As we noted here recently, Arthur Silber is in the midst of a landmark series on the Wikilieaks revelations -- a series whose profound implications and insights extend far beyond the particulars of the current controversy (although he has many pertinent things to say about those as well). I'm sure I will be drawing on these essays in the days to come. Circumstances prevent me from doing them justice at the moment, so for now I just want to point you to them once again (several more have appeared since their first mention here), and urge you to read them, if you have not done so already.
A Brief History of Hell
It's a story we have oft told here -- how the Potomac Empire brought fresh hell to Somalia -- but in light of the current imperial seat-warmer's "continuity" with the insane and inhumane policies of his predecessor, Charles Pena provides a very useful overview of "Blowback, Somali Style."
Long Gone Wrong Turn
Neil Ascherson writes of an exhibit which I just attended at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford: The Lost World of Old Europe. As he notes:
The Oxford exhibition is small, but utterly spectacular. Its objects – the figurines, the painted ceramics – are irresistible. Its message adds a new page to the conventional history of ‘civilisation’. Some 7000 years ago, in south-eastern Europe around the lower Danube, groups of farmers with loosely similar ways of life settled in an area reaching from modern Bulgaria and Romania across into Ukraine. In the transitional period between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, they flourished and multiplied. They evolved an elaborately beautiful material culture of painted pottery, goldwork and beads. They modelled and treasured clay figurines of women – and a few men. They mined copper and gold, and imported fashionable seashells from the distant Aegean. They seem to have lived in peace and equality. Before the first big cities arose in Mesopotamia, the peoples settled between the Carpathians and the Dnieper (heftily named the ‘Cucuteni-Tripolye culture’) lived in enormous ‘villages’ with up to 8000 inhabitants. These were the largest communities anywhere in the world. But such ‘megatowns’ show no trace of palaces or temples or other structures of central authority. If this ‘Old Europe’ had survived and spread westwards and northwards, the human story of the whole continent might have developed along a different track – perhaps a happier one.
But it did not survive. ‘Old Europe’ became a ‘Lost World’. Between 4000 and 3000 BC, invaders rode in from the eastern steppes, mobile warriors who used horses and who were pastoral herders rather than farmers. The mounds (‘tells’) inhabited for thousands of years were deserted and the ‘megatowns’ burned down. The copper mines were abandoned and the wonderful pottery and figurines forgotten. So much for theories of inevitable, linear progress....
The whole piece is well worth reading.
Even as Tony Blair prepares for this whirlwind "War Criminal Memoir" Tour (anticipating his senior partner in perfidy, George Bush, by a few months), the unquiet graves he left behind him continue their turbulations. As the Guardian reports: Experts call for David Kelly inquest. The new UK government -- egregious wankers that they are -- seem less inclined to bury the bloody laundry of their predecessors (at least in some limited cases) than some Ovaloid Peace Laureates we know.
Charles Davis points us to a definition of "Beltway liberalism in 24 words." They are offered up, as you might suspect, by that reliable chewer of progressive conventional wisdom, Matthew Ygelsias, who tells us:
"From a Keynesian standpoint, I believe that with the economy depressed it’s better to spend the money in Afghanistan than not to spend it."
As Davis notes:
Sorry, but someone truly familiar with all the horrors of war, someone who could actually empathize with an Afghan mother or father losing their child to an American smart bomb -- or a child watching their parents die in a botched night raid by U.S. marines -- could never write that.
Ah, but in the cozy bipartisan cocoon of the imperium, war is always on the menu. It is, as Andrew Bacevich points out, the very glue that binds the American elite together, for all their loud but very minor factional quibbles.
And you can't feel your way into the suffering of others when your own organs of perception are smeared with glue ... and coagulate gore.
I noted here a couple of weeks ago that I was looking "forward to seeing more of the genuine revelations of heretofore undisclosed crimes that will likely be emerging from the still largely unexplored documents" released by Wikileaks last month. I have not been disappointed. (I've also been in the process of revising much of my first reaction to the document dump; but more on that later perhaps.)
As the media froth surrounding the initial appearance of the documents recedes, the nuggets of hard truth become clearer, with diligent researchers digging through the trove. For example, Bretigne Shaffer finds some of the underpinning for the media blitz now obviously under way to reverse the growing public discontent with the war in Afghanistan.
The most glaring emblem of this campaign, of course, is the recent Time Magazine cover of the horrifically mutilated Afghan girl, which was accompanied by the headline: "What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan." (As Shaffer notes, this was posed not as a question, but as a stark statement of fact, with this not-so-subtle-implication: "If you oppose this war, you are objectively pro-mutilation.") Of course, the atrocity committed against this young woman is indeed a wicked, sickening crime. But it has nothing to do with "our" presence in Afghanistan.
No wait, strike that; it has everything to do with our presence in Afghanistan -- a presence which is greatly exacerbating the societal breakdown and empowering the kind of retrograde extremism that together lead to the perpetuation of such practices. As Shaffer notes, there is a close parallel here to the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, who came to power after the United States essentially obliterated that nation with a beserker frenzy of bombing that surpassed the tonnage of all the bombs dropped by the Allies in World War II.
In any case, such horrific crimes against women and children go on all the time, all over the world, in every culture. Why would Time Magazine, which usually ignores such things, decide to highlight this particular crime, at this particular time -- and use it directly to make a "moral" case for continuing the war? Shaffer points out what she found in the Wikileaks dump:
As if the implicit pitch for more war as a solution to violence against women did not provide enough cognitive dissonance, the woman pictured was actually disfigured by family members at the order of a Taliban official last year – eight years after US forces entered Afghanistan.
In fact, the Time piece fits very neatly with something found in one of the leaked documents that has the White House so concerned. Titled "CIA Red Cell Special Memorandum: Afghanistan: Sustaining West European Support for the NATO-led Mission-Why Counting on Apathy Might Not Be Enough," the document ."..outlines possible PR strategies to shore up public support in Germany and France for a continued war in Afghanistan."
The Memorandum continues:
"The proposed PR strategies focus on pressure points that have been identified within these countries. For France it is the sympathy of the public for Afghan refugees and women... Outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French, German, and other European women could help to overcome pervasive skepticism among women in Western Europe toward the ISAF mission... Media events that feature testimonials by Afghan women would probably be most effective if broadcast on programs that have large and disproportionately female audiences." (Emphasis Shaffer's)
Putting a year-old atrocity on the cover of Time Magazine is indeed an effective "media opportunity" for a war machine eager to keep its blood-greased engines churning. And not that anyone cares, but the Taliban hotly denies any involvement in the crime against the young woman, which was carried out by her own in-laws. As AFP reports:
Independent US monitoring agency SITE said the English-language statement from the Taliban spokesman was posted on Saturday on the website of the group, which calls itself the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan:
"As far as the story of Aisha is concerned, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has condemned this barbaric, inhumane and un-Islamic act and declares that this case has never been forwarded to any court or persons of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan."
The statement goes on to point out that under Islamic law the "cutting of human ears and noses whether the human is alive or dead is illegal and prohibited."
But yes, there is violence against women in Afghanistan -- great violence. But this has only increased, not decreased, as the American military presence drags on, as Shaffer notes (see original for links):
Says Ann Jones, journalist and author of Kabul in Winter, "For most Afghan women, life has stayed the same. And for a great number, life has gotten much worse."
Sonali Kolhatkar, co-director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, says "the attacks against women both external and within the family have gone up. Domestic violence has increased. (The current) judiciary is imprisoning more women than ever before in Afghanistan. And they are imprisoning them for running away from their homes, for refusing to marry the man that their family picked for them, for even being a victim of rape."
Anand Gopal, Afghanistan correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, says "The situation for women in the Pashtun area is actually worse than it was during the Taliban time. ...(U)nder the Taliban, women were kept in burqas and in their homes, away from education. Today, the same situation persists. They’re kept in burqas, in homes, away from education, but on top of that they are also living in a war zone."
Shaffer then points us to a remarkable article by Mohammad Qayoumi in Foreign Policy earlier this year: a photo essay on what Afghanistan looked like 50 years ago:
The photos were taken from an old book published by Afghanistan’s planning ministry in the 1950s and 60s, and were accompanied by Qayoumi’s commentary recalling the Afghanistan he had known as a young man. The images depict men and women in western dress going about their daily lives in what appears to be a fairly well-developed, functioning society. Qayoumi recounts:
"A half-century ago, Afghan women pursued careers in medicine; men and women mingled casually at movie theaters and university campuses in Kabul; factories in the suburbs churned out textiles and other goods. There was a tradition of law and order, and a government capable of undertaking large national infrastructure projects, like building hydropower stations and roads, albeit with outside help. Ordinary people had a sense of hope, a belief that education could open opportunities for all, a conviction that a bright future lay ahead. All that has been destroyed by three decades of war, but it was real."
