Thursday, November 30, 2006

The American Brand of Authorianism

As to my statement in the last post that "the foreign presence is the only thing holding Iraq together", I should've been much clearer. With the current casualty rate and the very basic reality of no real dialogue between sectarian groups or even the Iraqi "government" and the American "government", the foreign presence isn't "holding Iraq together", rather, this unfortunate fourth-world hell is only recognized as a unified, sovereign nation in maps. The assessment still holds, however--the Anglo-American presence has achieved its main goal: to secure Iraqi resources for corporate companions of the belligerent parties. Perhaps it is somewhat relevant to mention something about "maintaining American supremacy", but that is really all vacuous terminology employed in the discourse promoted by neoconservatives especially and the American corporatist state in general, and I choose not to engage it.

Additionally, on the Military Commissions Act: while it was a means of including Congress in the Administration's guilt of war crimes, the timing of the bill and its other, more important intended effect should not escape us. At the same time that Posse Comitatus was gutted, allowing the President to, in the future, invoke martial law at will, the MCA redefined the American definition of war crimes to give immunity--at least within the United States--to all of those in the Administration, like Rumsfeld, who are, in fact, guilty of them, most pressingly with regard to the famous Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which of course deals with the treatment of prisoners. In light of the fact that Rummy's resignation after the midterms was preordained, despite indications otherwise (though of course his absence changes nothing, as I contended in my last post), the MCA was an important part of the golden parachute, especially after the Hamdan decision earlier this year. "Progressive" Democrats like Sherrod Brown and others were, of course, not troubled by this. Assuming that they differ from Republicans in that they have some principles with regard to the rule of law as it applies not only to the powerless, but those in power as well (not a safe assumption), then they simply violated them for the standard reason, whereby so-called representative government gives way to authoritarianism--that being self-interest. In this factor of its creation, the MCA provides a specific example of an issue of not only national but indeed global import, to which I'll return shortly.

Rich mentioned in a comment that it is the Democratic Party's ambiguity and similarity to the Republican Party that compelled him to be an independent. I think that this is absolutely understandable; in terms of the midterm elections, it was quite important to beat back the neoconservative agenda, and whether or not the actual electoral results would have a major impact on the American imperial project, registering protest was somewhat important. To that end, I worked on the campaign to defeat Joe Lieberman, not to mention anything about the courageous millionaire who challenged him, who is nonetheless a first-class capitalist and therefore an imperialist. The absolute immediate goal was to beat back the most vicious elements of the War Party, and to some degree, that was achieved.

It is not unimportant to consider that though the Democrats may, in some fashion, keep Bush from pursuing any new lambs for direct slaughter, though they certainly did not in 2002, and the essential elements of representative democracy that forced them to do that, seemingly in their own interest--though they lost horribly in the polls that November anyway--remain unchanged. These are not problems specific or intrinsic only to the contemporary American system. They are systemic.

This brings me to a more interesting point. The American political system, as Rich seems to be saying (though I may be taking some liberties), does not work in a way that can properly be called democratic. The primary interest of politicians is the same as that of power in general, that is, to expand itself whenever possible, and maintain itself at all costs. While this may lead to what we see as idiotic decisions, they are perfectly rational from the standpoint of personal interests with regard to the aforementioned values (and, where possible, the interests of capitalist and/or coordinator classes, depending on the mode of production--another interesting topic, and one which I'll address in due time). I am speaking in very general terms here, but a casual analysis of the acts of politicians in authoritarian governments of both stripes (representative and autocratic) through the past few centuries will confirm my basic premise.

But we are talking about representative governments, so let's focus on why they tend to be dysfunctional. As activist Stephen R. Shalom states in his proposal for a democratic society (itself based on earlier pieces linked at the bottom of his proposal, all of which I highly recommend), representative democracy "treats politics as strictly instrumental--that is, a means to an end, instead of a value in its own right."

Political organization, at some level, is important for maintaining a social fabric: a high-technology healthcare system, global infrastructure for communications and transit, addressing global problems such as climate change, hunger and continued state terror (still conducted mostly by those with greatest access to the death merchants and the tools they hawk) and the provision of other basic social services that will be necessary to maintaining our current (Western) standard of living in the future and eliminating the pervasive and oppressive poverty that crushes roughly one-half of the world's population are all difficult to maintain at very localized levels of control.

So, at that, we can't simply throw up our hands and say that power is evil--to be sure, it is. State violence has killed too many innocents in the past century for that basic assumption to be glossed over. Unfortunately, for those of us planning to live past the next couple years, the real work of generating alternatives is also necessary.

