Thursday, August 31, 2006

Bush's War on Terror and George Soros's Criticism of it are Both Wrong

Bush's War on Terror and George Soros's Criticism of it are Both Wrong

As popular disapproval of Bush's and Israel's War on Terror grows, a number of intellectuals and former government officials are forming a kind of "loyal opposition" around a criticism of the Bush (and Israeli) administration that is profoundly wrong and misleading. The most recent examples of this that I've seen are an op-ed by billionaire financier George Soros August 31 in the Boston Globe titled "Blinded by a concept" and an article by Boston University Professor Andrew Bacevich on the first page of the same newspaper's previous Sunday "Ideas" section, titled "No Win." Both articles take the form of advice to the Bush and Israeli administrations about how they could better achieve their goals if they pursued them differently and more intelligently. These authors spell it out the way a professor would give advice to a not-too-smart student.

According to Soros, "the United States has become less safe since Bush declared war on terror" and "there will be no end to the vicious circle of escalating violence without a political settlement of the Palestine question." Soros wants Bush to understand that there are more sophisticated ways to deal with groups like Hamas and Hezbollah than militarily attacking them and killing many innocent civilians in the process thereby causing these groups to gain rather than lose support. For example, he writes,

Looking back, it is easy to see where Israeli policy went wrong. When Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority, Israel should have gone out of its way to strengthen him and his reformist team.

In fact, as we know, Israel did the opposite. In particular, Israel helped ensure Hamas's electoral victory by making its so-called "disengagement" from Gaza a unilateral act that made it seem a victory for Hamas's violence instead of a victory for Abbas's negotiating skills as it would have seemed if carried out as part of a negotiated deal.

Bacevich's main point is that "the age of Western military dominance in the Middle East appears to be ending" and therefore a "new strategy" is called for. He says,

For both the United States and Israel, the real issue is not how to defeat the Islamist way of war but how to circumvent it, rendering it irrelevant.

In this vein Bacevich recommends not fighting wars we cannot win and relying instead on Cold War-style "containment," seeking non-oil energy sources, police work to deal with terrorism, and "patiently nurtur[ing] liberalizing tendencies within the Islamic world..."

Soros and Bacevich and others like them implicitly accept as a premise what is in fact not credible: that the U.S. and Israeli governments want to protect their citizens from harm, that they want to defeat terrorists, and that they want peace. There is no persuasive evidence to support this premise and tons of persuasive evidence to refute it. Indeed, all of the "loyal opposition" articles devote pages and pages of very convincing arguments with fact after fact to show how U.S. and Israeli government policies fail to achieve their stated aims.

These authors never address the obvious question: if our leaders keep doing things that achieve the opposite of their stated goals, then why not make the logical inference that their actual goals are not their stated ones?

I believe the answer to this question is that people like Soros who are wealthy beyond imagination do not want to tell the world that the social system that makes their wealth possible depends on the very wars and insecurity that its political leaders only pretend to oppose; and that university professors like Bacevich, whose careers depend on the favor of the very rich, don't want to destroy their careers by exposing the truth either.

There once was an intellectual, however, who let the cat out of the bag. Here's how George Orwell discussed the social control function of war in his 1984:

The war, therefore, if we judge it by the standards of previous wars, is merely an imposture. It is like the battles between certain ruminant animals whose horns are set at such an angle that they are incapable of hurting one another. But though it is unreal it is not meaningless. It eats up the surplus of consumable goods, and it helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs. War, it will be seen, is now a purely internal affair. In the past, the ruling groups of all countries, although they might recognize their common interest and therefore limit the destructiveness of war, did fight against one another, and the victor always plundered the vanquished. In our own day they are not fighting against one another at all. The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact. The very word "war," therefore, has become misleading. It would probably be accurate to say that by becoming continuous war has ceased to exist. The peculiar pressure that it exerted on human beings between the Neolithic Age and the early twentieth century has disappeared and has been replaced by something quite different. The effect would be much the same if the three superstates, instead of fighting one another, should agree to live in perpetual peace, each inviolate within its own boundaries. For in that case each would still be a self-contained universe, freed forever from the sobering influence of external danger. A peace that was truly permanent would be the same as a permanent war. This -- although the vast majority of Party members understand it only in a shallower sense -- is the inner meaning of the Party slogan: WAR IS PEACE.

The role of war today in "help[ing] to preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs" is exactly the point that Soros and Bacevich either fail to grasp or (more likely, in my opinion) don't want to acknowledge. As the politicians running the U.S. and Israeli governments have made quite evident by their actions, their purpose in waging the war on terror is not to win it, but to keep waging it for, as Bush even admits, "generations." Their purpose is not to protect "their own" people from terrorist violence but rather to keep them in that "special mental atmoshphere" so they will be afraid of such violence, will look to their government for protection, and will obediently give up whatever liberties the rulers of our hierarchical society ask them to give up.

Ordinary people are talking about this more and more. Mention how war is being used as a form of Orwellian control these days and people nod their head in agreement. It's not such a hard concept to understand. Yet our "loyal opposition" pundits act as if they never heard of the concept. They want us to believe the modern version of the naive idea that was expressed by peasants in Russia who, believing that the Czar was a benevolent man who would certainly make their miserable lives better once he learned how bad they suffered, lamented "If only the Czar knew." If only Bush and Olmert knew the right way to achieve peace and end terrorism. If only they would read the Sunday Globe and learn from the wise pundits how to do it right.

The problem with our rulers is not that they are stupid or incompetent. It's not that they can't figure out how to achieve their noble objectives. The fact is that they are pretty good at achieving their actual objectives. The problem is that their objectives are bad. They want to make our world increasingly unequal and undemocratic, and they understand very well that to do that requires keeping us in a certain "mental atmosphere," one which requires perpetual war, whether it be WWI, WWII, the Cold War or the War on Terror. The choice facing all of us on this planet is between a future of such bloody wars to maintain a very unequal and undemocratic society for the likes of George Soros and Dick Cheney, or revolution to create a more equal and democratic society.


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