A few random thoughts on the imbroglio over Matt Taibbi leaving the media stable of oligarch Pierre Omidyar -- and the remarkable response to this by the oligarch's remaining celebs, led by Glenn Greenwald.
1. The Intercept article on Taibbi's departure -- bylined under the names of Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill, and John Cook, but almost certainly written mostly by Greenwald -- is, at its core, a scurrilous piece of work. Purporting to be a boldly transparent piece -- it even (lightly) criticizes the Boss! -- it is instead, transparently, an attempt by the oligarch's organization to get its side of the story out first before the famously acerbic Taibbi makes any statement.
2. It is also a means for the authors to laud themselves as "fiercely independent journalists" (yes, Greenwald actually wrote that about himself) who, despite being radical bohemians who "view corporate cultures and management-speak with disdain," were able to heroically grapple with their employer and procure for themselves "a sizable budget, operational autonomy, and a team of talented journalists, editors, research specialists, and technologists working collaboratively and freely in the manner its founders always envisioned" … unlike that loser Taibbi, who obviously lacked their moxie and got slapped around by the Big Boss Man.
3. The poison shiv of the article is buried deep in the acres of Greenwald's ever-deadening slabs of prose (as well as deep in Taibbi's back): the accusation of sexist behavior on Taibbi's part when he was upbraiding one of his staff. To be sure, the Interceptors make great show of saying that an internal investigation of the charge found that his action did not rise "to the level of legal liability" (libel-dodging weasel-wording at its best!) -- and added, as an appendix, an encomium from another Omidyar stablemate as to Taibbi's good character and lack of sexism. But the damage was done, as was obviously intended. The quick takeaway of anyone wondering about the situation will be: "What happened with Taibbi and First Look?" "Well, he was facing some kind of sex abuse charge or something, wasn't he? Abusing the women there, threatening or yelling at them, something." "What an asshole. They were right to get rid of him." Or maybe just a quick headline in the NY Post or Drudge Report: "Taibbi Leaves First Look After Sexism Row."
4. Anyone who has ever known or worked with Taibbi -- as I did in Moscow years ago -- knows that he is indeed a combative, abrasive personality. The Interceptors point this out repeatedly, ostensibly in his defense, as if to say, "Well, Taibbi's volatile ways were a known quality, part of what made his work so powerful; no wonder he clashed with the corporate structure of the organization." But this too is actually a subtle defense of the Big Boss Man, carrying a counter-implication: "Look, everybody knows Taibbi is an angry jerk; no wonder the Boss had to come down hard on him."
5. I have no way of knowing how Taibbi behaved toward the staff he hired with the "multimillions" Omidyar gave him to play with. I certainly don't know if he made a sexist remark to a staffer or not. I do know that when he and Mark Ames (whose work, like Taibbi's, I've frequently referenced here) edited The eXile magazine in Moscow, it was filled with relentless misogyny -- visceral, juvenile, contemptuous, and often highly personal, especially when directed at Taibbi's female former colleagues at the Moscow Times. But that was a long time ago, and I assume that both writers have grown up a bit since then in regards to their attitude toward women. I've certainly seen nothing of that sneering contempt in any of their work since their eXile days. If there was some blow-up with a staffer at Omidyar's shop, involving harsh and abrasive language, I would imagine it was more general then gendered. But in his editorship of The eXile, Taibbi did indeed give many hostages to fortune in terms of defending himself against later charges of sexism.
6. That's why bringing up already investigated and apparently dismissed sexism charges is a doubly effective technique for the Inteceptors: the insinuation poisons Taibbi's present reputation, while his past makes it harder for him to defend himself. "You say you aren't sexist? What about all that shit in The Exile?"
7. That said, I know for a fact that Greenwald will tell lies -- knowing, demonstrable falsehoods -- to blacken a person's reputation when it suits him. I know because he did it to me, just a few months ago. In response to some criticism of his journalistic methods, Greenwald spewed out a very nasty, petty, personal smear -- an outright lie which he had to know was a lie when he wrote it. [See here for details.] He was willing to do this in order to discredit criticism from what, in his position, could only be considered the most marginal of sources. How much more might he do to defend the billionaire oligarch who has given him "a sizable budget, operational autonomy, and a team of talented journalists, editors, research specialists, and technologists" from a high-profile PR threat like the renegade Taibbi? In any case, when it comes to discussing matters such as Taibbi's behavior, Greenwald has zero credibility.
