Timeline/Stages for Collapse of our Way of Life
by Sarah Hawas on May 3, 2011
I heard about Osama Bin Laden’s death through a friend this morning. I dismissed the matter entirely and thought little of it at first: Bin Laden was old news, an alibi with no currency, a bad joke. Chances are, he was caught and killed years ago. What difference did it make? Really, none, I felt. I ran my errands, and sat down to study and write my papers. It was only when I switched on the television to check the news during lunch that I felt compelled to pay attention. Images from outside the White House beg comparison to nothing less than a fourth of July rally. The way Americans have been celebrating at Ground Zero, you would think they had just been through their own revolution. But indeed, between Clinton’s address and worldwide security alerts of anticipated retaliation by Al-Qaeda, the discourse has been less about celebrating the end of an era, and more about fortifying the War on Terror, expanding its scope and reach, increasing and exacerbating racialized securitization. The fight is not over, we hear, and US-led missions in a decapitated Afghanistan and impotent Pakistan only seem to be renewing their license to stay and continue their costly colonization and humiliation of these nations and their neighbors.
The idea of celebrating any death is repulsive. But perhaps, if anyone living today might venture even a sigh of relief at the capture (at least) of Osama Bin Laden (and the presumed symbolic defeat of Al Qaeda, whatever that might mean), it is the countless Muslims and Arabs that have, since 9/11, paid with their lives and dignity, directly and indirectly, for his atrocious acts in the name of countering imperialism and defending Islam. But if you don’t see us dancing in the streets today it is because Al-Qaeda is and has been beyond irrelevant for years. For the last decade, the US War on Terror has reproduced the Osama Bin Laden fiction, transforming him from a relic of Cold War alliances to a contemporary alibi for the brutal invasion and murderous missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Those of us that know history did not begin on September 11th have been resisting the abrasive, suffocating encroachment of imperialist and reactionary elements on our lives and identities, building up to the present moment of revolution: between Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and the rest of the region, Arabs, Muslim or otherwise, are fighting to end the age of US puppet regimes on their own terms. One cannot help but wonder what “victory” the United States can claim in the murder of Osama Bin Laden on Pakistani soil.
The victory, we are told, is in delivering justice. But what measure of justice, and for whom? The governments of this world – a global war-profiteering military-industrial complex spoken for by corporate media – have pulled the trigger on Osama Bin Laden in time to save Obama’s re-election campaign, and to mute the significance of May Day in a climate of increased precarity and dispossession. By funnelling the opium of patriotism (America’s exception to nationalism), Obama might well be preparing the American people for another decade of war, and is undoubtedly shooting the already paralyzed working and tax-paying American in the foot. Five months into a year that has thus far been marked by revolutionary winds, Americans that stood in solidarity with the Egyptian revolution and the ongoing Arab uprisings, many of the same people that were inspired by our movements and held signs saying “Walk Like an Egyptian” in Wisconsin, may now very well be celebrating at Ground Zero in a bizarre performance of patriotism, despite ten years that have left us with a crippled Iraq, a devastated Afghanistan, and the loss of millions of lives, including those of Americans.
In effect, this theatrical display does not pay tribute to the victims of 9/11 (may they rest in peace), nor does it give more meaning to the lives of dead soldiers or the victims of the American-led missions in the region. It is an ecstatic tribute to a death-machine in which the only winners have been a global capitalist elite: arms companies, security apparati, criminal (and in many cases, outgoing) authoritarian regimes, and the many corporations that thrive on disaster. Even more offensive in the Ground Zero party is the continued racialization of what constitutes a grievable human life, such that similar celebrations (by minorities) following 9/11 were seen as evidence of an innately violent culture of death, but popular celebrations of an empty assassination valorize a fictional “justice”. Osama Bin Laden is symbolic, but in effect what many Americans today seem to celebrate is a vicious cycle of violence, a historic tradition in which real or invented causes are allowed to take precedence over collective human dignity and the value of life.
To dance in celebration today is offensive first and foremost to the victims of the attacks on September 11th. They are palpably alone in singing the Star Spangled Banner and celebrating the murder of Osama Bin Laden, thoroughly alone, because no one in the world cares or even remembers. If these dancing Americans, however, were to transform their fear and fascination with violence into rage and courage to occupy the same streets in protest, against the ruling elite that has profited from the loss and grief of 9/11 and the wars that followed, and the undemocratic corporate interests running their lives, they might find the arms of other ordinary working people from around the world extended in solidarity.
