Empire Burlesque
Obama Sends a Signal to the Few Remaining Suckers Who Believe in the Rule of Law
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 03 August 2009 22:29

For anyone still harboring a few scraps of vestigial hope that the change of administration effected by the 2008 election would restore even a thin, weak, straggly lineament thin of the rule of law in the United States, the recent opinion piece by Barack Obama's hand-picked CIA chief, the doleful Establishment water-toter Leon Panetta, will tell you all you need to know.

In the friendly confines of the authoritarian newsletter known as the Washington Post -- Panetta, the weak reed appointed precisely because of his weakness and reedness by Obama, who then surrounded the little puppet with some of the most complicit torture mavens of the Bush Regime to really run the CIA show -- delivered himself of one of the most cringe-worthy performances by a high public official since the ritual abasements of Stalin's 1930s show trials. In this case, however, Panetta was not making a ludicrous, outrageous confession of false crimes he never committed; instead, he was making a ludicrous, outrageous defense of real crimes committed by Obama's predecessors -- and in the process justifying his boss's craven (if entirely predictable) failure to faithfully execute the laws of the United States, as he swore to do in front of so many swooning millions just a few months ago, and prosecute the top Bushists for their manifest (not to mention openly confessed) high crimes.

In the piece, Panetta followed the Dick Cheney party line that the Obama Administration has adopted whole cloth. Anyone fooled by the stilted kabuki theater staged in the past few months -- i.e., a purported "great conflict" between Obama and Cheney over torture and other Terror War issues -- has, as they say, rocks in the head. For Obama has pushed the Cheney line at every turn -- in speeches, in policy decisions and in court actions. And what is that line? In brief, that Bush and Cheney were noble public servants whose every possible excess can be excused by their zealous love and concern for the American people. That's the broad overview; getting down to brass tacks, the Cheney line is that any act of the Bush Administration that on the surface appears to be a flagrant violation of settled U.S. law was in fact perfectly justified by legal memos written, to order, by White House lawyers.

This is the sum total of the arguments advanced by Cheney and various other Bush apologists in recent months. Can anyone deny that these are the precise positions also taken by the Obama Administration? Well, if it wasn't specific enough for you before, Panetta has made it crystal clear. He writes:

The time has come for both Democrats and Republicans to take a deep breath and recognize the reality of what happened after Sept. 11, 2001. The question is not the sincerity or the patriotism of those who were dealing with the aftermath of Sept. 11. The country was frightened, and political leaders were trying to respond as best they could. Judgments were made. Some of them were wrong. But that should not taint those public servants who did their duty pursuant to the legal guidance provided.


The only minor point of disagreement between Cheney and Obama on this point can be found in Panetta's milksop concession the "some" of the "judgments" made by the Bush Administration were "wrong." But this is simply the usual factional quibbling seen around any imperial court. The core argument is the same: the attacks on September 11 justified any and all reactions in response, however illegal, heinous, murderous and atrocious.

(I would just like to interject a personal note here. I am an American citizen, and I was not "frightened" after the September 11 attacks. Nor was I "frightened" by the London attacks on July 7, 2005, even though I was in London that day. I have never been so "frightened" of terrorist attacks -- not even in the first minutes and hours after September 11 -- that I was willing to jettison the U.S. constitution, not to mention all rational judgment and common and moral sense, and let the government do "whatever it takes" to protect me. I have always deeply resented this constant imputation of base cowardice to the entire American people by American leaders year after year. I have no doubt whatsoever that the coddled, well-wadded sons of bitches who feed at public trough in Washington are themselves base cowards of the highest order; but Jesus Herbert Walker Christ, I do get tired of them projecting their own wiggly fears onto me.)

