Just think, it was once a "scandal" that an American secretary of state gave the green light to a program of "targeted killings" -- assassinations -- murders -- that he knew was about to take place. This was once considered a deeply serious matter -- so staining and shattering to the official's reputation that he has spent almost 35 years lying about it, and having other people lie about it for him: Cable Ties Kissinger to Chile Scandal (AP):
As secretary of state, Henry Kissinger canceled a U.S. warning against carrying out international political assassinations that was to have gone to Chile and two neighboring nations just days before a former ambassador was killed by Chilean agents on Washington's Embassy Row in 1976, a newly released State Department cable shows. ..
In 1976, the South American nations of Chile, Argentina and Uruguay were engaged in a program of repression code-named Operation Condor that targeted those governments' political opponents throughout Latin America, Europe and even the United States...The State Department drafted a plan to deliver a stern message to the three governments not to engage in such murders.
In the Sept. 16, 1976 cable, the topic of one paragraph is listed as ''Operation Condor,'' preceded by the words ''(KISSINGER, HENRY A.) SUBJECT: ACTIONS TAKEN.'' The cable states that ''secretary declined to approve message to Montevideo'' Uruguay ''and has instructed that no further action be taken on this matter.''
...The next day [after Kissinger's orders had been conveyed to U.S. ambassadors by an underling], on Sept. 21, 1976, agents of Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet planted a car bomb and exploded it on a Washington, D.C., street, killing both former Ambassador Orlando Letelier, and an American colleague, Ronni Karpen Moffitt. Letelier was one of the most outspoken critics of the Pinochet government.
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?
Anyway, thank God good old Hank is still with us, and that this honorable public servant has lived to see the day when honorable public servants (and so are they all, all honorable public servants) no longer have to worry about the petty snares of law as they go about their sacred duty of keeping us safe.
Let us hear no more excuses for Barack Obama. Let us hear no more defenses, no more special pleading, no more extenuations. Let us have no more reciting of the "pressures" he is under, of the "many obstacles" that balk him in his quest to do us good, of the "bad advisors" who are swaying him to unworthy acts against his will. Let us be done at last with all these wretched lies, these complicitous self-deceptions that are facilitating atrocity and tyranny on a monstrous scale.
Barack Obama has ordered the murder of an American citizen, without trial, without due process, without the production of any evidence. All it takes to kill any American citizen in this way is Barack Obama's signature on a piece of paper, his arbitrary designation of the target as a "suspected terrorist." In precisely the same way -- precisely the same way -- Josef Stalin would place a mark by a name in a list of "suspected terrorists" or "counterrevolutionaries," and the bearer of that name would die. This is the system we have now, the same as the Soviets had then: a leader with the unchallengeable power to kill citizens without due process.
That this power has not been used on the same scale in the American system as in the Stalinist state -- yet -- does not alter the equivalence of this governing principle. In both cases, the leader signs arbitrary death warrants; the security services carry out the task; and the 'great and good' of society accept this draconian power as necessary and right.
This is what you support when you support Barack Obama. It does not matter if you think his opponents in the factional infighting to control a bloodsoaked empire and its war machine are "worse" than he is in some measure. When you support him, when you defend him, when you excuse him, it is arbitrary murder that you are supporting. It is the absolute negation of every single principle of enlightenment and human rights professed by liberals, progressives -- indeed, by honorable people of every political stripe -- for centuries.
There is nothing particularly remarkable about Obama's order to kill an American citizen without trial or evidence, of course. George W. Bush claimed the same powers. As I have noted here and elsewhere for many years, our American presidents now claim the right to kill any person on earth whom they arbitrarily designate as an enemy -- or even a suspected enemy -- of the United States. Barack Obama embraced this power as soon as he took office, ordering a "surge" in the "targeted killings" on "suspected terrorists" in Pakistan. Hundreds and hundreds of innocent human beings have been murdered in these drone attacks; many thousands more have been driven from their homes, and terrorized into lives of mental anguish, their psyches lamed by trauma, upheaval and the ever-present dread of death raining down on them from the skies.
And of course, thousands of innocent people continue to die in the wars of dominion and profiteering that Obama has so eagerly embraced. In Afghanistan, they die directly at the hands of American forces -- including secret assassins who raid villages by night, often slaughtering civilians, even those cooperating with the military occupation. As Obama's hand-picked commander in the region, Stanley McChrystal, has openly admitted: “We have shot an amazing number of people [at checkpoints and on the roads], but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat." And in Iraq -- the scene of the abominable, Nazi-like war crime of military aggression whose continuation by Bush's "surge" was hailed by Obama as "an extraordinary achievement" -- innocent people continue to die in droves at the hands of the vicious and violent forces unleashed and empowered by the American invasion and occupation, while they wait to see which brutal "hard man" will seize power over their riven and ruined society.
No, the only remarkable thing about Obama's direct order to murder his fellow American citizen, Anwar al-Alwaki, is its openness. A few weeks ago, he sent his intelligence chieftain, Dennis Blair, to Congress to openly proclaim the president's "right" to kill American citizens arbitrarily. Bush had kept this claimed power obscured, letting it out in dribs and drabs of directed leaks, and hints and winks in public statements; but Obama has taken us beyond that, to the open declaration and institutional entrenchment of the principle of death without due process for citizens. This indeed is "change" -- with a vengeance.
(And to think that only a few years ago, capital punishment -- with its vast and cumbersome legal machinery -- was banished in America as too unjust and arbitrary in its application; now a president need not trouble himself with the slightest bit of legal process if he wants to have someone killed. I suppose this too is "progress": more streamlined, more efficient, quicker, more modern -- like wireless broadband. It's simply there all the time at the president's pleasure.)
Now, there can be no shuffling, no waffling on the matter. Obama has made it crystal clear for even the most avidly self-duping progressive: He will murder his fellow citizens without trial or evidence if he sees fit. The state can murder whom it pleases. This is the system we have. This is what you support when you support Barack Obama. You cannot escape this logic, this judgment. If you support Obama now, in this, then there is no crime he can commit that you will not support.
And thus you become one of those people that we all used to puzzle over, the accomodationists to brutal tyranny: "How did all those people go along with the Nazis? Why wasn't there more opposition to Stalin? How could they countenance all those obvious abominations? What kind of people were they?"
Now you know. They were you. You are them.
** NOTE 1: I should make it clear that I do not think that it is somehow more heinous for the American government to target and kill its own citizens, as opposed to killing foreigners by the thousands, which it has done, on a bipartisan basis, for many a year. I am merely laying out the case in this way so that American "progressives" -- almost of all whom are deeply marinated in their own brand of American exceptionalism -- can see that even by the standards of this exceptionalism, which puts American lives and 'values' above all else, Barack Obama is acting -- undeniably -- in a criminal, tyrannical manner.
NOTE 2: While I was writing this piece, I got the welcome news that Arthur Silber was back, after a long hiatus due to his chronic ill health. And, as usual, his insights cut straight to the heart of the matter. As I noted here the other day, Silber was one of the very few writers who saw through the shining cloud that surrounded the Obama campaign to the corroded core within. He also noted the greatest danger of an Obama presidency: that it would confirm, entrench, expand -- and normalize -- the worst aspects of the American imperium, precisely because the system's crimes and atrocities would now be presented in a more pleasing package, with all "progressive" opposition to them completely disarmed by partisan adherence to their standard-bearer.
Ironically, one of Silber's most incisive pieces on this subject was provoked by what many people -- and almost all "progressives" -- still consider Obama's finest moment during the campaign: his speech calling for a "national dialogue on race" -- part of a particularly brutal effort to knife his long-time friend, mentor and pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, deeply and repeatedly in the back.
Go read the new piece now, and follow the links, which provide chilling chapter and verse to underscore the insights. But here is brief excerpt, one of the conclusions that Silber draws today from that early speech:
If one truly and comprehensively understood Obama's speech on race -- the unending, deadly lies on which it was based, and the terrible consequences to which those lies have led and the devastation they will continue to cause -- that speech told you everything you needed to know about Obama.
That is not hyperbole, not if you understood all of that: it told you everything. .. And what has already occurred during the Obama presidency is very far from all or the worst of the destruction that can reasonably be expected to transpire over the coming years.
