Archive for the ‘PROPAGANDA’ Tag

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: ISIS 101 – What’s really terrifying about this threat

 

ISIS 101

What’s really terrifying about this threat

John Chuckman

 

ISIS certainly is not what a great many people think that it is, if you judge what they think by what our corporate press proclaims incessantly.

Judging by what ISIS actually does and whom its acts benefit, its clandestine associates, and the testimony of some witnesses, ISIS is a complex intelligence operation. Its complexity reflects at least in part the fact that it serves the interests of several countries and that it has more than one objective. Its complexity reflects also the large effort to reinforce a false image with disinformation and staged events such as a video of a beheading which could not have been a beheading unless they’ve discovered a bloodless method until now unknown to science.

The subject of ISIS is not without brief glimmers of humor. The image of bands of men, swathed in Arabic robes and bumping their way around the desert in Japanese pick-up trucks with Kalashnikovs raised in the air for every picture has elements of Monty Python. The idea of modern, trained and well-armed military units turning and running from them resembles a war scene in a Laurel and Hardy comedy such as the one with Hardy stuck upside down in a WWI tank turret kicking his legs the whole time Laurel drives towards the German positions managing accidentally to round-up a whole trench-full of prisoners with some wire fencing that becomes snagged on the tank.

Despite the tiresome stupidities we see and hear about it, ISIS unquestionably does kill people and destroy things, that being its purpose, and there is no humor in that.

ISIS appears to have served several tasks so far. First, it frightened Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, out of office in Iraq, a man America and Israel grew very much to dislike owing simply to his good relations with Iran, one of the unintended consequences of America’s invasion of Iraq being expanded Iranian influence in the region. No doubt al-Maliki was terrified not so much by ISIS approaching in their pick-up trucks as he was by his own military’s tendency, as if on cue, to turn and run from ISIS, often leaving weapons behind. The message was clear: you won’t be protected.

Second, America’s highly selective “air war” against ISIS somehow manages to attack infrastructure targets inside Syria with the feeble excuse that they are facilities helping ISIS. We’ve seen what American bombing can do when it’s undertaken seriously, and somehow I have a hard time imaging the men in Japanese pick-ups lasting long when faced with what hit the Taleban in Afghanistan or Gadhafi’s forces in Libya. The air strikes are partly a show for the world – after all, how can America be seen not to be fighting such extremely well-advertised, super-violent terrorists, guys putting out videos regularly from a studio trailer they must haul around with one of their pick-up trucks?  The air strikes’ main purpose appears to be a way of hurting Assad and assisting those fighting Syria’s army without coming into conflict with Russia, as they would with a large, direct campaign. They likely also punish elements of ISIS which have exceeded their brief and serve as a reminder to the rest of what could happen to them if they stray too far from their subsidized purpose once the war comes to an end.

Three, in some of the ground fighting in Iraq where we’ve read of Iraqi units fighting ISIS, the units are often Kurdish, and sometimes the press uses expressions like “Iraqi and Kurdish troops.” But the Kurdish region is still part of Iraq legally, although it has been given a good deal of autonomy by the central government. The Kurdish region of Iraq is the country’s prime oil-producing area, and in the estimation of many observers, an area both the United States and Israel would very much like to see severed from Iraq in the way Kosovo was severed from Serbia after America’s devastating air war there. This would not only permanently assure Iraq’s weakness, it would create a rather grateful and more willing oil supplier.

Where does ISIS get its technical equipment and the know-how to produce videos and run Internet sites? These are not qualities commonly found among fanatical fundamentalists anywhere; indeed most true radical fundamentalists tend to eschew technology. A supply of advice, technical assistance, and equipment comes from somewhere. Where does ISIS get the money for food, gasoline, clothes, ammunition, and Japanese pick-up trucks? And I wonder, did one of those wild-looking jihadi types just show up one day at an Iraqi car dealership and order a fleet of Japanese pick-ups? Were they delivered out on the desert or did a gang of jihadists march in, waving their Kalashnikovs, to drive them away?

The effort to destroy the Syrian government, whether by means of ISIS or anyone else, is warmly and generously supported by Saudi Arabia and its buddy Qatar – another oil-rich, absolute monarchy where political parties are banned – both these counties’ primary interest being the defence of their immensely privileged situations against creeping threats of all progressive developments such as equal human rights or democracy or indeed against revolt led by external forces. The payments we now know the Saudi royal family long made to Osama bin Laden before 9/11 were simply bribes to keep him and his anti-establishment work out of the country. They really didn’t care a lot about what the money bought elsewhere, but since 9/11 and its many Saudi connections – 15 of the perpetrators plus the past financing plus the many members of the royal family and bin Laden family secretly flown out by American officials at the time – the Saudi authorities were genuinely fearful of how America might respond and have become far more responsive to what America wants in the Middle East and now apply their money to such projects. What America wants in the Middle East is, invariably, what Israel wants, so there is now extensive, secret cooperation where once there was complete official hostility.

We have reports from plane-spotters in the region of daily flights of mysterious planes from Israel to Qatar. We have several eye-witness reports and photographs of supply bundles dropped from unknown planes into ISIS territory. Maybe ISIS has its own air force now? We know Turkey has served both as an entry point for countless terrorists into Syria and as a place of retreat and refuge when fighting with the Syrian army becomes too hot for them, the volumes of such activity having been too great to keep secret. We have reports of Turkish supply flights. A Jordanian official recently told a reporter that ISIS members were trained in 2012 by American instructors working at a secret base in Jordan.

If ISIS is what our corporate news pretends that it is – a fanatical Muslim extremist group that sprang suddenly from the desert sands much like Jack’s bean stalk – one blindingly obvious question is, why does it not attack Israel or Israeli interest? Isn’t that what one would expect from such a cast of characters? But it has not done so, undoubtedly because Israel is an important covert benefactor and supplier.

We might equally ask why ISIS has not attacked Saudi Arabia or its interests, for although the Saudi royal family officially professes a strict and conservative form of Islam, Wahhabism, in fact many of them are very worldly people who spend a good deal of time and money at the world’s great pleasure palaces. Perhaps even more damning for a genuine fanatical fundamentalist, the Saudis now often secretly cooperate and make plans with Israel where mutual interests exist.

No, there is something highly suspicious about Islamic fundamentalist terrorists who avoid such interests while managing to brutally kill poor Syrian soldiers just doing their jobs along with the odd foreign journalist or aid worker who may just have seen something they shouldn’t have seen. Of course, we have Edward Snowden himself having described ISIS as an operation intended to protect Israel. Despite the fact that some news sources have said the interview in which this was revealed never took place, my instincts tell me it likely did. Snowden has never refuted it, and the news sources saying it did not are highly suspect on such a subject.

The way ISIS serves Israeli and American interests is by providing a focus point for extremists, attracting them from various parts of the world so that they can be recorded and kept track of. Also the tracks back to the various countries from which they come provide security services with leads to places where there might be some festering problems. In the meantime, ISIS serves the interest of helping to bring down President Assad, a goal dear to the hearts of Israelis. Please remember that black operations, even the ones about which we know, show little consideration for lives or property. Just think of Israel’s attack on an American spy ship in the Mediterranean during the Six Day War, its pilots knowingly shooting up and bombing for two hours the well-marked ship of its ally and benefactor, no explanation worth hearing ever having been offered.

Just read conservative mainline sources (pretty much a redundant pair of adjectives) about the harm Snowden has done: claims of everything from his revelations about American intelligence having served to help ISIS avoid detection (!) to his revelations having set up the United States for another 9/11! You might think intelligent people would be ashamed of making such asinine public statements, but, no, there are almost no limits to trying to discredit those revealing murderous, dark operations.

We’ve had many reports of officials in various countries, including Canada as I write, concerned about the odd individual or small group running off to join ISIS. Now why should that be a concern? A few flaky people going abroad just removes them from your country, something I should have thought was a complete gain from a security point of view. Even if they were ever to return in future, you would know exactly who they are. Where is the basis for serious concern? But the psychological advantages of noise and hype to scare people about obscure dangers and “lone wolves” and “home-grown terrorists” outweigh completely good sense and intelligence.

