They avidly, eagerly helped perpetuate militarist tyranny, torture, death squads and corruption in Latin America during the high and palmy days of the Reagan-Bush years – and now they're back in the saddle, riding as hired guns for the democracy-killing coup-coup birds in Honduras: Leader Ousted, Honduras Hires U.S. Lobbyists (New York Times):
In the months since soldiers ousted the Honduran president, Manuel Zelaya, the de facto government and its supporters have resisted demands from the United States that he be restored to power. Arguing that the left-leaning Mr. Zelaya posed a threat to their country’s fragile democracy by trying to extend his time in office illegally, they have made their case in Washington in the customary way: by starting a high-profile lobbying campaign.
The campaign has had the effect of forcing the administration to send mixed signals about its position to the de facto government, which reads them as signs of encouragement. It also has delayed two key State Department appointments in the region.
As the Times note, these retreads from the genocidal policies spawned and embraced by that beloved old pixie with a twinkle in his eyes, Ronald "Why No, This Isn't Rouge, I'm Just Flushed With Love for America" Reagan, are being joined by fresh (well, fresher) meat recruited from the courtiers who flit around imperial factionists Hillary Clinton and John McCain. (Bipartisan foreign policy in action!):
The campaign has involved law firms and public relations agencies with close ties to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senator John McCain, a leading Republican voice on foreign affairs.
It has also drawn support from several former high-ranking officials who were responsible for setting United States policy in Central America in the 1980s and ’90s, when the region was struggling to break with the military dictatorships and guerrilla insurgencies that defined the cold war. Two decades later, those former officials — including Otto Reich, Roger Noriega and Daniel W. Fisk — view Honduras as the principal battleground in a proxy fight with Cuba and Venezuela, which they characterize as threats to stability in the region in language similar to that once used to describe the designs of the Soviet Union.
Naturally, the Obama Administration has been completely cowed by this fluttering of batwings from the far-right cave, and has continually diluted its already tepid opposition to the coup, no doubt in the earnest search of achieving "consensus" on Honduras policy:
...to placate its opponents in Congress, and have its nominations approved, the State Department has sometimes sent back-channel messages to legislators expressing its support for Mr. Zelaya in more equivocal terms.
“There’s been a leadership vacuum on Honduras in the administration, and these are the people who’ve filled it,” said [Chris Sabatini, editor of Americas Quarterly] of the Micheletti government’s backers. “They haven’t gotten a lot of support, but enough to hold the administration’s policy hostage for now.”
It is remarkable to see how in every case, the Obama Administration acts as if it is a minority government which won the White House by the slimmest of margins, and now must appease a powerful opposition party in control of Congress in order to get even watered-down fragments of its putative agenda passed – when in fact it was swept into office by one of the largest electoral margins in recent years and enjoys a comfortable majority control of both houses of Congress.
If Obama and crew actually had an agenda – as the hyper-militarist Dick Cheney had, when he and his front-man seized power in 2000 – then they could have pushed through any number of genuine, substantive reforms, with strong public support. But it should be clear to anyone by now that Obama, like Clinton before him, has no real idea of what he wants to do in government, or what he wants government to do: he just wants to enjoy the props and perks of power for awhile, to play the role of president, like Michael Douglas or Martin Sheen in a Aaron Sorkin fantasy, then bask in celebrityhood the rest of his days. The only real agenda of the Obama Administration is keeping Democrats in office, as Joe Biden revealed the other day, and winning a second term for the Prez. And then? Big book contracts, lucrative speaking engagements, corporate directorships, some charity PR....whatever.
The main thing is not to upset the golden applecart of the Empire and its Establishment. Thus the appearance of "weakness" consistently shown by the Administration is not due (or not solely due) to its own pusillanimousness; rather it comes from the inherent disconnect between the vague rhetoric of reform that it was forced to adopt to win popular support, and its real business: servicing the most powerful elements of a militarized, oligarchic state.
Try and name any powerful interest that Obama has taken on. The Pentagon? Whatever minor internal squabbles there may be about the exact details of escalating the "Af-Pak" war (which Obama firmly assures us will go on and on, apparently forever; pulling out is "not an option," he says), the American war machine (and the mercenaries and servicing industries that augment it) continues to grow unchecked -- in terms of size, scope, budget, destructive power and political influence. The health-care conglomerates, bane of most ordinary Americans? We all know that Obama has cut a cynical deal with these barracudas, pledging to protect (and expand) their profit margins in exchange for vast wads of cash for Democrats. The security organs? Obama has been steadfast in his support and protection of the torturers, death-squadders and black-opsters of the intelligence services, and his legal minions are constantly in the courts, seeking to uphold and expand the authoritarian encroachments of the Bush Regime. Wall Street? Please. In his cabinet choices and his "bailout" policies, Obama has given Wall Street the keys to the Treasury, to use as they please to cover up – and continue – the criminal recklessness that has plunged millions of people into misery around the world.
But let's give credit where it is due. Obama has bravely taken on one very powerful faction which exercises enormous, dominant sway over American society: poor blacks. Time and again, he has used the "bully pulpit" to admonish black men for being bad fathers, and to exhort black folk in general to quit whining about the deeply ingrained, systemic injustice and inequality of American society, which perpetuates an ever-deepening cycle of deprivation and abandonment that undermines generation after generation. They should get over this already, he says – while his wars and his Wall Street bailouts and his health-care corporate aggrandizement plans drain billions upon billions of dollars that could go to, oh, say, supporting education, nutrition, economic opportunity, neighborhood security, transportation, infrastructure legal aid, prison reform, recreation, culture and much else that could that could improve the lives and chances of the poor, of whatever race – as well as everyone else outside the tiny golden circle of the elite and their sycophants.
No, he's not afraid to stand up to African-Americans and tell them to get their own house in order. But to the Pentagon, Wall Street, war criminals, and corporate barracudas, the only message is: "Can I take your order? What do you need? Here's a blank check; just fill it in."
Thus it is not surprising to see the Administration waffling and dithering over the militarist coup in Honduras -- where the president, a wealthy businessman and member of the elite, made some noises about addressing, in some measure, a few of the immense inequalities of his society and was immediately branded a dangerous, radical Marxist whose extremism threatened the very soul and existence of the nation. Our own militarists and oligarchs (miligarchs?) have always reacted in the same way to even the slightest attempt to begin to think about the possibility of potentially taking some tiny steps toward finding a way to consider at some point in the distant future a few minor measures of limited scope and brief duration that could possibly be seen as trying to ameliorate slightly some of the deprivations of the useless and undeserving poor.
Indeed, because of the very, very faint noises that Obama himself made in this direction during his campaign, he too has faced identical charges from the Homeland miligarchs and their Fox-fed shock troops: a rich and bitter irony for a man whose obsequious services to the High Commanders of militarized Crony Capitalism are second to none.
But such charges, ludicrous as they are, do their job: they give fair warning to the current Oval Office occupant that he is there on sufferance, and that he must take the greatest pains to avoid any substantive deviation from the miligarch agenda. And so the little criminals of the Reagan-Bush years have re-emerged to re-assert the standard militarist line on Latin America: Coups R Us.
