Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 29 October 2014 01:24
Behold the quintessential earnest progressive liberal in the highest moral dudgeon: Digby railing with thunderous fury at the possibility (the very distinct possibility) that Barack Obama is going to suppress the Senate's report on CIA torture. Digby quotes the recent letter from some of Obama's fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureates, who are calling on Obama to release the report (and close the concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, for good measure.) Worthy sentiments and justifiable anger indeed. But then Digby adds this gloss:
"Honestly, if they deep six the report (or redact it so heavily that it's meaningless) I think President Obama has no choice but to give back his prize. There's [sic] a lot of actions he's taken as president that people could claim disqualify him for the prize anyway. Arguments about the dirty wars and targeted assassination programs alone will go on for generations. But one can, at least, say they represent some form of modern warfare and that the President of a military Empire is always going to be required to deal in such ugly matters. (That, in fact, s one reason why it was ludicrous to give him the prize in the first place --- he runs the most powerful killing machine on the planet.)
But however you see his performance as Commander in Chief, There can be no debate about torture. It's a war crime. It should be prosecuted. But even if they cannot do that, covering it up is to be complicit."
Old cynic that I am, I must admit that even my grizzled jaw dropped as I read these words. "Arguments about the dirty wars and targeted assassination programs alone will go on for generations." This, again, is from one of our leading liberal lights. She thinks dirty wars -- secret incursions into other nations to murder, subvert, wreak havoc, terrorize -- are open to debate. She thinks that "targeted assassination programs" -- one of which is run directly out of the White House, with regular weekly meetings where Obama and his advisors tick off names of human beings to be killed without warning, without the slightest pretense of judicial process or rule of law -- will be argued about for generations. The morality of death squads and dirty wars is something about which serious, concerned citizens can disagree and debate, apparently.
Running a death squad -- which, among many others, kills American citizens without due process, then, just for the hell of it, murders their children: this doesn't put a person beyond the pale of acceptable human behavior. Not at all. It's something we can argue about, sure; but not only is it within the parameters of acceptable behavior, it does not even disqualify you from enthusiastic political support, not even from earnest, peace-loving antiwar liberals like Digby, who fought tooth and nail to keep Obama running his death squads and dirty wars in 2012. (And if he could run for a third term there is no doubt -- none whatsoever -- that he would have fierce backing of the earnest, peace-loving antiwar liberals like Digby.)
But my poor jaw had not yet done descending. For Digby, astonishingly, goes on to offer one of those arguments for state murder and the Nuremberg-level war crime of carrying out "dirty wars" on the sovereign territory of other nations: "One can, at least, say they represent some form of modern warfare and that the President of a military Empire is always going to be required to deal in such ugly matters."
Now, I'm sure we are all to understand that Digby herself wouldn't make that argument. But she does see its point. She thinks it’s something that can be debated. She might not like it, she might even oppose it (while of course never opposing the continuation of its perpetrator in power). But from the gritty, savvy realpolitik perspective that our earnest progressive liberals are always so keen to show they understand and appreciate, you can certainly make that argument and remain within the bounds of respectable debate in Digby's eyes.
Isn't this a wonderment? A progressive, peace-loving liberalism that can accept a president actually checking off names on a death list, like Stalin in the Politburo -- that can accept "dirty wars" that have slaughtered thousands of innocent civilians and destabilized whole regions, breeding more violence and terror. And although Digby has criticized such actions, it is obvious that none of them have put Obama beyond the moral pale for her. He's still within the bounds of acceptable realpolitik. ("Hey, the guy has to run a military Empire. What's he supposed to do?"). He is still -- if only just -- on "our" side.
Wholesale murder, wanton destruction, untold -- and unnecessary -- anguish and grief and suffering and turmoil: these things can be borne, if reluctantly, by our liberal progressive peace-lovers. But torture -- that, apparently, is the one thing that is beyond the pale. And in this particular case, it is not even torture being carried out by the Obama administration. (There is torture still going on, of course, but it's not at issue in the Senate report on past CIA actions which has so fixated our progressive liberals.) No, just the mere act of covering up a report on past torture is, for Digby, a step too far at last. Killing, mayhem, subversion -- well OK, if you have to; but torture -- why, that's "a war crime"! There can be absolutely "no debate about torture."
