Postcards from the Heart of a Collapsing Empire

by Matthew Payne on May 22, 2012Comments Off

"Oh Those Dirty Flippin' Hippies!" (Unfortunately, right again)--Protests at the Chicago NATO Summit (c/o Star Tribune)

So, anybody watching the American establishment media would have thought the big news over the weekend was that a grandstanding, neoliberal politician threw his grandstanding, neoliberal party leader under the bus in order to keep the Wall Street largesse flowing into his campaign coffers.  Yawn.  Or that he was joined by another “post-civil rights” generation of African-American politician in said leader tossing.  Who, by the way, is an executive in a Wall Street firm.  Double yawn.  Or that some sort of alleged bold new strategy for ending the Afghan Occupation–someday, in someway which mostly involves drones–had been announced.  Low mordant chuckle.  Let’s not notice that negotiations with Pakistan to re-open supply lines to Kabul have tanked.  Or that there is no hope of bringing the Taliban to a peace agreement.  Or that the more prescient countries at the conference realize this and are getting out as quick as possible.  In other words, the real news from the NATO summit is that the American occupation has failed.  It’s all over except the helicopters leaving from the embassy roof (they won’t be leaving through the roads of Pakistan).

The other real news, given scant attention as usual, was the large scale protest that dominated Chicago all weekend.  These have largely been noticed as tactical failures (?) or examples of police restraint (?!!).   Maybe the obviously manufactured “terrorism plot” designed to take out the alleged “black block” of anarchist protesters should also raise a few eyebrows but the media are by-and-large accepting that these guys are “terrorists.”  Although for my money, the video that has gone viral of the Chicago police harassing citizen journalists who were setting up livestreams of the permitted protest march tells me everything you need to know about the intrusiveness and repressiveness of the American surveillance and police state.  An intrusiveness whose legality even the Federal courts are now, finally, taking notice of (although, of course, I don’t expect much from the Roberts/Kagan court on rule of actual law).

The dismissiveness of the Administration to this, the first major anti-war demonstration of the Obama presidency (Obama is alleged to have said he’s seen bigger crowds at the Taste of Chicago–yes, Mr. President, you have but those crowds were not braving police batons to tell you they oppose your policies), is telling.  And as is its indifference, at least as towering as the last administration’s, to the country’s war weariness (it is worthwhile noting that  polls show a collapse of the already low support for the Afghan occupation–a whopping 69% of Americans oppose it).  Perhaps the protests were not as large as expected, and perhaps they were somewhat diffuse–but the mere fact that they occurred is an indication that the gig is up, at least on the anti-war left, with President Noble Peace Prize Winner.  In fact, if the usual anti-war suspects had shown up (I’m looking at you, liberals) to protest militarism, the protests would have been far larger.  But apparently “progressives” check their anti-war convictions at the door when faced with the big bad Bain monster (although Democrats have received more campaign cash from Bain than Republicans and the Obama administration has not been exactly shy about giving jobs to predatory Wall Street executives). 

So, to recap the real news from the weekend.  NATO leaders met in Chicago and admitted the Afghan war is lost (at least to themselves) and some sort of “Vietnamization” fig-leaf is needed to disengage in a decorous manner.  The Chicago summit will go down in history as the Najibullah-ization of the “American War” (Mr. Karzai, take note!).    NATO is relying on the kindness of the Russia and its allies to even supply occupation (Putin, however, is presumably likely to be less kind after the anti-Russian policies adopted at the summit).  Meanwhile its “ally” Pakistan was openly snubbed at the conference–boding a continued worsening of relations–and the French, known for their pragmatism, are heading for the exits.   In sum, this summit represents one of the worst diplomatic defeats for US foreign policy in generations.  Presumably drones will fix this fluster-cluck.  But do note, that somehow the anti-war protesters in the streets of Chicago are the delusional and politically naive, worthy only of derision and insubstantial.  And, of course, the very insignificance of the dissent made it worthy of a massive display of police intimidation in the name of “Homeland” security.  Wonder what Mayor Rahm and the Obama Administration are worrried about?  How about images like those in 1968 of the Democratic Party losing its left-wing over soulless militarism?  In other words, the Chicago’s NATO summit was all about the optics and though a gullible media corps seems to have swallowed various political spins and been distracted by the latest shiny object (“Look!  It’s a Cory Booker gaffe!”), nobody else, if the polls are to be believed, are quite that easily conned.

Chicago is often considered the capital of the American Midwest, “the Heartland” over which the Democrats and GOP contest to secure national elections.  Well, Chicago was the heart of something else this weekend, the heart of a certain type of darkness.  Call it militarism.  Call it imperialism.  Call it the police state.  Call it corruption.  Some on this blog would call it neoliberalism.  Me, I’ll call it cowardice.  For with the exception of Francois Hollande, all the world “leaders” at that conference know that they’ve lost the war.  Nonetheless, they will prolong the occupation and cause innumerable casaulties and immense human suffering, just so NATO can kick the can down the road long enough to get Obama’s sorry self–and maybe a few others’ in that room–re-elected.