8. As others have pointed out, the Interceptors' article actually confirms many of the suspicions and criticisms that have been voiced about the oligarch's media operation from the beginning. Contrary to the Interceptors' insistent denials, Omidyar obviously has been deeply involved in the editorial operations of his "fiercely independent" hirelings, exerting control over personnel decisions, management -- even the petty cash, such as taxi receipts. And now we learn from Greenwald's latest slab that Omidyar is no longer interested in journalism at all, but in "products" -- "new technologies for delivering and consuming news." A techno-billionaire more concerned with enriching himself with more techno-product than forging a powerhouse of dissident journalism -- wow, who could have seen that coming? Anyone and everyone -- except, of course, for our leading dissident journalists.
9. In the end, this particular imbroglio is just a minor tempest in a celebrity teapot. There are more important -- and more sinister -- aspects to the oligarch's growing empire of profit-seeking political influence. Mark Ames (as it happens) has just published a very important article on Omidyar's continuing machinations in Ukraine and his continuing collusion with neo-fascists there and in India. I hope to take a closer look at his article and its implications soon. It certainly puts the Interceptors' proud association with the oligarch -- demonstrated by their hatchet job on Taibbi -- in a new, darker light.
10. As for Taibbi himself, I can say only this: You lie down with dogs, Matt, you get up with fleas. What the hell else did you think would happen?
Behold the quintessential earnest progressive liberal in the highest moral dudgeon: Digby railing with thunderous fury at the possibility (the very distinct possibility) that Barack Obama is going to suppress the Senate's report on CIA torture. Digby quotes the recent letter from some of Obama's fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureates, who are calling on Obama to release the report (and close the concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, for good measure.) Worthy sentiments and justifiable anger indeed. But then Digby adds this gloss:
"Honestly, if they deep six the report (or redact it so heavily that it's meaningless) I think President Obama has no choice but to give back his prize. There's [sic] a lot of actions he's taken as president that people could claim disqualify him for the prize anyway. Arguments about the dirty wars and targeted assassination programs alone will go on for generations. But one can, at least, say they represent some form of modern warfare and that the President of a military Empire is always going to be required to deal in such ugly matters. (That, in fact, s one reason why it was ludicrous to give him the prize in the first place --- he runs the most powerful killing machine on the planet.)
But however you see his performance as Commander in Chief, There can be no debate about torture. It's a war crime. It should be prosecuted. But even if they cannot do that, covering it up is to be complicit."
Old cynic that I am, I must admit that even my grizzled jaw dropped as I read these words. "Arguments about the dirty wars and targeted assassination programs alone will go on for generations." This, again, is from one of our leading liberal lights. She thinks dirty wars -- secret incursions into other nations to murder, subvert, wreak havoc, terrorize -- are open to debate. She thinks that "targeted assassination programs" -- one of which is run directly out of the White House, with regular weekly meetings where Obama and his advisors tick off names of human beings to be killed without warning, without the slightest pretense of judicial process or rule of law -- will be argued about for generations. The morality of death squads and dirty wars is something about which serious, concerned citizens can disagree and debate, apparently.
Running a death squad -- which, among many others, kills American citizens without due process, then, just for the hell of it, murders their children: this doesn't put a person beyond the pale of acceptable human behavior. Not at all. It's something we can argue about, sure; but not only is it within the parameters of acceptable behavior, it does not even disqualify you from enthusiastic political support, not even from earnest, peace-loving antiwar liberals like Digby, who fought tooth and nail to keep Obama running his death squads and dirty wars in 2012. (And if he could run for a third term there is no doubt -- none whatsoever -- that he would have fierce backing of the earnest, peace-loving antiwar liberals like Digby.)
But my poor jaw had not yet done descending. For Digby, astonishingly, goes on to offer one of those arguments for state murder and the Nuremberg-level war crime of carrying out "dirty wars" on the sovereign territory of other nations: "One can, at least, say they represent some form of modern warfare and that the President of a military Empire is always going to be required to deal in such ugly matters."
Now, I'm sure we are all to understand that Digby herself wouldn't make that argument. But she does see its point. She thinks it’s something that can be debated. She might not like it, she might even oppose it (while of course never opposing the continuation of its perpetrator in power). But from the gritty, savvy realpolitik perspective that our earnest progressive liberals are always so keen to show they understand and appreciate, you can certainly make that argument and remain within the bounds of respectable debate in Digby's eyes.
