A series of devastating car bombings rocked Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 121 people and wounding hundreds more, according to preliminary accounts by witnesses, the police and hospital officials....
The attacks were the worst in Iraq since twin suicide bombings destroyed three ministries on Oct. 25, killing at least 155 people. They fit a pattern of spectacular attacks in the capital, followed by weeks of relative calm. In August, two suicide car bombs exploded near the country’s Finance and Foreign Ministries, killing at least 122.
After you have taken a moment to mull this unspeakable rending of human lives -- not just the individuals who were killed but also the lifelong, lacerating grief of their survivors -- a rending which is a direct result of an American invasion and occupation that not only loosed a savage sectarian war in the shattered, conquered land but also actively abetted it at every turn, go back and read the last paragraph of that excerpt again.
The worst attack in -- not years, not decades -- but mere weeks. In other words, it's hardly been a month since the last time, of many times, over and over, like clockwork, that dozens of people were ripped to shreds in the American-caused, American-abetted, American-supported civil wars in Iraq.
Think on that, then think on this: the situation in Iraq is now being held up as a model, a goal, for Barack Obama's massive expansion of the war and occupation in Afghanistan. Obama himself has called the "surge" in Iraq "an extraordinary achievement," and has at every turn promoted and propagated the myth that George W. Bush's escalation of a hideous war of aggression was a resounding success. This myth is based on one thing only: the fact that the peak of the ghastly death rate produced by the American occupation dropped to a somewhat less horrific level. But as countless experts and analysts have pointed out, this drop had very little to do with the addition of some 28,000 American troops. (And parenthetically, what a small thing the Iraqi "surge" seems now, with Obama having already launched two "surges" in Afghanistan, which will, in the end, add up to more than 50,000 troops -- with the concomitant number of mercenaries who now augment, when they do not surpass, the official military contingents in America's imperial campaigns.)
Patrick Cockburn is the latest to put Iraq's "model" surge in its proper perspective, in a piece this week in The Independent:
There are real parallels between the US and British intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they are not the ones which the White House and Downing Street are publicising. In both countries foreign forces were intervening in a potential or actual ethnic and sectarian civil war. In Afghanistan this is between the Pashtun on one side and the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara on the other and has been going on for 30 years. In Iraq it is between the Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shia Arabs. The Sunni were the predominant community under Saddam Hussein and were displaced by the Shia after a horrendous civil war which reached its peak in and around Baghdad in 2006-07. Sunni insurgents did surprisingly well against US troops, but lost the war against the Shia.
The guerrilla war against the US in Iraq ceased because the Sunni community was being slaughtered by Shia death squads. "Judging by the body counts at the time in the Baghdad morgues, three Sunnis died for every Shia," Dr Michael Izady, who conducted a survey of the sectarian make-up of Baghdad for Columbia University's School of International Affairs, is quoted as saying. "Baghdad, basically a Sunni city into the 1940s, by the end of 2008 had only a few hundred thousand Sunni residents left in a population of over five million." Defeated in this devastating sectarian civil war, the Sunni ended their attacks on US troops and instead sought their protection. The "surge" of 28,000 extra US troops who arrived in the summer of 2007 had a marginal impact on the outcome of the fighting.
Yet it is the mythical success of the US troop "surge" in Iraq in 2007-08 which is being used as a template for US military policy in Afghanistan two years later. A strategy, which did not work in the way the Pentagon said it did in Iraq is now to be applied in Afghanistan where conditions are, in any case, entirely different.
Cockburn goes on to note that Obama's strategy in Afghanistan, just like Bush's in Iraq, is guaranteed (by design?) to enflame ethnic conflict:
The Obama plan outlined last week envisages training 100,000 new Afghan soldiers and 100,000 new policemen over the next three years. But where are these recruits to come from? Given the high desertion rate, the combat strength of the Afghan army is reportedly only 46,000 troops in a country that is larger than France. These troops, and particularly the officer corps, are already disproportionately Tajik, the ethnic group to which a quarter of Afghans belong. The US can only increase the military strength of the Afghan state swiftly by skewing it towards the Tajiks, who were always the core of opposition to the Taliban. This will increase sectarian hatreds.
And of course, the addition of thousands more foreign forces carrying out intensified military operations in Afghanistan will mean thousands more civilian deaths -- one of the primary elements fuelling violent resistance to the Western occupation.
In other words, as always in our bipartisan Terror War, the actual policies pursued by our leaders will, of necessity, produce the opposite result of their stated aims: quelling terrorism, dampening extremism, bringing stability, and, in the words of Obama's escalation speech at West Point, building "a better future for our children and grandchildren" by ensuring that "other peoples' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity."
Let's state it again: you cannot achieve such goals, even in the slightest degree, with the foreign policies and military actions of the Bush and Obama administrations. You cannot invade countries, kills thousands upon thousands of innocent people, destroy societies, unleash and foment civil war, impose corrupt, violent, repressive regimes on shattered, suffering people and expect that this will somehow build "a better future" for your children and grandchildren -- much less for the children and grandchildren that you are murdering, brutalizing and traumatizing.
As we said here the other day, only an idiot could actually believe such things. And while our leaders may be moral nullities, they are not idiots. Therefore it is clear beyond all doubt and argument that the stated purposes for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are deliberate, knowing, well-considered lies. Thus all the earnest debates and commentaries on the relative efficacy of various policies aimed at achieving these completely specious goals are pointless. In the end, such diversionary "debates" only serve the causes of war, domination, profiteering and elite power that are, in the end, the only true goals of these campaigns.
Do you want more proof of the inherent subversion of the Terror War's stated goals by the actual policies adopted by our leaders? Then look at Pakistan this week -- or almost any week these days -- where dozens of people were killed in the intensified civil war that has been "ratcheted up" at Washington's insistence.
For the last year, the Obama administration has waged a relentless campaign of hectoring, pressure, humiliation and blackmail to force the Pakistani government to wage open war on Pashtun tribes and sectarian groups opposed to Pakistani collaboration with America's growing military presence in the region.
(And please note: Washington does not object at all in principle to the retrograde religious extremism of the targeted sectarian groups in Pakistan -- or in Afghanistan, for that matter. For one thing, many of these same groups received copious support from America during the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan. And of course, Obama, like all of his predecessors, joyfully embraces -- even, yes, bows to -- perhaps the most retrograde, extremist religious regime on earth, Saudi Arabia. Never believe -- not for a moment -- that it is the content of faction's belief that determines Washington's attitude toward it. This determination is made solely on the basis of how that group advances -- or impedes -- American policy interests at any given time and place. One need only look at the vicious religious extremists embraced and empowered by the United States in both Afghanistan and Iraq in the past few years to see that.)
And so, bowing to this pressure, throughout the year the Pakistani military has dutifully "ratcheted up" its attacks on its own people. And what has been the inevitable result? More violence, more terrorist attacks, more instability, more extremism.
The first story is a remarkable tale of imperial extortion that nakedly reveals the true nature of American policy in the region: play ball, by our rules -- or get it in the neck. The administration of the new Nobel Peace Prize laureate is now openly telling the Pakistanis that if they do not kill more of their own people, then by God, the Americans are going to do it for them:
The Obama administration is turning up the pressure on Pakistan to fight the Taliban inside its borders, warning that if it does not act more aggressively the United States will use considerably more force on the Pakistani side of the border to shut down Taliban attacks on American forces in Afghanistan, American and Pakistani officials said.
But because this is the New York Times, one of the great keepers of the American exceptionalism flame, we must have this ludicrous, laughable line inserted right after these direct threats:
United States officials said the message did not amount to an ultimatum....
The Pakistanis got the message, however:
For their part the Pakistanis interpreted the message as a fairly bald warning that unless Pakistan moved quickly to act against two Taliban groups they have so far refused to attack, the United States was prepared to take unilateral action to expand Predator drone attacks beyond the tribal areas and, if needed, to resume raids by Special Operations forces into the country against Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders ... A Pakistani official who has been briefed on the meetings said, “Jones’s message was if that Pakistani help wasn’t forthcoming, the United States would have to do it themselves.”
In other words (we're having to use a lot of "other words" in this piece, but that's unavoidable when translating the higher bullshit of government and media), this was the message of the world's greatest beacon of freedom and goodness: "Listen up, Paki -- attack who we say or we're going to invade your fucking country. You savvy me lingo, Sambo?"
Yes, it is that crude; and yes, it is precisely that kind of condescending, dehumanizing racism that lies behind this approach. And try to picture the smug look of smirking satisfaction that accompanied this quote from the story:
A senior administration official, asked about the encounter, declined to go into details but added quickly, “I think they read our intentions accurately.”
And how's this for patting the blackjack in your palm, looking around the room and saying, with a sinister smile: "Nice little shop you got here, pal. Too bad if something, like, happened to it."
“We’ve offered them a strategic choice,” one administration official said, describing the private communications. “And we’ve heard back almost nothing.” Another administration official said, “Our patience is wearing thin.”
