Empire Burlesque
Slip Sliding Away: Joe Biden Gives Iran Green Light to Attack Israel
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 06 July 2009 10:23
Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place....

-- T.S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton"

In a surprise move, Vice President Joe Biden signaled that the United States would not intervene to stop Iran from launching a "pre-emptive" attack on Israel. Biden's declaration came during an appearance on the ABC news-talk show, "This Week," with former Bill Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos. Here are Biden's exact words, as reported by the New York Times:

“Look, we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination — if they make a determination — that they’re existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country.”

It is of course well known that Israel possesses a formidable nuclear arsenal -- which it developed illegally, in secret, "rogue-state" style. It is also well-known that an Israeli attack on Iran is a constant, open topic of discussion -- and advanced planning and war-gaming -- at the highest levels of the Israeli government and military.

Given the fact that a nuclear-armed nation is openly discussing and planning an attack on their country, the Iranians could quite logically "make a determination that they are existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country."

Thus, by Biden's logic, it would be quite legitimate for the Iranians to mount an attack to "take out the nuclear program" in Israel, given the ever-present existential threat this poses to their survival. And the United States, according to Biden, would not do anything to stop such an attack, because Washington "cannot dictate to another sovereign nation" what it can do when it feels threatened to such a degree.

This then is the actual, logical meaning of the actual words that Biden used on Sunday: If Iran's Supreme Leader "made a determination" that his nation's existence was in peril from attack by a very hostile nuclear-armed nation, then he would be justified in taking pre-emptive action to save his people.

This Hobbesian, dog-eat-dog logic could also apply to any other potential conflict in the world. Any nation whose leaders declare is under "existential threat" is thereby justified in any pre-emptive attack to quell the threat. That's it. That's all it takes. That is the quintessence of the philosophy of international statecraft voiced by Biden on Sunday.

But in practice, of course, this justification for military aggression is not meant to apply universally. It is reserved solely for the United States -- indeed, it is the very heart of the U.S. government's officially promulgated "National Security Doctrine"" -- and for any favored American clients and allies. Israel is the prime example of the latter category; any and all acts of aggression by its government are always justified -- and usually praised to high heaven -- by Washington. But this exception also applies to other nations whose aggression serves America's agenda at any given time: Ethiopia's American-aided invasion of Somalia, for example, a brutal act of aggression that killed thousands, displaced hundreds of thousands, radicalized thousands, exacerbated sectarian strife, and sparked off a new, vicious civil war -- all in service of America's Terror War "regime change" agenda.

The machtpolitik philosophy enunciated so clearly by Biden underlies the Terror War operations being continued -- and expanded -- by his boss, Barack Obama, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now, once more, in Somalia. Obama continually affirms that America is under an "existential threat" if Afghanistan is not conquered and the "recalcitrant tribes" of Pakistan not bombed and droned into submission.

But nations outside the golden circle of imperial favor are not allowed to make such claims -- even if nuclear weapons really are aimed at them, by governments who really do call for their destruction. Thus once again we see American leaders trying to justify their own (and their favorites') military aggression by referring to some grand, universal principle -- which they immediately subvert by failing to apply it universally.

Yet it is certain that no one in the upper reaches of the American power structure will note -- or even recognize -- the howling illogic of Biden's position. Why should they? It is their own underlying, animating principle, the very air they breathe: whatever We and Ours do is good, is true, is right, is righteous.

If We torture, it is good; in fact, it's not even torture. If We invade other countries without provocation, it's not aggression; it's liberation. If We kill innocent people to further Our political agenda, it's not terrorism; it's heroism, it's a "defense of the realm," of "our way of life." If We and Ours openly call and plan for "regime change" in other countries, those countries have no right to feel threatened; they should simply fall into line with Our wishes. This, again, is the unquestioned and apparently unquestionable core assumption of the American political, corporate and business classes.

This can be seen in the New York Times story on Biden's interview. Reporter Brian Knowlton makes what he believes is a telling point. After devoting a couple of paragraphs to some of the dangers of an attack on Iran that various American officials have expressed, Knowlton says:

Still, the disputed Iranian election result has raised concerns in Israel. Officials there say that the victory by Mr. Ahmadinejad, who has called for the destruction of Israel, underscored the Iranian threat and bolstered the argument for tough action.

Here of course, Knowlton repeats the blood libel that Ahmadinejad has "called for the destruction of Israel." As Juan Cole and many others have constantly pointed out, Ahmadinejad has done no such thing:

...the actual quote, which comes from an old speech of Khomeini, does not imply military action, or killing anyone at all. The second reason is that it is just an inexact translation. The phrase is almost metaphysical. He quoted Khomeini that "the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time." It is in fact probably a reference to some phrase in a medieval Persian poem. It is not about tanks.

In other words, Ahmadinejad was indulging in the flatulent, high-falutin rhetorical bilgewater favored by politicians around the globe, from the dawn of time. In doing so, he expressed the same kind of hope that the American government and the United States government have formally expressed in the Iran Freedom Support Act, in which the nation's leaders committed $10 million of the public's money to support the removal of the current Iranian regime. Unlike Ahmadinejad's cloudy evocation, the Americans openly put cold hard cash on the line to help make the Iranian regime "vanish from the page of time." (All of this is in addition to the far larger covert efforts -- including terrorism, sabotage and other black ops -- also being carried out in Iran by the United States and local proxies.)

In any case, for all his manifold faults, Ahmadinejad did not and has not "called for the destruction of Israel," nor issued any "existential threat" against the people in Israel -- nor could he actually destroy Israel or even threaten its existence even he wanted to. Israel, on the other hand, has the aforementioned rogue nuclear arsenal, and a bipartisan leadership that constantly declares its strong intent to "eliminate the Iranian threat" -- and which is backed to the hilt by the most powerful military in the history of the world, whose vice president has just publicly affirmed that America will not stop any Israeli attack on Iran.

Who then, by Biden's own logic, is actually facing an existential threat which, by Biden's own logic, would justify a pre-emptive attack?

