In the last few days, Barack Obama has delivered two “major,” “landmark,” even “historic” speeches, which apparently have “reset” American policy in the Middle East, reaffirmed the overwhelming importance of “the West” (i.e., Britain and America) to the proper functioning of the world, and, we are told, “squarely” put the United States on the side of the dissidents and rebels of the Arab Spring. All of these claims, put forth in reams of earnest analysis and paeans of praise, call to mind the immortal words of Brick Pollitt: “Wouldn’t that be funny if that was true?”
Of course, none of it is true. Obama’s soaring rhetoric about America changing its policy of supporting dictators in favour of boosting democracy in the Middle East could have been taken word for word from several major landmark historic speeches that George W. Bush made on the same subject. But these words – the ones Bush used to mouth and the one mouthed by Obama these days – are always belied by the facts on the ground.
For example, in his afflated rhetoric to the UK parliament, Obama piously declared that “democracies are our best allies.” But in fact, on the ground, America’s best ally in the Middle East, outside of Israel, is Saudi Arabia – the most repressive, extremist regime on the face of the earth, with the possible exceptions of North Korea and Burma. And while Obama waxed lyrical about “the West’s” great moral beaconry and devotion to peace, NATO forces were pounding Tripoli with Western bombs, and planning to send Apache attack helicopters (whose very name evokes stirring echoes of the West’s pious history and its attitude toward ‘recalcitrant’ native tribes like the heathen redskins out West and those worthless sandgrubbers in Libya) to take part in a civil war between two armed factions.
But really, it is pointless to parse these things, or expend any mental energy on them at all, beyond that needed to note the murderous mendacity of these grand occasions with their endlessly rehashed bromides. There is no “news” in Obama’s speeches, nothing that will materially affect any of the complex processes now playing out in the Arab world (aside, of course, from his earnest pledge to continue killing people in Libya in order to save people in Libya from, er, being killed). The phrase “hot air” falls cosmically short of capturing the vacuous insubstantiality of these weighty addresses.
However, there was some real news in the Middle East this week, a development that will actually have a far greater impact on the labyrinthine power plays in the Middle East than any rhetorical “reset” in Washington. The Egyptian government announced that it is lifting the hideous blockade of Gaza imposed by the Mubarak regime in collaboration with Israel – a move which turned Gaza into a Warsaw Ghetto writ large, the “world’s largest open-air prison,” and subjected multitudes of innocent people to horrible suffering, grinding poverty, declining health, hopelessness, despair and rage. All of this was imposed on the Palestinians in Gaza for their heinous crime of ... voting for the wrong party in a free, fair, open democratic election. So much for the great Western commitment to “democracy” limned so nimbly by Obama this week.
Of course, anyone with the slightest acquaintance of history (which, of course, leaves out 97 percent of the Anglo-American chattering classes) knows that the United States has always been firmly and forthrightly committed to democracy for all god’s chillums all over the world – as long as they vote for the leaders that Washington wants.
In any case, the move by Egypt to open its border should have a genuinely profound effect on the region, in all kinds of ways. Most importantly, of course, it means that the old, the sick, the vulnerable and the young in Gaza will have a chance to have a little more food, a little more health care, a little more hope that their life will not always be a grinding hell of deprivation and enclosure.
UPDATE: As this post was being written, the newswires began crackling with reports that a major war criminal – a psychopathic thug said to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in a vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing – had been apprehended. Naturally, I expected to see George Bush or David Petraeus or Stanley McChrystal or Don Rumsfeld or Nouri al-Maliki being perp-walked to a paddy wagon for their roles in the furious campaign of ethnic cleansing that characterized the murderous “surge” in Iraq. (Yes, the same campaign that Peace Laureate Barack Obama once called “an extraordinary achievement.”) But no, it was old Ratko Mladic, an egregious beserker from the Bosnian wars. Mladic was evidently given up by his long-time protectors in order to facilitate Serbia’s bid to join the European Union.
Commentators are already rushing to join the arrest with the killing of Osama bin Laden as proof that the psychopathic bad guys on the international scene always get caught in the end. And so they do – unless of course they have done their killing, their ethnic cleansing, their drone bombing, their night raiding, their kidnapping, their torturing, and their gulaging for the right side.Add a comment
Can cops now invade your home without a warrant anytime they feel like it?
Sure they can.
Doesn't this completely and literally eviscerate the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, and specifically requires the use of a warrant?
Sure it does.
So, was there really any point in having an American Revolution, if we have ended up with a tyranny far more implacable, intrusive, violent and extremist than anything in the wildest dreams of the most retrograde royalist serving King George III?
In honor of Bob Dylan's 70th birthday, here's a reprise of a piece I wrote back when he was just a whippersnapper of 63:
There's a legend in my family that we are kin to Uncle Dave Macon. We are for certain distant cousins to the Macons of Wilson County – and Uncle Dave lived in the next county over. My parents met him once, driving to his farm one afternoon when they were teenagers, not yet married. This was not too long before his death.
