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“They Are a Force for Good:” Have You Read Your QDR?


My fellow Americans, have you read your QDR?

“My QD what?” you say.

I am referring to the Pentagon’s recently released Quadrennial Defense Review Report (QDR). It’s a 92-page document in which the United States (U.S.) Department of “Defense’s” (DOD’s) “senior leadership sets out,” in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s words, “where the DOD currently is and the direction we believe it needs to go in fulfilling our responsibilities to the American people” (you can read it online at qdy/qdr2006.pdf).

It’s not a riveting read, but you might want to give it a look. After all, something like half of your federal tax dollars go to sustaining the federal “defense” budget. That budget accounts for nearly half the world’s military spending and pays for more than 700 U.S. military bases located in nearly every country on the planet.

The “Defense” Department’s invasion of Iraq has cost many hundreds of billions of dollars so far, an enormous sum that combines with overall military spending to significantly disable our federal government’s ability to meet basic social needs within the significantly poverty-stricken U.S.

Sounds a little more like “offense” (or what Pentagon planners and “defense” contractors like to call “forward global force projection”) than “defense,” but Or-, I mean oh, well.

Reading the QDR with a skeptical and yes George Orwell-inspired eye can give you some new insight into why “rogue state America” is broadly feared and loathed outside its borders.

Listen to the QDR’s stark opening paragraph, replete with shrill Rumsfeldian hyperbole:

“The United States is a nation engaged in what will be a long war. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, our Nation has fought a global war against violent extremists who use terrorism as their weapon of choice, and who seek to destroy our free way of life. Our enemies seek weapons of mass destruction and, if they are successful, will likely attempt to use them in their conflict with free people everywhere. Currently, the struggle is centered in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we will need to be prepared and arranged to successfully defend our Nation and its interests around the globe for many years to come.”

The authoritarian hypocrisy and related lack of clear definition of terms in this passage are remarkable.

Technically speaking, terrorism is the use of violence and intimidation to achieve political objectives. And nobody has practiced it on a larger and more murderous scale than the U.S. since (and for that matter before) 9/11.

A conservative British medical- and social-scientific study published nearly in October 2004 estimated that 100,000 Iraqis were killed by the American and British invasion and occupation of their country between March 19, 2003 (the first day of “Operation Iraqi Freedom”) and the middle of September, 2004 (see BBC News, “Iraq Death Toll Soared Post War,” 29 October, 2004, available online at http://news. bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_ east/ 3962969.stm).

“Liberated” Iraq’s post-invasion body count is certainly much higher today. It has been accumulated through large-scale deployment of “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) and “violent extremist” methods by the most lethal military force known to human history: the United States Armed Forces. The WMDs “of [U.S.] choice” include Blackhawk Helicopters, A-10 Warthogs, B-2 Stealth Bombers, unmanned aerial drones, depleted uranium, cluster bombs, cruise missiles, M-16s, F-14s, napalm, and phosphorous.

Here are some of the the “violent extremist” methods employed in America’s state-terrorist “war on terror:” attacking hospitals, leveling resistance-friendly (hence “terrorist”) cities, bombing civilians (whose consequent deaths and maiming are written off as unintentional “collateral damage” – a “price worth paying” for the advance of America’s inherently noble objectives), and torturing innocent civilians in places like Abu Ghraib, Bagram Air Force Base, and Guantanamo Bay.

It’s probably for some good reasons that the QDR gives no precise meaning to the phrases “free people” and “our free way of life.” There’s not a lot of “free people” living under the Saudi Arabian state, the arch-repressive tyranny with whom American policymakers have long maintained a crucial alliance based on U.S. control over much of the kingdom’s oil wealth. Another U.S. ally in the supposed conflict between the American-led forces of “freedom” and the evil forces of “terrorism” includes Uzbekistan, where regime opponents are sometimes boiled alive.

There are real questions, moreover, about the extent of human freedom within the openly corporate-plutocratic U.S. The “best democracy that money can [and did] buy” is home to the most unequal distribution of wealth and longest working hours in the industrialized world. It possesses the highest incarceration rate on earth. Alone among industrialized nations, it lacks a socially inclusive national health insurance program – this despite clear majority support for such a system among the American populace.

The majority of the American citizenry is so impressed by the grassroots vibrancy of the nation’s corporate-crafted “dollar democracy” that it refuses to participate in the nation’s “free” elections. A shockingly authoritarian U.S. state pursues hard-right policy agendas that are opposed by most “free people” within a sullen, depressed, and purposely depoliticized American ex-citizenry (see Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of Democracy [Yale, 2005]).

How exactly has the provocative and monumentally illegal and immoral assault on Iraq – the centerpiece of Rumsfeld et al.’s so-called “long war on terror” – “defend[ed] our Nation and its interests around the globe?”

There are numerous reasons to think that this vast terrorist operation has endangered the security, status and well-being of Americans at home and abroad.

And what precisely are “our [curiously capitalized] Nation’s interests around the globe”? On pages 21 and 24 of the QDR, Rumsfeld and Co. denounce Islamic “terrorists” for “opposing globalization and the freedom it brings.” They cite “globalization’s ” “positive” aspects: “the free movement of capital, goods, services, information, people, and technology.”

