Friday, May 8, 2015

RIP William Pfaff

I just discovered that William Pfaff died April 30 at the age of 86. Pfaff, a Korean War veteran and then a CIA-funded advocate for pro-American attitudes and policies in Europe, went on to become a journalistic critic of US foreign policy from Vietnam to Iraq. What angered Pfaff' was his sense that US policy is driven less by the actual situation in other countries or actual American interests there than by domestic political concerns; politicians regularly take positions solely because they sound good on American television, and people around the world die as a result. James Fallows has assembled some snippets of his writing:
The most important reason for the tension that exists between the United States and most of the rest of the democratic world is that American claims about the threat of terrorism seem grossly exaggerated. The extravagance of its reaction seems disproportionate and unrealistic, even suggestive of the sweeping and utopian political fantasies that convulsed the mid-twentieth century, meant in their day to bring “an end to history.”...

The American insistence that September 11, 2001, was the defining event of the age, after which “nothing could be the same,” is regarded as simply untrue. The only thing that really changed was the United States. That it may never again be the same is profoundly depressing. (Harper's, 2005)
It is time to ask a fundamental question that few government officials or politicians in the United States seem willing to ask: Has it been a terrible error for the United States to have built an all-but-irreversible worldwide system of more than 1,000 military bases, stations, and outposts? This system was created to enhance U.S. national security, but what if it has actually done the opposite, provoking conflict and creating the very insecurity it was intended to prevent? (Foreign Affairs, 2010)
The nature of the US reaction to the September 11 attacks makes apparent that the new challenge to the United States was immediately fitted into a frame of ideas ideologically parallel to the cold war (the cold war itself having just ended). The calls for a global jihad against the United States and the West heard from al-Qaeda and other radical Muslim groups—especially the fantasy of a reconstituted grand caliphate incorporating all the Mediterranean countries and then Europe itself—provided paranoid circles in the West with a replacement for the threat of Marxism-Leninism. Al-Qaeda was soon described as the new Comintern. It and related manifestations of radical jihadism were taken as a mortal and ubiquitous threat to the United States, to the West as a whole, and indeed to Western civilization. Al-Qaeda therefore had to be driven from its lair in the mountainous badlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, from which its adherents could launch global terrorism and insurrection.

The threat of jihad was further enlarged in American official thought by the assimilation to it of current manifestations of political radicalism found elsewhere in the non-Western world, responsible for “disorderly regions, failed states, diffuse enemies”—to quote President Obama’s West Point address in December—which together with the jihadists comprised what Donald Rumsfeld had, early in the affair, described as a global “insurrection.” The American role as destiny’s appointed pacifier of this universal world threat seemed to be the same role it had successfully fulfilled in the cold war. (New York Review 2010)

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