May 23, 2013
The Washington Straitjacket
Posted on Dec 5, 2012
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch
Now, Shane reports, you’ve had the urge to codify it all and so institutionalize a presidential right to conduct assassination campaigns without regard to Congress, the American people, national sovereignty, the world, or previous standards of legality. And that is an accomplishment of the first order. I mean—Voilà!—you’ve officially created the box that no one can think outside of.
You are—so the story goes—the most powerful man on Earth. From the Oval Office, you should have the widest of wide-angle views. But sometimes don’t you feel that you’re trapped like a rat inside a maze in part (but only in part) of your own creation?
Dreaming Before It’s Too Late
Of course, I’ve never gotten nearer to the Oval Office than Pennsylvania Avenue, so what do I know about how it’s like there? Still, I’m older than you and I do know how repetitive acts rigidify, how one possible way morphs into the only way, how one limited system of living comes to seem like the only option on Earth. It happens with age. It also happens in Washington.
If only you could reverse time and take a step back into the world of the community organizer. After all, what does such an organizer do, if not try to free people from the rigidities of their lives, the boxes they can’t think outside of, the blocks of ice they’re encased in, the acts that have come to dominate them and regularly wipe out any sense of alternative possibilities? What’s the point of community organizing if not to allow people to begin to imagine other ways of being and becoming?
Maybe you don’t even realize how you’ve been boxed into, and boxed yourself into, the codifications from hell, almost all based on our militarizing way of life. Outside that box where the bureaucratized killing takes place, where the “wars” are fought, and the battle plans are endlessly recalibrated in ways too familiar to matter, outside the airless world of the National Security Complex where one destructive set of ways has become the only way, there surely are other possibilities that could result in other kinds of worlds. After all, just because you’re trapped in a box doesn’t mean that the world is. Look at the Middle East. For better or worse, it visibly isn’t.
Back in 2009 when you first took office, I wrote a speech for you. In it, “you” told the American people that you were “ending, not expanding, two wars.” I knew that you would never give such a speech (no less read mine), but I did believe that, despite the “wisdom” of Washington, you could indeed have put both of Bush’s wars—Iraq and Afghanistan—behind you. We’ll never know, of course. You chose another path, a “surge” of 30,000 troops, CIA operatives, special forces operators, private contractors, and State Department types that led to yet more disastrous years in Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, the ghostly what-ifs of history count for nothing. Still, haven’t you ever wondered whether something else wasn’t possible? Whether, for instance, sending bombs and missiles into poverty-stricken, essentially energy-less, essentially foodless Yemen was really and truly the way to world peace?
My apologies! I let sarcasm get the better of me. How about: really and truly the way to enhance U.S. national security? Honestly, Yemen? Most Americans couldn’t find it on the map to win the lottery, and according to reports, American drone and air strikes have actually increased membership in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. And yet you won’t stop. You probably can’t.
Similarly, don’t you ever wonder whether a “pivot” to Asia, mainly involving military power and guaranteed to exacerbate regional relations in the Pacific is the best way to deal with the rising power of China? After all, what would it mean to go to war with the country which now holds well more than $1 trillion in U.S. debt? Wouldn’t it be like shooting ourselves in the foot, if not the head?
And don’t you ever wonder whether a labyrinth of 17 (yes, 17!) major agencies and outfits in the U.S. “Intelligence Community” (and even more minor ones), spending at least $75 billion annually, really makes us either safe or smart? Mightn’t we be more “intelligent” and less paranoid about the world if we spent so much less and relied instead on readily available open-source material?
I mean, there are so many things to dream about. So many ghostly possibilities to conjure up. So many experimental acts that offer at least a chance at another planet of possibility. It would be such a waste if you only reverted to your community-organizer or constitutional-law self after you left office, once “retirement syndrome” kicked in, once those drones were taking off at the command of another president and it was too late to do a thing. You could still dream then, but what good would those dreams do us or anyone else?
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as The End of Victory Culture, his history of the Cold War, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050. You can see his recent interview with Bill Moyers on supersized politics, drones, and other subjects by clicking here.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.
Copyright 2012 Tom Engelhardt
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