Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 14 July 2010 16:13
Mark Twain is returning to us, in the unexpurgated editions of his much-censored autobiography which will be published in three volumes. And one of his most notable successors in the fine art of anti-imperialist polemic, Arthur Silber, has provided some useful context for some of the views that Twain and his literary executors thought too hot to print in their now-vanished present day.
Many of these passages dealt with Twain's angry railing against America's militarist empire-builders, as they perpetrated mass murder and savage torture during the "liberation" of the Philippines from, er, the Filipinos. I will have much more to say on this and related subjects in an upcoming piece on James Bradley’s remarkable new book, The Imperial Cruise, but Silber is already on the case here, so give it a full read.
In fact, Silber has been a man on fire in recent days, posting a series of remarkable essays in rapid-fire fashion. These range from the first two parts of a major new series, "The Demand for Obedience, and Reverence for Authority," savagely witty takedowns of media poltroonery across the political spectrum, super-scary Russian spies, the permanent American occupation of Iraq, and much more. Avail yourself of these incisive insights at the earliest opportunity.
Just for good measure, Silber also answers the musical question that has puzzled our pundit puzzlers till their puzzlers are sore: "Why are we in Afghanistan?" Here's part of the answer [see original post for links]:
... We hear gasps that grow more and more frequent, as our protagonist finds it progressively difficult to breathe. Unbearable and steadily increasing anxiety suffuses the air. As we contemplate the nerve-wracking spectacle, goosebumps speckle our soul. Finally, the unanswerable question of the ages bursts forth from frothing lips:
"Why, dear God, oh, why, why, why are we in Afghanistan?"
...Because of the critical nature of Afghanistan's location for those in pursuit of power and control, the primary goal throughout history and continuing today, for Britain, for Russia, for the United States, for others, can be expressed in two words:
That's the whole thing. Full stop. Being there -- because Afghanistan is the strategic gateway to further destinations of immense importance, because a presence in Afghanistan serves to shore up expeditions to other countries, because securing Afghanistan is necessary to a continuing power base in Central Asia.
When we understand this, we can see that all the other purported goals -- building a stable democratic government, securing Afghanistan for the Afghans, defeating alleged terrorists, ensuring regional stability for the benefit of all humankind (never solely for the sake of the U.S., or Russia, or Britain or anyone else, may the heavens forfend, but only and always for all humankind, such is the nobility and remarkable lack of self-interest of the ruling class) -- all of that is marketing and public relations. The ruling class offers those justifications because they sound so much nicer and more pleasant. Besides, the public gobbles them up with eager ignorance. Sometimes a few members of the public will behave with astonishing impertinence and point out that the marketing ploys don't seem to comport with facts on the ground. The ruling class doesn't care about any of that. Shred the PR all you wish: it's PR. It doesn't matter. They hope you spend all your time demonstrating in great detail how threadbare and senseless the marketing is. And many of you oblige them. Silly, silly you.
Silber cuts to the crux of the matter. As he notes elsewhere in the piece, the true aims of the imperial project -- dominance and loot for the ruling class -- have always been completely out in the open. And these aims can be -- and have been -- and are being accomplished regardless of the putative outcome of each particular adventure, whether it is regarded as a victory, a defeat, a "tragic blunder," etc. etc.
This is a point I have been trying to get at, in my cack-handed way, for years. The avowed intentions and the public outcomes of our imperial wars don't really matter -- because these churnings of blood and corruption are really about something else altogether. I was writing about this back in 2004, in a piece that was necessarily Bush-centric in language, given his ascendancy at the time, but still applies to our entire bipartisan imperial system, even -- or rather, especially -- under the progressive Peace-Prizer temporarily wearing the Potomac purple:
The whole [Iraq] adventure has been a win-win scenario for the Bushists from the start, no matter how it ends up. This is what many of the opponents of the war – and even most of its now-fretful supporters – have failed to grasp, because they don't understand what the Bush Family is about.
Put simply, the Bushes represent the confluence of three long-established power factions in the American elite: oil, arms and investments. These groups equate their own interests, their own wealth and privilege, with the interests of the nation – indeed, the world – as a whole. And they pursue these interests with every weapon at their command, including war, torture, deceit and corruption. Democracy means nothing to them – not even in their own country, as we saw in the 2000 election. Laws are just whips to keep the common herd in line; they don't apply to the elite, as Bush's own lawyers have openly asserted in the now-famous memos establishing his "inherent power" as Commander-in-Chief to "set aside the law" and order any crime in the name of his self-proclaimed "war on terror."
The Iraq war has been immensely profitable for these Bushist power factions (and their tributary industries, such as construction); billions of dollars in public money have already poured into their coffers. Halliburton has been catapulted from the edge of bankruptcy to the heights of no-bid, open-ended, guaranteed profit. The Carlyle Group is gorging on war contracts. Individual Bush family members are making out like bandits from war-related investments, while dozens of Bushist minions – like Richard Perle, James Woolsey, and Joe Allbaugh -- have cashed in their insider chips for blood money.
The aftermath of the war promises equal if not greater riches. Even if the new Iraqi government maintains state control of its oil industry, there are still billions to be made in refining, distribution, servicing and security for oilfields and pipelines, as in Saudi Arabia. Likewise, the new Iraqi military and police forces will require billions more in weapons, equipment and training, bought from the U.S. arms industry – and from the fast-expanding "private security" industry, the politically hard-wired mercenary forces that are the power elite's latest lucrative spin-off. And as with Saudi Arabia, oil money from the new Iraq will pump untold billions into American banks and investment houses.
But that's not all. For even in the worst-case scenario, if the Americans had to pull out tomorrow, abandoning everything – their bases, their "commissioners," their contracts, their collaborators – the Bushist factions would still come out ahead. For not only has their already-incalculable wealth been vastly augmented (with any potential losses indemnified by U.S. taxpayers), but their deeply-entrenched sway over American society has also increased by several magnitudes. No matter which party controls the government, the militarization of America is so far gone now it's impossible to imagine any major rollback in the gargantuan U.S. war machine – 725 bases in 132 countries, annual military budgets nearing $500 billion, a planned $1 trillion in new weapons systems already moving through the pipeline. Indeed, Democrat John Kerry promises even bigger war budgets and more troops if elected.
Nor will either party conceivably challenge the dominance of the energy behemoths – or stand against the American public's demand for cheap gas, big vehicles and unlimited consumption of a vast disproportion of the world's oil. As for Wall Street – both parties have long been the eager courtesans of the investment elite, dispatching armies all over the world to protect their financial interests. The power factions whose influence has been so magnified by Bush's war will maintain their supremacy regardless of the electoral outcome. ...
So has Bush's war brought democracy to Iraq? Has it dealt a blow to terrorism? Has it made America – or Israel, or the world – any safer? No. But it was never intended to do those things. All this death and chaos – this mass murder – has had but one aim: enhancing the power of a handful of elites. This criminal mission has been accomplished. And there is not the slightest chance that any of the chief perpetrators will ever face justice.
Now that, my friends, is victory.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 13 July 2010 13:56
Jason Ditz puts this week's horrific bombing in Uganda by Somali extremists in perspective: the perspective of the relentless killing of civilians perpetrated by Western-backed forces in Somalia for years.
The American-led meddling in the ravaged nation has led directly -- and inevitably -- to the rise of extremist militias like al-Shabab, and to the deaths of thousands of innocent people. As we noted here back in 2008:
Somalia is the invisible third front of the Terror War, an American-backed "regime change" operation launched by the invading army of Ethiopia and local warlords in December 2006. In addition to helping arm, fund and train the army of the Ethiopian dictatorship, the United States has intervened directly into the conflict, carrying out bombing raids on fleeing refugees and nomads, firing missiles into villages, sending in death squads to clean up after covert operations, and, as we reported here long ago, assisting in the "rendition" of refugees, including American citizens, into the hands of Ethiopia's notorious torturers.
Together, the American Terror Warriors, the Ethiopians and the [Somali] warlords (some of them directly in the pay of the CIA) have created the worst humanitarian disaster on earth. Thousands have been killed in the fighting. Hundreds of thousands have been driven from their homes ...