But "re-emerge" is perhaps the wrong term. These people never really go away; they are permanent representatives of the permanent American power structure: dull-witted, hard-hearted, cold-blooded apparatchiks of empire.
We wrote here last week of Arthur Silber's telling insights into the misuses, abuses -- and ultimate uselessness -- of the "intelligence" reports produced by the security organs of powerful states....particularly the world's self-proclaimed "hyper-power" as it careens around the world in its obsessive-compulsive urge for domination. Silber's rule can be boiled down thusly: "Intelligence" is always -- always -- a political tool for the agenda of power, and it can never -- never -- be used to support an argument over policy. You can only argue and infer from the facts; if your case relies on "intelligence" – even if it seems temporarily favorable to your cause – then you are fighting on power's own turf, using power's own distorting terms, and making power's case, not yours. For once you accept that "intelligence" possesses some kind of objective truth when it seems to undercut some policy you abhor, what will you do when it suddenly changes and now supports that very policy? Again, Silber covers all this in eloquent detail, here and here.
This week gave us a glaring example of this principle in action. Scarcely had the pixels dried on Silber's posts when the New York Times came knocking with a story cobbled together from the usual anonymous "intelligence" sources to stoke the campaign of fearmongering over the "nuclear threat" from Iran.
The "intelligence" cited in the story is clearly aimed at undercutting the "intelligence" in the ballyhooed 2007 "National Intelligence Estimate" (NIE), in which America's security organs concluded that Iran did not have an active nuclear weapons program. As Silber notes, this report has been used incessantly by well-meaning dissidents who are rightly trying to head off the war of aggression against Iran that is the fervent – even wet – dream of America's powerful militarist factions. But as pointed out here years ago (again channeling Silber), that report was itself a trap for anti-war forces, because it also declared that Iran had been working actively on a nuclear weapon until 2003 – an assertion that flew in the face of all known facts and international inspection reports. To accept the claims of the NIE report as objective truth, you would also have to accept the warmongers' insistence that Iran was actively seeking a nuclear weapon, even though they may have temporarily put the program on hold. Again, you would be accepting the militarists' terms, and their deadly context: i.e., that Iran wants nukes, and must be stopped from getting them
In any case, the NYT story shows the "intelligence" worm turning to bite the citers of the NIE. The story cites a new report by unnamed staffers of the International Atomic Energy Agency which in turn cites unspecified, unconfirmed, tentative intelligence from unnamed sources that concludes – tentatively – that Iran might have re-started at least some parts of its nuclear weapons program (whose previous existence had, of course, never been proved). The money shot of the story is here:
A senior American official said last week that the United States was now re-evaluating its 2007 conclusions.
There you have it. "Intelligence" giveth, and "intelligence" taketh away. If the already flawed and falsified NIE report is now "re-evaluated," or replaced by a new, more scary report on the "imminent threat" from Iran, what then? Shall we simply accept the new report as the objective truth – as many of us did with the NIE paper – and bow to its conclusions and implications? Or shall we not see, once again, that "intelligence" is just a flag run up by power – or by various factions in the halls of power as they tussle for pre-eminence – to rally forces around its agenda?
The NYT piece on the leaked report by unnamed IAEA staffers was followed hard upon by yet another war-stoking story the next day. Where the first story sought to give aid and comfort to the hard-core warmongers, the second was aimed squarely at "moderates," those who still hope wanly that we can maybe, somehow, some way, inflict harsh punishments on the Persians for their uppitiness without actually bombing or invading them outright. (This, you understand, is the most "progressive" position on Iran allowed within the parameters of "serious" discussion in our political-media Establishment.) The headline says it all: "Black Market Shows Iran Can Adapt to Sanctions."
In fact, the headline is the point: it is the idea that is meant to lodge in readers' minds, something to lurk there, unconsciously, when considering the great "debates" on "what we should do about Iran." Whenever "moderates" try to damp down war fever with talk of more sanctions, there'll be a little flutter in the cellarage of the brain: "Say, sanctions don't really work, do they? Iran can just go around them. I'm sure I've read somewhere just how they do that."
Again, as with "intelligence," the goal is to seize the terms of the debate, to frame it so that it excludes all other alternatives but the one that suits power's agenda. Sanctions don't work, the story tells us. So what tools are left for leaders who must "do something" about Iran? (The idea of not doing something about Iran is, of course, inconceivable for imperial policymakers; the logic and telos of the militarist cult of domination impels them to slap down Iran one way or another until Tehran goes down on bended knee. And our cultists aren't concerned in the slightest if Iran has a brutally repressive government or is run by religious extremists (see Saudi Arabia); all they want is acquiescence, and access to the local loot.) The logic is clear: if you must meddle, and sanctions are ineffective, then that leaves only military action.
And to whom does the Times turn for "expert" opinion on the inefficacy of sanctions against Iran? The sole analyst quoted is Michael Jacobson, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy – a highly partisan extremist organization that was one of the chief instigators and incubators of the murderous war crime against Iraq, and one of the most enthusiastic cheerleaders for throttling Iran. There was of course not a single scrap of background or context regarding WINEP in the Times story. It was presented simply as an objective center for policy analysis. Whereas even the mildest, most moderate and milquetoasty "progressive" think-tank would invariably be described as "left-leaning," or identified as, say, "having opposed the Iraq War" or "a frequent critic of American foreign policy," etc.
But then again, those who advocate war in an imperial system based on war really need no further description; in such a system, the warmongers are thoroughly objective, mainstream, quite literally in the center of the prevailing worldview.
This week's one-two punch of pro-war propaganda from the Times is a classic squeeze play by the manipulators of "intelligence," designed to cut off all other options except the military one. We have seen a similar operation being carried out in recent days on the escalation in Afghanistan, with the high militarists – like General Stanley "Death Squads R Us" McChrystal and Pentagon holdover honcho Robert Gates – making showy public noises about the absolutely imperative need to throw more troops into the Central Asian cauldron. The clear intent is to ensure that Barack Obama remains faithful to the militarist faith he has so eagerly espoused, and doesn't start waving just because the war is unwinnable and the people don't want it.
This is life in a War State. And there can really be no serious argument that this is not what the United States has become: a structure and system of permanent war. Military action, military procurement, military bases, military needs, military dominance over diplomacy, budgets, "intelligence" and policy: these are the drivers of the modern American state. Beginning in the years just after World War II, the most powerful factions of the bipartisan American elite came to the conclusion that "an aggressive foreign policy based on military strength was the only real foundation of economic prosperity." (The quote is a description of Adolf Hitler's "doctrine of economic life" in the remarkable book by historian Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction.) "An aggressive foreign policy based on military strength" was also the only way to maintain the global hegemony American elites acquired at the end of the war – a position of power and privilege which, once gained, they felt was their divine birthright.
And although there is much that is irrational and atrociously inhumane in the practical application of such a system, the system itself has an iron logic: War makes us rich and powerful; thus we will make war.
In seeking to understand the actions and intentions of the American state in the modern world, it is important to keep this doctrine and its logic in mind.