Of course, centralized control tends to lead the class of coordinators, be they corporate managers, political representatives, or commissars, to a contempt for those under their own authority, and tends to separate their interests from those over whose lives they have been given purview, leading them to think of these constituents not as constituents but as minds to be shaped. This is a very basic observation. Not to malign all self-avowed progressives, but the progressive movement itself started with this kind of contempt as a primary assumption.

You needn't spend too much time in Washington or Wall Street to realize that this contempt drips from the jowls of every asshole with the smallest morsel of authority. In fact, such contempt is a far more reliable indicator of their status than any kind of expertise; if you engage them in an attempt to find some, you'll usually find vague and simplistic rhetoric more than anything else.

Representative democracy ordains that politics is a means of getting reelected by the rabble, and with the current propaganda system in place (on which ample comment has been made), it isn't too painfully difficult to achieve that goal. It does not take much genius to draw the conclusion that such a system requires little accountability to actual voters and plenty of it to the people, artificial and otherwise, that our representatives actually represent. Once again, this is a very basic conclusion, and to arrive at it, one needn't even dwell on the fact that elections are dominated by money though it is both unpleasant and overwhelmingly true.

The system of representative democracy is, in itself, flawed, for the reasons outlined above, and quite eloquently by Shalom. So, it is ultimately good to be 'independent', to the degree that that implies some level of (get this) independence from the existing political system (an argument can still be made for supporting the autocratic/corporatist party that is less likely to cause the extinction of the species, and I've been known to make it, from time to time). Nonetheless, to a degree it still recognizes that system as legitimate, which it is not. There are real proposals for what to do with political organization in the future (though wresting control from the current moneyed élite in the United States and much of the rest of the world is, in themselves, the topic of a thousand blog posts for which I am no more qualified than anyone else, but will gladly indulge in from time to time, if only to introduce some levity), and I think that the amount of localized self-management will have to be much greater than representative democracy prefers or permits.

The state, in general, is a rotting, archaic institution, and the multinational corporation is the ultimate beneficiary of that rot; both prey on human rights, well-being, and basic dignity in every corner of the planet, in concert. The War on Iraq, with all of the collapse of international and domestic law that it symbolizes in so many facets, is perhaps the supreme example of this very principle of ever-growing and completely systemic illegitimacy, and while a nonetheless engaged "independence" from the moral degeneracy of these institutions of power is to be lauded, in itself, it is not enough.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

New Fictions

Not to dwell too tediously on obvious facts, but the Bush Administration, in all its castrated glory, will not withdraw from Iraq, and despite the decisive message of the midterm elections, public opinion (both American and Iraqi), and human decency, it will face little challenge from Democrats to do so.

Many have already noted that the selection of imperialist and AIPAC stooge Steny Hoyer as House Majority Leader over perhaps slightly less rabid imperialist John Murtha has signified that the majority of House Democrats do not endorse Murtha's plan for phased withdrawal, even though most Americans do support a withdrawal (either immediate or phased), as has also been widely noted (see above). Much can (and has been) be said of DCCC chairman Rahm Emmanuel's fixation on rigging a pro-war Democratic majority, but being in the past, it is not of overwhelming import--what is important, however, is the reality that Democrats, the remaining Administration sycophants, and the corporate media apparatus that rules the American mind have all been reprimanding the public for daring to tire of the unending hard work of Empire.

This, of course, is in spite of the overwhelming opinion of military commanders and soldiers alike that the United States can do little to improve security in Iraq, coupled with the realization--that came to individuals with no access to privileged information, such as myself, even as it was first being given during the 2004 election season as a rationale for continued American presence in Iraq--that the training of Iraqi military and police, and the creation of coherent, multiethnic forces are impossible in the ethnically-/religiously-/ tribally-divided atmosphere of contemporary Iraq. There is no longer any sizable neutral population from which to draw recruits, let alone hold the country together. The wool in our collective ears may be rotting by now, but the reality in Iraq is one of civil war, unless you think that over 3,500 dead per month really only constitutes a low-level sectarian conflict, and there is no legitimate national government that can salvage what remains (evidently very little) of the Iraqi state.

So, the Iraq War is a complete failure, a humanitarian disaster (though, to be fair to the Dear Leader, that humanitarian disaster was already in the works thanks to the 1991-2003 sanctions regime), and there's no way to fix it.

All of this is and has been obvious to any marginally rational observer for some time.

