Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 06 July 2010 09:58
William Dalrymple is one of the knowledgeable and experienced observers of Central Asia and India in the West. His insights are always valuable, and usually prescient, especially on the greatly variegated complexities -- social, economic, cultural, political, historical -- of the volatile region, where the American imperial impulse is now coming to grief in arrogance and ignorance ... as so many others have done before it.
In a New Statesman article rich with historical detail and direct reportage from the frontlines of "Af-Pak" front of the bipartisan Terror War, Dalrymple brings fresh confirmation of what everyone but the moronic masters of war along the Potomac knows: the war in Afghanistan is lost, and all the vaunted "surges" of the drone-firing Peace Laureate and his various COIN-operated commanders are only prolonging the pointless agony -- and building up a tsunami of horrific blowback.
Here are some extensive excerpts -- but they are only a few highlights. The whole piece well repays a full reading.
In1843, shortly after his return from Afghanistan, an army chaplain, Reverend G R Gleig, wrote a memoir about the First Anglo-Afghan War, of which he was one of the very few survivors. It was, he wrote, "a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which directed, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, has Britain acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated."
As Dalrymple notes, the 1842 British "regime change" intervention in Afghanistan was:
arguably the greatest military humiliation ever suffered by the west in the Middle East: an entire army of what was then the most powerful military nation in the world utterly routed and destroyed by poorly equipped tribesmen, at the cost of £15m (well over £1bn in modern currency) and more than 40,000 lives. But nearly ten years on from Nato's invasion of Afghanistan, there are increasing signs that Britain's fourth war in the country could end with as few political gains as the first three and, like them, terminate in an embarrassing withdrawal after a humiliating defeat, with Afghanistan yet again left in tribal chaos and quite possibly ruled by the same government that the war was launched to overthrow....
Embarrassing withdrawal after humiliating defeat is almost certainly the fate awaiting this latest Anglo-American imperial folly. The facts on the ground are mounting up, Ossa-like:
The Taliban have now advanced out of their borderland safe havens to the very gates of Kabul and are surrounding the capital, much as the US-backed mujahedin once did to the Soviet-installed regime in the late 1980s. Like a rerun of an old movie, all journeys by non-Afghans out of the capital are once again confined largely to tanks, military convoys and helicopters. The Taliban already control more than 70 per cent of the country, where they collect taxes, enforce the sharia and dispense their usual rough justice. Every month, their sphere of influence increases. According to a recent Pentagon report, Karzai's government has control of only 29 out of 121 key strategic districts. ... Already, despite the presence of huge numbers of foreign troops, it is now impossible - or at least extremely foolhardy - for any westerner to walk around the capital, Kabul, without armed guards; it is even more inadvisable to head out of town in any direction except north: the strongly anti-Taliban Panjshir Valley, along with the towns of Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat, are the only safe havens left for westerners in the entire country. In all other directions, travel is possible only in an armed convoy.
Dalrymple also writes chillingly of
... the blowback that is today destabilising Pakistan and the tribal territories of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). Here the Pakistani Taliban are once more on the march, rebuilding their presence in Swat, and are now surrounding Peshawar, which is almost daily being rocked by bombs, while outlying groups of Taliban are again spreading their influence into the valleys leading towards Islamabad. ...
The Fata, it is true, have never been fully under the control of any Pakistani government, and have always been unruly, but the region has been radicalised as never before by the rain of shells and cluster bombs that have caused huge civilian casualties and daily add a stream of angry foot soldiers to the insurgency. Elsewhere in Pakistan, anti-western religious and political extremism continues to flourish, as ever larger numbers of ordinary Pakistanis are driven to fight by corruption, predatory politics and the abuse of power by Pakistan's feudal elite, as well as the military aggression of the drones. Indeed, the ripples of instability lapping out from Afghanistan and Pakistan have reached even New York. When CIA interrogators asked Faisal Shahzad why he tried to let off a car bomb last month in Times Square, he told them of his desire to avenge those "innocent people being hit by drones from above".
