Dear New York Times,
OK, OK, we get the picture: you want the United States to attack Iran. Why don't you go ahead and put a permanent banner across the top of the front page with the Cato-like adjuration: "Iran Must Be Destroyed!" Or maybe you could just tack it on to every single story: "Yankees Trade to Bolster Outfield; Iran Must Be Destroyed." "Mixed Results for Apple I-Pad; Iran Must Be Destroyed." "Markets Anxious Over Health Care Vote; Iran Must Be Destroyed." "New Bistro Revels in Bohemian Ambience; Iran Must Be Destroyed."
After all, hardly a week goes by now without some big juicy piece of Times scaremongery about Iran's nuclear program, usually with the same image of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a lab coat looking blankly at metal tubes. The thrust of these stories is always the same: Iran is galloping toward nuclear weaponhood -- a "global threat" that "cannot be allowed to stand." Last week, it was Bill Broad, goosing the rubes with this little number, a supposed "science" piece: For Iran, Enriching Uranium Only Gets Easier.
For a moment, let's put aside the fact of Iran's persistent denials of a desire for nuclear weapons -- including the explicit, repeated statements of the theocracy's supreme religious and political leader that such weapons are anathema. And let's put aside the fact that despite the most extensive and intrusive inspection regime in the history of atomic energy development, there is no evidence whatsoever that Iran is not doing exactly what it says it is doing: developing non-weaponized nuclear power for peaceful purposes. These are just facts, after all -- and facts, as the sainted Ronald Reagan once told us, are stupid things.
But even if we were to grant the fevered fantasies of our masturbatory militarists the slightest tincture of credibility -- or even take their brazen propaganda as gospel truth -- they have never yet explained exactly why Iran's possession of nuclear weapons would be a greater "global threat" than, say, the bristling arsenals produced by the illegal, covert, crimeful programs in Israel, India and Pakistan. Nor are we told why an ill-gotten Iranian bomb would be worse than the vast "legal" nuclear arsenals of Russia, China, France, Great Britain and, of course, the only nation in the history of the world that has actually used nuclear weapons to slaughter hundreds of thousands of defenseless civilians, the United States of America.
But as we've mentioned here often before, "there is literally nothing that Iran can do – or not do – to divert the American elite's desire to strike at their land and bring it under domination." They are of course already waging secret, slow-motion war against Iran right now, and have been for many years, with sanctions, terrorist campaigns and covert operations. The only real debate within the power structure is when and how to accelerate -- or "surge" -- this war into a broader, more overt campaign. "Moderates" opt for continuing the gradualist approach until such time as the bond markets -- and other financial arbiters of our fate -- signal their relative comfort with the move; "hawks" -- many of whom have vested interests in the "security industry" which reaps such vast profit from war and rumors of war -- press relentlessly for immediate action.
But whatever their stripe, there is no third way among our elites on the question of Iran, nothing beyond the notion that Iran must be "dealt with" -- harshly, stringently -- until it is once more under Western sway. And it is this latter recalcitrance -- which is shared both by the present Tehran regime and its dissidents -- that makes Iran a "rogue" nation, not its internal political repression (which is less severe than some staunch American allies) nor its reputed "support for terrorism" (an oft-used tool of the United States and its allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia), nor even Ahmadinejad's non-existent calls for Israel to be "destroyed" or his Holocaust revisionism (both of which have long been propagated in far more virulent forms among staunch American allies such as Saudi Arabia, or America's favorite partner for Middle East peace talks, the unelected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a vile Holocaust revisionist for decades -- but now regarded as the most "genuine and serious" partner imaginable for the Jewish state, according to no less than Tom "Suck On This" Friedman).
But these facts do not matter in the slightest. The American media -- corporatized and homogenized to a fare-thee-well -- simply regurgitate whatever fantasy scenario our masters come up with to keep the domination agenda careening drunkenly down the road. These scenarios don't have to be plausible; they don't even have to make sense or have the slightest bit of internal consistency. And they can change literally overnight -- as we all remember when Saddam Hussein went from staunch American ally, bulwark against the rabid Shiite menace, to "the new Hitler," bent on world domination, the day after he attacked the American elite's business partners, the repressive, anti-Semitic Kuwaiti royals.
This very interesting -- and very crucial -- passage in American history is now almost forgotten. But as we careen deeper into conflict with Iran, it is a history well worth remembering. Here is just a bit of it, from a piece I wrote a few years ago. Take special note of one bit player, whose significance I was not aware of at the time: Jay Bybee, a longtime factotum who first helped facilitate Daddy Bush's covert arming of Saddam Hussein, then later, as we now know, helped L'il Georgie perpetrate the capital crime of torture:
Bush [Senior] also used the global criminal network of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) to secretly funnel cash and weaponry to Saddam – then intervened to quash federal investigations of the scam. What was BCCI? Only "one of the largest criminal enterprises in history," according to the United States Senate. What did BCCI do? "It engaged in pandemic bribery of officials in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas," says journalist Christopher Bryon, who first exposed the operation. "It laundered money on a global scale, intimidated witnesses and law officers, engaged in extortion and blackmail. It supplied the financing for illegal arms trafficking and global terrorism. It financed and facilitated income tax evasion, smuggling and prostitution." Sort of an early version of the Bush Regime, then.
The Italian bank BNL was one of BCCI's main tentacles. BNL's Atlanta branch was the primary funnel used to send millions of secret dollars to Saddam for arms purchases, including deadly chemicals and other WMD materials supplied by the Chilean arms dealer Cardoen and various politically-connected operators in the United States like, weapons merchant Matrix Churchill.
As soon as the BNL case broke, Bush moved to throttle the investigation. He appointed lawyers from both Cardoen and Matrix to top Justice Department posts – where they supervised the officials investigating their old companies. The overall probe was directed by Justice Department investigator Robert Mueller. Meanwhile, White House aides applied heavy pressure on other prosecutors to restrict the range of the probe – especially the fact that Bush cabinet officials Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger had served as consultants for BNL during their pre-White House days as spear-carriers for yet another secretive international front that profits from war, weapons, and the avid greasing of highly-placed palms: Kissinger Associates. The U.S. Senate later found that the probe had been unaccountably "botched" – witnesses went missing, CIA records got "lost," all sorts of bad luck. Most of the big BCCI players went unpunished or got off with wrist-slap fines and sanctions.
One of the White House aides who unlawfully intervened in the BNL prosecution was a certain factotum named Jay S. Bybee. In 2004, said factotum was appointed by George W. Bush to a place on the federal appeals court – a lifetime sinecure of perks and power. Mueller, meanwhile wound up as head of the FBI, appointed to the post in by George W. in July 2001. Well done, thou good and faithful servants!
