Overthrow the constitutionally elected democratic government. Install willing stooges, backed by local oligarchs, in its place. Send in your own troops to take part in the crusade du jour (anti-communism, anti-terrorism, the "War on Drugs") and establish your iron dominion over the lesser breeds south of the border. Repeat as often as necessary.
It's a tried-and-true formula, a traditional remedy, as American as apple pie, Chevrolet and murdering wedding guests and funeral-goers by remote control from a comfy chair in a secure fortress 10,000 miles away. And Barack Obama -- who is nothing if not a genuine American Traditionalist -- is carrying on the grand tradition of America's always extra-special relationship with the nations of Central America.
Last Saturday, the Obama Administration finally came clean on its "commando-style" operations in Honduras -- the country whose government Obama helped overthrow in the rosy dawn of his progressive presidency. A "commando" of the Drug Enforcement Agency shot and killed a man in a group of alleged drug smugglers who had surrendered after a raid. As the New York Times reports:
During the operation,[U.S. embassy spokesman Stephen] Posivak said, the government agents told a group suspected of smuggling to surrender. Four of the suspects did so and were arrested, but a fifth reached for a holstered weapon. The American agent shot him before he could fire.
“The suspect, instead of surrendering, reached for his firearm,” Mr. Posivak said. “The other suspects surrendered, but this guy went for his gun.”
Well, that's what Mr. Posivak said, so it must be true. It may even be as true as the story of Osama bin Laden going for his gun when he was shot down unarmed in his bed. Or maybe the "guy" in Honduras was reaching for his holstered weapon in order to surrender it, as ordered. Who knows? But if the story changes tomorrow or next week, we should not be surprised -- nor should it make us doubt the words of our leaders and their Posivaks as they try their darndest to give us the true facts through the ever-present "fog of war."
America's drug-warring commandos have been linked to a number of deaths in Honduras this year -- including a raid in which two pregnant women were killed, according to local eyewitnesses -- but the White House has always denied that our boys were actually pulling the triggers. But now, after the carefully orchestrated revelations by "administration insiders" about Obama's weekly Death Squad meetings -- and the near-universal non-reaction to this story by the media-political establishment and the general public -- there's no need to hide a little penny-ante wetwork down south. Now it's praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, the whole world is a "free-fire zone."
As the NYT noted in an earlier story about the spread of American "forward bases" in the client land, "government leaders in Honduras, who came to power in a controversial election a few months after a 2009 coup, have strongly supported assistance from the United States, but skeptics contend that enthusiasm is in part because the partnership bolsters their fragile hold on power."
Oh, those skeptics. Always pouring cold water on even the most altruistic operation. For everyone knows that the sole and only single purpose of the War on Drugs is to keep the pusherman away from little Sally's middle-school playground. Sure, the Drug War has given rise to the most powerful underworld organizations the world has ever seen; sure, it's corrupted governments and politics around the world on a staggering scale; sure, it's stuffed respectable banks with obscene profits from money-laundering; sure, it's led to the deaths of countless thousands of innocent people, fueled civil wars and insurgencies, served as an excuse for government repression and tyranny, and blighted the lives of millions of people who have been jailed and ruined for the crime of choosing the wrong kind of intoxicant. But despite this 40-year record of carnage and despair (which, oddly enough, has not curtailed the trafficking and use of drugs), we all know that the War on Drugs is a good thing. It has made the world a better place.
And that's why a good progressive like Barack Obama has embraced the War on Drugs with same avidity with which he has taken up -- and extended -- the War on Terror. That's why our boys are down in Honduras today, shooting "guys" with holstered weapons and helping our satraps keep their grip on the power we gave them.
II. But just to give a little context to this noble crusade, we might look back at Obama's progressive dealing with Honduras since coming to power. As I wrote here last year, in a piece that came out as the White House was basking in the glow of the bin Laden killing:
One of President Barack Obama's most signal achievements in inter-American relations has been his countenancing of a brutal coup in Honduras and his avid embrace of the repressive regime produced by the elitist overthrow of the democratically elected government. As we noted here last year:
Since the installation of these throwbacks to the corrupt and brutal 'banana republics' of yore, Obama's secretary of state, the "progressive" Hillary Clinton, has spent a good deal of time and effort trying to coerce Honduras' outraged neighbors in Latin America to "welcome" the thug-clique, now led by Porfirio Lobo, back into the "community of nations." Let bygones be bygones, Clinton says, as Lobo's regime murders journalists (nine so far this year), political opponents and carries on the wholesale trashing of Honduran independence (such as sacking four Supreme Court justices who opposed the gutting of liberties and the overthrow of constitutional order). After all, isn't that Obama's own philosophy: always "look forward," forget the crimes of the past? Every day is a new day, a clean slate, a chance for a new beginning -- indeed, for "hope and change."
In other words: let the dead bury the dead -- and the rich and powerful reap their rewards.
And even as Obama basks in the atavistic glow of the Warrior Prince (you would think he'd killed bin Laden in single combat on the field of battle instead of ordering 80 Navy Seals to storm a house filled with women and children and shoot an unarmed man), his favored elites in Honduras continue to hunt down and kill those who seek to shine the smallest light on their corrupt, repressive rule. As the Washington Post reported last week:
Two gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed a journalist outside his home in a city in northern Honduras, officials said Wednesday. Francisco Medina, a 35-year-old television reporter, was ambushed Tuesday night in the city of Morazan, 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of Honduras’ capital, said Santos Galvez, a member of Honduras’ College of Journalists press group .....
In his reporting, Medina was critical of the Honduran national police and of private security firms contracted by ranchers in the area, where drug traffickers operate. Medina became the 11th journalist to be killed in the past 18 months in Honduras. ... A committee of missing persons in Honduras said Medina was followed by two men on a motorcycle after his evening show. They shot him three times in the back and once in his arm as he was about to enter his home. Relatives of Medina called an ambulance, which took him to a hospital. He later died. Medina’s brother, Carlos Medina, said police officers refused to escort the journalist in the ambulance.
This is a precise echo of the case noted here last year:
[From John Perry at the London Review of Books]: On the night of 14 June, Luis Arturo Mondragón was sitting with his son on the pavement outside his house in the city of El Paraíso in western Honduras. He had often criticised local politicians on his weekly radio programme, the latest edition of which had just been broadcast. He had received several death threats, but disregarded them. At 10 p.m. a car drew up and the driver fired four bullets, killing him instantly. Mondragón was the ninth journalist to be murdered so far this year. Honduras is now officially the most dangerous country in the world in which to work for the press.
The overthrow of President Zelaya last year was only the second military coup in Latin America since the end of the Cold War. The first, a US-backed attempt to overthrow Chávez in Venezuela in 2002, was a failure. The coup in Tegucigalpa shouldn’t have succeeded either: Obama had promised a new approach to US policy in the region, and there was strong popular resistance to the coup in Honduras itself. And yet, a year on, the coup’s plotters have got practically everything they wanted. ...
Perry notes that Roland Valenzuela, a former minister in Zelaya’s government, claimed in an interview that he had papers which named several American-connected business figures behind the coup plot, including "former members of the army death squad known as Battalion 316." Perry also notes that "in aseparate development, it has become known that the plane which flew Zelaya out of the country first called at the US airforce base Palmerola."
