And so the great historical presidential campaign of 2008 is finally at an end. By every reasonable and legitimate measure, Barack Obama will be the winner. But of course “reasonable and legitimate measures” mean little when dealing with deliberately fomented chaos and chicanery of the American electoral process, the laughingstock of the rest of the world, whose people stand in slackjawed amazement as they watch and wait — in dreadful impotence — to see which hegemon will emerge from the stormcloud of filth, lies, ambition and money that howls around the campaign trail.
It has been, as usual, a bizarre, even lunatic experience, completely untethered from reality, obsessed with trivia, gossip and spin, and emptied, again deliberately, of anything resembling substance. Vague hope is offered by one side, vague, wiggly fear by the other. “Change” is the universal mantra, but both sides have fully and unashamedly embraced all the fundamental tenets and practices of the current power structure: militarism, corporatism, authoritarianism. Both candidates enthusiastically support the so-called War on Terror and the so-called War on Drugs, with all of their horrendous violence and corruption. Both champion unrestricted surveillance on ordinary citizens, and draconian punishments for the millions incarcerated in cramped and increasingly privatized prisons, where the poor and luckless are abandoned to the depradations of gangs and the brutality of ill-paid, ill-trained guards. Both back the inexorable growth of the death penalty to cover an ever-wider array of offenses, even non-lethal crimes. Both support the so-called “bailout,” the gargantuan redistribution of wealth from working people to the fraudulent rich.
Where then is the promised “change”? A radical imperial faction might be replaced by one slightly more moderate in a few areas (although not in terms of the state’s war machine, its global empire of bases and its commitment to geopolitical domination). This may result in a few differences here and there for many people (a not insignificant consideration for those affected, of course), but it does not constitute any kind of genuine “change” in the operations of power.
What’s more, as Arthur Silber has often noted, this factional transfer will also have the effect of blunting the already-meager criticism of these brutal operations of the power structure. Many “progressives” will turn apologist for interventions and escalations when they are instigated by one of “their own” (as they imagine the center-right technocrat Obama to be). The Right will certainly attack Obama’s foreign policy with hysterical denunciations — but only because they will think he is not brutal enough (and, of course, because he is black, and because they will feel psychosexually humiliated by the fact that one of their own clique is not in power). But we’ll deal further with issue in a subsequent post.
Nowhere is the irreality of the campaign more glaring than in regard to Iraq. This truly monstrous endeavor — which was launched with precisely the same kind of falsification, manipulation and blood-firing propaganda that attended the Nazi invasion of Poland, and has left more than a million innocent people dead and almost five million driven from their homes — has been a non-issue in the campaign. It is as if it never happened, and is not still happening, day after day. Or rather, it is as if it has no meaning, no importance, no moral weight whatsoever. The supposed “anti-war” candidate has never condemned the conflict for what it is — an abominable crime, an indelible stain on the name of America — but criticizes it only as “bad policy,” a misguided effort ineptly executed. That is, until the advent of the “surge,” which both Obama and McCain agree has been a wild success. Both men continually bow to the wisdom and greatness of General David Petraeus, who like another bland and bloodless figure, Vladimir Putin, has mysteriously risen from obscurity to the commanding heights of power — literally so, as he has now taken charge of the raging guts of the empire: its wars of domination in the oil lands and distribution lines of the “arc of crisis” that stretches from the Horn of Africa to the Hindu Kush.
The Democratic surrender on the Iraq issue has been breathtaking, though not surprising, given the party’s craven performance in supporting the war since regaining control of Congress in 2006. Obama is ready to “move on” from Iraq to his promised escalation of the quagmire in Afghanistan and his stern promises to “curb Russian aggression,” while McCain too is eager to proclaim “victory” in the raped and broken land, and start splashing around in various other imperial puddles. In this, they are simply — and inevitably — reflecting the views of the entire political and media establishments (with a very few notable exceptions). The result has been a jarring and dangerous dislocation between perception and reality. The American elite believe Iraq is basically behind them now, aside from a bit of mopping up and tinkering with the “status of forces agreement.” But as Patrick Cockburn, one of the most insightful and experienced witnesses of the long war crime in Iraq, reports in The National, there has been no victory or resolution in Iraq, nor is there likely to be anytime soon. From Cockburn:
I was in Baghdad during the first half of October and then flew to New York. Never has there been such a deep gap between what Americans think is happening in Iraq and the reality on the ground. Senator John McCain keeps celebrating the supposed triumph of the “surge”, and seems to imagine that “victory in Iraq” is now in sight. His exotic running mate Sarah Palin sneers at the “defeatist” Barack Obama. And Obama, afraid to appear unpatriotic, has recanted his earlier doubts about the surge and attempted to avoid discussion of Iraq in general. With American voters understandably absorbed by the financial crash and coming depression, attention to events in Iraq has evaporated: the American media have barely mentioned the rejection of the SOFA.