Then came Bush's "Gulf War," when he turned on his protégé after Saddam made the foolish move of threatening the Kuwaiti royals – Bush's long-time business partners, going back to the early 1960s. Saddam's conflict with Kuwait centered on two main issues: first, his claim that the billions of dollars Kuwait had given Iraq during the war with Iran was simply straightforward aid to the nation that was defending the Sunni Arab world from the aggressive onslaught of the Shiite Persians. The Kuwaitis insisted the money had been a loan, and demanded that Saddam pay off. There was also Saddam's claim that Kuwait was "slant-drilling" into Iraqi oilfields, siphoning off underground reserves from across the border. These disputes raged for months; a deal to resolve them was brokered by the Arab League, but fell apart at the last minute when Kuwait suddenly rejected the agreement, saying, "We will call in the Americans."
How worried was Bush about the situation? Let's look at the historical record. In the two weeks before the invasion of Kuwait, Bush approved the sale of an additional $4.8 million in "dual-use" technology to factories identified by the CIA as linchpins of Hussein's illicit nuclear and biochemical programs, the Los Angeles Times reports. The day before Saddam sent his tanks across the border, Bush obligingly sold him more than $600 million worth of advanced communications technology. A week later, he was declaring that his long-time ally was "worse than Hitler."
Yes, the Kuwaitis had called in their marker. Like a warlord of old, Bush used the US military as a private army to help his business partners. After an extensive bombing campaign that openly – even gleefully – mocked international law in its targeting of civilian infrastructure (a tactic repeated in Serbia by Bill Clinton – now regarded as an "adopted son" by Bush), the brief 100-hour ground war slaughtered fleeing Iraqi conscripts by the thousands – while, curiously, allowing Saddam's crack troops, the aptly-named Republican Guard, to escape unharmed. Later, these troops were used to kill tens of thousands of Shiites who had risen in rebellion against Saddam – at the specific instigation of George Bush, who not only abandoned them to their fate, but specifically allowed Saddam to use his attack helicopters against the rebels, and also ordered US troops to block Shiites from gaining access to arms caches.
Now Barack Obama and his "Justice" Department are working overtime to protect Bybee -- and the rest of the war-and-torture fomenters -- from even the slightest mussing of their hair for their facilitation of acts that are clearly war crimes under United States law, the Geneva Conventions and the Principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal. Obama will not acknowledge these atrocities for what they are; he will not investigate these atrocities; he will not prosecute these atrocities. And the reason for this inaction is simple: he approves of these atrocities, and is himself facilitating their continuation and expansion. And why does he do this? Because that is why he came to power: to direct the empire toward its traditional ends of geopolitical domination and oligarchic enrichment. His actual policies give ample demonstration of this fact. (Alexander Cockburn lays out the case here.)
But as we noted, facts are stupid things. No one much wants to hear them; and fewer and fewer people can even recognize them when they float up, in broken bits and jagged pieces, from the rancid swill of our political "discourse." And even though the Obama Administration is employing the exact same tactics in demonizing Iran that the Bush Administration employed with Iraq -- right down to the use of the highly respected, internationally renowned New York Times as a "stovepipe" for warmongering propaganda -- no one seems able to grasp what is happening. We still get earnest debates and fretful questions about the "direction" and "intentions" of the current administration's policies toward Iran.
The intention is this: domination, by any means necessary. This is the bedrock, bipartisan consensus of the American ruling class and its outriders, sycophants, courtiers and toadies. It was spelled out with crystal clarity by two years ago by Admiral William Fallon, the predecessor of General David Petraeus in the very cockpit of the war machine, Central Command. Fallon, as you may recall, enjoyed a brief frisson among progressives for an erroneous report that he had declared there would be no military action against Iran on his watch. And while it was true that he was skeptical about immediate action -- putting him in the "moderate" camp described above -- he left no doubt about his adherence to the imperial consensus. As I noted at the time:
Fallon himself has long denied the hearsay evidence that he had declared, upon taking over Central Command, that a war on Iran "isn't going to happen on my watch." And in fact, the article itself depicts Fallon's true attitude toward the idea of an attack on Iran right up front, in his own words. After noting Fallon's concerns about focusing too much on Iran to the exclusion of the other "pots boiling over" in the region, Barnett presses the point and asks: And if it comes to war? Fallon replies with stark, brutal clarity:
"'Get serious,' the admiral says. 'These guys are ants. When the time comes, you crush them.'"
When the time comes, you crush the ants. If anyone asks you to define the "American Way" in the 21st century, just quote them that one sentence.
UPDATE: The eagle eye of Jason Ditz at Antiwar.com caught this story on the wing: the Obama administration is moving a massive amount of weaponry, including hundreds of bunker buster bombs, to Diego Garcia. As Ditz notes:
The Sunday Herald report also cites numerous experts as saying that the lack of publicity for the move, just one of several examples of the Obama Administration adding major amounts of weaponry to the area around Iran, suggests they believe a confrontation is more likely.
Britain and America cut a secret deal: land for nukes. London sliced off a sliver of its imperial dominions and gave it to Washington, in exchange for a price reduction on some sleek new nuclear missiles. Together, the two great democracies then drove the inhabitants of the sliver from their homes by force, dumping them into poverty-ridden exile hundreds of miles away. Washington built an imperial outpost on the stolen land, a military base which it used to "project dominance" over strategic regions in Central Asia and the Middle East. Later, the outpost became yet another link in Washington's chain of "black sites" -- secret prisons where captives snatched without charges or due process could be hidden from the world and tortured.
This is the story of the Chagos Archipelago, a chain of small islands in the Indian Ocean whose inhabitants were forced from their land forty years ago to make way for a military base on the island of Diego Garcia. The base, built and staffed largely by the Americans but operated jointly with the British, has been the launching pad for countless air strikes against Iraq (in two wars) and Afghanistan. It has also served as one of the sinister way stations in America's global gulag. In return for its use of the ethnically cleansed land, Washington graciously knocked off $14 million from the price tag of some Polaris nuclear missiles that Britain craved, in its never-ending struggle to retain some crumbs of its own, now-faded "projection of dominance" on the world stage.
"To get us out of our homes," Lizette told me, "they spread rumors we would be bombed, then they turned on our dogs. The American soldiers who had arrived to build the base backed several of their big vehicles against a brick shed, and hundreds of dogs were rounded up and imprisoned there, and they gassed them through a tube from the trucks' exhaust. You could hear them crying. Then they burned them on a pyre, many still alive."
Lizette and her family were finally forced on to a rusting freighter and made to lie on a cargo of bird fertilizer during a voyage, through stormy seas, to the slums of Port Louis, Mauritius. Within months, she had lost Jollice, aged eight, and Regis, aged ten months. "They died of sadness," she said. "The eight-year-old had seen the horror of what had happened to the dogs. The doctor said he could not treat sadness."
