Friday, January 26, 2007

Milton Friedman--Liar or Lunatic?

This interview with an aging Milton Friedman is particularly instructive as to the depth of the man's mendacity, or, failing that, complete disconnect with reality.

INTERVIEWER: It seems to us that Chile deserves a place in history because it's the first country to put Chicago theory into practice. Do you agree?
MILTON FRIEDMAN: No, no, no. Not at all. After all, Great Britain put Chicago theory in practice in the 19th century. (amused) The United States put the Chicago theory in practice in the 19th and 20th century. I don't believe that's right.
INTERVIEWER: You don't see Chile as a small turning point, then?
MILTON FRIEDMAN: It may have been a turning point, but not because it was the first place to put the Chicago theory in practice. It was important on the political side, not so much on the economic side. Here was the first case in which you had a movement toward communism that was replaced by a movement toward free markets. See, the really extraordinary thing about the Chilean case was that a military government followed the opposite of military policies. The military is distinguished from the ordinary economy by the fact that it's a top-down organization. The general tells the colonel, the colonel tells the captain, and so on down, whereas a market is a bottom-up organization. The customer goes into the store and tells the retailer what he wants; the retailer sends it back up the line to the manufacturer and so on. So the basic organizational principles in the military are almost the opposite of the basic organizational principles of a free market and a free society. And the really remarkable thing about Chile is that the military adopted the free-market arrangements instead of the military arrangements.

During the 19th century, Great Britain had secured a vast portion of the world's land and resources, as well as a great deal of its population as both cheap labor and insured markets. As this excellent article illustrates, under British domination, the Indian share of the global economy fell precipitously. Previously, India had had a developed industrial base far beyond that of any European country. That base collapsed. The wealth of India disappeared. Where did it go?

Is that what Friedman means by saying that 19th-century Britain employed the Chicago Theory?

More on Chile:

INTERVIEWER: When you were down in Chile you spoke to some students in Santiago. In your own words, can you tell me about that speech in Santiago?
MILTON FRIEDMAN: Sure. While I was in Santiago, Chile, I gave a talk at the Catholic University of Chile. Now, I should explain that the University of Chicago had had an arrangement for years with the Catholic University of Chile, whereby they send students to us and we send people down there to help them reorganize their economics department. And I gave a talk at the Catholic University of Chile under the title "The Fragility of Freedom." The essence of the talk was that freedom was a very fragile thing and that what destroyed it more than anything else was central control; that in order to maintain freedom, you had to have free markets, and that free markets would work best if you had political freedom. So it was essentially an anti-totalitarian talk. (amused)
INTERVIEWER: So you envisaged, therefore, that the free markets ultimately would undermine Pinochet?
MILTON FRIEDMAN: Oh, absolutely. The emphasis of that talk was that free markets would undermine political centralization and political control. And incidentally, I should say that I was not in Chile as a guest of the government. I was in Chile as the guest of a private organization.

Of course, Chile had developed democratic institutions and a flourishing political climate over a century before the US-supported coup that was the culmination of Mr. Friedman's (and General Pinochet's) career.

INTERVIEWER: In the end, the Chilean [economy] did quite well, didn't it?

MILTON FRIEDMAN: Oh, very well. Extremely well. The Chilean economy did very well, but more important, in the end the central government, the military junta, was replaced by a democratic society. So the really important thing about the Chilean business is that free markets did work their way in bringing about a free society.

As Walden Bello writes, the Chilean economy did not do well at all. One of the only reasons that the economy didn't go completely under, of course, was the state-controlled copper industry, always so integral to the Chilean economy.

Indeed, the rising poverty during the dictatorship was a major reason that Pinochet was overthrown.

What a delicious layer-cake of irony!

The Use of Sanctions

On Sanctions and Marginalization

The recent Security Council sanctions on Iran have caused much stir in the nation; Khamenei has rebuked Ahmadinejad and indicated the possibility of a new nuclear negotiating team, effectively placing the President's main policy focus under his own purview. I highly doubt that the Bush administration will attempt to negotiate even with a team that is willing to back down on every sovereign right, but it would be amusing if the Iranian nuclear program were brought to a halt and the west engaged thanks only to the intervention of the authoritarian bodies of the Islamic Republic.

Then again, the democracy-promotion agenda has sort of been dropped from the Bush administration's foreign policy rhetoric of late, and it would be unlikely that they would notice the irony anyway. In any case, the Security Council sanctions on Iran, limited as they are, would be one of the few cases of successful economic sanctions.

Sanctions against unaccountable authoritarian regimes rarely achieve their avowed political ends, and in most cases those avowed ends aren't the real ones. As the case of Iraq from 1990-2003 illustrates, not only to they cause disgraceful humanitarian disasters that some scholars called "genocide", but they also entrench domestic forces that are in a position to exploit a deprived population.