Finally, there are numerous reports that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (a nom de guerre, not his real name), the leader of ISIS, is a Western intelligence asset. What little we can learn about him makes that entirely plausible. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, has said that the man is a Mossad agent, a claim supported supposedly by documents revealed by Edward Snowden. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is by all accounts a secretive man who speaks directly with few people, and even his birth place, given as Samarra, Iraq, is not sure. Records of his past, as those from his period of American captivity (always a great opportunity to “turn” someone to serving two interests), are not available. He was once reported killed but is still alive. He is said to have received intensive training from Mossad and the CIA, and some sources give his real name as Simon Elliot (or, Elliot Shimon), but few details can ever be certain in such dark operations.

The truly terrifying aspect of ISIS and other forces fighting with it in Syria is that the United States and Israel have approved and supported such wanton destruction in so beautiful and formerly-peaceful a place as Syria. Millions of lives destroyed and countless historic places damaged as though they were all nothing more than a few pieces moved on a geopolitical chessboard. I think it fair to describe that as the work of psychopaths.

 

 

 

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: JE NE SUIS PAS CHARLIE The Extremely Dark and Unexamined Underside of the Charlie Hebdo Affair

 

JE NE SUIS PAS CHARLIE

The Extremely Dark and Unexamined Underside of the Charlie Hebdo Affair

 

John Chuckman

We hear much about bloody events in Paris being an attack upon western traditions and freedom of the press, and I am sorry but such claims are close to laughable, even though there is nothing remotely funny about mass murder. It certainly is not part of the best western tradition to insult the revered figures of major religions. You are, of course, technically free to do so in many western countries – always remembering that in many of them, a wrong target for your satire will get you a prison term for “hate crimes” – but it does represent little more than poor judgement and extremely bad taste to exercise that particular freedom. What Charlie Hebdo does is not journalism, it is sophomoric jokes and thinly disguised propaganda. Hebdo’s general tone and themes place it completely outside the mythic tableau of heroic defender of free speech or daring journalism, it being very much a vehicle for the interests of American imperialism through NATO.

Of course, the best western traditions don’t outlaw what garments or symbols people may wear for their beliefs, as France has done. Note also the history of some of the politicians making grandiose statements about freedom of the press. Nicolas Sarkozy was involved a number of times in suppressing stories in the press, even once getting a journalist fired. Sarkozy is a man, by the way, who took vast, illegal secret payments from the late Muammar Gaddafi and from France’s richest heiress to secure his election as president. David Cameron had police seize computers at Guardian offices and allows Julian Assange to remain cooped in the Embassy of Ecuador to avoid trumped-up charges in Sweden. Cameron is also best buddies with Rupert Murdoch, the man whose idea of journalism appears to be what he can dredge up to exchange for what he wants from government. His Fox News in the United States enjoys a reputation for telling the truth only by sheer accident. Barack Obama is a man transfixed by secrecy and ready to use all of his powers to punish those who tell the truth, a man who holds hundreds in secret prisons, and a man who regularly oversees the extrajudicial execution of hundreds and hundreds of people in a number of countries.

The parade celebrating the good things of western tradition – which Obama missed but which saw now-potential presidential candidate Sarkozy shove his way to the front – also included such luminaries as the Foreign Minister of Egypt’s extremely repressive government, which, even as the minister marched proudly, held innocent journalists in prison simply for writing the truth. The Prime Minister of Turkey was there celebrating, a man who has put a number of journalists in jail. Celebrating rights and freedoms also was King Abdullah of Jordan who once saw a Palestinian journalist sentenced to hard labor for writing so simple a truth as that the king was dependent upon Israel for power.

We shouldn’t forget, too, that Israel targeted and killed a number of journalists in its Gaza invasions, that the United States’ forces in Iraq targeted and killed a number of journalists, and that “NATO” deliberately targeted Serbia’s state television service with bombing, killing many civilians. Free speech and western traditions, indeed.

There are more doubts and questions in the Charlie Hebdo affair than there will ever be answers. In part this is because the French security forces silenced witnesses, killing three assumed perpetrators in a display which seems to say that Dirty Harry movies are now part of French training programs.

And then we have the sudden death by apparent suicide of a police commissioner in charge of the investigation just as he was writing his report alone at night, an event which received little mainline press coverage. A man in his forties in the midst of likely the biggest case of his career just decides to kill himself?

We should all be extremely suspicious of a trained killer, seen as being informed and exceedingly efficient at his work, leaving behind his identity card in an abandoned car. It really is a touch more serendipity than we would credit in a mystery story. We should all be extremely suspicious of men so obviously well trained in military techniques, about men who were well informed about schedules at the offices they attacked, and about men heavily armed in the center of Paris. People serving in notorious killer outfits like America’s SEALs or Britain’s SAS rarely achieve such complete success as twelve victims, all shot dead, and an easy get-away.

And just to add to the confusion we have the video of one of the armed men shooting a police officer lying on the sidewalk. The armed man, face covered, lowers his AK-47 to within a couple of feet of the victim’s head and fires. The head goes down, but we see no blood. Have you ever seen photos of someone shot in the head with a high velocity weapon? That’s what the Zapruder film is about, and the results are more like an exploding pumpkin than a death at the end of a stage play. Even the propaganda-ridden BBC now has expressed doubts about the video.

We need to be more than suspicious about anyone or any event which has any connection with ISIS. ISIS is one of the terror groups assembled, armed, and supplied by Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States for the deliberate and wanton destruction of Syria. The two brothers killed in Paris both fought in Syria. It certainly would be easy enough for someone to have obtained an ID card there from one of them. Remember, the excesses of ISIS we all read about – at least those that aren’t clearly staged propaganda stunts such as video of a hostage beheading – are the direct result of assembling large bands of cutthroats and fanatics, arming them, and setting them loose to terrorize someone else’s country.

It is the simplistic view of ISIS that the involved intelligence services want us to have that it is a spontaneous fanatical rebellion in favor of one extreme interpretation of Islam. Despite many recruits for ISIS holding what are undoubtedly genuine fanatical beliefs, they almost certainly have no idea who actually pays their salaries or provides their equipment – that is simply the way black intelligence operations work. And those participating in such operations are completely disposable in the eyes of those running them, as when the United States bombs some in ISIS who perhaps exceeded their brief.

Every society has some percentage of its population which is dangerously mad, and if such people are gathered together and given weapons, their beliefs are almost beside the point, except that they provide the targeting mechanism used by those doing the organizing.

We should all be extremely suspicious about any event when a man such as Rupert Murdoch is quoted afterward saying, “Muslims must be held responsible for jihadist cancer,” as he was in The Independent. In case you forgot, Murdoch is a man whose news organizations for years lied, stole, and violated a number of laws to obtain juicy tidbits for his chain of cheesy mass-circulation newspapers. Murdoch also is a man who has had the most intimate and influential relationships with several prime ministers including that smarmy criminal, Tony Blair, and that current mindless windbag and ethical nullity, David Cameron. Publicity from large circulation newspapers, which can swing at a moment’s notice from supporting to attacking you, plus campaign contributions buy a lot of government compliance. Murdoch also is one of the world’s most tireless supporters of Israel’s criminal excesses.

And speaking of David Cameron, Murdoch’s made man in Britain, David felt compelled to chime in on the Hebdo publicity extravaganza with, “Muslims face a special burden on extremism….” Now, why would that be? No less than Murdoch’s creepy words, Cameron’s statement is an indefensible thing to say.

Who has a special burden for the massacre of students at Columbine High school in Colorado? Who has a special burden for Israeli Baruch Goldstein who murdered 29 Palestinians as they worshipped? Do Noweigians bear a special burden for Anders Breivik, who shot 69 people, mostly children, perhaps the most bizarre mass murderer of our times? Does the American Army bear a special burden for Timothy McVeigh’s horrific bombing in Oklahoma City, killing 168, he and his associates having met in Fort Benning during basic training, two of them having been roommates? Perhaps, in both these latter cases, Christianity bears a special burden since these people were exposed to that religion early in life? As was Hitler, as was Stalin, as was Mussolini, as was Franco, as was Ceaușescu, as was Pinochet, and countless other blood-drenched villains?

The late Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, was responsible for a great many murders, including about a hundred people bombed in a terror attack on the King David Hotel. He also was responsible for the assassination of the distinguished Swedish diplomat, Count Folke Bernadotte, and he started the invasion of Lebanon which eventually left thousands dead, but you’ll have a hard time finding him described anywhere as a “Jewish terrorist” or finding prominent people asking who has a special responsibility for his extraordinarily bloody career.

