Sunday, August 10, 2014

Reflections on the Nature of U.S. Power

Or

Why ISIS is all the U.S.’ Fault

“Our military has no peer.  The odds of a direct threat against us by any nation are low and do not come close to the dangers we faced during the Cold War. Meanwhile, our economy remains the most dynamic on Earth; our businesses the most innovative.  Each year, we grow more energy independent.  From Europe to Asia, we are the hub of alliances unrivaled in the history of nations. …So the United States is and remains the one indispensable nation.  That has been true for the century passed and it will be true for the century to come.” 

President Barack Obama, May 28, 2014


“People  worshiped the beast and asked, ‘Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?’”

- Revelation 13:4

Today, as I write this, U.S. warplanes have been striking positions of the “Islamic State” (IS) in northwestern Iraq for three days.

This has been a rough week for me emotionally. A ludicrous thing to complain about given the context, but there it is. I haven’t been sleeping well. I’ve been getting lots of headaches.

I’ve spent a grand total of seven days in Iraq’s Nineveh Plain, but that apparently was enough time for me to develop an emotional attachment to this lush region, its wealth of ancient peoples, languages and religions, and my brave Iraqi friends who live there.

Over the past week, fighters from the Islamic State have gone on a rampage across the region, forcing 400,000 Christians and Yezidis (an ancient pre-Christian religion) to flee their homes. Nearly the entire Nineveh plain – all the ancient Christian towns and cities – has been emptied, all in one day (Thursday, if you were wondering). All my Iraqi friends are homeless. All the kind, longsuffering refugee families I met there are refugees once again. The Yezidi city of Sinjar was also emptied, with 50,000 people fleeing to a nearby mountain, only to find themselves surrounded by Islamic State fighters, without food or water.

By now, the Islamic State’s modus operandi is well-known – crucifixions, torture, rapes, abductions and enslavement of non-Muslims, mass executions of Shia Muslims and Yezidis, forced subjugation and plundering of Christians, videotaped beheadings. The indigenous peoples of Iraq have every reason to be afraid. 

The news that my country was bombing these monsters, and airdropping humanitarian aid to the children trapped on that mountain, came as an enormous relief to me. Even as an ostensible pacifist, I couldn’t help exulting in this act of war.

Nevertheless, I insist on seeing this bombing, not as an act of mercy from the world’s superpower to the wretched of the earth, but as an act of imperialism.

I spent most of yesterday with an old DC friend I hadn’t seen for some time, who was introducing me to a lot of his new friends. He kept asking me to share “your conspiracy theory” with them. Apparently it was entertaining or enlightening or something. After telling it for the third time, I figured I better write it down so my paranoia can be public knowledge. Here it goes.

The U.S. is using IS as a tool of its Middle East foreign policy. It facilitated and allowed its rise to power, and is now seeking to benefit from the chaos it is stirring up.

My friend’s introduction notwithstanding, this is not a conspiracy theory, nor is it mine. There is no secret to the U.S.’s Iraq and Syria policy. It simply needs to be put into context for the U.S. government’s true intentions to emerge.

Consider: ever since September 11, 2001, the U.S. has proclaimed itself to be at war with al Qaeda. Al Qaeda operatives across the globe have been hunted down, killed, abducted and droned into oblivion, whether they are active or inactive, imminent threats or merely have bad intentions, are violent themselves or mere propagandists. This has only increased after President Bush’s departure from office. On October 5, 2013, U.S. forces launched simultaneous attacks to kill two low-ranking al Qaeda members 3,000 miles apart from each other – one in Libya, one in Somalia. Drones attacks on people loosely affiliated with al Qaeda are more or less constant in Pakistan and Yemen. In some areas of Pakistan, the sound of buzzing from American drones looking for al Qaeda and Taliban targets to kill is so frequent that it wreaks psychological damage on the entire population. “Total war” is an accurate description.

How does one square that reality with the fact that, in March 2013, the Islamic State (at the time an al Qaeda affiliate known as the “Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria”) took over Raqqa, Syria, a city with over a million people, religiously cleansed the entire region, and has held it ever since with NO response from the U.S. government? No airstrikes, no drones, nothing?

At the time, the press accurately reported that Raqqa was the largest city ever controlled by al Qaeda. Today, IS is no longer affiliated with al Qaeda. Bin Laden’s successor expelled them for being too extreme. Think about that for a second.

How is it that, over a year later, IS was able to overrun Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul – population two million – and seize huge amounts of abandoned U.S. military equipment belonging to the Iraqi Army, once again without any response from the U.S. government other than mealy-mouthed statements of concern from the State Department?

Answer: the U.S. allowed it to happen. Perhaps it’s too strong to say they wanted it to happen, but they correctly perceived that IS was not a threat to their regional strategy, and actually fit into it quite neatly.