Add to it the realization (once again, both American and Iraqi) that American military presence exacerbates the conflict and only causes more violence and more misery. Let us not forget that the initial invasion as an entity separate from Abu Ghraib/Gitmo/extraordinary rendition (little has been said about the cooperation between Americans, probably the CIA, and the Axis-of-Evil Syrian government in cases like that of Maher Arar)/the use of black sites/the Military Commissions Act (a means of drawing Congress into the war crimes perpetrated by the Administration) and a score of domestic crimes still, in itself, constitutes a grave war crime, as political analysts and international legal scholars have contended. Given all of this, surely we would see the Democrats rushing to prove their mettle by rescinding Congressional funding for this hopeless endeavor!

On the one hand, the latest bout of unabashed imperial arrogance, from neocon idiots to Democratic idiots (see below), would indicate that even those in positions of power are exasperated at the inability of Iraqis to do as we want them to do, be it through depravity (Perle) or some unfortunate genetic tic that simply keeps Arabs from being able to run effective democratic/constitutional governments (Brooks, for those with Times Select).

I'd like to spend a moment looking at this language. It goes without saying that Perle and Brooks' statements are, as usual, completely reprehensible in their knee-jerk authoritarian/fascist/imperialist anger while also managing to be completely free of any logical content. Par for the course. As Robert Fisk notes in his excellent article (see "neocon idiots", above), Ralph Peters, the USA Today sycophant, informs us that "Arab societies can't support democracy as we know it." Have Messrs. Perle and Peters been measuring the heads of many Arabs recently? Of course, this talk is nothing but unabashed racism, but it happens to be the final resort of those interested in salvaging the reputation of neoconservatism, which, after some dusting-off, will be ready for reuse, and probably sooner than later. We could call these all "death gasps" to contrast with "birth pangs", but that is, most likely, being too optimistic.

The standard racism on the fascist right is to be expected, especially when its failures are so public and so clear, but it is pronouncements by others, including Democrats, that are most troubling. During the midterm season, John Kerry (and I'm paraphrasing, though there must be a transcript somewhere), in an interview on CNN, simply volunteered that "these people...in this part of the world...they just don't take responsibility for their own security unless you force them," going on to the standard banal refrain that "they will have to stand up as we stand down". This type of language is lauded on parts of the progressive blogosphere as unequivocal, Kerry having embraced and embodied the true progressive voice for withdrawal.

There are other examples of Democrats using completely vacuous race-based arguments, either for withdrawal or otherwise, but the ends of their arguments, while sometimes seemingly more palatable, are still only arrived at by pronouncements that these goddamned Arabs just don't deserve our kindness, a kind of racism that is disgusting and morally impermissible in 21st-century discourse. Senator Barack Obama, of all people, has engaged in the same rhetoric, as Alex Cockburn has indicated, in claiming that America must simply will the separate ethnic and religious groups of the Iraqi Civil War to lay down their arms: "No more coddling, no more equivocation." One wonders exactly when and where the coddling was taking place. Were there blankets? Pacifiers? ...Not to mention, if 700,000 dead is the Senator's definition of coddling, what exactly would "no more coddling" entail?

In the end, these statements serve to reinforce an imperialist agenda, by drawing clear definitions between, as always, 'us' and 'them', whereby we are eternally noble, and they are wicked and undeserving of our greatness, while nonetheless being subject to our military and economic predations.

A Democratic agenda, therefore, is still based within the framework created by neoconservative 'ideologues' to serve the interests of corporate America. That is simply a reality borne out by very simple rhetorical analysis and observation of the actions of Democrats on the campaign trail and since their victory. Indeed, the very language of Democrats during the midterms was marked by militarism, with their constant insistences that they would be 'fighting for health care', 'fighting for sane policy...' and so on; this is simply affirmation of the obvious, once more--a corporate/bourgeois party, even (and usually) a purportedly left-wing one, will follow the lead of the more militaristic elements of the polity, and in so doing will reinforce jingoism, militarism, and warfare, always to the detriment of the working class (and, lately, the middle class as well). From right around 1914, this has been clear. Ask Gabriel Kolko.

...If you'd like to find the major contributors to and members of PNAC from its foundation onward, it makes a great project, but I suspect you don't need to see the numbers to determine what the Iraq War was all about.

Iraq was all about unadulterated neoliberalism. The strongest military force in the world can do nothing to stop the unfolding chaos, but American intervention has been effective in changing laws to allow for foreign ownership of Iraqi oil while still in the ground, while also allowing foreign investment to go essentially untaxed, so that 100% of returns/profits can legally leave the country. It has been noted elsewhere that the only Saddam-era law kept by Proconsul Bremer during his tenure in Baghdad was one outlawing trade unions while embedding American corporations in the Iraqi economy.

