Empire Burlesque
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.

 
A Matter of Principle: The True Aims of the Terror War
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 10 June 2014 16:29

The moral insanity of the Terror War continues to spawn more violence, more extremism, more repression, more injustice, and the total subversion of the "Western values," all of which it is ostensibly designed to defend.

A new piece by Patrick Cockburn in the Independent provides a grimly illuminating look at this insanity in action on a specific front: Syria. It's worth reading in full, but here is an excerpt:

The Syrian war has turned into a Syrian version of the Thirty Years War in Germany four centuries ago. Too many conflicts and too many players have become involved for any peace terms to be acceptable to all.. … It has become increasingly obvious over the past year that al-Qa’ida type movements, notably Isis, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, have come to dominate or can operate freely in a great swathe of territory across northern Iraq and northern Syria. This gives Isis a vast hinterland in which it can manoeuvre and fight on both sides of what is a largely nominal Syrian-Iraqi border.  …

Europeans have not yet woken up to the significance of these anarchic zones opening up on the shores of the Mediterranean in Syria and Libya. This is because the threat has been largely abstract but it is getting less so with the attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels by a French jihadi who had been in Syria. US and European politicians do not want to explain why, 13 years after 9/11, when the “war on terror” was supposedly launched, thousands of al-Qa’ida militants have been able to carve out enclaves so close to Europe.

US and European politicians won't explain it because any honest explanation would expose the emptiness at the core of all their proffered reasons for the Terror War. They can't explain it because the Terror War system -- including the increasing militarization and repression in their own countries -- has now become organizing principle of Western society. Or rather, it is the latest incarnation of what has been the guiding principle of Western society since World War II: organizing society and the economy around war, either active war or the ever-present "threat" of war (assiduously exaggerated -- or even manufactured -- at every turn). For government and big business, the immense power and profit and control they inevitably accrued from conducting total war on a global basis was far too enticing to give up once the war was over. The full mobilization of society's resources for war simply carried on; indeed, was expanded and amplified.

However, the war also had a life-transforming impact on many of its survivors. The savagery and loss -- and the class-effacing comradeship -- they had experienced during the war imbued millions of people with a burning desire to change society for the better, to do away with the poverty and injustices of the past, and build a better, more decent, more peaceful world. This spirit is evoked with remarkable power in a new book, Harry's Last Stand, by Harry Leslie Smith, a 91-year-old WII veteran enraged to see the neoliberal extremists that have held sway in the US and Britain for more than 30 years sweeping away the progress toward a more just society that his generation tried to build on the ruins of the war. (Some of Smith's writing can be found here and here.)

The power structure was forced to deal with these aspirations. And, yes, some among the commanding heights shared these sentiments as well, to varying degrees. Thus for a a brief period -- scarcely more than two generations -- there was an attempt to balance two opposing organizing principles at once: war and human betterment. The presidency of Lyndon Johnson was perhaps the apex -- and tragic denouement -- of this conflict. Johnson's Great Society and War on Poverty programs, and his muscling through of the Civil Rights Act, were profoundly transformative for millions of people, and even with their limitations and compromises could have laid the groundwork for a continual refinement and recalibration of society in the general direction of justice, opportunity and social peace. But Johnson was also a product -- and propagator -- of the war system: a hawk, eager to "project dominance," subvert and overthrow "recalcitrant" states and employ violence on a massive, indiscriminate (and lucrative) scale. The Vietnam War destroyed his presidency, crippled the momentum of his social programs, and accelerated the triumph of the war principle.

Now those who remember what the world was like before the Second World War -- the ugly, despairing poverty and inequality that Smith writes about so movingly -- are almost gone. Even those of us who remember when the idea of human betterment seemed a realistic possibility for society, a practical goal to be pursued despite many difficulties, not a pipe dream scorned by the "savvy," are fading away. There are now generations well into adulthood who have never known anything but the war principle and the neoliberal ascendancy as "normality," the natural state of things. Indeed, in a very few years, we'll see the first generation of adults who will have lived their entire lives under the reign of the Terror War. The relentless assault of the elites who have thrived under the war principle, increasing the unequal proportion of their wealth and power to unimaginable levels, have left these new generations very little to build upon. On so many fronts, so many levels, they will essentially have to start from scratch, re-discover old skills and insights that have been lost, re-fight old battles,  and of course, create new ways of trying to go forward (like the Occupy movement).

