Monday, August 8, 2011

Benghazi: Postcards from the edge of civilization.

    Benghazi sure is a 'fun' zone these days if you enjoy a front row seat for how 21st century resource wars are going to play out. I think it's pretty obvious right now that proxy resource wars are in our future. Hell, they're here right now. Proxy bullshit wars are the new 'Domino theory' but with no Kissinger or McNamara to sell the idea to the plebs. And, let's face it, things are easier these days if governments bypass the idiots who elect them and keep their intentions on the down low. All you really need today is some semi plausible story about a bad guy in some foreign desert where there's oil and people will believe he's a bad guy so long as a compliant media rolls out that stock footage of the 'terrorists' on monkey bars.

   But the NATO mission in Libya is getting harder to explain.

   Libya is just another place, along with Detroit, Baghdad and Fukishima, where we all get a front row seat to preview all the shit that's going to make the 21st century the worst century in human history. We humans are screwed. And yeah, I'm a major pessimist on long term human survival. Military history will do that to you I guess. But the sad truth is that there are no 'good' wars like WWII left to fight anymore. The future of war is just lots of pesky details. Details that won't make for good TV. There are no more obviously evil Nazis to rail against. Just lots of sleazy guys on all sides whose sleaziness is proportional to the energy reserves sleazy guys happen to be sitting on that other sleazy guys want.

   The West needs energy but so do the Chinese and the other BRIC economies. The market for cool stuff is getting crowded now. The future is lots of land grabs that are getting harder and harder to explain to the public. Especially in Western 'democracies'.  It's going to be shady resource squabbles up until the point when China or Russia or the US get sick of proxy wars and finally need that oil or freshwater or farmland more than they are prepared to allow rival powers to grab it. That's when shit will get real interesting. Ultimately, our Facebooky, Twitterized post modern feel good consumerist utopia runs up against the hard wall of finite resources and depleting energy. And that's when the fun starts and the 'real' wars get greenlit.

   Benghazi today is ground zero for this new proxy war paradigm

   Right now it's a latter day 70s Saigon, full of the usual free for all characters and rapine that makes any big city in a warzone really shitty for the local population but exciting as hell if you're an insurgent, rebel, CIA operative, Islamic religious freak, Bedouin heroin addict, foreign economic hitman, arms dealer, renegade journalist or just some guy trying to make a quick buck off the fall of yet another desert oil producer. It's like Casablanca in 1941 but with no Bogart to make it all sensible to a foreign public who don't give a shit anymore because they're too busy applying for foodstamps.

   The NATO air campaign is not following the script, you know, the script some pencil pusher in the Pentagon or Whitehall scribbled together just as Gaddafi was about to punish Benghazi for its 40 year history of hating his guts. The NATO script hoped Gaddafi would die quickly by Tomahawk (the British bombed his compound on night one of Odyssey Dawn but missed) and all the evils of the pesky Middle East dictator would go away after the Western corpotocracy stepped into the rubble and rewrote the oil deals and dumped 'democracy' on the unwitting citizen victims of Libya who were supposed to be happy with all the benefits of globalization via a McDonald's dollar menu in Tripoli.

   The problem with wars these days is that they have a nasty habit of not following the pleb fed script.

   In the future dystopian corpo sci fi novel that we're all living in, food is still relatively cheap, oil is still available and there are no ration tickets yet. We're living in that time just before things start to get real ugly, where the contents of the plastic Coca Cola bottle are still worth more than the wondrous plastic container itself; the dream of every ancient warrior, a capable, durable, refillable water carrier that you'd pass down to your son but which we toss idly in the trash because it looks ugly on the floor of our 'Prius'.  Our throwaway dystopia relegates foreign wars that any rich country gets engaged in to just one more event on TV, competing for viewers along with shitty reality shows, singing competitions, home improvement bullshit and that show about some guy who can tell you what your dog really meant when he took a shit on your Blu Ray collection.

   Benghazi is the dirty underbelly of all our lives right now. Sure, the Libyan debacle is a sideshow when compared to big global chessmoves like Iraq or Afghanistan but it's got a certain naked land grab feel about it that works as the perfect metaphor for how big powers are going to gobble up all the low hanging fruit in the increasingly shitty 21st century. And eventually they'll come into conflict over some Arctic oil puddle the melting ice makes extractable. That's where this is all headed. All the world's capitals will soon know the free for all global squabble that Benghazi is right now.

