The iresistible, if not totally accurate, comparisons of Obama’s administration with that of the lionized FDR ought to include the decisive masterstroke of the cunning patrician Franklin Roosevelt to leave behind the Great Depression once and for all: war. We always hear about the Works Progress Administration and other quasi-socialist measures taken by Roosevelt’s government, but the real exit strategy from that bout with general deflation was to build the US military-industrial complex, financing it through indebting other war-weakened allies.
Under their own circumstances, the New Dealers had the good fortune to enter the war by phases; first letting others take the brunt of the war — Europe as a battleground, and in particular the USSR, which would surrender around 27 million souls to the charnel house of WWII to debilitate the Wehrmacht — second, becoming the supplier of materiel, thereby indebting the rest of the Allied world while enriching the US prior to actual participation in combat, then finally, entry into the war against a bled-out Germany and Japan to ensure the US would be occupying key terrain in Europe and Asia as a preface to filling the vaccum left in the wake of the imperial collapse of UK and France.
Everybody loves Obama, because he sounds more reassuringly intelligent than George W. Bush even as Obama retains many of the very worst aspects of the Bush regime. Hey, he is the first Black Prez, he picked Carolina as this year’s basketball champs, and he could charm a badger.
But Obama is planning to use war as his deus ex machina, too. His war is to be the Pakistan-Afghan-Iran War, with Iraq stuck to his shoe. (He is not “withdrawing” from Iraq; and has stated that he hasn’t the least intention of doing so, unless one considers a force of 30,000 troops to be a non-occupation.)
Roosevelt used Keynesianism at home and war abroad to save capitalism. But Obama is not inheriting Roosevelt’s circumstances; his war will fail, and his “Keynesian” measures remain so contaminated with neoliberalism’s residues that it will leave the US domestic economy in a shambles that his dangerous (potentially nuclear) military adventures will only exacerbate.
Obama is applying an anachronism in his emulation of FDR, and compounding his foolishness by taking a page or two from the LBJ/Nixon playbooks for Vietnam, as we see in his nomination of the smooth-talking torture-chief and “unconventional” warfare commander, Stanley McChrystal, to head up the Afghanistan-Pakistan surge, coming soon to a theater near you. The Phoenix Program redux… writ larger still.
I shouldn’t blame Obama; and I don’t really. But he’s the name and address where the buck stops these gray days as the foundations of the Empire crack: pyramiding debt, weakening dollar hegemony, and the myth of American military invincibility unmasked. He gets to be at the helm during that ambiguous phase where he is subordinate to domestic political forces that are still in place but threatening to go under — Wall Street on the one hand, and an increasingly anxious Suburbia that delivers votes for the candidates and policies that Wall Street approves. He’s mortgaged the future of the great political bloc of Suburbia in order to rescue Wall Street — from his perspective, and the perspective of all Chief Executives of the US state, an inevitable decision.
It is that inevitability that defines Obama’s powerlessness… and the powerlessness of us all here in the wounded core nation.
The lethal cross-border attack on the Abi Talib mosque in Iran week before last, launched from Pakistan’s volatile Balochistan (on the Iranian side, called Sistan-Balochistan province), demonstrates the ethnic permability of political borders in the region, and why Iran will inevitably be drawn into the Obama’s Laos-Cambodia gambit. (There was another attack in Peshwar yesterday, on a hotel.)
Obama is gambling on Balochistan, even if the press completely ignores it. He needs his war (now called “Overseas Contingency Operations,” which should cause the Bush spin-meisters to blush with envy) as a means of bootstrapping the American economy; and the case for Balochistan is overdetermined by several factors. From Balochistan and the New World Order (2006):
Balochistan has only four percent of Pakistan’s population, though it occupies 44% of Pakistan’s land mass. Like its neighbor, Afghanistan, it is populated by religiously conservative ethnic Pashtuns living in extremely rugged and mountainous terrain. Like its neighbor, Iran, it possesses a geologic relic in abundance: fossil fuel, in this case the Sui natural gas field that produces 45% of Pakistan’s supply. It also contains a warm water port — Gwadar — only 70 kilometers from the Iranian border…
…there are suggestions that well-armed Balochi nationalists will soon be assisting in a fresh Taliban offensive against NATO occupation forces.
And so Obama enters the Great Game. But it will yield neither pacific compliance from Southwest Asia nor the war-profit at home. Those ships sailed a long time ago.
As America needs most desperately to re-tool its entire environment from our current abject dependence on peripheral loot (including fossil hydrocarbons), the political establishment — dominated in the end by demagogues — will continue with the equivalent of enabling addicts with comforting lies and provision of the drugs of choice. That the drugs will run out — and this is sure — is the decisive reality that ensures Obama’s failure.
But failure — terrifying as it may be — is not nearly so awful as the unintended consequences latent in fueling war in this highly strategic and volatile situation.
While the world stands breathless before Obama after his speech in Cairo, one where a head of the US state (atypically) acknowledged the basic humanity of a billion Muslims, reviving hope of some new direction for the world, this war that could even make eventual allies of Iran and the US is already rippling through the fragile demographic and political condition of Pakistan, where nuclear weapons are readied in their bunkers, and anti-Muslim Hindutva nationalism threatens a hostile resurgence in nuclear-neighboring India. The world’s second largest nation-state, India, is awash in Hindutva reactionaries who identify their masculinity with “The Hindu Bomb.” (For a more in-depth look, albeit slightly dated, see “India Takes the Stage” — Part 2.)
While the Abi Talib attack and increasaingly frequent acts of political nihilism by violent Islamists have redirected Pakistani ire, for the moment, away from the US over its drone attacks, with their terrible civilian casualties, and against the Taliban-aligned forces; this will not last. The US will inevitably encounter the limits of unmanned aerial attacks — both in cold-blooded efficacy and in the thresholds of tolerance for a people who watch the civilian casualties mount from this technological war of moral cowardice.
War is the economic recovery package of last resort for superimperialism (now morphing into exterminism). It is already on the table.
Plenty of changes. Not a lot of hope.