UPDATE: David Swanson at Counterpunch nails the situation well: "Murder is the new torture," indeed. As Swanson notes, now that torture -- always with us, but previously shrouded -- has been mainstreamed, acceptance of outright murder is the logical next step. And as Swanson observes, it is actually a much more efficient tool of imperial policy:
President Obama has ordered the murder of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. Like the innocent but tortured Abu Zubayda (innocent at least of any of the crimes he was accused of), Awlaki is now the mastermind terrorist of the universe. And once he's dead, who's to say he wasn't? Who can demand a trail or access to documents? He'll be dead. See the beauty of it?
If the top mastermind is in Yemen, what the hell are we doing building a quagmire in Afghanistan? Don't ask. But notice this: we have dramatically increased the use of missile strikes to assassinate in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And we have increased the use of murderous night-time raids to such an extent that we now kill more civilians in that way than we do with drones. They're the "wrong people," or neighbors who came to help, or family members clinging to loved ones. Sometimes they're young students with their hands tied behind their backs. Accidents will happen. But no U.S. officials' future book tours are going to be interrupted by protesters, since there's no torture involved. Civilization is on the march!
So, thanks to Wikileaks.org, Americans now know that their soldiers often gun down civilians in occupied countries during reckless missions based on little or no intelligence (in every sense of the word). This will no doubt come as a great shock -- yea, a veritable political earthquake -- in a land where the top commander in what is now its chief war just recently confessed that his troops were slaughtering an "amazing" number of civilians who posed no threat whatsoever.
We all recall the vast hue and cry that greeted this astounding admission by Afghan top gun General Stanley McChrystal, who was hand-picked by the Nobel Peace Laureate himself to lead America's noble crusade to stamp out Muslim extremism in Central Asia by killing innocent Muslims all over Central Asia. No less than the New York Times its own self reported prominently on McChrystal's chilling candor. To be exact, the "Good War" general told his troops, by videoconference:
“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat."
Remember how the Democrats in control of Congress rushed to set up special committees to investigate the murderous facts behind this admission of atrocity? Remember how the media went 24/7 on wall-to-wall coverage of the Potomac-churning aftermath of McChrystal's unprecedented mea culpa? Remember how the president himself held a special news conference to offer "America's sincere and shamed apology to the innocent victims we have killed so tragically in such amazing numbers"?
And hey, remember how just this weekend, the purple mountain majesties and fruited plains rang with howls of righteous rage when it was confirmed that American Special Forces troops really did kill three innocent women (along with two officials of the American-installed Afghan government) during a savage night raid on a compound of sleeping civilians in February? Remember how all the weekend TV talk shows were filled with America's great and good lining up to denounce the weeks and weeks of outright lies that the Pentagon had told about the killings? Remember how the Democrats in Congress, once again, launched a special committee of investigation into the charges by American-backed Afghan officials that the U.S. Special Forces troops had actually dug their bullets out of the bodies of the slaughtered women in order to cover their tracks after the massacre?
While I am certainly no prophet, I think I am safe in saying we will see a similar reaction to the gut-wrenching footage unearthed by Wikileaks. The American people are simply too good, too just to let stand such a foul besmirching of their national honor. After all, didn't they rise up as one after the Abu Ghraib atrocities were revealed in 2004, and boldly oust the architects of these crimes in the ensuing presidential election? Didn't they take to the streets in their millions when first Bush and then Obama claimed the right to have any citizen put to death without charges or trial simply by declaring the victim a "suspected terrorist"? Didn't a great groundswell of public ire force Congress to open impeachment proceedings against George Bush and Dick Cheney for their Soviet-style gulag of concentration camps and systematic tortures -- and threaten similar justice for Barack Obama's continuation and cover-up of this system? Didn't the American people demand a national day of mourning and atonement when they realized that hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis had been murdered in a war based on false pretenses and cynical manipulation?
So let us have faith in the American people. They have proven time and again in this last decade that they will not countenance crimes and atrocities being committed in their names. They will not abide leaders who unleash a war machine of blood money and blind fury against innocent people. When push comes to shove, when the truth is revealed to them, they will always -- always -- do the right thing.
Charles Davis (via Jon Schwarz) has an incisive take on the high fluttery flail induced in our imperial courtiers by the latest Tea Party tantrums. Davis demolishes a piece in The Nation by progressive paladin Melissa Harris-Lacewell, in which she waxes lyrical -- not to nonsensical -- about the great threat to "the legitimacy of the state" posed by Tea Partiers disrespecting our elected officials. These acts -- spitting, swearing, insulting, shouting, etc. -- which might have been considered legitimate expressions of citizen anger (or at least good clean fun) if directed at, say, George Dubya or Dick Nixon, are now to be regarded as -- I kid you not -- "an act of sedition" when aimed at the ruling party.
It's this kind of thing that gives insipid sycophancy a bad name. But Davis is on the case:
Now, considering that U.S. government imprisons more of its own citizens than any other in the history, with 25 percent of the world's prisoners; that it has more military bases in more countries than any previous empire in history, and has killed millions of people from Iraq to Vietnam; and that its current head, Barack Obama, is openly targeting for extrajudicial killing Americans and foreigners alike, one might ask: why is a liberal magazine so concerned about this state's legitimacy?
Or as Thoreau put it (in a quote that is pretty much the slogan for this blog): "How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it."
Davis is right to draw attention to Obama's astonishingly brazen claim of arbitrary power over the life and death of every person in the world, including American citizens. This is perhaps his most atrocious act of "continuity" with his despised and criminal predecessor. But unlike Bush, Obama has not been hugger-mugger about this assertion of world-engulfing authoritarianism, dribbling it out piecemeal in nods and winks, secret directives, cunning leaks and oblique references. No, he sent his National Intelligence Director, Dennis Blair, to proclaim the president's universal license to kill in open testimony before Congress. Just a few weeks ago, the intelligence poo-bah told the House Intelligence Committee (my, my, so much "Intelligence" around town these days, and so few brains) that Americans (and everyone else) could be killed -- without charge, arrest, trial or defense -- by the U.S. government if said government decides -- secretly, of course -- that the target poses "a threat" of some kind. This assertion of arbitrary power beyond the dreams of even the maddest Roman emperor was greeted with absolute silence by the great and good of the constitutional American republic. No thunderous editorials, no outraged demonstrations -- just nods of acquiescence and indifference.
(Odd that the Tea Partiers -- so het up about encroachments on their liberty -- don't spit about this kind of thing. But then again, a good many of them crave strong-man rule, a tough guy who will 'do what it takes' without fussing about a bunch of namby-pamby rules. They just don't like one of those darkies wielding it.)
But as Davis notes, whatever small, or nascent, or possibly potential threat that the frothier fringe of marginal militants might pose, it is the gargantuan crimes now being committed by our militarist state that we should fear, and resist:
[C]olor me unimpressed with the argument that I have more to fear from the talk radio right than I do the incarcerating-and-assassinating state. ... In addition to the hundreds killed without so much as a show trial by hellfire missiles since the glorious advent of The Liberal Ascendancy, agents of the U.S. government have been implicated in several headline-grabbing atrocities, the latest of which involved the pre-dawn slaying of a pair of pregnant women and a teenage girl. That female civilians are being killed at a level on par with Afghan males is no doubt being hailed in the halls of Brookings as a feminist triumph, but it's more troubling to me than the idea of some people questioning the legitimacy of the perpetrators' employer.
Perhaps they shouldn't just be ignored, but until Glenn Beck's followers kill two dozen people in a remote village, I'm going to spend most of my time focusing on those with control over the tanks and nuclear weapons. And rather than seeking to bolster the state and reinforce the idea of some mythical, mystical social contract, I just might seek to undermine this government, so far as I can, for as long as it continues enriching a politically connected corporate elite while imprisoning and enlisting the rest of its population, no matter how "duly elected" our politicians might be as a result of the sham two-party electoral system. When political leaders are engaged in senseless war and widespread human rights abuses -- and the occupation of Afghanistan and the U.S. prison system at home and abroad qualify -- the person of conscience's duty is not to the state but to justice, which usually means opposing the state and questioning its presumed legitimacy.