And they will have to do it against a power structure that is far more powerful, more pervasive and implacable than before. A power structure that every day is darkening the future of its own children, creating a dystopia of chaos and fear, of aggression and blowback, repression and revenge. No leader can "explain" what is happening because none of them can admit the truth: that the world they are making -- the world that has made them powerful, has lifted them up on a finely-meshed web of interlocking elite interests and will sustain them, and their families, among the elite for the rest of their lives -- is organized around violence and loot. Not security, not prosperity, not liberty, not democracy, not justice, not peace. These are not the aims of the system, these are not the products of the system.

The Terror War -- and the concomitant degradation of society and individual lives -- shows in stark relief that the system is producing exactly what it aims to produce: death, despair -- and record-breaking profits.

 
Hell’s Gate: The Iraqi Blitzkrieg and the Cult of Violence
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Thursday, 12 June 2014 22:55

(UPDATE BELOW)

The bitter fruits of the monstrous evil the United States inflicted on Iraq are ripening before our eyes. The blitzkrieg by ISIS, a radical militia so extreme that even al Qaeda disowned it, has swept through large swaths of the country and laid bare the sham of the government system imposed by the American invaders. 

Having engineered the senseless slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people and provoked a murderous sectarian war, the Americans installed a government based along strict sectarian lines -- a choice that was guaranteed to exacerbate internal strife and produce weak, ineffective, disunited governments. And so we have watched the government of would-be strongman Nouri al-Maliki wither away into corrupt factionalism and brutal repression in its frantic and failing efforts to impose its will on the inevitable chaos. This week we may be witnessing its total collapse, as its army -- built and funded by the American invaders -- is simply vanishing in the face of the onslaught by ISIS, which is itself funded, in part, by America's own staunch allies in the Gulf … and, via America's funding and arming of murky stew of Syrian rebel groups (which includes ISIS), indirectly by Washington itself.

Yes, it is madness. The US-UK act of unprovoked aggression in Iraq -- which in principle and illegality differs not one whit from the German invasion of Poland in 1939 -- has spread unimaginable ruin and destruction throughout the region, creating a Hobbesian nightmare of "each against all": of factions combining, breaking apart, recombining, fighting together, fighting each other, using each other, betraying each other, with no boundaries, no meaning, just a constant churning, chewing, gnashing of teeth, a vast, seething mass of death and brutality, held together, locked together, by a single, shared creed: the way of violence. Violence as a first principle, and the final solution; violence (and the ever-present, never-ceasing threat of violence) as the highest expression of human achievement, the physical embodiment of power, of domination over others -- which is the supreme value, the ultimate concern for all those who hold to this fanatical creed. It's the true religion of the American militarists, the Islamic extremists, the NATO nabobs, the authoritarian nationalists, the covert operators, the backroom financiers, and all the bit players and fellow travellers around the world who serve and support or profit from this ghastly faith.

There is a larger historical context to what's happening in Iraq today, which Juan Cole covers well here. But the immediate responsibility for the death and suffering we are witnessing in Iraq right now lies squarely on those who launched (and those who supported) a war of aggression that destroyed Iraqi society and -- just as was predicted -- "opened the gates of hell" to sectarian strife and world-rattling chaos. 

2.
Meanwhile, there are indications that the uprising is broader than the operations of ISIS, a group that with its al Qaeda-surpassing extremism is tailor-made to serve as a convenient devil. Just as one of their precursors, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, served as the Scarlet Pimpernel of much of the American occupation -- seemingly here, there and everywhere, and was blamed for every bit of unrest and resistance against the noble American and British liberators. It was Zarqawi's supposed presence in Fallujah that led to America's vicious destruction of that city; he was, of course, nowhere near the city, which the Americans well knew. In fact, Zarqawi too had once been an ally of Americans, at least indirectly; before the invasion, his terrorist group found safe haven in the Kurdish-controlled areas of Iraq, where Saddam's writ did not run, and where American officials moved freely. The Bush Administration vetoed several chances to capture or kill Zarqawi, preferring to let him attack the common enemy, Saddam. Later, as noted, he served as a convenient PR foil for the Americans during his rampages in the post-election landscape.

