The Middle East and its elemental descent
By Norman Ball
[T]he art of warfare ... will be vastly different than it is today ..."combat" likely will take place in new dimensions ... advanced forms of biological warfare that can "target" specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool. - Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources For a New Century, Project for the New American Century, September 2000.
As we will be wading through normative waters, I'll get to the deep end straightaway by suggesting it's hard to imagine a more sinister statement, albeit couched in the hopeful language of political utility, than the one cited above.
As banality rendezvous with evil, eugenics manifests in militarized form. There is nothing "transformative" about gene-based
weaponization unless one's real beef with ethnic cleansing all along was its surgical imprecision. Suddenly we discover ethnic cleansing without collateral damage was the elusive Holy Grail. Now there's a Strangelovian nightmare we can really pour our atavist hearts into.
I cannot share enthusiasm for this hermetic ideal, the perfect bombing campaign of the future which, with almost Biblical prescience, skips certain houses while leaving others engulfed in flames. Such touted "advances" are not so much transformative as regressive. They champion a retrograde village mentality at the cost of the global village. The world is too small now to absorb parochialized retreat.
Allow me to contradict myself already, by confessing in true nativist fashion, to a home team bias. I hope, over the intervening 15 years, that the military industrial complex has at least managed to perfect a nationalist "geno" strain that shields America's heterogeneity from incoming bombs with a "Made in USA" label proudly affixed. Not that we deserve such innovations. We certainly don't. Failing that, I'd like to see (hear) some sort of audible alarm system that alerts us when weapons of our own devise lurch suddenly into reverse gear. We should have Raytheon look into that. Even if we're undeserving of such discriminating firepower, Chinese bondholders, at a minimum, deserve the preservation of their investment.
Wait, I hear something ...
Beep ... beep ... beep ... "Keeping America in a state of tension and anticipation does not cost us anything but [organizing] dispersed strikes here and there. In other words, just as we defeated it in a war of nerves in Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan, we must afflict it with a similar war in its own home." - al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri
Strange bedfellows make for weaponized boomerangs. Indeed one of our strangest bedfellows ever is already making homicidal intimations towards the hand that feeds his lethality. For those who are tone deaf to musical chairs and reversing Mack trucks, Ayman al-Zawahiri is the spiritual leader of al-Qaeda and recently too of Jabhat al-Nusra. The latter is one of the key rebel elements in the Syrian civil war.
As The Washington Post and other news outlets have reported, the CIA has been furnishing al-Nusra with light arms and other supplies. As other sources have reported, the Saudis have supplied chemical weapons to al-Nusra. See the plot thicken like a lumpy stew.
Forget the breathtaking moral relativism (if not the outright stupidity) of such a strategic reversal. Regular folks are simply not "sophisticated" enough to balance such meanderings. In little man parlance, something smells rotten in Denmark if not Damascus. Nor can Main Street be kept from the machinations anymore.
Neo-conservatism's philosopher-king, Leo Strauss, could never have anticipated the porosity of the Internet and alternative media where Noble Lies are permitted only limited shelf time before collapsing into Swiss cheese alibis. The people's eyes are no longer fixed on the cave wall.
We all now concede, to one degree or another, the presence of a puppet-master. Some folks ascribe so much power to this dark force in fact that a sparrow hardly falls out of a tree anymore that Henry Kissinger didn't push. There's more than a hint of the paranoiac in this all-powerful one-eye bullshit. Even Jay-Z is in on the Illuminati gig.
At the same time, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones can be excused for doting like a proud father over the growth and influence of alternative media (as he did recently) even as he might misperceive the movement's true patrimony. In many ways, the determined noblesse oblige deceptions of neo-conservatism fuel the paranoia which in turn fuels the alternative narratives that are loath to part with conspiratorial intrigue.
Can you feel the circle? Come on, are the powers-that-be really guided by singularity of purpose and not beset by the same dissension and disarray that afflict other human gatherings? We're talking some of the most pathological, power-lusting bastards on the planet. If the rich have in fact transcended human nature, then let them have the world. They've earned it! As for me, I have trouble imagining the 10 most powerful individuals in the world sitting around an oblong Bilderberg table like well-oiled tin soldiers.
