Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 13 March 2013 00:17
Glenn Reynolds, the Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law at my old alma mater, the by-god, orange-bleeding University of Tennessee, has responded to the "lefty lies" in a recent post here, taking me to task for mischaracterizing one of the tropes he trotted out during his incessant cheerleading for the military aggression in Iraq back in the day. I quoted his 2006 remark about "more rubble, less trouble" as a handy tag to encapsulate the neocons' notion of "creative destruction" -- using violence and war to re-shape the Middle East to their ideological tastes. I thought Reynolds would have been tickled to be the poster boy for his fellow propagandists, but I guess I was wrong. Anyway, here's what I said:
The aim of this deeply evil program, one supposes, was to achieve the "creative destruction" so beloved of the neocon savants who provided the "intellectual" framework for the Hitlerian act of aggression. True to their Trotskyist roots, they longed for the cleansing fire of war and ruin to clear the ground for their fanatical, world-shaping dreams. (Unlike Trotsky, of course, they never led troops in the field or put their own lives on the line.) Or as that deep thinker Glenn Reynolds once put it, gleefully: "More rubble, less trouble."
Now Glenn says this was a terrible twisting of his far more nuanced and sophisticated analysis of the war crime he cheered for. As he puts it:
"…what I was actually saying in the quoted but not linked post was that if we failed in Iraq and Afghanistan, we might wind up pursuing a “more rubble, less trouble” policy at the expense of democratization. There was no glee."
So let's go to the quoted -- but now linked! -- post. His original 2006 piece was sparked by a tide of criticism aimed at Donald Rumsfeld's handling of the war, which was then in its third year, and beginning its slide into the horrific, American-abetted hellstorm of sectarian strife that was the subject of my post last week. Glenn then quotes a number of people who rebut the criticism of poor, heroic Rumsfeld, including this anonymous commenter, who declared:
"The ball is in the Iraqis' court. We took away the obstacle to their freedom. If they choose to embrace death, corruption, incompetence, lethal religious mania, and stone-age tribalism, then at least we'll finally know the limitations of the people in that part of the world. The experiment had to be made."
Glenn likes that idea, but expresses his frustration about the "three-year rule" which is "well-known to U.S. planners -- U.S. voters will support a war for three years, but then get antsy for a conclusion. This attitude may be bad, especially as applied to 'messy small wars,' but it's a reality." (Yeah, ain't it a bitch that people can't send their sons and daughters off to die in endless, pointless exercises in war profiteering without getting all antsy about it after a few years? I mean, come on: if a he-man cheerleader is willing to waggle his pom-poms for decades without moaning about it, why can't these stupid widows and widowers and orphans and parents give up their loved ones more cheerfully? Really; it's almost as if the pathetic American people aren't even worthy of the deep thinkers and cheerleaders who provide these wars for them.)
Glenn goes on:
"On the other hand, it's also true that if democracy can't work in Iraq, then we should probably adopt a "more rubble, less trouble" approach to other countries in the region that threaten us. If a comparatively wealthy and secular Arab country can't make it as a democratic republic, then what hope is there for places that are less wealthy, or less secular?"
We should probably adopt a 'more rubble, less trouble' approach to other countries in the region that threaten us. ("Should probably": weasel-wording worthy of a guardhouse lawyer -- or even a tenured professor. Never have the courage of your convictions; always leave yourself an out. "I didn't say we should kill the homeless guy and take his money, your honor; I said we should probably kill the homeless guy and take his money. So it's not my fault!") In 2013, he dials this back a bit, now writing that we "might wind up" pursuing the more rubble, less trouble approach if countries don't accept the "democratization' we impose on them at gunpoint. I suppose "might wind up" is a little less prescriptive, more nuanced than "should probably" -- but let's leave the weasel-wording to the lawyers.
Later, as clarification, Glenn added this to the 2006 post:
The "more rubble, less trouble" phrase refers to what Victor Davis Hanson calls a kind of "punitive isolationism" that I think we'll see if we give up in Iraq -- and that was presaged by the Clinton Administration's cruise-missile-based antiterror policy. It's what I hope to prevent, not what I hope to see, and it's the likely consequence of doing what the lefties want in foreign policy.
In other words, it is far better to invade a country in an act of unprovoked military aggression and murder thousands upon thousands of innocent people in massive doses than it is to murder innocent people piecemeal with missile strikes. (Or in our super-modern techno-utopia, drone strikes.) Now, some people might say there is something slightly wrong with both of these approaches. Some people might find the idea of murdering innocent people in any fashion as part of a militarist agenda of "power projection," domination and war profiteering that sows hatred and retribution around the world while bankrupting one's own people and stripping them of their liberties to be, well, not OK. But for Reynolds and his ilk, there is no alternative, no other way for the United States to conduct its affairs, no other goal for our national life: there is only the way of war and dominance. Anything else is not even imaginable. So the only choices available are wholesale murder or a more boutique approach. I admit there is a fine strategic distinction at work here -- at least for those who embrace the principle of murdering innocent people to maintain a "unipolar world" of American dominance -- and I did not fully appreciate Reynolds' devotion to murder en masse. He likes people to die and rubble to bounce only in a certain way; if I left the inadvertent impression that he liked to see people die and rubble bounce in any old way, I apologize.
What is most remarkable about all this, of course, is Reynolds' unspoken, unquestioned -- and perhaps unconscious -- assumption: that the United States must go on invading countries that 'threaten us' (in completely unspecified ways -- or, as with Iraq, in completely falsified ways). This is simply a given: we should attack countries to bend them to our will. The only question in the mind of well-wadded cheerleaders like Reynolds is whether we give these backward countries three years to get with our program, or -- if they are less wealthy and secular than Iraq was before we got there -- we should just go ahead and reduce them to utter ruin.
I don't really think my "lefty lies" mischaracterized the cheerleader's basic position, either then or now. To put it in plain terms like we use back in Tennessee: Reynolds does not give a shit how many dirty foreigners we kill in our "messy small wars." If they give up early after we invade them and don't make "trouble," fine; if they make trouble, then we "should probably" reduce them to rubble. In the former case, we'll kill lots of people on the front end; in the latter case, we'll kill lots of people all the way through. I'm sure that Professor Reynolds, as an enlightened and educated guardian of the values of Western civilization, would far prefer the somewhat lower body count of the first instance; but if we "wind up" having to take the second approach -- so what? Who cares? The important thing is that our right to invade other countries and impose our will on them -- to the immense profit of a small elite (and the giddy goosebumps of our war cheerleaders) -- must not be questioned or thwarted in any way.
That said, with hand on heart, I apologize (or rather, I "should probably" apologize) for characterizing Reynolds' evocation of the "more rubble, less trouble" doctrine as "gleeful." In truth, I have no idea what emotion he was feeling when he wrote that phrase. In fact, I now believe there were probably tears of sorrow dropping on his keyboard as he contemplated the tragic necessity that makes good, decent, democratizing Americans kill thousands upon thousands of innocent people in pointless wars fought on falsified premises. It's so sad that the dark, backward races and recalcitrant tribes of this wicked world force the noble denizens of the shining city on the hill to take on the terrible duty of waging aggressive war. So I hope Professor Reynolds will forgive me for my unwarranted editorial interpolation in this regard. I know now that war cheerleading is a grim and weighty task, not a gleeful thing at all, and I am sorry indeed if I have added to his great burden and made his poms-poms even heavier.