But you can be sure that most of our conscience-laden progressives will be more upset about Obama's move to open up vast tracts of coastal waters to oil drilling than his intensification of the wars of dominion on the imperial frontiers. (Obama's oil caper is yet another example where he is treading farther rightward than even Dubya dared to go. But Arthur Silber, among others, nailed this long ago, back during the campaign: Obama's more presentable persona will allow him to entrench and expand the militarist-corporatist system far more effectively than any bumbling, bellicose right-winger could.)
One should never dismiss the "yearning for fascism" that is abroad in the country, of course, a fell and growing mood that Chris Hedges describes so well here. Hedges also locates one of the root causes of this yearning: the complete and utter collapse of the 'left' (using that term very broadly to mean alternatives to the militarist-corporatist imperial system), and its eager co-option by one of the principal pillars of that system: the Democratic Party. As Hedges notes:
The Democrats and their liberal apologists are so oblivious to the profound personal and economic despair sweeping through this country that they think offering unemployed people the right to keep their unemployed children on their nonexistent health care policies is a step forward. They think that passing a jobs bill that will give tax credits to corporations is a rational response to an unemployment rate that is, in real terms, close to 20 percent. They think that making ordinary Americans, one in eight of whom depends on food stamps to eat, fork over trillions in taxpayer dollars to pay for the crimes of Wall Street and war is acceptable. They think that the refusal to save the estimated 2.4 million people who will be forced out of their homes by foreclosure this year is justified by the bloodless language of fiscal austerity. The message is clear. Laws do not apply to the power elite. Our government does not work. And the longer we stand by and do nothing, the longer we refuse to embrace and recognize the legitimate rage of the working class, the faster we will see our anemic democracy die ... If we do not embrace this outrage and distrust as our own it will be expressed through a terrifying right-wing backlash.
But to head off this backlash, we must focus on the system that is producing this miasma of chaos, anger, anxiety and hate -- a system that is teaching its people, by example, that violence, force and lawlessness are glorious and worthy, are, in fact, legitimate. Hedges quotes Cynthia McKinney on this point:
I am a child of the South. Janet Napolitano tells me I need to be afraid of people who are labeled white supremacists but I was raised around white supremacists. I am not afraid of white supremacists. I am concerned about my own government. The Patriot Act did not come from the white supremacists, it came from the White House and Congress. Citizens United did not come from white supremacists, it came from the Supreme Court.
The War Machine -- and the Democrats' avid fealty to it -- is at the corroded heart of the matter. But this love of war (as long as it is visited on other people, far away) is not confined to the ruling elite alone. And this is one reason why even if the inchoate anger expressed by Tea Partiers and others could be harnessed and directed at its proper targets (many of whom, of course, are happily stoking this misdirected rage to keep it away from their own golden nest eggs), it would still fall short of transforming the system. Yes, you could, for example, put our crooked banksters on trial for fraud; but if they were simply replaced by new bankers who, even with heavier regulations and restrictions, still financed the War Machine, then the same corrupting cycle of blood money and bellicosity would rage on unabated. Until Americans drop their addiction to war -- which is inextricably bound up with the widespread, bipartisan cult of exceptionalism -- there will be no stability, no security, no peace, no prosperity for ordinary people, neither at home or abroad. As I noted here last year:
This is the system we have. It’s right out in the open. There is a deep-rooted expectation – and not, alas, just among the elite -- that the world should jump to America’s tune, by force if necessary. And when, for whatever reason, some part of the world does not jump – or bump and grind – to the Potomac beat, then it becomes a “problem” that must be “solved,” by one means or another, with, of course, “all options on the table,” all the time. And whether these “problems” are approached with blunt, bullying talk or a degree of cajolery and pious rhetoric, the chosen stance is always backed up with the ever-present threat of military action, up to and including the last of those “options” that always decorate the table: utter annihilation.
This is not even questioned, must less debated or challenged. America’s right to intervene in the affairs other nations by violent force (along with a constant series of illegal covert activities) – and to impose an empire of military plantations across the length and breadth of the entire planet – is the basic assumption, the underlying principle, the fervently held faith shared by both national parties, and the entire elite Establishment. And if you want to have the necessary instruments to maintain such a state of hegemony, then you must indeed structure your society and economy around war.
Many nations – all vanished now – have done this. The Roman Empire was one. Nazi Germany was another. At great cost to the economic, social and political life of ordinary Germans, Adolf Hitler geared the state to produce the war machine necessary to assert the dominance in world affairs which he felt was Germany’s natural right. One of his chief aims was to procure enough “living space” and natural resources in Eastern Europe to compete with America’s growing economic might. The Holocaust of European Jews was, for all its horror, just a preliminary to the greater “ethnic cleansing” to come. As historian Adam Tooze reminds us in The Wages of Destruction, the Nazis had drawn up detailed plans for the extermination – by active mass murder and deliberate starvation – of up to 40 million East Europeans.
Today, we all recognize the inhuman madness behind this hegemonic ambition. We shake our heads and say, “Whatever evils we may be accused of, we have never and would never do such a thing.” Perhaps. But leaving aside for a moment the millions – millions – of African slaves and Native Americans who died in order to procure the living space and natural resources of North and South America for European peoples, it is clear that most Americans – the elite above all – can easily countenance the deaths of, say, more than one million innocent Iraqis, or upwards of three million Southeast Asians, without any disturbance in their sense of national righteousness, their bedrock belief that the United States has the natural right, even the duty, to assert its hegemony over world affairs.
Unless there is some profound shift in American consciousness, of the sort that Martin Luther King Jr. was trying to effect in his last years, all of this will continue -- even if we have genuine health care reform, genuine rescue of those ravaged by our financial sharks, genuine environmental protection, and so on.
But of course we will not have these "genuines" in any case -- as long as those who profess to oppose the corporatist-militarist system simultaneously support the very people who are directing it. Again, as we noted here:
....the constantly asserted vow to keep the nuclear option "on the table" at all times means that every single action or policy toward a "problem" nation carries with it the explicit threat to kill millions of people – to outdo the Holocaust in a matter of minutes.
Can one really look at such plans and attitudes, and at the towering, Everest-like mountain of corpses produced by American polices – just in the last generation – and say that there is not also a form of inhuman madness behind this hegemonic ambition as well? Is this really a system that one can be associated with honorably in any way? What should we think about a person who wants to lead such a system, who wants to take hold of the driving wheel of the war machine, to use it, to expand it, to accept all of its premises, to keep all of its horrific "options" forever on the table, to feed it and gorge it and coddle it and appease it at every turn, while millions of their own people sink further into degradation and diminishment?
Shouldn't someone who knowingly, willingly, eagerly bent all of their energies toward taking power in such a system instantly and irretrievably forfeit our regard and support? Should we really give such a "leader" the benefit of the doubt, cut him some slack, be ready to praise him when he or his government momentarily behaves in a normal, rational or legal manner? Should we grimly insist that he is the only choice we have, that his heart is probably in the right place, and that all we can do is try and cajole him into being "better"?
As we began with Davis, let's give him the last word:
The proper attitude toward a criminal government is not deference and respect, however much some at The Nation might love a smooth-talking Democrat, but defiance and rebellion -- of the non-violent variety.
UPDATE: The original text of this piece misspelled Melissa Harris-Lacewell's first name. My apologies. The error is now corrected.
Death the great deceiver
Whispers to the soldier
That the love he bears his comrade
Is the greatest he will know
It sets a mist around him
A force field of emotion
A cloud of blood and hormones
That makes monstrous the foe
And when his friend is wounded
When his life pours out in battle
And his spirit leaves his body
Like smoke rising from a flame
The soldier's gripped by madness
The berserker rage of Ares
And he swoops down like a fury
To savage all within his aim
Then falls the grieving mother
Then falls the aged father
Then fall the little children
Who cannot escape the blast
And when the fever's broken
And the soldier stares in horror
He can hear the ghostly echo
Of the Deceiver's bitter laugh
Now far-off stand the leaders
The commanders in their glory
With the profiteers who ply them
With the gold they wring from blood
But alone you'll find the soldier
In a labyrinth of sorrow
In a never-ending darkness
That has drowned him in its flood
Well, John the Baptist after torturing a thief
Looks up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief
Saying, “Tell me great hero, but please make it brief
Is there a hole for me to get sick in?