But here the obvious question arises: why not? If you can swallow all the rest and still support the perpetrator, why draw the line at torture? If, by Digby's own logic, you can "at least" make the argument that dirty wars and death squads "represent some form of modern warfare" -- then why not torture? Why not lump it in with those other "forms of modern warfare"? "Hey, we do lots of things now that used to be considered war crimes --- because we now face new dangers in our modern warfare. We have to kill people without due process, we have wage dirty wars -- and every now and then, we have to get rough with a prisoner. If you can support a president who murders and subverts, why not support him when he tortures, or covers up for torturers?"
What is that makes torture worse than actually murdering innocent people? Why is torture an undebatable war crime, but blowing up children sleeping in their homes in some Pakistani village is something that can be "argued about" -- indeed, such an open moral question that the debate will go on "for generations"?
The truth, of course, is that murder and dirty war are even worse than torture. But all of them partake of a radical evil that should put any perpetrator beyond the pale, making the person a war criminal who indeed "should be prosecuted." But if our earnest progressive liberals took off their blinders and acknowledged this truth -- then what? They would have to admit that they have been supporting -- with however much showy reluctance and "savvy" constructive criticism -- the perpetrator of monstrous war crimes.
So they focus on what is, relatively speaking, the lesser evil. Probably because most of them believe that Obama really has abolished torture in our far-flung gulags and bases and "secret facilities," rather than just entrenching it and codifying it with new manuals and different jargon. So in the end, Obama is not really that evil, is he? Since they cannot accept the full moral import of the death squads and dirty wars, they expend their righteous fury on the safer and more limited ground of torture. Or again, in this case, on "complicity" with torture, by covering up a report on the crimes committed years ago by the real bad guys, from the other side of the partisan divide: the Bush gang.
But let's say that Obama does quash or whitewash the report, confirming his "complicity" in torture. What then? What condign punishment does our morally furious liberal progressive envision for him in that case? Impeachment? Prosecution? Imprisonment? No. If Obama does this really, really bad thing -- which is so much worse than murdering people and waging dirty war -- then Digby believes he should ... he should ... give his Nobel Peace Prize back.
That's it. Pretty rough, huh? That would really teach him a lesson, if he had to do that!
But even if Digby's worst fears come to pass, is there anyone who believes that she would then disown the president, break with him, denounce him publicly as a war criminal? Of course not. She, and the other earnest progressive liberals, will continue to support him -- with loving chastisement and sad shakes of the head, to be sure -- but they've got his back.
And we will see them on the hustings for Hilary Clinton when the time comes for her to perpetrate these same moral outrages, these same war crimes. Their partisan tribalism blinds them to the fullness of the reality that confronts us. (And I know how that works; I suffered from the same tribal blindness for many, many years.) They cannot genuinely and effectively oppose the monstrous system of military Empire because, in the end, what is most important to them is not stopping the system -- but making sure that one of "theirs" is running it.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 00:03
Friends, I hope you will attend to this brief but important message. One of our very best, most insightful, powerful writers is now in extremely low water. Long-time readers of this column will know that Arthur Silber has faced a relentless barrage of health difficulties in recent years. He is once more in extremely poor shape, and faces the very real risk of losing his home — a fate which, as he points out in his latest post, will effectively be the end of him.
How can we afford to lose such a voice: humane, caring, witty, wise – and always open, searching, ever-more inquisitive? Arthur has something to say, something worth hearing, worth thinking about, worth taking in and acting upon. His work offers something beyond the bounds of ordinary political commentary. I think his is one of the most vital voices we have today, in any format, anywhere.
Times are hard all over, I know. Especially for the small band of readers who still cast an eye toward this blog. There are no 1 Percenters here. Many of the regular readers are in straitened circumstances themselves. I understand that. But I do ask that if anyone out there who sees this feels that they can contribute something toward keeping Arthur’s work — and life — going, then please head over to his blog and throw something in the hat. Thanks.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 28 July 2009 23:25
Arthur Silber has been silent for quite some time, and his last post spoke of horrific problems with his health -- which has been declining for a long time, and now seems to have taken a deep plunge.
I don't know his precise situation at the moment, but it is likely to be dire. I imagine too that in addition to the health problems, he is facing the usual crush of bills at the end of the month. He is one of our strongest and most thought-provoking voices, yet is forced to live at the margins of society, while witless poltroons and egregious time-servers swim in gravy.
