Arthur Silber has resurfaced after yet another long season in hell — but only to say that the hell goes on, although he hopes to be writing again soon. This, as always, is a consummation devoutly to be wished. As he depends on contributions given for his writing, and as he has not been able to write for several months, he is doubtless in need of support. If you can give, please consider heading over to his site and putting something in the jar. .... I’ve not been writing much myself of late, for various reasons, including some health-related issues — although nothing remotely like what Arthur is going through. But I too hope to be writing more in the coming days and weeks. So watch, as they say, this space.Add a comment
He lost his way in Biloxi
He lost his way down on that shore
That was still choked with the debris
Of a storm from long before
He lost his way in the madhouse
Where he tended to the men
Whose young souls had been shattered
By a war that will have no end
He was a boy from the country
Full of bluster, full of beans
He grew up sheltered in that valley
From the world's ungodly scenes
Then they threw him in the maelstrom
They threw him in the flood
They taught him death and anguish
They taught him grief and blood
He came back home and he started searching
For the life he'd left behind
For the boy so full of promise
And the music in his mind
But he got lost back in Biloxi
Got hooked on pills to ease the pain
He never could cut through that static
And hear those clear, pure notes again
Well, they named him for an angel
But he fell into the fire
Now let all his imperfections
Be burned away into something higher
I knew his heart, I knew his ego
I knew the chains that kept him bound
I knew the reach of his ambitions
And the fears in which they drowned
Well, I'm not here to make excuses
Say what you like, the dead don't care
I'm just thinking about Biloxi…
And a boy who got lost down there
R.I.P. Jesse Michael FloydAdd a comment
On Sunday, Human Rights Watch reported that Saudi Arabia is dropping cluster bombs supplied by the United States in the relentless onslaught on Yemen. These horrific weapons — which not only unleash mass death on first use but leave unexploded bombs that can kill for months or years afterward — have been banned by 116 nations. The United States has not signed the convention against cluster bombs, but has greatly restricted their use. However, a loophole left in US law allows the Pentagon’s favorite war profiteers to sell cluster bombs abroad.
The Saudis are dropping the cluster bombs near villages, HRW reports. But the Saudis — and their ally, the United States, which is supplying weapons, logistics and intelligence support to the act of aggression — have already shown they are unconcerned about civilian casualties in the conflict. More than 1,000 people have died in 2,300 airstrikes launched by the Saudis and their allies. According to best estimates, hundreds of civilians have been killed. Millions of civilians are now at dire risk, due to a brutal blockade imposed by the Saudis and the Americans. Yemen imports 90 percent of its food. It is now running out of food, medical supplies and fuel. People are dying from the deprivation.
But of course, the use of cluster bombs against Yemen is nothing new. As the New York Times reports, American ships fired cruise missiles loaded with cluster bombs in an attack that killed “dozens of civilians.” This was in 2009, the year the man who launched those attacks was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Saudis also dropped American-made cluster bombs on Yemen that year, in yet another attack on the Houthis. HRW reports:
Credible evidence indicates that the Saudi-led coalition used banned cluster munitions supplied by the United States in airstrikes against Houthi forces in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said today. Cluster munitions pose long-term dangers to civilians and are prohibited by a 2008 treaty adopted by 116 countries, though not Saudi Arabia, Yemen, or the United States.
“Saudi-led cluster munition airstrikes have been hitting areas near villages, putting local people in danger,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. “These weapons should never be used under any circumstances. Saudi Arabia and other coalition members – and the supplier, the US – are flouting the global standard that rejects cluster munitions because of their long-term threat to civilians.”
Cluster munitions contain dozens or hundreds of submunitions. The submunitions are designed to explode after spreading out over a wide area, often the size of a football field, putting anyone in the area at the time of the attack at risk of death or injury. In addition, many submunitions often do not explode, becoming de facto landmines.
While the CBU-105 is banned under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, its use is permitted under existing US policy and its export is permitted under existing US export restrictions on cluster munitions.
In August 2013, the US Department of Defense concluded a contract for the manufacture of 1,300 CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons for Saudi Arabia by Textron. … Additionally, [Saudi ally] UAE received an unknown number of CBU-105 from Textron Defense Systems in June 2010. … In addition to the recent transfer of CBU-105, the US provided Saudi Arabia with significant exports of cluster bombs between 1970 and 1999. Saudi Arabia possesses attack aircraft of US and Western/NATO origin capable of dropping US-made cluster bombs.
Most of our political reality now is almost beyond commentary. Its evident evil stands as stark as a naked body unearthed from a mass grave. Yet millions of people will be heatedly engaged in the coming months by the “struggle” over who will temporarily preside over the stinking slaughterhouse of our militarist empire. The mass hallucination — of a rational political system, of our national goodness, of the chance of “reform” if only the right murderer gets into power — will go on.Add a comment
Last week, the United States sent an armada to Yemen, to help enforce a blockade of the poverty-ridden country as it groans under the mass slaughter of Saudi Arabia’s American-backed war of aggression. Now the Saudis, employing the bombs they procured from U.S. war profiteers, have shut down aid shipments by air with a bombing raid on the capital, Sana’a. The result will be more hunger, suffering and death in one of the world’s poorest countries. — But hey, wasn’t Obama so funny at that media dinner thing!
While aiding the Islamic extremists of Saudi Arabia to help al Qaeda in Yemen — who have made great gains while their mortal enemies, the Houthis, are being pounded by the Saudis — Obama and the American military machine has also been busy joining hands with al Qaeda in Syria, helping them make huge advances and capture key cities. It now looks increasingly likely that the Syrian government will not be able to withstand the onslaught of Islamic extremists (oh, and the “moderate” rebels, which also include al Qaeda elements). The fall of the secular Syrian state will open up an abyss of chaos which will be filled by the extremists armed and bankrolled by the United States and Saudi Arabia — just as the American destruction of the secular government in Iraq has led to murderous nightmare for millions of people.
