Imperial Submission: When Dissidents Take a Turn to Empire

Written by Chris Floyd 09 September 2016 3872 Hits

(My latest column for the print version of CounterPunch.) O dark dark dark, they all go into the dark, the vacuous, vacuumous void of the imperial penumbra: the rock-ribbed dissidents, fiery oppositionists, staunch anti-imperialists, eminent afflicters of the unjustly comfortable; the lifelong exposers of ideological bullshittery, distinguished voices decrying repression and hate, chairmen of many activist committees, generous denouncers of profiteering, brave and battered souls who put their bodies upon the gears of the odious Machine again and again -- all go into the dark. They bow their heads and say to the Machine, at last: protect us.

This year has seen depressing recurrences of a syndrome first exhibited -- in typically brazen form -- by Christopher Hitchens in the first days after 9/11: stalwart figures of political dissent submitting reluctantly (or in Hitchens’ case, gleefully) to the power of the militarist American state as the only force capable of mounting a last-ditch defense of humanist values against the imminent, overwhelming existential threat of Islam.

Some of these coat-turning figures are the usual “reformists” and careerists whose “dissent” was always epidermis-deep; their submission to the state rates nothing more than bemused scorn. But what of someone like Bill Blum, who has informed and inspired so many of us for decades with his uncompromising insights into the true nature of the odious Machine as it has chewed its way around the world, killing millions, spouting lies, fomenting extremism, repressing freedom at home and abroad? If Blum too could succumb to Hitchenitis, would such a blot not seem "like a second fall of man"?

And yet it has come to pass. The terrorist atrocity in Nice was apparently the last straw for Blum. After that horrific attack -- by a mentally troubled, wife-beating, doped-up wretch who, it seems, might have been preyed upon by Islamic extremists in the same way the FBI picks troubled souls to foment terror plots it can then 'foil' (or not) -- Blum declared that it was time to drop "political correctness" and "support Western military and economic power to crush the unspeakable evil of ISIS."

Well, I suppose if the wielders of "Western military and economic power" were not actively pursuing -- with copious amounts of energy, arms and money -- strategies which they know exacerbate the "radical Islamic terrorism" that Blum apparently believes everyone but he and Pam Geller are too scared to mention, there might be the sliver of an argument in this position. A specious argument, to be sure -- "the problems caused by violent Western intervention can be solved by more violent Western intervention "-- but an argument nonetheless.

But as Blum himself has detailed with devastating accuracy over the years, the United States and its allies have enabled such forces for decades. And it has been evident for years that their main objective in Syria is regime change, not the defeat of ISIS. It's also been evident -- as Blum has documented -- that they don't give a rat's ass about "radical Islamic terrorism" except as a means to advance their foreign and domestic agendas: supporting it here, opposing it there, ignoring the monstrous consequences and laughing all the way to the bank.

But Blum doesn't stop with supporting military action against ISIS. He wants a full-bore campaign of domestic repression launched against all Muslims within reach of those ever-benevolent Western powers. Blum says Muslim culture "must be severely curtailed. The West must oversee the classes in Islamic schools in France, the UK, the US, et al ... Even if it means sending spies into the classes, outfitted with recording devices. The teachers of these classes, if they have any connection at all to anything smacking of radical Islam ... should be fired."

(Maybe these new civilization-saving spies can pass along the names of suspect teachers to the White House for consideration on those "Terror Tuesdays" when the president decides who will be arbitrarily murdered that week by the protectors of humanist values.)

And even if, as in many cases, "the perpetrator of some horrible terrorist act was not even religious or never attended a mosque," it doesn't matter, says Blum. The mere fact that they might have been "raised in the atmosphere" of "Muslim culture or environment" is enough to justify subjecting every Muslim to repression, surveillance or even "purging." (This despite the fact that Muslims are, overwhelmingly, the chief victims of radical Islamic terrorism – and of “Western military and economic power” as well.)

Blum says he knows all about Western atrocities -- Iraq, Vietnam, Hiroshima -- but ISIS is worse than all of this, presumably because of that irredeemable "Muslim culture or environment." So we must now support the Machine -- the "culture or environment" of American militarism -- that perpetrated those atrocities in order to destroy a group that would not exist without the interventions of "Western military and economic power." We must take it on trust that after decades of the brutal, inhuman, murderous operations documented by Blum, this Machine, this murderous system, will now save our "values" from destruction.