*** NOTE: No one has covered America's slide toward war with Iran -- and indeed, the accelerating moral rot of militarist empire in general -- with more depth and insight than Arthur Silber. He is in extremely low water right now, suffering from severe health problems. He has been able to post only a small handful of articles since the first of December -- and nothing at all for several weeks now. Yet his blog is his sole means of support. I don't know what his precise situation is at the moment, but it is certain to be dire. If you are able to contribute anything to help him out, I would urge you to go to his site and drop something in the donation jar.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich's proposal to withdraw from Afghanistan was debated, heatedly, for hours in the House of Representatives on Wednesday. After the debate, dozens of Representatives cast their vote to end the war immediately. This was an unprecedented event in the history of the conflict, now in its ninth year.
Think about that for a moment: an unprecedented event, on the floor of the House, going on for hours, involving a question of supreme national importance. Regardless of one's position on the issue, is this not the very definition of "news"? But on Thursday morning, you could search high and low on the front pages (print and web) of both the New York Times and the Washington Post -- our national arbiters of serious newsworthiness -- yet find no mention whatsoever of this event. This, even though the web fronts -- unlike the paper versions -- contain headlines for dozens of stories, including sections devoted entirely to Washington politics.
You would have had to know about the debate already -- or else trawl diligently through piles of pixels or print -- to reach the small stories that our papers of record deigned to release on the subject. No ordinary newspaper reader -- someone who has a more than passing interest in current events but also has a life to live -- would even know that such a debate took place, much less learn anything about the powerful arguments against the war delivered on the floor of the national legislature. That is to say, it is entirely possible that a reasonably informed and engaged citizen of the Republic would not even be aware that dozens of elected officials at the highest level of government voiced their support for the most radical position on the war: immediate withdrawal.
But such is the way of our imperial system. Our ruling class does not want the citizenry to know there are any alternatives to the grand bipartisan consensus on the true aims of government: servicing the needs of Militarism and Money. And so what cannot be ignored entirely is buried "certain fathoms in the earth ... deeper than did ever plummet sound."
And as we noted yesterday, our rulers are greatly assisted in these efforts by "savvy" progressives who constantly belittle anyone who actually challenges this stifling and disastrous status quo. Anything that goes beyond a bit of mild tinkering and "tweaking" at the margins of the system is rejected by our savvy progs as "unrealistic." The modern "progressive" ethos seems to boil down to this: You must take whatever little thrice-chewed tidbit of cud the elite is willing to dribble out onto your plate -- and be happy about it. That clump of green viscous slime known as the health care reform bill? Why, that's a "great progressive victory!" Didn't you know?
The sad, degraded, destructive state of the "left" in modern America is clearly shown by this vignette from Seth Ackerman, writing of how a previous generation confronted health care reform:
The last big, ambitious measure [in social legislation], Medicare, was a government-run single payer program that displaced or preempted private health insurance coverage for about one in ten Americans. That’s why the AMA, Ronald Reagan, and the nascent conservative movement spared no effort to decry it as socialism.
Yet none of that prevented Medicare from passing in 1965 with 13 out of 32 Senate Republicans voting in favor. Nor did it stop the bill from winning the support of half the senators from the Deep South (5 out of 10, or 7 out of 14, depending on whether you count Texas and Florida). And what about the Mark Pryors, Blanche Lincolns, Ben Nelsons, Mary Landrieus of the world? In 2009, we were told they fought the Senate bill’s mildly progressive elements because they represented states that are “obviously” too conservative to support even such tepid liberalism. But in 1965, three of the six senators from Arkansas, Louisiana, and Nebraska voted for or pledged support for single-payer Medicare, a.k.a socialism.
Today? Dennis Kucinich opposes the corporate-coddling health care boondoggle pushed by the White House -- and he is called an accomplice in mass death by progressive paladin Markos Moulitsas. Kos even levelled the most dread epithet in the entire progressive canon at Kucinich's opposition: "It's definitely a very Ralph Nader-esque approach .. a very unrealistic and self-defeating approach."
So this is where we've come to. Ralph Nader, who has spent decades fighting corporate power, often successfully (which is more than Kos can say), is now a figure of scorn and derision -- his very name a perjorative term -- among our leading "progressives."
And why? Because Nader dared to offer an alternative to the bipartisan consensus of Militarism and Money in the 2000 election. And this, according to the unrealistic and self-defeating mythology of serious progressives, is what threw the Florida vote -- and thus the election -- to George W. Bush. This fairy tale persists despite the fact that the recounts carried out by the media consortium after the election clearly showed that Al Gore received more votes than Bush in Florida, regardless of Nader's total. It was Al Gore and his fellow establishment Democrats who "threw" the election to George W. Bush by refusing to challenge the result in Congress, by refusing to confront the transparent fraud and corruption at the very heart of the political process, and to use the tools provided them by the Constitution to uphold the will of the electorate.
What they did uphold with their timidity, however, was the true governing system of the country: not the Constitution but the empire of military domination and unrestrained money power. And this system is precisely what the timidity of our progressive paladins is upholding today. Or as that evil old devil Ralph Nader put it just last week:
The twin swelling heads of Empire and Oligarchy are driving our country into an ever-deepening corporate state, wholly incompatible with democracy and the rule of law.
Oh come on, Ralph! Democracy and the rule of law? Don't be so unserious! Don't be so unrealistic! Don't you like the taste of cud? Here, try a little spoonful, just a taste ... You'll soon get used to it -- just like the rest of us.
Want to see what happens to you if you honestly oppose imperial war? Want to see what happens to you if you honestly oppose a horrendous corporate boondoggle that will effectively kill genuine health care reform for years, if not generations? This is what happens to you: The Liberal Case Against Dennis Kucinich.
Yes, if you stand up against endless, pointless, profiteering slaughter in foreign lands, if you stand up against an astonishingly brazen, deeply dirty deal cut in the White House itself to enrich some of the most brutal, rapacious corporate sharks ever to feast, quite literally, on the bodies of nation's working people and the poor, then those Fightin' Progressives at Salon.com will come around and slap you with the cold, wet fish of their withering scorn.
They will join with the very model of a modern major general of the "Progressive Forces," Commander Kos his own self, to belittle you and denounce you -- no, not just denounce you, but accuse you, on national television, of being directly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans.
That's right; according to the Commander, if Dennis Kucinich dares to vote against whatever corporate blank check the bought-and-sold bagmen in Congress and the White House come up with to deliver millions of the poorest and most vulnerable Americans into the clutches of the health care and insurance conglomerates (which, as our Progressives themselves rightly remind us, are the ones with the real "death panels"), then Kucinich will be a mass murderer of Americans on a scale far outstripping the petty efforts of Al Qaeda and the Taliban during the long twilight struggle of our noble global Terror War.
And isn't it odd that these discrediting blasts from "the left" undermining Kucinich come just as his resolution for a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan is about to come up for debate on the House floor? Well, no, it's actually not odd at all; it is entirely predictable. The empire simply could not exist in its current form without the diligent self-policing of the "serious," "respectable" "left." They take great pains -- and inflict great pains -- in their efforts to mock and marginalize anyone who steps outside the narrow, suffocating boundaries of "savvy" Beltway gamesmanship. You cannot seriously oppose our empire of military dominion; you can only debate on the best, most "efficient" way to perpetuate it. You cannot seriously oppose the overwhelming sway of Big Money; you can only propose the mildest of mitigations of its depredations -- but only if Big Money agrees, of course.