With the case of North Korea, sanctions meant to "punish" Pyongyang only drive it further away from the international community, encourage the development of its nuclear program, and preclude constructive changes leading to national reconciliation. Its neighbors, of course, recognize this.

Then what are economic sanctions really supposed to accomplish? Are they mostly manifestations of domestic policy? In that light, how can the sanctions against apartheid-era South Africa be interpreted? Interestingly, the character of apartheid didn't change significantly between the early 1980s, when the Reagan administration considered South Africa a valued ally, and later in the decade, when sanctions were put into effect.

Similarly, sanctions against Iraq didn't follow its US-supported illegal war of aggression against Iran, which was a pariah state in the eyes of the American state and most of its allies. Indeed, as declassified documentary evidence clearly illustrates, the United States not only aided Saddam's war from behind a veil of official neutrality, but it played a role in mitigating international backlash against his illegal use of chemical weapons (obtained from American and European companies) against Iranian soldiers. Only when Iraq invaded an American outpost, Kuwait, with considerably less loss of life, did it merit United Nations sanctions. Supposedly, sanctions were meant to "punish" Saddam; he continued to live in opulence while his people languished. They simply ruined Iraq and primed it for later military conquest.

The character of the violations culminating in sanctions is rarely significant, and, I'd bet, sanctions without incentives are rarely intended to work.

Addendum to "Lost Memo"

Addendum to "Lost Memo":

Stan Goff, a 25-year veteran of US Special Forces, is succinct when he refers to the "one, absolute, bottom-line point of agreement" between the DC foreign policy establishment represented by the late Iraq Study Group and the Bush Administration, namely the passage of Iraq's Hydrocarbons Law and the "privatization" of the oil industry. "The rhetorical scuffle between the two entities is not the what, but the how".

The disconnect between reality and rhetoric is simply too great to hope for alternatives or cure-all reform.

If people in power aren't willing to openly admit that the occupation of Iraq is about oil and nothing else, and that the violent rhetoric against Iran is not about the thoroughly unproven nuclear ambitions or a nonexistent threat to Israel, but about both oil and the Israeli Right's fears about the "demographic problem", there isn't a conversation to be had and there is no set of policy recommendations worth making. Democrats and Republicans alike aren't actually going to do anything responsible with regard to the Middle East until they are willing to admit that American foreign policy is primarily about corporations and imperial control, not about the interests and security of the American people or the freedom and well-being of sundry Muslim nationalities. Before they'd listen to anything the actual rod would have to say to them, they would need to come clean, and admit that they're imperialists. They're not willing to admit that, so there's no conversation worth having. Apparently, conversation requires a common language.

There's no reason to have faith in politicians prone to spouting the racist subterfuge about "Iraqis taking responsibility for their own security" after supporting over a decade of crushing sanctions, bombing campaigns, and then a brutal invasion based on malicious lies, all of which would tear apart any society. There's no reason to have faith in them if they continue to limit themselves to tactical critiques of an illegal war of aggression--not just the newcomer Obama (whom I and many left writers on the internet have decided to take to task for the same criminality all of his colleagues engage in) but all of his colleagues as well. The recommendation of a policy tweak here or there could not suddenly create a post-imperialist, post-capitalist peace-loving American foreign policy.

I chose to talk about reforming the democratic process (public funding of elections & steps against voter fraud) only in very minimal terms not because I think that it will cure the problems of accumulated power in the United States, but because it is a first step towards "building the new society in the shell of the old". That is what actually needs to be done, I think, from as many directions in as many places as possible (and it already is being done, right now). It's so important that I wish I were experienced in movement-building so that I could write about it more authoritatively. I can't, and that's why I'll shortly be starting a new blog with a number of other like-minded writers. More as it develops.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Lost Memo

Below, at the request of one of my most beloved readers, is an attempt to set aside a vision for some policies I envision to succeed the current (and very long-standing) American belligerence, imperialism and corporate enslavement vis-à-vis the Middle East, specifically with regard to Iran and Iraq. Proposing changes in what has long been an essentially bipartisan American foreign policy, usually a fool's errand (no different here), also requires an assessment of the current language used in the painfully myopic jingoism that passes for political debate in Washington, D.C. and the corporate-owned US press. So, the following is both a critique of rhetoric (as usual) and a brief sketch of an alternative, dare I say post-imperialist Middle East policy (new flavor?). It is a wholly fantastical endeavor (more on that below), but nonetheless, it may be fun.