They found him sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch. He greeted the young strangers like the kinfolk one of them might well have been, invited them into the house, showed them his memorabilia, and gave my mother – one of "them pretty girls from Tennessee" he sang about so often – a small, delicate glass deer as a memento of the visit. Back out on the porch, he picked up his banjo and did a couple of comic numbers from the rocking chair, feet keeping time on the wooden boards. There looked to be some whisky in his friendly manner, they said; perhaps a noonday dram before they had arrived.
It was all over soon enough, but a photograph survives to record the event, a black-and-white print taken with my mother's camera. Uncle Dave is in the rocking chair, legs crossed, battered hat perched on his head, banjo in his lap. His face is puffy, pitted, cadaverous; the fire that had stoked him since his hot young days – in the still-churning wake of the Civil War – is finally going out. A dying man, from a dying world.
But he played for the young folks anyway, out of courtesy, for the hell of it, conjuring up another reality out of rhythm, strings and joyful noise, then letting it dissolve into the air. "Won't get drunk no more, won't get drunk no more, won't get drunk no more, way down the old plank road…"
Despite the reputed kinship and this ancestral encounter, the first Uncle Dave Macon song I ever actually heard was one recorded by Bob Dylan: "Sarah Jane." This was on the "revenge" album of out-takes and studio warm-ups that Columbia Records put out after Dylan temporarily left the fold in the early Seventies. When I first heard the song, I thought Dylan had written it himself; certainly the line, "I got a wife and five little children," sung with such full-throated exuberance, seemed like straight autobiography. I didn't realize then the kind of alchemy Dylan could work on other people's songs, how he could make them his own, right down to the marrow.
Like most people who get into Dylan, at first I was dazzled by the originality of his vision, his words, the brilliant fragments of his own kaleidoscopic personality as they were lit up in turn by each new style, each different take or tonal mood. His work seemed a perfect embodiment of the Romantic ideal: art as the vibrant expression of the self – defiant, heroic, fiercely personal. But while that stance is as valid as most of the other illusions that sustain us, it only takes you so far. What I've come to realize over the years is that Dylan's music is not primarily about expressing yourself – it's about losing yourself, escaping the self and all its confusions, corruptions, pettiness and decay. It's about getting to some place far beyond the self, "where nature neither honors nor forgives." Dylan gives himself up to the song, and to the deeper reality it creates in the few charged moments of its existence. We can step through the door he opens to that far place and see what happens.
Dylan's words – original, striking, piercing, apt – are marvelous, of course. Like Shakespeare's, they knit themselves into your consciousness, become part of the way you see and speak the world. But the true alchemy lies in the performance. The phrasing is more important than the phrases, no matter who happened to write them. The grain in his voice – the jagged edge that catches and tears at the weave of life as it flies past – is what moves us through that open door. Along with the music, obviously: the mathematical and emotional interplay among the musicians, shaped by Dylan's guiding will. When it all works, and it usually does, it's artistry of the highest order. As they say back home, you can't beat it with a stick.
You can follow Dylan through many doors, into many realms: the disordered sensuality of Symbolist poetry, the high bohemia and low comedy of the Beats and Brecht, the guilt-ridden, God-yearning psalms of King David, the Gospel road of Jesus Christ, the shiv-sharp romance of Bogart and Bacall. There's Emerson in there, too, Keats, Whitman, even Rilke if you look hard enough: fodder for a thousand footnotes, signposts to a hundred sources of further enlightenment.
But if you go far enough with Dylan, he'll always lead you back to the old music. This is the foundation, the deepest roots of his art, of his power. For me, as for so many people, he was the spirit guide to this other world, this vanished heritage. He has somehow – well, not just "somehow," but through hard work and endless absorption – managed to keep the tradition alive. Not as a museum piece, not like a zoo animal, but as a free, thriving, unpredictable beast, still on the prowl, still extending its range.
Early on, Dylan realized that the essence of the old music was not to be found in the particular styles of picking and singing rigorously classified by the ethnographers and carefully preserved by purists. Traditional music was idiosyncratic, created by thousands of unique individuals working their personal artistry on whatever musical materials came to hand, in cotton fields, coal mines, granges, churches, factories, ports, city streets and country roads. Who else in the world ever sounded like Roscoe Holcomb or Charley Patton? Their art was as distinctive as that of Beethoven and Chopin, who also drew on traditional elements to make their music.
No, what the old music held in common, what made it penetrating and great, was not some mythological collective origin or expression of sociocultural mores; it was a shared DNA of fundamental themes, fundamental truths – the double helix of joy and mortality, threaded like twine, tangled like snakes, inextricable, irresolvable. It was this genetic code that Dylan used to grow his own art, in its own unique forms.
Joy and mortality: the psychic pain of being alive, your mind and senses flooded with exquisite wonders, miraculous comprehensions – and the simultaneous knowledge of death, the relentless push of time, the fleeting nature of every single experience, every situation, every moment, dying even as it rises. There's pain waiting somewhere – from within or without – in every joy, a canker in every rose we pluck from the ground of being.