P.S. Of course, one might say that Reynolds has actually produced his own mischaracterization (dare one call it a "righty lie"?) of another writer's position. Having read my post -- with its criticism of the Iraq War and its cheerleaders -- Reynolds automatically assumes that I am some sort of Obama apologist. (The binary worldview of our deep thinkers evidently can't handle the idea that some people can oppose senseless murder and plunder no matter which political party directs it.) Glenn writes:
But then, more rubble, less trouble is now the Obama Administration’s approach … so maybe I should take that as praise, not criticism. After all lots of things that were once decried are now okay since it’s Obama doing them.
And that's exactly right: Obama has indeed taken the course Reynolds said America "should probably" adopt if the "experiments" in Iraq and Afghanistan fail -- as they have done, in the most gruesome fashion. Obama has adopted, deepened, entrenched and expanded almost every evil policy, foreign and domestic, that he inherited from his predecessor -- a fact I have "decried" here for years. In terms of Terror Warring, corporate coddling, liberty quashing, entitlement slashing, recalcitrant tribe-killing and such, Obama is very much the same as Bush, often more so. And of course, Reynolds is also right to point out that many if not most "lefties' are indeed praising policies they once decried.
But then again, these policies are ones that Glenn himself has cheerleaded for all these years. So why doesn't he get his pom-poms out for the Big O? It seems that Reynolds, for all his professorial distinguishmentation, is himself a captive of the same dull-witted dynamic, the same binary tribalism, that he rightly "decries" in these "lefties": if the "other side's" guy is doing it, it's wrong; if "our guy" is doing it, it's OK. Of course, one hates see the distinguished name of Beauchamp Brogan -- or indeed, of Glenn's own father, Charles Reynolds, an anti-war dissident of some note (and a former teacher of mine in days of yore) -- associated with such fear-ridden, closed-off, third-rate thinking. But in this "low, dishonest decade" (or rather, this low, dishonest century), what else can you expect?
Written by Chris Floyd
Saturday, 09 March 2013 00:05
Our guest blogger today is the younger John Milton -- before he ossified into the hidebound figure caricatured so devastatingly by Robert Graves in his remarkable feat of cross-gender ventriloquism, Wife to Mr Milton. As Colin Burrow points out in the latest London Review of Books, before Milton became Milton, there was an open, questing poetic mind, intoxicated with Spenser, alive with "calling shapes, beckoning shadows, airy tongues" -- and with what Graves himself once called "the single poetic theme of Life and Death." As Burrow notes:
The quintessential early Miltonic moment is one in which a series of participles weaves all the world together and creates a rapturous arrest of temporal process ... :
‘The melting voice through mazes running;
Untwisting all the chains that ty
The hidden soul of harmony.’
Now that is a voice -- once known, lost, echoing ahead -- worth following until the world's end.
Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 07 March 2013 23:54
As'ad AbuKhalil points us to this rather eye-boggling -- and revealing -- passage from AP's obituary of Hugo Chavez:
Chavez invested Venezuela's oil wealth into social programs including state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs. But those gains were meager compared with the spectacular construction projects that oil riches spurred in glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world's tallest building in Dubai and plans for branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in Abu Dhabi.
My god, to think such evil once walked this earth!
Earlier, AbuKhalil had this take on Chavez's death:
I have never been a fan of Chavez but I am much less of a fan of his enemies and critics in the West or in the East. ... Chavez allowed opposition media (many of which were funded or supported by the US government no doubt) but the New York Times commented (in its most silly obituary of the man) that he compelled opposition media to carry his speeches. Wow. That is something that is not done in the various dictatorships that US supports and cuddles, which don't allow any vestiges of opposition media. Chavez was certainly more democratic in his rule than China, Russia, and all the Arab dictatorships and Central Asian dictatorships that the US supports, funds, and arms. but he was turned in the media as a twin of the North Korean dictator. This comes to show you that the standards of Western governments and media have nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with 1) defiance against US will; 2) with the extent to which [a] regime allows multinational corporations to exploit and steal in a particular nation. Chavez's championing of the poor was certainly offensive to Western governments and media. That we know.
We do indeed. I recall the NY Times' first story on the death (since updated), which told us that Chavez -- elected four times against full-throttled opposition in democratic elections vetted by international observers -- won his power by "tapping into the resentments of his country's poor."
Their "resentments." Obviously, the poor of Venezuela -- a vast majority when Chavez was first elected -- were full of "resentment" at their subjugation at the hands of a monied elite. They didn't feel justified anger at their plight, they were not motivated by common human aspirations to secure a better life for themselves and their children; no, it was only "resentment" at their more deserving masters that drove them to support a man who -- dast one even say it? -- did not worship at the altar of America's imperial greatness. There could no other reason for such uppity behavior.
There were also rich pickings in the NYT's many other bashings of the dead man -- such as William Neuman's declaration that Chavez left behind "a bitterly divided nation in the grip of a political crisis" or Rory Carroll's crocodile-teared lament for "the decay, dysfunction and blight that afflict the economy and every state institution" in Venezuela. One can only say that these New York sages should perhaps take a gander southward toward the Potomac if they want to see political crisis, dysfunction and blight writ far larger -- and deeper and more destructive -- than anything Chavez could have wrought in his country.
Oh well. The incessant denigration of the majority of humankind by rulers and their sniveling sycophants has been going on since the first whips were laid across the backs of slaves building dolmens and gathering flints. Maybe one day our idiotic race will get tired of it.
Or does that sound -- OMG! -- resentful?
Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 07 March 2013 00:36
The truth-telling of the imprisoned Bradley Manning continues to bear rich fruit, even as he faces a lifetime in prison for acting on principle to save innocent lives and prevent his country from staining itself further with war crimes. This week, the Guardian released a special investigation into the hideous regime of torture that the United States imposed and empowered during its years-long rape of Iraq.
The Guardian report draws on the trove of documents that Manning gave to Wikileaks (and the now diplomatically "sequestered" Julian Assange) to provide new details on the direct links of America's highest officials -- including the bipartisanly adored and now much mourned retired apparatchik David Petraeus -- to the torture of tens of thousands of Iraqis.
In many ways, of course, it's hardly a revelation that American forces were deeply involved in torture during the "extraordinary achievement" (B. Obama) in Iraq. Some cranks have been writing about it since the earliest days of the invasion -- as in this piece, from August 2003:
Here's a headline you don't see every day: "War Criminals Hire War Criminals to Hunt Down War Criminals."
Perhaps that's not the precise wording used by the Washington Post this week, but it is the absolute essence of its story about the Bush Regime's new campaign to put Saddam's murderous security forces on America's payroll.
Yes, the sahibs in Bush's Iraqi Raj are now doling out American tax dollars to hire the murderers of the infamous Mukhabarat and other agents of the Baathist Gestapo – perhaps hundreds of them. The logic, if that's the word, seems to be that these bloodstained "insiders" will lead their new imperial masters to other bloodstained "insiders" responsible for bombing the UN headquarters in Baghdad – and killing another dozen American soldiers while Little George was playing with his putts during his month-long Texas siesta.
Naturally, the Iraqi people – even the Bush-appointed leaders of the Potemkin "Governing Council" – aren't exactly overjoyed at seeing Saddam's goons return, flush with American money and firepower. And they're certainly not reassured by the fact that the Bushists have also re-opened Saddam's most notorious prison, the dread Abu Ghraib, and are now, Mukhabarat-like, filling it with Iraqis – men, women and children as young as 11 – seized from their homes or plucked off the street to be held incommunicado, indefinitely, without due process, just like the old days. As The Times reports, weeping relatives who dare approach the gleaming American razor-wire in search of their "disappeared" loved ones are referred to a crude, hand-written sign pinned to a spike: "No visits are allowed, no information will be given and you must leave." Perhaps an Iraqi Akhmatova will do justice to these scenes one day.
