How's that "extraordinary achievement" of "the surge" going over in Iraq? Iraqi academic Sami Ramadani -- who fled persecution by Saddam's regime and also opposed the America war of aggression against his country -- has this report, in the wake of the latest round of carnage in the civil war set off by the American invasion:
There is no doubt that the situation has improved for US forces, while British troops were airlifted from the fires of Iraq to be thrown into the flames of Afghanistan. The US plan for Iraq has so far succeeded in reducing its own casualties by pushing more of the Iraqi forces into the battle against the "insurgency" – better known in Iraq as the "honourable patriotic resistance" to distinguish it from the hated al-Qaida-style terrorists attacks.
But try to tell Iraqis who are not part of the ruling circles that their situation has improved since the occupation and they will remind you not only of the countless dead and injured but also of the million-plus orphans and widows, the 2 million who fled the country, and the 2 million internal refugees, most of whom live in dreadful squalor.
They will tell you about the sewage covering the streets of many towns and cities, the lack of clean water, fuel and electricity, and the ever deteriorating health and education services. They will tell you about the more than 50% unemployment, the kidnapping of children, the fear of women to move freely, and the rapid rise in drug abuse and prostitution. They will describe the horrific methods of torture inflicted on the tens of thousands of prisoners in Iraqi and American jails. ... Iraqis will also instantly refer you to the corrupt rulers who came to Iraq "on the backs of US tanks". They will tell you of the division of ministries and senior posts among the various sectarian and ethnically identified political allies of the US....
While Iraq and its people continue to suffer, with most of the western media ignoring their plight, President Obama is still pursuing President Bush's goal in Iraq – to have a government in Baghdad that is closely allied to the US. This is incompatible with bringing about a stable, peaceful and democratic Iraq. What US strategists have yet to learn is that the Iraqi people will not freely accept a pro-US regime in Baghdad and that the "exit strategy" will inevitably result in long-term occupation, and bring only more bloodshed and destruction.
But what does Ramadani know? He's just an Iraqi. The bipartisan best and brightest back in Washington will no doubt find a way to make it work. They always do, don't they?
Recently, I wrote of "the 'counterinsurgency doctrine' so beloved by the Pentagon and eagerly embraced by Barack Obama." A reader took me to task for this inflammatory remark, saying:
That 'eagerly embraced' statement is certainly hard to square with the Pentagon's annoyance and Cheney's charge of dithering. Its inaccuracy suggests either deliberate inaccuracy or judgment clouded by emotion, but either way it isn't good.
To which, this brief reply:
I realize that historical memory has always been a rare commodity in the United States, but one shudders to see that the onset of this chronic amnesia is now down to the merest months. Was it not just six months ago, in May 2009, that Obama made a great show of firing the commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, and replacing him with a much-lauded "expert" in counterinsurgency, Gen. Stanley McChrystal -- a close associate of the much-lauded "architect" of counterinsurgency in Iraq, General David Petraeus -- the Bush-appointed officer whom Obama has retained as the top dog in the central fronts of the Terror War? Was not McChrystal championed by Robert Gates -- the Bush-appointed factotum whom Obama has retained as the top dog in the Pentagon war machine?
The fact that Obama has not yet signed off on McChrystal's latest plan does not mean that he is not now, before our very eyes, promulgating the Pentagon's time-honored bleed-build-rinse-repeat philosophy of occupation warfare. He has already launched one major Petraeus-style "surge" in Afghanistan this year; the current controversy about the McChrystal plan is confined to how many more troops to send, and how far the vastly stupid and dangerous American war in Pakistan should be escalated. Obama has already explicitly ruled out withdrawing from Afghanistan; that's "not an option," as his mouthpiece put it just a few weeks ago. So what's left? Only some form of continued "counterinsurgency."
And so what if the Pentagon is "annoyed" with Obama, or if Dick Cheney is critical of the faction that ousted his faction from power? Do you think that factions in regimes of every stripe don't have very fierce and nasty internal battles, even when they embrace the same general philosophy? Ever read any history of the inner workings of Nazi regime, or the Bolsheviks, or the Roman Empire -- or Lincoln's cabinet?
Of course, one can always base one's conclusions on headlines in the NY Times: "Pentagon Annoyed at Not Immediately Getting Its Own Way!" or even -- gasp! -- "Cheney Slams Obama!" If these "Dog Bites Man, Sun Rises in the East" kind of stories inform your worldview, then more power to you. Personally, I don't get much out of them. [For a brilliant dissection of the kind of threadbare vacuity that lies behind most "expert" analyses in the Times, see Arthur Silber's latest: The Empty Establishment: No One's Home in an Intellectual Wasteland.]
