Empire Burlesque
Another Murderous Milestone: 60 Years of Carnage
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Saturday, 28 June 2014 16:15

This month, the world has marked significant historical milestones: the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing (and unmarked, except in Russia, the 70th anniversary of the Red Army’s Operation Bagration, the largest battle in world history, in which the Soviets broke the back of the Nazi army); and the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, the spark that led to the First World War.

But this week saw the anniversary of another major turning point in modern history, a campaign that became — and remains — the enduring template of foreign policy for the world’s most powerful nation. We speak, of course, of the 60th anniversary of Washington’s “regime change” operation in Guatemala, overthrowing a democratically elected government.

It was not the first such American “intervention,” of course (and was preceded in the previous year by a more indirect role in overthrowing democracy in Iran), but it set in train more than six decades of violent attacks on democracy by the “leader of the free world.” (A fine tradition carried on by Barack Obama in Honduras.) In fact, a hatred of democracy — a genuine, visceral revulsion at the idea of people choosing their own leaders and their own form of society — has been a driving force in American foreign policy for generations. Democracy and freedom are only allowed if they lead to outcomes that advance whatever the agenda of the American elite happens to be at any given time. They hate democracy abroad; they hate it at home; they hate it everywhere, all the time. The historical record is remarkably consistent on this point.

The Guatemala regime change was noted at the London Review of Books, however, in a piece by John Perry. Below are some excerpts:

Over ten days in June 1954, a decade after the D-Day landings, the CIA sent twelve planes to drop bombs and propaganda on towns in Guatemala in support of a coup against the elected government of Jácobo Arbenz …. …

In the last raid on 27 June, the SS Springfjord, a British merchant ship that had survived capture by the Nazis in 1940, was attacked in the port of San Jose. It was alleged to be unloading arms. After a warning pass – the ship’s captain gave the pilot a friendly wave – a 500lb bomb was dropped down its chimney. It turned out to be loading coffee and cotton.

Guatemala was one of the first countries in the region to emerge from military dictatorship. Arbenz was the second democratic president, elected in 1951 with 65 per cent of the vote. A strongly nationalist military officer, he was convinced that the central problem in a mainly agricultural country was land: 70 per cent of it in the hands of only 2 per cent of the population, of which only a quarter was being cultivated. In 1953 he decreed the takeover of more than 200,000 acres of unused land belonging to the United Fruit Company. The company responded with a propaganda campaign to convince Eisenhower not to be ‘soft on communism’.

It worked. Arbenz, realising that a coup was being plotted, bought a secret shipment of arms from Czechoslovakia. Uncovered by the CIA, this enabled Eisenhower to warn of a possible ‘communist dictatorship’ and support Arbenz’s rival, Carlos Castillo Armas. His insurgents invaded on 18 June, but failed to take control of the towns they targeted. The coup could easily have been a flop. But the CIA raids that culminated in the bombing of the Springfjord unnerved the Guatemalan army command, who withdrew their support from Arbenz. By the evening of 27 June he’d resigned.

Within a month, military dictatorship had resumed under Castillo Armas, with a new government recognised by Eisenhower. After a visit in 1955, Vice-President Nixon said that Guatemala was the ‘first instance in history where a communist government has been replaced by a free one’. US-backed military regimes ruled until 1996. By then some 200,000 people had died in civil war, most at the hands of government forces.

Our 21st century intervention in Iraq has killed far more people much more quickly, of course. But as we gear up for yet another round of slaughter in the country we have recently demolished, it’s good to be reminded that none of this is new or unusual; it is, very simply — and quite horribly — the way the bipartisan American elite do business. Violence is their profession, their religion, their guiding light. They use violence to advance their agenda, then use more violence to deal with the inevitable horrific consequences spawned by their violence, on and on in an endless cycle.

 
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.

 
Where the Shadows Yearn
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 23 June 2014 12:30

Cutting marks in a dark heart's wax: Low Warm Gold. (Or alternatively, here.)

