If you want to understand a significant part of the reason why the United States is heading towards the status of Third World America, as Arianna Huffington puts it in the title of her provocative new book, don't read the economic news. Don't check out domestic news at all. Just consider this comment, revealed Wednesday by the Washington Post's Steve Luxenberg from Bob Woodward's new book, Obama's Wars. Woodward quotes Afghan war commander General David Petraeus as saying:
You have to recognize also that I don't think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. It's a little bit like Iraq, actually... Yes, there has been enormous progress in Iraq. But there are still horrific attacks in Iraq, and you have to stay vigilant. You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we're in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids' lives.
Okay, those are my italics, not his. Just give that a moment to sink in, though. Your life, however old you are, and your kid's life, even if that kid is not yet born -- we have that on the authoritative word of our leading general who, let's face it, is now a de facto policymaker as well as a war-maker. After all, he's considered little short of a demi-god on both sides of the aisle in Washington, the U.S. Grant of the twenty-first century, years when, as he points out in the same quote, a little better than tying is the best you can expect out of the most brilliant general American war can supposedly produce.
And keep in mind that, at least from what we know of the Woodward book (yet to be released), Petraeus & Co. managed to corral a deeply reluctant president ("I'm not doing 10 years... "), who has repeatedly shown weakness in the face of opposition, into a major surge in Afghanistan. Just for a moment, imagine that General Petraeus is right and we're going to do 10 years, whatever our president thinks, and more. Just imagine for a moment that our multitrillion-dollar wars are never to end, that they are indeed, as they like to say in Washington, "multigenerational." And to support them, we will naturally need to keep buffing our military-industrial-mercenary-homeland-security-surveillance-intelligence complex, itself something like a trillion-dollar affair any year of this century so far.
And just imagine that those wars, wherever they may be, and the global War on Terror (by whatever name) that accompanies them are going to be on your back and on the backs of your children as they grow up, and maybe their children, too. Imagine that. And you can see just how this country, already run over a cliff by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and the neocons, already with a vast, workless workforce and an aging, fraying infrastructure, is being driven into the ground. That's the true twenty-first century story that Arianna Huffington focuses on so vividly in her book. That's the nightmare of our time.
In fact, Petraeus probably won't prove to be right. This country won't last another decade in Afghanistan or in the global War on Terror, no less through the lifetimes of our kids. We already don't have the wherewithal. But by the time Petraeus' melded version of foreign and war policy begins to come to an end, whenever that is, we're guaranteed one thing: There's not going to be much left that's recognizably American about America. After all, in my own lifetime we've already gone from a can-do to a can't-do country with a government ("the bureaucracy") no one really expects to be able to accomplish much of anything that matters, from winning wars to rebuilding cities to putting people back to work. That's already a reasonable definition of a country working hard to achieve Third World status.
Thank you, General Petraeus -- whatever you did in Iraq or Afghanistan, you helped us lose it right here at home.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's (Haymarket Books), has just been published. You can catch him discussing war American-style and his book in a Timothy MacBain TomCast video by clicking here.