The Repetition Compulsion For War – And How It Might Fail This Time

Barack Obama hugs John Kerry in the Oval OfficeNo matter how many times we’ve seen it before, the frenzy for launching a military attack on another country is — to the extent we’re not numb — profoundly upsetting. Tanked up with talking points in Washington, top officials drive policy while intoxicated with what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the madness of militarism,” and most media coverage becomes similarly unhinged. That’s where we are now.

But new variables have opened up possibilities for disrupting the repetitive plunge to war. Syria is in the crosshairs of U.S. firepower, but cracks in the political machinery of the warfare state are widening here at home. For advocates of militarism and empire by any other name, the specter of democratic constraint looms as an ominous threat.

Into the Capitol Hill arena, the Obama White House sent Secretary of State John Kerry to speak in a best-and-brightest dialect of neocon tongues. The congressional hierarchies of both parties — Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, John Boehner, Eric Cantor — are on the same page for an attack on Syria. And meanwhile, the U.S. mass media have been cranking up the usual adrenalin-pumped hype for war.

More than 10 years ago, American media outlets were filled with breathless idolatry of the latest U.S. weapons poised to strike Iraq. Now, the big TV networks are at it again – starting to hype the Pentagon’s high-tech arsenal that’s ready to demolish Syrian targets. Of course the people at the other end of the weaponry aren’t in the picture.

The Media Education Foundation has just posted a two-minute montage of coverage from MSNBC, Fox and CNN idolizing the latest Pentagon weaponry for use in the Iraq invasion a decade ago — as well as Walter Cronkite doing the same on CBS during the Vietnam War. As a present-day bookend, a CNN clip from a few days ago provides a glimpse of how little has changed (except for slicker on-screen graphics).

But the usual agenda-building for war may not work this time.

The first week of September has stunned the military-industrial-media complex. It began with a familiar bellicose call for action from the president, seconded by leaders of both parties on Capitol Hill and echoed by mass media. And yet by the end of the week, grassroots opposition had interrupted the war momentum.

Senators and members of the House are being overwhelmed with anti-war messages via email, fax and phone. People are rising up to demand that Congress vote against launching a war on yet another country.

Whether Obama would actually abide by failure to gain congressional “authorization” to attack Syria is by no means clear. But our immediate task is to create such a failure.

This is a pivotal juncture of history in real time, an “all hands on deck” moment to exert enough public pressure to prevent a war-on-Syria resolution from getting through Congress. Such an outcome would thoroughly delegitimize any order from Obama to attack Syria. In the process, we would make real progress against the masters of war.

There’s an antidote to the repetition compulsion for war. It’s called democracy.


Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” Information about the documentary based on the book is at


Norman Solomon

Co-Founder at RootsAction
Norman Solomon is the author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of

15 Comments on "The Repetition Compulsion For War – And How It Might Fail This Time"

  1. About time.

    I remember the run-up to the Iraq “war” – millions of people marching, and everything went as planned. Now, with little marching going on, we may actually stop this.

    • Liam_McGonagle | Sep 7, 2013 at 10:35 am |

      I doubt it.

      Obama’s been pretty clear. He’s doing this just to humour us. He’s going to invade whether or not he gets Congressional approval.

      • If he does that, Syria might well become the democrats’ Iraq.

        • Liam_McGonagle | Sep 7, 2013 at 10:54 am |

          I think it could play out a little differently.

          Not saying that I know it for a fact, obviously, but I think that when Obama blows the facade off this whole farce by invading without Congressional approval, the streets will erupt in massive protests, and then NSA/FBI et alia will use the information they obtained via domestic spying programmes to launch what will (at least superficially) appear to be plausible false flag operations implicating non-partisan peace and social welfare activists as terrorists.

          This will not only appear to justify further ‘short term’ security measures, but frighten the political establishment into openly abandoning any pretence to political opposition.

          This won’t be so much a re-play of Iraq as the final admission that American democracy is a fraud. Kind of like Charles I’s dissolving Parliament in 1629, in the wake of protest against the highly unpopular foreign interventions captained by the Duke of Buckingham.

          • I think the supposedly “limited” nature of the strike would prevent any massive protests. If he were going to just declare war and send ground troops like in Iraq, that would be one thing, but going to war by stages would seem to avoid the major social disruption. Maybe we bomb them, then someone sponsors a terrorist attack in retaliation, which, in turn, gets the public mad at Syria and supportive of another round of recriminations, and so on.

            What worries me most is that we have no clear policy on Syria, we don’t understand the nature of the conflict, and the more we intervene, the more we’ll get sucked into a costly regional war that has the potential to spiral out of control.

          • Liam_McGonagle | Sep 7, 2013 at 11:13 am |

            The whole notion of ‘limited’ military intervention is a f*cking joke. Try a ‘limited’ intervention in a bar fight some time.

            It’s easy to start an imperialist war junket when everyone’s fat and happy, but it’s clear now that the invetiable hardships will not be shared equally.

            LA experienced a major port disruption last year due to labor strife.

            The military is stretched to the breaking point, experiencing unprecedented levels of suicides, etc. We just had one turn rogue and shoot up a couple dozen people at Fort Hood.

            There is simply no more room left for Americans to fool themselves into thinking it’ll get better after just one more.

          • I agree with you, but I suspect that Americans will fool themselves anyway.

          • InfvoCuernos | Sep 7, 2013 at 2:35 pm |

            I just spotted a meme outlining a rosy future that starts with the the Syrian strike, then somehow US engages in a new cold war with Russia, China, and Iran and then the economy turns around and unemployment drops to zero, angels sing at the 4th of July celebration, and the world praises Obama. Pretty sure that’s proof that the govt. is posting memes on facebook to help sway popular opinion.

      • What!?!?!? And risk his entirely, thoroughly, surely-not-ironic and entirely-deserved-based-on-past-actions Nobel Peace Prize!

  2. It seems possible to me that he’s willing to lose here because what he really wants is to keep congress and the media distracted long enough to side-step another showdown over raising the fiscal cliff (due at the end of the month). With all this going on, there’s no opening for the republicans to posture about spending, socialism, etc–they might as well say “yes” this time and save the political theater for another vote.

  3. BuzzCoastin | Sep 7, 2013 at 1:13 pm |

    > And yet by the end of the week, grassroots opposition had interrupted the war momentum.

    look for a CIA inspired attack on Der Homeland
    to remedy this blowback from the herd

    • jasonpaulhayes | Sep 8, 2013 at 5:30 pm |

      If they still use astrology in the White House to make key decisions, between the 9th-11th somethings going down.

      • BuzzCoastin | Sep 8, 2013 at 5:46 pm |

        911 all over again
        with a twist
        wouldn’t surprise me
        they need a new 911 to justify their existence

        • jasonpaulhayes | Sep 8, 2013 at 5:55 pm |

          There was a time when economic warfare was a valid excuse (accepted justification) to underline this sort of action but we know its about redrawing borders at this point. If anyone has actually read all the leaked documents over the past decade, its clear this is mostly PNAC to motivate and NATO to instigate this sort of action which is strange because it cant really be a New “American” Century unless we were to go it alone and this country is owned and operated by globalists soooo the gigs up.. time to start grassroot sourcing our politicians at every step.

          • BuzzCoastin | Sep 8, 2013 at 6:07 pm |

            > grassroot sourcing our politicians at every step

            if wee did they’d really have to rig it
            but it’s time to look beyond government
            towards a state of services & administration
            not government butt
            consensus, compromise, compassionate administration

            … a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man? There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. I please myself with imagining a State at least which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow-men. A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which also I have imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.

            HD Thoreau

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