This awareness shadows the old music – deepens it, gives it the bite of eternal truth. It's there even in the joyful noise of Uncle Dave Macon, so happy that he whoops out "Kill yourself!" in manic glee as he gallops down the old plank road. Yet in the songs that deal directly with this shadow, such as the blues, full of hard knowledge, hard pain, the very act of singing that pain gives rise to a subtle joy, and a kind of solace. The old songs, and the ones Dylan has built upon them, create another reality, an impossible reconciliation, where time stands still, life and death embrace, decay is banished, and all our pettiness, our evil urges, our confusions are arrested and transcended. Until, of course, the song itself, being mortal, fades away as the music ends.
Dylan's music can provide a doorway out of yourself – "a pathway that leads up to the stars" – but it can also help bring you back to yourself, to what you should be doing with your life: attending to these eternal truths, trying to take that code and carry it forward, pass it along, using whatever materials – musical or otherwise – that your life and history and inclinations have given you. In this case, Dylan brought me back to my own heritage; it was decades after hearing his "Sarah Jane" that I first mentioned Uncle Dave Macon to my father and heard the story of that long-ago visit, and was given the photograph to keep, and pass on.
Perhaps the kind of transcendence I've talked about here only works if you're a certain kind of person, with your nerves aligned in a certain way, attuned to a certain signal. Perhaps it's all a happenstance of biochemistry. I don't know. In a world where every understanding, no matter how profound, is provisional, temporary, clouded and corrupted, I wouldn't make universal claims for any particular path. I do think that the experience of the heightened reality offered by Dylan's music – and by all the places he leads us to – holds out the promise of a rough-hewn wisdom, something that can make us feel more alive while we're living, while our brief moment is passing.
Anyway, it works for me.
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1. Aiding Enlightenment
Arthur Silber, one of the great voices of enlightenment in our benighted age, is in the direst of straits, suffering through one of the worst bouts of the chronic ill health that has afflicted him for years. He has not been able to write for many weeks, but has now surfaced, very briefly, to give us the good news that he is still alive, and the bad news that he is suffering mightily, and that one of his beloved companions also needs medical care.
If you have any money to spare, please consider making a contribution to Silber's website; it is his only means of support, and of course, donations fall when he is not able to write. The tragedy of seeing such a mind, such a spirt, forced to such perilous margins is painful indeed. Please help if you are able.
2. Barack Bull Connor Obama: Killing the Dream of Dr. King
Professor As'ad AbuKhalil points us to this telling comment in The Economist, on the Israeli massacre of unarmed citizens on its borders this week. An excerpt:
FOR many years now, we've heard American commentators bemoan the violence of the Palestinian national movement. If only Palestinians had learned the lessons of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, we hear, they'd have had their state long ago. Surely no Israeli government would have violently suppressed a non-violent Palestinian movement of national liberation seeking only the universally recognised right of self-determination. ...
In any case, if you're among those who have made the argument that Israelis would give Palestinians a state if only the Palestinians would learn to employ Ghandhian tactics of non-violent protest, it appears your moment of truth has arrived. As my colleague writes, what happened on Nakba Day was Israel's "nightmare scenario: masses of Palestinians marching, unarmed, towards the borders of the Jewish state, demanding the redress of their decades-old national grievance." ...
So now we have an opportunity to see how Americans will react. We've asked the Palestinians to lay down their arms. We've told them their lack of a state is their own fault; if only they would embrace non-violence, a reasonable and unprejudiced world would see the merit of their claims. Over the weekend, tens of thousands of them did just that, and it seems likely to continue. If crowds of tens of thousands of non-violent Palestinian protestors continue to march, and if Israel continues to shoot at them, what will we do? Will we make good on our rhetoric, and press Israel to give them their state? Or will it turn out that our paeans to non-violence were just cynical tactics in an amoral international power contest staged by militaristic Israeli and American right-wing groups whose elective affinities lead them to shape a common narrative of the alien Arab/Muslim threat? Will we even bother to acknowledge that the Palestinians are protesting non-violently? Or will we soldier on with the same empty decades-old rhetoric, now drained of any truth or meaning, because it protects established relationships of power? What will it take to make Americans recognise that the real Martin Luther King-style non-violent Palestinian protestors have arrived, and that Israeli soldiers are shooting them with real bullets?
Unfortunately, I think we all know "how Americans will react." We have already seen how the Progressive Peace Laureate in the White House has responded, sending out his mouthpiece to praise the Israelis for their "restraint" in slaughtering only a few unarmed people, and not the multitudes they could have killed with their super-cool, American-supplied weaponry.
Then again, we will probably never know how Americans would react to the reality of a non-violent Palestinian resistance movement -- because Americans are not going to be told about it in the first place. As AbuKhalil notes in another post, on the New York Times' coverage of the Sunday shootings:
" Israel’s borders erupted in deadly clashes on Sunday as thousands of Palestinians — marching from Syria, Lebanon, Gazaand the West Bank — confronted Israeli troops to mark the anniversary of Israel’s creation." Note the language. First these are "clashes" (even when Arab protesters are armed, as in Libya, the Times does not refer to repression by regime as "clashes"), and then it talks about the victims "confronting" Israeli troops. How did they "confront" them? By receiving their bullets in their chests?
