Like a recurring nightmare we have entered the state of prewar. Our leaders exude moral purpose and determination and a sense of their own historic importance. Journalists and tv presenters emanate barely-suppressed excitement and urgency, as they interrogate politicians on the legality and possible consequences of missile strikes.
Keyboard warriors clap their hands and pass the verbal ammunition. Pundits discuss outcomes and targets, aided by dazzling interactive videos that flash up possible targets and cities and simultaneously entertain us and educate us about distant geographies that we previously knew nothing about until it was time to bomb them.
Once these videos showed Kabul, Herat, the Tora Bora caves, Baghdad, Mosul and Basra. Now we wonder if it will be Aleppo, Homs or Hama, and whether we should bomb them them with tomahawk cruise missiles or B-2 bombers, whose advantages, according to the International Business Times, include the fact that ‘they can be armed with huge bunker-buster bombs able to penetrate thick reinforced concrete. That would also serve as a test of their possible future use against Iranian nuclear sites. ‘
Well it’s always good to think ahead, while the pundits discuss the Imperium’s plans to hit Syrian command and control infrastructures, military headquarters and barracks, communications sites, radar and antiaircraft missile sites’ and other targets that will ‘degrade’ Syria’s ability to use the chemical weapons that it may never have used.
The public has shown little enthusiasm for another Middle Eastern ‘intervention’, and the popular mood alternates between anxiety, disinterest, and a sense of inevitability. But our leaders are not interested in enthusiasm, when passivity and acceptance is enough.
To ensure it, they inform the media that the forthcoming strikes will be ‘surgical’, ‘proportional’, ‘punitive’ and ‘ limited’ in order to reassure us that none of this is anything for us to worry about and it won’t be too serious, just serious enough to convince ourselves that we have ‘done something’.
Journalists rarely question these assumptions. Because in the age of humanitarian war we have become accustomed to believe that our awesome weapons will not kill or maim many people, and that their victims will only be the evil ones and certainly not ‘the innocent’ who these ‘limited strikes’ are intended to save.
We feel relieved that we have such magical weapons, which our technological prowess has transformed into the perfect instruments of our humanitarian intentions. We could almost be forgiven for believing that these machines are fitted with computer programs that can separate the innocent from the guilty, and our leaders would like us to believe this, because too many accidents or an excess of ‘collateral damage’ might make us doubt whether our weapons really are humanitarian after all.
In any case, for us, we know that for us at least, the latest intervention will be as bloodless as all the others. We look at the maps in newspapers showing the positions of our ships like the games that we wished we had as kids. We see little rows of NATO patriot missiles in Turkey; four US cruise missile-carrying destroyers in the Mediterranean; the USS Nimitz battle group in the Persian Gulf; US F-16s in Jordan.
We learn that there is a French airbase in the United Arab Emirates, and at least one British cruise-missile carrying nuclear submarine in the Mediterranean.
The newspapers and tv news programs that show us these images do not question why we have so many ships and bases in these countries, or the purpose behind this vast panoply of military power. Naturally we assume that it cannot be aggressive, and that our bases, ships and planes, like the cluster bombs the United States has just sold to Saudi Arabia, are benevolent, defensive and intended to protect our security or the security of our friends and the ‘international community.’
It would of course be a different matter if we were to imagine, just for a moment, that we inhabited an alternate universe in which China, Russia or Iran say, had missile-carrying warships and nuclear submarines patrolling the English Channel, the Straits of Gibraltar, the Pacific or the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.
Try to imagine that and then you realize that the planes and warships that the West has permanently deployed in the Middle East and other areas of strategic interest are the latest manifestation of power relationships that have evolved over hundreds of years of colonial expansion and domination, in which ‘the West’ has become accustomed to looking at the rest of the world, and the Middle East in particular, through a gun sight, or the equivalent of a drone-operator’s video.
These relationships enable – and in the eyes of some, entitle – us to bomb who we like, when we like, in whatever circumstances we choose, with drones, cruise missiles, fighter planes and bombers. We, on the other hand, know that we cannot be bombed or attacked, except by the occasional terrorist, and that when we are, these atrocities will be used by our leaders as a justification to bomb someone else, somewhere, somehow, in order to guarantee our ‘security.’
And now it seems almost inevitable that the spectacle of bloodless war and bombing as entertainment is about to unfold again; the rolling news clips showing cruise missiles taking off at dawn, over and over again; the colorful footage, beautiful in its way, of our missiles exploding over another Arab country; the pampered, overfed politicians puffed up with moral fervour and ‘get the job done’ toughness.
When it happens these statesmen-turned-lawmen will assure that all this was legal and a ‘moral’ obligation to protect the innocent. It is in fact an utterly cynical, futile and grossly manipulative demonstration of brute force intended to achieve geostrategic objectives that have nothing to do with morality or protecting anyone, that will push Syria and the Middle East one step closer towards chaos and all-out war, and our own countries a little deeper into the swamp of lies and deception that in which we have been stuck for too many years.