Friday, December 22, 2006

They Hate Us For Our Freedoms

As Jonathan Cook rightly points out, the conventional wisdom that American "diplomatic engagement" is the lacking ingredient in the Middle East, and the source of the tensions in Lebanon and the internecine violence in Iraq and Palestine is a self-serving myth (like all illusions that pass for conventional wisdom in most political discourse). Chaos in these nations serves American interests far more than order and cooperation. As Cook also indicates, this model will be spread to other countries with devastating effects. That is, I think, unless the American public begins to resist from the streets to the gas stations.

Indeed, in each of these cases, despite the tedious rhetoric of democracy promotion, American policy is essentially to cause such violence by marginalizing the population and trampling its demands, usually using a client regime. In Lebanon, an impoverished Shi'i population, some forty percent of Lebanese, is kept down by means of the antiquated, anti-democratic .French-authored confessional system, used by Americans to keep puppets like Rafik Hariri and Fuad Siniora in power. One was, and the other is, the Lebanese face for global capital, and of course an impoverished population will suffer as a result, as everywhere in the history of neoliberalism. Americans don't care. They hate democracy.

In Palestine, the absolutely illegal collective punishment (4th Geneva Convention, Part III, Section 1) of a whole people by plunging them into destitution and starvation vis-à-vis US- and EU-backed sanctions, and the withholding of taxes, combined with a savage five months of attacks on civilian infrastructure and civilians themselves have ensured that Palestinians will descend into such misery in which the only resort is civil violence. Americans will continue to aggressively support the torture of a whole population, for no reason other than its having freely elected a representative government that could not be co-opted and used against its own people. Never mind the illegality of such an act, or even its glaring hypocrisy. It is preferable for Palestinians to starve to death rather than have a government that actually gives them a voice and refuses to act in America's interest before Palestine's. Americans don't care. They hate democracy.

The current wave of frustration in Washington political and opinion-making circles regarding Iraq has little to do with the mounting deaths of civilians (indeed they never cared about high and probably underestimated number of initial deaths resulting from the bombardment of Baghdad, nor did they care about the use of internationally-banned weapons like napalm, depleted uranium, and white phosphorus against the population of Fallujah. These cowardly and savage acts of American state violence were never a problem to the chattering classes. The mission was noble, after all. They were spreading democracy, or something. Now that all of that has turned out to be a sham, the American élites are frustrated because the situation in Iraq is making it difficult to sustain an occupation and start making those oil profits. If democracy had been granted to the Iraqi people with characteristic American beneficence, it was taken back quickly, since investment and labor laws are still controlled by the occupation, and the Iraqi Parliament cannot vote on the withdrawal of American troops, though some 80% of the nation's population demands it and that even an idiot could determine that American presence fuels the civil war rather than stopping it. So, let the recriminations begin, let Iraqis be blamed for the American occupation and its results; anything to shut the people up. Iraqis would like the occupation to end, they would like to be able to make their own laws and try to piece together their broken society, somehow. But you can't let Iraqis get what they want. Americans don't care. They hate democracy.

Iran has been punished in the same way for overthrowing the American-serving autocrat for 27 years now. No American administration has cared about Saudi Arabia's much more oppressive Islamic theocracy, so don't waste my time with that argument. What the US objects to in Iran is independence from American capital. It doesn't matter that Iranians were suffering or impoverished under the Shah (and it certainly doesn't matter now). Americans don't care. They hate democracy.

They hate any shade of democracy because it necessitates independence in place of subservience. Democracy in the Middle East, and indeed all of the developing world is directly opposed to the interests of global capital, so American government hates it.

So, when people ask why their brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and children have been killed, when people ask why they are being tortured and not allowed to go about their lives, when people ask why foreign troops humiliate them everyday, you have an answer ready.

"They hate us for our freedoms."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Electoral Sham--or, 'What is Left?'

co-opt vt
1. to adopt or appropriate something, for example, a political issue or idea, as your own
2. to absorb an opponent or opposing group into a larger group or society by making promises and concessions

Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

To what degree can electoral progressivism in its many guises be seen as a safety-valve for the agents of state and corporate power against real social change?

Judgment on these grounds should extend from the neoliberal/corporate "left" to the social-democratic mainstream represented "Liberal" Democrats in the US, PRD in Mexico, Labour/LibDems in UK, PSF in France, Congress in India, Lula's PT in Brazil, Kirschner's Peronists in Argentina, Labour and Meretz-Yachad in Israel, &c.; it is perhaps axiomatic that in more developed post-industrial nations, the mainstream "left" parties can move away from pretensions to socialism/social democracy that are more necessary in the slightly less consumerist societies of the developing world while still performing their safety-valve function (to some degree, the reform movement of Khatami of Iran may have played the same role for the secular Iranian middle-class in the late years of the last decade, but that is the topic of another thousand blooming paragraphs). Of course, all of these parties subscribe as religiously to the neoliberal world order as the right.

There are, needless to say, characteristics of these mainstream/electoral left parties that are specific to each of the polities in which they have developed, and from a historical standpoint, these differences are important and instructive.

The essentially binary nature of party dynamics in modern representative democracies (even in Parliamentary governments) strengthens this safety-valve effect by limiting the acceptable range of discourse to increasingly narrow bounds. In the United States, this is highly advanced and refined, and as time passes, the European left will go about policy-making and campaigning in a similar fashion, all the while cutting substance out of political discourse while narrowing the range of acceptable opinions. Of course the process has been taking place at least since the First World War in Europe and probably about two to three decades before that in the United States. In the coming years, observe "free elections" in the west for further evidence of this. Early election campaigns in France and the United States are already shaping up in this ever-narrowing and increasingly slick, Madison Avenue fashion.

Note, however, that this use/effect of the electoral left is almost never a result of conscious formulation--except of course at high levels of state and corporate power (as with the Kennedy-Johnson administrations' simultaneous support and intimidation of the civil rights movement in the 1960s in the US). Working- and middle-class people who work to elect Democrats in the United States, for instance, are often passionate and well-intentioned, and the same goes for the rank-and-file of most bourgeois left parties in the Global North and South. Indeed, that is the very point; it is integral to this formulation that there would be a rank-and-file intent upon social change working for a party that is so highly unlikely to produce that change. That is the definition of the safety valve in electoral politics, and nothing more can be expected. Electoral democracy develops organic structures for co-opting social change. It is an inherently reactionary force. Accordingly, what I have been calling the electoral left--from the softly corporate Democrats of the United States to many of the social-democratic parties of the developing world--weakens social movements and functions to extend the life span of imperialism. This is, perhaps, why so many of the more intelligent élites in the Global North locate themselves on the left of their narrow political spectra. It should be clear, however, that subscribing blindly to the graces of a powerful corporate party, even one with the colors and language of the left, ensures only continued state violence accompanied by corporate hegemony over human lives and the earth.

The safety-valve effect of this corporate/electoral left is thus magnified by a sloganization of political discourse in the aforementioned countries combined with a sense that the individual or group has to "be realistic"/"wake up from your utopian fantasies", &cetera. It is overlooked intentionally by corporate mass-media and effectively by the public in various countries (largely as a result of the myth of electoral "democracy") that political power is only in the hands of limited groups as long as the people capable of paralyzing it grant it their trust, or at the very least, their acquiescence. This tension between adopting strategies of reform or revolution has been a topic of lively debate on the left since Rosa Luxemburg's great work titled, creatively, Reform or Revolution.

Advances in technology and the expansion of consumerism have strengthened these organic structures to some degree, while at the same time perhaps ensuring their demise and eventual replacement by something resembling localized-yet-simultaneously-globalized participatory democracy. This particular sham cannot continue indefinitely, for practical reasons apparent to all with working brains. True economic democracy (workers' self-management and control of the means of production) and political democracy (beyond the quadrennial obligation to vote for candidates none of whom you wholeheartedly endorse) will only be achieved together.

Or perhaps I'm being optimistic.

