To lift the immortal words of the Angry Arab, "for those who care and do not care," there are some new songs up at the MySpace site: rough sketches as usual, but there are some hopes of doing a few of them up right with some talented collaborators a little ways down the line. Anyway, they're there, if you care to bend an ear -- or even cut a rug.
America, of course, is renowned for the historical amnesia that permeates its public discourse. Thanks to the tireless efforts our media, our educators and, above all, our elites, Americans enjoy a level of ignorance about the actions of their government that approaches the sublime. However, the truth is that past actions do have consequences — and chickens sure enough do come home to roost. In what has been a long season of bad news -- with new wars, new chaos, mass death, riots, repression, rampant terror (and the concomitant profiteering) exploding on almost every front -- one message is ringing clear: our reckless militarism and imperial ambitions are bearing bitter fruit. As the song says: it's time to pay the piper -- and we got nothing in our purse.....
Below is my column in the latest print edition of CounterPunch. It was written last month, just after Barack Obama’s latest public embracement of the Potomac Empire’s Grand Philosophical Theory of International Statecraft: “More rubble, less trouble!” There may some overlap with my last post on this site, which developed a few of the ideas first explored in this article. The text below has been slightly revised and expanded from the print version.
The Peacey Prizey Prez has spoken, and the word he brings is — war! Not just war back in our old stomping grounds of Iraq, where the Imperial Winepress has been squeezing out the grapes of wrath for nigh on quarter of a century now. Nay, he bringeth us vast new fields to plow, in the ancient land of Assyria, therefore to make us fruitful with engorged blood.
Yes, it’s Iraq War III, or perhaps Sykes-Picot Revisited, or maybe even the Eighth (or Ninth or Forty-Fifth) Crusade of the Christian West Against the Infidel Saracens. Call it what you will, we are once more firmly embarked on a fruitless (and, we are fervently assured, bootless) quest for loot and dominance in Mesopotamia and environs. As always, these raw and bestial impulses are being gussied up in noble tropes; over the centuries, the rhetorical shadings change, but the propaganda message is always the same: the forces of good are fighting to save civilization from evil, world-devouring savages.
The bumper-sticker bromides offered by Obama in his White House revival of the long-running George Bush classic, “Bullshit in Babylon,” might have been simple, but the situation itself is as murky as the middle of the Hundred Years War. A gurgling stew of warring factions, shifting alliances, secret deals, base betrayals, panic reactions, cynical ploys and — above all — a pack of blundering, blithering idiots at the top, thrashing mindlessly and murderously back and forth. Tactical twits, yes, but united by a single, steady strategic goal: to maintain and expand the power and privileges of their respective ruling classes by any means necessary.
Obama’s speech was the usual farrago of arrant, transparent lies — delivered with his characteristic affectlessness. This is perhaps Obama's one redeeming feature as a leader: not only does he obviously know what a sick joke the whole set-up is -- he also can't hide this grim awareness. His whole aspect radiates unbearable tedium at going through the motions required to satisfy the American public’s insatiable craving for self-righteousness; hence the bromides, the pieties, the cartoon narratives and threadbare paeans to our holy “exceptionalism," delivered in a tranked-out drone. Poor guy: all this boring katzenjammer to get through – just to get on with the ugly, bloody business of empire.
Then again, this “redeeming” feature of awareness is also doubly damning: for Obama clearly knows that the course he has embarked upon will lead — inevitably, inexorably, without fail — to the death of thousands of innocent people and unimaginable suffering for millions more, as the poisonous fruits of America’s endless Terror War bear crop after crop in the years, the generations to come. He knows this is what he is doing, he knows what the results will be — but he is going forward anyway, like Macbeth stepped so far in blood that there is no point in turning back now.
