« I'll Believe it when I see a SOFA. | Main | Open Thread - 3 August 2013 »

02 August 2013


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Charles I

I remember as a child at camp how it smarted when a much smarter bilingual french kid laughed gleefully at me as he explained what "gullible" meant, though I'm damned if I can remember what he gulled me about . . . so lesson is through ignorance I learned something but took it personally so I missed the real point at issue, er, gull.

We're screwed.


This is something that I wrote recently that bears on fear and its manipulation.


Captain Ahab’s obsessive hunt for Moby Dick was driven by the thirst for revenge. The great white whale had maimed Ahab – in soul as well as body. Ahab was consumed by the passion to restore his sense of being, and to make himself whole again, by killing his nemesis – a compulsion that his wooden leg never let weaken.

America’s “war-on-terror” has become our national mission for restoration. The psychic wound is what grieves us; it inflames our collective passion for vengeance. The physical wound is already healed. By now, it must be memorialized in order for the scar to be seen. It never did impair our functioning. In that sense, little more than a broken toe. In the aftermath of 9/11, there was genuine fear of a repeat attack – something that we now know never was in the cards. Our enemy has been emasculated; the great Satan was shot dead in Abbottabad. Only pinpricks at long intervals from within our midst draw blood.

Catharsis has eluded us, though. We still seethe with emotions. We suffer from the free-floating anxiety that is dread, from vague feelings of vulnerability, from a seeming lost prowess and control. A society that talks casually about ‘closure’ on almost all occasions cannot find closure on 9/11. Instead, it has a powerful need to ritualize the fear, to pursue the implacable quest for ultimate security, to perform violent acts of vengeance that neither cure nor satiate.

So, we search the seven seas hunting for monsters to slay; not Moby Dick himself, but his accessories, accomplices, enablers, facilitators, emulators, sympathizers. Whales of every species, great and small, fall to our harpoons. The dead and innocent dolphins far outnumber them. Fortunes of war.

Since there is no actual Moby Dick out there to pursue, we have fashioned a virtual game of acting out the hunt, the encounter, the retribution. We thereby have embraced the post-9/11 trauma rather than expunged it. That is the “war-on-terror.” That war is about us – it no longer is about them.

Ahab destroyed himself, destroyed his crew, destroyed his ship. He sacrificed all in the quest – a quest for the unattainable. The United States is sacrificing its principles of liberty, its political integrity, the trust that is the bedrock of its democracy, its standing in the world as the “best hope of mankind,” and its capacity to feel for others – including its fellow citizens. America’s Moby Dick has migrated and transformed itself. It now is lodged in our innermost being. To kill its transmuted self is to kill our soul – just as Ahab was sucked into the ocean depths entangled in the very ropes he had fashioned to ensnare Moby Dick.


Charles I

Ah, yes, the wily French Canadians. pl

steve g

Read this post today on the upi site.
I keep his link on my favorite list.
The last journalist/correspondent with
the actual on the ground knowledge and
experience to give first hand accounts
and historical relavance to events?
Was the world correspondent for Newseek
magazine and appeared often on the old
CNN Crossfire show. Fearless to obtain
the story. Just the facts, ma'am.


"All this was inspired by the principle--which is quite true within itself--that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths,"

Brien J Miller

Mr. Brenner nails it about as best as I've ever seen it.


It should be recalled that Ahab took three ships down with him...one of the perks of mad leadership employing starving workers. Nonetheless Ahab took vengeance to its logical conclusion.

In today's world I suspect that vengeance animates leaders little. They were not personally affected by past horror and more cynical than Ahab. They realize that fear can be used to further careers. And so, Israeli politicians constantly invoke the Holocaust. American politicians invoke 9/11.

Today we have an unspecified worldwide terror alert...right after the NSA had to appear before Congress to justify their snooping on Americans. No one in the news media seems to have wondered if those dots connect.

Of course, the worldwide terror alert apparently involves foreigners, not Americans. But you can be sure that the NSA is betting it will make gullible Americans happy to sacrifice their personal privacy so that foreign bogeymen can perhaps be caught.

If they're wrong, and if Americans insist on keeping their 4th Amendment rights, then maybe something more spectacular and fearsome will have to be ginned up, something that gullible Americans will really believe.


Gullibility? Based on the Presidents repeated statements of "Al Qaida is on the run and Bin Laden is dead" in 2012, followed by August, 2013 being forced to close 21 Embassies due to 'threats' from Al Qaida, shows he and the rest of his administration sure believe the public is gullible. What are they getting away with this time?

FB Ali

Yes, but the gullibility impacts the rest of the world. What it sees and feels are the results: what a gullible people allow their government to do in their name.

Tom Engelhardt recently put it best: "This is simply the living definition of what it means to exist in a one-superpower world for the first time in history. For Washington, the essential rule of thumb goes something like this: we do what we want; we get to say what we want about what we do; and U.N. ambassadorial nominee Samantha Powers then gets to lecture the world on human rights and oppression".


ex-PFC Chuck

If we continue on this path Osama bin Laden will go down in history as having pulled off one of the greatest acts of strategic jiu jitsu in recorded history. With 9/11 he will have set in motion the USA's destruction of itself.


So Neocons are not the only ones who can create reality on the ground?


Well said

Charles I

If only Queequeg had been Captain.

Charles I

Not to impugn my guller d'jour, it was more Ah yes, the dimwitted colonials.

Babak Makkinejad

To be fair, I think you would want to include UK, France, and Germany in this as well - look no further than Syria.

And then you have the Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula; one worse than the other...

FB Ali

The Europeans and the Arabs can only do what the superpower favours, and to the extent that it allows. Their volition and freedom of action operates only in the areas/spheres that the superpower is (currently) not interested in.


