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Tag Archives: WAR ON TERROR

FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH IN PARIS AND THE UGLY TRUTH OF STATE TERROR

John Chuckman

Mass murder, as that which just occurred in Paris, is always distressing, but that does not mean we should stop thinking.

Isn’t it rather remarkable that President Hollande, immediately after the event, declared ISIS responsible? How did he know that? And if he was aware of a serious threat from ISIS, why did he not take serious measures in advance?

Within days of Friday 13, French forces assaulted an apartment with literally thousands of bullets being fired, killing a so-called mastermind, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Just how are you instantly elevated to the rank of “mastermind”? And if security people were previously aware of his exalted status, why did they wait until after a disaster to go after him?

Well, the ugly underlying truth is that, willy-nilly, France for years has been a supporter of ISIS, even while claiming to be fighting it. How do I know that? Because France’s foreign policy has virtually no independence from America’s. It could be described as a subset of American foreign policy. Hollande marches around with his head held stiffly up after getting off the phone at the Élysée Palace, having received the day’s expectations from Washington. He has been a rather pathetic figure.

So long as it is doing work the United States wishes done, ISIS remains an American protectorate, and regardless of Hollande’s past rhetoric, he has acted according to that reality. But something may just have changed now.

It is important to note the disproportionate attention in the West to events in Paris. I say disproportionate because there are equally ugly things going on in a number of places in the Middle East, but we do not see the coverage given to Paris. We have bombs in Lebanon and Iraq. We have daily bombings and shootings in Syria. We have cluster bombs and other horrors being used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. And of course, there are the ongoing horrors of Israel against Palestinians.

We have endless interviews with ordinary people in Paris, people who know nothing factual to help our understanding, about their reaction to the terror, but when was the last time you saw personal reactions broadcast from Gaza City or Damascus? It just does not happen, and it does raise the suspicion that the press’s concern with Paris is deliberately out of proportion. After all, Israel killed about twenty times as many people in Gaza not very long ago, and the toll was heavily weighted with children, many hundreds of them. Events in Paris clearly are being exploited for highly emotional leverage.

Leverage against what? Arabs in general and Muslims in particular, just part of the continuing saga of deliberately-channeled hate we have experienced since a group of what proved (after their arrest) to be Israeli spies were reported on top of a truck, snapping pictures and high-fiving each other as the planes hit the World Trade Center in 2001. What those spies were doing has never been explained to the public. I’m not saying Israel is responsible for 9/11, but clearly some Israeli government interests were extremely happy about events, and we have been bombarded ever since with hate propaganda about Muslims, serving as a kind of constant noise covering the crimes Israel does commit against Palestinians and other neighbors.

It is impossible to know whether the attack in Paris was actually the work of ISIS or a covert operation by the secret service of an ISIS supporter. The point is a bit like arguing over angels on a pinhead. When you are dealing with this kind of warfare – thugs and lunatics of every description lured into service and given deadly toys and lots of encouragement to use them – things can and do go wrong. But even when nothing goes wrong in the eyes of sponsors for an outfit like ISIS, terrible things are still happening. It’s just that they’re happening where the sponsors want them to happen and in places from which our press carefully excludes itself. Terrible things, for example, have been happening in the beautiful land of Syria for four or five years, violence equivalent to about two hundred Paris attacks, causing immense damage, the entire point of which is to topple a popularly-supported president and turn Syria into the kind of rump states we see now in Iraq.

A covert operation in the name of ISIS is at least as likely as an attack by ISIS. The United States, Israel, Turkey, and France are none of them strangers to violent covert activities, and, yes, there have been instances before when a country’s own citizens were murdered by its secret services to achieve a goal. The CIA pushed Italian secret services into undertaking a series of murderous attacks on their own people during the 1960s in order to shake up Italy’s “threatening” left-wing politics. It was part of something called Operation Gladio. Operation Northwoods, in the early 1960s, was a CIA-planned series of terrorist acts on American civilians to be blamed on Cuba, providing an excuse for another invasion. It was not carried out, but that was not owing to any qualms in the CIA about murdering their own, otherwise no plan would have ever existed. The CIA was involved in many other operations inside the United States, from experiments with drugs to ones with disease, using innocent people as its subject-victims.