What’s more, Israel has also joined the fight with al Qaeda, launching airstrikes on positions in Syria to clear the way for Islamic extremists to keep up their offensive. Robert Parry is on the case:
The Saudi-Israeli alliance, in league with other hard-line Sunni countries, is helping Al-Qaeda affiliates advance toward gaining either victory or at least safe havens in Syria and Yemen, highlighting unresolved contradictions in President Barack Obama’s policies in the Middle East. Fueled by a surge of support from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – and with Israel striking at Syrian government allies – Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and Al-Qaeda’s hyper-brutal spinoff, the Islamic State, are making major advances in Syria with some analysts now predicting the likely collapse of the relatively secular government of President Bashar al-Assad.
… As this relationship firmed up, Israel even began voicing a preference for Al-Qaeda’s militants over the relatively secular Assad government, which was viewed as the protectors of Alawites, Shiites, Christians and other Syrian minorities terrified of the Saudi-backed Sunni extremists. In September 2013, in one of the most explicit expressions of Israel’s views, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, then a close adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad.
“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren told the Jerusalem Post in an interview. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the “bad guys” were affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Oren expanded on his position in June 2014 at an Aspen Institute conference. Then, speaking as a former ambassador, Oren said Israel would even prefer a victory by the Islamic State, which was massacring captured Iraqi soldiers and beheading Westerners, than the continuation of the Iranian-backed Assad in Syria.“From Israel’s perspective, if there’s got to be an evil that’s got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail,” Oren said.
The same game is being played in Yemen, of course, as Obama puts American military and logistic muscle behind a murderous air assault by the fountainhead of Sunni extremism, Saudi Arabia. Here, the Americans — that great defender of democracy everywhere — are helping the hidebound, head-chopping, tyrannical Saudi royal family in its ever-more frantic efforts to stay in power. As Wall Street Journal correspondent Joe Lauria notes, the savaging of Yemen has very little to do with a “proxy war” with Iran, and very much to do with the Saudi royal’s determination to keep anything resembling democracy far from its borders. Lauria was interviewed by Jessica Desvarieux of The Real News after his WSJ story detailing how the Saudi attack deliberately scotched a peace deal in Yemen. Here are some excerpts:
LAURIA: That's the main thrust of the story, that [Jamal Benomar, the UN's Special Representative in Yemen], was saying. They were close to a deal, and then the Saudi intervention, the bombing ended the negotiation and that's where we are today.
DESVARIEUX: So what essential interest would Saudi Arabia have in terms of increasing force? Why would they even do that?
LAURIA: Well, publicly they're saying they want to restore Hadi as the president, and that they are trying to curb Iranian influence in Yemen. Now, the Houthis are Zaydi sect of Shiism, but it's a different sect than the Iranian Shiites. The Houthi movement began in the early '90s, and they didn't receive any aid or any connection really with Iran until five years ago, 2010. And even the U.S. government does not believe that Iran has overwhelming influence in Yemen. And diplomats I spoke to are not--I can't name, also say that Houthis were not agents of the Iranians and that their influence is limited there.
So what is the real motive of the Saudis? Well, these diplomats told me that they believe they didn't, that they were afraid, the Saudis, of a successful negotiation that would bring about a progressive and democratic government in their backyard. This government--and the deal called for, for example, 30 percent of the cabinet posts, 30 percent of parliament going to women. Now, in Saudi Arabia women can't even drive. But--and they were of course, the Houthis, who are 30 percent of the country, or the Zaydi Shiites, 30 percent of the country, would necessarily get about 30 percent of power of the government. Not 50 percent, they were not going to rule. They did not expect to be the rulers of Yemen, they know they cannot control the entire country. They are not strong enough. So they were willing to take 30 percent, according to Benomar.
And by the way, he told all of this to the UN Security Council today to confirm everything that was in my story. And Saudi Arabia did not want a democracy--this is what these diplomats tell me. They don't want a democracy in their backyard. For centuries they've installed their own leaders in Yemen. They want to control the politics there and impose their terms on this country. The last thing they need is anywhere in the region a democracy, and you can see since the so-called Arab Spring of the last four or five years, what have the Saudis done? From Egypt to Bahrain they have undermined any kind of, form of democracy. …
DESVARIEUX: Let's talk about some of the consequences of this bombing. And specifically, the winners and losers. Because an unexpected winner in all of this is Al-Qaeda, is that right?
LAURIA: That's correct. Al-Qaeda is strong in Yemen. Al-Qaeda has supposedly some of these, the underwear bomber, some of these other things came out of Yemen, and the attack on the magazine in Paris was apparently launched by this branch of Al-Qaeda in Yemen. The United States as your viewers well know has been using drone strikes in Yemen to try to defeat Al-Qaeda. They haven't done that, they've killed a bunch of civilians, unfortunately.
So Al-Qaeda is there. And it's well-known that going back to the 1980s when this was formed in Afghanistan that Saudi Arabia, at least some private money from Saudi Arabia, was backing some of these guys who turned into Al-Qaeda. And others, some governments even say that Qatar and Saudi Arabia are supporting extremist groups in Syria, like al-Nusra Front by Qatar. And maybe some people who are now fighting with Islamic State.