I’ll continue to read (and re-read) Blum’s work with respect and attention, as always. But it’s sad to see him enter this shadowland, where the shade of Hitchens is sitting by the wraith of Whittaker Chambers and chuckling, “What took you so long, Bill?”


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All-Day Permanent Red: The Living Death of Perpetual Emergency

Written by Chris Floyd 07 August 2016 7157 Hits

This is my column in the latest edition of CounterPunch print magazine: The title of one of Christopher Logue’s multi-volume reworkings of Homer’s Iliad stands as the perfect encapsulation of our age: All-Day Permanent Red. We live in a time when the collective amygdala has been stoked into overdrive, sending messages of blank, blind fear that overwhelm the centers of reason, empathy and openness in our brains, propelling us into a state of inchoate anxiety that seeks release in tropes of extremist certainty and spasms of violence – active, verbal or vicarious.

This natural human propensity – which has waxed and waned in various forms over the centuries – has been magnified to the nth degree by the moral and psychological disfigurements of the Terror War. Today we also have the curse of 24/7 corporate news channels and the sleepless howling of the internet to batter the mind with an unending series of “urgent” dangers to our lives, our beliefs, our identities. This produces both a threat to tribal identities (political, religious, ethnic, racial, etc.), and a constant reinforcement of them – identities which we can see hardening across the spectrum in virtually every nation and culture.

A great deal of this is done deliberately. There are enormous profits and much power to be gained from war and rumors of war, from the militarization of society (including the police forces), and from the incessant stoking of fear at home and abroad. It is scarcely a secret that the United States has turned itself into a nation whose economic and political structures are now dependent on a globe-straddling system of military and economic domination. Over the past century, America’s ruling elite have come to believe that the United States can only survive through domination, through the constant expansion of American hegemony across the earth, like a Great White shark unable to stop moving and devouring. And as we have seen over the decades, our elites are willing to kill an inordinate amount of human beings to prove their own noble commitment to the betterment of humanity. They are even willing to flirt with world-destroying nuclear war – as Obama is doing now with his genuinely insane policy of military brinkmanship with Russia – to keep the hegemonic shark in motion.

Deliberate, yes; but it is not – always – done cynically. Would to god that it were; a Machiavellian cynic might possibly pull back in time if they saw that their clever fearmongering gambit was drifting too close to catastrophe. But one of the main problems we face in the world today, especially in America, is this: elites who believe their own bullshit.

This is the only thing that accounts for much of American foreign policy at the moment (and for many years previously). They actually believe in “exceptionalism,” they believe the United States must dominate the world, that it is our solemn duty to bear this heavy burden and bring American values to all peoples. Not because we are perfect – lord knows, we have many problems and failings of our own! – but because the American way just happens to be better than all the others, the only path to true freedom and fulfillment. Who would not want that? Who would not be a Roman, if the Empire opened its arms to you? Only the savage, the ignorant and the evil.

This is the thesis – the doctrine, the gospel – preached by such quintessential imperial courtiers as Robert Kagan, who has been summoned to the White House to tutor Barack Obama on waging endless war for civilization, as Thomas Meaney reports in a recent London Review of Books. Kagan, as we all know, is a neocon’s neocon, one of the “intellectual” godfathers of the Iraq War crime. He is now marshaling support from his fellow extremists for Hillary Clinton. Kagan’s wife, Victoria Nuland, is already one of Clinton’s closest aides, and rode shotgun on the coup that opened up Ukraine to penetration by U.S military forces and corporate interests. She might well be the next secretary of state. We’re about to see Washington double down on the reckless horror of its Terror War.

Fear is the best, perhaps only tactic that could drive a nation into supporting such a berserk, extremist system. And in the techno-corporate bubble in which we all now live and move and have our being, there is no escaping the imperial amygdala as it fires its malevolent electrics into our brains. Our leaders use fear, to be sure; but I think most of them have been captured by it as well. They feel the fear they help foment – not least because it justifies their murderous actions in their own eyes. This collective madness – theirs and ours – feeds on itself in a frenzied positive feedback loop that in the end becomes self-sustaining, obsessive, unstoppable.