Labor, Immigration and the New Robber Barons

While I've spoken extensively of a major part of the neoliberal project (why is it not called neo-mercantilist?), specifically, the appropriation of resources for corporate profit wherever they may be, the left foot in this global imperial goose-step is umbilically-connected to the right foot--that is, cheap labor, especially in the industrial sector. Indeed, when people cannot benefit from the resources of their own regions and countries, generally speaking, they'll be miserable and the price of their labor will be quite a bit lower. This is the case in lands dominated by kleptocratic and neoliberal governments the world over, and nowhere is it truer than in the southern neighbor of the United States.

The cost of labor is linked, variably (based on situations in each country), to the standard of living, the cost of achieving that standard, government regulations/minimums/caps, &c. As such, labor costs in many developing countries do not approach a living wage (some one-fifth of the world's population is estimated to be toiling in wage slavery); at the same time, in some countries (as in China) workers have no recourse against the non-payment of wages. All of this is a major attraction to multinational corporations, allowing them to essentially employ slavery and thus lower consumer prices and/or increase profits.

This has a real effect on the ability of people in the developing world to support their families. In Mexico and elsewhere, it hardship often induces individuals and familes to attempt illegal immigration to the United States, where even an "illegal" life would seem to be better than the NAFTA-imposed misery of most Mexican lives. Thus the undocumented population of about 13 million in the United States.

Why are these root causes never discussed?

The real progressive option with regard to illegal immigration, which Democrats haven't addressed, is the creation of job opportunities in Mexico that pay a living wage. Included in that is the freedom to unionize in Mexico without the threat of being fired. The only losers will be American-based multinational corporations that employ the remarkably cheap labor available in Mexico. The case of Mexico lays to waste the standard, cynical corporate line about how low labor standards are good for investment: remittances of Mexican workers in the US to their families Mexico exceed investment as a source of income.

The global solidarity of labor, which has been a long time coming in the age of neocolonialism/globalization is needed now more than ever.

On the American side, the jobs that Mexicans are doing now, often for payment of an illegally-low wage, should get living wages as well, and then maybe you'd see less domestic (also corporate) demand for immigration. In the end, this is yet another corporate bonanza, and the working class, or in more mainstream parlance, the vast majority of the population on both sides of the border suffers because of it. The state, allegedly party to "electoral democracy" on both sides of the border, supports this status quo. These are elementary moral questions with simple, humane answers.

Raising labor standards in Mexico and the United States is the "progressive" solution--it is also, by the way, the humane solution. Corporate profits may decrease.

I don't give a damn. Do you?

The state and multinational corporations, again, feed off of and complement each other--MNCs, of course, benefit from the status quo as they gain access to cheap labor and resources here and abroad, and the reactionary state benefits from the fostering of xenophobia within the working class; indeed, the exact same pattern is being repeated in Europe with mostly Arab and African immigrants.

Some corporations gain from a moderate level of xenophobia--as long as it doesn't diminish the steady stream of workers willing to take less than the minimum wage.

Feeding off of this xenophobia in the United States, once again, is Boeing, which is being given the contract to build the border fence/wall, as is well known. We don't know how much it will cost, nor do we know whether it will be effective in stopping people who are willing to risk their lives for less than the minimum wage.

A few years ago, an earlier failed attempt at "border security" cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars, was never completed, and essentially served (and continues to serve) no purpose. One contractor involved with the project had a $257 million contract and, in the end, the installations that it did complete did not function "properly". After these revelations, the same contractor, GSI, a subsidiary of L3, which produces "advanced electronics" for other corporations in the military-industrial complex and the Pentagon itself, was awarded a 4-year, $426 million contract for "intelligence support" in Iraq. Quite a strong rebuke from the ever-reliable Bush Administration, don't you think? Feeding off of xenophobia, indeed.

By the way, there is a word for this particular kind of alliance of mutual benefit between corporations and nation-states.

Care to guess what it is?

Thanks in part to the late Milton Friedman, new freedom is, indeed, slavery.

He Was a Lunatic.

The black, murderous heart of Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenbashi, has stopped beating, not long after the deaths of others to whose criminality he could only aspire. He joins Pinochet, Friedman, and Kirkpatrick, and not a moment too soon. At the very least, his immense ego will be missed, but he will live on as their prophet of his own peculiar fashion. We can only hope that he read his own book three times, lest he not gain passage to heaven.

At least Colin Powell and the gas-guzzling Bush Administration kissed his ass before he died. What a cheap, worthless criminal.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Towards a New Arrogance

"Jim Baker's hostility towards the Jews is a matter of record and has endeared him to Israel's foes in the region," wrote Gaffney, suggesting that the ISG – which, in another column published Tuesday, he called the "Iraq Surrender Group" – would recommend a regional approach similar to Madrid that would "throw free Iraq to the wolves" and "allow the Mideast's only bona fide democracy, the Jewish State, to be snuffed in due course." -Jim Lobe quoting Frank Gaffney of the American Enterprise Institute in the Washington Times

Not surprisingly, Gaffney manages to contradict himself in the span of only a few words--if Israel is a "bona fide democracy", it cannot simply be a "Jewish State" anymore than apartheid South Africa was a "bona fide" democratic "White State". "Bona fide democracy" and exclusivist racism aided by an ongoing slow genocide fueled by medieval, militaristic expansionism and/or religious fanaticism aren't compatible--at least, not without a significant degree of hypocrisy, of which Gaffney and his blood-drinking cohorts enjoy in seemingly limitless amounts.

Neoconservatives say things, usually quite loudly and floridly, and their words never amount to anything. It is rambling totally devoid of logical meaning. They are meant to run misdirection and they're livid about Baker, Gates, and the supposed "realists" stealing their thunder. Of course, some neocons, like Michael Rubin, may actually be violently stupid enough to believe the shit they are paid to spew (as a side-note, I know this particular specimen, and Mr. Rubin's enthusiasm for a war with Iran is notable and alarming though perhaps not surprising, as he knows some about the history of Iran and the Middle East, and still believes that democracy and sociopolitical change can be supported from outside; even a cursory review of Iranian history will confirm that there are plenty of domestic forces pushing for change, as their have been for over a century now, and those forces are decisively pushed back whenever the West attempts to meddle with Iranian internal affairs. Michael knows this, but he still believes himself brilliant enough to be above this elementary historical lesson. His pronouncements on the dangers of an Iranian regime with nuclear weapons are all false and dangerous bluster; lies intended to guide the American intellectual community towards support for a war, and I have addressed the particular lies numerous times. They do not merit further attention.).

A "Jewish state" that strives for the marginalization of non-Jews within its borders (affirmed by the perennial need for "Jewish majorities" in the Knesset) while treating others like dogs in occupied lands and maintaining secret prisons for those who protest their status is not a "bona fide democracy", and a desire to bring peace to Israel and the region as a whole by pressuring it to withdraw from the West Bank, Golan Heights, and Shebaa Farms is not a matter of "hostility towards the Jews." Indeed, Gaffney, the neoconservative "movement", and the majority of Israeli politicians are all far more "hostile to Jews"--in a real sense--in their support for continued settlement in the West Bank, in contravention of international law and opinion, which has of course picked up steam since the Gaza "withdrawal"; the support of a marginal, mostly fanatic settler movement amounts to nothing but a constant disregard for the safety of a majority of Jews within Israel. But don't take it from me.

At this juncture it may be worthwhile to point out that "hostility towards the Jews" is of course a serious issue, not only because it is used as a wild card to stifle any and all discussion of Israeli crimes in the Occupied Territories and elsewhere, but because such hostility does, indeed, exist, though it has no place in the modern world. At the same time, it weakens the cause of Palestinian liberation and resistance to American-sponsored Israeli colonialism in the region, as Fawwaz Traboulsi wisely points out (though Traboulsi meanders and misses target when he tries to equate Ahmadinejad's recent comment about Israel collapsing like the Soviet Union: clearly Ahmadinejad isn't trying to make a point about some worldwide Jewish Communist conspiracy, but he's trying to clarify something that already was clear in Persian, namely, that he believes that Israel will collapse from within due to its own internal contradictions, not in a hail of missiles or hellfire as the Western media would have the thirsty masses believe).

On the topic of Israel, freedom of expression is indeed quite restricted, as many scholars and a former president have pointed out, while famously, Islamophobia is not only within the bounds of free expression--in a world in which "everything has changed", neo-imperialist style, it sells well. Fine. That is a double standard, and it is racist.

