Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 13 September 2012 11:58
As protests against the Mohammed-bashing film now spread to Yemen -- where the Peace Laureate is drone-bombing the hell out of the populace on a regular basis -- Simon Tisdall has more on the bitter blowback of the Laureate's much-lauded regime change in Libya. First, Tisdall notes that despite the effusion of shock and horror emanating from Washington over the attack on its diplomats, the American government had in fact anticipated the possibility of such an incident:
The assassination in Benghazi of the American ambassador to Libya is an appalling act – and one foreseen by his employers. On 27 August, the state department warned US citizens against all but essential travel to Libya, painting a picture of a country beset by increasing instability and fraught with danger.
"The incidence of violent crime, especially carjacking and robbery, has become a serious problem… Political violence, including car bombings in Tripoli and assassinations of military officers and alleged former regime officials in Benghazi, has increased. Inter-militia conflict can erupt at any time or any place in the country," the state department said.
This is in marked contrast to the vague and gauzy notion of a plucky young democracy that was the general image of the new Libya advanced by our political and media classes. As always, those on the inside -- such as the late ambassador -- were given the real picture, while the rabble are palmed off with soundbites and fairy tales.
Tisdall goes on:
Any number of other Libyan armed groups might have had a hand in the killings. But in truth, responsibility may also be traced back, directly or indirectly, to those in London, Paris, Brussels and Washington who launched last year's Nato intervention in Libya with insouciant disregard for the consequences. It was clear then, or should have been, that toppling Muammar Gaddafi was the easy bit. Preventing an Iraq-style implosion, or some form of Afghan anarchy, would be much harder.
Yet this is exactly what Stevens's death may presage. Once again, the western powers have started a fire they cannot extinguish. A year after David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy jointly travelled to Libya to lay claim to a liberator's bogus laurels, the Libyan revolution they fanned and fuelled is in danger of degenerating into a chaotic, violent free-for-all.
Do not be misled by the fig leaf of this summer's national assembly polls. Post-Gaddafi Libya lacks viable national political leadership, a constitution, functioning institutions, and most importantly, security. Nationwide parliamentary elections are still a year away. The east-west divide is as problematic as ever. Political factions fight over the bones of the former regime, symbolised by the forthcoming trials of Gaddafi's son, Saif, and his intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi.
Effective central control, meanwhile, is largely absent. And into this vacuum have stepped armed groups – whether politically, religiously or financially inspired matters little – all claiming sectional suzerainty over the multitude of fractured fiefdoms that was, until Nato barged in, a unified state.
Research published in June by the Small Arms Survey suggested that the emergence and influence of armed groups challenging national government and army was accelerating rapidly. The survey identified four distinct types including experienced revolutionary brigades accounting for up to 85% of all weapons not controlled by the state and myriad militias – loosely defined as armed gangs, criminal networks and religious extremists bent on exploiting post-revolution weakness.
…In Misrata, for example, in addition to about 30,000 small arms, revolutionary brigades "control more than 820 tanks, dozens of heavy artillery pieces, and more than 2,300 vehicles equipped with machine-guns and anti-aircraft weapons." Misrata, scene of some of the worst fighting last year, has become a state within a state.
And as always, one finds the hand of America's great ally, Saudi Arabia, stirring the rancid stew of sectarian strife:
In its weakened condition, politically and economically, Libya appears especially vulnerable to extremist ideology and foreign influence. In an echo of Taliban depredations, the Salafists who besieged the Benghazi consulate have also been involved in a wave of attacks on historic Sufi mosques and libraries and attempts to intimidate female university students who eschew the hijab.
In this they are reportedly encouraged by a Saudi-based scholar, Sheik Mohamed Al-Madkhalee, who issued a fatwa praising the desecration of Sufi graves and urging Libyan Salafists to do more to clear the country of the taint of Sufi worship.
No group in the world has done more to spread violent, retrograde extremism than the Saudi royals (whose regime is far more repressive than that of the Persian devils in Tehran or the Hitler du jour in Damascus) -- yet at every turn they are courted, coddled, and lavished with billions of dollars in military hardware from the ostensible defenders of freedom in Washington.
The Saudis have had plenty of help in fomenting fundamentalism, of course. Empowering extremists has long been a favorite tactic of our freedom-loving Western elites. These wise leaders have spent spent 50 years destroying every vestige of secular civic space in the Middle East, every vestige of secular opposition to their favoured dictators, puppets and feudal lords in the region.
In most countries, such as Iran and Palestine, they actively, assiduously promoted extremist fundamentalist groups and parties, to ensure that no secular forces would emerge to challenge their clients and cronies. It was in Iran that this strategy first bit them firmly in the ass: the obscurant fundamentalists whom the CIA had used to help overthrow the secular democratic government in 1953 and install the Shah, a Washington toady, in time grew into a powerful opposition force in its own right. For decades, Western intelligence helped the Shah brutally repress all secular opposition; thus when the revolution finally came and the Shah was gone, these secular forces were too weak to stand against the fundamentalists, who hijacked the revolt and proclaimed their Islamic Republic.
At the same time, the secular government in Afghanistan -- irredeemably evil, of course, because it was associated with dirty commies -- was overthrown by a gaggle of violent religious extremists armed and bankrolled by the West, the Saudis and the Pakistanis. We all know what the result of that gambit -- we just observed one of its most notorious fruits on September 11.
The same process has played out again and again. In Iraq, a secular government opposed by the West has given way to a sectarian regime riven with religious war. In Egypt, where, again, secular opposition was throttled to help keep Washington's favoured dictators in power, religious extremists thrived, as secular "civic society" became increasingly identified in the public mind with the corruption and brutality of the ruling clique. (I saw a similar process first hand in Russia during the 1990s, when the concept of "democracy" became identified with the mass suffering, brutal poverty, ruin, chaos, corruption and violence inflicted in its name by the new post-Soviet elites.) In Libya, the West's desire to overthrow their unreliable ally Gadafy -- and grab better oil deals than he was willing to give -- has empowered the range of violent, well-armed religious fanatics described by Tisdall.
In Syria, the process is playing out once more, as violent religious extremists -- including al Qaeda -- are being armed and aided by Western elites and their Saudi allies to destroy yet another secular government. If this new regime change campaign is successful, we will be seeing many more incidents like the attack in Libya -- and, yet again, a far more unstable, violent world.
But I noted in a piece written in early 2010, this horrific outcome is a goal not a glitch; it is the necessary grease for the wheels of the Terror War system:
Let me say -- or rather, reiterate -- up front that it is my personal view that the form of vigorous activism known as non-violence is the only way, or the best way, that we can hope to even begin to address the inherent and intractable conflicts of human existence in a genuinely effective profound, sustainable and humane manner. That is the ideal I strive toward.
Of course, I also recognize that being what I am -- a white man of Christian heritage living safely and comfortably under the penumbra of empire -- it is easy for me to espouse this ideal. No drone fired in the distant black sky is going to kill my children tonight as they sleep warmly in their beds. No raiding party of assassins is going to tear down the door of my parents' house tonight and shoot them at the dinner table. No one with a grudge against me -- or simply in need of quick cash -- is going to sell me into the captivity of a worldwide gulag. I'm not going to be caught in the crossfire of marauding mercenaries on my way to work. I'm not going to wake tomorrow in a refugee camp, my home and livelihood abandoned in the wake of a ravaging "counterterrorism" operation. No foreign soldier is going to shoot me, or abuse me, or humiliate me, or simply refuse to let me pass down the street in my own city. I'm not going to be stopped, "profiled," or regarded with suspicion or hatred simply because of my skin color or the cultural or religious etymology of my name.