To be sure, Obama sought to downplay the significance of this new American-made hellstorm of death. Taking pains to differentiate his military aggression in the region from his predecessor’s military aggression in the region, Obama likened this new effort to his existing campaigns of bombing, drone terrorism and death squads in Somalia and Yemen. He apparently thinks this comparison somehow puts him on the moral high ground. (“Hey, I’m a retail state terrorist, an upscale boutique merchant of death, not some vulgar wholesaler like that guy from Texas.”)
Much can be said about the specifics of the new Age of Insanity being ushered in by Obama and the other pipsqueaks of the Western world. For instance, how America and its allies have created the present crisis through the Hitlerian rape of Iraq in 2003, the deliberate division of the occupied land into corrupt sectarian enclaves, and the arming of extremists to foment civil war in Syria. (And that's just taking the last few years into account; never mind the genocidal slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis through sanctions, the millions killed in the region through America’s double-dealing prolongation of the Iraq-Iran War, the American-Saudi founding of the global jihadi movement to hotfoot the Soviets in Afghanistan, and so on and on back through the decades.) Not to mention the instigation of a new Cold War through the backing of violent regime change in Ukraine and the relentless, reckless push of NATO to Russia’s borders, which will likely fuel a new arms race and another era of nuclear brinkmanship.
Unpacking the details of the festering, multifarious evils of this new imperial “surge” is important work, and we should support all those who are carrying it out. This is especially vital in regard to younger people. There are whole generations coming of age who have never known anything but the howling echo chamber of post-9/11 militarism, fear, aggression and state murder. Anything and everything that can smuggle nuggets of truth to them, to “inoculate them with disillusionment” (in Henry Miller’s phrase) is to be encouraged.
But on another level, the situation embodied by Obama’s speech defeats all rational commentary and analysis. There is no longer even a pretense of reason or consistency behind the official enunciations of American policy. The system — the whole system — is now given over entirely to permanent war: hot war in Muslim lands, cold war in Eastern Europe, class war against the 99 percent at home. [As I noted here earlier,] that’s their only consistency. That’s their only casus belli. That’s all they know.
In a new piece for Salon.com, Jeff Sharlet has more on the domestic side of the militarist-fundamentalist drive to devour the state, which we wrote about here yesterday. Sharlet writes of "The Family" -- the self-described "Christian Mafia" centered on the "C Street House" in Washington -- which for decades has spread its invisible, insidious influence throughout the U.S. government, while supporting mass-murdering dictators, rapacious crony capitalism -- and providing convenient cover and absolution for the high crimes and sexual misdemeanors of its members.
Sharlet has written of The Family for years, in articles for Harper's and in his book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. He has described in great detail -- and from the inside -- a disturbing, decades-old network of big-time power players guided by cranks who push Pol Pot, Osama bin Laden, and Stalin as worthy role models in the pursuit of the Family's ultimate goal: a militarized, unfettered "totalitarianism of God." You would think that Sharlet's earlier revelations would have brought intensive, horrified scrutiny to bear on this nest of democracy-hating accomplices of atrocity and corruption -- but the stories never gained much traction in the corporate media. Who cares about all that boring stuff?
But now that several of The Family's members and associates have found themselves caught in good old juicy sex scandals, suddenly the media has "re-discovered" the C Street House, and shined at least a little more light on that dark corner. Because as we all know, the only offense that an American politician must ever pay for is a sexual indiscretion. When it comes to murder, torture, oppression, war crimes, military aggression, tyranny, etc -- well, it's always best to "move on" from such unseemly doings, and stay "focused on the future, not the past."
Although truth to tell, even sexual indiscretions are increasingly unpaid for by our coddled, unaccountable elites. Look at Bill Clinton, swanning around the world like a rock star, swimming in his millions. And of course, all rightwing pols caught with their pants down can always play the "fallen sinner redeemed by God" card, and start all over again. Clinton also played this card for all it was worth, of course; recall his hilarious "counseling sessions" with various high-profile religious leaders, who, we are to believe, sat down with the President of the United States and gave him earnest, prayerful counsel on how to keep his pecker in his pants.