So what's the point of the recent Holocaust conference held in Tehran? If highlighting that some things are offensive to some people regardless of the freedom to say them (like the Jyllands-Posten affair) is the goal, then that is one thing. However, when anti-Zionism and resistance against Israeli policy become colluded with anti-Semitism, they absolutely weaken an already fractured liberation struggle and the ability of others in the world (including Jews) to have solidarity with that struggle. The presence of racists like David Duke and other Holocaust deniers at the conference indicates that the conference isn't just a matter of highlighting discrepancies is Western attitudes.

Anti-Zionism is not the same as anti-Semitism. The criticism of Israel is not the same as anti-Semitism (nor is criticism of Israel the same as anti-Zionism).

The confusion of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is the real outcome of this Holocaust conference in Tehran, whether intentionally or not. This happens to be exactly the same tactic employed by Gaffney, quoted above, and AIPAC/JINSA/ADL for the past four decades.

The recent bout of Holocaust obsession in Iran is, as Traboulsi contends, equally lamentable in the fact that it belies a fixation with the West. If the goal of the Islamic Republic is to show solidarity with the Palestinian resistance, Holocaust talk--whether anti-Semitic or not--isn't necessary. The Israeli occupation can be argued against on its own merits, and there are plenty of scholars who can do that far more credibly than David Duke can deny industrialized genocide.

Right now, there are real struggles that need to be waged against Israeli aggression and racism, and global solidarity is going to have to widen if the goal is forcing the United States to cease its blind support of an apartheid regime and push for a peace along the internationally-recognized 1967 borders. In light of these struggles that have a more than credible basis, the Holocaust conference is utterly counterproductive.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Myth of American Hyperpower

Take a visit to some right-wing blogs and discussions, or simply turn your TV dial to CNN/FOXNews, and you'll be struck at just how often there are mentions of the United States as the world's only superpower, etc.

Are there psychological explanations for this constant repetition?

Is it especially important to repeat these pronouncements in light of their decreasing concordance with reality? After all, the American economic dominance of the globe has long been challenged by the growing strength and interdependence of Europe and Northeast Asia--Chomsky describes this trend quite well in a recent book, and others have done the same. The rise of an economically multipolar world is simply a matter of time. So, when these sage thinkers say, religiously, that the United States is the world's only superpower, to what are they referring?

Oh, that's right. The ability (and will) to destroy the world.

Warmonger Redux

Since before the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, American foreign policy has been crafted around the notion of permanent Empire. From that era onward, our species has been plunged into what Howard Zinn has called the Long War. Permanent Empire, of course, requires permanent war, but it is the luck of Americans to simply be imposing it on the world from a distance as they watch the unfolding video game from their TV screens--until it gets too depressing. This has been the case from Greece to Italy to Korea to Iran to Guatemala to Cuba to Vietnam to Laos to Cambodia to Brazil to Palestine to Indonesia to East Timor to Lebanon to El Salvador to Afghanistan to Nicaragua to Grenada to Angola to Mozambique to Turkish Kurdistan to Romania to Panama to Somalia to Yugoslavia (where, contrary to popular and academic acclaim, NATO intervention was not primarily in response to human rights violations--though they were egregious, Wesley Clark said in his memoirs that intervention was primarily in response to Milosevic's flouting of the international order, and the 1998-99 bombing campaign in response to Serbian actions in Kosovo was undertaken knowing that it would most likely compound human suffering and exacerbate the ethnic cleansing--if you haven't been clicking my links, just FYI, the US and it's allies don't exactly have a much richer history of violating human rights than defending them) to Iraq, etc.

Of course, there are a number of cases of US or US-sponsored/-supported aggression against innocent civilians that I am leaving out, especially reiterations of destruction of the same country, because I didn't want to bore you. If you actually read American history, the documentary record does not fulfill the self-congratulatory chest-thumping of even the most "realist" American politician or pundit. Indeed, it is a sordid history of violence and imperial arrogance the likes of which the world has never seen.

Even in that history, the invasion of Iraq is almost peerless in its illegality and stupidity.

Why do I say this?

First, to highlight a particular case: the American-Israeli support of the neo-Nazi regime that controlled Guatemala for much of the Cold War. A good account of the brutality that took place there is given by Mickey Z. at Znet. The account is so worthwhile, in fact, that it merits a couple of extended quotations:

In 1981, shortly after Israel agreed to provide military aid to this oppressive regime, a Guatemalan officer had a feature article published in the army's Staff College review. In that article, the officer praised Adolf Hitler, National Socialism, and the Final Solution-quoting extensively from "Mein Kampf" and chalking up Hitler's anti-Semitism to the "discovery" that communism was part of a "Jewish conspiracy." Despite such seemingly incompatible ideology, Israel's estimated military assistance to Guatemala in 1982 was $90 million.

Interesting. No condemnations of anti-semitism? (crickets) But...but...if criticizing the IDF for human rights violations is anti-semitic, and pointing out that Israel is an apartheid state, as has been argued by many Israeli scholars is also anti-semitic, then surely ascribing communism--a grave evil in the mythology of a fascist junta like the one that terrorized indigenous Mayans in Guatemala--to "Jewish conspiracy" is even more anti-semitic than...? No? Send them weapons? Okay.

In 1951, Guatemalan president Juan José Arévalo (whose term gave that country a ten-year respite from military rule during which he provoked U.S. ire by modeling his government "in many ways after the Roosevelt New Deal") stepped down to be replaced by his ill-fated successor and kindred spirit, the aforementioned Arbenz. This to what Arévalo had to say about the aftermath of a war known as "good": "The arms of the Third Reich were broken and conquered ... but in the ideological dialogue ...the real winner was Hitler."

Modris Eksteins' The Rites of Spring famously postulates that Wilhelmian Germany actually won the cultural and political battles of World War I; Arévalo, pre-Eksteins, was stating that the same had been the outcome of World War II. So, what were the defining characteristics of fascism?


One could actually spend a lot of time pointing at the inconsistencies of rhetoric in the Israel lobby (which certainly was around when Israel was supplying weapons to death squads in Central America), but that would be boring too.

When Mearsheimer & Walt published their famous and much-villified article arguing that the Israel lobby holds sway over Washington to such a degree that Israeli interests often trump American ones, they went further than most academics have in print, at least in recent years. From a rhetorical standpoint, the Lobby's influence has had a great impact, since the backlash against them, Jimmy Carter (recently) and scores of others in the past few decades proves at least that debate on Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been completely stifled in the US (nowhere more than in Washington). As far as the relevance of M&W's theory with regard to realpolitik, there are varying assessments.

Uri Avnery more or less accepts M&W's thesis, pointing to smear jobs that ended the careers of a few American diplomats. Once again, this only demonstrates how powerful the Israel lobby is in shaping the acceptable grounds for discourse in America. It may demonstrate what can and cannot be said, but not necessarily what can and cannot be done. That would take some proof. Chomsky contends that AIPAC/JINSA probably aren't as powerful as M&W claim, and that the American silence and complicity in Israeli aggression probably stems more from shared interests than anything else.

These shared interests are, ostensibly, the subjugation of nations outside of the American political-economic sphere of influence, securing their oil for the relevant parties and their silence with regard to Israeli war crimes in the Occupied Territories--and American ones wherever they may be relevant (with two obvious candidates now).

I suggest you check for yourselves. Maybe do some quick Google searches of the reactions of American-backed and American-threatened Middle Eastern governments to recent cases like the Israeli bombing campaign against Lebanon, the Haditha massacre, and some of the atrocities of 'Autumn Clouds'...and take care to note that it isn't a matter of international Sunni-Shi'i sectarianism, as more nuanced American corporate press may claim (the less nuanced press wouldn't say anything).

In any case, I'd like to pose a question: do Israeli and American (corporate) interests line up with regard to an attack on Iran?

Of course it's easy to review the wealth of highly credible sources claiming that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapons program, and furthermore violating no laws or treaties, and that, in fact, even asking Iran to suspend enrichment, as the US and EU have done, constitutes a violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). So, there's obviously no acceptable or legal case to be made for such intervention, which would likely be a disaster for all involved.

