In 2008, Senator and Presidential candidate John McCain was roundly mocked and fiercely reviled for suggesting that our occupation of Iraq might last one hundred years, by no one more bitingly than the current occupant of the Oval Office. The prospect of prolonging a war and occupation based on war profiteering and fabrications, and which had claimed the lives of thousands of coalition forces and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis was understandably undesirable to the voting public.
McCain’s comments at the time were taken out of context, for he suggested that we could remain in Iraq for “maybe 100 [years]”, adding, “as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed, it’s fine with me and I hope it would be fine with you if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where al Qaeda is training, recruiting, equipping and motivating people every single day”.
Of course what McCain actually did say was nearly as bad, reflecting as it did the total inability of supposedly expert policymakers to see the most elementary of connections between the rise of Al Qaeda and the ascendancy of American imperialism. As the British and the Soviets most recently learned before us, and what we could recollect from our own experience in the Philippines or Vietnam were we not possessed of collective amnesia induced by self-destructive hubris, aggressive war followed by military occupation—even when that occupation is supported by some classes of the territory being occupied—is the surest way to inspire open revolt and hatred.
Today, we are at war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, have intervened in Libya, Mali and perhaps elsewhere, and are expanding our military presence in Africa and Asia. As we discovered in Iraq, the opposition to U.S. imperialism that our actions will create can take multiple forms. There were popular risings and regional militias who resented the destruction that the U.S. military rained down on them in the course of its “liberation” of Iraq, a liberation which involved the destruction of the country’s infrastructure and the killing of anywhere between 100,000 and 800,000 people. But it also allowed other people to make common cause with groups like Al Qaeda.
Indeed, the terrorism of Al Qaeda and the terrorism of the United States’ national security apparatus have developed a symbiotic relationship, their collective nihilism, violence, and disdain for their supposed constituents creating a mutual dependency which continue to unfold in a predictably horrific fashion absent a reinvigoration of democratic action to reclaim the public interest.
Following the lead of his predecessor, President Obama has effected the transformation of national security from a concept concerned with the safety and well-being of the public interest into the application of brute force to secure the interests of the national security state and its corporate allies. These latter interests, as evidenced by increasing hostility to the U.S. abroad and the vicious colonial-style wars (British imperialists used the term “pacification”, while their U.S. counterparts favour “liberation”) which bankrupt our nation morally and materially, are diametrically opposed to those of our country’s citizens.
We are citizens who, in the age of data mining, wiretapping, kidnappings, disappearances, extraordinary rendition, murder, torture, and imprisonment without trial, must feel like people who lived in the twilight of the Roman Republic, or even in the Soviet Union as heady idealism gave way to authoritarianism and official paranoia.
It is indeed a peculiar twist of fate that an exceptionally articulate President who rose to political prominence thanks to his attack on one imperial war should be best remembered for engaging in an expansive, boundless, no-holds war on a growing number of fronts, deploying all the tools of terror, and engaging in an all-out war on civil liberties, while remaining unable to explain why this cycle of violence is in the interest of our public or of the humanity which we share with the victims of our security state’s hubris.
In 2008, we laughed off John McCain’s call for a sustained occupation and war against Al Qaeda. Today, with an end to our war of, on, and by terror regarded as inconceivable by our military and political leadership, we might be forgiven for thinking that what we voted for in November of 2008 was not a progressive visionary, but instead a neoconservative warmonger.