Dalrymple gets to the heart of the ignorance and arrogance that sustains the ever-more brutal and brutalizing conflict:
The reality of our present Afghan entanglement is that we took sides in a complex civil war, which has been running since the 1970s, siding with the north against the south, town against country, secularism against Islam, and the Tajiks against the Pashtuns. We have installed a government, and trained up an army, both of which in many ways have discriminated against the Pashtun majority, and whose top-down, highly centralised constitution allows for remarkably little federalism or regional representation. However much western liberals may dislike the Taliban - and they have very good reason for doing so - the truth remains that they are in many ways the authentic voice of rural Pashtun conservatism, whose views and wishes are ignored by the government in Kabul and who are still largely excluded from power. It is hardly surprising that the Pashtuns are determined to resist the regime and that the insurgency is widely supported, especially in the Pashtun heartlands of the south and east.
These observations are underlined by a harrowing trip Dalrymple takes trying to retrace the steps of that British retreat in 1842. For security, he travels with the forces of "a regional tribal leader who was also a minister in Karzai's government. He is a mountain of a man named Anwar Khan Jegdalek, a former village wrestling champion who made his name as a Hezb-e-Islami mujahedin commander in the jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s."
During lunch, as my hosts casually pointed out the various places in the village where the British had been massacred in 1842, I asked them if they saw any parallels between that war and the present situation. "It is exactly the same," said Anwar Khan Jegdalek. "Both times the foreigners have come for their own interests, not for ours. They say, 'We are your friends, we want democracy, we want to help.' But they are lying."
...“Afghanistan is like the crossroads for every nation that comes to power," [said] Jegdalek. "But we do not have the strength to control our own destiny - our fate is always determined by our neighbours. Next, it will be China. This is the last days of the Americans."...
The trip also points out one of the main factors inflicting a long and agonizing defeat on the Western coalition: the inherent, inescapable corruption and murder that are the inevitable products of any enforced military occupation:
As Predator drones took off and landed incessantly at the nearby airfield, the elders related how the previous year government troops had turned up to destroy the opium harvest. The troops promised the villagers full compensation, and were allowed to burn the crops; but the money never turned up. Before the planting season, the villagers again went to Jalalabad and asked the government if they could be provided with assistance to grow other crops. Promises were made; again nothing was delivered. They planted poppy, informing the local authorities that if they again tried to burn the crop, the village would have no option but to resist. When the troops turned up, about the same time as we were arriving at nearby Jegdalek, the villagers were waiting for them, and had called in the local Taliban to assist.
...One of the tribal elders came over and we chatted for a while over a glass of green tea. "Last month," he said, "some American officers called us to a hotel in Jalalabad for a meeting. One of them asked me, 'Why do you hate us?' I replied, 'Because you blow down our doors, enter our houses, pull our women by the hair and kick our children. We cannot accept this. We will fight back, and we will break your teeth, and when your teeth are broken you will leave, just as the British left before you. It is just a matter of time.'"
What did he say to that? “He turned to his friend and said, 'If the old men are like this, what will the younger ones be like?' In truth, all the Americans here know that their game is over. It is just their politicians who deny this." ...
The catalogue of brutal stupidities and rampant corruption goes on:
Now as then [in 1842], the problem is not hatred of the west, so much as a dislike of foreign troops swaggering around and making themselves odious to the very people they are meant to be helping. On the return journey, as we crawled back up the passes towards Kabul, we got stuck behind a US military convoy of eight Humvees and two armoured personnel carriers in full camouflage, all travelling at less than 20 miles per hour. Despite the slow speed, the troops refused to let any Afghan drivers overtake them, for fear of suicide bombers, and they fired warning shots at any who attempted to do so. By the time we reached the top of the pass two hours later, there were 300 cars and trucks backed up behind the convoy, each one full of Afghans furious at being ordered around in their own country by a group of foreigners. Every day, small incidents of arrogance and insensitivity such as this make the anger grow. ...