We'll close with an excerpt from another piece on Obama's regime change op in Honduras, which sums up the staunch traditionalism displayed by the President again this week:
Barack Obama's famed "continuity" with his predecessors goes far beyond his avid, almost erotic embrace of George W. Bush's Terror War atrocities (foreign and domestic). In Latin America, it goes back to the glory days of Ronald Reagan, when American-backed, American-trained death squads and military juntas slaughtered thousands of people and stripped their people to the bone with the scorched-earth economics of oligarchy. (An ancient, barbaric system now being energetically imposed throughout the "developed" world, under the cover of "deficit reduction.") But of course, Reagan himself was standing on the shoulders of giants when it came to his Latin America policies, simply soldiering on in the proud tradition of Franklin and Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, James K. Polk and other paragons now chiseled in history's alabaster.
Below is a reprise of a piece I wrote some years ago: a work of "political fiction" (in the strict sense of the term -- not a euphemism for the slagheap of lies pouring out of Washington and other world capitals every day). In some respects, it chimes with themes currently being explored in a new series by Arthur Silber, who is using historical material to put our present day in a different, and disturbing, perspective. The piece below incorporates some direct quotes (with slight alterations) from our modern-day imperial apologists. As Faulkner once said: the past is never dead; it's not even past.
(P.S. While you're checking out Silber's series, consider dropping a few coins, if you've got them, in the contribution box there. Silber, driven to the margins of our benevolent society by ill health, depends on reader contributions to keep going. As we've noted often here, his is an important voice that we can ill afford to lose.)
The original version of this article appeared in the Feb. 22 2006 edition of The Moscow Times.
BERLIN, May 12, 2153 – Within the ivy-covered walls of Farben University, a great battle is now raging. But although the Reich's ancient capital has seen its share of warfare down through the centuries, today's combatants have no swords, no guns, no bio-disrupters – just words and pictures, marshalled on either side of a fierce debate that has split the staid academic world in two, and is beginning to spill over into national politics as well. It all revolves around a simple question: Was the German Empire a good thing or a bad thing?
At one time, the answer would have seemed clear. In the three decades since the last "Reich Protectorate" gained its independence (Ukraine, 2122), the liberal consensus among German historians has been that the Empire founded more than 200 years ago by Adolf Hitler was largely a malign development: "a system born in aggression and atrocity, which inflicted terrible suffering on the conquered lands for generations, and warped German society itself with its arrogance, brutality and corruption," as Germany's leading historian, Yuri Vinogradov, put it in his landmark 2128 work, Reich and Reality. That book set the tone for a flood of hard-hitting probes into Reich history that left almost no nationalist myth intact.
But in recent years, a group of conservative historians – dubbed the "Revisionists" – have sternly challenged this view. Led by the young Danzig firebrand, Gregor Metzger, the Revisionists argue that the achievements of the Empire – and the "Leader-State system" that was replaced by parliamentary democracy in 2120 – have been denigrated by, in Metzger's words, "liberal apologists picking at old scabs."
"Everyone knows there were blots on the Empire's record," Metzger says. "No one today would countenance, say, the early Reich's treatment of the Jews or the excesses in putting down the Muslim Rebellions in the Caucasus, etc. But neither should we look back and impose our modern values on the people of those times. Rather, we should try to understand them in their own context – and appreciate their many accomplishments."
These accomplishments, say the Revisionists, include: the eradication of Communism in Europe; the establishment of a continent-wide free market for goods, labor and capital; the creation of a common legal system and government institutions now used by most of the old colonies; and the planting of large settler communities throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia that have evolved into thriving cities and "carried the values of Western Civilization deep into benighted and lawless lands," as Metzger writes in his best-selling new book, The End of Shame: German Power in Perspective.
The Revisionists' work has been taken up by conservative politicians seeking to roll back many of the democratic reforms and cultural freedoms instituted by what they scornfully call "the new Weimar Republic." Citing Metzger and others, they are advancing a "national greatness agenda" to foster pride in the Homeland, restore "traditional moral values" to society, and reassert German dominance in world affairs. The centrist government, put on the defensive by these attacks, has increasingly adopted more nationalist rhetoric, and last month cancelled a long-planned exhibition at the National Museum on "Hitler's Tainted Legacy," calling it "too biased."
Much of the academic debate turns on interpretations of the Speer Era (1947-81). After Hitler's death from cancer in 1947, Armaments Minister Albert Speer took power with the backing of intelligence chief Wilhelm Canaris in a brief but bloody coup against the Nazi old guard. He then negotiated an armistice, and the battle lines of the deadlocked armies became the boundaries of the new world order, leaving Germany in control of Europe from the Pyrenees to the Urals.
To the Revisionists, Speer and Canaris are heroes – pragmatic moderates who curbed the Regime's ugliest aspects while preserving its vast territorial gains and consolidating its power. "Although Leader Hitler's dream of a civilizing German empire in the East was somewhat skewed by his unfortunate adherence to the American pseudo-science of eugenics, it was still a noble vision," Metzger says. "Leader Speer purged this vision of its dross and made it the foundation of our modern world."
For the liberals, that is precisely the problem. "After the coup, Speer could have restored democracy," says Vinogradov. "He could have withdrawn from the conquered lands. He could have made reparations to Hitler's victims and confronted the nation's guilt. Instead he chose to assume Hitler's mantle, the semi-divine aura of the 'Leader,' exalting power above the law. Centuries of crime and tyranny flowed from that fatal choice. Yes, he closed the death-camps – but prosecuted no one for these atrocities. He accelerated the land-theft of the settlements, and drafted millions into forced labor to make up for the loss of native Germans to the colonies. Why pretend this was somehow noble or glorious? We should simply tell the truth about it."
Vinogradov is himself a product of the forced labor policy. When the Soviet state collapsed after Stalin's retreat to the Urals, European Russia was savagely reduced, and its territory parceled out to other Reich protectorates. Moscow was razed to the ground in 1944 and never rebuilt; its carefully preserved ruins are still a popular attraction for German tourists. Vinogradov's ancestors, native Muscovites, were shipped to Germany to work in the fields.
The Revisionists say the "scab-picking" over the past is irrelevant in the modern world. "What's done is done," says Metzger. "The Romans have already conquered Carthage. Britain has already built its imperial wealth on slavery and colonial rule. The Americans have already slaughtered the Indians and chained the slaves. We can't unring the bell. Nor should we want to. What matters are the long-term benefits to civilization we have accrued from those who came before us, whatever their mistakes or misdeeds might have been. Which of these benefits would you give up to rectify some ancient historical wrong?"
Metzger, tipped by many as the likely replacement for Vinogradov when he retires as head of the Farben history faculty next year, can't resist a slight personal dig at his venerable rival.
"One wonders if Herr Professor Vinogradov would enjoy the same kind of prosperity – and freedom to criticize – he possesses today if the Communist evil had not been destroyed, at great sacrifice, by German power," Metzger says. "While one sincerely regrets the injuries to the professor's forbears, I think, on balance, we can say that the liberation of the East from Stalinist tyranny was a boon for all humanity."
Vinogradov shrugs off these "shallow" arguments. "The point of historical research is not to dispossess the present, but to disillusion it: to strip away self-serving myth and fatal ignorance, in order to see more clearly how we got here, and what it really cost, and how these costs shape – and distort – our responses to reality. Otherwise, we are blind – easy prey for the abusers of power and their murderous deceptions."
A complete misinterpretation of my post. I'm advocating international consensus with credible enforcement as the means for resolving this problem. It's not as if there isn't a model for that: it's called a police force enforcing laws voted by consensus, and it's the model in every major world democracy.