If I lived under the boot heel of such forces, I don't how I would react, how firmly I could hold to my ideal. I don't know if I would have the strength of mind and will, or the fortitude and wisdom it would take to resist our primal pull to violence -- especially if I grew up in a culture that exalted certain forms of violence as cardinal virtues. (Of course, as an American, I did grow up in such a culture -- and so has almost every other human being in history. To take the non-violent way is to appear -- and yes, often feel -- unnatural, deracinated, alien.)
Nonetheless, despite all these caveats and complexities, the ideal abides. I decry, denounce and mourn for the use of violence. Each act of violence -- however understandable it might be in context -- is a vast, ruinous defeat for our common humanity.
And of course many acts of violence are not "understandable" in any context, save that of our bestial desire to dominate others in one form or another. Here the defeat is even greater, its reverberations deeper, wider, longer-lasting: a degradation and degeneration that further brutalizes both the dispenser and victim of violence -- especially the former, and especially when the dispensing culture comes to countenance an ever-widening array of violent acts as worthy, necessary, laudable, even honorable.
Each such act perpetuates the cycle of violence, the horrific dynamic of blowback: a self-perpetuating feedback loop that uses itself to engender more violence, in new and expanding forms. We are living today in the midst of a particularly virulent form of this dynamic, the so-called "War on Terror," which I think has been designed -- more or less deliberately so, although the obscene ignorance and arrogance of the powerful have also played their fateful part in unwittingly exacerbating these evils -- to rage on without chronological end, without geographical, limits, and without any moral, social, legal or financial restraints. In his book X Films (reviewed here), Alex Cox uses an apt term borrowed from systems analysis -- POSIWID: The Purpose of a System is What It Does.
The Terror War is not an event, or a campaign, or even a crusade; it is a system. Its purpose is not to eliminate "terrorism" (however this infinitely elastic term is defined) but to perpetuate itself, to do what it does: make war. This system can be immensely rewarding, in many different ways, for those who operate or assist it, whether in government, media, academia, or business. This too is a self-sustaining dynamic, a feedback loop that gives money, power and attention to those who serve the system; this elevated position then allows them to accrue even more money, power and attention, until in the end -- as we can plainly see today -- any alternative voices and viewpoints are relegated to the margins. They are "unserious." They are unimportant. They are not allowed to penetrate or alter the operations of the system.
And as we noted here yesterday, there's lots more of this coming our way -- whatever the outcome of the presidential race.
Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 12 September 2012 22:59
Reading about the deadly attacks in Libya by religious extremists armed and empowered by the United States in the recent regime change operation there, I was reminded of something from a piece I wrote long ago, the day after 9/11:
"Murder is fertile: it breeds more death, like a spider laden with a thousand eggs."
One thing for certain: no matter which of the candidates now exploiting the latest incident for partisan gain wins in November (and oh what bitter comedy there is in watching the progressosphere sternly denounce Mitt Romney for "politicizing national security" by attacking President "I Killed Bin Laden So Vote for Me" Obama), this hideous dynamic -- continually refueled by Washington's Terror War system -- will keep breeding its horrors.
Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 05 September 2012 12:42
When he was lambasted by Archbishop Desmond Tutu last week for the murderous debacle of the US-UK war of aggression in Iraq, Tony Blair pointed to the appalling human rights violations of the Saddam regime as one of his "justifications" for helping George W. Bush engineer the murder of a million innocent people.
Of course, as we noted here earlier, Blair never evinced such concerns about, say, the extremist religious tyrants in Saudi Arabia (whom he protected by personally quashing a judicial case involving mammoth corruption in a UK-Saudi arms deal), or his later paymasters in Kazakhstan, or even his once-and-former hug-buddy Moamar Gadafy in Libya.
But putting aside this sinister hypocrisy for a moment, it might be instructive for those concerned about appalling human rights violations by the government of Iraq to take a look at the regime that the Anglo-American invaders built on the mound of corpses they left behind. And what would they find? Why, appalling human rights violations by the government of Iraq. As'ad AbuKhalil, the "Angry Arab," points us to this article by Halfa Zangana in the Guardian:
Three women were among the 21 people executed within one day in Iraq, last Monday. It was followed, two days later, by the reported execution of five more people. The number of people executed since the start of this year is now at least 96 and they are not the only ones. … There is also news of another 196 people on death row. According to Iraqi officials, they have all been convicted on charges "related to terrorism," but there is little information about their names, what crimes they committed or whether they have access to lawyers or not.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have previously documented the prevalence of unfair trials and torture in detention in Iraq. Confessions under torture are often the only evidence against a person who has been arrested following a secret informant's report. Parading the accused with their tortured, empty looks on Al Iraqiya, the official TV channel, is the norm. It took a court in Baghdad only 15 minutes to sentence Ramze Shihab Ahmed, a dual Iraqi-UK national, to 15 years' imprisonment after being found guilty of "funding terrorist groups".
Amnesty has obtained and examined court documents and said it believes the trial proceedings were "grossly unfair". Ahmed was held in a secret prison near Baghdad, during which time his whereabouts were completely unknown to his family. During this period Ahmed alleges he was tortured – with electric shocks to his genitals and suffocation by plastic bags – into making a false "confession" to terrorist offences.
So what kind of human rights are observed in the "new Iraq"? Hardly any. The list of abuses is long and the tip of the iceberg is waves of arbitrary arrests (over 1,000 monthly), torture and executions. All are barely noticed by the world media and the US and British official silence is rather convenient to cover up the crimes and chaos they created. …
The Nouri al-Maliki government in Iraq with its human rights outfits is following the same path [as Saddam]. … People who for years before the invasion of 2003 were highlighting human rights abuses as a reason to invoke war as a prelude to democracy and transparency are now either totally silent or actively covering up the current abuses, despite glaring evidence from international human rights organisations.
The so-called "war on terror" reformulated many aspects of world politics and state accountability has become the first victim of that war. It has acquired variable meanings with highly selective application. Therefore, some governments have "enjoyed" immunity, no matter how brutally they have behaved against their own or other people. The Iraqi regime is one of them.
Whoever would have thought that a regime implanted by a war of aggression -- which the Nuremberg Tribunal described as "the supreme international crime, only different from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of all the others" -- would end up violently oppressing, torturing and killing its own people? As we noted here three years ago, after yet another report of abuses in Baghdad:
As the Iraqis used to say just after the American invasion in 2003: "The pupil is gone; the master has come." Now new pupils are passing on the master's lessons. And those who dare speak out against the fruits of this sinister education find themselves in the cross-hairs of the client government -- and of those who do its dirty work "on the dark side, if you will." It is, as our eloquent president has said of the million-killing act of aggression in Iraq, "an extraordinary achievement."
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 03 September 2012 03:54
Archbishop Desmond Tutu refused to attend a conference last week for a very good reason – he did not want to be publicly associated with a war criminal.
That war criminal was Tony Blair, who had been paid his usual whopping fee ($238,000 in this case) to deliver his usual sanctimonious blather at a South African conference on “leadership.” Tutu – who was speaking for no fee – withdrew from the meeting when he heard Blair was coming, the Guardian reports.
This was a rare – very rare – example of behavior which should be ubiquitous: shunning mass murderers. Blair, like George W. Bush (and Bill Clinton, he whose minions openly accepted responsibility for the killing of 500,000 Iraqi children in the US-UK sanctions regime that devastated Iraq before the US and UK finally launched their outright war of aggression in 2003), swans around the world collecting accolades – and mucho dinero – from the great and good and the high and mighty (and their simpering media sycophants), untroubled by his instrumental role in the Hitlerian invasion and its aftermath, which has left – according to measurement tools used by Blair’s own government – more than a million innocent people dead.