-- Bob Dylan, "Tombstone Blues"
One can only assume that the regular editors of the New York Times were all out at a party, or left early for a weekend in the Hamptons, or something -- but somehow, the paper published a front webpage story that stated -- without the usual thousand excuses and extenuations -- that American troops are routinely slaughtering Afghan civilians at checkpoints. What's more, the story unequivocally ties the civilian killings to the "surge" ordered by the noble Nobel Peace laureate, Barack Obama.
Here's what the Times says:
American and NATO troops firing from passing convoys and military checkpoints have killed 30 Afghans and wounded 80 others since last summer, but in no instance did the victims prove to be a danger to troops, according to military officials in Kabul.
And what is the paper's authority for this astounding admission of atrocity? Not the usual "unnamed sources" or "senior official in a position to have knowledge of the situation," but none other than Obama's hand-picked commander on the Af-Pak front, General Stanley "Black Ops" McChrystal his own self:
“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.
Let's repeat the much-media-lauded general's statement again: “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat." Now, what would the authorities say if you or I shot "an amazing number of people who have never proven to be a threat?" Why, they would call us murderers -- even mass murderers. Yet this is precisely what "the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan" has just declared, on videotape.
The story goes on to make the extraordinarily straight -- and indisputable -- point that these wanton killings of civilians who have never even "proven to be a threat" is fanning the very "insurgency" (which is the Beltway term of art for any resistance to American military presence") whose quelling is the ostensible reason for the Laureate's "surge" in the first place:
Failure to reduce checkpoint and convoy shootings, known in the military as “escalation of force” episodes, has emerged as a major frustration for military commanders who believe that civilian casualties deeply undermine the American and NATO campaign in Afghanistan.
Many of the detainees at the military prison at Bagram Air Base joined the insurgency after the shootings of people they knew, said the senior NATO enlisted man in Afghanistan, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall.
“There are stories after stories about how these people are turned into insurgents,” Sergeant Major Hall told troops during the videoconference. “Every time there is an escalation of force we are finding that innocents are being killed,” he said.
The story even states plainly that the official figures of admitted killing of unthreatening civilians -- already unconscionably high -- might not be the true extent of these atrocities:
Shootings from convoys and checkpoints involving American, NATO and Afghan forces accounted for 36 civilian deaths last year, down from 41 in 2008, according to the United Nations. With at least 30 Afghans killed since last June in 95 such shootings, according to military statistics, the rate shows no signs of abating.
And those numbers do not include shooting deaths caused by convoys guarded by private security contractors. Some tallies have put the total number of escalation of force deaths far higher.
A spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, Zemary Bashary, said private security contractors sometimes killed civilians during escalation of force episodes, but he said he did not know the number of instances.
The story also presents an example of one slaughter of civilians, and shows how it leads directly to the rise of resistance against the American military presence:
One such case was the death of Mohammed Yonus, a 36-year-old imam and a respected religious authority, who was killed two months ago in eastern Kabul while commuting to a madrasa where he taught 150 students.
A passing military convoy raked his car with bullets, ripping open his chest as his two sons sat in the car. The shooting inflamed residents and turned his neighborhood against the occupation, elders there say.
“The people are tired of all these cruel actions by the foreigners, and we can’t suffer it anymore,” said Naqibullah Samim, a village elder from Hodkail, where Mr. Yonus lived. “The people do not have any other choice, they will rise against the government and fight them and the foreigners. There are a lot of cases of killing of innocent people.”
Finally, the story depicts McChrystal -- again, the handpicked commander of the commander-in-chief -- stating flatly when it comes to the widely ballyhooed "counterinsurgency doctrine" that is supposedly now governing the military occupation of Afghanistan, the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. In other words, it's a full-scale, four-star FUBAR:
More recently, General McChrystal moved to bring nearly all Special Operations forces in Afghanistan under his control. NATO officials said concern about civilian casualties caused by these forces was partly behind the decision, along with the need to better coordinate units and ensure that local commanders were aware of what was happening.
One unit could be doing counterinsurgency, while another carried out “a raid that might in fact upset progress,” General McChrystal explained during the videoconference.
Beyond the bare facts reported by the story -- i.e., the top American commanders acknowledge that their forces are killing scores of innocent civilians who pose no threat to the occupiers, and that their own incompetent policies are actually breeding more hatred and resistance -- there is also the astonishing circumstance that we have a story on the Laureate's "good war" in Afghanistan that is almost entirely nothing but bare facts.
Of course, the story appeared late on a Friday, and will no doubt disappear down the memory hole in short order. (What, you think the Sunday talk shows will be filled with heated discussions about "McChrystal's astounding admission"?) Still, I must admit that when I read the piece, I honestly did a double-take; I thought it was a hoax -- or perhaps a hack. Not because the story seemed implausible -- but precisely because it didn't, and because it was shorn of most of the self-serving, empire-justifying bullshit that surrounds accounts of the "Peace Prize Surge."
Again, just think of it, let it sink in, attend to the word of the commander: “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat." Again: “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat." Again: “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat."
Again: what do you call it when innocent, unarmed, defenseless people who "have never proven to be a threat" are gunned down in cold blood? What do you call such an act?
Dennis Kucinich is now reaping the reward for his high-profile bug-out on the Compulsory Corporate Profit Act of 2010, also known as "health care reform." And what a pearl of great price it is! Well worth selling out your heatedly avowed principles for! I mean, Mahatma Gandhi himself would traded his loincloth for a pinstripe suit to bag some bling like this! Check it out:
That's right: Dennis is now fronting the big-time money-grubbing operations of party hacks! Just days ago, Kucinich was condemning the health care bill as a bad, tainted piece of pork:
"a giveaway to the insurance industry -- $70 billion a year, and no guarantees of any control over premiums, forcing people to buy private insurance. I just don't see that this bill is the solution."
But now, he's out there rattling the cup for the very ladlers of corporate pork he has been castigating for months, writing in the new donation pitch:
On Tuesday, I ... witnessed an historic ceremony in the White House, where President Obama signed health care reform into law. I am pleased to have played a role in helping make this important moment possible.
Salon's Alex Koppelman -- who just days ago was bashing the still-dissident Kucinich as a loony goon who is not only an "ineffective legislator" but also a pathetic spokesman for his own wacky causes -- now finds true Beltway savviness in the way Dennis has hooked up with party bigwigs to shake some loot from the rubes:
Under current circumstances, though, using Kucinich makes perfect sense. He can appeal to liberals who might not open their wallets for a lot of other members of Congress, and his seal of approval can be used in an effort to convince Democrats who think the reform legislation doesn't go far enough that they should stay active with the party this year anyway.
In other words, Kucinich is happily participating in a PR scam to perpetuate the corporatist party elite that has just -- for the umpteenth time -- betrayed the deepest hopes of its masochistic supporters. And for your real rootin', tootin', "fightin' progressives" like Koppelman, this is a good thing. Because it's smart. It's savvy. It's playing the game.
And the game, apparently, is to keep your sweet progressive self somewhere near the hindquarters of power, just in case you might get a pat on the head every now and then from the honchos -- brutal operators and war criminals who will never, not even once, not even by accident, put any of your vaunted principles into practice.
A more paltry -- and degrading -- ambition can scarcely be imagined. But this seems to be the full extent of the "vision" offered by our modern progressives -- who despite their savvy servility to power still like to fancy themselves as the heirs of Martin King, Mother Jones ... and that old empire-shaking lion in loincloth from India.
It looks like heaven but it feels like death;
It's something in between, I guess:
It's closing time.
-- Leonard Cohen
Official transcript of remarks by President Barack Obamaafter the March 21 vote in the House of Representatives on H.R.3590: Motion to Concur in Senate Amendments to Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act:
My fellow Americans. As many of our more serious commentators have noted, Democrats and progressives have sought genuine reform of our broken, bloated, unjust health care system for almost a hundred years. Today, I am proud to say that we have brought that century-long struggle to a close. Together with our visionary partners in the House and the Senate, we have finally killed genuine health care reform for many years to come -- perhaps even for another century!
The struggle is over, the deal is done, the fix is in, and corporate power -- unbridled, unchallenged, coddled, protected, and larded with the endless pork of government-guaranteed profit -- has triumphed at last. This is an historic achievement. This is a mighty legacy we will bequeath to future generations.
This, my friends, is what change looks like.
Now, you know and I know that such change never comes easily. It never comes without opposition. It never comes without controversy. Even in this hour of victory, we know that the doom-sayers will be out in force.