...Now as then, there have been few tangible signs of improvement under the western-backed regime. Despite the US pouring approximately $80bn into Afghanistan, the roads in Kabul are still more rutted than those in the smallest provincial towns of Pakistan. There is little health care; for any severe medical condition, patients still have to fly to India. A quarter of all teachers in Afghanistan are themselves illiterate. In many areas, district governance is almost non-existent: half the governors do not have an office, more than half have no electricity, and most receive only $6 a month in expenses. Civil servants lack the most basic education and skills.
This is largely because $76.5bn of the $80bn committed to the country has been spent on military and security, and most of the remaining $3.5bn on international consultants, some of whom are paid in excess of $1,000 a day, according to an Afghan government report. This, in turn, has had other negative effects. As in 1842, the presence of large numbers of well-paid foreign troops has caused the cost of food and provisions to rise, and living standards to fall. The Afghans feel they are getting poorer, not richer.
It is all most strange -- and terrible. Not only are the Potomac poltroons (and their British camp followers) unable to grasp the myriad complexities of the situation; they can't see the simple truth underlying their predicament either: i.e., you can't invade a country, kill the people, despoil their land, degrade their lives, and then expect them to support your domination. Only a lunatic would believe such a thing. But then, as you may have already noticed, the lunatics have long been in charge of the imperial asylum.
Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 01 July 2010 17:04
"In [the country] right now there is a military-business regime, with a little bit of democratic makeup."
This sounds like an excellent -- indeed, near-perfect -- description of the true state of the United States in these degraded days of ours. While the sinister comic opera of factional in-fighting amongst the elite provides an increasingly thin and cracked patina of democracy, the militarist-corporatist machines continue their ravenous devouring of the fat of the land and the flesh of the weak.
But, as it happens, the quote comes not from an observer of the American scene, but from a Honduran activist -- one of many trying to fight off the depredations being visited upon their land by the repressive, coup-born regime now backed to the hilt by the progressive champion of human rights and world peace in the White House.
Joseph Huff-Hannon tells the story in the Guardian:
The National Front of Popular Resistance, a coalition of hundreds of diverse civil society groups, was born out of last year's coup d'état – when the military kidnapped then president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales [whose heinous crimes included raising the pitiable minimum wage to a slightly less pitiable level], and forcibly exiled him and his family from the country. The rupture of the constitutional order in Honduras, Latin America's first and only 21st century coup, unleashed a violent campaign of repression across the country under the coup government of Roberto Micheletti. That wave of violence and generalised impunity, largely directed against opponents of the coup regime, continues to this day under the government of president Porfirio Lobo, elected last November while the country was under a state of siege, in an election to which the UN and the OAS didn't even bother to send observers, and which a plurality of Latin American governments have refused to acknowledge.
"In Honduras right now there is a military-business regime, with a little bit of democratic makeup," Gerardo Torres, a Honduran activist visiting the United States Social Forum last week, told me. "But what people need to know is that more assassinations are happening now during the 'democratic' rule of President Lobo than during the era of Micheletti. When Micheletti ran the coup government, killings of students or resistance members were at least controversial, they made the international news. But the international news media has moved on – which is sad since now they're killing journalists."
Indeed, in 2010 at least eight journalists have been killed in mysterious circumstances in Honduras, all of them critics of the coup and/or of powerful business interests in the country. None of those murders have been solved ... Dozens of anti-coup activists, members of the National Resistance Front, and union activists have also been murdered in the last year, often in broad daylight by men wearing masks or dressed in fatigues. The era of the death squad, that ignominious feature of Latin American state terrorism of the 70s and the 80s, appears to have made a come back in Honduras.
Yes, Barack Obama's famed "continuity" with his predecessors goes far beyond his avid, almost erotic embrace of George W. Bush's Terror War atrocities (foreign and domestic). In Latin America, it goes back to the glory days of Ronald Reagan, when American-backed, American-trained death squads and military juntas slaughtered thousands of people and stripped their people to the bone with the scorched-earth economics of oligarchy. (An ancient, barbaric system now being energetically imposed throughout the "developed" world, under the cover of "deficit reduction.") But of course, Reagan himself was standing on the shoulders of giants when it came to his Latin America policies, simply soldiering on in the proud tradition of Franklin and Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, James K. Polk and other paragons now chiseled in history's alabaster.