So what do you have here now is the Saudis bombing the Houthi targets only in Yemen, weakening them. The Houthis who are one of the, who are the main fighting force against Al-Qaeda, and they're being bombed by Saudi Arabia. And Al-Qaeda is moving. They're taking over towns. They've taken over airports. They are gaining on the ground. Now, the Saudis have, probably need ground troops to defeat the Houthis. They've asked Pakistan. And Pakistanis did some mysterious procedure that the Saudis don't seem to understand, which is call a parliamentary vote. And the parliament of Pakistan said, no. we're not sending our troops to fight in Yemen.
Can we at last give up the pretense that the “War on Terror” has anything at all to do with “fighting terrorism?” It is solely about power and profit, and has been from the beginning. But now our power-players are not even pretending anymore. Oren’s remarks make it plain; Obama’s policies — side with Sunni extremists in Syria, fight Sunni extremists in Iraq, side with Sunni extremists in Yemen, side with Sunni extremists in Libya and then oppose Sunni extremists in Libya — make it even plainer
From its very first moments, stretching back to the Reagan years and to the nth degree since 9/11, the “War on Terror” has been a sham. Yes, there are genuine Islamic extremists — and the Terror War produces more of them every day — but from the US-Saudi creation of an international jihadi army to overthrow the secular government of Soviet-backed Afghanistan to today’s alliance with al Qaeda in Syria and Yemen, America’s imperial militarists have made numerous alliances of convenience with their ostensible enemies as they pursue their agenda of domination. Obama is a willing pawn in their game. Hillary, Jeb, Mario — they will all be the same. The nightmare goes on.Add a comment
It's amusing to see how our staunch progressives -- who believe so deeply in a level playing field and fair play, who railed so vociferously against crony capitalism back in Bush-Time -- are now twisting themselves in knots to dismiss the stories about that long-festering font of corruption, the Clinton Foundation. Suddenly, what was once evil and corrosive -- peddling elite insider influence for private profit -- is just old hat, no big deal, business as usual. Indeed, Digby, the very avatar of "anguished support" (Tarzie's deeply apt description of our progressives' blind self-tethering to a party whose leaders -- like the Clintons, like Obama -- are so servile to Big Money and war profiteering that they make Dick Nixon look like Diogenes), points us to an "excellent piece" by the ever-overexcited Charles Pierce, esquire (sorry, I mean Charles Pierce of Esquire), which sounds this very theme.
Pierce, wearing his prodigious classical learning lightly, informs us that "every politician since Cato" has engaged in the multimillion-dollar crony fluffing and policy twisting that the Clintons have been practicing for years. This kind of thing -- say, taking more than $100 million in "donations" from an uranium magnate who then reaps gargantuan profits when the Clinton-headed State Department greenlights the sale that makes said magnate richer and gives Russia (led by a man that Hillary ignorantly likens to Hitler) control of one-fifth of America's uranium production capacity -- is just "business as usual," says Pierce. "Every politician" does this, every single one of them -- and has done since the high and palmy days of Rome. You may agree or disagree with Professor Pierce -- but no one can deny that this is a deeply informed, richly nuanced piece of analysis.
Pierce, renowned in progressive circles for his sharp-edged acumen, here plays the naif -- Goober Pyle Goes to Washington. He scratches his head like a simple, honest feller befuddled by the silver-tongued talk of fancy-pants nabobs, and says that, as far he can tell, the detailed stories in the New York Times and Washington Post are just peddling a nebulous conspiracy theory, something about how President Hillary would be beholden to foreign donors or that the couple were pocketing Foundation cash or something. This is not, of course, the import of the stories, which lies in their fresh confirmation and amplification of the Clintons' particularly successful example of elite influence-peddling. But a simple shrug of the shoulders blows this straw man away, and Pierce is off to the races in his time machine, reliving the false accusations that assailed the Clintons back in Starr-Time.
And of course, many of the allegations assiduously peddled by partisan operators and the respectable press in those days were false, or petty, or pointless. And yes, the Clintons beat the rap (except for Bill's law license), and ended up with Bill as the most popular politician in America (a rank he still holds, incidentally) and Hillary in the US Senate.
But all of this was a sideshow. The learned Theban of Esquire somehow omits some salient facts from his magical history tour. For even as right-wing agents were needling Clinton about failed land deals and Oval Office canoodling, Clinton was overseeing the deaths of up to half a million innocent children (and many more innocent adults) through the draconian sanctions he imposed on Iraq. This, even though Clinton and US intelligence knew in 1995 that Iraq had destroyed all of its weapons of mass destruction. As I noted back in 2005, confirmation of this fact came from "from none other than the man in charge of the Iraqi WMD program, Saddam's defecting son-in-law, Hussein Kamel. Kamel's wealth of information on the destruction of Iraq's WMD 'was so extensive it was almost embarassing,' said UN interrogators."
This was not secret, by the way; it was reported in Time Magazine and other venues. And it was later confirmed independently by UN inspectors in 1998, who had verified the destruction of 95 percent of Iraq's WMD arsenal before they were stopped from finishing the job by Bill Clinton's four-day bombing assault on the country. Clinton justified the attack -- which killed dozens, perhaps hundreds of civilians -- by pointing to Iraqi "interference" in the almost completed inspections. The Iraqis were being quarrelsome, because they believed America had planted spies among the supposedly neutral inspectors. Clinton sternly denied such lies, and ordered the attack. (Conveniently, it occurred during his impeachment hearings.) However, just one year later, guess what: the UN admitted that, er, America had planted spies among the supposed neutral inspectors: "UNSCOM had directly facilitated the creation of an intelligence collection system for the United States in violation of its mandate."