   Eastern Libya and its capital Benghazi have always been redneck country and the part of Libya that sophisticates in Tripoli like to look down on while sipping their fancy coffees in upscale cafes. Benghazi is the city where the supporters of the former king that Gaddafi deposed in the '60s got to lay low while watching helplessly as Gaddafi funneled the oil wealth out from under their feet. They've been itching for a shot at revenge for decades. It's also home to the Islamists and the wilder desert tribes and proved fervent recruiting ground for volunteers for Iraq and Afghanistan to fight the "Yankee imperialists". Those are the rebels best fighters and also the last guys you'd expect NATO to be assisting but such is the complex web of forces that guide geopolitics these days. In truth, oil makes everyone a bitch, loyalties cheap and alliances tend to shift like desert sands all so long as the proles in the US and Europe get to fill up their tanks on the cheap to make that commute from surburbia to their cubicle in Wageslavistan affordable.

   In the revolutionary 60s, Gaddafi rode to power on the idea of crumbling aristocracies in the 'Age of Aquarius' and set up Libya as a one stop shop for anyone with a beef against Western governments. In the 80s, he'd sell anyone with a business plan for mayhem some semtex or an AK and giggle as the pasty white men imperialists in the US and Europe recoiled in horror as a 747 crumbled over Scotland or the IRA blew up an office building in London. Gaddafi is an asshole. But he's the kind of asshole you'd like if he were a bad guy in a movie. Like a Darth Vader but in sunglasses and dressed in 70s porno curtains.

   Benghazi right now is the Mos Eisley in our Star Wars universe. A 'hive of scum and villainy' if you will. An international cast is waiting to feed off the flesh of Gaddafi's fallen regieme. It's the awesome new template for war towns where the global corporate oligarchy, with special forces and intelligence agencies sent in as vanguard are followed soon after by corporate journalists, money men, dealmakers and various shady fucks. The rebels in Toyota Tundra trucks are too dumb to know when they're being used. And they're not even good enough fighters to close the war they were scripted to win. Sure it's only a matter of time before the oil changes hands and the rebels stomp into Tripoli but using a bunch of malcontents as a cheap ground army smacks of discount war.

  The thing is, as the world gets increasingly deranged, because of failing financial systems, energy and food price spikes and all kinds of growing religious and ethnic tensions on an overcrowded planet, Benghazi is the new template for a frontier town at the edge of civilization. Wars started and unfinished because everyones too broke to fight on borrowed capital. Sleazy wars with hard to define goals (because the public is getting wise to bullshit). The problem for the corpo oligarchy is that unless we go to 'total war' and Clauswitz' ghost gets to witness the 21st century's end by way of his 19th century paradigm; 'total war' where the generals finally get to press the 'big red button of win' on their Strangelove desks. But then nobody wins. Nations are still toying with the idea that there's a victory to be had somewhere. Right now, total war is still bad for business.

   Soon, if not already, Washington DC, London, Rome, Madrid, Athens, Paris, Moscow and maybe even Beijing are going to start to look like war towns, places turned into siege enclaves by debt, riots and diminishing energy reserves. We've still got a decade left before things get really ugly. But we will get a front row seat to the growing 21st century sleaziness and Benghazi is the fringe model for how the world plays out. It's always ugly watching vultures stick their hairless necks into dead flesh.

   The one constant in human military history is that war is always a way to burn the mistakes of the past and wipe slates clean. War is catharsis. And it's always really ugly. But war has a habit of bringing people back to some baseline reality, a reality where those trashed plastic bottles are worth something again. New generations are doomed to keep on relearning how much of a failure war is because we upright apes are too dumb to learn from our own history books. But war is written into our DNA. Fuck the other guy, I need his shit. The world right now reminds me of the situation exactly one hundred years ago. The heady Edwardian days of the gilded age before the Great War cleansed all that animosity out of the old system. 1911 was a year when major powers were entrenching and everyone was getting pissed off.  There was a lot of positioning by nation states then who were gearing themselves up to test how conflict would work out in an industrial age. It took two World Wars to wipe that slate clean and hundreds of millions died. And that was without nukes in the equation. We're in a similar age, the final squabble for what's left after the 20th century boom, this time with 7 billion people to throw into trenches both metaphorical and real.

   The problem today for Western economies is that there is no room for anymore 'growth'. The whole financial casino is based on the idea that we keep expanding into new territory, shitting out more babies and building new markets for iPads. The new reality is that can't happen anymore and that's going to piss off a lot of people. It's the hard wall all our consumerist dreams must crash into on a finite planet. Moon Base Alpha is not going to happen anytime soon because we can't afford it anymore. We spent all the cash importing Italian marble for our countertops. So we're stuck on this rock. Caged apes tend to bash skulls for extra rations. That's us on planet earth right now.

   Stockpile popcorn. It's still cheap.

   And yeah, I'm a depressing fuck. I'd hang outside a supermarket with one of those "The End is Nigh" signs if I wasn't such a pussy.