Look, it's very simple. The American republic ended for good a long time ago, more than a decade before I was born. Its last vestiges were wiped out with the creation of the National Security State signed into being by President Harry S Truman in 1947, and strengthened in a series of directives in the subsequent months. Such as the secret National Security Council directive NSC 10/2, signed in June 1948, which, as James Douglass notes, gave the newly created American security apparat the power to carry out "propaganda, economic warfare, preventive direct action including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures, subversion against hostile states including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerillas and refugee liberation groups."  It also directed that these covert ops were to be "so planned and executed that any US government responsibility for them is not evident to unauthorized persons, and that if uncovered the US government can plausibly deny responsibility for them."

In other words, Panetta's CIA -- and the plethora of other secret agencies and armies that have sprung up in the blood-drenched muck of the National Security State -- is specifically empowered to break the law and lie about it.

So what are we to make of Panetta's rationalization of Obama's cowardice in confronting the crimes of his predecessor, when he says:

...the Obama administration made policy changes in intelligence that ended some controversial practices... Yet my agency continues to pay a price for enduring disputes over policies that no longer exist.


Let's leave aside the glaringly obvious fact that an alleged cessation of a crime in no way mitigates or absolves its past commission. Or to put it another way: if a serial killer stops killing people, he is still culpable for the murders he committed before he "reformed." Yet we are constantly told that the government could fall and the world could end if anyone in power acknowledges this simple, self-evident fact.

But as I said, put that aside for the moment, and consider this: When the head of an agency that was created and empowered specifically to break the law and tell lies about it tells us that his agency no longer breaks the law -- are we supposed to believe him? Should such a person from such an agency be given the benefit of the doubt?  Or should not our first, rational, logical, and fully justified-by-history reaction be: "This guy is lying, and I will continue to assume that he is lying -- since that is his job -- until he proves, conclusively, otherwise."

This operation of reason and logic is given the pejorative term "cynicism" these days, especially among those of "progressive" hue, some of whom are still painfully contorting themselves in order to "give Obama a chance." We also hear sometimes that, like John Kennedy, Obama must move carefully against powerful, entrenched interests in the military-industrial-security complex. But there is no indication that Obama is in the least interested in moving "against" this complex; on the contrary, there are relentless, manifold indications that he eagerly embraces the National Security State and the militarist empire for which it stands, and seeks to extend its power. The op-ed by Panetta is yet another chunk in this mountain of evidence. For again, does anyone out there seriously believe that Panetta would be green-lighted to publish such a piece if it did not reflect the views of Barack Obama?

So you want to know what Obama thinks? He thinks, like Cheney, that you are a sniveling little coward who was glad to sign over your liberties to an authoritarian regime. He thinks, like Cheney, that any crime -- torture, murder, aggressive war -- can be countenanced if the Leader and his minions order it to be done. He thinks, like Cheney, that the decades-old National Security State must be protected -- at all costs -- from any vestige or ghostly revenant of the vanished Republic and its laws.

That is what Barack Obama believes. That is what his policies imply. And that is what his shallow mouthpiece, Leon Panetta, has just told you, openly, brazenly, to your face.

Note: Stephen Webster has more at Raw Story.

 
Children of Lies: Fragments From the Long and Wasted Years
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Thursday, 06 November 2014 17:22

Below is a slightly revised version of my column in the latest print edition of Counterpunch Magazine.

In the course of a massive clean-out the other day, I came upon a box of overstuffed folders and musty papers — copies of some of the first pieces I’d ever had published, going back 35 years. For almost two decades they’d lain unseen in the bottom of an old trunk in my parents’ basement, stored there during one of the several peripatetic upheavals that punctuated my early adulthood. Then a freak flood hit the town, and most of the papers were damaged beyond rescue, fused into bundles that couldn’t be prised apart without crumbling into pieces.

Only one small box made it through; it had been sitting on top of a cache of love letters and other tender memorabilia destroyed by the water. This survivor I duly carted back across the ocean, to my home in England, where my peripateticism had come to an end. There it was promptly relegated to a new dark corner, to molder and yellow for several years more — until last week’s day of cleaning.

