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 ....
At least 21 people, including members of the elite Revolutionary Guards, were killed and 100 wounded in suicide attack at a Shi'ite mosque in the southeast Iranian city of Zahedan on Thursday, Iranian media reported.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the two suicide bombings in front of Zahedan's Grand Mosque, although a lawmaker said he believed the Sunni rebel group Jundollah was behind the attack.
We do know that the United States has been covertly aiding Jundullah -- no doubt as part of the secret armies, militias, terrorist groups and covert operators that the Peace Laureate Administration has recently admitted -- or rather, bragged about in a strategic leak -- running in up to 75 countries around the world.
As I noted last year, after a similar terrorist attack in the same Iranian city:
On Thursday, a suicide bomber walked into a mosque, detonated his explosives and killed and wounded almost 140 people. In the wreckage and confusion afterward, a final death count has not yet been established, but the latest available information puts it at 23.
It is unlikely that you heard about this terrorist attack -- because it took place in Iran. For years, Iran has endured a series of terrorist actions -- suicide bombings, kidnappings, beheadings, open assaults by fanatical gunmen, sabotage, and "targeted assassinations" of government officials, scientists and others. Multitudes have been slaughtered in these operations, whose ferocity and frequency are surpassed only by the atrocities that have been unleashed in the four countries that have been on the forefront of America's Terror War: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia. One shudders to think what Washington's response would be to such a sustained campaign on American soil.
Of course, it is no mystery why the attack on the mosque in Zahedan -- a city situated at the strategic point where the borders of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan converge -- attracted so little attention in the Western press. Every day, we are schooled relentlessly by our political and media classes to regard the Iranians -- heirs to one of the world's oldest and most sophisticated civilizations -- as demons and subhumans, whose lives are of little account. This can be seen in the long-running debate over an attack on Iran, which focuses almost entirely on the advantages or disadvantages such an assault would pose for American and Israeli interests -- and not at all on the thousands of human beings living in Iran who would be killed in the operation.
But there is another reason why the terrorist attack in Zahedan has not been greeted with commiserations from the White House or excited coverage from our government-spoonfed media: because it is highly likely that the United States played a role in fomenting the attack, either by direct or by collateral hand...
Zahedan is the capital of Sistan-Baluchestan province, with "a large ethnic Sunni Baluch minority," which is often at odds with the Shiite-dominated central government. The region -- which is also a prime conduit for arms and drug trafficking across the volatile borders -- has been roiled for years by the militant Sunni extremist group, Jundullah (Soldiers of God). This group, aligned philosophically if not operationally with al Qaeda, has openly boasted of killing hundreds of people in its campaigns
The militant Sunni extremist group, Jundullah (Soldiers of God) ... aligned philosophically if not operationally with al Qaeda, has openly boasted of killing hundreds of people in its campaigns...
You would think that such violent, frenzied zealots -- fellow travellers of Osama bin Laden! -- would be taken up by our Terror Warriors as poster boys for the evils of "Islamofascism." But as we noted here a few months ago, "bombings and beheadings and deathporn videos are not inherently evil; they can also be a force for good -- as long as they put to the service of America's ever-noble, ever-lofty foreign policy ideals."
Six weeks ago, President Bush signed a secret finding authorizing a covert offensive against the Iranian regime that, according to those familiar with its contents, "unprecedented in its scope."
Bush's secret directive covers actions across a huge geographic area – from Lebanon to Afghanistan – but is also far more sweeping in the type of actions permitted under its guidelines – up to and including the assassination of targeted officials. This widened scope clears the way, for example, for full support for the military arm of Mujahedin-e Khalq, the cultish Iranian opposition group, despite its enduring position on the State Department's list of terrorist groups.
Similarly, covert funds can now flow without restriction to Jundullah, or "army of god," the militant Sunni group in Iranian Baluchistan – just across the Afghan border -- whose leader was featured not long ago on Dan Rather Reports cutting his brother-in-law's throat.
Thus the attack this week in Zahedan is an integral part of a wide-ranging campaign of American-supported terrorism inside Iran -- even if the "darksiders" in the U.S. security organs had no direct involvement or knowledge of this particular attack. When you are in the business of fomenting terror (see here and here), there's no need for micro-management. You co-opt the armed extremists who best serve your political agenda of the moment; you slip them guns, money, intelligence, guidance -- and then you turn them loose on the local populace.