Even so, messing around in the sexual cellarage still causes a politician more of a spot of bother than, say, authorizing a drone strike (i.e., "targeted assassination," i.e., "extrajudicial assassination," i.e., "act of mass murder") that kills dozens of innocent people. The irony, of course, as Magnificent Valor points out, is that these sexual indiscretions are often the only interesting and vaguely human thing these time-serving, box-ticking, elitist automatons have ever done.
In any case, the wanton willy-waggling of Mark Sanford, John Ensign, Chip Pickering and other "Family" stalwarts has provided us with yet another glimpse at the truly strange and deranged power structure that governs our lives. You should read Sharlet's piece in full, but here are a few choice bits:
The Family likes to call itself a "Christian Mafia," but it began 74 years ago as an anti-New Deal coalition of businessmen convinced that organized labor was under the sway of Satan. The Great Depression, they believed, was a punishment from God for what they viewed as FDR's socialism. The Family's goal was the "consecration" of America to God, first through the repeal of New Deal reforms, then through the aggressive expansion of American power during the Cold War...
Historically, the Family has been strongly Republican [Sharlet includes a copious list of current power-players in the Family ranks], but it includes Democrats, too. There's Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, for instance, a vocal defender of putting the Ten Commandments in public places, and Sen. Mark Pryor, the pro-war Arkansas Democrat responsible for scuttling Obama's labor agenda. Sen. Pryor explained to me the meaning of bipartisanship he'd learned through the Family: "Jesus didn't come to take sides. He came to take over." And by Jesus, the Family means the Family.
Family leaders consider their political network to be Christ's avant garde, an elite that transcends not just conventional morality but also earthly laws regulating lobbying. ... Founder Abraham Vereide decided that the group could be more effective by working personally with politicians. "The more invisible you can make your organization," Vereide's successor, current leader Doug Coe preaches, "the more influence you can have."
...I met [David Coe, Doug Coe's son and heir apparent], when I lived for several weeks as a member of the Family... Attempting to explain what it means to be chosen for leadership like King David was -- or Mark Sanford, according to his own estimate -- he asked a young man who'd put himself, body and soul, under the Family's authority, "Let's say I hear you raped three little girls. What would I think of you?" The man guessed that Coe would probably think that he was a monster. "No," answered Coe, "I wouldn't." Why? Because, as a member of the Family, he's among what Family leaders refer to as the "new chosen." If you're chosen, the normal rules don't apply.
If that doesn't tell you all you need to know about our nation's rulers, then I don't know what will. And of course, this "three rapes--so what?" philosophy of unaccountability is not confined to members of "The Family": it permeates the entire power structure.
And as we noted yesterday, this drive toward "Christian totalitarianism" seeks to use the military as one of its primary vehicles of subversion:
Christian right leader -- and Watergate felon -- Chuck Colson, converted through the efforts of the Family, has boasted of it as a "veritable underground of Christ's men all through government." What do they do? Rep. Zach Wamp, one of Ensign's fellow C Streeters who's been in the news for defending the Family's secrecy, has teamed up with Family-linked Reps. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., and John R. Carter, R-Texas, on an obscure appropriations committee to help greenlight tens of millions in federal funds for new megachurch-style chapels on military bases around the country.
But of course, one of the main thrusts of The Family's business has been succoring murderous dictators around the world:
One needn't be a Marxist to find fault with the Family's mash-up of New Testament and unfettered capitalism -- Adam Smith himself would have recognized that theology as a disingenuous form of self-interest by proxy. Such interests have led the Family into some strange alliances over the years. Seduced by the Indonesian dictator Suharto's militant anti-communism, they described the murder of hundreds of thousands that brought him to power as a "spiritual revolution," and sent delegations of congressmen and oil executives to pray to Jesus with the Muslim leader. In Africa, they anointed the Somali killer Siad Barre as God's man and sent Sen. Grassley and a defense contractor as emissaries. Barre described himself as a "Koranic Marxist," but he agreed to pray to Grassley's American Christ in return for American military aid, which he then used to wreak a biblical terror on his nation. It has not yet recovered.