There were many, many more where that came from, from many sources, as the mosaic of horror built up, fragment by fragment. Unfortunately, America's multifarious war crime in Iraq is news that stays news -- because awareness of the depth of evil we wrought there has scarcely penetrated the American public consciousness. And of course, the Wikileaks documents give more form and substance to the piecemeal parceling of earlier truth fragments.
The Guardian pieces focus on the long lineage of the American way of torture, as represented by the figure of James Steele, a Special Forces offer who made his bones in the torture racket during the murderous American-backed, American-trained, American-funded "counterinsurgency" campaigns in Latin America during the 1980s. Steele has a little pal back in those days by the name of Davy Petraeus; later, the two worked cheek-by-jowl in Iraq to foment a hell on earth of sectarian violence and state terror.
In June 2004 Petraeus arrived in Baghdad with the brief to train a new Iraqi police force with an emphasis on counterinsurgency. Steele and serving US colonel James Coffman introduced Petraeus to a small hardened group of police commandos, many of them among the toughest survivors of the old regime, including General Adnan Thabit …With Steele and Coffman as his point men, Petraeus began pouring money from a multi-million dollar fund into what would become the Special Police Commandos. According to the US Government Accounts Office, they received a share of an $8.2bn (£5.4bn) fund paid for by the US tax payer. The exact amount they received is classified. With Petraeus' almost unlimited access to money and weapons, and Steele's field expertise in counterinsurgency the stage was set for the commandos to emerge as a terrifying force.
One more element would complete the picture. The US had barred members of the violent Shia militias like the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army from joining the security forces, but by the summer of 2004 they had lifted the ban. Shia militia members from all over the country arrived in Baghdad "by the lorry-load" to join the new commandos. These men were eager to fight the Sunnis: many sought revenge for decades of Sunni-supported, brutal Saddam rule, and a chance to hit back at the violent insurgents and the indiscriminate terror of al-Qaida.
Petraeus and Steele would unleash this local force on the Sunni population as well as the insurgents and their supporters and anyone else who was unlucky enough to get in the way. It was classic counterinsurgency. It was also letting a lethal, sectarian genie out of the bottle. The consequences for Iraqi society would be catastrophic. At the height of the civil war two years later, 3,000 bodies a month were turning up on the streets of Iraq — many of them innocent civilians of sectarian war that ignited on both side.
Again, it's been known for years -- to anyone who wants to know -- that the vicious sectarian civil war in Iraq was deliberately seeded and pushed by the Pentagon brass and their White House bosses. [For an in-depth look, see Ulster on the Eurphrates: The Anglo-American Dirty War in Iraq.] As the Guardian investigation confirms, Petraeus was hip-deep in the process. The aim of this deeply evil program, one supposes, was to achieve the "creative destruction" so beloved of the neocon savants who provided the "intellectual" framework for the Hitlerian act of aggression. True to their Trotskyist roots, they longed for the cleansing fire of war and ruin to clear the ground for their fanatical, world-shaping dreams. (Unlike Trotsky, of course, they never led troops in the field or put their own lives on the line.) Or as that deep thinker Glenn Reynolds once put it, gleefully: "More rubble, less trouble."
What happened, of course, was the opposite: more rubble meant more trouble, and the shallow fools and blithering incompetents who comprise the American leadership class lost control of the situation. The carnage was so horrific that it threatened to damage the whole war-profiteering enterprise; why, there were even a few timorous calls among some quadrants of the elite suggesting that maybe it was time to begin thinking about considering the idea of mulling over at some unspecified point in the future the vague possibility of maybe thinking about considering the possibility of ending the war sometime, maybe, somewhere down the line. This tinkling trickle of potential opposition was quickly quelled, however, with the great googily-moogily "Surge": another invasion with thousands of American troops, more bribes for Sunni extremists, plus months of maniacal, American-backed "ethnic cleansing" to help Shiite collaborators eke out a victory in the civil war.
In one of the many blood-dark ironies of the war, Petraeus was put in charge of the murderous effort to stem the sectarian violence he had been fomenting at Washington's command. When the killing levels were no longer at historically unprecedented levels but were merely the worst anywhere in the world, the "surge" was proclaimed a great triumph, and Petraeus was the bipartisan hero of the hour.
(Speaking of bipartisan, let us not forget the Bush Regime bloodbath in Iraq was preceded by the murder of upwards of a million innocent Iraqis -- including an officially admitted total of 500,000 children -- in the ruthless sanction regime imposed by the good ole Big Dawg himself back in the 90s.)
But while he was showering in accolades on Capitol Hill, this is what the system installed by Petraeus and Steele and their Washington masters was doing back in Iraq:
The commandos set up a network of secret detention centres where insurgents could be brought and information extracted from them. The commandos used the most brutal methods to make detainees talk. There is no evidence that Steele or Coffman took part in these torture sessions, but General Muntadher al Samari, a former general in the Iraqi army, who worked after the invasion with the US to rebuild the police force claims that they knew exactly what was going on and were even supplying the commandos with lists of people they wanted brought in. He says he tried to stop the torture on several occasions, but failed and fled the country.
"We were having lunch. Col Steele, Col Coffman, and the door opened and Captain Jabr was there torturing a prisoner. He [the victim] was hanging upside down and Steele got up and just closed the door, he didn't say anything – it was just normal for him."
He says there were 13 to 14 secret prisons in Baghdad under the control of the Interior Ministry and used by the Special Police Commandos. He alleges that Steele and Coffman had access to all these prisons and that he visited one in Baghdad with both men. "They were secret, never declared. But the American top brass and the Iraqi leadership knew all about these prisons. The things that went on there: drilling, murder, torture. The ugliest sort of torture I've ever seen."
According to one soldier with the 69th Armoured Regiment who was deployed in Samarra in 2005 but who doesn't want to be identified: "It was like the Nazis … like the Gestapo basically. They [the commandos] would essentially torture anybody that they had good reason to suspect, knew something, or was part of the insurgency … or supporting it, and people knew about that."
... Neil Smith, a 20-year-old medic who was based in Samarra, remembers what low ranking US soldiers in the canteen said. "What was pretty widely known in our battalion, definitely in our platoon, was that they were pretty violent with their interrogations. That they would beat people, shock them with electrical shock, stab them, I don't know what else ... it sounds like pretty awful things. If you sent a guy there he was going to get tortured and perhaps raped or whatever, humiliated and brutalised by the special commandos in order for them to get whatever information they wanted."
He now lives in Detroit and is a born-again Christian. He spoke to the Guardian because he said he now considered it his religious duty to speak out about what he saw. "I don't think folks back home in America had any idea what American soldiers were involved in over there, the torture and all kinds of stuff."
Through Facebook, Twitter and social media the Guardian managed to make contact with three soldiers who confirmed they were handing over detainees to be tortured by the special commandos, but none except Smith were prepared to go on camera.
"If somebody gets arrested and we hand them over to MoI they're going to get their balls hooked, electrocuted or they're going to get beaten or raped up the ass with a coke bottle or something like that," one said. He left the army in September 2006. Now 28, he works with refugees from the Arab world in Detroit teaching recent arrivals, including Iraqis, English.
"I suppose it is my way of saying sorry," he said.