There have been no differences worth mentioning between Hollande’s France and America concerning the Middle East. Whatever America wants, America gets, unlike the days when Jacques Chirac opposed the invasion of Iraq, or earlier, when de Gaulle removed France’s armed forces from integration within NATO or bravely faced immense hostility, including a coup attempt undertaken by French military with CIA cooperation, when he abandoned colonialism in Algeria.

If anything, Hollande has been as cloyingly obsequious towards America’s chief interest in the Middle East, Israel, as a group of Republican Party hopefuls at a Texas barbecue fund-raiser sniffing out campaign contributions. After the Charlie Hebdo attack, Hollande honored four Jewish victims of the thugs who attacked a neighborhood grocery store with France’s highest honor, the Legion of Honor. I don’t recall the mere fact of being murdered by thugs ever before being regarded as a heroic distinction. After all, in the United States more than twenty thousand a year suffer that fate without recognition.

Israel’s Netanyahu at the time of the Charlie Hebdo attack actually outdid himself in manic behavior. He barged into France against a specific request that he stay home and pushed himself, uninvited, to the front row of the big parade down the Champs-Élysées which was supposed to honor free speech. He wanted those cameras to be on him for voters back home watching.

Free speech, you might ask, from the leaders of Egypt, Turkey, the UAE, and Israel, who all marched in front?  Well, after the free-speech parody parade, the Madman of Tel Aviv raced around someone else’s country making calls and speeches for Jewish Frenchmen to leave “dangerous” France and migrate “home” to Israel. It would in fact be illegal in Israel for someone to speak that way in Israel to Israelis, but illegality has never bothered Netanyahu. Was he in any way corrected for this world-class asinine behavior? No, Hollande just kept marching around with his head stiffly up. I guess he was trying to prove just how free “free speech” is in France.

But speech really isn’t all that free in France, and the marching about free speech was a fraud. Not only is Charlie Hebdo, the publication in whose honor all the tramping around was done, not an outlet for free speech, being highly selective in choosing targets for its obscene attacks, but many of the people marching at the head of the parade were hardly representatives of the general principle.

France itself has outlawed many kinds of free speech. Speech and peaceful demonstrations which advocate a boycott of Israel are illegal in France. So a French citizen today cannot advocate peacefully against a repressive state which regularly abuses, arrests, and kills some of the millions it holds in a form of bondage. And Hollande’s France enforces this repressive law with at least as much vigor as Israel does with its own version, in a kind of “Look, me too,” spirit. France also has a law which is the exactly the equivalent of a law against anyone’s saying the earth is flat: a law against denying or questioning the Holocaust. France also is a country, quite disgracefully, which has banned the niqab.

Now, America’s policy in the Mideast is pretty straightforward: subsidize and protect its colony Israel and never criticize it even on the many occasions when it has committed genuine atrocities.  American campaign finance laws being what they, politics back home simply permits no other policy. The invasion of Iraq, which largely was intended to benefit Israel through the elimination of a major and implacable opponent, has like so many dark operations backfired. I call the invasion a dark operation because although the war was as public as could be, all of America’s, and Britain’s, supposed intelligence about Iraq was crudely manufactured and the reasons for undertaking an act which would kill a million people and cripple an entire country were complete lies.

America’s stupid invasion created new room for Iran to exert its influence in the region – hence, the endless noise in Israel and Saudi Arabia about Iran – and it led directly to the growth of armed rabble groups like ISIS. There were no terrorists of any description in Saddam’s Iraq, just as there were no terrorists in Gadhafi’s Libya, a place now so infested with them that even an American ambassador is not safe.

Some Americans assert that ISIS happened almost accidentally, popping out of the dessert when no one was looking, a bit like Athena from the head of Zeus, arising from the bitterness and discontents of a splintered society, but that view is fatuous. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens by accident in this part of the world. Israel’s spies keep informed of every shadowy movement, and America always listens closely to what they say.

It is silly to believe ISIS just crept up on America, suddenly a huge and powerful force, because ISIS was easy for any military to stop at its early stages, as when it was a couple of thousand men waving AK-47s from the backs of Japanese pick-up trucks tearing around Iraq. Those pick-up trucks and those AK-47s and the gasoline and the ammunition and the food and the pay required for a bunch of goons came from somewhere, and it wasn’t from Allah.