To: Sen. Barack Obama
CC: US Foreign Policy Establishment
From: the actual rod
Re: Middle East Policy "Going Forward"/"Over the Horizon"/"New Direction" etc.

Democrats, with their new-found dominance of the legislative process, have the seemingly unenviable choice of either ending the war in Iraq, allowing it continue at its current (or a slightly increased) level of violence, or pushing the Iraq Study Group's recommendations for a less costly occupation, utilizing some form of "redeployment".

In the following paragraphs, I suggest that the only possible Middle East policy that can actually encourage peace in the region and repair the damaged American image is the repeal of the Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2001 and a rapid and complete withdrawal from Iraq, along with considerable reparations allowing Iraqis to rebuild their national economy without American interference that has usually insured both unaccountable, wasteful use of the reconstruction funds and the return of aid dollars to the pockets of American corporations. This has amounted to profiteering and it has greatly contributed to the current humanitarian disaster in Iraq. Along with this, the regime in Iran ought to be engaged constructively, as it has indicated that it is willing to do so in the framework of equitable, mutually respectful negotiations. The current tensions in the Middle East could be diminished by such policy.

There are some who argue, like Senator Joseph Biden, that the Democratic majority is unable to tie the President's hands in the waging of war; others, like Senator Edward Kennedy have suggested that the power of the purse is an absolutely appropriate means of using Congressional authority to end an unpopular war. By now, these arguments are well known, as is the Democratic leadership's current position, that funding for the war will not be cut, as it would "put the troops in harm's way", as Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others have declared.

On October 1, 2006, before the election for the 110th Congress, an additional $70 billion appropriation was made for use in Iraq, bringing total appropriations for Iraq to $437 billion. At the currently accepted rate of expenditure, even if that $70 billion had been the sole source of all Iraq operations since January 1, 2007, around $60 billion would be remaining. Dubious Pentagon spending policies notwithstanding, the troops would not seem to be in harm's way, insomuch as money can protect them from what military analysts have called an ever more popular insurgency against American occupation and the realities it has ushered in. Indeed, the troops are already in harm's way, and throwing money at the war has, thus far, been a less than adequate solution to that basic situation, from any standpoint.

Republicans and Democrats alike have spoken much of "victory"/"success" in Iraq, mostly echoing the logical framework employed by Mr. Bush, but no one has even attempted to define what "victory" implies. Victory for whom? What would it look like? When do we know when we have achieved it?

Does victory in Iraq imply the creation of a pro-American government, or a democratic one? At this point, given the results of polling of the Iraqi population, there is little chance that the two things will correspond in reality. Does victory imply complete stability in Iraq, or just a manageable level of "constructive violence"? Have American forces been able to guarantee either for the past four years of occupation?

Does victory in Iraq require that Iraq not be a "safe haven for terrorists", even in the narrowly-defined War on Terror use of the phrase? Who is and who isn't a terrorist? If the phrase is simply restricted to the few al Qa'eda-linked extremists in Iraq, we have every indication that the US presence is the sole source of their legitimacy and influence. Is it even remotely possible to guarantee that a country will not be used as a base of operations by non-state actors, when the United States itself served as safe haven for the 9/11 hijackers with far greater stability and government resources? It is old news by now that the US presence in Iraq fuels terror in the country and anti-Americanism throughout the region. The easiest way to achieve this particular version of "victory" would be to withdraw from Iraq immediately.

Does victory in Iraq require a functioning economy? Can the Iraqi economy function for the initial years after some elusive stability is established (thereby allowing a reconstruction of crucial elements of national infrastructure, some measure of relief from humanitarian disaster, and sufficient investment in the oil industry to regenerate its profitability) while the initial stages of new profit-sharing agreements in the oil sector will allow foreign companies to claim 75% of profits? Can a cash (and food, and medicine)-starved economy survive such deals? Would a truly representative government choose to honor them?

No one credibly discusses the criteria for "victory" in Iraq, with a basic understanding of the facts of life in Iraq for American troops or Iraqi civilians, who have borne the brunt of American "failure" to date. Indeed, there is and always has been little to win in Iraq, there having been no weapons of mass destruction, no possibility of pro-American democracy, and so on. For the American people (let alone Iraqis), "victory" is an abstract, even unrealistic concept, and rhetorical obsession with the win-lose construct, as far as it keeps the status quo in place in Iraq, is completely counterproductive. There is no winning or losing, nor is Iraq an American possession to be won or lost in the first place.

That is, unless we're talking about oil companies, and not the American people. They have something to lose from democracy in Iraq and they have something to lose from a withdrawal of American troops. Hint: that "something" has to do with what the US Department of Energy believes to be the second largest known petroleum reserves in the world.