But Tutu did more than a simple shunning. He went on to pen a column in The Observer openly calling for Blair and Bush to be put on trial for war crimes. His indictment (quoted here in the Guardian) is damning:
Tutu, a Nobel peace prize winner and hero of the anti-apartheid movement, accuses the former British and US leaders of lying about weapons of mass destruction and says the invasion left the world more destabilised and divided "than any other conflict in history."
… But it is Tutu's call for Blair and Bush to face justice in The Hague that is most startling. Claiming that different standards appear to be set for prosecuting African leaders and western ones, he says the death toll during and after the Iraq conflict is sufficient on its own for Blair and Bush to be tried at the ICC.
"On these grounds, alone, in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in The Hague," he says.
In his article, the archbishop argues that as well as the death toll, there has been a heavy moral cost to civilisation, with no gain. "Even greater costs have been exacted beyond the killing fields, in the hardened hearts and minds of members of the human family across the world.
"Has the potential for terrorist attacks decreased? To what extent have we succeeded in bringing the so-called Muslim and Judeo-Christian worlds closer together, in sowing the seeds of understanding and hope?" Blair and Bush, he says, set an appalling example. "If leaders may lie, then who should tell the truth?" he asks.
"If it is acceptable for leaders to take drastic action on the basis of a lie, without an acknowledgement or an apology when they are found out, what should we teach our children?"
Blair attempted to reply to this withering blast, with his best ‘more in sorrow than in anger’ shtick, but he only compounded his moral nullity with his defense. He offered, as usual, the facts that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who violently oppressed his people – a situation that has long obtained in many countries around the world (including many of Tony’s pals in the Middle East and Central Asia, who pay him so handsomely for his ‘counsel’). And of course, this oppression had nothing to do with the repeatedly stated “reasons” for the attack offered by Bush and Blair: that Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent threat of attack on Britain and America.
The knowing falsity of these pre-war charges has been confirmed in a multitude of quarters, but Blair, with the irreality of the genuine psychopath, now claims the opposite, saying “the old canard that we lied about the intelligence is completely wrong as every single independent analysis of the evidence has shown.” The fact is that every single independent analysis of the evidence has shown the complete opposite: that high officials throughout both governments were well aware of the weakness and falsity of the “evidence” of Iraq’s WMDs, and that these weak reeds were bent and shaped to fit the policy approved by both leaders: to invade Iraq, come hell or high water.
But Blair goes even further into the mire. One of the features of his defense is – I kid you not -- how “prosperous” the Iraqi economy is now compared to the situation before the invasion:
"I would also point out that despite the problems, Iraq today has an economy three times or more in size, with the child mortality rate cut by a third of what it was. And with investment hugely increased in places like Basra."
I must admit that, old cynic that I am, even I was taken aback by the brazenness displayed here. Blair was in power for six years of the US-UK sanctions regime against Iraq. He is just as complicit as Clinton and both George Bushes in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent children (and adults) who perished as a direct result of the devastating sanctions, which denied Iraqis most of the basic elements of life. If Iraq’s economy really is “three times larger now” (that is, assuming this smiling, unctuous, super-Christian liar is not lying in his usual lying manner), it is because it is starting from the “Year Zero” level imposed on the ordinary Iraqi people – by Tony Blair himself, colluding with his bipartisan masters in Washington, Clinton and Bush.
Blair himself helped grind the Iraqi economy – and the Iraqi people – into the dust. And now, after launching a war of aggression against the country which killed a million more people, he takes credit for the “improvement” from lifting the sanctions he himself imposed and sternly policed.
Surely this breaks new ground for war criminals. Not even Adolf Hitler claimed that his murderous invasions were “good” for the Poles and the Russians and the Jews, that by launching baseless wars of aggression and killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people he was somehow doing them a favor. But Blair, like Bush and Clinton – and like Obama and Romney and the rest of the American political class – insist that their murders and invasions and black ops and sanctions are altruistic missions of mercy to the very people they are killing or strangling.
And as Tutu notes in his piece, the same dynamic is now being played out against Iran – with the stakes for mass murder, suffering and generations of chaos, hatred and destabilization engulfing the world even higher. Yet our leaders plunge on and on in this berserker frenzy in their impossible quest to dominate the entire world.
I’m writing quickly, on the road, grabbing a few rare moments of internet time, so I can’t do this outrage the justice it deserves. (And no, this is not some blanket endorsement of every position or personal association ever taken or made by Desmond Tutu.) But his shunning of Blair and his call for the instigators of the invasion of Iraq – an atrocity which dwarfs the suffering Saddam inflicted on the people there – are examples that should be emulated by everyone in public life. We can only hope it catches on.
UPDATE: George Monbiot has more on Tutu's humanitarian intervention in the Tony Blair war crimes case. From the Guardian:
When Desmond Tutu wrote that Tony Blair should be treading the path to The Hague, he de-normalised what Blair has done. Tutu broke the protocol of power – the implicit accord between those who flit from one grand meeting to another – and named his crime. I expect that Blair will never recover from it.
The offence is known by two names in international law: the crime of aggression and a crime against peace. It is defined by the Nuremberg principles as the "planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression". This means a war fought for a purpose other than self-defence: in other words outwith articles 33 and 51 of the UN Charter.
That the invasion of Iraq falls into this category looks indisputable. Blair's cabinet ministers knew it, and told him so. His attorney general warned that there were just three ways in which it could be legally justified: "self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UN security council authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case." Blair tried and failed to obtain the third.
His foreign secretary, Jack Straw, told Blair that for the war to be legal, "i) there must be an armed attack upon a state or such an attack must be imminent; ii) the use of force must be necessary and other means to reverse/avert the attack must be unavailable; iii) the acts in self-defence must be proportionate and strictly confined to the object of stopping the attack." None of these conditions were met. The Cabinet Office told him: "A legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to law officers' advice, none currently exists."
Without legal justification, the attack on Iraq was an act of mass murder. It caused the deaths of between 100,000 and a million people, and ranks among the greatest crimes the world has ever seen. That Blair and his ministers still saunter among us, gathering money wherever they go, is a withering indictment of a one-sided system of international justice: a system whose hypocrisies Tutu has exposed.
…But while the case against Blair is strong, the means are weak. Twenty-nine people have been indicted in the international criminal court, and all of them are African. (Suspects in the Balkans have been indicted by a different tribunal). There's a reason for this. Until 2018 at the earliest, the court can prosecute crimes committed during the course of an illegal war, but not the crime of launching that war.
Should we be surprised? Though the Nuremberg tribunal described aggression as "the supreme international crime", several powerful states guiltily resisted its adoption. At length, in 2010, they agreed that the court would have jurisdiction over aggression, but not until 2018 or thereafter. Though the offence has been recognised in international law for 67 years, the international criminal court (unlike the Rwanda and Yugoslavia tribunals, which hear cases from before they were established) will be able to try only crimes of aggression committed beyond that date.
The other possibility is a prosecution in one of the states (there are at least 25) which have incorporated the crime of aggression into their own laws. Perhaps Blair's lawyers are now working through the list and cancelling a few speaking gigs.
That the prospect of prosecution currently looks remote makes it all the more important that the crime is not forgotten. To this end, in 2010 I set up a bounty fund – www.arrestblair.org – to promote peaceful citizens' arrests of the former prime minister. … Our aim is the same as Tutu's: to de-normalise an act of mass murder, to keep it in the public mind and to maintain the pressure for a prosecution.