The United States is not only backing the Ethiopians and the Somali transitional government (TGF) propped up by the occupation; Washington has also provided "robust financial and logistical support to armed paramilitaries resisting the command and control of the TGF," according to a major new study of the conflict by the human rights organization, Enough. In addition to these freebooters, it turns out that the wide-ranging Somali pirates ... are supported by "backers linked to the Western-backed government" in Mogadishu.
In other words, the United States is sponsoring a hydra-headed conflict that spews fire and destruction in every direction, and is trampling an already ravaged people deeper into the dirt. It is by any measure -- even the mass-murdering standards of our day -- a sickening abomination, a war crime of staggering proportions. Yet it goes on, day after day, without the slightest comment, much less criticism, from the entire bipartisan political establishment, and almost all of the media -- including most of the "dissident" blogosphere. The Somalis are simply non-people, a nation of ghosts, unseen and unseeable. [For more, see Background section below.]
And still it goes on today. The Ethiopians have finally pulled out of Somalia, but as Ditz points out, other Western-backed forces remain:
The world has, far from “ignoring” Somalia, been trying to prop up illegitimate governments there for years, and Uganda has been at the forefront of this, contributing the most troops to the African Unions military adventure into Somalia.
This [week's bomb] attack [in Uganda] did not happen in a vacuum but rather came after repeated threats from the Somali militant faction to “retaliate” against Uganda for its many, many attacks on residential neighborhoods under al-Shabaab’s control.
Though one can not but condemn al-Shabaab for taking out its retaliation on innocent civilians, it is also impossible to notice that the Ugandan troops in Somalia have been doing virtually the same thing, responding to ambushes against them by shelling residential neighborhoods, on a regular basis since the troops got there.
In fact since we’re so keen on the soccer aspect of the killings, let us not forget an incident in mid-January, when AU troops responded to an attack on the presidential palace by al-Shabaab by launching artillery shells at a playground in al-Shabaab-held territory, killing seven children who were playing soccer at the time.
It was shortly after this that al-Shabaab started talking about banning soccer, and while the official line on this is that it proves the group’s extremism the reality is that it largely isn’t safe to play soccer in Somalia not because of al-Shabaab but because Ugandan troops have declared the right to attack any region under “insurgent” control, which considering the self-proclaimed government owns little more than a few city blocks in Mogadishu, puts virtually the entire civilian population of Somalia directly in the line of fire.
Before the American-backed invasion of 2006, Somalia had achieved a precarious but growing level of stability for the first time after many years of anarchy under the violent rule of warlords. But this government was made up of a broad coalition of Islamic groups. And although the coalition, led by moderates, was not remotely as extreme as, say, the sectarians of Saudi Arabia, it was outside the control or clientage of the Potomac Empire, and thus could not be allowed to survive.
And so the CIA's warlords and Washington's Ethiopian proxies went to work. The coalition was destroyed -- and with it the hopes of a moderate, secure, independent Somalia, working out its own destiny, its own path toward development. In the resulting swamp of carnage and suffering, only the extremists were left standing to confront the extreme violence being inflicted by the forces of 'civilization.'
Now the brutal -- and brutalizing -- cycle of violence spins ever more furiously, feeding on its own momentum, lashing out beyond the borders, and creating its own nightmare world where whole generations are being devoured.
As Ditz says, the bombing in Uganda is a contemptible, abominable crime -- as is the killing of all innocent people by the forces of organized violence. But it did not come out of nowhere, it did not spring from some abyss of mysterious, mystical, motiveless evil. It was an entirely rational act within the system adopted -- and imposed -- by the "Great Powers," which holds that the slaughter of innocent people is a perfectly acceptable way to advance your political, economic and ideological agendas.
The United States and Great Britain (among other defenders of civilization) have practiced this for centuries. Yet for centuries, they have always been surprised -- shocked -- outraged -- when the "lesser peoples" follow their example and strike back in like manner. What is high policy for the Great is base terror when employed by the Low.
But as there is absolutely no sign that the Great are about to give up the profitable path of state terror -- quite the opposite! -- we can be assured of many more such "logical" responses from their all-too-apt pupils around the world.
NOTE: In the wake of the Uganda bombing, we will doubtless see and hear more of this kind of thing from the Peace Laureate and his blood-and-iron secretary of state. From August 2009:
[Hillary] Clinton has pledged to double the recently announced supply of American weapons to Somalia's "transitional government" -- a weak reed cobbled together by Western interests from various CIA-paid warlords and other factions, and now headed, ironically, by the former leader of the aforementioned fledgling state overthrown by Washington. (Yes, it is hard to tell the players without a scorecard -- or even with one. But if you follow the weapons and the money, you can usually tell who is temporarily on which side at any given moment.)
Clinton, bellicose as ever, accompanied the shipment of 80 tons of death-dealing hardware with a heavy dose of the wild fearmongering rhetoric we've come to know so well in this New American Century. As AP reports, she declared that the radical faction al-Shabab, now leading the insurgency against the transitional government, has only one goal in mind: bring in al Qaeda and destabilizing the whole entire world.
Yes, dear hearts, once again the survival of the planet -- not to mention the sacred American way of life -- is under imminent threat from a gang of evil maniacs; a threat requiring the urgent enrichment of the U.S. arms industry -- sorry, I mean the urgent intervention of American know-how. For as the history of American foreign policy in the last 60 years has clearly shown us, there has never been an internal conflict in any country of the world that was not actually, deep down, a direct threat to all the sweet American babies sleeping in their cribs.
The interim Somali president, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed -- an Islamist who only a few years ago was considered by Washington as, well, an evil maniac in league with al Qaeda -- agreed with Clinton, saying that al-Shabab aims to "make Somalia a ground to destabilize the whole world." This would be the same al-Shabab that Ahmed has spent most of his presidency trying to negotiate a power-sharing agreement with. (Where's that scorecard again?)
As usual, the AP story buries some of the most blazing, salient facts way down in the uncritical regurgitation of official rhetoric. But credit where it's due, the story does finally note that the new American assistance is not confined to stuff that can kill more Somalis; it also includes - wait for it again -- U.S. military "advisors" to help "train" the forces of the ever-collapsing transitional government.
Clinton also shook a sword at neighboring Eritrea, accusing it of supporting al-Shabab and "interfering" in Somalia's internal affairs. This, while she was announcing the delivery of 80 tons of American weapons to be poured into Somalia's internal affairs. This line is of course just an echo of the continual Bush-Obama warnings against "foreigners" interfering in Iraq. The gall of these gilded poltroons -- denouncing foreign interference while standing on mountains of corpses produced by the endless American "interference" in other countries -- is truly sublime. Clinton said that if Eritrea doesn't start toeing the imperial line, "we intend to take actions." (All you future Gold Star mothers and war widows out there better get out your atlases: your loved ones could soon be dying in yet another part of the world you never heard of.)
What will be the effect of this new "humanitarian intervention" of weapons and advisers? Same as it ever was: more death, more ruin, more suffering, more extremism, more hatred, more sorrow -- and more money for the war profiteers. That is the point, isn't it?
ANOTHER NOTE: For more on the direct American involvement in the dismemberment of Somalia, here's a snippet from 2007:
Kill Anyone Still Alive': American Special Ops in Somalia
How many people did American forces actually kill when they attacked refugees fleeing from the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia last January? We know from reports by Oxfam, the Guardian, the Associated Press and Reuters that dozens of innocent civilians were slaughtered near the Kenyan border, including villagers and nomadic tribesmen hit by American gunships seeking to kill alleged al Qaeda operatives who may or may not have been among the refugees. But a new story in Esquire magazine — detailing the creation of America's most recent military satrapy, the Africa Command — provides disturbing indications that the post-invasion killing by American operatives in Somalia was far more extensive — and deliberate — than previously known. [Extensive background on the war in Somalia can be found here.]
The Esquire piece, by Thomas Barnett, is a mostly glowing portrait of the Africa Command, which, we are told, is designed to wed military, diplomatic, and development prowess in a seamless package, a whole new way of projecting American power: "pre-emptive nation-building instead of pre-emptive regime change," or as Barnett describes it at another point, "Iraq done right." Although Barnett's glib, jargony, insider piece — told entirely from the point of view of U.S. military officials — does contain bits of critical analysis, it is in no way an expose. The new details he presents on the post-invasion slaughter are thus even more chilling, as they are offered simply as an acceptable, ordinary aspect of this laudable new enterprise.