Naturally, I took the opportunity to let nostalgia draw me away from my chores, and spent an hour or so leafing through the articles. But beyond the bemusement at my early style (an odd mix of hellfire preacher and Gore Vidal manqué), I was most struck by the grim continuity between then and now. The same themes, and in many cases virtually the same content, sounded over and over, like “an echo from the future,” as Pasternak put it. With only a slight shifting of names, those yellowed pieces of political commentary could have been written in our era.

It’s all there: illegal wars based on lies; escalating inequality and militarization; the growing lawlessness of the elite; the radicalization of the Right by theocrats and corporate Birchers; the anemia of a "Left" sinking into accommodation and careerism; the manufactured hysteria over "terrorism" to justify the unchecked expansion of state power; the ineradicable racism; and the sinister embrace of "American exceptionalism" to hide the hollowness of a society in deep moral and physical decay, rotting under the sway of neoliberal extremism, letting its communities and infrastructure collapse, scorning the very idea of a “common good.”

Even some of the names were the same. In the clips there were rants against a feckless warmonger named Bush, against sell-outs to empire and Big Money by Democratic pols named Clinton and Kerry. There were howls of disbelief as the nation was hustled into a baseless war in, yes, Iraq, attacking an “evil power” which had once been used as a convenient tool to advance Washington’s agenda but had gone off the reservation and was suddenly transformed into an existential threat to civilization, its long-ignored and oft-excused atrocities brandished like a bloody shirt to justify war (and war profiteering). This was in 1991; we saw the same scenario played out in 2003 — and once again this year, in the new war against the new “existential threat” of ISIS.

In fact, perhaps the best, most succinct piece of political writing I’ve ever done concerned that 1991 war crime, the invasion of Iraq on behalf of the Bush Senior’s old business partners, the Kuwaiti royals. Oddly enough, it was not a column in this case but a letter to the editor, published in that well-known bastion of radicalism — Knoxville, Tennessee. It read, in its entirety:

“Concerning the war, and all the noble-sounding reasons adduced for it, and brutal sentimentality of the propaganda and ‘reportage’ surrounding it, I can say only this: I think we are living in a world of lies — lies that don’t even know they are lies, because they are the children and grandchildren of lies.”

In some ways, that is the sum total of what I’ve been writing all these years, not just about war but other issues as well. There is a despair in it; a despair of ever being able to speak a simple word of truth and make it heard through the lies that have been heaped on our heads — and bred into our bones — since the day we were born. Especially if, as in my case, you were not preaching to the choir but writing for a general audience, hoping to make a difference, hoping to – in the now-discarded and derided parlance of old – raise consciousness. It was almost impossible to speak of the reality of any given situation without having to fill in whole volumes of history which our masters and their media scribes had rigorously suppressed. Most readers literally had no idea what you were talking about, they had no context for processing the information.

Things are worse today, of course. The rise of Fox News, Bush Junior’s war crimes, Barack Obama’s disastrous entrenchment and expansion of the Permanent War State, the now-total takeover of society by the 1-Percenter Kleptocracy, the utter degradation of the national ‘debate’ and democracy itself:  the past's rough beasts have grown gargantuan, the lies are higher and wider, the rot is deeper. But in another sense, nothing had changed; and certainly, despite expending millions of furious words, I had changed nothing, nothing at all.

I sat there with the yellowed papers, my meager share of the “fragments shored against our ruins,” all that was left after the love letters were gone. And I thought of a song I heard an old man sing on a London stage last winter: "So much for tears -- so much for those long and wasted years."

 

 
Notes from the Oligarch Era: Monetizing Charity, 'Managing' Democracy
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 04 November 2014 17:17

Circumstances have prevented me from digging into the new Mark Ames article on the Omidyariazation of Ukrainian politics as I intended, so let me just point you to it again, with a few choice excerpts (see the original for copious links):

Ukraine just held its first post-revolution parliamentary elections, and amid all of the oligarchs, EU enthusiasts, neo-Nazis, nepotism babies, and death squad commanders, there is one newly-elected parliamentarian’s name that stands out for her connection to Silicon Valley: Svitlana Zalishchuk, from the billionaire president’s Poroshenko Bloc party.

