Empire Burlesque
In Dreams Begin Responsibilities
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 16 August 2010 12:03

(UPDATED BELOW)

Flights of Imagination
As I noted here the other day (in a piece that went over like ye olde lead balloon), many things are still possible in this world; there are many ways in which we could be reshaping some of the present abominable realities that beset us. Tom Englehardt presents a few possibilities for profound change in our militarist empire -- although, sadly, these must be offered more as thought experiments, due to the extreme unlikelihood of their adoption as policy by our blood-soaked, morally lobotomized elites. Still, any genuine change begins, at some point, as an act of imagination, so Englehardt's five alternative scenarios are well worth contemplating, as is his conclusion:

Right now, as a nation, we find it remarkably difficult to imagine ourselves as anything but what we now believe ourselves to be – and Washington counts on that. We find it almost impossible to imagine ourselves as just another nation (even perhaps, a more modest and better one), making our way on this disturbed planet of ours as best we can. We can’t imagine ourselves “safe” without being dominant, or being dominant without killing others in distant lands in significant numbers to ensure that safety; nor can we imagine ourselves dominant without that full panoply of secret armies, global garrisons, overlapping spy agencies, fear manias, and all the money that goes with them, despite the abundant evidence that this can’t be safety, either for us or for the planet.

We no longer know what a policy of cautious peace might look like, not having put a cent into envisioning such a project. War and an aggressive global national security state (and the language that goes with it) are all Washington knows and all it cares to know. It is completely invested in the world it now so shakily oversees, and cares for no other .... Maybe one of these days, what-if fever will spread in this country....


A consummation devoutly to be wished, of course. But in a culture where imagination -- an open, creative, intuitive, receptive engagement with reality -- is scorned in favor of barren fantasy -- self-closed, flat, cartoonish renditions of the impossible -- that ever-dormant fever may be long in reawakening. Still, to quote that famous American, Edsel Floyd, we live in hope and die in despair.

Opting Out
Jonathan Schwarz points out a salient fact too little observed: i.e., when our leaders declare that "all options are on the table" regarding some recalcitrant state or difficult situation, they don't really mean it. In fact, the use of that bellicose phrase -- whose only real meaning is, "We will kill lots of people if we have to, with everything we've got, including nuclear weapons, if that's what it takes" -- automatically closes off a whole range of options. As Schwarz notes, after quoting the psychopathic repetition of the "options" trope by tough-talking Obama minions threatening war with Iran:

Any actual reporter would have pointed out the glaringly obvious fact about this rote repetition: all options are not on the table. For instance, Israel is not going to consider giving up its own nuclear weapons if it were part of a deal to make it certain Iran would not develop its own. Nor is the United States considering giving up its nukes. Nor do we have any interest in a region-wide peace settlement that would satisfy us regarding Iran if it required U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the United States hasn't even signaled any openness to apologizing to Iranians for our numerous crimes against them (overthrowing their government, teaching the Shah how best to torture them, helping Saddam use WMD against them, etc.). Apparently we would prefer to attack Iran or indeed for Iran to get nuclear weapons rather than exercise any of these possible options.


Pakistan: The Drowned and the Droned
Pakistan is in the midst of one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern history. More than 20 million people have been displaced by floods whose extent beggars the imagination; at one point, an area the size of Great Britain has been underwater -- and more floods are coming. Millions face the threat of immediate starvation. In the wake of the water and the massive displacement, disease is growing, with "6 million children are at risk of life-threatening diarrhoeal diseases, malnutrition and pneumonia," as the Guardian reports. "Stagnant flood plains in densely populated, poverty-stricken urban areas may become breeding grounds for cholera, mosquitos and malaria." UN chief Ban Ki-moon calls it the worst natural disaster he has ever seen.

Yet you could go days without hearing or reading about this epochal suffering -- although you might run across an occasional "think piece" on how the floods could affect Washington's Great Gaming in the region, which is, of course, the most important thing. And in the UK, you could read yards and yards of print about the UK-Pakistan cricket series without being disturbed with ugly scenes of children dying in their own watery filth -- or, indeed, with any of those annoying pleas for donations that always crop up in other disasters.

