Empire Burlesque
Astringent Corrective: AbuKhalil on Iran's Turmoil
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 22 June 2009 09:42
Professor As'ad AbuKhalil rightly notes the rank hypocrisy of Barack Obama's statement on the turmoil in Iran:

Obama has spoken: "The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights." There is so much that you can do with this statement. The hypocrite in [chief] is invoking an argument that he himself so blatantly ignores and will continue to ignore to the last day of his presidency. Does he really believe in that right for peoples? Yes, but only in countries where governments are not clients of the US. Will he invoke that argument, say, in Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Morocco or Tunisia or Libya or Jordan or Oman, etc? Of course not. This is only an attempt to justify US imperial policies. And even in Iran, the Empire is nervous because it can't predict the outcome. But make no mistake about it: his earlier statement to the effect that the US can't for historical reasons "appear to be meddling" sets the difference between the Bush and the Obama administration. The Bush administration meddled blatantly and crudely and visibly, while the Obama administration meddles more discreetly and not-so-visibly. Tens of thousands of pens equipped with cameras have been smuggled into Iran: I only wish that the American regime would dare to smuggle them into Saudi Arabia so that the entire world can watch the ritual of public executions around the country.

I'd like to say an additional word about Obama's statement. When I saw that the president also invoked the words of Martin Luther King Jr. (“Martin Luther King once said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice’”), I very nearly threw up. To quote an apostle of non-violence, who spent his last days standing with striking workers and railing against the American government as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today" because of its murderous war machine, when you yourself are in command of that war machine, spewing out Vietnam-style death (and "targeted assassinations") in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan; when you are striving with all your might to defend, shield and in many cases continue the heinous torture atrocities of your predecessor; when you are pouring trillions of public dollars into the purses of the financial elite while letting millions of workers go hang; and when you yourself have made repeated statements that you will never take any options "off the table" when dealing with Tehran, including the nuclear destruction of the Iranian people for whose liberties and well-being you now profess such noble concern -- well, that seems a bit much, if I may riot in understatement.

In other posts, AbuKhalil offers more good sense on the Iranian situation:

The hypocrisy [of Western media coverage] is quite stunning. They are admiring the dare of the population when the Palestinian population shows more dare. They are outraged at the level of repressive crackdown by the regime when Israeli crackdowns on demonstrations are far more brutal and savage? They are admiring the participation of women in a national movement, when Palestinian women led the struggle from as far back as the 1930s (see the private papers of Akram Zu`aytir). They are outraged that the Iranian government is repressing media coverage, when the Israeli government is far more strict: when it was perpetrating slaughter in Gaza few months ago, the Western press was not allowed any freedom of movement except the hill of death where Michael Oren led reporters to watch Israeli brutal assualt on the Palestinian civilian population from a distance.

The media coverage in the US and UK proves beyond a doubt that increasingly the Western press has been serving as a tool for the various Western government. If the government cheers, the media cheer, if the government condemns, the media condemns, etc. And would the Western media ever be as unrestrained in its glamorization and glorfication of demonstrators and demonstrations in Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Jordan as they are now? There are no claims of even covering a story anymore: it is merely how can we best help the beautiful demonstrators who are not bearded and whose women are more loosely veiled. This is not to say that the Iranian regime is not repressive and needs to be overthrown: far from that. But it is to say that the Iranian regime is as bad (in fact Saudi Arabia and Egypt are probably worse) and as unjust as the various Middle East governments that are supported by the Western governments and Western media. When Western media sit with Saudi and Egyptian leaders, it is as if they are sitting with a friend...

And for those who see the union-busting, privatizing Ahmadinajad as some kind of leftist champion of the poor and the oppressed, AbuKhalil notes:

The rift I sense between Iranian left and Arab left is due to some admiration on the part of some in the Arab left for Ahmadinajad: that really angers people in the Iranian left. (And I am here with the latter group in that regard. I find Ahmadinajad's rhetoric of disservice to Palestine).

And for those who see the hidebound sectarian Moussavi as some kind of champion of "Western-style" pluralist democracy, AbuKhalil has these observations:

I am very proud to be writing in a paper (Al-Akhbar) that is the only Arabic newspaper in the world that advocates for gay and lesbian rights. But the Western media are more impressed with a lackey of Ayatullah Khomeini who led the purges against leftists, Baha'is, and Jews in Iranian universities in the 1980s....