And I'm not speaking here of the Republicans, whose opposition has simply been a lurid, baseless "Red Dawn" fantasy about "communism" coming to America. "Communism" -- in a bill that has been written by our visionary partners in the corporate community, by our hyper-capitalist friends and patrons on Wall Street, by the lobbyists and bagmen of Big Money! It's true there is a tinge of socialism in the bill, but it is, of course, the only kind of socialism that is tolerated in America: socialism for the rich, where the masses shoulder the risks -- and the costs -- while the wealthy reap the profits for themselves. The health-care barons, the bailed-out banks, the farm-devouring agriconglomerates, the war profiteers ... we've got plenty of boardroom bolsheviki out there -- but it sure ain't "communism" like Castro used to make! So let them hoot and holler down this false trail all they like; for as I learned back in my Senate days, when I was considered part of the "anti-war" faction, opposition without substance only entrenches the status quo.
No, what we must look out for are all those -- or rather, those very few -- nattering nabobs of negativism who have opposed our historic corporate empowerment bill out of -- get this -- principle. Like barnacles hanging onto the butt of the Titanic, they have clung to the idea of truly universal, equal, single-payer health care, a system that is less expensive, more efficient, more secure, more democratic, more popular and more effective than the heroic measure we have passed here today.
These poor wretches -- who now must face the wrath of Kos and the wroth of Rahm for their tragic apostasy -- are simply not savvy enough to see that our 2,000-page boondogglepalooza, riddled with fine-print exceptions, toothless regulations (which we will 'enforce' every bit as rigorously as Wall Street has been regulated all these years), impenetrable phase-in and phase-out schedules, and mild benefits that won't even begin kicking in for years -- and that even after a decade will still leave millions of people uncovered -- is much better than a simple, streamlined system that could be implemented by the end of this year, bringing genuine relief from intolerable, life-degrading financial burdens and medical problems to millions and millions of people in dire need right away.
The health insurance legislation is a major political symbol wrapped around a shredded substance. It does not provide coverage that is universal, comprehensive or affordable. It is a remnant even of its own initially compromised self — bereft of any public option, any safeguard for states desiring a single payer approach, any adequate antitrust protections, any shift of power toward consumers to defend themselves, any regulation of insurance prices, any authority for Uncle Sam to bargain with drug companies, and any reimportation of lower-priced drugs.
Hey, Ralph, thanks for reciting my credits! All those "berefts" you cited were the result of my own super- savvy negotiations! It's 11-dimensional chess, man, a really heavy-duty Matrix Zen Jedi Master use-the-Force kind of thing, where you win the game by giving away everything you have in the opening move! But you're too much a dinosaur to understand. 'Anti-trust protections!' Hey, Teddy Roosevelt -- your horse-and-buggy is waiting! Just listen to this guy:
Most of the health insurance coverage mandated by this legislation does not come into effect until 2014, by which time 180,000 Americans will die because they were unable to afford health insurance to cover treatment and diagnosis, according to Harvard Medical School researchers.
Well, what can I say? 180,000 is a lot of dead people. This is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.
Then there's this Chris Hedges guy. He used to be a "serious" journalist, reporting on the imperial wars for our corporate partners in the stovepiping community -- what old-timers and barnacles still like to call the "news media." But he went off the rails a long time ago and joined the carpers and cranks on the sidelines, those malcontents who, unlike so many of our progressive partners today, have never imbibed the timeless wisdom of Warren G. Harding: "Don't knock, boost!"
Just get a load of Hedges here, making the big-whoop observation that our historic bill is just a bloated version of the already-failed, Republican-created Massachusetts plan:
Take a look at the health care debacle in Massachusetts, a model for what we will get nationwide. One in six people there who have the mandated insurance say they cannot afford care, and tens of thousands of people have been evicted from the state program because of budget cuts. The 45,000 Americans who die each year because they cannot afford coverage will not be saved under the federal legislation. Half of all personal bankruptcies will still be caused by an inability to pay astronomical medical bills. The only good news is that health care stocks and bonuses for the heads of these corporations are shooting upward. ...
The bill is another example of why change will never come from within the Democratic Party. The party is owned and managed by corporations. The five largest private health insurers and their trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, spent more than $6 million on lobbying in the first quarter of 2009. Pfizer, the world’s biggest drug maker, spent more than $9 million during the last quarter of 2008 and the first three months of 2009. The Washington Post reported that up to 30 members of Congress from both parties who hold key committee memberships have major investments in health care companies totaling between $11 million and $27 million. President Barack Obama’s director of health care policy, who will not discuss single payer as an option, has served on the boards of several health care corporations. And as salaries for most Americans have stagnated or declined during the past decade, health insurance profits have risen by 480 percent.
...Obama and the congressional leadership have consciously shut out advocates of single payer from the debate. The press, including papers such as The New York Times, treats single payer as a fringe movement. The television networks rarely mention it. And yet between 45 and 60 percent of doctors favor single payer. Between 40 and 62 percent of the American people, including 80 percent of registered Democrats, want universal, single-payer not-for-profit health care for all Americans. The ability of the corporations to discredit and silence voices that represent at least half of the population is another sad testament to the power of our corporate state to frame all discussions. ...
Again with the credits! Stocks going up, corporate heads filling their pockets, pols gorging on backroom baksheesh, the stovepipers in the tank, Big Money controlling the debate ... Earth to Hedges: That's what we're here for! That's the whole point! You're an old Seventies guy, aren't you, Chris? You remember ZZ Top? "Jesus Just Left Chicago"? (If you'll pardon the immodesty.) What do they say? "Taking care of business is his name." They got that right.
So who cares if the plan "fails"? Who cares, if, as you say,
[the plan] will not expand coverage to 30 million uninsured, especially since government subsidies will not take effect until 2014. Families who cannot pay the high premiums, deductibles and co-payments, estimated to be between 15 and 18 percent of most family incomes, will have to default, increasing the number of uninsured. Insurance companies can unilaterally raise prices without ceilings or caps and monopolize local markets to shut out competitors.
Listen, Hedgie: If the plan was to reform the health care system for the benefit of the people, then we would have, like, reformed the health care system for the benefit of the people. You follow? The plan was, is, and will always be to appear to be reforming the system -- to make the rubes believe that something is being done to alleviate their pain -- precisely to avoid really reforming the system, which is just too good and greasy for too many of us at the top of the imperial pyramid.
And when this plan fails -- as it will, as it will -- then you rig up another boondoggle, another "great debate" full of sound and fury, signifying zilch, to keep the rubes at bay. Meanwhile, we can get on to the real job our corporate colleagues and patrons want us to do -- bringing that other old dream of social amelioration for the common folk to an end at last: Social Security. Scalpel, Nurse! The doctor is in!
If you are an American -- or indeed, any denizen of "Western Civilization" whose security and values are supposedly being "defended" on the far-flung fields of the Terror War -- then take a good, long look at what is being done in your name, with your money, by the ever-surging Peace Laureate and his War Machine. From The Times:
Covert troops who killed two pregnant women and a teenage girl in eastern Afghanistan went on to inflict “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” on the survivors of a botched night raid, a report by the UN said.
The family of the victims in Paktiya province have accused Nato of trying to cover up the atrocity after an investigation by The Times revealed that two men, who were also killed, were not the intended targets of the raid. One was a police commander and his brother was a district-attorney.
...The report, written in the aftermath of the February 12 attack, states: “As a result of the operation, five people were killed, two men and three women, all belonging to the same family.” There were about 25 guests and three musicians at the house on the night of the raid. They had gathered to celebrate the naming of a newborn child. It was only when a musician stepped outside to go to the lavatory at about 3.30am, that someone flashed a light in his eyes and he ran back inside shouting “Taleban”.
Witnesses said that Commander Dawood, the policeman, was shot with his son, Sediqullah, 15, when they ran across a courtyard. His brother, Saranwal Zahir, was shot trying to protest the family’s innocence. The three women were caught in a volley of fire behind him.
They had gathered to celebrate the naming of a newborn child. They had gathered in a family home, in their own country. They were not insurgents -- indeed, they at first mistook the Guardians of Western Civilization themselves as "Taliban," and sought to flee from them. But they were caught, shot, killed -- in their own country, in a family home, celebrating the naming of a newborn child.