To exist in a state of permanent emergency is a kind of living death, where there can be no true progress, no true connection, no full engagement with reality; where there are only the howls of baseless, overblown fear and the agitated, aggressive attempts to dispel this painful anxiety somehow. This is the hell we are bequeathing to our children. We can only hope they find a way to save themselves, and us, from its horror.

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“Close Your Hearts to Pity”: A Security State Critic Embraces Total War

Written by Chris Floyd 18 July 2016 8653 Hits

William Arkin has long been an outstanding investigator of the “National Security State,” bringing to light many of its sinister operations. But he seems to have looked into the abyss too long, for now, in a recent article in Cryptome, he is offering a counsel of despair that reflects the worst and most extreme stances of the National Security State toward terrorism, while completely overlooking that same State’s role — still continuing today — in fostering, funding and arming Islamic extremism.

We have not even begun to address this “root cause” of violent Islamic extremism in its modern, organized form. Arkin undoubtedly knows this history. He knows how an international jihad army was shaped, funded and armed by the United States and Saudi Arabia in order to create so much terror and chaos in Afghanistan that the Soviet Union would be forced to intervene to save the secular government there. He knows that the architect of this policy, Zbigniew Brzezinski, is very open and proud of this. He knows about Reagan’s “freedom fighters” who tied their opponents between tanks and tore them to pieces. He knows how Washington fuelled extremist jihad for years, until it achieved its aim: giving the Soviet Union “its own Vietnam,” as Brzezinski put it to Jimmy Carter. Once the Soviets pulled out, of course, the United States promptly forgot about Afghanistan, leaving it at the mercy of pitiless warlords and extremists.

Arkin knows that the United States facilitated Islamic extremists in the former Yugoslavia. Arkin knows that the United States is helping vicious extremists in Syria right now, including extremist factions allied with Al Qaeda. Arkin knows the United States has a long-standing, no-questions-asked alliance with the greatest purveyor of virulent Islamic extremism in the world: Saudi Arabia. Arkin knows that the United States is directly involved in Saudi Arabia’s savage slaughter in Yemen, which has cleared the way for the growth of both al Qaeda and Isis in that country.

Arkin knows that America’s chief ally in the region, Israel, is in a tacit alliance with Saudi Arabia to support violent extremists in Syria. He knows Israel treats ISIS soldiers in its hospitals, he knows Israeli officials have said they would prefer an Islamist regime in Syria to Asad’s government. Arkin knows that Barack Obama said, with admirable candor, that he held off on taking action against ISIS as it began its rampage through Iraq precisely because he wanted to “put pressure” on the government in Baghdad to change its leadership, which Washington no longer liked. This was said in a much-publicized interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. Arkin cannot be unaware of this.

In sum — and leaving out a much longer history of American and Western and Israeli policies of fostering Islamic extremism to advance various political goals — the continuing and active involvement of the world’s leading democracies in directly and indirectly arming, funding and spreading Islamic extremism cannot be denied. But it is not even mentioned by Arkin. He simply says that ALL “reasonable” approaches to quelling terrorism have been tried, and have failed. Therefore, there is nothing left to do but examine “our enemies” — with, to be sure, due acknowledgement of their humanity and a careful consideration of their cause — and then “embrace an uncompromising war” against those unfit for human society. Somehow, he thinks, this will lead to the end of the growing militarization and authoritarianism that he says, quite rightly, is destroying our own freedoms. Somehow, the launching of an all-out, uncompromising, unreasonable war against “pure evil” will cause the militarists and authoritarians to have LESS power in our society. The hyper-militarization of society such a total war would require will somehow, magically, lead us back to our freedom. For surely history has taught us that authoritarians always happily give up their authority once “pure evil” has been defeated.

And of course, such an approach will not solve the problem of terrorism as he outlines it. He says that if, after judicious examination of their cause, we decide “our enemies” are “just pure evil”, then we need to steel ourselves and “embrace an uncompromising war to better humanity.” Who will make this judgment? (I think we know who.) What if other nations don’t agree that this or that enemy is “beyond the pale” and decide to support them instead? And if we embrace this unreasonable, uncompromising war — which will certainly kill multitudes of innocent people — why will this not create even more hatred, extremism and thirst for revenge? Since “terrorism” does not abide in one nation, where will this uncompromising war be aimed? Arkin says his approach doesn’t mean “bombs and more bombs” — what then does it mean? An “uncompromising war” fought with water pistols? How can you eliminate “pure evil” without bombs and more bombs? Or is he advocating the expansion of death squads to take out individuals whom someone somewhere has concluded are “pure evil” and must be eliminated?