When reading Sarah Hawas well measured response to the hypocrisy that has ensued at “Ground Zero”, I was suddenly struck by the power at which her article had been written, as though the voice of Harold Pinter were behind the words, even though he is no longer with us. I am beginning to feel not only vindicated with what knowledge I have gained these past years – of how viciously and manipulatively propogandised the public of America have become with their tenticular and all powerful media – but almost entirely empowered with the detail in confirming that I am not wrong with my opinion with what I see and what I hear. Sarah Hawas timely article is one more nail in the coffin of any more personal belief that anything good will come out of the next ten political years of the United States of America …
… and as a reminder of the late Harold Pinter : –
What We Think Of America (2002)
On September 10, 2001, I recieved an honourary degree at the University of Florence. I made a speech in which I referred to the term ‘humanitarian intervention’ – the term used by NATO to justify its bombing of Serbia in 1999
I said the following : On May 7, 1999 NATO aircraft bombed the marketplace of the southern city of Nis, killing thirty-three civillians and injuring many more. It was, according to NATO, a ‘mistake’.
The bombing of Nis was no ‘mistake’. General Wesley K. Clark declared, as the NATO bombing began: ‘We are going to systematically and progressively attack, disrupt, degrade, devastate and ultimately – unless President Milosovic complies with the demands of the international community – destroy these forces and their facilities and support.’ Milosovic’s ‘forces’, as we know, included television stations, schools, hospitals, theatres, old peoples homes – and the marketplace in Nis. It was in fact a fundemental feature of NATO policy to terrorize the civilian population.
The bombing of Nis, far from being a ‘mistake’, was in fact an act of murder. It stemmed from a ‘war’ which was in itself illegal, a bandit act, waged outside all recognised parameters of International Law, in defence of the United Nations, even contravening NATO’s own charter. But the actions taken, we are told, were taken in the persuance of a policy of ‘humanitarian intervention’ and civilian deaths were described as ‘collateral damage’.
‘Humanitarian intervention’ is a comparatively new concept. But President George W.Bush is also following in the great American presidential tradition by referring to ‘freedom-loving-people’ (I must say I would be fascinated to meet ‘freedom-hating-people’). President Bush possesses quite a few ‘freedom loving’ people himself – not only in his own Texas Prisons but throughout the whole of the United States, in what can accurately be described as a vast gulag – two million prisoners in fact – a remarkable proportion of them black. Rape of young prisoners, both male and female, is commonplace. So is the use of weapons of torture as defined by Amnesty International – stun guns, stun belts, restraint chairs. Prison is a great industry in the United States – just behind pornography when it comes to profits.
There have been and remain considerable sections of mankind for whom the mere articulation of the word ‘freedom’ has resulted in torture and death. I’m referring to the hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of people throughout Guatamala, El Salvador, Turkey, Israel, Haiti, Brasil, Greece, Uraguay, East Timor, Nicaragua, South Korea, Argentina, Chile, the Philipines and Indonesia, for example, killed in all cases by forces inspired and subsidized by the United States. Why did they die? They died because to one degree or another they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation and oppression which is their birthright. On behalf of the dead, we must regard the breathtaking discrepancy between US government language and US government action with the absolute contempt it merits.
The United States has in fact – since the end of the Second World War – persued a brilliant, even witty, strategy. It has exercised a sustained, systematic, remorseless and quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide, while masquerading as a force for universal good. But at least now – it can be said – the US has come out of its closet. The smile is still there of course (all US presidents have always had wonderful smiles) but the posture is infinitely more naked and more blatant than it has ever been. The Bush administration, as we all know, has rejected the Kyoto agreement, has refused to sign an agreement which would regulate the trade of small arms, has distanced itself from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and the Biological Weapons Convention. In relation to the latter the US made it quite clear that it would agree to the banning of biological weapons as long as there was no inspection of any biological weapons factory on American soil. The US has also refused to ratify the proposed International Criminal Court of Justice. It is bringing into operation the American Service Members Protection Act which will permit the authorization of military force to free any American soldier taken into International Criminal Court custody. In other words they really will ‘send in the Marines’.
