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America Has Turned a World Without Serious Enemies into the Most Threatening Place in the Universe

The U.S. is in less danger from external enemies than at any moment in the last century. So our security state demands we invent some.

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That was the “favor” Osama bin Laden did for Washington’s national security apparatus and the Bush administration on that fateful September morning.  He engraved an argument in the American brain that would live on indelibly for years, possibly decades, calling for eternal vigilance at any cost and on a previously unknown scale.  As the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), that  neocon think-tank-cum-shadow- government, so fatefully put it in "Rebuilding America's Defenses" a year before the 9/11 attacks: “Further, the process of transformation [of the military], even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event -- like a new Pearl Harbor.”

So when the new Pearl Harbor arrived out of the blue, with many PNAC members (from Vice President Dick Cheney on down) already in office, they naturally saw their chance.  They created an al-Qaeda on steroids and launched their “global war” to establish a Pax Americana, in the Middle East and then perhaps globally.  They were aware that they lacked opponents of the stature of those of the previous century and, in their  documents, they made it clear that they were planning to ensure no future great-power-style enemy or bloc of enemy-like nations would arise. Ever.

For this, they needed an American public anxious, frightened, and ready to pay.  It was, in other words, in their interest to manipulate us.  And if that were all there were to it, our world would be a grim, but simple enough place.  As it happens, it’s not.  Ruling elites, no matter what power they have, don’t work that way.  Before they manipulate us, they almost invariably manipulate themselves.

I was convinced of this years ago by a friend who had spent a lot of time reading early Cold War documents from the National Security Council -- from, that is, a small group of powerful governmental figures writing to and for each other in the utmost secrecy.  As he told me then and wrote in  Washington’s China, the smart book he did on the early U.S. response to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, what struck him in the documents was the crudely anti-communist language those men used in private with each other.  It was the sort of anti-communism you might otherwise have assumed Washington’s ruling elite would only have wielded to manipulate ordinary Americans with fears of Communist subversion, the “enemy within,” and Soviet plans to take over the world.  (In fact, they and others like them would use just such language to inject fear into the body politic in those early Cold War years, that era of McCarthyism.)

They were indeed manipulative men, but before they influenced other Americans they assumedly underwent something like a process of collective auto-hypnotism in which they convinced one another of the dangers they needed the American people to believe in.  There is evidence that a similar process took place in the aftermath of 9/11.  From the flustered look on George W. Bush’s face as his plane took him not toward but  away from Washington on September 11, 2001, to the image of Dick Cheney, in those early months, being  chauffeured around Washington in an armored motorcade with a “gas mask and a biochemical survival suit" in the backseat, you could sense that the enemy loomed large and omnipresent for them.  They were, that is, genuinely scared, even if they were also ready to make use of that fear for their own ends.

Or consider the issue of Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, that excuse for the invasion of Iraq.  Critics of the invasion are generally quick to point out how that bogus issue was used by the top officials of the Bush administration to gain public support for a course that they had already chosen.  After all, Cheney and his men  cherry-picked the evidence to make their case, even  formed their own secret intel outfit to give them what they needed, and ignored facts at hand that brought their version of events into question.  They publicly claimed in an  orchestrated way that Saddam had active nuclear and WMD programs.  They spoke in the most open ways of potential  mushroom clouds from (nonexistent) Iraqi nuclear weapons rising over American cities, or of those same cities being  sprayed with (nonexistent) chemical or biological weapons from (nonexistent) Iraqi drones.  They certainly had to know that some of this information was useful but bogus.  Still, they had clearly also convinced themselves that, on taking Iraq, they would indeed find some Iraqi WMD to justify their claims.

 
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