Let's also set aside suspicions that Iran may be hiding something and Israel somehow has a better read on it. Israel has one of the world's premier foreign intelligence agencies, and if they had information about an Iranian nuclear weapons program, do you think they would keep it to themselves? Not for a minute. Indeed, as Seymour Hersh has noted, Israeli intelligence-gathering within Iran has confirmed the IAEA's conclusive report stating that there is no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. So, not only does Israel have no proof, it actually has proof that there is no threat. Then why all the fearmongering and chest-thumping, one wonders? Jonathan Cook has a cogent, reasoned analysis of this question. His conclusion is that it's all about the demographic question within Israel. He quotes Ephraim Sneh, the deputy defense minister:

If Iran got such weapons, "Most Israelis would prefer not to live here; most Jews would prefer not to come here with families, and Israelis who can live abroad will ... I am afraid Ahmadinejad will be able to kill the Zionist dream without pushing a button. That's why we must prevent this regime from obtaining nuclear capability at all costs."

So, as I said before, it's not about an Iranian threat, it's about the continuation of the occupation and the racist, anti-democratic policy of maintaining a state based on religious identity.

In any case, neither international law nor rational thought nor human decency could stop Bush and his merry band of neanderthal war-pornographer "ideologues" from invading Iraq, so let's consider all options.

The Israeli right would love an American attack on Iran (based on Olmert's recent statements and actions and the strategy outlined in the Clean Break policy paper from the early Netanyahu period). American corporate interests would like it because as you all know there is a lot of oil and natural gas in Iran, especially near Iraq in an Arab-speaking ethnic enclave (which, I mentioned earlier, shares a good deal of Iranian nationalism: a great many Khuzestani Arabs died defending Khorramshahr and the surrounding Iranian territory during the 1980-88 war). But such desirability (to oil companies) would be contingent on quick American success, which is quite questionable and would probably lead to disruptions in oil shipments.

So the ISG report (which must be viewed at least partly as a corporate mouthpiece, keeping in mind the connections of the more relevant Commissioners) calls for diplomacy with Iran, which would of course preclude an American attack. In this particular case, the interests of oil companies might line up with logic and good sense. Perhaps, then, it can be said that as long as corporate interests prevail it's not likely that there will be an outright American attack on Iran. If that were the end of it, Israeli interests and American corporate interests would be at odds.

What about an Israeli attack on Iran? Since Olmert supposedly "isn't ruling anything out", and has included a rabid warmonger in his cabinet with a portfolio specifically dealing with Iran, one must assume the worst. It would obviously serve the aforementioned Israeli interests (quite narrowly defined, and not in the best interests of the Israeli people), but would it serve American corporate interests? --Most likely, the endgame would be the same as if American troops attacked, with insurance rates on oil tankers to and from the Persian Gulf skyrocketing to (perhaps) prohibitive rates whether or not Iran targets them. Similarly, American troops in Iraq would likely have their supply lines cut and face a full-blown Shi'i insurgency that would significantly complicate the real goal of securing oilfields and pipelines (I'm not wasting anymore time proving this--look at a map of the future permanent bases, then look at a map of the oilfields and pipelines). So, an Israeli air assault probably wouldn't benefit the American energy sector either.

Does Israel act without American approval?

And finally, what about the wild-card? We know that Americans are trying to foment unrest in Khuzestan. Could we see a combo attempt of a sustained Israeli air assault and an American Special Forces-initiated separatist movement in Khuzestan? --Probably not, but I could be willfully blind on this issue.

So, once again, does Israel act without American approval?

Do the coming months/years hold a splintering of American corporate interests and right-wing Israeli security interests?

Will the M&W thesis and Chomsky's counter-assessment be put to the test?

Will hundreds of thousands more die unnecessary deaths?

Does George Bush care?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Boycott Iraq War Profiteers II: How about a real war on terror(ism)?

Note: I've noted a mistake in the post below entitled "The Oilman's Mind". Nixon broke international law in the bombing of Cambodia and most likely in Vietnam almost immediately after his inauguration: of course, he entered office with a massive war sitting on his desk like a gift, all wrapped up in a bow, so he had a head start. Reagan also began supporting the murderous El Salvadoran and Guatemalan governments soon after his inauguration, but in both cases that was existing policy--and don't forget, Reagan himself had no idea what was going on, so I don't know how much credit he deserves. Still, Bush's third place to such distinguished company ain't bad.

Read this wide-ranging discussion featuring two well-known dissidents.

Mostly, it's all pretty clear-minded and uncontroversial, at least to me, but I take issue with Tariq Ali's characterization of the Kurds as "happy to be the Gurkhas of the American empire." There are many telling statistics, mostly unnoticed, conveying a different reality. Even though the somewhat tense coalition of Barzani's KDP and Talabani's PUK has been beneficial to a few wealthy and middle-class Kurds, the majority of Iraqi Kurds, having suffered under Saddam's brutality in the 'Anfal campaign in the late 1980s (supported by the United States, another war crime on the heads of all involved) and a civil war between the PUK and KDP in the 1990s, now have to deal with an oppressive, autocratic regional government, high unemployment, crushing poverty, perpetual ethnic cleansing and violence by Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen in Kirkuk and Diala province, ongoing retribution killings between the two former rival parties (KDP of Barzani and PUK of Talabani) using the peshmerga for sectarian violence not unlike the rest of Iraq, violent Islamist parties, kleptocracy, and the constant fear of Turkish aggression. Much like the rest of Iraq, "civil society" is virtually nonexistent and refugees are loathe to return; take note of the British government's criminal forced deportations of asylum-seekers, usually against their will. Many educated Kurds would rather barely survive in low-paying service jobs, clandestinely, in the UK than return home to their supposedly American-created Shangri-La. If that isn't telling, I don't know what is.

Perhaps the Kurdish leadership carries water for Americans, who are content to use Iraqi Kurdistan as a staging ground for separatist guerilla action and US special ops directed at Iran, endangering the Kurdish population for the illusion of future corporate gain, but the majority of Kurds haven't prospered as much from American intervention as is usually portrayed. Indeed, it's the story of failure that no one, even dissidents, seems to point to with any consistency. But to believe otherwise would be to consider the War on Iraq not a complete and utter failure from a humanitarian standpoint.

The War on Iraq is a complete and utter failure from a humanitarian standpoint.

I would've expected more from Tariq Ali, who I otherwise find to be a poignant critic of imperialism and the neoliberal project. There is a humanitarian disaster in all of Iraq, and though it's going on at a much more alarming rate in Baghdad and Anbar province, it is representative of a much wider conflict that may last for some years, with or without American withdrawal.

All the more reason, I say, for the public to issue a stern rebuke to the Administration to get out of Iraq now and never do something like this again.

Ali redeems himself with a cogent analysis of the reasons for the weakness of the American anti-war movement:

...the war is being fought by a volunteer army. So the country as a whole, especially the white middle-class sectors, remains unaffected.

Secondly, the media censorship (in sharp contrast here to the coverage of the Vietnam War) means that the U.S. population is not getting a real picture of what is happening on the ground. Third, the dominant neoliberal culture is one of consumerism and individualism, and this bubble seals people off from reality.

Fourth, there is no section of official politics that is seriously antiwar. Fifth, the way of organizing utilized by the principal coalition against the war fails to understand the period in which we live.

This could change quickly if something unexpected happened on the battlefields or in U.S. politics. Because the tragedy is that public opinion against the war seems to be reflected nowhere.

A serious boycott movement based on guerrilla marketing, internet organization, and word of mouth would change this. In particular, it would counteract the second, third, and fifth points, which are the relevant ones, and, if successful, could be part of a broader movement meant to pressure "official politics" to become more antiwar and less imperialist. The possibility of a boycott's success would make further imperial adventures less palpable to the corporate handlers behind the Bush administration and the neoconservative movement, which would be a huge victory.

A victory for whom?

The working class.

Let us not kid ourselves and just say that Democrats are small "i"-imperialists versus the Republicans' more "robust" Imperialism; let us not kid ourselves and say that Democrats can emit hawkish noises and policies from the floors of Congress, as they are wont to do, but that they'll be much better for America's working class. Have you seen how many Democrats voted for the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) in 2005? Or the Oman Free Trade Agreement in 2006 (Oman is implicated in an ongoing slave trade?