I understand where Arkin is coming from. I know he thinks that this will somehow stop the societal rot being caused by the Terror War. But what he is doing, ultimately, is “embracing” the most extremist stance of the Terror Warriors: that we should stop all this pussyfooting around and just slaughter these wretches of “pure evil” with a savage war that “won’t be pretty.” This, he says — just like Trump, Cruz and many others — is a “better path” to peace than our “muddled reasonableness.”

But again, he has failed to consider one of the most vital and consequential factors in the growth of violent Islamic extremism: its support by the very forces who claim to be fighting for civilization. You cannot say we have “tried everything” to quell terrorism and now must embrace total war, if we have not even acknowledged this factor, much less tried to deal with it.

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The Damned Man: Blair Scorched by Chilcot Report

Written by Chris Floyd 06 July 2016 8402 Hits

Surprised -- but glad -- to see how scathing the Chilcot Report turned out to be. It’s not a criminal indictment, but already, just the bullet points from Chilcot's press conference are highly damning of Blair as a leader: rushing headlong into a totally unnecessary war, with very dubious legal backing, ignoring reports on the likely consequences of the invasion, bowing to belligerent US wishes at every turn, showing incredible disregard for the soldiers he was sending in to occupy a country (and for the innocent civilians of that country, who, Chilcot notes, died in vast numbers) and knowingly exaggerating murky intelligence to justify the unnecessary campaign. All of these points are now thoroughly established and can’t be disputed, whatever else one might say about Blair's motives or moral turpitude or criminal responsibility. It has been confirmed -- by the British establishment itself -- that Blair led the country into an unmitigated disaster that has destabilized the world and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. What a nightmare. What an endless nightmare.

And as the Chilcot Report is released, let's remember how the Baath Party, and Saddam's particular faction, came to power in Iraq in the first place: with not one but two coups backed by the White House and assisted by the CIA, which provided the plotters with hit lists of "suspected Communists and leftists" for mass execution, as Roger Morris reported long ago, just before the invasion -- in the New York Times.

Also good to remember that George H.W. Bush (now regarded as the "good George Bush") happily pushed weapons, money, intel and WMD material to Saddam even when the US government knew he was using chemical weapons. It was only when he got into a tussle with the Kuwaiti royals -- long-time business partners of oilman GWH Bush -- that he suddenly became the "new Hitler" and Iraq was subjected to 25 years (and counting) of war, sanctions, terror and chaos that has killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people (if not more; US Sec of State Albright admitted that US/UK sanctions alone were responsible for the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children by the late 1990s). The US/UK record in Iraq -- morally horrific, murderously cynical, shameful beyond measure -- goes back many decades and is thoroughly bipartisan. GW Bush and Tony Blair should pay for their contribution to this record (although of course they won't); but their war of aggression is only one chapter in this long, sickening history.

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13 Ways of Looking at the Deep State

Written by Chris Floyd 04 July 2016 8056 Hits

Deep State is a Terror State, Torture State,
Tyrant State — and it’s OK with that.

Deep State was formed to bodyguard elites,
keeping their dominance ever-refreshed.

Deep State doesn’t care what you advocate,
just as long as you toe the unsaid line.

Deep State is cold, lacks true affect;
hates only that which hinders it.

Deep State fences the range of opinion
like a cattle baron stringing barbed wire.

Deep State loves culture war, stokes all sides,
thrives on strife, the bitterer the better.

Deep State is not in full control; it just
knows which way it wants the world to roll.

Deep State kills the leaders it doesn’t like;
a lesson our leaders learned long ago.
Deep State doesn’t care if a whistle’s blown;
it already holds the reins of ‘reform.’

Deep State enjoys the horse-race hoopla,
voters vexed by the vetted and the duped.

Deep State’s wars have no other aim
than to keep our masters’ coffers in coin.