The images are in stark contrast to pretty much any photos from Afghanistan today, and are a poignant reminder of how much that country has lost.
She also points out how these images jar with the brutal pig-ignorance that holds sway in the imperial mindset of American policymakers and their war-profiteering whores like Blackwater's Eric Prince. She first excerpts a recent quote by Prince, then gives her conclusion:
"You know," [Prince said], "people ask me that all the time: 'Aren't you concerned that you folks aren't covered under the Geneva Convention in [operating] in the likes of Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan?' And I say, 'Absolutely not,' because these people, they crawled out of the sewer and they have a 1200 AD mentality. They're barbarians. They don't know where Geneva is, let alone that there was a convention there."
As Qayoumi’s photo essay demonstrates so clearly, Afghanistan is not a devastated nation because its people "have a 1200 AD mentality." It is devastated because it has been invaded and occupied by hostile foreign powers for years. Anyone who truly cares about the welfare of the Afghan people would do well to remember this fact before proposing more of what has caused that country’s problems as their solution.
Back to the world again, after 10 days of total media de-tox: no internet, no television, no radio, no newspapers, nothing but those quaint cubical constructions of paper and ink known as books.
I would highly recommend one of those cubes to anyone interested in elucidating the cultural, political, social, spiritual, and psychological bedevilments that inform our bruising and battering age: The Master and the Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, by Iain McGilchrist.
For me personally, the book has been not only a richly fecund field of new insights and connections, but also, in many ways, a ricorso, a thunderclap of return to some deeply-felt intimations and understandings of Being that had once -- in their rough, inchoate, unrefined early forms -- seemed to be moving me in the direction of a deeper, more holistic engagement with life, if I may put it that way. I lost most of these intimations along the way somewhere, wandering away from the deep, swift, churning river down many dismal, swampy by-paths, pushing through murk, tangled in vines, anxious, fearful, diminished. It's strange to have stumbled suddenly out of the undergrowth to catch a glimpse of the old river, still there (though not the same water, of course; never the same water), still surging, still alive.
Whether I can hew my way down to the water again is another question, of course; the vines are still thick, the murk is heavy, and the spirit and flesh much weaker than before. But I can hear the river again, for now; I can feel and scent its vibrant air. I might just make it yet.
In the light of these revelations and returnings, I might be writing in a somewhat different vein in the future, at least at times. I think that in many ways I've come to -- or am coming toward -- the end of what I can say about these hideous and harrowing times of ours. Or rather, I have a great deal I can say; I just don't know how much I can fruitfully add.
I started this blog for two main reasons. One was the fact that I knew my weekly Moscow Times column wouldn't last forever, and I wanted to have an arena where I could still spout my opinions -- and, less glibly, where I could work out what I really thought and felt about the issues of the day. I've always had to write things out in order to know my own mind. That was one reason.
The other was one that I've mentioned frequently over the years: the burning desire -- or rather the compulsive need -- to bear witness to the monstrous horrors and murderous hypocrisies of the age, most especially those being committed by the rampaging empire into which I was born. I just wanted to make it known that I had seen these evils and had not stayed silent, had not acquiesced, but had spoken out against them, in public, for the record, in my own name.
Well, I've borne that witness, in print and on-line, through wars and atrocities and changes of power among imperial factions, for the last decade. No one who cares to know could be in any doubt as to where I stand. But I feel more and more that I have reached some kind of limit with the analytical approach that I have taken for these many years. I think that I have made clear all that I can make clear, all that is clear in my own mind, at this point in my life experience and my learning. I think I need to experience more and learn more (learn much, much more), open myself up to new perspectives -- and regain some old perspectives. So, as Boris Pasternak once put it at a somewhat similar point in his life, I may be writing badly for a time -- clumsily, searchingly, groping for a new way, starting over.
That's not to say that I won't continue to catalogue the atrocities of the age. I think, deep down, that I can't not do that, even if I tried. But I also hope to be thinking through and writing through to some different understandings. Anyway, we'll see.
In two recent posts (here and here), Arthur Silber provides a different and fruitful perspective on the Wikileaks document dump, one that looks beyond the specific content of the revelations and their presentation by the media and political establishments, which were the concern of my recent post on the matter. In his posts, Silber speaks to the efficacy of the example of active personal opposition to the hideously brutal and destructive structures of power. As he notes in one of the pieces:
If you were to tell me that you could demonstrate that Assange is nothing more than an opportunistic seeker after glory, I would not believe you. I don't believe that mere opportunists run risks of this particular kind. And in another sense, I wouldn't care even if you could prove such a contention. Just as I will be demonstrating the importance of the leaks entirely apart from their specific content, Assange's repeated actions take on their own significance apart from his particular motivation. My evaluation of Assange's personal character might alter; my evaluation of the value and immense worth of his actions themselves would not.
Silber promises to expand on these themes in the coming days, and I look forward to seeing the results. I also look forward to seeing more of the genuine revelations of heretofore undisclosed crimes that will likely be emerging from the still largely unexplored documents, long after the media circus -- and its political manipulators -- have moved on.
In the first year of his presidency, the first year of the "hope and change" he promised to bring to the conduct of American affairs, Barack Obama countenanced -- and abetted -- a coup in Honduras that ousted a mildly reformist, democratically elected president and replaced him with a clique of thuggish elites who now rule, illegitimately, through repression, threat and outright murder.
Since the installation of these throwbacks to the corrupt and brutal 'banana republics' of yore, Obama's secretary of state, the "progressive" Hillary Clinton, has spent a good deal of time and effort trying to coerce Honduras' outraged neighbors in Latin America to "welcome" the thug-clique, now led by Porfirio Lobo, back into the "community of nations." Let bygones be bygones, Clinton says, as Lobo's regime murders journalists (nine so far this year), political opponents and carries on the wholesale trashing of Honduran independence (such as sacking four Supreme Court justices who opposed the gutting of liberties and the overthrow of constitutional order). After all, isn't that Obama's own philosophy: always "look forward," forget the crimes of the past? Every day is a new day, a clean slate, a chance for a new beginning -- indeed, for "hope and change."
In other words: let the dead bury the dead -- and the rich and powerful reap their rewards.
In her assiduous backroom efforts to "rehabilitate" the killers and crooks that she and Obama have helped foist on Honduras, Clinton might profitably paraphrase a wise old saying of her great hero, Franklin Roosevelt, when he was needled about his support for the murderous Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza: "He may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch."
At the London Review of Books blog, John Perry details the state of the stolen nation of Honduras one year after the beloved pets of Barry and Hillary took over:
On the night of 14 June, Luis Arturo Mondragón was sitting with his son on the pavement outside his house in the city of El Paraíso in western Honduras. He had often criticised local politicians on his weekly radio programme, the latest edition of which had just been broadcast. He had received several death threats, but disregarded them. At 10 p.m. a car drew up and the driver fired four bullets, killing him instantly. Mondragón was the ninth journalist to be murdered so far this year. Honduras is now officially the most dangerous country in the world in which to work for the press.
The overthrow of President Zelaya last year was only the second military coup in Latin America since the end of the Cold War. The first, a US-backed attempt to overthrow Chávez in Venezuela in 2002, was a failure. The coup in Tegucigalpa shouldn’t have succeeded either: Obama had promised a new approach to US policy in the region, and there was strong popular resistance to the coup in Honduras itself. And yet, a year on, the coup’s plotters have got practically everything they wanted. Zelaya is in exile in the Dominican Republic, and the right-wing Porfirio Lobo, elected president in January’s widely-boycotted elections, has consolidated his power base. Honduras is slowly being welcomed back into the international fold: it’s still excluded from the Organisation of American States, but was quietly invited to rejoin SICA last week. In Honduras, Lobo has reversed the changes begun by Zelaya. In particular, he has blocked land reform and done nothing to resolve violent conflicts between peasants and land owners, supported by the army and police, in the Aguan river valley.
Last month, 27 members of the US congress wrote to Hillary Clinton to express their ‘continuing concern regarding the grievous violations of human rights and the democratic order which commenced with the coup and continue to this day’. Along with the murders of the nine journalists, they noted the arbitrary arrests, torture and disappearances of members of the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP). They also pointed out that four supreme court judges who opposed the coup have been sacked, while military leaders involved in it have benefitted. General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, the head of the armed forces at the time of the coup, has not only been pardoned for arresting an elected president and expelling him from the country, but in January was allowed to retire from the army and given the presidency of Hondutel, the state-owned telephone company.
How very nice for the general. Perry notes that Roland Valenzuela, a former minister in Zelaya’s government, claimed in an interview that he had papers which named several American-connected business figures behind the coup plot, including "former members of the army death squad known as Battalion 316." Perry also notes that "in a separate development, it has become known that the plane which flew Zelaya out of the country first called at the US airforce base Palmerola."
And what has been the upshot of these shocking charges?