Zalishchuk was given a choice spot on the president’s party list, at number 18, ensuring her a seat in the new Rada. And she owes her rise to power to another oligarch besides Ukraine’s president —  Pierre Omidyar, whose funding with USAID helped topple the previous government. Zalishchuk’s pro-Maidan revolution outfits were directly funded by Omidyar.

Earlier this year, Pando exposed how eBay billionaire and Intercept publisher Pierre Omidyar co-funded with USAID Zalishchuk’s web of nongovernmental organizations — New Citizen, Chesno, Center UA. According to the Financial Times, New Citizen, which received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Omidyar, “played a big role in getting the [Maidan] protest up and running” in November 2013. Omidyar Network’s website features Zalishchuk’s photograph on its page describing its investment in New Citizen. …

The president’s party tasked Zalushchik with publicly selling the highly controversial new “lustration law” — essentially a legalized witch-hunt law first proposed by the neo-fascist Svoboda Party earlier this year, and subsequently denounced by Ukraine’s prosecutor general and by Human Rights Watch, which described a draft of the law as “arbitrary and overly broad and fail(s) to respect human rights principles,” warning it “may set the stage for unlawful mass arbitrary political exclusion.”

The lustration law was passed under a wave of neo-Nazi violence, in which members of parliament and others set to be targeted for purges were forcibly thrown into trash dumps.

…Shortly before the elections, on October 17, Zalishchuk used her Omidyar-funded outfit, “Chesno,” to organize a roundtable with leaders of pro-EU and neo-fascist parties. It was called “Parliament for Reform” and it brought together leaders from eight parties, including Zalishchuk’s “Poroshenko Bloc” (she served as both NGO organizer and as pro-Poroshenko party candidate), the prime minister’s “People’s Party” and leaders from two unabashedly neo-Nazi parties: Svoboda, and the Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko, who was denounced by Amnesty International for posting YouTube videos of himself interrogating naked and hooded pro-Russian separatist prisoners. Lyashko’s campaign posters featured him impaling a caricatured Jewish oligarch on a Ukrainian trident.

Meanwhile, Zalishchuk’s boss, President Petro Poroshenko, has led a bloody war against pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country that left at least 3700 dead in a half year of fighting. Human Rights Watch recently accused Poroshenko’s forces of “indiscriminate” use of cluster bombs in heavily populated areas, that “may amount to war crimes.” Poroshenko’s forces include neo-Nazi death squads like the notorious Azov battalion.

Last month, Poroshenko further cemented his ties to the extreme right by hailing Ukraine’s wartime Nazi collaborators, the violently anti-Semitic UPA, as “heroes.” The fascist UPA participated in the Holocaust, and were responsible for killing tens of thousands of Jews and ethnic Poles in their bid to create an ethnically pure Ukraine. Many UPA members filled the ranks of the Nazi SS “Galicia” Division. The neo-Nazi Right Sektor, which spearheaded the violent later stages of the Maidan revolution, sees itself as the UPA’s contemporary successors…

This latest twist in Omidyar Network’s murky, contradictory or two-faced roles raises more disturbing questions about what the tech billionaire is up to. On the one hand, Omidyar plays the “adversarial” watchdog of the US National Security State, having privatized Snowden’s NSA files, the largest national security secrets leak in history, for his startup publication The Intercept with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, the only two people entrusted with the complete Snowden cache.

On the other hand, Omidyar and his wife have been among the most frequent visitors to the Obama White House, intermingling with members of his National Security Council and State Deptartment. Meanwhile, in just the past year Omidyar Network has co-funded Ukraine revolution groups in Ukraine with the US government, and directly financed far-right, pro-business political actors in both Ukraine and in India, where a former top figure in Omidyar Network, Jayant Sinha now serves in the ultranationalist BJP Party and as close advisor to its controversial far-right leader, Narendra Modi.

Meanwhile, Tarzie offers a scathing analysis of the New York magazine article about the bizarre billionaire who has effectively bought off -- and disarmed -- mainstream dissident journalism with his money.

