Amid the intellectual and moral darkness that is Washington, DC, we take our rays of sunlight where we can find them. And this week, the clouds parted – albeit only momentarily – to let through a couple of illuminating comments from none other than Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Speaking at West Point, as US warships steamed toward the Libyan coast, Gates told the cadets:
“Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General [Douglas] MacArthur so delicately put it.”
The reference to Africa – not a frequent or high visibility venue for American centurions, at least since the disaster at Mogadishu – could not have been mere coincidence. And at a congressional hearing the other day, Gates followed up:
“Let’s just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya. That’s the way you do a no-fly zone. And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down.”
Pressed by one disappointed solon, Gates averred:
“Well, if it’s ordered, we can do it. But the reality is, there’s a lot of, frankly, loose talk about some of these military options.”
Loose talk perfectly sums up the preening and posturing of US officials as they pretend their natterings are relevent to the historic changes taking place in the Middle East and North Africa. It’s easy enough for politicians to talk about how the US must “lead”: Gates, however, will be charged with stage-managing whatever scheme they have in mind, and he is pushing back – hard – against the prospect. While President Obama has kept a very low profile as the Libyan revolution unfolds, his Secretary of State has been less shy about her desire to stick her nose where it doesn’t belong, floating the idea of a “no fly” zone and declaring that “no options are off the table” when it comes to Libya.
Clinton, in her role as overseer of US foreign policy, has been one of the biggest hawks in an administration that has essentially continued and even escalated America’s post-9/11 rampage, and she is clearly pushing for the US to take some kind of action in Libya. Gates’s “loose talk” reference was an implicit rebuke to her, and to John Kerry: that’s the good news.
The bad news is that the common sense approach advanced by Gates is not at all popular in the Imperial City. The US Senate just passed a resolution demanding that the President set up a “no fly” zone over Libya: the vote was unanimous. (Shame on you, Rand Paul). Our lawmakers just can’t resist the urge to grandstand: you’d think they were the Roman Senate at the height of its power rather than the upper chamber of a dead broke government whose empire is swiftly heading for the dustbin of history.
There’s a debate going on inside the administration over what to “do” about Libya: the only high-profile skeptic of our ability to “do” anything is Gates, a Republican, who was appointed by George W. Bush. The interventionists of a “humanitarian” hue are now having their moment, declaring that Libya is the Obama administration’s Kosovo Moment, and calling for US intervention to “save lives.” But of course US troops are still in Kosovo, in spite of George W. Bush’s continual pledges to finally get them out, and as a young Kosovar is arrested for killing two US soldiers in Germany methinks you can see the thanks we’re getting for our efforts.
Aside from that, the attitude of the Libyan insurgents is unclear on the subject of US intervention: some have said that they’d fight US troops just as fiercely as they’re fighting the Daffy Despot if we set foot on one square inch of Libyan territory, but others have called for a “no fly zone,” weapons, and otherwise expressed their dissatisfaction with the lack of response from Washington. Yet even if a unified rebel government called for US boots on the ground, we would be fools to ignore the advice of Bob Gates, who is certainly in a position to know whereof he speaks. He’s no anti-interventionist, to say the least, but even he knows what the rest of Washington seems oblivious to: the Beltway bromide that we are “leading” the world is a hollow conceit.
Far from leading, we are being led – by the momentum of a revolutionary upsurge which is toppling our key allies across the region.
The American Empire reached its zenith with the fall of Baghdad and the “shock and awe” campaign, which cowed the craven Gadhafi enough to impel him to come crawling to Washington with a pledge of good behavior. Rehabilitated, and, with Tony Blair at his side, all was forgiven. He chose to be on what he thought was the right side of history just when the American moment started to pass.
After three world wars, two hot and one cold, and a fourth crusade against “terrorism,” the American Gulliver has washed up on the shores of Lilliputia exhausted, bedeviled, and dragged down by his Lilliputian “allies” and satraps, whose demands he cannot fulfill. Yemen’s President Abdullah Ali Saleh, a reliable sock puppet, is suddenly confronted with a large-scale uprising against his 40-year rule, and we can do nothing to save him. Huddled under what they thought was the protective umbrella of Uncle Sam, the sheiks and emirs of the Gulf woke up one morning to discover that their patron and guarantor is powerless to save them.
