Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth:
And thus do we of wisdom and of reach,
With windlasses and with assays of bias,
By indirections find directions out.
-- Shakespeare, Hamlet
Britain's "Chilcot Inquiry" into the origins of the invasion of Iraq has largely faded from the headlines, following Tony Blair's bravura display of pious bluster before the panel of Establishment worthies last month. And in truth, it has been a rather toothless affair, with the already deferential worthies further constrained by the narrow confines placed upon their investigation by the government: chiefly, the cloak of secrecy wrapped around the many documents that detail the deceptions and manipulations of the Bush and Blair regimes as they schemed their way to war.
But as Chris Ames points out in the Guardian, in the wind-up of its first phase, the Chilcot panel seem to be trying to tell the public, obliquely, about some of the smoking guns in these buried documents: an official record of knowing deceit that confirms, yet again, the damning fact that the US and UK were determined to invade Iraq no matter what: with or without UN backing, whether or not Iraq had WMD -- and as we have pointed out here for many years, even if Saddam Hussein were no longer in power. The documentary evidence shows that every single purported reason or justification for the war -- the WMD, connections to 9/11, the repressive nature of Saddam's regime -- was false to the core, and known to be false by the leaders who put these explanations forward.
The Chilcot panelists were terribly craven when it came to confronting Tony Blair -- and they are likely to be equally circumspect when they politely pose a few inquiries to Blair's successor, Gordon Brown, sometime in the next few weeks. But they seem to have chosen the odious figure of Jack Straw -- foreign secretary at the time of the Iraq invasion, now serving, laughably, as justice secretary -- as the outlet for their frustrations at the strictures of the inquiry and the soft-shoe shuffling they've encountered from witness after witness.
And while their kid-glove massage of Blair was inexcusable, the Chilcoteers are quite right to focus on Straw. Like so many of his "New Labour" colleagues, this pathetic figure began his career as a radical leftist, honed his political teeth fighting for the poor and disadvantaged during the ravaging Thatcher years -- then transformed himself into a scurrying toady for the powerful and the privileged, championing war, Big Money and neo-Thatcherism, launching stern crackdowns on the "anti-social" lower classes, and imposing draconian "security" measures that have far outstripped even the liberty-gutting policies adopted by the U.S. government.
What's more, aside from Blair, Straw was the only top UK figure completely "in the loop" throughout the long, complex manipulations toward war. Along with his American counterpart, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Straw played a key role both in the transatlantic talks that engineered the act of aggression and the hugger-mugger manipulations at the UN.
And so, to close out its first phase, the Chilcot Inquiry recalled Straw -- who had already given one sweaty, white-knuckle performance on the witness stand a few weeks ago. With the implacable politesse of the true British mandarin, panelist Sir Lawrence Freedman seized the opportunity to suggest to the right honorable minister that the right honorable minister might, perhaps, be lying through his right honorable teeth in denying that Colin Powell had informed him quite clearly that the Americans were going to war, come hell or high water, in March 2003. As the Guardian notes, Freedman's questions "make it clear that [he] has obviously seen some very interesting paperwork. Here is the exchange, from the Guardian:
Freedman asked: Can you start by confirming that you knew that military action was planned by the US for the middle of March come what may? You were copied in, presumably, to reports of conversations between the prime minister and the president?
Straw replied: Yes, I don't think there was any key document that I should have seen that I didn't.
Freedman: Was there any point where [Colin] Powell said to you that even if Iraq complied, president Bush had already made a decision that he intended to go to war?
Straw replied: Certainly not to the best of my recollection.
Freedman went on: I was going to suggest you might want to look through your conversations and check.
Mr Straw at last got the hint: I will go through the records because I think you are trying to tell me something.
Yes, Mr Straw. He is trying to tell you, and the world, that he has the paper in his hand documenting your conversation with Colin Powell: a clear admission of the war crime of military aggression, as it reveals that there was not even a pretense of a legally justifiable casus belli among the American and British leaders -- just the cold, pre-determined intention to attack.
(And Powell, as we all remember, was the "good American," the "honorable American" in the run-up to war, a "decent man" who somehow got "railroaded" into making a false case for war before the entire world at the UN. A man so honorable and decent that the progressive Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama proudly claimed him as one of his advisers, even as the million corpses from the war that Powell and Straw knowingly and willingly helped launch were rotting in the ground.)
But, as Ames notes, these kinds of oblique references are "the best we will get for now" from the panel: "At the end, Sir John Chilcot said that, however revealing the sessions have been, the great bulk of the evidence, telling us 'what really went on behind the scenes,' is in the documents." And the documents have not been and probably will not be released -- at least not for many decades, by which time Blair and Straw and Powell and Bush will have all lived out their days in wealth and comfort.
But although documents can be kept under wraps, and testimony can be falsified or prettified, the monstrous moral rot that has infected the warmongers can never be fully hidden. "For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak/With most miraculous organ." And Straw revealed his own moral depravity, his own arrogant and unfeeling blindness, in his remarks at the end of his testimony.
In his final statement, hoping to paint himself has a decent and honorable man (like Powell!), Straw spoke of how he "grieves" for the "huge heartache" suffered by "those who lost loved ones out there." But he could not resist offering up one more transparent lie -- a lie, furthermore, contradicted by his own testimony earlier in the session. Here is the lie:
The last thing I would say is this: the purpose of the action was not regime change.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: ... The American administration's stated objective was to change the regime in Iraq, and they didn't feel that further UN authorisation for that was required. At this point, these two objectives came to a crunch and time ran out for your diplomacy.
RT HON JACK STRAW MP: In terms of the American objective for regime change had gone back to President Clinton.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: Yes, we have been through all of that.
RT HON JACK STRAW MP: We have been through all of that.
Here the right honorable Mr Straw says clearly that the American aim was regime change, and that he knew it was regime change all along. Therefore, when "time for diplomacy ran out," he willingly and deliberately helped facilitate a war for regime change -- which in the circumstances obtaining in Iraq in 2003 was, by any possible construal, a blatant war crime under international law. It was, in terms of its illegality, the precise equivalent to the crime of aggression for which the Nazi leaders were prosecuted at Nuremberg.
Note too Straw's reference to "President Clinton." He apparently thinks this nod to a good "liberal" Democratic president somehow makes his kowtowing to the barbaric rightwingers of the Bush regime less humiliating. [A good deal of his testimony is taken up with whining about the "neocons" like Don Rumsfeld who put so much pressure on everybody to go to war.] But of course this reference makes his lie about the war's aims even more egregious, for it confirms the fact that America's intention to overthrow the Iraq regime -- officially enshrined by Congress and signed into law by Bill Clinton -- was known for years and years.
But Straw is not done yet. After assuring the grieving families of Britain that he himself -- yes, he, the great right honorable high minister of state -- feels their pain and shares their heartache, and after acknowledging that yes, it seems that perhaps a few mistakes were made (albeit only with the best intentions), he goes on to justify the whole mass-murdering enterprise:
But that having happened, I think there are few in Iraq, despite the bloodshed, would now say that they want to go back to what existed before 20 March 2003.
Putting aside Straw's unconscious but most apt echo of the poet Paul Celan's phrase for the unspeakable evil of the Holocaust -- "that which happened" -- the moral depravity on display here is astonishing, breathtaking, obscene. The right honorable minister might consider asking the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed by the invasion and by the virulent extremists it loosened and empowered: would you want to go back to what existed -- i.e., you -- before 20 March 2003? The right honorable minister might want to ask the more than four million people driven from their homes by the war and the savage sectarian conflicts and "ethnic cleansing" it unleashed and abetted: would you want to go back to what existed before 20 March 2003? The right honorable minister might want to ask the tens of millions of Iraqis who have lost their loved ones: would you want to go back to what existed before 20 March 2003 -- and see if there were any alternatives for a better life other than a massive, unprovoked military invasion, mass death, mass destruction, chaos, collapse, civil war and violent terror from occupiers, mercenaries, sectarians and criminals?