But of course what we are talking about here is Pakistan escalating the already extensive -- and heavy-handed, civilian-killing -- "counter-terrorism" operations it has launched at Washington's insistence in the past two years. These attacks have been met with a wave of reprisals from the targeted groups -- as well as by attacks of uncertain provenance. (In the world of "counterinsurgency," where death squads and double agents abound, one can never be sure where the ultimate origin of any attack comes from -- or even if the attackers themselves know who is pulling the strings. For more on this, see here, here and here, among many examples.)
The result of Obama's year-long policy of escalation in Pakistan is clear: more violence, more terrorism, more instability. Yet even after this clear evidence of failure (according to the purported reasons for the escalation), what is the "new" policy after the "strategic review"? The same, only more so. We can thus look forward to a lot more of this:
Militants set off two bombs on Monday night in one of the busiest markets of this eastern Pakistani city, then sprayed the crowd with gunfire, killing at least 54 people, including many women and children, and wounding at least 150 others, Pakistani authorities said on Tuesday.
News agencies reported a fresh attack on Tuesday in the same region. A bomb near the offices of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate in Multan killed at least 12 people, the reports said.
This was part of a series of attacks that have killed hundreds of people in the past few weeks. As the Guardian noted earlier this month:
...[A] wave of attacks.. started two months ago, on the eve of an army drive into the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan. More than 400 Pakistanis have died since early October in attacks on UN offices, security installations and crowded bazaars. The capital, Islamabad, increasingly resembles cities such as Kabul, with rising sandbagged walls, checkpoint-clogged streets and shopping areas bereft of foreigners and, increasingly, Pakistanis.
Nearby Rawalpindi has suffered even more attacks, including a 22-hour siege of the army headquarters in early October that left 23 people dead and badly embarrassed the military.
And so the cycle goes on and on -- now with a Peace Laureate at its head. Looking at this ever-growing darkness, I keep coming back to something I wrote the day after 9/11:
Blood will have blood; that's certain. But blood will not end it. For murder is fertile: it breeds more death, like a spider laden with a thousand eggs. And who now can break this cycle, which has been going on for generations?
"How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it." -- Henry David Thoreau
To me, this quote from Thoreau expresses the only rational, moral and humane stance that a citizen can take toward the vast and brutal machinery of the American imperial state in our time. The crimes of this state are monstrous, and mounting. But what is worse is that these crimes are not aberrations; they are the very essence of the system -- they are its goal, its product, its lifeblood.
Our Western society quite openly embraces war as a means of solving problems, and for quite some time now has fashioned its entire social and economic structure around the preparation for war.
I believe this is an indisputable fact. Decades of historical evidence give it proof. The last three decades especially have seen the relentless acceleration of this systemic evolution. The quality of life for ordinary Americans, those outside the golden circle of the elite and their retainers, has decayed immeasurably – and measurably. Stagnant wages. Degraded infrastructure. A poisoned food chain. Whole communities -- with all their social, political, cultural and family networks -- gutted by the heedless flight of capital to cheap labor (and slave labor) markets abroad, and by the dissolution of an embodied economic life into the shadow-play of high finance, the ghostly manipulation of numbers that produces nothing of value except gargantuan profits for a very few. A bonfire of public amenities, making daily life harder, harsher, constricted, diminished. Ever-growing social and economic disparity, shrinking the circle of opportunity. Two million citizens behind bars, in prisons overflowing with non-violent drug cases – nightmarish institutions given over to gangs, neglect, punitive regimens and private profit.
Yet this long, grinding process of diminishment and degradation has been accompanied by a never-ending expansion of the war machine into a dominant position over almost every aspect of American life. Not even the ending of the Cold War slowed this excrescence; defense budgets grew, new enemies were found, there were new missions, new commands, new wars. The ruling elite of American society were – and are – obviously willing to let the welfare, prosperity, opportunities and liberties of the common people sink deeper and deeper into the mire, in order to finance a system structured around war, with all the attendant corruption, brutalization and accrual of authoritarian power that war brings.
This is the system we have. It’s right out in the open. There is a deep-rooted expectation – and not, alas, just among the elite -- that the world should jump to America’s tune, by force if necessary. And when, for whatever reason, some part of the world does not jump – or bump and grind – to the Potomac beat, then it becomes a “problem” that must be “solved,” by one means or another, with, of course, “all options on the table,” all the time. And whether these “problems” are approached with blunt, bullying talk or a degree of cajolery and pious rhetoric, the chosen stance is always backed up with the ever-present threat of military action, up to and including the last of those “options” that always decorate the table: utter annihilation.
This is not even questioned, must less debated or challenged. America’s right to intervene in the affairs other nations by violent force (along with a constant series of illegal covert activities) – and to impose an empire of military plantations across the length and breadth of the entire planet – is the basic assumption, the underlying principle, the fervently held faith shared by both national parties, and the entire elite Establishment. And if you want to have the necessary instruments to maintain such a state of hegemony, then you must indeed structure your society and economy around war.
Many nations – all vanished now – have done this. The Roman Empire was one. Nazi Germany was another. At great cost to the economic, social and political life of ordinary Germans, Adolf Hitler geared the state to produce the war machine necessary to assert the dominance in world affairs which he felt was Germany’s natural right. One of his chief aims was to procure enough “living space” and natural resources in Eastern Europe to compete with America’s growing economic might. The Holocaust of European Jews was, for all its horror, just a preliminary to the greater “ethnic cleansing” to come. As historian Adam Tooze reminds us in The Wages of Destruction, the Nazis had drawn up detailed plans for the extermination – by active mass murder and deliberate starvation – of up to 40 million East Europeans.
Today, we all recognize the inhuman madness behind this hegemonic ambition. We shake our heads and say, “Whatever evils we may be accused of, we have never and would never do such a thing.” Perhaps. But leaving aside for a moment the millions – millions – of African slaves and Native Americans who died in order to procure the living space and natural resources of North and South America for European peoples, it is clear that most Americans – the elite above all – can easily countenance the deaths of, say, more than one million innocent Iraqis, or upwards of three million Southeast Asians, without any disturbance in their sense of national righteousness, their bedrock belief that the United States has the natural right, even the duty, to assert its hegemony over world affairs.
The mass murder in Iraq, the horrible slaughter in Vietnam and Cambodia, the direct involvement in the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people in Indonesia, Latin America, and the Iran-Iraq War – to name just a few such operations carried out within the last generation – are regarded as actions which, however "mistaken" some might feel them to have been, were undertaken in good faith, to "preserve our way of life" from this or that imminent, overwhelming threat to our very national existence. [Which was, of course, the same reasoning Hitler used to justify his militarism: the urgent need to protect the German people from maniacal, irrational, bloodsworn enemies bent on their total destruction.]
And let us not forget that American war planners also drew up detailed plans involving the extermination of tens of millions of East Europeans in "first strike" nuclear attacks – plans which they often urged national leaders to put into practice. And even today, the constantly asserted vow to keep the nuclear option "on the table" at all times means that every single action or policy toward a "problem" nation carries with it the explicit threat to kill millions of people – to outdo the Holocaust in a matter of minutes.
Can one really look at such plans and attitudes, and at the towering, Everest-like mountain of corpses produced by American polices – just in the last generation – and say that there is not also a form of inhuman madness behind this hegemonic ambition as well? Is this really a system that one can be associated with honorably in any way? What should we think about a person who wants to lead such a system, who wants to take hold of the driving wheel of the war machine, to use it, to expand it, to accept all of its premises, to keep all of its horrific "options" forever on the table, to feed it and gorge it and coddle it and appease it at every turn, while millions of their own people sink further into degradation and diminishment?
Shouldn't someone who knowingly, willingly, eagerly bent all of their energies toward taking power in such a system instantly and irretrievably forfeit our regard and support? Should we really give such a "leader" the benefit of the doubt, cut him some slack, be ready to praise him when he or his government momentarily behaves in a normal, rational or legal manner? Should we grimly insist that he is the only choice we have, that his heart is probably in the right place, and that all we can do is try and cajole him into being "better"?
In the light of these considerations, it is astonishing to see what has been the main reaction of many leading progressive writers to Barack Obama's murderous escalation of the imperial war in Afghanistan and the dirty war in Pakistan. While voicing their "disappointment" with the decision, they have reserved most of their scorn not for the man who has ordered this new tranche of mass death and inhuman suffering, but for those who have accused Obama of "betrayal."
No, that's not a joke. The new progressive line on the escalation seems to be this: "We knew all along he was going to do it, so what's the big deal?"
That has been the chief response from such high-profile progressives as Digby and Joan Walsh. They seem far more worked up about the fact that some people (such as Tom Hayden, Gary Wills, and others) are accusing Obama of "betrayal" than they are about the thousands of innocent people who will die from Obama's decision, and the long-reverberating evil, at home and abroad, this escalation will engender.