The hideous irony of a black president praising the slaughter of people following Martin Luther King's example is beyond all comment. And beneath contempt.
3. No Moose is Good Moose
Speaking of the Peace Laureate, here's what you get under a really cool, open, young, progressive, liberal Democratic administration: The Secret Sharer, Jane Mayer's detailed look in the New Yorker at Obama's relentless and ruthless war on those who tell the truth about government corruption and atrocity. Read the whole thing.
I guess it's OK to follow faithfully -- and extend and strengthen -- the very worst policies of George W. Bush ... as long as you don't wear funny glasses and talk about moose, or have a bad comb-over or something. That seems to be the solid progressive consensus in American politics today.
The Chilean poet Gonzalo Rojas died late last month at the age of 93, having survived persecution and exile at the hands of American client-tyrant Augusto Pinochet. His obituary in the Guardian quoted these apt Rojas lines:
I tear out the visions
I tear out my eyes every day
I will not and cannot
see men die each day
I prefer to be of stone
to be in darkness
than to tolerate the disgust
of going soft inside
of smiling right and left
and getting on with business
Unfortunately, America's bipartisan imperium is still "getting on with business" in Latin America in much the same manner as in Pinochet's day. And yes, this includes the progressive Nobel Peace Laureate (and rootin' tootin' hit man) in the White House.
One of President Barack Obama's most signal achievements in inter-American relations has been his countenancing of a brutal coup in Honduras and his avid embrace of the repressive regime produced by the elitist overthrow of the democratically elected government. As we noted here last year:
Since the installation of these throwbacks to the corrupt and brutal 'banana republics' of yore, Obama's secretary of state, the "progressive" Hillary Clinton, has spent a good deal of time and effort trying to coerce Honduras' outraged neighbors in Latin America to "welcome" the thug-clique, now led by Porfirio Lobo, back into the "community of nations." Let bygones be bygones, Clinton says, as Lobo's regime murders journalists (nine so far this year), political opponents and carries on the wholesale trashing of Honduran independence (such as sacking four Supreme Court justices who opposed the gutting of liberties and the overthrow of constitutional order). After all, isn't that Obama's own philosophy: always "look forward," forget the crimes of the past? Every day is a new day, a clean slate, a chance for a new beginning -- indeed, for "hope and change."
In other words: let the dead bury the dead -- and the rich and powerful reap their rewards.
And even as Obama basks in the atavistic glow of the Warrior Prince (you would think he'd killed bin Laden in single combat on the field of battle instead of ordering 80 Navy Seals to storm a house filled with women and children and shoot an unarmed man), his favored elites in Honduras continue to hunt down and kill those who seek to shine the smallest light on their corrupt, repressive rule. As the Washington Post reported last week:
Two gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed a journalist outside his home in a city in northern Honduras, officials said Wednesday. Francisco Medina, a 35-year-old television reporter, was ambushed Tuesday night in the city of Morazan, 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of Honduras’ capital, said Santos Galvez, a member of Honduras’ College of Journalists press group .....
In his reporting, Medina was critical of the Honduran national police and of private security firms contracted by ranchers in the area, where drug traffickers operate. Medina became the 11th journalist to be killed in the past 18 months in Honduras. Two of these murders have been solved.
A committee of missing persons in Honduras said Medina was followed by two men on a motorcycle after his evening show. They shot him three times in the back and once in his arm as he was about to enter his home.
Relatives of Medina called an ambulance, which took him to a hospital. He later died. Medina’s brother, Carlos Medina, said police officers refused to escort the journalist in the ambulance.
This is a precise echo of the case noted here last year:
[From John Perry at the London Review of Books]: On the night of 14 June, Luis Arturo Mondragón was sitting with his son on the pavement outside his house in the city of El Paraíso in western Honduras. He had often criticised local politicians on his weekly radio programme, the latest edition of which had just been broadcast. He had received several death threats, but disregarded them. At 10 p.m. a car drew up and the driver fired four bullets, killing him instantly. Mondragón was the ninth journalist to be murdered so far this year. Honduras is now officially the most dangerous country in the world in which to work for the press.
The overthrow of President Zelaya last year was only the second military coup in Latin America since the end of the Cold War. The first, a US-backed attempt to overthrow Chávez in Venezuela in 2002, was a failure. The coup in Tegucigalpa shouldn’t have succeeded either: Obama had promised a new approach to US policy in the region, and there was strong popular resistance to the coup in Honduras itself. And yet, a year on, the coup’s plotters have got practically everything they wanted. ...
Perry notes that Roland Valenzuela, a former minister in Zelaya’s government, claimed in an interview that he had papers which named several American-connected business figures behind the coup plot, including "former members of the army death squad known as Battalion 316." Perry also notes that "in a separate development, it has become known that the plane which flew Zelaya out of the country first called at the US airforce base Palmerola."
And what has been the upshot of these shocking charges?