Needless to say, while this group of gilded sectarians leave mounds of corpses in their political gaming around the world, their main business is -- what else? -- business:
[In their Family-paid junkets, members are] representing "Jesus plus nothing," as Doug Coe puts it, the "totalitarianism of God," in the words of an early Family leader, a vision that encompasses not just social issues but also the kind of free-market fundamentalism that is the real object of devotion for Ensign, Coburn, Pickering, Wamp and Sanford, along with Family insiders such as Sens. DeMint, Sam Brownback and Chuck Grassley. At the heart of the Family's spiritual advice for its proxies in Congress is the conviction that the market's invisible hand represents the guidance of God, and that God wants his "new chosen" to look out for one another.
As we all know, one of the most dangerous creatures on earth is the bullshitter who believes his own bullshit. There is absolutely no doubt that Adolf Hitler went to his death thinking he was a swell guy, a worthy, righteous man more sinned against than sinning. The self-absolution -- and self-hypnosis -- of fanatical certitude is a deadly toxin; not just for the individual, but for the world. We see the fruits of Family-style fundamentalism all around us today, in the blood-soaked ruin of the Terror Wars, in the collapse of communities, families, individuals -- and the world economy -- from the rapine of "godly" market extremism, even down to the rise in teen pregnancies and sexual disease, which are, of course, most prevalent and growing in the very areas dominated by the Dominationists' wilfully ignorant, sexually obsessed sectarianism, as the Guardian reports. These are real lives, of real people, blighted -- or blotted out -- by the divinely-robed barbarism of their leaders.
What the elites reserve for themselves -- security, assistance, wealth, power, personal license -- they deny to others. Indeed, this denial is essential to their identity as the "chosen;" if others have what they have, how can they be exalted, set apart, special? Thus they must be implacable enemies of the very idea of the common good -- at home, abroad, at every level of life. It is, at its heart, a sinister vision of life -- yet it has become the unspoken, unquestioned ruling assumption underlying our society today.
A remarkable story in Haaretz (via Antiwar.com) reveals that Orthodox Jewish extremists in the United States have, with the help of radical sectarians in Israel, distributed booklets to Israeli soldiers and officers claiming that the Vatican is organizing "tours of Auschwitz for Hezbollah members to teach them how to wipe out Jews."
As Haaretz notes, the booklets -- published by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America -- has been given to Israeli soldiers "for months." The booklet is purportedly written by a former Hezbollah insider who converted to Judaism. He writes of Pope Benedict XVI's personal direction of a wide-ranging program among "European elites" to train Hezbollah cadres in genocide, while also paying huge fees to journalists, academics and politicians who are critical of Israeli policies. What's more, the booklet asserts that Israeli critics of government policy are also funded by the Vatican-led effort to exterminate Jews. "Every real Arab, deep inside, is kind of a fan of the Nazis," the purported author declares.
The American extremists used the chief rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, to distribute the tracts to Israeli soldiers. Eliahu's spokesman, David Menahemov, defended the booklet -- which in its deranged orgasm of paranoid fear and racial hatred rivals the infamous "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," the Tsarist police concoction (taken from a 1864 satirical novel about French tyrant Louis Napoleon) about a Jewish conspiracy to rule the world. The Protocols were given worldwide prominence in the 20th century by Henry Ford and Adolf Hitler, then got a new boost in the 21st century by America's staunch allies (and Israel's silent partner in Middle East power-gaming), the Saudi royals, who produced a 30-part TV miniseries based on the Protocols in 2001.
