Shock and Awe: The neverending end times

Lewis H. Lapham in Lapham's Quarterly:

’Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger. —David Hume

ShockNor is it contrary to reason to prefer the sight of a raging inferno or restless typhoon to the view of a worm in one’s apple or a fly in the soup. The spectacle of disaster—real and imagined, past, present, and imminent—is blockbuster box office, its magnitude measured by the number of dead and square miles of devastation, the cost of property, rates of insurance, long-term consequences, short-form shock and awe.

…Behold the world for what it is, a raging of beasts and a writhing of serpents, and know that the war on terror will be with us until the end of our days. Get used to it; harden thy resolve; America is everywhere besieged by monsters that must be destroyed—by any and all means necessary, no matter how costly or barbaric. And yes, Virginia, there is an answer to Adam Smith’s disturbing question—to prevent a paltry misfortune to oneself not only is it possible, it’s also prudent to sacrifice as many of our fellow human beings as circumstances require. The UN Security Council in 1990 imposed harsh economic sanctions on Iraq in order to send a stern message to Saddam Hussein. When Madeleine Albright, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was asked in an interview on 60 Minutes whether she had considered the resulting death of over 500,000 Iraqi children (of malnutrition and disease for lack of medicine and baby food), she said, “We think the price is worth it.” Together with an estimated $2 trillion, President George W. Bush sacrificed the lives of nearly 5,000 American soldiers and 165,000 Iraqi civilians to prevent America from being harmed by Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. The cost–benefit analysis emerged from the administration’s doctrine of forward deterrence and preemptive strike, a policy predicated on the notion that if any nation anywhere in the world presumed even to begin to think of challenging America’s supremacy (moral, military, cultural, and socioeconomic) America reserved the right to strangle the impudence at birth—to bomb the peasants or the palace, block the flows of oil or bank credit.

Michael Ledeen, foreign-policy adviser to the Bush White House and Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, put the policy in its clearest perspective: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”

More here.