Barnett reveals that the gunship attacks on refugees were just the first part of the secret U.S. mission that was "Africa Command's" debut on the imperial stage. Soon after the attacks, "Task Force 88, a very secret American special-operations unit," was helicoptered into the strike area. As Barnett puts it: "The 88's job was simple: Kill anyone still alive and leave no unidentified bodies behind."
Some 70,000 people fled their homes in the first wave of the Ethiopian invasion. (More than 400,000 fled the brutal consolidation of the invasion in Mogadishu last spring.) Tens of thousands of these initial refugees headed toward the Kenyan border, where the American gunships struck. When the secret operation was leaked, Bush Administration officials said that American planes were trying to hit three alleged al Qaeda operatives who had allegedly been given sanctuary by the Islamic Councils government decapitated by the Ethiopians. But Barnett's insiders told him that the actual plan was to wipe out thousands of "foreign fighters" whom Pentagon officials believed had joined the Islamic Courts forces. "Honestly, nobody had any idea just how many there really were," Barnett was told. "But we wanted to get them all."
Thus the Kenyan border area — where tens of thousands of civilians were fleeing — was meant to be "a killing zone," Barnett writes:
America's first AC-130 gunship went wheels-up on January 7 from that secret Ethiopian airstrip. After each strike, anybody left alive was to be wiped out by successive waves of Ethiopian commandos and Task Force 88, operating out of Manda Bay. The plan was to rinse and repeat 'until no more bad guys, as one officer put it.
At this point, Barnett — or his sources — turn coy .. So there is no way of knowing at this point how many survivors of the American attacks were then killed by the "very special secret special-operations unit," or how many "rinse-and-repeat" cycles the "88s" were able to carry out in what Barnett called "a good plan."
Nor do we know just who the "88s" killed. As noted, the vast majority of refugees were civilians, just as the majority of the victims killed by the American gunship raids were civilians. Did the "88s" move in on the nomadic tribesmen decimated by the air attack and "kill everyone still alive"? Or did they restrict themselves to killing any non-Somalis they found among the refugees?
And even then, three years ago, it was easy to see the outcome of these murderous policies. From that same 2007 piece:
No doubt, the brutal destruction of the broad-based Courts government — which had brought Somalia its first measure of stability in more than 15 years of violent anarchy — will in fact spur the rise of al Qaeda-related groups in Somalia, feeding on the chaos and despair engendered by the Bush-backed invasion. Thus, American forces will always have a handy excuse for striking Somalia whenever they please, as they strive to "project dominance" over Africa.
BACKGROUND: For more on Somalia, see:
Pirates of the Horn: U.S. Backs Reign of Crime and Death in Somalia
Work of Evil: Beyond the Worst-Case Scenario in Somalia
Willing Executioners: America's Bipartisan Atrocity Deepens in Somalia
Alliance With Atrocity: Bush's Terror War Partners in Ethiopia
Black Hawk Rising: CIA Warlords Take Control in Mogadishu
Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 09 July 2010 12:10
Imagine how great the "progressive" furor would be if the Bush Administration had suddenly denied a visa to an award-winning Colombian journalist because of his reportage on human rights abuses by his American-backed government.
Would we not have heard, rightly, how this draconian action exemplified the administration's tyrannical nature, its use of raw, arbitrary power to throttle any voices trying to shed light on the very murky corners of the Drug War and Terror War operations in Colombia that are armed and funded with billions of dollars from American taxpayers?
Would this not have been added to a long train of similar abuses of power – arbitrary confinement and indefinite detention; concentration camps; shielding torturers; escalating pointless wars and killing countless civilians; running secret armies, assassins and covert operations throughout the world, etc. – and served up as a damning indictment of a lawless regime?
So now let us see what our leading progressive lights have to say about the case of Hollman Morris, “a prominent Colombian journalist who specializes in conflict and human rights reporting,” who has just been denied a visa by the Obama Administration, preventing him from taking up a fellowship at Harvard University, as AP reports.
Morris – who “produces an independent TV news program called "Contravia," [that] has been highly critical of ties between illegal far-right militias and allies of outgoing President Alvaro Uribe, Washington's closest ally in Latin America" – has been to the United States many times before. In fact, he was free to enter the country under the loathed Bush Administration. But now, in our bright and glorious progressive era, he has suddenly – dare we say arbitrarily – been declared “permanently ineligible for a visa under the ‘Terrorist activities’ section of the USA Patriot Act,” AP reports.
What are Morris’ crimes? Well, the American-trained Colombian security organs declared that the reporter had exhibited "opposition tendencies to government policies." God knows that kind of thing can’t be allowed in any colony – sorry, client state – sorry, sovereign ally of the United States. And so they put him under surveillance – years ago. He also – horrors – acted as a go-between Colombian rebels and French diplomats trying to free Ingrid Betancourt, who had been held hostage for years. All of this pre-dates the current administration.
Of course, as we all know, the Supreme Court has now accepted the Obama Administration’s earnest argument that anyone who tries to do anything that might lead to the peaceful resolution of any situation that might possibly involve a group that has been arbitrarily declared a “terrorist organization” by His Potomac Majesty is, perforce, also a terrorist, and thus unfit to pass the gates of God’s shining city on the hill.
We realize, of course, that Morris’ case – and the whole bill of indictment cited above, wherein Obama has continued and often expanded the crimeful policies of his predecessor – is not nearly as important as, say, a progressive blogger temporarily being denied access to witless talking heads shows on a corporate TV network. That, as they say, is some serious shit. Still, we wait with trembly anticipation the coming firestorm of righteous progressive anger that will, no doubt, soon engulf the Obama Administration for its repressive, Bush-like handling of Morris. You know it’s coming. Any minute now. Just you wait and see.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 06 July 2010 19:11
As Arthur Silber pointed out so ably the other day, the high and horrendous crimes that the world's governments will openly commit -- and admit to, if not brag about -- in their push for loot and power are by no means the full record of their depredations. This is, as Silber rightly says, "an absolute certainty given the testimony of history." Indeed. For while we look on, shocked and awed, at the public parade of horrors rolling by each day, there are foul deeds afoot which will only come to light -- in dribs and drabs, in shards and splinters --after many decades. (And of course this does not include the countless crimes of elitist power that will never surface, that lie forever buried and rotting with their victims.)
One such crime -- oh, just a minor one, just the murder of one man; hardly worth mentioning, really -- came bobbing up from the fetid depths of history just the other day. It surfaced on a sliver of tape released from that endless, ever-gushing fountain of state crime and folly: the Nixon tapes. As Gore Vidal once noted: "Where Kennedy never forgot that he was being recorded, Nixon seems never to have remembered ... Despite intermittent political skills, Nixon seems, on the evidence of the tapes, to have had no conscious mind. He is all flowing unconscious." Crimes, slurs, wild hairs, flaming bigotry and galloping anxiety -- all have come tumbling out over the years from the taped trove of the jowl-quivering figure whose closest, most loyal apparatchik, Bob Haldeman, once called "the weirdest man ever to live in the White House."
But the latest revelation involves no choice Nixonian weirdness; on the contrary. It is simply the record of two of the highest officials of the American republic sharing a hearty, manly joke about a foreign official they have had assassinated. As Jeff Stein reports on his Washington Post blog:
President Richard M. Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry A. Kissinger, joked that an “incompetent” CIA had struggled to successfully carry out an assassination in Chile, newly available Oval Office tapes reveal. At the time, in 1971, Nixon and Kissinger were working to undermine the socialist administration of Chilean President Salvador Allende, who would die during a U.S.-backed military coup two years later. One of the key figures to stand in the way of Chilean generals plotting to overthrow Allende was the Chilean army commander-in-chief, Rene Schneider, who was killed during a botched kidnapping attempt by military right-wingers in 1970.
As Stein puts it, rather demurely, the CIA's role in Schneider's killing has been "disputed" for decades. But the newly released tape nails the case as solidly as it can be in the murky machinations of power. Nixon and Kissinger are discussing the murder of a right-wing Chilean politician; a killing that some had blamed on the CIA. This Socratic dialogue followed:
Kissinger: They’re blaming the CIA.