II.
One of the more important points that Ames has revealed in Omidyar's background -- a background that none of the "fiercely independent" dissident journalists who went to work for him, like Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill and the now outcast Matt Taibbi, bothered to check -- was his role as a prime mover in the monetization of philanthropy. Over the past decades, the whole world has been subjugated by the extremist doctrine of neoliberalism -- essentially, the monetization of every aspect of public and private life, turning every element of human reality into a source of profit for a very small, powerful elite.

Omidyar has been in the vanguard of this movement, as Ames reported, an article which we explored here: Omidyar and the Oligarch’s Code: Enabling Extremism, Monetizing Dissent. Ames alerts us to the ways that Omidyar's partnerships with foreign oligarchs have led not only to despoliation and destitution of those they are purporting to help, but also to mass suicides by people driven to the limits of desperation by our gilded, lauded philanthropists-for-profit.

Such horrific hijinks are not limited to Omidyar, of course. The Guardian reports today on how the world's most celebrated philanthropist, Bill Gates, has actually directed the vast majority of his 'philanthropy' not to the world regions ravaged for decades by colonialism and neoliberalism, but to -- surprise, surprise! -- the monied bosom of the West's richest powers. From the Guardian:

Most of the $3bn (£1.8bn) that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given to benefit hungry people in the world’s poorest countries has been spent in the US, Britain and other rich countries, with only around 10% spent in Africa, new research suggests.

Analysis of grants made by the foundation shows that nearly half the money awarded over the past decade went to global agriculture research networks, as well as organisations including the World Bank and UN agencies, and groups that work in Africa to promote hi-tech farming.

Note that last sentence: money is being given to groups that "promote hi-tech farming." Imagine that: a techno-billionaire's philanthropy for the world's hungry is directed mainly at …. the development of profitable technology. This is very much in keeping with Omidyar's "philanthropic" support of "dissident journalism," which, as Greenwald himself has admitted, is now aimed not at content but at "products": "new technologies for delivering and consuming news."

The Guardian has more on the report on Gates' largess:

“The north-south divide is most shocking, however, when we look at the $669m given to non-government groups for agriculture work. Africa-based groups received just 4%. Over 75% went to organisations based in the US,” says the report.

“When we examined the foundation’s grants database, we were amazed that they seem to want to fight hunger in the south by giving money to organisations in the north. The bulk of its grants for agriculture are given to organisations in the US and Europe,” said agronomist Henk Hobbelink, a co-founder of Grain.

“It also appeared that they’re not listening to farmers, despite their claims. The overwhelming majority of its funding goes to hi-tech scientific outfits, not to supporting the solutions that the farmers themselves are developing on the ground. Africa’s farmers are cast as recipients, mere consumers of knowledge and technology from others.”

What? The poor being treated as mere fodder for the personal profit (and public PR-preening) of the super-rich? How can this be? This dastardly situation obviously calls for "fiercely independent" journalists of a dissident ilk, unswayed by the power of Big Money. Where could we find a passel of those paragons? Oh, that's right: working for super-rich oligarchs, the ones out there monetizing philanthropy and "managing democracy" to their liking.

 
Fire-Starter: Supporting Arthur Silber
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 28 July 2009 23:25

Arthur Silber has been silent for quite some time, and his last post spoke of horrific problems with his health -- which has been declining for a long time, and now seems to have taken a deep plunge.

I don't know his precise situation at the moment, but it is likely to be dire.  I imagine too that in addition to the health problems, he is facing the usual crush of bills at the end of the month. He is one of our strongest and most thought-provoking voices, yet is forced to live at the margins of society, while witless poltroons and egregious time-servers swim in gravy.

I am not authorized to speak for him, and am not speaking for him -- but just on my own volition, I would urge you to go to his site and, if you have anything to give, give what you can to support Silber in this difficult time. We need his insight, we need his wit, we need the disturbing, productive fire in the mind that he can light.

And while you're there, avail yourself of some of the "Major Essays" listed on the side; this is powerful stuff, and you won't see anything like it anywhere else.

