This is my latest column for CounterPunch Magazine, written earlier this month: When I heard of the deadly U.S. strike on the Médecins Sans Frontières facility in Kunduz on October 3, I thought of this fragment of ancient history, written by a lowly scribe years ago:
"One of the first moves in this magnificent feat of arms was the destruction and capture of medical centers. Twenty doctors – and their patients, including women and children – were killed in an airstrike on one major clinic, the UN Information Service reports, while the city's main hospital was seized in the early hours of the ground assault. Why? Because these places of healing could be used as ‘propaganda centers,’ the Pentagon's ‘information warfare’ specialists told the NY Times. Unlike the first attack on Fallujah last spring, there was to be no unseemly footage of gutted children bleeding to death on hospital beds."
The attack on the MSF facility might well be an unintended consequence of the "fog of war," as the Americans claim. (Although just before the strike, Pentagon massagers were opining to their media mouthpieces how awful the Russians were for bombing Syria without the super-duper-ultra-advanced "precision" technology and high-tech intelligence that the USA uses. So why did they strike the Kunduz hospital, having been carefully and continually informed of its location beforehand? And why did they keep bombing even after they'd been told of the supposed error? As the MSF tweeted: “Bombing continued for 30 minutes after American & Afghan military officials in Kabul & Washington first informed of proximity to hospital.”)
But whatever happened in Kunduz, America’s Terror Warriors certainly have form, as the Brits say, when it comes to deliberately targeting medical centers. The passage above was from a column I wrote in 2004 about one of the most brazen war crimes of the 21st century: America’s decimation of Fallujah in Iraq.
The city was marked for destruction after four mercenaries were killed there in the early days of the occupation. The incident was depicted as an act of pure evil by the brutal natives; left unreported in almost every story was the fact that the occupying forces had slaughtered more than a dozen civilians before the reprisal against the mercenaries. An initial punishment assault against the city failed, partly due to the bad PR generated by footage of the horrific civilian casualties, and US forces backed off for a few months. But just after the 2004 election, the Pentagon gave their warrior chief, George Bush, a human sacrifice to celebrate his victory, and launched their second attack on the city. As I noted at the time:
“So while Americans saw stories of rugged ‘Marlboro Men’ winning the day against Satan, they were spared shots of engineers cutting off water and electricity to the city – a flagrant war crime under the Geneva Conventions, as CounterPunch notes, but standard practice throughout the occupation. Nor did pictures of attack helicopters gunning down civilians trying to escape across the Euphrates River – including a family of five – make the TV news, despite the eyewitness account of an AP journalist. Nor were tender American sensibilities subjected to the sight of phosphorous shells bathing enemy fighters – and nearby civilians – with unquenchable chemical fire, literally melting their skin, as the Washington Post reports. Nor did they see the fetus being blown out of the body of Artica Salim when her home was bombed during the ‘softening-up attacks’ that raged relentlessly – and unnoticed – in the closing days of George W. Bush's presidential campaign, the Scotland Sunday Herald reports.”
I don’t know if the carnage in Kunduz was “collateral” or, as in Fallujah, carefully planned. But in many ways, it doesn’t matter. Since the days when Jimmy Carter joined his Saudi allies in creating the worldwide network of violent jihadis, through the expansion of extremist jihad by Ronald Reagan (who called the extremists “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers”) and the systematic campaign to destroy secular governments throughout the Muslim world and empower violent sectarians (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc.) to fill the vacuum, the bipartisan military imperialists in charge of the American state bear the responsibility for an untold — and ever-growing — number of atrocities, committed on every side.
Without the invasion of Iraq, no ISIS. Without America’s arming of a global jihad movement to overthrow the secular government in Afghanistan, no al Qaeda. Without 70 years of American protection of the pushers of the most violent, extremist, retrograde off-shoot of Islam, the corrupt Saudi tyrants — coupled with 70 years of America’s relentless destruction and undermining of every single non-sectarian political movement in the Middle East in favor of tyrants, satraps and puppets — no worldwide “radicalization” of repressed and threatened Muslims.