The essay is eloquent, cogent, deeply informed, insightful – and important. In addition to his own unique insights, Silber mines wisdom from such trenchant observers as Chalmers Johnson, Ray McGovern, Barbara Tuchman and Gabriel Kolko to give the lie to the corrosive belief that any output from the "intelligence" agencies can or should be relied upon – and the accompanying lie that our leaders and their spies possess super-secret knowledge which we peons must defer to. As Silber notes, the historical facts demonstrate overwhelmingly and irrefutably that "intelligence" always has been – and, more importantly, cannot avoid being – manipulated, incompetent, corrupted and wrong. Thus his observation:
This is why I maintain that you must always argue the policy, and that you must never argue about the intelligence. To the extent you argue the intelligence, you are doing the ruling class's bidding. They can change the intelligence quickly enough when they think doing so is necessary, as they have done in the past and as they will again. If you grant the legitimacy and accuracy of intelligence assessments on even one occasion, and if you utilize those assessments in making your own arguments, you're making your own work that much harder, and your future arguments will be far less convincing than they would be otherwise.
But a brief excerpt risks doing the post an injustice. You should head over there now, and read the whole thing.
The Obama Adminstration has fired a top US diplomat at the UN for the heinous crime of insisting that the manifest and widespread fraud in the recent Afghan elections be vigorously investigated.
Peter Galbraith -- the deputy UN special envoy for electoral matters -- was technically fired by the United Nations, specifically by UN Secretary General Bai ki-Moon. But as the Guardian points out, "the recall of Galbraith would have required the agreement of the Obama administration."
Galbraith clashed with UN and US officials over his insistence that the fraudulent election of putative Afghan President Hamid Karzai be subjected to "a full and robust investigation," the Guardian notes. Galbraith had been particularly critical of a decision by the so-called Afghan Independent Election Commission to reverse an earlier decision to throw out multitudes of obviously fraudulent votes. The reversal came after heavy political pressure from Afghanistan's true masters in Washington.
As the paper notes, the sacking of Galbraith comes hard on the heels of reports that Obama and NATO have decided to keep Karzai in office -- even if the vote probe showed that he won less than 50 percent of the vote, which legally would require a run-off with his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah.
In other words, the White House has decided to bite the bullet and keep the corrupt and ineffectual oil man that George W. Bush installed in office over the conquered land -- no matter what the Afghan voters might want. And Galbraith's continued insistence on actually investigating the vote fraud -- which mirrors almost exactly the manipulations in Iran over which Obama and his war partners shed so many salt tears scant weeks ago -- is now highly inconvenient. And so he is out.
But deep in the Guardian story comes the real money shot:
The exit of Galbraith would appear to further reduce Obama's scope for manoeuvre in Afghanistan at a time when he is facing calls from his military commander, General Stanley McChrystal, for up to 40,000 more soldiers.
One by one, the White House and Pentagon -- whatever their internal disputes, if any -- are closing the doors on any option other than a disastrous and literally murderous escalation of some kind on the "Af-Pak" front. We noted here a few days ago the machinations of the militarists to ensure that the civilian government remains firmly on board the war wagon. Today's action by the White House -- its clear acquiescence in the very public decapitation of a U.S. official pushing for the truth about the puppet regime in Kabul -- was entirely the free choice of the civilian government, and dovetails exactly with the militarist agenda.
So despite all the recent hand-wringing amongst the Establishmentry about "conflicts" between the military and civilian sides of the government, it looks like the White House and Pentagon are, as usual, singing from the same hymn sheet.
And the song being sung is, as always, that perennial old favorite from days of yore: "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition."
There are many good pieces out there at the moment, but not world enough and time today to dig into them properly. So here are some brief glimpses. In the immortal words of Rabbi Hillel: Go, and study.
Arthur Silber is back from a long, illness-induced hiatus, and as usual, he is firing with both barrels. The piece deserves more comment, but for now, just go read the whole thing: "Fools for Empire (Part I)."
Another master sometimes laid low by illness these days has re-emerged with harsh words for the new Potomac regime. We speak, of course, of America's biographer, the legendary Gore Vidal. Here he is in fine, bristling form, sparring with The Times: Gore Vidal: ‘We’ll have a dictatorship soon in the US’.
Same as it Ever Was
As Jon Schwarz says, the Founding Fathers were honest men: they said straight out that they wanted a legislative body that would preserve the power and privilege of the oligarchy – and so by George, they made one. It's called the United States Senate. See "Good Call, James Madison."
John Caruso provides a handy translation of the Obama Administration's scolding of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya for his "foolish" action in returning to his own country; an action which has upset the militarists and oligarchs who overthrew him – and has obviously piqued our homegrown miligarchs as well: "Translating Lewis Anselem on Honduras."
As George Monbiot points out, the great and good have decided to tackle the catastrophe of climate change in the time-honored way: blaming the poor and making them suffer, while letting the real perpetators off scot-free. This is another piece that deserves more comment (and may get it when time shall serve), but give it a good read now: "Stop blaming the poor. It's the wally yachters who are burning the planet."
One side is lying; the other side is not telling the truth.
Or to put it another way: One side is pretending that a wildly reactionary plan to further enrich rapacious corporations is really hardcore, gutbucket socialism from the Bolshevik trenches, while the other side is pretending that its "reform" is not really a wildly reactionary plan to further enrich rapacious corporations but something that will somehow, in some way, be good for some people at some point way down the line.
One often finds that dealing in such utter unreality makes it somewhat difficult to achieve workable solutions to real-life problems.
The new "Iran crisis" is such a sickening concoction of stupidity and lies that it almost defies comment. It certainly defies contemplation; even to think about it for thirty seconds is enough to bring on a bout of the dry heaves.
Fortunately, several other writers -- with iron-clad innards, no doubt -- have boldly waded in and dismantled the deception behind the manufactured hissy fit over Iran's "secret nuclear facility." Jason Ditz at Antiwar.com gives a good overview of the case, which, shucked of all the warmongering frenzy, boils down to this little nubbin of reality:
Iran was building a new nuclear enrichment facility, as it is allowed to do by international treaty. The United States and several other Western countries knew about the facility for years. The facility, which is still months away from completion, is not designed to enrich uranium to weapons grade. Iran is not required to inform the IAEA about any new enrichment plant until six months before the plant goes into operation. There is some quibbling about a codicil that was meant to require Iran to give extra early notice; but this was never ratified by the Iranian legislature, so Iran is in compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty which it signed and ratified years ago. (As opposed to such already nuclear armed American allies as India and Israel.) The facility was not secret, it can't build bombs, it is not even finished, and it has no nuclear material in it.
Er, that's it. But upon this paper-thin foundation, a vast fortress of sinister bullshit has been erected by the "progressive" American president and his laughable lapdogs in London and Paris. The long-known presence of a unfinished, non-weaponized, treaty-compliant building is now being presented to the world as a burning reason to impose harsh new sanctions on Iran -- harsh to the point of outright acts of war, such as an embargo on shipments of gasoline and other fuel products to Iran. And of course, our coddled, padded, well-protected War Party hacks have seized upon this non-event to bay even louder for oceans of Persian blood to slake their thirsts -- or bolster their faltering manhoods, or do whatever it is that the thought of foreigners being slaughtered in great numbers far, far away does for pathetic little wretches like Lindsey Graham, Joe Lieberman and the Whole Sick Crew.
