Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 06 July 2009 10:23
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?
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.
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."
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 01 December 2014 01:04
Andy Worthington asks a burning question: “Why is Shaker Aamer still at Gitmo?” And after detailing the case of Aamer — an innocent man sold to the American security forces by the human traffickers who partnered with the CIA in Afghanistan, a man who was cleared for release from the American concentration camp seven years ago — Worthington suggests the likely answer:
Aamer knows too much about the torture regime at Gitmo, and has been too vocal in standing up for fellow prisoners throughout his illegal captivity — and has made it clear he will continue to speak out against the inhumane conditions in the camp.Worthington’s piece should be read in full, but here are a few excerpts:
Imagine being imprisoned, year after year, despite having been told that your captors had undertaken a high-level review process and no longer wanted to hold you?
At the United States’ detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, is facing just that situation. More than seven years ago, the George W. Bush administration approved Aamer for release from the detention facility. Five years ago, the high-level interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force, appointed by President Barack Obama when he took office, also approved him for release (PDF) and told him he would be freed, along with 125 others, once the necessary arrangements were made.
When releasing its illegal captives, the United States insists that its victims’ home countries (or some other country) will be willing to take them. As Worthington notes, for seven years, the British government has been calling for Aamer to be returned to the UK, his home country. Thus even by the perverted rules of the American concentration camp system, there should be no bar to Aamer’s released. He’s been cleared by the Bush administration; he’s been cleared by the Obama administration; his home country stands ready to welcome him, and has continually called for his release. So why he is still be held captive? Worthington writes:
We know that Aamer has been an eloquent defender of prisoners’ rights from the moment he was handed over to the U.S. by bounty hunters in Afghanistan, where he had traveled with his family to provide humanitarian aid. We know that he has been a leader in the prison, because of his outspoken criticism of conditions at Guantánamo, and has tales of torture and abuse to share with the world.
Perhaps this fear of embarrassment is the only thing preventing the United States from ending Aamer’s 13-year imprisonment and allowing him to rejoin his wife and children in Britain.
A man sold into captivity by crooks working with spies to facilitate the vast, endless expansion of America’s imperial war state (a plan laid out years ago by some of the top leaders of the American elite, as we have noted here so often before): this is the reality of the American state. This is what we are now, this is what we do. Yet people still get exercised, on both left and right, over the question of which bloodstained murderer will preside over this slaughterhouse of human values for the next four years. They still think this is the democracy they were taught about in school. They still think that if we can just get the right peachy-keen person in charge of this world-ravaging war machine, then all will be well. I confess that I can no longer fathom such wilful blindness to reality, such utter moral idiocy.
Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 28 November 2014 00:42
Moscow-based American writer and critic John Freedman has penned a tremendously powerful piece on his blog, Russian Culture in Landmarks. Writing a response to an article by Russian-born writer Martha Gessen in the New York Times, Freedman has encapsulated, in so many ways, the experience of those of us who, in this grim and ugly century, have "lost" both our countries -- the America that gave us birth, and the Russia which, as with Rilke, became our "spiritual homeland" -- to bizarre, brutal, murderous, belligerent, xenophobic, mean-spirited, wilfully ignorant perversions of themselves. In America, in Russia, and in so many other places around the world, what is best in human nature has indeed been “captured by aliens and stuffed into a trunk” — to borrow Freedman’s chillingly apt evocation of the poem by Alexander Timofeevsky.
Russia has been my intellectual, emotional and aesthetic raison d’etre for many, many decades. I have lived in Moscow for many decades. I’ve published a lot of books about Russian culture. I have been followed by the KGB and the FSB. I have been, essentially, kidnapped and interrogated. My phones and my apartments have been tapped. My car has been stolen (probably by the authorities), I have been recruited openly and otherwise to be a snitch. I have lost most of what little money I had in various defaults, financial crashes and monetary reforms. I have been the victim of vandalism and slur campaigns. And through it all I didn’t give a damn. Because my love for Russia and its culture was that strong. It was that strong. All that other crap was just that, crap. All I cared about, figuratively speaking, was Pushkin. Erdman. Dostoevsky. Tolstoy. Gogol. Kurochkin. Korkia. Klavdiev. Mukhina. Ginkas. Bakshi. Krymov. Yukhananov. It’s unfair to begin a list because the list must stop somewhere and the riches of Russian culture, the riches that have fed me for most of my adult life are such that the list could damn near be endless.