But as we have seen in all the recent media hoopla around the 10th anniversary of the invasion, none of criminals in charge of the war crime, or the savants who promoted it, or the media sycophants who "stovepiped" the lies of the warmongers to the public, or any member of the political-media elite who by direct or collateral hand were complicit in this war crime have ever apologized for what they have done -- much less been made to suffer the slightest discomfort or inconvenience for it.
As for Steele himself, he left Iraq after helping set up the torture apparatus and went into -- what else? -- the oil business.
Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 05 December 2012 15:37
We have arrived at what Tennessee Williams once called A Moon of Pause. When I asked him what on earth the phrase meant, as spoken by an actress in one of his plays, "It is," he said loftily, "the actual Greek translation of menopause." I said that the word "moon" did not come from menses (Latin, not Greek, for "month"). "Then what," he asked suspiciously, "is the Latin for moon?" When I told him it was luna and what fun he might have with the world "lunatic," he sighed and cut.
-- Gore Vidal
Our revels now are not quite ended, but they have come to a moon of pause. I'm taking a sabbatical from the blog for awhile -- perhaps a long while. There are many reasons for this: personal, political, physical, psychological, philosophical (and other words beginning with p). I thought at first to set down a few of these reasons here; but on second thought, I thought not. Suffice to say that when the Burlesque returns, it will be with some new costumes, new dance routines, new music, new approaches. At least I hope so.
Meanwhile, thanks to the goodness of the blog's creator and webmaster, Rich Kastelein ("il miglior fabbro"), the site will remain "live" while I'm gone. Indeed, Rich's powerful collection of photos showing the realities of the American Imperium at war actually draws a large proportion of the blog's traffic every day. So the site itself will not be substantially affected by my absence.
In that absence, I leave behind a few statements which express some of the basic premises and stances behind the blog -- just in case somebody wanders by and wants to know what kind of place this is.
See you down the line somewhere.
1. Some considerations pertaining, in part, to the sabbatical
2. Basic political philosophy explained
3. The essential task of our time, and all times
4. Certain physiological contexts for sociopolitical issues
5. In support of those who speak hard truth to brutal power
6. Transcending historical tragedy
7. The corrosive effects of elitism
8. Some basis for hope, in line with modern science
9. The finest thing in this hard country
Written by Chris Floyd
Sunday, 02 December 2012 00:00
After Reading the Pasternak Letters
In the end, it doesn’t matter if love comes to you or not, or if doesn’t come to you in the form or with the force you may have wanted.
All that matters is that love exists somewhere in the world, and that we strive to make a world where this astonishing fact — which alone gives meaning to life, and is itself immortal — can flourish in all of its manifestations.
For more on related themes:
Immortal Communion: One Lowly Word and the Subversion of Power
A Version of Pasternak's "Hamlet"
Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 30 November 2012 14:39
On Thursday, Bradley Manning, one of the foremost prisoners of conscience in the world today, testified in open court -- the first time his voice has been heard since he was arrested, confined and subjected to psychological torture by the U.S. government.
An event of some newsworthiness, you might think. Manning has admitted leaking documents that detailed American war crimes in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. He has been held incommunicado for more than 900 days by the Obama administration. Reports of his treatment at the hands of his captors have sparked outrage, protests and concern around the world. He was now going to speak openly in a pre-trial hearing on a motion to dismiss his case because of that treatment. Surely such a moment of high courtroom drama would draw heavy media coverage, if only for its sensationalistic aspects.
But if you relied on the nation's pre-eminent journal of news reportage, the New York Times, you could have easily missed notice of the event altogether, much less learned any details of what transpired in the courtroom. The Times sent no reporter to the hearing, but contented itself with a brief bit of wire copy from AP, tucked away on Page 3, to note the occasion.
That story -- itself considered of such little importance by AP that it didn't even by-line the piece (perhaps the agency didn't send a reporter either, but simply picked up snippets from other sources) -- reduced the entire motion, and the long, intricate, systematic government attack on Manning's psyche, to a matter of petty petulance on Manning's part, a whiner's attempt to weasel out of what's coming to him. This is AP's sole summary of the motion and its context:
Private Manning is trying to avoid trial in the WikiLeaks case. He argues that he was punished enough when he was locked up alone in a small cell for nearly nine months at the brig in Quantico and had to sleep naked for several nights.
It is clear what the unnamed writer wants the reader to take away from his passage. We are supposed to think: "That's it? That's all he's got? That they gave him a private room and made him sleep in the buff for a few nights? Is that supposed to be torture?"
As we noted here the other day, the New York Times is the pacesetter for the American media; it plays a large part in setting the parameters of acceptable discourse and honing the proper attitude that serious, respectable people should take toward current events. The paper's treatment of Manning's court appearance is exemplary in this regard. The case is worth noting, yes, but only briefly, in passing; Manning himself is a rather pathetic figure whose treatment by the government, while perhaps not ideal in all respects, has not been especially harsh or onerous. This is what serious, respectable people are meant to believe about the case; and millions do.
For the actual details of Manning's hearing -- which actually began a few days before his appearance -- you have to turn to foreign papers, such as the Guardian, whose coverage of Manning's situation has been copious. The Guardian provided two long stories (here and here), totalling 68 paragraphs, on Manning's testimony, both written by one the paper's leading reporters, Ed Pilkington, who was actually present in the courtroom. This was preceded by three long stories (here, here and here), also by Pilkington reporting on the scene, about previous testimony in the hearing, from the brig's commander and from the Marine psychiatrist overseeing Manning's condition.
As noted, the Times provided only the single wire story, 11 paragraphs long, during the entire week of testimony. Contrast this to the paper of record's treatment of those other prisoners of conscience, Pussy Riot, when they were put on trial by the Russian government this summer. In an eight-day period surrounding the trial, the Times ran no less that 14 stories on Pussy Riot's plight. Later this fall, when sentencing hearings were held for the group, the NYT ran 13 stories in a comparable time period.
I believe Pussy Riot's case warranted such coverage. But certainly Manning's case -- involving revelations of war crime, mass murder, brutality and his own unconscionable treatment by an American government that lectures other nations, including Russia, about impartial justice and human rights -- is of at least equal weight. But of course, it is easier -- not to mention more politic, and profitable -- to run 27 stories about the Kremlin's harsh and wildly disproportionate punishment for an act of civil disobedience while dribbling out a single reductive, dismissive story about entirely similar actions by the American government.
Again, recall the NYT/AP appraisal of Manning's motion: "He argues that he was punished enough when he was locked up alone in a small cell for nearly nine months" and had to "sleep naked for several nights." Here, from Pilkington, is what really happened. We begin with Manning's treatment in Kuwait, where he was first incarcerated -- a period entirely ignored by the NYT, although it took up much of his six-hour testimony.
"I didn't know what was going on, I didn't have formal charges or anything, my interactions were very limited with anybody else, so it was very draining."
[Manning] was put on a schedule whereby he would be woken up at 10 o'clock at night and given lights out at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. "My nights blended into my days and my days into nights," he told the court. … The guards stopped taking him out of his cell so that he became entirely cut off from human company. "Someone tried to explain to me why, but I was a mess, I was starting to fall apart." Military police began coming into his cell in a tent in the Kuwaiti desert two or three times a day doing what they called a "shakedown": searching the cell and tearing it apart in the process.
Eventually, Manning was strapped into an airplane and transported to the Marine Corps prison at Quantico, Virginia. There he was placed under the brig's most restrictive regime:
…no contact with other people, being kept in his cell for more than 23 hours a day, being checked every five minutes, sleeping on a suicide mattress with no bedding, having his prescription glasses taken away, lights kept on at night, having toilet paper removed.