II.
But the grim NYT story -- presaging, as it does, a monstrous act of folly and hubris that could kill thousands upon thousands of innocent human beings -- does end with a bit of comic relief. Dig this:

In May, Mr. Obama told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel during a meeting at the White House that “we’re not going to have talks forever” with Iran; in the absence of cooperation from Tehran, he said, the administration would not rule out “a range of steps.”

"We're not going to have talks forever"! That's a hoot, ain't it? These "talks," presumably, are the "talks" that "we" are not actually having at all. Obama appears to believe that talking about the possibility of having talks is the same thing as actually having talks -- and is eager to assure his warlike allies, at home and abroad, that he will not drag out these non-existent talks any longer than necessary.

And earlier in the story, Knowlton points out that Obama "has said that diplomatic efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program should be given to the end of the year." Please note well the usage here; in the midst of so much slipping, sliding and perishing of words, our leaders' imprecision is sometimes chillingly precise. Obama says that he is -- graciously, imperiously -- willing to give diplomacy a few more months to stop Iran's nuclear program. Not its nuclear weapons program, which, by all evidence, does not exist, but its nuclear energy program in general -- which by international treaty Iran has every right to pursue, and has pursued under the most stringent international supervision.

Obama is thus leaving open the possibility of overt American moves "beyond diplomacy" if Iran is still pursuing its perfectly legal, internationally sanctioned nuclear program next year -- that is, if Israel is not given the green light for a proxy shot first.

Certainly the trial balloons to habituate the public to the idea of a strike are going up again; on the very day that Biden was signalling American acquiescence to an Israeli strike on Iran, the Times of London -- a frequent stovepipe for the Anglo-American militarist elite -- headlines this little item: Saudis give nod to Israeli raid on Iran.

This in turn dovetails with news that Israel's much-preferred candidate, Japanese diplomat and sanctions maven, Yukiya Amano, has just been named director-general of the International Atomic Energy Association, which is overseeing the draconian strictures on Iran's nuclear program. It is thought that Amano will be much tougher on Iran than outgoing director Mohamed El Baradei, who occasionally committed the cardinal sin of adhering to law, and logic. There will no more of that nonsense from IAEA now. In fact, Amano is off to a flying start, as Gordon Prather notes at Antiwar.com, pointing us to this piece from Bloomberg: UN’s Amano Says Iran ‘Under Obligation’ to Suspend Nuclear Work.

The strenuous effort to get the pliable Amano in place -- as Bloomberg notes, he "previously failed to win majority support in three meetings of the IAEA board" -- eerily recall the machinations to oust the head of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons as a prelude to the invasion of Iraq. As I noted in the Moscow Times in April 2002:

Jose Bustani is an accomplished Brazilian diplomat, a man of learning and enlightenment, with extensive experience in international affairs, including postings in Vienna, Montreal, the United Nations and Moscow. For decades, he has served as a high-level negotiator on a number of international treaties, hammering out agreements on disarmament, pollution, scientific research and maritime law. In 1997, he became director general of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which enforces the international Chemical Weapons Convention.

In that post, as The Guardian reports, Bustani engineered the destruction of 2 million chemical weapons and the dismantling of two-thirds of the world's production facilities for biological mass murder. He was so well regarded by his colleagues that he was re-elected to a five-year term – unanimously – in May 2000. Just a few months ago, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell publicly lauded him for his "very impressive work."

There was one thing wrong with Jose Bustani, however. He was negotiating to bring Iraq into the Chemical Weapons Convention. That was his job, after all: to get as many nations as possible under the treaty's umbrella. So he was trying to persuade Iraq to accept the Convention and its strictures – including the destruction of chemical weapons stores and facilities, and constant independent monitoring to ensure compliance. If he had succeeded, the Middle East – and the world – would have been an immeasurably safer place.

But there were sinister forces – thugs – who didn't want Bustani to succeed. These thugs have big plans for Iraq, you see. They're going to puff up their chests, beat their hairy bellies and rape Iraq, force it down into the dirt and have their way with it. But they can only do that if Iraq remains a threat – or at least can be credibly framed as a threat to the little ones back home.

[Note: Yes, it was that obvious, that early, that the United States was going to invade Iraq. Although the Bush Regime did make a big show of insisting that "diplomatic efforts to [disarm Iraq] should be given to the end of the year," the fix was firmly in. Remember Iraq's frantic disclosures at the end of that year -- thousands of documents sent to the UN to prove the dismantling of its WMD programs, and Iraq's complete acquiescence to all UN inspections? Remember how much good it did them, responding to such "diplomatic efforts"? Well, of course no one in America remembers the pre-history of the act of aggression that Barack Obama now calls an "extraordinary achievement;" but you can be the Iranians do.]

And so George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and the rest of the pack started in on Bustani. First they softened him up with some bureaucratic brass knuckles: they illegally withheld U.S. funding for the Convention, leading to a cash crisis at the agency. Next came a boot in the groin: having themselves engineered the Convention's money troubles, they accused Bustani of "financial mismanagement" and demanded that Brazil recall him. The Brazilians refused.

Then the switchblades came out. Last month, the thugs called for a vote of "no confidence" in Bustani from the Convention's 145 member nations. This was foiled – like the gang's recent attempt to muscle in on Venezuela – by an unexpected show of nerve from the "little guys" who normally quake when the thugs start to bellow. The no-confidence vote failed.

Now the pack was in full cry. They called an unprecedented (and illegal) "special session" of the Convention to force Bustani's ouster. In good thug fashion, they put the squeeze on, threatening to bankrupt the agency or pull out of it altogether – a move that would have collapsed the treaty and set off a world-wide explosion in chemical weapons production. (Even as it is, the thugs have arbitrarily excluded themselves from most of the treaty's provisions – including the very same inspection programs that Iraq is condemned for rejecting.)

And this week, they finally unloaded with both barrels. At the "special session" in The Hague on Monday, the thugs strong-armed 47 of the little guys into voting against Bustani. Seven countries, including Russia, stood their ground for the man they had all unanimously elected less than two years before, while 43 other countries abstained. More than 50 countries boycotted the shameful spectacle altogether.