Both Digby and Walsh are at great pains to establish how savvy they have been about Obama from the very beginning. For example, Digby writes: "I never had any illusions about where he and most of the other Democrats were headed with the "Good War" narrative. It always ends up the same way." She ridicules Hayden for declaring, during the campaign, that "all American progressives should unite for Barack Obama," and for now being disappointed that the president is not "the second coming of Gandhi, Houdini and Jesus Christ," as Digby scornfully describes Hayden's earlier belief.
Fair enough. It's true that Obama made no secret of his intent to escalate the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and anyone who didn't expect him to do so was being wilfully blind, or naive. On the other hand, what these savvy commentators fail to note is that Obama has already escalated the Af-Pak war, earlier in his term -- an escalation as large as Bush's "surge" in Iraq. And obviously, this effort didn't work; hence the latest "strategic review" that led to Obama's fateful West Point speech. So although Obama did promise to escalate the Af-Pak conflict during the campaign, he did not promise to keep doing it, over and over, even in the face of obvious failure. Thus it is not inherently "silly" or irrational for an Obama supporter like Hayden or Wills to feel betrayed by this second escalation, and by the transparently specious rationales that Obama offered for it.
But let's leave that aside. For the main issue regarding the escalation is not whether Tom Hayden is silly or if he was too gushing or naive in his earlier support of Obama; the main issue is the actual reality of this murderous course. And here, we come to the matter of the progressives' self-proclaimed savviness.
Digby and Walsh and other savvy progressives say they knew all along that Obama was going to embark on a horrific policy which would inevitably result in the needless death of innocent people, the further war-profiteering corruption of our own political system, and the exacerbation of extremism, hatred, strife and destabilization around the world. Yet they still stretched every nerve and sinew exhorting people to vote for him in the presidential election. Indeed, the entire campaign thrust of these savvy, realistic, pragmatic progressives could be summed up in one oddly familiar line: "All American progressives should unite for Barack Obama."
And even as she denigrates Tom Hayden – who at least put his actual body and liberty on the line to oppose an unjust war in Vietnam, taking to the streets in direct action against the state, which then put him on trial as part of the "Chicago Seven" – Digby herself wrings her hands and says we all had no choice but to vote for Obama. There was only him and Hillary, then only him and McCain; what else could we do? Even if we knew – as Digby and Walsh say they knew – that Obama was going to murder people, destabilize the world and continue the Empire's monstrous Terror War, we had no other choice but to vote for him.
No other choice. What else could we do? Aside from the third parties offering alternatives to what Digby calls "a moderate [Democrat] and a doddering right wing fool with his ignoramus running mate," one wonders if our progressives have ever heard of Thoreau -- who, like Hayden, put his actual body and liberty on the line to disassociate himself from a system he regarded as deeply immoral?
In any case, according to our progressives, not only was there no choice but voting for Obama, there is no justification now for criticizing him for doing what we savvy people knew he was going to do. Anyone who, like Hayden and Wills, is now breaking ranks with Obama over Afghanistan is just "having a fit," and being "silly" and "puerile."
No, it seems that the only thing that responsible, savvy progressives can do now is keep faith with the president – keep up our contacts with the Administration, keep our feet "inside the tent," keep our savvy listservs going -- and "push [Obama] to better solutions," as Walsh tells us.
I find all of this remarkable. Again, it's not that Digby, Walsh and others are uncritical of Obama's decision. Walsh declares herself "deeply disappointed, saddened even" by the escalation, and Digby thunders, or rather, sighs, that she wishes "Obama had changed his mind on Afghanistan, and argued for him to do it." She will even "continue to do so" – that is, argue for Obama to change his imperial mind. To argue, appeal, petition, and encourage the leader to better solutions. But obviously there will be none of that civil disobedience stuff that silly-billy Tom Hayden and his ilk pulled in their time.
In fact, Digby seems to slam Hayden directly for the "silliness" of his "behavior" in "his heyday" – that is, when he was taking direct action to try to stop an immoral war. She says of his denunciation of Obama's betrayal: "It's this kind of behavior that has given liberals a bad name since Hayden was in his heyday."
Well, we all need to mind our behavior, of course, just as our parents sternly admonished us. So by all means, let us not be indecorous in our opposition to murder and corruption. Let us not be intemperate in our resistance to evil. And for god's sake, let us not be silly or "have fits" in our dissent against atrocity, deceit and destruction.
I hold no special brief for Tom Hayden, who over the years turned into a standard hack politician, nor do I endorse every point of his new dissent. But if he is using what is left of his notoriety to speak out against this monstrous war and its escalation – for whatever reason, even a baseless sense of "betrayal" – then I say more power to him. What on God's green earth does it matter if someone says they feel "betrayed" by Obama's decision or not? In the light of the death and destruction to come, how could that possibly be important? And how could defending Obama against this charge of betrayal be such a major concern – for people who say they oppose the decision and decry its consequences?
But this is the kind of schizophrenic reaction -- "the president is a murderer/we must vote for the president" -- that is bred by the acceptance of an inhuman system. Thus we see these strange diversions among our leading dissidents ("Silly old Hayden!"), these partisan splittings of infinitesimal hairs ("our guy is 2% less evil than their guy, so we have no choice but to vote for him").
We also see the strange phenomenon, among almost all leading progressives, of leavening criticism of the system with praise for any "constructive" actions or decisions its leaders might produce. For example, Glenn Greenwald recently set out some recommendations on how rational citizens can avoid "the behaviors that turned the Right into a dissent-stifling cult of personality erected around George W. Bush."
Greenwald noted several ways in which right-wing activists muted any ideological or philosophical objections they might have had to a specific Bush policy – his vast expansion of the federal government, for example, which should have been anathema to movement conservatives – and instead rallied blindly around the Leader, no matter what. He then detailed – and rightly condemned – some of the many, many instances when progressive activists have done the same with Obama, and makes the unassailable argument that the justice of a particular cause (public health care, gay rights, torture, civil liberties, etc.) should far outweigh any partisan worries about Obama's political standing.
Most of his recommendations were common sense; their general thrust is somewhat along the lines of an approach examined here on the day after the 2008 election: "WIBDI (What If Bush Did It?): A Prism for the New Paradigm." Or you can even boil it down further, as Bob Dylan did more than 40 years ago in a single memorable phrase: "Don't follow leaders, watch the parking meters."
But at the head of these suggestions, Greenwald puts this:
If Obama takes action or makes a decision that you think is good and constructive, say so and give him credit.
One looks at this and thinks: Why? Why would you want to do that? Why would you want to make a special effort to commend the leaders of the kind of system described above, one which has "fashioned its entire social and economic structure around the preparation for [and ceaseless practice of] war"?
Of course, there is an immediate logic to it. You would do it to establish your credibility, your objectivity, to say, "I'm neither a reflexive Obama-basher nor a swooning cheerleader; I call them as I see them." This in turn would lend more weight to your criticisms of the Administration; when you "hold Obama's feet to the fire" or "push him to better solutions" on this or that issue, your principled dissent can't be dismissed out of hand by the leadership as mere partisan opposition.
And if we were dealing with a different political reality – on a smaller, more human scale, say, with a more equitable distribution of power in society, and a vastly reduced scope (and appetite) for violence, corruption and domination on the part of an unassailable, lawless elite – then perhaps such an approach might do well. But that, alas, is not our reality. We wrestle with a militarized regime whose powers are, as I said in an earlier piece on Thoreau, "so much greater, far more pervasive, more invasive and much more implacable, more inhuman" than the fledgling state our Walden forbear confronted all those years ago. We are dealing with a government that is committing, at every moment – with every breath we take – horrendous crimes against life and liberty, with its murderous wars of aggression and domination, and its ever-spreading authoritarian encroachments.
Again, should we give credit to such a regime, single it out for praise, whenever it happens to behave in a rational manner on one issue or another? After all, functioning governments of every kind do a multitude of worthy things for their people every day. They build roads, lay electric lines and sewer pipes, maintain the food supply, sponsor medical research, facilitate technological developments, adjudicate civil disputes, provide disaster relief, maintain parks and recreation areas, etc., etc. – the list is virtually endless. And this was equally true of, say, Nazi Germany or Stalin's Soviet Union, and other regimes imbued with a crimeful essence. Would you have told a dissident opposing the depredations of Hitler or Stalin or Franco or Tojo or the apartheid regime in South Africa that he or she must always be sure to point out any constructive thing these governments do, and give them credit for it?
This is not a call to ignore reality. The constructive things that governments do are part of their record. But it's important to note two points here. First, we're not talking about making a casual observation when you glance at the paper – "Glad they're not going to prosecute Grandma for that medical marijuana now" – and factoring that into your general knowledge base. Instead, we're talking about the specific context of Greenwald's recommendations, which deal with those who are trying to make active political and moral judgments about government policy, with the ultimate aim of bringing about a reality that is more just, more humane.