A corollary to America’s first principle about protecting Israel is that nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in Israel’s neighborhood that is not approved, at least tacitly, by the United States. So whether, in any given instance of supply and support for ISIS, it was Israel or Saudi Arabia or Turkey or America – all involved in this ugly business – is almost immaterial. It all had to happen with American approval. Quite simply, there would be hell to pay otherwise.

As usual in the region, Saudi Arabia’s role was to supply money, buying weapons from America and others and transshipping them to ISIS. Ever since 9/11, Saudi Arabia has been an almost pathetically loyal supporter of America, even to the extent now of often cooperating with Israel. That couldn’t happen before an event in which the majority of perpetrators proved to be Saudi citizens and which led to the discovery that large amounts of Saudi “go away” money had been paid to Osama bin Laden for years. But after 9/11, the Saudis feared for the continuation of their regime and now do what they are told.  They are assisted in performing the banking function by Qatar, another wealthy, absolute state aligned with the United States and opposing the rise of any possibly threatening new forces in its region.

Of course, it wasn’t just the discoveries of 9/11 that motivated Saudi Arabia. It intensely dislikes the growing influence of Iran, and Iran’s Shia Muslim identity is regarded by Sunni sects in Saudi Arabia in much the way 17th century Protestantism was viewed by an ultramontane Catholic state like Spain. The mass of genuine jihadists fighting in Syria – those who are not just mercenaries and adventurers or agents of Israel or Turkey or the Saudis – are mentally-unbalanced Sunni who believe they are fighting godlessness. The fact that Assad keeps a secular state with religious freedom for all just adds to their motivation.

ISIS first achievement was toppling an Iraqi government which had been excessively friendly to Iran in the view of Israel, and thereby the United States. Iraq’s army could have stopped them easily early on but was bribed to run away, leaving weapons such as tanks behind. Just two heavy tanks could have crushed all the loons in pick-up trucks. That’s why there was all the grotesque propaganda about beheadings and extreme cruelty to cover the fact of modern soldiers running from a mob. ISIS gathered weapons, territory, and a fierce reputation in an operation which saw President al-Maliki – a man disliked by the United States for his associations with Iran and his criticism of American atrocities – hurriedly leave office.

From that base, ISIS was able to gain sufficient foothold to begin financing itself through, for example, stolen crude sold at a discount or stolen antiquities. The effective splitting up of Iraq meant that its Kurdish population in the north could sell, as it does today, large volumes of oil to Israel, an unheard of arrangement in Iraq’s past. ISIS then crossed into Syria in some force to go after Assad. The reasons for this attack were several: Assad runs a secular state and defends religious minorities but mainly because the paymasters of ISIS wanted Assad destroyed and Syria reduced in the fashion of Iraq.

Few people in the press seem to have noted that ISIS never attacks Israel or Israeli interests. Neither does it attack the wheezingly-corrupt rulers of Saudi Arabia, the Islamic equivalent of ancient Rome’s Emperor Nero. Yet those are the very targets a group of genuine, independent warrior-fundamentalists would attack. But ISIS is not genuine, being supplied and bankrolled by people who do not want to see attacks on Israel or Saudi Arabia, including, notably, Israel and Saudi Arabia. ISIS also is assisted, and in some cases led, by foreign covert operators and special forces.

There does seem to be a good deal of news around the idea of France becoming serious in fighting ISIS, but I think we must be cautious about accepting it at face value. Putin is reported as telling ship commanders in the Mediterranean to cooperate and help cover the French aircraft carrier approaching. Hollande keeps calling for American cooperation too, as Putin has done for a very long time, but America’s position remains deliberately ambiguous. A new American announcement of cooperation with Turkey in creating a “safe zone” across the border with northern Syria is a development with unclear intentions. Is this to stop the Kurds Erdogan so despises fighting in the north of Syria from establishing themselves and controlling the border or is it a method for continued support of ISIS along the that border? Only time will tell.

I do think it at least possible Hollande may have come around to Putin’s view of ISIS, but America has not, and the situation only grows more fraught with dangerous possibilities. I’ve long believed that likely America, in its typically cynical fashion, planned to destroy ISIS, along with others like al-Nusra, once they had finished the dirty work of destroying Syria’s government and Balkanizing the country. In any event, Israel – and therefore, automatically, America – wants Assad destroyed, so it would be surprising to see America at this point join honestly with Putin and Hollande.