Just as in those heady days of yore, we can now see several dangerous ducks being put in a row. The process is being helped by the current election crisis in Iran, which has greatly exacerbated the ongoing, never-ending demonization of perfidious Persia. The hardliners' crackdown on dissent has been a particular godsend in this regard. Ahmadinejad, a loose-tongued, bellicose fundamentalist, has always been a most serviceable villain for Western militarists, who need easily caricatured hardliners in charge of their regime change targets. Which is why they stonewalled the Iranian reformists when they held the presidency, rejecting every opportunity to nurture a genuine, peaceful evolution of Iranian democracy, and were cock-a-hoop when a poltroon like Ahmadinejad took over. (As Muhammad Sahimi details here.) Now his goon squad tactics in the election aftermath are doing more to help the American militarists than a thousand warmongering Bill Kristol columns or whole boatload of screeching AEI forums could do.

(Isn't it marvelous how hardliners always buttress their counterparts among the "enemy"? Like the old "we will bury you" Commies providing endless ammo for American reactionaries -- and vice versa. Both sides strenuously fought reform of their systems and called for more repression -- pointing to the ravings of opposing hardliners as justification. The same dynamic is also at work in the Terror War's intimate dance between Western militarists and Islamic extremists, each pointing to the other's depredations as justification for....more depredations.)

Again, let us not forget that America's vast covert forces are sponsoring deadly terrorist attacks inside Iran -- an ongoing provocation that is guaranteed to rouse hardliner ire, undermine all genuine, independent reform movements, and make a mockery of Obama's ludicrous rhetoric about "dialogue." The Iranians -- scraping the bodies of their policemen, and the inevitable "collaterals," from the streets after yet another terrorist attack -- know full well that the Americans are not sincere about "dialogue" and "negotiations." They know the only negotiations the Americans are interested in are terms of surrender.

The Tehran regime's only hope is to make it clear that an attack on them would cost the West more than it is willing to pay, in terms of lives lost, heightened domestic insecurity from reprisal threats, and economic turmoil. This survival strategy inevitably leads to more militarism, the mentality of a fortress besieged: hardly a conducive atmosphere for peaceful reform and better lives for ordinary Iranians. But of course, none of the American militarists -- including, most emphatically, the "progressive" leaders now in charge of the ever-expanding war machine -- give a damn about that, despite the rivers of crocodile tears we've seen since the Iranian election.

At any rate, our new "Tail Gunner Joe" says it's A-OK for the Israelis to strike Iran whenever they feel like it. Looks like surf's up on the old blood-dimmed tide this summer.

 
Shooting and Crying: The Unlearned Lessons of American Atrocity
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 14 January 2014 02:40

1.
The Marlboro Men are back.

A few years ago, we saw them blazoned across our screens and newspapers: rugged, tough, battle-grimed warriors, slogging through hell to conquer evil and bring light to a land lost in darkness.

Last week, the New York Times brought them out again. But this time around, our clean-limbed, God-blessed fighters for a noble cause weren't conquering -- they were suffering. They felt sad, let down, even betrayed. Why? Because what had been the high point, the shining pinnacle, "the most iconic moment" of their righteous campaign was now tainted. Their conquest hadn't held; the old enemy had reared its head again in the city they had pacified with so much rugged, battle-grimed toughness long ago.

Now their feelings were hurt, their souls were troubled. All the goodness of their righteous campaign, all the noble intentions of their light-bringing crusade -- all had been for naught, it seemed. Theirs was indeed a lamentable tragedy. Here was real suffering, raw and anguished.

But what were they talking about exactly? What was this pinnacle, this extraordinary achievement whose great moral worth has now been besmirched?

The battle of Fallujah.

I kid you not.

2.
Just over nine years ago, in November 2004, the United States military carried out an atrocious war crime at the behest of its civilian leaders. Having already committed what America's chief jurist at the Nuremberg trials called "the supreme international crime" -- aggresive war -- the American military now declared a whole city full of innocent civilians to be a "free fire zone" and proceeded to pulverize the town with bombs, missiles, chemical weapons and finally a ground attack by thousands of troops. This came after the American military had cut vital supplies of food and water to the city -- another brazen war crime.

Here is an eyewitness report of the attack from a BBC reporter in the city at the time:

"There are more and more dead bodies on the streets and the stench is unbearable. Smoke is everywhere. It's hard to know how much people outside Fallujah are aware of what is going on here. There are dead women and children lying on the streets. People are getting weaker from hunger. Many are dying are from their injuries because there is no medical help left in the city whatsoever. Some families have started burying their dead in their gardens."

As I noted in the Moscow Times during the attack:

One of the first moves in this magnificent feat of arms was the destruction and capture of medical centers. Twenty doctors – and their patients, including women and children – were killed in an airstrike on one major clinic, the UN Information Service reports, while the city's main hospital was seized in the early hours of the ground assault. Why? Because these places of healing could be used as "propaganda centers," the Pentagon's "information warfare" specialists told the NY Times. Unlike the first attack on Fallujah last spring, there was to be no unseemly footage of gutted children bleeding to death on hospital beds. This time – except for NBC's brief, heavily-edited, quickly-buried clip of the usual lone "bad apple" shooting a wounded Iraqi prisoner – the visuals were rigorously scrubbed.

So while Americans saw stories of rugged "Marlboro Men" winning the day against Satan, they were spared shots of engineers cutting off water and electricity to the city – a flagrant war crime under the Geneva Conventions, as CounterPunch notes, but standard practice throughout the occupation. Nor did pictures of attack helicopters gunning down civilians trying to escape across the Euphrates River – including a family of five – make the TV news, despite the eyewitness account of an AP journalist. Nor were tender American sensibilities subjected to the sight of phosphorous shells bathing enemy fighters – and nearby civilians – with unquenchable chemical fire, literally melting their skin, as the Washington Post reports. Nor did they see the fetus being blown out of the body of Artica Salim when her home was bombed during the "softening-up attacks" that raged relentlessly – and unnoticed – in the closing days of George W. Bush's presidential campaign, the Scotland Sunday Herald reports.