Second, and more importantly, we must emphasize again that we are not dealing with an ordinary situation here, with a system whose good and bad elements are roughly equal (or confined to the historical past), allowing one to sit down and weigh this policy against that one, and, then, upon careful reflection, coming to some judicious assessment. No; we are now – and have been for decades – dealing with a situation of the most frantic and dire moral urgency, the "all-day permanent red" of a system whose purpose, structure, meaning and method have become war, with all the hatred, corruption, degeneration and devolution that war brings.
In such an extreme system, all balance is gone; a constructive act here or there cannot offset those mountains of corpses. And its seems a terrible waste of time and energy to divert one's attention from these horrors – and the urgent need to stop them – just to give a few props for a stray good deed or reasonable move here or there.
The latter approach also involves, consciously or unconsciously, to one degree or another, an association with it, in Thoreau's sense. You have, in effect, accepted power on its own terms. You engage deeply with the system in order to "hold Obama's feet to the fire" (while being careful to acknowledge his "constructive" measures) because you believe this will make the system better. But if the system itself is structured to produce the boundless evils of war and domination and injustice, you cannot make it better. You can only, at the very most, mitigate a few of its pernicious effects, for a time, and only at the margins.
This is by no means an unworthy goal; extreme systems force that kind of triage upon us. Raoul Wallenberg could not end the Holocaust; he could only save what was in relative terms a very small number of people at the margins. But who would deny his heroism, and wish that he had not sought such small but deeply meaningful mitigations? Conversely, who among us would have suggested that Wallenberg, in the dire moral urgency of his mission, take time out to give credit to the Nazis for, say, their "Strength Through Joy" recreational programs for ordinary workers, or their remarkable highway system? Or in our time, do we require Shirin Ebadi to praise the Tehran regime for its social housing programs, or Aung San Suu Kyi to give credit to the Burmese generals for building roads or installing storm drains?
Everyone has to make their own accommodations with reality, of course. And to quote the old song-and-dance man once again: "Life is sad, life is a bust;/All you can do is do what you must." I'm not laying down commandments or prescriptions for anybody. But I will say that Thoreau's stance seems more and more to be the only honorable course for an American to take, in whatever way and to whatever degree he or she finds possible.
And I will also say that those who profess their adherence to "progressive" values such as peace, justice, liberty, equality and truth would serve their cause better by focusing on the essential nature of a system that eviscerates those values, and on the actual operations of power, the crimes and atrocities being committed by the actual wielders and servants of power, instead of mocking people for "throwing fits" and being "puerile" when they denounce the system's leaders for leading the nation deeper and deeper into evil.
How many tomorrows have they given away?
How many compared to yesterday?
How many more without any reward?
How many more can they afford?
-- Bob Dylan, "2x2"
And now it is here. The new "surge" in Afghanistan is underway – the second surge launched by the progressive president in his first year in office. Barack Obama's speech, and the policies embraced in it, and the sinister implications underlying it, are all abysmally awful. They are a death warrant not only for the thousands of Afghan and Pakistani civilians who will be killed in the intensified conflict, but also for the countless thousands of innocents yet to die in the coming generations of a world roiled and destabilized by an out-of-control empire.
Already the evil effects of America's decades-long campaign of violent domination of world affairs will carry on far into the future – even if this campaign were brought to a sudden halt right now. Every one of us – and our children, and our grandchildren – will have to live with terrible consequences of the corrupt and murderous imperial project. There is no escaping this fate. But each day that the imperial project goes forward makes those consequences more horrific, more atrocious, and extends them deeper into the substrate of human existence, and farther and farther into the future.
And as Barack Obama's speech shows, we are plowing ahead on this insane, inhuman course. We are not even attempting to begin to find ways to slow or mitigate the imperial cancer, much less stop it outright; we are just stomping the pedal to the floor, screeching full-throttle to the depths of hell. This is a terrible, sickening moment in American history, yet another fatal turning point in the nation's slow and agonizing demise.
As you might expect, Arthur Silber has provided a deep and thorough analysis of Obama's speech in a genuinely masterful piece entitled, aptly, "A Deadly Liar and Manipulator." I will excerpt some of this essay, but you will cheat yourself of much important insight if you don't read it in full. – Silber rightly notes the most immediate and glaring falsehood in Obama's speech, a piece of howling mendacity so transparent that even the New York Times felt compelled to acknowledge the "seemingly contradictory goals of expanding American involvement in the war even as he sought to bring it to a close." Silber nails the deeper truth behind this "contradiction":
Obama made very clear that he purportedly intends to extricate us from Central Asia by involving us in increasingly complex ways in the affairs of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. If you think that is a glaringly obvious contradiction, you're entirely correct. How exactly do you leave that region of the world more quickly by involving yourself in ever more complicated and numerous ways? The answer is that you don't. But as my previous article stated, we aren't leaving. Obama and the U.S. government are not unlike the dreaded house guest who insistently tells you he's going home in just another week or two -- honestly, he is, and how could you possibly not believe him? -- even as he redecorates your extra bedroom at notable cost and takes over several of your closets for many of his most precious belongings. You hear his words, and you see what he does -- and your heart sinks as you realize that a life of independence, a life that is yours, is gone.
Consider the extent of our ongoing involvement in all aspects of life in Afghanistan:
Second, we will work with our partners, the UN, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security.
This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over. President Karzai's inauguration speech sent the right message about moving in a new direction. And going forward, we will be clear about what we expect from those who receive our assistance. We will support Afghan Ministries, Governors, and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people. We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable. And we will also focus our assistance in areas – such as agriculture – that can make an immediate impact in the lives of the Afghan people.
Were Obama and the U.S. appointed dictator of Afghanistan? I seem to have missed that bit of news. Almost immediately after that passage, Obama said: "So tonight, I want the Afghan people to understand - America seeks an end to this era of war and suffering. We have no interest in occupying your country."
This is the advantage of holding a gun to someone's head: your victim isn't about to call you a goddamned liar when you can pull the trigger at any moment.
Silber then details Obama's extensive list of the many ways that he promises America will remain enmeshed in the affairs of Pakistan forever, and notes:
If you think we're leaving this part of the world any time soon, or perhaps even in your lifetime, you'll believe anything. But that's all right: lots of Americans do precisely that.
Pakistan is indeed key to this imperial enterprise. As the New York Times noted, beyond Obama's florid yet flaccid rhetoric (which even a diehard fan like Joan Walsh called "the worst major speech of his presidency"), there is a much darker component to his second surge:
Administration officials said that Mr. Obama had signed off on a plan by the Central Intelligence Agency to expand C.I.A. activities in Pakistan. The plan calls for more strikes against militants by drone aircraft, sending additional spies to Pakistan and securing a White House commitment to bulk up the C.I.A.’s budget for operations inside the country.
Expanding the dirty war in Pakistan -- where the overwhelming majority of the people are incensed by the American military and CIA presence in their country -- is absolute madness...if what you really want to do is cure the "cancer" of extremism in the region, or "unleash the great potential" of the Pakistani people. Only an idiot could genuinely believe that murdering civilians and conducting "black ops" all over the country could somehow establish "security and prosperity" in Pakistan; and Obama is no idiot. But he, like all the mandarins of our ruling class, is counting on the fact that you are an idiot.
In the speech, and the PR seeding that surrounded it, Obama and his mouthpieces stress the "success" of the Bush Regime's "surge" in Iraq as an encouraging model for the escalation in Afghanistan. Putting aside the fact that Obama already launched a surge in Afghanistan earlier this year that was just as big as Bush's escalation in Iraq but has proved such a singular failure that he is now launching an even bigger surge, the truth is that the Iraq "surge" had almost nothing to do with the abatement of horrific violence in that conquered land. As we have noted here very often, the "surge" was in fact the final act of a protracted civil war, in which the United States actively abetted the vast ethnic cleansing of Sunni Muslims on behalf of the extremist Shiite parties empowered by the American invasion. As Juan Cole notes:
The simple fact of the matter is that in 2006 and 2007 the Shiite militias and government troops decisively won the civil war in Baghdad. They ethnically cleansed the Sunni Arabs from the capital, creating a massive refugee problem in Jordan and Syria. Baghdad went from being a mixed city to being 85 to 90 percent Shiite, as a team at Columbia University recently charted. The killing was thereafter so much reduced because there were few mixed neighborhoods left. Even the willingness of Sunni Arabs to join pro-American Awakening Councils or Sons of Iraq militias that took on Sunni extremist groups derived in some important part from this fear of being ethnically cleansed.
Cole also notes the instrumental role played by Iran in getting the breakaway Mahdi Army Shiite militia to stand down and cooperate with the American-installed government. In any case, none of the political, social, economic, religious or ethnic circumstances in Iraq apply in Afghanistan. Cole again:
In Iraq, for all its acts of stupidity, the Bush-Cheney regime at least backed the majority, the Shiites. With 60 percent of the population, the Shiites were always likely to win the civil war produced by the power vacuum left by Washington’s defeat of Saddam Hussein and his feared Republican Guards tank corps.