The main thing you must be is savvy. You cannot be a real live Fightin' Progressive unless you know how to play the game. Look how the Commander's amen chorister at Salon, Alex Koppleman, drips sniffling scorn on Kucinich's legislative record: "of the 97 bills Kucinich has sponsored since taking office in 1997, only three have become law. Ninety-three didn't even make it out of committee." And even those three, Koppleman notes, were just silly little proclamations, of interest only to the hicks back in Kucinich's district somewhere out there in flyover land.
But just think what a howling pig circus the United States Congress has been during Kucinich's 13-year tenure in the House. Look around at the vast wreckage these poltroons have helped perpetrate, from the deregulation of the Bankster gangs to the imposition of draconian bankruptcy laws (championed by our super-progressive vice president) to the panicky, pants-wetting trashing of the constitution in the Patriot Acts and Military Commission Acts and Retroactive Immunity for Telecom Lawbreakers Act (supported by our super-progressive president) to support for the Hitlerian war crime of military aggression in Iraq (supported by our super-progressive secretary of state) to the redistribution of the nation's wealth (for generations) from working people and the poor to those same Banksters whose Congressionally-deregulated scams have plunged millions around the world into ruin.
This is only a fraction of an overall record of towering cupidity, stupidity and evil that almost beggars description. Why would anyone with even the slightest speck of honor or decency want to be considered a major, "savvy" contributor to such a legacy? And considering the conglomeration of political whores, bribe-takers, liars, warmongers, lackeys and outright lunatics that constitutes the bipartisan bulk of Congress, isn't it actually a badge of honor -- rather than a mark of shame -- for your legislation to be rejected by them?
Not for our "progressives." Koppelman's scorn for Kucinich's lack of "savvy" is palatable. His agreement with Kos's libel -- "holding people like Dennis Kucinich responsible for the 40,000 Americans that die each year from a lack of health care" -- is evident. The president who literally sold out genuine health care reform is not responsible. The Congress that concocted a series of hideous, confusing, corporate-crafted boondoggles that utterly reject the highly popular notion of a public option is not responsible. And evidently the dark, satanic mills of the health care, pharmaceutical and insurance industries are not responsible either.
No; Dennis Kucinich -- and "people like him" -- are responsible. Why? Because they cannot find it in their conscience to support what they fervently believe to be a harmful bill. This is their crime; to act according to their conscience on a piece of bad legislation that has somehow been elevated into a sacred totem, a holy grail by our respectable Fightin' Progressives. It doesn't matter what the Grail actually contains (or doesn't contain); all that matters is its symbolic significance as a great "victory" for our "progressive" president, and indeed, for all the progressive forces of our higher progressivism.
But what this "symbolic" victory will really do, of course, is lock into place -- for decades probably -- a rancid, corrupt and ill-serving system that will leave millions of the most vulnerable Americans at the untender mercy of corporate predators. However, if the bill were defeated, one could simply start all over -- with genuine reform this time.
But who wants that? It's too much like hard work. Symbolism is a lot easier than substance -- especially if you're a rootin', tootin', savvy, serious Fightin' Progressive. Anyway, symbolism is all you're gonna get from our imperial overlords. So you better just be happy with that little crumb. After all, as Commander Kos says, it's "a foot in the door." Who knows? If we all stay real serious and respectable, they just might throw us another little crumb somewhere down the line!
This, then, is what now passes for "the left" in America: snippy derision -- and thundering condemnation -- for anyone who dares suggest, even mildly, that a goddamn crumb is not good enough.
I'm working on another piece right now, but this excerpt from wise man William Blum is too good to pass up. This is from his latest "Anti-Empire Report," which you should sign up for today, if you don't already get it.
About half the states in the US require that a woman seeking an abortion be told certain things before she can obtain the medical procedure. In South Dakota, for example, until a few months ago, staff was required to tell women: "The abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being"; the pregnant woman has "an existing relationship with that unborn human being," a relationship protected by the U.S. Constitution and the laws of South Dakota; and a "known medical risk" of abortion is an "increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide." A federal judge has now eliminated the second and third required assertions, calling them "untruthful and misleading."
I personally would question even the first assertion about a fetus or an embryo being a human being, but that's not the point I wish to make here. I'd like to suggest that before a young American man or woman can enlist in the armed forces s/he must be told the following by the staff of the military recruitment office:
"The United States is at war [this statement is always factually correct]. You will likely be sent to a battlefield where you will be expected to do your best to terminate the lives of whole, separate, unique, living human beings you know nothing about and who have never done you or your country any harm. You may in the process lose an arm or a leg. Or your life. If you come home alive and with all your body parts intact there's a good chance you will be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Do not expect the government to provide you particularly good care for that, or any care at all. In any case, you may wind up physically abusing your spouse and children and/or others, killing various individuals, abusing drugs and/or alcohol, and having an increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide. No matter how bad a condition you may be in, the Pentagon may send you back to the battlefield for another tour of duty. They call this 'stop-loss'. Your only alternative may be to go AWOL. Do you have any friends in Canada? And don't ever ask any of your officers what we're fighting for. Even the generals don't know. In fact, the generals especially don't know. They would never have reached their high position if they had been able to go beyond the propaganda we're all fed, the same propaganda that has influenced you to come to this office."
Since for so many young people in recent years one of the determining factors in their enlistment has been the economy, this additional thought should be pointed out to them — "You are enlisting to fight, and perhaps die, for a country that can't even provide you with a decent job, or any job at all."
All who draw the sword will die by the sword. -- Yeshua Ha-Notsri, Palestinian dissident, c. 33 CE.
As we all know – or rather, as everyone but those who climb and claw their way to the top of power's greasy pole knows – the effects of war are vast, unforeseeable, long-lasting -- and uncontrollable. The far-reaching ripples of the turbulence will churn against distant shores and hidden corners, then roil back upon you in ways you could never imagine, for generations, even centuries.
Nor is "victory" in war proof against these deleterious effects. For the brutalization, moral coarsening, corruption and concentration of elite power that attend every war do not simply disappear from a society when the fighting stops. They persist, like microbes, in myriad forms, working with slow, corrosive force to degrade and deform the victors. Indeed, victory in battle often leads a society to enshrine war's most pernicious attributes: violence is ennobled, and becomes entrenched as an ever-ready instrument of national policy. Militarism is exalted, the way of peace dishonored: cries of "Appeasers! Cowards! Traitors!" greet every approach that fails to brandish the threat of extreme violence, that fails to "keep all options on the table."