I don't have much to add to the analysis of offered by Ditz, Scott Ritter, Justin Raimondo, Glenn Greenwald, among others. (And if you want to put the issue in its deepest, truest context, see this piece written two years ago by Arthur Silber: "So Iran Gets Nukes. So What?") But I will note what is likely to be a side issue, but an interesting one nonetheless -- the timing of these "revelations."
As we all know, Barack Obama and his Europuppies meant to make a big show of sword-waggling at the opening of the oh-so-momentous G20 summit in Pittsburgh. Iran beat them to the punch by formally notifying the IAEA of the new facility before the summit, but in any case, the "Iran crisis" served its purpose for the Masters of the West: it covered up the fact that they actually had nothing whatsoever to say about the ostensible theme of the summit -- solving the global economic collapse. If the "Iran crisis" had not sucked up all the media oxygen, these "leaders" might have had to explain why they have given trillions of public dollars to the perpetrators of the economic collapse, while letting millions upon millions of their citizens slide into jobless, homeless penury. They would have had to explain why they are taking nothing but the most ineffective, cosmetic measures to rein in the hyper-greed of the oligarchs. And they would have to admit that their only plan for addressing the crisis in the future is to do more of the same: giving the elite even more public money to use as they please.
But all the economic questions were blown away by the ever-sexy talk of war. And of course, all the hoo-rah about a new war also distracted from the White House dithering over the old, failing war in Afghanistan. It's the oldest con trick in the book: distracting the sucker while you pick his pocket.
But unfortunately it's not just a game: the militarists are in deadly earnest about attacking Iran, and year by year, they creep ever closer to their ultimate goal -- no matter which party controls the White House. As I wrote here last year:
There is literally nothing that Iran can do – or not do – to divert the American elite's desire to strike at their land and bring it under domination. And apparently there is nothing that anyone in America with any power or a major platform will do to stop it either.
There is such a thing as being too late.... Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with lost opportunity.... Over the bleached bones of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: "Too late."
These days, the always noxious air of the Beltway is astir with the machinations of the military junta that now dominates the gutted and looted ruins of the American republic. Two recent articles provide excellent guides to the brazen Pentagon squeeze play to ensure that the civilian government does not stray from the militarist agenda of more war, all the time, everywhere, always -- a condition best captured in the marvelous title of the latest volume of Christopher Logue's serial reworking of The Illiad: All-Day Permanent Red.
First up, Tom Englehardt focuses on the powerful proconsul who is directing the squeeze play from the shadows. Yes, we speak of General David Petraeus, an ambitious little beaver with an eye on the White House. Curiously, Petraeus seems to think that – unlike victorious generals-turned-presidents like Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower -- he can win the Oval Office after directing not one but two failed wars. Even more curiously, he just might be right, especially given the slavishly kowtowing treatment he has always unaccountably received from the political establishment and the corporate media. Good PR, not battlefield prowess, is the only thing that counts these days, in our vastly altered state of permanent war. As Englehardt notes:
Over the nearly six decades that separate us from Truman’s great moment [firing the overreaching General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War], the Pentagon has become a far more overwhelming institution. In Afghanistan, as in Washington, it has swallowed up much of what once was intelligence, as it is swallowing up much of what once was diplomacy. It is linked to one of the two businesses, the Pentagon-subsidized weapons industry, which has proven an American success story even in the worst of economic times (the other remains Hollywood). It now holds a far different position in a society that seems to feed on war.
It’s one thing for the leaders of a country to say that war should be left to the generals when suddenly embroiled in conflict, quite another when that country is eternally in a state of war. In such a case, if you turn crucial war decisions over to the military, you functionally turn foreign policy over to them as well. All of this is made more complicated, because the cast of "civilians" theoretically pitted against the military right now includes Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general who is the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Douglas Lute, a lieutenant general who is the president’s special advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan (dubbed the "war czar" when he held the same position in the Bush administration), and James Jones, a retired Marine Corps general, who is national security advisor, not to speak of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The question is: will an already heavily militarized foreign policy geared to endless global war be surrendered to the generals?
I would say that it already has. Obama may or may not have "buyer's remorse," but as Englehardt notes, he has long wanted to "own" this war -- it was a centerpiece of his presidential campaign, the means by which he sought to prove his "national security" cojones -- and now he's got it. I doubt very much if he really is being "forced" into escalating the war -- and I would be astonished if he does not give in and send more troops into Afghanistan, while continuing to expand his deadly, destabilizing forays into Pakistan.
In any case, Harry Truman got away with sacking MacArthur not only because the Pentagon was less overwhelming in those days -- but also because the Joint Chiefs and the rest of the top military brass were themselves sick of the ageing prima donna and his high-handed ways, which had unraveled an imminent victory in Korea and led to the slaughter of thousands of American troops at the hands of the Chinese whom MacArthur had deliberately baited into the war. (This tale is well told in David Halberstam's last book, The Coldest Winter.)
Now the Pentagon is far more powerful. And our modern, cut-rate MacArthur (at least MacArthur had several genuine military triumphs to his credit, unlike Petraeus) is fully backed by the top brass (many of whom are his creatures, as he now controls promotions in the Army). And they are all acting in brazen concert to hogtie the civilian government into doing their bidding, as Jeff Huber, our second good guide, reports:
The long war mafia made clear its opposition to candidate Obama’s campaign promise to establish a timeline to draw down the Iraq war. Even after Obama had assumed office, Odierno, commander in Iraq, stated publicly (through Petraeus’s hagiographer Tom Ricks) that he expected to keep 30,000 more troops in Iraq through 2014 or 2015, well after the December 2011 exit deadline called for in the Status of Forces Agreement.
Mullen, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, has been a leading chanter of the mantra that says we must stay committed in Afghanistan. In a recent Joint Force Quarterly article, Mullen wrote, "The most common questions that I get in Pakistan and Afghanistan are: ‘Will you really stay with us this time?’ ‘Can we really count on you?’ I tell them that we will and that they can."
In a recent appearance on Al Jazeera, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, "both Afghanistan and Pakistan can count on us for the long term."
Every American should be stunned that our top military leadership made these kinds of foreign policy commitments without so much as a by-your-leave from the president or Congress. This is a velvet-fisted version of the kind of military junta we’d expect to see in a banana republic.
And of course, as both Huber and Englehardt note, the power structure's mouthpiece par excellence, former military intelligence officer Bob Woodward has played a key role in what Huber calls the Pentagon's "unrestricted information warfare campaign." Woodward passed along a carefully edited "leak" of the "strategy review" by General Stanley "Dirty War is My Business" McChrystal, who is Obama's new commander of the "Af-Pak" front. The heavily redacted document virtually screamed its warning that if the sissy civilians in Washington didn't keep Afghanistan burning at white heat -- by throwing more cannon fodder into the furnace, along with giant bales of cash -- then they, not the Pentagon, will be to blame for the FUBAR that follows.
