Empire Burlesque
A Hundred Years of Evil Folly: The Bloody Roots of the Paris Attack
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 07 January 2015 23:45

As you might expect, the very secular "Angry Arab, As'ad AbuKhahlil, has some pertitent observations on the Charlie Hebdo attack. You should read the whole piece, but here are some excerpts from his "Notes on the shooting in Paris":

I feel strongly about the right to offend and to mock as an artist (and as a human being).  That right should be absolute. .. Muslims do need to lighten up, and should feel secure enough to stomach mockery and satire against their religion. And they should not allow their enemies (even the bigots among them) to provoke them so easily....

... Yes, one should vehemently condemn the crimes against the cartoonist and writers and journalists but should in the same vein condemn the on-going French and US bombing raids that are taking place from Mali to Afghanistan, passing through Yemen and Syria. And those bombs are real and they are killing real people.  Those are terrorist actions as much as the shooting in Paris was a terrorist action.

Western policies in Syria have produced, and will continue to produce, terrorist organizations the likes of which we have not seen since the creation of Al-Qa`idah. The enthusiastic policies of arming and sponsoring "rebel groups in Syria" are responsible for the proliferation of fanatical terrorist groups which will terrorize those countries that had sponsored them.

The source of all those terrorist groups is known: Gulf regimes and their Western sponsors. They have been indulging those regimes form the days of the Cold War.  I was on the side of the left and progressive forces during the Cold War, while you--in the West--were on the side of those speaking the language of Jihad and...oil.

The direct roots -- and bitter fruits -- of actions like the attack in Paris and the depredations of ISIS in the ruins of American-raped Iraq go back 100 years, to the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, then forward through decades of fateful, and fatal, decisions by Western elites to support, advance -- and arm -- the most retrograde forms of Islam in order to prevent the rise of any alternatives to the authortiarian client states they favored in the region. At every turn, the West has exacerbated the century-long crisis within Islam, producing -- as AbuKhalil notes above -- a relentless series of extremist groups, each seemingly more virulent than the last, who, as he rightly says, "terrorize those countries that had sponsored them."

(For example, the latest news reports indicate that the Paris attackers probably had some kind of formal military training; they could well have fought in the Syrian "jihad" which the West and its extremist allies in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, have been fuelling for years with arms and aid. And who can forget -- except for 99 percent of the American political-media establishment, of course -- the original joint American-Saudi creation of the global jihadi movement in the late 70s and early 80s, designed as a "Great Game" ploy to goad the Soviets in Afghanistan?)

William Pfaff tells this long and sordid history in a powerful piece in The American Conservative, which appeared on line shortly before the Paris killings. It too is very much worth reading in full, but here is just one excerpt on the modern period of the tragic saga:

The “New Middle East,” officially proclaimed by NATO at the end of 2003, has conspicuously failed to appear, but it remains a goal of the expansionist neoconservative visionaries among the makers of American policy. In Bush’s government, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2008, “Democratic state-building is now an urgent component in our national interest” reflecting a “uniquely American realism” teaching that it is America’s job “to change the world,” and in its own image. On September 11, 2014 the eminent dean of the School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University, Vali R. Nasr, wrote in the New York Times that America “must rally the whole region to support power-sharing—and nation building. This is a tall order. But the crises facing America demand a grand strategy…” A decade of failures has passed, but the grand design has not changed.

President Obama has declared that the jihadism of the new “Islamic State” is itself an incarnation of evil that must be deterred and destroyed. The two sides in this renewal of George W. Bush’s War Against Global Terror—Jews and Christians in the West and their Arab enemies—both consider themselves “people of the Book” and descendants of the Prophet Abraham. They have now become in their own minds actors in the apocalyptic destiny described in the Book of Revelation. Many American Evangelical Protestants have convinced themselves that contemporary American foreign policy can only be understood in such a context.

... Washington’s conduct since the 2001 attack by Islamic radicals on New York and the Pentagon has undermined or deliberately subverted institutions of international order to which, in the past, the United States was a leading contributor. The codes of international justice and morality, developed in the Western community of nations since the 17th century, have when expedient been disregarded or rejected, with demands that the United States be exempted from the jurisdiction of international law and even from what until recently were accepted norms of international morality concerning human rights and national sovereignty.

Thus the foreign policies of the United States have been stripped of a vital part of their assumed original moral content. An assimilation of modern totalitarian influences, values, and practices occurred in the United States after 2001, with state assassinations, selective drone killings, disregard of due process, torture, and permanent incarceration without trial justified by American leaders in their conduct of what has amounted to a war, not really of religions, as such, but between absolutisms, the one religious, and the other, ours, a political culture of extreme and solipsistic millenarian nationalism.

That is indeed an apt description of modern America. What we have seen played out in Paris is yet another manifestation of this insane and asymmetrical war between two absolutisms. The inevitable bellicose, repressive reaction to the crime of the individuals in Paris will be inflicted on the bodies of countless innocent people around the world -- and will, inevitably, blow back on the West itself. For a hundred years, at every turning we have taken the wrong road, leading us deeper and deeper into chaos and blood. No doubt we are about plung down yet another wrong turn.

 

 
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.

