Empire Burlesque
All Systems Go: The Elite View of the New Iraq-Syria War
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 06 October 2014 21:16

And so a new war has begun. Or rather, a new front is opened (and an old one re-opened) in an ongoing, ever-expanding war. For the new war is of course our old friend, the War on Terror. (Although it should more accurately be termed “the War on Terror Spawned by the War on Terror.”)

The casus belli being offered up seem even more specious and shifting than usual. The vicious civil war we have fomented in Syria has spawned an extremist militia that is using the weapons we poured into Syria to attack the corrupt sectarian regime we installed in Iraq with our illegal invasion there earlier, which gave rise to a vicious civil war that has continued to this day, with both sides using our weapons.

But is “war” really the right word? “War” implies a discrete event; it has a beginning, some kind of trajectory, some kind of an end. But the fiery miasma of slaughter and profiteering that is the Terror War has no such form. It has no trajectory  — and no end, as we have been told over and over by our bipartisan Terror Barons. For the imperial American state (and its various satellites, servants and satraps), the Terror War has become a state of nature — even THE state of nature. It is no longer an event in reality; it is the very form of reality itself. It must go on because it can’t NOT go on.

To our ruling classes, and their lackeys and abettors and worshippers across the commanding heights of Western society, the very idea of any alternative to ceaseless conflict is unimaginable …

Hey, it’s what we do. It’s what we are. As our latest temporary manager, Obama, said the other day, it’s how we roll. We exist solely to assert our dominance by violent force anywhere and anyhow we see fit. It is in blood and domination that we live and move and have our being. It doesn’t matter in the end who we are fighting against, or with, or if we change partners in the middle of the battle. It doesn’t matter if we fight an enemy here and arm him over there, or if our allies share the same extremism we are ostensibly trying to quell. It doesn’t matter what we say to justify the killing and profiteering we want to do, or that we change these justifications from day to day, even from hour to hour.

And it certainly doesn’t matter what “legal” basis we offer for our lawless and arbitrary actions. We are more than happy to spout some meaningless jargon, to torture and degrade the language, to openly mock the very notion of reason and law — as long as it keeps the editorial writers and think-tank quacks happy in their shallow fantasies of “serious” policy, as long as the public in whose name we are destabilizing and devouring the earth (including their own decaying communities) can keep believing that what we are doing with our killing and looting is keeping them safe from “psychopaths” and demonic beasts. As long as they can keep believing that they are being governed by a benevolent elite, whose ultimate aim — however badly and ineptly they sometimes pursue it — is to secure peace, freedom and prosperity for their own people, and for the world.

And thus we watch with wry bemusement how earnestly the opinion-makers and commentators — especially on the liberal side — debate the “issues” around our brutal and arbitrary actions (which they, sweet naifs, call “policies”). How they puzzle and puzzle til their puzzlers are sore, to make our policies better. ‘Oh, if only we could make our leaders see that their policies are counterproductive, that they are failing to produce the outcomes they are seeking. Oh, if only our leaders could be smarter, cleverer, more insightful — like us! But they just keep making the same mistakes, with the same bad outcomes, which just makes it harder for them to achieve their noble goals1”

It’s even more amusing when they get all scornful and sarcastic, when they smirk about what incompetent fools our elites are, how they’re so stupid that they can’t even see that they’re shooting ourselves in the foot over and over, how they couldn’t find their own ass with both hands even if both hands were stapled to their ass. (Was that Maher? Stewart? One of those media millionaires with the cutesy, soundbite smarm that passes for “dissent.”) We love these guys. We watch their shows. We pass around their best lines at the conference table. You can’t buy that kind of propaganda, that kind of reinforcement for the status quo. No one believe more in the system than these savvy snarkmasters. “The people in power now simply don’t know how to achieve their goals. They’re ruining the system! We need to get some better people in office to run the system. Then things will all right.”