The tendency of hairless monkeys in every community and nation state is restricted by the progressive power of the community to limit the private power to enforce injustice. My argument isn't a difference in kind, but only in degree. I do not see the nation-state as the pinnacle of human governmental organization.
Thanks for the response. However I disagree with the notion that my piece distorted your views. It dealt entirely with your idea about an international police force (or multinational peacekeeping force, as you originally put it) to impose enlightened, civilized values on nations, societies and religious groups. You reiterate those views here with admirable clarity. Where then is the misinterpretation? I simply tried to apply the logic of the system you advocate to existing reality, and inquired how such a system would really work in practice.
But the questions I addressed in my piece remain unanswered: Who will control this force? Who will pay for it, equip it, command it, staff it? (I see in the comments to your original post that you actually want to impose conscription on the entire world to fill the ranks of your global army! This is world-ordering on a Shigalovian scale, beyond the wildest dreams of the most fervent neo-con.) But again, who makes the decisions for this international military force, which must of necessity be a gargantuan war machine, capable of invading nations and bending not just whole countries but, in your own words, whole civilizations to its will?
Or to use your latest terms, who will forge this "international consensus"? Who will define and decide precisely which values, beliefs, policies and practices of this or that "in-group" requires "credible enforcement" by armed force? How will these deciders and definers be chosen? By whom? By what mechanism? Who will validate this choice? If, as you clearly say, we are all "essentially hairless monkeys whose basic dispositions haven't evolved that much" and who will "fight each other for the stupidest reasons," which group of stupid, unevolved, violent hairless monkeys do you suggest take on this leadership role?
These are all your own words and concepts, by the way. They are not being "misinterpreted"; they are being carefully considered and taken seriously. And if one does you the honor of taking your proposal seriously, such questions about "command and control" of this international police force keep multiplying. And given the terms you lay out, there is no apparent answer as to who will make these decisions other than a self-appointed elite who have somehow evolved a higher understanding.
It is clear that you don't see the nation-state as "the pinnacle of governmental organization." That's fine. Only a fool would believe that any kind of organization devised by imperfect human beings is a "pinnacle" that cannot be bettered. But that is not the issue here. The issue is the kind of human governmental organization you are advocating, and if such an organization -- predicated on the power of implacable, irresistible violence -- would in fact produce a more peaceful, humane and happy world.
And no one denies that these matters involve "differences in degree." But that is true of almost everything. I have a small cut on my arm: one doctor prescribes a dab of alcohol to prevent infection; another doctor prescribes hacking the whole arm off with a machete. This isn't a difference in kind, but only in degree. It is the degree that is the whole question here. A local police force is entirely different, in degree, from a global military force capable of breaking whole nations and killing vast amounts of people to impose "the progressive power of the community" (as defined by unknown people according to unknown criteria.)
Again, I believe I have not misinterpreted your post at all. If anything, I have understood your post -- taken it more seriously, thought about it more carefully -- than you seem to have. In the end, I think it comes down to the "Karamazov question": which innocent child should we kill to ensure universal peace and harmony? And who will make that decision?
And yes, it is a difference in degree: in order to have a local police force, making arrests with warrants, writing tickets, etc., you don't necessarily have to rip the bodies of small children to shreds. But you cannot have a "international police force" capable of doing what you specifically advocate -- invading and "policing" whole nations and societies and civilizations and imposing your value system on them-- without killing many, many innocent people, over and over again.
Perhaps this doesn't trouble you. Perhaps this collateral damage is, in Madeline Albright's famous words, "worth it" to you in order that your idea of proper order be imposed across the world. But such considerations do trouble me. And that's why I addressed them in my piece.
*** NOTE: This post has been edited since its original appearance to clarify and amplify the passage about "international conscription."
I. The quintessence of "humanitarian intervention" has rarely been displayed so completely than in a recent post by Hullabaloo contributor David Atkins: "The bloody work of hairless monkeys."
Much like Martin Amis -- who at some point in the early 21st century realized that Joe Stalin was one bad hombre and then wrote a book informing the world of this revelation -- Atkins has apparently just now discovered that human tribes and religious groups have been senselessly killing each other for, like, forever. Not only that: Atkins has also uncovered the hitherto unsuspected notion that "people everywhere are essentially hairless monkeys whose basic dispositions haven't evolved that much despite our larger brains and capacity for more moral decision making."
Indeed, the inescapable, inherent, endemic violence of human nature (or rather, hairless monkey nature) is so powerful and so overwhelming that "if the reasons to fight don't exist, they will be invented." Atkins couples this with yet another shocking discovery: "Human beings everywhere love to form in-groups and out-groups, and those groups will fight each other for the stupidest possible reasons." Not since stout Cortez stood amazed on that peak in Darien has there been such a wild surmise of illumination.
To recap, then, Atkins asserts that human beings are nothing more than beasts driven by primal instincts to band together in vicious in-groups and savagely attack any outsiders whom they perceive as a threat -- or even for no good reason at all. This is a most grim and gruesome vision of our common human fate, our existential reality. We are "stupid," "morally insane" hairless monkeys doomed to intractable violent conflict. Caught in a trap, can't walk out, as that venerable existentialist E.A. Presley once put it.
Or are we? Perhaps not. For despite the fact that we are all unevolved hairless monkeys with a basic disposition to make up reasons to kill each other, it seems that there is at least one avenue of escape from our inherent nature, one way out of the eternal cycle of violent conflict. Guess what it is.
I kid you not. After postulating that hairless monkeys cannot overcome their propensity for in-group/out-group violence, Atkins then proclaims that we need to form -- wait for it -- an incredibly powerful in-group capable of inflicting irresistible violence on any out-group that opposes the will of the in-group. Nation-states, and their hairless monkey populations, cannot be "left to their own devices," he says.
Minimization of war and human suffering will depend on tightly binding people and civilizations to one another, and on taking a dim view of the in-groups and out-groups that people use to separate themselves from one another. And that in turn will require a stronger multinational peacekeeping force, not a weaker one.
So we must "tightly bind" people together -- by force. We must enforce the unity of all humankind at gunpoint (and bombpoint and dronepoint). A "multinational force" is required -- is the only way -- to minimize the suffering from human conflict. And this multinational force must be so strong that it can oversway -- defeat, destroy, crush, humiliate -- the military forces of all nation-states and all other human monkey groupings outside the in-group behind the "stronger multinational peacekeeping force."
Unfortunately, having given us the answer to the age-old problem of human conflict, Atkins suddenly gets a bit coy on a key point. He doesn't address the question of who will control this all-powerful multinational force, which will require trillions of dollars and millions of soldiers to "tightly bind" the world together. Who will staff it, fund it, arm it, supply it, command its operations? Who will decide who commands it? Who will decide when it must be used to punish a recalcitrant tribe?
And these questions lead to another pertinent point: Surely whoever is in charge of this armed leviathan -- capable of bending whole nations, whole civilizations to its dominion -- will, in the end, be nothing more than a bunch of inherently violent, morally insane hairless monkeys themselves, won't they? Won't this in-group behave just as senselessly and stupidly as all the others?
Or can it be that Atkins believes that there are perhaps a few hairless monkeys out there who have evolved a bit further than the rest? And that perhaps these higher beings could be trusted to use an implacably powerful global war machine only for the greater good of the lesser breeds, only to "tightly bind" the insufficiently evolved masses and reduce their suffering? And might these wise guides be known as "humanitarian interventionists”?
