The video released by Wikileaks showing US helicopters picking off civilians as our airmen chortle with glee is shocking everyone. Everyone but me, that is.
Perhaps I’m suffering from some sort of moral exhaustion: I’ve just about gone numb after living through and constantly writing about the past decade of American war crimes. Abu Ghraib, Haditha, this, or any of a number of other atrocities – this one seems little different from the others. The bloodthirstiness of our "boys," chillingly eager to start shooting; the requisite cover-up, the denials, the expressions of "well that’s what war is" from defenders of US foreign policy. In the end it all boils down to a prosaic routine: another day, another atrocity. The only difference here being that it isn’t being done in the dark, but in the media spotlight for the world to see. As Glenn Greenwald points out, this kind of behavior by our glorious troops is not unusual: it’s the norm. It’s what war and occupation are all about: "collateral damage," dead children, error, malice, and tragedy all rolled into one messy package and marketed as our righteous (and endless) "war on terrorism."
The moral bankruptcy of our foreign policy has been evident for some time, and incidents like these only dramatize what everyone outside of Washington, D.C., already knows, and yet it continues – in our name – because it has by now become part of our lives. We habitually go around invading countries, killing children, and making "mistakes" that result in the grisly death of innocents: an apology is issued, perhaps a family is paid off (a couple thousand for a life), and the death machine grinds on, crushing what’s left of our collective conscience under the weight of our indifference. Oh yes, didn’t you hear, someone died in a far off country on account of our foreign policy – can you please pass the salt? Did you pay the electric bill? Hey, I hear the neighbor down the block got foreclosed….
A morally corrupt country such as ours doesn’t succumb easily to attacks of conscience, and certainly a video – no matter of what – isn’t going to lead to a moral awakening. The corruption is too deep [.pdf], the routine too ingrained: what it will take is an aneurysm, a sudden glitch in the system that leads to a breakdown, not a lack of will but a lack of means, e.g. national bankruptcy.
Perhaps we should start a letter-writing campaign to get the Chinese to stop buying our debt. Talk about Communist subversion! Lenin never dreamed his ideological progeny – or what’s left of them – would become the chief enablers of imperialism. But perhaps we should just be patient: the Chinese reds – better capitalists than we – may soon see their investment as a losing proposition, and pull the rug out from under Washington’s warlords of their own accord. We can only hope.
Yet no one can predict when the cataclysm will occur: the meltdown everyone knows is coming ’cause they feel it in their bones. The economic instincts of ordinary Americans are more accurate than the predictions of economic "science," because they – unlike all the President’s Keynesians – know you can’t create value out of thin air, that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and that government printing presses are not the source of prosperity. We’re headed for a fall, and the best the man in the street can do is get out of the way, fast – which is more than those Iraqi civilians in the video could do.
Aside from looming bankruptcy, another obstacle in the path of the American death machine is the increasing resistance we’re meeting up with, especially in our current main theater of operations: Afghanistan. Never mind the Taliban: it’s President Hamid Karzai who is emerging as our biggest enemy on that front. Accusing us of abetting electoral fraud, the head of the government we are pledged to defend and build is threatening to join the insurgency.
Karzai’s resemblance to Ngo Dinh Diem, our troublesome ally during the Vietnam war, was long ago noted in this space, and lately he’s been literally begging to share Diem’s fate. In Vietnam, after we facilitated Diem’s bloody exit, we turned to various South Vietnamese generals in quick succession, each of whom proved less troublesome albeit even less effective (and more corrupt) than the last. This went on until we were finally driven out, forced to evacuate US diplomatic personnel by helicopter from the roof of our embassy. As the Viet Cong took Saigon, and a shameful and bloody chapter of the history of our empire – declining even then – came to an end, we reluctantly gave ourselves a temporary respite from the burden of empire. Until the cold war ended and the temptation to resume where we left off proved too much….
Our Karzai problem is insoluble, because the whole problem of putting an Afghan government in place is an impossible task: Afghanistan has never had a central government, and one may as well plant an orchid in the desert as implant "democracy" (or centralized autocracy, or indeed any sort of central government) in Afghan soil. It simply won’t take. The whole concept of "order" and centralized management is alien to Afghan culture, and will only be rejected by the body politic. Just as the American occupation is being rejected, and fought.
That is why the public relations boys in the Pentagon and the White House are selling this war as an allegedly "limited" engagement, one which is supposed to detect, disable, and destroy our mortal enemies in al Qaeda – and then we’re outta there. In reality, however, we are chasing a phantasm, one that appears and disappears at will, a ghost without substance that evaporates as soon as one gets close enough to touch it. Al Qaeda is everywhere, and nowhere: Osama bin Laden, the supposed leader of this ethereal cult of death, is a voice heard on an audio file, a thin cruel voice mocking us for falling into the trap he has so lovingly prepared.
Our leaders believe their own propaganda. They think they are invincible, that their empire will last a thousand years and more: they just don’t see that locomotive coming down the tracks at breakneck speed, or prefer to believe they can wish it away. In the meantime, we get breathless reports from "the front," and paeans to "our brave troops" who chuckle while they slaughter innocents.
The day is coming, however, when those chuckles will be forever silenced: the cracks in the edifice are already appearing, in spite of the Obamaites’ strenuous efforts to cover them up with sealing wax, government spending, and vulgar political grandstanding. The day is coming when the empire can no longer sustain itself, and the grandiose towers of the castle split and slide to the ground, burying the inhabitants in the rubble. Then it will be the turn of the rest of the world to chuckle in the face of horrific destruction and untold human suffering – and turn away.