Oh well. Bombing raids under false pretenses and the senseless death of half a million children due to sanctions based on "causes" known to be false -- I guess that's just "business as usual" too, eh Charles? As for Hillary's later vote to OK a whole war based on false pretenses (which, once again, saw the arms inspectors pulled out before they could confirm, again, the fact that Iraq had no WMD) -- well, hell, "every politician" since the dawn of time has done the same, ain't they, Goob?
But none of this matters to our progressives. Nor does Hillary's bloodthirsty record as Secretary of State, her vital role in the vast War Machine, ever pushing for more aggressive responses, for overturning governments (as in Honduras), for arming dictators (like her "close family friend," Hosni Mubarak), for targeted assassinations and drone attacks, for allying with extremists to reduce whole nations to chaos (Libya). Who can forget that moment when the mask slipped and Hillary revealed the true, brutal nature of our bipartisan ruling elite -- her gleeful exultation after Moamar Gadafy was sodomized and killed: "We came, we saw, he died!"
No, what matters is that Republican "ratfuckers" trumped up charges against the Clintons 20 years ago. (Charges that related only to personal and financial behaviour; the Republicans didn't care about the bombing and killing; they would've liked more of it.) The sleaziness of the Clintons' enemies absolves them of all blame, apparently. Any evidence of their corruption -- financial, legal or moral -- no matter what the source, is, ipso facto, nothing more than the noxious fumes of conspiracy.
As with Obama, there seems to be no crime or morally corrupt practice they will not countenance if it is committed by the standard-bearer of the Democratic Party. As Tarzie points out, they will "anguish" over their support -- both Digby and Pierce preceded their Clinton apologias with stern posts criticizing the drone attack that killed two al Qaeda hostages, and two other Americans said to be al Qaeda members. Digby took issue with the "targeted assassination" program and Pierce pointed out that the drone campaign only creates more enemies for America. But the fact that Hillary Clinton will certainly continue these polices -- and will probably intensify them -- doesn't stop the progressive duo from taking up the cudgels for her when someone questions her ethical and financial probity. The values and moral principles that underlie their attacks on the various depredations of the Terror War that Obama has expanded suddenly disappear at the first scent of partisan warfare. Their "ultimate concern" (to use Paul Tillich's term) is the political victory of the Democratic Party -- no matter what crimes and horrors its leaders perpetrate. However anguished their support, nothing will ever induce them to withdraw it.
There will be much, much more in this vein as the long, degrading freak show of the presidential campaign drags on. What our progressives once despised, they will soon defend. (As with Obamacare, which was originally -- and rightly -- scorned by progressives like Digby as an egregious sell-out to corporate interests and a death-blow to hopes for genuine health care reform, only to become a precious jewel to be adamantly defended against all attacks.) That thousands are dying, that extremism is spreading, that chaos is accelerating, that inequality is growing, that millions of people are suffering horribly from the deliberate choices of their champions does not, in the end, override their tribal instincts. And in this way, they help our rapacious elite insider to keep rat-fucking us all.Add a comment
Glenn Ford says, with eloquent heat, exactly what I was thinking: that Michael Dyson's brutal character assassination of Cornel West in the historically racist pages of the New Republic was, above all else, an application for a job in the upcoming Hillary Clinton administration. Ford writes:
But, of course, there is method to Dyson’s meanness. The true purpose of his elongated smear of Dr. West is to demonstrate to Hillary Clinton’s camp that Dyson remains a loyal Democratic Party operative who is available for service to the new regime. Having observed how hugely Al Sharpton prospered as President Obama’s pit bull against Black dissent, Dyson offers unto Caesarius Hillarius (“We came, we saw, he died,” as she said of Gaddafi) the iconic head of the nation’s best known Black dissident. …
Dyson has resorted to icon assassination because West’s highly visible critique of Obama’s domestic and foreign policy is an embarrassment to the administration, to the Democratic Party as an institution, and to the sycophantic Black Misleadership Class that has been more loyal to Obama than to Black people as a group.
There is much more in Ford's piece; do read the whole thing. Meanwhile, Tarzie has also been on the case -- one of the first out of the gate, actually -- with an analysis that notes how useful West's dissent has been to the Democratic Party … and why the Establishment, represented by Dyson, has now decided to tear him down. (Tarzie also comes up with one of the best encapsulations of the Democratic dynamic -- especially regarding our earnest Digbian/Kossian progressives -- that I've seen: "Of course, anguished support is the bread and butter of the Democratic Party, without which it would cease to exist." Anguished support covers it all; the hand-wringing our progressives do as they are forced to support a politician who happily, eagerly oversees a global death machine and the most intensive, intrusive, pervasive surveillance operation in human history, who bailed out the banks instead of the people and left tens of millions submerged in debt and despair. Oh, how anguished they are, as they write millions of words in support of their leader and millions more in relentless attacks on his enemies and critics. The Israelis have another apt term for this sort of thing: "shooting and crying.")
To answer “why now?” it’s important to understand that despite all of his public handwringing over Obama, West has been a good partisan soldier when it counted. He counseled people to vote for the president, not simply the first time around, but in 2012, a year after he’d concluded the president was “a Black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a Black puppet of corporate plutocrats.” Of course, anguished support is the bread and butter of the Democratic Party, without which it would cease to exist. So people like West, who qualify their tactical support with a blistering critique from the left, are uniquely useful to legitimizing the process and suckering the people most likely to sit out the election back into the booth.
