(I’m reposting this diary from November, 2007 in response to Barack Obama’s "humanitarian" rationale for ramping up the war in Afghanistan, and not much has changed in the last two years, except the price of oil, and a shiny new face in the White House.)
"Military humanitarianism" is a phrase coined by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek in the Guardian to describe the rationale behind the US invasion of Iraq and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
Under this doctrine, military intervention is dressed up as humanitarian salvation, justified according to depoliticised, universal human rights, so that anyone who opposes it is not only taking the enemy’s side in an armed conflict but betraying the international community of civilized nations.
The United States is happy to reserve the privilege of "humanitarian war" for itself and Israel, preserving "universal human rights" against the threat of terrorism, but now that Turkey is claiming the same privilege to defend itself against Kurdish terrorists, "the community of civilized nations" has undergone a strange contraction.
For American neo-conservatives, Israel and the United States have always been the only "civilized nations," like a strangely disconnected Dual Empire surrounded by barbarian wilderness, and other nations could only attain a status of semi-civilization by slavishly endorsing every military adventure generated by the exigencies of American and Israeli politics. Tony Blair was the paradigm of a "good barbarian," and Zizek’s homeland of Slovenia also enrolled itself under the banner of the "Coalition of the Willing."
Now the "Coalition of the Willing" is just a tattered memory, oil is selling for $96 per barrel, Turkey is about to invade Iraq for a much better reason than the United States ever had, and Russia has aligned itself with Iran against an American attack. The United States has long since run out of money to buy oil from the almost uniformly hostile oil-producing regions of the world, every aspect of the American economy depends on foreign credit, and every trinket in the national treasury has already been pawned to Chinese banks.
Professor Zizek feels the current of history flowing east, and in his role as a good Slovene he is preaching a radical realignment away from the twilight Empire of the United States, Israel, and even the American dependencies in "old Europe."
Only by means of a "sectarian split" from the standard European legacy, by cutting ourselves off the decaying corpse of old Europe, can we keep the renewed European legacy alive.
As the real power of the United States declines, national pride can only be assuaged by inflated rhetoric and exaggerated symbolic displays. In the glory days of American supremacy, General George Marshall wore three rows of decorations, but General David Petraeus is adorned with nine rows of meaningless hash, none of it commemorating anything like valor.
Likewise George W. Bush embellishes his pitiful blunders with grander and grander pretentions, "military humanitarianism" rampant on a field of gold, and the stupefied electorate is only dimly aware of how far its Empire has already fallen.