The Times has more:
The UN report said that guests and injured relatives were then “assaulted by US and Afghan forces, restrained and forced to stand barefeet for several hours outside in the cold”. “Further allegations were also raised that US and Afghan forces refused to provide adequate and timely medical support to two people who sustained bullet injuries, resulting in their deaths hours later,” the report added. ...
Waheedullah, 22, one of the guests at the party who works as an ambulance driver in Gardez, said that he was dragged across the compound by his hair. “The Afghans said put up your hands. I stood up and I don’t know who was behind me. I was kicked from behind and fell over,” he added.
He saw a gunman with blond hair and a fair beard. “They were American special forces,” he said. The Afghan troops were using American rifles and wore patches on their sleeves with the local phrase for Nato’s International Security Assistance Force. The Americans were wearing “wood yellow” clothes, he said, which were different from the regular army’s green uniforms.
An earlier Times story on the incident reveals yet another outpouring of the usual slanderous lies from the occupation forces when one of their units has been caught in an atrocity. The original story told by NATO mouthpieces was that when the brave, unmarked covert soldiers appeared in the dead of night to carry out their courageous sneak attack on the sleeping village, they found the women already "tied up, gagged and killed." Then, while no doubt weeping salt tears at such a disturbing sight, the bold, courageous sneak attackers were set upon by "several insurgents," who were then killed by return fire from the brave, secret, non-uniformed night-stalking Defenders of Western Values.
NATO claimed that the women "were victims of an 'honor' killing" -- that is to say, they had been murdered by the dirty filthy primitive slaughterous wogs who populate the ghastly reeking hellhole that the Guardian Defenders of Civilized Western Values have come to liberate and enlighten. But as the Times drolly notes:
However, they did not explain why [if it was an honor killing,] the bodies would have been kept in the house overnight, against Islamic custom, nor why the family had invited 25 guests to celebrate the naming of a newborn child the same evening.
The NATO story was a brazen lie -- and was known to be a lie when the mouthpieces dribbled it from their lips like cud. There were no insurgents. There was no firefight. There was only a policeman, his brother, and three women shot dead in the middle of the night. But that didn't matter. The most important thing was that the first stories out of the gate on the atrocity fixed the "honor killing" motif in the public perception. (The miniscule portion of the public who gives the slightest, merest damn about civilians being killed in Afghanistan, that is.) Now, many weeks later, the truth comes out, but who cares? It's in some UN report, for God's sake, in a foreign newspaper. Such things have no resonance, no purchase, no meaning in the egotistical echo chamber of the Homeland.
Anyway, don't you know there's a health care vote coming up? Don't you know the most important thing in the entire world is how this vote by a pack of cranks, crooks and bagmen on a steaming mess of corporate pottage will affect the precious political fortunes of Barack Obama? I mean, my God, what if he only gets to sit in the White House coddling billionaires, cutting social programs and waging war for only three more years instead of seven? Isn't that infinitely more important than the lives of a few innocent people?
This, by the way, was the main argument offered by Dennis Kucinich, when he abandoned his opposition to the Obambazoole health care bill: "“We have to be very careful that the potential of President Obama’s presidency not be destroyed by this debate.” And he said this just days after he had introduced a bill to bring the Afghan War to an immediate end -- precisely because it was a pointless, destructive exercise in imperial power that was killing innocent people and breeding hatred and blowback against the United States. But in the end, it seems that "saving" the power of the man who is directing and expanding this murderous exercise is the most important thing -- as long as he is on your side of the political fence.
Here one recalls the searing insight of Maxim Gorky in April 1917:
"Politics is the seedbed of social enmity, evil suspicions, shameless lies, morbid ambitions, and disrespect for the individual. Name anything bad in man, and it is precisely in the soil of political struggle that it grows in abundance."
And who were these people killed by our tough, bold, stubbly sneak attackers in their courageous, Homeric assault on a sleeping village at three o'clock in the morning? Afghans -- including a policeman -- who had bowed to main force and thrown in their lot with ... the Americans. From the Times:
An undated document seen by The Times that was presented by US forces to Commander Dawood, the dead policeman, praised him for his work and “dedication and willingness to serve the people of Afghanistan”. It said he would “ensure the stability of your country for many years”.
Commander Dawood’s brother, Saranwal Zahir, was a district attorney in Ahmadabad district, also in Paktia. The two married women were four and five months pregnant. The teenage girl, Gulalai, was engaged to be married this summer.
And what is the inevitable result of this magnificent feat of arms in service of the values of Western Civilization? The Times headline says it all: "Survivors of family killed in Afghanistan raid threaten suicide attacks."
Local elders delivered $2,000 (£1,300) in compensation for each of the five victims to the head of the family, Haji Sharabuddin, after protests brought Gardez, the capital of Paktia, to a halt. “I don’t want money. I want justice,” he said. “All our family, we now don’t care about our lives. We will all do suicide attacks and [the whole province] will support us.” ...
“Before, when I heard reports of raids like this and elders said [foreign troops] only came to colonise Afghanistan, I told them they are here to help us,” said Sayed Mohammed Mal, the vice-chancellor of Gardez University, whose son Mansoor was Gulalai’s fiancé. “But when I witnessed this in my family’s home, I realised I was wrong. Now I accept the things those people told me. I hate [foreign forces]. I hate the Government.”
... “My father was friends with the Americans and they killed him,” said Commander Dawood’s son, Abdul Ghafar, as he held a dog-eared photograph showing the policeman with three US soldiers. One of the Americans had his arm around Mr. Dawood. “They killed my father. I want to kill them. I want the killers brought to justice.” ...
“The foreigners are always talking about human rights. But they don’t care about human rights,” said Gulalai’s father, Mohammed Tahir. “They teach us human rights then they kill a load of civilians. They didn’t come here to end terrorism. They are terrorists.”
Of course, we must excuse Mr. Tahir; no doubt he's a bit tired and over-emotional. We all know that Americans -- by definition -- cannot be terrorists. (Unless they are Muslim-Americans, that is.) Americans can only, at the very worst, make the occasional mistake -- and that only out of their admirably bumbling zeal to do altruistic good. And naturally, Mr. Tahir is far too primitive to comprehend the higher-order thought of Western Civilization, which finds its most apt expression in that elegant and subtle metaphor which encapsulates the quintessence of our enlightened values: you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.
We are sure that one day, when the omelet of a free, civilized, enlightened Afghanistan -- happily connected to the world by peaceful ties of friendship and profitable networks of pipelines -- is finally cooked, he will be happy that his young daughter will be part of the sumptuous feast.
Well, so much for conscience. The other day here, we had kind words for the stand taken by Dennis Kucinich against the boardroom-backroom boondoggle known as the health care bill. The main thrust of that post was not meant to be the innate wonderfulness of St. Dennis but the hypocrisy of the "Fightin' Progressives," such as Commander Kos and Alex Koppelman, who had launched a vituperative attack on Kucinich for daring to oppose the bill -- a measure which not only represents a complete and craven surrender of even the smallest crumbs of the progressives' original hopes for health care reform, but was also fatally tainted by the brazen bribe Obama took from the gorging, gouging drug and insurance cartels to make sure their destructive sway over American health care remains unbroken.
Still, I admit I was pleasantly surprised to see Kucinich stand up against the health care bill, apparently on principle, especially as he was also sponsoring a bill to end the Afghanistan War at the same time. (I realize the latter was a wholly symbolic act -- then again, all acts are symbolic to one degree or another; that is, they symbolize the moral stance behind the act, whether it is effective or not. Thus, "savvy" compromises on, say, appropriations for the Terror War or detainee policy or illegal surveillance symbolize an underlying acceptance of atrocity, tyranny and war crime.)
But I suspected the fix was in when I saw reports that Kucinich was flying with Obama for a presidential appearance in Ohio. There was little or no chance that Kucinich would have been engaged in such high-profile hitchhiking if he was not already in the bag for Barack.
And so it proved. Kucinich's cave-in did win him a respectful nod from the New York Times, which featured his turn-around in a front-page web story that had none of the usual snide asides about his "kooky" ideas that normally accompany any mainstream mention of him. The Washington Post kept the wonted snark, however, noting in its lede that:
...Kucinich, often a proponent of very liberal, unlikely ideas such as the creation of a "Department of Peace" and the impeachment of then-Vice President Cheney, has found his pragmatic streak.
