Shock and Awe Has PTSD. Yet Obama’s Game for More.
Ever so tepidly, Ron Paul’s widely-reported recent editorial How Many More Wars? recasts the fiscal preoccupations that often dominate the war question. Uninitiated readers could easily conclude that fiscal irresponsibility is the immoral center of U.S. military misadventures. Yet surely Mr. Paul, the killing and maiming of tens of thousands out-outrages budgetary malfeasance? Nonetheless we’ll acquiesce to the former Senator’s favored moral compass, parsimony, as a way in to the latest looming debacle out of Washington ’cause, sadly enough, money commandeers the debate in ways both subtle and overt.
Paul’s question is prompted by President Obama’s pending request for an Authorization for Use of Military Force essentially allowing him to bomb anyone at any time should they give him so much as a backward glance over the next three years. Could this mean he plans to carry the capability into civilian life? If so, that’ll be one presidential library we’ll not be visiting in a combative mood.
Unlike Obama, Paul is still caught up in the old-school doctrine of Reluctantly Undertaken Conflict (RUC), a precursor to MAD which itself has been suspended in favor of a more freestyle approach, First Strike Out of the Blue (efFing SOB). Okay, that’s a little tongue and cheeky. But not much (see here and here.)
Actually, the Pentagon realized post-WW2 that a full-spectrum shellacking of the enemy might put a divot in defense authorization largesse. The Joint Chiefs have been allergic to victory ever since. Decisive battles have become the exclusive province of the decidedly provincial—citizen-armies composed of folks in a hurry to get back to more gainful endeavors (as opposed necessarily to gainful employment; more on that anon). Quite apart from pitchfork-jockeys with crops rotting in fields back home, our military is professional. This marks an evolutionary step forward only insofar as one believes war warrants career status. Professions adopt guild mentalities. For butchers, bakers and war-makers, self-perpetuation becomes the ultimate war objective. From the Founding Fathers to Eisenhower (with perilous few piling on since), the conviction was that standing armies posed greater threats to liberty than they did bulwarks to security.
Noninterventionists persist in the notion that war should be waged reluctantly, only as a last resort and with scrupulously defined ends. Such timidity lacks imagination and sociopathic intent. All that stopping and starting just as you’re getting good at something—sheer madness!
If human beings weren’t so prone to paroxysms of fear, Eddie Bernays would have urged Halliburton to commission an aerosol spray. That’s how good terror is. The abject form of it exhibits near-perfect elasticity, making it the economic warrior’s go-to weapons cache. Where terror is found lacking, a bomb in the middle of town can upend tranquility in a heartbeat. Why tie war’s hands? Mission creep is blood-money in the bank.
So, how many more wars Mr. Paul? By my count, one, sir. But it’s a biggie. Permawar; war for the sake of war with made-to-order foes culled from rigorous Guantanamo conditioning protocols. There’ll be no more dodgy casus belli and WMD fantasies offered up for dissembling by Internet smarty-pants. Gearing up for war is both risky and duplicative. Permawar solves all that.
War is horizon-less growth fuelled by death. But must we dwell on that ugly predicate? The drip-drip of obsolescence and natural decline seems a slow path to riches when shock and awe can topple infrastructure in a flash, paving the way for brave new growth. Sometimes infrastructure doesn’t crumble fast enough. So it has to be helped down. Public works is the tortoise. War is the hare.
The perfect corpo-nihilism involves a carefully balanced stasis: economic activity shorn of discernible movement. Every widget of war-output destroys a widget produced by some beleaguered (life-affirming) sector of the economy. You build a factory. I build a bomb to destroy your factory. People die. Reconstruction jobs flourish in the shadow of their graves. Glorious prosperity! Structural unemployment enjoys twofold relief via radical attrition (war casualties) and ever-so-helpful Marshall Plans. Shuttering this vituperative circle would be the moral equivalent of stealing food from the mouths of babes. As it turns out, peace is a sly economic death-wish aimed at the heart of mindless activity. Let us then rise up, weapons in hand, and banish it from our midst.
The old pejoratives are failing us. Nothing to be thought ill of, gratuitous destruction is a restorative against deflationary collapse. Are you catching on? Indeed, breaking stuff may yet save us from not a helluva lot going on otherwise. Marketing entreaties are bound to get more hard-edged in the present low-growth environment. Prepare for the ‘buy this car or we’ll bomb your village President’s Day sale’.
No growth makes a growth industry of Sisyphean parodies of labor. Keynes suggested employing people to fill in the holes they dug the day before. War merely amplifies the excavation process with incendiary ordinance. Imagine a million megaton shovel. Instead of soil being cast over our shoulders, radioactive dust falls on our heads. Life itself becomes collateral damage on the way to, what else? Economic growth.
War pays for leukemia wards. Actually the former necessitates the latter. Frankly, who has the memory or the patience for all that causality stuff? No sooner are causes examined than blame breaks out, cratering productivity. And let’s not broach the agonizing retrospective of war crimes tribunals. When he’s not glancing nervously over his shoulder, Dick Cheney has recently taken to insisting reconciliation commissions are a hidden tax on fresh, green un-bombed vistas. This new tact has even Fox New pundits staring at their shoes.
Orwell was right. Insurgencies are fuelled by the powers of recollection. As long as trenches and beds are being filled today, the economy, by now its own hermetic and determined juggernaut, chugs along. That it is beholden to no man, no man seems to notice. The same can be asked of technology and debt-money creation—who or what drives these disembodied forces? Perhaps each emboldens the other in a race for the abyss.
Those whose bodies intersect the righteous path of bombs (the dead) become martyrs to nihilism. (By the way, nihilism insists that, in lieu of flowers, please send nothing at all as the void has no place to put anything.)
Further along, Paul poses another question: “Can anyone point to a single success that the interventionists have had over the last 25 years?”
That Paul’s a pit-bull for old-school notions of success, isn’t he? He’s not alone. Many people conflate the war industry with military success and victory parades. However, military efficacy as measured by on-the-ground victory misses war economy metrics by a mile. How much plainer can it be? Victory is defeat. If you don’t believe me, ask the guys in Room 101.
Some cheery optimists insist permawar can go on for a long time. However, they miss one crucial smoking gun: progressive lethality. Rest assured nihilism is working overtime on the perfect weapon to annihilate all market participants, thus bringing the war economy to a dead stop. As the Laffer curve implies, mortality rates at the 100% outbound generate zero tax revenues. It doesn’t take a Paul Krugman to see that 100% unemployment is bad public policy. Armageddon plays havoc at the zero-bound.
Speaking of employment, Modern Monetary Theorist (MMT) Warren Mosler relates the story of the British arriving in Ghana in the 19th century to establish coffee plantations. At first, the Ghanaians exhibit no interest in working the fields for a wage. This obliges the British to assist their new charges towards a fuller appreciation of the manifold splendors of the monetized economy. They impose a hut tax. Money is required to pay the tax, necessitating wages and formal employment. No one suggests employment is compulsory as that would be tantamount to slavery. At the same time, failure to pay results in the authorities burning down the tax cheat’s hut.
Employment, Mosler points out, is a monetary phenomenon enforced and precipitated, in the first instance, by tax obligations. The same can be said for Keynesian ministrations, Congressional ‘jobs bills’ and, yes Daddy, war too.
The State who?
The state of your hut will be smoke and ash if you don’t join us in taking a match to the huts across the river.
Death. Taxes. War. Nowhere is the goal. We’re expending everything to get there.