Not surprisingly, the exiled Zelaya has claimed that all this points to the prior knowledge and probable involvement of the US government in the coup. The State Department describes his allegation as ‘ridiculous’. Unfortunately, Valenzuela is unable to elaborate as, shortly before the recorded interview was broadcast, he was shot.
As we noted here in yet another piece on the American-backed "regime change" in Honduras:
Barack Obama's famed "continuity" with his predecessors goes far beyond his avid, almost erotic embrace of George W. Bush's Terror War atrocities (foreign and domestic). In Latin America, it goes back to the glory days of Ronald Reagan, when American-backed, American-trained death squads and military juntas slaughtered thousands of people and stripped their people to the bone with the scorched-earth economics of oligarchy. (An ancient, barbaric system now being energetically imposed throughout the "developed" world, under the cover of "deficit reduction.") But of course, Reagan himself was standing on the shoulders of giants when it came to his Latin America policies, simply soldiering on in the proud tradition of Franklin and Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, James K. Polk and other paragons now chiseled in history's alabaster.
And so the beat goes on, for the Warrior Prince, and his progressive base, and the bipartisan foreign policy establishment, all cozy together, all in the same boat, "smiling right and left, and getting on with business" -- the business of death and domination.Add a comment
Why have a million innocent people been killed in Iraq by the cataclysm unleashed by the Anglo-American invasion and occupation? Here's why:
A top military intelligence official has said the discredited dossier on Iraq's weapons programme was drawn up "to make the case for war", flatly contradicting persistent claims to the contrary by the Blair government, and in particular by Alastair Campbell, the former prime minister's chief spin doctor. In hitherto secret evidence to the Chilcot inquiry, Major General Michael Laurie said: "We knew at the time that the purpose of the dossier was precisely to make a case for war, rather than setting out the available intelligence, and that to make the best out of sparse and inconclusive intelligence the wording was developed with care."
Laurie, who was director general in the Defence Intelligence Staff, responsible for commanding and delivering raw and analysed intelligence, said: "I am writing to comment on the position taken by Alastair Campbell during his evidence to you … when he stated that the purpose of the dossier was not to make a case for war; I and those involved in its production saw it exactly as that, and that was the direction we were given." ...
Laurie said he recalled that the chief of defence intelligence, Air Marshal Sir Joe French, was "frequently inquiring whether we were missing something" and was under pressure. "We could find no evidence of planes, missiles or equipment that related to WMD [weapons of mass destruction], generally concluding that they must have been dismantled, buried or taken abroad. There has probably never been a greater detailed scrutiny of every piece of ground in any country." ...
The document is one of a number released by the Chilcot inquiry. They include top secret MI6 reports warning of the damage to British interests and the likelihood of terrorist attacks in the UK if it joined the US-led invasion of Iraq. However, a newly declassified document reveals that Sir Kevin Tebbit, then a top official at the Ministry of Defence, warned the defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, in January 2003 that the US would "feel betrayed by their partner of choice" if Britain did not go along with the invasion.
Despite its concerns, MI6 told ministers before the invasion that toppling Saddam Hussein "remains a prize because it could give new security to oil supplies".
That's why. They caused the deaths of a million innocent people to "give new security to oil supplies" -- and to gain the strategic dominance this "new security" would bring. They knew that all the rest -- WMD, threat of terrorism, etc. -- was absolute bullshit. They knew it from the start. They knew it all along.
And they know it now. That's why the Peace Laureate/Holy Hit Man in the White House has his Pentagon warlord pushing and pushing to keep American troops in Iraq -- forever, if possible.
They did it for the oil. They did it for the dominance. And they are doing their damnedest to keep doing it. Anyone who supports and champions the elites who seek to perpetuate this abominable gorging on innocent blood -- including cool, progressive Peace Laureates -- is knowingly making themselves morally complicit in this ongoing atrocity.
Here there is no shuffling. The invasion -- and the occupation (or the "military presence") -- were and are based on arrant lies. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people have been murdered, slaughtered, ripped from life, sent down to darkness because of these lies. If you support those who will not call these crimes by their right name, and seek to extend them -- in whatever form -- then you too are a supporter of murder. If that's what you want to be, fine; but be sure you recognize yourself for what you are.
Already the story is starting to unravel, mutate, transmogrify. Government statements that were presented as gospel truths in every media outlet in the world, and which served as the basis for ten thousand earnest, serious commentaries, turn out, one day later, to have been false.
We had been told – by the president’s top “counterterrorism adviser,” John Brennan – that Osama had been “engaged in a firefight” when he was gunned down by American agents. This was not true; it turns out that he was unarmed when they shot him in the head. We were told that the base coward used his wife as a human shield while he pumped hot lead at America’s boys. This was not true. There were no human shields – although Osama’s wife was shot in the leg, while another woman, wife to a bin Laden aide, was shot and killed by the agents.
Of course, even these new officially released“facts” must be taken with a grain of salt, since they spring from the same impenetrable murk of the security apparat from whence the original story of the raid emerged. Will these new details change tomorrow?