As should be obvious to anyone remotely familiar with the American class structure and the specifically corporate-capitalist form of “globalization” (globalization under the command of corporate capital) that has provoked so much protest in recent decades, however, such “free movement” is hardly in the self-evidently shared interest of all “free people” inside the American “Nation. ” Many working-class Americans are significantly victimized by hyper-mobile capital, commodity, labor, and technology flows that create enormous profits for fantastically wealthy “elites” within and beyond “the Nation.”

At the same time, the costs and benefits of the military empire that exists precisely to expand and defend corporate globalization are not distributed in an equal fashion across “the Nation.” The costs of empire are externalized and spread across the entire society. The benefits fall disproportionately to a privileged minority.

Contrary to Rumsfeld and Co.’s proto-fascistic determination to submerge internal socioeconomic differences under the falsely solidaristic banner of the blood-and-soil Nation State, neither “globalization” nor its partner Empire are class-neutral expressions of a common “National interest.”

The rising number of dead Pashtuns and Arabs “sacrificed” for Empire during the last four-and-a-half years offer ghostly backdrop for Rumsfeld and Co.’s QDR claim that “much has been accomplished since that tragic day: September 11, 2001″ (QDR, p.v). There have been many “tragic days” in Southwest Asia since 9/11, thanks to a U.S. assault that has created casualty tolls that make the jetliner attacks seem minor by comparison.

How comforting it must be to the people of that region to know that the Pentagon is “placing emphasis on the ability [of Rogue State America] to surge quickly to trouble spots across the globe” in a noble U.S. commitment to “shaping the future” (QDR, p.v) along the (undefined) principle of “freedom.”

And how reassuring it must to be proud Americans to know that Rummy et al. will not let “enemy non-state actors” use “irregular warfare – including terrorism, insurgency, or guerilla warfare – in an attempt to break our will through protracted conflict” (QDR, p.19). To “break our will,” that is, to follow through on a monumentally illegal and brazenly imperialist occupation that has been clearly carried out to deepen U.S. control over Middle Eastern oil. To “break our will” to impose empire on people trying to defend their nation and achieve independence through the same methods (“irregular warfare – including terrorism, insurgency, or guerilla warfare” in “a protracted conflict”) those “terrorist non-state actors” the American revolutionaries deployed against the British Empire between 1775 and 1783!

One of my favorite parts in the QDR comes on page 28, where Rumsfeld and Co. talk about “the threat of Islamist terrorist extremism” in Central Asia. “The energy resources of the region,” the QDR explains, “offer both and opportunity for economic development, as well as a danger that outside powers may seek to gain influence over those resources.”

“Good heavens,” as Rummy might say, but wouldn’t it be terrible if “outside powers” tried to “gain influence” over Asian “energy resources?”

As anyone with a moderately informed mind knows, the final clause of that last quoted sentence from the QDR offers an excellent description of the Bush administration’s motivation in occupying Mesopotamia. This is perfectly obvious to even the mildly attentive follower of modern and current history, no matter how many times Bush and the Pentagon prattle about their desire to “liberate the Iraqi people” (see the QDR, p. 10 for two such statements).

Another richly hypocritical QDR moment comes when Rumsfeld and his team rip Iran’s “pursuit of weapons of mass destruction” for being “a destabilizing factor in the region” (QDR, p. 28).

Anybody interested in “destabilizing” forces in the Middle East might want to examine the provocative mass deployment of WMD by Uncle Sam in the illegal occupation of Iraq, a lethal operation that has made it clear to Iran’s leaders that they would be crazy not to try to develop nuclear weapons.

As predicted even by numerous conservative U.S. observers (George Bush Senior’s National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, for one), the U.S. invasion has helped enflame the region, fueling a serious escalation of Middle Eastern violence, political instability, and terrorism.

But my favorite part comes on page 9, where Donny Pentagon and his writers remind us that world history’s greatest institutionalized global killing machine is both a trusty guarantor of “the Nation’s interest and values” and a marvelous instrument of human benevolence:

“On any given day, nearly 350,000 men and women of the U.S. armed Forces are deployed or stationed in approximately 130 countries. They are battle-hardened from operations over the past four years, fighting the enemies of freedom as part of this long war. They maintain the Nation’s treaty obligations and international commitments. They protect and advance U.S. interests and values. They are often asked to be protectors of peace and providers of relief. They are a force for good.”

Remember that, fellow Americans, the next time you hear some ungrateful Iraqi complaining because a freedom-loving F-14 just wiped out his family or because his son or daughter was tortured in a liberty-advancing U.S. prison.

Remember it also the next time you hear some bleeding heart, tofu-munching, and latte-sipping ACLU-socialist- type bemoaning the fact that millions are going hungry and hopeless within the U.S. while Uncle Sam pours trillions of your tax dollars into what the QDR calls “modern warfighting.”

Do not let your patriotic guard down. Get behind your Nation’s freedom-fighters and never forget that all those imperial weapons, troops, and prisons you are paying for are “A FORCE FOR GOOD.”

Repeat that phrase enough times to yourself and you’ll start to believe it in your heart and soul….just like the thought-controlled masses in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, living under the magical spell of “Big Brother,” who told them that:

War is Peace

Ignorance is Strength

Love is Hate

Freedom is Slavery

The “long war,” a phrase that recurs numerous times in the QDR, is also all-too like something out of Orwell. It’s the modern imperial U.S. version of the “permanent war” that Big Brother’s totalitarian state Oceania proclaimed in order to justify endless military production and related societal repression.

Paul Street ([email protected]) is a Visiting Professor of American History at Northern Illinois University. He is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2004), and Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York, NY: Routledge, 2005).

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