Eternal Struggle

     A few weeks ago, I said in this space that despite the enormous difference in time and region, our war in the Middle East is starting to feel like the war in Vietnam.
     On the Courthouse News web page last week there was a question and answer piece with a Middle East policy expert who put some meat on that thin bone of thought.
     In the shouts and posturing and farce of political debate on the Middle East, it was and remains nearly impossible to get a sense of where we are headed in the region, other than bombing. We bomb, the factions fight.
     But a rough line of direction was set out by Phyllis Bennis, a Middle East analyst with the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, in an interview with CNS reporter Britain Eakin.
     At the outset, Bennis pointed to a fact that has generally escaped attention — not sure why — which is that Hillary Clinton has received more money from arms manufacturers than any other candidate.
     On the one hand, you might say, well, of course, she has been in a position of power in the U.S. government for an awfully long time and that is how power works in America. On the other hand, you might say, she was in charge of diplomacy as Secretary of State so why would arms makers give a diplomat tons of money?
     Warning against the “military-industrial complex” has been passé in our political discourse for decades, never so clearly and forcefully conveyed as it was by the general who led us to victory in World War II and later became president, Dwight Eisenhower, in his farewell address to the nation in 1961.
     “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” said the general. “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”
     As did Eisenhower, Bennis rejects the notion that military force has no place in international affairs.
     “I’m not a pacifist,” she said. “But I think what the U.S. has done making this into a U.S. war has uniformly made things worse than better across the world.”
     Just as we here in the United States gobble up surveys of American opinion, so we might note that a survey of Iraqis in the city of Mosul found that 76 percent feared the sectarian troops of the Iraqi government more than the occupying forces of the Islamic State, she observed.
     At the same time, Bennis added, our long-term ally in the region, Saudi Arabia, is not only our largest arms customer, it is also the largest redistributor of arms to the factions it supports as proxies in the spider’s web of conflict that covers much of the region.
     It appears that we have set up a system for eternal struggle.
     So unlike the political candidates who embrace force and little else, Bennis offered a specific set of proposals to extricate ourselves from the quagmire: halt the killing of innocents; get troops and special forces out of there; stop flooding the region with arms; and use the money we are spending towards diplomacy.
     “Get the boots off the ground. Get the sneakers off the ground, the special forces and the CIA,” Bennis said. “Clearly they’re not doing any good. Get them out. They’re inciting. They’re making things worse. You’re building up hopes for some few, and outrage from the vast majority of others who you’re inspiring to more terror. Just get them out.”
     But no candidate has the courage or the leeway to take that path.
     I often ask one of our directors for her opinion on political issues because she has such a good gut call on business matters and is a quick read on how issues play to the average American.
     She despises Trump. “He is a loud mouth.”
     But she despises Clinton even more.
     She thought the question and answer piece with Bennis was important to read. She was surprised to hear that Clinton was the predominant recipient of contributions from arms manufacturers, and wondered why it is not more widely known.
     And she agreed with the analyst’s conclusion that current policy in the Middle East will continue the killing of innocents.
     But who can change our path.
     Our director was at first so discouraged by her choice that she considered staying home come November. But she also believes it is her duty as an American to vote.
     “I have no choice,” she said. She is voting for Trump.
     For her part, Bennis has little hope that the darkness in U.S. policy will be lifted any time soon.
     “It looks very bad,” she said. “At the moment there’s no viable candidate who has any idea of changing the trajectory of U.S policy towards these wars. There are tactical differences more drones and more CIA and less troops on the ground. That’s tinkering around the edges. No one is acknowledging that the military is at the centerpiece of it.
     “I’m afraid the election is going to bring more of the same,” she concluded. “It’s very scary.”

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