Then again, any rational, sentient being knows that an escalation of the war will be a FUBAR of monstrous proportions, further destabilizing the most volatile region on earth, killing more and more civilians, driving more Afghans into the insurgency, propping up an utterly corrupt puppet government, wasting billions upon billions of dollars and thousands of American lives, and exacerbating extremism around the world. This is glaringly obvious, but our militarists simply don't care. As Huber notes, McChrystal and Petraeus scarcely bother to put together a coherent strategy for the war:
McChrystal’s report is incoherent on the subject of strategy. It says, "We must conduct classic counterinsurgency operations" and states that success depends not on "seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces" but on "gaining the support of the people." That’s laughable in light of the fact that classic clear-hold-build counterinsurgency operations involve seizing terrain and destroying the insurgent forces that occupy it.
The notion that we can separate the Afghan people from the insurgents is as ludicrous as the idea of invading Mexico to separate the Hispanics from the Latinos. Nor can we pretend to be the good guys when the Karzai government we prop up is as bad or worse than the insurgents. McChrystal admits that Afghans have "little reason to support their government."
McChrystal says he sees no sign of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. So, his argument goes, in order to disrupt al-Qaeda terror network, we need 45,000 more troops to occupy a country al-Qaeda is not in to make sure it doesn’t come back. And what exactly is this al-Qaeda juggernaut we’ve come to quake in fear of? As former CIA officer Philip Giraldi recently noted, "An assessment by France’s highly regarded Paris Institute of Political Studies [suggests that] Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda has likely been reduced to a core group of eight to ten terrorists who are on the run more often than not."
If McChrystal and his allies get their way, we’ll have deployed over 135,000 troops to Afghanistan — on top of the roughly 130,000 troops still in Iraq — for the purpose of rounding up fewer than a dozen bad guys. Daffy Duck and Wiley Coyote could come up with a better strategy than that. Our military leadership and its supporters are a thundering herd of buffoons whose only real objective is to keep the cash caissons rolling and the gravy ships afloat and the wild blue budget sky high.
And to keep the power, privilege and dominance they have come to exercise over our society -- a position of rulership to which they now feel entitled, and which whole generations of Americans are now growing up to believe is the natural order of things. Gary Wills limns the corrupt and corrosive reality of the National Security State in a recent New York Review piece:
The monopoly on use of nuclear weaponry, the cult of the commander in chief, the worldwide network of military bases to maintain nuclear alert and supremacy, the secret intelligence agencies, the entire national security state, the classification and clearance systems, the expansion of state secrets, the withholding of evidence and information, the permanent emergency that has melded World War II with the cold war and the cold war with the "war on terror"—all these make a vast and intricate structure that may not yield to effort at dismantling it. Sixty-eight straight years of war emergency powers (1941–2009) have made the abnormal normal, and constitutional diminishment the settled order....
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that turning around the huge secret empire built by the National Security State is a hard, perhaps impossible, task. After most of the wars in US history there was a return to the constitutional condition of the pre-war world. But after those wars there was no lasting institutional security apparatus of the sort that was laboriously assembled in the 1940s and 1950s. After World War I, for instance, there was no CIA, no NSA, no mountain of secret documents to be guarded from unauthorized readers, no atomic bomb to guard, develop, deploy, and maintain in readiness on land, in the air, and on (or in) the sea.
Now a new president quickly becomes aware of the vast empire that is largely invisible to the citizenry. The United States maintains an estimated one thousand military bases in other countries. I say "estimated" because the exact number, location, and size of the bases are either partly or entirely cloaked in secrecy, among other things to protect nuclear installations. The secrecy involved is such that during the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy did not even know, at first, that we had nuclear missiles stationed in Turkey.
Huber holds out a no doubt wan hope that Obama will emulate Eisenhower, "stand up to America’s militaristic madness," and negotiate an end to the Afghan War, as Eisenhower did in Korea. However, the ever-astute Huber certainly knows this is highly unlikely. Obama has never given the slightest indication that he objects in any serious way to the militaristic madness of our globe-striding empire of bases and our permanent war machine. He accepts it in principle, and most assuredly in practice.
And while it is true that we may be seeing the first faint inklings of a distant glimmer of a vague, dim realization by the White House that the present course in Afghanistan -- surge, bomb, kill, repeat -- is, perhaps, not the most productive approach, the only alternative that the administration seems to be considering is "scaling back" the military footprint in Afghanistan (to some unspecified level), while escalating the on-going campaign of attacks on Pakistan -- including the introduction of Special Forces ground troops.
This "alternative" is said to be the course being pushed by Vice President Joe Biden. And one can well believe it: the plan's destructive boneheadedness is certainly redolent of Biden's statecraft, which has included such splendors as supporting the aggressive war in Iraq, calling for the bloody dismemberment of the conquered land, and, of course, successfully spearheading a draconian "Bankruptcy Bill" that has devastated the lives of millions of people while protecting the profits of Biden's paymasters in the credit card industry. This is the man that Obama hand-picked to stand by his side and help devise strategy and policy at the highest levels.
Escalating the war in Pakistan -- with ground troops, no less -- is, to put it bluntly, insane. The efforts already undertaken there have been greatly destabilizing -- in a nuclear-armed nation riven by ethnic and regional conflicts. One thing that does unite the Pakistanis, however, is their vociferous opposition to American attacks on their soil. But the fact that Pakistan is a sovereign nation -- and an American ally -- cuts absolutely no ice at all with the war councils in Washington -- or with their faithful media scribes. Witness the astonishing passage from a Washington Post story about Pakistan's increasing pushback against the heavy imperial hand. Trying to somehow explain this strange reaction, the Post comes up with this:
Pakistanis, who are extremely sensitive about national sovereignty, oppose allowing foreign troops on their soil and have protested U.S. missile attacks launched from unmanned aircraft against suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda targets inside Pakistan.
Can you imagine that! The Pakistanis are "extremely sensitive about national sovereignty." Obviously, this is some kind of strange, barbaric trait of those dark, primitive tribes; for everyone knows that most countries love to have foreign armies carrying out combat operations in their homeland. Certainly, Americans are intensely relaxed about allowing foreign troops on their soil. And good gracious, the Pakistanis even get all het up about foreign governments launching missile attacks into their territory! Again, you would never see this kind of tetchiness in the sophisticated, civilized West.
But American leaders just can't understand why they are unpopular in Pakistan. Here's Obama's super-special envoy to the "Af-Pak" front, Richard Holbrooke, scratching his head about the grubby little Asian ingrates:
"We recognize that Pakistani public opinion on the United States is still surprisingly low, given the tremendous effort by the United States to lead an international coalition in support of Pakistan," Richard C. Holbrooke.
We throw good money at these gooks, and they still don't like us to invade their country and kill their people! Really! What does an empire have to do to get a little love around here?
No, I don't think we will see Obama emulating Ike in ending a pointless, unpopular war, or channeling Truman in resisting the political agenda of an ambitious general. If Obama is as intelligent as he is reputed to be, he already knew the score when he threw himself body and soul into the pursuit of the presidency; he went into it with eyes wide open, and made his deal with the devil.