II. Atkins was prompted to write his piece by the sectarian violence that erupted across Iraq this week. The slaughter of Shi'ite worshippers is indeed an instance of our human propensity for senseless killing. But from this current event, he leaps immediately to instances from history, from all over the world, to further illustrate this propensity. The effect of this sudden leap is that the events in Iraq get lost in the general historical flood -- just one more piece of flotsam drifting by in the bloody current. Its context is lost, subsumed in general assertions about our intractable nature. Why did these Iraqi slaughters happen? There was no cause -- just our stupid violent monkey nature. Atrocities just ... happen.
Atkins says that when he read of Iraqi slaughter, he was reminded of the sack of Magdeburg during the European religious wars of the 17th century. That's a bit odd. The first thing I thought of when I read about the Iraqi slaughters was something a little nearer to us in history: the "humanitarian intervention" by American-led military forces into Iraq in 2003. It was the intervention of this "multinational peacekeeping force" that directly and explicitly created the conditions for the recent slaughters that so disturbed Atkins and made him think about the Holy Roman Empire, and then a story he heard one time in a college anthropology class about Amazonian tribes, and also about the "bloody and brutal" culture of the "native Hawaiian kingdoms."
Atkins seems keen to move on from Iraq as soon as possible and dissolve its true context in this vague anthro-philosophical goo. His anxiety on the subject is understandable. For of course Iraq is the great scandal of our earnest "humanitarian interventionists." It is the unfortunate outlier, the stumbling-block that gives holy (sorry, humanitarian) war a bad name. For the fact -- the incontrovertible, historical fact -- is that modern Iraq never suffered from the atrocious level of sectarian violence that we see there today -- until the intervention of the "Coalition of the Willing" plunged the country into death, fear, ruin and chaos. The mass-murdering intervention not only fertilized the ground for the rise of sectarian violence; its Anglo-American leaders funded and armed and empowered several of the violent extremist groups directly.
The sickening violence in Iraq this week did not spring from the intractable nature of hairless monkeys blindly following their unevolved hormonal surges. It didn't spring from Amazonian tribesmen killing a boy who was not their kinsmen. It didn't spring from the bloody and brutal culture of the native Hawaiian kingdoms. It didn't spring from Imperial Field Marshal Gottfried Heinrich Graf zu Pappenheim and the other hairless monkeys who plundered Magdeburg in 1631. It springs -- directly and unmistakably -- from the intervention of the multinational force that invaded the country in 2003 and then continued to kill, destroy, corrupt, and foment extremism there for many years afterwards.
Now it's true that I am not comprehensively au fait with oeuvre of Mr. Atkins. But having read some of his offerings since he began binding himself tightly to Hullabaloo, I think it is highly likely that he himself opposed the intervention in Iraq. I'm sure he feels that it was the wrong kind of intervention, not a real humanitarian intervention. (How could it have been? It was launched by a Republican.) Yet here he is advocating precisely the same thing -- an all-powerful military machine heedless of state sovereignty imposing its will by violent force -- as the way to "peace and the reduction of human misery." I must say such logic leaves me slack-jawed, like old Cortez. Here we see Orwell's hoary tropes come to life: War is Peace. Slavery (being tightly bound under threat of violence) is Freedom. Death and Ruin are the Reduction of Human Misery.
No doubt Atkins' bright vision is based on the wild surmise that this world-controlling "multinational peacekeeping force" will be led by "morally responsible" leaders (perhaps even by, say, Nobel Peace Prize laureates), and that the nation-crushing operations of this global army will be carefully targeted, limited in scope, minimizing collateral damage whenever possible, and accompanied by humanitarian relief and civics lessons for the survivors, etc., etc. But if, like Atkins, we make human history our argument, how likely is it that we would see a more peaceful, less miserable world under the iron rod of such a force? Perhaps in answer we should adapt his own shrugging dismissal of all other alternatives to armed interventionism, and say that, "sadly, a study of human nature from before civilization to the modern day tends to disprove the hypothesis that [this] will lead to world peace."
Atkins strains for grandeur in his big finish:
At this point in our evolution we're still as overgrown toddlers playing foolishly with loaded guns in a grand, modern technology version of Lord of the Flies. Turning an isolationist eye of indifference toward all of this will not prevent bloody conflict for stupid reasons from enveloping humanity. It will simply guarantee it.
Once more, I confess that my non-large brain cannot follow the logic here. In our present evolutionary state, we are as toddlers. Or hairless monkeys. Or lemurs with sideburns. Or something. In any case, we are physically, genetically incapable of stopping our primitive urges to form in-groups and engage in bloody conflicts for stupid reasons. This is our nature. We have not yet gone beyond this point in our evolution. But if this is so, then how can we possibly form an armed Super In-Group without collapsing into the same pre-determined pattern (again, unless some of us have somehow taken a step up the evolutionary ladder)? And how can questioning the notion of military intervention be seen as the equivalent of turning an "eye of indifference" to the problems of human conflict? Are there no other alternatives? Things less grand than a tightly-binding war machine, perhaps, but less destructive? Less tyrannical? More humane?
Atkins' contortions seemed design to obscure -- not only from the reader but (one hopes) from himself as well -- what he is really asserting: that, for our own good, we hairless monkeys should be ruled by a small, more evolved elite who will impose their benevolent dictatorship on the world by massive armed force. And that anyone who opposes this sacred, unchallengeable truth is an "isolationist," indifferent to human suffering. There is no alternative. It's his way -- the way of war, of enforced unity (and uniformity of belief; the war machine will "take a dim view" of people "separating themselves" according to their own ideas and inclinations) -- or the highway.
I must say that reading this has prompted me to my own historical recollection -- the famous passage from Tacitus: "They make a desolation, and call it peace."
The turbulent ramifications of last week's New York Times story detailing the operations of Barack Obama's White House death squad continue to reverberate across the country today, sending shock waves through Washington and bringing crowds of outraged protestors to the ….
Just kidding! As we all know, there have been no "ramifications" at all from this shocking story, no scandal whatsoever surrounding the fact that the President of the United States and his aides meet every week to draw up lists of people to be killed all over the world -- even people who are completely unknown, who might simply be "behaving" in unspecified ways that some desk jockey somewhere has decided might possibly be indicative of malign intent. No scandal, no consequences, no imbroglio, no brouhaha; the caravan moved on -- and the dogs didn't even bark.
But wait, that's not quite true. There was one minor scandal issuing, in part, from the story. Republicans seized the opportunity to accuse Obama, again, of leaking classified matters for his own political gain. (Yes, they were shocked -- shocked! -- to find gambling going on in this establishment.) Obama was then forced to deny authorizing the leaks from his closest advisors and friends, and promised to investigate how in the world his closest advisors and friends happened to leak this top-secret information without his knowledge. This was followed by bipartisan Congressional calls to cloak the government's atrocities in even thicker clouds of murk.
Thus the only consequence from the revelation that the U.S. government not only asserts the arbitrary right to kill anyone on earth but actually has a formal process to carry out this serial murder is that it will now be harder than ever to expose any of the crimes and corruption and sinister follies of the vast national security apparat.
But as for the -- how to put it? Well, let's be quaint and old-fashioned, shall we? -- the "moral content" of the murder program, there has been no scandal at all. Yes, there have a few furrowed brows here and there from the progessosphere, some tsk-tsks, a few sad head-shakes -- before our Netroots nationalists plunge right back into campaign arcana, railing against some rightwing misinformation or partisan attack that might hurt the electoral chances of a man running a death squad that has killed hundreds of innocent civilians and fomented more terrorism, hatred, war and chaos. Because really, what is the shredded corpse of a drone-blasted child next to yet another birther outburst from that awful Donald Trump? Can you imagine the nerve of that guy?