America has until now refused Russia any real support, including such basic stuff as sharing intelligence. It cooperates only in the most essential matters such avoiding attacks on each other’s planes. It also has made some very belligerent statements about what Russia has been doing, some from the America’s Secretary of Defense sounding a lot like threats. Just the American establishment’s bully-boy attitude about doing anything which resembles joining a Russian initiative does not bode well.

After all, Putin has been portrayed as a kind of Slavic Satan by American propaganda cranking stuff out overtime in support of Ukraine’s incompetent coup-government and with the aim of terrifying Eastern Europe into accepting more American weapons and troops near Russia’s border, this last having nothing to do with any Russian threat and everything to do with America’s aggressive desire to shift the balance of power. How do you turn on a dime and admit Putin is right about Syria and follow his lead?

And there are still the daily unpleasant telephone calls from Israel about Assad. How do you manoeuvre around that when most independent observers today recognize Assad as the best alternative to any other possible government. He has the army’s trust, and in the end it is the Syrian army which is going to destroy ISIS and the other psychopaths. Air strikes alone can never do that. The same great difficulty for Hollande leaves much ambiguity around what he truly means by “going to war against ISIS.”

It is an extremely complicated world in which we live with great powers putting vast resources towards destroying the lives of others, almost killing thousands on a whim, while pretending not to be doing so. We live in an era shaped by former CIA Director Allen Dulles, a quiet psychopath who never saw an opportunity for chaos he did not embrace.

The only way to end terror is to stop playing with the lives of tens of millions in the Middle East, as America has done for so long, and stop supporting the behaviors of a repressive state which has killed far greater numbers than the madmen of ISIS could dream of doing, demanding instead that that state make peace and live within its borders. But, at least at this stage, that is all the stuff of dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GRAND ILLUSION

The truth is that the risk of an American being killed by terrorism is close to zero, having been calculated at 1:20,000,000

 

John Chuckman

In the years since 9/11, American police alone have killed at least twice as many Americans as died in that single large event, the annual toll of police killings being somewhere between 500 and 1,000, the variation owing to many such events going inaccurately reported by police.

Each year, somewhere between 30 and 40 thousand Americans are killed in automobiles, the level having declined in recent years. Each year about 15,000 Americans are murdered, down from about 25,000 not too many years ago. Each year about 100,000 Americans are killed by medical malpractice. About 40,000 Americans commit suicide annually. These are just a few causes of death in America, not the largest ones but some of the more interesting.

Let’s get a rough total estimate of what has happened to Americans from these causes in the time since 9/11. Just using the low number in each case for fourteen years, 7,000 Americans were killed by their own police, 420,000 were killed by something parked in their garage, 210,000 were murdered by fellow citizens, 1,400,000 were killed by friendly family doctors, and there were 560,000 who just decided to pack it in for one reason or another. The total of these various causes of death rounds to 2, 600,000 deaths, nearly 867 times the number of Americans killed in 9/11, 867 collapsed sets of twin towers, nearly 62 collapsed sets of towers per year.

So why are we spending countless billions of dollars fighting terror, an almost insignificant threat to our well-being? We spend a total by various estimates of between 1 and 5 trillion dollars (yes, that’s trillion with a “t”), although such totals can never accurately be given owing to secrecy, false accounting, and the immense waste that is an inherent part of all military and intelligence operations. Even in the crudest military terms of “bang for the buck,” ignoring all the death and destruction and ethical issues, just as the military routinely does in its grim work, the War on Terror has to be the greatest misdirection of resources in all of human history.

Or is it? Perhaps there are other reasons for the War on Terror, reasons never discussed in newspapers or on news broadcasts, reasons which make the expenditure of such colossal amounts against such an insignificant risk acceptable to those doing the spending? Unless American leaders are all lunatics, I think there must be.

Most people are aware that the War on Drugs has been a stupendous flop, with a great deal of resources having bought nothing except a general diminishment of personal freedoms, construction of new prisons, and make-work employment for many unnecessary police and prison guards. But each year the War on Terror spends many, many times the amount spent on the War on Drugs, and what has it bought us? A far greater debasement of freedoms, almost wiping clean parts of the Bill of Rights, raising to a high status in our society such dark and anti-democratic forces as security agents of every kind and the military, increasing exponentially the secrecy of government and thus giving voters no hope for an informed ballot, making countless future enemies in the world, and causing Americans willy-nilly to support filthy acts identical to the hateful work of military juntas who made tens of thousands of civilians disappear.