Not surprisingly, the exiled Zelaya has claimed that all this points to the prior knowledge and probable involvement of the US government in the coup. The State Department describes his allegation as ‘ridiculous’. Unfortunately, Valenzuela is unable to elaborate as, shortly before the recorded interview was broadcast, he was shot.
Yes, that's "continuity" for you; that's just how they did in the good old days, to protect our sons of bitches.
But it turns out that the Honduran people are not as supine as some other folks just north of them that we could mention when it comes to watching their lives and liberties be blighted by rapacious elites. Instead of keeping their heads down, obeying their betters -- or joining "Tea Parties" that support (and are bankrolled by) the very malefactors of great wealth who have ruined their country, they are standing up courageously:
Like the rest of Central America, Honduras celebrates its independence on 15 September. By then the resistance front aims to have collected more than a million signatures (in a country with fewer than eight million people) calling for a new constitution. In his absence, they have elected Zelaya as their leader. They show no signs of giving up the struggle, but on the other hand they are well aware that, if Honduras slips back into obscurity, the oppression will only get worse.
One-eighth of the population openly, adamantly refusing to accept the rule of rapacious elites, even in the face of arbitrary arrest, dispossession and murder! That would translate into more than 37 million Americans fired into action against the fraudsters of Wall Street and the war criminals in Washington.
And that is one main reason why said fraudsters and war criminals will continue to work hard to "rehabilitate" their junta pals in Honduras. For one of the greatest "continuities" of America's bipartisan elite in the past century has been their adamant determination to quash any "bad examples" of people trying to order their lives and societies in any way outside the "Washington Consensus." Those who do must be punished: with juntas, with sanctions, with covert actions -- or with invasions, if need be. The American people must never get the idea that they can get together and stand up to their bosses, their benevolent betters. (See Matt Taibbi's skewering of David Brooks' recent advocacy of this übermensch rule.)
Of course, this exemplary punishment does not apply solely to foreigners. Remember the last American who seriously threatened the power structure with a mass movement behind his call for economic justice, a "revolution of values" in society and his condemnation of the American War Machine as the "greatest purveyor of violence in the world today?"
That's right; we celebrate his birthday every January 15 ... while forgetting everything he really stood for -- and stood against. I wonder how hard he would be trying to "rehabilitate" the killers of Luis Arturo Mondragón?
"I am shocked -- shocked! -- to find gambling is going on in here" -- Captain Renault at the gaming tables in Casablanca.
The much ballyhooed dump of intelligence and diplomatic files concerning the Afghan War has been trumpeted as some kind of shocking expose, "painting a different picture" than the official version of events -- revelations that are sure to rock the Anglo-American political establishments to their foundations.
The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel were given 92,000 reports by Wikileaks, including thousands of pages of raw "human intelligence" (i.e., uncorroborated claims and gossip from interested parties and anonymous sources pushing a multitude of agendas), and diplomatic notes passed between the promulgators of the occupation in Washington and their factotums "in country" -- reports which you might imagine also purvey a multitude of agendas ... not least the supreme agenda of all officials involved in a dubious enterprise: ass-covering.
Yet these reports are being treated as if they are the "grim truth" behind the shining picture of official propaganda. But what do these stories in the NYT and Guardian actually "reveal"? Let's see:
That the occupation forces kill lots of civilians at checkpoints and botched raids, then lie about it afterward.
That these killings make Afghans angry and fuel the insurgency.
That elements of Pakistani intelligence are involved with some elements of the many resistance groups known collectively (and incorrectly) in the West as the Taliban.
That the Americans are using more and more robot drones to kill people.
That the Americans are running death squads in Afghanistan aimed at Taliban leaders.
That Afghan officials are corrupt, and that Afghan police and military forces are woefully inadequate.
Is there anything in these breathless new recitations that we did not already know? For example, the NYT offers a few short vignettes from the leaked documents concerning botched raids and errant missiles that slaughter civilians. But in almost every case, these have already been extensively reported -- in the Times itself and other mainstream venues -- in much greater detail, with quotes and evidence from the victims and local eyewitnesses, and not just the self-interested, ass-covering perspective of official occupation reports. And the "revelation" that occupation forces are killing "an amazing number of people" who have "never proven to be a threat" at checkpoints was confirmed months ago by no less than Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the erstwhile commander of the whole shebang.
Likewise, the entanglement between Pakistani intelligence services and some elements of violent resistance in Afghanistan has been a constant theme of mainstream reportage on the Afghan War since the very beginning -- not to mention a relentless drumbeat of official "concern" in Washington. It is a rare week indeed when some Washington bigwig is not hinting darkly -- or declaring outright -- that Pakistan needs to "get with the program" in one way or another.
The increasing use of drones is also no secret; indeed, it is frequently featured in giddy press reports about these neat gizmos our boys are using to bravely blast villages on the other side of the world from comfortably padded chairs in Nevada control rooms.
And America's assassination squads have also been loudly proclaimed and hailed; scarcely a week goes by without a story about yet another "top-level" Taliban or al Qaeda dastard meeting his doom. And of course, the Peace Laureate's administration recently "leaked" the news that America is running hit squads, secret armies and other covert operators in more than 75 countries around the world -- with the Peace Laureate also proclaiming his right to assassinate American citizens when he feels like it.
As for the corruption and incompetence of the Afghan "government" installed by the foreign occupiers, and the untrustworthiness of the Afghan police and military being trained by the foreign occupiers to do their dirty work for them -- again, this too has been a running theme not only of media coverage but a plethora of official pronouncements. Has a month gone by in recent years when some top-level Washington figure has not scolded the powerless Afghan government for its manifold failings? Has a month gone by without long, detailed stories -- usually in the New York Times itself -- outlining the venality and brutality of the warlords, gangsters, religious extremists and corruptocrats that the United States has empowered in the occupied land?
Where then are the "revelations"? Anyone who has regularly read, well, the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel could not remotely be surprised by any of the facts (as opposed to the oceans of spin and supposition) buried in this mountain of leakage. These are not the Pentagon Papers or the Downing Street Memos; they do almost nothing to alter the public image of the war, and tell almost nothing that we don't already know.
In fact, the overall effect of the multi-part coverage of the documents is to paint a portrait of plucky, put-upon Americans trying their darnedest to get the job done despite the dastardly dealings and gooberish bumblings of the ungrateful little brown wretches we are trying to save from themselves. The NYT is quite explicit in this spin:
[T]he documents sketch a war hamstrung by an Afghan government, police force and army of questionable loyalty and competence, and by a Pakistani military that appears at best uncooperative and at worst to work from the shadows as an unspoken ally of the very insurgent forces the American-led coalition is trying to defeat.
So you see, if our noble enterprise is failing, it’s because the Afghans are idiots, the Pakistanis are backstabbers ... and the Iranians are behind it all, training Taliban fighters, making their bombs and bankrolling the political opposition to America's appointed satrap, Hamid Karzai.
Ah, here we get down to it. Here's metal more attractive for our militarists. The treachery of Iran is a constant theme in the leakage -- both in the raw, unsifted, uncorroborated "humint" and in the diplomatic cables of puzzled occupiers who cannot fathom why there should be any opposition to their enlightened rule. It must the fault of those perfidious Persians!
One can only imagine the lipsmacking and handclapping now rampant among the Bomb Iran crowd as they pore over these unsubstantiated rumors and Potomac ass-coverings which are being doled out -- by the "liberal" media, no less! -- as the new, grim truth about Afghanistan. The Guardian helpfully compiles the incendiary material for them:
Iran is engaged in an extensive covert campaign to arm, finance, train and equip Taliban insurgents, Afghan warlords allied to al-Qaida and suicide bombers fighting to eject British and western forces from Afghanistan, according to classified US military intelligence reports contained in the war logs.
The secret "threat reports", mostly comprising raw data provided by Afghan spies and paid informants, cannot be corroborated individually. Even if the claims are accurate, it is unclear whether the activities they describe took place with the full knowledge of Tehran or are the work of hardline elements of the semi-autonomous Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, ideological sympathisers of the Taliban, arms smugglers or criminal gangs ....
Yes, no doubt there are a great many "ideological sympathisers" of the Taliban's Shiite-hating Sunni extremists among the, er, Shiites in Iran. But such nuances don't matter; all that matters is that you get some headlines out there about "Iran's covert operations in Afghanistan." [Because, as we all know, it is an unmitigated evil for any nation to conduct covert operations in another country -- unless, of course, that nation is run by nice, clean, English-speaking people.]
The Guardian details a number of raw humint reports on Iranian dastardy, then makes a curious claim for its other sources:
Summaries of US embassy diplomatic cables and situation assessments contained and distributed through the war logs offer firmer ground than some of the raw intelligence data, given that they are evidently written by American officials and represent an official record, or official evaluation, of high-level meetings.