But of course the truth is that the system works very well. It does what it intends to do, and pursues its goals with admirable, ruthless efficiency. Nothing deters the system: not facts, not law, not truth, not consequences, not appeals to reason or conscience, not concern for future — and certainly not snark from the chattering classes. The system can’t “fail” in its goals, because there are no “goals,” no endpoints. There is only the process — the endless, churning process of violent domination, and the power and profits this produces for those who join (or are born to) the elite. If one front in the Terror War produces what our naifs call a “policy failure” — the invasion of Iraq, say - so what? You just keep churning and fighting and profiteering on a dozen other fronts, while your “policy failure” ripens into a catastrophic societal breakdown, producing more excuses to “step back in” and resume the conflict there again.

So where is the “failure”? The violent, profitable process of empire — the shark that must keep eating or else it dies — has not skipped a beat. It just keeps expanding its range — and, as in Iraq now, it can always come back to an old killing field. As long as the system keeps killing and grinding and churning, it can’t fail, whatever may happen on this or that patch of ground at any particular time. The process — not the seriously analyzed “outcome” of an operation — is the whole point.

There must be blood, there must be loot, there must be expansion. When you’ve killed all the Indians, you go kill the gooks. If the Commies quit the field, you kill Muslims instead.  This is what the system is. This is what the system does.  And whoever seeks to control the system — whoever fights and claws their way into the cockpit of this monstrous machine, to give themselves and their courtiers a few years at the wheel — is a willing, eager part of the system.

For example, there is now a great deal of liberal handwringing about the “tragedy” of Barack Obama being “sucked back” into the morass of Iraq. “He wanted change, he wanted to lead us away from this kind of thing, but now look! Despite his best intentions, here we are again.” In most of these cases, Obama’s predecessor gets the blame — “Bush made a mess of Iraq, and now Obama has to clean it up.”

(I don’t recall seeing any commentary along these lines noting that Bill Clinton — the husband of the next president of the United States — also did yeoman service in making a mess of Iraq, having killed some 500,000 children with his pointless, punitive sanctions. He killed those children because Saddam wouldn’t give up his WMD — you know, the WMD he didn’t have. O, how we rightfully scorned Bush for ‘going to war over false pretenses” about that phantom WMD; but the good old Big Dawg killed half a million children for the same knowing lie, and left Iraqi society in chaos.)

Anyway, we are now told that thanks to Bush, Obama is between a rock and a hard place, trying his dee-diddly-darndest to deal with those extremist beheaders of ISIS (with the help of the extremist beheaders of Saudi Arabia) without putting  “boots on the ground.” He wanted to change the system — but it looks like the “Deep State” was too much for him. What a tragedy for him — and for us.

Can we dispense briefly but decisively with this oleaginous bullshit by making a single observation? A man who hand-picked George Bush’s Secretary of Defense to serve as his own Master of War knew exactly what the system is — and did not have the slightest intention of changing it. In fact, Obama has been phenomenally successful in expanding the system of violence and domination, extending it new areas, with new tools (Oval Office death squads! Assassinating innocent teenagers!) — and bringing it all back home with hi-tech surveillance, whistleblower persecution and journalist prosecutions his predecessor could only dream of.

And so we are at war again. But we are never not at war anymore. That’s what we do. That’s what we are.

 
Continuity in Kyrgyzstan: The Same Old Imperial Game Goes On
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 24 July 2009 13:18

The New York Times tells us that the ongoing political crackdown in America's Terror War ally Kyrgyzstan is an example of the difficult "challenge" faced by  the Obama administration as it seeks to "balance" its strategic needs with its "concerns" for human rights.

But of course this is not a "challenge" at all. It's remarkably simple. When you are conducting wars of imperial domination in far-flung, hard-to-access lands, you must keep the local satraps sweet -- unless or until you can replace them with your own hand-picked stooges. Everything else is just window dressing for the rubes back home.

In Kyrgyzstan, there is the added element of the local thug getting backing from another Great Gamester, the Kremlin. Theoretically, such a thing could complicate matters, but in this particular case, it does not, because Washington and Moscow are both backing the same side in Afghanistan's protracted civil war. Obama has already wrung new levels of cooperation from Russia's double-headed leadership in pushing his broad military escalation in Afghanistan. And in any case, the Kremlin is a hobbled gamester these days, concerned mostly with protecting its flanks against further encroachments on its historic hegemony – and protecting its own hand-picked stooges, such as the savage Chechen warlord, Ramzan Kadyrov, whose critics are being assassinated one by one. The Kremlin is also concerned with fending off the bristling missile bases the United States is installing around its frontiers, with the Obama Administration eagerly taking up and advancing the Bush Regime's aggressive provocation.

