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.
And so a new war has begun. Or rather, a new front is opened (and an old one re-opened) in an ongoing, ever-expanding war. For the new war is of course our old friend, the War on Terror. (Although it should more accurately be termed “the War on Terror Spawned by the War on Terror.”)
The casus belli being offered up seem even more specious and shifting than usual. The vicious civil war we have fomented in Syria has spawned an extremist militia that is using the weapons we poured into Syria to attack the corrupt sectarian regime we installed in Iraq with our illegal invasion there earlier, which gave rise to a vicious civil war that has continued to this day, with both sides using our weapons.
But is “war” really the right word? “War” implies a discrete event; it has a beginning, some kind of trajectory, some kind of an end. But the fiery miasma of slaughter and profiteering that is the Terror War has no such form. It has no trajectory — and no end, as we have been told over and over by our bipartisan Terror Barons. For the imperial American state (and its various satellites, servants and satraps), the Terror War has become a state of nature — even THE state of nature. It is no longer an event in reality; it is the very form of reality itself. It must go on because it can’t NOT go on.
To our ruling classes, and their lackeys and abettors and worshippers across the commanding heights of Western society, the very idea of any alternative to ceaseless conflict is unimaginable …
Hey, it’s what we do. It’s what we are. As our latest temporary manager, Obama, said the other day, it’s how we roll. We exist solely to assert our dominance by violent force anywhere and anyhow we see fit. It is in blood and domination that we live and move and have our being. It doesn’t matter in the end who we are fighting against, or with, or if we change partners in the middle of the battle. It doesn’t matter if we fight an enemy here and arm him over there, or if our allies share the same extremism we are ostensibly trying to quell. It doesn’t matter what we say to justify the killing and profiteering we want to do, or that we change these justifications from day to day, even from hour to hour.
And it certainly doesn’t matter what “legal” basis we offer for our lawless and arbitrary actions. We are more than happy to spout some meaningless jargon, to torture and degrade the language, to openly mock the very notion of reason and law — as long as it keeps the editorial writers and think-tank quacks happy in their shallow fantasies of “serious” policy, as long as the public in whose name we are destabilizing and devouring the earth (including their own decaying communities) can keep believing that what we are doing with our killing and looting is keeping them safe from “psychopaths” and demonic beasts. As long as they can keep believing that they are being governed by a benevolent elite, whose ultimate aim — however badly and ineptly they sometimes pursue it — is to secure peace, freedom and prosperity for their own people, and for the world.
And thus we watch with wry bemusement how earnestly the opinion-makers and commentators — especially on the liberal side — debate the “issues” around our brutal and arbitrary actions (which they, sweet naifs, call “policies”). How they puzzle and puzzle til their puzzlers are sore, to make our policies better. ‘Oh, if only we could make our leaders see that their policies are counterproductive, that they are failing to produce the outcomes they are seeking. Oh, if only our leaders could be smarter, cleverer, more insightful — like us! But they just keep making the same mistakes, with the same bad outcomes, which just makes it harder for them to achieve their noble goals1”
It’s even more amusing when they get all scornful and sarcastic, when they smirk about what incompetent fools our elites are, how they’re so stupid that they can’t even see that they’re shooting ourselves in the foot over and over, how they couldn’t find their own ass with both hands even if both hands were stapled to their ass. (Was that Maher? Stewart? One of those media millionaires with the cutesy, soundbite smarm that passes for “dissent.”) We love these guys. We watch their shows. We pass around their best lines at the conference table. You can’t buy that kind of propaganda, that kind of reinforcement for the status quo. No one believe more in the system than these savvy snarkmasters. “The people in power now simply don’t know how to achieve their goals. They’re ruining the system! We need to get some better people in office to run the system. Then things will all right.”
