Endless war and shredded civil liberties are the new normal.
This week marks the 10-year anniversary of the second U.S.-Iraq War. It was a war that, for the baldness of the lies used to justify it, came to symbolize the arrogance of American assertion of power over the other peoples who inhabit the globe.
For all the Bush administration cant about "smart bombs" and other "targeted" attacks designed to avoid killing the "non-guilty," a recent Brown University study found that 70% of the 190,000 people who died due to direct violence in the war were civilians.
As for the 57,000 "military" deaths in the war, most of those were Iraqi soldiers, who died defending their country -- certainly a more "heroic" exercise than the U.S. invaders and their propagandists could claim. Like Roman legions of old, the U.S. soldiers were in engaged in nothing more noble than service to empire, and when they were no longer useful, cast aside into homelessness and untreated disability.
But the widely reported 190,000 deaths were just the tip of the iceberg, according to the Brown study, and did not "account for indirect deaths due to increased vulnerability to disease or injury as a result of war-degraded conditions. That number is estimated to be several times higher." The environmental devastation, including use of depleted uranium shells, has led to burgeoning cancer, birth defect and respiratory disease rates, particularly in southern Iraq where the bulk of the fighting occurred.
As Britain's Independent newspaper reported, "The latest study found that in Fallujah, more than half of all babies surveyed were born with a birth defect between 2007 and 2010. Before the siege, this figure was more like one in 10. Prior to the turn of the millennium, fewer than 2 percent of babies were born with a defect. More than 45 percent of all pregnancies surveyed ended in miscarriage in the two years after 2004, up from only 10 percent before the bombing."
The 10th anniversary of the Iraq War has already given way to a round of self-congratulation by what might be termed the Coalition Against Wars Led By Republican Presidents. But this wasn't just "Bush's War," as many liberals falsely tagged it. Bush got the political cover he needed to launch the war when Democrats provided the crucial margin of victory for the Iraq War resolution in both houses of congress. If ever there was a measure richly deserving of a filibuster in the Senate, requiring just one Senator of courage, this war resolution was it, but of course, every Democratic Senator was found wanting.
On October 2, 2002 then-state Senator Obama denounced what he called the "dumb" Iraq War in a speech at Chicago's Federal Plaza. I was at that "anti-war" rally, and with others, wanted to vomit as the liberals organizing the rally had no problem with their featured speaker endorsing the then-raging Afghanistan war.
But then, for five years, Obama went silent on the Iraq War. He only resurrected his "opposition" to it during the 2008 Democratic primaries, after an overwhelming majority of the country (let alone Democratic primary voters) had turned against it. In the meantime, of course, he had routinely voted for Iraq War funding along with most of his liberal and conservative colleagues. The war wasn't so "dumb" that it was undeserving of billions of dollars.
The singular contribution of Bradley Manning's WikiLeaks revelations is not that they told us anything radically new about the U.S. government's nefarious role in the world, it was that they demonstrated that this was a thoroughly bipartisan project, and did so using unimpeachable sources -- the U.S. government itself. Thus we saw U.S. support for dictators (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, etc.), war crimes (Iraq and Afghanistan) and military coups (Honduras). In doing so, WikiLeaks laid the emperor bare for all those who still childishly clung to the belief that he had clothes of morality, liberty and justice.
Shattered were the myths about Obama's and Bush's foreign policy (intentionally referred to here in the singular) having anything to do with freedom -- raw power and wealth were the only things that these presidents care about. Their policies had different branding, and yet here was this young man, Bradley Manning, unimpeachably showing that both were vile, violent, and immoral to the core.
Liberal Democrats who peddled myths about Obama's foreign policy being an improvement over Bush's were shown to be foolish stooges for American propaganda. Which is why, with a few honorable exceptions, they have been absent from Manning's defense. They had departed the anti-war movement en masse in the run up to 2008 elections, and haven't been seen in the streets since. What remains of the "hard left" has largely tailed them, making perceptive comments about Obama and the Democrats in the pages of their journals, but boycotting any direct protests against them and refusing to initiate their own. In doing so, they have reinforced the Democrats' smothering stranglehold on the Left, rather than help enlarge the promising break from the Democrats that Occupy once heralded.
The New Normal
So in the war to have movements that have the political independence from the Democrats that is necessary to force real change, we are starting over from scratch once again. In the meantime, the Obama administration has solidified the much worse "new normal" initiated by Bush II.
With military bases in over 130 countries around the world, the Bush/Obama years saw U.S. military spending grow to equal that of the rest of the world's nations combined. In an economy of generally moderate growth, "security" spending doubled over the course of the decade following 9/11. Heretofore dormant (because they were too outrageous) provisions of Clinton's 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty bill were rolled out to quash every major Muslim charity in the United States, with the PATRIOT Act tacked on for good measure.
Obama broke his pledge to repeal the PATRIOT Act, voting instead to reauthorize it. Gone now is habeas corpus, the quaint notion from the Magna Carta of 1215 that the King could not arbitrarily arrest and imprison someone without charges and a trial. Whereas Bush secretly implemented this, Obama openly embraced its erasure with his signing of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. And while we're on the subject of habeas corpus, Obama's first pledge upon taking office was to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison -- five years later, over 100 prisoners, many of them never charged, let alone tried, are currently part of a growing hunger strike there.
Whereas President Nixon found his undoing in the launching of secret wars on the nations of Laos and Cambodia, and secret wars against political opponents at home, President Obama has openly pursued such wars with drone attacks in a half dozen countries we're supposedly not at war with, and at home, with surveillance programs conducted without even the fig leaf of FISA court orders and an assault on whistleblowers unprecedented in U.S. history.
The increasing use of military force and domestic repression to shore up declining empires is a theme noted by political commentators from Kevin Phillips to Vladimir Lenin. There is no morality in it. There is no "freedom" or "liberty" in it. It is force, and to those who object, domestically or abroad, they can go to hell (or be imprisoned or killed).
If there's any silver lining in the inevitable round of austerity soon to be lapping up on America's shores, it's that the Democrats will be forced by their position of power in the federal government to be the leading salespeople for it.
Willy-nilly, they will defend cuts in "entitlements," while preserving funding for empire. In so doing, they will discredit themselves further with the majority of Americans who already see neither party as worthy of voting for. Sooner or later, this majority will be forced by circumstances to forge their own new organizations, join with slightly greyer, now-disconnected Occupiers who've stayed true to the principle of political independence, and build a new movement.
When this new movement arises, it will again be a target for co-optation and control by those who have diverted previous movements. Victory is not inevitable, but sooner or later, a push-back by the 99 Percent is.