There is something hateful and poisonous in conflating the religious background of a criminal or mentally unbalanced person and his violent crime. We seem to do this only in cases involving violent men with Muslim backgrounds. Why? How is it possible that even one decent Muslim in this world has any responsibility for the acts of madmen who happen to be Muslim? This gets at one of the deep veins of hate and prejudice in western society today, Islamophobia, a vein regularly mined by our “free” press and by our ‘democratic” governments. Our establishment having embraced Israel’s excesses and pretensions, we have been pushed into worshipping the mumbo-jumbo of Islamic terror, a phenomenon virtually invented in Israel and perpetuated by Israel’s apologists as a way of stopping anyone from asking why Israel does not make peace, stop abusing millions of people, and return to its recognized borders.

Well, we do have an entire industry exploiting every event which may be imagined as terror. I read an interview with the great cartoonist, Robert Crumb, who happens to live in France. When asked if any other journalists had approached him on the topic of controversial cartoons, he said that there weren’t any journalists in America anymore, just 250,000 public relations people. That is precisely the state of American journalism. It digs into nothing, at least nothing of consequence, working full time to manage the public’s perceptions of government and its dreadful policies, from murdering innocents with drones and remaining quiet on the many American and Israeli atrocities of recent decades to manipulating fears of “terrorism” and saying little about such domestic horrors as the many hundreds of citizens shot dead by American police every single year.

The French government is reported to have been quite concerned about Benjamin Netanyahu showing up at the Paris march and making volatile speeches, and they specifically asked him not to come. At first, Netanyahu’s own security service, Shin Bet, agreed that he should not go because the parade in the streets represented a difficult security situation. But neither the host government’s formal request nor the security service’s concerns can stop a man like Netanyahu. France was advised he would come, and the French made their displeasure clear by saying they would then also invite Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestine Authority to the parade, which they did.

Netanyahu not only marched for the cameras at the front rank of a parade where he had no business, he made arrangements with the families of four Jewish victims for an all-expense-paid showy funeral in Jerusalem. None of the victims was even an Israeli citizen, yet at this writing they have all been buried in there with pomp and plenty of publicity. But Netanyahu didn’t stop there, he went on to make speeches that the French and other European Jews should leave their countries riddled with anti-Semitism and come to Israel, their true homeland. In diplomatic terms, this was what is termed unacceptable behavior which in almost any other case would get you thrown out of a country. In ordinary terms, it was outrageous behavior, much like seeing a seriously drunken guest loudly insulting his host at a party to which he was not even invited.

The ineffectual current President of France, François Hollande, sent notice to Jerusalem that the four dead shop victims were being awarded the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest honor. The nation’s highest honor, founded by Napoleon over two hundred years ago for exceptional contributions to the state, awarded for the act of being murdered by thugs? Simply bizarre.

I don’t pretend to understand everything involved in this complex set of events, but it is unmistakable that we are being manipulated by a number unscrupulous and unethical people who use murder victims and the public’s natural sympathies for them as board pieces in some much larger game.

There is even a trivial side to these bloody events with many Parisians carrying signs which read “Je suis Charlie,” surely the kind of asininity posing as deep feeling that long has been established in the United States where Walmart teddy bears and plastic flowers with cheap slogans are regularly tossed in piles here and there as memorials to this or that. Perhaps Euro-Disney has had a more devastating influence on French culture than I realized.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: SOME HARD FACTS ABOUT TERROR

 

 

SOME HARD FACTS ABOUT TERROR

John Chuckman

 

We are having an outbreak of reports in the Canadian press about “home grown” terrorists, “radicalized” young men of Muslim faith traveling out of the country to participate in extremist groups abroad, a relatively insignificant phenomenon which has received inordinate publicity. In any event, if you give the matter some thought, you realize that this “news” is a kind of empty publicity, noise about something as old and familiar as human life itself, although it has been bestowed with a new name intended to frighten us into supporting measures outside the framework of a society of laws.

The truth is that young men, at least a certain portion of them, have always traveled abroad to join causes and wars. It’s about as ordinary a phenomenon as playing team sports or joining clubs. In many cases, we end up praising them for their bravery and idealism, as was certainly the case with the many thousands of Europeans, Americans, and Canadians who traveled to Spain in the 1930s to volunteer in the civil war against General Franco. In other cases, we condemn and imprison them and sometimes even execute them as part of the losing side, as America has been doing in its rampage through the Middle East.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the emergence of new, independent nations from the British Empire drew thousands of young men to Africa to fight as mercenaries or volunteers. Apartheid South Africa used to run classified ads in newspapers abroad to attract young men in its battle against the African National Congress. Young Jewish men in the past went to Israel to join the IDF out of some sense of brotherhood, and they do so still. The French Foreign Legion gained almost mythical status as a place for young men to leave things behind, embracing an undefined sense of purpose and brotherhood. Young European adventurers, often young noblemen with hopes of gaining glory, sailed across the Atlantic in the 1770s to volunteer in the American colonies’ revolt against the British Empire, far more of them than Washington’s meagre army could use.

Magnetic leaders like Napoleon or Castro or Nasser attracted countless volunteers from abroad in their heyday. Our history books don’t dwell on the fact but large numbers of young men from many countries volunteered for Hitler’s invading legions. The phenomenon does not depend on the high or noble nature of the cause, although the luster and publicity around grand causes undoubtedly attracts a still wider range of young men.

Young men often just want to escape from every-day, humdrum life, a boring marriage, a nothing job, or, as in the case of the Foreign Legion, to leave a criminal or failed past behind in hopes of high adventure, a new identity, and a fresh start in life. The genuine nature of a cause often matters little because young men’s fantasies convert grubby deeds into mythic stuff at least for a time. Young men in the Foreign Legion were actually fighting for a brutal imperialism in North Africa. Volunteers to the IDF only assist in the oppression of an abused people, not in the protection of the Jewish people. Those who joined Napoleon thought they were spreading liberté, égalité et fraternité across a mummified old-order Europe, but they were helping one of history’s great bloody soldier-conquerors glorify himself and do what it was he lusted after doing.

Mental illness also intrudes into terrorist matters, all things unusual or different being grist for the big dumb mill of the press. In Canada, during the wave of empty chatter about “home-grown terrorists,” there were two isolated incidents of murder in different parts of the country, one of a policeman and one of a reservist in the military. Immediately the press began a completely uninformative and patience-exhausting round of speculation about the dark nature of the perpetrators, complete with interviews of various self-proclaimed “terrorism experts,” men, as it generally turns out, who run security firms and are out drumming up business. In both cases, we finally learned through the fog of misinformation generated by the press, that the young dead men were deeply mentally disturbed, their acts having no more political significance than the crazed men set on suicide who first kill their wives or children or the boys who periodically show up heavily armed at school, shooting their way through classmates.

And of course, it is almost invariably males who do these things, our prisons containing about ten men for every woman. The violence we see in professional football, hockey, or boxing being almost an exclusive male domain. Woman rarely commit murder, males being responsible for almost all of it, with young males being responsible for an extraordinarily disproportionate share.

Aside from the psychotic and deeply depressed, there is a certain segment of young men in every society who are simply attracted to opportunities for legal killing, rape, and mayhem – this being the truly ugly side of every war and conflict that we never mention in our sentimental world-war memorial services or high school textbooks. These men are variously termed sociopaths or psychopaths, and they appear to exist naturally in some proportion in any population. They enjoy killing, inflicting pain, and the sense of supreme power over the lives of others, and they are incapable of sympathy for their victims or remorse for their acts. They only fear being caught, and war provides a wonderful legal playground for them.

The bloodiest, most brutal and pointless war of the last half century, America’s grotesque slaughter in Vietnam, attracted thousands of volunteers from other countries to join in the gruesome fun – acts which included everything from raping girls and then shooting them to throwing men out of helicopters. Even then-peaceful Canada, whose prime minister, Lester Pearson, bravely turned down Lyndon Johnson’s bullying demands to send troops (charmer that Johnson was, he is said to have grabbed our Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader by the lapels during a meeting and pushed him against a wall), saw hundreds of adventure-seeking young men, on their own, join the American holocaust, which would see three million horribly slaughtered, countless wounded, and an ancient agricultural land overwhelmed with America’s landmines, cluster bombs, and poisons.