Impeaching Dick Cheney! Gawd, what a loon, eh? And peace? We don't need no stinkin' peace.
Anyway, in the end, Dennis proved to be no menace at all to the Boondoggle Express. He got on board offering the same lame justification for junking his principles that a plethora of progressives have served up: the idea that passing the current HCR (High Corporate Returns) bill is somehow a step forward toward real reform somewhere down the road someday. The usual line is something like, "If we don't pass this horrible bill, we won't get another shot at real health care reform for 20 years." Or as Kucinich himself put it (somewhat inelegantly): "This is a defining moment for if we will have any opportunity to move off square one on health care."
This seems to me to be the exact opposite of the truth. In reality, if this horrible bill passes, we will be stuck with it for 20 years, because no Democratic politician -- "progressive," "pragmatist," or otherwise -- will want to go near the issue again. You can already hear the "savvy" counsel party bigwigs will dispense if anyone tries to "move off square one" on health care in the foreseeable future: "For God's sake, don't rake all that up again! Don't you remember the hell we went through getting that damn thing passed in 2010? You want to give the Republicans another club to beat us over the head with? We've done 'reform.' Leave it alone."
However, if this bill (which almost every "progressive" has declared is a misbegotten, corruption-ridden, botulistic glop of indigestible legislative sausage -- even as they threaten to wage holy war against anyone who votes against it) is defeated, then the ground will be cleared for genuine reform. A real leader could then say: "OK, we tried it your way. We brought in the corporations. We courted the Republicans shamelessly. We gave away the game on day one, took all our cards off the table, compromised every value we profess to hold. We backed down, we turned tail, we sold out. And it didn't work. Now, we're going to do it for real. Single-payer, universal: that's where we start, and by God, that's where we finish, or somewhere damn near to it. And if you don't like it -- well, let us refer you to the famous words uttered by Dick Cheney to Patrick Leahy on the floor of the Senate on that historic day in 2004."
If the bad bill is defeated, you can bring up a good bill in every Congressional session -- yes, for the next 20 years, if need be. Hell, you can bring it up every week. And if you beat the drums for genuine health care reform with even one-tenth of the strength and fervor that the Obama team lavishes on demonizing Iran, protecting torturers and enriching the criminal rich, then you wouldn't need 20 years -- or 20 weeks -- or 20 days -- to get it passed.
That's what a real leader could do. But of course, there is not even the shadow of a semblance of a real leader within 500 miles of the festering core of the Potomac Empire.
Dear New York Times,
OK, OK, we get the picture: you want the United States to attack Iran. Why don't you go ahead and put a permanent banner across the top of the front page with the Cato-like adjuration: "Iran Must Be Destroyed!" Or maybe you could just tack it on to every single story: "Yankees Trade to Bolster Outfield; Iran Must Be Destroyed." "Mixed Results for Apple I-Pad; Iran Must Be Destroyed." "Markets Anxious Over Health Care Vote; Iran Must Be Destroyed." "New Bistro Revels in Bohemian Ambience; Iran Must Be Destroyed."
After all, hardly a week goes by now without some big juicy piece of Times scaremongery about Iran's nuclear program, usually with the same image of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a lab coat looking blankly at metal tubes. The thrust of these stories is always the same: Iran is galloping toward nuclear weaponhood -- a "global threat" that "cannot be allowed to stand." Last week, it was Bill Broad, goosing the rubes with this little number, a supposed "science" piece: For Iran, Enriching Uranium Only Gets Easier.
For a moment, let's put aside the fact of Iran's persistent denials of a desire for nuclear weapons -- including the explicit, repeated statements of the theocracy's supreme religious and political leader that such weapons are anathema. And let's put aside the fact that despite the most extensive and intrusive inspection regime in the history of atomic energy development, there is no evidence whatsoever that Iran is not doing exactly what it says it is doing: developing non-weaponized nuclear power for peaceful purposes. These are just facts, after all -- and facts, as the sainted Ronald Reagan once told us, are stupid things.
But even if we were to grant the fevered fantasies of our masturbatory militarists the slightest tincture of credibility -- or even take their brazen propaganda as gospel truth -- they have never yet explained exactly why Iran's possession of nuclear weapons would be a greater "global threat" than, say, the bristling arsenals produced by the illegal, covert, crimeful programs in Israel, India and Pakistan. Nor are we told why an ill-gotten Iranian bomb would be worse than the vast "legal" nuclear arsenals of Russia, China, France, Great Britain and, of course, the only nation in the history of the world that has actually used nuclear weapons to slaughter hundreds of thousands of defenseless civilians, the United States of America.
But as we've mentioned here often before, "there is literally nothing that Iran can do – or not do – to divert the American elite's desire to strike at their land and bring it under domination." They are of course already waging secret, slow-motion war against Iran right now, and have been for many years, with sanctions, terrorist campaigns and covert operations. The only real debate within the power structure is when and how to accelerate -- or "surge" -- this war into a broader, more overt campaign. "Moderates" opt for continuing the gradualist approach until such time as the bond markets -- and other financial arbiters of our fate -- signal their relative comfort with the move; "hawks" -- many of whom have vested interests in the "security industry" which reaps such vast profit from war and rumors of war -- press relentlessly for immediate action.
But whatever their stripe, there is no third way among our elites on the question of Iran, nothing beyond the notion that Iran must be "dealt with" -- harshly, stringently -- until it is once more under Western sway. And it is this latter recalcitrance -- which is shared both by the present Tehran regime and its dissidents -- that makes Iran a "rogue" nation, not its internal political repression (which is less severe than some staunch American allies) nor its reputed "support for terrorism" (an oft-used tool of the United States and its allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia), nor even Ahmadinejad's non-existent calls for Israel to be "destroyed" or his Holocaust revisionism (both of which have long been propagated in far more virulent forms among staunch American allies such as Saudi Arabia, or America's favorite partner for Middle East peace talks, the unelected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a vile Holocaust revisionist for decades -- but now regarded as the most "genuine and serious" partner imaginable for the Jewish state, according to no less than Tom "Suck On This" Friedman).
But these facts do not matter in the slightest. The American media -- corporatized and homogenized to a fare-thee-well -- simply regurgitate whatever fantasy scenario our masters come up with to keep the domination agenda careening drunkenly down the road. These scenarios don't have to be plausible; they don't even have to make sense or have the slightest bit of internal consistency. And they can change literally overnight -- as we all remember when Saddam Hussein went from staunch American ally, bulwark against the rabid Shiite menace, to "the new Hitler," bent on world domination, the day after he attacked the American elite's business partners, the repressive, anti-Semitic Kuwaiti royals.
This very interesting -- and very crucial -- passage in American history is now almost forgotten. But as we careen deeper into conflict with Iran, it is a history well worth remembering. Here is just a bit of it, from a piece I wrote a few years ago. Take special note of one bit player, whose significance I was not aware of at the time: Jay Bybee, a longtime factotum who first helped facilitate Daddy Bush's covert arming of Saddam Hussein, then later, as we now know, helped L'il Georgie perpetrate the capital crime of torture:
Bush [Senior] also used the global criminal network of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) to secretly funnel cash and weaponry to Saddam – then intervened to quash federal investigations of the scam. What was BCCI? Only "one of the largest criminal enterprises in history," according to the United States Senate. What did BCCI do? "It engaged in pandemic bribery of officials in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas," says journalist Christopher Bryon, who first exposed the operation. "It laundered money on a global scale, intimidated witnesses and law officers, engaged in extortion and blackmail. It supplied the financing for illegal arms trafficking and global terrorism. It financed and facilitated income tax evasion, smuggling and prostitution." Sort of an early version of the Bush Regime, then.
The Italian bank BNL was one of BCCI's main tentacles. BNL's Atlanta branch was the primary funnel used to send millions of secret dollars to Saddam for arms purchases, including deadly chemicals and other WMD materials supplied by the Chilean arms dealer Cardoen and various politically-connected operators in the United States like, weapons merchant Matrix Churchill.
