May 3, 2010
By Chris Hedges
We are approaching a decade of war in Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq is in its eighth year. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands more Afghans and Pakistani civilians have been killed. Millions have been driven into squalid displacement and refugee camps. Thousands of our own soldiers and Marines have died or been crippled physically and psychologically. We sustain these wars, which have no real popular support, by borrowing trillions of dollars that can never be repaid, even as we close schools, states go into bankruptcy, social services are cut, our infrastructure crumbles, tens of millions of Americans are reduced to poverty, and real unemployment approaches 17 percent. Collective, suicidal inertia rolls us forward toward national insolvency and the collapse of empire. And we do not protest. The peace movement, despite the heroic efforts of a handful of groups such as Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Green Party and Code Pink, is dead. No one cares.
The roots of mass apathy are found in the profound divide between liberals, who are mostly white and well educated, and our disenfranchised working class, whose sons and daughters, because they cannot get decent jobs with benefits, have few options besides the military. Liberals, whose children are more often to be found in elite colleges than the Marine Corps, did not fight the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 and the dismantling of our manufacturing base. They did nothing when the Democrats gutted welfare two years later and stood by as our banks were turned over to Wall Street speculators. They signed on, by supporting the Clinton and Obama Democrats, for the corporate rape carried out in the name of globalization and endless war, and they ignored the plight of the poor. And for this reason the poor have little interest in the moral protestations of liberals. We have lost all credibility. We are justly hated for our tacit complicity in the corporate assault on workers and their families.
Our passivity has resulted, however, in much more than imperial adventurism and a permanent underclass. A slow-motion coup by a corporate state has cemented into place a neofeudalism in which there are only masters and serfs. And the process is one that cannot be reversed through the traditional mechanisms of electoral politics.
Last Thursday I traveled to Washington to join Rep. Dennis Kucinich for a public teach-in on the wars. Kucinich used the Capitol Hill event to denounce the new request by Barack Obama for an additional $33 billion for the war in Afghanistan. The Ohio Democrat has introduced H. Con Res. 248, with 16 co-sponsors, which would require the House of Representatives to debate whether to continue the Afghanistan war. Kucinich, to his credit, is the only member of Congress to publicly condemn the Obama administration’s authorization to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen and cleric living in Yemen, over alleged links to a failed Christmas airline bombing in Detroit. Kucinich also invited investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, writer/activist David Swanson, retired Army Col. Ann Wright and Iraq war veteran Josh Stieber to the event.
The gathering, held in the Rayburn Building, was a sober reminder of our insignificance. There were no other Congress members present, and only a smattering of young staff members attended. Most of the audience of about 70 were peace activists who, as is usual at such events, were joined by a motley collection of conspiracy theorists who believe 9/11 was an inside job or that former Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash, was assassinated. Scahill and Swanson provided a litany of disturbing statistics that illustrated how corporations control all systems of power. Corporations have effectively taken over our internal security and intelligence apparatus. They run our economy and manage our systems of communication. They own the two major political parties. They have built a private military. They loot the U.S. Treasury at will. And they have become unassailable. Those who decry the corporate coup are locked out of the national debate and become as marginalized as Kucinich.
“We don’t have any sort of communications system in the country,” said Swanson, who co-founded an anti-war coalition (AfterDowningStreet.org) and led an unsuccessful campaign to impeach George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. “We have a corporate media cartel that overlaps with the war industry. It has no interest in democracy. The Congress is bought and paid for. It is absolutely corrupted by money. We kick ourselves for not being active enough and imposing our demands, but the bar is set very high for us. We have to try very, very hard and make very, very big sacrifices if we are going to influence this Congress prior to getting the money out and getting a decent media system. Hypocritical Congress members talk about money all the time, how we have to be careful about money, except when it comes to war. It is hypocritical, but who is going to call them on that? Not their colleagues, not their funders, not the media, only us. We have to do that, but we don’t in large part because they switch parties every number of years and we are on one team or the other.”
