As I noted here the other day (in a piece that went over like ye olde lead balloon), many things are still possible in this world; there are many ways in which we could be reshaping some of the present abominable realities that beset us. Tom Englehardt presents a few possibilities for profound change in our militarist empire -- although, sadly, these must be offered more as thought experiments, due to the extreme unlikelihood of their adoption as policy by our blood-soaked, morally lobotomized elites. Still, any genuine change begins, at some point, as an act of imagination, so Englehardt's five alternative scenarios are well worth contemplating, as is his conclusion:
Right now, as a nation, we find it remarkably difficult to imagine ourselves as anything but what we now believe ourselves to be – and Washington counts on that. We find it almost impossible to imagine ourselves as just another nation (even perhaps, a more modest and better one), making our way on this disturbed planet of ours as best we can. We can’t imagine ourselves “safe” without being dominant, or being dominant without killing others in distant lands in significant numbers to ensure that safety; nor can we imagine ourselves dominant without that full panoply of secret armies, global garrisons, overlapping spy agencies, fear manias, and all the money that goes with them, despite the abundant evidence that this can’t be safety, either for us or for the planet.
We no longer know what a policy of cautious peace might look like, not having put a cent into envisioning such a project. War and an aggressive global national security state (and the language that goes with it) are all Washington knows and all it cares to know. It is completely invested in the world it now so shakily oversees, and cares for no other .... Maybe one of these days, what-if fever will spread in this country....
A consummation devoutly to be wished, of course. But in a culture where imagination -- an open, creative, intuitive, receptive engagement with reality -- is scorned in favor of barren fantasy -- self-closed, flat, cartoonish renditions of the impossible -- that ever-dormant fever may be long in reawakening. Still, to quote that famous American, Edsel Floyd, we live in hope and die in despair.
Jonathan Schwarz points out a salient fact too little observed: i.e., when our leaders declare that "all options are on the table" regarding some recalcitrant state or difficult situation, they don't really mean it. In fact, the use of that bellicose phrase -- whose only real meaning is, "We will kill lots of people if we have to, with everything we've got, including nuclear weapons, if that's what it takes" -- automatically closes off a whole range of options. As Schwarz notes, after quoting the psychopathic repetition of the "options" trope by tough-talking Obama minions threatening war with Iran:
Any actual reporter would have pointed out the glaringly obvious fact about this rote repetition: all options are not on the table. For instance, Israel is not going to consider giving up its own nuclear weapons if it were part of a deal to make it certain Iran would not develop its own. Nor is the United States considering giving up its nukes. Nor do we have any interest in a region-wide peace settlement that would satisfy us regarding Iran if it required U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the United States hasn't even signaled any openness to apologizing to Iranians for our numerous crimes against them (overthrowing their government, teaching the Shah how best to torture them, helping Saddam use WMD against them, etc.). Apparently we would prefer to attack Iran or indeed for Iran to get nuclear weapons rather than exercise any of these possible options.
Pakistan is in the midst of one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern history. More than 20 million people have been displaced by floods whose extent beggars the imagination; at one point, an area the size of Great Britain has been underwater -- and more floods are coming. Millions face the threat of immediate starvation. In the wake of the water and the massive displacement, disease is growing, with "6 million children are at risk of life-threatening diarrhoeal diseases, malnutrition and pneumonia," as the Guardian reports. "Stagnant flood plains in densely populated, poverty-stricken urban areas may become breeding grounds for cholera, mosquitos and malaria." UN chief Ban Ki-moon calls it the worst natural disaster he has ever seen.
Yet you could go days without hearing or reading about this epochal suffering -- although you might run across an occasional "think piece" on how the floods could affect Washington's Great Gaming in the region, which is, of course, the most important thing. And in the UK, you could read yards and yards of print about the UK-Pakistan cricket series without being disturbed with ugly scenes of children dying in their own watery filth -- or, indeed, with any of those annoying pleas for donations that always crop up in other disasters.
The looking-away from this disaster is extraordinary -- especially in a country that our elites have identified as "crucial" to America's "national security strategy." Perhaps they feel that, all in all, it's a good thing if the floods thin out the troublesome Pakistani population a little bit, and keep the survivors pre-occupied with basic survival. More likely, they just don't give a damn one way or another. As long as they keep the ever-profitable war machine churning in the region, it doesn't matter what happens to the actual people who live there.
We could see this exemplified clearly over the weekend, as the Obama Administration made a notable contribution to the relief effort: drone missiles. Yes, while the Pakistanis were literally trying to keep their society afloat in a world-historical cataclysm, the Peace Laureate was lobbing a few more missiles into remote Pakistani villages, killing alleged "rebels" in yet another in a series of illegal acts of aggression on the sovereign territory of an American ally.
Everyone knows that these attacks are only exacerbating the problems they are ostensibly designed to solve -- extremism, anti-Americanism, political instability in the region, etc. Yet still they go on, and on. One can only conclude from this that the ostensible reasons offered for the policy are not the real reasons motivating it.
Those real reasons -- in essence, the perpetuation of power, loot and dominance for our militarized, imperialized American elite -- are so overwhelmingly important to our leaders that they would keep killing Pakistanis, in Pakistan, even during an unprecedented national crisis. It seems there is nothing that will induce them to make even the slightest, momentary pause in this murderous campaign. Killing people is that important to them; they can no longer exist, or even imagine an existence, without it.
Meanwhile, here's one of those annoying pleas for donations to help the flood victims: Oxfam America and Oxfam UK.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on August 16, 2010.