As for the particular criticisms on offer, I have to say that sniffy insinuations of "deliberate inaccuracy" are very far off the mark. Not that I've never been inaccurate, of course, if led astray by some erroneous source material, or by my own lack of insight or understanding in considering a particular situation. But I have never knowingly distorted or falsified a fact in order to support an argument or assertion. And in any case, as noted above, it is no way inaccurate to say that Barack Obama has eagerly embraced the "COIN" doctrine of Petraeus, which has been so blindly feted by the bipartisan elite of our political and media establishments – even though it is merely a regurgitation of similarly debased, and unsuccessful, COIN operations in times past.
And as for judgments "clouded with emotion," let me say, in all candor, that I honestly don't give one good goddamn whether someone thinks my writing on this issue is "clouded by emotion" or not. I mean, Jesus Herbert Walker Christ, we are talking about arms and legs and heads being ripped from the bodies of women and children -- actual human beings, being slaughtered in our names, day after day. And for what purpose? Every ill and evil that the war purports to address is actually made worse by our violent occupation. Eight years down, and the Taliban is stronger, Pakistan is far more unstable, thousands more civilians have been killed, religious extremism in the region is stronger than ever, the opium trade is more virulent and more devastating, brutal warlords rule with impunity … the list goes on and on. And all we are being offered by our new "progressive" administration is more of the same.
So yes, when I write about this atrocious and obscene situation, there is a bit of "emotion" in it. And I guess you're right: such a thing "isn't good" -- if what you want is to be taken "seriously" by the oh-so-serious, in that world where portentous headlines form the thrice-chewed cud of "conventional wisdom," But I don't give a damn about that, not in the slightest. I write about these things for one reason only: to bear witness, to put down for the record that I saw the evil being committed in my name, and that I spoke out against it, as fully and honestly as I knew how. That's it. That's all I want to do. For whatever reason, I feel compelled to give this testimony -- and it really doesn't matter to me what anyone else makes of it. If they find it useful in some way, I'm very glad; if they don't, so what?
I'm not saying there aren't many other worthy and effective approaches to confronting the horrific reality of our day -- including, yes, writing dispassionate analyses, or striving to couch your dissent in a form that might get a hearing amongst the cud-chewers who control our national discourse. I've done both in my day. I may do so again. But that's not what I'm doing here.
In any event, to believe that emotion does not infuse, direct and shape all of our judgments is, I think, deeply ignorant – historically, philosophically and biochemically. We know that consciousness arises from the unimaginably vast, unimaginably intricate interactions of physical and mental states. There is no airless, emotionless compartment somewhere inside your mind where you can go to hammer out pure, Platonic, disembodied essences of thought.
The most important question in this regard is not whether or not something is written with emotion, because this is unavoidable. The real question is whether or not that emotion is an informed one – if it is backed by facts, if it has been subjected to a self-aware analysis, and is not simply a regurgitation of conventional wisdom, shaped by emotions and motives which have been left to lie unconscious and unexplored.
I hope to God that I never write about atrocity, murder, corruption and brutality without a judgment deep-dyed with emotion for the vast suffering they cause. I hope my soul never becomes deadened to these horrors.
A few quick takes on the Long, Long War of Empire.
COIN Machine Out of Change Nick Turse examines the effectiveness of the "counterinsurgency doctrine" so beloved by the Pentagon and eagerly embraced by Barack Obama. Turse begins with the stellar success of American COIN operations in the Philippines – still going strong after more than 100 years. It certainly bodes well for Barack's big adventure in Bactria and environs, doesn't it?
Pumping (Blood and) Iron
Another venerable tradition of our militarist state is "rolling out the product" – i.e., playing the "free press" like a pump organ to sing the siren song of war. David Bromwich admires the masterclass in this pernicious process put on by the New York Times in a recent five-day blitz to push a "counterinsurgency" escalation on the Af-Pak front.
The Bush-minted, Petraeus-stamped COIN in Iraq is now regarded by some poor fools (i.e., 97 percent of the political and media establishments) as an "extraordinary achievement," to use Obama's preferred term for the "surge." That's not true, of course; the "surge" was actually a partially successful intervention on the part of one faction in the multi-sided civil war set off by the American military aggression.
(Much as the American military aggression in Cambodia destroyed that society and led directly to the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge – who were, in any case, later backed by the Americans when Vietnam launched a "humanitarian intervention" to kick them out. Yes, it's very confusing, isn't it, these questions of when an invasion is "humanitarian" or not, and under what circumstances you should support genocidal berserkers. Such a tricky business; that's why we leave it to our wise leaders, like Nixon, Bush and Obama, to figure it all out for us.)
In any case, the armed extremist factions that America empowered are now putting their stamp on the "democracy" in Iraq. And here's what your tax dollars – and the blood of your compatriots (not to mention the blood of more than a million innocent Iraqis; but then, who does mention them?) – has paid for: Iraqi Campus Is Under Gang’s Sway. This is from the NY Times -- which, when not obliged to do its civic duty as a pipeline for war propaganda, can sometimes actually dig up a few useful facts:
Mustansiriya University, one of Iraq’s most prestigious universities, was temporarily closed this month by the prime minister in an effort to rid it of a shadowy student gang accused of murdering, torturing and raping fellow students, and killing professors and administrators....