 
Cranks, Kleptocrats and Killers: The "Good War" on the Ground
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 27 July 2009 20:16

While dozens of innocent people continue to die each week in the political and sectarian violence unleashed in Iraq by America's invasion and continuing occupation, the main attention of the bipartisan Terror Warriors in Washington – and their sycophantic outriders in the corporate media – continues to be what they call, in the imperial jargonizing that lumps the vast complexities of myriad human communities into reductive, thought-killing soundbites, the "Af-Pak" front.

This, as we all know, is the "good war," the one that most "serious" progressives touted for years as the healthy alternative to the "bad war" that George W. Bush got us into in Iraq, where his "incompetence" and "failures" tarnished the exalted ideal of "humanitarian intervention." (Known in the trade by the acronym "KTC-STC" – "Kill the Children to Save the Children.") . If only we could get out the quagmire in Iraq, cried the serious progs, and do the Terror War "right" in Afghanistan! Well, their wish has come true (except of course for the 130,000 American troops and equal number of mercenaries still prowling around in Iraq; but that's OK, because Obama is in charge now, and what ser-progs once vehemently denounced as a blatant, bloody war crime can now be described, in the immortal words of the president himself, as "an extraordinary achievement"). The Obama Administration is throwing billions of new dollars and thousands of more troops into the eight-year-old conflict, while greatly expanding the cross-border attacks on the sovereign soil of America's ally, Pakistan. And while Obama has retained the core of the Terror War directorate that Bush installed – notably Pentagon warlord Robert Gates and the surgin' general, David Petraeus – he has now put his own man in charge of the "good war": longtime "dirty war" and death squad maven Stanley McChrystal. (Expertise in rubouts, snatches and "strenuous interrogation" is obviously what you need to win "hearts and minds" in humanitarian interventions.)

So here we are, with the imperial mind bent at last on the "Af-Pak" front. But where, exactly, are we? What is the real situation on the "Af-Pak" ground? Two natives of the Terror War targets give us a view from the ground. First, Malalai Joya, from Afghanistan:

In 2005, I was the youngest person elected to the new Afghan parliament. Women like me, running for office, were held up as an example of how the war in Afghanistan had liberated women. But this democracy was a facade, and the so-called liberation a big lie....

Almost eight years after the Taliban regime was toppled, our hopes for a truly democratic and independent Afghanistan have been betrayed by the continued domination of fundamentalists and by a brutal occupation that ultimately serves only American strategic interests in the region.

You must understand that the government headed by Hamid Karzai is full of warlords and extremists who are brothers in creed of the Taliban. Many of these men committed terrible crimes against the Afghan people during the civil war of the 1990s.

For expressing my views I have been expelled from my seat in parliament, and I have survived numerous assassination attempts. The fact that I was kicked out of office while brutal warlords enjoyed immunity from prosecution for their crimes should tell you all you need to know about the "democracy" backed by Nato troops....

So far, Obama has pursued the same policy as Bush in Afghanistan. Sending more troops and expanding the war into Pakistan will only add fuel to the fire. Like many other Afghans, I risked my life during the dark years of Taliban rule to teach at underground schools for girls. Today the situation of women is as bad as ever. Victims of abuse and rape find no justice because the judiciary is dominated by fundamentalists. A growing number of women, seeing no way out of the suffering in their lives, have taken to suicide by self-immolation.

This week, US vice-president Joe Biden asserted that "more loss of life [is] inevitable" in Afghanistan, and that the ongoing occupation is in the "national interests" of both the US and the UK.

I have a different message to the people of Britain. I don't believe it is in your interests to see more young people sent off to war, and to have more of your taxpayers' money going to fund an occupation that keeps a gang of corrupt warlords and drug lords in power in Kabul.

What's more, I don't believe it is inevitable that this bloodshed continues forever. Some say that if foreign troops leave Afghanistan will descend into civil war. But what about the civil war and catastrophe of today? The longer this occupation continues, the worse the civil war will be.