… [The cell was] 6ft by 8ft. The cell contained a toilet that was in the line of vision of the observation booth, and he was not allowed toilet paper. When he needed it, he told the court, he would stand to attention by the front bars of the cell and shout out to the observation guards: "Lance Corporal Detainee Manning requests toilet paper!" …
For the first few weeks of his confinement in Quantico he was allowed only 20 minutes outside the cell, known as a "sunshine call". Even then whenever he left his cell – and this remained the case throughout his nine months at the marine brig – he was put into full restraint: his hands were handcuffed to a leather belt around his waist and his legs put in irons, which meant that he could not walk without a staff member holding him. …
He was under observation throughout the night, with a fluorescent light located right outside the cell blazing into his eyes. While asleep he would frequently cover his eyes with his suicide blanket, or turn on to his side away from the light, and on those occasions, sometimes three times a night, the guards would bang on his cell bars to wake him up so they could see his face. … He was forbidden from taking exercise in his cell, and … allowed out of the cell for at most one hour a day for the entire nine months at Quantico.
The official reason given for this treatment was Manning's mental health; he was supposedly a "suicide risk" who must be kept under special measures. This assessment by the brig commander was refuted by the brig's own psychiatrist, who testified during this week's hearing:
The psychiatrist who treated the WikiLeaks suspect, Bradley Manning, while he was in custody in the brig at Quantico has testified that his medical advice was regularly ignored by marine commanders who continued to impose harsh conditions on the soldier even though he posed no risk of suicide.
Captain William Hoctor told Manning's pre-trial hearing at Fort Meade that he grew frustrated and angry at the persistent refusal by marine officers to take on board his medical recommendations. The forensic psychiatrist said that he had never experienced such an unreceptive response from his military colleagues, not even when he treated terrorist suspects held at Guantanamo.
"I had been a senior medical officer for 24 years at the time, and I had never experienced anything like this. It was clear to me they had made up their mind on a certain course of action, and my recommendations had no impact," Hoctor said. ….
By 27 August 2010, Hoctor testified, he had spent enough time with Manning to recommend a further easing of conditions. From then on he advised in a regular weekly report that Manning should be … returned to the general brig population.
… The blanket denial of his expert opinion was unprecedented in his quarter century of practice, the psychiatrist said. "Even when I did tours in Guantanamo and cared for detainees there my recommendations on suicidal behaviour were followed."
Hoctor said he openly protested about the thwarting of his expert opinion at a meeting with the commander responsible for the brig, Colonel Robert Oltman, on 13 January 2011. … Hoctor said that the marine commanders should no longer pretend they were acting out of medical concern for the detainee. "It wasn't good for Manning. I really didn't like them using a psychiatric standard when I thought it clinically inappropriate," Hoctor said.
The court heard that Oltman replied: "You make your recommendations, and we'll do what we want to do."
This is the treatment that Barack Obama upheld in his one public comment on the case, in 2011. Obama said that Manning's treatment was "appropriate and meeting our basic standards." In a private fundraiser that year, Obama went further and declared Manning -- who is yet to stand trial -- guilty: "He broke the law." As Horton said, the government had made up its mind "on a certain course of action" -- trying to break Manning's mind and will in its larger goal of punishing WikiLeaks for its multiple revelations of Washington's crime and folly around the world. And from brig commander to commander-in-chief, it followed this course with admirable discipline.
As Pilkington notes, it was one of Manning's efforts to show how sane he was -- and his misplaced trust in a guard -- that led to the most infamous aspect of his imprisonment: the forced nudity that his captors found so titillating:
[Manning] related how he turned for help to one particular member of staff at the brig at Quantico marine base in Virginia where he was taken in July 2010. He assumed that Staff Sergeant Pataki was on his side, so opened up to him.
"I wanted to convey the fact that I'd been on the [restrictive regime] for a long time. I'm not doing anything to harm myself. I'm not throwing myself against walls, or jumping up or down, or putting my head in the toilet."
Manning told Pataki that "if I was a danger to myself I would act out more". He used his underwear and flip-flops as an example, insisting that "if I really wanted to hurt myself I could use things now: underwear, flip-flops, they could potentially be used as something to harm oneself"…. Manning felt good about his interaction with Pataki. "I felt like he was listening and understanding, and he smiled a little. I thought I'd actually started to get through to him."
That night guards arrived at his cell and ordered him to strip naked. He was left without any clothes overnight, and the following morning made to stand outside his cell and stand to attention at the brig count, still nude, as officers inspected him.
The humiliating ritual continued for several days, and right until the day he was transferred from Quantico on 20 April 2011 he had his underwear removed every night. …
All this is what the Times and AP have reduced to nothing more than being "locked up alone in a small cell" and having to "sleep naked for several nights." Nothing at all about the draconian restrictions; nothing at all about "shakedowns," wake-ups, 24-hour surveillance in bright light (even on the toilet), isolation, chains, deprivation, betrayal, interrogation, and forced nudity -- not just when he was sleeping (in bright light, under observation) but also out in corridors, while "officers inspected him."
All of this has been erased by the 'objective' reporting of the NYT and AP. None of this is to be known or considered by serious, respectable people. It didn't happen. It doesn't matter. Manning is a whiner who made America look bad, and in doing so, he helped a website that made America look bad. That's all that really matters. The details of his treatment -- not to mention the details of what he and WikiLeaks revealed -- are unimportant. You don't have to think about it. Just nod your head, shrug your shoulders, and go about your business.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 26 November 2012 01:53
On Sunday, the New York Times -- the paper of record, the bellwether by which all "serious" American media sets its compass -- published a story about the Obama administration's efforts to codify its "extrajudicial killing program" before the election. The aim, we were told, was to make sure there were "clear standards and procedures" in place to keep the death squads going, even if the president lost the election.
The story was yet another in a series of White House-directed pieces about the killing program, in which anonymous, high-level administration officials leak top-secret information and insider gossip designed to paint the president and his aides as moral paragons struggling nobly to find the most effective and ethical way to use the killing programs and keep Americans safe. That is not only the underlying assumption of the story; it is the only assumption allowed in the story. There are three paragraphs in which duly accredited establishment figures voice what could be taken as mild criticisms about certain tactical aspects of the White House killing program.
But even these muted voices end with Shuja Nawaz -- an Establishment worthy from the Atlantic Council who is "Pakistani-born," the New York Times takes pains to tell us (without telling us that he once worked for the New York Times) -- calling on the Obama administration not to end the murderous drone campaign in his native land but to be more proud of it, more open about it, to detail every death it causes, including any "collateral deaths." This transparency will evidently assuage the anger of those who've watched their innocent loved ones -- including their children -- blown to bits by American drones, and they will no longer listen to "propaganda" from "jihadist groups."
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the full extent of the criticism of the killing program permitted in the paper of record in its front-page Sunday story. The only possible problem with the president of the United States and his deputized subordinates killing people all over the world outside any legal procedure or standards of evidence or, in many cases, without knowing anything at all about who they are killing -- is that the program might not be as open and efficient as it could be.
I was going to write at length about this extraordinary piece of sinister puffery, but I find that Arthur Silber is already on the case, saying everything I wanted to say, and more. So I'm just going to excerpt a few passages from his piece, while urging you to get on over there and read the whole thing.