The looking-away from this disaster is extraordinary -- especially in a country that our elites have identified as "crucial" to America's "national security strategy." Perhaps they feel that, all in all, it's a good thing if the floods thin out the troublesome Pakistani population a little bit, and keep the survivors pre-occupied with basic survival. More likely, they just don't give a damn one way or another. As long as they keep the ever-profitable war machine churning in the region, it doesn't matter what happens to the actual people who live there.

We could see this exemplified clearly over the weekend, as the Obama Administration made a notable contribution to the relief effort: drone missiles. Yes, while the Pakistanis were literally trying to keep their society afloat in a world-historical cataclysm, the Peace Laureate was lobbing a few more missiles into remote Pakistani villages, killing alleged "rebels" in yet another in a series of illegal acts of aggression on the sovereign territory of an American ally.

Everyone knows that these attacks are only exacerbating the problems they are ostensibly designed to solve -- extremism, anti-Americanism, political instability in the region, etc. Yet still they go on, and on. One can only conclude from this that the ostensible reasons offered for the policy are not the real reasons motivating it.

Those real reasons -- in essence, the perpetuation of power, loot and dominance for our militarized, imperialized American elite -- are so overwhelmingly important to our leaders that they would keep killing Pakistanis, in Pakistan, even during an unprecedented national crisis. It seems there is nothing that will induce them to make even the slightest, momentary pause in this murderous campaign. Killing people is that important to them; they can no longer exist, or even imagine an existence, without it.

Meanwhile, here's one of those annoying pleas for donations to help the flood victims: Oxfam America and Oxfam UK

UPDATE: The NY Times finally finds some front page room for the Pakistan disaster, with only the briefest mention of its all-important impact on the strategies of the Potomac imperium.

God and Man and War Criminals at Yale
Yale University continues its modern tradition of hiring war criminals to instruct young minds in the ways of the world. First, it was Tony Blair, brought over to pontificate at Yale Divinity School -- and now Stanley McChrystal, chief honcho of death squads and "strenuous interrogation" in Iraq and later failed leader of the "Obama Surge" in Afghanistan, has been hired by the august institution to ''examine how dramatic changes in globalization have increased the complexity of modern leadership," the NY Times reports.

Yes, modern leadership is a complex business, all right, but the wisdom McChrystal has to offer can probably be boiled down to this essential nugget: "Kill all the ragheads you want, all over the world -- but for god's sake don't make disparaging remarks about the president to a music magazine!" No doubt our future modern leaders will take that lesson to heart.

The Mirror Crack'd: Silber Delves Deeper on the Mosque Affair
Arthur Silber goes another level deeper in this followup to his analysis of the pervasive racism animating the "Ground Zero Mosque" affair. As always, you'll cheat yourself if you don't treat yourself to his arguments in full, but here is just one of the insights from the piece:

Those who repeatedly and furiously denounce the "Ground Zero mosque," as they speak in horrified tones of the coming conquest of America by Islam, tremble before one possibility far more than any enemy they have chosen to identify. Their capacity for more accurate perception and even minimal self-awareness is altogether obliterated by their greatest of all fears: that they might have to hold up a mirror to their own souls and see the diseased, twisted nature of what they have allowed to permanently reside there.

Such people cannot be reasoned with, and it is futile to try. But we should always remember what it is that actually drives them to such destructive rage, and that it has nothing at all to do with the source they are willing to identify. This pattern is, of course, as old as humankind. What we loathe in ourselves, we place in others. Then we destroy those others, believing we thus destroy what we loathe.

But the enemy still lives, inside us. Until that is understood, the battle will never end, nor will the destruction, the suffering and the death.

 
Profiles in Pusillanimity: Obama and the 'Ground Zero Mosque'
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Sunday, 15 August 2010 22:35

There was great rejoicing on the port side of the blogosphere this weekend after Barack Obama took the "brave step" of announcing "his support for the Ground Zero mosque." (There was also much rejoicing on the starboard side as well, as it "proved" the Right's contention that Obama is a double-secret Islamic Muslim Moslem Mohammedan out to convert every American into Islamic Muslim Moslems.) Even stern critics of many aspects of the Obama regime declared that here, at last, the pusillanimous progressive prez had taken a worthy stand, and should be praised.

