Yesterday, Ira Chernus had a stimulating article at TomDispatch.com in which he noted the present lack of an American anti-war movement. When it comes to war and foreign policy, Americans face a Hobson’s choice: the Democrats with drones and Special Ops and bombing against evildoers, or the Republicans with even more drones and Special Ops and bombing against even more evildoers. The American master narrative, Chernus noted, is essentially all war.
He’s right about this, and I think it’s mainly for five reasons:
- The military draft is gone, so our youth can safely (they think) ignore America’s never-ending wars. In Vietnam, with the draft, most of our youth didn’t have the luxury of apathy. Today, our youth have little personal incentive (as yet) to push back against the prevailing war narrative.
- Militarism. Creeping militarism has shifted the American narrative rightwards. In the Vietnam period, General Curtis LeMay’s “bomb them back to the stone age” was a fringe opinion; now it’s mainstream with “carpet bombing” Cruz and Trump and Rubio, the “top three” Republican presidential contenders after the Iowa caucuses.
- The Democrats have also shifted rightwards, so much so that now both major political parties embrace endless war. War, in short, has been normalized and removed from partisan politics. As Chernus documents, you simply can’t get an alternative narrative from the U.S. political mainstream. For that, you have to look to much smaller political parties, e.g. the Green Party.
- The U.S. mainstream media has been thoroughly co-opted by corporations that profit from war. Anti-war ideas simply don’t get published; or, if they do, they’re dismissed as unserious. I simply can’t imagine any of today’s TV talking heads coming out against the war on terror like Walter Cronkite came out in the 1960s against Vietnam. There is simply no push back from the U.S. media.
- Finally, a nebulous factor that’s always lurking: FEAR. The popular narrative today is that terrorists may kill you at any time right here in America. So you must be ready to “lockdown“; you must be ready to “shelter in place.” You must always defer to the police and military to keep you safe. You must fully fund the military or YOU WILL DIE. Repeated incantations of fear reinforce the master narrative of war.
Chernus makes many good points about how America’s constant warring in the Middle East only feeds radical Islam. In short, it’s vital to develop a new narrative, not only because the current one feeds war and death, but also because it’s fated to fail.
I doubt pacifism will fly in warrior corp USA. But why not containment? Containment worked against the Soviet Union, or so most Americans believe. If it worked against the far greater threat posed by the USSR, why shouldn’t it work against radical Islam?
Containment suggests several concrete actions: American troops should pull out of the Middle East. Bombing and drone strikes should stop. Establish a cordon sanitaire around the area. Lead a diplomatic effort to resolve the conflicts. And recognize that violent civil and ideological wars within Islam may need to burn themselves out.
One thing is certain: Because violent U.S. actions are most likely to act as accelerants to radical Islam, we need to stop attacking. Now.
Yes, the U.S. has a responsibility to help the peoples of the region. American actions helped to create the mess. But you don’t “solve” the mess by blowing more people and things to smithereens.
Containment, diplomacy, humanitarian aid. Not a chest-thumping course of action celebrated by the likes of Trump or Cruz or Clinton, but a new master narrative that would be more likely to spare lives and reduce the chaos in the Middle East.