I can't support a movement that writes its signs in English, in order to please the White Man, and I can't be in the same trench with Fox News. Yet, I support the overthrow of a regime that fed its people foreign policy slogans and religious jargon and (along with Saudi Arabia) fought all manifestations of secularism, leftism, and feminism in the Middle East since 1979 (much earlier in the case of Saudi Arabia).

Finally, AbuKhalil takes on the racist undertones that have crept into some Western championing of the Iranian uprising, particularly Andrew Sullivan's implication that the Iranians are more "capable" of democracy than Arabs:

Andrew Sullivan responds to my critique ("As'ad AbuKhalil doesn't appreciate Americans' double standards [when he declares "why do Western media express outrage over a stolen election in Iran but they don't even feign outrage over lack of elections in Saudi Arabia?") by saying this: "Because Iran actually has a population capable of sustaining democracy; and Mousavi is as good as we'll get."

Oh, you have to do better than this. What does these cliches mean? That the population "is capable of sustaining democracy"? Hardly the case if you measure it historically: I personally don't believe in the inequality of people as you seem to do; and I don't belive in those culural arguments that assumes one culture is hostile to democracy while others are not. It is fascinating that Iran is largly Islamic so they can't invoke the non-Islamic arugment, but Iran has produced two successive forms of dictatorships, so the attempt to separate the genetic makeup of Iranians from the Arabs is historically flawed.

And the argument that Mousavi is "as good as we'll get" can't be reconciled with the history and presence of the man. Just yesterday, he released a statement that was dripping with religious demagoguery and was argument that his mission is really to prove the compatibilty of Islam with the republic. Mousavi does not miss an opportunity to to invoke the memory and teachings of Khomeini. People are forgetting that when Mousavi was prime minister and was engaged in a conflict with the then president Khamenei, Khomeini was invariably siding with Mousavi. So there is a history of close association with this so-called democrat with the teachings of Khomeini. Let us not kid ourselves: it is not about the charactertics of the population and not about the "as good as it gets" bogus argument: it is about cheering for anybody who sides against a government that oppoes the US.

In a world riddled with journalistic cant -- and thought-killing political and religious tribalism of every stripe -- AbuKhalil's perspective remains a most useful and astringent corrective.
 
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.

 
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

 
Dexter's Legions: The "Good" Killers of the "Good" War
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Sunday, 21 June 2009 00:23
Now, he's hell-bent for destruction, he's afraid and confused,
And his brain has been mismanaged with great skill.
All he believes are his eyes
And his eyes, they just tell him lies.
But there's a woman on my block,
She just sits there, facing the hill.
She says, Who's gonna take away his license to kill?

--Bob Dylan

There is, I understand, a popular cable television show featuring a "good" serial killer who has been taught by a kind mentor to channel his murderous psychosis toward socially worthy ends; i.e., killing scumbags who deserve to die but have somehow escaped the law. I often wonder if this show is actually a better mirror of the national psyche than "24," the "good torture" saga that in the Bush years was often cited by top administration officials, conservative pundits -- and Supreme Court justices -- as an insightful inspiration for national security policy.

Certainly it often seems that concept of "Dexter" has been writ large in what we are now pleased to call our "Overseas Contingency Operation" -- in preference to the old Bushist term, "War on Terror," or the admirably straightforward locution once favored by Donald Rumsfeld: "The Long War." (Couldn't we just combine the two and call it the "Long Overseas Contingency Operation" -- i.e., LOCO?) For whatever else LOCO might be -- sustained campaign of plunder and profiteering; reckless dice game for geopolitical domination; massive dose of Viagra for an ageing militarist/media elite -- it is, most assuredly, a license to kill: serially, savagely, and best of all -- the psycho-killer's dream -- without accountability.

On Friday, an internal investigation by the Pentagon into the American airstrike with B1 bombers on villages in Afghanistan's Farah province in May was released. [For more on the attack, which Afghan officials say killed more than 140 civilians, see "Tales of Yankee Power."] As McClatchy reports, the Pentagon -- which at first denied that any civilians were killed -- now admits outright that it sure enough killed 26 civilians...and might well have actually blown 86 hunks of collateral damage to smithereens.