[I confess that I have never understood this latter stance, especially when it comes from those who continually lay out the high crimes and atrocities of the current administration in devastating detail. Why should we make a point of praising leaders whom we know are engaged in criminal, immoral and unconstitutional actions? As I've noted here many times before, every government in the history of the world has done "good" things, in some areas, for some people, or even many people -- even the worst regimes of the last century. They built roads, established social programs, dug sewers, built hospitals, schools, parks, museums, brought electricity to rural regions, lifted millions out of poverty and illiteracy, and so on and so forth. Their leaders often made speeches about their abiding belief in freedom and peace and a decent life for all; Stalin's constitution, for example, promised a virtual paradise of democracy, tolerance, equality and ease. Indeed, you can find "good" deeds being done by all kinds of criminal groups: Al Capone's gang helped many of the poor and sick in their neighborhoods -- in fact, it was the Chicago mob that first forced milk producers to date-stamp their products, to protect consumers from buying old milk which had been sold as fresh. But no one feels compelled to be "fair" by noting their good deeds along with the many murders, atrocities and acts of terrors they committed. Why then should we praise a president who is directing -- and expanding -- the murderous operations of rampaging, liberty-gutting war machine?]

In any case, soon -- in less than 24 hours, in fact -- it was walkbacks all around, as the Pusillanimous One issued a statement that diluted his original declaration to the point of anodyne meaninglessness. No longer a bold stand against the truly sickening racism -- and deliberate deceit -- of the manufactured "controversy," Obama's "stance" was reduced to beltway boilerplate about our exalted American principles ... while specifically (and cravenly) denying that these principles could be or should be applied to this, or any, particular case.

As you might imagine, Arthur Silber has been on this case like the proverbial duck on the folkloric June bug. I was going to write on this topic, but he has already said most everything that I was going to say -- and much more besides. So let me then direct you immediately to his take on the subject, which opens with the most salient point -- that our "bold, brave" president is, by any measure (including those most solemnly encoded in the laws of the United States of America), a wanton war criminal. He also adds many other insights along the way -- such as the entirely ignored fact that the "Ground Zero Mosque" is, strictly speaking, not a mosque at all, and not at Ground Zero, while also scoring the deep, widespread and, dare we say it, popular racism at the core of this whole issue (which he also deals with in this follow-up piece). Hie thee there immediately, and read.

*Broken link fixed. My apologies. 

 
Quick Takes and Wrong Turns
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 13 August 2010 16:04

Luminous Landmark
As we noted here recently, Arthur Silber is in the midst of a landmark series on the Wikilieaks revelations -- a series whose profound implications and insights extend far beyond the particulars of the current controversy (although he has many pertinent things to say about those as well). I'm sure I will be drawing on these essays in the days to come. Circumstances prevent me from doing them justice at the moment, so for now I just want to point you to them once again (several more have appeared since their first mention here), and urge you to read them, if you have not done so already.

A Brief History of Hell
It's a story we have oft told here -- how the Potomac Empire brought fresh hell to Somalia -- but in light of the current imperial seat-warmer's "continuity" with the insane and inhumane policies of his predecessor, Charles Pena provides a very useful overview of "Blowback, Somali Style."

Long Gone Wrong Turn
Neil Ascherson writes of an exhibit which I just attended at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford: The Lost World of Old Europe. As he notes:

The Oxford exhibition is small, but utterly spectacular. Its objects – the figurines, the painted ceramics – are irresistible. Its message adds a new page to the conventional history of ‘civilisation’. Some 7000 years ago, in south-eastern Europe around the lower Danube, groups of farmers with loosely similar ways of life settled in an area reaching from modern Bulgaria and Romania across into Ukraine. In the transitional period between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, they flourished and multiplied. They evolved an elaborately beautiful material culture of painted pottery, goldwork and beads. They modelled and treasured clay figurines of women – and a few men. They mined copper and gold, and imported fashionable seashells from the distant Aegean. They seem to have lived in peace and equality. Before the first big cities arose in Mesopotamia, the peoples settled between the Carpathians and the Dnieper (heftily named the ‘Cucuteni-Tripolye culture’) lived in enormous ‘villages’ with up to 8000 inhabitants. These were the largest communities anywhere in the world. But such ‘megatowns’ show no trace of palaces or temples or other structures of central authority. If this ‘Old Europe’ had survived and spread westwards and northwards, the human story of the whole continent might have developed along a different track – perhaps a happier one.