When President Bush talks about "the consequences of failure in Iraq", we can be fairly sure that either he is deliberately confusing and misleading the American people (an impeachable offense) or he is talking about the consequences of failure for ExxonMobil, Chevron, et al. Or both.

The only acceptable policy for Democrats to pursue, rather than nonexistent "victory" or "responsibility" to the Iraqi people who have been devastated by this occupation, is, therefore, to withdraw as quickly as possible (in accordance with American and Iraqi public opinion), cognizant of the civil war that will continue after withdrawal, a conflict that has already gone into full swing regardless of the American presence, which can do nothing to stop it. The Iraqi government should not be coerced into enacting production-sharing agreements that clearly infringe upon its sovereignty and its economic well-being for the gain of American corporations. This is the only kind of "responsibility" that American lawmakers have to Iraqi governments--to rescind the looting of their country that is already taking place under American auspices. Furthermore, Iraqis should be able to expect massive reparations with which to rebuild their country, as the Pentagon version of reconstruction has been woefully inadequate and indeed beyond criminal.

"Enduring bases" have been built in Iraq while the actual reconstruction of the country has been neglected by corrupt American-based corporations, almost the same corporations that have failed to fill their responsibilities in New Orleans a year and a half after Hurricane Katrina. Should the new Congress endorse these priorities?

The possibility that Iran will be "emboldened" by an American withdrawal is laughable; American presence in Iraq has not prevented Iran from growing in strength and influence in the region--indeed, it has facilitated it. A sovereign Iraq will have to have the best possible economic and security relations with its neighbors, and expectations otherwise by American planners are unrealistic at best.

What about the Iranian nuclear program? The Bush administration and the EU have voiced beliefs of its existence with no evidence. Bush has lied before about a weapons program that didn't exist, thus his administration simply lacks the credibility to lecture the American people on this supposedly grave threat. The CIA and the IAEA, not to mention Israeli intelligence in Iran, have all found no evidence of a nuclear weapons program.

The Iranian regime is oppressive, but so are numerous American-supported governments in the region, usually more so. That should not preclude diplomatic relations, as it would be a transparently hypocritical policy. Iran should be brought to the table by real diplomacy; the Bush administration's attempts to generate the semblance of such diplomacy are pathetic because they have asked Iran to give up every bargaining chip before negotiations, at which point negotiations would be meaningless. These overtures are meant to be rejected, and thus they have no place in real diplomacy. Congress should pass HJR 14, the Walter Jones Resolution, without delay, and should pressure the administration to authorize a group of diplomats and congressional foreign policy experts to engage Iran for assistance in stabilizing Iraq (as the ISG recommended) and allowing regular IAEA inspections as it has done thus far--and offered in even greater quantity to prove its sincerity, recognizing Israel, and ceasing support for Hamas and Hezbollah in return for the dropping of UN and US sanctions, allowing access to heretofore frozen Iranian assets, and normalization of diplomatic and trade relations between the US and Iran. Indeed, such a proposal is nearly identical to the one made by Tehran itself on a few occasions since 2003, when it was brought forth by the Swiss Ambassador, who was rejected and rebuked. According to the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, who is the ultimate authority in foreign relations and national security matters in Iran, the proposals are still on the table. Engagement with Iran would almost certainly be successful, it would neutralize any threat that it could possibly pose to Israel (negligible--they aren't suicidal), and ironically it would do more to discredit the regime in the eyes of its few remaining domestic supporters than any military strike.

The mention of PSAs, general and cursory as it is, would not fly in Washington because it is widely understood, if not said, that that is exactly why the military is there, and that we deserve that lion's share of Iraqi oil, obviously due to the "sacrifices" we've made to bring "democracy" to Iraq.

I've also mentioned that there is no evidence of an Iranian weapons program, which while technically true, also simply isn't acceptable in Washington, because AIPAC doesn't like it.

I've also not even discussed impeachment, which I think is necessary before any of the above recommendations (assuming Democrats would accept them) can be implemented. Keep in mind that the "recommendations" themselves are very short and simple compared to the rhetorical analysis, by design; actual (quasi-) post-imperialist Middle East policy, absent of the need to control other nations' oil and natural gas resources, could look just like that. Key differences with current policy--my proposal is probably more coherent to the average American, and no one else has to die.

Of course, this memorandum only exists in a fantasy world in which the words that I've run together above are actually coherent to the politicos reading them. For that to take place, there would have to be less discussion of reality and more of a focus on "Iraqis taking responsibility", "Iran's ambitions", etc. Essentially, I've attempted to strip away both imperial policy and rhetoric (while still operating within the general parameters set by them, for the Senator's sake), and, as such, the above memorandum cannot exist in Washington today.