Next, Tariq Ali reports from Pakistan:

This is a country whose fate is no longer in its own hands. I have never known things so bad. The chief problems are the United States and its requirements, the religious extremists, the military high command, and corruption, not just on the part of President Zardari and his main rivals, but spreading well beyond them.

This is now Obama’s war. He campaigned to send more troops into Afghanistan and to extend the war, if necessary, into Pakistan. These pledges are now being fulfilled. On the day he publicly expressed his sadness at the death of a young Iranian woman caught up in the repression in Tehran, US drones killed 60 people in Pakistan. The dead included women and children, whom even the BBC would find it difficult to describe as ‘militants’. Their names mean nothing to the world; their images will not be seen on TV networks. Their deaths are in a ‘good cause’....

In May this year, Graham Fuller, a former CIA station chief in Kabul, published an assessment of the crisis in the region in the Huffington Post. Ignored by the White House, since he was challenging most of the assumptions on which the escalation of the war was based, Fuller was speaking for many in the intelligence community in his own country as well as in Europe. It’s not often that I can agree with a recently retired CIA man, but not only did Fuller say that Obama was ‘pressing down the same path of failure in Pakistan marked out by George Bush’ and that military force would not win the day, he also explained to readers of the Huffington Post that the Taliban are all ethnic Pashtuns, that the Pashtuns ‘are among the most fiercely nationalist, tribalised and xenophobic peoples of the world, united only against the foreign invader’ and ‘in the end probably more Pashtun than they are Islamist’. ‘It is a fantasy,’ he said, ‘to think of ever sealing the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.’ And I don’t imagine he is the only retired CIA man to refer back to the days when Cambodia was invaded ‘to save Vietnam’....

[U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Anne] Patterson can be disarmingly frank. Earlier this year, she offered a mid-term assessment to a visiting Euro-intelligence chief. While Musharraf had been unreliable, saying one thing in Washington and doing its opposite back home, Zardari was perfect: ‘He does everything we ask.’ What is disturbing here is not Patterson’s candour, but her total lack of judgment. Zardari may be a willing creature of Washington, but the intense hatred for him in Pakistan is not confined to his political opponents. He is despised principally because of his venality. He has carried on from where he left off as minister of investment in his late wife’s second government. Within weeks of occupying President’s House, his minions were ringing the country’s top businessmen, demanding a share of their profits.

Take the case of Mr X, who owns one of the country’s largest banks. He got a call. Apparently the president wanted to know why his bank had sacked a PPP member soon after Benazir Bhutto’s fall in the late 1990s. X said he would find out and let them know. It emerged that the sacked clerk had been caught with his fingers literally in the till. President’s House was informed. The explanation was rejected. The banker was told that the clerk had been victimised for political reasons. The man had to be reinstated and his salary over the last 18 years paid in full together with the interest due. The PPP had also to be compensated and would expect a cheque (the sum was specified) soon. Where the president leads, his retainers follow. Many members of the cabinet and their progeny are busy milking businessmen and foreign companies. ‘If they can do it, so can we’ is a widely expressed view in Karachi, the country’s largest city. Muggings, burglaries, murders, many of them part of protection rackets linked to politicians, have made it the Naples of the East....

These rumours came into the open at the end of June, when the head of the Bhutto clan, Mumtaz Ali Bhutto, chairman of the Sind National Front, publicly accused Zardari at a press conference, alleging that ‘the killer of Murtaza Bhutto had also murdered Benazir . . . Now I am his target. A hefty amount has been paid to mercenaries to kill me.’ (Zardari is generally regarded as having ordered his brother-in-law Murtaza’s death. Shoaib Suddle, the police chief in Karachi, who organised the operation that led to Murtaza Bhutto’s death, has now been promoted and is head of the Intelligence Bureau.)

You should read both pieces in their entirety to get the bigger, grimmer picture. So here we are -- in bed with extremists, misogynists, kleptocrats and killers.

But wait a minute: isn't this where we came in?

 

 
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