Isn't this a wonderment? A progressive, peace-loving liberalism that can accept a president actually checking off names on a death list, like Stalin in the Politburo -- that can accept "dirty wars" that have slaughtered thousands of innocent civilians and destabilized whole regions, breeding more violence and terror. And although Digby has criticized such actions, it is obvious that none of them have put Obama beyond the moral pale for her. He's still within the bounds of acceptable realpolitik. ("Hey, the guy has to run a military Empire. What's he supposed to do?"). He is still -- if only just -- on "our" side.
Wholesale murder, wanton destruction, untold -- and unnecessary -- anguish and grief and suffering and turmoil: these things can be borne, if reluctantly, by our liberal progressive peace-lovers. But torture -- that, apparently, is the one thing that is beyond the pale. And in this particular case, it is not even torture being carried out by the Obama administration. (There is torture still going on, of course, but it's not at issue in the Senate report on past CIA actions which has so fixated our progressive liberals.) No, just the mere act of covering up a report on past torture is, for Digby, a step too far at last. Killing, mayhem, subversion -- well OK, if you have to; but torture -- why, that's "a war crime"! There can be absolutely "no debate about torture."
But here the obvious question arises: why not? If you can swallow all the rest and still support the perpetrator, why draw the line at torture? If, by Digby's own logic, you can "at least" make the argument that dirty wars and death squads "represent some form of modern warfare" -- then why not torture? Why not lump it in with those other "forms of modern warfare"? "Hey, we do lots of things now that used to be considered war crimes --- because we now face new dangers in our modern warfare. We have to kill people without due process, we have wage dirty wars -- and every now and then, we have to get rough with a prisoner. If you can support a president who murders and subverts, why not support him when he tortures, or covers up for torturers?"
What is that makes torture worse than actually murdering innocent people? Why is torture an undebatable war crime, but blowing up children sleeping in their homes in some Pakistani village is something that can be "argued about" -- indeed, such an open moral question that the debate will go on "for generations"?
The truth, of course, is that murder and dirty war are even worse than torture. But all of them partake of a radical evil that should put any perpetrator beyond the pale, making the person a war criminal who indeed "should be prosecuted." But if our earnest progressive liberals took off their blinders and acknowledged this truth -- then what? They would have to admit that they have been supporting -- with however much showy reluctance and "savvy" constructive criticism -- the perpetrator of monstrous war crimes.
So they focus on what is, relatively speaking, the lesser evil. Probably because most of them believe that Obama really has abolished torture in our far-flung gulags and bases and "secret facilities," rather than just entrenching it and codifying it with new manuals and different jargon. So in the end, Obama is not really that evil, is he? Since they cannot accept the full moral import of the death squads and dirty wars, they expend their righteous fury on the safer and more limited ground of torture. Or again, in this case, on "complicity" with torture, by covering up a report on the crimes committed years ago by the real bad guys, from the other side of the partisan divide: the Bush gang.
But let's say that Obama does quash or whitewash the report, confirming his "complicity" in torture. What then? What condign punishment does our morally furious liberal progressive envision for him in that case? Impeachment? Prosecution? Imprisonment? No. If Obama does this really, really bad thing -- which is so much worse than murdering people and waging dirty war -- then Digby believes he should ... he should ... give his Nobel Peace Prize back.
That's it. Pretty rough, huh? That would really teach him a lesson, if he had to do that!
But even if Digby's worst fears come to pass, is there anyone who believes that she would then disown the president, break with him, denounce him publicly as a war criminal? Of course not. She, and the other earnest progressive liberals, will continue to support him -- with loving chastisement and sad shakes of the head, to be sure -- but they've got his back.
And we will see them on the hustings for Hilary Clinton when the time comes for her to perpetrate these same moral outrages, these same war crimes. Their partisan tribalism blinds them to the fullness of the reality that confronts us. (And I know how that works; I suffered from the same tribal blindness for many, many years.) They cannot genuinely and effectively oppose the monstrous system of military Empire because, in the end, what is most important to them is not stopping the system -- but making sure that one of "theirs" is running it.
Friends, I hope you will attend to this brief but important message. One of our very best, most insightful, powerful writers is now in extremely low water. Long-time readers of this column will know that Arthur Silber has faced a relentless barrage of health difficulties in recent years. He is once more in extremely poor shape, and faces the very real risk of losing his home — a fate which, as he points out in his latest post, will effectively be the end of him.