That looked, until this weekend, like an almost impossible prospect. But when the masonry begins to crack, impossible hopes can become first plausible, then inexorable. Blair will now find himself shut out of places where he was once welcome. One day he may find himself shut in.
Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 31 August 2012 03:31
On Thursday, with media attention focused on the gooberish plutocrat accepting the nomination of one faction of our single ruling party -- the bipartisan Imperial Bloc -- the leader of the other faction took the opportunity to bury a few more cases of state murder.
There could hardly be a better example of how the American system rolls in our enlightened, ultramodern 21st century: garish, empty pantomimes of politics coupled with the ruthless, lawless, brutal exercise of imperial power -- with no accountability, no responsibility, no consequences for the crimes and depravities committed by the elites and their agents and sycophants.
We refer of course to this story in the New York Times:"No Charges Filed on Harsh Tactics Used by the C.I.A." There is little need for further commentary on the story; it speaks for itself -- including the headline, which illustrates, once again, the establishment media's pathological refusal to name the systematic beating, freezing and murder of captives: torture. (Try to imagine what word the NYT would use if, say, the members of Pussy Riot had "died ... after being shackled to a concrete wall in a near-freezing temperatures at a secret [Russian] prison." Would they call that "harsh tactics"? Or if a Syrian prisoner "died in [state] custody in a [regime] prison...where his corpse was photographed packed in ice and wrapped in plastic." Would they call that "harsh tactics"? Would that be referred to as "strenuous interrogation" by the New York Times?)
But I digress. To be fair, the story tells the basic facts straightforwardly enough. The Obama Administration announced on Thursday that it would not prosecute anyone -- no one at all -- for the murder of two prisoners in American's Terror War gulags several years ago. As the story notes, this move "eliminat[es] the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations carried out by the CIA" under the Bush Administration. Considering that dozens of detainees -- if not many more -- have been killed in detention over the course of the Terror War, this is a remarkable feat of erasure. Killing after killing after killing after killing -- and not a single killer prosecuted by the "Justice" Department of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
No, wait: we do the Peace Prize Laureate wrong in the above claim. The state-ordered, state-approved, state-protected murder and beating and freezing and slamming and stripping and ice-packing and plastic-wrapping of prisoners (many of them innocent people rounded up randomly or kidnapped or sold into captivity by criminals) has in fact produced one prosecution by the Laureate, as the NYT notes.
While no one has been prosecuted for the harsh interrogations, a former C.I.A. officer who helped hunt members of Al Qaeda in Pakistan and later spoke publicly about waterboarding, John C. Kiriakou, is awaiting trial on criminal charges that he disclosed to journalists the identity of other C.I.A. officers who participated in the interrogations.
There, see! The one CIA agent who revealed the names of people who tortured captives is being prosecuted with the full force of the law, with all the righteousness and moral fervor that we would expect from a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate! There's something that any progressive can point to with pride when he or she works the phone banks and doorsteps for Obama, telling people to support the president and save us from the militarist nutballs and enemies of the truth in the Republican Party.
And yes, of course, the faction of the Imperial Bloc that just nominated Mitt Romney is a pack of militarist nutballs and enemies of the truth. But so is the other faction, which protects torturers, murderers people whose names they don't even know based on arbitrarily chosen "life-pattern" details gleaned by robots in the sky, launches secret wars, foments coups, runs "black ops" in dozens of countries all over the world, killing hundreds of innocent people each year, plunging whole countries into chaos and ruin with its 'terror war' and 'drug war' and 'economic war' agendas -- and ferociously prosecutes anyone who tries to smuggle out a few crumbs of truth about the abominable atrocities and self-destructive follies being carried out daily by a berserk militarist system which has no goal other than its own self-perpetuation and the forced domination of others.
And this will go on and on regardless of which faction of the Imperial Bloc wins in November. Yes, there are differences between the factions. The Republicans and Tea Partiers and Koch-heads are more openly racist, are more proud of their willful ignorance, and hate more of their fellow citizens than the Democrats seem to. (Although actually killing innocent Muslims, including many children, all over the world on a regular basis as the Democrats are doing might possibly be construed as being even more racist than, say, protesting the construction of a mosque somewhere. And the persistent belief that maintaining an all-devouring, treasury-bankrupting, globe-spanning military machine that kills people across the earth is a sensible policy that will produce peace and prosperity could be construed by some as willful ignorance on a Todd Akin-like level.)
But the fact is we have only one party, the Imperial Bloc. You may find one faction more distasteful than the other, but both fully support the moral insanity of the militarism outlined above. Whichever faction wins, more people will die horrible deaths -- and no one will answer for it, no one will be prosecuted. And the firestorm of hatred and blowback that both factions of the Imperial Bloc keeps stoking against our country will continue to build. So be clear: if you vote for one of these factions, that is what you are supporting. Perhaps you may feel that such a dreadful moral compromise is necessary; that's your choice. But if so, you should know -- and feel -- just what that choice means.
Written by Chris Floyd
Saturday, 18 August 2012 22:59
Going away for awhile. I'll be back when I am back, if I get back. In the meantime, here are a few essais, new and old, addressing issues of import for the elucidation of anyone who cares to peruse them, concerning:
implications of the Socratic dictum of self-knowledge;
the complex interactions of biological drives, social cohesion and individual psychology;
a full-blown political platform for the betterment of humanity;
the long-term implications of militarist foreign policy;
relevant historical perspectives on sociopolitical dynamics;
suggested methods for dealing with the burden of state tyranny;
and the indelible, abiding traces of meaning left behind by transitory, kairotic moments of freedom…
A couple of housekeeping notes: While I'm gone, it's possible that a few comments won't get through, because some of them, for various technical (not ideological) reasons, have to be approved 'by hand' before going live. So if you post a comment and it doesn't appear, don't be offended; it's nothing personal, and it will get there eventually. As I've explained in the past, this is due to the fact that the website has been severely hacked and damaged several times, often through hackers exploiting openings in the comments section. So the process we have now is somewhat cumbersome, but more secure.
Second, the front page of the website sometimes has a 'run-over' problem, with the text of posts spilling over into the side column. Again, this is something that has to be fixed by hand, and my hands will be elsewhere for a time. So if this happens while I'm gone, my apologies. I think if you click on an individual post, it opens into a more readable window.
Oh yes: don't forget to feed the chickens and slop the hogs while I'm gone. Thanks.
Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 16 August 2012 15:48
It is apparent that the nation of Ecuador will now be in the frame for what American foreign policy elites like to call, in their dainty and delicate language, "the path of action." Ecuador granted political asylum to Julian Assange on Thursday for one reason only: the very real possibility that he would be "rendered" to the United States for condign punishment, including the possibility of execution.
None of the freedom-loving democracies involved in the negotiations over his fate -- Britain, Sweden, and the United States -- could guarantee that this would not happen … even though Assange has not been charged with any crime under U.S. law. [And even though the sexual misconduct allegations he faces in Sweden would not be crimes under U.S. or UK law.] Under these circumstances -- and after a sudden, blustering threat from Britain to violate the Ecuadorean embassy and seize Assange anyway -- the government of Ecuador felt it had no choice but to grant his asylum request.