This was the battle of Fallujah. This is the noble cause that our Marlboro Men (and our "paper of record," which gave their laments such prominent play) now feel has been besmirched by the fact that some militant Sunni factions (many from the same groups the United States is now supporting, directly or indirectly, through its assistance to the Syrian rebels) seized control of the city for a time. It is this incident that has made the Marlboros and the Timesters suddenly feel that the "great sacrifices" of America's war of aggression in Iraq were made in vain. This -- not the multitude of Iraqis who have died this year alone in the violent sectarian strife that was created by the American invasion, and exacerbated by deliberate American policy.

Al Qaeda and its allies had no presence in Iraq before the American invasion. No, wait, that's wrong: al Qaeda associates were in fact living safely in Iraq before the invasion -- in Kurdish territory, which was controlled not by Saddam but by American-backed militias. Indeed, the seeds of the Fallujah atrocity sprang from this strange situation, where al Qaeda operatives lived under American protection -- or at the very least, their "benign neglect" -- even after the 9/11 attacks. As I noted during the 2004 storming of Fallujah:

What [we] saw instead were two loudly devout Christians, Bush and Tony Blair, clasping hands and proclaiming that Artica Salim had been torn to shreds in order to fight terrorism – specifically, the terrorism of Jordanian thug Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The city's alleged refusal to turn over Zarqawi was the ostensible reason for the attack; yet halfway through the assault, with dead civilian bodies already stinking in the streets, Coalition commanders finally admitted the truth: Zarqawi wasn't in Fallujah – and hadn't been there for weeks, perhaps months.

But then, Zarqawi leads a peculiarly charmed life. Three times before the war, U.S. forces were set to kill him and destroy his organization. It wasn't that difficult; after all, he was operating in Kurdish-held Iraqi territory, where the U.S. military had free rein. Yet each time, Bush called off the strike, the Wall Street Journal reports. He needed Zarqawi for his pre-war propaganda, so he could point to an "al Qaeda ally in Iraq" – even though Zarqawi was on Bush's Iraqi turf, not Saddam's.

The vicious, murderous, criminal attack on Fallujah was a microcosm of the vast atrocity of the invasion of Iraq -- an atrocity that continues today. A fake reason for an act of aggression was sold to a gleefully gullible media, and through them to a docile public raised on the potent poison of "American exceptionalism," to provide a "justification" for an action whose real purpose had to be concealed. And what was that purpose? To demonstrate and advance the bipartisan American elite's unslakeable desire for domination -- and to demonstrate that anyone who resists that desire will be punished, tormented or killed.

Iraq had no connection to 9/11, and the architects of the aggression (and their Democratic enablers, and their 'progressive' defenders like Christopher Hitchens and the New York Times) knew it. Zarqawi and his group were not in Fallujah, and the military planners of the atrocity knew it. (Indeed, they had let him go long before, even as they imposed a months-long siege on the city.)  The civilian and military instigators and enablers of the invasion of Iraq (and of all of the inevitable crimes and atrocities that followed) acted in the full and conscious knowledge that they were perpetrating acts of mass murder on innocent people. This is an historical fact, this is what actually happened. And, according to the reckoning of America's willing executioner in the Iraq war crime, the government of Great Britain, somewhere around one million innocent people have been needlessly slaughtered as a result of the war. And the slaughter goes on -- again, as a direct result of this willful, deliberate, savage, inhuman act of mass murder, which was carried out to further the domination agenda of a morally depraved elite.

This is what actually happened in Iraq. This is the reality.

I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of the soldiers who fought in Fallujah or took part elsewhere in this gigantic war crime thought of themselves as good people trying to do a good thing in difficult circumstances. That's what they were told they were doing; and, poisoned from birth, like all of us, by that all-pervasive myth of exceptionalism, of special privilege for anything and everything done by the United States, most of them lacked the will -- or even the conceptual tools -- to question this belief. (Brave souls like Chelsea Manning and the Iraq Vets Against the War are among the exceptions.) I am sorry if some of them -- and the survivors of the thousands of Americans killed in the process of unleashing this mass murder -- now feel that the war was fought in vain, and that the American dead "were sacrificed for nothing," as one "angry" ex-Marine told the Times after hearing that Fallujah was temporarily in the hands of the extremist militias engendered by the American invasion of Iraq.

This is unfortunate for them -- but let us be absolutely clear on this point.  To any American soldier who thought he or she was fighting in Iraq for anything other than the aggrandizement of a bloodthirsty elite, then yes, yes, a thousand times yes: you fought in vain. You fought under false premises, you were ordered to carry out a great crime -- and you carried it out. And yes, yes, a thousand times yes: every American soldier who was killed in Iraq was "sacrificed for nothing." This was true from the very first moment of the war, from the moment you set foot in Iraq. [As Arthur Silber notes here.] It did not suddenly become the truth 11 years later, when Fallujah became embroiled in the sectarian strife the war set loose.

So remember again the reality. Remember again what actually happened. The United States military, at the behest of its political leaders, carried out an abominable war crime in Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Think of those innocent people who were murdered -- and those who go on being murdered in the hellhole America made of Iraq -- and then consider where the real tragedy lies, whom the real victims are. Some might think it was people like Artica Salim, whose young body was blown apart by an American bomb during weeks of bombardment to "soften up" the city before the Marlboro Men moved in. But the New York Times -- which "stovepiped" so many helpful lies from government warmongers to help make the entirely specious case for aggression, and speaks today, as it spoke then, as the voice of the American establishment -- thinks the real victims were the Marines who attacked Fallujah.

3.
As noted, the Iraq war was an atrocity from the beginning -- from long before the beginning, in fact. Its very conception -- the idea of launching an act of aggression against a broken-down country which posed no threat, could not defend itself, and which had already seen more than half a million of its children killed by American-enforced sanctions -- was an atrocity. And the brutal -- and brutalizing -- atrocities on the ground began long before the attack on Fallujah.