(Meanwhile, actual reporters doing actual reporting independently uncovered another falsehood in the first story: the compound that was raided in Abbottabad was not a “million-dollar mansion,” but a rather ordinary house in a middle-class area, worth about $250,000.)
In any case, we are told by the Fightin’ Patriotic Progressives who now stand foursquare behind the apparat that we should not trouble our little heads over these “discrepancies.” Such things are to be expected in the “fog of war.” (But didn’t the president and his national security team – including John Brennan – actually watch the raid unfold on live video feed? Didn’t Brennan see what happened with his own eyes?)
Or if not fog, then the original misinformation can be put down to “subconscious” mythologizing, as Digby tells us. ("I think it was mythologizing for the sake of mythologizing, even if it was subconscious.") Our leaders wanted an old-fashioned cowboy shoot-out for the big climax of the bin Laden story, and so, somehow, the counterterrorism chief of the United States just, you know, subconsciously rearranged the facts to fit the myth. But as Digby sternly warns us: “Let's not get stupid. The fact that they embellished doesn't mean it didn't happen.” That’s true; but “the fact that they embellished” does mean that we would be, well, stupid to accept anything that belches forth from the Secret State at face value.
I don’t mean to pick on Digby; but the post linked above serves as an almost perfect example of the moral schizophrenia that has gripped the progressive movement since the advent of Obama. At one point, she rightly notes that no one would have been bothered if the Administration had admitted from the start that bin Laden was unarmed when they killed him. As she says, the assassination scenario was duly praised by such rock-ribbed liberal icons as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert; and she notes, astutely, “I don't think there's any political downside, and in fact it probably makes them look more macho in the eyes of the people.”
(Indeed; all manner of liberals have been exulting in the new image of Obama the Heroic Hit Man. For example, Juan Cole and James Wolcott – both long-time scourges of the witless, brutal militarism of the Bush Regime – posted up a lolcat-style photo of a cool, grinning Obama in shades, emblazoned with the tagline, “Sorry it took so long to get you a copy of my birth certificate – I was too busy killing Osama bin Laden.”)
Digby then goes on to offer up another telling – and damning – insight:
Besides, the question of whether the president could order an assassination was settled some time ago. They assert the right to keep prisoners in jail forever and kill American citizens, and nobody cares, so why in the world would there be any domestic blowback for ordering the death of the world's most wanted man?
Here is where the schizophrenia sets in. It is obvious, from this and other posts, that Digby is horrified and outraged at Obama’s open claim of this universal license to kill and imprison with impunity. That is, she fully recognizes that the United States government is led by a man who believes he can murder anyone he pleases, at any time, at his own arbitrary decision. She knows that he has used this power over and over, most extensively in Pakistan, where even by the most conservative estimates hundreds of innocent people – including many women and children – have been killed in Obama’s drone missile campaign.
She knows, in other words, that Obama has killed hundreds of innocent people. Hundreds of innocent people. Little children, women, old folks, young marrieds, fathers, mothers, teenagers – he has killed them in their own homes, in the streets of their villages, in their cars, at their weddings and funerals and birthday parties and family gatherings, raining down missiles, without warning, with no way to escape, no defense, killed them, the babies, the children, the old, the sick, ripped their bodies to shreds, buried them under rubble, tore off their heads, set them on fire to die in the purest agony. She knows this. She decries this. She believes it is wrong. Yet the general thrust of her widely read blog is that this man who does these things, who commits these horrors, who claims these murderous, tyrannous powers, should, at all costs, be retained in power so that he can carry on doing these things which sicken and horrify her.
But this is not simply a case of lesser evilism in a system where all the alternatives are grim – i.e., “Well, Göring is a monster but he’s probably marginally better than Hitler; let’s support a bloody coup to install him as Führer”. No; Digby and many other progressives whose writings show they are perfectly aware of the atrocities that Obama has committed and the evil policies he embraces – such as the unrestricted license to kill – still display an active affection and celebratory support for him. To them, even though he has killed these people and claimed these awful powers, he is still one cool guy.
Witness their delight at Obama’s comedy routine at the Correspondent’s Dinner last week, when he poked fun at the pathetic Donald Trump, garnering big yocks from the Beltway elite – even as NATO missiles were killing three young grandchildren of Moamar Gadafy: more child sacrifices offered up on the altar of our modern Molochs. They didn't even notice.
Oh, they often shake their heads sadly or waggle their fingers sternly at some action or policy of Obama’s. They often can’t understand why he does these things – cut taxes for the rich, bail out the bankers, torture Bradley Manning, form commissions to gut Social Security, escalate and prolong the Terror War, kill hundreds of people with drone missiles, etc., etc. But nothing douses their fundamental (fundamentalist?) fervor to keep him in power and to scorn those who oppose him. Nothing keeps them from seeing themselves as his true and faithful "base," still waiting for him to return to them, despite his many betrayals. (Subconscious betrayals, no doubt.)
And we can expect more encomiums to the president’s eloquence and heroism from these quarters on Thursday, when, with the good taste and tact so characteristic of our bipartisan ruling class, Obama goes to the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York City to celebrate the shooting of an unarmed man in the head.