Nixon: Why the hell would we assassinate him?
Kissinger: Well, a) we couldn’t. We’re—
Kissinger: CIA’s too incompetent to do it. You remember—
Nixon: Sure, but that’s the best thing. [Unclear].
Kissinger: —when they did try to assassinate somebody, it took three attempts—
Kissinger: —and he lived for three weeks afterwards.
Stein quotes historians who note that this perfectly fits the circumstances of Schneider's death:
"Two Chilean groups, both with ties to the CIA, carried out three attempts to kidnap the general, and on the third attempt shot him. He languished for three days (not three weeks) before dying on October 22, 1970,” [said John] Dinges, [author of two books on Chilean history of the period.] "Kissinger’s denial, in his book and in statements to Congress, alleges that the CIA had broken off contact with the group before it carried out the third and successful attempt against the general. The clear language of Kissinger’s remarks to Nixon, and Nixon’s affirmation of his comments, is that the assassination-kidnapping was a CIA operation."
Naturally, the CIA denied that the tapes proved -- or even suggested -- anything untoward in the operations of the drug-running, death-squadding, torture-inflicting, coup-throwing agency of professional liars and covert operators:
"This incident from October 1970 -- almost 40 years ago -- has been, as I understand it, thoroughly dissected, examined, and investigated," said [CIA spokesman Paul] Gimigilano. "And now, based on someone’s interpretation of part of a conversation, it’s time for a completely different conclusion? Give me a break."
I totally agree. I think we should give Mr. Gimigilano a break. How about, oh, two to five years in a minimum security prison for his active association with a criminal organization? That would give him an ample period of reflection in which to thoroughly dissect, examine and investigate the poisonous, soul-killing equivocations and rationalizations of evil that are the daily meat and drink of any mouthpiece for the CIA.
But of course there will be no charges -- not for small fry like Mr. Gimigilano, and certainly not for the big fish at the top, whose head-rot has spread throughout American society. Although the worms have long since finished with Nixon's corpse, he went to his grave as a "rehabilitated" and honored "elder statesman." Henry Kissinger is still among us, still doling out counsel, publicly and privately, to our rulers -- and still lying every inch of the way to his own impending worm encounter about the many crimes of his past. From unleashing genocidal hell on Cambodia to helping guide the Bush Regime in its machinations for aggressive war on Iraq -- via such blood-soaked way stations as East Timor and the covert killing fields of Latin America -- Kissinger has been an instrumental accomplice in the murder of hundreds of thousands of human beings. [For just a few examples, see here, here, here, and here.]
But it doesn't matter. And Kissinger knows it. This latest revelation will produce not the slightest ripple of discomfort for this "elder statesman." It did not even make the news pages of the Post, or any other paper. Just a passing notice on a blog. This is not surprising, of course. Just a few months ago, in April, yet another shard of ancient evil slipped out: more confirmation of Kissinger's acquiescence in a "targeted assassination" carried out by foreign power on American soil: the infamous murder of former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier and an American colleague, Ronni Karpen Moffitt, on the very streets of Washington D.C. in 1976. The car-bombing was carried out by agents of America's staunch ally, mass-murdering Chilean tyrant Augusto Pinochet. Kissinger spent decades furiously spinning away his complicity. But as I noted here in April:
Poor old Henry Kissinger. All that botheration, all those lies, all the years of gut-churning anxiety about scandal, even prosecution -- and for what? Mere complicity in state murder of foreigners carried out by a foreign government? Why, nowadays, we have U.S. presidents openly ordering the murder of American citizens, and nobody bats an eye. There is no scandal, no prosecution -- there is not even any debate. It's just a fact of life, ordinary, normal, unchangeable: the sun rises in the east, cows eat grass, rain is wet, American presidents murder people. What's the big deal?
Yes, we've come a long way since those bad old days of weird old Nixon. He and Super K had to skulk around, straining to swathe their crimes in clouds of misdirection, implication and winking allusion. Now we have, as Silber aptly puts it in another recent essay, "evil in broad daylight": state murder on tap, cheery admissions of death squads and secret armies operating in 75 countries, free passes for torturers, indefinite detention championed by "progressives," and the bipartisan, widespread, institutional acceptance of Nixon's own pernicious doctrine: "If the president does it, that means it's legal."
So who cares if the American president and his minions ordered the murder of Rene Schneider almost 40 years ago because he tried to defend the democratic system of his country? Who cares if this murder helped pave the way to mass butchery and repression under an American-backed dictator? Who cares if this kind of moral rot is now accepted as normal, even praiseworthy, by the entire American establishment? Who cares if it has led us to a place where a Nobel Peace Prize laureate can order the murder of his own citizens without charges, trial or evidence, while killing multitudes of innocent foreigners each year with drones, with bombs, with midnight raids?
Who cares? Look around you. Look at the news. Look at our politics. Look at our leaders. Look at our culture. Look at our people. What is the answer to the question?
That's right. No one. No one cares.
Keep laughing, Tricky Dick, down there with the worms. The joke is on us.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 06 July 2010 09:58
William Dalrymple is one of the knowledgeable and experienced observers of Central Asia and India in the West. His insights are always valuable, and usually prescient, especially on the greatly variegated complexities -- social, economic, cultural, political, historical -- of the volatile region, where the American imperial impulse is now coming to grief in arrogance and ignorance ... as so many others have done before it.
In a New Statesman article rich with historical detail and direct reportage from the frontlines of "Af-Pak" front of the bipartisan Terror War, Dalrymple brings fresh confirmation of what everyone but the moronic masters of war along the Potomac knows: the war in Afghanistan is lost, and all the vaunted "surges" of the drone-firing Peace Laureate and his various COIN-operated commanders are only prolonging the pointless agony -- and building up a tsunami of horrific blowback.
Here are some extensive excerpts -- but they are only a few highlights. The whole piece well repays a full reading.
In1843, shortly after his return from Afghanistan, an army chaplain, Reverend G R Gleig, wrote a memoir about the First Anglo-Afghan War, of which he was one of the very few survivors. It was, he wrote, "a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which directed, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, has Britain acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated."
As Dalrymple notes, the 1842 British "regime change" intervention in Afghanistan was:
arguably the greatest military humiliation ever suffered by the west in the Middle East: an entire army of what was then the most powerful military nation in the world utterly routed and destroyed by poorly equipped tribesmen, at the cost of £15m (well over £1bn in modern currency) and more than 40,000 lives. But nearly ten years on from Nato's invasion of Afghanistan, there are increasing signs that Britain's fourth war in the country could end with as few political gains as the first three and, like them, terminate in an embarrassing withdrawal after a humiliating defeat, with Afghanistan yet again left in tribal chaos and quite possibly ruled by the same government that the war was launched to overthrow....
Embarrassing withdrawal after humiliating defeat is almost certainly the fate awaiting this latest Anglo-American imperial folly. The facts on the ground are mounting up, Ossa-like:
The Taliban have now advanced out of their borderland safe havens to the very gates of Kabul and are surrounding the capital, much as the US-backed mujahedin once did to the Soviet-installed regime in the late 1980s. Like a rerun of an old movie, all journeys by non-Afghans out of the capital are once again confined largely to tanks, military convoys and helicopters. The Taliban already control more than 70 per cent of the country, where they collect taxes, enforce the sharia and dispense their usual rough justice. Every month, their sphere of influence increases. According to a recent Pentagon report, Karzai's government has control of only 29 out of 121 key strategic districts. ... Already, despite the presence of huge numbers of foreign troops, it is now impossible - or at least extremely foolhardy - for any westerner to walk around the capital, Kabul, without armed guards; it is even more inadvisable to head out of town in any direction except north: the strongly anti-Taliban Panjshir Valley, along with the towns of Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat, are the only safe havens left for westerners in the entire country. In all other directions, travel is possible only in an armed convoy.
Dalrymple also writes chillingly of
... the blowback that is today destabilising Pakistan and the tribal territories of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). Here the Pakistani Taliban are once more on the march, rebuilding their presence in Swat, and are now surrounding Peshawar, which is almost daily being rocked by bombs, while outlying groups of Taliban are again spreading their influence into the valleys leading towards Islamabad. ...