Unfortunately, such discussions for alternative policy just don't correspond with reality--and that's why I usually don't engage in prescriptions for alternatives: the structures and institutions of power and influence that I write about (namely multinational energy corporations, the military-industrial complex, and the lobbyists and politicians that serve them) preclude sane policy from being adopted. As I've said numerous times, these problems are systemic. Current Middle East policy is not hijacked by just a few crazies (neocons) to be saved by a benevolent establishment (James Baker, Democrats, etc); rather, it is an outgrowth of the current distribution of wealth, power, and influence in the United States and the West, applied through the structures that maintain and justify them (government & media). No Congress is going to challenge the profits American oil companies can make in Iraq. Forget American troops, no Congress is going to do anything to endanger those profits. There are obvious reasons for that (even if oil companies donate 2:1 to Republicans, they still donate to Democrats). Secondly, I don't think that I particularly know anything more than anyone else when it comes to international affairs.

I am just using logic and common sense (and a really minimal amount of research, but probably more than Congressional staff) in the fictional memo (that looks a lot like a blog post) above. In a truly democratic, transparent country, common sense and dispassionate research would be all that is needed to formulate coherent, effective policy. The aforementioned institutions of power would like you to think that it's all a very complex process, to discourage you from paying attention to their crimes while they run misdirection with incoherent imperialist platitudes about "responsibility" and "coddling" as Obama has done. But it's not. Sane, post-imperialist international relations are very easy to imagine, and my version of them is probably not too much different from yours.

My real proposal is that Senator Obama or any other ambitious superman/woman isn't going to do anything that's necessary as long as he/she can help it, though some (the "electoral left" that I've discussed, of which Obama is nominally a member) may seem like they intend to do something right, at least for awhile; thus, what we really need to do is change the institutions of power in this country; requiring grassroots organization and tireless activism. How can we change the way political power is exercised? Many have discussed proposals for equitable, just societies, as usual more brilliantly than myself. The very first steps in the current political climate would require public funding of elections and voting reform involving an independent, apolitical monitoring process and verifiable paper trails for all federal votes.

Obviously, most true political power is based in unaccountable totalitarian institutions (multinational corporations) and the highly irresponsible international finance community that moves trillions of dollars from market to market daily, exercises a veto on all governmental reform throughout the Global South with the threat of capital flight, and turns over mutual funds in spans of months--as Al Gore has recently pointed out, also calling the stock market "functionally insane"--in a predatory, unproductive, and unprecedented form of speculation that Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has predicted will likely lead to global depression within the next two years (hat tip to Stephen Lendman, in case he finds this). Public funding of elections will be one step towards freeing political discourse from the pervasive grasp of corporate tyranny.

There are plenty of people who are actually working towards those goals right now, as I write this comparatively unproductive stuff. The United for Peace and Justice rallies on January 27th (find one near you) will be a manifestation of some of their work with regard to the limited issue of war (itself only a manifestation of the current power structures); but in themselves, the periodic demonstrations aren't an answer either. Positive change is never simply granted, top-down, by state power. It has to be forced upon it from below. Organization and unrelenting struggle are the only real alternative policy. Numerous Latin American countries have already shown the way.

But, if you're too busy to be bothered with all of that, here is the future you can expect.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Circular Logic of Empire

George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, soaring to new Orwellian heights in their disinformation campaign regarding the criminal occupation of Iraq and the (likely) forthcoming criminal assault of Iran, have managed to perfect the circular logic of empire and state terror in the modern age.

Why did the United States invade Iraq? Why is it escalating that war? Why is it likely to attack Iran? Why is it the most belligerent and threatening country in the world?

I have probed the first question, and the third, to a lesser extent, hoping that it would go away. The second is mostly academic; the 21,500 additional military personnel (why the overuse of the term "troops"?) to be sent to Iraq on top of the current 150,000 will make little difference; they're not supposed to, despite what Bush may contend, and, thanks to his unfortunate genetic/psychological disposition, actually believe. Escalation/"surge", in the eyes of the neoconservatives and death-worshippers of the American Enterprise Institute, is simply a means of rebuking the American public for daring to question war policy. Frederick Kagan, son of noted racist barbarian Donald, is responsible for the "new" "strategy" that has occupied the American (and foreign) corporate media for the past month. Kagan, for those who don't know, was an original signatory of the PNAC (Project for a New American Century) paper "Rebuilding America's Defenses", wherein Bush administration foreign/military policy was outlined before its election in 2000.