Arrogant, indifferent, contemptable of International Law, both dismissive and manipulative of the United Nations: this is now the most dangerous power the world has ever known – the authentic ‘rogue state’, but a ‘rogue state’ of collosal military and economic might. And Europe – especially the United Kingdom – is both compliant and complicit, or as Cassius in Julius Caesar put it: ‘peep about to find ourselves dishonourable graves’.
There is, however, as we have seen, a profound revulsion and disgust with the manifestations of US power and global capitalism which is growing throughout the world and becoming a formidable force in its own right. I believe a central inspiration for this force has been the actions and indeed the philosophical stance of the Zapatistas in Mexico. The Zapatistas say (as I understand): ‘Do not try to define us. We define ourselves. We will not be what you want us to be. We will not accept the destiny you have chosen for us. We will not accept your terms. We will not abide by your rules. The only way you can elliminate us is to destroy us and you can not destroy us. We are free’.
These remarks seem to me even more valid now than when I made them on September 10. The ‘rogue state’ – without thought, without pause for reflection, without a moment of doubt, let alone shame – confirmed that it is a fully-fledged, award-winning, gold-plated monster. It has effectively declared war on the world. It knows only one language – bombs and death. ‘And still they smiled and still the horror grew.’
~ VF ~
I thought the Hawas article was powerfully written. It requires more than one read through to take it all in. I’m posting the following article just as a reminder to myself of the connection between the financial oligarchs and our Death Machine:
Americans are recognizing the link between the military-industrial complex and the Wall Street oligarchs—a connection that goes back to the beginning of the modern U.S. empire. Banks have always profited from war because the debt created by banks results in ongoing war profit for big finance; and because wars have been used to open countries to U.S. corporate and banking interests. Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan wrote: “the large banking interests were deeply interested in the world war because of the wide opportunities for large profits.”
Many historians now recognize that a hidden history for U.S. entry into World War I was to protect U.S. investors. U.S. commercial interests had invested heavily in European allies before the war: “By 1915, American neutrality was being criticized as bankers and merchants began to loan money and offer credits to the warring parties, although the Central Powers received far less. Between 1915 and April 1917, the Allies received 85 times the amount loaned to Germany.” The total dollars loaned to all Allied borrowers during this period was $2,581,300,000. The bankers saw that if Germany won, their loans to European allies would not be repaid. The leading U.S. banker of the era, J.P. Morgan and his associates did everything they could to push the United States into the war on the side of England and France. Morgan said: “We agreed that we should do all that was lawfully in our power to help the Allies win the war as soon as possible.” President Woodrow Wilson, who campaigned saying he would keep the United States out of war, seems to have entered the war to protect U.S. banks’ investments in Europe.
The most decorated Marine in history, Smedley Butler, described fighting for U.S. banks in many of the wars he fought in. He said: “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”
In Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, John Perkins describes how World Bank and IMF loans are used to generate profits for U.S. business and saddle countries with huge debts that allow the United States to control them. It is not surprising that former civilian military leaders like Robert McNamara and Paul Wolfowitz went on to head the World Bank. These nations’ debt to international banks ensures they are controlled by the United States, which pressures them into joining the “coalition of the willing” that helped invade Iraq or allowing U.S. military bases on their land. If countries refuse to “honor” their debts, the CIA or Department of Defense enforces U.S. political will through coups or military action.
Tarak Kauff, Veteran For Peace activist and organizer, stated, “There are trillions for wars and occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Libya, billions yearly to support Israel’s occupation and oppression of Palestine, again trillions in bailouts to make those at the top of the economic food chain even more powerful, but relative pennies for our children’s education, adequate health care, infrastructure, housing and other necessities of Americans. Yet big corporate banks are thriving and, like Bank of America, pay no taxes. But you do, and I do, and working people all across this country pay taxes. I ask, what are we paying for and into whose pockets is it going? The wealth of this country is disappearing down the tubes into the stuffed pockets of the financial/military/industrial oligarchs. Americans are being bled dry while people of the world are literally bleeding and dying from U.S.-made weapons and warfare. Do we not see the connection?”
More and more people are indeed seeing the connection between corporate banksterism and militarism; they are seeing how uncontrolled spending on war is resulting in austerity at home. In a recent interview, Cornel West brought the issues of the wealth divide, Wall Street and militarism together. Prof. West also spoke about Obama, calling him “a cagey neoliberal at home and a liberal neoconservative abroad” who expanded the wars and military while re-enforcing the existing Wall Street-dominated power structure at home, a president who has abandoned the poor and working class and is becoming” a pawn of big finance and a puppet of big business.”