The Fata, it is true, have never been fully under the control of any Pakistani government, and have always been unruly, but the region has been radicalised as never before by the rain of shells and cluster bombs that have caused huge civilian casualties and daily add a stream of angry foot soldiers to the insurgency. Elsewhere in Pakistan, anti-western religious and political extremism continues to flourish, as ever larger numbers of ordinary Pakistanis are driven to fight by corruption, predatory politics and the abuse of power by Pakistan's feudal elite, as well as the military aggression of the drones. Indeed, the ripples of instability lapping out from Afghanistan and Pakistan have reached even New York. When CIA interrogators asked Faisal Shahzad why he tried to let off a car bomb last month in Times Square, he told them of his desire to avenge those "innocent people being hit by drones from above".
Dalrymple gets to the heart of the ignorance and arrogance that sustains the ever-more brutal and brutalizing conflict:
The reality of our present Afghan entanglement is that we took sides in a complex civil war, which has been running since the 1970s, siding with the north against the south, town against country, secularism against Islam, and the Tajiks against the Pashtuns. We have installed a government, and trained up an army, both of which in many ways have discriminated against the Pashtun majority, and whose top-down, highly centralised constitution allows for remarkably little federalism or regional representation. However much western liberals may dislike the Taliban - and they have very good reason for doing so - the truth remains that they are in many ways the authentic voice of rural Pashtun conservatism, whose views and wishes are ignored by the government in Kabul and who are still largely excluded from power. It is hardly surprising that the Pashtuns are determined to resist the regime and that the insurgency is widely supported, especially in the Pashtun heartlands of the south and east.
These observations are underlined by a harrowing trip Dalrymple takes trying to retrace the steps of that British retreat in 1842. For security, he travels with the forces of "a regional tribal leader who was also a minister in Karzai's government. He is a mountain of a man named Anwar Khan Jegdalek, a former village wrestling champion who made his name as a Hezb-e-Islami mujahedin commander in the jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s."
During lunch, as my hosts casually pointed out the various places in the village where the British had been massacred in 1842, I asked them if they saw any parallels between that war and the present situation. "It is exactly the same," said Anwar Khan Jegdalek. "Both times the foreigners have come for their own interests, not for ours. They say, 'We are your friends, we want democracy, we want to help.' But they are lying."
...“Afghanistan is like the crossroads for every nation that comes to power," [said] Jegdalek. "But we do not have the strength to control our own destiny - our fate is always determined by our neighbours. Next, it will be China. This is the last days of the Americans."...
The trip also points out one of the main factors inflicting a long and agonizing defeat on the Western coalition: the inherent, inescapable corruption and murder that are the inevitable products of any enforced military occupation:
As Predator drones took off and landed incessantly at the nearby airfield, the elders related how the previous year government troops had turned up to destroy the opium harvest. The troops promised the villagers full compensation, and were allowed to burn the crops; but the money never turned up. Before the planting season, the villagers again went to Jalalabad and asked the government if they could be provided with assistance to grow other crops. Promises were made; again nothing was delivered. They planted poppy, informing the local authorities that if they again tried to burn the crop, the village would have no option but to resist. When the troops turned up, about the same time as we were arriving at nearby Jegdalek, the villagers were waiting for them, and had called in the local Taliban to assist.
...One of the tribal elders came over and we chatted for a while over a glass of green tea. "Last month," he said, "some American officers called us to a hotel in Jalalabad for a meeting. One of them asked me, 'Why do you hate us?' I replied, 'Because you blow down our doors, enter our houses, pull our women by the hair and kick our children. We cannot accept this. We will fight back, and we will break your teeth, and when your teeth are broken you will leave, just as the British left before you. It is just a matter of time.'"
What did he say to that? “He turned to his friend and said, 'If the old men are like this, what will the younger ones be like?' In truth, all the Americans here know that their game is over. It is just their politicians who deny this." ...
The catalogue of brutal stupidities and rampant corruption goes on:
Now as then [in 1842], the problem is not hatred of the west, so much as a dislike of foreign troops swaggering around and making themselves odious to the very people they are meant to be helping. On the return journey, as we crawled back up the passes towards Kabul, we got stuck behind a US military convoy of eight Humvees and two armoured personnel carriers in full camouflage, all travelling at less than 20 miles per hour. Despite the slow speed, the troops refused to let any Afghan drivers overtake them, for fear of suicide bombers, and they fired warning shots at any who attempted to do so. By the time we reached the top of the pass two hours later, there were 300 cars and trucks backed up behind the convoy, each one full of Afghans furious at being ordered around in their own country by a group of foreigners. Every day, small incidents of arrogance and insensitivity such as this make the anger grow. ...
...Now as then, there have been few tangible signs of improvement under the western-backed regime. Despite the US pouring approximately $80bn into Afghanistan, the roads in Kabul are still more rutted than those in the smallest provincial towns of Pakistan. There is little health care; for any severe medical condition, patients still have to fly to India. A quarter of all teachers in Afghanistan are themselves illiterate. In many areas, district governance is almost non-existent: half the governors do not have an office, more than half have no electricity, and most receive only $6 a month in expenses. Civil servants lack the most basic education and skills.
This is largely because $76.5bn of the $80bn committed to the country has been spent on military and security, and most of the remaining $3.5bn on international consultants, some of whom are paid in excess of $1,000 a day, according to an Afghan government report. This, in turn, has had other negative effects. As in 1842, the presence of large numbers of well-paid foreign troops has caused the cost of food and provisions to rise, and living standards to fall. The Afghans feel they are getting poorer, not richer.
It is all most strange -- and terrible. Not only are the Potomac poltroons (and their British camp followers) unable to grasp the myriad complexities of the situation; they can't see the simple truth underlying their predicament either: i.e., you can't invade a country, kill the people, despoil their land, degrade their lives, and then expect them to support your domination. Only a lunatic would believe such a thing. But then, as you may have already noticed, the lunatics have long been in charge of the imperial asylum.
Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 02 July 2010 13:55
"The world continues to offer glittering prizes to those who have stout hearts and sharp swords." -- F.E. Smith, Earl of Birkenhead
Another day, another glittering prize for one of the great war criminals of our day. We speak of course of that tanned and gurning jackanapes, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.
It was announced this week that Blair would be receiving a great big bushel basket of simoleons -- a hundred thousand of them -- from some U.S. outfit called The National Constitution Center. It seems the sinister twit has been awarded the Center's "Liberty Medal" for, among other things, his "steadfast efforts to broker peace" in the Middle East, as the BBC reports.
This is of course most appropriate; for there are currently in excess of one million human beings enjoying eternal peace thanks to the war of aggression that Blair was instrumental in unleashing against Iraq. Oddly enough, just as the Liberty award was being announced, the Chilcot Inquiry into the war's origins was disgorging even more confirmation of Blair's adamant determination to march "shoulder to shoulder" with George W. Bush into the annals of Nurembergian perfidy.
As the Independent reports, new documents show how Blair was told -- repeatedly -- by his Attorney General that the planned attack on Iraq would be illegal. The legal chief, Peter Goldsmith, insisted on this position -- despite Blair's growing impatience -- until almost the last moment. As is well known, Goldsmith had a confab with the gilded thugs of Bush's war council, and suddenly reversed his long-held, closely-argued, legally detailed objections to the attack. One can only suppose that Blair and the Bushists "made him an offer he couldn't refuse." From the Independent:
The drafts of legal advice and letters sent to the Prime Minister by Lord Goldsmith had been kept secret despite repeated calls for them to be published. Yesterday they were released by the Chilcot Inquiry into the war, after the head of the Civil Service, Sir Gus O'Donnell, stated that the "long-standing convention" for such documents to be kept confidential had to be waived because the issue of the legality of the Iraq war had a "unique status".
...Tony Blair appeared to show his irritation with the warnings over military actions [from Goldsmith], saying in a handwritten note: "I just do not understand this." In another note, a Downing Street aide said: "We do not need further advice on this matter."
In the documents released yesterday, Lord Goldsmith repeatedly stated that an invasion without a fresh UN resolution would be illegal, and warned against using Saddam Hussein's supposed WMD (weapons of mass destruction) as a reason for attack.
