Guantanamo and the Shadow Government
Back in 2009 after Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, during the days of the old Dark Age Blog, I wrote then that I would judge Obama’s presidency by how quickly he moved to dissolve that obscenity called “Guantanamo”. After seven years of foot-dragging that obscenity is still operational, a reminder still of the stark (and dark) contradictions that exist between rhetoric about the nobility of “Western values” and the actual reality.
But then, such duplicity is the very meaning of “the new normal”.
An article in today’s Guardian on the ongoing difficulty of closing Guantanamo highlights the larger problem of what we might call “the Shadow Government” (“Guatanamo Bay lawyers call bluff on Obama’s promise to close prison“). To be sure, “Shadow Government” is a descriptive term that has been used previously to describe what former president Eisenhower once warned his fellow countrymen about as “the military-industrial complex”. Eisenhower had wanted to say “the military-industrial-congressional complex” that had emerged during and after World War II, but was counseled against including “congressional” by his advisors.
Since Eisenhower, and thanks to the conditions and atmosphere generated by the Cold War, the octopus called the military-industrial-congressional complex has expanded to now include other formerly autonomous domains of social life, so that now some speak of the “military-industrial-government-media-university-energy complex” which is a mouthful. So, for the sake of brevity, we will just call it the unelected “Shadow Government” or “corporatocracy”, as it has also been called. It has tenacity and tenure compared to the transiency of the presidency and the Congress, and has become the true “power behind the throne” as the keeper of the presidency and the Congress in the sense that it keeps these, for the most part, as a disciplined and well-heeled facade. And thanks to the revelations of Ed Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and dozens of others whose names are less well-known, the reality of the Shadow Government or Techno-Corporate State operating in the dark cannot be denied.
As the Guardian article suggests, whatever Obama’s actual intentions for Guantanamo he appears to be overruled by the Department of Defence (DoD) and the Pentagon. And the question naturally arises, what interest does the DoD or the Pentagon, or the Shadow Government overall, have in preserving Guatanamo, or in continuing violations of elementary justice by keeping men caged up who have previously been cleared of any wrong-doing even as early as 2009?
Guantanamo, the present “war on terror,” and the Shadow Government has to be understood in the context of at least the last three decades since the end of the Cold War. The glad tidings and triumphalism that attended the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 was not universally shared, especially in the Shadow Government. Thomas Barnett noted in his book The Pentagon’s New Map that there was a sense of gloom in ranks of the Pentagon (and beyond the Pentagon) at the end of the Cold War — a “peace scare” that threatened budgets, careers, and opportunities for advancement and promotion. Careers, fortunes, reputations, budgets, status, military research & development projects that had all been built up since Eisenhower’s warning about the “unwarranted influence” of the Shadow Government were suddenly under suspicion or called into doubt by the breakdown of the USSR.
Unreconstructed Cold Warriors, now worried about their prestige, stature, and legitimacy, set to work “in search of enemies” that would justify the continuation of the status quo. Chief among early ideologues of perpetual war, besides Barnett and others, was noted Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington, noted member of the Trilateral Commission and advocate of a “new world order” in the “clash of civilisations”. Huntington was no friend of democracy, to be sure. For as much as Huntington is also remembered as the advocate of the “clash of civilisations” he is also remembered as the advocate of a fascistic form of power in the United States,
The architects of power in the United States must create a force that can be felt but not seen. Power remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate. (cited by Chomsky in “Security and State Power“)
In his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order Huntington justified his bellicose and belligerent approach to the making of world order, and the search for new enemies and an Evil Other, with the excuse or rationalisation that Americans by and large needed an Evil Other against which to define themselves and their identity as the Good and Righteous. If such is true (and I doubt it as a general rule) that doesn’t say much about the inner security of the American identity. Nonetheless that rationale frames the neo-con screed latterly published by Richard Perle and David Frum called An End to Evil, which was pure demagoguery — a fact which former Bush speech-writer, David Frum, freely admitted after its publication in an interview on CBC radio’s current affairs programme Sunday Morning.