FB Ali

'The Europeans and the Arabs can only do what the superpower favours" This is untrue and part of an illusion shared for good and ill in many minds. In Egypt, Syria, Iran, Pakistan the US has little real power. US power is limited by its own inhibitions. If you think the US has exerted itsef in the last ten years in more than a half-hearted way you are mistaken. Only the Japqnese and to a lesser degree the Germans know what the US is capable of when sufficiently provoked. pl

Babak Makkinejad

US leaders, I think, are not pointing a gun at UK or France leaders and telling them to support the anti-government forces in Syria.

They made that choice on their own; in my opinion.

I mean, look at Iran, she absorbing all these costs of her confrontation with US and EU and going on her merry way.

Surely France, Germany, and United Kingdom have more resources to withstand any US Pressure?


Are we still the same people we were in WWII?

Isn't one of our biggest problems that people who should be afraid of us aren't -- including people here at home?

Actually, maybe I should say "especially people here at home".

I hope the sleeping giant wakes up but will it?

FB Ali

Col Lang,

Germany and Japan felt the military might of the US. This power is still formidable, and constrains many countries in the policies they adopt. The US also has immense economic and financial clout, both directly and indirectly (through the international financial institutions). This also limits the freedom of action of many countries. When one has power it is not necessary to actually use it for it to influence the actions of others, the mere potential of that use is enough.

For many other countries the opposite consideration applies: the benefits of having the US as an ally and patron (and, in some cases, protector). This also constrains their freedom of action, even if it only involves seeking the green light before some venture.

Egypt and Pakistan are economically dependent on the largesse and goodwill of the US. They can sometimes throw a tantrum but at the end of the day have to come to heel pretty smartly. The Syrian and Iranian regimes tried to accommodate the US but were spurned; they are now paying the price for being out of favour. No one in these countries would think that the US "has little real power".


FB Ali

I think you are a little out of date on the issue of actual as opposed toimagined US power. The US has been busy throwing away the power it enjoyed for many years following WW2. The disastrous wars of the last ten years have greatly reduced the leverage provided by the potentisal for military, political and economic pressure. Egypt provides a good example of this. As I expected, the US government has meekly accepted the coup in Egypt and Bill Burns is there now along with various Europeans to supplicate the two sides for some sort of political agreement, any sort will do. this is not power. It is weakness. Syria, of course, is another example. the US cannot end this civil war because it lacks the will to do so. Deterrence is like money in a bank account. You can spend the money in the bank but you have to make deposits from time to time. Drone strikes are not useful instruments of deposit against major political phenomena. pl

David Habakkuk

“They made that choice on their own; in my opinion.”

Absolutely. The question of how far Britain can or cannot act independently of the United States has never been put to the test, because there has been precious little indication, over the past decade, that the leadership of either principal party is in any serious way uncomfortable with American foreign policy on any critical issue.

However, the outcome has been a seething resentment among large sections of the population, across the political spectrum, which is very evident in the ‘comments’ sections of papers as diverse as the ‘Telegraph’ and ‘Guardian’.

When last month Hague said that Britain could still arm the Syrian rebels, the ‘best rated’ comment in the ‘Telegraph’ read:

‘Perhaps this glove puppet can answer the question the dandy Cameron spectacularly failed to answer; what's the difference between the throat slitting, hand chopping savages that he is so desperate to arm in Syria and the throat slitting, hand chopping savages that he is so desperate to kill in Mali?’

(See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10183445/Britain-could-still-arm-the-Syrian-rebels-William-Hague-says.html )

This morning’s ‘Observer’ – the Sunday‘Guardian’ – contained an article by Tony Blair arguing, among other things, that ‘as last week's breakthrough in the Middle East peace process shows, there are signs of optimism’ in the Middle East.

The 'Guardian' doesn't have a 'best rated' filter, but the following sarcastic parody from the most recent comment, as of this writing, is hardly unrepresentative:

‘No one put the chances of me being appointed a Middle East peace envoy at more than minimal, but it happened. And I’m not just any former PM, but a full-blown war criminal, unprosecuted for at least ten years. I toiled in Palestine, quite fruitfully creating the impression of toiling fruitfully, just like John Kerry is doing now. See? Be optimistic.’

(See http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/03/turmoil-middle-east-hope-future?commentpage=1 )

Babak Makkinejad

If Cuba and Syria can withstand US pressure so could Pakistan; in my opinion.

Pakistan does not need the largess of US, Saudi Arabia or anyone else to stand on her own two (strategic) feet.

Bill H

I suspect drone strikes convey weakness rather than strength, but I'm not sure that they actually convey anything other than stupidity. Would killing Eisenhower in winter of 1943 have won WW2 for the Germans? I know, not valid comparison, but...


The strategic success of the 9-11 attacks (drawing USA into GWOT crusades) has contributed to a small absolute decline in US hard power, exascerbated in relative terms by the rise of China and several regional Powers (Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, etc). We spent trillions of dollars bouncing rubble around on the far side of the planet, while our real economy - people building, making & doing useful things - evaporated in fanancial bubbles.

We done it to ourselves.

What do we do now?

I say:
- Invest in infrastructure - post-carbon energy sources, electric grid, info-highway, etc.
- Scale back our overseas military bases. Give "downsized" vets first shot at the new Infrastructure jobs.
- Change election laws (take out the money, use IRV to let 3rd parties really challenge the Ds & Rs)
- Expose foreign influence on US ME policy.
- Simplify Federal tax law, but make it way more "progressive" (tax the rich more, working poor less)

Our post-WWII power was built on our industrial might as much as our military power. The USSR was able to compete with us militarily for decades, but not economically or culturally. Now the cities of Asia are the thriving, vital centers.

Obama's stuck in Gorbachev's chair?

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

February 2021

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
Blog powered by Typepad