He was a loathsome character -- a fierce adherent of the cult of violence he shared with Saddam and America's bipartisan foreign policy elite. And ISIS is a malevolent faction of the same faith -- although of course they yet to kill even a fraction of the number of innocent civilians slaughtered in the region by the Defenders of Western Civilization and their clients. But as with Zarqawi, the focus on ISIS obscures the larger discontent and resistance to what it is still, essentially, an occupation regime in Baghdad. The Guardian has featured reports from the ground in the cities seized by ISIS; reports which paint a somewhat more complex picture than we are seeing in Washington, where the 'debate' has, as usual, congealed around partisan point-scoring -- and minute calibrations of just how much violence America should employ to exacerbate the chaos and ruin.

From the Guardian:

Among those who took control of Tikrit were large numbers of former Ba'ath party members. Ba'athists were the cornerstone of Saddam Hussein's regime and have been persecuted ever since. Residents of Tikrit said some insurgents were wearing the drab green military fatigues worn by Saddam's army. "There are no Isis flags in town," said one local woman. "They are playing Saddam and Ba'ath party songs."

…In nearby Samara, where insurgents have been negotiating with Iraqi army officials, car dealer Taher Hassan said militants had turned up on Sunday and quickly taken control of most of the city.

He said: "All the local police forces have pulled out of their bases in the city. … Everyone in Samara is happy with the fighters' management of the city. They have proved to be professional and competent. The fighters themselves did not harm or kill anyone as they swept forward. Any man who hands over his arm is safe, whatever his background. This attitude is giving a huge comfort to people here. We have lived enough years of injustice, revenge and tyranny and we can't stand any more. 

Four days ago, Maliki’s military dirty force raided Al-Razaq mosque in the city, brought a few locals whom they picked up from different parts in Samara and killed them in the mosque. What do you think the people feeling would be towards these military forces? We have lived enough years of injustice, revenge and tyranny and we can’t stand any more.”

Abu Riyad, 50 years old, tribal leader in Mosul city: “It seems the fighters have a good security plan for the city. They really know the nature of the city and have not made the same mistakes as the US forces, or Maliki’s forces, when they invaded Mosul. They are protecting all the governmental buildings in the city and have not destroyed or stolen anything. They haven’t harmed a person in the city.

[Isis] fighters have opened and cleared out all the bridges, roads and checkpoints set up by the army. Now, we can move easily. It is so quiet here – not a bullet has been fired so far. Most of the families who fled the city began to head back today. We have suffered a lot under Maliki’s unfair government. …We’ve had enough injustice and corruption and no longer accept Maliki’s army. Since the US invasion until now, an organised ethnic cleansing was taking place here. Maliki’s men would show up on TV revealing their love to peace and security but the reality is completely different. They are all killers, fanatic and sectarians….

Last Thursday, the fighters attacked the right bank of the Tigris river. The army used planes and mortars in the fight, in a crowded residential area. The bombardment cut the power and water supply and sparked panic among the locals. Many civilians were killed.”

As always, extremist elements thrive where the "legitimate" authority is repressive and corrupt. (And in this case, implanted by foreign aggression.) The same dynamic was played out by the Taliban in Afghanistan, after the withdrawal of the Soviet forces that had been supporting, brutally, the secular government. The Soviets were forced out by a resistance led by violent sectarian extremists -- armed and supported by the Americans and their Saudi allies (such as Osama bin Laden). This led to years of ruinous chaos as warlords tore apart what was left of the country after the Soviet departure; many who later had cause to regret the Taliban’s ascendancy at first applauded their highly disciplined restoration of order.

This is evident in the current situation in Iraq as well, as illustrated by the quotes above. The welcome relief from corruption and chaos now will likely give way to dread and repression as ISIS — adherents to the Cult of Violence — impose the same kind of forcible domination as Maliki and his American predecessors. As the Guardian reports:

Isis has been handing out flyers in the towns it has seized assuring residents who have remained that it is there to protect their interests. The campaign for hearts and minds is gaining some traction, with some residents railing against perceived injustices at the hands of the Shia majority government. But yesterday it said it would introduce sharia law in Mosul and other towns, warning women to stay indoors and threatening to cut off the hands of thieves. "People, you have tried secular regimes ... This is now the era of the Islamic State," it proclaimed.