When the coup struck, the Obama Administration, in a passing nod to the progressive peanut gallery, made a few disapproving noises, and even went so far as to suspend overt military aid for awhile. But after the coupsters rigged up its Potemkin election, it was back to business as usual for the avatars of hope and change:
[S]adly, but predictably, the US appears to have sided with the death squads. "Now it's time for the hemisphere as a whole to move forward and welcome Honduras back into the inter-American community," the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said earlier this month, imploring other members of the Organisation of American States to re-admit Honduras to the organisation.
And while hypocrisy in foreign policy is hardly news, it's worth noting here that the US state department released a harshly worded statement earlier this month chastising the Venezuelan government's "continuing assault on the freedom of the press" following that country's issuance of an arrest warrant for a media tycoon. A week later, with no fanfare and not a word about press freedoms, the US resumed military aid to the pariah government of Honduras.
That aid will doubtless come in handy as the new, Obama-backed death squads face down a burgeoning resistance, which has moved beyond the single issue of Zelaya's overthrow:
"A lot of people can't quite understand a movement that doesn't revolve around a caudillo," Gerardo tells me. "This resistance movement is wide and complex. We have feminists working with Christian activists, who are working with labour activists. Zelaya is important, but the popular movement more so. And we think the repression has built up because those who have always run the country are scared, and this is their desperate response. Them with their arms, us with our ideas."
Desperate they may be; but with the full-throated support of the world-straddling military-business regime to the north, and its hoary tradition of throttling any ideas that might threaten the feudal privileges of oligarchy, the Honduran coup caudillos will likely have a good, long -- and bloody -- run.
Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 02 July 2010 13:55
"The world continues to offer glittering prizes to those who have stout hearts and sharp swords." -- F.E. Smith, Earl of Birkenhead
Another day, another glittering prize for one of the great war criminals of our day. We speak of course of that tanned and gurning jackanapes, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.
It was announced this week that Blair would be receiving a great big bushel basket of simoleons -- a hundred thousand of them -- from some U.S. outfit called The National Constitution Center. It seems the sinister twit has been awarded the Center's "Liberty Medal" for, among other things, his "steadfast efforts to broker peace" in the Middle East, as the BBC reports.
This is of course most appropriate; for there are currently in excess of one million human beings enjoying eternal peace thanks to the war of aggression that Blair was instrumental in unleashing against Iraq. Oddly enough, just as the Liberty award was being announced, the Chilcot Inquiry into the war's origins was disgorging even more confirmation of Blair's adamant determination to march "shoulder to shoulder" with George W. Bush into the annals of Nurembergian perfidy.
As the Independent reports, new documents show how Blair was told -- repeatedly -- by his Attorney General that the planned attack on Iraq would be illegal. The legal chief, Peter Goldsmith, insisted on this position -- despite Blair's growing impatience -- until almost the last moment. As is well known, Goldsmith had a confab with the gilded thugs of Bush's war council, and suddenly reversed his long-held, closely-argued, legally detailed objections to the attack. One can only suppose that Blair and the Bushists "made him an offer he couldn't refuse." From the Independent:
The drafts of legal advice and letters sent to the Prime Minister by Lord Goldsmith had been kept secret despite repeated calls for them to be published. Yesterday they were released by the Chilcot Inquiry into the war, after the head of the Civil Service, Sir Gus O'Donnell, stated that the "long-standing convention" for such documents to be kept confidential had to be waived because the issue of the legality of the Iraq war had a "unique status".
...Tony Blair appeared to show his irritation with the warnings over military actions [from Goldsmith], saying in a handwritten note: "I just do not understand this." In another note, a Downing Street aide said: "We do not need further advice on this matter."
In the documents released yesterday, Lord Goldsmith repeatedly stated that an invasion without a fresh UN resolution would be illegal, and warned against using Saddam Hussein's supposed WMD (weapons of mass destruction) as a reason for attack.