“We can’t lose focus” after Bin Laden’s death, said the former Secretary of State, the woman who helped author the most costly loss of focus in the history of America’s fight against terrorism. Of course, Condi Rice had no earthly idea when she spouted her “mushroom cloud” warning years ago that Saddam Hussein had long given up his nuclear program, that his supposed link with Al Qaeda was a fabrication. But facts didn’t matter as much back in 2002, when fear-mongering was a powerful tool against a fearful America. Afghanistan was “pacified” but Bin Laden had slipped away at Tora Bora. America needed a new target. Preferably a nation-state that would showcase America’s superior conventional military strength. Something that had borders and didn’t move, like those pesky, shadowy jihadists who were the ones we were really after. And so, Iraq became the Bush administration’s Weapon of Mass Distraction from the real objectives of the “War on Terror”: killing and capturing terrorists. A trillion dollars and 5,000 American lives later, Condi Rice goes on ABC News to warn that we can’t lose focus.
Too late. Al Qaeda hasn’t been in Afghanistan in sufficient numbers in years. It’s common knowledge that the organization metastasized long ago into more potent franchises in Iraq, Yemen and North Africa. Even the top leadership of the Taliban are not in Afghanistan. The Quetta Shura and Mullah Omar- much like Osama Bin Laden until he was taken out unilaterally- operate under the protection of their government patrons, in Pakistan. Well then, you ask, why does the West still have 140,000 troops in Afghanistan propping up a Karzai government that is reviled by its own people at a time when corrupt strong men across the Muslim world are being toppled by popular revolutions? Hmmmm. Because we’ve already thrown so much blood and treasure at our Afghan investment already? Because if we withdraw now, the world will think we are weak and unable to finish the job? Because we don’t want Afghanistan to become a staging ground for terrorist attacks on our country again?
These questions and their very structure are more illuminating than the answers could ever be. The subject is always “us”, the object, “Afghanistan”, when it should be the other way around if we are looking for viable solutions for, namely, Afghanistan. Long ago, Afghanistan ceased being about Afghanistan and became more about America and our selfish insecurities as a nation. The longest war in our nation’s history remains unfocused, unsustainable, and detrimental to our nation’s standing and security in ways that are only now becoming visible. Only recently, American soldiers have admitted to forming kill teams that have murdered Afghan civilians, claiming body parts as take-home trophies. It’s tough to reconcile a COIN strategy which emphasizes winning local hearts and minds with testosterone-laden kids who just wanna “get some”, taking matters into their own hands when they can’t do what they were trained to do. Military and civilian agencies continue to coordinate poorly in an increasingly violent Afghan reconstruction environment and have entirely different plans and priorities for resources. Mass prison breaks and friendly fire attacks on NATO personnel occur with growing frequency. The annual cost of the Afghan security forces we are training and equipping dwarfs the entire Afghan national budget. What part of this is about building a nation that can sustain itself?
All this at a time when the arc of fundamental change in the Muslim world is shifting decisively West, towards the Arab heartland where Al Qaeda’s extremist ideology was born. This is where the fight against Islamic fundamentalism will be won, in the rejuvenated streets of Cairo, Tunis and Damascus. Unfortunately, that struggle for the most part is not kinetic warfare but the hard slog of compromise and negotiation between civil societies and political parties. Therefore, America isn’t interested. What’s profitable about civic development? What congressional district will it create jobs for? What Pentagon weapon system will it support? Mercy Corps doesn’t make campaign contributions.
So what’s holding us back, in the wake of the death of Al Qaeda’s inspiration, from naturally pivoting away from a costly and unwinnable quagmire towards a more subtle, nonviolent engagement that would cost less and more directly target the seeds of extremism? Steve Coll is certainly right when he says many policy makers believe that Pakistan, and by extension Afghanistan, is too big to fail. In their eyes, one country is Bank of America and the other is Citicorp. There’s cross shareholdings, so if one goes down the risk is the other might as well. And then what happens? Loose nukes? Another Indo-Pak war? A Pashtun confederation straddling both countries and declaring itself an Islamic Emirate? Mass refugees and ethnic conflict? An expanding Chinese sphere of influence in the Sub-Continent?