Now to be fair, The Nation -- redoubtable flagship of American liberalism for yonks on end -- did sally forth with a bracing editorial against Obama's kill list. In no uncertain terms, it denounced the "corrupting logic" of the War on Terror, which leads "otherwise morally responsible leaders to do unspeakable things," such as Obama's "kill lists and drone assassinations."
This does, of course, lead one to wonder just who these "morally responsible leaders" are who are doing such unspeakable things. After all, there have been only two leaders during the War on Terror: Bush and Obama. No Nation reader (or any other sentient being) would ever consider the former to be a "morally responsible" leader. But as Obama has been ordering "drone assassinations" from the very moment he took office -- while resolutely defending and extending his predecessor's other War on Terror policies -- it is hard to see how his moral responsibility has somehow been eroded by his season in power. Should we not say instead with Shakespeare: "Man, he did make love to this employment."
There is also the strange notion that the "War on Terror" itself is somehow an abstract, outside force or entity which compels these individuals to violate their free consciences and do "unspeakable things." This childish concept -- "The War on Terror made me do it!" -- is of course a surreptitious (or perhaps self-deceiving) way for the editors of The Nation to retain their support for Obama even while criticizing him. They know that, deep down, he really is morally responsible -- a good man who has been "led" by the "logic" of the Terror War to do "unspeakable things" against his will and certainly against his inclinations. The "things" he does might be "unspeakable" -- that is to say, evil -- but he himself is not evil. He has simply been led astray, and may one day be led back to the right path of peace-loving progressivism -- just as long as peace-loving progressives don't abandon him, and let those truly evil Republicans return to the White House. (Where they might do unspeakable things like drawing up kill lists and launching drone assassinations.)
But again, let's give credit where it is due. The Nation makes many good arguments against the murder program. (And they have published some excellent work on the actual, real-life effects of the Terror War, in the stories of Jeremy Scahill.) They lay out the heinous nature of this barbaric operation with admirable clarity. But what do they conclude from all this? That the program is … "troubling." And that since liberals "raised a ruckus" about Bush's -- crimes? atrocities? mass murder? -- no, his "abuses," they should not be "silent" now.
But what liberals should say when breaking their silence is not addressed. Should they say, "We will not support a man who commits mass murder"? (For as The Nation tells us, in Pakistan alone "witnesses have attested to hundreds of civilian deaths.") Or would The Nation have them say, "My word, these 'abuses' are troubling. I certainly will not feel the same enthusiasm when I vote for Obama this time around!" The latter seems far more likely.
But the restrained editorial positively blazes with Luther-like moral fury when compared to some of the reader comments. Here you will find self-proclaimed "good liberals" who, far from being "troubled" by Obama's killing spree, cheer it to the rafters as a mark of moral goodness. Consider the reaction of this "lifelong Democrat, lifelong liberal" to "signature strikes" -- the blind blunderbuss launched against unknown people doing unknown things for unknown purposes:
"When nameless individuals are assassinated over 'patterns of behaviour' that support terrorist enemy combatants, I cheer, since there is alive one less potential attacker of my country."
After all, our leaders would never lead us astray. And they know more than we do -- they even know more than, say, the grandmother holding the bloody corpse of her grandchild in her arms:
"Neither the Pakistani government nor the hundreds of witnesses to US strikes is privy to the US intelligence. How could either possibly know whether or not innocent civilians are included in the death toll? I, for one, put the burden of proof on the other side, and I further place faith in my country to minimize collateral damage as best they can in a combat situation."
Who are you going to believe, Granny? The PowerPoint presentations of the White House "Tuesday Terror" team -- or your own lying eyes? I mean, how could you possibly know little Hamza wasn't a terrorist? Do you have access to Washington's omniscient SIGNIT and HUMINT? I thought not. So shut up already.
Or how about the disquistion of this learned Theban:
"Of course it's immoral and against human dignity to have a 'kill' list. On the other hand, times have changed … These days our enemies come as thieves in the night, stealthily and under pretense. They have no qualms about killing innocent people, including men, women and children. Their morals allow them to hijack and fly planes into office buildings killing thousands of innocent Americans, going about their capitalist business. I even understand their objection to our way of life. Capitalism, democracy and freedom empower individual people till they no longer can be controlled under a rigid theocratic ideology. This is a threat to those who would hold absolute dominion over others. These pathological radical religious and political dictators see the handwriting on the wall and are using every immoral and hateful means to hold out to the last insane mind.
“So yes, I believe 'kill' lists, drones, intense surveillance and every other means is available on a temporary basis to return to these maniacs the same punishment they meet [sic] out to others."
One might argue that there are other actors in the War on Terror who, as the NYT story shows, "come as thieves in the night" (with remote-control drones) and "have no qualms about killing innocent people, including men, women and children." And that they do this repeatedly, day after day, year after year. But of course, this doesn't matter. Because those we kill are, of necessity, insane maniacs trying to impose absolute dominion over others. Even the innocent men, women and children we kill. Even the people we kill whose names we don't know doing things we don't know for reasons we don't know.
And so it goes. For this Theban, and for so many other "good liberals" and staunch progressives, a five-year-old girl with her guts gouged out by some coward with a joystick 10,000 miles away is an "immoral and hateful maniac" who deserves to die, and whose very presence on the face of the earth justifies any and all repressive measures to keep "our way of life" intact. "On a temporary basis," of course. Just until all the maniacs have been killed. Just until we "exterminate all the brutes."
This is the spectrum of liberalism in 2012. On one end, "troubled" by state murder -- but not sickened, not outraged, not driven to furious rejection of those who perpetrate such "unspeakable things." On the other end, gleefully, joyfully accepting of the murder program, exulting even in the killing of absolute strangers. After all, every defenseless child eviscerated stealthily by a presidential drone is "one less potential attacker of my country." The Leader protects us! The Leader knows best! You go, Barry!
II. There is, of course, another view of these matters. You won't find it in the venerable journals of liberalism or amongst the fierce dissidents of the Netroots Nation. (As John Caruso points out, here is the rigorous moral compass of the founding father of the Netrooters in action: "’I’ll tell you what. If [Obama] shows that he’s going to fight for the things that I care about, I will fight twice as hard for him.’ And if he doesn’t? ‘Then I’ll vote for him,’ says Moulitsas.") It is apparent by now that for the vast bulk of the progressosphere, there is literally nothing that Obama can do to lose their support, however "troubled" or grudging that support might be.
No, for an alternative view, we must turn once again to Arthur Silber, who this week continues his examination of Obama's death squad. This piece begins to get at some of the deeper dynamics at work not only in the murder program itself but also in the mass indifference to its exposure in the Times story and elsewhere, the lack of outrage, the shrugging acceptance (or, as seen above, the wiggly, giddy embrace) of this "unspeakable thing."
Once again, you should read the whole of Silber's essay, but here are a few excerpts particularly pertinent to our theme:
It is one thing for the ruling class to target the general domestic population on economic matters, as it has by systematically squeezing every last bit of wealth and opportunity out of "ordinary" Americans and shoveling all of it into the drooling maw of the rulers (and for many Americans, these methods of brutalization are already catastrophic in the extreme). It is very different when the ruling class announces to the world that it considers every human being on Earth not favored by power and privilege to be fair game in a neverending campaign of slaughter.