Mustansiriya... is under the sway of an armed group of violent Shiite students in engineering, literature, law and other disciplines; faculty members; and campus security guards. Abed Thiab al-Ajili, Iraq’s minister of higher education, and administrators and professors at the university said in interviews that it was commonly believed that violence continued there because of ties between some of the officials in Mr. Maliki’s Shiite party, Dawa, and the Students League through university administrators who shielded the group from prosecution....
The Students League, they said, controls campus activities and security, as well as aspects of grading, admissions and even which courses professors teach. ... The Students League has also asserted control by sharing money with some school administrators through bid-rigging of campus contracts and various other illegal means, said a university administrator whom the group had threatened to kill.
An extraordinary achievement, or what? Unfortunately, America's empowered poobah doesn't seem quite empowered enough to get the country ready for the ballyhooed elections in January, after which we're promised that American forces can finally begin some serious withdrawing of their occupation forces down to an as-yet unspecified level of troops who will remain behind as, uh, occupation forces (albeit with a more PC description). Why, we hear tell that Maliki and the gang might even have to postpone the elections – which will doubtless "force" the occupiers to delay any meaningful pull-out, in order to provide "continuing stability in a time of political turmoil" or some such.
Still marking time, laying in some firewood, getting my back wheels aligned. Reading strange testaments, sitting in a French cafe, listening to music from the days of troubled sleep. When the rain lets up, I'll take my cane from the coat-rack and slip out the door. Till then.
Lingering illness and pressing business have kept me away from blogging for the past few days, but I shall return to the fray -- untanned, unrested, and, like Ethelred, unready -- as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, I urge you to the check out a remarkable compendium that Arthur Silber has put together at his site, drawing together several essays from over the years that touch upon some of the deepest wellsprings of our various bedevilments, both public and private. In a world more just, humane and sane, this collection would be published in book form, to stand as an honored and much-consulted volume on many a shelf. But to paraphrase that great humanitarian, Donald Rumsfeld, you don't get to live in the world you want; you've got to live in the world you have. So this assemblage of links will have to do for now. Give it a look at this URL [my link function is not working at the moment]: http://powerofnarrative.blogspot.com/2009/10/meaningful-connections.html.
It turns out that Benito Mussolini, inventor of fascism and promulgator of vast atrocities in Ethiopia and elsewhere, had his sinister career kick-started with dollops of secret cash from -- where else? -- the intelligence service of one of the great and good world-leading democracies of his day.
The Guardian reports that Britain's MI5 reached out and touched young Mussolini when he was still a Fox News-style "journalist" railing against peaceniks opposed to Italy's involvement in the pointless slaughter of World War I. The British security organs were afraid that reason and human fellow-feeling would run rampant in Italy if the dirty hippies weren't crushed, so they began pumping a great deal of scratch to Mussolini -- who did not confine himself to Beckian media rants, but also marshaled various thugs to beat up war opponents:
Archived documents have revealed that Mussolini got his start in politics in 1917 with the help of a £100 weekly wage from MI5.
For the British intelligence agency, it must have seemed like a good investment. Mussolini, then a 34-year-old journalist, was not just willing to ensure Italy continued to fight alongside the allies in the first world war by publishing propaganda in his paper. He was also willing to send in the boys to "persuade'' peace protesters to stay at home.
Cambridge historian Peter Martland, who discovered details of the deal struck with the future dictator, said: "Britain's least reliable ally in the war at the time was Italy after revolutionary Russia's pullout from the conflict. Mussolini was paid £100 a week from the autumn of 1917 for at least a year to keep up the pro-war campaigning – equivalent to about £6,000 a week today."
British aid and comfort to Il Putze didn't stop with the war-goosing dosh, of course. Mussolini was widely admired by many of the elite in Britain (and elsewhere), who admired his strongman rule, which swept aside all that silly nonsense about law and democracy. Winston Churchill was a big fan, declaring that Mussolini -- "the Roman genius," as he called him -- was "the greatest lawgiver among men." He also lauded the violent and corrupt fascist dictatorship for "render[ing] a service to the whole world" by demonstrating how to crack down on "subversive forces."
Later, of course, thousands of British soldiers died fighting against the forces of the great lawgiver after he threw in with his pupil (and later master), Adolf Hitler. But what can you do? You live by the strongman, you die by the strongman. (Or rather, the cannon fodder you command dies by the strongman.) At least Winnie and Bennie had many years of fond mutual regard before that little falling-out at the end.
Meanwhile, Mussolini's corrupt, undemocratic influence lives on, in diluted (so far) form under Silvio Berlusconi, the egomaniacal media oligarch whose ruling coalition includes a party which openly boasts of its direct lineage to Mussolini's thuggish faction.