Why should the "situation assessments" of ass-covering bureaucrats necessarily be "firmer" than the gossip and denunciations being retailed in the "humint" reports? Especially if they are telling Washington exactly what it wants to hear: the Iranians are behind our manifest failures, both militarily and politically. The Guardian:
Summaries of classified diplomatic cables produced by the US embassy in Kabul, contained in the war logs, reveal high-level concern about Tehran's growing political influence in Afghanistan. Senior US and Afghan officials appear at a loss over how to counter Iran's alleged bribery and manipulation of opposition parties and MPs whom Afghan government officials dismiss as Tehran's "puppets"....
"Over the past several months Iran has taken a series of steps to expand and deepen its influence," says a secret cable sourced to the US embassy in Kabul and written in May 2007 by CSTC-A DCG for Pol-Mil Affairs [combined security transition command deputy commanding general for political and military affairs]. The cable cites the creation of the opposition National Front and National Unity Council, which it claims are under Iranian influence.
Wow, that's heavy stuff, man. An apparatchik in the US embassy says that the political opposition to America's man in Kabul is just Iranian puppetry. Obviously, those Afghan ragheads couldn't possibly put together an opposition by themselves. (It's just like that Civil Rights stuff back in the day; it was all a Communist front. You know our docile darkies would never have tried to get above their raising if the Commies hadn't stirred them up.)
We see here a reflection of one of the enduring principles of the American power structure: that no one could ever have any reasonable objections to the enlightened hegemony of our elites. Any opposition to their dominance and privilege has to come from "outside agitators," sinister troublemakers driven by motiveless evil to destroy all that's good and holy in this world.
So in the end, what really is the "takeaway" from this barrage of high-profile "revelations" dished up by these bold liberal gadflies speaking truth to power? Let's recap:
Occupation forces kill lots of civilians. But everybody already knew that -- and it's been obvious for years that nobody cares. How does this alter the prevailing conventional wisdom about the war?
Pakistan is pursuing its own strategic interests in the region: interests that don't always mesh with those of the United States. Again, this has been a constantly -- obsessively -- reported aspect of the war since its earliest days. How does this alter the prevailing conventional wisdom about the war?
The Afghan government installed by the occupation is corrupt and dysfunctional. Again, this theme has been sounded at every level of the American government -- including by two presidents -- for years. How does this alter the prevailing conventional wisdom of the war?
There is often a dichotomy between official statements about the war's progress and the reality of the war on the ground. Again, has there been a month in the last nine years that prominent stories outlining this fact have not appeared in major mainstream publications? Is this not a well-known phenomenon of every single military conflict in human history? How does this alter the prevailing conventional wisdom about the war?
Iran is evil and is helping bad guys kill Americans and should be stopped. It goes without saying that this too has been a relentless drumbeat of the American power structure for many years. The occupation forces in Iraq began blaming Iran for the rise of the insurgency and the political instability almost the moment after George W. Bush proclaimed "mission accomplished" and all hell broke loose in the conquered land. The Obama administration has "continued" -- and expanded -- the Bush Regime's demonization of Iran, and its extensive military preparations for an attack on that country. The current administration's "diplomatic effort" is led by a woman who pledged to "obliterate" Iran -- that is, to kill tens of millions of innocent people -- if Iran attacked Israel. The American power structure has seized upon every single scrap of Curveball-quality "intelligence" -- every rumor, every lie, every exaggeration, every fabrication -- to convince the American people that Iran is about to nuke downtown Omaha with burqa-clad atom bombs.
So once again, and for the last time, we ask the question: How does this alter the prevailing conventional wisdom about the war?
It doesn't, of course. These media "bombshells" will simply bounce off the hardened shell of American exceptionalism -- which easily countenances the slaughter of civilians and "targeted killings" and "indefinite detention" and any number of other atrocities anyway. In fact, I predict the chief "takeaway" from the story will be this:
American forces are doing their best to help the poor Afghans, but the ungrateful natives are too weak and corrupt to be trusted, while America's good intentions are also being thwarted by evil outsiders.
For our many War Machinists across the political spectrum, getting this mythological message out via "critical" stories in "liberal" publications will be much more effective than dishing up another serving of patriotic hokum on Fox news or at a presidential press conference. (And in fact, on Tuesday Obama claimed that the leaks actually supported the need for his two death-dealing, destabilizing, terror-exacerbating, corruption-oozing "surges" in Afghanistan.) The way the narrative is being framed at the outset -- the small selection of stories being offered as the first "face" of the leaks from the mountains of material as yet unmined -- evokes the age-old question: in the end, cui bono?
The war chiefs are assuming that these 92,000 files about the Afghan war were obtained by an American private serving in Iraq, the unfortunate Bradley Manning. (Wikileaks denies that this particular cache comes from Manning.) Manning is already under arrest for the "crime" of leaking something far more disturbing than any written document: a video showing the slaughter of Iraqi civilians by American Apache helicopters in 2007. Washington knows that a couple of moving pictures on the tee-vee have a far greater potential to disturb the moral sleep of the American people than tens of thousands of newspaper reports -- or leaked documents -- detailing similar killings. (That said, in the end the Apache video has had zero effect on public perceptions of the Iraq War, which most people believe is "over," or on public support for the murderous machinations of the Terror War in general, which most people believe needs to continue in one form or another, to "keep us safe.") The only kind of grim truth attended to by anyone in America these days is that which can be shown in moving pictures. (Although the number of people who are upset even by that seems to be rapidly diminishing. That's why Manning had to be put away.
Ultimately, I suppose on balance it is better to have this material than not to have it. But I still question the usefulness of rolling out mountains of raw "human intelligence" -- precisely the same kind of unfiltered junk that was "stovepiped" to build the false case for the mass-murdering invasion of Iraq -- about Iran, al Qaeda, Pakistan; even North Korea gets into the mix. None of this can be checked -- but all of it will be extremely useful to those who want to build cases for more and more military action, death squads and covert actions around the world.
And it seems very odd that intelligence reports and bureaucratic memos by forces carrying out a prolonged, brutal military occupation of another country are now being treated by "liberal" media outlets as holy writ which paints a "true" picture of the war -- a picture that omits any reference to American war-related corruption, for instance, not only in Afghanistan but more especially in Washington, or to America's wider "Great Game" machinations in Central Asia, involving pipelines, strategic bases and "containing China," etc.
If I believed anything would come of this document dump, if I believed it would actually lead to, say, the prosecution of even one single person for a war-related crime, or to a genuine debate over the morality of the war in the political and media establishments, or even a 5 point rise in public opposition to the Terror War project, then I would rejoice, and embrace the flashy packages of the NYT, Guardian and Der Spiegel at their own self-inflated valuation.
But I honestly believe that the net effect will be simply to entrench the conventional wisdom about the war in the halls of power -- and in the echo chambers of opinion -- on both sides of the Atlantic. We have already seen far too many atrocities, brutalities and acts of criminal folly countenanced, when they are not actually praised, far too many times -- over and over and over again -- in the course of the last decade to believe that these disgorgings of junk intelligence and apparatchik memos will make any difference.
Any difference for the better, that is. For I believe they will supply plenty of ammunition to those bent on further murder and plunder.
(*NOTE: A few sentences have been rewritten today (July 27) to reflect new information and to clarify a couple of points in the original.**)
Years ago, I wrote about the use of chemical weapons in the American assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004. I was attacked at the time for my "wild accusations" by many people, across the political spectrum, even by stalwart dissidents, who felt that such "exaggerations" undermined the "effectiveness" of the anti-war movement, preventing it from being taken "seriously" by the "serious" players in the power structure. Later, of course, American military officials -- and serving soldiers -- admitted using white phosphorus and other chemical weapons in the assault.
Over the years, small-scale medical studies have pointed to the horrific effects of these USA-WMD attacks. Now, a new comprehensive medical study has shown that the "dramatic increases in infant mortality, cancer and leukemia" in Fallujah since 2004 have "exceeded those reported by survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945," The Independent reports.
The Independent story follows up on an initial video report by top BBC journalist John Simpson last week -- a story that was almost universally ignored, not only in the fawning corporate press but also across the "dissident" blogosphere (except by a very few, such as Winter Patriot). Both stories make clear that the chief victims of the American WMD are, overwhelming, children:
Iraqi doctors in Fallujah have complained since 2005 of being overwhelmed by the number of babies with serious birth defects, ranging from a girl born with two heads to paralysis of the lower limbs. They said they were also seeing far more cancers than they did before the battle for Fallujah between US troops and insurgents.
Their claims have been supported by a survey showing a four-fold increase in all cancers and a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer in under-14s. Infant mortality in the city is more than four times higher than in neighbouring Jordan and eight times higher than in Kuwait.
Dr Chris Busby, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster and one of the authors of the survey of 4,800 individuals in Fallujah, said it is difficult to pin down the exact cause of the cancers and birth defects. He added that "to produce an effect like this, some very major mutagenic exposure must have occurred in 2004 when the attacks happened".