I am not authorized to speak for him, and am not speaking for him -- but just on my own volition, I would urge you to go to his site and, if you have anything to give, give what you can to support Silber in this difficult time. We need his insight, we need his wit, we need the disturbing, productive fire in the mind that he can light.
And while you're there, avail yourself of some of the "Major Essays" listed on the side; this is powerful stuff, and you won't see anything like it anywhere else.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 27 July 2009 20:16
While dozens of innocent people continue to die each week in the
political and sectarian violence unleashed in Iraq by America's
invasion and continuing occupation, the main attention of the
bipartisan Terror Warriors in Washington – and their sycophantic
outriders in the corporate media – continues to be what they call, in
the imperial jargonizing that lumps the vast complexities of myriad
human communities into reductive, thought-killing soundbites, the
This, as we all know, is the "good war," the one
that most "serious" progressives touted for years as the healthy
alternative to the "bad war" that George W. Bush got us into in Iraq,
where his "incompetence" and "failures" tarnished the exalted ideal of
"humanitarian intervention." (Known in the trade by the acronym
"KTC-STC" – "Kill the Children to Save the Children.") . If only we
could get out the quagmire in Iraq, cried the serious progs, and do the
Terror War "right" in Afghanistan! Well, their wish has come true
(except of course for the 130,000 American troops and equal number of
mercenaries still prowling around in Iraq; but that's OK, because Obama
is in charge now, and what ser-progs once vehemently denounced as a
blatant, bloody war crime can now be described, in the immortal words
of the president himself, as "an extraordinary achievement"). The Obama
Administration is throwing billions of new dollars and thousands of
more troops into the eight-year-old conflict, while greatly expanding
the cross-border attacks on the sovereign soil of America's ally,
Pakistan. And while Obama has retained the core of the Terror War
directorate that Bush installed – notably Pentagon warlord Robert Gates
and the surgin' general, David Petraeus – he has now put his own man in
charge of the "good war": longtime "dirty war" and death squad maven
Stanley McChrystal. (Expertise in rubouts, snatches and "strenuous
interrogation" is obviously what you need to win "hearts and minds" in
So here we are, with the imperial
mind bent at last on the "Af-Pak" front. But where, exactly, are we?
What is the real situation on the "Af-Pak" ground? Two natives of the
Terror War targets give us a view from the ground. First, Malalai Joya, from Afghanistan:
2005, I was the youngest person elected to the new Afghan parliament.
Women like me, running for office, were held up as an example of how
the war in Afghanistan had liberated women. But this democracy was a
facade, and the so-called liberation a big lie....
years after the Taliban regime was toppled, our hopes for a truly
democratic and independent Afghanistan have been betrayed by the
continued domination of fundamentalists and by a brutal occupation that
ultimately serves only American strategic interests in the region.
must understand that the government headed by Hamid Karzai is full of
warlords and extremists who are brothers in creed of the Taliban. Many
of these men committed terrible crimes against the Afghan people during
the civil war of the 1990s.
For expressing my views I have been
expelled from my seat in parliament, and I have survived numerous
assassination attempts. The fact that I was kicked out of office while
brutal warlords enjoyed immunity from prosecution for their crimes
should tell you all you need to know about the "democracy" backed by
So far, Obama has pursued the same policy as
Bush in Afghanistan. Sending more troops and expanding the war into
Pakistan will only add fuel to the fire. Like many other Afghans, I
risked my life during the dark years of Taliban rule to teach at
underground schools for girls. Today the situation of women is as bad
as ever. Victims of abuse and rape find no justice because the
judiciary is dominated by fundamentalists. A growing number of women,
seeing no way out of the suffering in their lives, have taken to
suicide by self-immolation.
This week, US vice-president Joe
Biden asserted that "more loss of life [is] inevitable" in Afghanistan,
and that the ongoing occupation is in the "national interests" of both
the US and the UK.
I have a different message to the people of
Britain. I don't believe it is in your interests to see more young
people sent off to war, and to have more of your taxpayers' money going
to fund an occupation that keeps a gang of corrupt warlords and drug
lords in power in Kabul.