O that the universe was not cold and indifferent, with no avenging furies to drive these bloodstained, sanctimonious wretches into soul-rending storms of madness and remorse. But there is not even an earthly venue where the scurrying servitors of power can receive even a modicum of justice. All we have are a few locked-down, buttoned-up, quasi-secret panels of worthies here and there now and then, to cause, at most, a moment or two of embarrassment before the servitors walk free to line their pockets and heap themselves with honors. Their only punishment, I suppose, must be to be what they are: the stunted, deadened husks of a full humanity that they have lost and will never recover.
Barack Obama's Bush-like "surge" in Afghanistan has not even reached its full strength yet, but it is already driving tens of thousands of Afghan civilians from their homes, as they flee an upcoming massive attack in Helmand province.
The attack -- which the Americans have been trumpeting far in advance -- is designed, we're told, to "protect" the people of the key town of Marjah from the twin scourges of Taliban nogoodniks and drug traffickers. Yet the primary effect of the much-publicized preparations has been to send the residents of the town running for their lives to escape becoming part of the "collateral damage" that always attends these protective, humanitarian endeavors.
Indeed, the real aim of the advance publicity for the attack seems to be forcing mass numbers of civilians to hit the road -- which will then allow the American and British attackers to claim that anyone left behind is an enemy. This in turn will free up the attackers to use heavy weaponry in a "free-fire" zone to clear out the "diehards."
This is, of course, the same strategy used in the savage destruction of Fallujah in Iraq. The city was marked for death after an angry mob mutilated four American mercenaries -- following a series of civilian killings by occupation forces in the preceding weeks: provocations that have been conveniently airbrushed from history (just like the U.S. massacre of Somalis that preceded the infamous "Black Hawk Down" incident). An initial attack on Fallujah failed in the spring of 2004, largely due to political heat from the vast civilian suffering that was being reported from the city, chiefly from its medical centers.
But in the following months, the noose was tightened around Fallujah's neck. Tens of thousands fled the city to escape the coming second attack, which was well-publicized in advance. Story after story -- or rather, puff piece after puff piece -- about the preparations streamed from the embedded mainstream media reporters. The ostensible aim of the attack was to "eliminate" groups of "diehard terrorists" using Fallujah as a base. But of course, the months of PR about the looming operation meant that the putative targets had plenty of time to slip away. And they did.
Even so, as soon as George W. Bush's re-election was in the bag, the attack was launched. This time, the US brass were careful to eliminate the main source of bad press in the first attack: hospitals were a prime target. As I noted at the time:
One of the first moves in this magnificent feat was the destruction and capture of medical centers. Twenty doctors – and their patients, including women and children – were killed in an airstrike on one major clinic, the UN Information Service reports, while the city's main hospital was seized in the early hours of the ground assault. Why? Because these places of healing could be used as "propaganda centers," the Pentagon's "information warfare" specialists told the NY Times. Unlike the first attack on Fallujah last spring, there was to be no unseemly footage of gutted children bleeding to death on hospital beds. This time – except for NBC's brief, heavily-edited, quickly-buried clip of the usual lone "bad apple" shooting a wounded Iraqi prisoner – the visuals were rigorously scrubbed.
So while Americans saw stories of rugged "Marlboro Men" winning the day against Satan, they were spared shots of engineers cutting off water and electricity to the city – a flagrant war crime under the Geneva Conventions, as CounterPunch notes, but standard practice throughout the occupation. Nor did pictures of attack helicopters gunning down civilians trying to escape across the Euphrates River – including a family of five – make the TV news, despite the eyewitness account of an AP journalist. Nor were tender American sensibilities subjected to the sight of phosphorous shells bathing enemy fighters – and nearby civilians – with unquenchable chemical fire, literally melting their skin, as the Washington Post reports. Nor did they see the fetus being blown out of the body of Artica Salim when her home was bombed during the "softening-up attacks" that raged relentlessly – and unnoticed – in the closing days of George W. Bush's presidential campaign, the Scotland Sunday Herald reports.
And now Marjah is being readied for the Fallujah option. (For as we all know, your real tough hombres never take any option off the table.) As the Guardian reports:
Ten of thousands of Afghan civilians are abandoning an area of central Helmland where UK and US forces are set to launch one of the biggest operations of the year. The evacuation of most civilians from the town of Marjah and surrounding areas will give commanders greater leeway to use mortars-and-air-to ground missiles which have enraged Afghans in the past when responsible for civilian deaths. ...
US generals have unusually made no secret of their plan for a major onslaught against the town close to Helmand's besieged provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. Larry Nicholson, commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force which will spearhead the fight, has said he is "not looking for a fair fight." ...
A spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force, as the Nato troops are known, said that the main reason for publicity for the operation was to encourage insurgents to leave, but if civilians were also encouraged to evacuate that would be "helpful".
Yes, it's always helpful to do some pre-winnowing of a densely populated area before you destroy it with mortars and air-to-ground missiles. But of course, while thousands of civilians flee, thousands more have "remained because they could not afford to leave," the Guardian reports. How many of these will be re-classifed as "enemy fighters" when their corpses are found in the ruins?
The Afghans themselves know the score:
A Marjah resident, an elder reached by phone, who was not prepared to give his name, said he had evacuated his family a week ago because he feared "the worst attack ever".
"Always when they storm a village the foreign troops never care about civilian casualties at all. And at the end of the day they report the deaths of women and children as the deaths of Taliban," he said.
Slaughter, ruin, fear and exile: yeah, it's the Good War, all right! "The war we should be fighting," as our tough-guy libs kept telling us when putting their always serious, always "nuanced" objections to the Iraq "fiasco" in proper context. Well, they have it now, the war they always wanted. And who knows? Maybe soon they can have their own Fallujah! Won't that be a great apotheosis of Progressivism?
Here's the way the game works. First you get the outright lie, then later, in dribs and drabs, you get a few, grudging crumbs of the truth.
For example, first you get: "No, there are no Blackwater operatives in Pakistan. None. That's just a conspiracy theory, terrorist propaganda. These kinds of lies just make it harder for us to do good in the region." Then later: "Well, yes, we do have Blackwater operatives in Pakistan. But, uh, we don't actually cut their checks directly in the Pentagon."
Or what about this more recent example? First: "The United States has no troops in Pakistan. None. We are not going to send troops to Pakistan. That's just wild talk, a conspiracy theory. And it makes it harder for us to do good in the region."
Then later: "Well, yes, we do have a few troops in Pakistan. All right, a couple hundred. But that's it. We promise. And they're just training their counterparts in Pakistan's military. Oh yeah, and also working alongside paramilitary militias in the frontier regions. And maybe, you know, following up on some of our drone strikes. That is, our alleged drone strikes, because we are not, as you know, officially admitting that we are carrying out an ever-accelerating campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan, although if we were, these strikes would be very surgical, and the hundreds of people who might have been killed in just the past few months by these strikes, if they happened, would have all been vicious savage murdering 9/11! 9/11! 9/11! terrorists. But other than these 200 troops we have in Pakistan now, we have no troops in Pakistan. Never have. Except, of course, for the 12 American troops who have been killed in, well, battle, in, er, Pakistan since 2001. But that's it. Look me in the eye; would I lie to you?"
Yes, yet another aspect of what must be the most unsecret secret war in history has been rumbled. American troops are on the ground in Pakistan – and getting killed there. As the world now knows, three American soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing (which also killed six Pakistanis, as if anyone cares) in a remote frontier province in Pakistan this week. The bombing took place in an area that had supposedly been cleared in the savage, swoopstake "counterinsurgency" operations launched by Pakistan at America's insistence. (Operations which, we were told at the time, had no American involvement whatsoever.)
