amok using a knife to slice off the head of a co-worker. This African American male had reportedly been converted to Islam in a US prison where he had done time for drug offenses. This unbalanced Oklahoma man apparently festooned his Facebook page with angry diatribes and even may have exhibited a beheading photo. This is Sean Hannity territory, and he has been working the story as hard as he can to position this crazed murderer as a black terrorist working under the ISIS brand in the homeland. Ex-Arkansas governor and Christian preacher Mike Huckabee did the same, featuring a quite excited ex-CIA agent. And it was all President Obama's fault.
It's like being caught in a maze and you can't find your way out. This war is so confusing, contradictory and hypocritical that it makes sense when Americans of all ideological inclinations welcome the certainties of fiction and magical thinking. Cut off our heads, we'll cut off your heads. We're more sophisticated, so we'll do it metaphorically. Symbolically. We are the champions! We'll rely on a lazy, bought-and-sold media to tells us what "our enemy" is up to. The point is not truth. For heaven's sake! as Don Rumsfeld might say, as all our enemies and even our allies know too well, the point is to work the military missions and the PR levers to make sure the good ol' USA comes out on top of the smoking heap. It's not quite a "shining city on a hill," but it'll work for the 21st century.
So follow the bouncing ball. Whatever you do, don't actually try to make sense out of all this. Keep thinking of those beheadings and how they make you feel. Don't talk to anybody other than yourself and your ideological friends. Don't actually sit down with a diverse assortment of parties to re-shape the man-made parts of the Earth to better meet the needs of all the people who live and die on it. In that same spirit, don't even imagine breaking up the British/French colonial formation called Iraq into three logically conceived, regional entities that would dilute imperial control. Don't let the region work out its own problems. Don't move an inch toward forgiveness on the vengeance/forgiveness continuum. Keep that blood lust boiling! And stir up as much religious hatred as you can. Certainly don't ask questions. And, please -- God help us all! -- whatever you do, don't learn from your mistakes and change anything.
Heavens to Betsy, don't do as our great veteran brother Country Joe so beautifully did and ask: "What're we fightin' for?"