It sounds too much like Dr No on an undisclosed island with choreographed henchmen who fall all over themselves when James Bond finally arrives. More likely, the second-most powerful man in the world is consumed with thoughts on how to usurp his last remaining better. Yet even when profound disarray is the only logical conclusion, the conspiracist harbors within his own weapons cache a trope of last resort: chaos by design.
The world is a hellhole because the elite want it that way. The conspiracy cottage industry is forever building an elite-for-all-seasons upon which they feed and flourish famously. I see Jones has put on a few more pounds of late. Why isn't he being bombarded with gamma rays that make him waste away? Clearly he isn't starving.
You cannot surf a tidal wave. Purposelessness resists strategic overlays as the former entails radical relativism impervious to steering. Strauss might concede an amoral elite or vanguard is but one fashioned response to the nihilistic abyss of which Islamic jihadism is another. (Adam Curtis' documentary The Power of Nightmares is especially effective at postulating the common wellspring of these two diametric world views as I examined here.)
Both views exert their influence by perpetrating violence against the same void. How else to enforce their coherence? How else to preserve and assert their own line of thinking? Nihilism, far too tectonic for a mere "papering-over" or ideological dressing-down, brushes all human orchestrations aside. Nihilism is the grand and long-trumpeted terminus of metaphysical inquiry and as such can be neither revoked nor repealed. We all have a terrible appointment with it. Indeed as Nietzsche prophesied, it may yet be the death of us.
The amoral Straussians (in the highest Nietzschean sense if you please, ie beyond all childish constructs of good and evil) rely on exoteric narratives to enmesh and compel the masses. Manipulation is a permanently installed ethos. But, how does one wrap a comic book aesthetic around a prior enemy, now a friend, soon to become an enemy again?
The masses are simple blokes beholden to the fixities of old-school morality. Getting climactically bitten in the ass without a happily-ever-after bromide at the end is a tough bedtime story for Kansans to drift off to. You know, my older brother had has leg blown off by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Now you want me to share a foxhole with the perpetrator? Who but the most intellectually depraved "thinkers" could break bread over such unprincipled dissonances?
One thing's certain: Jones, Veterans Today's Gordon Duff, the Aangirfan conspiracy site et al are eroding esprit de corps. For example, a September 12 Military Times survey finds active duty personnel opposing Syrian military action by a 3-to-1 margin.
Between war-weariness and a profoundly disrupted narrative, the only remaining stick for popular mobilization becomes domestic economic collapse, its own form of "compulsory" military service. The compulsion? Why, it's the last paying gig in town. Sign up kid. If you can refrain from offing yourself and manage to keep your psyche moderately patched together, college tuition awaits you.
If you're really good, there may even be a cushy post in Emperor Obama I's Praetorian Guard. Never mind that a nation of post-traumatic-stressed college amputee-grads sounds like a recipe for the coarsest most haunted polis imaginable. There have got to be better ways of learning a trade and running a society than blowing up same for others.
Then there's the future to look forward to with its broad retreat to biological tribalisms and genotypes rimmed with weapons pointed at non-indigenous strains of humanity. What are the implications for pluralistic, heterogeneous societies? Was diversity a sucker's game? Indeed the most vulnerable populations may be the ones most bereft of cohesive identity, whether they be modern secular states or medieval stalwarts. As Sandra Mackey points out in her recent article, ("Saudi Arabia's Road to Implosion", The National Interest, September 12, 2013):
After they were stitched together by Abdul Aziz and gifted with great wealth, the Saudis continued to live apart. Today, urban areas, in which the majority of the population now resides, are a patchwork of walled villas, family compounds, and apartment developments in which the majority of residents share ties of region and kinship.
To date, the Saudis have managed to buy themselves out of national incoherency with a wall of money. However this strategy of decadent forestallment merely defers a bigger bang as the oil-centric rationale for statehood ultimately succumbs to more natural atomistic inclinations. The fault-lines will parallel the Saudi's declining energy influence (either through confirmation of the peak oil thesis or the ascendance of shale oil technologies. In either case, the apex of Saudi influence is passed.)