Yet as the Pakistani paper The News points out, this massive "clearing" operation – which cleared more than a million people from their homes as they fled the fighting – could not stop the insurgents from placing a huge 70kg bomb "in an area that had reportedly been 'cleared' and moreover plant it on such a high-profile target that should have been guarded as closely as possible given that 'foreign visitors' were on their way. Nobody noticed a 70kg bomb being buried in the road?"
All this might suggest to a cynic that our much-ballyhooed "counterinsurgency doctrines" (and they are indeed treated as holy writ, handed down by St. David Petraeus) are not, perhaps, as entirely effective as they might be – especially considering the vast cost in innocent life they exact, and the hatred and extremism they engender.
Noel Shachtman at Wired has a couple of useful roundups (here and here) on the latest revelations of our sure-enough war in Pakistan. But equally revealing are some of the remarks he passes along from readers, and his own response: exchanges which demonstrate that, sadly, it is not only our elites who are marinated in "a sense of imperial entitlement and dominance" (as we noted here the other day).
Shachtman notes how the new revelations give the glaring lie to the solemn promises made by Obama's "special envoy" to the region, Richard Holbrooke. Speaking in Brussels last May, Holbrooke declared:
"The heart of the problem for the West is in western Pakistan. But there are not going to be US or NATO troops on the ground in Pakistan. There is a red line for the government of Pakistan and one which we must respect," he said.
(Parenthetically, isn't it rather strange that the "heart of the problem" for our militarist mandarins always seems to lie outside the borders of the country they are ravaging? So the "real problem" in Afghanistan lies in Pakistan. And, as we were told repeatedly for years, the "real problem" in Iraq was actually Iran, whose nuke-mad mullahs kept stirring up our lazy, docile darkies in Iraq. Tony Blair stuck to this line, well, religiously in his recent canard-o-rama at the Iraq inquiry in London. It was Iran who caused all our problems in Iraq, he said over and over; in fact, he mentioned Iran 58 times in the course of his testimony, much of which was aimed at fomenting new war fever against Tehran.)
Shachtman also notes the fact that the Americans killed in Pakistan this week were not, by the Pentagon's own admission, super-duper secret agents, but part of a straightforward "counterinsurgency" program: "a widening war," as he says, rightly.
Then comes a pushback from various warbloggers. First, the pseudonymous Islamophobe armchair warrior "Rusty Shackleford" (I guess cowardice in the service of virtue is no vice, eh, Rusty?) weighs in:
“Admitting that we have troops on the ground engaged in combat roles would — literally — lead to a civil war in Pakistan. .. It is a catch-22, ironic, and duplicitous: but calling this a war is the same thing as losing it. Me, I’m willing to be called two-faced for sake of winning a war. Those that prefer consistency over victory are misguided.”
This is wilful ignorance with a vengeance. Obviously, Pseudo-Warrior believes that Pakistanis are too stupid to notice foreign troops fighting on their own soil. So as long as we don't admit "that we have troops on the ground engaged in combat roles," then those dumb Pakis will never know! Man, that's some crafty, subtile strategy there.
Shachtman then gives us the views of "Uncle Jimbo" at Blackfive:
It is fair to point out that the ops in Pakistan are more tightly tied to a shooting war than many others, but does that mean we should take them and shine a bunch of bright lights on them? … There is plenty of oversight operating where it belongs in classified briefings… The political environment in Pakistan is delicate as Hell so we properly tread lightly. A bunch of breathless stories about the mere possibility that we are cooperating more w/ Pakistan or that heaven forbid the evil Blackwater mercenaries are helping load drones doesn’t make doing any good there easier… It is smart and a proper use of Special Forces. Now let’s stop making their jobs harder by acting like something nefarious is going on.
Shachtman replies, reasonably, that, as noted, the Pakistanis already know what's going on in their own country, and that "secrecy is only fueling the paranoia and conspiracy theories — not to mention depriving Americans of their right to know how their blood and treasure is being spent." Shachtman also, perhaps out of courtesy, refrains from commenting on Jimbo's touching naiveté that our always wise and competent leaders will provide all the necessary "oversight" in their secret briefings.
But despite this display of common sense, Shachtman feels compelled to establish his own "tough realist" credentials. In response to Jimbo's claim that telling the truth about the U.S. war in Pakistan "doesn’t make doing any good there easier," Shachtman hastens to reply:
I hear that. And if this were some other, relatively small-scale SF operation (cough Yemen cough), I’d agree 100%.
And there you have it: the quintessential, unconscious response of the fully marinated modern American. Shachtman is not at all opposed to imperial agents carrying out deadly attacks in foreign lands at peace with the United States. The principle of unlimited violence -- the right of America to kill people anytime, anywhere in the world -- is never questioned. The only argument that "serious" people can have concerns the application of this principle; i.e., is it in our best interest to kill these people now, or wait until later, or maybe kill some other people instead, or build a few more schools while we're killing people or -- and this is as radical as our "serious" discourse allows -- should we even maybe hold off on killing people for just a little while, to let the lesser breeds cool down a bit, and rebuild our busted finances?
As we noted here the other day:
Our elites and their courtiers [and their commentators] literally cannot imagine life without a permanent war for global dominance, fueled by a gargantuan war machine spread across hundreds and hundreds of bases implanted in more than 100 countries.
And so these debates between chest-beating militarists and more thoughtful "moderates" over the proper application of imperial violence in foreign lands will go on. Because until the empire is dismantled -- until we bring America home -- there will be no end to these wars and op and "interventions," secret, open, two-faced or otherwise. And no end to the blowback of violence and retrogression they produce.
The American elite's unbounded, unquestioned, indeed unconscious sense of imperial entitlement and dominance -- based ultimately on war, the threat of war and the profit from war -- is one of the defining characteristics of our age. And if you would like to see a glaring example of this attitude in action, look no further than the front page of Tuesday's New York Times, where one David Sanger gives us his penetrating "news analysis" of the Administration's just-announced $3.8 trillion budget.
Sanger focuses on the huge, continuing deficits that the budget forecasts over the next decade. Completely ignoring the plain truth that his own expert source tell him later in the story -- that "forecasts 10 years out have no credibility" -- Sanger boldly plunges forward to tell us just what it all means. You will not be surprised to hear that the upshot of these big deficits is that neither Obama nor his successors will be able to spend any money on "new domestic initiatives" for years to come. But let's let Sanger, savant and seer, tell it in his own words:
In a federal budget filled with mind-boggling statistics, two numbers stand out as particularly stunning, for the way they may change American politics and American power.
The first is the projected deficit in the coming year, nearly 11 percent of the country’s entire economic output. That is not unprecedented: During the Civil War, World War I and World War II, the United States ran soaring deficits, but usually with the expectation that they would come back down once peace was restored and war spending abated.
But the second number, buried deeper in the budget’s projections, is the one that really commands attention: By President Obama’s own optimistic projections, American deficits will not return to what are widely considered sustainable levels over the next 10 years. ...
For Mr. Obama and his successors, the effect of those projections is clear: Unless miraculous growth, or miraculous political compromises, creates some unforeseen change over the next decade, there is virtually no room for new domestic initiatives for Mr. Obama or his successors. Beyond that lies the possibility that the United States could begin to suffer the same disease that has afflicted Japan over the past decade. As debt grew more rapidly than income, that country’s influence around the world eroded.
What is most interesting here, of course, is not Sanger's noodle-scratching over imaginary numbers projected into an unknowable future, but his total and apparently completely unconscious adoption of the mindset of militarist empire. For as he puzzles and puzzles till his puzzler is sore on how in God's name the United States can possibly find any money at all to spend on bettering the lives of its citizens over the next 10 years, it becomes clear that Sanger -- like the rest of our political and media elite -- literally cannot conceive of an end to empire. Our elites and their courtiers literally cannot imagine life without a permanent war for global dominance, fueled by a gargantuan war machine spread across hundreds and hundreds of bases implanted in more than 100 countries.