In Afghanistan, the major allies of the U.S. and NATO have been the national minorities -- the Sunni Tajiks, the Shiite Hazaras, and the Uzbeks. Admittedly, they are joined by pro-Karzai Pashtuns, but Pashtun support for the U.S. and NATO is clearly dwindling. Obama’s surge of U.S. troops into Helmand and Qandahar could easily provoke a Pashtun backlash. The Pashtuns are thus not analogous to Iraq’s Sunni Arabs. They are a plurality of the population, not a minority, and they have not lost the low-intensity civil war in which the country is embroiled. Nor have they been ethnically cleansed under the current government. The Sunni Arabs of Iraq threw in the towel, joined in elections, and even formed pro-American militias only as it became clear that the Shiites were routing them. The Pashtuns are not in that position.
Standing up an Afghanistan security force is a key element of Obama’s plan, as it was a central strategy in Iraq for the Bush administration and its allies. Doing so in Afghanistan, however, is a far more daunting task than in Iraq... [In the U.S.-built Afghan "National" Army], in the year ending September, one in four had quit or deserted. Only ten percent of troops are literate. (In contrast, 74 percent of Iraqis can read and write.) One in every six Afghan soldiers is alleged to be a drug addict.
The military is, moreover, anything but national. The new report to Congress reveals that the army is disproportionately drawn from and commanded by officers of the Tajik ethnic group, who are 41 percent of the trained troops but only a quarter of the population. The Pashtuns, the biggest ethnic group, at 42 percent, are only a third of the troops... Many Pashtun clansmen are fiercely proud and independent, and would be humiliated by having Tajik soldiers lord it over them... The only thing worse than Tajik dominance would be what the Tajiks brought along with them -- Western Christian soldiers outfitted like astronauts. Ironically, the Tajik dominance of the old 1980s communist government of Afghanistan, and their alliance with Russian troops, were among the reasons that impelled the Pashtuns to mount a Muslim insurgency in the first place.
So Obama's plan is to follow a strategy that has been proven over and over again to enflame Pashtun resistance and intensify violent ethnic conflict across Afghanistan. Again, only an idiot could actually believe such a policy would be an effective step toward achieving the goals mouthed by Obama in his speech. Perhaps the only thing that does Obama even a modicum of credit, relatively speaking, was the dull, glazed delivery of his address to the cadets; somewhere deep inside him, there was an actual human being who could not wholly hide the fact that he was speaking murderous bullshit -- and knew that it was murderous bullshit.
But let's not get carried away in the credit department. For the fact remains that Obama has embarked on a course of deep, far-reverberating evil, and that he has done this knowingly, willingly, deliberately after months of contemplation and despite every opportunity to do otherwise. And he has done so with a speech that, as Silber notes, was replete with lies and moral corruption.
Here Silber's analysis pierces through to the heart of darkness in the speech, and in the imperial enterprise as a whole:
Look at the final section that begins, "Finally, we must draw on the strength of our values..." Obama tells a series of notable lies here, starting with his very next sentence: "That is why we must promote our values by living them at home – which is why I have prohibited torture and will close the prison at Guantanamo Bay." Guantanamo "will close," at some future date that forever recedes from the present. And Obama may have said the words that "prohibit torture" -- but Bush said the same words, to the same effect. In fact, Obama has emphatically not ended the practice of torture: as proof, consult this article and this one.
But in the debate over troop commitments, there’s an important question about U.S. operations in Afghanistan that risks being overlooked: Why are we running a secret prison there?
On his second day in office, Obama acted on one of his campaign pledges by issuing an order ... designed to shut down secret prisons and ban Bush-era torture practices, and directing that the Red Cross would have access to any detainees. But when we wade into it, the order turns out to be less than meets the eye. Only CIA prisons are shut down. Prisons operated by the Department of Defense remain in place...
Disclosures over the past weekend suggest that there are serious problems in a detention facility operated by the Pentagon’s secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the same outfit linked to executive assassinations, predator drone attacks contracted out to Blackwater, and similar controversies. Here’s the Washington Post account:
Two Afghan teenagers held in U.S. detention north of Kabul this year said they were beaten by American guards, photographed naked, deprived of sleep and held in solitary confinement in concrete cells for at least two weeks while undergoing daily interrogation about their alleged links to the Taliban. ... The two teenagers — Issa Mohammad, 17, and Abdul Rashid, who said he is younger than 16 — said in interviews this week that they were punched and slapped in the face by their captors during their time at Bagram air base, where they were held in individual cells. Rashid said his interrogator forced him to look at pornography alongside a photograph of his mother.
The techniques described–enforced nudity, sleep deprivation, extended isolation, and sexual humiliation—all belong to the palette approved and used by the Bush Administration. But didn’t Obama ban these techniques? That’s not entirely clear....
Actually, as Silber and his sources show, it is entirely clear: torture continues under Obama -- who, after all, personally appointed a notorious operator of secret JSCOC prisons and commander of death squads and dirty war ops in Iraq, Stanley McChrystal, as his very own top commander in Afghanistan. Obama knows what is going on in Bagram, and he knows exactly what he is getting -- and what he is foisting on the Afghan people -- by putting McChrystal in charge of the occupation.
And still deeper, still darker, with Silber [and see his original piece for the important links]:
Obama's description of the unique role played by the United States tells the usual story of "American exceptionalism." We might appreciate the uniformity of the ruling class's view on this point, captured in this passage from earlier tonight:
Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, and the service and sacrifice of our grandparents, our country has borne a special burden in global affairs. We have spilled American blood in many countries on multiple continents. We have spent our revenue to help others rebuild from rubble and develop their own economies. We have joined with others to develop an architecture of institutions – from the United Nations to NATO to the World Bank – that provide for the common security and prosperity of human beings.
This is indistinguishable from the views of Irving Kristol, widely considered the "godfather" of the neoconservative movement, views which I recently recalled in this piece. For Kristol as for Obama, the impersonal, unanswerable forces of history have placed this "special burden" on America's shoulders. We don't want to run the world, but no one else is sufficiently special or unique to do the job; as Kristol so wretchedly and dishonestly put it, it was all just "our bad luck." We had to do it -- for the good of everyone who lives on Earth. This is the all-purpose disinfectant for crimes of staggering magnitude: the U.S. murders more than a million innocent Iraqis, but we did it for the Iraqis' "own good"; we torture, but we only do it because our enemies leave us no choice -- and we learn very early that the infliction of pain is the path to moral improvement, most especially for the improvement of those weaker than ourselves.
Silber also scores the indeed "breathtaking lies" in this passage of Obama's speech:
For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation's resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours. What we have fought for – and what we continue to fight for – is a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.
You might object to these proclamations by pointing out, as one singularly contradictory fact, that the U.S. maintains a global empire of military bases. Your objection is easily parried by the earlier part of the argument: But don't you see we don't want to do this? This isn't what we would choose, if the world would only behave itself.
Silber concludes by examining the final paragraphs of Obama's speech, passages which Silber says "causes me to conclude that Obama is an extraordinarily dangerous man, and a manipulator of the first order." In his lamed attempt at a stirring crescendo, Obama waves the bloody flag of 9/11:
I also know that we, as a country, cannot sustain our [world] leadership nor navigate the momentous challenges of our time if we allow ourselves to be split asunder by the same rancor and cynicism and partisanship that has in recent times poisoned our national discourse.
It is easy to forget that when this war began, we were united – bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear.
This clapped-out treacle -- which sounds like George W. Bush at his most rote and robotic -- leads to a call for similar unity to back this new escalation of a nakedly imperial war. Says Obama:
I believe with every fiber of my being that we – as Americans – can still come together behind a common purpose. For our values are not simply words written into parchment – they are a creed that calls us together, and that has carried us through the darkest of storms as one nation, one people.
America – we are passing through a time of great trial. And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering.
While most people will consider these words, for good or bad, as rhetorical flourishes, Silber finds a deeper, malevolent implication behind them:
Read this sentence again: "But I also know that we, as a country, cannot sustain our leadership nor navigate the momentous challenges of our time if we allow ourselves to be split asunder by the same rancor and cynicism and partisanship that has in recent times poisoned our national discourse."
To make certain you understand him, Obama makes the same point a moment later: "I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. I believe with every fiber of my being that we – as Americans – can still come together behind a common purpose."
Obama has put us all on notice: if we disagree with his policies, if we condemn the endless series of aggressive wars waged by the U.S., we are imperiling the strength and security of the United States itself. If we dare to criticize him or the actions of the U.S. government, we are displaying "rancor and cynicism and partisanship" that will "split asunder" the absolutely necessary national "unity." If we challenge Obama on any point of importance, we are "poisoning" the "national discourse."