The apparent "lesson" of victory – that there can be no right without armed might to win and safeguard it – quickly degenerates into the belief that armed might is right. (William Astore has an excellent article here on how the collision with Nazi Germany infected America's military with a continuing admiration for the German war machine.) Military power becomes equated with moral worth, and the ability to wreak savage, unimaginable destruction through armed violence -- via thoughtless obedience to the orders of "superiors" – becomes a cherished attribute of society.
War is no longer seen as a vast, horrific failure of the human spirit, a scandalous betrayal of our common humanity, a sickening tragedy of irrevocable loss and inconsolable suffering – although this is its inescapable reality, even in a "good" war, for a "just" cause. (And of course no nation or faction has ever gone to war without declaring that its cause is just.) Instead of lamenting war, and girding for it, if at all, only in the most dire circumstances, with the most extreme reluctance, the infected society celebrates it at every turn. No national occasion – even a sporting event! – is complete without bristling displays of military firepower, and pious tributes to those wreaking violence around the world in blind obedience to their superiors.
Oddly enough, when a modern nation consciously adopts a "warrior ethos," it casts aside -- openly, even gleefully -- whatever virtue that ethos has historically claimed for itself, such as courage in battle and honor toward adversaries. In its place come the adulation of overwhelming technological firepower and the rabid demonization of the enemy (or the perceived enemy, or even the "suspected" enemy), who is stripped of all rights, all human dignity, and subject to "whatever it takes" to break him down or destroy him.
Thus our American militarists exult in the advanced hardware that allows "soldiers" to slaughter people from thousands of miles away, with missiles, bombs and bullets fired from lurking, unreachable drones high in the sky. (A recent study shows that even by the most conservative reckoning of who is or isn't a "militant," at least one third of the hundreds killed in the Bush-Obama drone campaigns in Pakistan are clearly civilians.) The drone "warriors" -- often living in complete safety and comfort -- see nothing but a bloodless image on a screen; they face no physical threat at all. This is assassination, not combat; it reeks of cowardice, and dehumanizes everyone it touches, the victims and the button-pushers alike. Yet our militarists -- most of whom, of course, have somehow never found the time to fight the wars they cheer for -- wax orgasmic about this craven weaponry. In the transvaluation of values that militarism produces, cowardice becomes a martial virtue.
Barack Obama, the Nobel Peace Laureate, pushes forward with plans for the "Prompt Global Strike" system of "conventional" super-missiles that can rain down massive death -- unstoppable, undeterrable, without warning -- anywhere on the planet within an hour. All this, while expanding shorter-range missile "defense" systems that bristle with blatantly offensive potential, and intent, all over the world. Plus spending billions to "modernize" the nuclear arsenal, ensuring that it stays effective enough to murder the entire earth, while weeding out some "redundant" warheads as a PR gesture.
Meanwhile, the drone programs -- emblazoned with names that proudly proclaim their savage nature: "Predators" and "Reapers," launching "Hellfire" missiles into sleeping villages -- keep expanding relentlessly. As noted by Nick Turse -- who is doing invaluable work detailing the deadly nuts and bolts of the militarist empire and its profiteers -- the Pentagon is drooling over visions of vast robotic forces filling the heavens and roaming the earth, even down to the smallest crevice. He rightly notes the main purpose of this massively funded R&D: to make war "easier," less deadly to "our side," and thus more palatable to the public:
This means bigger, badder, faster drones – armed to the teeth – with sensor systems to monitor wide swathes of territory and the ability to loiter overhead for days on end waiting for human targets to appear and, in due course, be vaporized by high-powered munitions. It’s a future built upon advanced technologies designed to make targeted killings – remote-controlled assassinations – ever more effortless.
... For the Air Force, such a prospect is the stuff of dreams, a bright future for unmanned, hypersonic lethality; for the rest of the planet, it’s a potential nightmare from which there may be no waking.
But while Turse outlines this potential nightmare in grim detail (the whole piece should be read in full), we are of course beset by present nightmares in horrific plenty. And few are more chilling than the ruling establishment's astonishingly swift acceptance of outright torture as an open tool of national policy. This acceptance not only includes the increasingly frenzied praise and championing of torture by the circle of war criminals and accomplices led by Dick Cheney; in slightly more restrained tones, it goes right across the board among the political and media elite. Torture is now nothing more than a topic for "debate" -- debates which center largely on the relative "effectiveness" of various torture techniques, or else on mindless (not to mention heartless) hairsplitting over the meaning of the word "torture."
There is of course a myth that Barack Obama has "ended" the practice of torture. This is not even remotely true. For one thing, as we have often noted here, the Army Field Manual that Obama has adopted as his interrogation standard permits many practices that any rational person would consider torture. For another, we have no way of verifying what techniques are actually being used by the government's innumerable "security" and intelligence agencies, by the covert units of the military -- and by other entities whose very existence is still unknown. These agencies are almost entirely self-policed; they investigate themselves, they report on themselves to the toothless Congressional "oversight" committees; we simply have to take these organizations -- whose entire raison d'etre is deceit, deception, lawlessness and subterfuge -- at their word. And of course, we have no way of knowing what is being done in the torture chambers of foreign lands where the United States often "outsources" its captives, including American citizens.
Finally, even if the comforting bedtime story of Obama's ban of torture techniques in interrogation were true, there remains his ardent championing of the right to seize anyone on earth -- without a warrant, without producing any evidence whatsoever of wrongdoing -- and hold them indefinitely, often for years on end, in a legal limbo, with no inherent rights whatsoever, beyond whatever narrowly constricted, ever-changing, legally baseless and often farcical "hearings" and tribunals the captors deign to allow them. Incarceration under these conditions is itself an horrendous act of torture, no matter what else might happen to the captive. Yet Obama has actively, avidly applied this torture, and has gone to court numerous times to defend this torture, and to expand the use of this torture.
Many thousands of innocent people have already been forced through the meat grinder of this torture -- at one point early in the Iraq War, the Red Cross estimated that 70-90 percent of the more than 20,000 Iraqis being held by the Americans as "suspected terrorists" were not guilty of any crime whatsoever, much less 'terrorism'. And that is just a single snapshot, at a single point in time, of the vast gulag that America has wrapped around the earth -- a gulag where many have been murdered outright, not just tortured or unjustly imprisoned. And it is still going on, with scarcely a demur across the bipartisan establishment. The heinous and dishonorable practice of torture, physical and psychological, is now an intrinsic, openly established element of American society.
Murder, cowardice, torture, dishonor: these are fruits -- and the distinguishing characteristics -- of the militarized society. What Americans once would not do even to Nazis with the blood of millions on their hands, they now do routinely to weak and wretched captives seized on little or no evidence of wrongdoing at all. We are deep in the darkness, and hurtling deeper, headlong, all the time.
Let's not kid ourselves, however. The militarism that has now gained such a strangulating ascendancy over American life did not drop down suddenly from the sky (or arrive on the hijacked bus that Bush and Cheney drove to the White House). Although this militarism has now reached unprecedented levels of institutional and political dominance, there has always been a strong warlike strain running through American history -- indeed, through its pre-history as well, as Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton demonstrate in their book,Dominion of War, detailing the decisive influence of war and imperialism on America's development over the past 500 years.