But it did not survive. ‘Old Europe’ became a ‘Lost World’. Between 4000 and 3000 BC, invaders rode in from the eastern steppes, mobile warriors who used horses and who were pastoral herders rather than farmers. The mounds (‘tells’) inhabited for thousands of years were deserted and the ‘megatowns’ burned down. The copper mines were abandoned and the wonderful pottery and figurines forgotten. So much for theories of inevitable, linear progress....


The whole piece is well worth reading.

Unquiet Graves
Even as Tony Blair prepares for this whirlwind "War Criminal Memoir" Tour (anticipating his senior partner in perfidy, George Bush, by a few months), the unquiet graves he left behind him continue their turbulations. As the Guardian reports: Experts call for David Kelly inquest. The new UK government -- egregious wankers that they are -- seem less inclined to bury the bloody laundry of their predecessors (at least in some limited cases) than some Ovaloid Peace Laureates we know.

Glue Addicts
Charles Davis points us to a definition of "Beltway liberalism in 24 words." They are offered up, as you might suspect, by that reliable chewer of progressive conventional wisdom, Matthew Ygelsias, who tells us:

"From a Keynesian standpoint, I believe that with the economy depressed it’s better to spend the money in Afghanistan than not to spend it."


As Davis notes:

Sorry, but someone truly familiar with all the horrors of war, someone who could actually empathize with an Afghan mother or father losing their child to an American smart bomb -- or a child watching their parents die in a botched night raid by U.S. marines -- could never write that.


Ah, but in the cozy bipartisan cocoon of the imperium, war is always on the menu. It is, as Andrew Bacevich points out, the very glue that binds the American elite together, for all their loud but very minor factional quibbles.

And you can't feel your way into the suffering of others when your own organs of perception are smeared with glue ... and coagulate gore.

 
A Counsel Against Despair
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Sunday, 15 August 2010 00:06

MANY THINGS ARE POSSIBLE

Not everything.
Not paradise or perfection.
But many things.
Better things.
Clearer, deeper ways of seeing.
Richer, deeper ways of being.
Many things are possible.

Despair is a disease spread by the powerful,
like smallpox laced in a blanket,
to keep us weak, distracted, and in thrall.

Time is against us, always against us,
the mortal tincture working its way.
But while breath and blood still flows
behind the caging bone,

MANY THINGS ARE POSSIBLE

*** *** *** *** *** *** ***

 
 
Timebends: The Further Fruits of Revelation
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 11 August 2010 23:19

I noted here a couple of weeks ago that I was looking "forward to seeing more of the genuine revelations of heretofore undisclosed crimes that will likely be emerging from the still largely unexplored documents" released by Wikileaks last month. I have not been disappointed. (I've also been in the process of revising much of my first reaction to the document dump; but more on that later perhaps.)

As the media froth surrounding the initial appearance of the documents recedes, the nuggets of hard truth become clearer, with diligent researchers digging through the trove. For example, Bretigne Shaffer finds some of the underpinning for the media blitz now obviously under way to reverse the growing public discontent with the war in Afghanistan.

The most glaring emblem of this campaign, of course, is the recent Time Magazine cover of the horrifically mutilated Afghan girl, which was accompanied by the headline: "What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan." (As Shaffer notes, this was posed not as a question, but as a stark statement of fact, with this not-so-subtle-implication: "If you oppose this war, you are objectively pro-mutilation.") Of course, the atrocity committed against this young woman is indeed a wicked, sickening crime. But it has nothing to do with "our" presence in Afghanistan.

No wait, strike that; it has everything to do with our presence in Afghanistan -- a presence which is greatly exacerbating the societal breakdown and empowering the kind of retrograde extremism that together lead to the perpetuation of such practices. As Shaffer notes, there is a close parallel here to the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, who came to power after the United States essentially obliterated that nation with a beserker frenzy of bombing that surpassed the tonnage of all the bombs dropped by the Allies in World War II.

In any case, such horrific crimes against women and children go on all the time, all over the world, in every culture. Why would Time Magazine, which usually ignores such things, decide to highlight this particular crime, at this particular time -- and use it directly to make a "moral" case for continuing the war? Shaffer points out what she found in the Wikileaks dump:

As if the implicit pitch for more war as a solution to violence against women did not provide enough cognitive dissonance, the woman pictured was actually disfigured by family members at the order of a Taliban official last year – eight years after US forces entered Afghanistan.