In other words: disagreement on any matter of moment is not only dangerous, but illegitimate and even immoral. And if you consider the logical end of this argument, and what has happened before in American history (see this post about what happened during both World Wars, under Democratic presidents), there is a further meaning: such disagreement may well be criminal.
No, I am not saying that Obama makes this full argument in explicit terms. He hasn't -- not yet. But look at the meaning of what he has said -- and consider the principles upon which that view rests, and where those principles can lead. ... When Bush or others in his administration made efforts in this direction, they were quickly condemned. If McCain had offered similar statements, he would almost certainly have been similarly condemned, out of primitive partisanship if for no other reason. But who will object when Obama makes such statements?
For Silber has identified one of the prime dangers of Obama's presidency: it has "gutted whatever effective opposition might have existed. To their eternal shame, the Democrats never opposed Bush in any way that mattered -- but at least the *possibility of opposition had not been obliterated entirely. In the near term and probably for longer, that possibility now appears to have been extinguished."
And by opposition, Silber does not mean the partisan braying of whatever imperialist faction happens to be out of power, but, as he wrote before the election, he is referring to:
meaningful political opposition for good -- that is, opposition that might significantly alter the existing system without destroying it (if that is at all possible, which I am almost entirely convinced it is not). But the resentments, the anger and possibly even the hatred [engendered by the system] will remain, and they may grow. What happens then?
We are seeing the result of a now completely disarmed and co-opted opposition to empire even as we speak. We are seeing the rise of religious and political extremism, of vague, inchoate apprehensions among large swathes of the population that they are being badly screwed -- apprehensions that are seized upon and twisted by manipulative elites into irrational diversions (Obama as a socialist!!), nationalist aggression, sexual obsession and religious intolerance. The only goal of these manipulations, of course, is to return the manipulators to full imperial power, while protecting the deeply corrupt system of dominance and privilege as as whole.
But let us not be exceptionalists. The utter degradation of American society by our bipartisan imperialists is a tragedy, but only for those of us who happen to be Americans. The full force of Obama's imperial manipulations -- like those of his predecessors -- will fall like a ravaging fire on the innocent, the defenseless, the vulnerable and the oppressed in foreign lands. These policies, these horrific, sick-making "continuities," will engender untold suffering, unabated anger, rising hatred, and more violence, more brutality, more barbarism, both in the perpetrators and the victims, for years, for decades, for generations to come.
Let no one be in any doubt. What Barack Obama announced on Tuesday is yet another vast, painful, wrenching defeat for all humanity, for the very idea of what it means to be human, for the progress of our whole wretched, imperfect, self-lacerating species. Everything that is best in us is driven back, beaten down, lacerated and abandoned by such defeats. How many more can we afford?
What happened in Switzerland is quite significant. Of course, only an ignorant would associate Switzerland with equality and tolerance: just remember -- as I always remind my students -- that women were only granted the right to vote in 1971. Enough said. But what is quite outrageous is the extent to which US (and Western) media are not treating this as the international outrage that it is. Just ask yourselves: how would the Western media have reacted if the ban affected synagogues and not mosques? Would you not have seen stories against it on the front pages of ALL US newspapers? If this ban affected synagogues, for example, the US government would have convened a special session of the US Security Council and the special UN commission on Human Rights. Worse, look at the way in which media will now begin justification of the ban, and notice how the Western media link religious intolerance with references to fanatical groups and to Bin Laden. What is the link? I don't get it, I guess. And here is the New York Times' first sentence in covering the story: "In a vote that displayed a widespread anxiety about Islam..." Can you imagine the New York Times ever justifying, or even explaining away, a ban affecting Judaism with a sentence like: "In a vote that displayed widespread anxiety about Judaism..." And is anxiety about a religion not an exact case of religious intolerance? I mean, Nazis displayed widespread anxiety about Judaism and that is why we condemn them as the anti-Semitic bigots that they were.
Meanwhile, in The Nation, in a piece written before the vote, Laila Lalami delivers a scathing, fact-based critique of the latest salvo from the ever-respectable, ever-serious contingent of gilded racists who command top media venues, top publishing houses -- and top dollar -- to spread their fact-free, hatemongering (and sex-obsessed) fantasies about a monolithic Musim horde "taking over" Europe. (That good old Steyn-Hitchens-Amis crowd: see here, here, here and here.)
Lalami takes on the deceitful, weedy handwringing of Chistopher Caldwell in his new book, That Dusky Hunk Wants My Woman and I'm Too Scared to Stop Him. (Or words to that effect.) Lalami's measured, detailed, informed and genuinely serious reply systematically destroys every one of the book's main "arguments" -- if such a term can be applied to Caldwell's brutally simplistic mental noodlings.
There is a great deal of deeply sinister nonsense being deliberately and expensively bruited about on the "threat" posed by Muslims (including those mistakenly identified as Muslims, such as Arab Christians, and of course the innumerable atheists, like AbuKhalil, who happen to be of Muslim heritage). We must arm ourselves against the foul tide with all the truth that we can find. Lalami's essay is an important work in this regard, and should be read in full.
Run, don't walk, to Arthur Silber's latest, and get tomorrow's news today. That's right, Silber has pierced the veil of time and brings back news of Barack Obama's big announcement, scheduled for Tuesday night, when -- to the vast surprise of absolutely no one on earth (except, of course, our serious media analysts, who have been puzzling and puzzling till their puzzlers are sore about the "debate" on escalating the war in Afghanistan) -- Obama will announce that he is, er, escalating the war in Afghanistan.
What's more, Silber has done us all the yeoman service of pre-wading through "the reactions to Obama's speech dribbling from the slack mouths operated by unfocused minds," who will take up the "debate" on the efficacy of Obama's oh-so-deeply contemplated "new" strategy for securing the empire's Central Asian frontier. But as usual, Silber goes far beyond PR trappings of the day's news (or even tomorrow's news) to outline the real reasons and rationales behind Obama's "new" policy, which is, of course, only the same old geopolitical dominance game tricked out in 21st century drag.
No excerpts this time; I am too weary, too travel-bleary, to do justice to the piece with representative cuts -- just go read the whole thing and, as Silber says, save yourself the trouble of slogging through the "stinking load of unmitigated shit" that will be dumped on our heads by the chattering classes -- and their masters, the killing classes of the imperial court -- following the announcement.
And while you're there, if you have any spare change at all, drop some in Silber's hat. As we never tire of saying here, his is a unique, and uniquely valuable, voice in these ever-more troubled days. And it is a voice that must fight its way through horrendous health problems and crushing poverty to be heard. While fools and poltroons, left and right, gorge themselves on corporate largess, pandering to prejudices, and insider savvy, Silber must depend solely on his readers to survive. So give if you got it.
I'm leaving soon for a few days, and will be in the air, on the road, and on the rails. Therefore blogging may be light or non-existent. But given the fact that the readership of this popsicle stand has dwindled to a handful -- and financial support has dropped to near zero -- I figure the world will somehow manage to survive this terrible lacuna.
Also, because of a relentless stream of spam comments, I'm turning off the comment function while I'm gone, since I won't be able to do the daily weeding of all that sinister kudzu.
*Note - The Webmaster has reset the comments for members only and guests will be moderated. All new members will have to be cleared first and over 500 spammer members have been wiped from the database. If you have been accidentally deleted, please re-register again.
More later, as time shall serve. Meanwhile, enjoy this shot of deliciously bizarre Christmas cheer:
Our American militarists love war so much that they even bankroll the enemy, just to keep the blood money flowing. This odd but absolutely crucial characteristic of the Never-Ending Terror War was borne out again in a remarkable story in the Guardian (with an expanded version in The Nation).
As Aram Roston reports -- and U.S. military officials openly admit -- American taxpayers are giving Afghan insurgents at least 10-20 percent of the war machine's multibillion-dollar transportation contracts. Hundreds of millions of dollars are flowing into Taliban coffers every year from bribes offered to stop insurgents from attacking supply convoys -- convoys which are increasingly controlled by local warlords and druglords, including convicted drug dealers in the Corleone-like Karzai family.
Of course, in Iraq, the Pentagon finally started paying insurgents as well. But in that instance, they were at least paying the enemy to stop fighting. Here, they only ask that the Taliban allow some trucks to roll through the countryside -- which seems to be entirely in the hands of the insurgents, despite eight years of war and months of Obama's "surge". The Americans pay handsomely for the privilege -- sometimes up to $1,500 per truck, depending on the cargo -- even though they know the insurgents will use the money to keep fighting.
It's a nice racket all around, everybody makes out -- the American militarists and war profiteers, their criminal Afghan allies, and the insurgents (who use the American money to top up the cash flow they get from American allies in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, etc.). So where's the harm?
OK, OK, there are all those civilians being slaughtered -- women and children ripped to pieces, to shreds of flesh and fragments of bone – by the bombs of the defenders of Western civilization. And yeah, there are all the American and British soldiers being killed, wounded, and brutalized, year after year, in a senseless, criminal conflict. And then there's the looting of the American treasury by the warmongers, and the relentless and inevitable destruction of American liberties by the all-corrosive acid of perpetual war.
