The measure of the dysfunction of US democracy and the US empire has never been more apparent as the population resigns itself to seeing another war, feared by the public but craved by the media.
Last week, a public opinion poll by Reuters/Ipsos revealed that “51% of adults felt that the United States and Iran would go to war within the next few years.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Go to war:
Execute the most typical US foreign policy operation that, fortunately for modern presidents, no longer require congressional authorization but can be justified by the expected approval of the media
The figure of 51% represents a significant jump in recent months, “up 8 percentage points from a similar poll published last June,” according to Reuters. The 53% of Americans polled considered Iran to be either a “serious” or “imminent” threat.
What the poll doesn’t attempt to determine is what people understand by the word “threat.” When the Soviet Union installed nuclear warheads in Cuba, the Kennedy administration and the US population saw that as a threat, citing the danger of nuclear weapons “90 miles from the coast of Florida.” Iran has no nuclear weapons and is well beyond any capacity to launch any kind of military attack against the territory of the US.
Instead, this apparent perception of threat tells us that a majority of the US population accepts the patently imperial idea that American territory extends across the planet to any region or corner of the globe in which the US military operates. And yet the same media who report these “facts” — widely shared opinions do constitute a cultural and political fact — studiously avoid calling the US an empire.
Reuters reports: “If Iran attacked, however, 79% said that the U.S. military should retaliate.” The question in itself is meaningless because it fails to specify what Iran might be attacking. Obviously, if the Iranians were to attack Washington, New York or Los Angeles, Americans would expect the US to retaliate. But by leaving the target blank, the war scenario is left wide open. An attack on an American surveillance aircraft over Iranian territory would be the most likely type of attack to occur. This may not be the current plan, especially as most observers claim that President Donald Trump doesn’t want war. But incidents do happen, planned or otherwise, and some decisions, justified for totally different reasons, may be taken.
Reuters adds: “Nearly half – 49% – of all Americans disapprove of how Republican Trump is handling relations with Iran, the poll found, with 31% saying they strongly disapprove. Overall, 39% approve of Trump’s policy.” Perhaps even more significantly, as per Newsweek, “The nuclear deal—still backed by fellow signatories China, the EU, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom—was supported by some 61 percent of those asked, including 55 percent who identified as Republican.”
In other words, by backing out of the Iran deal, President Trump not only aggressively attacked the integrity of Iran, but contradicted the wishes of both allies (the EU, France, Germany and the UK) and supposed rivals (Russia and China). More tellingly, he pushed a policy opposite to the wishes of the US electorate, including a clear majority of his own party. And, in so doing, he has prepared the world for what most predict, if it occurs, would be an uncontrollable, unpredictable shooting war, unlike the adventures of Bush father and son, who knew that in military terms it would be short and sweet, even if the political and economic consequences turned out to be disastrous.
And now a majority of US citizens — presumably many of the same that oppose Trump’s bellicose policies — believe that war between the US and Iran is likely, if not inevitable. This offers us one more element for reflection in the ever-deepening crisis of democracy. How can dangerous minority positions taken by isolated leaders prevail over the best instincts of citizens?
One of the answers, which many commentators are aware of but no one inside the Beltway seems to want to address, is expanding executive power. A Princeton professor complains of Trump: “He certainly uses presidential power for personal purposes” and apparently on every issue where it’s possible to use it: militarizing the Mexican border, selling arms to Saudi Arabia, obstructing justice, refusing to sanction Saudi Arabia for war crimes or the assassination of a journalist, deploying troops and weapons to the Persian Gulf.
Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans, as a group, wish to call the long-term trend of expanded executive power into question because they each expect to be able to use it when their candidate is in office. But, more significantly, they appear to tacitly agree that in an increasingly militarized economy and political system, where the boundary between security and repression becomes constantly more vague, they believe that the executive must be free to make decisions consistent with the logic of militarization. They do so not necessarily out of a taste for war, but rather from the very realistic conviction that the national economy and, even more significantly, the role of the US in the global economy utterly depend on having a crushingly powerful military-industrial complex that must demonstrate its capacity to make war and help other nations make war.
As he so often does, Trump noticed the trend and instead of trying to hide it while continuing its expansion (Barack Obama’s strategy), he deliberately exaggerates it, which has a twofold effect. First, it brings the delicate question of its compatibility with democracy to everyone’s attention, highlighting the scale and scope of the abuse of both democratic institutions and military clout. It thus exposes the hypocrisy of a nation that wants to believe that its military is, by definition, “a force for good.” Second, it challenges the media to react and call the president to order. But, as Trump seems to have understood, the media doesn’t respond and instead applauds what the majority of people fear.
The media that does criticize Trump focuses not on his dangerous foreign policy, but on his supposed weakness in the face of the “real” enemy: Russia. That same virulently anti-Trump media — MSNBC, for example — cheers when he launches bombs on Syria, calling him presidential and praises the beauty of American weapons, and laments when Trump fails to implement the belligerence of his national security adviser, John Bolton, by sending the troops to Venezuela.
Americans apparently don’t want a war, but they expect they’ll get one. They always get one. It’s at the base of the logic of the system. They probably sense that if President Trump hesitates to engage, the corporate media — on the Democratic and Republican side — will push that agenda forward.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
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