The problem is, when they’re not acting as role models of irrational compliance, people like West are simply a pain in the ass and a risk, ungratefully injecting things like class, oligarchy, imperialism, capitalism and white supremacy into the insipid national “debate.” …
West, on the other hand, seems to be getting genuinely less compliant as the years go on … That West is more and more identified with Black Lives Matter — something that is surely giving people in high places hives — only adds to the risk he poses as a Black public figure potentially sitting out Hillary’s coronation. History shows that there is nothing more terrifying to the ruling class than resistance to racism tethered to left rather than liberal politics. From a ruling class perspective, Black Lives Matter goes from skin rash to cancer the moment liberals and libertarians lose control of it. The widely respected West challenges that control in ways that thoroughly marginalized ANSWER and CPA members don’t, especially given his unwillingness to overlook liberal opportunists on the grounds of solidarity.
If it seems I’m overthinking this, you really don’t understand how few risks the political establishment takes, the extent to which it fears Black radicalism, the importance it places on elections, nor the extent to which marginalizing genuine lefts is the primary function of liberal Democrats and the thing they do best. Every election year features at least one heavily signal-boosted attack on recalcitrant lefts that comes from an ostensible ally. In 2012, Rebecca Solnit did the honors with her famous, and widely reproduced, Letter to My Dismal Allies of the US Left, which provided the talking points for hippie-punching that year. Dyson’s offal goes well beyond that, by viciously singling out a widely venerated individual for ostracism. Since this person happens to be Black, it is a twofer of ruthless political discipline, instruction to both the media establishment and the rank and file, that resistance from Black people and radicals must not be tolerated.
UPDATE: Cornel West has responded to Dyson's attack:
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The escalating deaths and sufferings in Black and poor America and the marvelous new militancy in our Ferguson moment should compel us to focus on what really matters: The life and death issues of police murders, poverty, mass incarceration, drones, TPP (unjust trade policies), vast surveillance, decrepit schools, unemployment, Wall Street power, Israeli occupation of Palestinians, Dalit resistance in India, and ecological catastrophe.
Character assassination is the refuge of those who hide and conceal these issues in order to rationalize their own allegiance to the status quo. I am neither a saint nor prophet, but I am a Jesus-loving free Black man in a Great Tradition who intends to be faithful unto death in telling the truth and bearing witness to justice. I am not beholden to any administration, political party, TV channel or financial sponsor because loving suffering and struggling peoples is my point of reference. Deep integrity must trump cheap popularity. Nothing will stop or distract my work and witness, even as I learn from others and try not to hurt others.
But to pursue truth and justice is to live dangerously. In the spirit of John Coltrane’s LOVE SUPREME, let us focus on what really matters: the issues, policies, and realities that affect precious everyday people catching hell and how we can resist the lies and crimes of the status quo!
*** This is my column from the latest print version of CounterPunch Magazine. *** According to latest report from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the United States currently deploys some 2,080 nuclear warheads, ready to launch at a moment’s notice. It has 500 tactical nuclear weapons — for combat use, not strategic strikes — primed in bases across Europe. There are also 2,680 American warheads in storage. They can be brought out at short notice and added to the active arsenal. Including retired but still intact weapons, the United States possesses 7,100 nuclear warheads, any one of which could destroy a metropolis and kill tens or hundreds of thousands of people in a single eye blink.
The United States is the only nation to have used such weapons. They were used on targets consisting almost entirely of civilian populations. In the years that followed, the country vastly expanded its nuclear arsenal, declaring that it could and would launch a “first strike” against any other nation, should the leaders in Washington decide that it was in the strategic interests of the country to do so.
This threat was unprecedented in all of world history. No nation had ever possessed the power — or expressed the intention — to totally annihilate another nation in a single act of military aggression. This threat — and the reality behind it — has been the ultimate foundation of American dominance of world affairs for 70 years.
The full force of this threat diminished somewhat during the height of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union amassed an arsenal that presented a counterweight to American weaponry. But the dissolution of the USSR led to break-up of that nation’s nuclear arsenal. Russia now has some 1,800 missiles deployed. Its entire stockpile of weapons — deployed and in storage — is about 4,500. The nuclear balance has once again shifted significantly in the United States’ favor.
This, at least in part, accounts for Washington’s more aggressive stance toward Russia, especially in the Ukraine crisis. The old doctrine of “mutually assured destruction” is no longer so firm. The possibility exists once more that an American first strike could wipe out the Russian capacity for counter-response. This isn’t certain, but it’s a greater possibility than it has been for several decades.
Russia’s involvement in a dispute in a region on its border has been translated by the Western Establishment into an imminent, Hitler-like threat to take over Europe. Whatever one thinks of the odious Putin regime, any rational observer would have to say that Western propaganda surrounding the crisis has been absurd, exaggerated, and highly dangerous. But even if the Kremlin were guilty of everything it accused of doing in Ukraine, this would be nothing more than what the United States does day after day, all over the world: aggressively interfering in the affairs of other nations, supporting and fomenting armed conflict in order to advance its own agenda, and behaving with brutal disregard for the ordinary people who die and suffer as a consequence.
The U.S. has brought death, terror, ruin and persecution to millions of people in the Middle East, in just the past 12 years alone. It is a record of astonishing, deliberate, cold-blooded evil carried out solely for profit and political dominance. Whatever evil the Putin regime has done and is doing in its limited sphere cannot be remotely compared to what the United States is doing across the globe.
And yet the bipartisan narrative is: Russia is evil, while we are pure and holy, trying only to put the world to rights. This is, essentially, the only frame for discussing policy toward Russia and the Ukrainian crisis. It is so mind-boggingly stupid, so disconnected from reality, that it virtually defies understanding. We kill a million people, for no good reason at all, in a small, weak country thousands of miles away; and we are good. Even our super-savvy liberals, who scornfully reject the primitive doctrine of American Exceptionalism, still believe that America can hold some kind of moral high ground in global affairs.