Today we call people terrorists as easily as we more accurately might have called them reckless or mad. The word terrorist has been given an almost frightening, superstitious connotation much resembling the word witch in the seventeenth century when any poor old soul who suffered from a mental illness like schizophrenia might be burnt alive for her mumblings and delusions. Today, the same people we once burnt would be sent to a homeless shelter or a psychiatric hospital. Another aspect of the word terrorist is related to what Stalin used to say when he expected his officials to launch a new purge to keep the country terrorized into submission. The Vozhd would say something about “wreckers” or “wreckers of the revolution” and his minions would busy themselves demonstrating alacrity in finding large numbers to consign to prison or death. All of our press and government spokespeople now use terrorist with those two meanings, and to the extent that they do, we should recognize the foolishness of their speech and its danger to a free society.

Of course, anyone who commits violent crime needs dealing with, and we do have laws covering every form of violent crime and what is judged the degree of culpability. But creating a special class or type of crime, somehow understood to be different in nature from other crimes, and thereby requiring extraordinary measures of espionage and policing and imprisonment and standards of evidence, is a shabby, dishonest, and cowardly political act. It is a political act in exactly the sense best explained by George Orwell.

The template for this kind of state activity comes directly from Israel. It long ago succeeded in changing the outside perception of events since 1948 from that of a relatively powerless people having their homes and lands taken with great brutality. Everyone knows instinctively that people treated in that fashion have every right in international law and custom to fight their oppressors. We call them at various times and circumstances freedom fighters, guerillas, resistance fighters, or irregulars. But in this case, they were transformed into terrorists who seek only to destroy law-abiding, democratic Israel – unspeakably evil beings intent on attacking the imported Ozzie-and-Harriet peacefulness of white-picket fence neighborhoods constructed on other people’s property. It truly is a case of the world turned on its head.

It does make things so much easier when you shoot someone or bulldoze their home or send them to prison indefinitely with no trial and subject to torture, if you first have demonized them, much as in the case of witches or wreckers, with terrorist being this generation’s choice demonizing word. And when Israel kills some people whose identity as “terrorists” might be seen as very doubtful, the victims magically become militants, a Newspeak word which strives to make the killing of anyone from boys to grandfathers palatable, our shabby press in the West having adopted the word in its reportage without so much as blinking an eye, much less asking a question. This has been Israel’s day-in, day-out pattern of government for decades, but now it has managed to export to the United States the same pattern of behavior. The United States, after all, is a nation given to Captain Ahab-like obsessions, as it has demonstrated many times in its history, Muslims now having displaced the Communists it pursued with relentless fury for decades at home and abroad. And when the United States embraces a new obsession, its dependants in Europe, Canada, Australia, and other places are bullied into embracing it too. America has many avenues for pressuring the acceptance and recognition of its latest craze or special interest or dark operation and to quiet the criticism which would naturally flow from those who disagree and think for themselves.

Were America not enthralled with this voodoo about terror, Europe and others would quickly fall away, and Israel’s ugly behavior would be left in a glaring spotlight, much as South Africa’s once was.

It is the force of these considerations in part which leads so many to question the true nature of what happened on 9/11, for that set of events was pivotal in having American public opinion embrace extraordinary, anti-democratic, and anti-human rights measures. I do not subscribe to the (not-uncommon) conspiracy notion that the American government was complicit in 9/11, using it as a kind of Nazi Reichstag Fire to ignite the mindless war on terror and a crusade through the Middle East to overturn governments unfriendly to Israel. I do very much believe though that the full story of that event has never been told, and, as always, that can only mean highly embarrassing or compromising facts are being suppressed. The immense body of confidential information in Washington on all matters of state – literally tens of billions of documents – would largely disappear if it weren’t for considerations of embarrassment and compromise, the need for genuine government secrecy being much rarer than many assume.

A free society does not recognize crimes deemed in some way to be different or more heinous or extraordinary: it maintains and enforces sensible, well-reasoned laws which apply equally to all. It does not create criminal laws which reflect political pressure or special interests. The United States, now on a new hunt for a great white whale, has virtually re-created East Germany’s dreaded Stasi, only in a much more sophisticated and far-reaching form. It meshes with the all-pervasive secret state police apparatus Israel has constructed in the Middle East with infinite care since 1948. Now, over all our lives there is something, not answerable to any electorate, working to dissimulate, to intimidate, and to generate fear as nothing of which the Soviet Union was remotely capable. It influences all of our laws and customs, even attempting to shape the way we speak and think.

 

Posted October 27, 2014 by JOHN CHUCKMAN in Uncategorized

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JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: THE CONQUEST OF EUROPE

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: THE TWILIGHT ZONE OF AMERICAN POLITICAL LIFE WHERE ALMOST EVERY WORD OF NEWS ISN’T WHAT IT SEEMS

 

THE TWILIGHT ZONE OF AMERICAN POLITICAL LIFE WHERE ALMOST EVERY WORD OF NEWS ISN’T WHAT IT SEEMS

 

John Chuckman

 

I think a description of the political space in which we live as a kind of twilight reality is not an exaggeration. Not only is a great deal of the news about the world we read and hear manipulated and even manufactured, but a great deal of genuine news is simply missing. People often do not know what is happening in the world, although they generally believe they do know after reading their newspapers or listening to news broadcasts. People receive the lulling sounds or words of most of this kind of news almost unconsciously just as they do to the strains of piped-in “elevator music” in stores and offices.

There are several reasons why this is so. The consolidation of news media creates huge corporate industries whose interests are no different to those of other huge corporate industries. The ownership and control of these industries is not in the hands of people interested in finding out about things and helping others to understand: they are in the hands of people with political connections and goals. At the government level, those in power over the great agencies of the military and security also are not motivated by helping others to understand; indeed, they often are very much interested in hiding what they do.

With a large, complex, and powerful state like the United States these motivations become overwhelming in importance. The more the establishment’s national ambitions become interference in, and manipulation of, the world’s affairs – in effect, controlling the global environment in which it lives – the more it finds itself mired in acts and policies which cannot stand the light of day. Secrecy becomes a paramount goal of government, and all corporate news organizations – understanding their dependency upon government agencies for leaks and information to make them look good, for permissions and licences which allow them to survive and grow, and for advertising revenue from other great corporations involved with government – understand implicitly the permissible limits of investigation and news. And when they do forget, they are promptly reminded. Some of these giants – CNN and Fox News come to mind – make little pretence of genuine news or investigation, existing almost entirely as outlets for points of view, attitudes, and the odd tantalizing morsel of disinformation. They keep an audience because they offer what is best understood as either infotainment or soft propaganda which is expertly tuned to listeners’ and readers’ assumptions and preconceived ideas.

Size matters in all enterprises, economies of scale contributing to build powerful corporations with global influence. Size also matters to create what economists call “barriers to entry” in any industry, something which plays a major role in the evolution of many industries over time from fairly competitive ones to quasi-monopolistic ones. It is virtually impossible for a newcomer to enter an industry evolved to this latter state, including the news industry. It would be about as difficult to enter the American news industry as it would be to enter its soda pop, car manufacturing, household products, or hamburger restaurant industries. It is always possible to start a small niche, or boutique, operation, but it literally is not possible to compete with oligopolistic giants. So, necessarily, American news is under the control of a very few people, extremely wealthy people, who attend the same cocktail parties as senior people in government agencies and other great corporations.

The more powerful the great military-security-policing agencies in a society become, the more independent of public approval and scrutiny they grow. This is unavoidable without a sustained popular demand for public accountability and reasonable transparency, but such popular movements are difficult to start and even harder to maintain, and they are pretty much absent in America. Every once in a while we do get a movement in America popping up like spring dandelions on the lawn, almost always of the “back to basics” type, the Tea Party being the most recent manifestation, financed by some wealthy persons with their own goals and serving to titillate people for a short while that the dark monstrosity in Washington can be made to go away, but, as with the Tea Party, they always dry up and blow away.

The politicians who ostensibly oversee dark matters in special committees do not want public credit for what they approve. And I believe a point is reached, as it has been reached in the United States, where a great deal of the planning and decision-making in dirty affairs is left entirely in the hands of the great security agencies themselves, politicians not being in a position to interfere even if they wanted to do so. The sheer volume and complexity of such operations argues for this view, and the truth is most people and most politicians are comfortable with inertia.