And so this consideration, this possible outcome, does not figure in Sanger's "analysis" because it cannot: it lies far outside the scope of his consciousness. The only possible alternative he can conceive to the empire's bloody and bankrupting business as usual is some kind of divine intervention, "miraculous growth" or some "miraculous political compromise."
And make no mistake: the "miraculous political compromise" he is talking about has nothing to do with ending or even trimming the empire. A "compromise" on this issue could only be posited if there was some present conflict over it. But both parties are deeply committed to increasing spending on the wars and the war machine.
No, by "compromise" Sanger means some sort of "Grand Bargain" between the parties to cut Social Security and Medicare, along the lines of the "blue-ribbon panel" of entitlement cutters now being pushed by the Obama Administration. An effort to impose this kind of elitist, unaccountable commission failed in the Senate a few weeks ago -- although the Republicans have proposed such panels before, they didn't like this one because Obama proposed it -- but the idea will keep coming back. Sanger and the elite will doubtless get their "miracle" of slashing the remaining bits of the safety net to shreds in due time.
For these are the only possibilities for deficit-cutting that Sanger can even remotely contemplate: some whiz-bang new techno gizmo -- or maybe some hot new "financial instruments" cooked up by Wall Street -- that will goose the economy with a bright new bubble ... or else finally telling our old, sick, vulnerable and unfortunate to just crawl off and die already. That's it. That's all that our elite can envision.
Yet the ending of the imperial wars and the dismantling of America's global military empire -- and its global gulag -- would save trillions of dollars in the coming years. Not only from direct military spending, but also from the vastly reduced need for "Homeland security" funding in a world where the United States was no longer invading foreign lands, killing their people, supporting their tyrants -- and inciting revenge and resistance.
This would release a flood of money for any number of "new domestic initiatives," while also giving scope for deep tax cuts across the board. Working people would thrive, the poor, the sick and the vulnerable would be bettered, businesses would grow, opportunity would expand, the care and education of our children would be greatly enhanced, our infrastructure could be repaired and strengthened, our environment better cleansed and cared for. In short, people could keep more of their own money while government spending could be directed toward improving the quality of life of all the nation's citizens.
This is no utopian vision. Many problems, much suffering would remain. But it would be a better society -- more humane, more just, more secure, more peaceful, more prosperous than it is now. Such an alternative is entirely achievable, by ordinary humans; it would require no divine miracles, no god-like heroes to bring it about.
But such a society is precisely what our elites cannot -- or, to be more accurate, will not -- imagine. Because, yes, it would "erode" their "influence" around the world to some extent. Although they would still be comfortable, coddled and privileged, they could no longer merge their individual psyches with the larger entity of a globe-spanning, death-dealing empire -- a connection which, although itself a projection of their own brains, gives them a forever-inflated sense of worth and importance.
And on a more prosaic level, the end of empire would mean an end to the horrendous economic distortion wrought by our war-profiteering industries. Other businesses would inevitably come to the fore, economic activity would be spread more evenly across more sectors. And so, yes, those who have feasted so gluttonously for so long on blood money would not be quite as rich as they are now.
A better world -- again, not perfect, by no means perfect, but much better -- is entirely possible. We could easily dismantle the empire -- carefully, safely, with deliberation -- over the next ten years. It is a reasonable, moderate, serious option. It would not require violent revolution or vast social upheaval. But our elites do not want this. They can no longer fathom life without the exercise -- and worship -- of unrestricted power that empire entails. They will not accept -- or even contemplate -- any alternative to it.
And thus every option and policy we are offered -- whether from right-wing Republicans or "progressive" Democrats, or from "serious" news analysts on "serious" papers -- must fall within these pathetically cramped, constricted mental horizons. Empire -- the imposition of dominion by violence and threat of violence, and the financial and moral corruption this breeds, the malevolent example it sets at every level of society -- is the canker in the body politic. Until it is dealt with, there will be no healing, no hope, no change -- just more degradation and disaster all down the line.
Even as progressives were savoring Barack Obama's "masterful" – indeed, "brain-searing" – performance at the House Republicans' retreat last Friday, their dazzling champion was busy applying himself with renewed and reckless vigor to that most un-progressive of occupations: saber-rattling around the world. The last few days have certainly seen a remarkable display of bellicosity by the Obama Administration, putting almost every tool in the militarist kit to use: nukes, ships, missiles, money, proxies and war-profiteering. With just a few flicks of the imperial wrist, Obama sent waves of destabilization through some of the most volatile regions on earth.
There was the sale of $6.4 billion in military hardware to Taiwan: a bumper crop of boodle for America's war-profiteering community, but a hard slap to the Chinese – who have responded to this stirring of hair-trigger cross-strait tensions by "canceling talks between senior Chinese and US officials on strategic security, arms control and nuclear non-proliferation," as the Guardian notes. Well, if there's one thing the world needs less of today, it's more cooperation on strategic security, arms control and nuclear non-proliferation, right?
Especially the latter. In fact, so unconcerned is Obama with nuclear proliferation that he is asking Congress to increase funding for the nation's nuclear arsenal by $5 billion, as McClatchy reports (via Antiwar.com). Much of this extra money will be spent on new facilities that will enable the government to build new nuclear warheads whenever it chooses. "There is no question that some counties, friends and foes, will see the increased spending as a sign of U.S. hypocrisy," said arms control expert Joseph Cirincione, in an obvious bid for the "Understatement of the Year" award. But this kind of higher hypocrisy is meat and drink for the American establishment, whose guiding motto for the earth's lesser breeds has ever been: "Do as we say, not as we do."
Obama was also busy slaughtering a few more villagers in Pakistan with his ever-accelerating "drone" attacks. The latest attack was Saturday night, which killed nine people in North Waziristan. This capped a month in which American drones killed "123 innocent Pakistanis," as The News of Pakistan reports. Ten of the 12 raids "went wrong and failed to hit their targets," but the robots did manage to assassinate three men alleged, by someone somewhere on some kind of evidence, or not, to be "al-Qaeda leaders."
The News also notes that the increase in drone killings by the United States (123 civilians killed this January in contrast to "only" 36 killings in January 2009) seems due in large part to "revenge attacks" by the U.S. in retaliation for the December 30 suicide bombing that killed seven CIA agents at a border base in Afghanistan. Everyone knew the American security organs would be stern in their reprisals for the attack; after all, the U.S. killed a million Iraqis as "payback for 9/11," to quote the rationale for war most often quoted by American soldiers as they stormed into Iraq in 2003. So at this point, 123 for seven seems almost a model of restraint. But it's early days yet; the Reprisal-by-Robot campaign will no doubt harvest much more blood fruit in the months to come.
But of course, the centerpiece of Obama's wild warmonger weekend was the leaked-on-purpose news of the deployment of a bristling "missile shield" to four countries in the Middle East, along with the dispatch of even more warships to join those already poised with minatory intent around the Persian Gulf. The ostensible aim of this sudden outpouring of ordnance to Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait is to "protect" these nations from an attack by Iran – a nation which has not attacked anyone for centuries, but which is itself under relentless, open, repeated threat of attack from, er, the United States, and one of its regional proxies, Israel.
Word of the new deployment came just hours after the U.S. Senate voted to impose even more draconian sanctions on Iran: crippling measures that will only make life much more wretched and dangerous for millions of ordinary Iranians. The Senate measures are aimed chiefly at strangling Iran's supplies of gasoline --- a truly noble act of "humanitarian intervention," which, if successful, would see deliveries of essential food and supplies grind to a halt, fire trucks and ambulances parked, schools closed, mass business failures across the country, with the subsequent loss of jobs, homes, health and opportunity. The Iranian ruling elite will of course be spared any of these discomforts – just as our own ruling elite forever escapes even the slightest unpleasant consequence of its actions.
