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The US in the Middle East: A Triumph of the Will

History seems to be compelling the US to retreat from the Middle East, but a highly motivated inertia may have its way.
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January 13, 2020 15:07 EDT

In an article published by Fair Observer, political analyst Amin Farhad provides some much-needed clarity on the ambiguous situation concerning the US military presence in the Middle East after the strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani on January 3. 

Although there has been a lot of chatter about the US withdrawing from the region, Farhad reminds readers of the decision taken by the Trump administration in the aftermath of the recent assault on the US Embassy in Baghdad, followed by the drone strike on Soleimani. Farhad maintains that “thousands of additional US troops will be deployed in the Middle East to deter an Iranian military response.”

The US Will Never Leave the Middle East


Farhad follows with another prediction concerning a less immediate future: “We will see even more occupation and troops sent to the Middle East in what has been described as Pax Americana.” Given that for at least 18 years, the US presence has been focused far more on war than peace, it might be more appropriate to refer to the current state of supposed geopolitical equilibrium not as “Pax Americana,” but as what at least one expert has called “Bellum Americanum” (American war). The US military presence across vast regions of the globe accompanied by campaigns to eradicate “bad guys” (whoever they may be) defines not a state of peace, but one of permanent war.

Furthermore, the perception of the US as the kind of “honest broker” capable of managing peace has been fatally compromised by the Trump administration’s actions with regard to both Iran and Israel. The reality — that the US only knows how to manage war rather than peace, borne out by 75 years of history — has finally come home to most observers and especially to the populations of the Middle East, though not necessarily to media pundits. And despite its constant efforts and seemingly unlimited resources, the capacity of the US to manage war has itself proved wanting.

Farhad concludes his analysis with this almost certainly correct observation, based on the eternal reasoning of Washington: “[I]t is apparent that more US troops will have to be deployed in the region.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:


An ambiguous auxiliary verb in the English language that refuses to distinguish between simple prediction of future events and the deliberate intentions of people with power over future events

Contextual Note

As a Germanic language, English — in contrast with the Romance languages — lacks a form of the verb indicating an action in the future. To indicate the future, an English verb must be preceded by “will” or “to be going to.” Although it sounds neutral, the idea of “will” invokes the notion of a deliberate intention formulated by a sentient being. It derives from the Old English verb, “willan,” which means to want or wish. This suggests a worldview in which the future is willed, either by people, divine beings or some force of nature endowed with a will. From Arthur Schopenhauer (“the will is the key to all existence”) to Leni Riefenstahl, German philosophy and art pushed the trend further and gave the world the idea of the “triumph of the will.”

When Farhad tells us “that more US troops will have to be deployed in the region,” it implicitly raises the question of whose will is behind the event. “Have to” signifies a high if not the absolute degree of inevitably or may even suggest the work of a law of nature. But “will” should remind us that the result he forecasts is due to someone making a decision.

Farhad doesn’t identify that someone. Could it be US President Donald Trump, who apparently makes most of his decisions about war and peace without consulting either Congress, the Pentagon or independent experts? Given Trump’s continuously repeated intention or “will” to remove troops from the Middle East for considerations of cost, the inevitable outcome Farhad forecasts should not be attributed to the president’s power of decision. If Trump is reelected in November, with or without a majority in Congress, no one can predict how he will act or whether he will let himself be influenced by others or even by the law.

Perhaps Farhad takes seriously the rumblings of a revolt in Congress as some are attempting to limit the ever-expanding presidential war powers, partly in anticipation of Trump’s reelection. But whether Trump wins the 2020 election or not, Farhad is right for another reason. Even a president with the kind of absolute war powers wielded by recent US presidents — a trend initiated by George W. Bush and continued by Barack Obama — will inevitably be (whether they will it or not) a prisoner of the pervasive, systemic logic that governs the military-industrial complex. If he really intended to oppose the inevitable outcome Farhad describes, Trump would have to direct his powers toward making outright war against the “deep state,” which he claims to revile but has not been able to control.

In other words, there is a powerful will at work here, but it doesn’t belong to a single person. It is both systemic and literally “complex,” militarily and industrially speaking. 

Historical Note

The paper on Bellum Americanum referred to above explains the evolution in recent decades from the late 20th-century state termed Pax Americana to today’s Bellum Americanum. Jyri Raitasalo, the author of the paper presented in 2006 to the International Studies Association in California, serves as military adviser to the Finnish Defense Ministry. He sums up the evolution: “In a way the Cold War era maintenance and development of armed force in order to deter aggression (Pax Americana) has thus mutated into a more assertive use of military force in order to prevent threats from emanating and in order to arrive at valued outcomes (Bellum Americanum).” The idea of “valued outcomes” of course includes controlling the mineral resources of entire regions or impeding their control by autonomous governments.

Once the Bellum Americanum had replaced what was formerly presented to the world and perceived as the Pax Americana, there could be no turning back. When President John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps in 1961, at the height of the Cold War, he resorted to a Madison Avenue trick designed to reinforce the image of a gentle giant intent on spreading freedom throughout a world threatened by despotic communism. America’s military buildup was designed to prevent war thanks to the MAD doctrine (Mutually Assured Destruction). This had the effect of creating a background of deep fear of nuclear war among the civilian population. But the ideology presented the growth of the military-industrial complex as merely preventive, an arsenal that was stocked but not intended to be used, a form of passive protection, whereas the Peace Corps was actively at work realizing America’s good intentions. This made the idea of Pax Americana seemed totally believable.

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In 2020, that is no longer the case. A growing revolt is brewing both abroad and at home against the permanent state of Bellum Americanum. Domestically, this includes both Trump’s electorate and progressive Democrats. And the effect of George W. Bush’s Middle East wars has, as Pew polls have consistently shown, spread the effect across wide swathes of the globe. Trump and his team see the US military presence in other regions as an unnecessary gift to countries and people that Americans have no business caring about. Why should US taxpayers be paying? The left objects to the principle of an American empire that occupies, intimidates and exploits other nations and peoples.

And yet Farhad is right. Things will carry on as usual. The revolt of Congress will likely be nipped in the bud. The US economy — and now to a large extent the global economy as well — depends on the continued growth of the military and its technology. Any movement in the direction of retreating from a major theater of war would compromise the fundamental economic logic behind the success of those interests who have prospered, reflected in the constant rise of stock markets since the 2008 crisis.

Some commentators, having seen the evidence of failure of every expensive conflict since the Korean War in the 1950s, will protest that it’s time to put a stop to the expense in blood and treasure. But as regular Fair Observer contributor Tom Engelhardt argues, the multiple failures and the growing expense of unwinnable wars have now become central to keeping the system going. Engelhardt describes in detail how in “the military of the 21st century, failure is the new success.” Not only is failure not a reason to give up, but it is also the condition required to persist and keep things on an even keel.

Amin Farhad is right: Where there’s a massively structured will, there’s a way. And nobody with any amount of executive power can counter it.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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