If we go back about fifty years we have a complex and fascinating example of these forces and tendencies at work, and we can only be sure that matters have gone a great deal further since that time with the immense swelling of security budgets, open contempt for privacy and rights, and the dramatic advance of technological capabilities. On the matter of technology from the citizens’ point of view, the blithe pop notion of “social media,” so often talked up in the press as now working against concentrated power, ignores that “social media” too are just great corporations intimately linked to government. They not only send the security agencies a detailed flow of information about their subscribers, but they are all engineered to be switched off when government desires it. The Internet in general has provided an outlet for critical views, but the total exposure to the public is small in the scheme of things – a few channels, as it were, in a multi-trillion channel universe – and can mostly be ignored by authorities, and, in any event, the Internet is evolving quickly into something else far more dominated by commercial interests. The Golden Age of the Internet, so far as ideas are concerned, may well soon be over.  To return to our example, if we go back to America’s many attempts to topple or assassinate the leader of Cuba in the early 1960s, we have perhaps our best understood example of elaborate dark operations, unaccountable officials, murder, mayhem, and an utterly compliant press – all freely continuing for years. Although histories of the Kennedy presidency contain more than one version of some details of America’s vast, long-lasting terrorist plot, still, much of it is understood, at least better than is the case for many such matters.

John Kennedy may not have been quite the idealist some sentimentally view him today, but he was more thoughtful, independent, and tough-minded than many American Presidents of the 20th century. He learned nearly immediately after becoming President that the previous Eisenhower government had established a vast operation to eliminate Castro and his government. It was a terror operation whose size and complexity and resources made the later mountain redoubt of Osama bin Laden resemble a Boy Scout camp. Despite its size, this was an operation unknown to the press and public at the time, although there is an anecdote that The New York Times tripped over the plot and, in traditional Times’ fashion, suppressed it at the CIA’s request. The plans took many routes, including, as we learned later from the Church Committee in 1975 (an examination of some intelligence practices in the wake of the Watergate scandal), CIA representatives going to the bizarre lengths of approaching senior Mafia figures to discuss commissioning them for Castro’s assassination.

Kennedy came under great pressure from the CIA to approve the project for invading Cuba, a difficult position in which to put a young, inexperienced President. He decided to support the plan with important provisos. The Bay of Pigs invasion, by a CIA-trained, supplied, and paid private army of Cuban refugees, was directed by CIA personnel and supported by a huge propaganda apparatus, including a radio station, in Florida. There were also CIA assassination teams prepared to enter Cuba and kill certain people once the refugees were established. Many elements of the plan and the people running it had been involved in 1954 with the successful overthrow of the elected government of Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán in Guatemala. But Cuba was not Guatemala, and their plans proved a colossal and embarrassing failure which served only to increase Castro’s heroic, legendary stature in Cuba, a classic result of poorly-conceived black operations called “blowback” in the security establishment, and the reverberations of these events continued for more than a decade, claiming many lives and careers.

Following the failed invasion, CIA leaders, much resembling some “old boys” at an expensive men’s club where outsiders are resented, blamed the President for his scepticism and failure to extend what they regarded as adequate support, especially in the form of disguised American air support for the invading forces. The new President himself was furious at having been pressured into the fiasco at the start of his term. The truth is that the CIA’s plan was almost laughable, including the key assumption that great numbers of ordinary Cubans would rise against Castro, an extremely popular leader, once the invasion force appeared. It was a delusional sand castle built on a foundation of blind hatred for anything to do with communism, especially for a man as charismatic as Castro. The blindness extended to the CIA’s having selected a poor geographical location for forces to land.

It was all a tremendous example of the arrogance of power, secret men with unlimited resources making secret plans that reflected little reality. Kennedy fired some top CIA officials, including Director Allen Dulles, and is said to have privately sworn to tear the CIA apart. We can only imagine the self-righteous fury of the CIA’s Cold Warrior Mujahedeen at the time, their words, when recorded here or there, resembling tent preachers speaking about casting out devils. Kennedy, however, did not tear the CIA apart. Realistically, that would have been impossible with the men at the CIA knowing better than anyone how to capitalize on an attempt – blackmail, threats, ugly frat-boy jokes, and criminal activity being everyday tools they used. To be labelled “soft on communism” in the early 1960s was the political Mark of Beast, Richard Nixon having built an entire political career on it, and Kennedy’s personal life was subject to then-unpalatable revelations of extensive marital infidelity. So Kennedy continued to work with the CIA on a series of sabotage operations against Cuba and attempts on Castro’s life. Indeed, it is said that Kennedy put his brother, Robert, a sufficiently tough and ruthless man by all accounts, in charge of the plans, making senior CIA personnel answerable to the young Attorney General, itself the kind of act which would not endear him to the CIA’s old boys.

The secret matters around Cuba dominated events for years, again almost without any hard public information, leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis which President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev peacefully settled, a settlement importantly including an American pledge not to invade Cuba again. Ultimately this writer is convinced that it was events around Cuba that led directly to the assassination of John Kennedy, much evidence suggesting a false trail to Cuba being planted before the fateful day in Dallas, the very kind of trail that could be used by the Cold Warrior Mujahedeen to justify an invasion after all. With everything from a faked visit to Mexico City by someone posing as Lee Harvey Oswald (the poor man working in New Orleans as a paid FBI informer at the time – likely a low level part of a Kennedy-initiated FBI program to track and suppress the worst anti-Cuba excesses of the refugees and their handlers in keeping with the spirit of the Missile Crisis settlement – totally unaware he was being set up by those he fell in with), the one-man creation of a Fair Play to Cuba chapter in New Orleans, handing out Fair Play pamphlets (some of which were stamped with the address of an ex-senior FBI anti-communist fanatic, Guy Bannister, who ran a mysterious front operation in New Orleans with some very unsavory associates) at places including near a naval facility, the night visit to Sylvia Odio, daughter of a noted Cuban political figure, by a group of unidentified men who referred to a Leon Oswald, and many other such carefully placed little piles of breadcrumbs.

Kennedy offended his Pentagon Joint Chiefs by not letting them immediately bomb and invade Cuba when offensive missiles were discovered there by U-2 photography, and of course anything of that nature offending the Pentagon offended also the CIA and those dependent upon it.  With his pledge not to invade Cuba again, Kennedy offended the violent Cuban refugee community, people who were armed to the teeth by the CIA and had killed and crippled opponents in Florida as well as in Cuba. And through the entire sequence of events from the Bay of Pigs to the Missile Crisis, Kennedy consistently offended the Cold Warrior Mujahedeen at the CIA. He added to that offence with acts like establishing secret backchannel communications with Khrushchev and preliminary efforts to establish the same communications with Castro. Such efforts were most unlikely to remain secret from the CIA when they involved such a high level and weighty matters. Remember, hatreds in the United States around Cuba remained so intense in the intelligence and refugee communities that as late as 1976, a CIA operative named Luis Posada Carriles planted two bombs on Cubana Airlines Flight 455, killing all 78 people aboard, and he was protected by the American government.

The effect on the general public of accurate knowledge about dark matters in the rare instances when they become known can be glimpsed here or there. One of the best examples is the disappearance from politics, including credible presidential ambitions, of a seemingly attractive Vietnam veteran holding the Medal of Honor, former-Senator Bob Kerrey. When the public learned of a secret operation called Project Phoenix and later learned that Kerrey earned his medal through such work, his political career simply dissolved. Project Phoenix was a dark operation in Vietnam in which American Special Forces crept out, night after night, to assassinate villagers the CIA identified as targets. It is estimated that twenty thousand innocent villagers had their throats slashed in the night by Americans creeping into their homes. It would be hard to conceive of a more cowardly and grisly form of war, but it went on for a long time in complete secrecy. The operation burst upon public awareness only after a titanic internal struggle at the CIA over the authenticity of a Soviet defector named Yuri Nosenko ended with the dismissal of James Angleton in 1974, the paranoid Chief of CIA Counterintelligence (a man, incidentally, who unquestionably had special knowledge of the Kennedy assassination) by new CIA Director William Colby. Colby also revealed the Phoenix program for reasons not well understood and stated he had run it. (A retired Colby later had a mysterious fatal boating accident near his home.)

People who want to discredit critics and sceptics of government today often use the term “conspiracy theorist,” almost as though there were ipso facto no such things as conspiracy or dishonesty in government. It is of course intended as a pejorative description. But the entire history of affairs around Cuba puts the lie to those using the term, and we know from many bits of information that Cuba is only one example of scores of genuine conspiracies.