The legacy of this ugly episode also lives on in the never-ending replication of the MI5-Mussolini hook-up by our "leading democracies," whose chief foreign policy seems to be the fostering of violent thugs and "strongmen" to keep a lid on "recalcitrant tribes" (another evocative phrase of that Nobelist litterateur, Churchill) -- and to stoke any wars the great and good get going.
Saddam Hussein is of course a prime example. As everyone (except 97 percent of the US population) knows, Saddam was hired by the CIA when he was a mere stripling as part of a hit team to take down a once-favored Iraqi strongman who had, as so often happens, gotten above his raising. As Richard Sale explains:
[Saddam's] first contacts with U.S. officials date back to 1959, when he was part of a CIA-authorized six-man squad tasked with assassinating then Iraqi Prime Minister Gen. Abd al-Karim Qasim. In July 1958, Qasim had overthrown the Iraqi monarchy in what one former U.S. diplomat, who asked not to be identified, described as "a horrible orgy of bloodshed."
According to current and former U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Iraq was then regarded as a key buffer and strategic asset in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. For example, in the mid-1950s, Iraq was quick to join the anti-Soviet Baghdad Pact which was to defend the region and whose members included Turkey, Britain, Iran and Pakistan.
Little attention was paid to Qasim's bloody and conspiratorial regime until his sudden decision to withdraw from the pact in 1959, an act that "freaked everybody out" according to a former senior U.S. State Department official.
You can kill, jail and torture who you like -- as long as you play on our team, and do what we say. If not, why then, you are a rogue, an outlaw, a new Hitler, an urgent and imminent danger to the world.
In the event, Saddam -- like many intelligence "assets" (and bosses) over the years -- botched the job completely. But he had shown he was a team player, so the Americans kept the cash flowing to him, while also backing the Baath Party's later, successful coup, giving the faction the usual assistance (as in Indonesia a couple of year later) with tracking down and slaughtering "leftists". As historian Roger Morris noted in the New York Times:
According to Western scholars, as well as Iraqi refugees and a British human rights organization, the 1963 coup was accompanied by a bloodbath. Using lists of suspected Communists and other leftists provided by the C.I.A., the Baathists systematically murdered untold numbers of Iraq's educated elite -- killings in which Saddam Hussein himself is said to have participated. No one knows the exact toll, but accounts agree that the victims included hundreds of doctors, teachers, technicians, lawyers and other professionals as well as military and political figures. [As happened yet again years later, in the latest American-assisted "regime change in Iraq -- CF.]
Later, after their boy Saddam had risen through the ranks to become one of their very own -- head of the Party's secret intelligence service -- the American security organs helped his family faction outgun their party rivals to take sole control. The rest, as we know, is history: the famous "tilt" toward Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War (which included supplying Saddam with U.S. military intelligence to direct bombing raids on Iranian cities and chemical attacks on Iranian forces); the big grip-and-grin with Ronnie Reagan's "special envoy," Don Rumsfeld; George Bush Senior's eager arming and funding of Saddam after the war (and after the gassing of the Kurds), Bush's secret directives to government agencies to cut sweetheart deals with Saddam, Bush's sale of "dual-use" technology to Saddam; the inevitable falling-out when Saddam attacked the Bush Family's long-time business partners in Kuwait; the glorious Gulf War, with its "Turkey Shoots" and massive bombing; the years of bipartisan "sanctions" which enriched Saddam and many Western interests but killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children; and of course, the American-launched war in 2003, which has now killed well over a million innocent people, and is still going on. [For more background on the Saddam's relationship with Washington, see "Prelude to a Quagmire."]
This kind of blowback is endemic to the policy of buying thugs and supporting tyrants to do the dirty work for coddled imperial elites. You buy them, you build them up, you support them, and then, when they go off the reservation -- or when the horrific suffering, death and repression they've inflicted with your help blows up in their faces (as with the Shah of Iran) -- you have to step in and slaughter even more people, either directly (Iraq 2003, Panama 1989, etc.), or indirectly (the Iran-Iraq War, the Reagan-backed genocidal repressions in Latin America, the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, etc.).
And on and on it goes. For example, many of the justifications offered for Barack Obama's Nobel Prize centered largely on one thing: the fact that he went to Cairo and made a speech about America's good intentions toward the Muslim world -- a speech nearly identical to many that George W. Bush had made in the Middle East. Yet where did Obama choose to make this world-changing clarion call? In the heart of one of the most undemocratic regimes in the region, a corrupt, brutally repressive regime heavily sustained by the United States for decades -- and now embraced by the Continuer-in-Chief. As the Washington Post reports:
Since the speech, Egyptian security forces have launched a fresh campaign against the banned Muslim Brotherhood, an influential Islamist opposition group, arbitrarily arresting hundreds of members, from young bloggers to senior leaders. The government has prevented a centrist opposition movement from legally becoming a political party. In this Nile Delta industrial city, the epicenter of recent worker strikes, the government has appeared unresponsive to labor concerns -- or is cracking down.