The knee-jerk exit strategy on many a conspiracy board is to cast the usual aspersions on those nasty, scheming neo-cons. However history belongs to those who script it. At least Strauss' acolytes had the audacity to seize the vacuum and conscript it into a global frame. Their slowly-leaking story line (all frames dissipate over time) has both galvanized and captivated us, pro and con, for three decades (going back to Reagan's Evil Empire), providing narrative coherence as both foil and champion, wherever one's personal druthers happened to lie. This is no apology for the global carnage that ensued. Shame on us for acquiescing to such a ruinous tale.
However, I wish to go beneath the prevailing (dissembling) narrative by asking, in the absence of narrative - let us say the very extinction of narrative itself - what in God's name will fill the void? I proffer a cautionary tale that is as much dispiriting as it is strangely clarifying.
Sadly, it will require descending Maslow's hierarchy (a descent borne of scarcity) towards the non-rescindable necessities of water, air, food and oil. The comparatively self-indulgent stuff of recent bad dreams and toxic self-actualization - Abrahamic skirmishes, sectarian divides, ideological contests - are poised to be replaced with far more elemental struggles. This is a bleak landscape less beholden to plot line and narrative credulity.
I'm talking of interminable, Godot-like tales possessed of neither beginning nor end, nor greatly instructive climax nor edifying resolution. The new terrain shares much with filmmaker Bela Tarr's The Turin Horse where the characters live, nay exist, in the unremitting, post-storyline world following Nietzsche's psychological collapse (the collapse of metaphysics itself). Life's "drama" consists of an unrelenting dust-storm, a well suddenly gone dry and little else.
Beliefs as a prime determinant are on the cusp of evaporation. We may even look back wistfully on this Age of Murderous Conviction as the reservoirs at least were full:
Some look at the upheaval in Syria through a religious lens. The Sunni and Shi'ite factions, battling for supremacy in the Middle East, have locked horns in the heart of the Levant, where the Shi'ite-affiliated Alawite sect has ruled a majority Sunni nation for decades
Some see it through a social prism. As they did in Tunis with Muhammad Bouazizi - an honest man who couldn't make an honest living in this corruption-ridden part of the world - the social protests that sparked the war in Syria started in the poor and disenfranchised parts of the country.
And others look at the eroding boundaries of state in Syria and other parts of the Middle East as a direct result of the sins of Western hubris and colonialism.
Professor Arnon Sofer has no qualms with any of these claims and interpretations. But the upheaval in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, he says, cannot be fully understood without also taking two environmental truths into account: soaring birthrates and dwindling water supply. - from "A Parched Syria Turned to War, Scholar Says, and Egypt May Be Next", by Mitch Ginsburg, The Times of Israel, May 9, 2013
What lurks beneath the prevailing chemical weapons trope, geographer Sofer suggests, is the re-ascendant primacy of water. As for oil and natural gas, while not directly digestible, they forestall us nonetheless from gathering huddled in caves. That's mighty primal too.
The shepherding and tactical withholding of water is on the way to becoming a weapon of mass destruction, really a bio-based tactic every bit as potent as Project for the New American Century's "useful" bio-bombs. Lebanon has water. Israel does not. Nor does Jordan and large swathes of Syria - yes, yes I can hear the religionists already: but you forget our very substantive theological divides, between Sunni and Shi'ite, between Muslim, Christian and Jew.
I will aver from engaging the transcendent veracities of one faith over another. There's plenty of that elsewhere. The relevant article of faith for our purposes here is that, for the preponderance of earthbound humanity (I'll not speak for those who've already departed), religion fades like a vaporous trail in the absence of full bellies and slaked thirsts. Genotype delineations - set atop game-changing, elemental realities - become second-order organizing principles in a hurry.
Who controls the watering hole, the only real place of worship, as when you require a drink of water my friend nothing else will do? To the parched, no god matters.
Norman Ball (BA Political Science/Econ, Washington & Lee University; MBA, George Washington University) is a well-travelled Scots-American businessman, author and poet, whose essays have appeared in Counterpunch, The Western Muslim and elsewhere. His new book Between River and Rock: How I Resolved Television in Six Easy Payments is available here. Two essay collections, How Can We Make Your Power More Comfortable? and The Frantic Force are spoken of here and here. A collection of poetry, Serpentrope is due out early 2014 from White Violet Press. He can be reached at email@example.com.