Just as a brief reminder, let's go back in time with -- who else? -- the New York Times, which carried this report about our Marlboro Men and their crusade for truth and light just a few days after the invasion began.

At the base camp of the Fifth Marine Regiment here, two sharpshooters, Sgt. Eric Schrumpf, 28, and Cpl. Mikael McIntosh, 20, sat on a sand berm and swapped combat tales while their column stood at a halt on the road toward Baghdad. For five days this week, the two men rode atop armored personnel carriers, barreling up Highway 1.

They said Iraqi fighters had often mixed in with civilians from nearby villages, jumping out of houses and cars to shoot at them, and then often running away. The marines said they had little trouble dispatching their foes, most of whom they characterized as ill trained and cowardly.

''We had a great day,'' Sergeant Schrumpf said. ''We killed a lot of people."

...But in the heat of a firefight, both men conceded, when the calculus often warps, a shot not taken in one set of circumstances may suddenly present itself as a life-or-death necessity.

''We dropped a few civilians,'' Sergeant Schrumpf said, ''but what do you do?'' ... He recalled one such incident, in which he and other men in his unit opened fire. He recalled watching one of the women standing near the Iraqi soldier go down.

''I'm sorry,'' the sergeant said. ''But the chick was in the way.''

"The chick was in the way." I've carried this story with me for 11 years. Less than two weeks into the war, it seemed to sum up the whole shebang. It embodied the amoral philosophy that has guided the bipartisan American elite -- and its media enablers -- not only throughout the Iraq War and its still-churning aftermath, but in every action undertaken to advance the agenda of domination. This is what it all comes down to, this is the blank, inhuman, heartless heart of the imperial enterprise: "The chick was in the way."

And those who get "in the way" -- even if they are innocent "chicks" -- get "dropped." That's just how it is. "What do you do?" Shrug it off. Keep going. Keep shooting

And if it doesn't work out, start crying.

4.
When I first saw the headlines of the NYT story, "Fallujah's Fall Stuns Marines Who Fought There," I confess I couldn't read it. I knew what it would say. I knew it was a specimen of the "shooting and crying" genre that is so popular in Israel, where soldiers tell of the anguish they suffer in their own noble occupation duties. I knew it would be a sickening display of exceptionalism. I planned to get to it at some point, but I just couldn't face it at the time.

Then I saw that Arthur Silber had bravely waded into the Times' morass of tears and gunpowder. And his powerful essay went much further into the deeper implications of the story than the background and context I've given above. Indeed, I had intended this piece to be a short introduction to extensive excerpts from his post. But once I got into the story, following Silber's lead, and began recalling the actual history of the atrocity, it "did put me into a towering passion," as the Elsinorean said, and I ended up writing much more than I'd planned. Silber is inspiring that way.

Now here some of those excerpts. But you must, without fail, read the whole of this eloquent blast of hard truth. (And follow the links! There's gold in them thar archives.)

On numerous occasions (here's one representative example from August 2008), I also pointed out that the most severe criticisms of these monstrous crimes permitted by our culture of denial were (and are) that it was a "mistake" based on "bad intelligence," and that it was a "blunder." The first of these evasions is a lie based on a complete misunderstanding of the role of "intelligence" with regard to decisions of policy, while the second represents the superficial babblings of a person so severely damaged that he is incapable of grasping the meaning of words such as "value" and "life." The U.S. government and its military (and all other personnel involved) committed a series of horrifying crimes, they murdered countless people, they wounded and damaged huge numbers of additional persons, and they destroyed a country. Carelessly smashing a vase or blurting out an inappropriate comment before your employer is a "mistake" or a "blunder." Murder and destruction on a vast scale require deliberate, intentional, planned actions over a lengthy period of time; they are crimes which annihilate the concept of forgiveness.

I frequently argued that there is still one more horror beyond these crimes: that neither the U.S. government, nor the ruling class, nor many Americans have learned a single, goddamned thing from these ghastly events. The commitment to America's "right" to dominate world events and the necessarily related commitment to America's perpetual military superiority remain axiomatic and unchallengeable. The ongoing treatment of Iran as a nation that must be brought to heel, the "pivot" to Asia, and the actions of the U.S. government around the globe all attest to the ruling class's belief that America remains unique and uniquely suited to lead and direct events everywhere, a belief that most Americans also continue to accept enthusiastically.

It is one thing to simply deny the reality of our own history. It is quite another to reach back into the past, completely recast the actions of the U.S., transform horrifying crimes which defy description into acts of nobility, and make ourselves into sympathetic victims -- moreover, the only sympathetic victims worthy of note. This New York Times story does all of that, in a manner which caused me to veer between shocked disbelief and nauseated horror: "Falluja's Fall Stuns Marines Who Fought There." The article discusses the "Sunni insurgents, some with allegiances to Al Qaeda," who "retook" Fallujah "and raised their black insurgent flag over buildings" where American Marines had fought. Its focus is on the reaction of the Marines who fought there, and its tone is one of deep sympathy and understanding. That is, deep sympathy and understanding with regard to the Marines. Is there any recognition of the ongoing agony of the Iraqis, agony which is the direct result of the U.S.'s actions -- and of the actions of these Marines themselves? Of course not.

Silber gives many examples of the Marines' shooting-crying anguish -- and the vast rewriting of history -- in the story, including this:

...The officer cited what he called the Marines’ success in helping foster the Awakening movement — where local tribesmen turned against jihadists and partnered with American forces — and said that “without these victories, we might still be there today.”
The officer added: “What the Iraqi forces lost in the last month, four years after transition, is not a reflection of Marine efforts. If it is a reflection of anything, it is the nature of the Iraqi social fabric and long-suppressed civil discord.”

...Those who refuse to acknowledge the horror of what the U.S. government has done -- and the horror of what they have done -- are always led to the final redoubt of the blasted, shriveled, unrecognizable soul: Anything bad that has happened and that continues to happen is the fault of the Iraqis -- those primitive, barbaric, uncivilized Iraqis. This is exactly what Hillary Clinton has said, as well as almost any politician you can name. We are expected to forget that the U.S. deliberately fomented "civil discord" (and "ethnic cleansing," too) among the contending groups as a means of fostering "stability," which they also knew would only be temporary in nature but would allow the U.S. to claim "victory" for a brief moment.