In January 2003 Mr Blair met President Bush at the White House. The Prime Minister's foreign policy adviser, Sir David Manning, wrote a memo paraphrasing Mr Bush's comments at the meeting as: "The start date for the military campaign was now pencilled for 10th March. This was when the bombing would begin."
In a letter to Mr Blair dated 30 January 2003, after the UN had passed another resolution on Iraq, 1441, Lord Goldsmith wrote: "In view of your meeting with President Bush on Friday, I thought you might wish to know whether a further decision of the Security Council is legally required in order to authorise the use of force against Iraq." The letter marked "secret" continued: "I remain of the view that the correct legal interpretation of Resolution 1441 is that it does not authorise the use of military force without a further determination by the Security Council."
The story details the legal chapter-and-verse behind Goldsmith's conclusions, which only grew stronger as the pre-planned invasion grew nearer. In the end, Goldsmith bowed to the will of raw power, remained in his richly robed office until Blair resigned, and now reaps his monetary reward as a top corporate litigator for a New York law firm.
Meanwhile, his blood-caked boss continues to rake in the moolah his own self. He gobbles down millions every year from "advising" JP Morgan and Zurich Financial Services, from the usual exorbitant fees that our modern war criminals command on the rubber chicken circuit, and from the usual backroom grease racket that our great and good set up to milk their connections after leaving office. ("Tony Blair Associates" -- you know, like "Kissinger Associates.")
Blair has also been wadding his trousers with loot from UI Energy, a South Korean oil firm seeking to suck up some of the Iraqi oil that Blair helped "liberate" for corporate exploitation. Oh yes, and for the last three years, he has also been drawing a regular check from the Kuwaiti royal family. And what is the royal hireling doing to earn this crust? Why, he's earnestly "producing a general report on the oil state's future over the next 30 years, at a reported £1m fee," the Guardian reports.
Blair will receive his Liberty Prize from one of his great mentors and partners in international war crime. No, not George W. Bush -- Bill Clinton, who is chairman of the National Constitution Center. After all, it was Clinton and Blair who pioneered the technique -- later perfected by Blair and Bush -- of bypassing the UN and unilaterally attacking a country, under false pretenses, that had not attacked them. And of course, after taking office in 1997, Blair stood shoulder to shoulder with Clinton in strangling the ordinary people of Iraq with a sanctions regime that killed -- at the barest minimum -- more than half a million innocent children. (Not to mention the innocent adults who died from the blockade.)
So what a joyous occasion it will be, when these two giants of international statesmanship meet on the podium in Philadelphia -- the city of brotherly love -- to celebrate a partnership, nay, a special relationship, that has left such an indelible mark on the world. It will surely be an inspiring occasion -- as long as they don't choke on the viscera dribbling from their lips as they utter their self-praising pieties.
Or to put it another way, as I did in an earlier report on the Chilcot panel:
O that the universe was not cold and indifferent, with no avenging furies to drive these bloodstained, sanctimonious wretches into soul-rending storms of madness and remorse. But there is not even an earthly venue where the scurrying servitors of power can receive even a modicum of justice. All we have are a few locked-down, buttoned-up, quasi-secret panels of worthies here and there now and then, to cause, at most, a moment or two of embarrassment before the servitors walk free to line their pockets and heap themselves with honors. Their only punishment, I suppose, must be to be what they are: the stunted, deadened husks of a full humanity which they have lost and will never recover.
Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 01 July 2010 17:04
"In [the country] right now there is a military-business regime, with a little bit of democratic makeup."
This sounds like an excellent -- indeed, near-perfect -- description of the true state of the United States in these degraded days of ours. While the sinister comic opera of factional in-fighting amongst the elite provides an increasingly thin and cracked patina of democracy, the militarist-corporatist machines continue their ravenous devouring of the fat of the land and the flesh of the weak.
But, as it happens, the quote comes not from an observer of the American scene, but from a Honduran activist -- one of many trying to fight off the depredations being visited upon their land by the repressive, coup-born regime now backed to the hilt by the progressive champion of human rights and world peace in the White House.
Joseph Huff-Hannon tells the story in the Guardian:
The National Front of Popular Resistance, a coalition of hundreds of diverse civil society groups, was born out of last year's coup d'état – when the military kidnapped then president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales [whose heinous crimes included raising the pitiable minimum wage to a slightly less pitiable level], and forcibly exiled him and his family from the country. The rupture of the constitutional order in Honduras, Latin America's first and only 21st century coup, unleashed a violent campaign of repression across the country under the coup government of Roberto Micheletti. That wave of violence and generalised impunity, largely directed against opponents of the coup regime, continues to this day under the government of president Porfirio Lobo, elected last November while the country was under a state of siege, in an election to which the UN and the OAS didn't even bother to send observers, and which a plurality of Latin American governments have refused to acknowledge.
"In Honduras right now there is a military-business regime, with a little bit of democratic makeup," Gerardo Torres, a Honduran activist visiting the United States Social Forum last week, told me. "But what people need to know is that more assassinations are happening now during the 'democratic' rule of President Lobo than during the era of Micheletti. When Micheletti ran the coup government, killings of students or resistance members were at least controversial, they made the international news. But the international news media has moved on – which is sad since now they're killing journalists."
Indeed, in 2010 at least eight journalists have been killed in mysterious circumstances in Honduras, all of them critics of the coup and/or of powerful business interests in the country. None of those murders have been solved ... Dozens of anti-coup activists, members of the National Resistance Front, and union activists have also been murdered in the last year, often in broad daylight by men wearing masks or dressed in fatigues. The era of the death squad, that ignominious feature of Latin American state terrorism of the 70s and the 80s, appears to have made a come back in Honduras.
Yes, Barack Obama's famed "continuity" with his predecessors goes far beyond his avid, almost erotic embrace of George W. Bush's Terror War atrocities (foreign and domestic). In Latin America, it goes back to the glory days of Ronald Reagan, when American-backed, American-trained death squads and military juntas slaughtered thousands of people and stripped their people to the bone with the scorched-earth economics of oligarchy. (An ancient, barbaric system now being energetically imposed throughout the "developed" world, under the cover of "deficit reduction.") But of course, Reagan himself was standing on the shoulders of giants when it came to his Latin America policies, simply soldiering on in the proud tradition of Franklin and Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, James K. Polk and other paragons now chiseled in history's alabaster.
When the coup struck, the Obama Administration, in a passing nod to the progressive peanut gallery, made a few disapproving noises, and even went so far as to suspend overt military aid for awhile. But after the coupsters rigged up its Potemkin election, it was back to business as usual for the avatars of hope and change:
[S]adly, but predictably, the US appears to have sided with the death squads. "Now it's time for the hemisphere as a whole to move forward and welcome Honduras back into the inter-American community," the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said earlier this month, imploring other members of the Organisation of American States to re-admit Honduras to the organisation.
And while hypocrisy in foreign policy is hardly news, it's worth noting here that the US state department released a harshly worded statement earlier this month chastising the Venezuelan government's "continuing assault on the freedom of the press" following that country's issuance of an arrest warrant for a media tycoon. A week later, with no fanfare and not a word about press freedoms, the US resumed military aid to the pariah government of Honduras.
That aid will doubtless come in handy as the new, Obama-backed death squads face down a burgeoning resistance, which has moved beyond the single issue of Zelaya's overthrow:
"A lot of people can't quite understand a movement that doesn't revolve around a caudillo," Gerardo tells me. "This resistance movement is wide and complex. We have feminists working with Christian activists, who are working with labour activists. Zelaya is important, but the popular movement more so. And we think the repression has built up because those who have always run the country are scared, and this is their desperate response. Them with their arms, us with our ideas."
Desperate they may be; but with the full-throated support of the world-straddling military-business regime to the north, and its hoary tradition of throttling any ideas that might threaten the feudal privileges of oligarchy, the Honduran coup caudillos will likely have a good, long -- and bloody -- run.
Written by Chris Floyd
Saturday, 26 June 2010 23:19
One of the most significant developments in the modern world -- history may find it to be a decisive one -- has been the deliberate cultivation of religious extremism by ruling elites trying to sustain and expand their power.