Yes, perhaps all of these things. Certainly some of them. This is exactly the “bail out” argument that Afghan and Pakistani governments have made to countless Western leaders and institutions over the years to justify the billions in aid and debt they’ve been granted since their creation as nations. Support us or anarchy will reign. Has our support improved governance or rule of law in these countries? Have their citizens been given more opportunities to educate themselves, start a business, or receive adequate medical care? What is the incentive for any of their leaders to provide these things when the far more lucrative argument is perpetuating the doomsday scenario that the West continues to fall for? Where is the end game here?
At some point, nations, like companies, need to fail so they can one day rise again. We shouldn’t be afraid to let these two countries find their own way instead of propping them up artificially. Bring the troops home and save a $100 billion a year. Refocus a fraction of that money saved towards the Arab heartland, with increased civilian aid to liberal democratic forces that are the best long-term hope against Islamic extremism. It’s not a difficult decision. We just have to focus.
An in-depth interview with Anthony DiMaggio
KZ: We already know that the authoritarian regimes of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya are among the major human rights violators in the world; however, the United States and its European cronies who frequently boast of their concerns about the preservation of human rights and freedom have been long indifferent to the persecution of political activists, incarceration of journalists and bloggers and other abuses of human rights in these countries. On the other hand, the superpowers have always employed the excuse of human rights for pressuring the independent and non-aligned nations such as Iran. What do you think about this dualistic approach?
AD: The dualistic approach is a reflection of the conflict between U.S. rhetoric and reality. As with all political leaders, their promises typically contradict their observed behavior. The U.S. has one standard when it comes to human rights: it prefers countries that suppress their populations in the name of providing the U.S. with cheap access to raw materials and resources and a favorable investment climate for American businesses. U.S. leaders will never openly admit this, but on some level – whether it’s conscious or subconscious is irrelevant – they understand that the U.S. cannot succeed in controlling global resources without supporting some very unsavory characters, or by engaging in atrocities themselves. The Iraq war was a classic example of such brutality, with the U.S. openly engaging in collective punishment in the name of “pacifying” communities such as Fallujah and Ramadi, so as to actively turn them against the insurgency. The notorious “Salvador Option,” in which the U.S. trained Iraqi death squads to target suspected sympathizers with the insurgency and engage in torture and murder of these individuals, was a powerful example of active U.S. contempt for basic human rights. Predictably, the implications of these actions for human rights in Iraq were consistently ignored by U.S. intellectuals, journalists, and political/business elites.
One can’t maintain an empire without engaging in some very unpleasant and nasty actions against the world’s poor and downtrodden. This was openly conceded by Bush near the end of his administration and as he celebrated the “surge” of U.S. troops and U.S. counter-insurgency violence and announced that a withdrawal from Iraq was unacceptable because of the U.S. interest in retaining unimpeded control over Iraq’s oil resources.
Of course, rationalizations of state violence are always a part of the equation. I have no doubt that Bush and other imperialists justified using violence to control Iraqi oil under the assumptions that privatization and “free markets” would inevitably create a rising tide that lifts all boats, and that the U.S. could be better trusted than the “terrorists” to control this vital resource. We’ve seen the poverty of these claims, in reality, in light of the widespread understanding of Iraqis (revealed continuously in polls) that they saw the U.S., rather than foreign Islamists or insurgency members, as the primary threat to Iraqi and regional peace. We’ve also seen such rationalizations thoroughly debunked in the case of Egypt, which has witnessed living standards for the masses rapidly deteriorate under a neoliberal regime. Regardless of the justification, the larger point is that you don’t become the most powerful military and economic force in the world without repressing local populations. Most people, after all, tend to be opposed to occupations, violent domination, and neoliberal cronyism/extortion, as exercised by the U.S. and its preferred dictators. The only way to get them to go along is through violence and coercion.