Some observers seem to regard the Senate move as some kind of rebuke to Obama, "taking Iran policy out of his hands" by force; but the deployment of the new war machinery to the region – which was accompanied by sales of military upgrades to the savagely oppressive religious extremists in Saudi Arabia – shows that the American political elite is, as usual, marching in lockstep when it comes to "projecting dominance" and threatening grave punishments (up and including "obliteration," because, as we all know, "all elements of national power" are always "on the table" at all times) for any rogue nations that fail to follow the Potomac line. (And a comparison between the repressive regime in Iran and the far more repressive regime in Saudi Arabia shows us clearly that it the line-following, not lack of freedom, that determines whether a nation is "rogue" or not.)
But we should not see this weekend's machinations in the Persian Gulf as moving the United States closer to war with Iran. The United States has been at war with Iran for a long time now, running and/or assisting armed terrorist groups inside the country to kill scores of people year after year, as we noted here last year. No, what we are seeing now is just another "surge" in the barely covert war with Iran – a war that in some ways has been going on for decades, and flares up any time a government in Tehran fails to show due obeisance. As I noted in that earlier piece, which came out just before the disputed Iranian election, and just after yet another terrorist attack in Iran:
Because the ultimate aim -- the only aim, really -- of the militarists' policy toward Iran is regime change. They don't care about "national security" or the "threat" from Iran's non-existent nuclear arsenal; they know that there is no threat whatsoever that Iran will attack Israel -- or even more ludicrously, the United States -- even if Tehran did have nukes. They don't care about the suffering of the Iranian people under a draconian, repressive and corrupt regime. They are not worried about Iran's "sponsorship of terrorism," for, as we've seen, the militarists thrive on -- when they are not actively fomenting -- the fear and anguish caused by terrorism. This fear is the grease that drives the ever-expanding war machine and 'justifies' its own ever-increasing draconian powers and corruption.
No, in the end, the sole aim of the militarist policy is to overthrow Iran's current political system and replace it with a regime that will bow to the hegemony of the United States and its regional deputy, Israel. There is no essential difference in aim or method between today's policy and that of 1953. (Except that the regional deputy in those days was Britain, not Israel.) What they want is compliance, access to resources and another strategic stronghold in the heart of the oil lands -- precisely what they wanted, and got, with the installation of the Shah and his corruption-ridden police state more than a half-century ago.
They play the long game, our militarists. For example, they agitated openly -- and plotted covertly -- for the invasion of Iraq for almost 10 years before they finally got their way. They have worked for 30 years now to restore a client regime in Iran, and today, with the relentless bipartisan demonizing of the Iranians -- and the "mushroom cloud" fearmongering over a non-existent nuclear weapons program -- they are as close as they have ever been to their goal.
The obscene folly of all this is so self-evident that it seems not only redundant but downright insulting to point it out. Yet in a land so marinated in its own myths, a nation whose imperial sense of entitlement runs so deep, embedded in so many unconscious, unquestioned assumptions that even its "progressives" cannot see the howling evil being done by their leaders (as long as those leaders make even the slightest "progressive" noises now and then), this redundant, insulting task remains an unfortunate imperative.
And no one has laid out the case against attacking Iran with more depth, power, eloquence and persistence than Arthur Silber. What's more, Silber has offered practical steps that even those obsessed with retaining their "serious" and "politically savvy" cred could employ. Of course, most of these steps were first offered back in the bad old Bush days, when "progressives" were castigating the government for its reckless warmongering toward Iran -- not to mention its drone attacks on civilians in Pakistan, its plans for "modernizing" the nuclear arsenal, and its war-profiteering sale of death machinery in every volatile region on earth. Back then, you could still hope -- or pretend -- that the dissent against Bush's rapacious and criminal policies was more principled than partisan, and thus that reasonable suggestions for lowering the war fever might gain some traction.
These days, alas, we find that to many progressives, actions that were considered rank crimes and national shames under Bush have been magically converted into "tough choices," "necessary evils," "practical politics" or even far-seeing "11-dimensional chess" when they are committed by Obama. So the anti-war row is now a lot harder, and longer, to hoe.
But some hardy cultivators, like Silber, are still out there hacking away at the flinty soil, planting seeds of truth in the almost-but-quite-yet-impossible hope that they will bear good fruit some day, in some way, somewhere down the line. And so I urge readers to set themselves to school on some or all of these remarkable Iran-related articles by Silber, while following up on the wealth of links each one provides: here, here, here, here, here, and here.
(*And while you're there, consider contributing something to the tip jar, if you can. Silber continues to suffer from catastrophic health problems, and the website is his only means of support.*)
We are the San Patricios, a brave and gallant band
There'll be no white flag flying within this green command
We are the San Patricios, we have but one demand,
To see the Yankees safely home across the Rio Grande...
‘San Patricio' (the Spanish name for St. Patrick) tells the nearly forgotten story of the brave San Patricio battalion - a downtrodden group of Irish immigrant conscripts who deserted the U.S. Army in 1846 to fight on the Mexican side against the invading Yankees in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).
Although the members of the San Patricio Battalion were reviled as traitors and deserters in the U.S., Chieftains' founder and frontman Paddy Moloney says, "the men of the San Patricio Battalion are remembered by generations of Mexicans to this day as heroes who fought bravely against an unjust and thinly veiled war of aggression." ‘San Patricio' brings their story to life through heart-stirring ballads and effervescent dance songs from both countries, including traditional "sones" that the San Patricios might have heard while in Mexico, and Irish airs and reels that evoke the homeland they left behind. ....
‘San Patricio' showcases a brilliant roster of Irish, Mexican and American guest artists including Linda Ronstadt, actor Liam Neeson, Los Tigres del Norte, legendary 92-year-old Mexican ranchero singer Chavela Vargas, Van Dyke Parks, and Lila Downs, among many others. It will be released March 9 on Fantasy Records/Concord Music Group.
On Friday, Tony Blair appeared before the "Chilcot Inquiry," the panel of hoary, lugubrious Establishment worthies set up to "examine" -- with extreme circumspection, exquisite politeness, and all due reverence to authority -- the "origins" of Britain's involvement in the mass-murder spree known as the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The event could be summed up entirely in a single headline:
Tony Blair to a million dead Iraqis, and the grieving survivors of British soldiers: Fuck you.
Blair's appearance before the panel has occasioned some entirely misplaced and uninformed kudos from some in the American progressiverse, who laud the Brits for holding such a bold inquiry. "It's the kind of thing you would never see in the United States," they say, forgetting, if they ever knew, such minor matters as the Watergate hearings -- which actually had the power to send people to jail for lying, unlike the completely powerless Chilcot panel -- or the Watergate grand jury, which named a sitting president as an "unindicted co-conspirator" in a criminal case, or even the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton by the United States Senate, which I believe happened well within the adulthood of at least some of our leading progressives.
In any case, there was never any chance that the well-wadded Chilcot worthies were going to lay a glove on former PM turned corporate shill and Catholic saint-in-waiting. Blair was never going to do anything but repeat the bluster -- and outright lies -- he has regurgitated ad infinitum about his blood-soaked adventure with George W. Bush -- and the Chilcotniks were never going to call him on his bullshit. [Blair's knowing and deliberate lies are thoroughly detailed here.]
And so it proved. Blair strutted in -- through a back entrance, to avoid protestors -- and did the expected regurgitation. The war was legal, the war was righteous, the war was legal, and it was the right thing to do. After all, he claimed over and over, Iraq was clearly "in breach of UN sanctions ordering him to destroy all his weapons of mass destruction." Yet, as one observer noted in the Guardian, none of the Chilcot worthies deigned to point out to Blair that Iraq could not possibly been in breach of UN orders to disarm -- because it had no weapons of mass destruction. It was already disarmed -- a fact which the US and UK had known since 1995, and which could have been reconfirmed by the UN inspection teams in 2003 ... if Bush and Blair had not invaded before the inspections were over.
But Blair's illogical connections were never challenged by the panel, nor did he explain why he and Bush invaded before the inspections were completed. Instead, he simply evoke 9/11 over and over and over again -- and then blamed "the external elements of Iran and al Qaeda" for anything that went wrong after the invasion. Apparently, there was not a single Iraqi opposed to the destruction of their country; it was just a bunch of "outside agitators" causing trouble.