This comes after weeks of high-octane weaseling from American officials -- including the grand LOCO warlord himself, General David Douglas MacArthur Petraeus, who at one point announced that he had video proof that our boys had only been killing dirty rotten terrorist ragheads hidden amongst so-called civilians who might have been giving the insurgents shelter and who anyway like to lie about how many of their family members get killed in these essential raids -- or words to that effect.

Needless to say, this documentary evidence has not been forthcoming: much like the documentary evidence that Colin Powell once promised would show the world that the 9/11 attacks had come from Afghanistan, with Taliban complicity. This dossier of "evidence" -- i.e., the supposed casus belli justifying the entire American military operation in Afghanistan -- has never seen the light of day, and never will. It was just like the murky photograpsh and sinister-looking vials that Powell later waved around the UN to "justify" the invasion of Iraq: a PR prop, part of "rolling out the product" to sell a war already planned.

In any case, the atrocity in Farah was so glaring, the death count was so high, and the eyewitness accounts of the true nature of the attack and its aftermath were so credible, plentiful and multi-sourced that the Pentagon was forced to concede at least some ground to reality -- even though our "Good War" leaders seem to think that "only" murdering 26 civilians is OK. Hey, it coulda been 146, they shrug, with a charming, aw-shucks Dexterish grin. And anyway, it's all in a good cause, right?

And although Afghan officials are standing by the higher death count, the American military brass has already decided that no one will be disciplined for killing the 26 and quite possibly 86 innocent human beings slaughtered in the operation. Hell, our boys actually did themselves proud! As Reuters reports:

The U.S. military is unlikely to discipline troops involved in a deadly air strike in Afghanistan that heightened tensions between Washington and Kabul, the top U.S. military official said on Thursday.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. troops handled themselves well during the battle last month against Taliban fighters in Afghanistan's western Farah province....

"At least in my review, I found nothing that would lead to any specific action along the lines of what you're asking," Mullen said at a Pentagon briefing when asked it disciplinary action might be considered.


"Civilian bloodbath? So what?" That pretty much says it all. So if you've got an insatiable lust for killing your fellow human beings, there's no need to get some dinky job in a stateside police department, confining yourself to a piecemeal, penny-ante kill-rate. No sir. Get with the LOCO program instead, and you can murder wholesale, worldwide, without fear of retribution -- indeed, with the praise and support of the highest authorities in the land. Hey, it's boffo box office in the Homeland. They can't get enough of that kind of stuff in the shining city on the hill.

Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool
And when he sees his reflection, he's fulfilled.
Oh, man is opposed to fair play,
He wants it all and he wants it his way.
But there's a woman on my block,
She just sits there, as the night grows still.
She says, who's gonna take away his license to kill?

 

 
Through a Glass Darkly: Sifting Myth and Fact on Iran
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 19 June 2009 23:32
Iranian academic Ali Alizadeh points out an important fact missed by many who see nothing but sinister American manipulation behind the post-election protests in Iran: that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's economic policies -- touted as a possible reason that he expanded his vote total by 10 million over the last election, a bounty ostensibly harvested from the grateful rural poor -- are actually much more in line with his old nemesis, George W. Bush. As Alizadeh notes (via the Angry Arab):

It needs to be emphasized that Ahmadinejad’s economic policies are to the right of the IMF: cutting subsidies in a radical way, more privatization than any other post-79 government (by selling the country to the Revolutionary Guards) and an inflation and unemployment rate which have brought the low-income sections of the society to their knees.

The trope of a singular American hand guiding a million-headed puppet in the streets of Iran seems a bit odd anyway. There is of course little doubt that the imperial security apparat will try to make hay from the turmoil; but the American militarists have already made it clear that they prefer a victory for the incumbent Ahmadinejad; after all, without a readily demonizable figure as the public face of Iran, their unquenchable lust for conquering Persia becomes that much harder to consummate. As Steven Zunes notes, the grim-visaged rightwing avenger Daniel Pipes spelled it out in a recent jowl-flapping at the Heritage Foundation, proclaiming that "he would vote for Ahmadinejad if he could, because he prefers 'an enemy who is forthright, blatant, obvious.'" (Well, don't we all? And as with so many other enemies of peace, liberty -- and sanity -- Pipes himself fits the bill quite admirably. One always knows exactly where that po-faced squeaker of pips is coming from.)