When Bush, in his televised fictions of January 11th, announced a larger American military presence in Iraq, supposedly to streamline that pitiable nation's road to democracy and stability. The current civilian death rates in Iraq notwithstanding, this is laughable because the overwhelming majority of Iraqis want an American withdrawal from their country, as I have mentioned before. If Mr. Bush were concerned about the creation of a democracy in Iraq, which he is not, the will of the Iraqi people, if not the American people, would perhaps matter to him. However, it does not. So, despite the opinions of the involved populations, which tend markedly and increasingly towards support for a full American withdrawal within 12 months, the United States, bastion of truth and freedom, will in fact take exactly the opposite available position. So much for democracy.

As to stability, there is little indication that the United States contributes to it, and more than a little evidence that it hinders it (also see "Bush, Lies, & Iran"). But, necessitating permanent occupation, that is in line with administration policy.

Bush and Rice have been appealing to the support of "moderate" Sunni Arab regimes, like Saudi Arabia, with its secular, tolerant judicial system, human rights record (see previous post), commitment to democracy, and wealth distribution. In a sea of Islamofascism, verily, Saudi Arabia is a bastion of secular enlightenment. Similarly, Egypt and Jordan are "moderate" Arab regimes, a fact confirmed by the pluralism, openness, and democracy of both.

In the absence of an official definition of "moderate", a gift with which Dr. Rice has chosen not to privilege us, we can assume that she is simply referring to the states with the worst records of authoritarianism and human rights abuses in the region, with governments that happen to acquiesce to American hegemony, without which they most likely could not endure.

State department spokesman Tom Casey, among others in the Bush administration, has called Iran "the leading state sponsor (of terror) in the world." Little evidence is ever presented for this, either, as it is assumed that people will automatically assume that support for Hezbollah (classified as a "resistance movement" and not a terrorist group by the US-backed Lebanese government), Hamas, and Islamic Jihad qualify it as the largest state sponsor of terror. This is nothing but an outright lie; maybe we can just credit it to the administration's world-renowned honesty. As many (including myself, of course) have pointed out, since World War II, the United States government has been the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. It continues to be.

The largest dose of irony, if it can be called that, came later in Bush's speech when he stated his commitment to the sovereignty of Iraq. As Bush was stressing Iraqi sovereignty, his military was in the process of violating that sovereignty by kidnapping Iranian diplomats in Arbil without the knowledge of the Iraqi government or the Kurdish regional government. Being the figurehead of a regime that illegally invaded and continues to illegally occupy Iraq, threatening its government and strong-arming it into service to the Empire, the President's clarity on this issue was obviously appreciated, not least by the Iraqi people themselves.

Perhaps Mr. Bush was not talking about Iraq's sovereignty, per se, but actually America's sovereignty in Iraq. As long as there are American hordes in Iraq, building massive bases for ground troops, jet fighters and bombers, without consultation or concern about the opinions of the Iraqi people or the virtual puppet regime in the Green Zone, all talk of Iraqi sovereignty is purely rhetorical, somewhere up there with the tooth fairy and the white man's burden.

The fourth question asked above--"Why is [the United States] the most belligerent and threatening country in the world?"--is significant, and not challenging for anyone with an appreciation of modern history. In the context of Iraq and its precursor, Vietnam, others have offered good analysis, be they libertarian socialists like Noam Chomsky, American-style pro-business libertarians like Ron Paul, old-style conservatives like Patrick Buchanan, or committed and principled pacifists like the revered-but-not-heeded Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Behind the corporate profit-making rationales, the drive for hegemony, and the likely bizarre psychological traumas of American (and all) hawks, we must realize that the logic of empire is circular and therefore cannot be debated. In the mainstream political discourse, the debate we see is simply on tactics: Democrats may claim to be smarter imperialists, Republicans stronger ones, &c. What we never see is a questioning of the logic that leads to aggression and war. This is significant.

Here is an example of the circular logic of empire. The United States must control Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Iran because it must control all Middle East oil. It must control all Middle East oil because it must control all oil. It must control all oil so that it may exercise "critical leverage" on fast-rising economic adversaries in Northeast Asia, namely China and Japan, and to a lesser extent the powers of Europe. It must exercise critical leverage on these economies because then it can control them. It must control them to preclude their independence from American desires and corporate interests mostly based in the US. It must preclude their independence because then they could access Middle East oil without American control. Control for the sake of control.

It is, in the end, all about control, with little tangible gain for the American people. Thus the need for grand rhetoric, deception, and mass delusion on an unprecedented scale. This is why the real debate about American aggression in the guise of "the Global War on Terror" is relegated to the shadows, to those brave enough to speak what the rest of the world knows, that the Bush Administration doesn't give a damn about terrorists or American lives, but that it does give a damn about control of Middle East (and indeed global) energy resources. Control for the sake of control.

Speaking of circularity, get your head around this.