 
Make the Groceries Free: A Political Program for Our Benighted Times
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 07 January 2015 00:21

Looking for something else tonight, I ran across this piece from six years ago. Thought it was worth a reprise. As I put it then:

Here are some lines first set down in the typescript of a 14-page songbook, "Alonzo Zilch's Own Collection of Original Songs and Ballads," written by a 23-year-old high school dropout named Woodrow Wilson Guthrie in 1935. With only the slightest revision in the presidential moniker, it could stand as a viable and vibrant political program for our day.

If I was President Roosevelt
I'd make the groceries free --
I'd give away new Stetson hats
And let the whisky be.
I'd pass out suits of clothing
At least three times a week --
And shoot the first big oil man
That killed the fishing creek.

 
Master Class: The Elite School of Moral Statecraft
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 05 January 2015 14:27

Below is my column from the December issue of CounterPunch Magazine.

Although we live in an age of outrages that keep the mind in a state of continual embogglement, it was still something of a shock to see the brazen hypocrisy displayed by the Lords of the West recently when they "confronted" Vladimir Putin at the five-star freakshow known as the G20. As the breathless headlines in the entirely free and not-at-all government-influenced Western media related, the paragons of the "Anglosphere" lined up to deliver some stark home truths to the Russian honcho about his wanton "interference" in the sovereign affairs of another country – a heinous crime which, as we all know, automatically casts the perpetrator from the bosom of the international community.

No doubt the Kremlin mountaineer was shaking in his boots from the tongue-lashings ladled out by the pasty-faced PR flack, David Cameron, the gibbering, land-raping woman-hating twit, Tony Abbot, and that oozing mass of bile in a suit, Stephen Harper. (Oh, there were giants in those days, our grandchildren will surely say of the heroes who walk among us.)

But the squeakings of these pips were as sounding brass or tinkling cymbal to the moral thunder of the Prince of Peace his own self, Barack Nobel Obama, when he took his turn at the stern finger-wagging. A man who for six years has directed a world-wide campaign of drone terrorism, reserving the right to intervene in any country, anywhere, with deadly force, with public bombs and private murder, a man who began his term by green-lighting a brutal coup in Honduras that overthrew a democratically elected government and ushered in a reign of society-devouring crime and chaos, a man who joined with hand-picked oligarchs to pour $5 billion into a campaign to overthrow the democratically elected government in Ukraine (entering into an alliance with armed, avowedly neofascist factions to bring about the final blow) …. this is the man who had the DU-plated brass to publicly admonish another national leader in these terms:

“We’re also very firm on the need to uphold core international principles, and one of those principles is you don’t invade other countries or finance proxies and support them in ways that break up a country that has mechanisms for democratic elections.”

Never let it be said that the American elite doesn't have a sense of humor. For not only was the leader of the world's chief invader, intervener and subverter of other nations -- including Ukraine -- hawking this hypocrisy in public, he was delivering it as a criticism of unseemly intervention in … Ukraine! This comedy tour-de-force recalls the brilliant work of Obama's predecessor, George Diddly Bush, who used to leave 'em laughing in the aisles with his blasts at "foreign nations interfering in Iraq" -- even as he was happily killing thousands of innocent Iraqis with a foreign invading army. These guys are a riot.

But perhaps we should tread more lightly here. After all, in our brave new Cold War world, to utter criticism of the Ukrainian upheaval is to find oneself lambasted as a "Putin apologist" or a "blinkered Russophile" foolishly swallowing Kremlin propaganda … and probably in the pay of Kremlin gold.

This tedious reaction is as old as the hills, of course. I'm sure that when Cato the Elder (the John McCain of ancient Rome) ended every speech with “Furthermore, Carthage must be destroyed!" anyone who objected was invariably denounced as a "Punic apologist" or a "Didoist appeaser.” The idea that you cannot criticize your own country's dangerous policies without automatically being a supporter (or "lover") of the regimes targeted by those policies is primitive and puerile in the extreme -- which, naturally, makes it the prevailing attitude in America's super-sophisticated and deeply nuanced political discourse today.

That Putin's Kremlin regime is vile should go without saying. In fact, it is more vile than most of our newfangled Cold Warriors know. Their main objection to Putin is that he does not show proper, cowering deference to American dictates on foreign policy and economic exploitation. If he got with the Potomac program, if he kowtowed to the "Washington consensus" and let our big dogs eat anywhere and everywhere they like, why then, our leaders would still be looking deep into his eyes and seeing a soulmate, as Diddly did in days of old.

But they could not give a damn -- and have never given a damn -- about the actual lives of actual Russian people. They were happy to see millions of Russians go under in the neoliberal “Shock Doctrine” unleashed by the properly deferential Yeltsin administration. And if Vlad got his mind right with the Man, they would just as happily turn a blind eye to the depredations of today’s Putinistan – a ghastly conglomerate of Tea Party crankery, authoritarian religiosity in the Saudi manner, and old-fashioned hardball oligarchism, in the Rockefeller-Morgan-Koch-Omidyar style.

The situation on the ground is grim in Russia right now, as my friends there can amply testify. But the West’s aggressive machinations only intensify the siege mentality that ‘justifies’ authoritarian rule. (A dynamic running rampant in the Western ‘democracies’ as well.) Putin might be a putz, but as a “threat” to “core international principles,” he is an absolute piker next to our pious Western paladins, whose interventions and proxies have brought whole nations (Libya, Syria, Iraq, et al) to violent ruin – and promise to set many more aflame.

 
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