In January 2003 Mr Blair met President Bush at the White House. The Prime Minister's foreign policy adviser, Sir David Manning, wrote a memo paraphrasing Mr Bush's comments at the meeting as: "The start date for the military campaign was now pencilled for 10th March. This was when the bombing would begin."
In a letter to Mr Blair dated 30 January 2003, after the UN had passed another resolution on Iraq, 1441, Lord Goldsmith wrote: "In view of your meeting with President Bush on Friday, I thought you might wish to know whether a further decision of the Security Council is legally required in order to authorise the use of force against Iraq." The letter marked "secret" continued: "I remain of the view that the correct legal interpretation of Resolution 1441 is that it does not authorise the use of military force without a further determination by the Security Council."
The story details the legal chapter-and-verse behind Goldsmith's conclusions, which only grew stronger as the pre-planned invasion grew nearer. In the end, Goldsmith bowed to the will of raw power, remained in his richly robed office until Blair resigned, and now reaps his monetary reward as a top corporate litigator for a New York law firm.
Meanwhile, his blood-caked boss continues to rake in the moolah his own self. He gobbles down millions every year from "advising" JP Morgan and Zurich Financial Services, from the usual exorbitant fees that our modern war criminals command on the rubber chicken circuit, and from the usual backroom grease racket that our great and good set up to milk their connections after leaving office. ("Tony Blair Associates" -- you know, like "Kissinger Associates.")
Blair has also been wadding his trousers with loot from UI Energy, a South Korean oil firm seeking to suck up some of the Iraqi oil that Blair helped "liberate" for corporate exploitation. Oh yes, and for the last three years, he has also been drawing a regular check from the Kuwaiti royal family. And what is the royal hireling doing to earn this crust? Why, he's earnestly "producing a general report on the oil state's future over the next 30 years, at a reported £1m fee," the Guardian reports.
Blair will receive his Liberty Prize from one of his great mentors and partners in international war crime. No, not George W. Bush -- Bill Clinton, who is chairman of the National Constitution Center. After all, it was Clinton and Blair who pioneered the technique -- later perfected by Blair and Bush -- of bypassing the UN and unilaterally attacking a country, under false pretenses, that had not attacked them. And of course, after taking office in 1997, Blair stood shoulder to shoulder with Clinton in strangling the ordinary people of Iraq with a sanctions regime that killed -- at the barest minimum -- more than half a million innocent children. (Not to mention the innocent adults who died from the blockade.)
So what a joyous occasion it will be, when these two giants of international statesmanship meet on the podium in Philadelphia -- the city of brotherly love -- to celebrate a partnership, nay, a special relationship, that has left such an indelible mark on the world. It will surely be an inspiring occasion -- as long as they don't choke on the viscera dribbling from their lips as they utter their self-praising pieties.
Or to put it another way, as I did in an earlier report on the Chilcot panel:
O that the universe was not cold and indifferent, with no avenging furies to drive these bloodstained, sanctimonious wretches into soul-rending storms of madness and remorse. But there is not even an earthly venue where the scurrying servitors of power can receive even a modicum of justice. All we have are a few locked-down, buttoned-up, quasi-secret panels of worthies here and there now and then, to cause, at most, a moment or two of embarrassment before the servitors walk free to line their pockets and heap themselves with honors. Their only punishment, I suppose, must be to be what they are: the stunted, deadened husks of a full humanity which they have lost and will never recover.
Written by Chris Floyd
Saturday, 26 June 2010 23:19
One of the most significant developments in the modern world -- history may find it to be a decisive one -- has been the deliberate cultivation of religious extremism by ruling elites trying to sustain and expand their power.
The rise of virulent extremism in almost every major religion -- Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism -- has many other causes, of course. Chief among these is the turbulent encounter between modernity and tradition, a confrontation that has played out -- and is playing out -- in so many different ways both within and across various cultures.
