When the aging Karl Kraus, the spring of whose mockery was the endlessly mocked up world presented by the press, confronted the horror of Hitler, he wrote that, on this topic, “nothing occurred to him”. It is not often enough noted, by those interested in Kraus, that this gesture reproduces the aggressive-passive silence which he maintained at the outbreak of World War 1 for some time. World War I and Hitler were symptoms of the larger dissolution of the European order, cheered on by everything Kraus loathed – the patriotic poets, the xenophobic or liberally patriotic press, the amazingly incompetent political establishment, and the façade of humanism (now called “Western values” by our contemporary belligeranti) which was poured in abundant, syrop like dollops over the real, blood jelloes created on the Western and the Eastern front.
Le Pen is no Adolph Hitler, but the Kraus reference is still a good place to start. Le Pen is a standard issue fascist politician, a species that has infested France since Louis Napoleon invented the type. Just as World War I and Naziism represented, in their different ways, the deep corruption of the liberal order, so, too, Le Pen in France and Donald Trump in the US represent the deep corruption at the heart of the post-liberal order, or, as I prefer to call it, the fucked-up order. They emerge in a political context in which large swathes of the population of developed countries have, literally, no reason to vote for anybody. This era, in which the government privatizes services that should, by any theory of the role of monopoly in capitalism, remain nationalized; which stints on welfare for the neediest and opens its purse, for trillions of dollars, to support the greediest, seems intent on demonstrating what happens when capitalism confronts no resistance. There are many ways for the capitalist system to collapse – apparently, we are chosing the one where capitalism succeeds absolutely, invades every space, and undermines the non-capitalist ethos on which it unconsciously depends.
I am tired of autopsies of the left. Let the dead bury their own dead is my current position. But nevertheless, there are ironies to note. When the head of France’s socialist party calls for an alliance of the Socialists and the Left, there is, as some twittering commentor noted, an enormous unspoken confession resting on the shoulders of that “and” – it is an ideologically overdetermined copula, a conjunction/disjunction, that sums up the politics we’ve swallowed for the last twenty years.
So instead of thinking about Le Pen, I’ve been thinking about perhaps the last rational European politician, Jeremy Corbyn. Recently, to the hossanahs of the press, the Commons voted to support Cameron’s proposal to bomb Syria. Corbyn was widely derided for questioning this piece of bold policy. The pacifist! Unworthy to lick the shoes of Winston Churchill! and so on.
Of course, here is what the press doesn’t say. Bombing Daech in Syria will lead to Daech striking back in the UK. As Daech has shown, just because it doesn’t possess drones and planes doesn’t mean it is powerless to attack the bombers. Cameron has increased to a large degree the possibility that some mass murder event, between San Bernadino size and Paris size, will occur.
This being the case, one should ask, as Corbyn has, why Cameron is proposing to put the UK on the frontline. To what end? What interest is served by the policies being pursued by the US and its allies in Syria?
It isn’t that the allies are the friends of liberty and humanity. Quite the contrary. The totalitarian Gulf states which have both put down democratic demonstrations and shown a startling willingness to behead “witches”, the starvation and strafing of Yemen, the authoritarian government in Egypt, are all phenomena abetted, at the very least, by the West. Nor is the battle being fought to bring peace to Syria or Iraq: there is no non-laughable scenario by which Assad is replaced in Syria by a multi-cultural, democratic government. The militias the West supports are very clear about massively expelling or killing Alawites and other non-believers. No, the bottom line is that Syria and Iraq will continue to be blood puddings.
Finally, and most damningly, though, is the fact that the war against Daech is a phony war. We’ve had a lot of time to see this show, and it is a bust. Phony wars not only spawn massive casualties that we are indifferent to – Syrian and Iraqi civilians, for instance – but they produce ever more blowback casualties.
The Western leaders all concluded, at the end of the Yugoslavian wars, that they had a magic technology that would enable a country to wage war and never wake up its own people. But the Yugoslavian wars, it is now clear, were an exception, not the rule. Yes, you can help topple a Saddam Hussein or a Qaddafi, but you can’t control the vacuum that results. The vacuum in Libya, which has brought about massive flights of refugees to Europe, amplifying the presence and power of rightwing movements, should have taught the ‘liberal’ intervenors something. It didn’t. Instead, we’ve seen them double down on the incompetence of liberal intervention, producing wonderful moral harangues about the duty to accept refugees while never mentioning at any point their own complicity in creating the horrific conditions from which those refugees are fleeing.
If, indeed, this cycle is going to end, then the luxury of phony war will have to end. You can’t fight a world war as a hobby. If any Western leader really wants to stop Daech, the answer is simple. First, it will require more troops than can be maintained from a voluntary system. World Wars are expensive. They require compulsory service. Second, the “allies” of the West – Turkey and the Gulf states – will have to be confronted. And thirdly, occupation in force for a long period of time will most likely be necessary.
The phony warriors with their tough talk are, actually, paper mache warriors. Below their monster act, they are not going to reintroduce elements into the social whole that will lead to the massive questioning of our current establishment’s governance. They will continue to advocate what Obama has labeled “stupid stuff.” It will, of course, continue not to work.
The phony warriors will turn to drones instead, and to bombing, and to expressions of shock when Daech inspired or trained terrorists kill a trainload of people here, an office meeting there. Meanwhile, the wars will go on, and on. We don’t lose wars anymore, because that would be too embarrassing for everyone: instead, they just continue for decades. Look at Afghanistan. The Taliban, which has been supported by our ally Pakistan for years, is not only still in the hills –they are coming down into the cities as the troops are withdrawn. When Afghanistan was first invaded, lo these many many years ago, those who alluded to the Soviet experience were laughed at heartily in the press. What losers! We swept in their and won the whole game by 2002. Except somehow the war kept going in 2002, and 3, and 4, and 5, and 6, and 7, and 8, and 9, and 10, and 11, and 12, and 13, and 14, and 15. Here’s some recent news reported by the Australian, in a story that we are really much too indifferent to care about:
“Demoralised Afghan forces were on the verge of collapse across swathes of the key southern province of Helmand in recent weeks, and only the return of foreign troops and air strikes prevented a Taliban rout.
The war is endless because the people waging it from the technologically superior end aren’t even tough enough to admit to themselves that they fucked it up, that they don’t know what they are doing, that all the brilliant technology is not worth a piss if you don’t have massive manpower to back it up. As it was in the beginning – a fuck up – so it shall be at the ending – another fuck up.
But the phony warriors learn nothing. It still amazes me that the Western response to Daech, after Daech forces, last year, decisively defeated 100,000 Iraqi soldiers who’d been trained at great expense and equipped with billions of dollars in military equipment, is to propose shipping millions of dollars of weapons to a bunch of ill assorted Syrian militias and a supply of books entitled, How To Win Against Shock Troops for Dummies. Even Pavlov’s dogs, after a course of electric shocks, learned something. Or maybe I’m not getting the establishment’s strength, here: it consists of firmly shutting their collective eyes to reality. They firmly shut their eyes to the spike in unsustainable private debt in the 00s. They firmly shut their eyes to the malign effects of austerity, which not only increases unemployment but explodes public debt. And now they are firmly shutting their eyes to the fact that they are exposing their civilian populations to terrorist attack while doing nothing, really, that is going to impede Daech.
And thus I begin my 58th year. I hope that I can flip the channel and shut my eyes, too. It would be nice.