The American Bear


The West has lost its grip on war | Tarak Barkawi

If the left of the political spectrum largely wants to return home to nest with their families, live environmentally sustainable lives and advocate for social justice in their own countries, much of the right wing wants to “stay the course” in Afghanistan and elsewhere. This means more bombing, more drone strikes, more special forces missions, and not much else.

Above all, the purpose is to demonstrate “resolve” and “determination” by striking with impunity from on high. Like the fantastical neocon vision of the world that got us here, it is entirely unclear how this global war on terror amounts to a realistic policy that leads anywhere but more war.

With the absence of effective state control in much of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, there are endless spaces for militants to proliferate, while the social conditions that produce militancy worsen. Is the idea that more and more of the world becomes a special forces playground, open to drone strikes?

Is that all the once world-bestriding West has to offer humanity? It wishes to make war and take life in the name of the perpetual policing of large tracts of desert?

That Westerners can no longer muster a coherent account of wars they either oppose or favour is only the latest sign of the political bankruptcy of the West. Many mistake the crisis for an economic one only, or see the problem as one of “experts” - financial, military - who know what to do versus “politicians” who don’t.

The problem runs much deeper and is fundamentally political. Increasingly, Westerners cannot articulate meaningful, attractive visions of the world and of their role in it. They play the same records - about saving the whales, fiscal responsibility, staying the course, or what not - but the songs no longer speak to the situation we are all in.

Ultimately, the loss of coherence of the West is a sign of the new times which have arrived, in which the old categories of West and East, North and South no longer provide a grip on events. Even so, we will continue to act as if they do for some time to come, for as yet we know no other script.