I may not have been clear enough on this. The war in Iraq is another stage in an elaborate class war waged by the super-wealthy on the rest of the world, and until it ends, the American worker (and/or "lower middle class", if it is at all distinct from the working class and not simply a term more friendly to capital) is being shafted. If Democrats wish to serve the majority of their constituency, especially the working class, they must call for immediate and complete withdrawal.

As long as this war goes on, the US military is killing Iraqis, fueling the civil war Bush and his handlers have created with their presence, all while poor Americans die on the dime of poor Americans to line the pockets of rich Americans that sit on the boards of a few choice multinationals.

But talking about dead, disappeared, and vaporized people is quaint, I know. Won't Iraqis at least be making good money from their oil revenues now? As Sharon Smith notes in Counterpunch, "The use of PSA's [sic] instead of alternative methods of financing infrastructure...will cost the Iraqi people hundreds of billions of dollars in just the first few years of the 'investment' program."

PSAs are production sharing agreements determining financing and profit-sharing schemes for ventures like pumping, refining, and distributing oil between nations and investors. Charlie Cray of the Center for Corporate Policy has this to say about PSAs, "which will lock the government into a long-term commitment (up to 50 years) to sharing oil revenues, and restrict its right to introduce any new laws that might affect the companies' profitability. Greg Muttitt of Platform says the PSAs are designed to favor private companies at the expense of exporting governments, which is why none of the top oil producing countries in the Middle East use them. Under the new petroleum law, all new fields and some existing fields would be opened up to private companies through the use of PSAs. Since less than 20 of Iraq's 80 known oil fields have already been developed, if Iraq's government commits to signing the PSAs, it could cost the country up to nearly $200 billion in lost revenues according to Muttitt, lead researcher for 'Crude Designs: the Rip-Off of Iraq's Oil Wealth.'"

Hmm. I seem to remember hearing a different story from George W. Bush, in 2003...

Okay. Now that that's out of the way, what about the American working class?

Arundhati Roy, in 2003:

In the three years of George Bush the Lesser's term, the American economy has lost more than two million jobs. Outlandish military expenses, corporate welfare, and tax giveaways to the rich have created a financial crisis for the U.S. educational system. According to a survey by the National Council of State Legislatures, U.S. states cut 49 billion dollars in public services, health, welfare benefits, and education in 2002. They plan to cut another 25.7 billion dollars this year. That makes a total of 75 billion dollars. Bush's initial budget request to Congress to finance the war in Iraq was 80 billion dollars.

So who's paying for the war? America's poor. Its students, its unemployed, its single mothers, its hospital and home-care patients, its teachers, and health workers.
And who's actually fighting the war?

Once again, America's poor. The soldiers who are baking in Iraq's desert sun are not the children of the rich. Only one of all the representatives in the House of Representatives and the Senate has a child fighting in Iraq. America's "volunteer" army in fact depends on a poverty draft of poor whites, Blacks, Latinos, and Asians looking for a way to earn a living and get an education. Federal statistics show that African Americans make up 21 percent of the total armed forces and 29 percent of the U.S. army. They count for only 12 percent of the general population. It's ironic, isn't it - the disproportionately high representation of African Americans in the army and prison? Perhaps we should take a positive view, and look at this as affirmative action at its most effective. Nearly 4 million Americans (2 percent of the population) have lost the right to vote because of felony convictions. Of that number, 1.4 million are African Americans, which means that 13 percent of all voting-age Black people have been disenfranchised.

For African Americans there's also affirmative action in death. A study by the economist Amartya Sen shows that African Americans as a group have a lower life expectancy than people born in China, in the Indian State of Kerala (where I come from), Sri Lanka, or Costa Rica. Bangladeshi men have a better chance of making it to the age of forty than African American men from here in Harlem.

Of course, the cost of the wars and the cuts on social spending have both ballooned in the three years since that speech. Next year will see almost $200 billion more for war. The only national governmental institutions that actually do anything for the public, including the National Institutes of Health and the Center for Disease Control all face almost yearly assaults on their very existence. Go ahead: read Arundhati Roy's whole speech.

If you do, you'll see that interestingly enough, as Roy continues, she proposes something that seems not to have gained much steam with the American public as yet, which happens to be the very suggestion that I have made (as, I'm sure, have many others--has a boycott movement gotten off the ground under my nose? --you don't hear about it on the progressive this just a matter of coming up with a plan and putting it up on various websites? I can't believe that no one has done that...):

"We could reverse the idea of the economic sanctions imposed on poor countries by Empire and its Allies. We could impose a regime of Peoples' Sanctions on every corporate house that has been awarded with a contract in postwar Iraq, just as activists in this country and around the world targeted institutions of apartheid. Each one of them should be named, exposed, and boycotted. Forced out of business. That could be our response to the Shock and Awe campaign. It would be a great beginning."

If blind faith to electoral democracy doesn't achieve the objective of ending the illegal and unnecessary American brutality in Iraq, then another avenue must be pursued. The existing infrastructure of dissent against the war, mostly in the hands of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) and ANSWER has neutered the antiwar movement by dedicating its resources to the election of small "i" imperialists and pushing rallies, a form of protest that, while important, cannot constitute the only expression of popular discontent in an age of television and print media dominated almost exclusively by monied interests.

If they weren't criminals before (for voting for the war with incoherent pronouncements and alarming enthusiasm), now that they have the majority in both houses of Congress, Democrats are complicit in the crimes of neoconservatives and war profiteers in the energy, defense, and "reconstruction" industries until they impeach Bush, Cheney, Rice, and the remaining "ideologues" in the Pentagon for their numerous crimes against the American, Iraqi, and yes, the Afghani people, and for violations of the U.S. Constitution and international law as codified in the UN Charter, Nuremburg Charter, Geneva Conventions, the Hague Convention, &cetera.

Impeachment based on misleading statements also has recent precedent--read this hypothetical indictment written up by Elizabeth de la Vega, a former federal prosecutor, in which she enumerates a number of attempts by Bush administration officials to present false or fraudulent information to the public.

There may also be a case for impeachment with regards to the massive fraud and corruption that has become commonplace in Iraq and Afghanistan under the label of "reconstruction" and in the Global War on Terror in general: the webs of deceit and illegality covering up said misconduct connect the upper echelons of government, military, and corporate war profiteers in some dazzlingly unethical and intricate ways that we'll need microscopes to see where one ends and the other begins for some years to come.

Of course, none of this even touches on the even more terrifying issue of the militarization of space which of course is barred in the Outer Space Treaty for the obvious threat it poses to the very survival of humanity; in standard form, the Pentagon under Rumsfeld and Bush moved aggressively to violate this treaty--the process of course began in the Clinton Pentagon, under then-Secretary of Defense and now-military-industrial lobbyist William Cohen--in the alarming quest for full spectrum dominance outlined in the DoD Joint Vision 2020, the Nuclear Policy Review 2001, and most onerously in the National Security Strategy of 2002, which adopted preventive war, which is illegal, as official US policy and was updated in 2006.

Impeachment is not an option--it is a necessity, and incoming-Speaker Pelosi's pronouncement that "impeachment is off the table" is a despicable, politicking evasion of the constitutional duty of Congress to exercise thorough and effective oversight. If we are to take her words at face value, when she sits behind Bush at his next State of the Union speech in January 2007, she will already be criminally negligent for her role in covering up the extent and the depth of the Bush Administration's depravity and disregard for law and human decency. From a majority party like this, we can expect no real action on Iraq: as far as the steps that need to be taken at this juncture, the only remaining social and political force capable of pressuring the American government and the corporate entities it serves into curtailing its customary rabid imperialism and savagery is the public.

The rebuke must be issued in how the American people live; where they pump their gas, what they buy, and what business practices they are willing to endorse.

These are no longer quotidian issues, they are moral decisions instrumental in changing American policy and aspiring to some semblance of global justice. Instituting a public boycott would put the onus for action on the public, which has a conscience and even a bit of wisdom, despite its erstwhile thirst for Arab blood--unlike the two governing parties.