Deep State doesn’t mind blowing up the world,
if the world won’t do what Deep State wants.

Deep State is Red, Deep State is Blue;
Deep State don’t give a damn for you.

©2016 by Chris Floyd

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No Flag Memes for Baghdad, No Hope for Terror War Respite

Written by Chris Floyd 03 July 2016 8826 Hits

JeSuisBaghdad? Iraqi flag colors on the Eiffel Tower, the White House? No? Wrong sort of victims, I guess. The responsibility for Sunday’s carnage in Baghdad — and countless other killings around the world — goes directly to George W. Bush and Tony Blair, who willingly, even eagerly, launched a war of aggression on false evidence and tore the entire region apart. ISIS was spawned in the brutal prisons Bush & Blair set up after the invasion, and has thrived in the chaos that US/UK policies have fomented in all the years since, particularly in Libya and Syria. But these two men walk free, honored and enriched, while thousands upon thousands of innocent people continue to die for their ignorant, arrogant, murderous folly.

And there is no end in sight. Both presidential candidates have proudly proclaimed they will double down on the evil idiocy of the War on Terror; Trump promises indiscriminate bombing and whole new levels of torture, while Hillary — gathering Dick Cheney’s old neocons around her — is bent on policies that will not only exacerbate chaos and Islamist terror, but will also bring us to the brink of war (if not beyond) with Russia and China.

In Britain, the Brexit vote has shaken the political foundations of the nation, bringing new people to the fore — but none of them will change a single jota of the UK’s slavish kowtowing to Washington’s Terror War, nor the British establishment’s never-ending attempts to act like an imperial power. Only one leader opposes these policies — Jeremy Corbyn — but he is facing an almost certain overthrow, or else a split of the party into ineffectual factions, in a rebellion organized by the adherents of the war criminal Tony Blair.

So on the most important matter driving the madness and misery of the world today — the insane, never-ending, hydra-headed, multi-directional, all-corrupting Terror War — nothing is going to change. Brexit or no Brexit, Trump or no Trump, the blood and fire will continue to flow.

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Love and Desire: The Truest Resistance to Terror and Power

Written by Chris Floyd 13 June 2016 10575 Hits

The victims in Orlando were killed because of who they loved, who they desired, and for no other reason. The massacre was not “an attack on our country.” It was a savage hate crime against gay people by a known homophobe (and aspiring policeman) trained in the use of weapons by the world’s largest corporate security firm. Although like so many “lone wolf” terrorists (and would-be terrorists), the Orlando killer was “on the FBI’s radar,” we don’t yet know — and may never know — if he, like many of his predecessors, had been encouraged and enabled by the FBI to pursue a terrorist action. But that he was driven primarily by hatred of homosexuality seems certain.

We are told that at one point in his shooting spree, Omar Mateen phoned emergency services and pledged his allegiance to ISIS. This may be so. In any case, one can accept that he made such a call and such a pledge, having apparently undergone some a recent ‘radicalization’ that no one had noticed before, which led him to follow ISIS’s well-known suggestion that any Muslim carrying out a violent act should feel free to do so in their name, even if they have no connection to the organization. (And as expected, ISIS, after some delay, has now claimed ownership of the attack.) But this does not automatically turn the crime into a case of “international terrorism”; it simply adds a provocative patina to the long-held personal hatred of homosexuals that Mateen had clearly exhibited over the years. By all indications, the crime remains, at its core, an act of individual violence against LGBT people — not in order to advance the establishment of an Islamist caliphate in some way, but solely to express an overwhelming hatred against a group of people on account of their sexual preference. This is the classic definition of a hate crime.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that there are mighty efforts underway to force the narrative squarely into the “Terror War” paradigm, much as the case in San Bernadino, where what looked to be in many ways an “ordinary” workplace dispute (“ordinary” because workplace killings are so frequent in America today that many of them don’t even make the news) was also turned into a raging red flag for the Terror Warriors. In the latest killing, we have already seen the predictable demonizing of 1.6 billion people for the act of one man. We have seen the incredibly variegated shadings and understandings of a global religion reduced to a single, sinister monolithic mass. We have seen the propaganda bull-roarer of “ISIS” used as if that organization sprang full-blown from the stones of the earth, instead of being incubated in the American prisons of occupied Iraq after a war of aggression that left a million innocent people dead. We have seen this horrific incident in Orlando— this shattering human tragedy cutting a swath through so many actual, real lives — sucked up into the airless, dehumanizing Terror War echo chamber, where it will be drained of all meaning and converted into rhetorical firewood for the partisan furnaces of our imperial factions, with both sides bent on war and domination, regardless of the cost to their own people and others.

