Mark Twain is returning to us, in the unexpurgated editions of his much-censored autobiography which will be published in three volumes. And one of his most notable successors in the fine art of anti-imperialist polemic, Arthur Silber, has provided some useful context for some of the views that Twain and his literary executors thought too hot to print in their now-vanished present day.
Many of these passages dealt with Twain’s angry railing against America’s militarist empire-builders, as they perpetrated mass murder and savage torture during the "liberation" of the Philippines from, er, the Filipinos. I will have much more to say on this and related subjects in an upcoming piece on James Bradley’s remarkable new book, The Imperial Cruise, but Silber is already on the case here, so give it a full read.
In fact, Silber has been a man on fire in recent days, posting a series of remarkable essays in rapid-fire fashion. These range from the first two parts of a major new series, "The Demand for Obedience, and Reverence for Authority," savagely witty takedowns of media poltroonery across the political spectrum, super-scary Russian spies, the permanent American occupation of Iraq, and much more. Avail yourself of these incisive insights at the earliest opportunity.
Just for good measure, Silber also answers the musical question that has puzzled our pundit puzzlers till their puzzlers are sore: "Why are we in Afghanistan?" Here’s part of the answer [see original post for links]:
… We hear gasps that grow more and more frequent, as our protagonist finds it progressively difficult to breathe. Unbearable and steadily increasing anxiety suffuses the air. As we contemplate the nerve-wracking spectacle, goosebumps speckle our soul. Finally, the unanswerable question of the ages bursts forth from frothing lips:
"Why, dear God, oh, why, why, why are we in Afghanistan?"
…Because of the critical nature of Afghanistan’s location for those in pursuit of power and control, the primary goal throughout history and continuing today, for Britain, for Russia, for the United States, for others, can be expressed in two words:
That’s the whole thing. Full stop. Being there — because Afghanistan is the strategic gateway to further destinations of immense importance, because a presence in Afghanistan serves to shore up expeditions to other countries, because securing Afghanistan is necessary to a continuing power base in Central Asia.
When we understand this, we can see that all the other purported goals — building a stable democratic government, securing Afghanistan for the Afghans, defeating alleged terrorists, ensuring regional stability for the benefit of all humankind (never solely for the sake of the U.S., or Russia, or Britain or anyone else, may the heavens forfend, but only and always for all humankind, such is the nobility and remarkable lack of self-interest of the ruling class) — all of that is marketing and public relations. The ruling class offers those justifications because they sound so much nicer and more pleasant. Besides, the public gobbles them up with eager ignorance. Sometimes a few members of the public will behave with astonishing impertinence and point out that the marketing ploys don’t seem to comport with facts on the ground. The ruling class doesn’t care about any of that. Shred the PR all you wish: it’s PR. It doesn’t matter. They hope you spend all your time demonstrating in great detail how threadbare and senseless the marketing is. And many of you oblige them. Silly, silly you.
Silber cuts to the crux of the matter. As he notes elsewhere in the piece, the true aims of the imperial project — dominance and loot for the ruling class — have always been completely out in the open. And these aims can be — and have been — and are being accomplished regardless of the putative outcome of each particular adventure, whether it is regarded as a victory, a defeat, a "tragic blunder," etc. etc.
This is a point I have been trying to get at, in my cack-handed way, for years. The avowed intentions and the public outcomes of our imperial wars don’t really matter — because these churnings of blood and corruption are really about something else altogether. I was writing about this back in 2004, in a piece that was necessarily Bush-centric in language, given his ascendancy at the time, but still applies to our entire bipartisan imperial system, even — or rather, especially — under the progressive Peace-Prizer temporarily wearing the Potomac purple:
The whole [Iraq] adventure has been a win-win scenario for the Bushists from the start, no matter how it ends up. This is what many of the opponents of the war – and even most of its now-fretful supporters – have failed to grasp, because they don’t understand what the Bush Family is about.
Put simply, the Bushes represent the confluence of three long-established power factions in the American elite: oil, arms and investments. These groups equate their own interests, their own wealth and privilege, with the interests of the nation – indeed, the world – as a whole. And they pursue these interests with every weapon at their command, including war, torture, deceit and corruption. Democracy means nothing to them – not even in their own country, as we saw in the 2000 election. Laws are just whips to keep the common herd in line; they don’t apply to the elite, as Bush’s own lawyers have openly asserted in the now-famous memos establishing his "inherent power" as Commander-in-Chief to "set aside the law" and order any crime in the name of his self-proclaimed "war on terror."
The Iraq war has been immensely profitable for these Bushist power factions (and their tributary industries, such as construction); billions of dollars in public money have already poured into their coffers. Halliburton has been catapulted from the edge of bankruptcy to the heights of no-bid, open-ended, guaranteed profit. The Carlyle Group is gorging on war contracts. Individual Bush family members are making out like bandits from war-related investments, while dozens of Bushist minions – like Richard Perle, James Woolsey, and Joe Allbaugh — have cashed in their insider chips for blood money.
The aftermath of the war promises equal if not greater riches. Even if the new Iraqi government maintains state control of its oil industry, there are still billions to be made in refining, distribution, servicing and security for oilfields and pipelines, as in Saudi Arabia. Likewise, the new Iraqi military and police forces will require billions more in weapons, equipment and training, bought from the U.S. arms industry – and from the fast-expanding "private security" industry, the politically hard-wired mercenary forces that are the power elite’s latest lucrative spin-off. And as with Saudi Arabia, oil money from the new Iraq will pump untold billions into American banks and investment houses.
But that’s not all. For even in the worst-case scenario, if the Americans had to pull out tomorrow, abandoning everything – their bases, their "commissioners," their contracts, their collaborators – the Bushist factions would still come out ahead. For not only has their already-incalculable wealth been vastly augmented (with any potential losses indemnified by U.S. taxpayers), but their deeply-entrenched sway over American society has also increased by several magnitudes. No matter which party controls the government, the militarization of America is so far gone now it’s impossible to imagine any major rollback in the gargantuan U.S. war machine – 725 bases in 132 countries, annual military budgets nearing $500 billion, a planned $1 trillion in new weapons systems already moving through the pipeline. Indeed, Democrat John Kerry promises even bigger war budgets and more troops if elected.
Nor will either party conceivably challenge the dominance of the energy behemoths – or stand against the American public’s demand for cheap gas, big vehicles and unlimited consumption of a vast disproportion of the world’s oil. As for Wall Street – both parties have long been the eager courtesans of the investment elite, dispatching armies all over the world to protect their financial interests. The power factions whose influence has been so magnified by Bush’s war will maintain their supremacy regardless of the electoral outcome. …
So has Bush’s war brought democracy to Iraq? Has it dealt a blow to terrorism? Has it made America – or Israel, or the world – any safer? No. But it was never intended to do those things. All this death and chaos – this mass murder – has had but one aim: enhancing the power of a handful of elites. This criminal mission has been accomplished. And there is not the slightest chance that any of the chief perpetrators will ever face justice.
Now that, my friends, is victory.