Treating U.S. Terror Psychosis
Has the attempted cure for 9/11 made the fear more real?
March 12, 2016
As one bizarre episode in the United States’ unceasing War on Terror piles on another, it is hard to avoid the dismaying truth that the entire situation has become pathological. We are experiencing a collective psychosis.
Its symptoms are the experience of persistent delusions and a distorted sense of objective reality. This psychosis stems from trauma and acute stress. In our case, the traumatic event was 9/11.
This terror psychosis is now well into its second decade and shows no signs of easing, even though there have been no attacks of a similar scale against the United States over the past 13 years.
Lashing out wildly
To deal with the problem, the United States has sent armies to the farthest reaches of the globe.
One purpose of these futile campaigns was to stamp out militant Islamic movements that had no direct role in attacking America (i.e., the Taliban, whether of the Afghan or Pakistani variant).
The other was to destroy a hostile regime whose only connection to the initial traumatic event was that it was Arab and hostile to the United States (i.e., Saddam Hussein’s Iraq).
Smaller operations involving the American military have been launched in a few dozen countries spread from the Western Sahara to Mindanao (southern Philippines) — even though the groups targeted there have been local in organization and objective.
The United States has built an elite army within an army in the form of the Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Numbering 60,000, these forces are designed to undertake select clandestine missions – in principle.
In practice, they are assigned a wide range of intelligence and political missions as well as commando-type ones. This force is almost as large as that which Imperial Britain deployed to police its entire far-flung empire.
All of this costs money – loads of it. In the process of prosecuting the Global War on Terror, the country has spent roughly $2 trillion.
The profligate spending on wars, occupation and the enormous Homeland Security apparatus has been marked by corruption and incompetence unmatched in any previous national undertaking at home or abroad.
Non-monetary costs include tens of thousands of American casualties – dead, wounded, disabled. Many of those in the latter two categories have received scandalously poor treatment.
The system for managing their care seems to have operated more to serve the careerist and financial interests of those who run it than the medical needs of those who fought terror.
The legal nightmare
Trampling on laws – domestic and international – has been companion to the violation of the rules of war.
The latter range from the prohibition on unjustified aggression against a sovereign state ensconced in the United Nations Charter, to the United Nations Convention on Torture (Article 5 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights) to the arbitrary abduction and extradition of individuals abroad.
At home, the violations have been just as egregious. The massive, systematic electronic surveillance programs of the National Security Agency have made a mockery of the Fourth Amendment.
The current President has arrogated to himself the power to kill American citizens abroad – such as Anwar al-Alawki – without due process or even notification, based on nothing more than his own determination and will.
President Obama also signed a law that requires the executive to arrest, imprison indefinitely, and otherwise punish any citizen whom it has determined presents a clear and imminent threat to the country’s security – without due process or even public notice of the actions taken.
Despite all that, we Americans tremble at the calculated, self-serving braggadocio coming from Saharan brigands, Somali tribesmen and Yemeni insurgents. Our rulers dutifully take every occasion to stimulate our fearful instincts.
Hollywood and TV are given inducements to produce streams of confected “realistic” shows – such as 24, Homeland, Quantico and so many others — that depict blood-curdling nightmares of evil-doers at the doorstep. The world of terror delusion has become a national theater of the scary – however absurd.
The political cost
All of this scare-mongering creates a political climate where elected officials dread doing anything that could expose them to charges of being “soft on terrorism” and putting the country at risk.
So they portray themselves as relentless in grim combat with a legion of would-be terrorists.
This points to the closed loop of continuous reinforcement between public fears and the actions of leaders that actually deepen them.
This mechanism interlocks with the external mechanism of self-perpetuating jihadism, insofar as American military action feeds hostility and paranoia about a Western crusade. That, in turn, produces rhetoric and actions that give material form to the initial perception of threat.
Michael J. Brenner
Professor Emeritus of International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh [Texas, United States] Michael Brenner is Professor Emeritus of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh and a Fellow of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at SAIS/Johns Hopkins. He was the Director of the International Relations & Global Studies Program at the University of Texas. Brenner is […]