But as Stalin liked to say: when wood is chopped, chips fly. And what are these few paltry chips – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – when there's so much juicy loot out there?
The New York Times is shocked -- shocked! -- to find personal enrichment of American elites at the heart of the rape and gutting of Iraq. Who could possibly have ever foreseen such a scenario as the Times revealed on Thursday, describing how "influential American adviser" Peter Galbraith helped "ram through" highly controversial provisions in the constitution that the occupying force and its collaborators imposed – provisions that could put more than $100 million in Galbraith's pocket.
Of course, Galbraith's war-profiteering machinations are hardly unique; the roll call of "advisers" and officials and other insiders feasting on Iraqi corpseflesh is longer than the Mississippi, and considerably more muddy. Just this week, the Financial Times noted that another gaggle of occupation geese, "including Zalmay Khalilzad, former US ambassador to Baghdad, and Jay Garner," the first appointed satrap of the conquered land, are now cashing in on their blood-soaked connections in Iraq.
Given the fact of the rampant corruption among the murder-mongering elite, one might darkly suspect that this sudden spotlight on Galbraith could be related to the embarrassment he recently caused to the Obama administration, which ordered the UN to fire him from his special envoy post after he insisted on a full investigation of the massive fraud in the Afghan elections. (Although one can't but wonder now if Galbraith took this principled stand only after failing to cut some juicy sweetheart deal with Hamid Karzai.)
However, although the Afghan imbroglio might have played some part in the prominence accorded the revelations by the Times (A call from Rahm to the editorial offices, perhaps: "Galbraith's fair game now; let him have it"), the story itself was initially unearthed by journalists in Norway, investigating Galbraith's ties to the Norwegian oil giant, DNO. And what a sordid little saga it is. As the Times notes:
Galbraith, an influential former American ambassador, is a powerful voice on Iraq who helped shape the views of policy makers like Joseph R. Biden Jr. and John Kerry. In the summer of 2005, he was also an adviser to the Kurdish regional government as Iraq wrote its Constitution — tough and sensitive talks not least because of issues like how Iraq would divide its vast oil wealth.
Now Mr. Galbraith, 58, son of the renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith, stands to earn perhaps a hundred million or more dollars as a result of his closeness to the Kurds, his relations with a Norwegian oil company and constitutional provisions he helped the Kurds extract.
In the constitutional negotiations, he helped the Kurds ram through provisions that gave their region — rather than the central Baghdad government — sole authority over many of their internal affairs, including clauses that he maintains will give the Kurds virtually complete control over all new oil finds on their territory....
[The investigations] reveal in considerable detail that he received rights to an enormous stake in at least one of Kurdistan’s oil fields in the spring of 2004. As it turns out, Mr. Galbraith received the rights after he helped negotiate a potentially lucrative contract that allowed the Norwegian oil company DNO to drill for oil in the promising Dohuk region of Kurdistan, the interviews and documents show...
When drillers struck oil in a rich new field called Tawke in December 2005, no one but a handful of government and business officials and members of Mr. Galbraith’s inner circle knew that the constitutional provisions he had pushed through only months earlier could enrich him so handsomely.
As the scope of Mr. Galbraith’s financial interests in Kurdistan become clear, they have the potential to inflame some of Iraqis’ deepest fears, including conspiracy theories that the true reason for the American invasion of their country was to take its oil. It may not help that outside Kurdistan, Mr. Galbraith’s influential view that Iraq should be broken up along ethnic lines is considered offensive to many Iraqis’ nationalism.
Oh, our good Gray Lady! She just can't help herself, can she? Even as the Times publishes an actually excellent story outlining vile corruption in high places, it is still fretfully anxious to assure its readers that America's intentions are always pure, always good, despite any "mistakes" or the inevitable "bad apples." Hence the reference to Iraqi "conspiracy theories" that the American invasion was about taking their oil.
Poor little primitives. Of course it wasn't just about taking their oil. As the Times' own Thomas Friedman tells us (via Arthur Silber), it was also about America's need "to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world" to assert its dominance. It was also about "the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf [which] transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein," as the elitist faction PNAC told us back in September 2000 (along with their open yearning for a "new Pearl Harbor" to "catalyze" the American people into support the militarist agenda). It was also about the hundreds of billions of dollars in government pork and outright graft that the invasion and occupation have provided to a select and powerful few. It was about our elites' profound psychological and sexual anxieties that evidently cannot be quelled without resort to violence, destruction, repression and mass death inflicted on innocent people. No, the American invasion of Iraq was about a lot of other things besides "taking their oil."
But by God, taking their oil was sure enough a great big part of it. The recent Jay Garner story has that black gold at its corroded heart as well, as the FT reports:
Mr Garner, the de-facto US governor of Iraq after the war, sat on the board of Vast Exploration when it bought 37 per cent of a Kurdistan oil block two years ago and remains an adviser to the Canadian company. “Jay is very well known in Kurdistan and Iraq and it was useful to the company,” said a spokesman for Vast.
This kind of war profiteering goes back to the very beginnings of the illegal war of aggression -- and it goes up to the very top. For example, here's a piece I wrote way back in December 2003, about the Bush family's direct involvement in blood money. In detailing the cornucopia of dodgy, dirty dealing that is Neil Bush, I noted this:
Now comes the sweetest deal of all – enriched by the blood sugar seeping out from the bodies of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. Yes, Neil has dipped his silver spoon into the reconstruction gravy being ladled out by his brother George, the White House warlord. Neil is now being paid a fat annual fee to "help companies secure contracts in Iraq," the Financial Times reports.
Bush is co-chairman of a pork funnel called Crest Investment Corporation. His partner, Jamal Daniel, is wired into the chief private conduit of war profits, New Bridge Strategies, a lobbying firm packed with Bush family retainers, many of whom left government service this spring to leap into the Iraq money pit. And what does Neil do to earn his crust of bloodsoaked bread? He told the divorce court that he "answers the phone when Jamal Daniel calls to ask for advice."
And what does Jamal Daniel get out of this unusual arrangement? Why, he gets to say, "I was just talking to my partner, the president's brother" when he's negotiating with Bush administration officials to win "reconstruction" contracts for his clients. As long as Brother George keeps tossing cannon fodder into the Iraqi cauldron, Brother Neil will keep padding his fat Bush wallet.
Like Bush, Galbraith is a paradigm of how the system really works -- and how it is meant to work. Public service, private enrichment, principled stands, backroom dealing -- it's all one thing to our great and good. And behind it all is a willingness (when it is not an eagerness) to have many thousands upon thousands of people die, and many millions more suffer torment, ruin and grief, to keep the system's beneficiaries in their wonted, wadded place of power and privilege.
What exactly did the Guardian do to merit this judgment -- which, perhaps not incidentally, directs them to put more than $100,000 in Nouri al-Maliki's pocket? Something which, admittedly, is quite shocking in our day: reporting.
The Guardian's Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, who has contributed a remarkable series of stories from the frontlines and backrooms of the Iraqi cauldron, interviewed three members of the Iraqi national intelligence service "who claimed that the prime minister was beginning to run Iraqi affairs with an authoritarian hand."
And for this "revelation" -- which is akin to claiming that the sun rises in the east, or that the Pope served with the Nazis -- the Guardian was hauled into an Iraqi court for defamation. After a number of expert witnesses demolished the case on legal grounds, a new five-member panel of government toadies weighed in to argue that "Iraqi publishing law did not allow foreigners to publish articles critical of the prime minister or president, or to interfere in Iraqi internal affairs." To which the Guardian laconically appended this little fact: "The advice appeared to overlook the fact that Abdul-Ahad is an Iraqi citizen."
It surely comes as no surprise that the court rejected the expert testimony in favor of the toadies' playful sporting with the truth. But this is to be expected given the, well, authoritarian hand that the local satrap has been given by the occupying power. As the Guardian notes:
Journalists covering routine violence in Iraq have reported being assaulted by security officials in recent weeks, in the wake of two huge bombings since early August that destroyed three government ministries and the Baghdad governorate, calling the effectiveness of government security forces into question.
And as we noted here just a few weeks ago, it is not only the Guardian who is nailing the truth about the grubby, kleptocratic police state that America is building in the conquered land; even the Economist --
the veritable Bible of the Anglo-American Establishment -- paints a grim portrait of the Iraqi regime installed at the point of American guns: a sinkhole of torture, execution, increasing repression and brazen power-grabs:
The Shia-led government has overseen a ballooning of the country’s security apparatus. Human-rights violations are becoming more common. In private many Iraqis, especially educated ones, are asking if their country may go back to being a police state.