The NYT story is a vile exercise in fantasy, and a lie from beginning to end. As we know from numerous reports -- and as we know from what the Obama administration itself has acknowledged -- the Murder Program murders innocent human beings. This isn't a possibility, something that the administration fears might happen. It has happened in an unforgivable number of cases. Moreover, the NYT story tells us this with stark clarity. Here's the most obvious example:
[F]or several years, first in Pakistan and later in Yemen, in addition to “personality strikes” against named terrorists, the C.I.A. and the military have carried out “signature strikes” against groups of suspected, unknown militants.
Originally that term was used to suggest the specific “signature” of a known high-level terrorist, such as his vehicle parked at a meeting place. But the word evolved to mean the “signature” of militants in general — for instance, young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups. Such strikes have prompted the greatest conflict inside the Obama administration, with some officials questioning whether killing unidentified fighters is legally justified or worth the local backlash.
The State and its invaluable subsidiaries, such as the NYT, will never spell out the full meaning of passages like this one, and most people will not permit themselves to understand it.
Obama and his fellow murderers kill people about whom they have no specific information at all. That's what this phrase means: "young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups." We know from other accounts that they don't even need to be "toting arms." Their mere presence "in an area controlled by extremist groups" can be sufficient for the State to kill them. This logically and necessarily means that the State kills people who are completely innocent. Obama and the other criminals have no information whatsoever to even suggest otherwise. ...
The NYT story also makes horribly clear that the debate about whether it is a good idea to murder innocent people is over. Worse than that, such a debate never took place. That's what we're told right near the beginning of the story:
Mr. Obama and his advisers are still debating whether remote-control killing should be a measure of last resort against imminent threats to the United States, or a more flexible tool, available to help allied governments attack their enemies or to prevent militants from controlling territory.
They're "still debating" whether they should murder innocent people only as a "last resort," or murder innocent people as "a more flexible tool." Whether they should murder innocent people at all never occurred to them. It was never even a question.
Think about that for a minute. It was never even a question for them.
... The story further informs us that the Obama administration is committed to developing a comprehensive system of rules to make certain that evil is committed in just the right way.
Yes, you should be shaking your head right now, because that makes absolutely no sense. It doesn't make any sense, yet this is the nature of the evil that steadily spreads across our national landscape. And as I have often noted before, every system of government has laws and rules, even dictatorships and even totalitarian governments. Appeals to the "sanctity of the law" and the crucial importance of "rules" play directly into the hands of the State and those who direct its lethal operations. The law and the rules are the means by which they implement and direct their power. When a corrupt and deadly system passes beyond a certain point, the law and the rules do not prevent the commission of evil: they make it possible. Moreover, and this makes all such discussions entirely absurd, the ruling class will disregard the law and the rules whenever they wish, for whatever purpose they choose. Surely the last decade has taught us that much, if nothing else at all.
There is much more in Silber's piece, so do read it in full. See also this recent post of his, about the rather warped views of those who support the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 20 November 2012 13:28
David Atkins, co-writer with Digby at Hullaballoo, responds -- indirectly -- to my recent post ("Blogging and Nothingness") on the silence of leading progressive bloggers about the ongoing, Obama-supported slaughter in Gaza. Below is his response in full, followed by my reply.
There has been some annoyance in some quarters at the lack of comprehensive coverage of the events in Gaza by the much of the most widely read parts of the progressive blogosphere. I agree that the coverage has been limited. But there are three good reasons for that:
1) Incoherent, hateful backlash. The fact is that it's impossible to say anything substantive about the Israel-Palestine conflict without being called a hateful anti-Semite, or a hateful bloodthirsty imperialist. Most hilarious is the notion that silence on the issue is caused by defense of the Administration, as if most of the progressive blogosphere had been somehow aggressive against the Bush Administration for failure to be concerned about the Palestinian people. If one examines the archives, one will see that most of the big sites from Atrios to DailyKos to TPM to Hullabaloo and the rest have largely refrained from commenting too much on the issue for years, long before Obama took office. That's in large part because nothing can be said about it without eliciting a horrifying deluge of asinine commentary that no other issue seems to generate. Especially for unpaid bloggers more concerned with climate change, the predations of the financial sector, the ongoing assault against the middle class and women's rights, etc., it's often not worth the headache of being called a vicious anti-semitic terrorist enabler and/or imperialist apartheid murderer--often for the exact same post.
2) There are no good guys here. Bibi Netanyahu is a horrible person, and Likud is filled with horrible people. They're basically the Israeli version of Dick Cheney and John Bolton, but with a religious belief in their right to steal land that belongs to others.
Hamas, meanwhile, is a murderous organization of cutthroats who refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist and want to drive every Jew out of the land they believe their God owes them.
Israeli policy pretends to want to keep control of illegal settlements that continue to incur into Palestinian lands while secretly encouraging it. Whatever goes for Palestinian authority pretends to want peace and self-determination while doing next to nothing to prevent rockets from being fired at Israeli civilians. Hamas knows that there can be no peace without recognizing Israel's fundamental right to exist, but they can't even bring themselves to put those words down on a negotiating contract. Israel knows that there can be no pressure on Hamas to negotiate fairly as long as Palestine remains an Apartheid-style lockdown zone with continued encroachment from settlement.
So we get the usual cycle of violence with no end in sight.
3) There's nothing we can do about it. It makes sense to blog about things that we can theoretically do something about. The Gaza situation is frankly hopeless at the moment. America is not going to abandon its commitment to protect the only functioning democracy in the region and the only dependable national refuge for the Jewish people. The American people can and should eschew support for Netanyahu and Likud, but it's not as if relations between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu aren't already frosty. Netanyahu quite obviously wanted Romney to win, and there can be little doubt that Obama would prefer to deal with someone from Labour/Kadima. Defunding Israel isn't an option, particularly given the hostility of other Middle Eastern powers to Israel's very existence.
So that leaves bloggers advocating for cooler heads and changes in leadership on both sides of a dispute over which American activists have very little control, and in which there are no clear-cut good guys. Syria is less complicated, frankly, with much greater suffering and bloodshed--and it's not exactly been a huge topic of debate in the progressive blogosphere, either.
So don't expect a lot of coverage of the issue. Most of us don't want to take a lot of stupid abuse from nutty people for speaking powerlessly over an issue in which both sides deserve plenty of scorn.
Taking these justifications point by point, here, as I understand it, is the essential argument for progressives remaining silent on the slaughter in Gaza.
1) We are scared. People might call us bad names, and that would be unpleasant. And it would also, somehow, interfere with our ability to support other causes. Do you want us to be like that fool Martin Luther King Jr., who didn't stick to his niche issue of civil rights but also took on murderous American militarism and economic injustice? That's not savvy, that's not how to get things done. Anyway, look what happened to him when he stuck his neck out too far.
2) We are childish. There are no "good guys" we can root for in a comic-book version of good vs. evil. [How about rooting for the innocent people being slaughtered? Are they not "good" enough?] Also, we are too uninterested to read of any context or history beyond the day's headlines, so we have no idea about the many efforts made by Hamas and others, including Israelis, to "prevent rockets from being fired at Israeli civilians." We also have nothing to say about Israel's endless provocations -- killing children, blockades, assassinations, etc. -- that produce the missiles fired in retaliation. In short, because the institutional leaders on both sides are morally compromised individuals instead of clearly marked good guys and bad guys, we have nothing at all to say about innocent people being killed -- in our name, with American weaponry, American money and the full support of the president we have just worked so hard to re-elect.