The U.S. purposefully dominates the Middle East. It has ever since the end of World War II, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union, victorious allies, turned on each other and began a long struggle for control in the region. Both powers saw very well how a lack of oil played a large role in Germany’s defeat, and decided that they would not allow that to happen to them. Needless to say, the U.S. won that struggle, along with everything else.

The U.S.’s dominance over the region rests on its alliance with two countries – Israel, which we hear about all the time, and Saudi Arabia, which we hardly ever do. Were it not for our alliance with Saudi Arabia, we would probably view that country as something akin to North Korea. Thousands of foreign workers are held in slave-like conditions. Women are subject to what can only be described as gender apartheid. Religious police force everyone in the country to practice the most severe variety of Islam.  No political or religious dissent is allowed. Jews are not allowed to enter the country (unless they happen to be high-ranking U.S. diplomats.)

The U.S. uses its alliances with Israel and Saudi Arabia to achieve two key objectives in the region: protecting U.S. access to oil, and preventing the Islamist terrorist threat to the homeland from getting out of hand. We could add many smaller goals to this list – regional peace and stability, democratization, human rights, cultivating pro-American public opinion – but all of these come second to oil and counterterrorism.

Why? Because, the intelligent, dedicated government officers who direct our policy tell themselves, without a secure oil supply and protection from terrorism, the U.S. won’t be in a position to help anybody. First things first.

Al Qaeda is not the biggest threat to this arrangement. Not by a long shot. The biggest threat to this arrangement is the Islamic Republic of Iran – a huge, revolutionary, anti-American country that is seeking to replace Israel and Saudi Arabia as the strongest country in the region.

That cannot happen. So Iran is public enemy number one. Their alleged nuclear weapons program is the justification given. Their potential to wrest the region from the United States’ control is the real reason.

Forget everything you ever heard President Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry say about democracy in the Middle East, and take another look at the region. In 2011, revolutions broke out in six Arab countries: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria.

Bahrain is an island nation near Iran. The majority of the population is Shi’a Muslim, like Iran and Iraq, and unlike the rest of the region. Their king is Sunni Muslim, like the king of Saudi Arabia.

Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which protects U.S. interests in the Middle East. The Sunni king of Bahrain is a U.S. ally. If he were overthrown, he would almost certainly be replaced by a Shi’a ruler who would be much friendlier to Iran and much less friendly to us.

Early on in the Bahraini revolution, Saudi tanks invaded Bahrain across an enormous bridge that connects Saudi Arabia to the island (which was built for precisely that purpose) and put down the revolution. The U.S. gave its tacit approval.

Did you even hear about it?

Compare that to the revolution in Syria – a majority Sunni Muslim country ruled by a secular dictator from a Shi’a Muslim offshoot religion, the Alawites. The Syrian government is Iran’s closest ally.

Working together, the United States, and the Sunni countries Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar took advantage of the Syrian revolution and funded and armed a violent, Sunni Islamist insurgency that tore the country apart. Nearly 200,000 Syrians have died so far. Nearly half of all Syrians have had to flee their homes.

Mind you, the U.S. and its allies haven’t given the rebels enough money and weapons to actually win. The last thing the U.S. wants is for the Sunni extremists it is supporting in Syria to take over. We support them just enough to keep the war going and going, and to keep Iran (and the Syrian people) bleeding, and bleeding, and bleeding.

It is in the chaos and horror the U.S. created in Syria that the Islamic State arose.  And they had considerable help. Not from us, of course! Perish the thought. Just from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – our closest allies in the region.

Meanwhile, across the border, in Iraq, the prime minister we had chosen to lead the country we spent so much money and gave so many lives to “liberate” and “rebuild” (the electricity still isn’t on, if you’re wondering) was not cooperating. Weapons shipments from Iran to Syria passed through Iraq easily and regularly, despite the U.S.’s public protests. Nouri al-Maliki had decided his Shi’a-majority country’s ties to Iran were more important than his ties to us.

Then, in June of this year, lo and behold! Here comes IS, overrunning huge parts of Iraq and humiliating the Iraqi army. The U.S., of course, promises immediate assistance. On one condition: that Iraq chooses a new prime minister.

None of this is a secret. It is merely done in the name of “spreading democracy” and “protecting human rights.” Because our efforts have manifestly failed to do either, pundits on the right criticize the Obama administration for its “failure” and “incompetence” while pundits on the left praise him for his “restraint” and “keeping us out of war.”

We are very much at war. And it is not failing. It is succeeding brilliantly. All of Iran’s allies are on fire, and Iran has elected a president who all but begging the U.S. to back down.