But back to Kyrgyzstan, where the oh-so-progressive peaceniks of Brand Obama have tossed that milksoppy 'human rights' jazz overboard and are lavishing love and largess on the increasingly brutal strongman, Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Shall we be dull and mention "continuity" yet again? I'm afraid we must. For here, as elsewhere – everywhere – imperial concerns (known as "strategic issues" in our ever-obfuscating Beltway jargon) trump all others. As Scott Horton notes at Harper's, referring to the Times' account of brutal beatings doled out to Bakiyev's opponents:

In a recent description of challenges to his administration, he put the word “freedom” in first place. Is he concerned that the Kyrgyz have too much of it? Accounts like the one above suggest that he’s out to give “freedom” a good, sound thrashing. So how does the United States react? Since early 2002, the Kyrgyz Republic has had an important position in Washington’s view—it is home to Ganci Air Force Base. And maintaining that military installation has been the alpha and omega of U.S.-Kyrgyz relations. The collapse of the nation’s nascent democracy hardly seems to be given a second thought.


To sum up, it seems the government of Kyrgyzstan is repressive, undemocratic and corrupt. But because it's willing to offer a plot of land for yet another outpost in America's empire of military domination, all is forgiven.

Which suggests that if Iran wants to get past its little spot of bother with Washington that keeps cropping up – you know, where America's "chief diplomat" constantly declares her doubts that, er,  diplomacy will resolve any of the Empire's problems with Iran, and warns that the "nuclear clock is ticking" toward some promised if unspecified unpleasantness if Tehran doesn't knuckle under – then the mullahs should consider hosting a couple of big ole American bases in the Persian hinterlands.

After that, the Iranians – like Iraq's Nouri al-Maliki, who is currently "hosting" more than a quarter of a million American forces (public and private) and signalling his willingness to keep them on indefinitely – could arrest, repress and torture who they please, without a discouraging word from Washington. A win-win situation all around!

 
Pay for Play: Brief Glimpses of the System at Work
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 24 July 2009 00:22

Many, many years ago, when I was a young pup of a reporter on a small rural paper in the foothills of the Appalachians in East Tennessee, one of my very first assignments was to attend a court hearing on a murder case, then meet afterwards with one of the most senior law enforcement officers in the county, who would be giving testimony in the case. This officer frequently provided the paper with photographs of the latest drug raid or big arrest his force had made.

I went to the hearing, then met the officer. He was, literally, a towering figure, topping six-foot-five, and sporting a thin Errol Flynn moustache, perhaps to offset his thinning hair. He was a powerful, popular figure, and one of the top leaders in a statewide law enforcement association; indeed, he spent several weeks a year training his colleagues in the latest modern methods of crime-fighting and professional law enforcement management.

I'd never met the man, but when I introduced myself as the reporter from the Herald, he gave me a big smile, took my hand with a crushing grip, and sat me down on a bench in the old, antebellum courtroom. He pulled out a roll of 35mm film in its plastic canister and handed it to me. As he handed it over, he clamped his massive hand down hard on my thigh and gripped it tight. "Here's your pictures," he said in a low voice. "If you do right by me, we'll get along just fine. But if you try to screw me, you're fucked."

Then he let go, stood up, and went off, smiling and back-slapping his way through the citizens milling in the hallway. Well, he got good coverage during the time that I was at the paper. He was very cooperative with the press; I went on several drug raids with his forces as they turned houses inside out -- the officers were particularly tickled when they found sex Polaroids the suspects had taken of themselves; although these were not germane to the charges at hand, they were examined far more closely than the actual evidence. I even went on what must surely have been one of the last moonshine raids in the Tennessee hills, after a long trek deep into the backwoods, where some nostalgic old-timer had set up a still -- even though the county, which was still nominally "dry," was ringed with numerous package liquor stores; you were never more than ten minutes' drive from all the hard liquor you could want.

But the "press" -- such as we were -- never had the time, or the resources, or the publishers' blessing to pursue the more troubling rumors that floated around the law enforcement star and several other bigwigs in the area. These chiefly involved cooperation between law enforcement, top financial entrepreneurs and criminal organizations to facilitate the transport of illegal drugs into the area, chiefly through private airstrips set up in far corners on palatial estates.