I think there are only a couple of explanations for this waste of resources which otherwise employed could have made the world an immeasurably better place. They are assisted greatly by what I’ll call the “crime in the news” effect, although I might just as well call it the “advertising effect,” because advertising works on people’s minds through its seeming omnipresence and repetition planting suggestions, suggestions not entirely different to those planted by the stage-performer hypnotist in the minds of his volunteers from the audience.

It has been demonstrated many times that daily reports of violent crime, even when the crimes occur outside a listening community, cause people to become apprehensive about many ordinary activities such as letting kids walk to school or go to the park to play. And no advertising campaign in history could begin to compare to the complete audience saturation of “terror this or that” in our newspapers, magazines, and on-air. Surely, no totalitarian government ever more completely blanketed its people with fearful suggestions than does America’s “free press” today. You literally cannot hear a news broadcast or read a newspaper with the word terror missing, a fact which keeps most people in an unquestioning frame of mind about what properly should be regarded as sinfully immense expenditures to no useful purpose, at the same time conditioning them to surrender precious freedoms. For most people, the fact is that fear overcomes both logic and courage.

Americans, along with people in other lands heavily under American influence, have voluntarily given up claims to what we believed were well-established rights. Yes, there is some controversy over the high-tech equivalent of Big Brother’s telescreens, over the construction of immense new or expanded agencies such as the TSA and NSA, and even some over a seemingly-endless set or wars, but much less than you might have expected. There has been relatively little controversy over America’s smashing its adherence to everything from the Geneva Conventions to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the complete disregard for established basic principles of common law in America’s international behavior goes largely unremarked, at least in America.

In a very real sense, America’s establishment, its government within the government consisting of leaders in security and the military and of its great corporations, has been given licence to create a kind of Frankenstein monster which now stands ready with terrible powers to do its bidding. It certainly isn’t just terrorists who need fear, it is every person with the impulse in his or her breast for justice, fairness, and human decency, and it is every country which has an impulse for independence from America’s imperious declarations of how they should carry on their affairs. I don’t like the expression New World Order, but it does in fact communicate something of what has been pursued relentlessly by America’s establishment since 9/11 with an unbounded sense of its entitlement and privilege. The awesome creature it has brought to life – which already runs secret prisons, tortures, conducts non-judicial killings, and supports horrible governments in many places – is no respecter of principles or human rights or even basic decency. We all know from history and common experience that over time any well-funded, established, and privileged institution grows, altering the terms of its charter and spreading its influence always farther, just as today American intelligence, bound by charter not to spy on Americans, spies on them all the time through various technical arrangements effectively going around its charter.

This monster serves ambitions abroad – crush democracy anywhere it proves inconvenient or a barrier to the interests of America’s establishment, as in Ukraine and in Egypt and as attempted in Venezuela, but also crush old arrangements which have produced advancing societies in other lands, even though they are not yet democratic, as in Syria, Iraq, or Libya.

In a relatively short time the monster has made a chaotic wasteland of such previously prosperous lands as Iraq and Libya, and it is now hard at work doing the same to the lovely, ancient land of Syria where it is allied in its efforts with some of the ugliest violent fanatics you could hope to find anywhere. Its acts have resulted in many hundreds of thousands of deaths in these places, countless refugees and injuries, the destruction of much precious infrastructure, and left people to wallow in chaos for years to come.

It created a coup, and thereby a civil war, in Ukraine, reducing that impoverished land still further, and it allied itself for the effort with the kind of stormfront militia trash that even the pathetic FBI surely would infiltrate and investigate were they active in the United States. It did all this just to gain temporary psychological advantages over Russia, a country whose leadership today far better represents principles of international peace and good order – not without some distant echo of irony for those of us raised on a steady diet of Cold War propaganda – than those in Washington who never stop mouthing slogans about rights and democracy which they routinely ignore. We all have an immense investment in America’s reckless game of “playing chicken” with Russia, the only country on the planet capable of obliterating most of Western civilization. I’ve never liked frat-boy pranks and humor, but in this case the overgrown frat-boys at the CIA are guffawing over stupidities which risk most of what we hold precious.

But the monster serves also to intimidate America’s own population. Don’t hold big or noisy demonstrations against injustice, don’t complain too much about authorities and truly abusive police, don’t communicate with others who may be viewed as undesirables for whatever reasons by the government, and don’t describe any group which has been arbitrarily-declared terrorist as being merely freedom fighters – any of these acts or many others risks arbitrary powers that never formally existed before.