Francis Fukuyama, whose early essay on “The End of History” after the fall of the USSR attracted notable public attention, was a former student of Samuel Huntington’s. Fukuyama later developed his essay into a book entitled The End of History and the Last Man, which, in my opinion, provided the mythic framework within which everything else was to be interpreted — much as Alfred Rosenberg’s Myth of the Twentieth Century provided the mythic framework for German fascism.
Fukuyama was, of course, signatory to the Project for a New American Century’s (PNAC) Statement of Principles (1997), along with some other familiar names — Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Jeb Bush, etc. The PNAC, as is well known, is infamous for its manifesto “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” (2000) which included the highly controversial “new Pearl Harbor” meme that was to take on a very sinister meaning and interpretation amongst conspiracy buffs after 9/11. Cheney and Rumsfeld, at least, were also long-time insiders and members of the Shadow Government, which made them even more suspect, even in the eyes of George Bush, Sr.
“Rebuilding America’s Defenses” is Orwellian logic from beginning to end, and the desire for a “new Pearl Harbor” expressed the anxieties of the Shadow Government about its legitimacy and tenure in the absence of any identifiable enemy or Evil Other, as well as rationales for continuing R & D and military expenditures upon which “the economy” had come to depend — that is to say, “military Keynesianism”. Not just the American economy, but much of the global economy had become addicted to warfare and the need to preserve and maintain a constant state of tensions.
So, how providential and opportune it was when al-Qaeda attacked the United States a couple of years after the PNAC expressed its yearning for a “new Pearl Harbor”! You can hardly fault conspiracy theorists for believing it was an inside job all along. But if there was a conspiracy, as I wrote afterwards, it was a “conspiracy of desires” — the desire of one group to be attacked meeting the desire of another to attack, and this reciprocal and mutual desire simply coalesced in the events of 9/11 giving the Shadow Government and the unregenerate Cold Warriors exactly the thing they wanted all along — a “new Pearl Harbor”.
So, here we are twelve years later in the midst of the GWOT, as it has come to be called — “the Global War on Terror”. And one has to wonder how much of this is still belongs to the conspiracy of desire and intent. The seeming irrationalities of the war on terror — such as barring Muslims from travel (without providing explanation) or maintaining acknowledged innocent men in Guantanamo indefinitely — may well be due less to paranoia and hysteria and more to a cold, calculating logic designed to keep the “clash of civilisations” at a fever pitch or, (as Steve put it in a comment) “the dialectic of chaos”. For upon the perpetuation of this chaos the Shadow Government depends for its legitimacy and, of course, the justification for its appetites which seem boundless and insatiable.
Of course, some additional insight into the Shadow Government was provided, inadvertently perhaps, by Donald Trump when he boasted that quite a few Congressmen were on his payroll, or bankrolled, and owed him. It was so far from being received with surprise or outrage that hardly anyone took note of it. But to some extent or another, the Shadow Government’s spoor and spawn is detectable in a number of host governments around the world — particularly the so-called “Five Eyes“, which are affiliated in some way or another, all of which have a stake in ensuring that democracy doesn’t function in the way it is supposed to function.
Of course, I have no “smoking gun” that would unquestionably prove that things like Guantanamo, or the atrocities of Abu Ghraib, or bans on Muslims visiting the US are being kept deliberately in place from a calculating logic designed to foment bitterness, resentment, animosity, and hostility and so not to bring the “war on terror” to a conclusion, but to perpetuate it. Perhaps the only other conclusion one can draw from the “kafkaesque” nature of Guantanamo or the travel ban is that it is completely irrational. Well, in the larger overview that may well be the case, but given our brief summary of recent history it seems to fit a pattern of considered and deliberate provocation.
But, of course also, that’s not the dominant narrative, except for the occasional journo like The Globe & Mail’s Doug Saunders who asks the pertinent questions about why old Cold Warriors are still being allowed to shape policy given their stake in having and preserving global conflict. If Eisenhower in his time felt that his hands were being tied by the “unwarranted influence” of the military-industrial-congressional complex, and which has only grown more powerful over the course of the decades since, then maybe the presidency and the Congress is now fully captive of the Shadow State, which is the sorry conclusion of some observers today — Chris Hedges, George Monbiot, Greg Palast, Bertram Gross, Arthur Selwyn Miller, the late Alex Carey, amongst others.
It is even possible that Obama doesn’t definitively know himself who is pulling his strings.