Blair's absolute erasure of the Iraqi people in these passages is a perfect encapsulation of the whole mindset that drove the Anglo-American attack: the Iraqis are non-people, they are worthless chits in a geopolitical game, they are rags and automatons at the mercy of big-time players like the Western powers, Iran and al Qaeda.
Indeed, this was his main theme of the day: it was Iran's fault. In fact, Blair seemed to regard his appearance before Iraq War panel chiefly as an opportunity to foment war fever for a new "humanitarian intervention" against Iran. As Jonathan Freedland notes:
Blair pushed further, apparently touting a new war in the Persian Gulf, this time against Iraq's neighbor, Iran. All day Blair used his platform to bring up Iran, even when it was only tangentially related to the topic in hand. The arguments that applied in 2002 – about WMD falling into terrorist hands – applied in spades to Iran in 2010, he said.
Blair took "responsibility" for the war -- but it was a responsibility he gladly shouldered, one he was proud of. As for all the people who have died because of this criminal folly, Blair had nothing nothing to say. As Jonathan Freedland notes:
I thought Blair would have prepared a closing statement that would express, if not regret or apology, at least sorrow for the young British men and women in uniform who had lost their lives. There was, surely, a way for a communicator as gifted as Blair to do that without giving ground on the justness, as he still sees it, of the war. And yet, even when Sir John Chilcot asked him one last time if he had anything to add, Blair did not pay tribute to the dead – British or Iraqi. He simply said "no".
Just like the Hutton inquiry into the strange death of WMD whistleblower Daniel Kelly -- the results of which have recently been sealed up for the next 70 years in a "highly unusual move" by UK authorities -- the Chilcot panel was never going to bring any powerful miscreant to accountability. It was set up -- like the American 9/11 Commission -- to siphon off festering anger and suspicion with a show of official concern. By stirring up just enough murk to cover the small nuggets of truth that inevitably surface in such probes, the Chilcot inquiry, like Hutton, the 9/11 Commission, will be able to claim that while there may have been some regrettable "system" failures here and there on this and that, no actual powerful person should be held accountable for any inadvertent "mistakes" that were made.
And the scam is already working. One of the panel of Guardian commentators, writing alongside Freedland, the "moderate," Broder-like Martin Kettle, was already chewing up some conventional wisdom cud by the end of the day:
On the other side of the argument there were fewer interruptions than there might have been, fewer silly stunts, and actually fewer demonstrators than one might have expected. Though passions are still strong, it may be that a lot of the poison and pain is ebbing. In that sense, today was probably cathartic.
Yes, as good old Kevin Drum always used to say back in the old days, when splitting the difference between some atrocious Bush policy and the president's "far left" critics, "that sounds about right." That hits the comfortable middle spot: yes, it was all a bit unpleasant, but now the "pain is ebbing," and we can look forward to seeing fewer of those "silly stunts" that shrill extremists have used to draw attention to the mass murder of human beings in a war based on ostensible reasons which even the war's architects now happily admit were unfounded -- and, according to Blair, unimportant. So Saddam didn't have WMDs? So what? It was a good thing to kill all those people anyway.
Another of Kettle's fellow commentators has a different view, however, and we'll give the final word here to Seamus Milne:
The spectacle of official indulgence of a man many here and abroad regard as responsible for a devastating war crime has been sickening. John Chilcot said at one point that the lessons of occupation had been "expensive, but very necessary". Millions of Iraqis who have actually paid that price take a very different view.
Entertain conjecture of a remarkable scenario. An American president – born at the margins of society, raised by a pacifist mother – takes office at a time of national turmoil. He inherits a deeply unpopular, highly divisive war from his predecessor and must also deal with a burgeoning, worldwide financial crisis. Yet despite the fractured, fractious political atmosphere, he doesn't dither, doesn't waffle, but immediately launches the most far-reaching program of government activism in half a century.
He doesn't "freeze" domestic spending but greatly expands funding of government benefit programs, and even creates new ones, including direct payments from the general treasury to the poor and needy, in addition to the now-increased Social Security and Medicare funds. He creates new government agencies to rigorously enforce new, sweeping environmental measures. He oversees the most direct and extensive federal intervention in public education in the nation's history, forcibly moving millions of students to different schools in order to impose more equality in society. Denouncing the punitive criminal justice policies of the past, he initiates major prison reforms, creating and expanding rehabilitation programs, stating that "to reform our prisons, we need more teachers, parole officers, psychiatrists, social workers and dollars."
He increases direct government oversight of private businesses, with new agencies to ensure workplace health and safety. He proposes radical reforms in health care, including an initiative that would require employers to provide insurance for their workers while also creating a national insurance program that all could join at whatever level they could afford to pay. He supports "radical feminists" in their push for a constitutional amendment to enforce equal rights for women throughout society.
In response to the financial crisis, he doesn't seek to save the current order but takes unilateral action to completely revamp the global financial structure that had been in place for decades. Perhaps astonishing of all, he even takes direct control of the core operations of the nation's most powerful corporations, dictating the wages they can pay and the prices they can set. As one stunned commentator puts it, the president is carrying out "the largest peacetime intrusion of government in the economy in American history, surpassing even the dreams of the New Dealers."
In foreign policy, after launching several controversial "surges," he does, belatedly, end the unpopular war he inherited. What's more, despite virulent opposition from several quarters, including many in his own party, he astounds the world by openly seeking rapprochement with sworn enemies of the United States – forces dedicated to a fundamentalist ideology whose avowed goal is the destruction of the American way of life and the imposition of their ideology on the entire world. Yet the president not only calls for dialogue and negotiation with these enemies, he even goes to meet their leaders, treats them with respect and public honor, feasts with them, negotiates with them.
A strange, even hallucinatory scenario, to be sure. But we haven't even gotten to the weirdest part. Imagine a president who does all these things – surpassing Franklin Roosevelt in government activism; slapping restraints on major corporations; providing vast new funding for the poor, the sick, for prisoners, for the environment; imposing social equality by force; seeking to nationalize health care; meeting and treating with the nation's enemies – yet is not regarded as a commie, a radical, a socialist, a progressive, a liberal, or even a "centrist," but as one of the most rock-ribbed conservatives of his day. Indeed, for many people, he is the arch-conservative of the age, a retrograde, reactionary figure, the embodiment of all that stands in the way of progress.
Yes, the presidential history of Richard M. Nixon paints a striking, even shocking contrast to the prevailing political weather today. It shows, with stark power, how very far the center of political gravity has shifted in the past 36 years. For Nixon was a rock-ribbed conservative by the standards of his day; yet compared to the timorous, time-serving "progressive" now in the White House, Nixon looks like Eugene Debs.
Even Nixon's downfall provides an instructive – and dispiriting – contrast to our day. Done in for covering up a little break-in at his opponent's headquarters? For this the entire machinery of government was convulsed, great investigatory panels convoked, grand jury indictments handed down, a sitting president impeached by the House? It's like some tale from antiquity, or maybe a work of science fiction, especially in our modern world, where the most outrageous crimes – warrantless surveillance, torture, indefinite detention, assassinations – are carried out and countenanced by presidents in broad daylight, with barely a hint of controversy … and no thought whatsoever that they might be answerable for these misdeeds.
Of course Nixon was, despite his famous protestations, a "crook" (and war criminal) of the highest order. He was also very much one of the Founding Fathers of our modern American Post-Republic; indeed, it was Nixon who crafted the one-line constitution that now governs our state: "If the president does it, it's not illegal." I've dealt at length with his perfidy in these pages and elsewhere over the years. (See here, here, and here for examples.)