As Arundhati Roy said at the World Tribunal on Iraq, which she chaired in Istanbul in 2005:

"...what [is] more chilling, you know, the testimonies of those who came from Iraq with the stories of the blood and the destruction and the brutality and the darkness of what was happening there or the stories of that cold, calculated world where the business contracts are being made, where the laws are being rewritten, where a country occupies another with no idea of how it's going to provide protection to people, but with such a sophisticated idea of how it's going to loot it of its resources."


To that end, Bush has told us one truth: he does intend to withdraw American troops "when the job is done", only he hasn't been totally clear with us as to when that will be. Of course, the job will never be done, because there will be "American interests" in Iraq, interests that will remain for decades, and will necessitate permanent bases and military presence. The failure to bring democracy to Iraq, however, is incidental, whether or not it can be blamed on the violent Arab culture, which, apparently, only understands conflict, and plays into the hands of the administration and its cohorts in the military-industrial complex, which will require more taxpayer money in order to re-equip the military after this particular fiasco. The American failure will additionally turn at least that part of the Middle East into a perpetual cauldron requiring further American attention, public fear and dismay, and--don't forget--more money to the war machine, most of which will find its way into the pockets of a very select group. (Many, such as Juan Cole and Gilbert Achcar, have indicated for more than a year the growing probability of a more regional war, and King Abdullah of Jordan recently reminded us that this would be taking place next to possible civil wars in Lebanon and the Occupied Territories.)

Democrats are funded by the same interests that have a stake in Iraq, and after all are wary of appearing weak on terror (or Muslims in general), as they would no doubt look if they would consent to ceding such fertile ground to Islamofascism. It would be tremendously surprising if the new Congress were to force Bush to withdraw all American troops, leaving "American interests" unguarded in a country torn by an American-created civil war (one that Mr. Cheney and Papa Bush predicted as far back as 1991), but the future for Iraqis will be quite grim no matter what the Democrats do.

Hence, while some commemorate the "death of neoconservatism, which indeed should be celebrated annually until its revival (if it even takes a year), I am not so sanguine, because as I've said before, neoconservatism is not an ideology in that an ideology has a somewhat coherent thesis and demonstrates a semi-rational explanation for its thesis. Rather, it is simply a dim-witted facade, a window-dressing on the impulse to maintain American global military and corporate hegemony at home and abroad by the most savage means possible. This goal has not been removed by one election; quite the contrary, the appointment of a new Secretary of Defense from the so-called Cold War-era "realist" school indicates a change of tactics, but not a change of goals--it is a change of fictions, but if one peers behind the new window-dressing, the realities have not varied.

It goes without saying that those aforementioned "American interests" in Iraq will not benefit the vast majority of Americans in the slightest, since they will go directly, probably untaxed, into the pockets of Bechtel, Halliburton, the defense industry, the oil industry, &c., and the managers and shareholders thereof.

Militarism in general, and the United States military in particular, serve this purpose and no other. The multitudes of dead innocent and/or "coddled" Arabs and misled, mostly poor American youths serve this purpose and no other.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Board of the East India Company

knows what is good for the poor Hindoos (if only they'll scroll down past the fundraising appeal), though the beasts themselves do not.

As usual!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Vivaldi of Genocide

It is perhaps unsurprising that the Israeli military under Amir Peretz and Gen. Dan Halutz has developed a poetic touch in naming its operations. During the summer months, the assault on Gaza, begun in response to the kidnapping of an IDF corporal--itself an act conceivably in response to the capture of two Palestinian civilians (who joined their thousands of similarly-imprisoned compatriots, including children forced to work for pittance)--was christened “Summer Rains”.

These benign, refreshing sprinkles, which after all only killed a few hundred residents of Gaza, have been extended as the Israeli military continues to invigorate Gazans with “Clouds of Autumn”, the latest movement of which included what Uri Avnery calls the massacre at Beit Hanoun, in which 18 civilians, all part of the same extended family, were wiped out by hopelessly inaccurate Israeli artillery, on Peretz’s order; as Avnery, a peace activist and former Israeli soldier and erstwhile paramilitary/terrorist with Irgun has noted, the artillery used at Beit Hanoun is notoriously inaccurate, and indeed Peretz generally prohibits its use in military operations--this time, he did not, though some do not go this far, and simply blame this unfortunate mistake, for which no one is responsible, on an equipment malfunction. Evidently, this superficial analysis is what constitutes "honest reporting."