3) We are helpless. You should only blog about things you can "theoretically" do something about. So apparently there is nothing anyone can ever do -- even "theoretically" -- to prevent the United States government from giving its full and unstinting support to the ongoing operation in Gaza. Even though George W. Bush himself condemned Israeli "extrajudicial assassinations," even though Ronald Reagan condemned the Israeli strike on Iraq's nuclear plant (and actually suspended arms shipments to Israel in protest), it is now completely impossible for anyone, anywhere, to put the slightest pressure on Barack Obama to voice even the mildest criticism of Israel's actions. So what's the point of using one's public platform to register even the smallest complaint about one's government using its money, weapons and full political muscle to support the slaughter of innocent people?
However, it must be theoretically possible to, say, convince Barack Obama not to sign a "grand bargain" that will gut social programs and entrench brutal economic and social injustice for generations. And how does one do that? By writing about it, agitating about it, talking about it, protesting against it, and so on -- as our leading progressives do every day. And even though the record of the past four years shows that Barack Obama does not pay the slightest attention to these efforts -- and has recently reiterated that the $4 trillion economy-wrecking, society-degrading "deal" he offered Republicans earlier is "still on the table" -- it is at least theoretically possible that strenuous protest and pressure might cause some alteration of policy.
I think this is true. And I think it's an effort worth making, however slight its chance of success. But why does this not also apply to Obama's policy toward Israel and the Middle East? Instead of the gritty realism, savvy tactics and nuanced analyses we see on the Grand Bargain, on Gaza all we get are childish, cartoonish exaggerations: the idea that even criticising Israeli actions -- as George Bush did, as Ronald Reagan did -- is somehow equivalent to "abandoning Israel" and the Jewish people. This is puerile nonsense. (It is also an example of the aforementioned "incoherent, hateful backlash" in action, albeit in more muted, tasteful form. But it carries the same implication: "What, do you want us to abandon the Jewish people, drive them from their only refuge? What are you, some kind of Nazi?")
Look, people can concentrate on whatever issues they want. I do it; everyone who writes does it. I just found it remarkable -- and still do -- that several prominent liberal bloggers dedicated to analyzing American policy and politics had nothing at all to say about innocent people being slaughtered with the full support -- physical, financial and political -- of the American political establishment, which is the focus of their blogs. Not a single word on the subject -- positive, negative, even in passing -- nothing at all, day after day, death after death.
However, during the last major assault on Gaza, in the last days of the Bush administration, there were several mentions of Gaza on Hullaballoo, including a post from Digby on the horror of watching the slaughter on CNN. On Kos, there were no fewer than 29 "front-paged diary" entries that mentioned Gaza in December 2008-January 2009, including long columns of analysis, and pieces mocking George Bush for his claims to seek Middle East peace ("just ask the people of Gaza"), mocking Joe the Plumber for his "reporting" from the Israeli side of the attack, and so on.
All of this, I might add, was mixed in with other issues of the day: the economy, the predations of the financial sector, women's rights, etc. Apparently, when George Bush was still in office, it "made sense" to blog about Gaza, to criticize the Israeli actions AND the American support for them, and still continue to advocate for one's other concerns.
But now we are told that it is not even theoretically possible to influence American policy on this issue. It is pointless -- "frankly hopeless" -- to even try. So let the children die, with American lead shredding their flesh and American money loading the guns and American politicians -- including the Democrats our progressives worked so hard for -- officially recording their full support of these atrocities.
Again, people should write what they like. If an issue doesn't interest you, or if it's too complicated for you, or if it scares you, then by all means ignore it. But it seems strange to me that those who are publicly dedicated to building a better, more just society and a more ethical, morally responsible government would simply shrug their shoulders, give up hope and keep quiet when their government -- led by a man they themselves fought to elect -- gives its total support to such murderous deeds.
It makes one think that they have made their own "Grand Bargain": countenancing crime and murder (the drone wars, Obama's death squads, indefinite detention, support for state terror in Gaza, etc., etc.) in exchange for the hope -- the "theoretical possibility" -- that their support for such a system will be rewarded with a few crumbs and gestures on the domestic front. As I said before, this kind of "progressivism" seems to me to be a most paltry, curdled and complicit thing. It has lashed itself to the machine of power, and it will, in the end, go wherever power takes it.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 19 November 2012 00:38
"Too much of nothing
Can make a man a liar."
-- Bob Dylan
"Nothing will come of nothing. Speak again."
-- Shakespeare, King Lear
It sure was a quiet weekend in the progressive blogosphere, where peace, justice and the alleviation of human suffering is an earnest, burning concern. At Eschaton, Atrios gave an amiable shrug and declared, "I got nothing to say." Digby and her co-pilot, David Atkins, did have a few things to say -- about Sarah Palin, General Pants-Down Petraeus, the grubby "Grand Bargaining" in the Beltway, and several examples of the stupidity and perfidy of right-wing Republicans. The posters at Daily Kos plied the same themes.
But even for those who didn't got nothing to say, it was all very much in a low-key, mopping-up, post-election mode. It seemed as if there were no major news events going on anywhere in the world that involved the violent, unjust infliction of human suffering, with the direct monetary, military and political support of United States government and its entire bipartisan political and media establishments. Nothing that might grab the attention -- even in passing -- of writers publicly and professionally dedicated to discussing and analyzing major news events involving American policy, politics and the media.
Anything like that going on this weekend? Anyone? Digby, Dave? No? Kos and the gang? Anything? Atrios?
Nope. They got nothing.
Not on Friday. Not on Saturday. Not by Sunday evening (as I write this).
If you were a follower of many of the major "progressive" bloggers, you could have passed the weekend blissfully unaware that the American-armed, American-backed Israeli military was busily raining death into the cramped and crowded concentration camp of Gaza. Children dying, old people being blown to bits in their houses, the Israeli government ordering a massive call-up of troops and reserves for a possible invasion; top officials from Egypt and Tunisia flying into the besieged camp to show solidarity, mass demonstrations across the Middle East, some meeting with violent repression, others threatening to escalate into revolutionary outpourings. On every side: death, turmoil, suffering, chaos, whole nations in ferment -- and Barack Obama standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Benjamin Netanyahu in defending assassination, aggression and the bombardment of defenseless civilians with massive military force.
For many of our leading progressives, none of this was of the slightest interest. Even as the stage is clearly being set for a rerun of the "Cast Lead" operation in 2008-2009 -- a bloodbath that killed hundreds of innocent people and was followed by a strangulating blockade -- our earnest concerners could not be stirred to even a passing comment on the developments. The idea that someone somewhere was touting Sarah Palin for 2016 was obviously far more interesting -- far more concerning -- than the American-backed bloodshed in Gaza. After all, what if Sarah Palin did become president, huh? (Get your 2016 lesser evilism going now! Start early, avoid the rush!) Why, she might declare her full support for military assaults on civilian areas in Gaza, just like that evil George Bush did in 2008. And you know you don't want anyone like that to be president, do you?
But beyond the Palin-haunted, poll-poring, got-nothing confines of the progressosphere, here's what been going on just today, as reported in the New York Times (which most top progressives at least take a glance at occasionally, I believe):
Israeli forces killed at least 11 people, including several children, in a single airstrike that destroyed a home here on Sunday ... Among the dead were five women and four small children, The Associated Press reported, citing a Palestinian health official. ... Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel warned of a “significant” expansion in the onslaught, which has already killed over 50 people, many of them civilians.
... Speaking on Sunday from Bangkok, President Obama condemned missile attacks by Palestinian fighters in Gaza and defended Israel’s right to protect itself. “There’s no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” Mr. Obama said in his first public comments since the violence broke out. “We are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself.”