I don’t think the U.S. is “indifferent” to abuses in Saudi Arabia and other friendly states, but actively supportive of, and committed to those abuses. In the case of Saudi Arabia, it is granted carte blanche to engage in human rights violations and terrorism, so long as it continues to provide the U.S. with cheap oil. Its actions, as you correctly suggest, are repulsive. It’s been the consistent recipient of U.S. military, economic, and political aid despite its recent outlawing of protest, its violent attacks on peaceful protesters, and its longstanding attacks on human rights. Of course, U.S. leaders can plead ignorance to these transgressions, but such claims are complete absurdities. You can simply read in the Washington Post reports from on the ground in Saudi Arabia from those suffering under this medieval regime, in which Shi’ite protesters are subject to “increasing detentions, beatings, and surveillance” in the government’s war on dissent. Then of course there’s the long record of abuses chronicled by groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The Saudi dictatorship is notorious for its denigration of women, who are seen as third class citizens at best. Human Rights Watch reports that the government’s many practices include “arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, and [reliance on] the death penalty” for those who engage in theft, homosexuality, witchcraft, prostitution, and other criminal activities, real or imagined. Saudi police are known for breaking into individuals’ homes without a warrant in relation to charges as dubious as suspected alcohol possession and engaging in non-Muslim religious worship.
Then there’s U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s active suppression of Shi’ite majorities throughout the Arabian Peninsula. The Wikileaks revelations were extremely valuable among other findings in that they showed that U.S. diplomats were well aware of Saudi Arabia’s responsibility for bombing civilians in its counter-insurgency war in Yemen. The monarchy has also used violent intervention in Bahrain (not to mention on Saudi soil) in order to suppress Shi’ite revolts against repressive minority Sunni governments. As Wikileaks showed, U.S. diplomats largely dismissed Saudi responsibility for killing civilians in Yemen under the claim that the regime was allegedly doubling its efforts to minimize collateral damage. Such rationalizations are largely disingenuous in light of the United State’s own responsibility for the deaths of tens to hundreds of thousands in Iraq due to U.S. bombing and military operations in Iraq, all also pursued under the promise of minimizing “collateral damage”, and in light of Saudi Arabia’s escalation of human rights violations on its own soil. It’s been easy for the U.S. to ignore the unpleasantness of U.S. and allied policies. When confronted with the ugly consequences of their “bombing for democracy” campaign, George Bush’s response was simply to dismiss the figures suggesting U.S. responsibility in mass killing as irrelevant and unfounded, despite the fact that those who engaged in these studies used widely recognized statistical methods ranging from collecting news reports on the dead to engaging in cluster survey sampling, as is typically done when estimating wartime casualties. He could count on a compliant media to promptly drop the issue, considering the complete refusal of Democrats and fellow Republicans to explore the issue.
In the end, humanitarian rhetoric is, realistically speaking, a weapon to be wielded by the powerful against their enemies, rather than a serious concern in its own right. Media scholars like Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman have performed a vital service by documenting this trend – whereby humanitarian rhetoric is used by politicians and journalists to condemn American enemies who engage in human rights violations. Conversely, U.S. allies are consistently given a pass and embraced despite their many transgressions and regular terror. This politicization of human rights is at times manifested quite perversely, as seen when the Bush and Obama administrations’ loud public pronouncements of support for democracy and human rights, accompanied by their many efforts to court the Saudi king in public by holding hands, kissing, and bowing to him in a sign of mutual respect.
A friend of mine told me to go read ‘Sorrows of Empire‘, ‘Nemesis’ and ‘Blowback’.
Chalmers Johnson said that nothing is more dangerous to democracy than military expansion and war: “The political system of the United States, history tells us, is one of the most unstable combination there is – that is domestic democracy and foreign empire – the choices are stark. A nation can be one or the other, a democracy or an imperialist, but it can’t be both. “Imperialism is a form of tyranny,” Johnson said. “It never rules through consent of the governed. It doesn’t ask for the consent of the government. We talk about the spread of democracy, but we talk about the spread of democracy at the point of an assault rifle. That’s a contradiction in terms. It doesn’t work. Any self respecting person being democratized in this manner starts thinking of retaliation. Nemesis becomes appropriate. …If we stick to imperialism, we will, like the old Roman Republic, on which so much of our system was modeled, lose our democracy to a domestic dictatorship.”