How can we afford to lose such a voice: humane, caring, witty, wise – and always open, searching, ever-more inquisitive? Arthur has something to say, something worth hearing, worth thinking about, worth taking in and acting upon. His work offers something beyond the bounds of ordinary political commentary. I think his is one of the most vital voices we have today, in any format, anywhere.
Times are hard all over, I know. Especially for the small band of readers who still cast an eye toward this blog. There are no 1 Percenters here. Many of the regular readers are in straitened circumstances themselves. I understand that. But I do ask that if anyone out there who sees this feels that they can contribute something toward keeping Arthur’s work — and life — going, then please head over to his blog and throw something in the hat. Thanks.
I assume that most of the rapidly dwindling number of people who read this blog have already read Tarzie’s takedown of The Intercept’s curiously CIA-slanted smear of Gary Webb, who revealed the Agency’s instrumental involvement in the 1980s crack epidemic that devastated America’s inner cities in order to fund the illegal Contra war in Nicaragua.
(As an aside, I’d like to note that the flood of crack into America was not of course confined to the inner cities, although that was indeed its epicenter. Over time, it crept out into that rural “heartland” where, in Gore Vidal’s immortal phase, “chiggers burrow and Jesus saves,” and destroyed the lives of many “good old boys” along with the ghetto dwellers who were the primary targets. One of these old boys was a close friend of mine, a good-hearted, “unharmful gentle soul” damaged by a violent upbringing who got hooked on crack and ended up in the absolute hellhole of the American prison complex. This was a sweet, music-loving, friend-supporting man who’d never hurt a single person in his life, who spent his time in prison trying to mediate between the racist gangs — paying the price for it with beatings and threats — trying to walk the line and being scorned for it by guards and prisoners alike. All this for a quiet, diversionary high he could have gotten from a couple of legal six-packs every night, if not for the insidious addictive nature of the product the CIA pushed into the hands of the pushers. This is one of the main things that drive my rage against the murderers and liars who strut upon the national and international stages, pretending to be pious leaders: the fate of good people like my friend, ordinary people, people filled with love, with dreams, who just want to get beyond whatever torments their pasts have inflicted upon them and enjoy their time, their friends, their children, their lovers, but are instead crushed like bugs beneath the bootheels of imperial policy. It’s things like this that make me want to say: Damn these killers and liars to hell, whatever their party or professed ideals may be.)
Anyway, in his original piece, Tarzie committed the increasingly rare sin of genuine journalism by investigating and debunking, point by point, The Intercept’s ugly spin on Webb’s work — work which was later confirmed by the CIA itself. Now Tarzie is back with a follow-up on the continuing disparagement of Webb’s work by the Establishment media (covering its own spotty posterior for its original collaboration with CIA smears) in a new piece, with links to several other important stories on the case. Both pieces are well worth reading, if you haven’t already.
We speak of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has spent the months since his election in May stoking the flames in Kashmir, the disputed border region between India and Pakistan: a flashpoint that has already sparked three wars and numerous standoffs between the two nuclear-armed rivals. Modi and his minions now boast of his bellicosity in the new stirring of the hornet’s nest:
“The message we have been given from the prime minister’s office is very clear and precise,” said a senior Indian Home Ministry official. “The prime minister’s office has instructed us to ensure that Pakistan suffers deep and heavy losses.”
In his first extensive comments on the violence, Mr Modi told a political rally on Thursday, when 1,000 Indian mortars rained across into Pakistan, that “it is the enemy that is screaming”.
“The enemy has realised that times have changed and their old habits will not be tolerated,” he said.
We have written here before of our ‘dissenting’ oligarch’s profitable alliance with Modi, such as in this excerpt (see original for links):
Who is Modi? What sort of politician has America’s leading bankroller of dissent given his copious support to? Pankaj Mishra has written one of the best articles that I've seen on the situation. From the Guardian:
Modi is a lifelong member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary Hindu nationalist organisation inspired by the fascist movements of Europe, whose founder's belief that Nazi Germany had manifested "race pride at its highest" by purging the Jews is by no means unexceptional among the votaries of Hindutva, or "Hinduness". In 1948, a former member of the RSS murdered Gandhi for being too soft on Muslims. The outfit, traditionally dominated by upper-caste Hindus, has led many vicious assaults on minorities. A notorious executioner of dozens of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 crowed that he had slashed open with his sword the womb of a heavily pregnant woman and extracted her foetus. Modi himself described the relief camps housing tens of thousands of displaced Muslims as "child-breeding centres". …
His record as chief minister is predominantly distinguished by the transfer – through privatisation or outright gifts – of national resources to the country's biggest corporations. His closest allies – India's biggest businessmen – have accordingly enlisted their mainstream media outlets into the cult of Modi as decisive administrator; dissenting journalists have been removed or silenced.
