By James Retherford
Originally published by The Rag Blog, Austin, TX, May 30, 2008; an earlier version of this article was published by New York Times Online, October 29, 2004
"Time is on my side, yes it is."
— The Rolling Stones
If you have been paying attention — really paying attention — then you know already that, since the first War Room meeting after Sept. 11, 2001, and George W. Bush’s infamous “Crusade” speech a few days later, the United States has been losing the Global War on Terror. Losing badly. In fact — please excuse the unfortunate choice of words — it has been a bomb.
First, we lost the Bill of Rights — in particular, habeas corpus and privacy rights — as our elected legislators caved in to White House fear-mongering about the “next” enemy attack. Then came, and went, the Constitution with its notion of separation of powers — George W. Bush anointed himself the supreme “decider.” The unique framework of checks and balances which for more than two centuries provided our nation with the underpinnings of liberty and the ever-present dynamic possibilities of democracy are now heaped in a dumpster behind 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.
Attacked by a foe radically opposed to secular democratic ideals and institutions, our national leadership quickly (and, let’s not forget, opportunistically) ran up the white flag to surrender of our most sacred national trust, Rule of Law. Without Rule of Law getting in the way, American security specialists (i.e., spooks) can now do their jobs — really do their jobs! — using domestic surveillance, warrantless detention, and torture to keep us safe from each other.
A couple policy wonks, Robert Weiner and John Larmett (“War Spending Furthers al-Qaeda Goal of Undermining U.S. Economy,” Truthout, May 29, 2008), have stumbled onto the rest of the visionary jihadist battle plan which, as I write this, is successfully bringing the American Empire to its knees. Together with a 2004 analysis by New York Times op-ed writers Daniel Benjamin and Gabriel Weimann (“What the Terrorists Have in Mind,” October 27, 2004), these four commentators provide a rare look at the radical Islamists’ strikingly simple strategic and tactical plan to “bleed” the U.S. economy (Weiner and Larmett) by exploiting contradictions between America’s rampant consumerism and the Bush Co.’s imperial objectives. Weiner and Larmett quote bin Laden in 2004:
The mujahedeen have finally forced Bush to have recourse to an emergency budget in order
to continue the fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, which indicates the success of the plan to
exhaust them to the point of bankruptcy, God willing.
Understanding that Westerners live in a discordant relationship with the dynamics of time and history, our adversaries have an uncannily accurate measure of American weaknesses as well as a demonstrated ability to exploit these flaws with patience and resolve.
Illustration by Jason Stout, Austin Chronicle
Unfortunately this news may come as an unpleasant surprise to many Americans. The Bush administration falsely states that this is a war with a military solution — that is how these superpower imperialists think, unilaterally and one-dimensionally, the gunslinger mentality. So Bush's defense team called in the heavy weapons. Armed to the teeth with the most intimidating weaponry known to mankind, the U.S. military was ordered to ride into a box canyon and now finds itself boxed in. What good is superior firepower when its use contradicts your strategic goals? Benjamin/Weimann call it “the classic quandary of counterinsurgency: we do not want to use the force necessary to wipe out the terrorists because we would kill numerous civilians and further alienate the Iraqi population.”
I am convinced that the radical Islamist leadership has studied cowboy hubris and has evolved a new methodology of warfare, sort of a value-added guerrilla jihad. Even as the Bushies stage ongoing single-minded preemptive military countermeasures against al Qaeda's terrorist capabilities, the jihadists themselves have hatched a bold plan to “globalize” the battlefield into the economic and cultural, as well as military, theatres and to wage holy war wherever they themselves choose.
They believe they cannot lose. They believe that the deeper U.S. drives its own oil-leveraged imperial interests into the heart of the Moslem world, the greater will be the demand on American resources around the world to secure and protect supply lines, frontlines and flanks, homeland, and hundreds of potential flashpoints around the world. They envision an American government and its allies so overextending economic, military, and cultural influence to confront Islamic nationalism in a new imperial crusade for oil that the Westerners will sink slowly into the self-made quagmire. Stated in words any corporate accountant will understand, the Islamic militants predict that, as the bills pile up, the American corporatist dream of a 21st century empire will die the death of a thousand paper cuts.
Proclaiming it to be "very important to concentrate on striking the American economy by every possible means," Osama bin Laden and his associates clearly anticipated the 9/11 attacks as a major blow against America's economic well-being — and the opening salvo in a perpetual siege to drain the economic life-blood from global capitalism. So far the invoice includes:
1. the costs for the Iraqi, Afghani, and Balkan occupations and day-in day-out military force
readiness alert against Iran: according in Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, at least
$3 trillion and counting
2. the costs of a so-called “preemptive” military strike against Iran (according to “leaked”
sources, now expected to be launched against Iranian Quds facilities in August) and the
uncalculated “fallout” — perhaps literal fallout if the Israeli air force attacks Iranian nuclear
facilities in a coordinated air offensive — in terms of Iranian military retaliation as well as
the cost of trying to contain the collective outrage of the people of North America, Latin
America, Europe, and the Middle East as we take our anger to the streets.