"We are very disgruntled with President Obama," said Kamal al-Fayoumi, a labor leader who was jailed by the government for launching a major strike last year. "He has given the regime the green light to do what it wants with the Egyptian people."
[Although the facts are solid and revelatory, As'ad AbuKhalil points out one glaring absurdity in the story: its construction around the false premise that George W. Bush had "pressured" Egypt to enact democratic reforms. As AbuKhalil says: "The notion that people in Egypt credit Bush for promotion of democracy -- which he never undertook -- is rather laughable."]
Obama has also given the ritual green light to Saudi Arabia to continue its long-running religious tyranny with ever-eager American support. The ultimate blowback from the cynical meddling in Egypt and Saudi Arabia could well dwarf the monstrous results in Iraq. (Where, of course, the same policy is continuing, with the American-installed regime of "strongman" Nouri al-Maliki taking on the Saddam/Mubarak/Shah role.)
From Mussolini to Mubarak -- there is nothing new under the sun, as the Preacher saith. Nothing new, that is, except for the fresh graves of the unique, unrepeatable, individual lives snuffed out by the venality and inhumanity of our ruling elites.
Let me guess. The people of the moon will greet US missiles with "sweets and flowers". The people of the Middle East will be inspired by the US invasion of the moon. Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami will assure Obama that the people of the moon only understand the language of force. I would say that the Al-Qa`idah cells on the moon will be wiped out.
The logical conclusion of militarist nationalism (often called "patriotism") is always, in one way or another, a "Final Solution."
Set foot on that road, and you will get there. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not in this generation -- but you will get there. The blood-and-iron logic of domination -- of self-assertion and self-aggrandizement at the expense of all others -- will take you there.
The choice is simple, the choice is stark, the choice is laid upon us all.
To give a peace prize to the commander-in-chief of a war machine now churning its way through the populations of three countries (Iraq/Af-Pak), with innumerable black ops, lightning raids and drone shots on the side .... to a man who even as we speak is deciding just how he wants to kill even more civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan ... a man who has enthusiastically embraced as "an extraordinary achievement" one of the most heinous and barbaric acts of military aggression since Hitler rolled across the border into Poland ... a man who blusters about leaving "all options on the table," including the use of mass-murdering nuclear weapons, to bully other nations into compliance with American wishes ... to give a peace prize to such a man, while all over the world, there are men and women who have devoted their entire lives to non-violence and reconciliation, many of them suffering imprisonment, torture and ruin for their efforts ... well, like I said, it's beyond words.
But it's good to see that the spirit of arms merchant Alfred Nobel -- purveyor and profiteer of death and destruction -- is being honored so perfectly with today's award.
UPDATE: Arthur Silber has some choice thoughts on the great honour, with a title that says it all: "Depraved, Obscene Absurdities." Here's an excerpt:
Almost no one will acknowledge the single, fundamental truth about Barack Obama, the truth of greatest and most terrifying consequence:
Barack Obama is a war criminal.
Many facts overwhelmingly and conclusively compel this judgment, and no other. Not because I say so, but because an honest application of the relevant language of international law, as well as of the Nuremberg Principles, necessitates the conclusion.
Silber then points us to some excellent chapter and verse backing up that statement of truth. Later on:
History, facts, unimaginable brutality, torture, widescale murder, bodies ripped apart, guts spilling out of blood-drenched bodies, arms, legs and heads sundered and tossed aside to be gnawed on by starving animals, souls destroyed, never again to experience joy or happiness for even a moment -- all of this is minimized, ignored, denied, even mocked as the perpetrators of this immense evil and those who enable and support them (which is most people) claim that those who identify the truth are "exaggerating." "Oh, don't be such a doomsayer. Don't be so gloomy and dire. It's not that bad!"
These denials are easily known to be lies: an honest observer need only open his eyes, look and see. This is precisely what the great majority of people will never do.
Large-scale denial and avoidance impose terrifying costs. Today's story may simply be absurd, and it undeniably is. The man or woman, or child, whose life and mind are seared beyond recognition in the next minute, and hour, and day, and year, in all the nightmare years to come, is condemned to torment and death by the lies upon which we insist, the lies we refuse to give up or even question.
But read the whole thing, and follow the links. Words may have failed me in this instance; but they have most assuredly not failed Silber.
"I don't know how he can get this prize," said Najeeb, a 30-year-old shopkeeper attending a friend's wedding party. "Maybe it's been awarded for all the houses they are bombing, or perhaps it's for all his soldiers that are dying in Afghanistan and Iraq."