Homeland Security has stocked huge amounts of crowd-control equipment and weapons, and it was a military general who quietly announced a few years back that the Pentagon was prepared should martial law became necessary in America. America’s local police forces, long ago having earned an international reputation for violent, militaristic behavior, have been given surplus military-grade crowd-control equipment. The FBI seeks new authorities and capabilities regularly, the same FBI with such a sorry record, going back to its origins, of abusing authority.

In my mind, and I think in the minds of many, America’s posture towards the world resembles a pug-ugly bully confronting you on the street, someone who just will not let you pass until you give him what he demands. The bully is the country’s immensely wealthy and influential privileged establishment, having the country’s general population now completely in tow, fearful and intimidated, quite apart from being in large part underemployed or unemployed. The bully naturally pays no attention to international organizations and agreements, believing himself above the rules and constraints to which others hold. The organizations are either simply ignored or, as in the case of the UN, coerced into behaving along acceptable lines, America having spent some years recently refusing to pay its legally-required dues just to prove a point as well as having been involved in more than one cabal to unseat a disliked Secretary General.

And I fear this gives us just a hint of what is likely to come because, as we should never stop reminding ourselves, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The world’s hope for relief from a form of international tyranny comes from the growth of countries like Russia, China, India, and Brazil. I wish I could add the EU to the list, but it seems almost as supine and voiceless as America’s own general population or Canada’s present government. Only forces capable of saying “no” to America’s establishment and building interest blocs to oppose its excesses offer redress and relief in future, and it is only through political contention that new international organizations are likely to emerge, ones with some power and effect. Americans all give lip service to competition in economics, but the concept applies no less to the spheres of politics and world affairs. And Americans all give lip service to democracy, not realizing that its governing elites represent the tiniest fraction of the world’s population and resemble in their acts abroad about as aristocratic a government as ever existed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOREIGN AFFAIRS AS OPERA BUFFA: THE GLOBAL FIGHT AGAINST ISIS

John Chuckman

 

There is a forgotten 1933 movie serial called The Three Musketeers in which three members of the French Foreign Legion are rescued by an American, a young John Wayne, using the machine gun on his biplane to mow down Arab bad guys threatening the Legionnaires in the Sahara. What was John Wayne doing flying around the French Sahara? He had flown over from France to visit his girlfriend. Why did he have a machine gun mounted on his plane? There wouldn’t be a story otherwise. Like all such series, it is silly, but it is notable for a plot which includes a secret organization called the Devil’s Circle led by a mysterious and evil figure called El Shaitan, someone who wants to destroy the Legion and, after many false leads, turns out in the last reel to be a western merchant rather than an Arab.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Substitute al-Qaeda for the Devil’s Circle, substitute Osama bin Laden for El Shaitan, and substitute the Mideast for North Africa. John Wayne remains John Wayne, symbol as they used to say on the voiceover for the 1950s Superman television show, “for the American way of life.” It does sound as though the script for al-Qaeda was lifted from the old serial. I’m sure someone at Langley would be able to confirm that. With all its twists and turns around the identity of El Shaitan, the story would make a great libretto for an extravagant opera buffa, or a Broadway comedy musical.

Of course, we had indisputable proof years ago, in the testimony of a former British Foreign Minister and several other significant world figures, that there was indeed no such organization as al-Qaeda, the Arab word commonly meaning “hole” or “toilet,” hardly the choice of cutthroats. The term was a convenient Washington insider shorthand to designate scattered, unrelated populations of Islamic bad guys, as Washington saw them, lurking in deserts and on mountain redoubts or maybe even hiding in Western cities, ready to spring into action at a signal from El Shaitan, I mean, Osama bin Laden. But the fact that al-Qaeda does not exist, as is the case so many times with facts, made no impression on Americans, and especially not on their ever-vigilant press, and certainly had no influence on a lunatic policy called the War on Terror.