If we took any period of a hundred years in the last five thousand, it has been calculated, we could expect, on average, 94 of those years to be occupied with large-scale conflicts in one or more parts of the world. This enduring, seemingly ineradicable fact of war is ... as intrinsic and tragic a component of the human condition as our very mortality.
We human beings have been shaped by millions of years of genetic breakage and mutation, all of which is still on-going. We are compounds of chaos, ignorance and error. Our psyches are frail and variegated things, isolated, with each individual consciousness formed from a unique and ever-shifting coalescence of billions of brain cells firing (and misfiring) in infinite, unrepeatable combinations. Beneath this electrical superstructure lie mechanical rhythms and erratic surges of instinct and impulse, dark, hormonal tides and drives that never reach the plane of awareness.
In the infancy of our species we began to cling -- fiercely, in fear and desire -- to patterns of behavior, emotion and thought that seemed to bring some sort of order, some containment of the whirlwind within us, and some protection from the dangers, known and unknown, that lurked outside. We began to do "whatever it takes" to preserve these patterns from the ever-present threat of their dissolution in the whirlwind, to impose them, by violence if necessary, on the recalcitrant material of reality -- including the always-unknowable, impenetrable reality of the Other, those mysterious combinations outside our isolated consciousness.
The patterns become ingrained, they sink into the substrate where they operate unquestioned and unseen, they become "natural," the way that things must be. Domination and obedience are among the strongest, and most enduring, of these patterns, taking multitudinous forms -- a "local habitation and a name" -- in the ever-changing circumstances of existence. War is their expression writ large. It is in us, it comes from us.
But to acknowledge war's intrinsic, universal character does not absolve us of the need to resist it. To say, "Oh, that's just human nature; it's always been this way and always will be this way," is not only a lazy, timorous acquiescence to base instinct, it also posits a settled, even eternal quality to human nature and human consciousness that simply does not and cannot exist. To go against war, to step outside the ingrained behavioral patterns of domination and obedience is indeed an "unnatural" act -- and it feels unnatural, it feels strange, and raw, and frightening. But the deeper fear -- of psychic and physical dissolution -- that lies at the foundation of these ever-more destructive patterns can only be faced down, changed, and wrenched into some more benevolent pattern by embracing the risk and discomfort of stepping forth, of stepping beyond -- literally, "transgressing" -- the boundaries of a wholly imaginary (or even hallucinatory) "human nature."
The whirlwind that characterizes the imperfect, breaking, misfiring, evolving reality of human consciousness is not only a producer of (very understandable) deep-seated fears; it is also a force for liberation. Because our nature is not ultimately fixed, we can, literally and figuratively, burn new connections in our brains, we can enlarge our consciousness and extend our empathetic understanding of those strange Others. And we have been doing this, in fits and starts, in lurches and staggers, with much backsliding and many wrong turns -- indeed, in ignorance and error -- for as long as we have been creatures cursed and gifted with self-awareness. We do have the capacity, the space, to resist the patterns of domination and obedience, to seek out new ways of seeing the world, of being in the world, of communing with others.
This seems, to me, a worthwhile thing to be getting on with during our painfully brief time on the earth, during our infinitesimal window of opportunity to make some small contribution toward pushing the project of being human -- or rather, becoming human -- down the road, at least a few more steps, in the direction of a better understanding, a broader consciousness, a greater enlightenment.
1. Occupational Hazards
As'ad AbuKhalil's headline on his brief post says it all: "Tragic accidents happen – every single day." He is referring to the latest killing of civilians by American occupation troops – not in Afghanistan this time, but in the now-forgotten war in Iraq, where death, corruption, repression and blowback are still raging.
2. Tony Blair: Liar, No. 876
It turns out that Tony Blair was told years before the Iraq invasion – in fact, even before the 9/11 attacks "that changed the world" and "made everything different" – that invading Iraq would be illegal (i.e., a Nuremberg-level war crime), as well as costly, destablizing and ineffective. This is revealed in documents from 2000 which the Independent has obtained, even though the "blue-ribbon" Chilcot Inquiry has refused to release it. What's more, the documents give the lie to Blair's recent testimony to the panel, and his claims elsewhere, that he had never discussed using troops to remove Saddam Hussein until after 9/11. Tony Blair, a liar? Imagine that!
3. All the Warmongering That's Fit to Print
Peter Casey at Antiwar.com does a remarkable thing: he actually reads the recent IAEA report, and finds that the New York Times deliberately distorted, even falsified the report's findings, in order to demonize Iran and mendaciously inflame fears of mad mullahs dropping nukes on America's holy heartland, and its plucky little outpost over in Israel. The NYT, plumping for imperial war? Imagine that!
4. Suburban Warfare
The Los Angeles Times brings us yet another story about America's brave, brave long-distance warriors: the Homeric heroes who sit in front of computer screens 10,000 miles away from battle, push buttons to kill people with robot-fired weapons, then go home to cozy suburban homes. Naturally, the story focuses on the great stress suffered by these bold 'soldiers,' as they go from shredding the viscera of some ragged Afghan walking around in his native land to pitching a ball with Junior in the backyard. In 10 years time, or less, most of our imperial slaughter will be carried out this way: no muss, no fuss, no risk, no mess – except for those piles of viscera on the other end.
5. Package Deal Chris Hedges reminds us of why we should boycott FedEx, and how the unchallenged ascendancy of corporate power is, literally, crippling and killing working folk.
6. The Bitter End Juan Cole brings word of a learned Theban at Harvard who has come up with a novel solution for the Middle East crisis: stop feeding the Palestinians, so they will quit breeding. Harvard Fellow Martin Kramer goes on to laud Israel's strangulation of Gaza for helping "break Gaza's runaway population growth." It is of course superfluous in us to point out that the deliberate decimation of a people by starvation and neglect is not unknown in recent history, and was in fact the first fatal step toward a somewhat more – how to put it? – final solution to a religio-ethnic conflict. The ironies here, as in so many policies of the plucky little outpost, are the bitterest imaginable.
Not long ago, Bob Dylan performed a version of Woody Guthrie's Dust Bowl classic, "Do Re Mi," as part of "The People Speak," the film inspired by the work the late Howard Zinn. Backed only by Ry Cooder on guitar and Van Dyke Parks on piano, Dylan gave a particularly affecting rendition, which can be seen here (no embed available):
The performance is soaked with a piercing sense of mortality -- and not just the mortality of the individual, vividly embodied in the wreck of Dylan's voice, his age-ravaged looks, and the ghost of the now long-dead Woody Guthrie that hovers over the scene. What is also conveyed most powerfully -- and, I think, deliberately on Dylan's part -- is the mortality of an entire culture, a moral stance, an understanding of the world.