And in the unlikely event that he is actually clueless enough to believe that he can now back out of the deal, and tries to cut down -- or even seriously curtail -- the militarist machine....then he will very likely find himself stretched out in a pine box beneath the Capitol rotunda, a much-mourned victim of the usual "lone nut" gunman.
It is all too easy to get dazzled by the facades of high politics and state policy, to be taken up with tactics, metrics, movements, trends, with ideologies and philosophies, as if the life of the world was actually conducted on this elevated plane. But sometimes a glimpse of reality shows through the increasingly threadbare curtain, and we can see the grubby, petty, deadly truth of how the world really works. Two particularly telling glimpses came through this week, throwing harsh, glaring light on the all-pervasive corruption of American political system – and on the collusion of governments, business and the underworld in killing the poor and poisoning the planet to maintain the comfort and privilege of the "developed" world.
First we have a new interview with Sibel Edmonds, the former FBI translator turned whistleblower who has been the target of the most draconian "state secrets" campaign in American history. A few weeks ago, Edmonds was allowed to tell part of her remarkable story in public, under oath, for the first time.
It should have been the mother of all media blockbusters: a scandal encompassing Congressional corruption, executive branch bribery, international espionage, warmongering skullduggery, nuclear proliferation – even bisexual honey traps! The headlines practically write themselves, in one-word tabloid screamers: "Sex! War! Bribes! Spies! Treason!" What journalist could resist such a feast? Alas, there are no more journalists in the editorial offices and corporate boardrooms of America's media conglomerates. And so Edmonds' testimony was buried many fathoms deep.
But Philip Giraldi at The American Conservative has kept the waters stirring with an article that draws out some of the essentials of Edmond's journey through the heart of American darkness. It's a tale worth reading in full -- there are plenty of devils in the details -- but here are a few excerpts:
PHILIP GIRALDI: We were very interested to learn of your four-hour deposition in the case involving allegations that Congresswoman Jean Schmidt accepted money from the Turkish government in return for political favors. You provided many names and details for the first time on the record and swore an oath confirming that the deposition was true.
Basically, you map out a corruption scheme involving U.S. government employees and members of Congress and agents of foreign governments. These agents were able to obtain information that was either used directly by those foreign governments or sold to third parties, with the proceeds often used as bribes to breed further corruption. Let’s start with the first government official you identified, Marc Grossman, then the third highest-ranking official at the State Department...and he allegedly uses this position to do favors for “Turkish interests”—both for the Turkish government and for possible criminal interests. ... So the network starts with a person like Grossman in the State Department providing information that enables Turkish and Israeli intelligence officers to have access to people in Congress, who then provide classified information that winds up in the foreign embassies?
EDMONDS: Absolutely. And we also had Pentagon officials doing the same thing. We were looking at Richard Perle and Douglas Feith. They had a list of individuals in the Pentagon broken down by access to certain types of information. Some of them would be policy related, some of them would be weapons-technology related, some of them would be nuclear-related. Perle and Feith would provide the names of those Americans, officials in the Pentagon, to Grossman, together with highly sensitive personal information: this person is a closet gay; this person has a chronic gambling issue; this person is an alcoholic. The files on the American targets would contain things like the size of their mortgages or whether they were going through divorces. One Air Force major I remember was going through a really nasty divorce and a child custody fight. They detailed all different kinds of vulnerabilities. ... Some of those individuals on the list were also working for the RAND Corporation. RAND ended up becoming one of the prime targets for these foreign agents. ...
GIRALDI: We know Grossman was receiving money for services.
EDMONDS: Yes. Sometimes he would give money to the people who were working with him, identified in phone calls on a first-name basis, whether it’s a John or a Joe. He also took care of some other people, including his contact at the New York Times. Grossman would brag, “We just fax to our people at the New York Times. They print it under their names.” ...
GIRALDI: ... Both Feith and Perle were lobbyists for Turkey and also were involved with Israel on defense contracts, including some for Northrop Grumman, which Feith represented in Israel.
EDMONDS: They had arrangements with various companies, some of them members of the American Turkish Council. They had arrangements with Kissinger’s group, with Northrop Grumman, with former secretary of state James Baker’s group, and also with former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft.
The monitoring of the Turks picked up contacts with Feith, Wolfowitz, and Perle in the summer of 2001, four months before 9/11. They were discussing with the Turkish ambassador in Washington an arrangement whereby the U.S. would invade Iraq and divide the country. The UK would take the south, the rest would go to the U.S. They were negotiating what Turkey required in exchange for allowing an attack from Turkish soil. The Turks were very supportive, but wanted a three-part division of Iraq to include their own occupation of the Kurdish region. The three Defense Department officials said that would be more than they could agree to, but they continued daily communications to the ambassador and his defense attaché in an attempt to convince them to help.
Meanwhile Scowcroft, who was also the chairman of the American Turkish Council, Baker, Richard Armitage, and Grossman began negotiating separately for a possible Turkish protectorate. ... Scowcroft was all for invading Iraq in 2001 and even wrote a paper for the Pentagon explaining why the Turkish northern front would be essential. I know Scowcroft came off as a hero to some for saying he was against the war, but he was very much for it until his client’s conditions were not met by the Bush administration. ...
GIRALDI: This corruption wasn’t confined to the State Department and the Pentagon—it infected Congress as well. You’ve named people like former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, now a registered agent of the Turkish government. In your deposition, you describe the process of breaking foreign-originated contributions into small units, $200 or less, so that the source didn’t have to be reported. Was this the primary means of influencing congressmen, or did foreign agents exploit vulnerabilities to get what they wanted using something like blackmail?
EDMONDS: In early 1997, because of the information that the FBI was getting on the Turkish diplomatic community, the Justice Department had already started to investigate several Republican congressmen. The number-one congressman involved with the Turkish community, both in terms of providing information and doing favors, was Bob Livingston. Number-two after him was Dan Burton, and then he became number-one until Hastert became the speaker of the House...as the FBI developed more information, [Democrat] Tom Lantos was added to this list....
And in 2000, another representative was added to the list, Jan Schakowsky, the Democratic congresswoman from Illinois. Turkish agents started gathering information on her, and they found out that she was bisexual. So a Turkish agent struck up a relationship with her. When Jan Schakowsky’s mother died, the Turkish woman went to the funeral, hoping to exploit her vulnerability. They later were intimate in Schakowsky’s townhouse, which had been set up with recording devices and hidden cameras. They needed Schakowsky and her husband Robert Creamer to perform certain illegal operational facilitations for them in Illinois. They already had Hastert, the mayor, and several other Illinois state senators involved. I don’t know if Congresswoman Schakowsky ever was actually blackmailed or did anything for the Turkish woman.
GIRALDI: So we have a pattern of corruption starting with government officials providing information to foreigners and helping them make contact with other Americans who had valuable information. Some of these officials, like Marc Grossman, were receiving money directly. Others were receiving business favors: Pentagon associates like Doug Feith and Richard Perle had interests in Israel and Turkey. The stolen information was being sold, and the money that was being generated was used to corrupt certain congressmen to influence policy and provide still more information—in many cases information related to nuclear technology.