Omidyar has acquired impenetrable “liberal” cred since he decided to bankroll some of America’s leading adversarial journalists — including Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill and Matt Taibbi — to the tune of a cool quarter of a billion dollars. Yet, although some of these journalists continue to produce some informative work (Taibbi has a good piece in the Guardian this week on America’s two-tier justice system), one might be forgiven for suspecting that Omidyar is using them as something along the lines of human shields to cover some of his less salubrious activities — such supporting religious fascists like Modi, and working hand-in-glove with Washington to engineer a ‘regime change’ in Urkraine that relied heavily on avowed neo-fascist factions to force the issue.
When you write regularly of politics and empire, you necessarily spend much time steeped in the very worst aspects of human nature. The reality of power is overwhelmingly brutal, ugly and negative; and if as a writer you wish to engage with reality, then the negative will be prominent in your work. I make no apologies for that — except perhaps to apologize that my skills are not sufficient to convey the full “negativity” of our reality. So when I hear the charge that my work is “negative,” I shrug my shoulders. I’m writing about politics and power; how could it not be negative?
But of course, anyone who spends time raging against the depredations of power, against the negativity of our reality, possesses somewhere within them a more positive vision of what life is, or what it could be, both on public level and in the deeper, murkier depths of the individual personality. It is the violation and degradation of this vision by the brutishness of our reality that evokes the outrage in the first place. If these more positive intimations did not exist, then there would be no cause for anger or resistance; there would be nothing but a nihilistic acceptance of the unchangeable ugliness of reality.
To me, such positive intimations are always elusive (and allusive), on the margins of perception, seen in the glimpse and the glance. They can’t be captured or hammered into dogma, but are part of a ceaseless process; a process of change and churning, of “breakage and mutation,” of new coalescences of fact, fate, circumstance and will, of loss and possibility — all shifting and mixing, back and forth, like colored sands.
It’s easy to let such intimations slip away. Especially if they come early, to a mind unready, a personality unformed, a psyche too fragile to embrace the annihilating fire of connection and flow. (An annihilation that paradoxically gives back the psyche in a more refined, distinctive form.) But certain names, places, snatches of thought and expression can attach themselves to these intimations, sending faint echoes to the future that a person might one day hear again.
Anyway, these are some of the thoughts and feelings behind the piece below. I’m working on some other posts about politics and empire — and you can bet they will be plenty “negative.” But meanwhile, here’s a little train ride “back into that old élan vital.”
America, of course, is renowned for the historical amnesia that permeates its public discourse. Thanks to the tireless efforts our media, our educators and, above all, our elites, Americans enjoy a level of ignorance about the actions of their government that approaches the sublime. However, the truth is that past actions do have consequences — and chickens sure enough do come home to roost. In what has been a long season of bad news -- with new wars, new chaos, mass death, riots, repression, rampant terror (and the concomitant profiteering) exploding on almost every front -- one message is ringing clear: our reckless militarism and imperial ambitions are bearing bitter fruit. As the song says: it's time to pay the piper -- and we got nothing in our purse.....
Below is my column in the latest print edition of CounterPunch. It was written last month, just after Barack Obama’s latest public embracement of the Potomac Empire’s Grand Philosophical Theory of International Statecraft: “More rubble, less trouble!” There may some overlap with my last post on this site, which developed a few of the ideas first explored in this article. The text below has been slightly revised and expanded from the print version.
The Peacey Prizey Prez has spoken, and the word he brings is — war! Not just war back in our old stomping grounds of Iraq, where the Imperial Winepress has been squeezing out the grapes of wrath for nigh on quarter of a century now. Nay, he bringeth us vast new fields to plow, in the ancient land of Assyria, therefore to make us fruitful with engorged blood.