Scahill—who has done most of the groundbreaking investigative reporting on private contractors including the security firm Blackwater, renamed Xe—laid out how the management of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is being steadily transferred by the Pentagon to unaccountable private contractors. He lamented the lack of support in Congress for a bill put forward by Rep. Jan Schakowsky known as the Stop Outsourcing Security (SOS) Act, H.R. 4102, which would “responsibly phase out the use of private security contractors for functions that should be reserved for U.S. military forces and government personnel.”
“It is one of the sober realities of the time we are living in that you can put forward a bill that says something as simple as ‘we should not outsource national security functions to private contractors’ and you only get 20 members of Congress to support the bill,” Scahill said. “The unfortunate reality is that Rep. Schakowsky knows that the war industry is bipartisan. They give on both sides. For a while there it seemed contractor was the new Israel. You could not find a member of Congress to speak out against them because so many members of Congress are beholden to corporate funding to keep their House or Senate seats. I also think Obama’s election has wiped that out, as it has with many things, because the White House will dispatch emissaries to read the riot act to members of Congress who don’t toe the party line.”
“The entire government is basically privatized,” Scahill went on. “In fact, 100 percent of people in this country that make $100,000 or less might as well remit everything they owe in taxes to contractors rather than paying the government. That is how privatized the society is, that is how much of government has been outsourced in this society. There are 18 U.S. intelligence agencies on the military and civilian side and 70 percent of their combined budget is outsourced to for-profit corporations who simultaneously work the United States government as well as multinational corporations and foreign governments. We have radically outsourced the intelligence operations in this country because we have radically outsourced everything. Sixty-nine percent of the Pentagon’s entire work force, and I am not talking only about the battlefield, is now privatized. In Afghanistan we have the most staggering statistics. The Obama administration is infinitely worse in Afghanistan in terms of its employment of mercenaries and other private contractors than the Bush administration. Right now in Afghanistan there are 104,000 Department of Defense contractors alongside 68,000 U.S. troops. There is almost a 2-to-1 ratio of private-sector for-profit forces that are on the U.S. government payroll versus the active-duty or actual military forces in the country. And that is not taking into account the fact that the State Department has 14,000 contractors in Afghanistan.”
“Within a matter of months, and certainly within a year, the United States will have upwards of 220,000 to 250,000 U.S. government-funded personnel occupying Afghanistan, a far cry from the 70,000 U.S. soldiers that those Americans who pay attention understand the United States has in Afghanistan,” Scahill said. “This is a country where the president’s national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, said there are less than 100 al-Qaida operatives who have no ability to strike at the United States. That was the stated rationale and reasoning for being in Afghanistan. It was to hunt down those responsible for 9/11.”
Josh Stieber spoke at the end of the event. Stieber was deployed with the Army to Iraq from February 2007 to April 2008. He was in Bravo Company 2-16, which was involved in the July 2007 Apache helicopter attack on Iraqi civilians depicted on the video recently released by WikiLeaks. Stieber, who left the Army as a conscientious objector, has issued a public apology to the Iraqi people.
“This was not by any means the exception,” he said of the video, which showed helicopter pilots nonchalantly gunning down civilians, including a Reuters photographer and children, in a Baghdad street. “It is inevitable given the situation we were going through. We were going through a lot of combat at the time. A roadside bomb would go off or a sniper would fire a shot and you had no idea where it was coming from. There was a constant paranoia, a constant being on edge. If you put people in a situation like that where there are plenty of civilians, that kind of thing was going to happen and did happen and will continue to happen as long as our nation does not challenge these things. Now that this video has become public it is our responsibility as a people and a country to recognize that this is what war looks like on a day-to-day basis.”
I was depressed as I walked from the Rayburn Building to Union Station to take the train home. The voices of sanity, the voices of reason, those who have a moral core, those like Kucinich or Scahill or Wright or Swanson or Stieber, have little chance now to be heard. Liberals, who failed to grasp the dark intentions of the corporate state and its nefarious servants in the Democratic Party, bear some responsibility. But even an enlightened liberal class would have been hard-pressed to battle back against the tawdry emotional carnivals and the political theater that have thrust the nation into collective self-delusion. We were all seduced. And we, along with thousands of innocents in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond, will all be consumed.