Why then, if IS is serving the U.S.’ goals so well, are we bombing them now? Not because they are threatening genocide against Christians and Yezidis. That’s been the case for over a year. My best guess is that it is because, this week, the Islamic State stopped attacking the Iraqi Army and started attacking the Kurds.

With extensive American help over the last twenty-three years, Iraq’s Kurds have set up a virtually independent state in the northeast of the country. They are oil-rich and very reliably friendly to America. And IS’s latest attacks drove almost to the gates of their capital, Erbil. (The Christians were unfortunate enough to live in the region between them.) That was a step too far for America. 

So we have started bombing IS. Not enough to wipe them out (like we do virtually everywhere else al Qaeda rears its head). Just enough, as White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said this week, to "tip the balance in support of Kurdish forces." Any more help, Obama continues to openly insist, is dependent on Maliki getting replaced by someone more to our liking – pardon me – on having “a legitimate Iraqi government.

If Maliki goes, expect to see major U.S. operations against IS in Iraq. Maybe even in Syria. If he doesn’t, expect a lot more beheadings.

Again, I don’t consider this to be a conspiracy theory. Much of this is said aloud by public officials. The U.S. government is working for American interests first of all, and tacking on good deeds for human rights secondly. We do nice things for people who are nice to us. People who get in our way, we undermine.

That’s to be expected, right?

Why has this perfectly normal behavior – supporting human rights where we can, but pursuing our own interests first of all – resulted in the near-complete destruction of Iraq and Syria, serial massacres in Gaza, a crushed and terrorized population in Bahrain, two military coups in Egypt, civil war and religious cleansing in Libya, near civil war in Ukraine, etc., etc., etc.?

Because the U.S. defines its interests globally.

The conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer called Obama’s May 2014 West Point foreign policy address “literally pointless.”

On the contrary – it had a very, very telling point. You may have missed it, because in the U.S., we are raised to take it for granted.

Here it is:


Read that again.

Isn’t that kind of insane?

Consider the implications of that. Ukraine? Dispensable. Israel? Dispensable. Syria and Iraq? You’d better believe they’re dispensable! Only the interests of the U.S. are sacrosanct. The interests of all other nations must give way to the U.S.’s efforts to maintain its leadership status.

In the same speech, Obama continues,

“The question we face, the question each of you will face, is not whether America will lead, but how we will lead - not just to secure our peace and prosperity, but also extend peace and prosperity around the globe.”

America – under President Obama and under all presidents since World War II – sees itself as responsible for the peace and prosperity of the whole world.

A laudable goal, perhaps – but how much power will we have to accumulate to achieve it? And how many people will we kill in pursuit of that power accumulation?

In the Middle East over the past 13 years, the answer is somewhere north of a million. And there’s no end in sight.

This is not a vision of the world that allows for alternate centers of global power.  So NATO and the European Union steadily integrate more and more of Russia’s former satellite countries into their alliances. And when the government of one of these nations – Ukraine – reneges on a EU deal in favor of closer ties with Russia, we overthrow their government and replace it with one of our liking. (Again: not a conspiracy theory. There are tapes of U.S. diplomats discussing which Ukrainian opposition figure to put into power weeks before Yanukovych’s overthrow.) It’s just too bad about the hundreds of Ukrainians (and Dutch air passengers) who have died as a result.

And when China starts increasing its military strength and making noise about disputed islands and extending its navy into the South China Sea, the Obama administration starts talking about “pivoting to Asia” and shoring up our alliances with Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and the Muslim-killers in Myanmar.  If China doesn’t cut it out, look for the U.S. to start championing human rights in Tibet and East Turkestan.

Hopefully I’ve made clear that this problem is much bigger than any individual or political party within the U.S. government. The U.S. government’s foreign policy has taken on a life of its own. Each new president, secretary of state and foreign service officer inherits a set of commitments, priorities, alliances and arms agreements from his predecessors, and is constrained by them. It’s much easier to ride a tiger than dismount it.

The U.S. foreign policy establishment, I believe, is a principality – one that is increasingly given over to the demonic power of death.

Bear with me.

I owe basically all my thinking in this area to William Stringfellow, an Anglican lay-theologian from the 1970s. Drawing on the Apostle Paul’s reference to “the principalities and powers” (Ephesians 6:12), Stringfellow defines a principality as “a living reality, distinguishable from human and other life” – in other words, something that has taken on “a life of its own,” such as images, institutions and ideologies. 

In our fallen world, Stringfellow says, “each principality boasts that men will find the meaning and fulfillment of human life in service to the principality and that which abets its survival; a profound concern for self-survival is the governing morality of every principality. This comes first. To this all other interests must be sacrificed.”