Next to him a local staff member of a western NGO called Elyas wondered whether Obama will ever be able to bring peace to Afghanistan. "Obama and his favourite president [Karzai] haven't been able to do anything here. We used to be able to drive to Kunduz and Mazar-i-Sharif [two northern cities considered safe until recently] but now we can't because fighters are coming to the roads and looting people."
They avidly, eagerly helped perpetuate militarist tyranny, torture, death squads and corruption in Latin America during the high and palmy days of the Reagan-Bush years – and now they're back in the saddle, riding as hired guns for the democracy-killing coup-coup birds in Honduras: Leader Ousted, Honduras Hires U.S. Lobbyists (New York Times):
In the months since soldiers ousted the Honduran president, Manuel Zelaya, the de facto government and its supporters have resisted demands from the United States that he be restored to power. Arguing that the left-leaning Mr. Zelaya posed a threat to their country’s fragile democracy by trying to extend his time in office illegally, they have made their case in Washington in the customary way: by starting a high-profile lobbying campaign.
The campaign has had the effect of forcing the administration to send mixed signals about its position to the de facto government, which reads them as signs of encouragement. It also has delayed two key State Department appointments in the region.
As the Times note, these retreads from the genocidal policies spawned and embraced by that beloved old pixie with a twinkle in his eyes, Ronald "Why No, This Isn't Rouge, I'm Just Flushed With Love for America" Reagan, are being joined by fresh (well, fresher) meat recruited from the courtiers who flit around imperial factionists Hillary Clinton and John McCain. (Bipartisan foreign policy in action!):
The campaign has involved law firms and public relations agencies with close ties to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senator John McCain, a leading Republican voice on foreign affairs.
It has also drawn support from several former high-ranking officials who were responsible for setting United States policy in Central America in the 1980s and ’90s, when the region was struggling to break with the military dictatorships and guerrilla insurgencies that defined the cold war. Two decades later, those former officials — including Otto Reich, Roger Noriega and Daniel W. Fisk — view Honduras as the principal battleground in a proxy fight with Cuba and Venezuela, which they characterize as threats to stability in the region in language similar to that once used to describe the designs of the Soviet Union.
Naturally, the Obama Administration has been completely cowed by this fluttering of batwings from the far-right cave, and has continually diluted its already tepid opposition to the coup, no doubt in the earnest search of achieving "consensus" on Honduras policy:
...to placate its opponents in Congress, and have its nominations approved, the State Department has sometimes sent back-channel messages to legislators expressing its support for Mr. Zelaya in more equivocal terms.
“There’s been a leadership vacuum on Honduras in the administration, and these are the people who’ve filled it,” said [Chris Sabatini, editor of Americas Quarterly] of the Micheletti government’s backers. “They haven’t gotten a lot of support, but enough to hold the administration’s policy hostage for now.”
It is remarkable to see how in every case, the Obama Administration acts as if it is a minority government which won the White House by the slimmest of margins, and now must appease a powerful opposition party in control of Congress in order to get even watered-down fragments of its putative agenda passed – when in fact it was swept into office by one of the largest electoral margins in recent years and enjoys a comfortable majority control of both houses of Congress.
If Obama and crew actually had an agenda – as the hyper-militarist Dick Cheney had, when he and his front-man seized power in 2000 – then they could have pushed through any number of genuine, substantive reforms, with strong public support. But it should be clear to anyone by now that Obama, like Clinton before him, has no real idea of what he wants to do in government, or what he wants government to do: he just wants to enjoy the props and perks of power for awhile, to play the role of president, like Michael Douglas or Martin Sheen in a Aaron Sorkin fantasy, then bask in celebrityhood the rest of his days. The only real agenda of the Obama Administration is keeping Democrats in office, as Joe Biden revealed the other day, and winning a second term for the Prez. And then? Big book contracts, lucrative speaking engagements, corporate directorships, some charity PR....whatever.
The main thing is not to upset the golden applecart of the Empire and its Establishment. Thus the appearance of "weakness" consistently shown by the Administration is not due (or not solely due) to its own pusillanimousness; rather it comes from the inherent disconnect between the vague rhetoric of reform that it was forced to adopt to win popular support, and its real business: servicing the most powerful elements of a militarized, oligarchic state.
Try and name any powerful interest that Obama has taken on. The Pentagon? Whatever minor internal squabbles there may be about the exact details of escalating the "Af-Pak" war (which Obama firmly assures us will go on and on, apparently forever; pulling out is "not an option," he says), the American war machine (and the mercenaries and servicing industries that augment it) continues to grow unchecked -- in terms of size, scope, budget, destructive power and political influence. The health-care conglomerates, bane of most ordinary Americans? We all know that Obama has cut a cynical deal with these barracudas, pledging to protect (and expand) their profit margins in exchange for vast wads of cash for Democrats. The security organs? Obama has been steadfast in his support and protection of the torturers, death-squadders and black-opsters of the intelligence services, and his legal minions are constantly in the courts, seeking to uphold and expand the authoritarian encroachments of the Bush Regime. Wall Street? Please. In his cabinet choices and his "bailout" policies, Obama has given Wall Street the keys to the Treasury, to use as they please to cover up – and continue – the criminal recklessness that has plunged millions of people into misery around the world.