Most vital is the publicizing of concrete facts about war profiteering and names of the guilty parties and their commercial interests; certainly, of the two-thirds of Americans are currently calling for some form of withdrawal from Iraq, some may know about the real reasons for war, but the vast majority most likely do not. A boycott of Iraq war profiteers wouldn't directly seem to make it any easier for them to pay their healthcare bills, or send their kids to college, or ease their daily financial misery of increasing debt (mirrored by a crushing and well-known national debt that may not be on their minds, but should be).

But, the quarter-billion dollars spent on the war everyday, little of it benefitting American civilians, soldiers, or Iraqis, indeed could be well-used in addressing the American people's pressing actual day-to-day and long term concerns, and provide for a real reconstruction of Iraq (in addition to paying reparations that are due the Iraqi people) under more reliable UN oversight, in a political climate free of an occupation that, more than any other factor, fuels recruitment and support for the Sunni resistance.

While violence and civil war in Iraq may be foregone conclusions, American presence clearly has been useless in preventing them. Certainly American training of Iraqi Security Forces cannot produce any lasting effect as long as the traumatizing miasma of ethnic and religious enmity is in place, as it is likely to be for decades. I've said it before--there is virtually no neutral population from which to build a truly "national" apparatus of subjugation (army, police); American training will simply make sectarian militias more efficient. Surely the Bush Administration has learned this over the past few years, violently ignorant as most of its "experts" may be.

Then what may we assume?

The "training" of Iraqi Security Forces, with its litany of misplaced neocolonial metaphors is, like so much else in this twisted, sordid affair, simply another illusion meant to cover the dirty corporate money-grubbing truth and prolong American presence. The Iraq Study Groups's report attempts to muddy the waters and throw a rhetorical bone to the growing opposition to the war (most of it criticizing not the war's legality but its execution) by creating the semblance of withdrawal while actually providing tidy doublespeak for permanent presence, the preferred course of most politicos.

This puzzles the more penetrating thinkers among American foreign policy pundits, who scratch their heads and wonder why the Baker Commission Report is so careless, so incoherent, and so likely to fail just like "staying the course" has failed. What they don't understand, of course, is that the Baker Commission isn't about "winning" in Iraq at all; it's just a public farce meant to misdirect pundits like them, and the American public, as the looting and destructive imperialism continues unabated. Bloviating language notwithstanding, the reality and the goals of the occupiers have not changed. That said, as this commentator points out, the divergences that do exist between Baker's approach and that of the Bush Administration do indicate that he (along with his assorted old hands) is probably interested in "salvag[ing] the imperial system he helped to create"; if so, his creativity is limited, but there probably is some truth to the fact that Baker does have some real interest in Iraq and is not just covering Bush's ass. The fact remains that the ISG report will be used for just that (to cover Bush's ass) and probably not much more. The debates around what the ISG report means and so forth are mostly academic as far as their impact is concerned, and don't make a whit of difference to Iraqis starving and afraid to leave their homes. Bush's inability to see Baker's recommendations for what they are (that is, a policy for his administration and the business community to use to lose face more slowly while still stealing Iraqi oil) simply shows the Dear Leader to be the one-dimensional idiot he's long proven himself to be.

The discussion is important, however, as Mike Whitney notes (last link above) in his interesting article on what he sees as a forthcoming battle royale between American corporate interests and the Israel lobby. Another commentator in Counterpunch, John Whitbeck, hearkens back to a Netanyahu-era policy paper that argued for the destruction of Iraq (check) and all other strong, independent regional states (i.e. Iran) either vis-a-vis military subjugation or partition into warring sub-states. The actions of the Pentagon Iranian Affairs desk--successor to the Office of Special Plans--is headed by Elizabeth Cheney, spawn of Dick, and is most likely intended to work on the partition angle. Of course, with the standard American blindness to history, they overlook that Saddam tried that, and it didn't work. Iranians have a nationalism that is probably rivaled only by Zionists. Iran is a tough nut to crack, so the bombing option is probably the only one, as absolutely ridiculous as it may be.

So, is it Israel or corporate fatcats? Behind Iraq, both.

Corporate power would like a reduced but nonetheless sizable American presence in Iraq indefinitely, as it will be needed to guard American interests, namely Iraqi oil. The current level of deployment is distasteful to them (ergo the Baker report) because it looks bad on the news and gets Americans pissed off. When people are pissed off, they may actually do something.

At this juncture, with regard to continued aggression, both in Iraq and Iran, it's the more belligerent, genocidal and absolutely lunatic of the two. I'll let you guess which one that is.

(Hint: genocide is bad for business).

To even a slightly devoted observer, all of this should be obvious by now, but most Americans don't have any free time to devote, and must rely on a corporate media with more interests in war than withdrawal. This media tells them what the powers-that-be will choose to do, and when they disagree, their disagreement makes them feel powerless. A boycott would uncover the profiteering angle, of which parts of the public may already be suspicious, and counteract them as well, while also exposing the weakness of the methods state and corporate power use to cow the public into submission.

Meanwhile, the consciousness gained from public action would be immeasurably useful vis-a-vis other important issues like civil liberties, worker's rights, climate change, and healthcare. A new and successful example of citizens' organization outside of mainstream political "discourse" would be the catalyst for increased understanding and activism with regard to other issues; simultaneously, if done correctly, it would bring the American public one step closer to solidarity with the global justice movement. Boycotting war profiteers is, in many ways, a step towards civilization and a real war on terror, though the illustrious Mr. Cheney would disagree.

Now close your eyes and imagine how Cheney would respond if Citgo, the commercial arm of Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. in the United States, started taking a significant chunk of business away from the major petroleum distributors that constituted his energy task force. Close your eyes and imagine that war is over (if you want it).

In my current situation, I have about an hour of internet access after my classes during weekdays; obviously it's not enough to complete all of the research necessary for a comprehensive listing of corporations, subsidiaries, and products to boycott and pressure. I'm going to need assistance. Please let me know if you are interested, and we can begin outlining a plan of action.

I will end this diatribe with the next questions to be considered in pursuit of a war profiteer boycott:

What kinds of strategies should be employed in implementing and publicizing the boycott? Who wants to help with some research? Who wants to help to spread the word?

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Infrastructure of Dissent

I will be using this phrase in the future, so I have decided that it may not hurt to actually say what I mean, thus sparing me the banal task of having to mean what I say...when it comes to that.

Much the way it sounds (or looks), when I write about the 'infrastructure of dissent', I am talking about the practical and ideological means of criticizing, resisting, and overcoming power--either that of the state or of an oppressive employer, for instance. This refers to the forms that communication, dissemination, and organization of ideas takes and, at the revolutionary stage, of the organization of resistance itself. But to stop there would be to deny history: the structures and organizations created to resist power foreshadow those that will succeed power if/when it has been overcome. The means and composition of resistance often have determined the makeup of their situation's future.

Each of the cases below is, and has been, the topic of hundreds of books and studies, but I will briefly highlight some distinctions to illustrate the point.

In the case of the French Revolution, the Jacobin "excesses" and Robespierre's reign of terror (followed by the reactionary White Terror) were presaged by the relative spontaneity of anti-monarchist protests brought on by crushing poverty and famine. The lack of civic organizations, the norm for the era, and the relative ambiguity of the structure of working class organization led quite quickly to the formation of a revolutionary elite and and an authoritarian post-revolutionary state and not long thereafter to a reactionary state with similar authoritarian leanings. Some evidence for this reality exists in the fact that the only resistance to this slide to "radicalism", which was in fact more of a statist government dominated by particularly violent and vengeful entities, was presented by the Girondins, who were mostly something of an agrarian middle class that had little to gain from a centralizing state, and was not actively opposed by the great masses of peasants, who had little means of coordination or communication at the time, as Kropotkin notes (linked above).