The moral universe that Guthrie's songs evoked, the moral grammar which formed the spiritual infrastructure of the songs and the viewpoint they put across -- all this is almost completely lost to us now. Not perhaps in their inmost core, which boils down to this ancient message: "Blessed are the poor, blessed are the hungry, blessed are the sorrowful, blessed are the persecuted and oppressed, for truth and justice are on your side; but woe to the rich, the filled, the powerful -- because one day your kind will get what's coming to them." This is, in fact, the same message that Dylan delivered to Barack Obama in the White House a few weeks ago, singing -- in the same elegaic tone he employed in the Guthrie song -- of lines being drawn, curses being cast, and declaring to the Chief Executive of the land that "the first one now will later be last."
But the flesh and blood of the world from which these songs emerged -- the cultural, social, historical zeitgeist that formed them, and informed them with the rich, ragged detail of a lived reality -- all of this has passed from the scene now. The still-smoldering, radioactive half-life at the core of the message may linger on -- and may one day (or even now) be clothed in new forms. Yet the specific physical, spiritual, historical circumstances that gave this particular moral grammar its tremendous power are gone.
This is what Dylan recognizes, and acknowledges both in the Guthrie song and in his own song -- from the now-vanished moral universe of his now-vanished youth -- that he sang at the White House. It is almost as if a revenant had appeared to sing the threnody at his own funeral.
But it is a revenant -- and a song -- and a moral universe -- still glowing with that radiation of truth and meaning: a power to be passed on and renewed in other forms, and embodied, richly, raggedly, in a new reality.
To borrow the deathless phraseology of Professor AbuKhalil: for those who care and do not care, my interview with Scott Horton at Antiwar Radio can be heard here.
As usual, Scott led the conversation in several interesting directions, to which I made the usual rambling, semi-coherent contributions. But one thing I did try to put forth was the idea of a "united front" across the political spectrum, dedicated to a single, overarching goal: dismantling the empire. Much evil would cease, and many good things would flow from such a development.
I worked up some notes on the matter before the talk, and added some more thoughts afterward; these are appended below. Much of this is an expansion and refinement of some ideas mentioned in a recent post, so I hope you'll forgive any repetition. But that original piece dealt with other topics as well, and I thought this idea merited a spotlight of its own. So here it is.
Dissidents and critics of the powers that be are often accused of being negative – tearing things down, undermining, never offering a positive alternative vision. Now, I happen to disagree with this. I believe that people who work in waste management – clearing away the garbage, the poisons, the crap – are just as important to the life and health of a community as, say, an architect who makes the community beautiful, or a teacher who educates the young, or doctors who heal the sick and so on.
But – it so happens that I do have a positive program to offer, a viable, workable, practical approach to many of our problems. This is what my program offers:
Stronger national security
Better schools, roads, and health care
What's more, this program requires no social upheaval, no political turmoil, no violence – no revolution from either Left or Right. It can be accomplished entirely within the existing political and economic system. It needs no new government powers, no new bureaucracies, no new taxes.
All it requires is simply this: Bring America Home. End our worldwide military empire.
As I noted the other day, ending America's imperial wars and dismantling America's global military empire – and its global gulag -- would save trillions of dollars in the coming years. Not only from cuts in direct military spending, but also from the vastly reduced need for "Homeland security" funding in a world where the United States was no longer invading foreign lands, killing their people, supporting their tyrants -- and inciting revenge and resistance.
This would release a flood of money for any number of new domestic initiatives, while also giving scope for deep tax cuts across the board. Working people would thrive, the poor, the sick and the vulnerable would be better off, businesses would grow, opportunity would expand, the care and education of our children would be greatly enhanced, our infrastructure could be repaired and strengthened, our environment better cleansed and cared for. The end of empire would also mean an end to the horrendous economic distortion wrought by our war-profiteering industries. Other businesses would inevitably come to the fore, economic activity would be spread more evenly across more sectors.
In short, people could keep more of their own money while government spending could be directed toward improving the quality of life of all the nation's citizens.
Now, this is not some pie-in-the-sky dream. We all have our own ideas and beliefs about what consitutes the good life, or the best kind of society. And in a post-empire America, there would be plenty of scope for heated debate on all kinds of issues; ideological conflicts, 'culture wars,' partisan wrangling, would go on. And of course there would still be injustice, corruption, and much suffering in society. So we're not talking about a utopia.
But – it would be a better society than it is now. It would be more humane, more just, more secure, more peaceful, more sustainable, more prosperous than it is now. And all our culture wars and political conflicts would take place in a healthier context, in a freer land, where the focus is on "the pursuit of happiness," not the "projection of dominance" around the world.
This alternative is entirely achievable, by ordinary human beings. It requires no miracles, no god-like heroes or messianic leaders to bring it about. We could easily dismantle the empire – carefully, safely, with proper planning and deliberation – over the next 10 years.
So that's my blueprint for a better future: Bring America Home. It's not revolution, it's not rocket science, it's not dogmatic or doctrinaire. You could support this and still be a Democrat or a Republican, a Baptist or a Marxist, a Muslim or a Jew, a Libertarian or a Green, an environmentalist or an industrialist, a physicist or an alchemist, a soldier or a pacificist – because it's not about trying to build the perfect society, it's not about promulgating, promoting -- or imposing -- a wide-ranging agenda or particular set of policies. It's about taking a single, simple step that will automatically make life better than it is today – for Americans, and for the rest of the world.
Of course, as I noted to Scott, although this vision is itself very reasonable, practicable, doable -- heck, downright serious, moderate and bipartisan, even, as we are told we must be in order to "get things done" -- what is perhaps utopian is the idea that our political and media elites would allow this message to be heard. As I put it in that earlier piece (with a few additions here):
But [a post-imperial] society is precisely what our elites cannot -- or, to be more accurate, will not -- imagine. Because, yes, it would "erode" their "influence" around the world -- to some extent, at least. Although they would still be comfortable, coddled and privileged far beyond the dreams of ordinary people, they could no longer merge their individual psyches with the larger entity of a globe-spanning, death-dealing empire -- a connection which, although itself a projection of their own brains, gives them a forever-inflated sense of worth and importance.
So they will fight tooth and nail, with every weapon they have -- and they've got 'em all -- to resist any message that threatens their "cabin'd, cribb'd, confined" minds. They will, as they have always done, trivialize, marginalize, mock, dismiss and demonize anyone who even questions the wisdom of maintaining a global empire of up to 1,000 military installations in more than 100 countries -- and the bloated, belligerent war machine required to support and expand this global military dominance.
They will also, as they have always done, use the ancient imperial tactic of "divide and conquer," setting the opponents of empire against each other: "Ooh, you're a liberal, how can you cozy up to a reactionary like Ron Paul?" "Oh come on, you're a conservative; you want to jump in bed with a commie America-hater like Noam Chomsky?" And so on and so forth.
But that is one thing in favor of a single-minded approach. No one has to "marry" anyone else politically; no one has to embrace every tenet or belief that an anti-imperialist ally might hold. You simply have to say: "All of us, regardless of our other views, believe this truth to be self-evident: dismantling the empire will bring immediate and enormous benefits to our nation and to the world."