But don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to be seen as part of the “Blame America First” crowd on this. I don’t hold with such a reductive stance, especially in the face of the vast complexities and nuances of geopolitics. No, when it comes to fixing the primary guilt for the dark thunderclouds of fear, war, madness, extremism, instability, tyranny and chaos that loom over our time, I don’t “blame America first.” I blame America first, second, third, fourth, fifth and last. And I damn the bipartisan leaders who have made this so.
UPDATE: Since this piece was written there has been another American-assissted attack on an MSF facility, this time in Yemen, where with American bombs guided by American intelligence, an MSF clinic was hit repeatedly, for two hours, by America's favorite violent sectarians, the Saudis. (Although of course al Qaeda -- one of the chief beneficiaries of the US-Saudi berskerking in Yemen, and also an increasingly important, and increasingly open ally in Syria -- runs a close second. The Independent has more here.)Add a comment
While we're all going back in time to talk about bigwigs who supported and/or collaborated with the Nazis, let's take a look at this smoking gun that recently appeared in the London Review of Books: documentary proof of the former King of England's treason with the Nazis, supplying them with top-secret info from high-level war strategy meetings. (Of course, I suppose the Mufti of Jerusalem talked the Duke of Windsor into this treachery; as we all know, thanks to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Mufti had magical powers that could make even a good guy like Hitler do bad things.)
This was a letter to the editor in the 8 October issue of the LRB:
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The Duke of Windsor’s War
The Duke of Windsor appears also to have been a traitor (Letters, 10 September and Letters, 24 September). At the outbreak of war in 1939, he was made a major-general attached to the British Military Mission in France. In that capacity he would have attended Allied War Council meetings. It became known after the war that he had made a visit to The Hague in January 1940 (the Netherlands was still neutral then) and paid a visit to the German Embassy there. The following extract is from the German Foreign Policy Documents 1918-45, Series D, Vol. VIII, No. 621. These can be found online.
Minister Zech to State Secretary Weizsäcker
THE HAGUE, February 19, 1940.
DEAR WEIZSÄCKER: The Duke of W., about whom I wrote to you in my letter of the 27th of last month, has said that the Allied War Council devoted an exhaustive discussion at its last meeting to the situation that would arise if Germany invaded Belgium. Reference was made throughout to a German invasion plan said to have been found in an airplane that made a forced landing in Belgium. On the military side, it was held that the best plan would be to make the main resistance effort in the line behind the Belgian-French border, even at the risk that Belgium should be occupied by us. The political authorities are said to have at first opposed this plan: after the humiliation suffered in Poland, it would be impossible to surrender Belgium and the Netherlands also to the Germans. In the end, however, the political authorities became more yielding.
Deep State is a Terror State, Torture State,
Tyrant State — and it’s OK with that.
Deep State was formed to bodyguard elites,
keeping their dominance ever-refreshed.
Deep State doesn’t care what you advocate,
just as long as you toe the unsaid line.
Deep State is cold, lacks true affect;
hates only that which hinders it.
Deep State fences the range of opinion
like a cattle baron stringing barbed wire.
Deep State loves culture war, stokes all sides,
thrives on strife, the bitterer the better.
Deep State is not in full control; it just
knows which way it wants the world to roll.
Deep State kills the leaders it doesn’t like;
a lesson our leaders learned long ago.
Deep State doesn’t care if a whistle’s blown;
it already holds the reins of ‘reform.’
Deep State enjoys the horse-race hoopla,
voters vexed by the vetted and the duped.
Deep State’s wars have no other aim
than to keep our masters’ coffers in coin.
Deep State doesn’t mind blowing up the world,
if the world won’t do what Deep State wants.
Deep State is Red, Deep State is Blue;
Deep State don’t give a damn for you.
The shooting in Roseburg, Oregon, is turning into a David Lynch movie. First, there's the sheriff who's a Sandy Hook "truther," now there's the shooter's mother who was stockpiling weapons and taking her troubled son to remote shooting ranges. She believed the government was about to confiscate guns, so she kept buying them. But here's the truth: it is now far easier to buy weapons, and much harder to trace who owns them, than at ANY TIME IN US HISTORY. So where do so many people get the idea that the 'guvmint' is coming to take their weapons -- when the 'guvmint' can't even pass a single law regulating gun sales, and when there has NEVER been a single 'guvmint' proposal to "confiscate" guns? These hysterical lies stem directly from the rightwing echo chamber: Murdoch, Limbaugh, the NRA, etc. So how much responsibility do these deliberate liars bear for the actions of those who believe their base falsehoods? Plenty.