Look again at those figures: 2,080 warheads on a hair-trigger right now, aimed at spots all over the earth, ready to — in the immortal words of Hillary Clinton in her 2008 campaign threat against Iran — “annihilate” millions of innocent human beings. This power, this threat, hangs over the entire world. However remote the likelihood of its use in any given situation, it is still present, it is still a possibility. (As our leaders like to say with nauseating regularity, “all options are on the table,” always.) It is still in the hands of, again, the only nation that has used such weapons, a nation that publicly reserves the right to use them again, aggressively, in a first strike. A nation that launched a war of aggression in Iraq that killed a million people, dispossessed millions more, destroyed the society, deliberately inflamed sectarian divides and sowed violent chaos where extremism thrives. A nation whose presidents now openly proclaim that they have the right to assassinate any individual on earth at their arbitrary order, and have the power to carry this out.
What then, is the greatest threat to the greatest number of people in the world today? There are many horrible regimes and groups, but none of them possess all of these capabilities and exhibit all of these dangerous attributes; none of them have come close to killing as many people and wreaking as much destruction as the United States has in this century.
One April day 48 years ago, in New York City’s Riverside Church, Martin Luther King Jr. descried the heart of darkness in his time, declaring that “the United States is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” How can it be that we have come so far since that day, gone through so much, and still his dread words hold so true – indeed, are truer than ever?
Yet here we are, here we are: even deeper in the heart of darkness.Add a comment
Another week, another war. And yet another American alliance with the forces of Islamic extremism. Washington is clearly the guiding force between the Saudi-led invasion of Yemen -- a move that will almost certainly lead to a protracted and ruinous conflict, spilling over many borders and, as usual, creating fertile ground for more extremism. In other words, America's war profiteers and military imperialists have given themselves another rich seam of loot and power. And in Yemen, as in Syria, the Yanks are fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with their old allies, al Qaeda, once again.
As usual, some of the best analysis of the latest berserk spasm of Potomac fever comes from the redoubtable As'ad AbuKhalil, the "Angry Arab." Here's an excerpt from one of his trenchant observations of the situation:
This war is also an American war: it is a gift from the US to the GCC countries who didn't like US policies in Egypt, Syria, and Yemen. The Saudi regime is now pursuing the Israeli option: that it will now be more clearly aligned with the Israeli interests in the region and that it will also be aggressive and violent in pursuing regime interests. … On every issue in Arab politics, the Saudi regime is aligned with Israel. Make no mistake about it: Israel is the secret member of the GCC coalition bombing Yemen.
In the 1960s, the Saudi regime ignited a war in Yemen to thwart a progressive and republican alternative to the reactionary immamate regime (and Israel supplied weapons to the Saudi side in that war). In this war, the GCC countries are supporting a corrupt and reactionary puppet regime created by Saudi Arabia and the US. Saudi Arabia never allowed Yemen to enjoy independence. It saw in itself the legitimate heir to the British imperial power in peninsula. The Houthis (with whom I share absolutely nothing) are a bunch of reactionaries but were created due to the very policies and war pursued by the Saudi regime in Yemen and their then puppet, Ali Abdullah Salih. South Yemen had the only Marxist state in the Arab wold and the experiment was sabotaged by the reactionary House of Saud.
In all the Yemeni wars, the Saudi regime always sponsored the option that guaranteed more longevity for war and destruction. This is no exception.
Simon Tisdall in the Guardian notes how the Houthis were transformed from a peaceful movement preaching tolerance and cooperation to a militant sect of warriors. See if you can guess how that happened:
The group was radicalised by the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. Anti-American demonstrations brought the group into conflict with the government of the then president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. In 2004, it launched a fully-fledged insurgency. The group has sporadically battled both government forces, which have been backed in recent years by US special forces and drones, and Sunni Muslim extremists belonging to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which set up bases in Yemen after being expelled from Afghanistan.
For committing the heinous crime of protesting an act of aggressive war against an Arab nation, the Houthis were repressed by the Washington-backed Saleh. When they took up arms in response -- just like the Washington-backed rebels in Libya and the Washington-backed rebels in Syria -- the Americans joined in the crackdown with, as Tisdall notes, the usual round of death squads (aka "Special Forces") and village-shredding, child-killing drones.
And now Peace Prize Laureate is back for more, "coordinating" operations for the Saudis, who have 150,000 troops massed on the border, and expecting more from several other nations -- including Sudan, led by Omar al-Bashir, who, as Tisdall notes, just happens to be "wanted for genocide and war crimes." Meanwhile the Saudi-led attack will give great succour to one of the Houthis' main enemies -- al Qaeda.
Just to recap: the President has lined up the United States shoulder to shoulder with a wanted war criminal, al Qaeda and, of course, the world's primary supporter of violent Islamic extremism, Saudi Arabia.
This is taking place at the same time that Barack Obama is massively escalating U.S. military operations in Iraq, launching a bombing campaign in Tikrit, ostensibly in aid of the Iraqi government's attempt to recapture the city from ISIS but more likely just to keep Iranian-led Iraqi Shiite militias from retaking the town. (Alternatively, some have suggested, not entirely implausibly, that the bombing is actually a bid to save ISIS from defeat by the Iranians, and keep both sides embroiled in conflict; the same strategy followed by the U.S. in the Iran-Iraq War.) In any case, the American bombing campaign has had the entirely predictable -- and no doubt desired -- result of making the fiercely anti-American Shiite militias withdraw, at least temporarily, from the battle for Tikrit.
Obama's intervention in Tikrit is so murderously stupid that even the New York Times -- that ever-eager cheerleader for imperial violence -- calls it "a dangerous escalation": "President Obama has escalated America’s involvement in the fight against the Islamic State without providing a shred of evidence showing how it could advance American interests, or what happens once the bombs stop falling. The strikes are part of a campaign that from the outset has been waged without the authorization from Congress required by the Constitution."