Siber kindly quotes from some of the articles I've written about Fallujah, detailing the horrors of the American chemical attack on the city, and its continuing aftermath. (But as you are going to read his piece in full, I won't requote those bits here.) He also provides a sharply illuminating passage from Hannah Arendt, where she writes of "those who adamantly refused to be 'participants' in the Nazi regime." Silber writes:

Arendt asks: "in what way were those few different who in all walks of life did not collaborate and refused to participate in public life, though they could not and did not rise in rebellion?" Here is part of her answer:

The answer to the ... question is relatively simple: the nonparticipants, called irresponsible by the majority, were the only ones who dared judge by themselves, and they were capable of doing so not because they disposed of a better system of values or because the old standards of right and wrong were still firmly planted in their mind and conscience. On the contrary, all our experiences tell us that it was precisely the members of respectable society, who had not been touched by the intellectual and moral upheaval in the early stages of the Nazi period, who were the first to yield. They simply exchanged one system of values against another. I therefore would suggest that the nonparticipants were those whose consciences did not function in this, as it were, automatic way—as though we dispose of a set of learned or innate rules which we then apply to the particular case as it arises, so that every new experience or situation is already prejudged and we need only act out whatever we learned or possessed beforehand. Their criterion, I think, was a different one: they asked themselves to what extent they would still be able to live in peace with themselves after having committed certain deeds; and they decided that it would be better to do nothing, not because the world would then be changed for the better, but simply because only on this condition could they go on living with themselves at all. Hence, they also chose to die when they were forced to participate. To put it crudely, they refused to murder, not so much because they still held fast to the command “Thou shalt not kill,” but because they were unwilling to live together with a murderer—themselves. The precondition for this kind of judging is not a highly developed intelligence or sophistication in moral matters, but rather the disposition to live together explicitly with oneself, to have intercourse with oneself, that is, to be engaged in that silent dialogue between me and myself which, since Socrates and Plato, we usually call thinking. This kind of thinking, though at the root of all philosophical thought, is not technical and does not concern theoretical problems. The dividing line between those who want to think and therefore have to judge by themselves, and those who do not, strikes across all social and cultural or educational differences. In this respect, the total moral collapse of respectable society during the Hitler regime may teach us that under such circumstances those who cherish values and hold fast to moral norms and standards are not reliable: we now know that moral norms and standards can be changed overnight, and that all that then will be left is the mere habit of holding fast to something. Much more reliable will be the doubters and skeptics, not because skepticism is good or doubting wholesome, but because they are used to examine things and to make up their own minds. Best of all will be those who know only one thing for certain: that whatever else happens, as long as we live we shall have to live together with ourselves.

The story of Fallujah, and the war that engendered that atrocity -- and the attitude toward that atrocity shown in the New York Time's recent story -- all speak plainly, despairingly of "the total moral collapse of respectable society" in this imperial age of ours. Silber concludes:

Our politicians, our military personnel, and many Americans still refuse to face honestly and completely the reality of what the U.S. did in Iraq, just as they refuse to recognize the blood-drenched reality of U.S. foreign policy in general. It is inconceivable that any of the catastrophic consequences of our actions, including the suffering of U.S. military personnel, should be our own responsibility. We therefore blame anything and anyone else, including the victims of our own crimes.

The article makes one further fact unavoidable: The U.S. government, and many Americans, are fully prepared to do it all again. Perhaps in the next year or two, perhaps further in the future, perhaps against Iran, perhaps against some other country that will be designated as the target of our next campaign of destruction once it has been suitably demonized. When that happens, we must resist in every way we can, and we must say, No.

 
The One Percent Solution: Oligarchs to the Rescue!
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Sunday, 05 January 2014 00:53

* Below is my most recent column for CounterPunch Magazine.

Last month, 500 famous authors signed a petition protesting the encroachments of the all-pervasive, techno-surveillance culture that is covering the earth with hidden eyes and ears, like a metastasized Stasi run amok. We’re talking heavy literary lumber here: Nobel Prize-winners, critic list-toppers, best-sellers – big names calling on the UN to create “an international bill of digital rights.”

The authors state the indisputable truth: the "fundamental human right" of personal privacy "has been rendered null and void through abuse of technological developments by states and corporations.” They rightly declare that “a person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy. To maintain any validity, our democratic rights must apply in virtual as in real space."

Of course, one might like to see those “democratic rights in real space” applied a bit more vigorously in these days of airport x-rays, mandatory drug tests, “indefinite detention,” “extrajudicial execution,” “free speech zones,” etc. The accelerating degradation of “real space” liberties hardly inspires hope for preserving freedom in the virtual realm. Still, no sensible person would dispute the very worthy goals espoused in the petition.

And yet, a cankerous old worm of skepticism keeps creeping in. Especially when the petitioners declare that this assemblage of Tolstoyan speakers of truth to power is not actually “against government.” Good gracious no! As Danish writer Janne Teller told the Guardian: "This initiative must be seen as helping governments, who like to preserve democracy in the western world."

Now, you rubes out there probably think that “governments” are actually prime culprits in the mass evisceration of privacy. But no; it seems our good-hearted, democracy-preserving leaders are victims: helpless babes manipulated by their sinister intelligence services, who, Teller tells us, "abuse power.” (Power that has been given to them by, er, governments.) Not to worry, though: a nice UN resolution -- and the stinging moral censure of petitioners like Iraq War supporter Ian McEwan, ethnic profiling enthusiast Martin Amis, and William Boyd, author of the latest “literary” sequel to the saga of James Bond, state assassin extraordinaire -- will doubtless bring these rogue services to heel. Then our noble rulers will be free at last to pursue their tragically frustrated dreams of peace, prosperity, equality and justice.