US Marines first besieged and bombarded Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad, in April 2004 after four employees of the American security company Blackwater were killed and their bodies burned. After an eight-month stand-off, the Marines stormed the city in November using artillery and aerial bombing against rebel positions. US forces later admitted that they had employed white phosphorus as well as other munitions.
The background here is good as far as it goes, but it omits the salient point of that mutilation of American mercenaries; it followed a series of security shoot-em-ups that killed a number of innocent civilians in Fallujah. The attacks on the Blackwater mercenaries were a violent reprisal for murders committed by foreign agents in the midst of an illegal act of military aggression. But, as always, the American revenge for the attacks was vastly disproportionate: an entire city destroyed, thousands of people killed -- and generations of terrible suffering for innocent children -- all to get "payback" for four mercenaries.
The Independent continues:
In the assault US commanders largely treated Fallujah as a free-fire zone to try to reduce casualties among their own troops. British officers were appalled by the lack of concern for civilian casualties. "During preparatory operations in the November 2004 Fallujah clearance operation, on one night over 40 155mm artillery rounds were fired into a small sector of the city," recalled Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, a British commander serving with the American forces in Baghdad.
He added that the US commander who ordered this devastating use of firepower did not consider it significant enough to mention it in his daily report to the US general in command. Dr Busby says that while he cannot identify the type of armaments used by the Marines, the extent of genetic damage suffered by inhabitants suggests the use of uranium in some form. He said: "My guess is that they used a new weapon against buildings to break through walls and kill those inside."
The effects of these secret "wonder-weapons" were astounding:
The study, entitled "Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009", is by Dr Busby, Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi, and concludes that anecdotal evidence of a sharp rise in cancer and congenital birth defects is correct. Infant mortality was found to be 80 per 1,000 births compared to 19 in Egypt, 17 in Jordan and 9.7 in Kuwait. The report says that the types of cancer are "similar to that in the Hiroshima survivors who were exposed to ionising radiation from the bomb and uranium in the fallout".
Researchers found a 38-fold increase in leukaemia, a ten-fold increase in female breast cancer and significant increases in lymphoma and brain tumours in adults. At Hiroshima survivors showed a 17-fold increase in leukaemia, but in Fallujah Dr Busby says what is striking is not only the greater prevalence of cancer but the speed with which it was affecting people.
Of particular significance was the finding that the sex ratio between newborn boys and girls had changed. In a normal population this is 1,050 boys born to 1,000 girls, but for those born from 2005 there was an 18 per cent drop in male births, so the ratio was 850 males to 1,000 females. The sex-ratio is an indicator of genetic damage that affects boys more than girls. A similar change in the sex-ratio was discovered after Hiroshima.
I have written about Fallujah over and over for a long time. In many respects, these stories are like the ones I've written about the American-abetted horrors in Somalia: no one gives a damn. Well, I don't give a damn that no gives a damn. I'm going to keep ringing this bell until my arm falls off. We -- Americans -- have committed and countenanced a great evil in Iraq. I can't change that -- and it's obvious that I cannot prevent the "continuity" of such hellish atrocities by the progressive Peace Laureate now in the White House, and by whatever similar blood-soaked poltroon comes to lead the never-ending Terror War for Loot and Power after him. But by god I will not let it be said that I stood by and failed to bear witness to this raging filth.
"The inferno…is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space." -- Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities.
There is of course no space, nowhere to move or breathe in the sealed chamber of the American Infoglomerate – the vast entanglement of corporate media and government propaganda that smothers the body politic with hysterical outpourings of diversion, drivel and deadening white noise. Here, events occur in a total vacuum: they have no history, no context, no consequences. Stripped of the heft and scope of reality, they can easily be molded and distorted to fit the prevailing political and business agendas. Amnesia, ignorance, confusion and fear are left to rule the day: excellent fuel for the stokers of the inferno, who use the heat to work their alchemical magic – transforming human blood into gold.
"There are more and more dead bodies on the streets and the stench is unbearable. Smoke is everywhere. It's hard to know how much people outside Fallujah are aware of what is going on here. There are dead women and children lying on the streets. People are getting weaker from hunger. Many are dying are from their injuries because there is no medical help left in the city whatsoever. Some families have started burying their dead in their gardens."
This was a voice from the depths of the inferno: Fadhil Badrani, reporter for the BBC and Reuters, trapped in the iron encirclement along with tens of thousands of civilians. It was a rare breath of truth. The reality of a major city being ground into rubble was meant to be obscured by the Infoglomerate's wall of noise: murder trials, state visits, Cabinet shuffles, celebrity weddings – and, above all, the reports of "embedded" journalists shaping the "narrative" into its proper form: a magnificent feat of arms carried out with surgical precision against an enemy openly identified by American commanders as "Satan," the Associated Press reports.
One of the first moves in this magnificent feat was the destruction and capture of medical centers. Twenty doctors – and their patients, including women and children – were killed in an airstrike on one major clinic, the UN Information Service reports, while the city's main hospital was seized in the early hours of the ground assault. Why? Because these places of healing could be used as "propaganda centers," the Pentagon's "information warfare" specialists told the NY Times. ...
So while Americans saw stories of rugged "Marlboro Men" winning the day against Satan, they were spared shots of engineers cutting off water and electricity to the city – a flagrant war crime under the Geneva Conventions, as CounterPunch notes, but standard practice throughout the occupation. Nor did pictures of attack helicopters gunning down civilians trying to escape across the Euphrates River – including a family of five – make the TV news, despite the eyewitness account of an AP journalist. Nor were tender American sensibilities subjected to the sight of phosphorous shells bathing enemy fighters – and nearby civilians – with unquenchable chemical fire, literally melting their skin, as the Washington Post reports. Nor did they see the fetus being blown out of the body of Artica Salim when her home was bombed during the "softening-up attacks" that raged relentlessly – and unnoticed – in the closing days of George W. Bush's presidential campaign, the Scotland Sunday Herald reports.
I will not forget Artica Salim. I will not forget Fallujah. I will not "move on." I will not become part of the inferno.
News from Blighty: the disparity in death rates between the well-off and the poor in the UK is now greater than at any time since 1921. The London Review of Books points to a new study by the British Medical Journal that shows that by 2007, "for every 100 people under the age of 65 dying in the best-off areas, 199 were dying in the poorest tenth of areas."
The Journal study said that the data suggest "it was only prolonged and enthusiastic state intervention" that kept the disparity from being greater. On the other hand, the elite-coddling market jihadism of the Clintonian-Obamaish "New Labour" government (or as the BMJ more politely puts it, "the prolonged state disengagement in promoting equality in outcome") helped stretch the yawning gap even further.
In other words, the few spare pence that the war criminals of the Labour government threw at the poor kept them from dying quite as fast as they would have done otherwise under the system of voracious corporate rapine that Labour entrenched and expanded after inheriting it from the Thatcherite Tories in 1997.
Now, even those few pence are being stripped away -- gleefully -- by what many say is the most extremist government Britain has ever seen, outstripping even Margaret Thatcher in the scope of its draconian cuts and the fervor of its market fundamentalism. The savage cutbacks and vast, churning upheavals being pushed through, at breakneck speed, by the new Conservative government (and its truly pathetic coalition "partner," the lapdog Lib Dems) will sends millions of people tumbling down into a permanent underclass -- and finally, after 60 years of trying, gut the national health service with a stealth "Americanization" that will turn the operation of local doctors' offices over to private firms (many of them from the US) and privatize public hospitals, allowing them to "fail" -- and close -- if they don't produce enough cash for their elite shareholders. Meanwhile, the schools are now in the hands of the arch-neocon Michael Gove, who is plotting with revisionist historian Niall Ferguson to impose a pro-Empire, pro-elite "national greatness" ideology on the young. Gove is also using "emergency" legislative procedures to strip public schools away from the oversight of democratically elected local government and put them into the hands of unaccountable corporations, religious groups and wealthy elites.
This Revolution of the Rich is being justified by a carefully crafted, constantly stoked panic about budget deficits, pointing to the example of the perpetually weak government and economy of Greece as a horror story to be avoided at all costs. Yet even if the Greek situation was as dire as the fearmongers make out, the fact remains that the cuts which the Tory-LapDog coalition is making in the much stronger, much more stable UK are actually far in excess than those being imposed upon Greece. As with the fearmongering about "Iraqi WMDs," the "dangers of the deficit" are being exaggerated -- and manufactured -- in order to put into place a pre-existing (and transatlantic) ideological agenda: neo-feudal oligarchism.
But in almost all of these measures, the Tory-LapDog government is only entrenching and expanding the "market-led reforms" imposed by New Labour. And "New Labour" was of course a close copy of the "New Democrats" of Bill Clinton and his clique of "triangulating" bagmen for Big Money -- scarcely distinguishable from the Reagan-Bush faction that preceded them, and then succeeded them in the Bush dynasty's second turn in the White House. And we all know that "continuity" is the byword of the Obama administration, which is chock-a-block with holdovers not only from strangulating triangulators of the Clinton era but also the imperial militarists from the two Bush reigns.