As we all know, some of America's top political figures have openly called for Assange to be put to death for the crime of -- well, what was his crime, exactly, in American eyes? His crime is this: he published information leaked to him by a whistleblower -- exactly as the New York Times, the Washington Post, CBS, NBC, Fox News, etc., etc., do on a regular basis. Some American leaders and media blowhards have demanded he be executed for "treason," although, as an Australian citizen, he cannot commit treason against the United States. Others say his leaking of classified documents (none of them remotely as sensitive as, say, the much-celebrated Pentagon Papers from the Vietnam Era) has put "American soldiers in danger" -- even though America's own military and intelligence officials have repeatedly stated that no one has been harmed from the publication of documents on Wikileaks.
No one has been physically harmed, that is. Of course, great harm has been done to the pride of the puffed--up poltroons who strut and preen atop the imperial battlements, thinking themselves the lords of all the earth and the apple of every little peon's eye. Their crimes and lies and third-rate minds were exposed -- in their own words -- by Wikileaks: and it is for this that Assange must pay. (And be made an example of to all those who might do likewise.) Our imperial elites (and their innumerable little yapping media sycophants on both sides of the political fence) simply cannot bear to have American power and domination resisted in any way, at any time, for any reason, anywhere, by anyone. It offends their imperial dignity. It undermines their extremely fragile, frightened, frantic egos, which can only be held together by melding themselves to an image of monstrous, implacable, unstoppable power.
It also -- and by no means incidentally -- threatens to put a slight crimp in their bottom line, for the American system is now thoroughly militarized; the elite depend, absolutely, on war, death, terror and fear to sustain their economic dominance. As the empire's chief sycophant, Thomas Friedman, once put it: "The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps." You really can't put it any plainer than that. The only path to prosperity is through domination by armed force. Others must die, must suffer, must quake in fear, to preserve our comfort. This is Modern American Militarism in a nutshell: the ruling ideology and national religion of American society today.
Anything or anyone who threatens this dominance -- or just disagrees with it, or simply wants to be left alone by it -- is automatically judged an enemy of the imperial state. You must accept the system. You must get with the program. You cannot question it. The beliefs or religion or ideology of the resister (or perceived resister) do not matter in the slightest. Even the impact (or lack of impact) of the resistance doesn't matter. It is resistance that it is the crime. It is the refusal to acknowledge the greatness and goodness of the strutters on the battlements, and the legitimacy of their armed domination over the earth, and over you.
It is not enough that you obey; you must be seen to obey. You must obey cheerfully, without complaint -- just ask any of thousands and thousands of your fellow citizens who have been tasered or beaten or arrested for failing to show due deference to a police officer or security guard or any of the many other heavily armed figures out there who can stop us, hold us, put us away -- or put us down -- on the merest whim.
Although Britain is acting as the beard in this case, the government of the Nobel Peace Laureate is clearly driving the action. It is simply inconceivable that Washington will not find ways to punish Ecuador for this act of lèse–majesté. What form it will take remains to be seen (although it could begin with covert backing for Britain's violation of the Ecuadorean embassy in London). But the fragile, frantic strutters will not let this pass.
UPDATE: Just to make it clear, sexual assault is a very serious matter. To say that the accusations now being made against Assange would not constitute a crime under U.S. or UK law is not to diminish the right of all women to be free from sexual assault in any form.
But these concerns have nothing to do with what is being played out in London right now. Assange has not actually been criminally charged with sexual assault, although this claim is repeated unceasingly in stories about the situation. [Including my post above, when I carelessly wrote "charges" in place of "allegations"; now corrected.] He is wanted for questioning in a case involving such allegations; a case which was at first dismissed by a prosecutor then reopened later by a different prosecutor. This prosecutor did not charge Assange with a crime, but wanted to question him further in the process of re-examining whether formal charges are warranted.
Now here is one of the many bizarre turns in this story. Assange was in the UK after the case was re-opened. If the prosecutors wanted to question him, they could have done so at any time, either by coming to London or interviewing him via video hookup. There are ample precedents in European and Swedish law for either course. They refused to do so. (They have also refused Ecuador's offer to have Assange interrogated in their London embassy.) Assange has also said he would return to Sweden for questioning if the government there would guarantee he would not be extradited to the United States. This was also refused.
Given the fact that Swedish prosecutors have repeatedly turned down opportunities to question Assange about the case -- even though they say this is their sole aim -- it is not entirely unreasonable to assume, as Assange has done, that there is some other intention behind the process that has led to the standoff we see today. If the primary concern was justice for the two women involved in the allegations, who have had the case hanging over their heads for almost two years, Assange could have been questioned by Swedish authorities at any time during that period, and the process of resolving the case, one way or another, could have moved forward. But this has not been done.
As Assange's lawyer, Per Samuelson, notes:
In August 2010, Assange was interviewed by the police for the first time, then released. A month later, the prosecutor requested an additional police interrogation be held, insisting this time that it be done with Assange behind bars. She called for Assange's arrest, issued a European arrest warrant and ordered that he be deported from the UK. Stockholm district court and the Svea court of appeal upheld her request and arrested Assange in absentia.
Neither Assange nor I can understand the motivation. Why couldn't the second police interview be conducted with Assange at liberty? Assange is not a Swedish citizen. He does not reside in Sweden. His work has worldwide impact and he must be able to travel freely to accomplish this. He would happily have presented himself for interrogation and, had the case gone to trial, willingly returned to Sweden to face charges. All this could have been done while he remained at liberty. Had Sweden handled the case in this way, the issue would have been resolved a long time ago.
Instead, Sweden insists on Assange's forcible removal to Sweden. Once there, he will immediately be seized by police and put in jail. He will be taken to the detention hearing in handcuffs, and will almost certainly be detained. He will remain in custody for the duration of the proceedings. This is unnecessary. The prosecutor is at liberty to withdraw the arrest warrant and lift the detention order, and a hearing in Sweden could be arranged very quickly. The prosecutor could also arrange a hearing in the UK or at the Swedish embassy in London.
Again, it seems evident that the Swedish authorities did not want to pursue any of these options, but have instead sought relentlessly to put Assange in a Swedish jail and keep him there. Whatever their motives for this heavy-handed course of action, concern for victims of sexual assault does not seem to be among them.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 07 August 2012 01:38
Over the decades, Robert Parry has done yeoman service in exposing the vast criminality of the American state. From the foul bloodwork of American power in Central America to the treasonous machinations of the Iran-Contra scheme to the long, corrupt, murderous history of the Bush crime family, Parry has broken many important stories and brought much "lost history" -- the title of his best book -- to light. I have drawn on his work frequently, and learned a great deal from it.
Therefore it is extremely dispiriting to read his recent bitter blasts (here and here) at any and all of those "on the left" who might even contemplate refusing to support Barack Obama for re-election. Such people, he tells us, are vain, preening perfectionists who care more for their own self-righteousness than the fate of the world. Indeed, "leftists" who have refused to support the Democratic candidate -- no matter who he is, no matter what he has done -- are complicit, we’re told, in all the atrocities perpetrated by Republican presidents since 1968.
(Apparently, no Democratic president has ever perpetrated any atrocities; they are just "imperfect" politicians who might sometimes "do some rotten things" but always "fewer rotten things than the other guy.")
Parry believes he is preaching a tough, gritty doctrine of "moral ambiguity." What he is in fact advocating is the bleakest moral nihilism. To Parry, the structure of American power -- the corrupt, corporatized, militarized system built and sustained by both major parties -- cannot be challenged. Not even passively, not even internally, for Parry scorns those who simply refuse to vote almost as harshly as those who commit the unpardonable sin: voting for a third party. No, if you do not take an active role in supporting this brutal engine of war and injustice by voting for a Democrat, then it is you who are immoral.