But in some ways, attempting any kind of rational analysis of the situation and its strategic ramifications is pointless. The burning hell that the United States has made of the region with its war of aggression against Iraq and its repeated violent interventions is beyond any sensible comprehension. Washington supported Islamic extremists in Libya -- now its trying to combat those same extremists. Washington fights with al Qaeda and ISIS in Syria, and against al Qaeda and ISIS in Iraq. Washington wages war against Iranian-backed militias in Yemen while fighting alongside Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. Washington backed and participated in Ethiopia's aggressive war that destroyed Somalia's first stable government in a generation -- and now has spent years fighting the extremists who arose in the vacuum … while putting the leader it originally ousted back in power. Washington's aggressive, repressive military-security apparatus has grown to gargantuan proportions for the ostensible reason of fighting Islamic extremism -- while Washington is the strongest ally and chief weapon-supplier to the chief source of Islamic extremism in the world today, Saudi Arabia. Washington (belatedly) backed the overthrow of the military dictator Mubarak in Egypt and now supports the restoration of the Mubarak regime under another military dictator. Washington sanctions and condemns as a war criminal the leader of Sudan -- and is now fighting alongside the war criminal leader of Sudan in Yemen.
The one certain thing you can say about this bizarre goulash of iron and blood is that it doesn't make any rational sense. At least, not in the terms usually used to discuss policy goals, geopolitical concerns and the national interest. Nor in the terms used by the policymakers themselves for their aims: fighting terrorism, national security, advancing democracy, establishing peace and stability, etc. Look at the situation in the region before the "War on Terror" and look at it today: Libya, Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen torn by war and chaos, extremist militias controlling cites and whole regions, the armed forces of many nations on the attack, millions of people displaced, atrocities on every side. The present horror far surpasses the worst case scenarios of those who warned of the wide-ranging disasters sure to come from the invasion of Iraq.
There is no rational way to reconcile the stated goals with the policy outcomes of the War on Terror (or whatever one wants to call the incessant, ever-expanding military campaigns of the United States and its extremist, repressive allies). The War on Terror began as a monstrous hybrid of imperialist adventurism, blood-money boondoggle and psychosexual power trip for the stunted, blunted second-rate souls who hold sway in our corrupt system. Its only real purpose is to perpetuate itself in any way it can, both wittingly and unwittingly. It has become the system, it is now the organizing principle of the American state and its relations to other countries.
Seen in this light -- not the light of reason or coherence or consistency, but the shooting flames of a drone-bombed house -- American policy makes perfect sense.Add a comment
The defenders of Western values are always bold and brave: Israeli Soldiers Raid Homes, Question Kids as Young as 9 (NBC). Yes, it takes enormous courage for a gang of armed and body-armored men to barge into private homes in the middle of the night, haul children out of bed, point their weapons at them and batter them with threats and questions. We are indeed fortunate that such a bastion of our precious Western ideals exists in the Middle East, which is otherwise filled with brutal barbarians. And now that King Bibi has been re-anointed, the beat -- and the batterings -- will go on. To be fair, had his "liberal" opponents won, this would still be the case, as Yonatan Medel notes in the LRB. Here is a quote from an ad for the great progressive hope, Isaac Herzog:
"Herzog grew up in military intelligence, which means he knows the Arab mentality. He saw Arabs on different occasions; he saw them on the other side of the gun-sight, and behind the gun-sight … The most important man in this business is the person who knows what the state of Israel needs to do with a piece of information. Whether this means firing a rocket, or sending troops forward, or wiping out these people."
"Wiping out these people." There is your modern progressivism in a nutshell. Pamper the rich, screw the poor, and "wipe out these people" -- whoever "these people" happen to be at the moment. Knock down their doors, drone bomb their villages, kidnap, kill and terrorize them without mercy, without respite. This is what our "progressives" stand for, in Israel, in Britain, in the United States. It is, in every essential, the same program of the neocon, neoliberal, nationalistic, militaristic right-wing parties that dominate these countries. It's just "sicklied o'er with the pale cast" of hand-wringing PR and arrant hypocrisy. ("Yes, we bomb and murder and subvert and repress and support dictators and degrade our own country to give more spoils to the rich -- but we do it more in sorrow than in anger, don't you see? We do it with Hollywood celebrities yukking it up at our side. Doesn't that make us so much better?")
With no other choice, electorates keep choosing the real deal -- the unashamed, unabashed right-wingers -- over this simpering, pandering copy. Conviction trumps callowness every time, especially in societies where the discourse is controlled almost entirely by rich elites, and genuinely dissenting views are rarely heard. And so the darkness keeps growing -- and the nightmares of the brutalized, terrorized children go on and on.Add a comment
I was going to write a careful, reasoned commentary on this article in the Washington Post -- “War With Iran is Probably Our Best Option" -- written by a highly respected fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, Joshua Muravchik. But in the end all I could find to say was this: I hope this slavering, shrivelled-up, dead-souled little coward finds himself on the front lines of the war he advocates.
I’m sick to death of these timorous motherfuckers sitting on their well-wadded asses pushing for wars they’ll never fight. I want to see Muravchik standing on the Iranian frontier with a rifle in his hand.
I want to see him put his puffy gray face and his well-coifed hair in the line of fire. He’s so goddamned tough with other people’s lives. “Yes, we might absorb some strikes," he writes. He knows damn well he’ll never “absorb” a strike; that’s for other people, that’s for the cannon fodder this piss-ant empire sends to its wars.
