“But no matter how futile, repulsive or dysfunctional war may be,” Barbara Ehrenreich wrote in her book Blood Rites, “it persists.”
A fascinating story in the New York Times just after Christmas showed this persistence unfolding before our very eyes.
The sale of arms to Iraq (remember Iraq?) — $11 billion worth of almost everything, fighter jets, battle tanks, cannons, armored personnel carriers, armor and helmets, even sport utility vehicles — is going to move forward even though it makes little sense from multiple points of view, including U.S. geopolitical interests. As far as I can tell, the sale is going to go through because “war persists” — or something persists, a force invisible to reporters and beyond the control of diplomats (at least those who speak on the record).

“The Obama administration is moving ahead with the sale . . .” the Times informs us, “despite concerns that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is seeking to consolidate authority, create a one-party Shiite-dominated state and abandon the American-backed power-sharing government.”

Well, so much for democracy. So much for talking about anything noble. Excuse me if I seem to be speaking as though I’m surprised. The only thing that surprises me is how quickly and thoroughly our pretenses disintegrate once we’re done with them, and how baldly we get on with business as usual. Or rather, business as usual gets on with us.

Miliki’s agenda is to cut the Sunnis out of the government, and the Iraqi military has “evolved into a hodgepodge of Shiite militias more interested in marginalizing the Sunnis than in protecting the country’s sovereignty,” creating conditions ripe for civil war, which the arms sale would grease. Well, moral concerns always play second fiddle in these matters.

But the Times also notes that even the amoral interests of American empire barely come into play in this done deal: “While the United States is eager to beef up Iraq’s military, at least in part as a hedge against Iranian influence, there are also fears that the move could backfire if the Baghdad government ultimately aligns more closely with the Shiite theocracy in Tehran than with Washington.”

The article goes on to inform us that the American embassy in Baghdad, specifically its Office of Security Cooperation, is the focal point of the effort to arm Iraq’s military. The office “serves as a broker between the Iraqi government and defense contractors like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.”

And the dark force begins to reveal itself. At this late stage of the American republic, military-industrial corruption permeates not only our foreign policy but our ideals. We go to war because the business of war is beyond all constraint.

“In a striking departure from the ideological preferences of the post-Vietnam Democratic Party, President Barack Obama has made overseas arms sales a pillar of U.S. foreign policy,” Loren Thompson, chief operating officer at the Lexington Institute, a D.C. think tank, wrote — uncritically — for Forbes last week.

Indeed, “What the president and his advisors have figured out is that, unlike sending troops to fight overseas, there is almost no downside to sending weapons.”

Discussing the Obama administration’s recently announced $30 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia (atop last year’s $60 billion deal), he points out, without any sort of irony, that “Boeing assembles the F-15 fighters at the center of the deal in Missouri, and General Electric will build the engines in Ohio. Both are swing states whose Electoral College votes could determine the outcome of the 2012 presidential race.”

A momentum of cynicism gets going here, and its cutting edge is: jobs. Back when Congress was voting its annual multi-billion-dollar appropriations to continue the Iraq war, the justification was always “to support the troops.” Similarly, our staggeringly large weapons deals are really job-creation deals, and how win-win for the president if he can create those jobs in swing states.

Of course, it’s not union shop stewards who sit on the Council of Foreign Relations or advise the White House on foreign policy. It’s the CEOs of the largest defense contractors who do that, and their companies walk away with annual earnings the size of Third World economies — and the execs make personal fortunes — by ensuring that war, any war, remains at the core of our foreign policy. It doesn’t even need to be in the national interest.

It makes me think about Murat Kurnaz, the German national who spent five years as a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, where he was tortured and humiliated — chained to the ceiling of his cell, beaten, waterboarded — because suddenly he was a human being with no rights. After five years he obtained his release only because the German government got involved in his case and pressured the U.S. for his release.

He was a young student in Pakistan when he was pulled off a bus by police and turned over to U.S. authorities as a “terrorist.” He had no connection to the Taliban or al-Qaida, but that didn’t matter. Someone collected a $3,000 bounty on him. This is how the system works. This is the rationality of war. This is the morality of money.


Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at Bob Koehler or visit his website at Common Wonders.