It is the mother’s milk of imperialism.
Whether it is in the service of “civilizing” barbarians, converting “heathens,” or, in its most recent incarnation, extending the reach of “democracy,” the bottom line of imperialism has always been the bottom line.
The bottom line of the infamous “White Man’s Burden” borne by the once-ubiquitous British Empire was merely the heavy weight—the pure tonnage—of the incredible wealth the colonials dutifully carried back home.
When the United States picked up “the Burden” after World War II, it became the world’s self-appointed champion of freedom, unreflective “protector” of inalienable rights and self-serving dictator of democracy’s terms and conditions. But it faced a problem—what is the rationale for empire in a post-colonial world?
The problem was solved ideologically and, truth be told, cinematically. “International Communism” emerged as if from central casting, like a 1950s B-movie invader from a godless Red Planet. Fighting it created the greatest source of publicly-funded largess in human history, often cycling tax dollars through client states that, in turn, spent the “aid money” at the All-American Arsenal of Democracy shopping center.
How ironic it was, however, that a nation born of revolution so quickly and easily became the counter-revolutionary stalwart against self-determination. Even as European empires fell, American power often came to the aid of the old regime’s remnants, propping up reactionaries and arming dubious freedom fighters. While the epic battle against Red totalitarianism gave America’s growing empire some ideological cover, it was the existential fear of releasing a global thermonuclear Leviathan that kept the Red, White and Blue façade intact.
Now, the Soviet Union is a distant memory. Nuclear holocaust doesn’t quite loom over the planet with the same inevitability. And a persistent thaw is releasing the dirty secrets of hypocrisy previously locked away by the frozen logic of the Cold War.
Perhaps that is why America’s national security establishment works so hard to preserve the Leviathan, now rebranded as the catch-all acronym of evil incarnate—the WMD.
Chemical, biological and nuclear weapons comprise the three-headed beast of the 21st Century’s Leviathan. Somehow, bunker-busting bombs, costly cruise missiles, indiscriminate cluster bombs and life-altering land mines—along with an inventive array of massively destructive ordinance made, used and sold by the United States—don’t seem to qualify as “weapons of mass destruction.”
This is, of course, in spite of Iraq.
An obvious “case in point,” it suffered massive destruction by a shocking onslaught of said weapons. In fact, Iraq’s significant toll of civilian causalities will continue to mount decades after the war because of America’s widespread use of depleted uranium—a chemically toxic, radiological weapon that was first used in the 1991 Gulf War and then used again in the 2003 invasion.
But don’t call that a WMD. Like Agent Orange before it, America’s “leadership” hides behind the veil of collateral consequences to obfuscate the mass destruction caused by both of those weapons. One defoliated. The other disabled armor. Any mass destruction was purely coincidental. But any hypocrisy you detect is completely understandable.
Take, for example, Secretary of State John Kerry’s “pre-targeting” statement on Syria.
Without blushing, he referred to the “indiscriminate slaughter of civilians” as a “moral obscenity.” In an eerie echo of Dick Cheney, he expressed no doubt about claims the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its own people. Apparently, Assad crossed the much-discussed “red line” in the sand drawn by President Obama. A deadly serious Secretary Kerry intoned with baritone forcefulness, “…there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people.”
Yet, there is little accountability built into America’s barely-secret drone war against suspected militants in numerous countries. The heinous Hellfire missiles they launch “indiscriminately” kill civilians at an obscenely higher rate than piloted bombing missions. But those are not “technically” WMDs. Drones also purposely double back and kill “vulnerable” first responders after the initial attack. But those deaths are purely “conventional.”
Even though death by conventional weapons versus non-conventional weapons seems more and more like a distinction without a difference, the sad fact is that American hypocrisy runs deep on the issue of non-conventional warfare.
Ironically, that story leads back to Iraq.