That said, let's be clear about one other point: A president who directs drone bombings and death squads, who sends his secret armies to kill, subvert and sow division in 135 countries (at last count), who cheerfully allies himself with ISIS's progenitors, Saudi Arabia, and gives them bombs and military intelligence to wage aggressive war in Yemen, killing thousands of innocent civilians, then protects his honored killers from UN investigation -- this leader has zero moral standing to shed crocodile tears about the "violence in our society." This isn't a partisan issue; it's a poison being injected into the national bloodstream from every side.Add a comment
"Lone nut" gunmen: natural fruit of the system. Hypercapitalism destroys social, family, community and economic bonds; it sews division, isolation, competition, greed; lauds force and violence and war as supreme values; turns rape and murder into nightly entertainment; dehumanizes and commodifies human beings at every turn ... and then we wonder why our society produces so many troubled, isolated, violent souls out there. A system set up on dehumanization and moral insanity is bound to produce the kind of damaged psyches we see falling prey to the hate that fills the nightmind of the internet -- and the broad daylight of Establishment violence and brutality -- and who then go walking into schools and churches and workplaces to act out the destructive chaos they hear in their heads ... and see in the world.
Sudden, murky tectonic shifts going on in Moscow; unreported in the West
From a friend in Moscow in last week: "Stuff is happening in Moscow. I'm not putting it together yet, but "things have changed." Putin is suddenly pulling out of Ukraine. TV has suddenly stopped ragging on the US. Russia bombs ISIS, oops, no, the other opposition; then bombs ISIS. Yesterday I watched for 4 astonishing hours as Putin listened to dozens of speakers in the human rights council tell him straight to his face how his government has failed in the courts, in lawmaking, in finance - virtually everywhere. I don't ever remember seeing Putin take so much public criticism in one fell swoop (TV Rain ran it). Today this tidbit - that Putin has signed an order to put up a memorial - a Wall of Grief - to victims of repressions. Almost none of this could have happened over the last 2 to 3 years. Something has changed to make this particular stew of events possible now."
Seen anything about this in the Western press? No. They're not interested in what is really happening in Russia, only in their fantasy version of Putin and Kremlinland, which they chop and change as they please to suit whatever their agenda is at any given moment.
Follow-up on guns
Beyond the systemic, theoretical issues noted above, there are many common-sense, practical measures we could take to reduce gun deaths in short run -- even without "taking away everyone's guns," as the fetishists claim at every suggestion of even the slightest regulation of this deadly technology. In fact, gun use has been heavily regulated throughout most of US history. It is only relatively recently that gun ownership has acquired a religious fervour that brooks no controls whatsoever on the sacred object. Certainly, when I was growing up in the arch-traditional, Bible-Belt, hunting-dog South decades ago, there was none of the bristling defensiveness that characterises the "gun debate" today -- much less the extremist push for "open carry" laws, which the traditional gun-owners I grew up with would have thought absolutely insane.
But the fact is, if you can regulate deadly technology like automobiles without "taking all our precious cars away," you can regulate guns, as Nicholas Kristof notes. True, regulating gun sales and gun use will not eliminate every gun death, no more than having driver's licenses and traffic laws prevent every auto death. But as Kristof points out, it would reduce the number of gun deaths considerably, while leaving people's liberties intact. This seems a worthy, reasonable goal -- and, again, would actually accord with the "traditional values" that our modern right-wingers profess to champion. But apparently Americans would prefer to live in a society where, as Kristof reports, "more preschoolers are shot dead each year (82 in 2013) than police officers are in the line of duty (27 in 2013)" and where the powerful gun lobby fiercely opposes all research into making guns safer.