You must support this system. It is the only moral choice. What’s more, to be truly moral, to acquit yourself of the charge of vanity and frivolity, to escape complicity in government crimes, you must support the Democrat. If the Democratic president orders the "extrajudicial" murder of American citizens, you must support him. If he chairs death squad meetings in the White House every week, checking off names of men to be murdered without charge or trial, you must support him. If he commits mass murder with robot drones on defenseless villages around the world, you must support him. If he imprisons and prosecutes whistleblowers and investigative journalists more than any other president in history, you must support him. If he cages and abuses and tortures a young soldier who sought only to stop atrocities and save the nation’s honor, you must support him. If he "surges" a pointless war of aggression and occupation in a ravaged land and expands that war into the territory of a supposed ally, you must support him. If he sends troops and special ops and drones and assassins into country after country, fomenting wars, bankrolling militias, and engineering coups, you must support him. If he throws open the nation's coastal waters to rampant drilling by the profiteers who are devouring and despoiling the earth, you must support him. If he declares his eagerness to do what no Republican president has ever dared to do -- slash Social Security and Medicare -- you must support him.
For Robert Parry, blinded by the red mist of partisanship, there is literally nothing -- nothing -- that a Democratic candidate can do to forfeit the support of "the left." He can even kill a 16-year-old American boy -- kill him, rip him to shreds with a missile fired by a coddled coward thousands of miles away -- and you must support him. And, again, if you do not support him, if you do not support all this, then you are the problem. You are enabling evil.
Given this wildly askew moral compass, what would Parry make of that great American refusenik, Henry David Thoreau, who went to jail rather than pay taxes to support a deadly militarist adventure in Mexico and the government-sanctioned system of slavery, and whose thoughts on civil disobedience and disengagement with evil inspired Tolstoy and Gandhi? Thoreau said: “How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.”
What would Parry say to that? “Enough of your vain moral posturing, Thoreau. Forget the Mexican War; get out there and support James K. Polk. He’s a Democrat, for god’s sake! Do you want someone worse to get in there? It’s a disgrace not to associate yourself with this government!”
Parry’s “logic” is breathtakingly, heartbreakingly faulty. Perhaps that’s not surprising; after all, partisanship is the sworn enemy of logic, of objective reasoning, of clear thinking. But what is surprising, given Parry’s decades of deep-delving in the mines of politics and history, is how wrong he is on the “savvy” realpolitik he espouses, and his wanton misreading of history.
Parry rails against the “left” for not giving enough support to the Democrats in elections of 1968, 1980 and 2000. If these fastidious perfectionists hadn’t tried to “punish” the “imperfect” Democratic candidates in the those crucial years, the nation and the world would have been spared much suffering, we are told.
Well, maybe so, maybe not. This kind of ahistorical speculation is pointless in the extreme. If Hitler had been run over by a Vienna streetcar in 1919, then perhaps the world would have been a better place; or perhaps someone even worse would have come along. You can’t unring the bell of historical events – or tell what other tunes might have chimed in their place.
But even on a surface level, Parry’s analysis fails. He seems to think that the “left’s” desertion of the Democrats in 1968 gave the presidency to Richard Nixon and prolonged the Vietnam War. It was not the “left” that abandoned the Democrats that year; it was the millions of ordinary Americans who had only four years before given Lyndon Johnson the biggest electoral mandate in history up to that time. If every leftist in the country had stayed home (and of course the overwhelming majority of them did not, and almost all of them voted for Hubert H. Humphrey), the Democrats still would have lost. Parry, astonishingly, forgets the presence of George Wallace in the race (and race is the operative word here). Wallace’s pro-segregation campaign took five states from the Democrats’ formerly “solid South” and won 10 million votes, almost all of them from Democratic constituencies. Even if every “leftist” had been burning with fervor for HHH, no Democrat could have survived such a blow to the party’s base.
What’s more, the real abandonment of the party that year came not from disaffected leftists, but from the Democrat’s own leader: LBJ, who simply dumped the party, and the presidency, out of hurt feelings at being challenged in the primaries. He didn’t stand up and fight for his social programs and Civil Rights measures, he didn’t end the war (which Parry tells us he was “seriously” contemplating – and which he could have done with a snap of his fingers). Nor did he give more than the most tepid support to Humphrey until the very end of the campaign, when he knew it was too late. He just quit and walked away, with the nation reeling in turmoil from the war he had escalated, and from the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. If any one person could be said to have given us Richard Nixon, it was LBJ.
Parry also seems to think that if Jimmy Carter had not been “abandoned” by “leftists" in 1980, in his second term he would have not kept supporting the Afghan religious extremists he himself had loosed on the Soviets (to the world’s everlasting betterment, as we see each day around us). Or that Carter would not have continued supporting murderous Latin American dictatorships and surrogate wars in Africa as he had done throughout his term. Or that he wouldn’t have continued the massive arms build-up he had launched, or continued saber-rattling at the Soviets, or proclaiming the American right to launch pre-emptive war if anyone threatened the vicious tyrants in the Middle East who supplied us with oil. And so on and on. (For more, see here.)
But neither was Carter abandoned by ‘leftists’ to any significant degree. He too lost the votes of millions of ordinary Americans who had supported him four years previously. The third-party “spoiler,” Republican-turned-Independent John Anderson, ended up with less than 7 percent of the vote, with polls showing his meager numbers of supporters split equally between Democrats and Republicans. Carter lost primarily because of a poor economy (not helped by his avowedly conservative economic policies), his own tepid ineptitude, and because of the Iran hostage crisis -- which occurred after his boneheaded mismanagement of the American reaction to the Iranian revolution, including his decision to allow the ousted Shah into the United States, and other measures which aided the revolution’s most radical elements and undercut the secular moderates at every turn. (A practice that has been faithfully followed by every American president since.)
As for 2000, Gore actually won that election, of course, which moots Parry’s point about leftist lethargy robbing worthy Dems of the big brass ring. Of course, the corrupt system that Parry urges us to preserve by continuing to legitimize its perpetrators with our votes did take the presidency away from Gore – or rather, Gore meekly allowed them to take it without pursuing the constitutional challenge he could have made in Congress. And even though my family’s tenuous connection to Gore goes back a long way – I first met him when my father introduced the young Congressional candidate around our town during his first run for elective office, and my cousin once worked as his press aide – I have to say that Gore, as Bill Clinton’s very active vice president, had his hand in a number of activities that might conceivably make even the most acquiescent “leftist” hesitate just a teeny bit. But let’s let his distant cousin, Gore Vidal, tell it (from The Last Empire: Essays 1992-2001):
“In order to be re-elected in 1996, the Clinton-Gore administration adopted a series of right-wing Republican, even protofascist, programs, with lots more prisons, death penalties, harassment of the poor, cries of terrorism, and implicitly, control by government over the citizenry.”
Gore’s tenure at the top also saw the stripping of the financial controls on high finance – a surrender of Democratic (not to mention democratic) principles that ushered in the casino royale that led to the current – and increasingly permanent – economic crisis. And there was also the little matter of the deaths of at least 500,000 children from the US-UK sanctions on Iraq. (And half a million – a vast mountain of child corpses – is just what the Clinton-Gore administration were happy to admit to on national television, to show how tough and savvy they were. The real figure is certainly much higher.)