In retrospect, the American intervention in Afghanistan in the late 70s looks more and more like the linchpin of the modern era, the decisive event that gave rise to a multitude of later evils (much like the mobilisations of 1914 -- the blind exacerbation and amplification of a local crisis -- was the fatal pivot of the 20th century, seeding the even greater horrors of World War II). Here too, as in so many situations in our time, a distorted story was invented to paint America’s dark and deadly realpolitik as a bright cartoon of the Shining City vs. Pure Motiveless Evil. Americans were sold the false story of Kremlin Hitlers swooping down for no reason on the simple rustics of Afghanistan — the opening salvo in what we were told was surely a diabolical campaign of world conquest. 

The truth was nothing like that. The Soviets were, of course, invited into Afghanistan by the Communist-run government in Kabul — a rather nasty and ineffective regime, to be sure — as it struggled with internal factional conflict and, more importantly, with a well-armed insurgency of Islamic fundamentalists opposed to the government’s modernization and secularization — including emancipation for women. The decision to accede to the Afghan government’s request and greatly increase the already existing number of Soviet military advisors was hotly debated in the Politburo. In the end, the reluctant decision was made to support the troublesome Afghan government. (The story is well told in Rodric Braithwaite’s book, Afgantsy.) 

America’s meddling pre-dated the Soviet “invasion” of 1979. In fact, the “invasion” was a response to America’s horrifically short-sighted fomenting of violent Islamic extremism. The saintly Jimmy Carter and his Kissinger manqué, Zbigniew Brzezinski, decided they could give the Soviet Union “its own Vietnam” by luring it into an intractable guerrilla conflict in Afghanistan — as Brzezinski has proudly confirmed many times. So they joined with Saudi Arabia and other allies to create a worldwide network of heavily armed, well-funded Islamic extremists: the ultimate seed-bed of groups like al Qaeda, the Taliban, Zarqawi’s faction and ISIS. 

These events don’t just arise, stir trouble for awhile, then go away. They have lasting effects, reverberating down through the years and bearing malignant fruit in a myriad of unexpected ways. We are all still paying the costs of Jimmy and Zbig’s murderously ignorant Great Gaming more than 30 years ago. Likewise, the Iraq War did not just go away when American forces finally pulled out  less than three years ago. Although the country disappeared from the American consciousness, the destructive forces inflicted and unleashed upon the conquered land continued to ravage the lives of ordinary, innocent people there (and in America), leaving them in chaos, bitterness, hopelessness and despair. What is happening now was inevitable, in one form or another.

But our rulers — these pathetic, third-rate minds (for all their elite educations), lacking the imagination or the will or the desire to look beyond the blinkered constrictions of their imperialist worldview — have learned nothing from the past three years, or the past 30 years. It’s unlikely that Barack Obama will send American troops back to Iraq, but he will almost certainly take some kind of action, in his desperation to look “tough” to his critics, and to stave off the accusation of “losing” Iraq to “the terrorists.” Already the Idiot Choir of the political-media class is placing the blame for the current turn of events on the fact that America did not retain a troop presence in Iraq — as if THIS was the great error, the great “failure” of American policy, instead of the decision to invade the country in the first place. 

(And also forgetting, as Cole points out, that the Iraqis themselves would not have accepted a continuing American presence; Maliki’s own hold on power depended on his image as a leader of a “sovereign,” independent nation, even as his power was entirely beholden to a political system set up by invaders. And of course, a continuing American presence during the past three years would have provoked even more resistance, more attacks on the American troops, more “force protection” by the occupiers, more raids, more atrocities, provoking more resistance — the same insane cycle we saw throughout the original occupation.)

But it’s pointless to dwell on the hair-splitting schisms of these fanatics of the Violence Cult. We already know that whatever response they come up with will adhere to the Cult’s orthodoxy: it will be violent, it will involve the death and suffering of innocent people, it will breed more chaos and extremism, and it will exacerbate the very problems it is ostensibly trying to resolve. These are the only results the Cult can produce; and there is no one in power — or even near power — in America who is not an adherent of the Cult. 

And so the suffering — the pointless anguish and ruin — will go on.


***
UPDATE: A new article out today by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett underscores the insanity of the policies that have produced the situation in Iraq today. They pay special attention to the role of the Syrian conflict, which I only glanced at above. It is an important angle -- and one of the best illustrations of the madness now raging through the halls of power in the West. Once again, as in Afghanistan, Washington and its European and Saudi partners have poured massive amounts of money and weapons into an insurgency led by violent religious extremists -- and are now shocked to see this extremist insurgency spread throughout the region, particularly in Iraq, where a corrupt, crippled, invader-installed regime has led the country into further division and degradation.