In fact, the Time piece fits very neatly with something found in one of the leaked documents that has the White House so concerned. Titled "CIA Red Cell Special Memorandum: Afghanistan: Sustaining West European Support for the NATO-led Mission-Why Counting on Apathy Might Not Be Enough," the document ."..outlines possible PR strategies to shore up public support in Germany and France for a continued war in Afghanistan."

The Memorandum continues:

    "The proposed PR strategies focus on pressure points that have been identified within these countries. For France it is the sympathy of the public for Afghan refugees and women... Outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French, German, and other European women could help to overcome pervasive skepticism among women in Western Europe toward the ISAF mission... Media events that feature testimonials by Afghan women would probably be most effective if broadcast on programs that have large and disproportionately female audiences." (Emphasis Shaffer's)


Putting a year-old atrocity on the cover of Time Magazine is indeed an effective "media opportunity" for a war machine eager to keep its blood-greased engines churning. And not that anyone cares, but the Taliban hotly denies any involvement in the crime against the young woman, which was carried out by her own in-laws. As AFP reports:

Independent US monitoring agency SITE said the English-language statement from the Taliban spokesman was posted on Saturday on the website of the group, which calls itself the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan:

 "As far as the story of Aisha is concerned, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has condemned this barbaric, inhumane and un-Islamic act and declares that this case has never been forwarded to any court or persons of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan."

The statement goes on to point out that under Islamic law the "cutting of human ears and noses whether the human is alive or dead is illegal and prohibited."


But yes, there is violence against women in Afghanistan -- great violence. But this has only increased, not decreased, as the American military presence drags on, as Shaffer notes (see original for links):

Says Ann Jones, journalist and author of Kabul in Winter, "For most Afghan women, life has stayed the same. And for a great number, life has gotten much worse."

Sonali Kolhatkar, co-director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, says "the attacks against women both external and within the family have gone up. Domestic violence has increased. (The current) judiciary is imprisoning more women than ever before in Afghanistan. And they are imprisoning them for running away from their homes, for refusing to marry the man that their family picked for them, for even being a victim of rape."

Anand Gopal, Afghanistan correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, says "The situation for women in the Pashtun area is actually worse than it was during the Taliban time. ...(U)nder the Taliban, women were kept in burqas and in their homes, away from education. Today, the same situation persists. They’re kept in burqas, in homes, away from education, but on top of that they are also living in a war zone."


Shaffer then points us to a remarkable article by Mohammad Qayoumi in Foreign Policy earlier this year: a photo essay on what Afghanistan looked like 50 years ago:

The photos were taken from an old book published by Afghanistan’s planning ministry in the 1950s and 60s, and were accompanied by Qayoumi’s commentary recalling the Afghanistan he had known as a young man. The images depict men and women in western dress going about their daily lives in what appears to be a fairly well-developed, functioning society. Qayoumi recounts:

    "A half-century ago, Afghan women pursued careers in medicine; men and women mingled casually at movie theaters and university campuses in Kabul; factories in the suburbs churned out textiles and other goods. There was a tradition of law and order, and a government capable of undertaking large national infrastructure projects, like building hydropower stations and roads, albeit with outside help. Ordinary people had a sense of hope, a belief that education could open opportunities for all, a conviction that a bright future lay ahead. All that has been destroyed by three decades of war, but it was real."

The images are in stark contrast to pretty much any photos from Afghanistan today, and are a poignant reminder of how much that country has lost.


She also points out how these images jar with the brutal pig-ignorance that holds sway in the imperial mindset of American policymakers and their war-profiteering whores like Blackwater's Eric Prince. She first excerpts a recent quote by Prince, then gives her conclusion:

    "You know," [Prince said], "people ask me that all the time: 'Aren't you concerned that you folks aren't covered under the Geneva Convention in [operating] in the likes of Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan?' And I say, 'Absolutely not,' because these people, they crawled out of the sewer and they have a 1200 AD mentality. They're barbarians. They don't know where Geneva is, let alone that there was a convention there."

As Qayoumi’s photo essay demonstrates so clearly, Afghanistan is not a devastated nation because its people "have a 1200 AD mentality." It is devastated because it has been invaded and occupied by hostile foreign powers for years. Anyone who truly cares about the welfare of the Afghan people would do well to remember this fact before proposing more of what has caused that country’s problems as their solution.

 
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