Why Are We In Libya?

“…get a man greedy enough and he got the guts to go – go, go, …Vietnam, hot damn.”

-Norman Mailer, Why Are We In Vietnam?

The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the program created by Congress to expend over $700 billion of our tax dollars to prevent a “meltdown of the financial system,” is a “colossal failure.” It’s now official. Neil M. Barofsky, the man hired as TARP’s special inspector general, has come clean.

Why is it a colossal failure? Because, Mr Barofsky says, the act passed by Congress “expressly directs” Timothy Geithner’s Treasury Department to spend hundreds of billions of the TARP money to aid struggling homeowners with their mortgages.

This has not been done. Instead, as critics have pointed out ad nauseum, all this tax money went to high-wire-act financial institutions so they could regain their balance, “not only to survive but even to flourish.” In essence, the bursting real-estate bubble was re-inflated with ordinary Americans’ tax revenues. The argument went, for those at the bottom, that we did it for your own good.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and a US bombing in LibyaTreasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and a US bombing in Libya

Before piloting the Treasury Department, the brilliant Mr. Geithner worked for Kissinger Associates and the International Monetary Fund, and was president of the NY Federal Reserve Bank. He was also a pal of the previous Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who had earlier headed Goldman Sachs. Geithner is, of course, very familiar with the financial Ponzi schemers whose institutions he saved, because he’s one of them.

Now, with Iraq and Afghanistan in mind, cut to Libya and the fine sentiments expressed by President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Special Assistant to the President Samantha Power about saving the Libyan people from a horrific fate painted for us with harrowing imagery. Certainly, bloodshed was in the offing, and I have no question the Obama team is well intentioned; at least, many Americans seem to see their intentions that way.

Similarly, I have no doubt all the crap about saving working Americans’ mortgages was equally well-intentioned rhetoric at the time it was advanced, and surely our fine members of Congress when they voted for the TARP bailout expected the money they voted to go to working families to actually go to working families.

The point is, there is something loose in America – something predatory and ruthless – that snickers cynically at all this good-hearted rhetoric and, then turns good-sounding American policy into a rapacious, single-minded and self-serving instrument for those entrenched with power. As is the case with the TARP funds, the interests of wealth and power always seem to find a way to trump efforts to advance the dignity and well-being of the ordinary working American.

This predatory beast is killing us from the bottom up.

As Mr. Barofsky makes clear, ordinary, hard-working poor to middle-class citizen-families were intended to gain from the TARP provisions. But they have not. The incredible part of it is, even Geithner acknowledges this — even as he indicates there are no plans to alter course.

If you are one of the working American families now homeless, that might have been kept from foreclosure by TARP money, what Geithner and the rest are telling you is: “I know, and you know, you’re being screwed. We’re sorry, but our lives are more important than yours.”

The fact that the financial tsunami that led to all this lower-class misery was created by the hotshot econo-psychopaths who went to Harvard and cozied or clawed their way up into those spacious offices atop those skyscrapers doesn’t seem to matter any more. All that matters is that the feeding not be interrupted.

Tragically, you can see the same terrible and dishonest arc of reality at work in the Libya intervention.

First, it was a “no-fly zone.” Well, gee, maybe that’s not so bad. I would feel really good if we could stop a massacre of innocent people. And, gee, since I don’t read newspapers or books and just watch TV and don’t have a real clue what’s going on – and, plus, I don’t want to seem like a wimp — well, sure, create a “no-fly zone” and keep me posted how it goes.

Then, someone floats the idea that “no-fly” also means a “no-drive zone” that allows our forces to blast tanks. OK, that sounds fine too, since you say the UN thing says that’s allowed. Then we’re told our jet bombings have stopped the bloody Qaddafi juggernaut headed for Benghazi and — praise the lord! — has even given the rebels (who still remain a mystery, except they may include al Qaeda) what they needed to turn from pathetic, frightened victims about to be slaughtered into a confident militia now screaming west toward the Qaddafi stronghold of Tripoli.