Here the president ignores the fact, also reported -- albeit obscurely -- by the NYT, that the few sporadic and ineffective missiles from Gaza "raining down" on Israel before the attack were in fact retaliation for repeated missile strikes, mortar fire, assassinations and civilian deaths caused by Israeli military incursions into Gaza. But, as we noted here the other day, Gaza has no "right to defend itself;" indeed, it very clearly must "tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders." Thus saith the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
But that was not all he saith. As the NYT reports:
Mr. Obama said Sunday that he had spoken several times with Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Morsi and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in hopes of finding a way to address Israel’s security concerns without further ramping up military operations. “We are actively working with all the parties in the region to see if we can end those missiles being fired without further escalation of violence in the region,” he said.
This is strange; for before the attack began, there was already an "actively working" deal to "end the missiles being fired without further violence in the region" -- as the New York Times itself reported on Friday. But as Israeli negotiator Gershon Baskin wrote in the Times, this agreement was aborted when the Israelis assassinated the very Hamas minister who was negotiating the deal. This "extrajudicial killing" -- part of an attack that, of course, killed several civilians as well, including the 11-month-old son of a BBC cameraman -- was the start of the current operation. And it led, as the Israelis knew -- and hoped -- it would, to retaliatory strikes by Hamas. Baskin writes:
I was able to learn firsthand that Mr. Jabari wasn’t just interested in a long-term cease-fire; he was also the person responsible for enforcing previous cease-fire understandings brokered by the Egyptian intelligence agency. Mr. Jabari enforced those cease-fires only after confirming that Israel was prepared to stop its attacks on Gaza. On the morning that he was killed, Mr. Jabari received a draft proposal for an extended cease-fire with Israel, including mechanisms that would verify intentions and ensure compliance. This draft was agreed upon by me and Hamas’s deputy foreign minister, Mr. Hamad, when we met last week in Egypt. ...
Israel has used targeted killings, ground invasions, drones, F-16s, economic siege and political boycott. The only thing it has not tried and tested is reaching an agreement (through third parties) for a long-term mutual cease-fire. ... The difference between the proposal I drafted in cooperation with my Hamas counterpart and past proposals was that it included both a mechanism for dealing with impending terror threats and a clear definition of breaches. This draft was to be translated and shared with both Mr. Jabari and Israeli security officials, who were aware of our mediation efforts.
The proposal was at least worth testing. Moreover, it included the understanding that if Israel were to take out a real ticking bomb — people imminently preparing to launch a rocket — such a strike would not be considered a breach of the cease-fire and would not lead to escalation.
Instead, Mr. Jabari is dead — and with him died the possibility of a long-term cease-fire.
In other words, the Netanyahu government deliberately scuttled a deal which would have provided exactly what it says it is seeking. They knew the assassination would kill the deal; they knew it would provoke violent relatiation. That is precisely what they wanted.
What's more, it is absolutely impossible that Barack Obama did not know this as well. The US government had to know these negotiations were going on. And even if one takes the position of the extreme Obamalators and believes that the innocent president was kept uninformed of these developments before the attack -- just as he was protected from all knowledge that his FBI was investigating his CIA director for months on end -- he certainly knew of the plan after it was published in the New York Times on November 16 -- two days before he made his statement on November 18.
In other words -- and brace yourself for this shocking revelation -- Barack Obama was lying through his teeth when he regurgitated his empty pieties on Sunday.
Imagine the kind of play Kos would have given to such sinister mendacity had it issued from the gorge of evil George. Imagine what razor-sharp slashings of moral outrage we would have seen from Digby n' Dave had Dick Cheney trotted out such threadbare lies to support the murder of a key official in the midst of peace negotiations. And is it conceivable that Atrios would have "got nothing" if Condi Rice had been issuing "full-throttle support" for an operation that has set the most volatile region in the world ablaze with death and turmoil? No; yet if a Democrat arms, pays for and supports such things, there is no outrage, there is no criticism, there is no analysis. There is only ... nothing.
But Shakespeare knew the self-deluded Lear was wrong: something can indeed come from nothing. In fact, the whole murderous course of the tragedy issues from Cordelia's "nothing." And although the assault on Gaza is as nothing to the progressives, something is happening there. Even as I've been writing this, more details have come in about the attack mentioned in the NYT story above. From the Guardian:
At least 11 members of one family, including five women and four children, were killed when Israel bombed a house in Gaza City on Sunday as the five-day-old war claimed more civilian lives with no sign of a letup in the intense bombardment.
The air strike flattened the home of the Dalou family in the Sheikh Radwan district of Gaza City, causing the biggest death toll in a single incident since the offensive began last Wednesday.
The bodies of the children were pulled from the rubble and taken to the morgue at the Shifa hospital. The dead also included an 80-year-old woman. ... Witnesses said there were chaotic scenes as the dead and injured were brought to the Shifa hospital, which has been on emergency footing since the start of Operation Pillar of Defence. The bodies of four young children lay on two metal trays in the morgue, covered in dust and blood. A crowd of onlookers outside became increasingly distressed as the body of the children's mother was wheeled in, covered in blankets.
But this is of no apparent concern to those so earnestly concerned with peace, justice and the alleviation of human suffering. Those children, that old woman, the grieving survivors -- they must be the wrong people suffering. Or perhaps it's just that the right person is aiding, abetting and supporting their suffering. No need for comment. No need to notice. Nothing to see here.
And thus political tribalism curdles into moral cretinism.
UPDATE: Meanwhile, back in the real world, the London Review of Books has more on the process of deliberate provocation -- and the deliberate scuttling of peace deals -- that lay behind the current round of slaughter in Gaza.
... This time round, on 8 November, a week before Ahmad Jabari was assassinated, Israeli soldiers shot dead 13-year-old Ahmad Abu Daqqa while he was playing football outside his house in Gaza. Palestinian militants retaliated with a bomb and then a missile fired at an armoured personnel carrier, wounding several Israeli soldiers. Israel responded by shelling first another football field and then a mourning tent, killing four civilian non-combatants and wounding dozens. Four Israelis were wounded by the inevitable Palestinian missile volleys that followed. Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate, which typically brokers security agreements relating to the Gaza Strip, stepped up its efforts.
By 12 November, amid demands from Israel’s Home Front Defence minister, Avi Dichter, to ‘reformat’ the Gaza Strip and calls from the transport minister, Yisrael Katz, to cut off the supply of all goods and services to Gaza’s population of 1.5 million until they begged for air, the Egyptians had crafted a ceasefire proposal that was accepted by the Palestinians and – according to the Egyptians – Israel too. With responsibility not only for fighting Israel but also enforcing agreements with it, Jabari began implementing the ceasefire. Two days later he was blown up. ...
Pummelling Gaza yet again was intended to remind all concerned – not least the new Egypt – who makes the rules, though it would also reassure the Israeli electorate they need not fear the prospect of Obama punishing Israel for Netanyahu’s embrace of the Romney/Adelson ticket. As expected, the Obama White House has reiterated its commitment to Israel, and Congress has been busy passing unanimous resolutions supporting Israel’s right to self-defence in its colonial possessions. The positions of most European states have been only marginally less obscene. …
Israeli hesitation about what may lie ahead, in combination with furious diplomacy directed at Washington by Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and others, may lead to a new ceasefire agreement in the coming days. If not, the primary issue for those committed to peace in the Middle East will be to ensure Israel is deprived of the impunity it enjoyed during and after Operation Cast Lead.