There is no hope that this latest incident will stop or even slow the the death spiral of the Terror War, as it circles round and round and down and down in an ever-widening gyre. There is every indication that it will make things worse, that the war-profiteers and the fear-profiteers and the power-grabbers will wring every bit of poison from it that they can to fuel the War Machine and the Domination Agenda. For we should not forget where the Terror War comes from, where ISIS comes from, where al Qaeda comes from, where the machinery of “radicalization” comes from: as I wrote after the Paris attacks, it comes directly from the decades-long policies of Western nations, particularly the US, to deliberately torment, encourage, enable and empower religious extremism in order to undermine secular opposition to American dominion over the world’s economy, politics and natural resources. (For more detail on that sordid history, see this piece by Ben Norton. For more on the more recent consequences of these policies — particularly their relevance to the upcoming election, do yourself a favor and get a copy of Diane Johnstone’s Queen of Chaos.)

But see how powerful and prevalent the Terror War paradigm is, how it informs — and deforms — all our discourse today: even my attempt here to delineate how the Orlando massacre falls outside that paradigm has been sucked into it. But this is hard, perhaps impossible, to avoid: the Terror War — and the Dominationist agenda behind it — has now become our national life, the American way of being in the world. To speak of American policy and society means you cannot escape the Terror War, because it pervades everything, especially in politics.

(Which is one reason why Bernie Sanders’ ‘revolution’ was doomed from the start: you will never be able to enact any far-reaching reforms on the domestic front unless you dismantle the War Machine that looms over our whole society like a mushroom cloud, devouring precious resources, destroying lives, distorting our political and economic infrastructure beyond all sustainability, and sickening our society with the poisonous radiation of imperialism and authoritarianism.)

The man who committed the atrocity in Orlando happened to be a Muslim; but there are also Christians actively working to kill vast numbers of homosexuals “legally,” spearheading efforts in Africa to pass laws making homosexuality a capital crime. If these laws take hold, these politically-connected American Christians will be responsible for far more deaths, for many more years, than Mateen managed to cause in a single night. Yet there has not been any universal condemnation of all Christians, of Christianity itself, because of this, or any other hate crime or act of terrorism that has been committed by people calling themselves Christians. (Including the millions of people killed by the state terror perpetrated and/or abetted by America’s leaders, all of whom have claimed to be Christians). The increasingly virulent and violent homophobia in Russia is likewise being driven by a supposed adherence to Orthodox Christianity.

The tragedy in Orlando is a nightmare collision of homophobia and Islamophobia. As we can see in the crocodile tears of people like Mike Huckabee, at the moment Islamophobia is in the ascendant. Huckabee claims to be saddened by the violent, sudden death of homosexuals in Orlando; yet he believes, fervently believes, that homosexuals should burn in anguish for all eternity. In his mind, every one of the victims — killed in the midst of their sin, drinking and dancing and lusting — are right now, this minute, howling in hellfire. Because of who they loved, who they desired, and for no other reason.

Among the “peoples of the Abrahamic faiths” — and among all those who seek to control and dominate others for power and profit — there is nothing more disturbing, more enraging, more frightening than human love and desire. It dissolves barriers, tears down walls, disobeys laws, is fluid, flowing, uncontrollable. For that reason, we should honor it and support it, now more than ever. It is a form of true dissent, a true — perhaps the truest — expression of resistance against all the forces that seek to extinguish the human spirit.

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Tangled Up in Trump

Written by Chris Floyd 05 June 2016 10759 Hits

My latest column from the CounterPunch print magazine: The tangled tropes of Trump are many and various. Most have at least a tincture of veracity in them — although the phenomenon of his candidacy is so vast and gaseous it’s not surprising that some discharge from it would fall, like mist, or a wet clump of coagulate matter, on scattered bits of the truth here and there.

