Perhaps the most interesting, and certainly the most grotesquely entertaining, aspect of popular narrative creation in the United States is when the establishment attempts to describe the existence of war to the public using words and phrases that deny the existence of war.
It was a running joke during the Obama administration – Sure, American military units are conducting offensive and defensive maneuvers against hostile forces in foreign countries, with casualties on both sides, but it is not war.
This week, after an initial blackout (broken, amusingly, by RT), it was widely reported that Trump had committed “boots on the ground” in Syria (where, incidentally, Obama already had “boots” stationed and active).
Throughout the mainstream media, what followed was a comedy of obfuscation.
They talked of “battlefield enablers,” not soldiers. Throw that on your resume once your tour is finished (assuming you are healthy enough physically and mentally to seek work).
Again and again, the media repeated that these “enablers” were on a campaign to “liberate Iraq” and “defeat radical extremism” (or, “radical Islamic terrorism,” depending on the political leanings of the outlet). Rather than describe the death and destruction caused by artillery shells, firefights, and drone bombs, the mission was described, in a slogan whose writer deserves a promotion, as “reassure and deter.”
If the mainstream media used “The Russians Are Coming!” for the better part of a century (a narrative they have recently revived to mixed reviews), I can’t help but wonder how long “Liberate ____ because Terrorism” will be with us. I suppose the upside is that they are able to recycle scripts from the days of Dubya Bush. Maybe they should start a propaganda campaign that points out this act of environmentalism.
Speaking of Bush-era propaganda campaigns, it has been gripping to watch the “left” leaning outlets perform the doublethink gymnastics required to condemn Trump as a warmonger without undermining the impregnability of a war as a baseline.
Perhaps the most brilliantly layered piece of propaganda this week came from the Associated Press in a story that was run nationwide. The headline – Analysis: US troop increase risks tangling in Syria’s war.
The implications of the headline alone are brilliant. There is a condemnation of Trump — The President’s actions are getting us “tangled” in military quagmire in the Middle East, and, gosh, that might cost us trillions of dollars, human lives, and nearly endless peripheral harms.
But … Now that Trump got us here, I guess we’ll be “tangled” for a while.
For those who prefer the overt buffoonery of more conservative pundits as opposed to the passive aggressive neoliberalism of the mainstream “left,” the argument of the week had to be that Trump’s “boots on the ground” was not a war since it was not authorized by Congress.
Of course, a similar argument was made by the establishment “left” while Obama played global marauder without congressional approval.
I wonder: If I drive a car, but I don’t have a driver’s license, am I not really driving the car? How am I moving forward so fast then? “It’s not war because it’s not authorized“ is either the stupidest position possible for a pundit to take, or one revealing some sort of philosophical secret of the universe.
I hate to use the analogy too loosely of peasants fighting with each other over scarce bread rations rather than coming together and asking why there isn’t enough bread. But the United States has been in some sort of imperialist war or another longer than nearly everyone reading this will have been alive. The establishment media obfuscates the meaning of war, flip flopping back and forth depending on the President, and the public is drawn into this argument rather than asking why we are always at war.
I suppose for now, War is Peace.
This piece was originally published on Medium.