Yes, it’s Iraq War III, or perhaps Sykes-Picot Revisited, or maybe even the Eighth (or Ninth or Forty-Fifth) Crusade of the Christian West Against the Infidel Saracens. Call it what you will, we are once more firmly embarked on a fruitless (and, we are fervently assured, bootless) quest for loot and dominance in Mesopotamia and environs. As always, these raw and bestial impulses are being gussied up in noble tropes; over the centuries, the rhetorical shadings change, but the propaganda message is always the same: the forces of good are fighting to save civilization from evil, world-devouring savages.
The bumper-sticker bromides offered by Obama in his White House revival of the long-running George Bush classic, “Bullshit in Babylon,” might have been simple, but the situation itself is as murky as the middle of the Hundred Years War. A gurgling stew of warring factions, shifting alliances, secret deals, base betrayals, panic reactions, cynical ploys and — above all — a pack of blundering, blithering idiots at the top, thrashing mindlessly and murderously back and forth. Tactical twits, yes, but united by a single, steady strategic goal: to maintain and expand the power and privileges of their respective ruling classes by any means necessary.
Obama’s speech was the usual farrago of arrant, transparent lies — delivered with his characteristic affectlessness. This is perhaps Obama's one redeeming feature as a leader: not only does he obviously know what a sick joke the whole set-up is -- he also can't hide this grim awareness. His whole aspect radiates unbearable tedium at going through the motions required to satisfy the American public’s insatiable craving for self-righteousness; hence the bromides, the pieties, the cartoon narratives and threadbare paeans to our holy “exceptionalism," delivered in a tranked-out drone. Poor guy: all this boring katzenjammer to get through – just to get on with the ugly, bloody business of empire.
Then again, this “redeeming” feature of awareness is also doubly damning: for Obama clearly knows that the course he has embarked upon will lead — inevitably, inexorably, without fail — to the death of thousands of innocent people and unimaginable suffering for millions more, as the poisonous fruits of America’s endless Terror War bear crop after crop in the years, the generations to come. He knows this is what he is doing, he knows what the results will be — but he is going forward anyway, like Macbeth stepped so far in blood that there is no point in turning back now.
To be sure, Obama sought to downplay the significance of this new American-made hellstorm of death. Taking pains to differentiate his military aggression in the region from his predecessor’s military aggression in the region, Obama likened this new effort to his existing campaigns of bombing, drone terrorism and death squads in Somalia and Yemen. He apparently thinks this comparison somehow puts him on the moral high ground. (“Hey, I’m a retail state terrorist, an upscale boutique merchant of death, not some vulgar wholesaler like that guy from Texas.”)
Much can be said about the specifics of the new Age of Insanity being ushered in by Obama and the other pipsqueaks of the Western world. For instance, how America and its allies have created the present crisis through the Hitlerian rape of Iraq in 2003, the deliberate division of the occupied land into corrupt sectarian enclaves, and the arming of extremists to foment civil war in Syria. (And that's just taking the last few years into account; never mind the genocidal slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis through sanctions, the millions killed in the region through America’s double-dealing prolongation of the Iraq-Iran War, the American-Saudi founding of the global jihadi movement to hotfoot the Soviets in Afghanistan, and so on and on back through the decades.) Not to mention the instigation of a new Cold War through the backing of violent regime change in Ukraine and the relentless, reckless push of NATO to Russia’s borders, which will likely fuel a new arms race and another era of nuclear brinkmanship.
Unpacking the details of the festering, multifarious evils of this new imperial “surge” is important work, and we should support all those who are carrying it out. This is especially vital in regard to younger people. There are whole generations coming of age who have never known anything but the howling echo chamber of post-9/11 militarism, fear, aggression and state murder. Anything and everything that can smuggle nuggets of truth to them, to “inoculate them with disillusionment” (in Henry Miller’s phrase) is to be encouraged.
But on another level, the situation embodied by Obama’s speech defeats all rational commentary and analysis. There is no longer even a pretense of reason or consistency behind the official enunciations of American policy. The system — the whole system — is now given over entirely to permanent war: hot war in Muslim lands, cold war in Eastern Europe, class war against the 99 percent at home. [As I noted here earlier,] that’s their only consistency. That’s their only casus belli. That’s all they know.
And so a new war has begun. Or rather, a new front is opened (and an old one re-opened) in an ongoing, ever-expanding war. For the new war is of course our old friend, the War on Terror. (Although it should more accurately be termed “the War on Terror Spawned by the War on Terror.”)