Thus for more than 30 years, the world-dominating Anglo-American alliance has been under the sway of factions which, for all their internal squabbling and hair-splitting, are strongly united in their steadfast, unshakeable adherence to the perpetuation -- and expansion -- of elite power and privilege. They have shown themselves willing -- eager -- to degrade their own societies (and destroy many others) in the service of this brutal, barbaric, inhuman faith. The poor have no place in this system, which is a retrograde, hi-tech, rhetorically sugarcoated revival of the laissez-faire fantasies of the past, as Jeremy Seabrook notes:
"Pauperism" long ago took on the colour of culpability. The distinction between the idle and improvident poor and the "deserving" goes back at least to the Elizabethan poor law. It took on a new force in the early industrial era, which saw an unprecedented growth in pauperism. The enthusiasts of laissez-faire concluded that the evil was compounded by efforts to relieve it, and helping the poor only increased their number. Everything indicated that "natural" processes should be allowed to take their course. .... In this version of the world, the market mechanism is as flawless a creation as the earth, and should remain untouched by the hand of meddlers, whose only effect is to upset its power to enrich us all. It is remarkable that the establishment of laissez-faire itself in the early 19th century required an enormous amount of government intervention and regulation ...
And so it is today. The "regulation" of the health care industry introduced by the Obama Administration is actually a gargantuan transfer of wealth, by force, from working people and the poor to a few huge corporations. The financial "regulation" signed into law is yet another sham that will leave the rapacious fools and fraudsters who brought down the global economy -- and triggered the convenient "deficit crisis" by demanding massive bailouts of public money for their private businesses -- at large and in charge of the world's finances. Meanwhile, more and more government regulations restrict the right of ordinary citizens to challenge the rich and powerful in court, or to register a public protest (herding them instead into the truly hideous "free speech zones") -- even as the state grants corporations extraordinary privileges to interfere with the political process with their vast resources and protects their leaders from personal accountability for the ravages they commit. The government "intervention and regulation" on behalf of the industries and elites who service the endlessly expanding symbiosis of corporate, military and 'security' power -- stretching even to the countenancing and cover-up of torture and murder -- is one of the defining elements of our age.
And as Glenn Ford notes, Obama is preparing to "regulate" the last tattered fragments of the social welfare system -- already decimated by the progressives' favorite good old boy, Bill Cinton -- right out of existence:
In April of this year, Obama once again reminded everyone that everything is and has always been "on the table," as far as he's concerned, including Social Security. His so-called "deficit commission" is stacked with rich sociopaths sharpening their knives to carve up, sell off or otherwise doom Social Security. It is a battle that safety net defenders thought they had won against George Bush. Barack Obama has picked up Bush's marbles and put them back into play. He is the right wing's most potent weapon, the one before which liberal Democrats throw up their hands in surrender without the dignity of a fight. Obama, working in plain sight over the past 18 months, has constructed and rigged a deficit commission to render a kind of death sentence to the foundational program of Roosevelt's New Deal.
This is the system -- the creed, the extremist faith -- that all "serious" players in all the "major" power faction on both sides of the Atlantic adhere to. Their god of greed demands human sacrifices: and so the poor must die. And to keep the system going, more and more people must be made poor: first those in the "outer darkness" of faraway lands, then finally those in the sacred "Homelands" themselves. We have been watching the latter process play out slowly in the past few decades -- but it is accelerating now at dizzying speed.
Perhaps if they could obtain these same privileges as easily by other, less horrific means, they would. As it is, they take the world as they find it, and go about their business without fretting over the consequences -- the dead, the ruined, the spreading hate, the poisoned planet. Why should they care? As the maggot cannot see beyond the meat, so too these [people] of greed-stunted understanding can see nothing of worth outside their own bottomless appetites.
Henry Miller once said that the purpose of the artist is to "inoculate the world with disillusionment." We are in desperate need of disillusionment today -- disillusionment on a vast scale, disillusionment as a constant discipline. Arthur Silber is one of the greatest such artists now at work, and he has just released a remarkable piece aimed at one the deadliest illusions of our time: the myth of American Exceptionalism. I cannot recommend strongly enough that you read the entire piece, but below are a few excerpts to highlight some of the salient points.
Silber writes of the poisonous effects of the all-pervasive, ever-hardening Exceptionalist myth that has such a death-grip on the American psyche. In some ways, of course, this myth is just a variant of the same kind of self-deluding trumpery that powerful nations and tribes have told themselves down through the centuries -- "We are special, we are superior, whatever we do is good and right, because we are the ones doing it, etc." You could find beliefs like this going back to Rome, to Babylon, to Sumer, probably all the way back to Çatalhöyük or the Blombos Cave.
But the longevity and universality of this pernicious mindset is in no way a mitigation of it. It does not reduce by one iota the responsibility -- the blood-guilt -- of any society that adheres to such a myth, and uses it to "justify" (indeed, celebrate) horrendous crimes. It is American Exceptionalism that we must deal with in our time. And although the belief of this particular bunch of bare, fork'd animals that they are special is nothing new, the gargantuan, ravenous military force that backs up this delusion is unprecedented in world history. It is only in its destructiveness, real and potential, that the American system is indeed exceptional.
Silber gives a cogent description of the American myth [and see his original essay for the many important links]:
In the most extreme (and, one could argue, most consistent) version of this [exceptionalist] tale, non-Western parts of the world are less than human -- and they are subhuman by choice. They are immoral, and sometimes even evil. Since we represent the good and they represent the evil, we are surely entitled to improve them, by invasion and bombing if necessary. If they do not threaten us today, they might at some indeterminate time in the future. And while we might kill many innocent civilians in our campaign of civilization, those who survive will be infinitely better off than they would have been otherwise. Besides, how "innocent" can any of them be -- since they are members of inferior, less than fully human civilizations, and since they are so by choice?
Silber then points out the sickening consequences of this nationalist fundamentalism:
With this belief system as the unchallengeable foundation, a vast number of Americans render themselves completely unable to recognize the devastating consequences of the American State's actions abroad. Whenever those consequences threaten to announce themselves in an unavoidable manner, most Americans will explicitly deny or avoid them through an endless variety of stratagems. When all else fails, their ultimate defense will be the cloaked restatement of the myth's message: the lives of those other people are simply not of the same value as our own. ...
A terrifyingly awful example of this phenomenon is the disappearance of the nightmarish tragedy of Iraq from our national conversation. Remember that Iraq never posed a serious threat to the United States, and that our leaders knew that it posed no such threat. Therefore, the U.S. invasion and occupation represent an ongoing series of war crimes. This is not an arguable point in any respect. Since it cannot be argued, it is ignored altogether.
American troops leave behind a country that is a barely floating wreck. Baghdad feels like a city under military occupation, with horrendous traffic jams caused by the 1,500 checkpoints and streets blocked off by miles of concrete blast walls that strangle communications within the city. The situation in Iraq is in many ways "better" than it was, but it could hardly be anything else, given that killings at their peak in 2006-2007 were running at about 3,000 a month. That said, Baghdad remains one of the most dangerous cities in the world, riskier to walk around than Kabul or Kandahar ...
Going back to Baghdad last month, after being away for some time, I was struck by how little had changed. The airport was still among the worst in the world. When I wanted to fly to Basra, Iraq's second biggest city and the centre of the oil industry, Iraqi Airways said they had only one flight during the week and they were none too certain when that would leave.
Violence may be down, but few of the 2 million Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria think it safe enough to go home. A further 1.5 million people are Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), forced out of their homes by sectarian pogroms in 2006 and 2007 and too frightened to return. Of these, some half a million people try to survive in squatter camps which Refugees International describes as lacking "basic services, including water, sanitation and electricity, and built on precarious places – under bridges, alongside railroad tracks and amongst garbage dumps". A worrying fact about these camps is that the number of people in them should be shrinking as sectarian warfare ebbs, but in fact the IDP population is growing. These days refugees come to the camps not because of fear of the death squads but because of poverty, joblessness or because the prolonged drought is driving farmers off their land.
As Silber notes, Cockburn has much, much more on the fresh hell that America has inflicted on Iraq. This hell includes not only the million or more innocent people killed as a result of the American military aggression launched in 2003, but, as we noted here this week, the million or more innocent people killed by the American-directed sanctions against Iraq in the 12 years before the invasion.