Meanwhile, as I noted above and the Leveretts underscore here, in Washington the only response being offered is more of the same: more intervention to combat the extremists in Iraq, more funding and weapons for the extremists in Syria (and often the groups are the same), more war, more death, more violence. They literally do not know anything else.

Here's an excerpt from the article:

In Iraq, the resurgence of sectarian violence stems not from the 2011 American withdrawal. It is, rather, the fruit of America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, the subsequent U.S. occupation, and the much vaunted “surge” of 2007-2008. The U.S. invasion and occupation destroyed the Iraqi state and ignited tensions among Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic communities. The surge sought to empower certain Sunni militias while paying them (temporarily) not to kill American soldiers; this ended up giving Sunni militants the means to press their grievances through escalating violence once U.S. forces were no longer around.

Unfortunately, Washington seems determined to compound its appalling policy choices in Iraq with equally grievous choices regarding Syria. For over three years, America has provided Syrian oppositionists with “nonlethal” aid, trained opposition fighters, coordinated with others openly providing lethal aid for U.S.-vetted recipients, and extended high-level political backing to the anti-Assad campaign – including serially reiterated public demands from Obama that Assad “must go.” Yet, from the conflict’s start it has been clear that opposition fighters would not dislodge Assad, no matter how much external help they received – because, from the beginning, the constituencies supporting Assad and his government have added up to well over half of Syrian society. …

These realities were readily observable in spring 2011; we have been writing and speaking about them for over three years. Yet the Obama administration decided, within weeks after the outbreak unrest in parts of Syria in March 2011, to support oppositionists seeking to overthrow Assad. It did so – as administration officials told the New York Times in April 2011 – because it calculated that destabilizing Assad’s government would undermine Iran’s regional position.

This was a colossally irresponsible exercise in policymaking-by-wishful-thinking, for two reasons. First, outside support for opposition fighters – a sizable percentage of whom are not even Syrian – has taken what began as small-scale, indigenously generated protests over particular grievances and turned them into a heavily militarized insurgency that could sustain high levels of violence but could not actually win. The Obama administration prides itself on overthrowing Libya’s Muammar al-Qadhafi in 2011 without putting U.S. boots on the ground (though the results are comparable to those in Iraq: the destruction of a functioning state and the arming of militias that kill with impunity – including the U.S. ambassador in 2012). Assad is a vastly tougher target. Stepped up support for anti-Assad fighters will not accomplish anything positive strategically; it will, however, perpetuate conditions in which even more Syrians die.

Second, it was utterly foreseeable that backing an armed challenge to Assad would worsen the threat of jihadi militancy – in Syria, in neighboring countries like Iraq, and beyond. Well before March 2011, it was evident that, among Syria’s Sunni Islamist constituencies, the Muslim Brotherhood – whose Syrian branch was historically more radical than most Brotherhood cells – was being displaced by more extreme, al Qaeda-like groups. External support for anti-Assad forces after March 2011 accelerated the trend and reinforced it with an infusion of foreign fighters, including organ-eating extremists. Many of these jihadis, according to the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, are now working not just to bring down Assad but also to mount attacks against the United States.

The Obama administration’s transformation of Syria into a magnet-cum-training ground for transnational jihadi fighters has directly fed the resurgence of jihadi extremism we are witnessing in Iraq. Three years ago, at the beginning of the Syrian conflict, the Islamic State of Iraq – formed in 2006 from Abu Musab Az-Zarqawi’s “Al-Qaeda in Iraq” movement – was on the ropes. Reinvigorated through the creation of an externally supported insurgency in Syria by the United States and America’s European and regional partners, it rebranded itself in 2013 as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and, like the Taliban in Afghanistan before 9/11, has taken over swaths of both Syria and Iraq with lightning speed.

Washington has only itself and its collaborators in the anti-Assad crusade to blame for such an outcome. As ISIS captures more cities and territory in Iraq, it is also capturing stockpiles of weapons and military equipment that America supplied to the post-Saddam government – weapons and equipment that will enable further gains by ISIS fighters. Against this backdrop, calls to increase the flow of weapons into neighboring Syria are a case study in Einstein’s (apocryphal) definition of insanity – “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Calls for the United States to “go back” to Iraq, to undo the horrific damage it has already done there, are equally delusional.