[Iranian TV, of course, recently produced a wildly popular TV mini-series depicting an Iranian diplomat in Paris trying to save Jews from the Holocaust. But it is the Iranians who are depicted as maniacal, monolithic anti-Semites, not the Saudis. One might also note here that the West's new favorite Palestinian, Mahmoud Abbas -- the sort-of president of the Palestinian Authority whose term expired months ago but who still somehow remains in office with America and Israel's full backing -- wrote a doctoral thesis declaring that the Holocaust was "a Zionist fantasy," a "fantastic lie", and that the "few hundred thousand" Jews who did die at Nazi hands were only killed because "Zionist" fanatics provoked the Germans: "The Zionist movement led a broad campaign of incitement against the Jews living under Nazi rule to arouse the government's hatred of them." But Abbas is a useful tool of Israeli domination, so his genuinely horrific revisionism is whitewashed, while outrageous falsehoods -- like a Vatican-Hezbollah genocide plan -- are used to stoke the hatred of soldiers sent to wage war on civilians in Gaza. Funny old world, ain't it?]
Like the defenders of the repeatedly and thoroughly debunked Protocols, Menahemov declared every word of the new hate booklet was true, and that the author is a real person. "I know the guy personally," he told Haaretz. "He's an Arab, who even though he converted still acts like an Arab." Still "acts like an Arab," does he? What, he swings from trees, grubs for roots, crawls on his belly like a reptile? No racism there then.
Israeli military brass say that although they had distributed the booklet "in good faith," they have since been "alerted to the sensitivity" of the document and stopped passing it out to their soldiers. (Didn't anyone read it before approving its distribution?) But of course the tract is still out there -- and the damage has already been done. As Haaretz notes:
"The book is distributed regularly and everyone reads it and believes it," said one soldier. "It's filled with made-up details but is presented as a true story. A whole company of soldiers, adults, told me: 'Read this and you'll understand who the Arabs are.'"
The savagery of the Israeli assault on Gaza becomes clearer all the time. The American-made booklet was just one part of a wide campaign among radical extremists to incite implacable hatred among the attacking forces -- much like American soldiers going into Iraq in 2003 were encouraged to believe that the act of aggression was "payback for 9/11" against those "who attacked our country."
The Orthodox Union's new 'Protocols of the Elders of Palestine' is also part and parcel of a more widespread phenomenon: the attempted takeover of secular military forces by religious extremists. Like the general rise of militant, wilfully ignorant fundamentalism that swept several world religions -- Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism -- over the past few decades, the "holy warrior" movement crosses sectarian boundaries. It is not only rife in Israel, but is growing more and more powerful in the American military as well. This is outlined in stark and disturbing detail in Jeff Sharlet's report in Harper's earlier this year, "Jesus Kills Mohammed" -- taken from a logo painted on the front of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle by a group of Christian soldiers who, gung-ho with viewings of Mel Gibson's torture-porn, "The Passion," conducted scattershot armed raids through civilian areas in Baghdad. As Sharlet reports on the "small but powerful movement of Christian soldiers concentrated in the officer corps":
What men such as these have fomented is a quiet coup within the armed forces: not of generals encroaching on civilian rule but of religious authority displacing the military’s once staunchly secular code. Not a conspiracy but a cultural transformation, achieved gradually through promotions and prayer meetings, with personal faith replacing protocol according to the best intentions of commanders who conflate God with country. They see themselves not as subversives but as spiritual warriors—“ambassadors for Christ in uniform,” according to Officers’ Christian Fellowship; “government paid missionaries,” according to Campus Crusade’s Military Ministry.
...Within the fundamentalist front in the officer corps, the best organized group is Officers’ Christian Fellowship, with 15,000 members active at 80 percent of military bases... [An] OCF Bible study, “Mission Accomplished,” warns that victory abroad does not mean the war is won at home. “If Satan cannot succeed with threats from the outside, he will seek to destroy from within,” asserts the study, a reference to “fellow countrymen” both in biblical times and today who practice “spiritual adultery.” “Mission Accomplished” takes as its text Nehemiah 1–6, the story of the “wallbuilder” who rebuilt the fortifications around Jerusalem. An outsider might misinterpret the wall metaphor as a sign of respect for separation of church and state, but in contemporary fundamentalist thinking the story stands for just the opposite: a wall within which church and state are one. “With the wall completed the people could live an integrated life,” the study argues. “God was to be Lord of all or not Lord at all.” So it is today, “Mission Accomplished” continues, proposing that before military Christians can complete their wall, they must bring this “Lord of all” to the entire armed forces. “We will need to press ahead obediently,” the study concludes, “not allowing the opposition, all of which is spearheaded by Satan, to keep us from the mission of reclaiming territory for Christ in the military.”