Old habits from Saddam Hussein’s era are becoming familiar again. Torture is routine in government detention centres. “Things are bad and getting worse, even by regional standards,” says Samer Muscati, who works for Human Rights Watch, a New York-based lobby. His outfit reports that, with American oversight gone (albeit that the Americans committed their own shameful abuses in such places as Abu Ghraib prison), Iraqi police and security people are again pulling out fingernails and beating detainees, even those who have already made confessions. A limping former prison inmate tells how he realised, after a bout of torture in a government ministry that lasted for five days, that he had been relatively lucky. When he was reunited with fellow prisoners, he said he saw that many had lost limbs and organs.
The domestic-security apparatus is at its busiest since Saddam was overthrown six years ago, especially in the capital. In July the Baghdad police reimposed a nightly curfew, making it easier for the police, taking orders from politicians, to arrest people disliked by the Shia-led government. In particular, they have been targeting leaders of the Awakening Councils, groups of Sunnis, many of them former insurgents and sympathisers, who have helped the government to drive out or capture Sunni rebels who refused to come onside. Instead of being drawn into the new power set-up, many of them in the past few months have been hauled off to prison. In the most delicate cases, the arrests are being made by an elite unit called the Baghdad Brigade, also known as “the dirty squad”, which is said to report to the office of the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki.
But hey, overall, this Iraq war thing has been "an extraordinary achievement," hasn't it? That's what Barack Obama calls it. And no doubt that's why he's put the architects of this achievement -- like David Petraeus, Stanley "Deathsquadder" McChrystal, and lifelong Bush family apparatchik and covert operator Bob Gates -- in charge of replicating this great success in Afghanistan.
Speaking of good old Bob Gates, it is certainly heartening to read in the New York Times that he "commands considerable respect from the president." This would be the same Bob Gates "who was hip-deep in the Iran-Contra arms-drugs-terror scam, who doctored, spun and manipulated intelligence for partisan purposes and also steered secret U.S. military intelligence to help Saddam Hussein launch WMD attacks .. and has no experience whatsoever of the military," right? The same.
The Times story tells us that the considerably respected Gates is pushing Obama to order a "surge" of 30,000 more troops to stoke the flaming quagmire in Afghanistan. Apparently he is being backed by Joint Chief poobah Mike Mullen, and -- surprise, surprise! -- Hillary "The Obliterator" Clinton. However, despite this high-profile hyping of what is obviously the preferred option of our "serious" elites, we are warned that Obama has not yet made up his mind just how he intends to escalate the slaughterfest in Central Asia.
But continue it he will, one way or another, come hell or high water. For despite his dithering on the precise form of escalation, he has already forthrightly rejected the only honorable solution: ending the war. [For more on this theme, see Chris Hedges (here and here), Patrick Cockburn and Dahr Jamail and Sarah Lazare.] Obama has neither the courage nor vision -- nor the desire -- to end the war. His unusual history and background could have given him a different perspective on the true nature of American power at home and abroad -- but he decided long ago to embrace that brutal nature, to serve it, to advance it, to carry its corruption forward to future generations, and to the far ends of the earth.
Talk is cheap; actions speak volumes. And it seems Barack Obama is compiling quite a volume for himself at America's flagship concentration camp in Guantanamo Bay. As Andrew Wander reports, conditions for prisoners at Gitmo have grown worse since Obama took office: Guantanamo conditions 'deteriorate'.
Of course, Gitmo is by no means the worst pit in America's worldwide gulag, which Obama has kept wide open for business, while fighting strenuously in court to retain all of Bush's authoritarian powers over the lives and liberties of anyone the president arbitrarily deems a suspected terrorist. And of course, he hasn't, uh, closed Gitmo, as he made a solemn promise to do within a year of his inauguration. But whether he eventually gets around to the PR show of shutting down this one camp, the fact that his administration has imposed an even harsher regime on its denizens of limbo is, literally, atrocious.
One can only assume that this has been done as some sort of compensation mechanism for Obama's promise to close the joint; every president now must continually prove that he is "tough enough" to do the dirty work – killing civilians, spying on citizens, kidnapping people and putting them in concentration camps, etc. -- required to keep the imperial war machine going. Any gesture – however hollow – toward an alternative approach must be balanced with harshness elsewhere.
This works on the domestic front as well, of course. For example, you can't have even a hollow and perverse gesture at health care reform without condemning poor women to die in back-alley abortions. Somebody has to pay, in blood and suffering, for every attempt at amelioration in the system; that's the modern American way.
Within days of Obama's inauguration and subsequent announcement that he would close Guantanamo, prisoners say authorities introduced new regulations and revoked previous privileges at the prison.
"They took away group recreation for prisoners in segregation, which was the only time we saw anyone," Mohammed el Gharani remembers. [Gharani "They took away the books we had from the library. They even sprayed pepper spray into my cell while I was sleeping, so I'd wake up unable to breathe."
Gharani says he was beaten so badly by guards that he is still suffering pain today.
..."I am in the very same cell, wearing the same uniform, eating the same food, yet treated much worse compared to mid-2008," [a current] prisoner writes. "We are unable to understand the goals of the policy of more restrictions and inflexibility."
Gharani was released in June 2009, after being held in American captivity since he was seized in Pakistan in October 2001 -- at the age of 14. He was originally charged with being a top money-man for al Qaeda, after an American-hired translator mistook Gharani's talk about vegetables as evidence of his wide-ranging financial operation. As the Boston Globe reported back in 2006:
He was .. interrogated using a translator from Yemen who spoke a different dialect of Arabic than was spoken in his native Saudi Arabia, according to Gharani's lawyer.
"The word `zalata' in Yemen means money, but in his Saudi Arabian dialect, it means tomato," said Smith. "They asked him, 'When you went to Pakistan, where did you get your zalata?' and he tells them all these different shops where you could buy tomatoes in Karachi. They write them all down, thinking that this 14-year-old kid is a big financier who was able to get money from all these different places."
Later, they accused him of being part of a London "cell" run by an extremist cleric -- in 1998. The fact that Gharani was 11 years old at that time, and had never been to London, did not prevent him from being held captive for almost eight years -- a cruel and unusual punishment no matter what the conditions were, much less with the abuse that he endured.
And still it goes on, as Wander reports:
According to the letter [from a current prisoner], prison authorities inflict "humiliating punishments" on inmates and prisoners face "intentional mental and physical harm".
"The situation is worsening with the advent of the new management," the prisoner writes, noting, like Gharani, that the new rules were imposed in January this year. Conditions, he says, "do not fit the lowest standard of human living".
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which monitors prisoner treatment at Guantanamo, declined to comment on specific allegations at the prison, but says that it recognises the cumulative effect low-level abuse can have on the well-being of prisoners in general.
"In some cases, a single act may amount to torture," ICRC spokesman Simon Schorno says. "In others, ill treatment may be the result of a number of methods used over time, which, taken individually and out of context, may seem harmless."
...Ahmed Ghappour, who represents Guantanamo prisoners, has lodged several requests to initiate investigations since Obama took office.
"I have requested four investigations regarding prisoner abuse just this past year," he says. "The military responded to my first request indicating that they would investigate, but have been radio silent since then."
Of course they've been silent. You can't expect an administration that refuses to investigate, much less prosecute, howlingly flagrant war crimes committed by its predecessor to investigate charges of abuse against itself, can you? (And again, it should be remembered that the existence of a gulag system that incarcerates people -- including children -- without charges or hearing, and holds them in captivity year after year, is itself a crime against humanity, regardless of the treatment given to the prisoners.)
In any case, even the cheap talk about closing Gitmo may be moot, in the wake of the Ft. Hood shootings. As we noted yesterday, many "respectable" figures in America's power structure are gearing up for "doing something" about the Muslims "in our midst," and especially those who dare sully the sacred military with their presence. As Jeremy Sapienza notes, Senator Joe Lieberman is a prime example, set to hold hearings of his Homeland Security Committee on how the Army came to nurture such a viper in its bosom, with, no doubt, recommendations on how to root out all the "self-radicalized home-grown terrorists" -- the "enemy within" that Lieberman has long identified as a dire threat.
Lieberman can use his prominent position as committee chairman to do a great deal of damage, fomenting more division and racial and ethnic hatred across the country (and certainly across the media). And why is he in this position? Because the Democratic leadership (including Barack Obama, who endorsed Lieberman even after he bolted the party in a snit over being booted out by voters in an open primary) has put him there. They have placed this whining, fear-ridden extremist -- now a member of a party named egotistically for himself -- in a powerful post in order to buy his agreement to caucus with them, and swell their majority numbers -- even though he regularly denounces their policies and votes against them.
So let no one think that the tide of hatred and malice and Muslimophobia flowing from the Ft. Hood shooting is due solely to right-wing cranks, respectable or otherwise. Just as our great and good "progressives" sell poor women down the river for a meaningless vote, they have also empowered a dim-witted extremist for meaningless partisan advantage. And now we may reap the all-too-meaningful whirlwind of their folly.