Again, this is not a traditional or conservative stance at all; this is radical extremism, ushering in an aggressive, paranoid, violent society, completely at odds with any kind of genuine "traditional values" at all.Add a comment
The Daily Telegraph is an odd duck. Loathsome in almost every respect — from its nutball, feudal lord owners to its repulsive politics — from time to time it will suddenly print a piece of reportage that undercuts the prevailing propaganda narratives of the Anglosphere’s oh-so-very-free press.
For example, in the midst of America’s disastrous occupation of Iraq in the last decade, the Telegraph — pro-war Thatcherite Tory to the bone — published a remarkably in-depth story detailing the murderous “dirty war” being fought by the US/UK security apparat in Iraq: death squads, torture, arming extremists, deliberately sewing sectarian division, etc. What’s more, the paper traced a clear line of the UK side of the scheme back to the very similar black ops that helped keep Northern Ireland in deadly ferment for so many years. (For more on the story and other revelations of the programme, see "Ulster on the Eurphrates: The Anglo-American Dirty War in Iraq.")
I don’t know what prompts these sudden spasms of truth-telling in such an odious rag — probably moves in some game in the bowels of the Deep State, one faction of apparatchiks trying to undercut another. But they’ve done it again this week, albeit on a smaller scale than the Iraq dirty war piece, with a story by Peter Oborne, reporting from Damascus, where, as he notes, a diverse, secular regime (repressive to be sure, but much less repressive than, say, Saudi Arabia, and far more religiously diverse than, say, Egypt — or even Israel) is being torn apart by monomaniacal extremists backed with money, weapons, bombs and gear from the West. A few excerpts:
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… On Palm Sunday, I went to the Old City and walked up Straight Street, following the route taken by St Paul after he had been blinded (Kokab, the scene of his Damascene conversion, is now in rebel hands). At the Greek Catholic church, I watched ceremonies of breathtaking beauty – in precincts that had been struck twice in the past week, though happily causing no injuries. On the way back, I passed a man looking dazed next to his ruined car. A mortar had struck it just a few minutes earlier. When I picked up the shell casing, it was still warm.
… People here see their country as being threatened by foreign powers (above all Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, all backed by the West) who are sponsoring the jihadist groups that make up the opposition. I was struck by the fact that this argument is not made only by the Alawite coterie around the president. I also heard it from Sunni Muslims, Christians and members of the various other cultural and religious groups that abound in Syria.
How can this square with the Western narrative that President Assad’s government, with the aid of a handful of tribal followers, is hell-bent on the destruction of the rest of the country? Consider the facts. Only a handful of members of Assad’s 30-strong cabinet (I was told two) are Alawite. The prime minister is Sunni, as are the interior minister, the justice minister, the foreign minister, even the defence minister. The delegation that travelled to Geneva for the failed peace talks several months ago was also almost entirely composed of Sunni Muslims (though they would probably reject sectarian terms, and prefer to think of themselves just as Syrians).
Nor is it merely the political class that thinks in this way. Last night I had dinner with a young doctor. He showed me a Facebook exchange that he had recently had with a former friend from medical school, who has joined the extremist opposition group al-Nusra. The doctor had put out a public status aimed at all jihadists asking them: “Please stop shooting at us with your mortars.” He was astonished to receive a reply from his friend: “I will put a bullet in your heads.” My doctor friend messaged him back: “I am not afraid of you.” This was followed by a horrifying response. “We love death, we drink blood. Our president is dead bodies. Wait for our exploding cars to kill you.”
… [A shopkeeper] walked me along an alleyway to his home and pointed to a destroyed balcony where his mother had liked to sit. Two months ago, she had been resting there as usual when she was killed by a direct hit from a mortar. “Your government,” he told me, “is the worst ever; they want Syria to be a democracy and ally themselves with Saudi Arabia, which has nothing to do with democracy.”
… I am well aware that the government has committed dreadful atrocities, though I suspect that some of the accounts have been exaggerated. Nevertheless, I do think the words of my shopkeeper friend are worth pondering. If the insurgents who killed his mother win the war, there will be no Christian churches in Syria any more (just as there aren’t in Saudi Arabia at the moment). Life will be similarly terrible for many of the ordinary Muslims who make up the great majority of the population.