Yet there are no crowds in the street. Forget howls of fury; you can listen with the greatest concentration of which you are capable, and you will detect barely a whimper. Life goes on precisely as before, as if nothing of great moment has happened. With very rare exceptions … even the harshest critics of the murder campaign so thoughtfully detailed in the NYT will not say:
These people are monsters. This is profoundly evil. All these people, all those who collaborate and assist in such a program, have placed themselves far beyond any limit of what can be designated as civilization.
… Be sure to understand this issue. The claim of absolute power -- the claim of dominion over all of human life itself, and the assertion of a damnable "right" to unleash death whenever and in whatever direction they wish -- is not remotely equivalent to any dispute over lowering Social Security benefits, raising the retirement age, or any similar question, at least it is not equivalent to any sane person. The claim of absolute power is sui generis; it is a claim unlike any other. It is not -- I repeat: it is not -- simply another "question of policy." It is certainly possible that, in particular cases, the deprivation of medical benefits (as just one example) may ultimately result in a person's death sooner than would have occurred otherwise. But for some period of time, however brief, the persons so affected are left with the possibility of action; they can still try to save themselves, even if those efforts are finally unsuccessful. But the claim of a "right" to dispense death arbitrarily -- the claim that the State may murder anyone it chooses, whenever it desires -- constitutes a separate category altogether, a category of which this particular claim is the sole unit. When death is unleashed, all possibility of action is ended forever.
Yet you can read various harsh denunciations of this policy, and you will almost never encounter language of the kind I employ here. Even for the most vehement of "dissenters," the assertion of absolute power is treated as another in a list of wrongs, perhaps an especially egregious wrong, but not a claim which demands a fundamentally different response. For such writers, it is certainly nothing to take to the streets about; it is no cause for withdrawing one's support in every way possible from a system of evil dedicated to death. This, too, is a measure of how profoundly damaged our culture is. With regard to almost all "dissenting" writers, and if I may express the point more personally and informally, I often think that I have never seen such a collection of gutless wonders. …
Not infrequently, I think that what may doom us is not the immense evil to which the State devotes itself, but the quality of the opposition -- those who are, in Thoreau's formulation, the State's "most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform." …
Although the NYT article did not disclose new information with regard to the essentials of the State's program of death, its length, detail and prominence constitute a significant ratcheting up of the State's claim of absolute power. Most crucial is the statement in the article that much of the content is derived from interviews with "three dozen of [Obama's] current and former advisers." As I pointed out in Part I, this in effect announces the identity of the article's true author: the author is the U.S. government, the State itself. Through these "advisers," the highest levels of the U.S. government have told the story they want to tell. And what is that story? It is simply this:
The State is become death. Our target can be anyone we choose. Yes, this means you. No, there is nowhere to run.
Here is no shuffling, no weasel-wording, no wiggle room for self-deception. Here we look at the mephitic heart of the matter, the burning, rotten core. In this political year, with an election looming, let no one be mistaken on this point: When you get down with Obama, however grudgingly or reluctantly, you are dancing on the killing floor. You are, to use The Nation's terms, following the logic of the Terror War into complicity and collusion with unspeakable things.
Arthur Silber is back, in a big way, with all guns blazing, in three new pieces that hit the boards this week.
First up is a blackly comic take on the mindless, fear-ridden conformity that permeates our political "debate" -- if one may so degrade the language by applying this term to the witless splutterings of the fourth-rate goobers and inch-deep intellects who prance across our various media stages these days. Silber then takes a quick, sharp look at a particularly egregious example of the sinister interpenetration of our media and political elite.
These were followed hard upon by a powerful and substantive analysis of the implications of the ice-cold killing machine being operated by the Obama White House -- or rather, openly celebrated by the Obama White House, as we saw in the remarkable piece of death porn in the NY Times last week. You should read the whole thing, but here is a brief excerpt:
I consider the reaction to [the NYT] article -- to be more precise, the non-reaction -- to be one of the worst signs we have yet seen concerning the collapse of this country into unrelenting, savage barbarism. … Given the subject matter, we can be certain that these "advisers" would not have provided numerous details about the "Kill List" unless the Obama administration wanted them to. In other words: this is the story the government wants to tell. This is the story the government wants Americans -- and the watching world -- to know. I state again that the central theme of the story is that Obama and his closest advisers are engaged in a systematic program of murder, targeting people about whom they know nothing in terms of the factors they themselves claim demand their urgent concern. That is to say: they murder anyone they wish, anywhere in the world, for any reason they choose -- or for no reason at all.
That is what they want you to know. And what is the reaction of almost everyone? The overwhelming majority of Americans haven't reacted at all. It is as if nothing whatsoever has been said. They simply don't care. Because this is the story the government wants to tell, we may properly regard it as being in the nature of a trial balloon. The U.S. government is saying to all of us, and to the entire world:
We can murder anyone we want, just because we feel like it. And guess what: we do! And we do it regularly and systematically. Because we want to!
Does anybody care? Does anyone give a damn?
Now they have their answer.
Read it, and tremble for the horror we have, and the horror that's yet to come.
In honor of Mitt Romney's nomination victory this week, we reprise below our last look at the man who might very well be the next temporary manager of the domination-and-despoliation machine belching mephitically on the banks of the Potomac.
In this earlier glimpse, we saw in Romney the quintessence of the bipartisan ruling elite -- and an avatar of the rabid psychopathology that lurks always behind the bland facade of normality our masters try so frantically to project. Time has proved the observations below to apply equally to both wings of the big bloated chickenhawk of our ruling class, of course, although in this particular piece more attention is given to the right wing of the necrotic creature.
But it is interesting to note how so many of positions Romney staked out in this four-year old speech were promulgated by the man who eventually won the White House that year. Although Obama doesn't play so overtly on the Muslimphobia that Romney exhibits with such naked frenzy here, in one respect he has gone much further than Romney and his fellow sexual panickers. Obama doesn't waste his breath blathering about Muslim birthrates and what all: he goes straight to the source and kills Muslims directly -- indeed, making a special target of those Muslim males most likely to breed, as his minions revealed so gleefully in the New York Times this week. He has also followed Romney's adjuration to continue the Terror War and keep gorging the military-industrial complex with war pork. Romney even anticipates Obama's "pivot the China" and the resurrection of the Yellow Peril trope so beloved by American imperialists from days of yore. And they say bipartisanship is dead.
Anyway, here he is: Mitt Romney, same as he ever was. For despite all their brazen flip-flops, our rulers remain admirably consistent in their core -- indeed, their hardcore -- belief: the maintenance and expansion of elite power and privilege … by any means necessary.
American Psycho: An Elite Exposed in an Exit Speech February 8, 2008
If you would like to see just how sick the American elite really is -- how morally depraved, how intellectually diseased, how addicted to the taste of human flesh, the scent of human blood, and the sight of human suffering -– then you need go no further than the speech given by Mitt Romney to the Conservative Political Action Conference on February 7, 2008.
Now you might say that Mitt Romney is old news. After all, this was the very speech where he declared he was quitting the presidential race. He's toast, he's over, the fork has been stuck into his well-roasted hide; who cares what he says? This is of course the witless "horse-race" view that dominates political discourse in America: who's up, who's down, who's getting the column inches, who's on TV? But in reality, the American elite – or the Establishment, or the power structure, call it what you will (as long as you don't call it what it really is: the ruling class) -- is like an iceberg: most of its vast bulk exists unseen, it plows on beneath the surface, unperturbed by the media storms that rage around the small bit of exposed material at the summit.