Of course, the root cause of 9/11 and so many other acts of angry, frustrated, and powerless people is America’s embrace of the seemingly never-ending injustice and brutality of Israel towards millions of Arabs. But Washington doesn’t deal with hard realities; it is too busy always dealing with self-created fantasies like al-Qaeda. After all, it is the same in its own society. Police brutality, corrupt elections, massive abuses of lobbyists, crying need for reform of a truly sick democracy, massive urban poverty, poor public education, and a dark and overwhelming military-intelligence influence are not topics of discussion in America’s government. No, American politicians’ ideas of domestic issues are proposed flag-desecration amendments, The Star Spangled Banner being sung in Spanish, the role of drones in cities, supplying the nation’s police forces with surplus armored vehicles and gear from all the nation’s wars, stopping the flow of poor refuges, especially children, from all the horrors America has helped create in Central America and Mexico, maintaining the world’s largest prison population at minimum cost, and paying less taxes.

Well, as al-Qaeda fades into the sunset, we are suddenly flooded with media noise about an even more bizarre organization called ISIS (or ISIL) which honorable and honest Western leaders – try not laugh: Obama, Cameron, and Hollande – insist is ready to attack us in city streets, sabotage power grids, and poison water supplies if we don’t start bombing the crap out of them in Iraq and Syria. Some of America’s more bizarre congressmen are also blubbering about an ISIS invasion from Mexico, calculatingly dragging in paranoid fears over the widely disliked situation on America’s southern border concerning refugees. What’s that about Syria? Don’t all the chilling tales of ISIS come from Iraq? Well, pretty much so, but ISIS is said to be very ambitious. Tales of its growth and spread resemble lines from the script of a cheap 1950s science fiction film called The Blob. And besides, Syria is what the United States really cares about, now that Iraq drags itself around almost like a veteran with three limbs nearly severed.

We have indisputable proof in the testimony from a certain former NSA employee, that ISIS is the creation of Mossad and American intelligence. As with so many of America’s recent ghastly projects in the Middle East, financing comes from Saudi Arabia, the Saudis having spent the last 13 years desperately repenting their (still undefined) role in events around 9/11, even to the point of secretly embracing Israel in their regional plans and plots. The Saudis remain under great pressure to cough up wads of cash whenever America now beckons with a new bone-headed project. All the creeps – various collections of mindless fundamentalists, soldiers of fortune, just plain opportunists, and CIA thugs – working to overthrow Assad’s government in Syria also receive their bounty, just as they receive weapons and refuge in Turkey. ISIS first worked in Syria as just one of several rag-tag armies assembled by the United States and its helpers to destroy a peaceful nation which has had the temerity to oppose some of American policy, especially with regard to Israel. Again, to remind readers, the incident at Benghazi, Libya, involving the killing of an American ambassador and a great deal of embarrassment for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was precisely about gathering up violent people and arms in the wasteland created there and shipping them off to Turkey in order to create hell in Syria.

But ISIS is just too over-the-top even for opera buffa. Its creation served several dark aims. First, it serves as a lure for malcontents from many places, many of its recruits being American or English, drawing them together at one location. The leadership of ISIS, associated to a certainty with Israel and the United States, can gather information from these recruits about their associates or organizations in various countries. Effectively, after doing any dirty work assigned to them, the recruits are being set up to be killed, either by American air strikes or by the opponents they face in their work. Few in ISIS would know who the “undercover cops” are and who the bad guys are to be used and disposed of like so much toilet paper. The method reflects Israel’s secret services’ long, ugly use of Palestinians to undermine Palestinians.

Second, ISIS served as a mechanism to topple Nouri al-Maliki, recently prime minister of Iraq, a figure with whom Washington had become very unhappy, chiefly owing to his friendliness with Iran, yet another target of the American/Israeli Axis. Maliki proved lucky compared to most leaders Washington sets up and with whom it becomes disenchanted: they generally end up as the proverbial Mafia figures fitted with cement overshoes at the bottom of a river. Maliki was given a good scare with the advancing blood-curdling hordes of ISIS and wisely understood it as his cue to exit.

Third, ISIS has served as an excuse to work with the Kurdish population in Iraq, more or less separately from the national government. This involves giving weapons and intelligence to Kurds and furthering their de facto separation from Iraq, thus greatly weakening any future Iraq since the Kurdish areas have a great portion of the country’s crude oil. After all, the most basic reason for America’s invasion of Iraq was to eliminate it as even a potential enemy of Israel. There also have been some mysterious disappearances of Iraqi crude shipments, which may well have ended up in Israel.