The Oil Wars are not about American energy security in the face of the Moloch of Peak Oil, as some believe--though they're close. The Oil Wars are not about the American way of life, which will hopefully end sooner rather than later. Needless to say, they are not about democracy, freedom, or terrorism--except that visited upon the people of the Middle East by the global oil protection force. I needn't go in depth, I already have. The key point: profits are to be made, and hegemony to be exercised.

The Resistance Model

Graham Fuller goes beyond the corporate media's facile description of the "Sunni-Shi'a axis" to look at real sources of change and conflict in the Middle East. Fuller points out what should be obvious: that the fear of pro-American Sunni despots like King Abdullah II of Jordan and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, not to mention the Gulf emirs and sheikhs, cannot simply be reduced to sectarian differences--rather, the fear of Iran, Hezbollah, and a Shi'i-dominated Iraq is not about Shi'i power per se, but is rather about popular empowerment. Iran and its ally Syria, which happens to be a secular state--though you wouldn't know it if you stuck to Fox News--present examples to populations of pro-US Sunni nations of slightly more equitable states that resist the West, as opposed to serving it faithfully. Hezbollah, similarly, is viewed positively for both its image as a resistance force and as a mass movement. This is what threatens the Abdullahs, Mubarak, and so on, because Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are among the most popular public figures in the Arab world, as Fuller notes. It is not difficult to understand why.

A former CIA officer, Fuller doesn't get into an assessment of why the image of this political divide is simplified to that of a region in chaos due to sectarian differences. The reason, of course, is because the media rarely portrays American-backed regimes truthfully, and therefore the opposition to and the extent of corruption, state terror, and authoritarian arbitrariness of the Sunni autocrats is overlooked.

Nonetheless, the assessment is quite valuable. I would add one point: the alternative provided to the Middle East by Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah is not totally democratic in character, and only in contrast to the pro-US Arab regimes can it be considered of the masses, or of the left.

In Iran, democracy exists only insomuch as the authoritarian elements of the regime allow it to, which is always far less than it should in a truly free society. Corruption is endemic, much of the national economy is in the hands of unaccountable private foundations, or bonyads, which function as an outlet for cash vis-a-vis 'privatizations' that go towards creating an entrenched rentier class that supports the autocratic, repressive elements of the government. Iran's socio-political model is not a solution to the problems of the Middle East, but it points in the direction of a solution, not because of the regime but in spite of it. Other dissidents in the region would be careful to note this, and many do.

Despite all of these obstacles, the Islamic Republic is more pluralistic than any US-backed regime, and Syria has a better foundation of social services than any US-backed regime. These are not insignificant issues. Hopefully, Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad are popular because they represent that realization (which is a truism). Their resistance to the United States is undeniably the major reason for their popularity (also close to a truism), and people interested in global justice ought to be encouraged by that; it should also be noted, however, that these movements have achieved little in terms of wealth distribution or social justice when empowered (we have 28 years of history to attest to that in the case of Iran). That is mostly because they are top-down affairs. Grassroots organization is necessary to forward the goals of equality and justice in the Middle East, to say nothing of democracy.

All of this (transparency/accountability, equality/social justice, and radical democracy) should be integral to true Iranian opposition groups, and you won't see them coming out of any of the American-backed opposition like the monarchists or Amir Abbas Fakhravar's Iran Enterprise Institute. Unfortunately, the day-to-day situation in Iran is so difficult for most people, with rampant unemployment and inflation, not to speak of the silencing of political discourse, that the public's desire for immediate relief has kept many groups from developing any detailed opposition platform. The brutality and closed-mindedness of the regime has only compounded the obstacles to the creation of a unified opposition based on any specific principles. While this is troubling, it is neither surprising nor insurmountable. Iran has a strong dissident culture despite its lack of strong dissident organizations. The regime cannot snuff out that culture, though it has so far succeeded in starving it.

More than the nonetheless important anti-US position of the government, this is the real lesson that the Iranian experience can share with the Middle East. Fuller doesn't mention it. Nonetheless, the necessity for opposition based on basic principles such as transparency, equality, and liberty far beyond American provisions is exists in all countries of the Middle East and indeed the world, though Michael Rubin wouldn't mention it.

After decades of oppression--in most countries, US-backed--the organization of dissent is next to impossible throughout the Middle East, but people are still doing it. They are more courageous than you or I, and their existence is cause for optimism.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bush, Lies & Iran

As to the threats to Iran, they are very real and very alarming. On this blog, I've pointed out numerous times that there is no evidence of a nuclear weapons program, as per the IAEA (and, in a way, the CIA), and there's likely no evidence of Iranians aiding Iraqi attacks on Americans, as Bush recently declared, to be swallowed unquestioningly. Democrats, including Howard Dean, had already jumped to attention, though the American people, in their newfound wisdom, seem unconvinced. After the "intelligence failure" that led to the increasingly unpopular and totally illegal Iraq war, what does the supposed opposition party need to demand evidence to back up the administration's claims as it charges headlong into further aggression?