 
Facts and Fabrications: Responding to a Greenwald Smear
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Saturday, 07 June 2014 10:58

(UPDATED BELOW)

Oh well, once more into the breach with matters Greenwaldian. Word comes that I've been subjected to a personal smear by Glenn. Some of this has played out in the comments on the previous post, but I thought I'd bring it out here for an airing, and to expand on a few points.

It began with this from a commenter, Semanticleo:

Chris; GG replied to you from the flank: "Of course, Chris spent years heaping praise on me and privately seeking opportunities to write in my space. He must have had a sudden epiphany that I’m really just a pro-imperial militarist. I wonder how he explains to himself how he remained fooled for so long."

This was my initial response (lightly edited here):

Did he really say that? How amusing. However, I'm afraid that young Glenn is being economical with the truth if he says I spent years "privately seeking opportunities to write in [his] space." This simply did not happen. It is true that he asked me (and others) to fill in him for a week at Salon in 2007 while he was off, which I did quite happily. He also asked me to participate in a Talking Points Memo Book Club discussion, based on his new book at the time, which I also did. This too was in 2007. In 2008, he asked me -- again, as before, on his own initiative -- to do a podcast discussion with him on his blog. (I wasn't able to do it due to scheduling problems.) But I cannot recall -- nor can I find any evidence in the still-extant record of our email contacts going back seven years -- any time when I asked Greenwald for an opportunity to "write in his space" or even hinted at such a thing.

And yes, I've praised many of Greenwald's pieces over the years (as he has done with mine); why not? I often found myself in agreement with him on many issues, found many of his insights and information useful, and linked and praised accordingly. We also disagreed at times, in a friendly way, sometimes in comments he contributed to my blog, or in blog posts.

I didn't have a "sudden epiphany" that Glenn is "just a pro-imperial militarist." In fact, I never said he WAS a pro-imperial militarist. What I have said is the simple truth: he seems very happy to WORK for an oligarch whose public activities clearly advance a harsh neoliberal, pro-imperial, militarist agenda. This troubles me. It troubles me precisely because I admired much of Glenn's work in past years. Just as it troubles me that other writers whose journalism I've admired and found useful have gone to work for an oligarch with such a disturbing record -- people like Jeremy Scahill and Matt Taibbi, with whom I worked almost 20 years ago in Moscow. I don't think this is a good development; I think it bodes ill for journalism, for effective dissent against an overbearing power structure. I think we should find some other model for investigative journalism, rather than partnering up with neoliberal oligarchs like Omidyar. Is this really such a controversial opinion, worthy of a personal smear?

And yes, I've also questioned the handling of the Snowden material, and what I believe are the troubling implications of how it has been handled. I've explained my reasoning behind these concerns at some length.

But all of these concerns are based on my observations of the facts at hand. My opinion on these matters are not "epiphanies;" they have developed over time, in response to events as they've happened. Glenn did go to work for Omidyar. This was troubling. The facts coming out about Omidyar's record are troubling. I found the handling of the Snowden material, as it has played out over the course of more than a year, to be troubling in various ways (while still being glad, as always, when any information about our malevolent power structure leaks out). If none of these things had happened, I would not have written any of the material that Glenn now finds so objectionable.

Obviously Glenn disagrees with my interpretation of these events. That's his right, of course. He can disagree vociferously, as he did in my comment section a few months ago. Why not? He can even attack me personally, as he seems to have done here, if this quote is accurate. But I don't think he should tell lies in an attempt to blacken my character, instead of engaging with the substance at hand -- Omidyar's record, and what it means for top dissident journalists to come under his financial umbrella.

***

I thought that was it, but it seems there was more, as Tarzie noted in a follow-up comment:

Chris: You were not furnished with the full quote. Glenn also called this statement of yours an out and out fabrication:

His most prominent employee, Greenwald, constantly affirms his belief
that we should indeed have a powerful and far-reaching security state —
it should just be “reformed” and “overseen” by people he approves of.
(Snowden has voiced the same opinion.)

I left a reply to this on The Intercept, but they cherry pick comments, so there is no guarantee it will be published or answered. This was my direct reply to Greenwald's remark about your 'fabrication.'