EDMONDS: As well as weapons technology, conventional weapons technology, and Pentagon policy-related information. ...
GIRALDI: You also have information on al-Qaeda, specifically al-Qaeda in Central Asia and Bosnia. You were privy to conversations that suggested the CIA was supporting al-Qaeda in central Asia and the Balkans, training people to get money, get weapons, and this contact continued until 9/11…
EDMONDS: ... So these conversations, between 1997 and 2001, had to do with a Central Asia operation that involved bin Laden. Not once did anybody use the word “al-Qaeda.” It was always “mujahideen,” always “bin Laden” and, in fact, not “bin Laden” but “bin Ladens” plural. There were several bin Ladens who were going on private jets to Azerbaijan and Tajikistan. The Turkish ambassador in Azerbaijan worked with them.
There were bin Ladens, with the help of Pakistanis or Saudis, under our management. Marc Grossman was leading it, 100 percent, bringing people from East Turkestan into Kyrgyzstan, from Kyrgyzstan to Azerbaijan, from Azerbaijan some of them were being channeled to Chechnya, some of them were being channeled to Bosnia. From Turkey, they were putting all these bin Ladens on NATO planes. People and weapons went one way, drugs came back.
GIRALDI: Was the U.S. government aware of this circular deal?
EDMONDS: 100 percent. A lot of the drugs were going to Belgium with NATO planes. After that, they went to the UK, and a lot came to the U.S. via military planes to distribution centers in Chicago and Paterson, New Jersey. Turkish diplomats who would never be searched were coming with suitcases of heroin.
GIRALDI: And, of course, none of this has been investigated. What do you think the chances are that the Obama administration will try to end this criminal activity?
EDMONDS: ... As soon as Obama became president, he showed us that the State Secrets Privilege was going to continue to be a tool of choice. It’s an arcane executive privilege to cover up wrongdoing—in many cases, criminal activities. And the Obama administration has not only defended using the State Secrets Privilege, it has been trying to take it even further than the previous terrible administration by maintaining that the U.S. government has sovereign immunity. This is Obama’s change: his administration seems to think it doesn’t even have to invoke state secrets as our leaders are emperors who possess this sovereign immunity. This is not the kind of language that anybody in a democracy would use.
Get the picture? It's play for pay. Nukes, drugs, guns, war, terror -- our Establishment paladins will peddle them all, if the price is right, if there's a slice in it for them, if it suits their personal agenda.
And Giraldi points out the very crux of the matter: "of course, none of this has been investigated." Why should it be? It's the just the way things are done. The Turks and Israelis certainly aren't the first foreign interests to buy congressfolk and government officials like so many cheap suits off the rack. The Nazis and Brits did a wholesale business in bribery and influence-peddling in the years before America's entry into World War II. Gore Vidal has been a prime chronicler of the vast British espionage operation in the pre-war United States, especially in his last novel, The Golden Age. He's also touched upon the similar Nazi effort as well, writing of
...the corrupt Senator William Borah, the so-called lion of Idaho, who had once roared, "I'd rather be right than president," causing my grandfather [Sen. T.P. Gore] to murmur, "Of course, he was neither." In 1940, when the poor and supposedly virtuous Borah died, several hundred thousand dollars were found in his safety deposit box. Where had the money come from? asked the press. "He was my friend," said Senator Gore, for public consumption, "I do not speculate." But when I asked him who had paid off Borah, the answer was blunt. "The Nazis. To keep us out of the war."
William Borah, Dennis Hastert, Brits and Nazis, al Qaeda, Turks and Israelis: the players change, but the game goes on -- with ever-higher and more destructive stakes.
The second curtain-tearing glimpse this week was provided by George Monbiot in the Guardian, writing about the Trafigura scandal: a well-connected oil trading company -- hard-wired to the Tories who will almost certainly take power in the UK next year -- dumping toxic slops in the Ivory Coast, striking down tens of thousands of people with disease, and killing fifteen people. As Monbiot points out, this horror story is just business as usual for governments and corporations -- including the most "enlightened" and "progressive" ones:
On the day that the Guardian [broke the Trafigura story], it also carried a story about a shipwreck discovered in 480 metres of water off the Italian coast. Detectives found the ship after a tip-off from a mafioso. It appears to have been carrying drums of nuclear waste when the mafia used explosives to scuttle it. The informant, Francesco Fonti, said his clan had been paid £100,000 to get rid of it. What makes this story interesting is that the waste appears to be Norwegian. Norway is famous for its tough environmental laws, but a shipload of nuclear waste doesn't go missing without someone high-up looking the other way.
Italian prosecutors are investigating the scuttling of a further 41 ships. But most of them weren't sunk, like Fonti's vessel, off the coast of Italy; they were lost off the coast of Somalia. When the great tsunami of 2004 struck the Somali coast, it dumped and smashed open thousands of barrels on the beaches and in villages up to 10km inland. According to the United Nations, they contained clinical waste from western hospitals, heavy metals, other chemical junk and nuclear waste. People started suffering from unusual skin infections, bleeding at the mouth, acute respiratory infections and abdominal hemorrhages. The barrels had been dumped in the sea, a UN spokesman said, for one obvious reason: it cost European companies around $2.50 a tonne to dispose of the waste this way, while dealing with them properly would have cost "something like $1,000 a tonne." On the seabed off Somalia lies Europe's picture of Dorian Gray: the skeleton in the closet of the languid new world we have made.
Well, that's just Somalia, of course. In the past few years, the enlightened world has amply demonstrated just what it thinks of Somalia. Monbiot points out the fact that at least some of the infamous Somali pirates took to the water to stop the dumping of the developed world's poisons on their shores:
Most of them take to the seas only for blood and booty; but some have formed coastal patrols to prevent over-fishing and illegal dumping by foreign fleets. Some of the vessels being protected from pirates by Combined Task Force 151, the rich world's policing operation in the Gulf of Aden, have come to fish illegally or dump toxic waste. The warships make no attempt to stop them.
As Monbiot notes, there are strict laws against such toxic dumping: laws passed with much fanfare, to make politicians look good -- and the folks back home feel good about themselves. But there is a neat trick that our elites like to use when it comes to laws that inconvenience their power and profits: they just don't enforce them. Simple, eh? Don't you wish you could do that?
The law couldn't be clearer: the Basel convention, supported by European directives, forbids European Union or OECD nations from dumping hazardous wastes in poorer countries. But without enforcement, the law is useless. So, for instance, while all our dead electronic equipment is supposed to be recycled by licensed companies at home, according to Consumers International around 6.6m tonnes of it leaves the European Union illegally every year.
Much of it lands in West Africa. An investigation by the Mail on Sunday found computers which once belonged to the NHS being broken up and burnt by children on Ghanaian rubbish dumps. They were trying to extract copper and aluminum by burning off the plastics, with the result that they were inhaling lead, cadmium, dioxins, furans and brominated flame retardants. Tests in another of the world's great fly-tips, Guiyu in China, show that 80% of the children of that city have dangerous levels of lead in their blood...