In New York I found it strange that so many people believed the surge had brought an end to violence in Iraq. It was a curious sort of military victory, I observed, that required more troops in Iraq today – 152,000 – than before the surge began. The best barometer for the real state of security in Iraq, I kept telling people, is the behaviour of the 4.7 million Iraqi refugees inside and outside the country. Many are living in desperate circumstances but dare not go home. Ask an Iraqi in Baghdad how things are, and he may well say “better”. But he means better than the bloodbath of two years ago: “better” does not mean “good”.
A small story in the New York Times on Monday underscores this grim fact:
… the tragedy of one family in Kirkuk is a reminder of just how dangerous life in Iraq continues to be. In the past year, Khudaer Muhammad Abdullah, 49, endured the loss of his two older sons. On Sunday he lost his last son, and his 4-year-old daughter is now hospitalized with serious wounds. His last son, Muhammad Khudaer Muhammad, 7, was killed when part of a rocket-propelled grenade exploded on a vacant lot where he was playing soccer with three other children, according to police reports.
Muhammad was killed instantly in the blast. His friend Ahmed Hamid Jelu, 9, lost both legs and died at a hospital shortly afterward. Two other children — Hassan Dhaya, 7, and Muhammad’s sister, Ahlan Khudaer Muhammad — were seriously wounded.
Mr. Abdullah, a shepherd, said that he had just returned from leading his sheep to pasture when Muhammad asked permission to play soccer with some friends in the lot across the road from the family’s home. bout 15 minutes later, around 3 p.m., Mr. Abdullah heard an explosion.
“Their bodies were completely torn apart by the blast,” Mr. Abdullah said. His son, he surmised, must have been sitting on the ground waiting for the ball to be passed to him, because he found Muhammad seated. An official at Kirkuk’s morgue later said that Muhammad’s head had been blown off.
That was just the latest tragedy to befall Mr. Abdullah’s family, and it has left him wondering if there is such a thing as a safe place to live here. He already had lost his two older sons as a result of the war, he said. First, Muazzaz, 19, was kidnapped and killed. Then last month, Saad, 21, was killed in a suicide bombing near the Kirkuk police academy, where he was a student….
Mr. Abdullah said that he had moved to Kirkuk in 1987 to flee the violence that the war between Iran and Iraq brought to his home city of Basra.
“Where should we go now?” he asked. “Death faces us everywhere.”
A small story, dealing largely with the secondary effects of the society-gutting forces unleashed — and often deliberately empowered — by the “bad, poorly executed” policy of America’s aggression in Iraq: unimportant individuals, nobodies, losers, floatsam on the waves set in motion by the geopolitical games and greed of powerful elites — such as the archons in Washington who stoked both sides in the Iran-Iraq War, prolonging the conflict, worsening it, egging it on, delighted to see what Churchill liked to call the “recalcitrant tribes” killing each other in their hundreds of thousands.
And now hundreds of thousands more nobodies are dead, victims of the same irreality, the same blindness to reality. As Cockburn reports:
The American problem in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein has always been political rather than military. Simply put, the Americans have had too few friends in Iraq, and their allies have sided with the US for tactical reasons alone. The majority Shia community initially co-operated with the US in order to achieve political domination, and it needed American military force to crush the Sunni Arab uprising of 2004-7. But the Shia leaders always wanted power for themselves and never intended to share it with the Americans in the long term. The Sunni guerrillas did surprisingly well against the American army, but their community was decisively defeated in the bloody battle for Baghdad fought by government death squads and sectarian militias. It was this defeat – and not simply hostility to al Qa’eda in Iraq – that led the Sunni rebels to seek their own alliance with the US.
As we have stated here over and over: the “success” of the surge — that is, the relative drop in the horrific death rate in the occupied land — has been due largely to the vicious ethnic cleansing sponsored and supported by American power. The American presence in Iraq began in murder, it has been sustained by murder, and when and if it ever ends, it will leave more murder behind. Yet according to our national leaders, our great and good, no crime has been committed there. No one is responsible. No lessons have been learned — except of course the need to “surge,” to escalate, to drop more bombs, kill more people, round up more captives, more quickly and more efficiently. This is what both Obama and McCain promise for Afghanistan, as Iraq withers away into a forgotten, smoldering ruin.