Would Gore, who didn’t flinch at amassing that mountain of corpses, have launched a war against Iraq, as Bush – who, again, was given the presidency not by “leftists” but by a corrupt Supreme Court rife with partisan (and financial) conflicts of interest – did? Who knows? But we do know that it was the Clinton-Gore administration that signed bills formally committing the United States to “regime change” in Iraq. And Gore did pick the fanatical neo-con warmonger Joe Lieberman as his VP nominee. Gore had always aligned himself with the “Scoop Jackson” militarist wing of the party, unlike this father, Sen. Albert Gore Sr., who sacrificed his political career by publicly opposing the Vietnam War. Vidal again:
Alone, I believe, among the usually war-minded Southern legislators, Albert Sr. spoke out against the long idiocy of the Vietnam War. Essentially, populists don’t like foreign wars, particularly in lands that they know nothing of and for no demonstrable goals. For exercising good judgment, Albert Sr. was defeated in 1970 by an opponent who used the familiar line that he was ‘out of touch with the voters of Tennessee. If this was true, the voters, supremely misled by three administrations, were seriously out of touch with reality. ….
The classic Gores are against foreign military adventures. It was here that Al Jr. broke with tradition when he was one of only ten Democratic senators to support George [H.W.] Bush’s Persian Gulf caper [in 1991]; before that, he had approved Reagan’s Grenada invasion and Libyan strikes.
Gore also went to the Vietnam War his father had opposed – albeit just for a short resume-building, non-combat tour as a military journalist.
None of this is to exonerate the Republicans of the monstrous crimes they have most assuredly committed –and/or continued – during their turns at the top of the bipartisan helter-skelter. It is simply to note what the historical record clearly shows: first, that lack of ‘leftist’ support did not cost the Democrats the presidency in any of these years. And second, that the Democrats’ own crimes and atrocities and follies are part and parcel of a system of corporatist/militarist rule that has become so abominable that no one can without disgrace be associated with it. To see this clearly and say it plainly is not “vanity” or “perfectionism.” It is reality. And to deny this, distort it, and denounce those who no longer wish to legitimize it with their votes is not a courageous grappling with “moral ambiguity;” it is a self-infliction of moral blindness.
And I think this is Parry’s main problem: he still doesn’t see – or can’t quite believe – what is going on right in front of his eyes. He thinks we have some kind of normal politics in some kind of normal nation. He can’t seem to grasp that a bipartisan system that has wrought the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children and a million more Iraqis in a war of aggression; that has killed countless thousands of Afghans in a pointless, atrocity-ridden, deeply corrupt occupation; that operates a global death squad – out of the White House, directed by the president himself; that kidnaps and tortures innocent people and then protects the torturers; that prosecutes truth-tellers and investigative reporters – like Robert Parry – who expose state crimes; that gorges its wealthy, greedy, above-the-law elites with tax cuts and bailouts and war profits and privileges without end while sharpening its bipartisan knives to gut the last, frayed remnants of the social safety net, is a system that has gone far beyond “moral ambiguity” and “imperfection” and “lesser evilism.” It is itself a product and producer of evil.
Parry says there are no viable alternative parties to this double-headed beast. And he is right. He says there are no popular movements out there right now “that can significantly alter government policies strictly through civil disobedience or via protests in the streets.” And he is right. Therefore what is left to us, at the present moment, in this election, but the power of refusal? (Whether this is exercised by “throwing your vote away” on a third party or absenting yourself entirely from the legitimization and normalization of imperial monstrosity.) Where is the dishonor, the vanity in such a stance, in refusing to accept and affirm mass murder, repression, corruption and injustice in an implacable system that offers no other choices?
Would Parry have told Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or Boris Pasternak or Josef Brodsky or other Soviet dissidents that they should not have disassociated themselves from the implacable system they confronted? “You should join the Party, Aleksandr, you must work within the system. That’s the only way we’ll see real change.” Perhaps Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst of the White Rose should have stifled their concerns about the “imperfections” of the German government and sought the path of “lesser evilism” instead, working to advance, say, Albert Speer or Herman Goring or some other figure who might have “done some rotten things” but “fewer rotten things than the other guy.”
Yes, I know the United States in 2012 is not the USSR or Hitler’s Germany. And Parry would doubtless say, “Of course they were right to disassociate themselves from such monstrous systems.” But where do you draw the line? How much evil is acceptable? Is there a certain number of victims that a system must reach before one is allowed to disengage from it honorably and morally? To murder six million in death camps or millions in purges is obviously unacceptable; but to kill 500,000 children – is that OK? A million innocent people in a war of aggression – is that beyond the pale? Or can you work with that, can you accommodate that, should you swallow these mountains of dead, washing them down with a big swig of moral ambiguity?
Romney might well prove to be a “worse” president than Obama. (Although Parry does not address the realpolitik argument that a Romney victory would likely wake the ‘left’ from its slumber and cause it to oppose heinous crimes and vicious policies – aggressive war, murder programs, safety net slashing – that it is now happily supporting because a Democrat is doing them.) But that is not the issue. The issue is whether or not one gives legitimacy and justification to a brutal and unjust system by actively supporting and empowering it – and thus perpetuating its bipartisan evils far into the future.
Robert Parry says we should do this. He says: if you don’t support one murderer, the other murderer (or rather, would-be murderer, since Obama has actually directed death squads and drone attacks that have killed hundreds of innocent people, including American children, while Romney is still just hoping to do so) might be worse. To choose one murderer over another murderer is the only moral choice open to us, Parry says. To refuse to cooperate with evil – as Tolstoy did, as Solzhenitsyn did, as Sophie Scholl, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King did – is pointless, perfectionist, vain. That’s what Robert Parry evidently believes.
But with all due respect to Parry and his valuable body of work, I disagree. On this, I will take my stand with Thoreau. I refuse to give this evil my assent.
Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 03 August 2012 12:52
A passage from my piece on Gore Vidal yesterday ("As with Tolstoy, Vidal's fiction -- the insight that it showed into the complexities of human nature and human society, and the accomplishment and subtlety with which this was put across -- deepened and enriched his political and literary essays, gave them more credibility") brought this response from a reader:
The comparison with Tolstoy fails completely, to the detriment of Gore Vidal. In his thought Tolstoy was a religious crank who thought in crude black and white. None of the genius he brought to his fiction carried across to his later religious and moralistic writings.
The plain fact is, having read both some of Gore Vidal's fiction and heard him speak on video etc, he is more consistent than Tolstoy and thus immeasurably superior.
To which, this brief reply:
Opinions on these matters are all subjective, of course; one man's "crank" (an epithet applied not infrequently to Vidal himself by those eager to dismiss his discomforting views) is another man's exemplar. But, with respect, I must say I find it hard to believe that you have actually read any of Tolstoy's non-fiction writings on politics and power and war (as opposed to any of the "religious crankery" you might have run across.) And I seriously doubt that Vidal would have shared your opinion of these anti-war, anti-elite, anti-establishment pieces. (Such as those collected in Letters From Tula, for example.)
Certainly Vidal would have found much of Tolstoy's religious writings to be risible -- though I doubt he would have found them 'crude,' as he would have recognized the complex learning that lay behind them, and their logical, iconoclastic rigour (while, again, rejecting their religious premises). But beyond Tolstoy's typically 19th century hang-ups about sex, his "religious crankery" focused mainly on ending war, ending coercion and corruption by powerful elites and institutions (including all religions), and establishing social, political and economic justice. There's very little there that Vidal would have found entirely uncongenial, I think.
He might also have delighted in the fact that Tolstoy's religious beliefs shook one of the world's most powerful and repressive religious institutions -- the Russian Orthodox Church -- to its foundations, and led multitudes of people out of its stultifying grip. At the core of Tolstoy's beliefs was a fierce commitment to intellectual liberty, to freedom of thought and conscience, even for those who disagreed with whatever particular notion he happened to hold at any particular time.