Since the onset of “Summer Rains”, some 350 Palestinians have died. But is that so bad? After all, as the Actual Keith Urbahn intimated to me during the July sprinkles, which were accompanied by a light drizzle in Lebanon which just so happened to kill some 1,000 individuals and displace one million, or one-quarter of the country, “you can’t trust Arabs with body counts”, because they just always inflate the numbers. The misery endured by civilians who find themselves in the wake of Israel’s downpour of justice couldn’t possibly be bad enough to gain international sympathy; hence, it is natural that they would need to make the hardships they endure seem worse than they really are. We are, ultimately, dealing with Arabs here, and Arabs are more devious than your average human being. So, lop off a hundred from that number. Two hundred and fifty dead over five to six months. Being as they were all Arabs, at least half of them were terrorists anyway, and most of the rest were probably terrorist sympathizers. It doesn’t sound so bad anymore, does it?

In the end, Beit Hanoun was just an unfortunate accident; despite the IDF’s noblest intentions, the deaths of those eighteen civilians were the direct result of Palestinian terrorists “cynically using their civilian population as human shields for terrorist activity”, as Ephraim Sneh, Peretz’s deputy, has clarified to the Jerusalem Post.

When Israel kills large numbers of civilians, fueling the anger of Palestinians and driving them to thoughts (and sometimes acts) of violence in revenge (as Baroud, linked above twice, notes with examples), do Israeli civilians not ultimately suffer from the fruits of their military’s actions? Will their government not, in turn, justifiably call the terrorist actions that cause the suffering, be they the launching of Qassams or the hopeless brutality of suicide bombings intolerable? Will they not use that suffering to continue to kill more Palestinians, including, accidentally, Palestinian civilians, at an accidentally high rate that in turn continues to feed into the increasing radicalism of the Palestinian population?

As in the seemingly countless cases just like Beit Hanoun, do the IDF’s actions, whether accidental or not, count as terrorism? Look up a well-accepted, generally imperialist definition of terrorism and ask yourself this question.

When Israel sends the IDF to crush the lives of Palestinians, be it directly by murdering them, or by causing untold humanitarian disasters by bulldozing homes and symbolically uprooting important olive and fruit groves, bombing power plants condemned by some Israeli human rights groups as a war crime, and the gutting of infrastructure and other civilian installations, and withholding funds from and imposing sanctions on Palestinians because it doesn’t like the government they democratically elected, allowing the majority of people in the Occupied Territories to sink into miserable poverty with no recourse—all, of course, accidentally—is it not with the knowledge that Israeli civilians will suffer as a result? Have they drawn no lessons from past accidents?

The author tends to think that they have, and that the Israeli government is cynically using its civilian population “as human shields for terrorist activity”.

Being on the margins of society, and usually quite poor, the means of destruction available to terrorists from Hamas, al-Aqsa, Islamic Jihad, and other groups are limited, and usually they are unable to kill as many as 18 Israeli civilians. The IDF, meanwhile, sneezes and inadvertently kills just that many Palestinians, since it is one of the best-equipped militaries in the world, thanks to American tax dollars and an otherwise highly militarized society.

Of course, Palestinian terrorists usually act without the knowledge of the majority of their civilian population, and independent of their official government. The same cannot be said for the IDF in Beit Hanoun, or Qana, or anywhere else where it manages to kill noncombatants, however unintentional their deaths.

Palestinians, who harm much fewer people, are terrorists. The IDF is a legitimate military acting to defend its population from terrorism. What can explain this difference? …clearly, not the savagery of the violence or the numbers of its victims. Is it statehood, ironically?

Obviously it is not. The reason that Israeli government-sanctioned atrocities of civilians are blameless mishaps, while Palestinians acting without the same sanction are terrorists, is indeed the very reason for which the IDF is able to carry out these mistakes (as in the bombing of a well-known UN outpost in Lebanon in July) with such sophisticated brutality and regularity. Namely, it is the connection to the United States and Britain that allows these acts, and the innocent deaths and ruined lives that accompany them, to go without any blame. As Noam Chomsky and countless other writers far more brilliant than the Actual Rod have often noted, if we do it, it isn’t terrorism. Only when someone does it to us is it terrorism.

So stop deluding yourself. That is the only criteria.

Whenever Israel threatens to blow up Iran and/or the rest of the Middle East vis-a-vis the so-called Masada option, it is so that these accidents can continue without any need for accountability. Is it worth it?

This is the moral condition that we must thank for producing such pleasant seasonal euphemisms for perpetual, vicious, and illegal ethnic cleansing.