Modernity encompasses not only the technologies and techniques of capitalism that in its many guises (including state capitalism) has plowed up so much ancient ground and overturned so many ancient certainties, but also the historic development of ideas and ideals based, ultimately, on the notion of the inherent (even inalienable) autonomy and worth of the individual. These ideas too have found expression in myriad -- and often conflicting -- forms. And of course, there has never been and can never be any kind of clear dividing line between all of these swirling currents, the multifaceted dimensions of modernity and tradition; like a jar of colored sands, they mix and meld in innumerable, unstable combinations as they are sifted and shaken through the course of time.
So it would be wrong to say that the rise of sectarian zeal can be ascribed solely to its manipulation by elites. But it would be equally wrong -- and dangerously blind -- to deny the fact of these manipulations, or to minimize in any way the pernicious, atrocious effect they have had -- and are having -- on human existence. They have placed a deep -- and entirely unnecessary -- shadow over humanity for generations: a shadow that only gets darker, and more poisonous, as time goes on.
For the last 50 years, in country after country, ruling elites -- those factions which hold a disproportionate and thus illegitimate sway over society -- have fostered the growth of religious extremism for two main reasons: to distract the populace from the way their lives are unjustly diminished by the elitist agenda -- and to throttle and demonize any popular movement that might threaten the elite's hegemony.
This happened throughout the Middle East, for example, as tyrants of every stripe (often clients of the West) turned to hitherto marginal fundamentalist religious groups to dilute and drive back secular challenges to their rule. These challenges were often, although not always, led by movements that could be characterized as "leftist" to one degree or another. (Although it is also true that any challenge whatsoever to elite rule is almost always categorized as some kind of dangerous, revolutionary "leftism," even if it has little or no socialist content at all -- and even if it is entirely non-violent, or gradualist, or merely mildly reformist.) Usually with Western help, the tyrants cultivated religious extremists both as shock troops and cultural warriors to attack and divide any opposition. As the London Review of Books noted recently (in a piece highlighted this weekend by As'ad AbuKhalil):
The Islamisation of Egyptian society deepened after the 1967 war; it became explicit government policy under Sadat, the self-styled ‘believer president’ who supported radical Islamists in his battles with the left, and who made the sharia ‘the principal source’ of law in 1980 – a year before his assassination by an Islamist. Under Mubarak, praying has become as popular as shopping or football and now serves a roughly similar function as a distraction from the innumerable frustrations of Egyptian life. Indeed, Islam as observed by Egyptians is increasingly an Islam that caters to consumerist needs. The popular televangelist Amr Khaled mixes Quranic citations with boosterish advice of a more general kind. This variety of Islam is no threat to the regime, but it has made life far less easy-going. ‘My neighbour used to water his plants in his pyjamas on the balcony, where he’d be joined by his wife in her nightie,’ a friend tells me. ‘They’d drink beer in the open, and then he’d go downstairs for the sunset prayers in the local mosque. Today he’d be killed for this, but at the time he would have seen no contradiction.’
Over the past half century, this same dynamic has played out in various ways, and to various degrees, in countries all over the world. It has happened in Iran, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Yugoslavia (Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo), and many others. It is happening at an astonishingly accelerated rate today in Israel, which has become by far the most religiously and ethnically intolerant of any nation considered part of "the West." And it is most palpably happening on many levels in the United States, as Chris Hedges and many others have documented.
In most cases, this dynamic involves a strong fusion of religious extremism with a strident, exclusionary nationalism. Indeed, religious nationalism is one of the hallmarks of our age. At various times, and in various quarters, one element -- the religious or the nationalist -- might predominate over the other. We can see this in, say, the Tea Party movement, where exclusionary nationalism -- the self-defined "Real Americans" vs. the strange, traitorous Others -- is now in ascendance, occluding somewhat the sex-obsessed, church-based "Focus on the Family"-style religious nationalism that was somewhat more prevalent earlier in the decade. The whole career of Sarah Palin exemplifies this oscillation, as she has tracked back and forth between the most virulent, primitive, casting-out-devils Christian fundamentalism and the bellicose, militarist nationalism she shares with the Beltway neo-cons, a number of whom are, of course, Jews and/or atheists whom Palin, like George W. Bush, believes will burn in eternal hellfire.