So when Masha Gessen writes about love, I know what she means. I have lived that love. And that love has held me strong through trying times. And then “the present” came. I’m going to say “the present” came in late 2010. It’s an arbitrary choice, but it’s more or less when Vladimir Putin truly began pushing his people over the edge and some of them began pushing back. What we have witnessed since then is something akin to the mayhem of a slaughterhouse gone mad. The arrests, the harassment of peaceful citizens, the murders of journalists and lawyers attempting to do their job, the bizarre machine of lawmaking that seeks to ban the human being from thinking at all (outlawing curse words, outlawing the questioning of official history, outlawing “propaganda of a gay lifestyle”), the use of hatred to inspire love of country, the vilification of anyone daring to have his or her own opinion, the use of lies, lies, lies, bold, brazen lies as an excuse for anything the state wishes to do …
But the bigger point is this – as this tsunami of insanity has inundated those of us living in Russia, the worst, the most horrible, the most untenable, the most inexcusable aspect of it all has been the way the vast majority of Russians have either turned a blind eye – “Oh, I don’t know anything about it!” – or embraced it …
I have been accused – by former friends and by utter strangers – of being a spy, of being here to undermine Russia, of being one of those from the West who has destroyed Russian values.
As this cacophony of nonsense and words built up, I found myself drifting farther and farther from my love until we lost touch with one another. This was followed by despair and utter confusion fueled by outrage and deep, gnawing sorrow. One cannot live like that. One either loves or one dies.
Reading Freedman’s words, I was thinking, Yes, the same thing has happened in America too: the wilful, bellicose blindness, and the widespread embracing of horrors that in my own lifetime would have once been considered monstrously “un-American,” not to mention evil and inhumane by any moral standard. And of course, I’d spent the last 13 years — since my first columns questioning and denouncing the militarist American empire in the aftermath of 9/11 — being called a traitor, a subverter out to destroy America and its sacred values. etc. Then, reading further, I saw that Freedman also recognized the similarities:
I am not setting myself up in opposition to [Gessen] at all … On the contrary, I share with her that love and loss of it. It’s traumatic, believe me. Moreover, Gessen is talking about losing her own native culture and a feeling for it. … I also want to say that I, as an American, can fully share Gessen’s disillusionment with her own native culture. I mean, let’s be honest, I am writing this as streets in many U.S. cities are burning once again, because … yes, again, a young black man or boy has been shot by a white policeman who gets off scot-free. This is to say nothing of my disgust over the complete collapse of the American political system, which now has been simplified to this: He with the most dollars wins (notice I don’t bother to add “she” because it’s always a “he”). I, too, like Masha Gessen gazing upon a home culture that nurtured her and then scorned her, know that horrible feeling of realizing that my home is no longer my home. The shock of realizing that your home has been lost while you were making tea, flirting with the neighbor, or scrubbing the toilet, has never been described better than by the great poet Alexander Timofeevsky, who wrote in his long, narrative poem Tram Car No. 37:
Russia was pilfered by aliens.
In five minutes they beamed her up,
Squashed her down, and stuck her in a trunk.
Meanwhile, as you and I were busy dreaming,
Somebody replaced her with a counterfeit.
These are grim times. Monstrous, ugly, implacable — and seemingly immovable — systems of power hold increasingly brutal sway over vast areas of the earth`; a monstrous weight crushing hope and light out of the future. But as Freedman writes, you either love, or die. One way Freedman combats our age’s despair and soul-death is through his blog, which focuses on the deepest currents of Russian culture, on what remains eternally true — worthy of love, expressing the always-provisional, eternally-failing but ever-striving desire to find and hold and nurture and enhance “the better angels of our nature.”
Although Freedman’s post is very personal, and deals mainly with Russia, it has an insight that reaches beyond the particulars of person and place and geopolitics. It calls us back from the pit of our despair, calls us back to the fight, the only fight that matters: the struggle to deepen the meaning of what it means to be human, in ourselves and in our relation to all others.