A recent article in the Guardian confirms, however, that regardless of Iranian actions, the US military may be actively providing the insurgency with weaponry, fueling the civil war, and more likely than not stabbing itself in the back. Moreover, Iran has done more for the economic health of occupied Iraq, from Basra to Kurdistan, than Bush would ever admit, but it won't keep the Office of Iranian Affairs under Elizabeth Cheney and Iran-Contra convict Elliot Abrams from fabricating evidence to have been obtained from the raid of the liaison office in Arbil.

When Condoleezza Rice says (read this piece, by Gareth Porter, to the bottom for a fascinating interpretation) that "the Iranians need to know, and the Syrians need to know, that the United States is not finding it acceptable and is not going to simply tolerate their activities to try and harm our forces or to destabilize Iraq", she is aiding the administration in preparing its subliminal case for war, as she did with her infamous "mushroom cloud" statement with regard to Saddam Hussein's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Maybe she has no evidence to back up her claim, as the administration has no evidence for any of the claims about Iran--I doubt she does in this particular case either, since it would certainly not be an outlier--but once enough Americans have heard this and other statements about Iran, some (maybe enough) will accept it, consciously or subconsciously, as they accepted the links between Saddam and Al Qaeda, for which verifiable, true evidence was never provided, because no such evidence existed. No one who actually wants to attack Iran cares, and they may not really care about public opinion either. The lies are just part of selling a policy that has already been determined.

In the eyes of key planners, they've already committed a number of war crimes in Iraq, with impunity--except for a few receiving light punishments so characteristic of American military justice, most of whom are enlisted military who had the misfortune of being caught after committing violations in specific cases such as Abu Ghraib and Haditha. Whether or not they bomb Iran, the people responsible for the Iraq invasion and occupation should hang (as Saddam did), according to the international legal precedent of Nuremberg. So they're already murderers, they can keep lying and killing as long as the Congress keeps its powder dry and refuses to begin impeachment proceedings. That is why, as Gareth Porter suggests, the administration may be conveying a more cautious message to Congress than it is to the public: effectively stymying the little opposition that may occur (as though it could be expected) while laying the subliminal groundwork for an attack when the pieces are in play.

As though Rice or any Bush administration official could ever be trusted, and to point out the obvious, Iran has no interest in instability in Iraq, and neither does Syria. This is elementary, though it may not be speakable in respectable circles, and therefore is supposedly unthinkable for the American people as they expend their mental energy on more important issues like their post-holiday credit card debt. Both countries (Iran and Syria) are neighbors of Iraq, and instability has a way of spilling over borders, as it already has. The United States under this criminal junta, on the other hand, has a very vested interest in continued civil war (and "insurgency") in Iraq. Gone is the nobility of neoconservative rhetoric, but you wouldn't know it from reading the Weekly Standard; it is not much different in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Kashmir, or any other regions under military occupation. State terror and sectarian strife work to the Bush administration's favor, while providing a backdrop against which to orchestrate the bombing campaign against Iran, which will doubtless have disastrous consequences.

The most likely result of American/Israeli air raids on Iran will be an increase in support for the state in central areas with a possibility of some ethnic groups, supported by the CIA and US Special Forces, somehow challenging the state. The former scenario will be an amazing feat; in nearly 28 years the regime has been unable to curry any favor with the public, and has only maintained power through fear. Bush will do something for them that they could never do for themselves. The chaos, death, and destruction in the aftermath of sustained bombardment, with the possibility of such ethnic strife, will most likely precipitate in some form of martial law in which the remnants of the Revolutionary Guard will take control of the remnants of the state (though the structure of the Islamic Republic, especially its authoritarian elements, will most likely remain intact at least nominally) and work to suppress rebellion. Perhaps I'm willfully blind, but I doubt that any ethnic grouping, be it the Azeris, Kurds, or Arabs, will actually succeed in breaking away without a full American occupation, which seems strategically and logistically impossible, a situation that will most likely get worse, not better, if there is an attack on Iran. Nonetheless, such an outcome of prolonged stife may be acceptable to the administration planners who understand it.

It is difficult to predict a post-bombing scenario, but this is most likely, and it will once again reverse all progress that has been made in Iran, through ongoing struggle and conviction, towards democracy. Democracy, pluralism, and political and economic transparency are always the first to go in times of state violence, in both the aggressor and victim states. Look no further than the United States for current and historical examples.