Those with some history will know that secrecy and dishonesty have long served the interests of power. Why doesn’t the United States claim credit for overthrowing the democratic government of Guatemala, the democratic government of Iran which unleashed the filthy work of the Shah’s secret police, SAVAK, afterward, or the democratic government of Chile and the fifteen thousand or so state murders that followed? Why doesn’t it claim credit for the State Department’s teletyping lists of desired victims to a new government of Indonesia, after the fall of Sukarno in 1965, as its savage followers conducted a genocidal slaughter of suspected communists which saw half a million people thrown into rivers with their throats slashed? Why did it hide acts like the machine-gunning of hundreds of fleeing Korean civilians, including women and children, at the early stages of the Korean War? Or the hideous murder by suffocation in sealed trucks of about three thousand Taleban prisoners in the early stages of the Afghanistan War undertaken by one of America’s key Afghan allies shortly after Donald Rumsfeld publicly said they should be killed or walled away forever? Why doesn’t Israel just tell people it terrorized Palestinians, killing and raping, in 1948 to make as many as possible flee their homes? Or that it machine-gunned masses of Egyptian prisoners of war in the Sinai in a war that it engineered only for conquering more of Palestine?

Could it be that there are acts of which governments are ashamed? That there is reason to be ashamed of acts which they nevertheless continue to repeat? It does seem that government values its reputation enough to avoid taking credit for its ugliest acts. The terrible dilemma is that in a supposedly democratic state, these horrible acts are committed without either the knowledge or consent of the people and despite the fact that the results affect the public’s welfare and often international reputation. Now at just what point could the consent of the people in a democratic state be more important than committing organized murder on their behalf? I cannot imagine any. Yet that is a point at which states like America feel free to act, covering up what they do with masses of secrecy and lies.

Why would anyone deny the existence of conspiracies by America’s government? Regrettably, the only reason that some government behavior becomes known is the existence of whistleblowers. But how does government treat whistleblowers? Just ask Mordechai Vanunu or Daniel Ellsberg or Private Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning or Edward Snowden – truly brave and ethically-motivated individuals, treated like criminals by their governments.

Pervasive secrecy and truly democratic government are simply incompatible, and I think it fair to say that where we see monumental levels of secrecy, as we do in the United States with billions of classified documents and hundreds of past controversies dimly understood, it provides prima facie proof of a society tarted-up to resemble democracy but having few if any of the required internal organs functioning. A culture of secrecy and violence is the culture of a police state, full stop.

Right now we have partial information about some recent American, or American-sponsored, terrorist programs. One such is the induced “civil war” in Syria which receives arms and assistance via Turkey, the same route used to inject a rag-tag army of extremists into Syria and to allow them to retreat periodically in escaping Syria’s army. The extremists even used some of the deadly nerve gas, Sarin, to kill masses of civilians in hopes of pushing the United States openly into the conflict, making the rebels surely the kind of people no sane person wants running a country. And who supplied them with Sarin, a manufactured substance available from only a few sources?  A related dark program occurred in Benghazi, Libya, where an American ambassador was killed in another instance of blowback: he had been running an operation to collect from Libya and export to Syria weapons and thugs when some the thugs turned and attacked him instead. Yet another dark operation has been the destabilization of Ukraine through a huge secret flow of money to right wing forces who shot hundreds of innocent people down on the streets of Kiev to instill general fear and terror to support a coup.

Now, you will not read one word from an American official acknowledging any of this grotesque behavior. Indeed, John Kerry has the unenviable job of publically lying about it, puffing and pontificating and self-righteously proclaiming America’s revulsion over others behaving like that. And in all this storm of murder and dishonesty, you will only find American journalism, that noble guardian of the public’s right to know, keeping its readers and listeners in complete ignorance.

This is how it is possible in what is often regarded a free and democratic state, the national government commits itself to murder and mayhem, using its people’s resources without informing them and without their consent, all the while vigorously lying to them. Can you really have democracy that way? I don’t think so. The power and resources that are in the hands of America’s great secret agencies are greater than those enjoyed by many of the world’s dictators. And the distortions of the American press surely are in keeping with the practices of places where the press is never regarded as free. Many Americans know that at the local town or city level, they do have democratic institutions and attitudes, a fact which reassures them against criticisms of their national system, but then so does China today, and no one calls China a democracy.

 

 

 

 

 

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: A RESPONSE TO HILLARY CLINTON’S ASSERTION THAT ALL NATIONS SHOULD PLAY A PART IN THE AFGHANISTAN MISSION

A RESPONSE TO HILLARY CLINTON’S ASSERTION THAT ALL NATIONS SHOULD PLAY A PART IN THE AFGHANISTAN MISSION

John Chuckman

Hillary Clinton, in a just-published piece on the Afghanistan mission (see note at bottom), offers us nothing helpful or enlightening, only boiler-plate American slogans, the kind of stuff you’d hear from some provincial Congressman giving a Fourth of July speech in a place like Muncie, Indiana.

Indeed, her use of the question-begging word “mission” in the title to describe what has been the pointless conquest and occupation of a people signals the vacuity of the words that follow.

“The violent extremism that threatens the people and governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan also undermines the stability of the wider region and threatens the security of our friends, allies and interests around the world.”

No government in Afghanistan or Pakistan was threatened until the U.S. became involved. Yes, they are poor regions with much backward fundamentalism, but those governments knew how to handle the difficulties of their own affairs before the U.S. bombed and machine-gunned its way in.

No matter what the U.S. does, short of exterminating an entire class of people (for the Taleban is not an invading guerilla force but a substantial portion of the population), the fundamentalism is not going to go away in our lifetimes.

It would take decades of very healthy economic growth to bring these places forward, and so far America’s only contribution has been to kill tens of thousands of people and destroy a great deal of the meager physical assets in these places.

I would remind Ms. Clinton that it was only as recently as the 1930s, and into the 1940s, that families in the American South, likely considering themselves good Christians all, would attend picnics to watch the lynching of some black men. I am not exaggerating: such events were common even in Franklin Roosevelt’s day, and he never spoke out against them, despite prodding from Eleanor, for fear of losing his political support in the South.

Yet that grotesque horror has come to an end. How did it happen? The answer is decades of strong economic growth bringing jobs, wealth, and fresh air to America’s once-fetid South.

How much larger is the problem in a land that lives, to a considerable extent, in the 17th century? Immensely larger.

How is the security of the world threatened by these people? It’s not and never has been. The very fact that NATO countries have made such almost laughably small contributions is the strongest possible evidence that Ms. Clinton is not believed by any of them.

Imagine a genuine world threat in which the many countries of NATO each sent the troop equivalent of the police force of very modest-sized cities?

They have only indeed sent those owing to constant American browbeating, cajoling, and, in some cases, threats: the U.S. colossus can summon a great deal of economic and political force in getting its way.

Which fact brings us to the question of why the U.S. did not use those great non-lethal powers in Afghanistan after 9/11.

It simply demanded the extradition of people without supplying a shred of proof to the Afghan government, the Afghan request being the normal procedure for extradition anywhere.

Then the U.S. invaded while lining up a façade of support from the U.N. and NATO, everyone at that time being under both pressure from the U.S. and only naturally feeling sympathy over 9/11 .

What was America’s purpose? No person in the American government today, not Clinton and not even Obama, can give you a lucid and reasonable answer, because the truth was that there was nothing lucid or reasonable about the invasion. The purpose was blinding white-hot rage for revenge.

Once the U.S.got there, beyond its early cheap victory over 17th century people, it did not know what to do, and it still does not know what to do. Its victory consisted of displacing the Taleban with warlords of the Northern Alliance, supported by a level of horrific bombing perhaps not seen since America’s holocaust in Vietnam.

Eight years later, there is no democracy in Afghanistan, elections being pretty much a sham. The burka is still worn by most of the women in Afghanistan: after all, many members of the Northern Alliance are just as backward and vicious as the Taleban. General Dostum, for example, is a certified mass murderer, a man whose ghastly, brutal excesses were winked at by Bush and Rumsfeld, if indeed not quietly encouraged.

I heard an interview recently with the only woman elected to the Afghan legislature – since tossed out by the warlords – who says that nothing really has changed and, indeed, some things are even worse than they were under the Taleban.

I have heard from other sources that schools for girls are closed almost as soon as they are opened because no money flows to pay salaries and because of the threats from local authorities. The openings of such institutions are often little more than Potemkin village photo-ops. The Bush people used women’s rights as a propaganda tool to gain domestic support for their invasion, and, like all good propaganda, it worked because it was based on truth.

The truth is that Afghanistan is not even a country in the sense that we understand it. It is a remote, impoverished land of about 30 million where tribes live hardscrabble lives with almost no economic progress, steeped in superstitions having the same force they did in 17th century Spain with its Holy Inquisition. Even its border with Pakistan is artificial, never properly defined with the same tribes living on both sides.