Yes, the president of the United States, accompanied by various Establishment worthies and doubtless a few dignified clerics, will stand at Ground Zero to glorify a killing that his own minions tell us will change nothing whatsoever: the wars will go on, “vigilance will be redoubled” (i.e., civil liberties will continue to be eroded, black ops will continue in the 70 countries or more where America is carrying out covert operations), the Secret State will keep growing, the universal license to kill and snatch and incarcerate and torture will remain in full force. So what exactly is being celebrated?
A cynic – or someone being skeptically “stupid” in the Digbyian sense – might say the occasion is more exploitation than celebration: exploiting the grief of the families of 9/11 survivors who will be trotted out to express their tearful gratitude to the president who has given them “closure” – and who will reap the poll bounce from this moment of “national unity,” just as his predecessor rode a similar exploitation of death to his own re-election.
Oh, but let us not be stupid. Let us acknowledge that the president kills innocent people and “asserts the right to keep prisoners in jail forever and kill American citizens” and puts out false information (subconsciously, of course! Always subconsciously!) about murky operations which we must take on faith like dutiful subjects in militarized state, not fully-fledged citizens in a republic – but let us still revel in his triumphs, delight in his eloquence, and work with all our strength to make sure he continues to invert, pervert and subvert every progressive value we hold dear.
That’s not “stupid” at all, is it?
UPDATE: Administration officials are now denying that Obama's national security team watched the execution of bin Laden on video feed, as was originally reported. Officials now say that the team was receiving "minute-by-minute updates" -- via unspecified technology -- and that, according to CIA honcho Leon Panetta, "there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes that we really didn't know just exactly what was going on." That would be the 20 or 25 minutes when the actual killing took place, presumably.
It's hard to understand how this wild story about the team watched the whole thing unfold in real time. Just one of those crazy urban myths, I guess. Or perhaps it was because of this bit of "subconscious mythologizing" that was offered up by the president's own chief adviser on counterterrorism, John Brennan, just two days ago:
"We were able to monitor in a real-time basis the progress of the operation from its commencement to its time on target to the extraction of the remains and to then the egress off of the target… we were able to monitor the situation in real time and were able to have regular updates and to ensure that we had real-time visibility into the progress of the operation. I'm not going to go into details about what type of visuals we had or what type of feeds that were there, but it was – it gave us the ability to actually track it on an ongoing basis."
I suppose really vague language like "we were able to monitor in a real-time basis the progress of the operation" from the start to the kill to the "extraction of the remains" and the grand skeedaddle could be twisted by stupid conspiracy theorists into some kind of cockamamie notion that Barry and Hill and, er, John Brennan, had, well, monitored the operation in real time. But now we know better.
UPDATE 2: There will doubtless be more backtracking and backfilling and sidestepping and subconscious mythologizing in the days to come. For it turns out that the crack crew of American agents left a whole group of eyewitnesses to the operation behind -- including the 12-year-old daughter of bin Laden, who saw her father killed -- and was also wounded in the attack.
As the Guardian reports, at least 10 people were left behind after the raid -- presumably because the raiding party did not have room to cart them off after losing one of their helicopters before the kill. Pakistani officials found the survivors -- including bin Laden's wife and the wounded daughter -- when they arrived on the scene just after the American exit. All of the survivors had been handcuffed, Pakistani officials said. The Americans also left four dead bodies behind: three men and a woman, taking only bin Laden and his dead son. From the Guardian:
Local authorities arrived on the scene of the raid as American special forces were leaving. It is believed that the attackers originally planned to evacuate all those in the compound but the breakdown of a helicopter meant there was no space to take them.
Instead, only the bodies of Bin Laden and his son Hamza, who was in his early 20s, were taken to the aircraft carrier the USS Carl Vinson and buried at sea. Survivors were left with their hands fastened with plastic handcuffs, a second Pakistani official said, adding that initial communications with the survivors had been difficult as the Pakistani police and military arriving at the scene did not speak Arabic.
The survivors are now being held by the Pakistanis, who say they will return them to their home countries as soon as the respective governments ask for them. At the moment, they are not allowing American agents to interrogate them -- strenuously or otherwise. But no doubt as the survivors' stories begin to emerge -- and yes, they will have their own spin and agenda, just like Obama and his subconsciously mythologizing security apparatchiks -- we will see several more "corrections" of the "historical record" now being woven and re-woven in front of our eyes.Add a comment
WASHINGTON, May 5, 2004 – In a dramatic late-night appearance in the White House press room, President George W. Bush announced that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction had been found in a secret stronghold near the Syrian border.
“We knew he had them, we knew we would find them. It was just a matter of time,” said an exultant Mr. Bush, who has been subjected to constant criticism for more than a year over the failure to find the WMD that sparked the invasion of Iraq in April 2003.
Bush said a covert military intelligence team discovered the arsenal in an underground fortress 10 miles west of the city of Anah. The stockpile included artillery shells and long-range missiles loaded with anthrax, nerve gas, VX, sarin and other deadly toxins. The team also found extensive laboratories where fatal poisons were being developed which could be used in smaller-scale terrorist attacks, such as in subways, airports, even city water supplies.