The casus belli being offered up seem even more specious and shifting than usual. The vicious civil war we have fomented in Syria has spawned an extremist militia that is using the weapons we poured into Syria to attack the corrupt sectarian regime we installed in Iraq with our illegal invasion there earlier, which gave rise to a vicious civil war that has continued to this day, with both sides using our weapons.
But is “war” really the right word? “War” implies a discrete event; it has a beginning, some kind of trajectory, some kind of an end. But the fiery miasma of slaughter and profiteering that is the Terror War has no such form. It has no trajectory — and no end, as we have been told over and over by our bipartisan Terror Barons. For the imperial American state (and its various satellites, servants and satraps), the Terror War has become a state of nature — even THE state of nature. It is no longer an event in reality; it is the very form of reality itself. It must go on because it can’t NOT go on.
To our ruling classes, and their lackeys and abettors and worshippers across the commanding heights of Western society, the very idea of any alternative to ceaseless conflict is unimaginable …
Hey, it’s what we do. It’s what we are. As our latest temporary manager, Obama, said the other day, it’s how we roll. We exist solely to assert our dominance by violent force anywhere and anyhow we see fit. It is in blood and domination that we live and move and have our being. It doesn’t matter in the end who we are fighting against, or with, or if we change partners in the middle of the battle. It doesn’t matter if we fight an enemy here and arm him over there, or if our allies share the same extremism we are ostensibly trying to quell. It doesn’t matter what we say to justify the killing and profiteering we want to do, or that we change these justifications from day to day, even from hour to hour.
And it certainly doesn’t matter what “legal” basis we offer for our lawless and arbitrary actions. We are more than happy to spout some meaningless jargon, to torture and degrade the language, to openly mock the very notion of reason and law — as long as it keeps the editorial writers and think-tank quacks happy in their shallow fantasies of “serious” policy, as long as the public in whose name we are destabilizing and devouring the earth (including their own decaying communities) can keep believing that what we are doing with our killing and looting is keeping them safe from “psychopaths” and demonic beasts. As long as they can keep believing that they are being governed by a benevolent elite, whose ultimate aim — however badly and ineptly they sometimes pursue it — is to secure peace, freedom and prosperity for their own people, and for the world.
And thus we watch with wry bemusement how earnestly the opinion-makers and commentators — especially on the liberal side — debate the “issues” around our brutal and arbitrary actions (which they, sweet naifs, call “policies”). How they puzzle and puzzle til their puzzlers are sore, to make our policies better. ‘Oh, if only we could make our leaders see that their policies are counterproductive, that they are failing to produce the outcomes they are seeking. Oh, if only our leaders could be smarter, cleverer, more insightful — like us! But they just keep making the same mistakes, with the same bad outcomes, which just makes it harder for them to achieve their noble goals1”
It’s even more amusing when they get all scornful and sarcastic, when they smirk about what incompetent fools our elites are, how they’re so stupid that they can’t even see that they’re shooting ourselves in the foot over and over, how they couldn’t find their own ass with both hands even if both hands were stapled to their ass. (Was that Maher? Stewart? One of those media millionaires with the cutesy, soundbite smarm that passes for “dissent.”) We love these guys. We watch their shows. We pass around their best lines at the conference table. You can’t buy that kind of propaganda, that kind of reinforcement for the status quo. No one believe more in the system than these savvy snarkmasters. “The people in power now simply don’t know how to achieve their goals. They’re ruining the system! We need to get some better people in office to run the system. Then things will all right.”
But of course the truth is that the system works very well. It does what it intends to do, and pursues its goals with admirable, ruthless efficiency. Nothing deters the system: not facts, not law, not truth, not consequences, not appeals to reason or conscience, not concern for future — and certainly not snark from the chattering classes. The system can’t “fail” in its goals, because there are no “goals,” no endpoints. There is only the process — the endless, churning process of violent domination, and the power and profits this produces for those who join (or are born to) the elite. If one front in the Terror War produces what our naifs call a “policy failure” — the invasion of Iraq, say - so what? You just keep churning and fighting and profiteering on a dozen other fronts, while your “policy failure” ripens into a catastrophic societal breakdown, producing more excuses to “step back in” and resume the conflict there again.