There are no “good guys” in Syria’s civil war. But we should not be blind to the fact that there is a project out there to destroy its rich, pluralist and unbelievably intricate culture and replace it with a monochrome version of Wahhabi Islam, of the kind favoured by Saudi mullahs. And for reasons that history may come to judge very severely, Britain, the United States, and the West have been aiding and abetting this project.
Looks like the Times is giving the Guardian a run for their money in the "most ludicrously trivial slanting of Corbyn coverage" contest. First the Guardian noted the lèse majesté of Corbyn's lip movements (or lack thereof) during the national anthem; now the Times damns his bicycle for its associations with far-left mass murder. (The kind Corbyn is obviously plotting for all those who resist his evil plans to create a howling, hellish Britain with less war and fewer poor).
An innocuous picture of Corbyn leaving his house was larded with feverish implications by Times, which noted (in the first paragraph!) that the Labour leader was, on this occasion, taking a cab to a meeting and leaving behind his — gasp! — "Chairman Mao-style bicycle."
And this is just the first week of his party leadership! What next? “Jeremy Corbyn, whose hair colour is eerily reminiscent of that of Jimmy Saville, was spotted today in a shop buying pencils (an obvious indication of his Luddite intention to reduce Britain to a pre-Industrial Revolution wasteland).”
“BREAKING NEWS!! Jeremy Corbyn, who refused to praise our Queen in song, was caught today — on video! — actually mouthing the lyrics to a Cat Stevens tune as he walked down the street. He won’t honour the Queen, but he’s happy filling his mouth with the words of a MUSLIM!”
“In yet another revealing — and disturbing incident — Jeremy Corbyn was spotted today using his two lower limbs to propel himself forward — JUST LIKE ADOLF HITLER DID! Is there any doubt now that this madman is a threat to our national security, as the PM rightly said???”
At this rate, they’re going to run out of demonization material by the end of this month. What will they have left by the time of the actual election in 2020? “One onlooker said that Corbyn was literally EATING THE HEADS off NEWBORN KITTENS while chewing wads of khat (a DRUG directly connected to AFRICANS) and having SEX with BURQA-clad MUSLIM PROSTITUTES on top of MARGARET THATCHER’S GRAVE!! Is THIS the man we want to see in No. 10 next week??”
It’s going to a long five years…Add a comment
I’m very sorry Joe Biden’s son died recently. I truly am. I know it’s a deep, genuine pain, “overwhelming,” as he told Stephen Colbert, and he will carry it the rest of his life. But when I see all our earnest media progressives gushing over Joe’s “authenticity” in sharing that pain on national TV, I also think of the hundreds of thousands of people who lost children and other kith and kin in a pointless war that Joe not only voted for, but also actively encouraged with heated Senate hearings that whipped up war fever.
That faithful service to the demented war aims of the Bush Administration was also the “authentic” Joe Biden in action. Yet now we have many of the same earnest progressives who fiercely opposed that war, who eloquently denounced the invasion and diligently catalogued the monstrous crimes and follies of the occupation, praising one of its chief bipartisan architects for his “authenticity” in speaking of precisely the kind of grief he helped inflict on thousands upon thousands upon thousands of innocent people. The parade of such people who are grieving for their losses as deeply and genuinely as Biden is grieving — and because of actions that Biden directly and eagerly abetted — would take days on end to pass across Stephen Colbert’s stage, where Joe sat in comfort and basked in the sympathy of the nation. For each one of these — whose human pain is the equivalent of Biden’s — to sit down and tell their story as he did would take years on end.
But who would listen? Who would care? No one cared then — Joe Biden certainly didn’t, when he was recklessly peddling cooked intelligence and bellicose bombast, and warning of the “imminent danger” posed by the broken, bombed-out, hedged-in, already half-occupied country of Iraq. He didn’t worry about the suffering to come for individuals who loved their children exactly as he loved his. And he didn’t worry about that suffering when it came to pass in the war he helped engender.