As soon as the BNL case broke, Bush moved to throttle the investigation. He appointed lawyers from both Cardoen and Matrix to top Justice Department posts – where they supervised the officials investigating their old companies. The overall probe was directed by Justice Department investigator Robert Mueller. Meanwhile, White House aides applied heavy pressure on other prosecutors to restrict the range of the probe – especially the fact that Bush cabinet officials Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger had served as consultants for BNL during their pre-White House days as spear-carriers for yet another secretive international front that profits from war, weapons, and the avid greasing of highly-placed palms: Kissinger Associates. The U.S. Senate later found that the probe had been unaccountably "botched" – witnesses went missing, CIA records got "lost," all sorts of bad luck. Most of the big BCCI players went unpunished or got off with wrist-slap fines and sanctions.
One of the White House aides who unlawfully intervened in the BNL prosecution was a certain factotum named Jay S. Bybee. In 2004, said factotum was appointed by George W. Bush to a place on the federal appeals court – a lifetime sinecure of perks and power. Mueller, meanwhile wound up as head of the FBI, appointed to the post in by George W. in July 2001. Well done, thou good and faithful servants!
Then came Bush's "Gulf War," when he turned on his protégé after Saddam made the foolish move of threatening the Kuwaiti royals – Bush's long-time business partners, going back to the early 1960s. Saddam's conflict with Kuwait centered on two main issues: first, his claim that the billions of dollars Kuwait had given Iraq during the war with Iran was simply straightforward aid to the nation that was defending the Sunni Arab world from the aggressive onslaught of the Shiite Persians. The Kuwaitis insisted the money had been a loan, and demanded that Saddam pay off. There was also Saddam's claim that Kuwait was "slant-drilling" into Iraqi oilfields, siphoning off underground reserves from across the border. These disputes raged for months; a deal to resolve them was brokered by the Arab League, but fell apart at the last minute when Kuwait suddenly rejected the agreement, saying, "We will call in the Americans."
How worried was Bush about the situation? Let's look at the historical record. In the two weeks before the invasion of Kuwait, Bush approved the sale of an additional $4.8 million in "dual-use" technology to factories identified by the CIA as linchpins of Hussein's illicit nuclear and biochemical programs, the Los Angeles Times reports. The day before Saddam sent his tanks across the border, Bush obligingly sold him more than $600 million worth of advanced communications technology. A week later, he was declaring that his long-time ally was "worse than Hitler."
Yes, the Kuwaitis had called in their marker. Like a warlord of old, Bush used the US military as a private army to help his business partners. After an extensive bombing campaign that openly – even gleefully – mocked international law in its targeting of civilian infrastructure (a tactic repeated in Serbia by Bill Clinton – now regarded as an "adopted son" by Bush), the brief 100-hour ground war slaughtered fleeing Iraqi conscripts by the thousands – while, curiously, allowing Saddam's crack troops, the aptly-named Republican Guard, to escape unharmed. Later, these troops were used to kill tens of thousands of Shiites who had risen in rebellion against Saddam – at the specific instigation of George Bush, who not only abandoned them to their fate, but specifically allowed Saddam to use his attack helicopters against the rebels, and also ordered US troops to block Shiites from gaining access to arms caches.
Now Barack Obama and his "Justice" Department are working overtime to protect Bybee -- and the rest of the war-and-torture fomenters -- from even the slightest mussing of their hair for their facilitation of acts that are clearly war crimes under United States law, the Geneva Conventions and the Principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal. Obama will not acknowledge these atrocities for what they are; he will not investigate these atrocities; he will not prosecute these atrocities. And the reason for this inaction is simple: he approves of these atrocities, and is himself facilitating their continuation and expansion. And why does he do this? Because that is why he came to power: to direct the empire toward its traditional ends of geopolitical domination and oligarchic enrichment. His actual policies give ample demonstration of this fact. (Alexander Cockburn lays out the case here.)
But as we noted, facts are stupid things. No one much wants to hear them; and fewer and fewer people can even recognize them when they float up, in broken bits and jagged pieces, from the rancid swill of our political "discourse." And even though the Obama Administration is employing the exact same tactics in demonizing Iran that the Bush Administration employed with Iraq -- right down to the use of the highly respected, internationally renowned New York Times as a "stovepipe" for warmongering propaganda -- no one seems able to grasp what is happening. We still get earnest debates and fretful questions about the "direction" and "intentions" of the current administration's policies toward Iran.
The intention is this: domination, by any means necessary. This is the bedrock, bipartisan consensus of the American ruling class and its outriders, sycophants, courtiers and toadies. It was spelled out with crystal clarity by two years ago by Admiral William Fallon, the predecessor of General David Petraeus in the very cockpit of the war machine, Central Command. Fallon, as you may recall, enjoyed a brief frisson among progressives for an erroneous report that he had declared there would be no military action against Iran on his watch. And while it was true that he was skeptical about immediate action -- putting him in the "moderate" camp described above -- he left no doubt about his adherence to the imperial consensus. As I noted at the time:
Fallon himself has long denied the hearsay evidence that he had declared, upon taking over Central Command, that a war on Iran "isn't going to happen on my watch." And in fact, the article itself depicts Fallon's true attitude toward the idea of an attack on Iran right up front, in his own words. After noting Fallon's concerns about focusing too much on Iran to the exclusion of the other "pots boiling over" in the region, Barnett presses the point and asks: And if it comes to war? Fallon replies with stark, brutal clarity:
"'Get serious,' the admiral says. 'These guys are ants. When the time comes, you crush them.'"
When the time comes, you crush the ants. If anyone asks you to define the "American Way" in the 21st century, just quote them that one sentence.
UPDATE: The eagle eye of Jason Ditz at Antiwar.com caught this story on the wing: the Obama administration is moving a massive amount of weaponry, including hundreds of bunker buster bombs, to Diego Garcia. As Ditz notes:
The Sunday Herald report also cites numerous experts as saying that the lack of publicity for the move, just one of several examples of the Obama Administration adding major amounts of weaponry to the area around Iran, suggests they believe a confrontation is more likely.
Britain and America cut a secret deal: land for nukes. London sliced off a sliver of its imperial dominions and gave it to Washington, in exchange for a price reduction on some sleek new nuclear missiles. Together, the two great democracies then drove the inhabitants of the sliver from their homes by force, dumping them into poverty-ridden exile hundreds of miles away. Washington built an imperial outpost on the stolen land, a military base which it used to "project dominance" over strategic regions in Central Asia and the Middle East. Later, the outpost became yet another link in Washington's chain of "black sites" -- secret prisons where captives snatched without charges or due process could be hidden from the world and tortured.
This is the story of the Chagos Archipelago, a chain of small islands in the Indian Ocean whose inhabitants were forced from their land forty years ago to make way for a military base on the island of Diego Garcia. The base, built and staffed largely by the Americans but operated jointly with the British, has been the launching pad for countless air strikes against Iraq (in two wars) and Afghanistan. It has also served as one of the sinister way stations in America's global gulag. In return for its use of the ethnically cleansed land, Washington graciously knocked off $14 million from the price tag of some Polaris nuclear missiles that Britain craved, in its never-ending struggle to retain some crumbs of its own, now-faded "projection of dominance" on the world stage.
"To get us out of our homes," Lizette told me, "they spread rumors we would be bombed, then they turned on our dogs. The American soldiers who had arrived to build the base backed several of their big vehicles against a brick shed, and hundreds of dogs were rounded up and imprisoned there, and they gassed them through a tube from the trucks' exhaust. You could hear them crying. Then they burned them on a pyre, many still alive."
Lizette and her family were finally forced on to a rusting freighter and made to lie on a cargo of bird fertilizer during a voyage, through stormy seas, to the slums of Port Louis, Mauritius. Within months, she had lost Jollice, aged eight, and Regis, aged ten months. "They died of sadness," she said. "The eight-year-old had seen the horror of what had happened to the dogs. The doctor said he could not treat sadness."
*** NOTE: No one has covered America's slide toward war with Iran -- and indeed, the accelerating moral rot of militarist empire in general -- with more depth and insight than Arthur Silber. He is in extremely low water right now, suffering from severe health problems. He has been able to post only a small handful of articles since the first of December -- and nothing at all for several weeks now. Yet his blog is his sole means of support. I don't know what his precise situation is at the moment, but it is certain to be dire. If you are able to contribute anything to help him out, I would urge you to go to his site and drop something in the donation jar.