So where is the “failure”? The violent, profitable process of empire — the shark that must keep eating or else it dies — has not skipped a beat. It just keeps expanding its range — and, as in Iraq now, it can always come back to an old killing field. As long as the system keeps killing and grinding and churning, it can’t fail, whatever may happen on this or that patch of ground at any particular time. The process — not the seriously analyzed “outcome” of an operation — is the whole point.
There must be blood, there must be loot, there must be expansion. When you’ve killed all the Indians, you go kill the gooks. If the Commies quit the field, you kill Muslims instead. This is what the system is. This is what the system does. And whoever seeks to control the system — whoever fights and claws their way into the cockpit of this monstrous machine, to give themselves and their courtiers a few years at the wheel — is a willing, eager part of the system.
For example, there is now a great deal of liberal handwringing about the “tragedy” of Barack Obama being “sucked back” into the morass of Iraq. “He wanted change, he wanted to lead us away from this kind of thing, but now look! Despite his best intentions, here we are again.” In most of these cases, Obama’s predecessor gets the blame — “Bush made a mess of Iraq, and now Obama has to clean it up.”
(I don’t recall seeing any commentary along these lines noting that Bill Clinton — the husband of the next president of the United States — also did yeoman service in making a mess of Iraq, having killed some 500,000 children with his pointless, punitive sanctions. He killed those children because Saddam wouldn’t give up his WMD — you know, the WMD he didn’t have. O, how we rightfully scorned Bush for ‘going to war over false pretenses” about that phantom WMD; but the good old Big Dawg killed half a million children for the same knowing lie, and left Iraqi society in chaos.)
Anyway, we are now told that thanks to Bush, Obama is between a rock and a hard place, trying his dee-diddly-darndest to deal with those extremist beheaders of ISIS (with the help of the extremist beheaders of Saudi Arabia) without putting “boots on the ground.” He wanted to change the system — but it looks like the “Deep State” was too much for him. What a tragedy for him — and for us.
Can we dispense briefly but decisively with this oleaginous bullshit by making a single observation? A man who hand-picked George Bush’s Secretary of Defense to serve as his own Master of War knew exactly what the system is — and did not have the slightest intention of changing it. In fact, Obama has been phenomenally successful in expanding the system of violence and domination, extending it new areas, with new tools (Oval Office death squads! Assassinating innocent teenagers!) — and bringing it all back home with hi-tech surveillance, whistleblower persecution and journalist prosecutions his predecessor could only dream of.
And so we are at war again. But we are never not at war anymore. That’s what we do. That’s what we are.
On three occasions in the past few days, I've been approached separately by three of my children, ranging in age from 9 to 28, each of whom asked in different ways, "What is this war with ISIS all about?" Adjusting my answer according to their age, understanding and education, I spoke of various factors behind the new war, trying to give more of the context, history and reality of what is going on, behind the blizzard of contradictory bull that surrounds the operation.
But later it occurred to me that the most direct -- and truest -- answer could be found in a short clip from an old film, made more than 30 years ago, in a scene set in the midst of a conflict now an entire century in the past. But the answer given then is most assuredly true now.
So here it is, delivered at a cozy black-tie dinner at the well-appointed Liberal Club of Portland, Oregon:
The murderous absurdity of the new American-led war in the Middle East almost defies commentary, although I'm currently working on a piece that tries to thread through the obfuscation. In the meantime, below is something I wrote about one of our earlier wars in the region — but as we now live in a state of permanent war, it remains sadly apt for today … and no doubt far into the future.
The questions in the lines are aimed chiefly at all those who give their support -- however grudgingly, reluctantly, with great sweatdrops of blood and wringing of hands -- to the continuing series of military attacks by Western powers in the Middle East, East Asia and Africa for the ostensible reason of quelling terrorism. For after each such incursion, the question comes again: are you free now? Is it better now? Are you free from the fear of terrorism (a fear so expertly and copiously stoked by our elites)? Is it better now? Is it over now? Have our violent attacks made us -- or the people in our target nations -- freer, safer, prosperous, at peace? Even when there is "victory" -- Saddam ousted, the Taliban ousted, Gadafy ousted -- has this brought peace and freedom to anyone ... or simply more and more and ever more conflict, extremism, chaos and blood.
And now the fear has come round again: another war, more mountains of dead, more cities in ruins, more hatred spread, more extremism created. Yet even if ISIS is forced back from the territory it now occupies in Syria and Iraq (thanks to the hellholes of chaos and instablity that Western actions have induced in both those countries), the question will be hanging in the blood-flecked mist: are we free now?