And the plain fact is that America's military empire is unsustainable. It is going to be diminished, degraded and finally lost, one way or another, at some point or another. The only question is whether Americans want to control that process themselves -- to dismantle their empire carefully, responsibly, and beneficially, on their own terms, in a way that would renew the nation's prosperity and opportunity -- or if they want to see it collapse around their ears, in blood and ruin, blighting their lives and the lives of their children for generations.
And speaking in strictly political terms, a one-plank program that guaranteed lower taxes, more jobs, more security and all the other benefits enumerated above sounds to me like a winning hand. It's certainly one worth laying on the table
I put together this piece -- more like a fragment perhaps -- a few months ago, but I thought it might have some relevance, at some points at least, to current events in Haiti.
As for what you can do, I would suggest continuing to support Partners in Health, which had more than 5,000 people working at the grassroots level in Haiti before the quake. No fair weather friend -- or foul weather tourist -- there. As Ashley Smith notes in a devastating report on the militarist-corporatist--NGO symbiosis that has devastated Haiti for years and is serving it extremely ill in the aftermath of the earthquake:
While some NGOs like Partners in Health have done and are doing amazing work to provide services for quake victims, overall, the catastrophe in Haiti revealed the worst aspects of the U.S. government and the NGO aid industry.
As many analysts have noted, the U.S. in fact used its "relief" operation to disguise a military occupation of Haiti, intended to prevent a flood of refugees reaching the U.S., impose even greater sweatshop development on Haiti, and signal to the rest of Latin America, the Caribbean and the world's most powerful governments that U.S. aims to reassert its power in the region.
As a result, relief aid from the U.S. has played second fiddle to its imperial ambitions--and the NGO-centered aspect of its response is an important part of its strategy.
Smith goes on to relate, in grim detail, a long, sad history of how many NGOs (but by no means all) have long played handmaiden to the domination agenda of the Potomac Imperium -- a record that has been particularly destructive in Haiti. For example:
[Mike] Davis argues that NGOs are, in fact, a form of "soft imperialism." They play a role very similar to the one that missionary religious institutions played in the earlier history of empire. They provide moral cover -- a civilizing mission of helping the hapless heathens -- for the powers that are plundering the society. And just as religious institutions justified imperial war, many NGOs, abandoning their traditional standpoint of neutrality in conflicts, have become advocates of military intervention.
Nowhere is this pattern more clear than in Haiti. The U.S. convinced the dictator Baby Doc Duvalier in the 1980s to implement a neoliberal development plan which Haitians call "the plan of death," which dropped tariffs on American agriculture, encouraged sweatshop development in Port-au-Prince and opened tourist resorts for the international elite.
Predictably, the plan produced a social catastrophe; it increased absolute poverty by 60 percent. But the Haitian poor, workers and peasants rose up to build a mass movement, Lavalas, that eventually elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide president in 1990 on a platform of anti-neoliberal reform.
The U.S. saw Aristide's mild reformism as a threat, backed a coup in 1991 and used the coup regime's reign of terror to crush the Lavalas social movement. It also convinced Aristide to implement the "plan of death" as the condition of his restoration in 1994. Under threat from the U.S., Aristide and his successor, René Préval implemented much of the plan.
The U.S. used yet another coup against Aristide in 2004 and another coup regime to force through the rest of the plan. Now, Haiti has the most neoliberal economy in Latin American and the Caribbean.
And let us not forget that Barack Obama -- the progressive, Peace Prize-winning humanitarian in the White House -- appointed the man whose administration orchestrated that 2004 coup (and whose father orchestrated the 1991 coup) as the public face of America's "humanitarian mission" to Haiti ... along with the man who, in 1994, re-imposed the "Plan of Death" on the Haitian people. Yes, it's hard to beat your progressive humanitarians when it comes to brutal, blatant cynicism.
Smith goes on to note:
While some NGOs like Partners in Health have been set up to develop Haitian grassroots self-organization and control, most major NGOs have been accomplices in the neoliberal catastrophe the U.S. wrought in Haiti. ...
Anthropologist Timothy Schwartz documents the disastrous impact of the NGOs in his book Travesty in Haiti. In particular, he shows how CARE International -- which claimed its mission in Haiti was to provide food aid to the "poorest of the poor" -- not only failed in its mission, but also actually exacerbated the food crisis.
When the U.S. implemented its "plan of death" in Haiti, which undercut peasant agriculture and flooded the market with subsidized U.S. products, it caused a food crisis. Peasants were no longer able to find a market for their produce, and were therefore thrust into poverty, often unable to meet their own food needs because of their collapsed standard of living. They then became dependent on food aid.
USAID, in turn, funded CARE International to feed the impoverished peasants. The NGO began to distribute U.S. crops as food aid, during both bad and good harvests, further undermining Haitian peasants ability to compete for the market. Often, the food aid was taken by local elites and sold on the market, with the CARE brand still affixed to the packaging. CARE seemed to care so little that it never really followed up on the consequences of its food aid program.
Meanwhile, it put on conferences in fancy hotels inside and outside Haiti for its U.S. government and corporate backers. Schwartz writes that this amounted to "a perversion of American charitable ideals, with its false claims to be aiding 'the poorest of the poor' when what it was really doing was throwing exquisite banquets at plush hotels, while carrying out U.S. political policy in the interests of international venture capitalist and industrialists."These NGOs are non-governmental only in name. Peter Hallward documents inDamming the Flood that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other similar government bureaucracies from other countries provide 70 percent of the funding for NGOs. The other 30 percent comes from corporate formations and individual contributors.
Unsurprisingly, as Hallward argues, "the bulk of USAID money that goes to Haiti and to other countries in the region is explicitly designed to pursue interests--the promotion of a secure investment climate, the nurturing of links with local business elites, the preservation of a docile and low-wage labor force, and so on."
... The Marine Gen. Smedley Butler from the early decades of the 20th century said he served as a "racketeer for capitalism." The same could just as easily be applied to the NGOs and humanitarian aid today--it is a racket for empire.
But again, there are many people and organizations fighting the good fight in Haiti, with Haitians, and they are in desperate need of support as the vast tragedy there deepens, away from the obscene trivialities ("Tiger Repents!") that dominate the American media.
Arthur Silber has surfaced briefly, to bring word that he is still with us -- which is great news -- but also that he is still suffering horribly from very serious health issues. As we've often noted here before, Arthur's blog is his sole means of support, and thus his long, illness-induced silences inevitably cut deeply into his traffic, and his contributions -- and precisely when support is most urgently needed. It's a vicious cycle, so if you have any cash to spare to help break it, head on over to Arthur's place and lay some coinage on him.
While you are there, do yourself the favor of browing the archives and the highlighted posts and series, where you will find yourself engaged with one of the toughest, most trenchant minds of our time.