It is nearly certain that we will endure, sooner rather than later, another catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil. The blundering of our military into the Middle East; the failed states that have risen out of the mismanagement and chaos of Iraq and Afghanistan; the millions of innocents we have driven from their homes, terrorized or slaughtered; the bankrupt puppet regimes we have equipped and trained that will not fight; the massive amounts of munitions and military hardware we have allowed to fall into the hands of jihadis—thousands of them carrying Western passports; and the myopic foreign policy whose single tenet is that more industrial violence will get us out of the morass created by our industrial violence in the first place means that we, like France, are in for it.
All the major candidates for president, including Bernie Sanders, along with a media that is a shameless echo chamber for the elites, embrace endless war. Lost are the art of diplomacy, the ability to read the cultural, political, linguistic and religious landscape of those we dominate by force, the effort to dissect the roots of jihadi rage and violence, and the simple understanding that Muslims do not want to be occupied any more than we would want to be occupied.
Another jihadi terrorist attack in the United States will extinguish what remains of our anemic and largely dysfunctional democracy. Fear will be even more fervently stoked and manipulated by the state. The remnants of our civil liberties will be abolished. Groups that defy the corporate state—Black Lives Matter, climate change activists and anti-capitalists—will be ruthlessly targeted for elimination as the nation is swept into the Manichean world of us-and-them, traitors versus patriots. Culture will be reduced to sentimental doggerel and patriotic kitsch. Violence will be sanctified, in Hollywood and the media, as a purifying agent. Any criticism of the crusade or those leading it will be heresy. The police and the military will be deified. Nationalism, which at its core is about self-exaltation and racism, will distort our perception of reality. We will gather like frightened children around the flag. We will sing the national anthem in unison. We will kneel before the state and the organs of internal security. We will beg our masters to save us. We will be paralyzed by the psychosis of permanent war.
In wartime, public discourse emits the insane sputterings of King Lear: “Then, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!” Demagogues bellow for more bombs and more enemy corpses. The military and the war profiteers provide them. The public cheers on the slaughter. Victory is assured. The nation rejoices when the newest face of evil is eradicated. But when one face of evil—Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or Abdelhamid Abaaoud—is exterminated, another swiftly rises to take his or her place. It is an endless and futile quest.
Violence generates counterviolence. The cycle does not stop until the killing stops. All that makes us human—love, empathy, tenderness and kindness—is dismissed in wartime as useless and weak. We revel in a demented hypermasculinity. We lose the capacity to feel and understand. We pity only our own. We too celebrate our glorified martyrs. We endow our sanctified dead with the lofty virtues and goodness that define our national myth, ignoring our complicity in perpetuating the ceaseless cycle of death. Our drones and airstrikes, after all, have decapitated far more people, including children, than Islamic State.
Jihadis troll websites and the dingy corridors of housing projects outside French cities and in the slums of Iraqi cities looking for young people discarded by war and neoliberalism, just as Army recruiters sniff out our own discarded and dispossessed and send them off to fight. Disenfranchised youths, offered the illusion of heroism, glory and even martyrdom, promised a chance to be armed and powerful, are seduced by these scavengers. Hundreds of millions of people across the globe have been cast aside by globalization as human refuse. They are worth nothing to the corporate state. They are denied jobs, benefits, dignity and self-worth. They are easy prey for the siren calls of those for whom war is a lucrative business. They dress in uniforms. They surrender their individuality. They experience the intoxicating drug of violence. They assume a new identity—that of warrior.
By the time they see through the illusions and lies, by the time they grasp how they have been used and betrayed, they are broken, maimed or dead. No matter. There are legions behind them waiting eagerly for their chance.
We have lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq as a unified nation has been splintered into antagonistic and warring enclaves. It will never be reunited. We ensured that Iraq would become a failed state the moment we invaded and disbanded its army, police force and government bureaucracy, the moment we foolishly attempted to dominate the country by force—including our arming and organizing of Shiite death squads that carried out a reign of terror against the Sunnis. The Iraqi insurgents, al-Qaida and, later, Islamic State, easily recruited the masses of enraged dispossessed whose families have been torn apart since the 2003 invasion, whose childhoods have been colored by extreme poverty, fear, a lack of education and basic services and horrific acts of violence, and who correctly see no future under continued U.S. occupation. Islamic State now controls an area the size of Texas, carved out of the remnants of Syria and Iraq. All our air attacks will not drive it out.
The situation is no better in Afghanistan. The Taliban controls more of Afghanistan than it did when we invaded 14 years ago. The puppet regime in Kabul we arm and support is hated, brutal, corrupt, involved in drug trafficking and crippled by cowardice. It is also heavily infiltrated by the Taliban. The Kabul regime will crumble the moment we depart. Trillions and trillions of dollars, along with hundreds of thousands of lives, have been squandered for nothing, even as climate change moves closer and closer to ensuring the extinction of the human species.
We waded into conflicts we did not understand. We were propelled forward by fantasy. The occupation of Iraq was supposed to have seen us greeted as liberators. We planned to implant democracy in Baghdad and have it spread across the Middle East. We were fed the absurd promise that the oil revenues would pay for reconstruction. Instead, our folly spawned political, social and economic collapse, widespread poverty, massive displacement, misery and a rage that gave birth to radical jihadism in Iraq and throughout the region.
The disintegration in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan has forced us to form a de facto alliance with Iran to battle Islamic State and the Taliban. This disintegration has upended our goal of overthrowing the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad. We now function, along with the Russians, as Assad’s surrogate air force. And because Hezbollah fighters, whom the United States and Israel condemn as terrorists and have vowed to destroy, are integrated into Assad’s army, we also serve as Hezbollah’s surrogate air force. The Iraqi regime is dominated by the mullahs in Iran. The objectives used to justify these conflicts—including the promise to root out radical jihadism—have all failed.
In endless war, yesterday’s enemies eventually become today’s allies. This is a theme George Orwell captured in his dystopian novel “1984”:
At this moment, for example, in 1984 (if it was 1984), Oceania was at war with Eurasia and in alliance with Eastasia. In no public or private utterance was it ever admitted that the three powers had at any time been grouped along different lines. Actually, as Winston well knew, it was only four years since Oceania had been at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia. But that was merely a piece of furtive knowledge, which he happened to possess because his memory was not satisfactorily under control. Officially the change of partners had never happened. Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia. The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.
This will not end well. The massive violence we employ throughout the Middle East will never achieve its goals. State terror will not defeat individual acts of terror. More and more innocents will be sacrificed, here and abroad, in a furious and futile campaign. Rage and collective humiliation will mount. As we continue to fail to blunt attacks against us, we will become more aggressive and more lethal. Internal enemies—especially Muslims—will be demonized, endure hate crimes and be hunted down. The most tepid forms of criticism and dissent will be criminalized.
We are hostages, like Israel, to an accelerating death spiral. Only when we are exhausted and depleted, when the numbers of dead and maimed overwhelm us, will this lust for blood end. By then the world around us will be unrecognizable and, I fear, irredeemable.