But wait; what about the literary luminaries' warning against "technological developments … by corporations" which suck up private data for profit? Oddly enough, the petition was coupled, as part of a one-two punch, with an "open letter" written by civic-minded corporate citizens such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, demanding "sweeping changes in surveillance laws" to "restore confidence" in companies like, well, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, whose sole reason for existence is to mine private data for corporate profit.

Here our earnest authors come up against a very 21st-century conundrum: the ever-widening notion that the fate of our liberties should be taken out of the hands of governments and given to … corporations and oligarchs. This is the logic behind the move by Glenn Greenwald and other dissident superstars to “partner” with hi-tech oligarch Pierre Omidyar, “leveraging” Greenwald’s control of Edward Snowden’s NSA documents to create a profitable new media venture. This would be the same Omidyar whose PayPal cut Wikileaks off at the financial knees in its hour of greatest peril, whose “microfinancing initiatives” have led to mass suicides among the debt-ridden poor in India and who now appears driven to monetize dissent in the same way he’s monetized poverty relief. It’s unlikely that hard-hitting exposes of hi-tech corporate chicanery will feature overmuch at Pierre’s new plaything.

But even the exposure of government misdeeds is to be kept within discreet limits by our new-style, media-savvy dissidents, who, like Greenwald, constantly assert they would never publish secrets that might “harm national security” or interfere with the “legitimate operations” of our neo-Stasis. Guardian editor and dissident hero Alan Rusbridger made that clear in his recent appearance before a Parliamentary committee investigating the Snowden revelations. As Arthur Silber, one of the most insightful political writers of our day, notes, the many press plaudits for Rusbridger's “bold” testimony overlooked the editor’s shocking admission that the Guardian has only published "one percent" of the Snowden material, while dutifully consulting "the FBI, the GCHQ, the White House and the Cabinet Office on more than 100 occasions before the publication of stories." Rusbridger also assured MPs that his paper will soon stop publishing stories from the Snowden cache.

Greenwald promises that his upcoming book on Snowden will provide a few more all-important revelations that the public absolutely must know (but which he must unfortunately withhold from us until the sale date). Yet as Silber points out, even with a few extra dollops of data here and there, it’s now obvious that only a tiny percentage of the massive Snowden archive of spy-state malfeasance will ever be revealed.

As always, our betters – in this case, not government apparatchiks but knee-capping oligarchs and government-consulting journalists – will let us know whatever modicum of truth they deem fit for our limited understanding. Or as another, long-dead literary luminary once said: four legs good, two legs better.

 
The Base Court: Another Fortress Rising in America's Ring of Iron
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 03 July 2009 13:45
While President Obama circumnavigates the globe, talking loftily of peace and engagement with the peoples of the world -- in language largely cribbed from old George Bush speeches, but presented in a far more photogenic, plausive package -- this is the real face that the United States is showing to the world. Chalmers Johnson writes:

The U.S. Empire of Bases — at $102 billion a year already the world’s costliest military enterprise — just got a good deal more expensive. As a start, on May 27th, we learned that the State Department will build a new "embassy" in Islamabad, Pakistan, which at $736 million will be the second priciest ever constructed, only $4 million less, if cost overruns don’t occur, than the Vatican-City-sized one the Bush administration put up in Baghdad...

Whatever the costs turn out to be, they will not be included in our already bloated military budget, even though none of these structures is designed to be a true embassy — a place, that is, where local people come for visas and American officials represent the commercial and diplomatic interests of their country. Instead these so-called embassies will actually be walled compounds, akin to medieval fortresses, where American spies, soldiers, intelligence officials, and diplomats try to keep an eye on hostile populations in a region at war. One can predict with certainty that they will house a large contingent of Marines and include roof-top helicopter pads for quick get-aways.

Strangely enough, this bristling musculature of imperial dominance doesn't sit well with the locals in the "garrisoned lands" -- an apt phrase used by Tom Englehardt in introducing Chalmer's piece. Englehardt also points us to this Christian Science Monitor story:

In Pakistan, however, large parts of the population are hostile to the US presence in the region – despite receiving billions of dollars in aid from Washington since 2001 – and anti-American groups and politicians are likely to seize on the expanded diplomatic presence in Islamabad as evidence of American "imperial designs."

"This is a replay of Baghdad," said Khurshid Ahmad, a member of Pakistan's upper house of parliament for Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the country's two main religious political parties. "This [Islamabad embassy] is more [space] than they should need. It's for the micro and macro management of Pakistan, and using Pakistan for pushing the American agenda in Central Asia."

While one has very little sympathy for religious parties anywhere (just look at the murderous, sanctimonious gits of the Republican and Democratic parties, all of them -- Obama included -- oozing Heepish piety as they rob the poor and wage ceaseless war all over the world), in this case Mr Ahmad hits ye old nail on the head. "Micro and macro management" of the imperial satrapies are indeed the feverish obsessions of our Potomac poobahs -- especially in a world which they darkly suspect is rapidly slipping from their accustomed control.

Chalmers also makes the vitally important -- hence universally ignored -- point that the American power structure, whether led by Neanderthal conservatives or ultramodern "progressives," has no intention of giving up the global archipelago of military bases that are the physical footprint of the American imperium:

And what is being done about those military bases anyway — now close to 800 of them dotted across the globe in other people’s countries? Even as Congress and the Obama administration wrangle over the cost of bank bailouts, a new health plan, pollution controls, and other much needed domestic expenditures, no one suggests that closing some of these unpopular, expensive imperial enclaves might be a good way to save some money.

Instead, they are evidently about to become even more expensive. On June 23rd, we learned that Kyrgyzstan, the former Central Asian Soviet Republic which, back in February 2009, announced that it was going to kick the U.S. military out of Manas Air Base (used since 2001 as a staging area for the Afghan War), has been persuaded to let us stay. But here’s the catch: In return for doing us that favor, the annual rent Washington pays for use of the base will more than triple from $17.4 million to $60 million, with millions more to go into promised improvements in airport facilities and other financial sweeteners. All this because the Obama administration, having committed itself to a widening war in the region, is convinced it needs this base to store and trans-ship supplies to Afghanistan.