What's more, I don't believe it is
inevitable that this bloodshed continues forever. Some say that if
foreign troops leave Afghanistan will descend into civil war. But what
about the civil war and catastrophe of today? The longer this
occupation continues, the worse the civil war will be.
Next, Tariq Ali reports from Pakistan:
is a country whose fate is no longer in its own hands. I have never
known things so bad. The chief problems are the United States and its
requirements, the religious extremists, the military high command, and
corruption, not just on the part of President Zardari and his main
rivals, but spreading well beyond them.
This is now Obama’s war.
He campaigned to send more troops into Afghanistan and to extend the
war, if necessary, into Pakistan. These pledges are now being
fulfilled. On the day he publicly expressed his sadness at the death of
a young Iranian woman caught up in the repression in Tehran, US drones
killed 60 people in Pakistan. The dead included women and children,
whom even the BBC would find it difficult to describe as ‘militants’.
Their names mean nothing to the world; their images will not be seen on
TV networks. Their deaths are in a ‘good cause’....
In May this
year, Graham Fuller, a former CIA station chief in Kabul, published an
assessment of the crisis in the region in the Huffington Post. Ignored
by the White House, since he was challenging most of the assumptions on
which the escalation of the war was based, Fuller was speaking for many
in the intelligence community in his own country as well as in Europe.
It’s not often that I can agree with a recently retired CIA man, but
not only did Fuller say that Obama was ‘pressing down the same path of
failure in Pakistan marked out by George Bush’ and that military force
would not win the day, he also explained to readers of the Huffington
Post that the Taliban are all ethnic Pashtuns, that the Pashtuns ‘are
among the most fiercely nationalist, tribalised and xenophobic peoples
of the world, united only against the foreign invader’ and ‘in the end
probably more Pashtun than they are Islamist’. ‘It is a fantasy,’ he
said, ‘to think of ever sealing the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.’ And I
don’t imagine he is the only retired CIA man to refer back to the days
when Cambodia was invaded ‘to save Vietnam’....
to Pakistan, Anne] Patterson can be disarmingly frank. Earlier this
year, she offered a mid-term assessment to a visiting Euro-intelligence
chief. While Musharraf had been unreliable, saying one thing in
Washington and doing its opposite back home, Zardari was perfect: ‘He
does everything we ask.’ What is disturbing here is not Patterson’s
candour, but her total lack of judgment. Zardari may be a willing
creature of Washington, but the intense hatred for him in Pakistan is
not confined to his political opponents. He is despised principally
because of his venality. He has carried on from where he left off as
minister of investment in his late wife’s second government. Within
weeks of occupying President’s House, his minions were ringing the
country’s top businessmen, demanding a share of their profits.
the case of Mr X, who owns one of the country’s largest banks. He got a
call. Apparently the president wanted to know why his bank had sacked a
PPP member soon after Benazir Bhutto’s fall in the late 1990s. X said
he would find out and let them know. It emerged that the sacked clerk
had been caught with his fingers literally in the till. President’s
House was informed. The explanation was rejected. The banker was told
that the clerk had been victimised for political reasons. The man had
to be reinstated and his salary over the last 18 years paid in full
together with the interest due. The PPP had also to be compensated and
would expect a cheque (the sum was specified) soon. Where the president
leads, his retainers follow. Many members of the cabinet and their
progeny are busy milking businessmen and foreign companies. ‘If they
can do it, so can we’ is a widely expressed view in Karachi, the
country’s largest city. Muggings, burglaries, murders, many of them
part of protection rackets linked to politicians, have made it the
Naples of the East....
These rumours came into the open at the
end of June, when the head of the Bhutto clan, Mumtaz Ali Bhutto,
chairman of the Sind National Front, publicly accused Zardari at a
press conference, alleging that ‘the killer of Murtaza Bhutto had also
murdered Benazir . . . Now I am his target. A hefty amount has been
paid to mercenaries to kill me.’ (Zardari is generally regarded as
having ordered his brother-in-law Murtaza’s death. Shoaib Suddle, the
police chief in Karachi, who organised the operation that led to
Murtaza Bhutto’s death, has now been promoted and is head of the
You should read both pieces in
their entirety to get the bigger, grimmer picture. So here we are -- in
bed with extremists, misogynists, kleptocrats and killers.
But wait a minute: isn't this where we came in?