But of course the truth is that the system works very well. It does what it intends to do, and pursues its goals with admirable, ruthless efficiency. Nothing deters the system: not facts, not law, not truth, not consequences, not appeals to reason or conscience, not concern for future — and certainly not snark from the chattering classes. The system can’t “fail” in its goals, because there are no “goals,” no endpoints. There is only the process — the endless, churning process of violent domination, and the power and profits this produces for those who join (or are born to) the elite. If one front in the Terror War produces what our naifs call a “policy failure” — the invasion of Iraq, say - so what? You just keep churning and fighting and profiteering on a dozen other fronts, while your “policy failure” ripens into a catastrophic societal breakdown, producing more excuses to “step back in” and resume the conflict there again.
So where is the “failure”? The violent, profitable process of empire — the shark that must keep eating or else it dies — has not skipped a beat. It just keeps expanding its range — and, as in Iraq now, it can always come back to an old killing field. As long as the system keeps killing and grinding and churning, it can’t fail, whatever may happen on this or that patch of ground at any particular time. The process — not the seriously analyzed “outcome” of an operation — is the whole point.
There must be blood, there must be loot, there must be expansion. When you’ve killed all the Indians, you go kill the gooks. If the Commies quit the field, you kill Muslims instead. This is what the system is. This is what the system does. And whoever seeks to control the system — whoever fights and claws their way into the cockpit of this monstrous machine, to give themselves and their courtiers a few years at the wheel — is a willing, eager part of the system.
For example, there is now a great deal of liberal handwringing about the “tragedy” of Barack Obama being “sucked back” into the morass of Iraq. “He wanted change, he wanted to lead us away from this kind of thing, but now look! Despite his best intentions, here we are again.” In most of these cases, Obama’s predecessor gets the blame — “Bush made a mess of Iraq, and now Obama has to clean it up.”
(I don’t recall seeing any commentary along these lines noting that Bill Clinton — the husband of the next president of the United States — also did yeoman service in making a mess of Iraq, having killed some 500,000 children with his pointless, punitive sanctions. He killed those children because Saddam wouldn’t give up his WMD — you know, the WMD he didn’t have. O, how we rightfully scorned Bush for ‘going to war over false pretenses” about that phantom WMD; but the good old Big Dawg killed half a million children for the same knowing lie, and left Iraqi society in chaos.)
Anyway, we are now told that thanks to Bush, Obama is between a rock and a hard place, trying his dee-diddly-darndest to deal with those extremist beheaders of ISIS (with the help of the extremist beheaders of Saudi Arabia) without putting “boots on the ground.” He wanted to change the system — but it looks like the “Deep State” was too much for him. What a tragedy for him — and for us.
Can we dispense briefly but decisively with this oleaginous bullshit by making a single observation? A man who hand-picked George Bush’s Secretary of Defense to serve as his own Master of War knew exactly what the system is — and did not have the slightest intention of changing it. In fact, Obama has been phenomenally successful in expanding the system of violence and domination, extending it new areas, with new tools (Oval Office death squads! Assassinating innocent teenagers!) — and bringing it all back home with hi-tech surveillance, whistleblower persecution and journalist prosecutions his predecessor could only dream of.
And so we are at war again. But we are never not at war anymore. That’s what we do. That’s what we are.
On three occasions in the past few days, I've been approached separately by three of my children, ranging in age from 9 to 28, each of whom asked in different ways, "What is this war with ISIS all about?" Adjusting my answer according to their age, understanding and education, I spoke of various factors behind the new war, trying to give more of the context, history and reality of what is going on, behind the blizzard of contradictory bull that surrounds the operation.
But later it occurred to me that the most direct -- and truest -- answer could be found in a short clip from an old film, made more than 30 years ago, in a scene set in the midst of a conflict now an entire century in the past. But the answer given then is most assuredly true now.
So here it is, delivered at a cozy black-tie dinner at the well-appointed Liberal Club of Portland, Oregon:
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.
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
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
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:
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....
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.
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
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.
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’....
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.
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
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.