Silber then goes on to make what is one of his most important observations: how the theoretical freedom of the press in the United States is used to impose a level of censorship on state crimes that the most hidebound totalitarian dictator might envy:
As deeply horrifying as these details [of Iraq's suffering] are, perhaps it is that these facts are not hidden or completely inaccessible that is most unsettling. What the U.S. has done -- death and ongoing suffering on a monumental scale, that "Iraq remains an extraordinarily violent place" and "is a barely floating wreck" -- can easily be known, if we seek to know the truth. Yet almost none of our leaders will acknowledge the smallest part of this truth, and most Americans are unaware of almost all of it. This reveals a notable danger in what is often held up as yet another singular virtue of the United States: that we have a "free" press, and that there is no official censorship. As a result, people believe that they do know the truth. After all, no one is being actively prevented from telling even unpleasant truths.
Such simplistic appeals to what is supposedly another aspect of American virtue disregard the complex operations of cultural "truths" that are widely accepted. It is almost impossible to imagine how official censorship could more successfully and comprehensively obliterate the actual truth. And I repeat: since people delude themselves that their leaders and media are telling them the truth, they feel no need to seek further for it. Moreover, facts such as those set forth by Cockburn, facts that are accessible to anyone if he wants to find them, have no reality for those whose identity and self-worth are critically tied to the myth of American exceptionalism. It is the myth that is real; facts that conflict with and undermine the myth rarely penetrate the consciousness of most Americans. Such facts are never admitted by those who would lead the American State.
Thus those who have been imbued from birth by the myth of American Exceptionalism become active collaborators in this censorship of state crime. It is actually a form of self-censorship. There is no need for the state to spend a lot of time and energy jailing or killing or silencing or even discrediting those who tell the unpleasant truth; most people, in their blind adherence to the myth, simply will not hear it. As Silber says:
...[M]yths which assume importance in the manner of the exceptionalist myth constitute life itself. It is crucial to appreciate that this is how it operates in psychological terms. In a contest between a belief system which provides identity and self-worth and facts which threaten that identity and self-worth, it is frequently the facts which many people choose to discard.
Occasionally, when the destructive (and self-destructive) effects of a belief system become sufficiently overwhelming, a person will decide to question and eventually dispense with the belief system. The process can be agonizingly difficult. Many people prefer to avoid it. Most of us are familiar with the tragic story of the individual who refuses to give up the myth that he still believes provides him consolation and meaning -- even when clinging to the myth leads to his own death. Countries can behave in the identical manner; history provides numerous examples of the same tragedy on a national scale.
In the murderous rampages of the Terror War (which its own practitioners confess are causing more terrorism), in the vast secret state of oprichniki and mercenaries that have swallowed the Republic, in the ever-more brazen dominance of our neo-feudal oligarchy (with its government retainers and its pathetic army of Tea Party serfs who worship the wealthy oppressors who are degrading their lives), in the thoroughly man-made "natural disasters" that are ravaging the environment, we are clearly seeing just such a national tragedy being played out before our eyes.
In the last decade of the 20th century, a nation often hailed (not least by itself) as the "world's greatest democracy" directed a program of savage economic warfare against a broken, defenseless country. This blockade, carried out with an exacting bureaucratic coldness, killed, by very conservative estimate, at least one million innocent people. More than half of these victims were young children.
Dead children. Thousands of dead children. Tens of thousands of dead children, Hundreds of thousands of dead children. Mountains of dead children. Vast pestiferous slagheaps of dead children. This is what the world's greatest democracy created, deliberately, coldly, as a matter of carefully considered national policy.
The blockade was carried out for one reason only: to force out the broken country's recalcitrant leader, who had once been an ally and client of the world's greatest democracy but was no longer considered acquiescent enough to be allowed to govern his strategically placed land and its vast energy resources. The leadership of both of the dominant power factions in the world's greatest democracy agreed that the deliberate murder of innocent people -- more people than were killed in the coterminous genocide in Rwanda -- was an acceptable price to pay for this geopolitical objective. To them, the game -- that is, the augmentation of their already stupendous, world-shadowing wealth and power -- was worth the candle -- that is, the death spasms of a child in the final agonies of gastroenteritis, or cholera, or some other easily preventable affliction.
It is, by any measure, one of the most remarkable -- and horrific -- stories of the last half of the 20th century, outstripped in that period only by China's 'Great Leap Forward' and by the millions killed in the conflicts in Indochina in which the world's greatest democracy played such an instrumental role. Yet it remains an "invisible war," as Joy Gordon calls it in the title of her new book on the United States and the Iraq sanctions. Not only that, the perpetrators of this Rwanda-surpassing genocide walk among us today, safely, serenely, in honor, comfort and privilege. Some of them still hold powerful positions in government. If their savage war was invisible, then so is the innocent blood that smears them from head to foot.
Andrew Cockburn has written an excellent -- and greatly detailed -- review of Gordon's work in the latest London Review of Books, drawing upon his own extensive experience in Iraq as well as the extensive evidence of the book. The review is worth excerpting at length, although there is still much more in the original piece, which you should read as well.
... The multiple disasters inflicted on Iraq since the 2003 Anglo-American invasion have tended to overshadow the lethally effective ‘invisible war’ waged against Iraqi civilians between August 1990 and May 2003 with the full authority of the United Nations and the tireless attention of the US and British governments. ...Even at the time, the sanctions against Iraq drew only sporadic public comment, and even less attention was paid to the bureaucratic manoeuvres in Washington, always with the dutiful assistance of London, which ensured the deaths of half a million children, among other consequences. In her excellent book Joy Gordon charts these in horrifying detail....
The sanctions were originally imposed on Iraq after Saddam -- who had been given the famous "green light" by the envoy of the American president -- invaded Kuwait. The sanctions were said to be a measure short of war, to force him to withdraw; later they became a tool of war when the fighting started. And afterward they became an extension of the war by other means. But in all cases, as Gordon and Cockburn note, they were above all a weapon to destroy the civilian infrastructure and economy of Iraq. Cockburn writes:
... The war, when it came, was directed as much against Iraq’s economy as against its army in Kuwait. Key features of the bombing campaign were designed – as its principal planner, Colonel John Warden of the US air force, explained to me afterwards – to destroy the ‘critical nodes’ that enabled Iraq to function as a modern industrial society. The air force had dreamed of being able to do this sort of thing since before the Second World War, and Warden thought the introduction of precision-guided ‘smart bombs’ now made it a practical proposition. Iraq’s electrical power plants, telecommunications centres, oil refineries, sewage plants and other key infrastructure were destroyed or badly damaged. Warden, I recall, was piqued that bombing in addition to his original scheme had obscured the impact of his surgical assault on the pillars supporting modern Iraqi society....
...The first intimation that the blockade would continue even though Iraq had been evicted from Kuwait came in an offhand remark by Bush at a press briefing on 16 April 1991. There would be no normal relations with Iraq, he said, until ‘Saddam Hussein is out of there’: ‘We will continue the economic sanctions.’ Officially, the US was on record as pledging that sanctions would be lifted once Kuwait had been compensated for the damage wrought during six months of occupation and once it was confirmed that Iraq no longer possessed ‘weapons of mass destruction’ or the capacity to make them. A special UN inspection organisation, Unscom, was created, headed by the Swedish diplomat Rolf Ekeus, a veteran of arms control negotiations. But in case anyone had missed the point of Bush’s statement, his deputy national security adviser, Robert Gates (now Obama’s secretary of defence), spelled it out a few weeks later: ‘Saddam is discredited and cannot be redeemed. His leadership will never be accepted by the world community. Therefore,’ Gates continued, ‘Iraqis will pay the price while he remains in power. All possible sanctions will be maintained until he is gone.’
This is the blood-and-iron voice of the man retained by the Progressive Peace Laureate in the White House to run his war machine as it churns through human bodies around the world, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Colombia and dozens of other countries: a war machine of official armies, secret militias, death squads, robots and mercenaries. Back to Cockburn:
Despite this explicit confirmation that the official justification for sanctions was irrelevant, Saddam’s supposed refusal to turn over his deadly arsenal would be brandished by the sanctioneers whenever the price being paid by Iraqis attracted attention from the outside world. And although Bush and Gates claimed that Saddam, not his weapons, was the real object of the sanctions, I was assured at the time by officials at CIA headquarters in Langley that an overthrow of the dictator by a population rendered desperate by sanctions was ‘the least likely alternative’. The impoverishment of Iraq – not to mention the exclusion of its oil from the global market to the benefit of oil prices – was not a means to an end: it was the end.
We are of course seeing this same dynamic at work today, as Gates and a new temporary emperor work the same scheme, with the same aim, on yet another recalcitrant nation unfortunately possessed of a strategic location and vast energy resources. Even the same sham justification is being used: the non-existent threat of non-existent weapons of mass destruction. But why not? As long as the rubes keep falling for this shtick, the masters of war will keep using it. Cockburn continues:
Visiting Iraq in that first summer of postwar sanctions I found a population stunned by the disaster that was reducing them to a Third World standard of living. ... Doctors, most of them trained in Britain, displayed their empty dispensaries. Everywhere, people asked when sanctions would be lifted, assuming that it could only be a matter of months at the most (a belief initially shared by Saddam). The notion that they would still be in force a decade later was unimaginable.