“It was like the gates of hell had been opened,” Bush said. “These weapons and toxins could have destroyed hundreds of thousands of innocent lives, all around the world. Today has been a triumph of good over pure evil, and another ringing testament to America’s greatness.”
Bush said the weapons and the laboratories have been completely destroyed, to avoid any of the material falling into the wrong hands.
“These instruments of evil have been obliterated and scattered to the four winds,” the president said. “No trace of them remains. Let this be a lesson to all those who would raise their hands against the peace and security of humankind: they will be wiped from the face of the earth.”
Administration officials said that pictures of the operation will probably be released in the coming days, after being carefully vetted to avoid disclosure of any vital security information, including the identities of the secret military intelligence team.
White House officials said the discovery was the result of painstaking intelligence work. A senior official with direct knowledge of the operation said that “much of the actionable intelligence” had been garnered from the “strenuous interrogation” of Iraqi prisoners being held in Abu Ghraib prison. The discovery comes just days after news reports on alleged prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel at Abu Ghraib – allegations which threatened to become a major scandal, and perhaps an obstacle to Mr. Bush’s chances for re-election in the fall.
But today’s news will likely sweep away such concerns, along with the lingering doubts over the existence of Iraq’s WMD, and the resulting discontent with a war that has proven more difficult to end than most people expected. The crowds that spontaneously appeared outside the White House and at Ground Zero in New York to cheer the news seemed to bear out this analysis.
“He was right all along, he was right to invade, he was right to treat these prisoners like the animals they are,” said Sandra Lucas, a day-care teacher from Baltimore who came to the White House to celebrate.
“You gotta do what it takes to get the job done,” said Ken Mahafalous, a stockbroker who joined the Ground Zero crowd. “If it takes a war to keep us safe, if it takes a little rough stuff now and then, that’s what you do. I admit I had my doubts – and I didn’t vote for Bush in the first place – but this is real leadership, making the tough calls. My hat’s off to him. USA! USA!”
There was wide bipartisan praise for the operation and for Mr. Bush’s “gutsy” call in launching the war and persevering with the occupation despite the doubts and the criticism. The few dissenting voices were swiftly rebuked for “politicizing” a moment of national unity. Sen. Ross Feingold (D-WI) was widely denounced for his skeptical comments after Bush’s announcement.
“They destroyed all evidence of the weapons as soon as they found them in a top-secret operation? That doesn’t make sense to me,” Feingold said in an interview with NBC’s Tim Russert. “Now no one else can independently confirm what actually happened. We are supposed to take the administration’s word at face value – no questions asked. I’m not saying the weapons weren’t there, but force-feeding a docile public with unconfirmable statements – especially about matters which have been swathed in murk and mystery for years – this is not the way a democracy is supposed to work.”
Feingold’s remarks drew the ire of prominent commentators such as Parton Digby.
“I expect this from a Neanderthal drunk in a bar today, but coming from a US Senator it's enough to make you sick,” Digby wrote. “But I think Feingold’s motives are probably fairly prosaic. He’s up for re-election and wants to shore up his antiwar cred among the fringe left. The moonbats are in desperate need of a fresh conspiracy theory and this one has the potential to be a doozy. I mean, why else would anyone ever express the slightest skepticism about our government’s covert actions? You either have to be crazy, or else pushing some partisan agenda. Or maybe both.”
Although the discovery and destruction of Iraq’s WMD was the aim of the 2003 invasion, President Bush made it clear that the war will go on.
“We are not yet safe from those who hate us for our freedoms and our way of life," said Mr. Bush. "We must in fact redouble our efforts to ensure the safety of our children and bring democracy and stability to these volatile swamps of extremism. And we can expect our enemies to strike back even harder in response to our triumph today. But to them, I say: bring it on. For we are America. And America can do whatever we set our mind to."
The excuse for the War on Terror is gone; will the War on Terror now come to an end? The bipartisan high and mighty rushed to insist that it most certainly will not. Obama, Bush, Kerry, McCain, Boehner, Schumer -- all the great and good were quick to say that "the fight is not over," the "threat is still there" -- the profitable wars and fearmongering will go on. And on. And on.
(Besides, who needs bin Laden when we've got Gadafy back as the demon du jour? In any case, Great Satans are always thick on the ground when the War Machine needs greasing.)
I suppose there is a chance, however -- a chance -- that the elimination of this emblem might finally stir a few more people to oppose, or at least begin to question, the continuation of the wars that were supposedly launched in response to 9/11. Perhaps a few more people will look around and say, "Why is our nation going bankrupt fighting all these wars? Didn't they kill ole bin Laden already? Wasn't that what it was all about?"
Of course, that never was "what it is was all about." But as the elites push forward with their wars, perhaps we'll see a bit more pushback. A wan hope, perhaps -- or rather, certainly. By and large, the American people seem to have accepted permanent war as a natural state, just the way things are and will always be. But perhaps the removal of this all-obscuring symbol from the public consciousness will let a few more chinks of light into a few more minds.