3. the costs for securing borders, transportation, infrastructure, industry (especially nuclear,
petrochemical, and chemical), government buildings, and events such as gala global
economic summits and international media spectacles, e.g. the Olympics and the U.S.
political conventions: approximately $250 billion since 2001 (with many billions more
secreted inside other spending packages)
4. an unbudgeted but neocon-predicted “endless war” for oilfield control as frenzied global
industrial markets requiring uninterrupted petroleum supplies confront the twin spectres of
dwindling post-peak oil production and escalating extraction costs
5. the willingness to borrow a trillion dollars or more from our historic ideological enemy,
China, in order to maintain wealthy Americans’ unsustainably opulent lifestyles and to pay
for protracted imperial wars
6. the increasingly exposed contradictions — and subsequent escalating security costs —
within the Mideast region's oil-wealthy, pro-Western, anti-democratic Arab oligarchies
7. the costs of maintaining Israel as our Middle East Fort Apache: according to Washington
economist Thomas Stauffer, about $1.6 trillion between 1973-2002 (Christian Science
The jihadists correctly predict that the Western-style democracies, to mitigate against global inflation while vastly increasing military and security spending across the board, will choose to savage social programs serving millions of middle-class, working-class, and nonworking-class citizens rather than pass the escalating costs on to their corporate sponsors as higher taxes. Such policy will widen the class gap between the have-nots and what George W. Bush affectionately calls the “have-mores” and will further destabilize Western-style democracies.
Brothers of the Cross and the Crescent
I have described this as a kind of “value-added” guerrilla jihad and suggested how the economic component is inextricably tied to the terror-centered military campaign. Now I would like to describe the jihadists’ startling success on a third front: the culture war.
It is well documented how America's tradition of tolerance and moral/ethical relativism is disgusting to radical Islamists. In this context, then, our nation’s enemies must view the U.S. government's lock-step march to USA-PATRIOT, the legalizing of domestic spying, and dismantling of habeas corpus as a spectacular and ridiculously easy victory. What the jihadists wanted, the Bush administration delivered — a new vision of America stripped of many of those unique but suddenly deemed unnecessary personal freedoms fought for and won by our Founding Fathers in their own war on tyranny and terror. The Bush White House and Congress displayed the intellectual resolve and historical understanding of a flock of dodo birds as they walked off the deep end. Ironically, Islamic fundamentalists find themselves on the same page as Christian fundamentalists on this moral crusade — brothers of the cross and the crescent seeking to deliver America to the doorstep of faith-based fascism.
America’s headlong descent into the politics of fear must be seen by the defiant survivors of Tora Bora as further proof that Allah has chosen this ragtag group of Islamic cultists to wield the scimitar that will smite Western civilization and its crusading infidels. The mere idea — supported by televised image — of an effete American populace cowering in terror as Michael Chertoff orchestrates his light show on cue to pull in the “fear” vote … such a vision must make Osama’s followers feel mighty righteous. George Bush evoked the memory of FDR to hype his own handling of the “global war on terror,” but the contrast in message then and now is stark. Bush tells us that we have everything to fear. Six decades ago an undaunted American president stood strong after Pearl Harbor and convinced this shaken land that we “have nothing to fear but fear itself?”
Finally, as economic war segues between religious crusade and market meltdowns, the class divisions re-emerging in the United States are also gaining momentum in the Middle East — wherever oil-wealthy, pro-Western, anti-democratic Arab regimes require American firepower and state-sponsored interpretation of the Koran to contain their own restless masses. I must add, however, that militant Arabs — unlike many American voters — seem to be able to determine the difference between a genuine political leader and a snake in the grass. The problem apparently is more complicated for us Americans since most of our politicians and corporate media commentators are known to speak with forked tongues.
In conclusion, I have stated that we face a motivated opponent with an expansive, non-linear sense of time, a single-minded objective, and a devout understanding of historical imperative and that we are going to war against this relentless foe behind national political and military “leadership” for whom time is measured by the length of the media news cycle and history is to be repeated until the desired outcome is obtained. The Three Stooges at the White House, Department of Defense, and the State Department are in charge of the battle planning and nation building. “Nyuk-nyuk-nyuk” sums up our foreign policy.
Meanwhile our enemies are content to wait and pick their fights until Western civilization implodes — culturally and economically and militarily — from arrogance, fear, wasteful extravagance, and self-serving contradictions. Even if the conflict lasts another thousand years or more.
If you are an Arab or Persian mujahadeen, why not wait and fight, fight and wait, carefully picking the target? Islamic populations comprise the fastest-growing demographic group in the world, insuring an endless army of holy warriors and martyrs. “Iraq,” as Benjamin and Weimann point out, “in fact, has become a theater of inspiration for this drama of faith.”
Against this stark tableau of Islamic insurgency, U.S. leadership is auditioning for the role of emperor of the world, but the emperor has no clothes and is reading from a script borrowed from Dumb and Dumber.
Related books and articles
Benjamin, Daniel, and Gabriel Weimann, “What the Terrorists Have in Mind,” New York Times, October 27, 2004
Gartenstein-Ross, Daveed, Bin Laden’s Legacy: Why We Are Still Losing the War on Terror, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ, 2011
Gartenstein-Ross, Daveed, “Bin Laden’s ‘War of a Thousand Cuts’ Will Live On,” The Atlantic, May 3, 2011
Stiglitz, Joseph E., and Linda J. Bilmes, “The True Cost of the Iraq War: $3 Trillion and Beyond,” Washington Post, September 5, 2010
Stiglitz, Joseph E., and Linda J. Bilmes, Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict, W.W. Norton, New York, 2008
Weiner, Robert, and John Harnett, “War Spending Furthers al-Qaeda Goal of Undermining US Economy,” Truthout, May 29, 2008
Jerry Holbert, Boston Herald, 2012
Olle Johannson, Tecknar-Olle, 2010
Clay Jones, Claytoonz, 2014