Perpetually Redefining War

Glen Ford at Black Agenda Report:
History may record Obama’s greatest crime against peace as changing the definition of war. According to his unique doctrine, the U.S. cannot be in a state of war, or even “hostilities” with another people or country, unless Americans are killed in the process. Thus, Obama refused to report to the U.S. Congress under the War Powers Act following eight months of bombardment of Libya, claiming no state of war had existed since no Americans had died. By this logic, the U.S. is empowered to bomb anyone, anywhere on the planet at will, without the constraints of national or international law, as long as care is taken to protect the lives of U.S. personnel. 
Obama rhetorically abolishes war while promulgating a doctrine of general immunity from the rules of war. Armed with such a concept and vocabulary, he can proceed with the militarization of Africa policy, his “pivot” to contain the Chinese in the Pacific, the terror campaign in Syria, the virtual state of war against Iran, and update of his Kill List in perpetuity. What, then, is the president’s meaning when he tells hundreds of thousands on the National Mall that “enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war?” This, from a man who makes war on language, itself.

Lest we get the idea that this is just hype and exaggeration, it's important to take a look at the atmosphere in the wake of Obama's inaugural speech:  one where 'neutral' observers applaud his speech in a faux-objective manner ("Oh, it was just so much better than his first inaugural speech - he was so presidential this time!"), Democrats are enraptured having heard exactly what they wanted to hear, and Republicans complain about how it didn't offer them the olive branch they were promised.  Only a few commentators on the fringe are willing to point out that the majority of Obama's words stand in stark contrast to his actions.  Everyone else simply accepts the new paradigm, fitting it to their agenda and running with it.

NPR's Alan Greenblatt writes, just a day after the inauguration:
An era marked by war and attempts at nation building is coming to its end.

President Obama has made clear he has no interest in lengthy foreign entanglements that would require large commitments of troops and defense dollars.

"We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war," Obama said in his inaugural address on Monday.

With U.S. troops out of Iraq and preparing to leave Afghanistan next year, the American public has little appetite at this point for taking on large-scale military interventions, says Rajan Menon, a political and international relations scholar at City College of New York.

"Obama is right about one thing," Menon says. "Most people want American presidents these days not to achieve some major transformation abroad, spreading democracy or defeating some foe. Instead, it's, 'Please don't put us in some multiyear quagmire, and please don't put us in some situation that costs us endless money that could be spent here.' "

Sadly, this depiction of how the public feels is likely more accurate than the one I wish I could give: that people generally despise war on moral grounds, not selfishly economic ones.  Having gone through more arguments than I can count regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I've realized that, unfortunately, observations like Menon's are closer to the truth.  The American public has been meticulously programmed to believe that the United States has many enemies who envy its success and riches, insulting and provoking what is an otherwise peaceful nation into wars that must be reluctantly accepted.  Strong popular opposition to these wars only develops when they seem to be going badly, or when enough American lives have been lost to upset even Good Citizens.

Media outlets like NPR are in large part responsible for this manipulation (wittingly or unwittingly), and for that reason it is especially pernicious for a piece like this to appeal to public opinion.  In fact, by embracing Obama's relabeling of war at the outset, Greenblatt makes sure that the rest becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in action.  The perspective becomes entirely framed between the idea that War is Peace, and the claim that Americans shouldn't be so adverse to foreign intervention.  Not once is there an appeal to curbing the actual death and destruction wrought, no one is quoted taking a more antiwar position than Obama, and the human cost of war is only mentioned in the context that people are adverse to 'boots on the ground' because of the (again, strictly American) lives lost.  The entire framework of the article accepts that constant aerial bombardment, assassinations, and tactical raids are not 'war'.  These are deemed legitimate peacetime actions, and so we should be okay with them.  As Glen Ford notes, it simply can't be war unless Americans are killed in the process.

Greenblatt continues to play his part in this narrative, euphamizing the violence and murder as just the U.S. "project[ing] its power".  And doing so, he says, is not just acceptable, but often necessary [emphasis mine]:
While American presidents can sometimes pick their battles, events at other times may require military action, whether direct or indirect. The U.S., for example, began providing logistical support this week for France's ground offensive in Mali.

"People are inclined not to get involved," says Gary Schmitt, co-director of the center for security studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. "The caveat to that is that the world comes knocking at your door."
"We're hardly ever in an interventionist mood in this country," [endless war apologist Michael] O'Hanlon says. "Americans, in the abstract, would love to stay home and spend more at home, but you don't make decisions in the abstract."

You see, we don't want to do it, we're just reacting to what happens around the world.  Sometimes the US military just has to project its power, and everyone would be better off if they accepted that.

This is the standard argument of the foreign policy elites, who have made a profession of serving power by characterizing war in a positive light.  Indeed, throughout history these propagandists have shown a habit of perpetually redefining war so that leaders could sell their conquests to the people.  And while in the past they were able to make aggression palatable using appeals to authority and gods, today they must be more subtle.  It's all about how you phrase it, the PR scabs have learned.  'War' itself is a troublesome term, so it should only be used when the public has the 'appetite' for such things.

Thus, we must all be conditioned appropriately, trained to be blind to the reality behind the concepts we discuss.  Old fashioned acts of war, such as economic blockades (sieges, sanctions), covert and black ops, assassinations, and outright violations of sovereignty all become the norm of state relations - at least when you're powerful enough to get away with them.  No one balks, for instance, when they learn that the U.S. even spies on UN leaders.  And when these tactics have been sufficiently accepted that they are considered legitimate, efforts are made to expand the pool.  Controlling arms sales to both sides of a war?  Perfectly fine.  Funding proxy wars via foreign militias?  Also okay.  No-fly-zones?  Indiscriminate air strikes?  Drone warfare?  Yep.  I hesitate to ask what's next.

Without question, the plan has been a remarkable success.  We've all but forgotten that covert ops force governments to crack down on the populace and rescind civil liberties; sanctions starve the lower classes and strengthen the elites; weapons are made to kill; bombing destroys lives and necessary infrastructure, helping no one; assassination neglects due process and renders the state judge and jury; and most of all: the fact that to each of these there is an alternative.

By denying these things we become mere husks, devoid of humanity, like Joe "whose four year-olds get killed?" Klein, and Prince "Take a life to save a life" Harry.

And only by first setting this type of mindset into place can so-called reputable publications get away with printing repugnant bile like John Avlon's latest "Where’s the Retaliation for American Deaths in Benghazi and Algeria?":
Obama promised to avenge the murders of four Americans. But while Secretary Clinton faced a grilling over the attack, there’s been no retaliation. That sends a dangerous message, says John Avlon.

You might think that in the wake of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the realization that the mass killing spree we call the war on terror has (predictably) only created more resentment and hatred toward America, a professional writer couldn't get away with calling for even more revenge killing and warmongering.  Yet, the ruling class, via these same media channels, has created a world which accepts the most reactionary and horrible arguments as meritable, at the same time marginalizing anyone who states the obvious and recommends an end to violence.  The message is clear: the cycle of revenge is good for business, and must continue.  The rest of us are just along for the ride.

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