--------

Well then perhaps you should explicitly clarify what your position on the security apparatus is. Because I think Floyd's assessment is at least correct in regard to Snowden, who frequently touts the essential goodness of spying and whose only real objection seems to be bulk data collection. When people object to what they see in Snowden's remarks as a very subservient, conformist view of the security state -- that is the viewpoint of someone who has spent his entire working life inside it and still insists he's working for it -- you belittle and ridicule them for never having blown whistles. With smears like 'chicken pseudo radicals' you have worked very hard to prevent any discussion about the very thick layer of national security ideology that comes bundled with almost everything Snowden says. Until you explicitly contradict him and repudiate the security state in stronger and more explicit terms, I don't think you can, in good faith, call Floyd's assessment a fabrication.

So let's just clear the air: what is the proper role of the Intelligence Community? If Congress would make any adjustments you suggested, what would those adjustments be? It would be especially interesting and refreshing to learn your views on other agencies besides the NSA.

I think Tarzie's reply to The Intercept covers the matter well. As he points out, Greenwald has attacked anyone who questions Snowden's affirmation of the need for a powerful spy system, and has not, to my knowledge, ever differentiated himself from this position. If Greenwald is NOT in favor of a robust security apparatus (albeit one 'reformed' and 'regulated' as he would like it), then he has never made that clear. Instead, two seconds on the internet finds quotes like this on Al Jazeera in January, where he talks of the need for "a much more sensible surveillance system."

I don't understand who he thinks will run this "more sensible surveillance system" in a militarized state hellbent on "projecting dominance" in every part of the world, and protecting an economic-social system based on vast and brutal inequality. That is the ruling system we have now: so again, among those who rise to the top of such an unjust and morally skewed system, who will you trust to carry out "more sensible surveillance"? And of course, the problem is not just surveillance, but all the other depredations being committed by our "security" apparatchiks and political leaders on a daily basis, including running death squads out of the White House with the direct participation of the president.

There are already laws on the books prohibiting warrantless surveillance, torture  -- and, indeed, "extrajudicial killing" (murder) and aggressive war. This has not stopped our bipartisan ruling class from carrying out these crimes and others, relentlessly, remorselessly and without the slightest accountability. Now, we can "engage in debate" about "reforms" for a "much more sensible surveillance system" until the cows come home -- but in the system of political and socioeconomic organization we have now, none of this will make any difference. You will still have the same kind of people running things, because the kind of people willing to commit or countenance such crimes are the only kind of people who will rise to the top of such a system.

And this system of power does not just include "the radically corrupted political class in DC," as Greenwald rightly describes it (in a quote one of the commenters here pointed out). It also, most emphatically, includes figures like Pierre Omidyar -- billionaires who use their money and power and connections to manipulate governments, society and events, as far they are able, toward the perpetuation and expansion of elite interests. Who does Greenwald think is corrupting the "radically corrupted political class?" Who is buying off the politicians? Who is influencing and sometimes even writing laws and policies for their own advantage? Who is partnering with the security state to destabilize and manipulate foreign goverments? Who is doing the corrupting? The oligarch class, and the corporations and financial interests they control and work with.

You can root out the entire "corrupted political class in DC" today, and you will still end up with another corrupted political class to take its place -- because that's the only kind of political class that will be produced by the wider system of power, which is dominated not by politicians but by corporate interests and oligarchs. If you support and celebrate the oligarchs who perpetuate this system, then you can be sure you will never see any genuine change or reform.

So yes, I believe that writers who call for "a more sensible surveillance system" in the current system of power do indeed hold that "we should have a powerful and far-reaching security state." I believe that is the logical conclusion and practical implication of such a stance. Any kind of effective surveillance system -- "sensible" or not -- will necessarily have to be powerful and far-reaching; otherwise, what's the point? So again, a belief in the need for an effective surveillance system means believing you need a state powerful and far-reaching enough to operate it.

I don't think it is a "fabrication" to draw such a conclusion from Greenwald's public positions, and his often heated, personal attacks on anyone who disagrees with Snowden's clear views on this question. If I've overstated the case, oversimplified his position, drawn the wrong implications from what Greenwald has said (and not said), if he has a different or more nuanced view, if he does not agree totally (or at all) with Snowden on this question, then I'd be glad to hear it.

But again, we are speaking here of opinions drawn from facts on the ground, not "fabrications." Greenwald states we need a surveillance system, albeit a "sensible" one. I observe this stance and make an observation about it, drawing on what knowledge I have of the sinister system of power we now have. Greenwald goes to work for an unsavory oligarch who is aiding and abetting political and social developments which I believe are harmful. I observe this, and state my concerns and opinions about it. I offer these as my personal opinion, in a blog read by a few hundred people. If there is new information, new facts on the ground that cause me to alter my opinion, then I will do so.