This sends a message to our satellites all over the world that it doesn’t pay to be in the US camp – and the Israelis heard it loud and clear. If the Americans can throw Mubarak under the bus, they fumed, then can we be far behind?
The Israelis tend toward hysteria, and the situation, from their perspective, is hardly as dire as all that. Although Egypt had some of the priciest public relations outfits and law firms in Washington at their command, they never had anything one one-hundreth as effective as the Israel lobby in Washington.
Yet not even they will be able to stand up against the tides that are coming. The events in the Middle East are, in large part, energized by the world economic crisis. Triggered by reckless bank credit expansion occurring under the auspices of the Federal Reserve and the central banks of the West, the resulting inflation has driven up prices of basic foodstuffs: in Egypt, the price of wheat skyrocketed by some 30 percent in just the three months prior to the revolution. We exported our inflation to the periphery, but now, in a classic boomerang, it is coming home.
All through the 1990s, the Fed pumped up the essentially flat tires of our empire, managing to keep it on the road if not always in good working order. The fuel that ran that empire — and industrial advanced nations
everywhere — was the dollar. In order to keep the machinery of the Imperium going, however, and keep our claim to international “leadership,” we destroyed the very basis of our hegemony: our economic good health, symbolized by the health of the dollar as the currency of choice worldwide. It was a steady and generous flow of dollars that bribed our satraps, like Mubarak, into doing our bidding. Those dollars also went to build up a military machine without rivals or precedent, one which could fight two major wars simultaneously, guard both Europe and Asia while policing the world’s sea lanes — and chew gum at the same time. This meant an expenditure greater than the combined military budgets of all other nations on the planet.
This is unsustainable, along with all the other equally profligate institutions of the Welfare-Warfare State. Cuts in the military budget are opposed by Republicans, while Democrats are up in arms now that the pensions of Wisconsin prison guards and teachers (or do I repeat myself?) are no longer considered untouchable. The United States is headed for its own “Days of Rage,” as the spoiled brats who inherited the Republic established by the Founders wake up from their orgy of self-gratification and self-deception to find their inheritance is gone.
The Republic expired with the passage of the “Patriot” Act and the launching of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq: it was burnt to a cinder and left in the ashes of the World Trade Center, blown away by the winds of war. It was succeeded by the rise of the Empire, whose first monarch, George II, the would-be Napoleon of the “world democratic revolution” met his Waterloo with a cry of “Mission accomplished!”
It has been downhill ever since. The “world democratic revolution,” it turns out, is overthrowing our own allies, its partisans overseeing the dismantling of US power on a global scale. The high tide of empire, wrote Pat Buchanan years ago, was reached at the battle of Fallujah:
“What Fallujah and the Shi’ite uprisings are telling us is this: if we mean to make Iraq a pro-Western democracy, the price in blood and treasure has gone up. Shall we pay it is the question of the hour. For there are signs Americans today are no more willing to sacrifice for empire than was Harding to send his nation’s sons off to police and run provinces carved out of the Ottoman Empire.
”In bringing Bush’s “world democratic revolution” to Iraq, we suffer today from four deficiencies: men, money, will, and stamina.
”First, we do not have the troops in country to pacify Iraq. Some 70 percent of our combat units are committed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and South Korea already. If we are going to put more men into Iraq, U.S. military forces must expand.
”Those who speak of democratizing Iraq as we did Germany tend to forget: in 1945, we had 12 million men under arms and four million soldiers in Europe. German resistance disappeared in 1945 with the death of Hitler. There was no guerrilla war against us. Today, our army is only 480,000 strong and scattered across 100 countries. And we have 129,000 troops in an Iraq that is as large as California and an escalating war against urban guerrillas.
”Second, we are running out of money. The U.S. deficit is $500 billion and rising. The merchandise trade deficit is headed toward $600 billion, putting downward pressure on a dollar that has been falling for three years. Nations with declining currencies do not create empires, they give them up.”
Secretary Gates says the next American President who launches a war in Asia, Africa, or the Middle East “ought to have his head examined.” It is, however, too late for that: the diagnosis is imperial overstretch, and the patient is terminal. Let Hillary go on about how many options she can fit on a table, and let the War Party strike heroic poses on the world stage: the American tragedy is going into its final act, and it won’t be long now before the curtain comes down on our overseas empire.