Although these kinds of contradictions demonstrate the utter incoherence and moral vacuity of religious nationalism, they rarely lessen the power of these movements, which -- once unleashed, encouraged (and heavily funded) -- feed on the nuclear fuel of raw, unexamined emotions, fears and needs: a fuel that is constantly replenished by the relentless propagation of artfully filtered (and often fabricated) outrages and threats.
Here's an example from personal experience. I came of age in the mid-70s, in the Bible Belt, in a family rooted in that old-time Southern Baptist religion. This was the era when the TV preachers -- Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, and others -- first began flooding the late-night airwaves. These televangelists, just beginning the fusion of religion and nationalism noted above, were widely, almost universally, regarded by the good, God-fearing, church-going grownups of my acquaintance as extremely marginal, even comical figures, of little note and little worth.
Yet in just a few years' time, many of these figures, and others like them, would be trooping to the White House to be courted and honored; they were commanding vast media networks, college campuses and commercial empires. One of them, Robertson, even ran for president. They had become an integral and important part of the nation's power structure, pushing "hot button" issues, almost always related to sex -- homosexuality, abortion -- and "traditional values" (e.g., submission to authority: biblical authority, corporate authority, military authority, male authority, etc.). They constructed a false history of a paradisiacal past that had been "stolen" from "real" Americans by liberals, feminists, unions, queers, darkies, commies, college professors, Mexicans, etc. etc. And all the while, the elite interests who helped bankroll and magnify these marginal movements into national juggernauts were in fact beggaring the believers themselves, destroying their communities -- indeed, their "traditional values," their family and social networks, and their quality of life -- by gutting their towns and cities, driving family farmers from their land, sending tens of millions of jobs to near-slave labor overseas, befouling the environment, degrading public amenities and vital infrastructure, relentlessly restricting legal recourse against corporate predation and depredation, and corrupting the democratic process to send a steady stream of spineless hacks and whores to Washington to perpetuate the bipartisan corporate-militarist agenda.
The result has been poisonous rancor, social division, economic ruin, vast anxiety, endless war and the relentless, systematic degradation of the quality of life for working people, the poor, the sick, the vulnerable -- indeed, for everyone outside the small circle of the elite, and their sycophants and servants in the media-political class.
And at every step of the way, this ever-growing dynamic of religious nationalism -- which has found its highest, most complete expression in the war-profiteering militarist empire of the Terror War and its attendant atrocities, foreign and domestic -- has been aided and abetted and strengthened and expanded by the so-called "liberals" and "progressives" of the Democratic Party (and their own innumerable outriders, servitors and sycophants) who have been and remain among the fiercest proponents of ... the war-profiteering militarist empire. ("Progressives," of course want to "reform" the empire -- that is, make its deadly operations more efficient and codify its most heinous atrocities into law -- but none of them, not one, call for it to be dismantled.)
Just as in Mubarak's Egypt or the Shah's Iran, any secular opposition to the thuggish (indeed criminal) American elites has been effectively neutralized. The resultant anger and confusion of a people who are indeed being robbed and screwed over is thus diverted from its true perpetrators, and instead is channeled into one of few avenues of "protest" against the "system" allowed to operate freely and fully on a mass scale: religious nationalism in its various forms. Of course, this kind of "protest" only strengthens the genuine systems of rapacious power, and thus, ultimately, serves both sides of the partisan divide. (Or rather the factional divide between two groups of squabbling courtiers jockeying for the top perks of the imperial state they both avidly serve.) And, as we have seen in Iran and will likely see in Egypt, these movements, once unleashed and empowered, cannot be completely controlled by their elite patrons (as some Republican incumbents and insiders have already learned to their sorrow).
On every side, in country after country, and at varying levels, life is being made "far less easy-going" by the unholy alliance of rapacious corporate-militarist elites and the Zealotocracy of religious nationalists they have helped propel to heights of power and influence. And as long as the imperial system keeps churning its way around the globe, this murderous, retrograde, life-strangling dynamic will continue to accelerate.