A similar turn of events took place during the Russian Revolution, though one must point out that there was something of a popular democracy in the form of the communal workers' soviets ("councils") that took care of local administration and the organization of resistance during the revolution but before the Bolshevik coup of September 1917. It is often forgotten that in the first months of the revolution in early 1917, when Aleksandr Kerensky of the bourgeois Constitutional Democrats took power, the leftist organization was far more decentralized and libertarian than anything Leninism called for (Lenin famously founded the notion of Democratic Centralism whereby criticism from within the ranks of the party is permitted before "the heat of battle", and intolerable during--but do they vote on when "the heat of battle" has begun? --They didn't in 1917, I'll tell you that much); it was more along the lines what Rosa Luxemburg and Anton Pannekoek called "council communism". Of course, this decentralization and accountability of the revolution to the unwashed masses was anathema to the Leninist notion of "democratic centralism" that led, in practical terms, to the domination of the revolutionary state not by localized, democratic councils but by a quite dictatorial and centralized vanguard party that knew what was best for the proletariat. Lenin's reservations against council communism and left libertarianism are recorded in "Left-wing Communism: an Infantile Disease"; long story short, these reservations caused him to quite rapidly subordinate the local soviets to the Supreme Soviet, which was in turn dominated by the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. In less than a year's time, the Russian Revolution turned from a somewhat decentralized mass movement to a dictatorship of the vanguard party. This took a concerted effort and some brutality on the part of Lenin and Trotsky, but, nonetheless, their infrastructure (democratic centralism) became that of the Soviet state, and the effects over the next few decades are well-recorded.

During the Spanish Revolution, the POUM, the anarchist and anarchosyndicalist movements and trade unions and peasants' federations that had been organizing and agitating for some seventy years and had made great gains in organization and dissemination of their ideas and the general sense that workers' and peasants' self-management was a useful and attainable goal. They were able to institute positive changes that led to gains in productivity despite the ongoing civil war, but like the less statist elements of the Russian Revolution, they too were crushed (by Communists and the Western-supported Republicans) and the society they had formed was quickly lain to waste.

The Iranian Revolution is an interesting case; in brief, the Shah's repressive secret police, the SAVAK, were quite successful in preventing the growth any pro-democratic organizations, and resistance to the monarchy took the form of armed guerrilla movements in the decade leading up to the revolution. These movements played quite an important role in the revolution, but by far the most important infrastructure of dissent lie in mosques and other existing religious institutions, which the Shah had been unable or unwilling to suppress. Mosques served as meeting points and sites for the dissemination of information for the resistance movement that developed from 1977 to 1979. Furthermore, a trade in smuggled cassette tapes featuring sermons of Imam Khomeini were quite popular in the decade preceding the revolution. The outcome of a revolution organized largely by religious institutions around a single charismatic leader was a religious state led by a single spiritual leader (though clearly there have been a number of gains for democratic rights and self-expression, whether fleeting or not). In the case of the Iranian Revolution, the infrastructure of dissent was manifested quite clearly in the state that it created.

Citizens' groups protesting the Vietnam War in the US in the 1960s and 70s gave way to an array of organizations in the environmental movement, the women's movement, and the third world solidarity movement that preceded today's global justice movement against neoliberalism. It's hard to believe from this vantage point, but their struggles did result in some concrete gains as well.

Further examples can be provided, but it is, in general, quite an elastic idea. Anarchist philosopher Mikhail Bakunin highlighted this concept when he called on workers to create "not only the ideas but also the facts of the future itself"; anarchosyndicalists called it "building the new society in the shell of the old". The driving point is that the organizations used for dissent today should be formulated in a thoughtful and participatory manner, because if they succeed in mounting a challenge to power, they will provide a basis for the organizations of the future.

In this light, the use of the internet vis-a-vis blogs, email, and "horizontal" organization can provide a truly positive foundation for resistance to the agenda of the Bush Administration and the reactionary and belligerent politics of empire and corporate welfare. More than at any time before in history, leadership is increasingly irrelevant to resistance; hence the ability of power to target or co-opt movements will weaken. Certainly a host of new problems will rear their heads. Perhaps the first of these problems is emerging now: working solely within the electoral system, as the vast majority of the progressive blogosphere attempts to do, will prove frustrating and ultimately self-defeating, as it was for Populists of the 1890s, progressives of the 1900s-1920s, labor unions throughout the 20th century, the civil rights movement, and a host of other grassroots organizations that worked for social justice and real systemic change, all of which were used by the Democratic Party for short-term electoral gain and then summarily silenced, without ever reaching their ultimate goals.

All the more reason to get a war profiteer boycott movement off the ground.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Boycott Iraq War Profiteers

Could it be possible to protest the Iraq War through a massive public boycott? Participation in such an act, regardless of effectiveness, would be an ethical act in itself, but could a rebuke of real significance emerge from such a strategy?

It has occurred to me that since Iraq and Afghanistan are both corporate wars, the resistance to them should be primarily anti-corporate in nature; of course, it wasn't an easy task to organize the necessary numbers of Americans for such an action at the war's inception, but it may very well be possible now.

Boycotts may be more effective than rallies and demonstrations, which can be (and have been) minimized as a social and political force in an age where public perception is so thoroughly shaped by pro-war corporate media. This isn't the case with boycotts, which have both a symbolic and practical effect, and can be publicized and expanded by non-traditional means. One of the major gains of state and corporate power in the past century are the feelings of isolation and personal insignificance that is increasingly perpetuated by modern life; people tend to view themselves and their own views as marginal, even--or especially--when they aren't. The potential for unity and decisive action, however, exists in the very technologies that seem to isolate us: the Democrats took full advantage of that fact this midterm cycle, and gained their majority in the Senate (at least) on the backs of internet activists using blogs to organize.

So, is it possible to organize a boycott of Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, BP-Amoco, and Royal Dutch Shell? It's relatively easy not to purchase gas from them, but what about agricultural products planted, harvested, and transported by vehicles fueled by these corporations? What about plastic products? Medicines?

To call for a complete and effective boycott, a good deal of research would have to be done about where these corporations' profits come from--that is, who pays them, and what in what form their hydrocarbons are consumed--and those entities will have to be targeted as well, to be forced to withdraw their patronage from pro-Iraq corporations. Some has already been done, but more would obviously be required--nothing too much for a dedicated, resourceful, and decentralized online community, certainly. Moreover, this process would obviously have to extend to the various civilian subsidiaries of the military-industrial complex and the entities involved with reconstruction like Bechtel and Halliburton and all of the subsidiaries thereof, and the less recognizable beneficiaries as well.

Since multinationals involved in war-profiteering are evidently in the business of making win-win situations for themselves (bombing things, sometimes with people in them, and then rebuilding them), public pressure can be applied to force them into a lose-lose situation: either stay in Iraq and face negative publicity and an ongoing (and probably snowballing) domestic boycott, or withdraw from the profitable Mesopotamian investment climate and look slightly more humane. Of course, a boycott would also shed quite a bit of light on the Bush Administration--if American energy interests are forced out of Iraq by the public, will there be any reason for the permanent bases to remain? Or will it precipitate in a speedy withdrawal?

In a sense, a boycott would act as an endorsement of corporations that are not benefitting from Iraq directly, though they are still benefitting indirectly from the increased price of oil. Thus, a boycott is not a revolutionary act, and it reinforces an existing "legal" entity (the corporation) that caused the war in the first place, but by introducing an incentive for companies that aren't engaged in war-profiteering, the market system can be used to a positive political end. The success of such an endeavor in influencing a more complete and rapid withdrawal than what is currently being considered (though in completely Orwellian terms, despite the mainstream media's representations) would obviously be contingent upon the number of people willing to follow through with it, but given the latest opinion polls, and the relative disdain Democrats have shown for the wishes of the public in not pursuing a full and speedy withdrawal, it is possible that quite a large number of Americans could pursue such a boycott--it would, of course, be a matter of advertising such a boycott, which could spread by word of mouth and guerilla marketing within a relatively short time-frame, though it most likely won't benefit from mainstream publicity until it is already a potent force. Thus, it would require significant legwork to get off the ground.

At the same time, a boycott would have real prospects for success and would serve as a positive tool for the politicization of the unwashed masses, by spreading the awareness with regard to what's actually being done in Iraq and what can be done to get out. It seems like a really good prospect, but I could be dreaming.

Some seem to have thought about it early in the war, but with the growing public opposition to the war, has it been mentioned in the post-2006 election context?

Any thoughts? Am I crazy? Could this work? Could we begin to implement and advertise a war profiteer boycott movement?