We are excitedly told the rebels have taken over a key town on the way to Tripoli. As they potentially move into Qaddafi territory of course, no one speculates about what the triumphant militias will do when they sweep into a Qaddafi town that has been softened by US and French aerial bombardments. Will they bring lamb, falafel and yogurt sauce, or will they be pumped up and ready to kill everybody in sight? We really don’t want to think about that.

By this point, the US message about Colonel Qaddafi — the pocked-faced monster of Tripoli who we once bombed but now have been in bed with for the past few years — is getting quite incoherent and contradictory, either intentionally or because one person doesn’t have a clue what the other is thinking. One moment, the Obama team wants to get rid of him; then, the next moment, there is an assurance regime change is not our policy this time, like it was in Iraq with Saddam Hussein. Also, it’s clear the UN resolution doesn’t say anything about “regime change.”

By now, of course, despite the diplomatic double-speak, the game is out of the bag and — UN resolution be damned – everyone knows we’re there to get rid of Qaddafi. We are the United States of America, and our prestige in the world depends on us doing what we say we’re going to do … well, not exactly doing what we say we’re going to do but doing what everybody over the age of 12 expects us to do, which is do what those with power in the US want done. In the process, if we actually do save people from being killed — even if we kill more people to save those – that’s wonderful, because it will serve as good PR when the war gets into the quagmire stage and the antiwar critics suddenly begin to make sense.

The problem with humanitarian US military interventions is that the concept is completely self-serving and deceptive. If US military interventions could be morally clear in their motives — say, like the Lincoln Brigade against the Spanish fascists — sending planes to help Libyan rebels might be a good thing. But the United States has too much dubious history to live down, too many self-interests at play, and is too dishonest and secretive about its real motives to actually do anything for purely humanitarian motives. Humanitarianism is a cover for something else, and escalation is virtually guaranteed.

The notion of limiting the intervention to a no-fly zone is preposterous. First of all, it’s clear the UN language was intentionally vague so going beyond a literal no-fly zone was part of the plan. It’s also clear with the recent rout of the rebel forces headed toward Tripoli by barely one-fifth of Qaddafi’s forces that aerial intervention just won’t cut it if we want more than a stalemate. Now we’re getting discussion of sending in arms and the concomitant discussion that arms shipments will require trainers to tell the Libyans how to shoot them. Naturally, there are reports that the US is sending in covert CIA teams.

Those who have followed US military intervention history over the past decades know the rest of the story, which will become an ongoing information struggle between the Obama Administration’s and the Pentagon’s PR capacities and their vast agendas of secrecy.

The so-called “Obama Doctrine,” in this sense, is the same doctrine we’ve seen for years. It was described best by Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

Klein defines “disaster capitalism” as “orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities.” She says the right-wing’s favorite economist Milton Friedman led her to her thesis on Shock Doctrine. Here’s the Friedman quote she cites as inspirational:

“Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

That is, there’s great opportunity to be had for those brilliant and ruthless enough to reap the whirlwind when the shit hits the fan.

It’s then only a matter of time before those educated and experienced in Friedman’s “disaster capitalism” make the next logical leap. If he’s right that chaos leads to change, why should those who have done the planning and who have the resources needed to manage that change wait passively for chaos to break out. If we can, why not set off and encourage that fertile chaos? Let loose the dogs of war and give change a chance.

For someone who has worked for many years in the anti-war, peace movement, the absurdity of the Libya war is the icing on the cake for what amounts to the screwing of the ordinary working American — even those who have not a clue who it is screwing them.

The dishonest, upward, elite-only distribution of TARP funds and the feel-good humanitarian justifications for intervening militarily in a third expensive foreign war means that the willful neglect of the ordinary working American has reached an all-time low.

This article is cross-posted with IN THE MIND FIELD.