Sharlet notes that the works of Rick Warren, the beefy, suburban Christianist whom Obama picked to bless his inauguration, is featured heavily by the military sectarians. For example:
In March 2008, a chaplain at Lakenheath, a U.S. Air Force–operated base in England, used a mandatory suicide-prevention assembly under Lieutenant General Rod Bishop as an opportunity to promote the principles of The Purpose-Driven Life to roughly 1,000 airmen. In a PowerPoint diagram depicting two family trees, the chaplain contrasted the likely future of a non-religious family, characterized by “Hopelessness” and “Death,” and that of a religious one. The secular family will, according to the diagram, spawn 300 convicts, 190 prostitutes, and 680 alcoholics. Purpose-driven breeding, meanwhile, will result in at least 430 ministers, seven congressmen, and one vice-president.
Sharlet ends with a chilling vignette of the fundamentalist (Christian, Jewish, Muslim) mindset in action -- a conversation he had with an Air Force cadet:
What if he was ordered to bomb a building in which terrorists were hiding, even though there were civilians in the way?
He shook his head. “Who are you to question why God builds up nations just to destroy them, so that those who are in grace can see that they’re in grace?” A smile lit up half his face, an expression that might be taken for sarcastic if Hrabak wasn’t a man committed to being in earnest at all times. What he’d just said—a paraphrase from Romans—might be something like a Word of Knowledge, a gift of wisdom from God. It blew his mind so much he had to repeat it, his voice picking up a speed and enthusiasm that bordered on joy. “He”—the Lord—“builds up an entire nation”—Iraq or Vietnam, Afghanistan or Pakistan, who are you to question why?—“just to destroy them! To show somebody else”—America, a young man guided to college by God, distrustful of his own choices—“that they’re in grace.”
In this, the cadet was echoing one of his comrades quoted earlier:
“How,” he asked, “in the midst of pulling a trigger and watching somebody die, in that instant are you going to be confident that that’s something God told you to do?” His answer was stark. “In this world, there are forces of good and evil. There’s angels and there’s demons, you know? And Satan hates what’s holy.”
The armies of the world are being filled up with soldiers -- and even more so, with officers -- on fire with the deranged certitudes of violent fundamentalism. Their enemies -- both heathenish foreigners and the "spiritual terrorists" among their own ranks, their own families and fellow citizens -- are agents of absolute evil. And there is no such thing as "collateral damage," no killing of innocents in their holy war -- for God Himself has targeted them for destruction, just to prove how righteous His warriors are.
Of course, militarism is itself a virulent cult; without any need for divine sanction, a vast war machine will seek to follow the logic of its construction and do what it was created for: make war. It takes a tremendous -- and ever-failing -- effort to restrain the machine even under the best circumstances. Stoking it with religious extremists committed to blind obedience and violence in the name of God is an unbelievably dangerous and stupid thing to do; yet, as Sharlet and others make clear, the Pentagon's top brass -- including the generals appointed or "continued" by Obama, such as David Petraeus, are deliberately choosing this course, giving their implicit -- and sometimes explicit -- approval to the growth of fanaticism in the ranks. Why not? It's easier to fight wars of imperial domination with soldiers who, in their slavish, unthinking submission, identify their superiors' agenda with God's will.
But our cynical generals are meddling with a volatile material that they cannot control in the long run -- just as they and our security apparatchiks did in cultivating violent Islamic extremists to fight the West's secular agenda in Afghanistan. The "blowback" from the unholy marriage of militarism and militant fundamentalism is certain to bring forth monstrous fruit.