And I imagine Vidal might well have enjoyed Tolstoy's "inconsistency" -- especially the randy Russian's inability to quell his rampant sexuality. After all, 'consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds,' and Vidal probably would have admired the restlessness of Tolstoy's rather large mind, as it groped through the darkness that surrounds us all, chasing flickers of light here and there, never quite satisfied with any final conclusion, but pushed always by doubt, by inner turmoil, and by the desire to know more.
No one would argue that Tolstoy's non-fiction has the power and genius of his greatest novels and stories. That was my point: that the true greatness of both writers lay in their artistic achievement, which lent greater depth and credibility to their non-fiction -- whether or not one agrees with every single judgment or opinion they rendered.
Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 01 August 2012 23:37
If the Republic still existed, if it was even a shadow of what it was meant to be (and never was), then bells would tolling across the land and flags would be flying at half-mast, in sorrowful honor for one of its true sons. Gore Vidal is dead.
The loss is great. His was a unique sensibility: artistic, caustic, unsentimental, casting a Yeatsian cold eye on the human comedy, and in this way -- with no false pieties, no dogma, no ideological crutches -- revealing, with inescapable clarity, the rank injustices and murderous hypocrisies of power, and the ludicrous pretenses of power's sycophants.
It was the artist in Vidal -- largely overlooked, especially now, in death, as pages and pixels fill up with quick ricochets of his Wildean bon mots and Twitter-ready soundbites -- that gave his work a special force. As with Tolstoy, Vidal's fiction -- the insight that it showed into the complexities of human nature and human society, and the accomplishment and subtlety with which this was put across -- deepened and enriched his political and literary essays, gave them more credibility. And as with Tolstoy, you might not agree with every conclusion (although in matters of politics, society and culture, I very rarely disagreed with Vidal), but the art showed a mind, a spirit, that deserved to be taken seriously.
Vidal obviously relished his outsized, gadfly role in American politics and media: his self-appointed (and entirely credible) persona as the Alternative President to whatever poltroon happened to be occupying the White House at any given moment -- even down to the issuing of his own "State of the Union" essays from time to time, always devastating in their corrosive wit and blistering truths about American society. The vast body of his non-fiction is captured best in the massive 1992 compendium, United States: 1,271 pages long -- and not a boring passage in the entire book. (This is in itself a near-miraculous achievement of the art of prose; even Montaigne nods, but not Vidal.) Its three sections -- State of the Art, State of the Union, and State of Being -- comprise a kind of marvelous postgraduate education in life and learning -- worth more, and far more useful, than a PhD from Harvard or an Oxford PPE.
It is here we see not only Vidal the thinker and media figure, but Vidal the man: steeped in history -- like few others of his time and almost no one of our day -- yet also riding on the sharp, cool edge of modernity as it sliced its way through the 20th century. He seemed to radiate a sense of liberation, in many forms: political, sexual, cultural. He was also a consummate detector of bullshit, and a ruthless dismantler of its celebrated dispensers. (His evisceration of John Updike -- "Rabbit's Own Burrow" -- is a splenetic wonder, on a par with Mark Twain's takedown of Fennimore Cooper or Robert Graves' demolition of Ezra Pound, leaving the reader incapable of taking the victim seriously again.)
But again, I come back to the fiction. I think this is where Vidal's true greatness lies. Perhaps so much in the "experimental" novels, the surreal affairs like Myra Breckenridge, Duluth, and Live From Golgotha. As enjoyable and insightful as these are, they seem to me more like extensions of his political writings: send-ups, or mash-ups, of American society, in broad strokes, a species of commentary. Of course, this might just be a matter of personal taste. But for me, his accomplishment reaches its height in several of his other novels, most of them in historical settings, which are brought to uncanny life through the sharply-realized consciousness of individual human beings. Though the novels are set in the past, these characters are always in their present, in the eternal now where we all live, making our way through the chaos of the moment to the forever-unknowable future.
Lincoln is generally considered the best of the novels, with good reason. It is a remarkably effective -- and remarkably subtle -- example of the "polyphonic novel," as pioneered by Dostoevsky and championed by Bakhtin. Through a kaleidoscope of consciousnesses, Vidal reanimates the crucible of the American experience -- the Civil War -- and the man whom Vidal called our "most mysterious of presidents." Lincoln was part of what Vidal came to see as a series of related novels, a family chronicle -- and a national epic of America's peculiar history: "Narratives of a Golden Age," beginning with the presidency of Thomas Jefferson and ending at the dawn of the 1960s (with an epilogue in the new millennium). While Lincoln may hold pride of place in the Narratives, several others in the series are also outstanding works, particularly Burr, 1876 and Empire. The Narratives caught a perfect pitch of the faint but persistent idealism -- the humanism -- wafting through the always-overpowering, and always-triumphant, corruptions of power in the miasmic swamps of Washington and beyond, as the Republic slouched bloodily toward its current monstrosity of empire.
But Vidal, of all people, was no American Exceptionalist, and neither was his best work confined to America's mores and madness. In fact, I believe that his finest novel, his finest work of art, was Julian: an astonishing recreation of the life and mind of the Classical world during its final, fatal flowering during the short reign of "Julian the Apostate," the Roman emperor who tried to reverse the Empire's conversion to Christianity, initiated a half-century earlier by Constantine I. The book is steeped in a rigorous historical learning that is worn so slightly, is so thoroughly worked into the very human story of a very human man, that it is scarcely noticeable at all. Julian's world simply lives, and the reader lives in it -- yet at the end, emerges with a new understanding of this absolutely crucial period of history.
In the same vein is Creation, which once again immerses us in the human realities of a crucial era in the life of humanity: the "Axial Age," which saw the rise and development of new religions and new thinking across the world, an era when Buddha, Socrates, Confucius, Jeremiah, Zoroaster, Lao Tzu, early Greek philosophers like Heraclitus and other pivotal figures were walking the earth and revolutionizing ancient structures of thought and belief. But again, the learning is carried lightly, in the ironic person of Cyrus Spitama, a witty, aging Persian diplomat in Athens whose main claim to fame is that he is Zoroaster's grandson. He narrates the tale of his long life -- his youth in the Persian court of Darius and Xerxes, his sojourns in India and China, and the machinations and corruptions of the rising Greek city-states.
This is not the time or place for an exhaustive look at Vidal's literary achievements. (For more on this theme, see Critical Malfunction: Misreading Gore Vidal.) But in the media onslaught of obituaries and appraisals, most of which seem, perhaps understandably, to focus on the gadfly persona noted above, I thought it was important to recall this vital element of Vidal's legacy: his fiction, which at its best has richly enhanced our awareness of what it is to be a living human being -- mortal, troubled, confused, alone -- caught up in the maelstrom of historical forces we can scarcely understand and cannot control.
It is no small thing to have left such a mark. It is a legacy well worth celebrating, and one that will outlast even the wittiest and most telling of his aperçus.
On a personal note, it would be hard for me to overestimate Vidal's influence on how I see the world, in so many different areas. His death is like losing a spiritual father. (If I can be forgiven for using such an outrageous term for a man so entirely worldly! ) His work schooled me and sharpened me and, in the words of Henry Miller (another writer he once wittily skewered, albeit with more affection than bile), "inoculated me with disillusionment" -- a task which Miller called the highest purpose of an artist. Vidal made me see the world -- and myself -- with new eyes, and taught me how to keep on seeing in this way: relentlessly, fearlessly, unsentimentally casting "a cold eye, on life, on death." I've fallen short of this teaching -- woefully, continually -- at nearly every turn, but it is still there, a lodestar in a night sky that is now a bit more lonely, more harrowing than it was.