But looking back at some of the actual policies he had the brass to carry out and/or advocate, (whether from conviction or cynical opportunism doesn't matter; we're looking at deeds here, not intentions or style), many of which were actually designed to address genuine problems and imbalances in society and decrease tensions around the world, one cannot but conclude that, in some ways at least, we used to get a slightly higher grade of mass-murdering war criminal in office back in those long-departed days.
As the overflow of pundit effluent after the State of the Union speech continues to sulfurize the political air, Glenn Greenwald brings up a background point that we have been hammering on about here for years: i.e., the fact that the President of the United States claims the arbitrary right to kill anyone on earth -- including U.S. citizens -- without charges, without trial, without warning.
As I first wrote in November 2001, George W. Bush proclaimed this divine power shortly after 9/11. And as we have often noted (here, for example), Barack Obama has reaffirmed this megalomaniacal principle. Greenwald focuses on the latest, and one of the most brazen, assertions of the doctrine of presidential murder: the Obama Administration's casual compiling of "hit lists" of people in Yemen that it wants to assassinate, including at least three U.S. citizens. (Fittingly enough, one of the first people murdered by Bush's universal murder racket was an American citizen in Yemen. Continuity, continuity, in all things continuity!)
Greenwald notes the rather glaring fact that Obama's open embrace of this murderous principle has occasioned not the slightest protest, debate or even discussion amongst the political and media elite. He also points to rather different view of these matters: Abraham Lincoln's General Order 100, issued in the middle of an actual civil war on American soil, in which thousands of people were dying every week. This is what they thought of "extrajudicial assassination" in those days:
The law of war does not allow proclaiming either an individual belonging to the hostile army, or a citizen, or a subject of the hostile government, an outlaw, who may be slain without trial by any captor, any more than the modern law of peace allows such intentional outlawry; on the contrary, it abhors such outrage. The sternest retaliation should follow the murder committed in consequence of such proclamation, made by whatever authority. Civilized nations look with horror upon offers of rewards for the assassination of enemies as relapses into barbarism.
Thank god we live in modern times, eh? Can you imagine allowing our leaders to be hobbled by such hidebound notions as they carry out their sacred duty to keep us safe?
Greenwald is outraged by the lack of outrage that Obama's continuity of the presidential murder principle has evoked. And to be sure, it is outrageous. But there is of course absolutely nothing surprising about it. The use of murder as a bipartisan tool of national policy is a venerable, even celebrated American tradition. (For more, see "A Furnace Seal'd," "Making Their Bones," "Unreality Check" and many other pieces linked to in those posts.)
To illustrate the point, I'd like to bring out an excerpt from a piece I wrote in 2005. I've used it several times before (such as here, where you can find all the links), but I think it's worth revisiting. It is highly revealing of the depraved mindset of our rulers, and can perhaps help us understand why there is not -- and never will be -- any hue and cry from our great and good over Obama's use of the White House's self-bestowed license to kill:
On September 17, 2001, George W. Bush signed an executive order authorizing the use of "lethal measures" against anyone in the world whom he or his minions designated an "enemy combatant." This order remains in force today. No judicial evidence, no hearing, no charges are required for these killings; no law, no border, no oversight restrains them. Bush has also given agents in the field carte blanche to designate "enemies" on their own initiative and kill them as they see fit.
The existence of this universal death squad – and the total obliteration of human liberty it represents – has not provoked so much as a crumb, an atom, a quantum particle of controversy in the American Establishment, although it's no secret. The executive order was first bruited in the Washington Post in October 2001. I first wrote of it in my Moscow Times column in November 2001. The New York Times added further details in December 2002. That same month, Bush officials made clear that the dread edict also applied to American citizens, as the Associated Press reported.
The first officially confirmed use of this power was the killing of an American citizen in Yemen by a CIA drone missile on November 3, 2002. ... But most of the assassinations are carried out in secret, quietly, professionally, like a contract killing for the mob. As a Pentagon document unearthed by the New Yorker in December 2002 put it, the death squads must be "small and agile," and "able to operate clandestinely, using a full range of official and non-official cover arrangements to…enter countries surreptitiously."
The dangers of this policy are obvious, as a UN report on "extrajudicial killings" noted in December 2004: " Empowering governments to identify and kill 'known terrorists' places no verifiable obligation upon them to demonstrate in any way that those against whom lethal force is used are indeed terrorists… While it is portrayed as a limited 'exception' to international norms, it actually creates the potential for an endless expansion of the relevant category to include any enemies of the State, social misfits, political opponents, or others."
It's hard to believe that any genuine democracy would accept a claim by its leader that he could have anyone killed simply by labeling them an "enemy." It's hard to believe that any adult with even the slightest knowledge of history or human nature could countenance such unlimited, arbitrary power, knowing the evil it is bound to produce. Yet this is what the great and good in America have done. Like the boyars of old, they not only countenance but celebrate their enslavement to the ruler.
This was vividly demonstrated in one of the revolting scenes in recent American history: Bush's State of the Union address in January 2003, delivered to Congress and televised nationwide during the final frenzy of war-drum beating before the assault on Iraq. Trumpeting his successes in the Terror War, Bush claimed that "more than 3,000 suspected terrorists" had been arrested worldwide – "and many others have met a different fate." His face then took on the characteristic leer, the strange, sickly half-smile it acquires whenever he speaks of killing people: "Let's put it this way. They are no longer a problem."
In other words, the suspects – and even Bush acknowledged they were only suspects – had been murdered. Lynched. Killed by agents operating unsupervised in that shadow world where intelligence, terrorism, politics, finance and organized crime meld together in one amorphous, impenetrable mass. Killed on the word of a dubious informer, perhaps: a tortured captive willing to say anything to end his torment, a business rival, a personal foe, a bureaucrat looking to impress his superiors, a paid snitch in need of cash, a zealous crank pursuing ethnic, tribal or religious hatreds – or any other purveyor of the garbage data that is coin of the realm in the shadow world.
Bush proudly held up this hideous system as an example of what he called "the meaning of American justice." And the assembled legislators…applauded. Oh, how they applauded! They roared with glee at the leering little man's bloodthirsty, B-movie machismo. They shared his sneering contempt for law – our only shield, however imperfect, against the blind, brute, ignorant, ape-like force of raw power. Not a single voice among them was raised in protest against this tyrannical machtpolitik: not that night, not the next day, not ever.
As we noted here a few days ago, you should bear these realities in mind when wading through the endless pundit-parsing of the partisan circus, i.e., Did Obama hit a "home run" with his big speech, is the GOP on the comeback trail, is Harry Reid an effective quarterback for the Democratic agenda, is Sarah Palin a credible candidate, etc., etc., blah blah and blah. The political fortunes of these murder-applauding imperial marauders do not matter in the slightest. What's important is what they do, what they order, what they support, what they countenance, what they enable.
As the scripture says, by their fruits ye shall know them. All the rest -- as the scripture doesn't say but certainly implies -- is just pernicious bullshit.
America lost two distinctive and important voices this week, two writers whose works dealt with absolutely vital but virtually ignored elements of the nation's history and character: the 'marginal' classes and the ruling class. Without the histories of Howard Zinn and the fiction of Louis Auchincloss, we would have a poorer understanding of the forces that form and move our society, for good and ill.
The more well-known of the two departed, Howard Zinn, was of course the author of A People's History, which even though "it told an openly left-wing story" (as the New York Times notes, in mildly scandalized tones) sold more than a million copies, "was taught in high schools and colleges throughout the country," and spawned many off-shoots, by both Zinn and historians inspired by him. (Such as David Williams' remarkable People's History of the Civil War, among many others.)