No, by God, if he wants war, if he thinks it’s “probably our best option,” then let him drag his ageing ass over to Iran and put it on the line. Or else let him his shut his fucking mouth.
And I’m sick to death of the gilded robber barons like Jeff Bezos who publish bellicose bullshit like this day after day, wailing for war on Iran, on Russia, on Syria. I want to see Bezos in the front line too. Let him slap on some body armor and wade into the fight, in Tikrit, in Aleppo, in the Donbass.
He won't do it. Muravchik won't do it. None of them will do it. Every single one of our war-mongers and war-profiteers and policy wonks and politicians who endlessly call for war and war and more war, every single one of them would run a mile — would run a hundred miles — from the slightest threat to their own soft, pasty, well-protected persons.
They want OTHER people to die. They want OTHER people to kill. It makes them feel good. It makes them feel tough. It makes them feel righteous. It makes them want to run to the toilet in their sleek, comfy, carpeted office buildings and jerk themselves off at the excitement of it all.
Just as long as THEY don’t have to fight. Just as long as THEY don’t have to “absorb” any strikes. Just as long as some piece of riffraff does the dirty work for them.
I wish I could stand in front of this blood-thirsty coward and tell him this to his face. And then spit in his face. Then put a goddamned rifle in his hand and parachute him into Tehran. Go ahead, Muravchik. Go ahead, Bezos. You boys are so bad, you’re so tough, you’re so hard and hot for war. Go fight it yourself, you cowardly motherfuckers.Add a comment
In a recent London Review of Books article detailing the abysmal horrors of Egypt's prison system -- a multi-circled hell with visible and invisible layers, all of them wretched, some of them unspeakably so -- Tom Stevenson noted, in passing, this piece of historical context:
“The prison system in Egypt is the legacy of a long period of British control, followed by the successive autocracies of Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak. It was in a British prison during the Second World War that some of the torture techniques now employed by Egyptian intelligence were refined. The Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre was annexed to a British army camp in the Cairo suburb of Maadi. The camp had a cinema, boxing ring and ice-cream parlour for the soldiers, but a few hundred metres away British interrogators were experimenting on as many as sixty prisoners at a time, attempting to induce hallucinations with thyroxine, or trying to break them psychologically by forcing them to dig their own graves.”
This is an important fact to remember. Far be it from me to deny agency to the creative peoples of the Middle East, who like all other human groupings are entirely capable of devising their own methods and traditions of tormenting each other. But this tidbit of recent history reminds us of the true nature of the "Western values" said to be under attack by the "savages" of Islamic extremism. (Always excepting the Islamic extremists that our Western Valuists arm and support, of course, such as the Saudi royals or the Libyan extremists ushered to power by the humanitarian application of NATO bombs.) It also reminds us that today's incessant Western "interventions" in the region are not some new direction forced on civilization's defenders by the sudden and unfathomable rise of Islamic extremism, but a continuation of old polices, all based on the unexamined assumption of Western superiority -- and the entirely transparent lust for power and loot on the part of Western elites.
For just as Hitler and the Nazis looked to America's enthusiastic eugenics programs (some of which continued until the 1970s) for inspiration and "scientific" confirmation of their own racist policies, so too much of the "savagery" now rampant in the "Arc of Crisis" was learned at the feet -- and the fists -- of the Western powers who spread their enlightenment over the region for so many decades. Indeed, who can forget the bitter joke told by Iraqis during America's invasion in 2003 to overthrow its former client, Saddam: "The pupil has gone; now the master has come." And of course the American headmaster taught his new pupils in Baghdad many valuable lessons during his stay in Iraq: how to sow sectarian hatred to augment your power, for example, how to sell off your national patrimony to the highest bidder, how to line your pockets with public loot while beggaring your people and leaving them exposed to violence, chaos and extremism.
There is little in Stevenson's harrowing description of Egypt's prisons, and the brutality meted out there, that could not be found in America's 21st century Terror War gulag. Of course, the Egyptians have had decades of authoritarianism to work out their own approaches to punishment and persuasion -- but they have been aided, supplied, trained and tutored by American military and security experts every step of the way. That iron-hand-in-fisted-glove cooperation continues under the Peace Prize Prez today, of course -- despite the murderous repression of the Sisi regime, which, as Stevenson rightly notes, outstrips even the atrocities of Hillary Clinton's long-cherished family friend, Hosni Mubarak.
The greatest service America has performed for the torturers of the world is not the training, teaching, S&M gear and money it has given them; it’s legitimization. America has brought torture over from “the dark side,” as Dick Cheney called it, from the shadow world where, although long practiced, it remained tinged with shame and criminality. Instead, Bush and Obama – especially Obama – has taken torture boldly into the shining light of day, as a legitimate, official necessity of statecraft: no longer a crime subject to prosecution, no longer shameful or secret but a matter of public debate on how best to implement it “in a way in keeping with our values.”
For of course, American torture still goes on: from the force-feeding of strapped-down captives in Gitmo to the psychological and physical terror Obama inflicts on thousands of innocent people every day as they watch the lizard-eyed drones hovering over them and wonder if this is the hour they’ll be ripped to shreds or burned alive to whatever the hell goes on in the secret cells our humanitarian leaders still keep in bases, basements and hidey holes all over the world.
Every day, the Keepers of our Sacred Values teach the world that death and torture, lies and torment, loot and terror are legitimate means – the only legitimate means – for taking and holding power. They teach it from the podiums where they mouth their obscene pieties. They teach it in their nation-raping, terror-spawning interventions. And they teach it, every day, on the bodies of their victims.
***This is my column in the latest print version of Counterpunch Magazine.Add a comment