Thursday, April 2, 2015

2015 NSS: Searchin' for the Ghost of Tom Joad

Obama’s National Security Strategy: “Searchin’ for the Ghost of Tom Joad”
P. Schultz
April 2, 2015

            Below is a link to an article by Andrew Bacevich that is a critique of the government’s 2015 National Security Strategy, the NSS in brief, entitled “Soft Thinking, Hard Problems.” It is interesting to me as much for what it says about Bacevich, who is very thoughtful generally speaking, as it does about the 2015 NSS.

            Overall, Bacevich argues that the NSS “consists of assertions that are misleading or altogether untrue,” that it “consists of matters directly relevant to national security that the NSS either skims past or dodges altogether,” and thatthe document offers in secular form a faith-based formula for earthly redemption.” On all of these counts, Bacevich is right on the money.

            However, what Bacevich ignores is the implication of the NSS that the current violence, the multiple wars the U.S. is engaged in, especially but not solely limited to the Middle East, is “transitional,” which is to say that it is not endemic to American foreign policy and its goal of “Americanizing” the world via the “formula [of] neoliberalism—the promotion of economic openness and transparency in concert with an agenda of cultural transformation.” That is, Bacevich fails to emphasize or underline that “neoliberalism” is necessarily built on violence and war and this is so and will be so even though our future is to be created by “women, youth, civil society, journalists, and entrepreneurs.”

Now, Bacevich faults the NSS here for ignoring religion and religious leaders, as “Imams are retrograde, archbishops infra dig.” But while this might be of some concern, it blurs the distinct possibility that “the new world order” the NSS sees arising, one that will alleviate “the underlying conditions that foster violent extremism” and “decrease the need for costly military interventions,” is simply delusional. And this is a possibility, to understate its likelihood, because the “violent extremists” are those who control the U.S. government. That is, the “underlying conditions that foster violent extremism” are created by that very “neoliberalism” that presides over – or tries to preside over – the world today. Hence, “violent extremism,” both from and against the prevailing political, social, and economic order, is rooted in the same phenomenon, neoliberalism.

American strategy does serve “an agenda of cultural transformation,” but it isn’t the kind of transformation American leaders like Obama prattle on about. Think about it this way: Bacevich points out that the NSS ignores the fact that while “Most (not all) Americans will see [the goals of protecting basic freedoms and protecting vulnerable minorities such as LGBT people] as responding to basic requirements of fairness and equality. . . . , others—especially in those parts of the world where the United States is most deeply embroiled in conflict—will instead detect a frontal assault on a divinely mandated order is something the NSS either does not grasp or does not bother to countenance.” 

This is, of course, quite right. But what Bacevich doesn’t point out is that some of these “others,” those who reject such goals as desirable, are allies of the U.S. Questions: What does it say about the neoliberal project that it needs to rely on such allies? And what does it say about the parameters of the “new world order” that is to be brought into being by, allegedly, “women, youth, civil society, journalists, and entrepreneurs?” At the very least, it means that the “new world order” will have to be built, not on the basis of “the consent of the governed,” but rather on the basis of pervasively powerful governments, governments that must be willing to act with “energy, secrecy, and dispatch,” as Alexander Hamilton put it so long ago. And, of course, when such governments meet resistance, as they undoubtedly will, they will engage in what should be called “violent extremism,” even if that extremism is masked as bureaucratic “imperatives,” which by the way they are. As a result, the “women, youth, civil society, journalists, and entrepreneurs,” who are allegedly the vanguard of a new order, become merely foot soldiers and followers who are required to toe the lines laid out by these pervasively powerful governments.

Bacevich’s heart is the right place, it seems to me. But he fails to see or emphasize that neoliberalism is, inherently and necessarily, violent and extremist, at least as it manifests itself in the American project as it is laid out in the 2015 NSS and as it has been pursued for a very long time now. There are alternatives, and some of them even got hearings at times in American history. But apparently these times are not one of those times, at least not yet. As Bruce Springsteen sang in his ballad, “The Ghost of Tom Joad:”

“Men walkin' 'long the railroad tracks
Goin' some place, there's no goin' back
The Highway Patrol chopper's comin' up over the ridge
Hot soup on a campfire under the bridge
Shelter line stretchin' 'round the corner
Welcome to the new world order
Families sleepin' in their cars out in the Southwest
No home no job no peace no rest

“The highway is alive tonight
But nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes
I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light
Searchin' for the Ghost of Tom Joad.”

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