One trope says we’ve been here before, with the political triumph of a gleefully ignorant, blustering, bigoted faux populist made famous by show biz: Ronald Reagan. Although he was more closely handled, Reagan’s off-hand idiocies and nasty nativism were very much in the Trumpian vein. Then there’s Dubya Bush, a certified chowderhead riding to power spouting gooberish nonsense and simplistic slogans while, like Reagan, acting as cover for a rapacious agenda of corporatism and militarism. In this view, Trump is just one more in an inglorious line of dimbulb hucksters whose success confirms, yet again, H.L. Mencken’s bleak view of the knuckle-dragging American electorate, whose intelligence can never be underestimated. (Or even misunderestimated.)

Another view sees Trump as a welcome — if inadvertent — heightener of contradictions, exposing the unsustainable hypocrisies of the system and bringing the rancid impostume of our militarized hyper-capitalism to the bursting point. The poisons that ooze from this opened carbuncle — the racism, aggression, nativism, hatred and vulgarity that pour from Trump’s mouth in a gangrenous stream — will provoke a movement that will — eventually, after much struggle and suffering — cleanse the body politic at last. (“The worse, the better” is a stance with a long history in political warfare; Lenin was an adept of the principle, as are the Senate Republicans.)

Others take heart from some of Trump’s sporadic sputterings that seem to echo fragments of a Ron Paul-like desire to rein in the bipartisan imperial project. They point to the fact that Trump declared — in a GOP debate, no less — that Dubya and his cronies should be put on trial for the Iraq War: something no other figure in either major party has ever done. He has also made noises about a more rational policy toward Russia (as opposed to the endless provocations and Cold War chest-beating of the Peace Prize Prez). He even once mentioned in a speech that we should take cognizance of the millions of foreigners who’ve been killed in the War on Terror: again, something that no other Dem/GOP politician has ever dared mention. (Not even Bernie Sanders, whose “radical” stance is that the Saudis should take over some of the killing for us.) Such statements have been seized upon by some who hope that a Trump presidency will break the bipartisan consensus on America’s deadly and sinister foreign policy.

Other tropes view Trump as an unprecedented catastrophe for American politics, a fascist (or fascist-like) figure whose like has never been seen before in our Republic. Or as the undertaker of the Republican Party, which, some savants say, will now go the way of the Whigs. Still others see Trump as a lightning rod for the disaffections of the white working and middle classes whose security and prosperity have been destroyed by globalization and corporate greed; Trump provides them with racist and xenophobic scapegoats for their suffering, while obscuring the true culprits: he and his fellow gorgers in the financial elite (and the politicians whom, he freely admits, the elite buy with their contributions).

This hardly exhausts the meanings that have been attached to Trump’s ascendancy. And as noted, there’s some truth in most of them. (Although I do think the reports of the GOP’s death are greatly exaggerated.) We have had shallow fools in charge of the country before. It is true that the irreconcilable contradictions of the system are coming to a head. Trump has uttered some truths about U.S. imperialism that we never hear from our politicians. He is more openly like a quasi-fascist authoritarian than we’ve seen before. He is tapping into the justified frustrations of millions of Americans at the depredations of the bipartisan neoliberal project.

But almost all of these tropes have been contradicted by Trump himself. Yes, he occasionally critiques American imperialism — then makes bellicose statements about augmenting it, including the possibility of using nukes in the Middle East. (To be fair, he stole that from Hillary’s 2008 campaign). Yes, he speaks to working class loss — then touts economic policies that will exacerbate it, such as lifting the few remaining feeble restraints on Wall Street. Yes, he talks of breaking the militaristic foreign policy paradigm — then promises to put the military in charge of foreign policy, expand the use of torture, “go after” the families of terrorist suspects, and so on.

Despite some garish trappings — such as the continual disgorgement of his id on Twitter — if Trump attains the White House, he will no doubt perpetuate the current system in its essential form. As will Clinton, of course; indeed, that perpetuation is the raison d’être of her whole campaign. In either case, the Deep State — that unfathomably vast network of contracts and covert ops, surveillance and subversion, corruption and corporatism that constitutes the genuine substance of the American government — will carry on.