But let's give credit where it is due. Obama has bravely taken on one very powerful faction which exercises enormous, dominant sway over American society: poor blacks. Time and again, he has used the "bully pulpit" to admonish black men for being bad fathers, and to exhort black folk in general to quit whining about the deeply ingrained, systemic injustice and inequality of American society, which perpetuates an ever-deepening cycle of deprivation and abandonment that undermines generation after generation. They should get over this already, he says – while his wars and his Wall Street bailouts and his health-care corporate aggrandizement plans drain billions upon billions of dollars that could go to, oh, say, supporting education, nutrition, economic opportunity, neighborhood security, transportation, infrastructure legal aid, prison reform, recreation, culture and much else that could that could improve the lives and chances of the poor, of whatever race – as well as everyone else outside the tiny golden circle of the elite and their sycophants.
No, he's not afraid to stand up to African-Americans and tell them to get their own house in order. But to the Pentagon, Wall Street, war criminals, and corporate barracudas, the only message is: "Can I take your order? What do you need? Here's a blank check; just fill it in."
Thus it is not surprising to see the Administration waffling and dithering over the militarist coup in Honduras -- where the president, a wealthy businessman and member of the elite, made some noises about addressing, in some measure, a few of the immense inequalities of his society and was immediately branded a dangerous, radical Marxist whose extremism threatened the very soul and existence of the nation. Our own militarists and oligarchs (miligarchs?) have always reacted in the same way to even the slightest attempt to begin to think about the possibility of potentially taking some tiny steps toward finding a way to consider at some point in the distant future a few minor measures of limited scope and brief duration that could possibly be seen as trying to ameliorate slightly some of the deprivations of the useless and undeserving poor.
Indeed, because of the very, very faint noises that Obama himself made in this direction during his campaign, he too has faced identical charges from the Homeland miligarchs and their Fox-fed shock troops: a rich and bitter irony for a man whose obsequious services to the High Commanders of militarized Crony Capitalism are second to none.
But such charges, ludicrous as they are, do their job: they give fair warning to the current Oval Office occupant that he is there on sufferance, and that he must take the greatest pains to avoid any substantive deviation from the miligarch agenda. And so the little criminals of the Reagan-Bush years have re-emerged to re-assert the standard militarist line on Latin America: Coups R Us.
But "re-emerge" is perhaps the wrong term. These people never really go away; they are permanent representatives of the permanent American power structure: dull-witted, hard-hearted, cold-blooded apparatchiks of empire.
We wrote here last week of Arthur Silber's telling insights into the misuses, abuses -- and ultimate uselessness -- of the "intelligence" reports produced by the security organs of powerful states....particularly the world's self-proclaimed "hyper-power" as it careens around the world in its obsessive-compulsive urge for domination. Silber's rule can be boiled down thusly: "Intelligence" is always -- always -- a political tool for the agenda of power, and it can never -- never -- be used to support an argument over policy. You can only argue and infer from the facts; if your case relies on "intelligence" – even if it seems temporarily favorable to your cause – then you are fighting on power's own turf, using power's own distorting terms, and making power's case, not yours. For once you accept that "intelligence" possesses some kind of objective truth when it seems to undercut some policy you abhor, what will you do when it suddenly changes and now supports that very policy? Again, Silber covers all this in eloquent detail, here and here.
This week gave us a glaring example of this principle in action. Scarcely had the pixels dried on Silber's posts when the New York Times came knocking with a story cobbled together from the usual anonymous "intelligence" sources to stoke the campaign of fearmongering over the "nuclear threat" from Iran.
The "intelligence" cited in the story is clearly aimed at undercutting the "intelligence" in the ballyhooed 2007 "National Intelligence Estimate" (NIE), in which America's security organs concluded that Iran did not have an active nuclear weapons program. As Silber notes, this report has been used incessantly by well-meaning dissidents who are rightly trying to head off the war of aggression against Iran that is the fervent – even wet – dream of America's powerful militarist factions. But as pointed out here years ago (again channeling Silber), that report was itself a trap for anti-war forces, because it also declared that Iran had been working actively on a nuclear weapon until 2003 – an assertion that flew in the face of all known facts and international inspection reports. To accept the claims of the NIE report as objective truth, you would also have to accept the warmongers' insistence that Iran was actively seeking a nuclear weapon, even though they may have temporarily put the program on hold. Again, you would be accepting the militarists' terms, and their deadly context: i.e., that Iran wants nukes, and must be stopped from getting them
In any case, the NYT story shows the "intelligence" worm turning to bite the citers of the NIE. The story cites a new report by unnamed staffers of the International Atomic Energy Agency which in turn cites unspecified, unconfirmed, tentative intelligence from unnamed sources that concludes – tentatively – that Iran might have re-started at least some parts of its nuclear weapons program (whose previous existence had, of course, never been proved). The money shot of the story is here:
A senior American official said last week that the United States was now re-evaluating its 2007 conclusions.