Chalmers believes that the ring of iron that the United States has wrapped around the world will ultimately be the unmaking of the empire:

I have a suggestion for other countries that are getting a bit weary of the American military presence on their soil: cash in now, before it’s too late. Either up the ante or tell the Americans to go home. I encourage this behavior because I’m convinced that the U.S. Empire of Bases will soon enough bankrupt our country, and so — on the analogy of a financial bubble or a pyramid scheme — if you’re an investor, it’s better to get your money out while you still can.

This is, of course, something that has occurred to the Chinese and other financiers of the American national debt. Only they’re cashing in quietly and slowly in order not to tank the dollar while they’re still holding onto such a bundle of them. Make no mistake, though: whether we’re being bled rapidly or slowly, we are bleeding; and hanging onto our military empire and all the bases that go with it will ultimately spell the end of the United States as we know it.

While Chalmers is undoubtedly one of the wise men of our day, I am not so sure about this final point. Oh, it's true that the empire of bases is further bankrupting our already bankrupt country. And it's an indisputable fact that the fever-dream of dominance and militarism has already spelled the end of the United States as we knew it (or as we once perceived and hoped it to be). Yet it is hard for me to believe that if push really comes to shove for our imperial managers, they will simply stand by and watch their power and privilege melt away with nothing more than a wistful sigh for passing glories. Especially with a unfathomably vast military arsenal -- including thousands of nation-devouring nuclear weapons -- at their command.

In such a case, I strongly doubt they will show the wisdom and courage that unaccountably appeared among the party hacks of the late Soviet leadership, who had the guts to look reality in the face and realize they could not maintain their own militarist empire without a cataclysm of murder and violence that would have put the whole world in peril. They did something almost unthinkable for a political class -- especially those which, like the Communists (and the Democrats and Republicans), see themselves as the righteous vanguard of a uniquely blessed system beyond question or reproach: they admitted defeat, they let go -- not only of the Eastern bloc nations they had controlled since World War II, but also core territories that Russia had governed for centuries, such as Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine. They risked an internal breakdown of epic proportions -- a fate which did indeed come to pass -- but they did not make war to save their empire. They withdrew their troops, and their political control, from country after country after country.

It is one of the most extraordinary episodes in world history. But it will almost certainly not be mentioned next week when Barack Obama visits Moscow -- where, as the proud head of a war machine that has killed a million innocent people in Iraq and is killing thousands in Afghanistan, as the stout defender and expander of the authoritarian power grabs of his White House predecessor and a staunch shield for torturers and other war criminals, he will scold the Russians for their lack of liberty and scanting of human rights. The vast sacrifices that the Russian people have made in the peaceful surrender of their empire -- the shattering of their society by the foolish adoption of Western "shock doctrine" economics and the Western-backed oligarchism of the bufoonish Yeltsin, all of which opened the door to the thuggish authoritarianism of the current Kremlin regime -- will once again go unremarked.

(Just as little was said a few weeks ago in the outpouring of official ceremonies marking the 65th annivesary of D-Day, where endless press paeans and political rhetoric hymned the "decisive" invasion, in which Allied forces faced 14 German divisions -- no mean feat, to be sure, and worthy of remembrance. But at the very same time, the Soviet armies were fighting 163 German divisions, rolling them back in a series of monumental battles that dwarfed the Normandy invasion, in a campaign that cost the lives of 20 million Russians and other Soviet peoples -- and was, by any measurement, the decisive factor in destroying Nazi power. But this too is largely ignored in American re-tellings of how "we" won the war.]

Perhaps -- when the last T-bills are called in, when the gigantic Ponzi scheme of the bailout scam runs out of suckers, when thousands of angry 'natives' are beseiging the walls of the Crusader fortresses the empire has raised in the midst of the "garrison lands," when the whole, sky-blackening hoard of imperial chickens comes home to roost -- perhaps the American elite of the day will rise to the moral level of late-20th century Soviet hacks, and let go. The history of America's bipartisan, multi-generational elite does not exactly inspire confidence in this regard, of course -- although stranger things have happened, I suppose, so it remains at least an outside chance. But I fear that when and if the Iron Ring comes down, it will not be "without great fall of blood."
 
Lean Cuisine: Counting Calories On the Checkpoint Diet
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 01 July 2009 14:14
Remember, no matter what the facts say, just keep repeating to yourself: This is not a ghetto. This is not a ghetto. This is not a ghetto....

A West Bank checkpoint managed by a private security company is not allowing Palestinians to pass through with large water bottles and some food items, Haaretz has learned....

The private security company Modi'in Ezrahi...stops Palestinian workers from passing through the checkpoint with the following items: Large bottles of frozen water, large bottles of soft drinks, home-cooked food, coffee, tea and the spice zaatar. The security company also dictates the quantity of items allowed: Five pitas, one container of hummus and canned tuna, one small bottle or can of beverage, one or two slices of cheese, a few spoonfuls of sugar, and 5 to 10 olives. Workers are also not allowed to carry cooking utensils and work tools.

MachsomWatch told Haaretz that Sunday, a 32-year-old construction worker from Tul Karm, who is employed in Hadera, was not allowed to carry his lunch bag through the checkpoint. The bag contained six pitas, 2 cans of cream cheese, one kilogram of sugar in a plastic bag, and a salad, also in a plastic bag.

The typical Palestinian laborer in Israel has a 12-hour workday, including travel time and checkpoint delays. Many leave home as early as 2 A.M. in order to wait in line at the checkpoint; tardiness to work often results in immediate dismissal. Workers return home around 5 P.M. The wait at the checkpoint can take one to two hours in each direction, if not longer.

The food quantities allowed by Modi'in Ezrahi do not meet the daily dietary needs of the workers, and they prefer not to buy food at the considerably more expensive Israeli stores.

Two cans of cream cheese? Two? And we're supposed to feel sorry for these people? My god, they're living in the lap of luxury, just like those chicken-gobbling freeloaders down in Gitmo. Well, this is why the West is losing out to the Islamofascists, isn't it? We've grown too soft, we just mollycoddle these people, we really do.
 
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