“Militarism is what the social scientists have called the intervening variable, the causative connection. That is to say, to maintain an empire requires a very large standing army, huge expenditures on arms that leads to a military-industrial complex, and generally speaking, a vicious cycle sets up of interests that lead to the perpetual series of wars. It goes back to probably the earliest warning ever delivered to us by our first president, George Washington, and his famous farewell address. It’s read at the opening of every new session of Congress. Washington said that the great enemy of the republic is standing armies. It is a particular enemy of republican liberty. What he meant by it is it breaks down the separation of powers into an executive, legislative, and judicial branches that are intended to check each other. This is our most fundamental bulwark against dictatorship and tyranny. It causes it to break down because standing armies, militarism, a military establishment, military-industrial complex all draw power away from the rest of the country to Washington, including taxes. And within Washington they draw it to the presidency, and they begin to create an imperial presidency, who then implements the military’s desire for secrecy, making oversight of the government almost impossible for a member of Congress even, much less for a citizen.”
Arundhati Roy and Chalmers Johnson: Blowback
Who is Osama bin Laden really? Let me rephrase that. What is Osama bin Laden? He’s America’s family secret. He is the American president’s [George W. Bush] dark Doppelganger. The savage twin of all that purports to be beautiful and civilized. He has been sculpted from the spare rib of a world laid to waste by America’s foreign policy: its gunboat diplomacy, its nuclear arsenal, its vulgarly stated policy of “full-spectrum dominance,” its chilling disregard for non-American lives, its barbarous military interventions, its support for despotic and dictatorial regimes, its merciless economic agenda that has munched through the economies of poor countries like a cloud of locusts. … Now that the family secret has been spilled, the twins are blurring into one another and gradually becoming interchangeable.–Arundhati Roy, The Guardian (September 27, 2001)
“Blowback” does not mean just revenge but rather retaliation for covert, illegal violence that our government has carried out abroad that it kept totally secret from the American public (even though such acts are seldom secret among the people on the receiving end). It was a term invented by the Central Intelligence Agency and first used in its “after-action report” about the 1953 overthrow of the elected government of Premier Mohammed Mossadeq in Iran. This coup brought to power the U.S.-supported Shah of Iran, who would in 1979 be overthrown by Iranian revolutionaries and Islamic fundamentalists. The Ayatollah Khomeini replaced the Shah and installed the predecessors of the current, anti-American government in Iran. This would be one kind of blowback from America’s first venture into illegal, clandestine “regime change”–but as the attacks of September 11, 2001, showed us all too graphically, hardly the only one.
–Chalmers Johnson, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2006)
Besides conservative estimates of at least $3 trillion over the past 15 years, what else has this “War on Terror” cost us:
The death of Osama bin Laden has left the United States with a type of morning-after effect. For 10 years, an ever-expanding war on terror has been defined by one central dark figure: Osama bin Laden. It is perhaps not surprising that in a celebrity-driven society, even our wars seemed personality driven. For many, Iraq was about Saddam Hussein. Afghanistan was about Osama bin Laden. With both of these defining figures gone, however, it is time to take account of what has been lost, and what has been gained.
For civil libertarians, the legacy of bin Laden is most troubling because it shows how the greatest injuries from terror are often self-inflicted. Bin Laden’s twisted notion of success was not the bringing down of two buildings in New York or the partial destruction of the Pentagon. It was how the response to those attacks by the United States resulted in our abandonment of core principles and values in the “war on terror.” Many of the most lasting impacts of this ill-defined war were felt domestically, not internationally.
Starting with George W. Bush, the 9/11 attacks were used to justify the creation of a massive counterterrorism system with growing personnel and budgets designed to find terrorists in the heartland. Laws were rewritten to prevent citizens from challenging searches and expanding surveillance of citizens. Leaders from both parties acquiesced as the Bush administration launched programs of warrantless surveillance, sweeping arrests of Muslim citizens and the creation of a torture program.
What has been most chilling is that the elimination of Saddam and now bin Laden has little impact on this system, which seems to continue like a perpetual motion machine of surveillance and searches. While President Dwight D. Eisenhower once warned Americans of the power of the military-industrial complex, we now have a counterterrorism system that employs tens of thousands, spends tens of billions of dollars each year and is increasingly unchecked in its operations.
Just as leaders are unwilling to take responsibility to end the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, we face the same vacuum of leadership on civil liberties. Whether it is groping at airports or warrantless surveillance or the denial of rights to accused terrorists, our security laws will continue to be justified under a “war on terror” that by definition can never end. There will always be terrorism, and thus we will remain a nation at war — with all of the expanded powers given to government agencies and officials.