A black market run by criminal gangs is dumping our electronic waste on the poor, but since the European directive banning this practice was incorporated into British law in January 2007, the Environment Agency hasn't made a single prosecution. Dump your telly over a hedge and you can expect big trouble. Dump 10,000 in Nigeria and you can expect to get away with it.
Or as the man said: "Steal a little and they throw you in jail; steal a lot and they make you king." Monbiot zeroes in on the underworld connections to the elite's dirty business:
All over the world the cosa nostra, yakuza, triads, bratva and the rest make much of their fortune by disposing of our uncomfortable truths. It suits all the rich nations – even, it seems, the government of Norway – not to ask too many questions, so long as the waste goes to far away countries of which we know nothing. Only when the mobs make the mistake of dumping it off their own coasts does the state start to get huffy.
The Trafigura story is a metaphor for corporate capitalism. The effort of all enterprises is to keep the profits and dump the costs on someone else. Price risks are dumped on farmers, health and safety risks are dumped on subcontractors, insolvency risks are dumped on creditors, social and economic risks are dumped on the state, toxic waste is dumped on the poor, greenhouse gases are dumped on everyone.
This too is nothing new, of course. I've often written here and elsewhere of the shadowlands where state power, terrorism, Big Money and criminal organizations mix, mingle, squabble and conspire. Indeed, modern American history cannot be understood without an inkling of the essential role played by the underworld, as I noted back in 2004:
Anyone who wants to understand the reality of modern America should pick up Gus Russo's latest book, "The Outfit." With diligent research and relentless candor, Russo strips away the façade of America's pious national myths, showing in great detail how the criminal underworld and the even more criminal "upperworld" of big business and politics have fused in a deadly symbiosis that underlies the nation's power structure.
You could begin unraveling this dirty skein at almost any point in the last century, but let's join the story at a critical juncture: 1960, when Democrats Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson battled for the right to face Republican Richard Nixon in the presidential election. Of course, bribery, corruption, violence and vote-rigging have long been an integral part of America's glorious electoral heritage - a shining example to all the world - but the 1960 election was the first time that the country's mobsters had intervened so directly, and so decisively, in the national ballot.
They'd seen one of their creations in the White House before, of course: Harry Truman, the Missouri haberdasher who was plucked from obscurity by Tom Pendergast, boss of the Kansas City mob. Pendergast, whose iron grip on local politics was augmented by the judicious use of murder, eventually propelled Truman to the U.S. Senate. From there, having won a well-deserved reputation as a zealous scourge of corporate war profiteering (the mob steered clear of that particular racket, which was dominated by bluebloods like the Bushes), Truman was chosen as vice president in 1944. A few months later, Franklin Roosevelt died - and Pendergast's boy was suddenly president of the United States.
Although Truman kept his own hands clean of bribes (except the usual ones known as "campaign contributions"), he retained a fierce tribal loyalty to the Kansas City gang and their overlords: "The Outfit," the Chicago-based heirs of Al Capone, and the nation's most powerful underworld organization. In one of the major scandals of Truman's administration, his Attorney General, Tom Clark, approved early paroles for three of the Outfit's most notorious figures. A second scandal followed when Truman rewarded Clark for these gangland services rendered with a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
...In 1960, all three major candidates were mobbed up. JFK's father, the ex-bootlegger Joe Kennedy, dealt directly with his former associates in the Outfit, tapping them for untraceable vote-buying cash and their unrivaled vote-rigging muscle. Nixon, then vice president, had long worked his mob contacts - chiefly the Los Angeles gang of Mickey Cohen and New York's Meyer Lansky - for secret campaign funds. Meanwhile, the Chicago Outfit - playing both sides as always - sought Nixon's favor by agreeing to a CIA request for help in assassinating Fidel Castro.
Johnson was backed by the Carlos Marcello gang out of New Orleans, who paid the all-powerful Texas senator $100,000 a year to keep the legislative heat off their gambling and racing interests. Of course, this mob dime was small beer to Lyndon, whose career had been bankrolled by massive cash infusions (some of them legal) from the construction and military servicing firm Brown & Root - now more famous as the chief cash cow in the Halliburton empire. (Like the Outfit, Halliburton always plays both sides.)
The rest, as they say, is history. Kennedy's Outfit connections trumped Johnson's Marcello play for the nomination, then Joe's vote-riggers outmuscled Nixon's vote-riggers in the election - the closest in American history. Nixon felt, rightly, that he'd been robbed of a presidency he'd bought fair and square. Thus he went on to even greater illegality - including outright treason in his secret negotiations with Vietnamese officials to scuttle peace talks before the 1968 election - to ensure his perch atop the greasy pole. Millions of people would die from his expansion of a war that U.S. officials had already privately conceded was a disastrous mistake. As Russo points out, gangland's rap sheet looks like a hymnbook next to the genocidal record of the upperworld.
And on it goes. A war of aggression in Iraq -- avidly sought by the profiteers and propagandists in the network revealed by Edmonds -- kills more than a million innocent people while engendering perhaps the most gargantuan corruption scams in world history: loot which sloshes back into the coffers of America's elite, enabling them to tighten their grip on the nation's politics even further, buying candidates -- even the most "progressive" ones -- who will ensure that any "bailouts" or "reforms" will serve the privileged first, and that the militarist agenda of endless conflict, burgeoning arms sales, and bottomless expenditures for the war machine will continue unhindered.
A few years ago, I won an award for a piece I'd written for The Moscow Times (and CounterPunch.) By hook, crook and the kindness of others, I flew out to San Francisco, then caught the last night ferry to San Rafael, where the ceremony was being held the next day. I was one of several people being noted by Project Censored for their "Top 25 Censored Stories" volume of that year.
The honorees were supposed to give speeches, so, weary with jet lag, I worked on mine in my motel room, while keeping one eye on the television, where an astonishing spectacle was playing out: an Austrian actor mounting an Enron-sponsored coup to take over one of the largest governments in the world.
But in the end, I didn't like my speech, so just before the ceremony began, I quickly wrote out something else, and said that instead. Just tonight, I ran across those tattered notes in the back of a desk drawer, and found that they still hold true as an explanation for what I'm trying to do with all this political writing. So I thought I'd set it down here. This is what I told them:
Years ago, during the run-up to the first Gulf War, I wrote a short piece about the sea of propaganda that was flooding the country, and the difficulty of cutting through to the blood-and-iron reality behind it all. This is the whole of that piece:
I think we are living in a world of lies: lies that don't even know they are lies, because they are the children and grandchildren of lies.
One of the hardest things about doing stories like the ones honored here tonight is that the reality of our world is buried under so many layers of official deception and well-cultivated public ignorance about our history and our political system. Even if you break through somehow, momentarily, and hold up a fragment of the truth, most people have no context for dealing with it. It's like a bolt from the blue, they can't process the information. And so the sea of lies closes over us again, and again, and again.
But I don't know what else we can do, except to keep on telling as much of the truth as we can find, to anyone who will listen: reclaiming reality, fragment by fragment, one person at a time.
It's an endless task -- maybe a hopeless task -- but the alternative is a surrender to the worst elements in our society -- and in ourselves. Thank you.