A memorial in New York City to victims of the Paris attacks. A wave of terrorism of this sort in the United States could well bring about a state of national anxiety that would cripple American democracy. (Kathy Willens / AP)
It is nearly certain that we will endure, sooner rather than later, another catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil. The blundering of our military into the Middle East; the failed states that have risen out of the mismanagement and chaos of Iraq and Afghanistan; the millions of innocents we have driven from their homes, terrorized or slaughtered; the bankrupt puppet regimes we have equipped and trained that will not fight; the massive amounts of munitions and military hardware we have allowed to fall into the hands of jihadis—thousands of them carrying Western passports; and the myopic foreign policy whose single tenet is that more industrial violence will get us out of the morass created by our industrial violence in the first place means that we, like France, are in for it.
All the major candidates for president, including Bernie Sanders, along with a media that is a shameless echo chamber for the elites, embrace endless war. Lost are the art of diplomacy, the ability to read the cultural, political, linguistic and religious landscape of those we dominate by force, the effort to dissect the roots of jihadi rage and violence, and the simple understanding that Muslims do not want to be occupied any more than we would want to be occupied.
Another jihadi terrorist attack in the United States will extinguish what remains of our anemic and largely dysfunctional democracy. Fear will be even more fervently stoked and manipulated by the state. The remnants of our civil liberties will be abolished. Groups that defy the corporate state—Black Lives Matter, climate change activists and anti-capitalists—will be ruthlessly targeted for elimination as the nation is swept into the Manichean world of us-and-them, traitors versus patriots. Culture will be reduced to sentimental doggerel and patriotic kitsch. Violence will be sanctified, in Hollywood and the media, as a purifying agent. Any criticism of the crusade or those leading it will be heresy. The police and the military will be deified. Nationalism, which at its core is about self-exaltation and racism, will distort our perception of reality. We will gather like frightened children around the flag. We will sing the national anthem in unison. We will kneel before the state and the organs of internal security. We will beg our masters to save us. We will be paralyzed by the psychosis of permanent war.
In wartime, public discourse emits the insane sputterings of King Lear: “Then, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!” Demagogues bellow for more bombs and more enemy corpses. The military and the war profiteers provide them. The public cheers on the slaughter. Victory is assured. The nation rejoices when the newest face of evil is eradicated. But when one face of evil—Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or Abdelhamid Abaaoud—is exterminated, another swiftly rises to take his or her place. It is an endless and futile quest.
Violence generates counterviolence. The cycle does not stop until the killing stops. All that makes us human—love, empathy, tenderness and kindness—is dismissed in wartime as useless and weak. We revel in a demented hypermasculinity. We lose the capacity to feel and understand. We pity only our own. We too celebrate our glorified martyrs. We endow our sanctified dead with the lofty virtues and goodness that define our national myth, ignoring our complicity in perpetuating the ceaseless cycle of death. Our drones and airstrikes, after all, have decapitated far more people, including children, than Islamic State.
Jihadis troll websites and the dingy corridors of housing projects outside French cities and in the slums of Iraqi cities looking for young people discarded by war and neoliberalism, just as Army recruiters sniff out our own discarded and dispossessed and send them off to fight. Disenfranchised youths, offered the illusion of heroism, glory and even martyrdom, promised a chance to be armed and powerful, are seduced by these scavengers. Hundreds of millions of people across the globe have been cast aside by globalization as human refuse. They are worth nothing to the corporate state. They are denied jobs, benefits, dignity and self-worth. They are easy prey for the siren calls of those for whom war is a lucrative business. They dress in uniforms. They surrender their individuality. They experience the intoxicating drug of violence. They assume a new identity—that of warrior.
By the time they see through the illusions and lies, by the time they grasp how they have been used and betrayed, they are broken, maimed or dead. No matter. There are legions behind them waiting eagerly for their chance.
We have lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq as a unified nation has been splintered into antagonistic and warring enclaves. It will never be reunited. We ensured that Iraq would become a failed state the moment we invaded and disbanded its army, police force and government bureaucracy, the moment we foolishly attempted to dominate the country by force—including our arming and organizing of Shiite death squads that carried out a reign of terror against the Sunnis. The Iraqi insurgents, al-Qaida and, later, Islamic State, easily recruited the masses of enraged dispossessed whose families have been torn apart since the 2003 invasion, whose childhoods have been colored by extreme poverty, fear, a lack of education and basic services and horrific acts of violence, and who correctly see no future under continued U.S. occupation. Islamic State now controls an area the size of Texas, carved out of the remnants of Syria and Iraq. All our air attacks will not drive it out.