Mitt Romney is an immensely wealthy, well-connected man, a former governor of the state of Massachusetts, born and bred in an extensive web of privilege and power. His defeat in a presidential campaign changes none of that. He will simply submerge -- for a time -- back into those depths where the real business of the elite is largely done. Thus his words to the conservative activists remain a highly relevant indication of the mindset that holds sway over the world's most powerful nation. They show the barbarism, hatemongering and bloodlust that are considered perfectly acceptable in the polite company of our rulers and their sycophants.
Indeed, the most remarkable thing about Romney's speech is that there is nothing remarkable about it; it is entirely typical of the kind of red meat that many leading lights of American society routinely throw to the slavering rightwing faithful. It takes a strong effort to wrench your mind free from the media-besotted mentality that regards such a speech as "normal" (even if you disagree with it), and see it for the debased, bestial raving that it really is.
The smoldering core of Romney's vomitous offering can perhaps be found in his passing remarks on Europe. Again, in one sense, this was just a crowd-pleasing throwaway: a good Eurobash always gets the CPAC froth flowing. But in a deeper sense, it cuts right to the corroded heart of the matter, right down to the vicious, primitive, genocidal racism that has shaped and driven so many of the policies of Western elites for centuries. In the midst of a long diatribe about liberal "attacks" on "American culture," Romney pauses for a glance across the Atlantic, to evoke a hideous nightmare that could soon be America's future:
Europe -- Europe is facing a demographic disaster. That's the inevitable product of weakened faith in the Creator, failed families, disrespect for the sanctity of human life, and eroded morality.
By "demographic disaster," Romney simply means that there are more non-white people in Europe than there used to be. To Romney and his fellow elites, this fact in itself constitutes a genuine "disaster." Although the population of Europe is still overwhelmingly white (much more so than the population of the United States), even the smallest dilution of racial purity across the continent is to be lamented, decried – and rolled back. Here of course Romney is channeling fearmongers like Martin Amis, Mark Steyn, and Christopher Hitchens, whose trembly sexual panic in the face of hot-blooded, fast-breeding darkies would be comical, if it were not so sinister – and so useful to the warmakers and global dominationists in the ruling elite.
Romney makes the sexual and racial subtext abundantly clear in his remarks about Europe's loss of religious faith, eroded morality, etc. The Euros are plainly too busy having abortions and watching porn to do their duty by the race and breed bigger families kept under strict religious discipline. And thus the shabby denizens of an alien faith are breeding like rats in the cellarage of Western Civilization, gnawing away at the foundations and conquering it from within. The fact that "Muslims" are substituted for "Jews" in these formulations and implications of Hitchens, Amis, Romney, et al, does not lessen the precision with which their diatribes mirror those that saturated Germany (and many other nations) in the first four decades of the 20th century. For the elites, there is always a dark, sexually potent "other" out there, whose overwhelming threat to white supremacy can only be overcome by….giving the elites more and more power.
Oddly enough, there has been a demographic disaster in Europe -- but it has nothing to do with virile Muslim men and their fertile females. It is never mentioned by Romney and his elitist ilk -- because it is the result of their own philosophy, their own policies, and their own desires. We speak of course of the demographic collapse in Russia, where the population is dwindling while death rates remain almost twice as high as in the United States and Western Europe. The Russian people are still reeling from the catastrophic "shock therapy" inflicted on them by Boris Yeltsin's "Chicago School" market fundamentalists. (The harrowing story is well-told in Naomi Klein's study of "disaster capitalism," The Shock Doctrine.)
The Western elites were very glad to watch the Russian people sink to their knees, die off in droves and suffer in poverty, chaos and fear -- as long as a juicy slice of Russia's oil, mineral and industrial wealth was in the offing. The West's sudden distaste for Kremlin strongman Vladimir Putin has nothing to do with his egregious crackdowns on civil freedoms. Putin's depredations are hardly less egregious than those of Yeltin, who actually sent in troops and tanks to destroy the democratically elected parliament 1993, then ran roughshod over every vestige of law in harnessing the entire power of the state -- and the private sector as well - to ensure a victory in his re-election bid in 1996. After that, he laid open the entire economy to the rapacious looting of his corporate cronies and their Western allies. It is the fact that Putin has taken much of this loot off the table for Westerners -- and given it to his own cronies -- that has provoked the West's new-found concern for the rights and well-being of the Russian people.
In his swan song, Romney makes it clear that he and his elites want to continue pressing their "shock therapy" on the American people as well, rolling back the very mild attempts in the past to ameliorate, slightly, some of the worst excesses and inequities of unhinged corporate greed. In fact, Romney identifies these tepid measures as dire threats to "American culture" itself:
The threat to our culture comes from within. In the 1960s, there were welfare programs that created a culture of poverty in our country. Now, some people think we won that battle when we reformed welfare. But the liberals haven't given up. At every turn, they tried to substitute government largess for individual responsibility. They fight to strip work requirements from welfare, to put more people on Medicaid, and remove more and more people from having to pay any income tax whatsoever. Dependency is death to initiative, risk-taking and opportunity. Dependency is culture killing. It's a drug. We've got to fight it like the poison it is.
The ignorance -- and inhumanity - of this statement is breathtaking. Think of it: there was no poverty in the United States until "liberals" came along in the 1960s and "created" it with their welfare programs. (Before this "culture of poverty" was created, apparently, the few poor people in America just died off discreetly, like Russians, instead of hanging around a bit longer on government handouts, the way they do now, the shiftless, no-good wretches. Oh yeah, and they breed a lot too, more than white folks.) And even though Bill Clinton (uncredited here, of course, but the elite are well aware of his sterling services) finally drove the stake through the welfare program, these evildoers will still not rest. Just look at what they want to do: "put more people on Medicaid," and "remove more and more people from having to pay any income tax whatsoever." (Wait a minute; I thought red-meat-chomping CPACkers were in favor of people paying no taxes. I guess that only applies to the right sort of people.)
All of this -- especially the stuff about "risk-taking" and "dependency" on government largess -- is pretty rich coming from an avatar of a ruling class that is glutted with pampered heirs of wealth and power who, like Romney, begin their totally risk-free careers at the very top of the ladder, and who are continually fattened with no-bid contracts, kickbacks, tax breaks, subsidies, war profits and myriad other forms of "government largess." But beyond the transparent hypocrisy – and the ludicrous pretense that the "liberals" in today's Democratic Party pose some kind of genuine threat to this cornucopia – Romney's blast is a perfect encapsulation of the elite's hatred for the rabble they use as cannon fodder and cash cows. Let them get sick, let them die, let them languish in poverty, let them lose their homes, let them work three jobs to make ends meet – but by God don't you ever do anything, anything at all, to change the system that produces these chronic inequities and keeps the pampered elite in clover. That's evil. That's "poison." And it won't be allowed.
The speech goes on and on in this way; reading it is like wading through the sewage pipe of an abattoir. China and India and other Asian nations pose a challenge that must be confronted and beaten down. Why? Because they may "pass us by as the economic superpower, just as we passed England and France during the last century." And we must stop the yellow devils, because "the prosperity and security of our children and grandchildren depend on us." Apparently, it is not possible for Asian nations and the United States to be secure and prosperous at the same time; "our children" can only prosper at the expense of others. This too is transparently ludicrous, even nonsensical, if taken literally. Of course, ordinary Asians and Americans could be prosperous at the same time. What Romney really means is that the American elite cannot exert dominance and gorge itself in the manner to which it has become accustomed if other nations are secure and prosperous in their own right.