The doctors should not have had anything to worry about. Resolution 661 prohibited the sale or supply of any goods to Iraq ... with the explicit exception of ‘supplies intended strictly for medical purposes, and, in humanitarian circumstances, foodstuffs’. However, every single item Iraq sought to import, including food and medicine, had to be approved by the ‘661 Committee’, created for this purpose and staffed by diplomats from the 15 members of the Security Council. The committee met in secret and published scarcely any record of its proceedings. Thanks to the demise of the Soviet Union, the US now dominated the UN, using it to provide a cloak of legitimacy for its unilateral actions.
The 661 Committee’s stated purpose was to review and authorise exceptions to the sanctions, but as Gordon explains, its actual function was to deny the import of even the most innocuous items on the grounds that they might, conceivably, be used in the production of weapons of mass destruction. An ingenious provision allowed any committee member to put any item for which clearance had been requested on hold. So, while other members, even a majority, might wish to speed goods to Iraq, the US and its ever willing British partner could and did block whatever they chose on the flimsiest of excuses. ... Thus in the early 1990s the United States blocked, among other items, salt, water pipes, children’s bikes, materials used to make nappies, equipment to process powdered milk and fabric to make clothes. The list would later be expanded to include switches, sockets, window frames, ceramic tiles and paint.
In 1991 American representatives forcefully argued against permitting Iraq to import powdered milk on the grounds that it did not fulfil a humanitarian need. Later, the diplomats dutifully argued that an order for child vaccines, deemed ‘suspicious’ by weapons experts in Washington, should be denied.
Throughout the period of sanctions, the United States frustrated Iraq’s attempts to import pumps needed in the plants treating water from the Tigris, which had become an open sewer thanks to the destruction of treatment plants. Chlorine, vital for treating a contaminated water supply, was banned on the grounds that it could be used as a chemical weapon. The consequences of all this were visible in paediatric wards. Every year the number of children who died before they reached their first birthday rose, from one in 30 in 1990 to one in eight seven years later. Health specialists agreed that contaminated water was responsible: children were especially susceptible to the gastroenteritis and cholera caused by dirty water.
All very terrible, of course. But what about the UN "Oil for Food" program that was eventually set up to provide a trickle of goods into Iraq in exchange for some of those coveted energy resources? As Cockburn notes, while the "invisible war" of sanctions that killed half a million children is now simply a non-event in the American consciousness, the Oil for Food "scandal" -- Saddam gaming the system to enrich himself while his people suffered -- still looms large for the apologists for the 2003 war of aggression. This, they say, was the real scandal, not all those dead babies. Cockburn:
Under the terms of the programme, much of the money was immediately siphoned off [by the US-led blockaders] to settle what critics called Kuwait’s ‘implausibly high’ claims for compensation for damage from the 1990 invasion and to pay for the Unscom inspections and other UN administrative costs in Iraq. Although the arrangement did permit some improvement in living standards, there was no fundamental change: the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan reported in November 1997 that despite the programme, 31 per cent of children under five still suffered from malnutrition, supplies of safe water and medicine were ‘grossly inadequate’ and the health infrastructure suffered from ‘exceptionally serious deterioration’.
It was possible for the Iraqis to wring some pecuniary advantage from the Oil for Food programme by extracting kickbacks from the oil traders whom it favoured with allocations, as well as from companies, such as wheat traders, from which it bought supplies. In 2004, as Iraq disintegrated, the ‘Oil for Food scandal’ was ballyhooed in the US press as ‘the largest rip-off in history’. Congress, which had maintained a near total silence during the years of sanctions, now erupted with denunciations of the fallen dictator’s fraud and deception, which, with alleged UN complicity, had supposedly been the direct cause of so many deaths.
Gordon puts all this in context. ‘Under the Oil for Food programme, the Iraqi government skimmed about 10 per cent from import contracts and for a brief time received illicit payments from oil sales. The two combined amounted to about $2 billion … By contrast, in [the first] 14 months of occupation [after the 2003 invasion], the US-led occupation authority depleted $18 billion in funds’ – money earned from the sale of oil, most of which disappeared with little or no accounting and no discernible return to the Iraqi people. Saddam may have lavished millions on marble palaces (largely jerry-built, as their subsequent US military occupants discovered) but his greed paled in comparison to that of his successors.
As we have noted here often before, the Americans and British leaders who imposed the killing sanctions knew very well, for many years, that Iraq had no WMD at all -- or even any WMD development programs. They knew that by the time of the 2003 invasion, these WMD programmes (which had once been supported with secret cash, credits and "dual-use technology" by none other than George Herbert Walker Bush) had been mothballed for 12 years. I was talking about this, in print, back in 2003 -- even Newsweek was reporting on it, just weeks before the war! -- but, merely being the truth, there was really no place for the story in the American political mind, or the national memory. So Cockburn and Gordon do us good service by detailing the story again. They also add one of the most damning aspects of the story: the frantic efforts by Bill Clinton -- yes, the good old "Big Dawg" of our modern progressives -- to suppress the truth and keep the murderous sanctions, and the drive toward war, going strong:
The economic strangulation of Iraq was justified on the basis of Saddam’s supposed possession of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. Year after year, UN inspectors combed Iraq in search of evidence that these WMD existed. But after 1991, the first year of inspections, when the infrastructure of Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme was detected and destroyed, along with missiles and an extensive arsenal of chemical weapons, nothing more was ever found. Given Saddam’s record of denying the existence of his nuclear project (his chemical arsenal was well known; he had used it extensively in the Iran-Iraq war, with US approval) the inspectors had strong grounds for suspicion, at least until August 1995. That was when Hussein Kamel, Saddam’s son-in-law and the former overseer of his weapons programmes, suddenly defected to Jordan, where he was debriefed by the CIA, MI6 and Unscom. In those interviews he made it perfectly clear that the entire stock of WMD had been destroyed in 1991, a confession that his interlocutors, including the UN inspectors, took great pains to conceal from the outside world.
Nevertheless, by early 1997 Rolf Ekeus had concluded, as he told me many years later, that he must report to the Security Council that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and was therefore in compliance with the Council’s resolutions, barring a few points. He felt bound to recommend that the sanctions should be lifted. Reports of his intentions threw the Clinton administration into a panic. The end of sanctions would lay Clinton open to Republican attacks for letting Saddam off the hook. The problem was solved, Ekeus explained to me, by getting Madeleine Albright, newly installed as secretary of state, to declare in a public address on 26 March 1997 that ‘we do not agree with the nations who argue that, if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted.’ The predictable result was that Saddam saw little further point in co-operating with the inspectors. This provoked an escalating series of confrontations between the Unscom team and Iraqi security officials, ending in the expulsion of the inspectors, claims that Saddam was ‘refusing to disarm’, and, ultimately, war.
There you have it. Clinton did not want the sanctions to end; he did notwant to stop throwing the bodies of dead children on the stinking slagheap. As always, when one supposed "benchmark" has been met -- in this case, the elimination of WMD and WMD programs -- the rules are simply changed. We see this too with Iran. Obama puts forth what is purported to be a major "diplomatic" solution to have Iran ship its nuclear fuel to Brazil and Turkey for processing. This was, of course, a hollow gesture, meant to show how intransigent and untrustworthy Iran really is; the nuke-hungry mullahs would naturally reject the deal. But when Iran made an agreement with Brazil to do exactly what Obama requested, this was immediately denounced -- by Obama -- as .... a demonstration of how intransigent and untrustworthy Iran really is. Meet a benchmark, and the masters simply change the rules. That's how it works until they get what they want: regime change in strategic lands laden with natural resources.
Cockburn points out another effect of sanctions that is almost always overlooked:
Denis Halliday, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Iraq who resigned in 1998 in protest at what he called the ‘genocidal’ sanctions regime, described at that time its more insidious effects on Iraqi society. An entire generation of young people had grown up in isolation from the outside world. He compared them, ominously, to the orphans of the Russian war in Afghanistan who later formed the Taliban. ‘What should be of concern is the possibility at least of more fundamentalist Islamic thinking developing,’ Halliday warned. ‘It is not well understood as a possible spin-off of the sanctions regime. We are pushing people to take extreme positions.’ This was the society US and British armies confronted in 2003: impoverished, extremist and angry. As they count the losses they have sustained from roadside bombs and suicide attacks, the West should think carefully before once again deploying the ‘perfect instrument’ of a blockade.
But of course, as we've often noted here, this seems to be exactly what they want: a steady supply of extremists who can be relied upon to keep stoking the profitable fires of Terror War: flames which in turn feed the monstrous engines of the War Machine and its Security offshoot -- both of which long ago devoured the remnants of the American republic, and are now metastasizing with dizzying speed, almost beyond human comprehension.
Dead children. Thousands of dead children. The mountain, the slagheap gets higher and higher. And still the people sleep ....