In memoriam Marina Tsvetaeva

 
Back to the Future: A Voice of Sanity on Iraq
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 16 June 2014 21:37

Sami Ramadani, an Iraqi writer who fled persecution by Saddam’s regime but who was also a powerful voice against the Anglo-American aggression against his country in 2003, exposes one of the many lies about Iraq that have infected both sides of the interventionist argument: that it is a land seething with ancient, irrepressible sectarian hatreds that can only be put right by separation. It’s an important piece, worth reading in full, but here are some excerpts:

Tony Blair has been widely derided for his attempted justification of the 2003 Iraq invasion, and his claim last weekend that he's blameless over the current turmoil. Unfortunately, though, many of his critics have also bought into a central plank of his argument: that Iraqi society is no more than a motley collection of religions and ethnicities which have been waiting for decades, if not centuries, to slaughter each other and plunge the place into a bloodbath. 

Neither side, though, has yet produced historical evidence of significant communal fighting between Iraq's religions, sects, ethnicities or nationalities. … Despite popular myths, the majority of Ba'ath party founders were Shia. However, Iraqi Ba'athist ideology always had a racist dimension against the Kurdish people and non-Arabs – as well as a class orientation, when in power, that marginalised millions in the poorest sections of society, mostly in the south. Southern Iraq and some areas of Baghdad, populated by mostly Shia migrants from southern rural areas, have historically been home to the poorest people.

Iraq's biggest mass organisation from the 1940s to the 60s was the Iraqi Communist party, founded in 1934 by activists from all religious and ethnic backgrounds. It was the strongest party even in Iraqi Kurdistan, and remained a mass party until its leadership decided to join Saddam's regime in 1973 – against the wishes of most party members. Saddam launched a vicious campaign against the ICP in 1978-9, and the party lost its raison d'être after joining the Iraq Governing Council set up after the occupation in 2003….

One of the greatest testaments to the tolerance that exists between the various communities in Iraq is that Baghdad still has up to a million Kurds, who have never experienced communal violence by Arabs. Similarly, about 20% of Basra's population is Sunni. Samarra, a mostly Sunni city, is home to two of the most sacred Shia shrines. Its Sunni clergy have been the custodians of the shrines for centuries.

Every tribe in Iraq has Sunnis and Shia in its ranks. Every town and city has a mix of communities. My experience of Iraq, and that of all friends and relatives, is that of an amazing mix of coexisting communities, despite successive divide-and-rule regimes.

The most serious sectarian and ethnic tensions in Iraq's modern history followed the 2003 US-led occupation, which faced massive popular opposition and resistance. The US had its own divide-and-rule policy, promoting Iraqi organisations founded on religion, ethnicity, nationality or sect rather than politics. Many senior officers in the newly formed Iraqi army came from these organisations and Saddam's army. This was exacerbated three years ago, when sectarian groups in Syria were backed by the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. ….

Whether Iraq can survive this most serious threat to its existence remains to be seen. But those who claim it could only have peace if it is divided into three states do not appreciate the makeup of Iraqi society – the three regions would quickly fall under the rule of violent sectarians and chauvinists. Given how ethnically and religiously mixed Iraq's regions are, particularly in Baghdad and central Iraq, a three-way national breakup would be a recipe for permanent wars in which only the oil companies, the arms suppliers, and the warlords will be the winners.

Once again, it is clear: the moral insanity of the American-led aggression in 2003 is the fountainhead of the current crisis, while the moral insanity of fomenting sectarian war in Syria is the immediate spate that has brought it to floodtide. 

Yet it is also clear that many, if not most, in the Washington-London power elite are looking at the crisis as an opportunity to double down on the moral insanity of their militarism: an excuse to beef up support for the violent extremists in Syria, to “re-engage” militarily in Iraq — courses which will only lead to more insanity and bloodshed. Ramadani points to a better alternative — a “back to the future” scenario that draws on the more inclusive, secular nature of Iraq’s past. (The same past existed to a great degree in Afghanistan as well.) If we were not ruled by bipartisan war profiteers — if we only had ordinary, run-of-the-mill politicians trying gamely to muddle through to something better for their own people and others — we would find there are many, many positive elements that could be supported or encouraged in these “intractable, historic” conflicts. 

But given the sinister poltroons who direct our affairs, one can only fear that these better alternatives will be squashed or discarded once again.

 
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