You simply cannot change these realities, and certainly not with bombs.

The world is full of awful places. They burn brides in India, force child marriages, and treat young widows who were married to old men in horrible fashion.

The great irony is that the Taleban need never have been an enemy. No Taleban invaded anyone. No Taleban was involved in 9/11. That atrocity was committed by a group largely of Saudis. Importantly, they virtually all held valid American visas and were almost certainly part of secret CIA training program that failed terribly.

By the way, to this day, there is not one shred of valid evidence that Osama bin Laden did anything like the U.S. claims he did. Yes, he was a guest of the Taleban, but then he also was a past CIA operative, something that only enhanced his status for many in the region. Does that mean the CIA is responsible?

The entire Afghanistan invasion and occupation is an unqualified disaster.

One can only hope that Obama intends to use the next year or two to come to a reasonable modus Vivendi with the Taleban and then to withdraw.
________________________________

Note: Ms. Clinton’s piece may be read at:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/6722751/Hillary-Clinton-All-nations-must-play-a-part-in-Afghanistan-mission.html

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: A GEORGE WILL FOLLIES REVIEW   Leave a comment

A GEORGE WILL FOLLIES REVIEW

John Chuckman

I used to read George Will occasionally just to see how strange words bent to political purpose could become. No political commentator in America is better able to use large words to say something at times indescribably odd. I don’t ask you to take this from me on faith. I offer examples, although none is recent since my tolerance for this sort of stuff has worn thin.

By outward appearance, George is the eternal American schoolboy. I imagine George’s conception of himself and the career he would follow may have been fixed when, as a reticent, dour twelve-year old with cowlick and glasses, he achieved an early social success blurting out a big word he had read, startling his teacher and breaking up his class. He has been repeating the same trick for decades to the applause of intense, pimply-faced boys in starched white shirts with dog-eared copies of Ayn Rand tucked under their arms.

America’s plutocrat-Junkers do have courtiers serving them just as the great princes of antiquity had. However, the pop-culture tastes of these modern great eminences do not employ the likes of Walter Raleigh or Francis Bacon. Instead we have Rush Limbaugh as one of the court jesters, still doing frat-boy jokes about physical differences between men and women forty years after college, and we have George as one of the sages, who appears from all the sage-like figures of history and literature to have selected Polonius as his model for style.

A few years ago, George nearly choked over plans to move a statue of some women to the Capitol Rotunda in Washington. He was upset about an expense, as he gracefully put it, to “improve the representation of X chromosomes.” The statue is of suffragists. George couldn’t resist passing along a demeaning nickname, “The Ladies in the Bathtub,” he picked up somewhere, perhaps at one of Trent Lott’s good-ol’-boy get-togethers down on his plantation.

George tried to make the nickname an issue of artistic merit. Artistic merit? The sculpture of the Capitol Rotunda is as uninspired a collection of stolid, state-commissioned hulks as ever graced a giant marble room. Aesthetics have never played a role.

George said he’d “stipulate” the women were great Americans – an interesting choice of words, “stipulate,” the arid language of lawyers allowing one to proceed in court or settle a contract without further discussion of some (usually minor) point. He then observed “the supply of alleged greatness long ago exceeded the supply of space for statues in the Rotunda.”

Well, clearly, choices do have to be made. And could it be news to anyone, apart from survivalists, huddled in abandoned missile silos, savoring George by candlelight as they bolt down freeze-dried snacks, that politics play a role in every choice in Washington? My God, members of the U.S. Congress, overwhelmingly male, actually have the flag that flies over the Capitol changed about every thirty seconds to provide a steady supply of authentic relics for interested, influential constituents, almost the way tens of thousands of true splinters of the Cross were fashioned as princely gifts in the Middle Ages. American presidents sign laws with fists full of pens, one for each loop of the signature and as gift for each key supporter. Politics just doesn’t get more ridiculous anywhere.

What’s annoying about a statue to the movement that gave (slightly more than) half the nation’s people the right to vote? The importance of what it symbolizes equals any democratic advance in the nation’s history. Why should a symbol for this achievement be the target of scorn?

The Rotunda collection already had highly ambiguous symbols that never upset George. Garfield was an undistinguished Civil War general and an undistinguished politician, ennobled only by a frustrated office-seeker assassinating him. Grant, despite his importance in the Civil War, was one of the most dangerously incompetent presidents before Bush. Jackson was a violent backwoods madman and unrepentant slave-holder, colorful and interesting at a safe distance, but America would have been a far better place without most of his presidential accomplishments. Hamilton, a truly great figure in American history, was nevertheless a man who had absolutely no faith in democracy.

It would be unfair to draw conclusions about George’s prejudice only from his opposition to the statue, but in writing about it, he managed, over and over, to use words of scorn and derision.

How do you explain a squib that the possible removal of a reproduction of Magna Carta in favor of the statue “might displease a woman” (Queen Elizabeth II, whose gift it was)? Wouldn’t you say it might displease the British people whose representative the Queen is? What explains his calling the statue one “less to past heroines than to present fixations”? Why his belittling description of the campaign for the statue as “entitlement mentality”?

George attacks one national symbol but is especially protective of others. He is especially protective of the reputation of the Sage of Monticello, patron saint to America’s militia and survivalist crowd. Thomas Jefferson, much to the surprise of people who know him only as a giant, worthy head on Mount Rushmore, provided the prototype for two centuries of American shadow-fascism: use fine words about freedom in your correspondence while living off the sweat of a couple of hundred slaves; a man who never hesitated to stretch presidential authority to its very limits, always seeking to extend American empire. Jefferson was a secretive, suspicious, and vindictive man. He was not a friend to the spirit of Enlightenment.

Conor Cruise O’Brien, Irish scholar, published a biographical study called “The Long Affair,” in 1996, about Thomas Jefferson and his peculiar admiration for the bloody excesses of the French Revolution. Well, the Sage for Archer Daniels Midland went into a word-strewn fit over the book.

Perhaps, the single thing about the book that most upset George was O’Brien’s comparison of a statement of Jefferson’s to something Pol Pot might have said. Jefferson wrote in 1793, at the height of the Terror, “…but rather than it [the French Revolution] should have failed, I would have seen half the earth desolated. Were there but an Adam and Eve left in every country, and left free, it would be better than as it now is.” George wrote off Jefferson’s brutal statement as “epistolary extravagance,” and attacked O’Brien for using slim evidence for an extreme conclusion about an American “hero.”

George went so far as favorably to compare the work of Ken Burns with that of O’Brien, calling Burns “an irrigator of our capacity for political admiration,” as compared to one who “panders” to “leave our national memory parched.” Whew! See what I mean about words?

I mean no disparagement of Ken Burns, but he produces the television equivalent of coffee-table books. O’Brien is a scholar, the author of many serious books. The very comparison, even without the odd language, tells us something about George.

But language, too, is important. The irony is that George’s own words, “irrigator of our capacity for political admiration,” sound frighteningly like what we’d expect to hear from the Ministry of Culture in some ghastly place (dare I write it?) such as Pol Pot’s Cambodia.

But George should have known better. This letter of Jefferson’s is utterly characteristic of views he expressed many different ways. Jefferson quite blithely wrote that America’s Constitution would not be adequate to defend what he called liberty, that there would have to be a new revolution every 15 or 20 years, and that the tree of liberty needed to be nourished regularly with a fresh supply of patriot blood.

Jefferson’s well-known sentimental view of the merits of sturdy yeomen farmers as citizens of a republic and his intense dislike for industry and urbanization bear an uncanny resemblance to Pol Pot’s beliefs. Throwing people out of cities to become honorable peasants back on the land, even those who never saw a farm, was precisely how Pol Pot managed to kill at least a million people in Cambodia.

Jefferson is not now revered for his understanding of the economics of his day. He truly had none, a fact which enabled the brilliant Alexander Hamilton to best him at every turn. However this is not a mistake Jefferson’s intellectual heirs make, since money and power no longer come from plantations and slaves. They understand money and pursue the principles of economics narrowly often to the exclusion of other important goals in society. Jefferson is only of value to them because of the powerfully-expressed words he left behind belittling the importance of government, the only possible counterbalancing force to the excesses that always arise from great economic growth.