But now he has lost a child, another child; his young daughter was killed long ago, with her mother, in a car accident. Now he grieves again. And now he is a hero of “authenticity” for many progressives, who declare that this authenticity alone qualifies him to be president. Yet it looks as if this new grief has taught him nothing, given him no insight into the suffering of others. It has not led him, a religious believer, to a conviction of his sins, to an awareness of the cruel and pointless, endless horror he helped inflict on multitudes of innocent people — a horror that continues to this day, as the blood and chaos spawned by the war he supported continues to produce fresh victims without ceasing, every hour, in an ever-widening circle.
If Joe Biden’s grief, authentic as it is, does not lead him to a confrontation with the terrible crime that sits in the center of his soul, then what good is it to anyone? What good is it to him, or to the son he’s lost? Without that insight, that conviction, without confession and recantation and acts of expiation, his televised grief and private suffering will be as pointless and meaningless as the war that he and Bush and Cheney and Hillary created.
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” — James 2:14, 20Add a comment
In September 2000, an advocacy group called "Project for New American Century," led by Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and others -- published a "blueprint" for "transforming" America's future. PNAC acknowledged that the "revolutionary" changes it envisaged could take decades to bring about -- unless, they said, the United States was struck by "some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor." One year later, after the disputed election of George W. Bush, came the "catalyzing" event of the 9/11 attacks -- which indeed "transformed" America's future in many "revolutionary" ways.
Here are some of the changes PNAC called for in 2000, all of which came about after the "new Pearl Harbor" they had hoped for: An attack on Iraq. Vast increases in military spending. Planting new American bases all over the world. Embracing the concept of "pre-emptive war" and unilateral action as cornerstones of national strategy. Developing sophisticated new technologies to "control the global commons of cyberspace" by closely monitoring communications and transactions on the Internet. Pursuing the development of "new methods of attack – electronic, 'non-lethal, biological…in new dimensions, in space, cyberspace and perhaps the world of microbes."
Oddly enough, although "regime change" in Iraq was clearly a priority for PNAC, it had little to do with Saddam Hussein and his brutal rule. Instead, removing Saddam was tied to the larger goal of establishing a permanent U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf in order to "secure energy supplies" and preclude any other power from dominating the vital oil regions of the Middle East and Central Asia. The PNAC report puts it quite plainly:
"The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."
This is why the Bush Administration offered a constantly shifting menu of rationales for the impending attack on Iraq: because the decision to remove Saddam was taken long ago, as part of a larger strategic plan, and had little to do with any imminent threat from the broken-backed Iraqi regime, which at that time was constantly bombed, partially occupied (with U.S. forces already working in the autonomous Kurdish territories) and swarming with UN inspectors. If the strategic need for the attack "transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein," then almost any rationale will do.
The same desire to "secure energy supplies" and prevent any other power from gaining dominance in the oil regions also underlies current and recent US policies in Libya, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. That's why we see the same shifting rationales, see policies that on the surface seem to make no sense: we fight al Qaeda in Iraq, we support al Qaeda in Yemen and Syria; we say defeating ISIS is of supreme global importance, but we prevent other countries (Iran, Russia) from joining the fight; we push "regime change" to "liberate" Libya and Syria while partnering with one of most repressive, extremists nations on earth, Saudi Arabia, and arming other dictators like Sisi in Egypt. We are "fighting" terrorism while turning whole nations (Iraq, Libya, Syria) into swamps of ruin and violence where terrorism can breed. None of these contradictory rationales make sense on the surface. But viewed as part of an ongoing, bipartisan agenda of securing American dominance of economically strategic lands -- and of "discouraging advanced industrial nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger regional or global role" (as an earlier Cheney-Wolfowitz document put it) -- it becomes easier to see a pattern in today's howling chaos.
This is not "conspiracy theory." These motives and agendas are out in the open, and always have been. Our bipartisan leaders eagerly trumpet them, and declare that it is our right and our duty to dominate the world in this way. What's more, any actions we take to accomplish this -- wars, regime change, intrusive surveillance, drone campaigns, death squads, torture, killing thousands of innocent people (mere "collateral damage"), fomenting more hatred and extremism, breaking our own laws, turning our own people into fearful cowards ready to throw away their liberties to "stay safe," etc. -- are automatically just and righteous, because we are "exceptional."