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Terror War and Trumpery Take US into Terra Incognita

Written by Chris Floyd 02 June 2016 10940 Hits

Another day, another Trump delegate calling for the violent overthrow of the government.  This sort of thing used to be frowned upon, I believe, but now is simply par for the political course. The odd thing, of course, is that if Obama wasn't black, he would be a conservative's dream. He's opened up more offshore drilling than Bush, expanded fracking, deported more people than any president in history, killed thousands of Muslims (and is currently bombing seven Muslim countries), raised military budgets, cut federal taxes to their lowest levels in 60 years, cut social programs, spent almost 8 years trying to strike a "grand bargain" with Republicans to cut Social Security and Medicare (until this week when, in his last months in office, he's suddenly decided we should increase Social Security), worked hard to derail public healthcare in favor of a program drawn up by a conservative think-tank and first used by a Republican governor, put troops on the Russian border, beefed up US military presence in Asia to threaten China, supported right-wing coups in Latin America, gave Wall Street trillions of dollars in bailouts and credits, refused to prosecute any CIA officials for torture (despite admitting "we tortured some folks"), jailed more whistleblowers than any other president, pushed fanatically pro-business trade treaties, and so on.

Yet there is a mass delusion (carefully and methodically stoked by powerful interests) that he is some kind of socialist peacenik "surrendering to terrorists" and giving away "free stuff" to the lazy poor (when in fact the poor and the middle class are sinking, while the rich have never been richer), etc. Now Trump is deliberately drawing the most frenzied and violent of these delusionals into the center of American politics. The "respectable" bi-partisan establishment has already loosed many demons with its "Terror War" (torture, aggressive war, drones, assassination squads, covert ops, mass surveillance, etc.); now Trump is drawing even more evil from the depths. America has drifted deep into terra incognita -- and "here be dragons".

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Twilight of the Grifter: Bill Clinton’s Fading Powers

Written by Chris Floyd 19 May 2016 12960 Hits

In the warm twilight of a spring evening 15 years ago, in the quiet, green garden of Rhodes House at Oxford, I watched Bill Clinton give an impromptu talk to a group of graduate students who had gathered around him with their glasses of wine after an official function earlier in the day. (I was there in a service capacity.) He was pushing the same line he espoused last week while campaigning for Hillary, when he declared that he had “killed himself” to get a state for the Palestinians at the high-stakes Camp David summit in 2000. At one point in the twilight talk at Oxford, he quoted — or claimed to quote — Yasser Arafat as testimony to his altruistic efforts: “Arafat told me, ‘Mr President, you have done more for the Palestinian people than all the Arab leaders combined!’” Sadly, the pressures those short-sighted Arabs brought to bear on Bill’s friend Yasser thwarted Clinton’s painstaking and heroic labors on the Palestinians’ behalf, and the summit failed.

I admit, Clinton is (or was) good at this kind of thing. He held the group in the palm of his hand, speaking with an engaged — and engaging — passion, direct and personal, without soaring rhetoric or the practiced glibness of the professional politician. It was interesting to see this phenomenon up close. In the immediate spell of his performance, you hardly noticed the great hubris and arrogance in what he actually said: that he alone had almost brought peace to the Middle East, that he loved the Palestinians more than the Arabs themselves did, that no one could have done more than he did to resolve the situation — all the while reducing Arafat to the role of a servile coolie, who humbly attests to the Master’s greatness and nobility.

And even though I knew at the time there was hardly a word of truth in what he said (as this story, unearthed by Spencer Thayer, makes clear), I could still feel the tidal pull of his charisma, the temptation to let go and believe in the portrait, the fantasy, he was painting. Indeed, I think Clinton himself probably believed it, at least in the moment of its telling — which is course the hallmark, the supreme talent, of a master grifter.

Of course, that was long ago. Watching Clinton today on the campaign trail for Hillary, it seems clear that his charisma has severely decayed, perhaps rotted by the years of money-grubbing with oligarchs and despots. Or maybe it's just the natural fading that comes with age and disuse. (When I saw him, he was only a few weeks out of his presidency, still at the top of his game with the skills he’d honed during decades of continual politicking.) Now he seems brittle, rattled and scattered; he can summon the spirits, in a wan attempt to paint over the truth — but they no longer come when he calls.

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