If bin Laden wanted to change America, he succeeded. Bush officials were quick to claim that our laws and even our Constitution made us vulnerable to attack — even though later investigations showed that the attacks could have been prevented under existing laws. Despite the negligence of agencies such as the FBI and CIA in allowing the attacks, those same agencies were given unprecedented power and budgets in the aftermath of 9/11.
President Obama has continued, and even expanded, many of the controversial Bush programs. His administration moved to quash dozens of public interest lawsuits fighting warrantless surveillance. Both Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have refused to investigate, let alone prosecute, officials for torture under the “water-boarding” program — despite clear obligations under treaties for such action. The Obama administration has continued military tribunals and the Caesar-like authority of the president to send some defendants to real courts and some to makeshift tribunals. The administration recently instructed investigators that they can ignore constitutional protections such as Miranda rights to combat terror. Once the power of the FBI and other agencies were expanded, no one had the courage to order the resumption of lost civil liberties or the return of prior limits on government power or surveillance. It is not the lack of security but the lack of courage in our leaders that continues the expansion of this security state.
The death of bin Laden is not the marker of an end of a period but a reminder that there is no end to this period. For those who have long wanted expansion of presidential powers and the limitation of constitutional rights, bin Laden gave them an irresistible opportunity to reshape this country — and the expectations of our citizens. We now accept thousands of security cameras in public places, intrusive physical searches and expanding police powers as the new reality of American life. The privacy that once defined this nation is now viewed as a quaint, if not naive, concept. Police power works like the release of gas in a closed space: expand the space and the gas fills it. It is rare in history to see ground lost in civil liberties be regained through concessions of power by the government. Our terrorism laws have transcended bin Laden and even 9/11. They have become the status quo. That is the greatest tragedy of bin Laden’s legacy — not what he did to us, but what we have done to ourselves.
There have been a couple of books that were for me, the figurative slap in the face as a wake up call to the realities of our world, and Chalmers Johnson’s “Sorrows of Empire” was the first, and easily the most poignant.
With excruciating documentation he lays out the machinations of empire, and most interestingly, how both political parties advance towards the same objective using very different means, while all the while seemingly at ideological cross purposes.
If bin Laden wanted to change America, he succeeded. Bush officials were quick to claim that our laws and even our Constitution made us vulnerable to attack — even though later investigations showed that the attacks could have been prevented under existing laws. Despite the negligence of agencies such as the FBI and CIA in allowing the attacks, those same agencies were given unprecedented power and budgets in the aftermath of 9/11.
OBL has not so much changed America, but rather, allowed latent factions to rise on the coattails of a nationwide horror expertly mutated towards vendetta with a trillion dollar payoff. These factions lie dormant, stifled under the substrate that makes America great, but push up, seething, when any opportunity arises to project their voice of malice. That voice is very strong today, you can hear it burst out when most any disaster strikes, sometimes a lone voice with a radicalized notion, meant as a trial balloon to test the waters and assess opportunity to put forth the neo-liberal agenda in full force. Tamped down by cooler heads, it withdraws and awaits again, dormant once more.
Thanks for everything you do Mike.
I don’t get on this site as often as I should, and when I do I never comment, but this post struck me. I read stuff like this on the Yahoos Running on Empty comments all the time. Most people really underestimate how horrific things will get if the cracks off the way many think it will.
I keep up with a blog of a guy named Fernando Ferfal Aguirre he wrote a book called “Survive the Economic Collapse”. He lived though the economic collapse of Argentina in 2001. Things have not gotten better there sice 2001 they’ve started getting worse, the biggest issue he has to deal with is crime. Over half the book deals with personal security, this will be much worse than Argentina.
The situation we have to deal with will be on a global scale we now have street gangs organized crime and militias here now. With a law enforcement greatly weakened or in some places nonexistent getting connected to wildlife and the seasons will be a pipe dream. We have three hundred million people just in the US how long do you think wildlife will last near any major city once services break down? Venturing beyond any major city looking for game will be dicey, you’ll be lucky not to be murdered in your sleep.
I could go on, but we have a non-homogeneous, alienated population, with a deep sense of entitlement. Who are not going to go into a coroner and die because some dreamer thinks they will. They have children, parent’s, people they care about, they will put a dull knitting needle though anybodies eye for a package of stale Oreos to live. Wouldn’t you?