So yes, the "transformations" wrought in American policy -- and the American psyche -- since that "new Pearl Harbor" have indeed been "revolutionary." Post-9/11, we are all living in a PNAC world.
Note: The above post was adapted (and updated) from a much more detailed piece originally written in 2002, which can be found here.Add a comment
Our bold Saudi allies, using US weapons and guidance, struck another blow for freedom in Yemen this weekend, slaughtering 44 civilians including mourners at a funeral for people killed by the Saudis' enemies. The US is currently helping the extremist, misogynist, anti-Semitic, terrorist-supporting, head-chopping Saudi tyrants "restore" a former Yemen leader who took power in a single-candidate election. Because, as we all know, spreading freedom and democracy is the only reason we are involved in the Middle East. That's why we're working with the Saudi tyrants to overthrow the Syrian tyrant with the help of the religious tyrants of ISIS and al Qaeda whom we are also fighting when we are not working with them to overthrow the Syrian tyrant with whom we used to work closely in torturing suspects in the War on Terror but whom we now seek to overthrow just like we did Libya's Gadafy with whom we also worked until we overthrew him and turned his country over to ISIS and al Qaeda whom we are now fighting in Syria when we are not working with them in Syria (and Yemen) along with the terrorist-supporting religious extremists in Saudi Arabia. All of this, of course, springing from the deeply humanitarian exercise in freedom-spreading known as the Iraq War of 2003 (not to be confused with Gulf War of 1991, or the super-righteous War of Humanitarian Annihilation Against Children and the Elderly 1991-2003, during which the progressive Clinton administration openly accepted responsibility for the deaths of at least 500,000 Iraqi children at the time -- "We think it's worth it") which opened the door for al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni extremists groups whom we armed and funded during the famous "Surge" and later went on to become ISIS whom we are now fighting when we're not working with them to overthrow the Syrian tyrant and I think this is where we came in … but God almighty, is there no way out?
"Oh, of course there is," say our bipartisan leaders, from Jeb and Donald to Hillary and Bernie and everyone in between: "MORE WAR!"Add a comment
(UPDATED BELOW.) The Kim Davis gay marriage license case is a completely manufactured scandal, designed precisely to produce the current result: a “martyr” jailed for her beliefs, exciting media frenzy and fueling profitable fundraising and grassroots recruitment for ideological agitators. The actual issue is quite simple, and doesn’t involve “religious freedom” at all. But there is something more sinister going on behind these Kentucky conniptions.
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis swore an oath — before God — to “faithfully execute the duties of my office” when she took the post. These duties now include issuing same-sex marriage licenses, in line with the laws of Kentucky and the United States. If she now feels, upon her conscience, that she cannot do that, then she should simply resign her office. If she stays in the job but still refuses to execute the duties of her office, then she is literally breaking her oath to God. Obviously, she prefers to be an oathbreaker before the Lord than to give up the manufactured status of “martyr” she and her well-off backers are now promoting.
There is no issue of “religious freedom” here. If she believes that same-sex marriage violates the divine order — as, in my lifetime, millions of people believed (and some still believe) about interracial marriage — then she is free to express that belief and proclaim it throughout the land. No one will stop her. She does not, however, have the right to serve as a public official and, in violation of her sacred oath, refuse to carry out the required duties. “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out,” said Jesus. If thy job requirements offend thee, Kim Davis, pluck them out — quit the job which you admit you can no longer perform, and move on. But there is more to this manufactured martyrdom than meets the (offended eye).
Jesus also once picked up a coin that was stamped with the emperor’s image, and said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” This was his answer to those trying to provoke him into advocating a refusal to pay Roman taxes: a criminal offense. If you use Roman coinage, then pay Roman taxes; this is part of the murky compromises of every day life, in any political system — it was not, in his view, part of “the things that are God’s.” Kim Davis made the decision not only to make the murky compromises we all must make in order to eat and live (including using the coinage of a system we may oppose or despise); she went even further, and became part of the government system itself.