And as we noted here late last month, the American security apparat seemed to be intervening on Ahmadinejad's behalf, with a stepped-up terrorist campaign by the militant Sunni extremist group, Jundullah -- just one of the terrorist organizations inside Iran now on the American payroll:

...the attack on the Zahedan mosque serves a confluence of interests. For it comes not only at a strategic location but also at a strategic time: just two weeks before the Iranian presidential election, with the hardline incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, facing a strong challenge from two reformist candidates.

Of course, the very last thing that the militarists in Washington and Israel want to see is the election of a moderate in Iran. They want -- and need -- Ahmadinejad, or someone just like him, so they can keep stoking the fires for war. A moderate president, more open to genuine negotiations, and much cooler in rhetoric than the loose-lipped Ahmadinejad, would be yet another blow to their long-term plans. Because the ultimate aim -- the only aim, really -- of the militarists' policy toward Iran is regime change. They don't care about "national security" or the "threat" from Iran's non-existent nuclear arsenal; they know that there is no threat whatsoever that Iran will attack Israel -- or even more ludicrously, the United States -- even if Tehran did have nukes. They don't care about the suffering of the Iranian people under a draconian, repressive and corrupt regime. They are not worried about Iran's "sponsorship of terrorism," for, as we've seen, the militarists thrive on -- when they are not actively fomenting -- the fear and anguish caused by terrorism. This fear is the grease that drives the ever-expanding war machine and 'justifies' its own ever-increasing draconian powers and corruption.

No, in the end, the sole aim of the militarist policy is to overthrow Iran's current political system and replace it with a regime that will bow to the hegemony of the United States and its regional deputy, Israel. There is no essential difference in aim or method between today's policy and that of 1953. (Except that the regional deputy in those days was Britain, not Israel.) What they want is compliance, access to resources and another strategic stronghold in the heart of the oil lands -- precisely what they wanted, and got, with the installation of the Shah and his corruption-ridden police state more than a half-century ago.... To lose a fear-raising (and fundraising!) asset like Ahmadinejad now would be a bitter disappointment.

And what better way for an incumbent president to stand tall before the voters than to rally the nation around him in the face of a horrible terrorist attack? A mosque full of Shiite worshippers, blown to pieces, with photos showing the blood of the innocent martyrs splattered on the ruined walls? This serves the interests of all the major players in the great geopolitical game: the Iranian hardliners, the American and Israeli militarists, the Jundullah extremists.

Moussavi -- a long-time paladin of Iran's ruling establishment, a conservative who was once a hardline prime minister himself, closely aligned with the Ayatollah Khomeini (America's own "Great Satan" of yore) -- is hardly the pliable stooge sought by the Potomac plotters. Of course, as we noted earlier this week, this fact doesn't necessarily make him a Jeffersonian hero of human liberty, either -- an Aung San Suu Kyi of Iran. The corporate media's portrayal of the Iranian uprising is indeed a lazy slotting of chaotic reality into neatly defined, "color revolution" stereotypes; but their misjudgment needn't be compounded a comparable stereotyping the other way. (The corporate media's false depiction of Moussavi as a "liberal" has ironically been seized upon by some American dissidents as proof that he is a color-revolution cut-out for Western interests, even, as some have described him, an "Iranian Ahmad Chalabi." If he were a returned exile who had spent years in the pay of the CIA, that might be true. But that is not the case. Again, it is no endorsement of Moussavi to point out these facts.) As Alizadeh notes, the crowds appearing at the protest rallies are

made of religious women covered in chador walking hand in hand with westernized young women who are usually prosecuted for their appearance; veterans of war in wheelchairs next to young boys for whom the Iran-Iraq war is only an anecdote; and working class who have sacrificed their daily salary to participate in the rally next to the middle classes. This story is not limited to Tehran. Shiraz (two confirmed dead), Isfahan (one confirmed dead), Tabriz, Oroomiye are also part of this movement and other cities are joining with a predictable delay (as it was the case in 79 revolution).

As I noted the other day, no one knows how the current turmoil will turn out -- or how the various power-players, including the many elite factions inside Iran and the many vultures circling outside, will attempt to mold the chaotic reality to their own advantage. But it seems to me that the circumstances in Iran cannot be forced into any simplistic template. For while it is true that the American imperium does indeed seek to exert its influence everywhere and always, it does not and cannot engender and control every event on earth. We risk partaking of the courtiers' own hubris -- and their mythology of American exceptionalism -- if we make that automatic assumption.
 
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