The Oilman's Mind

For those who still aren't convinced that possession of Iraqi oil was the only reason for the Anglo-American war on the Iraqi people that has destroyed the fabric of Iraqi society and placed its demolished economy freely into the hands of American corporations, Richard Behan has a wonderful analysis. In it, he fingers 40 past and present officials of the Bush Administration as former employees and executives of the oil industry.

Big deal, right? People in the oil industry clearly have a deep and thorough expertise in fields covered by the Departments of "Defense, State, Energy, Agriculture, Interior, and the Office of the Management of the Budget" (not to mention the White House Environmental Office and NASA, two more well-politicized scandals). And, it goes without any question whatsoever that those involved in the multibillion-dollar industry of providing Americans with energy to eat, drink, clothe themselves, drive, waste, and generally survive with a high standard of living care about those Americans as people and not as energy consumers. Right?

Behan goes further in pursuing the energy interests behind the occupation of Afghanistan, often pointed to unquestioningly--especially by Democrats, who almost unanimously voted for that war--as something resembling "the good fight", a tragically under-bombed country that was overlooked by overeager warmongers (as opposed to the more thoughtful warmongers in the Democratic ranks). Indeed, this is an avenue of inquiry worth pursuing. The trans-Afghanistan pipeline, meant to open up Turkmen and Caspian oil (and prospectively natural gas) to foreign markets has lucrative potential (estimated at $4 trillion in profits), and granted the hilariousrly oppressive, narcissistic dictatorship of Turkmen president Saparmurad Niyazov; firm dictatorships with high rates of human rights violations (even admitted by his allies in the US State Department) tend to create what Western capital often calls a good investment climate, for obvious reasons which can be reiterated endlessly. Thus, Unocal was, by the flawless logic of Milton Friedman, justified in seeking illegal means to secure such a pipeline, means which eventually led to the planning of an American invasion of Afghanistan months before 9/11, in the Bush administration's first lazy summer.

It was this reality that made poetic Orientalist statements such as the following possible. State department envoy Christina Rocca to the Taliban, in August 2001: "Accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs." And, famously, "realist" Richard Armitage to the beloved American allies in Pakistan, a month later: "If you do not cooperate, we will bomb you back to the Stone Age." Thus, especially in reference to the first of these two gems, the Bush Administration not only had plans to attack Afghanistan before 9/11, it planned to act on those plans--something quite different, and indeed illegal, thus constituting a first, oft-overlooked Bush violation of the international order instituted at Nuremberg.

Noam Chomsky has noted that all postwar American presidents would be hanged if the Nuremberg laws actually mattered, but it is somewhat interesting to note that George W. Bush and his assemblage of kleptocrats and war criminals set the record, beating Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, & Clinton in the rapidity with which they violated these supposedly sacrosanct conventions. Barely six months after inauguration! And no party to celebrate it!

Both the so-called neoconservative "ideologues", so often painted by the more "realist" circles of Washington as hopeless idealists vis-à-vis their selfless desires to spread democracy to lands populated with Muslim savages unable to comprehend American beneficence, and the realists themselves, are only a diversion from the realities of the 21st-century imperialism. If we google vigilantly enough, facts--as opposed to rhetoric--emerge quite quickly with regard to the actual accomplishments of daisycutters and investment laws. The realists differ from neoconservatives not in their desires to expand and maintain these accomplishments; simply listen to or read their new fictions, and it becomes clear that the main difference is simply tactical. Thus we have a withdrawal that isn't a withdrawal and the subsequent castigation of the Muslim hordes unable to control their genetic predisposition to violence.

As thousands have noted, publicly and privately, neocons are the offense, necessary for convincing the American public to engage in illegal wars for zero public benefit. They were, as I have often noted, the window-dressing meant to divert attention from the real reasons for war, which Behan sums up in a list: Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, BP-Amoco, and Royal Dutch Shell. Indeed.

The neoconservative goal, at least with regard to Iraq and Afghanistan has long been accomplished (though arguably they have some work to do with regard to new, more impossible interventions), despite the bleating of PNAC geniuses Perle, Kristol, Wolfowitz, et al. as to their dissatisfaction with the implementation of their policies. Now the defensive string of Robert Gates, James Baker and the Democratic Congress can freely take over, noting soberly the need for continued American presence, even if just "over the horizon."

Private security contractors are expensive, after all.

In this cauldron of greed and savagery, American-based multinationals and their allies throughout government have slowly stewed the feast that now drenches the streets of Baghdad, and, soon enough, Kabul as well. But someone still needs to fiddle as Rome, who will it be?

A new species of native collaborator has risen with this new imperial nobility. No longer do these élites civilize: they democratize, mostly in Milton Friedman's sense of the word, which countless American academics reiterate mindlessly. Least subtle of which is Samuel Huntington, who said, in the heyday of Latin American "democracy", some decades ago, that "Political democracy is clearly compatible with inequality in both wealth and income, and in some measure, it may be dependent on such inequality."

Among these new collaborators, a first generation included Pinochet, Menem, and a host of autocrats mostly reliant on, and arising from their own militaries. The symbol of these atrocities was the School of the Americas, and the gains were primarily corporate in composition.

While the beneficiaries are much the same, the new generation of collaborators in the Muslim world is supported overwhelmingly by the United States--typified by Iraqis like Ahmed Chalabi and Iyad Allawi and Afghans like Hamid Karzai and Zalmay Khalilzad, both of whom worked for Unocal, the oil company mentioned above in reference to its driving desire to appropriate the trans-Afghani pipeline project from an Argentine firm, Bridas, mentioned in Behan's piece. Absorb this: the current president of Afghanistan--and the former American Ambassador there, also Afghani--lived in the United States before the American intervention, benefiting not from the largesse of the American Congress like Ahmed Chalabi, but from an oil corporation dedicated to reaping massive profits from a pipeline built through his own country. Never mind that the only way those profits could be obtained was through a bombing campaign that devastated his already Fourth World country, since reconstruction has been such a success, as I related several days ago.

The new breed of collaborator sustains itself on capital reaped from the soul of his home and its people, much like the previous one, but is less addicted to the cultural imperialism of the West. What we can say is that the new collaborator is certainly enamored with neoliberalism and its potential for creating a like-minded class of élites, not to mention what it can do for the collaborators themselves. We have yet to see such a class rise in the carnage of Iraq, but in the Afghan case, they tend to be warlords and drug traffickers.

For what it's worth, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) was the (worthless) "cultural" component of this new imperial project, so to speak. Zalmay Khalilzad, as a member of PNAC, endorsed it.

Sadly, it is only after ravaging two countries and ending hundreds of thousands of innocent lives, possibly setting the stage for millions more, that we can see that democracy, of course, is unobtainable for Muslims and brown people in general (forever defined by Kipling as "half-devil and half-child"), must be ruled by an iron fist. In this light, the new racism, shown for the hollow rhetoric that it is, mimics the self-affirming bigotry of empire throughout history.

When incoming-Speaker Nancy Pelosi tells us that "[w]e need to send a message to Iraqis that our patience is not unlimited", and Senator Lindsey Graham tells us that "..the Iraqis are incapable of solving their own problems through the political process", it is instructive to recall some thoughts from Washington before and during the Vietnam War, forever enshrined in Pentagon Papers, which Chomsky quotes at length in his essay "The Backroom Boys", in his seminal work For Reasons of State:

"For us, 'death and suffering are irrational choices when alternatives exist'...But we failed to comprehend 'the strategy of the weak,' who 'deal in absolutes, among them that man inevitably suffers and dies.' Secretary George Marshall [under Truman, long before the war-A.R.], more practical and realistic than the Vietnamese, understood the need for 'a continued close association between newly-autonomous peoples and powers which have long been responsible for their welfare,' as France had been responsible for the welfare of the Vietnamese; and he recognized that 'for an indefinite period' the Vietnamese would require not only French material and technical assistance but also 'enlightened political guidance''"

Let us pray, then, that Pelosi and Graham (and the American political scene and, ostensibly, the public) can simply find it in their hearts to forgive Iraqis their savagery, and remain "patient", for, as Chomsky goes on to quote from a National Security Council memo, "...Asiatic peoples...are traditionally submissive to power when effectively applied."

Of course, Pelosi, Graham, and company will be "patient" and forgiving, if only out of charity.