The “things that are Caesar’s” in such a secular system include the law. If you voluntarily put yourself into a position of executing the law — of becoming, in that sense, a “thing that is Caesar’s” —then you must either do it, or walk away from it. Again, this is not a situation where she is being forced to carry out this law, forced to hold this office; she has every right to say, “I cannot in good conscience do this thing; I cannot render this unto Caesar. Thus, I must walk away, and attend more to the things that are God’s.”
Isn’t that what someone who genuinely sought to follow the Jesus depicted in the Gospels would do? But this is not what Davis has done. Following the dictates of what has become a politicized perversion of Christianity into a militant, militarized cultural nationalism, Davis has instead provoked a “crisis,” to make herself a whited sepulchre of hypocritical righteousness — and rightwing media fame. Who knows, maybe she’ll end up with her own reality show out of this; the nation surely needs another good Christian TV family after the sad martyrdom of the Duggars. At the very least, she should get a guest shot on Duck Dynasty, some gab-time with Sarah Palin, and years of riding the rubber-chicken circuit, telling the story of her persecution.
Then there is the problem of precedent — which is precisely what Davis and her ideological backers are trying to create. She is, in fact, asserting the primacy of a Christian sharia: there is a “higher law” above secular law — and secular institutions must conform to it. Building on the “Hobby Lobby” decision —which extended the already pernicious doctrine of “corporate personhood” to a metaphysical level, declaring that corporations can actually have religious beliefs — Davis and her Christianist defenders are seeking to advance and entrench the “principle” that religious beliefs trump (pardon the pun) all other considerations, in all situations.
But wait a minute: what’s good for the fundamentalist Christian goose is good for the fundamentalist Muslim gander, right? What would stop a Muslim office from evoking sharia and refuse to carry out a secular law? Or how about this? imagine the outcry among these same political Christianists if, say, a fervent Catholic refused to issue a marriage license to Davis because of her multiple marriages and divorces? Davis’ serial traducing of the sacred rite of marriage in the Catholic understanding would be highly offensive to many. Should she then be denied a marriage license the next time she decides to get married — and would the Catholic official who denies it be considered a martyr by Fox News?
But course, Davis and her Christianist backers don’t worry about that. They are not concerned with the logical conclusion of their stance, because logic doesn’t enter into it. It’s a matter of militant faith.They are not asserting the primacy of religious belief in general over secular institutions — only the primacy of their own horribly constricted, culture-bound, hollowed-out, hysterical understanding of one sliver of Christian sectarianism. It’s “their” Christianity that should reign supreme, not any other religion, or any other understanding of Christianity.
So make no mistake: when Davis and her backers speak of “religious freedom,” they mean the freedom to impose their own religious beliefs on everyone else. Their ultimate goal is to merge the things that are Caesar’s with the things that are God’s — and they alone will determine what the will of God should be for every person, every institution.
(UPDATE): A couple of further thoughts. In writing the above, I don't mean to make a fetish of the "law," or to deny that there are moral considerations "above" or outside the law. Law is a human construct, not a Platonic form or divine order. It can be and is used, often, to countenance and perpetuate evil. Many if not most of the worst atrocities in history were "legal." For example, slavery was once "legal" in the US; although the practice was restricted to the Southern states, it was upheld on the federal level in the Dred Scott decision: slaves were the "legal" property of their masters, and were to be "lawfully" returned to their owners if they "illegally" escaped from their captivity.
A "law," then, can certainly be morally wrong. (Indeed, as laws are written -- and enforced -- by the powerful, largely to protect their own interests, injustice and immorality are inevitable in the framework of "law," to varying degrees.)
But that is not at issue in this case. Davis has willingly made herself a servant of the law; she has actually sworn before God to uphold the law as a public officeholder. Her malefaction here is not that she is somehow insulting a sacrosanct ideal of "law" by her action (or rather, her inaction), but simply that she is deliberately refusing to carry out a task which she has freely taken on. No one is compelling her to act against her conscience; she is simply refusing to give up her perks and powers while denying same-sex couples the rights to which they are entitled in the society in which they live. Her "crime" is not holding a certain religious belief; her offence is abuse of office.Add a comment