And that is where the "War on Terror" – the linchpin of Romney's speech, and the justification he offers for folding his campaign – comes in. The Terror War is simply an extension of the long-held goal of the American elite (and their British "junior partners") to maintain and extend their dominion over the world's natural resources and political arrangements – and the exorbitant profits this dominion produces. There is ample evidence in the historical record of the Anglo-American elite's abiding – and quite open – anxieties on this score, going back for generations. Literally millions of people all over the world have been sacrificed to these ambitions and anxieties, which have not abated but grow more frantic and acute with each passing year.
And thus the climax of Romney's peroration: a frantic blithering about "evil and radical jihad" and "the inevitable military ambitions of China" and the burning need to "raise military spending to 4 percent of our GDP" and overriding imperative to keep the Terror War raging, particularly on its central front in Iraq. None of this is remotely connected to the actual wellbeing, security and prosperity of the American people; quite the opposite. It is, however, absolutely vital to the preservation of the elite's power, privilege, self-image and status. And as they demonstrate day after day, they don't care how many people must die or suffer for this.
This is moral psychosis on a monumental scale. It is the complete and utter repudiation of every civilized ideal, of every fragment of enlightenment wrenched from the blood-drenched slagheap of human history. Yet it passes for normality in our political discourse.
I must, at last, admit defeat. I simply have no words, no rhetorical ammunition, no conceptual frameworks that could adequately address the total moral nullity exposed in Monday's New York Times article on the death squad that Barack Obama is personally directing from the White House. (“Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will.”)
It is not so much a newspaper story as a love letter -- a love letter to death, to the awe-inspiring and fear-inducing power of death, as personified by Barack Obama in his temporary role as the manager of a ruthless, lawless imperial state. In the cringing obsequiousness of the multitude of insiders and sycophants who march in goose-step through the story, we can see the awe and fear -- indeed, the worship -- of death-dealing power. This enthrallment permeates the story, both in the words of the cringers and in the giddy thrill the writers display in gaining such delicious access to the inner sanctum.
In any other age -- including the last administration -- this story would have been presented as a scandalous exposé. The genuinely creepy scenes of the "nominating process" alone would have been seen as horrific revelations. Imagine the revulsion at the sight of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld sifting through PowerPoint slides on "suspected terrorists" all over the world, and giving their Neronic thumbs up or down as each swarthy face pops up on a screen in front of them. Imagine the tidal wave of moral outrage from the "Netroots Nation" and other progressive champions directed at Bush not only for operating a death squad (which he did), but then trotting out Condi and Colin and Bob Gates to brag about it openly, and to paint Bush as some kind of moral avatar for the careful consideration and philosophical rigor he applied to blowing human beings to bits in sneak attacks on faraway villages.
But the NYT piece is billed as just another "process story" about an interesting aspect of Obama's presidency, part of an election-year series assessing his record. It is based entirely on the viewpoints of Beltway insiders. The very few dollops of mild criticism of the murder program are voiced by figures from deep within the imperial machine. And even these caveats are mostly tactical in nature, based on one question: "Does the program work, is it effective?" There is not a single line that ever suggests, even slightly, that the program might be morally wrong. There is not a single line in the story suggesting that such a program should up for debate or even examination by Congress. Nor is there even a perfunctory quote from mainstream organizations such as the ACLU or Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch -- or from anyone in Pakistan or Yemen or the other main targets of Obama's proudly proclaimed and personally approved death squad.
In other words, this portrait of an American president signing off -- week after week after week after week -- on the extrajudicial murder of people all over the world is presented as something completely uncontroversial. Indeed, the main thrust of the story is not the fact that human beings -- including many women, children and men who have no connection whatsoever to "terrorism," alleged or otherwise -- are being regularly killed by the United States government; no, the main focus is how this program illustrates Barack Obama's "evolving" style of leadership during the course of his presidency. That's what's really important. The murders -- the eviscerated bodies, the children with their skulls bashed in, the pregnant women burned alive in their own homes -- are just background. Unimportant. Non-controversial.
II. Here's how it works:
“Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.
“This secret “nominations” process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia. … A parallel, more cloistered selection process at the C.I.A. focuses largely on Pakistan, where that agency conducts strikes.
“The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name. He signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan — about a third of the total.
“Aides say Mr. Obama has several reasons for becoming so immersed in lethal counterterrorism operations. A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he believes that he should take moral responsibility for such actions.
“He realizes this isn’t science, this is judgments made off of, most of the time, human intelligence,” said Mr. Daley, the former chief of staff. “The president accepts as a fact that a certain amount of screw-ups are going to happen, and to him, that calls for a more judicious process.”
Again, words fail. Aides pumping reporters with stories about the wise, judicious philosopher-king consulting Aquinas and Augustine before sending a drone missile on a "signature strike" on a group of picnickers in Yemen or farmers in Pakistan. The philosopher-king himself nobly taking on the "moral responsibility" for mass murder. And the cavalier assertion that "a certain amount of screw-ups are going to happen" -- a bland, blithe acceptance that you are in fact going to slaughter innocent human beings on a regular basis -- precisely as if you walked up to an innocent man on the street, put a gun to his head and blew his brains out all over the sidewalk …. then walked away, absolved, unconcerned, and free to kill again. And again. And again. This psychopathic serial killing is, evidently, what Augustine meant by "moral responsibility." Who knew?
Obama's deep concern for "moral responsibility" is also reflected in his decision to kill according to "signature strikes" -- that is, to kill people you don't know, who haven't even popped up on your PowerPoint slides, if you think they might possibly look or act like alleged potential "terrorists." (Or if you receive some "human intelligence" from an agent or an informer or someone with a grudge or someone seeking payment that a group of people doing something somewhere might be terrorists.) This "moral responsibility" is also seen in Obama's decision to count "all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent."
Guilty until proven posthumously innocent! How's that for "moral responsibility"? Here Obama has surpassed Augustine and Aquinas -- yea, even great Aristotle himself -- in this bold extension of the parameters of moral responsibility.
It is, I confess, beyond all my imagining that a national leader so deeply immersed in murdering people would trumpet his atrocity so openly, so gleefully -- and so deliberately, sending his top aides out to collude in a major story in the nation's leading newspaper, to ensure maximum exposure of his killing spree. Although many leaders have wielded such powers, they almost always seek to hide or obscure the reality of the operation. Even the Nazis took enormous pains to hide the true nature of their murder programs from the public. And one can scarcely conceive of Stalin inviting reporters from Pravda into the Politburo meetings where he and Molotov and Beria debated the lists of counterrevolutionary "terrorists" given to them by the KGB and ticked off those who would live and those who would die. Of course, those lists too were based on "intelligence reports," often gathered through "strenuous interrogation techniques" or the reports of informers. No doubt these reports were every bit as credible as the PowerPoint presentations reviewed each week by Obama and his team.
And no doubt Stalin and his team were just as sincerely concerned about "national security" as the Aquinas acolyte in the White House today -- and just as determined to do "whatever it takes" to preserve that security. As Stalin liked to say of the innocent people caught up in his national security efforts: "When wood is chopped, chips fly."
Of course, he was an evil man without any sense of moral responsibility at all. In our much more enlightened times, under the guidance of a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate in the White House, we are so much wiser, so much better. We say: "A certain amount of screw-ups are going to happen." Isn't that much more nuanced? Isn't that much more moral?
There is more, much more of this nullity -- and rotting hypocrisy and vapid sycophancy -- in the story. But I don't have the strength or the stomach to wade any further through this swamp. It stinks of death. It taints and stains us all.