This was, oddly enough, the same basic set-up that I encountered, or heard credible tales of, in every American newspaper where I worked -- in East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee and down in Mississippi. In every case, there was prima facie evidence (and sometimes more than that) of a local worthy -- banker, music star, famous evangelical -- providing the facilities for drug-running while the law looked the other way. And in every case, there was a lack of resources -- and institutional will -- to pursue the allegations further. In the one instance where there was an effort to follow one of these trails, a top editor and I were set to drive to New Orleans, where a televangelist's planes were allegedly being used to fly in dope from Central America. But the night before we were to leave, I got a call at home from the editor: "Our sources tell us we'd better not meet with [the man who would corroborate the allegations.]" Why not, I asked. "They say we'll never make it out of New Orleans alive." So we didn't go.

I was reminded of all this ancient personal history by the recent story in the New York Times about the latest round of corruption arrests in New Jersey. Mayors, councilmen, city, county and state officials, rabbis -- all are alleged to be operating a crime network ranging from international money-laundering to good, old-fashioned cash in an envelope (or even a cereal box) in exchange for government favors. This was not the case of a "few bad eggs," but a veritable platoon of community leaders.

It was, in other words, another brief glimpse behind the curtain of how the world really works a good deal of time, at every level. There is always some powerful person somewhere clamping their hands down on somebody's thigh and muttering, "Play ball, and it's jake; screw me and you're fucked." Every now and then, someone will make a play too large for the pull they can muster to cover themselves; or maybe someone with bigger pull wants to muscle in on their patch, and brings the heat -- or, occasionally, a straight-up unit or prosecutor will get the goods and somehow run the gauntlet of protective barriers that hedge in the powerful.

But the fact is, many, many, many people in power whom we are incessantly told -- even ordered -- to respect and obey are dirty. They lie, they cheat, they steal, they commit or countenance heinous crimes. Sometimes the corruption comes in the form of a wad of cash passed under the table at a diner; sometimes it comes in the form of "bundled contributions" to a national campaign or arcane legal entity designed to receive, process -- and launder -- cash for politicians dripping with piety; or, even more often, in the form of the golden revolving door between government service and corporate sinecures. Sometimes the crime is looking the other way when a plane comes in loaded with dope; sometimes the crime is sending the planes in loaded with bombs.

A few years after I left the Appalachian foothills, my old thigh-clamping pal was convicted on felony gambling charges (as always, its the venial sins of the flesh that bring you down, not the pay-offs, strong-arming, commission of war crimes, etc.). But today he is once again a prominent, popular politician in the area. The evangelist whose drug-laden planes were allegedly landing in Louisiana is still a prominent, popular evangelist, despite a couple of highly publicized falls from grace with sultry jezebels. And the music star whose private airstrip on his vast rural manor was allegedly used to ferry dope is still a music star, noted now for his fierce Christian piety and rock-ribbed patriotism.

 
An Enduring Casus Belli: The Liberal Club Hears the Truth
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 30 September 2014 16:39

On three occasions in the past few days, I've been approached separately by three of my children, ranging in age from 9 to 28, each of whom asked in different ways, "What is this war with ISIS all about?" Adjusting my answer according to their age, understanding and education, I spoke of various factors behind the new war, trying to give more of the context, history and reality of what is going on, behind the blizzard of contradictory bull that surrounds the operation.

But later it occurred to me that the most direct -- and truest -- answer could be found in a short clip from an old film, made more than 30 years ago, in a scene set in the midst of a conflict now an entire century in the past. But the answer given then is most assuredly true now.

So here it is, delivered at a cozy black-tie dinner at the well-appointed Liberal Club of Portland, Oregon:

See also:
Why the Showdown with Islamic Extremists Is the War the Pentagon Was Hoping For
US, Allies Strike ISIS: 3 Defense Stocks to Buy Now
Defense Contractors are Making a Killing

 
A voice, a life, remembered
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 29 September 2014 21:36

Just briefly on a more personal note, sparked by an archival item unearthed unexpectedly....

 
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