I can personally testify that this is an accurate description of the workings of the U.S. government. I know people who have been literally blacklisted by U.S. State Department employees for embarrassing the Department over its inaction on its human rights commitments. People are capable of unbelievably brazen perfidy when they are defending their principality.

Because the principalities deny the lordship and power of Christ, the only power that they are able to use to control human beings is the power of death. In Stringfellow’s words, “death is the only moral and political sanction of the State.” Every government, organization, and institution naturally seeks to accumulate more power, and outside the will of Christ, the quest for power eventually reduces down to death and the threat of death.

Witnessing the carnage of the Vietnam War in his day, Stringfellow identified the U.S. government’s institutions as principalities that were possessed by the demonic power of death:

“The war has exposed the process by which a principality or conglomeration of principalities beguiles and entraps people in courses of action that wantonly debilitate and destroy human life. …during the ordeal in Southeast Asia of the past decade, Americans have been successively induced to squander life on a scale so prodigious it appalls imagination and defies calculation for the sake of stopping the alleged threat of communist China or of securing ‘self-determination’ for the Vietnamese or of hindering the so-called domino theory or of vindicating American ‘honor’ or of serving the ‘national security’ interests.”

The squandering of human life on a prodigious scale has not changed. Today, the justification is “extending peace and prosperity throughout the globe.” 

In that goal, our leaders may be sincere. But they are trying to achieve it through the power of death - military power, economic coercion, violent revolution, coups d'etat, sanctions. Accumulating the power necessary to dominate the world is ultimately impossible. It requires the killing of too many people. Eventually, the power of Death takes over completely. We have to destroy the village in order to save it.
 
Considering all of this, I have to laugh every time I see a new instabook in Christian bookstores about the “Islamic Antichrist.” Such a book could only be published in America. Forget 666 and the ten horns and all the other biblical identifiers prophecy enthusiasts puzzle over. Surely the crucial feature of the Beast is that it controls the whole world. Does that sound like Iran?

Nearly all of the Bible’s symbolism of the antichrist – seven hills, ten kings, “Babylon” - pointed to ancient Rome for John’s first readers. Where is Rome today?

If you were the devil, what country would you focus your efforts on? Who else would have the power to make American Christians obsess over inscriptions on courthouses and Obama’s birth certificate, and ignore the U.S.-engineered starvation of a million Iraqi children?

Besides William Stringfellow, these thoughts also owe a lot to Professor John Kok. I distinctly remember being at Dordt College as a sophomore, giving a presentation at a Kuyper Scholars Seminar where I argued for the U.S. to work to maintain its global supremacy to prevent China or Russia from replacing it. Because, I reasoned, obviously they would be worse!
After I finished, Professor Kok posed some questions to me that (kindly) made it clear he disagreed.  He finished by advising me to read I John 5:19, which said that the whole world was under the control of one person.  Being a good Kuyper scholar, I was about to answer, "Jesus!" but he cut me off and said, "Look it up, and you'll find out who that is."

That wasn't my moment of conversion. I’m kind of thick-headed. But over the last four years, God in his great mercy has brought into my life a great number of Christian and Muslim Middle Easterners whose lives have been turned upside down by the terror unleashed on their countries by my government. They were unfailingly gracious about that reality, and today, I’m honored to call them my friends. But early on in my relationships with them, the Lord made something clear to me: you can’t call yourself their friends, and still support what your government has done to them.
In a month, I’ll be on my way to grad school at the University of Chicago. My career prospects after that are far from certain, but I intend to try to find a way to use my life to do something about this.
It’s taken me a long time here to get here from being the insufferable neoconservative know-it-all you knew so well. But here I am. I am ready to be talked down.

1 comment:

  1. Why are the last nazi war criminals, like Alois Bruner, hiding in Syria? Nesselrode sent Porphy Uspensky to de-Hellenize the Antiochians which led to Michel Aflaq founding the Nazi Ba’ath party which is why ras-Putin hid Saddam’s WMD in Syria! Ohlig & Puim show Islamic extremism came from Syriac miaphysates, products of Chrysustolm trying to consummate the Channukah crimes of his Seleucid forefathers. (“Questioning is the subversion of faith” Homily I on I Timothy I- Such was the dark mind that led Justinian to abolish the universities and Olympics and bring on the plagues.) Ochrafuxy is the mother of Islam and bolshevism because they reject Aristotle in favor of Plato. We need a Christian Samaritania buffer state surrounding Israel. Just as we neutralized Greece during the Crimean and Cold wars, we need to give the Balkans back to the aboriginal Albanian Pelasgians to prevent soviet access to the straits. Iran and North Korea both share borders with Russia and are ras-Putin’s ploy to raise oil prices which is why we must fearlessly pursue the therminucular rapture against the magog’s attempt to destabilize the Saudis.

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