The NYT obituary, while duly respectful in tone – our radical activists are always duly respected when they are safely dead (Martin Luther King, Woody Guthrie, etc., etc.) – also provides a bit of comedy in its attempt to let readers know that Zinn was not really "serious." To do this – and here's the comedy bit – they drag poor old Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. out of the grave. The Times exhumes a quote from Schlesinger – best known as one of John F. Kennedy's minor minions – to prove that "even liberal historians" rejected the silly, unserious Zinn, who, the Times sniffs, "accused Christopher Columbus and other explorers of committing genocide, picked apart presidents from Andrew Jackson to Franklin D. Roosevelt and celebrated workers, feminists and war resisters." Can you even imagine such a man being taken seriously in the drawing rooms of Georgetown? Schlesinger couldn't:
Even liberal historians were uneasy with Professor Zinn, who taught for many years at Boston University. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. once said: “I know he regards me as a dangerous reactionary. And I don’t take him very seriously. He’s a polemicist, not a historian.”
Coming from a courtier as ever-fawning toward power as Schlesinger – who among his many imperial services helped strangle the new democracy of Guyana in its cradle – this is pretty rich. But very much par for the Times' decorous course. In any event, Zinn's work – which he rightly called "the first chapter, not the last, of a new kind of history" – will continue to reverberate and inspire. (Schlesinger's, not so much.)
The NYT obit for Auchincloss is also riddled with respectful undermining. But in this case, it is the same kind of gentle dismissal that dogged Auchincloss throughout a half-century of writing novels and stories about his native milieu: the ruling class of the United States.
The obit, like decades of Auchincloss reviewers, brushes aside Auchincloss' "chronicles of Manhattan's old-money elite" as quaint and pretty evocations of a "vanished world." A vanished world! Here we see once more the Times' diligent adherence to one of the most enduring and pernicious American myths: that the nation has no ruling class. When pressed, our chewers and spewers of the cud of conventional wisdom will sometimes allow that there used to be a ruling class, way back in the bad old days; but they insist that this "old-money elite" has long since vanished from power and influence, having been largely dissolved into the great meritocracy of modern America.
In partial mitigation, however, the Times does grudgingly offer an opposing viewpoint from Gore Vidal [cribbed from his 1974 essay, "The Great World and Louis Auchincloss"]:
Like [Edith] Wharton, Mr. Auchincloss was interested in class and morality and in the corrosive effects of money on both. “Of all our novelists, Auchincloss is the only one who tells us how our rulers behave in their banks and their boardrooms, their law offices and their clubs,” Gore Vidal once wrote. “Not since Dreiser has an American writer had so much to tell us about the role of money in our lives.”
Vidal's essay (available in his remarkable compendium, United States) has much more to say about the reality of the ruling class – and the deadly myth of its non-existence. It is indeed astonishing that this deeply disinforming notion continues to be perpetrated even today – when a scion of that very same ruling class has only recently concluded an eight-year term in the White House, and when we have all witnessed, with our own eyes, the public treasury being raided to preserve these elites from the consequences of their own rapacity.
The Times, perhaps to its credit – or perhaps because the editors thought no one would be reading at this point – gives the last word to Auchincloss himself, and so will we:
Even near the end of his life, Mr. Auchincloss said the influence of his class had not waned. “I grew up in the 1920s and 1930s in a nouveau riche world, where money was spent wildly, and I’m still living in one!,” he told The Financial Times in 2007. “The private schools are all jammed with long waiting lists; the clubs — all the old clubs — are jammed with long waiting lists today; the harbors are clogged with yachts; there has never been a more material society than the one we live in today.”
“Where is this ‘vanished world’ they talk about?” he asked. “I don’t think the critics have looked out the window!”
Yet another day, yet another bout of liberal handwringing over yet another jilting by Barack Obama. This time, their hero has let them down with his planned freeze on "discretionary" spending. (Which doesn't include funding for the war machine and the security organs, of course; as always, that's "imperative" spending – we are allowed no "discretion" whatsoever when it comes to gorging our fat cats on blood money and fear-profiteering.)
Tuesday morning saw no less than five major pieces on Salon.com decrying Obama's "panic," his unworkable "gimmick" which will "doom the economic recovery," his "farce" in repeating Franklin Roosevelt's 1937 mistake of cutting spending too soon and prolonging the Great Depression, and Obama's "cynicism" in sending out his message-massagers to liberal outlets to assure the (dwindling) faithful that he's not really going to cut any worthy programs – assertions that Republican will eagerly seize upon, and which will boomerang as rank betrayals of his political base when they turn out to be false.
One can hardly take issue with the thrust of the Salon pieces (and others like them across the progressiverse): Obama's spending "freeze" is a disastrous, cynical farce whose only real result will be an increase of suffering and hardship for the most vulnerable in our society. It will certainly produce no real budget savings, given the voracious, ever-widening maw of the militarist apparatus. Obama claims his freeze on spending that might actually enhance the quality of life of the American people will "save" $250 billion over three years. But where will this money go? Straight into that militarist maw, which devours that amount of cash every few weeks, and is always demanding – and receiving – more, more, and still more.
The already-chintzy, misdirected "stimulus" spending will indeed grind to a halt, sending multitudes of people who had been temporarily shielded from the worst of the recession crashing headlong into the bitter reality of the economic rapine wrought by our elites. And speaking of that economic rapine, if Obama was really keen on saving $250 billion, perhaps he could have lopped a few hundred billion off the trillions of dollars in bailout baksheesh which his administration has doled out or guaranteed to the financial elite. Or perhaps he could fought for genuine health care reform, with the hundreds of billions that a single-payer plan would have saved, instead of swelling the profits of the insurance and drug conglomerates with public money and captive customers.
So yes, the spending "freeze" will be the usual bungling wheeze. It will not do what it is ostensibly designed to do ("signal seriousness about cutting the budget deficit"); it will not "foster bipartisanship" in the savage, petty factional infighting that characterizes our ruling establishment (which is actually entirely bipartisan when it comes to the essentials: making war on weak, broken nations, and making money for those already bloated to bursting with money). And yes, it is a panicky move meant to shore up Obama's sagging poll numbers -- and is also a craven sop to the financial elites who were miffed by his talk about "reining in the banks" a few days ago. And it may even be, as one Salon writer noted, a "Sister Souljah" moment, designed to slap down the "left" and show everybody what a big tough centrist hombre he really is.
But the shocked and injured tone with which this move has been greeted in some quarters seems entirely misplaced. Many of the writers seem to be operating on the assumption -- or under the delusion -- that Obama actually had some kind of political-economic-social agenda that he wanted to enact as president, and that he is now "failing" to enact it, "squandering" his opportunity. There still seems to be a belief that he ran for president because he wanted to do something with all that power.
But Obama is not "failing"; he is doing exactly what he set out to do: be the president. That's it. That's all he wanted to do. And he's doing it. The panic now emanating from the White House is not that of a man watching a chance to realize his deeply held ideals for a better world slipping away from him; it's just the flopsweat of a guy trying to stay perched on top of the greasy pole for another term. From his earliest days in office, it has been clear that Obama, like Clinton before him, had no real political program to enact; he was happy to do whatever it took to get enough votes to put him into office, while also assuring the real brokers of national power -- Big Money, Big War -- that he was a "safe pair of hands" who would never seriously disturb the blood-smeared operation of their giant sausage grinder.
The contrast to the Bush Regime is striking. While the front man himself was an empty suit of clothes, the operators at the core of the faction, led by Dick Cheney, had a very definite program they wanted to enact: a vastly accelerated militarism; ever-more rampant corporatism; the "hollowing out" of the state by selling off its public service functions to cronies and sycophants, while undermining and eviscerating its civic functions (its laws, courts, constitution, etc.) with egregious claims of unaccountable authoritarian power. This agenda was clear from the beginning. (See here for the Bushists' militarist blueprint; and here for its continuity in Obama's "safe pair of hands."). And it was followed through with relentless determination, with no quivering about "bipartisanship" with other factions, and with only the scantest regard for polls or public favor. It was a hideous agenda -- but by God, they had one, and they worked it with all their might.
Obama, on the other hand, stands for nothing; thus nothing he tries to do will stand. He was already hollowed out when he came into office, with a "brand" not an agenda, not a program -- and, as becomes increasingly apparent all the time, not a clue.