We have seen this over and over; in Iraq, for example, where American death squads -- such as the ones led by Stanley McChrystal, recently appointed by Barack Obama to work his "dirty war" magic in Afghanistan -- joined with mostly Shiite militias to carry out massive "ethnic cleansing" campaigns and individual assassinations. We saw it years ago, in the American-led construction of an international army of mostly Sunni extremists raised to hot-foot the Soviets in Afghanistan -- then turned loose upon the world. And of course this lineage of terror-breeding as an instrument of American foreign policy goes back for many decades. with one of the earliest, most spectacular successes being the use of religious extremists to help bring down the secular republic in Iran in 1953.
... Bush's directive represents an intensification of the drive for open war with Iran, but it is not a new development; rather, it is a major "surge" in a state terror campaign the Administration has been waging against Iran (among others) for years. As I wrote as along ago as August 2004, the Bushists have openly sought, and received, big budgets and bipartisan support for terrorist groups and extremist militias all over the world. Here's an excerpt from that 2004 report:
If you would know the hell that awaits us – and not far off – there's no need to consult ancient prophecies, or the intricate coils of hidden conspiracies, or the tortured arcana of high-credentialed experts. You need only read the public words, sworn before God, of top public officials, the great lords of state, the defenders of civilization, as they explain – clearly, openly, with confidence and pride – their plans to foment terror, rape, war and repression across the face of the earth.
Last month, in little-noticed testimony before Congress, the Bush Regime unveiled its plans to raise a host of warlord armies in the most volatile areas in the world, Agence France-Presse reports. Bush wants $500 million in seed money to arm and train non-governmental "local militias" – i.e., bands of lawless freebooters – to serve as Washington's proxy killers in the so-called "arc of crisis" that just happens to stretch across the oil-bearing lands and strategic pipeline routes of Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and South America.
Flanked by a gaggle of military brass, Pentagon deputy honcho Paul Wolfowitz told a rapt panel of Congressional rubber-stamps that Bush wants big bucks to run "counter-insurgency" and "counter-terrorist" operations in "ungoverned areas" of the world – and in the hinterlands of nations providing "sanctuary" for terrorists. Making copious citations from Bush's 2002 "National Security Strategy" of unprovoked aggressive war against "potential" enemies, Howlin' Wolf proposed expanding the definition of "terrorist sanctuary" to any nation that allows clerics and other rabble-rousers to offer even verbal encouragement to America's designated enemies du jour....
There's nothing really new in Bush's murder-by-proxy scheme, of course; America has a long, bipartisan tradition of paying local thugs to do Washington's bloodwork. For example, late last month, Guatemala was forced to pay $420 million in extortion to veterans of the U.S.-backed "paramilitaries" who helped Ronald Reagan's favorite dictator, right-wing Christian coupster Efrain Rios Montt, kill 100,000 innocent people during his reign, the BBC reports. The paramilitaries, whose well-documented war crimes include rape, murder and torture, had threatened to shut down the country if they weren't given some belated booty for their yeoman service in the Reagan-Bush cause.
But Wolfowitz did reveal one original twist in Bush's plan: targeting the Homeland itself as a "terrorist sanctuary." In addition to loosing his own personal Janjaweed on global hotspots, Bush is also seeking new powers to prevent anyone he designates a "terrorist" from "abusing the freedom of democratic societies" or "exploiting the technologies of communication" – i.e., defending themselves in court or logging on to the Internet. As AFP notes, Wolfowitz tactfully refrained from detailing just how the Regime intends to curb the dangerous use of American freedom, but he did allow that "difficult decisions" would be required.
Whether the Iranian nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, was abducted by the CIA, as he claims, or simply changed his mind about defecting and went home, as Washingon claims, his return is a PR coup for Iran and an annoyance for the imperial Potomac court. And off course, it may be that this latest terrorist attack in Iran is just a coincidence, unrelated to the Amiri affair, and is instead just part of the terrorist wave that the United States has been helping along in Iran for years.
But when the United States boasts about its secret military operations and hit squads across the globe, it is inevitable that direct American involvement must at least be considered in every such terrorist attack.
This is the dirty world that our great and good have made for us.
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.
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:
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.