There you have it. "Intelligence" giveth, and "intelligence" taketh away. If the already flawed and falsified NIE report is now "re-evaluated," or replaced by a new, more scary report on the "imminent threat" from Iran, what then? Shall we simply accept the new report as the objective truth – as many of us did with the NIE paper – and bow to its conclusions and implications? Or shall we not see, once again, that "intelligence" is just a flag run up by power – or by various factions in the halls of power as they tussle for pre-eminence – to rally forces around its agenda?
The NYT piece on the leaked report by unnamed IAEA staffers was followed hard upon by yet another war-stoking story the next day. Where the first story sought to give aid and comfort to the hard-core warmongers, the second was aimed squarely at "moderates," those who still hope wanly that we can maybe, somehow, some way, inflict harsh punishments on the Persians for their uppitiness without actually bombing or invading them outright. (This, you understand, is the most "progressive" position on Iran allowed within the parameters of "serious" discussion in our political-media Establishment.) The headline says it all: "Black Market Shows Iran Can Adapt to Sanctions."
In fact, the headline is the point: it is the idea that is meant to lodge in readers' minds, something to lurk there, unconsciously, when considering the great "debates" on "what we should do about Iran." Whenever "moderates" try to damp down war fever with talk of more sanctions, there'll be a little flutter in the cellarage of the brain: "Say, sanctions don't really work, do they? Iran can just go around them. I'm sure I've read somewhere just how they do that."
Again, as with "intelligence," the goal is to seize the terms of the debate, to frame it so that it excludes all other alternatives but the one that suits power's agenda. Sanctions don't work, the story tells us. So what tools are left for leaders who must "do something" about Iran? (The idea of not doing something about Iran is, of course, inconceivable for imperial policymakers; the logic and telos of the militarist cult of domination impels them to slap down Iran one way or another until Tehran goes down on bended knee. And our cultists aren't concerned in the slightest if Iran has a brutally repressive government or is run by religious extremists (see Saudi Arabia); all they want is acquiescence, and access to the local loot.) The logic is clear: if you must meddle, and sanctions are ineffective, then that leaves only military action.
And to whom does the Times turn for "expert" opinion on the inefficacy of sanctions against Iran? The sole analyst quoted is Michael Jacobson, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy – a highly partisan extremist organization that was one of the chief instigators and incubators of the murderous war crime against Iraq, and one of the most enthusiastic cheerleaders for throttling Iran. There was of course not a single scrap of background or context regarding WINEP in the Times story. It was presented simply as an objective center for policy analysis. Whereas even the mildest, most moderate and milquetoasty "progressive" think-tank would invariably be described as "left-leaning," or identified as, say, "having opposed the Iraq War" or "a frequent critic of American foreign policy," etc.
But then again, those who advocate war in an imperial system based on war really need no further description; in such a system, the warmongers are thoroughly objective, mainstream, quite literally in the center of the prevailing worldview.
This week's one-two punch of pro-war propaganda from the Times is a classic squeeze play by the manipulators of "intelligence," designed to cut off all other options except the military one. We have seen a similar operation being carried out in recent days on the escalation in Afghanistan, with the high militarists – like General Stanley "Death Squads R Us" McChrystal and Pentagon holdover honcho Robert Gates – making showy public noises about the absolutely imperative need to throw more troops into the Central Asian cauldron. The clear intent is to ensure that Barack Obama remains faithful to the militarist faith he has so eagerly espoused, and doesn't start waving just because the war is unwinnable and the people don't want it.
This is life in a War State. And there can really be no serious argument that this is not what the United States has become: a structure and system of permanent war. Military action, military procurement, military bases, military needs, military dominance over diplomacy, budgets, "intelligence" and policy: these are the drivers of the modern American state. Beginning in the years just after World War II, the most powerful factions of the bipartisan American elite came to the conclusion that "an aggressive foreign policy based on military strength was the only real foundation of economic prosperity." (The quote is a description of Adolf Hitler's "doctrine of economic life" in the remarkable book by historian Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction.) "An aggressive foreign policy based on military strength" was also the only way to maintain the global hegemony American elites acquired at the end of the war – a position of power and privilege which, once gained, they felt was their divine birthright.
And although there is much that is irrational and atrociously inhumane in the practical application of such a system, the system itself has an iron logic: War makes us rich and powerful; thus we will make war.
In seeking to understand the actions and intentions of the American state in the modern world, it is important to keep this doctrine and its logic in mind.