But as far as I can tell, Greenwald doesn't offer any new information to refute my opinions, any arguments against my conclusions, any new facts -- or even old facts or arguments that I might have missed. Instead, as he did earlier this year, he leaps straight to personal disparagement and, sad to say, out and out fabrications of his own. He says I'm a liar -- because I disagree with him. He says I bugged him privately for years to let me use his media platforms -- this is blatantly untrue, and Greenwald knows it to be untrue. He knows that the one time I used his media platform was when he invited me to do so, unbidden, out of the blue. I thought it was a kind gesture, and I thanked him kindly for it. It's sad that he now wants to take this act of kindness on his part and turn it into a nasty and mendacious personal smear against me.  I hope he can find some better uses for his time and talents than indulging in this kind of petty business -- or serving oligarchs, for that matter.

***
(UPDATE)
This is the last go-round on this particular brouhaha, offered here only because a recent comment provides such a sterling example of the kind of response any criticism of Greenwald or Omidyar provokes. This is from a commenter adopting the pseudonym "Lout" (although the person has previously commented here in their own name). I've lightly edited it because the original is ungrammatical at a couple of points:

Given that the only common threa[d] running through the various pretexts proffered for hating Greenwald has to do with Greenwald being successful, I suspect that the weird obsession [with] Greenwald is for the most part rooted in simple envy. It's as if the widely held perception of Greenwald as a formidable dissident has robbed some people of their sense of personal identity, and the thief must be made to pay.

My response:
I don't "hate" Greenwald nor do I have a "weird obsession" with him. Nor have I told lies about him to blacken his character, as he has done to me. Greenwald had a reputation as a "formidable dissident" during the years we often linked to each other's work. He has the same reputation now. What does that have to do with anything?

I have offered my critical opinions on some aspects of how the Snowden revelations have been handled, without ever denying the courage and tribulations of those who've brought them (partially) to light. I've also expressed my deep concern at seeing indeed formidable dissidents like Greenwald, Taibbi, Scahill, etc., being employed by an oligarch whose own dubious and dangerous activities are the very things that formidable dissidents like Greenwald,Taibbi and Scahill would normally denounce and expose. What does it mean for investigative journalism and dissent to come under the financial umbrella of such a figure?

I think these are important questions to consider. Yet such concerns are immediately denounced as mere "jealousy" -- as if wealth and status are the only concerns, the only values that could possibly motivate anyone to criticize the public actions and positions of prominent people. (When Greenwald criticizes Obama, is it because he's jealous that Obama is more famous and powerful than he is? Or could it possibly be that Glenn has genuine motives, rooted in his own values and beliefs, that drive his concerns and spur him to write? If that's true for him, as I'm sure Citizen Lout would affirm, why can't it be true for others? Citizen Lout, like so many of Greenwald's fierce defenders, seems to have difficulty grasping this concept.)

The fatuous cod-psychology about people feeling "robbed of their sense of personal identity" is entirely characteristic of this whole ugly business. I write articles that say: I have concerns about the handling of the NSA revelations, and here are my reasons; I have concerns about dissident journalism getting into bed with unsavoury oligarchs, and here are my reasons. But what is the response to these concerns, which are based on public actions and positions? Not counterarguments but personal attacks: smears, lies aimed at denigrating personal character, sneering amateur psychology which attributes any criticism of these public issues to some kind of character flaw in the critic.

After many years of substantial agreement with Glenn on many public issues, I now have a substantial disagreement with him on these particular public issues. Is this so unusual? Especially among writers in such a volatile and contentious field as politics and public policy? I haven't attributed Glenn's actions and positions on these issues to some deep-seated character flaw or psychological imbalance in him; I think, on these issues, that he has made some wrong choices: choices which -- precisely because he is a formidable dissident with a high public profile -- could have an adverse effect on the course of investigative journalism and dissent in general. That's why I've spoken up about my concerns on these public issues, and why I've offered evidence and arguments to explain my concerns. This is not "hatred"; it's called debate.

But again, the response to this has been personal attacks, calumny, disparagement and, in Glenn's recent statement, lies against my character. And here, from Citizen Lout, insipid pop psychology instead of argument.

 
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