What is it about many of those on the right relishing the deaths of others in the name of ideology? You see, much like the “chickenhawks” now running Washington, sending others off to die, Jefferson never lifted a musket during the Revolution. While serving as governor of Virginia, he set a pathetic example of supporting the war’s desperate material needs. He also gave us a comic-opera episode of dropping everything and running feverishly away from approaching British troops in Virginia (there was an official inquiry over the episode). Jefferson turned down his first diplomatic appointment to Europe by the new government out of fear of being captured by British warships, a fear that influenced neither Benjamin Franklin nor John Adams.

But real heroes aren’t always, or even usually, soldiers. Jefferson, despite a long and successful career and a legacy of fine words (expressing thoughts largely cribbed from European writers), cannot be credited with any significant personal sacrifice over matters of principle during his life. He wouldn’t give up luxury despite his words about slavery. He never risked a serious clash with the Virginia Establishment over slave laws during his rise in state politics. And in his draft of the Declaration of Independence, he lamely and at length blamed the king of England for the slave trade, yet, when he wrote the words, it was actually in his interest to slow the trade and protect the value of his existing human holdings.

Unlike Mr. Lincoln later, who had none of his advantages of education and good social contacts, Jefferson did not do well as a lawyer. He never earned enough to pay his own way, his thirst for luxury far outstripping even the capacity of his many high government positions and large number of slaves to generate wealth. Again, unlike Mr. Lincoln, Jefferson was not especially conscientious about owing people money, and he frequently continued buying luxuries like silver buckles and fine carriages while he still owed substantial sums.

Jefferson spent most of his productive years in government service, yet he never stopped railing against the evils of government. There’s more than a passing resemblance here to the empty slogans of government-service lifers like Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich who enjoy their government pensions and benefits even as they still complain about government. Jefferson’s most famous quote praises the least possible government, yet, as President, he brought a virtual reign of terror to New England with his attempts to enforce an embargo against England (the “Anglomen” as this very prejudiced man typically called the English).

Jefferson, besides having some truly ridiculous beliefs, like those about the evils of central banks or the health efficacy of soaking your feet in ice water every morning, definitely had a very dark side. Any of his political opponents would readily have testified to this. Jefferson was the American Machiavelli.

It was this side of him that put Philip Freneau on the federal payroll in order to subsidize the man’s libelous newspaper attacks on Washington’s government – this while Jefferson served in that very government. At another point, Jefferson hired James Callender to dig up and write filth about political opponents, an effort which backfired when Callender turned on Jefferson for not fulfilling promises. Callender famously dug out and publicized the story about Sally Hemings, Jefferson’s slave-mistress, his late wife’s illegitimate half-sister (slavery made for some amazing family relationships), a story we now know almost certainly to be true (by the way, dates point to Sally’s beginning to serve Jefferson in this capacity at 13 or 14 years old). It was this dark side of Jefferson that resulted in a ruthless, years-long vendetta against Aaron Burr for the sin of appearing to challenge Jefferson’s election to the presidency.

George charged O’Brien with wronging Jefferson on his racial views by quoting from Jefferson’s youth and ignoring a different statement years later. But history really doesn’t support George. Jefferson was challenged by others over the years on this issue, and, rather than argue a point on which he knew he was vulnerable, he tended to keep quiet, but there is no good evidence he ever changed his views, despite bits of writing, twinges of his own conscience undoubtedly, that sound sympathetic about how blacks might have arrived at their then piteous state.

Jefferson expressed himself in embarrassingly clear terms about his belief in black inferiority. And it is important to note that in doing so, he violated one of his basic principles of remaining skeptical and not accepting what was not proved, so this, clearly, was something he believed deeply. There is also reliable evidence that on one occasion he was observed by a visitor beating a slave, quite contradicting Jefferson’s public-relations pretensions to saintly paternalism.

When Napoleon sent an army attempting to subdue the slaves who had revolted and formed a republic on what is now Haiti, President Jefferson gave his full consent and support to the bloody (and unsuccessful) effort.

Hero? I have no idea how George defines the word, but by any meaningful standard, Jefferson utterly fails.

In another flight of fancy some years ago, George equated honest efforts to limit campaign contributions to attacks on the First Amendment, about as silly an idea as claiming the Second (well-ordered-militia) Amendment defends the right of every household to own tanks and missile-launchers.

America restricts many forms of commercial expression deemed destructive or dangerous. Liquor advertising on television, certain forms of cigarette advertising, pornography, and racist propaganda are among these. Are these attacks on the First Amendment? Well, if they are, concerns for the Amendment are trumped by concerns for protecting children from noxious substances.

I’m not sure I can think of a more noxious thing than the complete twisting and distorting of democracy by money in Washington. Restrictions on things like liquor advertising testify that people recognize the suggestive, manipulative nature of advertising, yet America’s national elections have pretty well been reduced to meaningless advertising free-for-alls between two vast pools of money.

No one objects to informative discussions of liquor, cigarettes, or racism on television, yet any thoughtful person knows that advertising for the same products or ideas is something else altogether. Do the most fundamental issues of a nation deserve the debased treatment they receive in election advertising campaigns? The Lincoln-Douglas Debates cost little but supplied voters with real information, something that cannot be said for any money-drenched campaign of the 20th Century.

When a particular aspect of free speech, as the right to give and spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, undermines democracy itself, it is not just one Amendment at stake, it is the whole evolution and meaning of the American Constitutional system.

Further, large amounts of campaign money, in economic terms, represent barriers to entry against newcomers, outside the two money-laden, quasi-monopoly parties. Try marketing a new product against a firm with the market position of a Microsoft or a Coke without tens of millions to spend, no matter how good your product, and you’ll see what I mean by barriers to entry. This is something many find instinctively repellent and unfair in their most ordinary, everyday shopping and business dealings. How much more so where it directly affects the entry of candidates and new ideas into government?

Apart from the sheer ugliness of watching members of Congress grovel for money, we have many examples of money’s pernicious influence on elections. The CIA has spent God knows how many millions of dollars influencing elections in other countries, yet observe America’s great touchiness a few years back over even a hint that China may have played the same trick. This only shows how well Americans understand what money does to politics, yet whenever someone tries to do something to improve a rotten situation, George and other courtiers switch on their word processors and start felling trees.

My last citation from George concerns his regret over the coarseness and lack of civility in America, what George called “Dennis Rodman’s America,” or in another place, “a coarse and slatternly society” jeopardizing “all respect….”

Unfortunately, George’s historical errors gave him a false basis for measuring moral decline. He wrote that the youthful George Washington was required to read “110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior.” The fact is the highly ambitious Washington chose the small book and forced himself to copy out the rules in longhand so that he might become more acceptable for advancement in British colonial society.

Young Washington was heavily influenced by associating with families from the cream of British colonial society, people not at all characteristic of average colonial Americans. Most of America then was a rude, rough place. Newspapers regularly libeled and abused with a ferocity we can scarcely imagine today. Drunkenness and brawling were common. Fights often included such grotesque practices as gouging out eyes. And, of course, the filthy brutality of slavery was normal, on exhibit in many streets.

It is simply wrong to say that American behavior has gone downhill from a golden age. Europeans in the 19th century noted with horror the way Americans spit tobacco juice everywhere – even on the floors and carpets of the most elegant hotels. Visitors to the White House used to clomp around in muddy boots, pawing and even walking on furnishings, cutting souvenir swatches from the drapes and carpets and grabbing anything small enough to stuff under a coat – often leaving the place a shambles after a large public gathering.

At times there have been rules or practices that might now be cited as exemplifying a lost age of gentility, but citing these in isolation misrepresents the general tone of the past. While George cited the clean language used in movies under the Production Code in the 1940s, he neglected to mention that, while Hollywood worried about sexual innuendo in scripts, in any American city a policeman might freely and openly address a black citizen as “niggah.” And while Hollywood fussed over suggestive words in “Casablanca,” it was still possible in some parts of the country to lynch a black man and suffer no penalty.

But George is more concerned about sexual coarseness than violence. This happens to be a characteristic America’s Puritans. It has also been characteristic of tyrant-temperaments. Hitler did not permit off-color or suggestive stories told in his presence. Lincoln, on the other hand loved a good off-color joke.

Now, again consider George’s words about “a coarse and slatternly society” jeopardizing “all respect….” Slattern? Just what century does he think it is?

In fact, it is easily observed that people who use foul language are expressing anger and frustration, and there are lots of angry people in America: the pressures of the society do that to you. Trying to get at the cause of the anger would raise a discussion of civility to something worthwhile, but George seemed simply to want to “tut tut!” a bit like some marquis in the late 18th Century worrying about the niceties just before the deluge.