The rise of virulent extremism in almost every major religion -- Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism -- has many other causes, of course. Chief among these is the turbulent encounter between modernity and tradition, a confrontation that has played out -- and is playing out -- in so many different ways both within and across various cultures.
Modernity encompasses not only the technologies and techniques of capitalism that in its many guises (including state capitalism) has plowed up so much ancient ground and overturned so many ancient certainties, but also the historic development of ideas and ideals based, ultimately, on the notion of the inherent (even inalienable) autonomy and worth of the individual. These ideas too have found expression in myriad -- and often conflicting -- forms. And of course, there has never been and can never be any kind of clear dividing line between all of these swirling currents, the multifaceted dimensions of modernity and tradition; like a jar of colored sands, they mix and meld in innumerable, unstable combinations as they are sifted and shaken through the course of time.
So it would be wrong to say that the rise of sectarian zeal can be ascribed solely to its manipulation by elites. But it would be equally wrong -- and dangerously blind -- to deny the fact of these manipulations, or to minimize in any way the pernicious, atrocious effect they have had -- and are having -- on human existence. They have placed a deep -- and entirely unnecessary -- shadow over humanity for generations: a shadow that only gets darker, and more poisonous, as time goes on.
For the last 50 years, in country after country, ruling elites -- those factions which hold a disproportionate and thus illegitimate sway over society -- have fostered the growth of religious extremism for two main reasons: to distract the populace from the way their lives are unjustly diminished by the elitist agenda -- and to throttle and demonize any popular movement that might threaten the elite's hegemony.
This happened throughout the Middle East, for example, as tyrants of every stripe (often clients of the West) turned to hitherto marginal fundamentalist religious groups to dilute and drive back secular challenges to their rule. These challenges were often, although not always, led by movements that could be characterized as "leftist" to one degree or another. (Although it is also true that any challenge whatsoever to elite rule is almost always categorized as some kind of dangerous, revolutionary "leftism," even if it has little or no socialist content at all -- and even if it is entirely non-violent, or gradualist, or merely mildly reformist.) Usually with Western help, the tyrants cultivated religious extremists both as shock troops and cultural warriors to attack and divide any opposition. As the London Review of Books noted recently (in a piece highlighted this weekend by As'ad AbuKhalil):
The Islamisation of Egyptian society deepened after the 1967 war; it became explicit government policy under Sadat, the self-styled ‘believer president’ who supported radical Islamists in his battles with the left, and who made the sharia ‘the principal source’ of law in 1980 – a year before his assassination by an Islamist. Under Mubarak, praying has become as popular as shopping or football and now serves a roughly similar function as a distraction from the innumerable frustrations of Egyptian life. Indeed, Islam as observed by Egyptians is increasingly an Islam that caters to consumerist needs. The popular televangelist Amr Khaled mixes Quranic citations with boosterish advice of a more general kind. This variety of Islam is no threat to the regime, but it has made life far less easy-going. ‘My neighbour used to water his plants in his pyjamas on the balcony, where he’d be joined by his wife in her nightie,’ a friend tells me. ‘They’d drink beer in the open, and then he’d go downstairs for the sunset prayers in the local mosque. Today he’d be killed for this, but at the time he would have seen no contradiction.’
Over the past half century, this same dynamic has played out in various ways, and to various degrees, in countries all over the world. It has happened in Iran, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Yugoslavia (Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo), and many others. It is happening at an astonishingly accelerated rate today in Israel, which has become by far the most religiously and ethnically intolerant of any nation considered part of "the West." And it is most palpably happening on many levels in the United States, as Chris Hedges and many others have documented.
In most cases, this dynamic involves a strong fusion of religious extremism with a strident, exclusionary nationalism. Indeed, religious nationalism is one of the hallmarks of our age. At various times, and in various quarters, one element -- the religious or the nationalist -- might predominate over the other. We can see this in, say, the Tea Party movement, where exclusionary nationalism -- the self-defined "Real Americans" vs. the strange, traitorous Others -- is now in ascendance, occluding somewhat the sex-obsessed, church-based "Focus on the Family"-style religious nationalism that was somewhat more prevalent earlier in the decade. The whole career of Sarah Palin exemplifies this oscillation, as she has tracked back and forth between the most virulent, primitive, casting-out-devils Christian fundamentalism and the bellicose, militarist nationalism she shares with the Beltway neo-cons, a number of whom are, of course, Jews and/or atheists whom Palin, like George W. Bush, believes will burn in eternal hellfire.
Although these kinds of contradictions demonstrate the utter incoherence and moral vacuity of religious nationalism, they rarely lessen the power of these movements, which -- once unleashed, encouraged (and heavily funded) -- feed on the nuclear fuel of raw, unexamined emotions, fears and needs: a fuel that is constantly replenished by the relentless propagation of artfully filtered (and often fabricated) outrages and threats.
Here's an example from personal experience. I came of age in the mid-70s, in the Bible Belt, in a family rooted in that old-time Southern Baptist religion. This was the era when the TV preachers -- Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, and others -- first began flooding the late-night airwaves. These televangelists, just beginning the fusion of religion and nationalism noted above, were widely, almost universally, regarded by the good, God-fearing, church-going grownups of my acquaintance as extremely marginal, even comical figures, of little note and little worth.
Yet in just a few years' time, many of these figures, and others like them, would be trooping to the White House to be courted and honored; they were commanding vast media networks, college campuses and commercial empires. One of them, Robertson, even ran for president. They had become an integral and important part of the nation's power structure, pushing "hot button" issues, almost always related to sex -- homosexuality, abortion -- and "traditional values" (e.g., submission to authority: biblical authority, corporate authority, military authority, male authority, etc.). They constructed a false history of a paradisiacal past that had been "stolen" from "real" Americans by liberals, feminists, unions, queers, darkies, commies, college professors, Mexicans, etc. etc. And all the while, the elite interests who helped bankroll and magnify these marginal movements into national juggernauts were in fact beggaring the believers themselves, destroying their communities -- indeed, their "traditional values," their family and social networks, and their quality of life -- by gutting their towns and cities, driving family farmers from their land, sending tens of millions of jobs to near-slave labor overseas, befouling the environment, degrading public amenities and vital infrastructure, relentlessly restricting legal recourse against corporate predation and depredation, and corrupting the democratic process to send a steady stream of spineless hacks and whores to Washington to perpetuate the bipartisan corporate-militarist agenda.
The result has been poisonous rancor, social division, economic ruin, vast anxiety, endless war and the relentless, systematic degradation of the quality of life for working people, the poor, the sick, the vulnerable -- indeed, for everyone outside the small circle of the elite, and their sycophants and servants in the media-political class.
And at every step of the way, this ever-growing dynamic of religious nationalism -- which has found its highest, most complete expression in the war-profiteering militarist empire of the Terror War and its attendant atrocities, foreign and domestic -- has been aided and abetted and strengthened and expanded by the so-called "liberals" and "progressives" of the Democratic Party (and their own innumerable outriders, servitors and sycophants) who have been and remain among the fiercest proponents of ... the war-profiteering militarist empire. ("Progressives," of course want to "reform" the empire -- that is, make its deadly operations more efficient and codify its most heinous atrocities into law -- but none of them, not one, call for it to be dismantled.)
Just as in Mubarak's Egypt or the Shah's Iran, any secular opposition to the thuggish (indeed criminal) American elites has been effectively neutralized. The resultant anger and confusion of a people who are indeed being robbed and screwed over is thus diverted from its true perpetrators, and instead is channeled into one of few avenues of "protest" against the "system" allowed to operate freely and fully on a mass scale: religious nationalism in its various forms. Of course, this kind of "protest" only strengthens the genuine systems of rapacious power, and thus, ultimately, serves both sides of the partisan divide. (Or rather the factional divide between two groups of squabbling courtiers jockeying for the top perks of the imperial state they both avidly serve.) And, as we have seen in Iran and will likely see in Egypt, these movements, once unleashed and empowered, cannot be completely controlled by their elite patrons (as some Republican incumbents and insiders have already learned to their sorrow).
On every side, in country after country, and at varying levels, life is being made "far less easy-going" by the unholy alliance of rapacious corporate-militarist elites and the Zealotocracy of religious nationalists they have helped propel to heights of power and influence. And as long as the imperial system keeps churning its way around the globe, this murderous, retrograde, life-strangling dynamic will continue to accelerate.
Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 23 June 2010 12:20
Some people seem to think that the question of which uniformed goober is in charge of the imperial bloodbath in Afghanistan is a vitally important issue, worthy of endless exegesis. It is not. It is a meaningless sideshow. What does matter, vitally, deeply, urgently, is the imperial bloodbath itself, and the fact that it will go on, and on, no matter what Barack Obama does or doesn't do about Stanley McChrystal. [*Now we know what Barry did about Stanley. See update below.]
What really matters is this:
Ten civilians, including at least five women and children, were killed in NATO airstrikes in Khost Province, the provincial police chief said Saturday.
“We have received five bodies of civilians in our provincial public hospital,” Khost provincial health director Amirbadshah Rahmatzai Mangal told AFP. “The dead include two female children of seven and eight years of age..."
McChrystal is in trouble for making disparaging remarks about fellow officers and civilian officials -- a military tradition that surely goes back to the armies of Hammurabi (and long before). Yet he faced no reprimand or remonstrance whatsoever for his admission, just a few months ago, that brazen war crimes were being carried out under his command:
“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.
As I noted at the time:
Now, what would the authorities say if you or I shot "an amazing number of people who have never proven to be a threat?" Why, they would call us murderers -- even mass murderers. Yet this is precisely what "the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan" has just declared, on videotape. ...
Again, just think of it, let it sink in, attend to the word of the commander: “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat." Again: “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat." Again: “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat."
Again: what do you call it when innocent, unarmed, defenseless people who "have never proven to be a threat" are gunned down in cold blood? What do you call such an act?
But such acts are not to be punished -- because they are an accepted part of the process of the military domination of foreign lands. Wanton murder of the innocent? No problem, no scandal, a one-day story. "Insubordination" toward a few imperial satraps whose hands are steeped in blood? Shock, horror, wall-to-wall coverage.
But again: McChrystal's fate does not matter. As Justin Raimondo notes (see the original for informative links):
Our empire of bases and global military presence has engendered a whole new subspecies of American, a class or caste that derives its income, its tradition, and in many cases its family history from the long record of US military intervention overseas. They are the knights of the American imperium, not only military but also civilians whose social, economic, and political interests are inextricably tied to the growth of the empire. This includes but is not limited to the military contractors, the administrators, the Washington policy wonks who come up with endless rationales for war – and, really, the entire political class in Washington, and their vassals among the coastal elites.
Indeed. If McChrystal goes, another bureaucrat of death will take his place. Until the militarist empire itself is rolled back and broken up, we will continue to see, month after month, year after year, "an amazing number of people who have never proven to be a threat" killed in cold blood -- such as the two little girls who were slaughtered last weekend in Khost.
There they are, their bodies torn, their slender limbs twisted and broken, their lifeless eyes staring into eternal nothingness ... and we're supposed to care about the professional fortunes and political fates of the depraved, power-drunk thugs who run this brutal war machine?
UPDATE: Keep the Change
"Another bureaucrat of death" indeed. Since the above post was written, Obama has appointed the top imperial proconsul of the age, bipartisan fave David Petraeus, to take direct control of the wars -- overt and covert -- in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Petraeus, as head of "Central Command" -- the core provinces of the eternal War of Terror -- is already in overall charge of the Af-Pak morass, having previously been in charge of the Iraq bloodbath.
This is No-Change with a vengeance -- as Obama himself made clear. The Washington Post reports:
[Obama] said [the move] should not be read by anyone as a change in the direction of the country's war effort.
"This is a change in personnel," Obama said, "but it is not a change in policy."
So the bitter harvest of dead children will go on. And on. And on. But the most important thing, of course, is that Obama looked "strong" in the savage squabbling for chunks of power amongst the jackals of the imperial court.
UPDATE II: As you might expect, Arthur Silber has some wise words to say about the deeper implications of these unseemly rumblings in the bowels of the War Machine -- including the rather pertinent (and universally ignored) fact that every single official involved in the McChrystal imbroglio is, literally and legally, a war criminal.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 22 June 2010 10:40
High comedy from the Gray Lady:
American taxpayers have inadvertently created a network of warlords across Afghanistan who are making millions of dollars escorting NATO convoys and operating outside the control of either the Afghan government or the American and NATO militaries, according to the results of a Congressional investigation released Monday.
"Inadvertently!" Really, what yocks!
Coincidentally, I am currently reading a new edition of Norman Stone's 1964 book, The Honoured Society, dealing with the great "surge" of Mafia power in Sicily in the post-WWII years. Stone, who was in Sicily at the time, tells an interesting story of how the American military government "inadvertently" restored the Mafia to feudal lordship over Sicily by "inadvertently" placing Mafia leaders and their associates in charge of towns and villages all over Sicily, "inadvertently" giving them carte blanche to create a vast black market, "inadvertently" allowing them to crush any movement toward land reform or unionized labor, and "inadvertently" putting the political process in their stranglehold, laying the foundation for generations of violence, terror, corruption, suffering and deprivation for ordinary people.
As Stone notes:
Don Caló received the loyalist cooperation in these [black market] manoeuvres from his friends in AMGOT [Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories], who supplied the passes necessary for his caravan of trucks to travel without impediment up and down the roads of Sicily. At about that time, AMGOT in Sicily had fallen under the sway of its unofficial adviser, Vito Genovese, an American gangster -- later named as head of the Mafia offshoot, Cosa Nostra -- who had disappeared after his indictment on a charge of murder and turned up in Italy. Don Caló found Genovese most accommodating. From AMGOT came all the petrol he required, and sometimes, when he was short of transport for an exceptionally large shipment, his friends helped out with a military vehicle or two.
In 1944 I happened to be in the town of Benevento through which Don Caló's black market caravans were obliged to pass on their way northward, and although at times there were more trucks loaded with Don Caló's [olive] oil on the roads of southern Italy than there were military vehicles, there was nothing to be done to put a stop to this situation. All papers were always in order.
And here we are again. From the NY Times' chuckle fest:
The 79-page report, entitled “Warlord Inc.,” paints an anarchic picture of contemporary Afghanistan, with the country’s major highways being controlled by groups of freelance gunmen who answer to no one — and who are being paid [billions of dollars] by the United States.
Afghanistan, the investigation found, plays host to hundreds of unregistered private security companies employing as many as 70,000 largely unsupervised gunmen. “The principal private security subcontractors,” the report said, “are warlords, strongmen, commanders and militia leaders who compete with the Afghan central government for power and authority."
...“Long after the United States leaves Afghanistan, and the convoy security business shuts down, these warlords will likely continue to play a major role as autonomous centers of political, economic and military power,” the report said.
Just like the "good war" way back when! Which is only fitting, for as we all know, the nine-year morass of loot and domination in Afghanistan is the "good war" of our latest Greatest Generation, now led by a wise and noble prince of progress and peace.
But here's something strange from the Times' story of the "inadvertent" program of warlord creation:
These subcontracts, the investigation found, are handed out without any oversight from the Department of Defense, despite clear instructions from Congress that the department provide such oversight.
Hmm; the Pentagon is deliberately ignoring clear instructions from Congress ... yet the result of this deliberate, knowing, wilful course of action is somehow "inadvertent." Yes, let's drag out the old courtroom trope once again, for, once again, it is all too apt: "Your honor, it's true that I picked up the gun, loaded the gun, pointed the gun, pulled the gun's trigger, and fired five shots into the head of the victim -- but the death itself was entirely inadvertent."
The Pentagon's creation of "a network of warlords" to do its donkey work -- and its dirty work -- in Afghanistan is no more "inadvertent" than the empowerment and entrenchment of the Mafia in Sicily in 1944, or the creation of a international network of armed Islamic extremists under the Carter and Reagan administrations, etc., etc., etc. Our imperial militarists are happy to empower ruthless thugs of every description to keep the Great Game of loot and domination going, without giving the slightest thought to the worthless rabble who will suffer the consequences -- sometimes for generations.
Gee, maybe it's not so funny after all.
UPDATE: If you want to know just why our masters and commanders are waging their profitable wars abroad and their relentless class wars at home, then check out Arthur Silber's latest. You'll find the answer there.