Fourth, the ISIS move back into Syria provides the perfect excuse for American bombing there, something President Putin of Russia managed to prevent earlier with some deft statesmanship. America has already warned President Assad, busy fighting an engineered civil war created by the same folks who created ISIS, that they will attack his defences if he interferes with their bombing his country. Incidentally, no one consulted the Syrian government on any of this, America having already recognized the collection of rabble and criminals called the Free Syrian Army as legitimate.

American air power and perhaps ground troops, while using the excuse of fighting ISIS, will attempt to swing the engineered civil war back in favor of the “rebels,” Assad’s national forces having had considerable success in defeating them recently. The failure to achieve Assad’s overthrow is one of the more worrying developments in America’s bloody scheme for a re-birth of the Middle East, a plan which seeks to surround Israel with a giant cordon sanitaire, albeit at the cost of more than a million innocent lives. Never mind death or homelessness, such matters never are never concerns of American policy except where there is an advantage to be gained. Look at their filthy work in Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Egypt.

It is of course remotely possible that ISIS, in attempting to set up “an Islamic state” comprising parts of both Iraq and Syria, has gone rogue, out of the control of its handlers – that kind of event being called blowback in the dirty intelligence business – but I think likely it was always in the script. Most ISIS recruits are destined to die after doing what their handlers told them to do, and along the way President Assad’s country is to be further destroyed and if possible reduced to the kind of paraplegic-like nation Iraq has become.

ISIS started as no more than a couple of thousand guys in pick-up trucks with rifles and grenade launchers. It grew, drawing bizarre recruits from many countries, as its reputation for ferocity was artificially played up by the western press. There are after all always and everywhere a fair number of individuals drawn to violence and dangerous adventure. You might call its wonderings in Iraq a gestation period for bigger things, the ultimate goal being an acceptable way to help topple Assad while disposing of a collection of unwanted people. This all amounts to a giant-scale police entrapment scheme, something our courts consistently strike down, but this is entrapment played for keeps on a scale of thousands of lives.

The pick-up truck brigade proved enough to scare off group after group of well-armed units of the Iraqi army – especially with bags of loot from the Saudis tossed into tents at night. Of course, gradually, ISIS did manage to collect some vehicles and tanks left behind by Iraqi forces and present something more threatening. If you just think about it, how would unprofessional recruits have the least idea of how to operate sophisticated weapons? Imagine operating modern tanks or artillery without expert training?  But ISIS has plenty of undercover experts to train them and make them seem more formidable. The head of ISIS is a man, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was an American prisoner for a time. He seems to know America’s greatest pug-ugly senator and roaming unofficial ambassador for killing, John McCain (judging from a number of photos on the Internet showing them together), and he is, according to a number of sources, actually a former Jewish actor named Elliot Shimon, trained by Mossad for a different kind of theater.

Now we’ve had a crescendo of beheadings supposedly captured live on video, only each of these is a patent fraud. Even the mainstream press, the last to discover almost anything worth knowing these days, have now admitted the first one was a fraud, although not before many columnists and commentators spewed great quantities of self-righteous outrage on the subject. Not that the victims probably haven’t died somehow or other, but they were not beheaded by a mysterious eight-foot British giant dressed in black and armed with a paring knife. Staged beheadings of course are intended to revolt people and rouse support for Western governments to act. The real beheadings which occur regularly in Saudi Arabia – there was a batch of 19 only recently – are never shown on American news, nor are they even discussed. But a single video of a fake terrorist beheading is played and replayed and commented on endlessly with indignation over such horror. And the hundreds of Palestinians, including children, whom Israel has beheaded with bombs and artillery never make an appearance on television or rate any commentary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE REAL LESSONS FROM THE DEATH OF NELSON MANDELA

John Chuckman

The press has echoed for days with admiration for Nelson Mandela and his genuinely heroic fight against the apartheid government of South Africa. There have been many recollections of the brutal quality of that government, all perhaps carrying an unstated sense of how could people live that way?

As I listened on the radio, I couldn’t help thinking of the common human frailty which sees us caught up in gasping over and memorializing what is past while ignoring much the same thing that is present, as on what is called Remembrance or Armistice Day, we’ve recalled for the best part of a century the terrifying experiences of a war which was to end all war, while yet marching on to even more brutal and murderous conflicts. This seems contrary to logic, and it certainly works against the interest of institutionalizing and making permanent what it is that we praise, but it remains a conflicting duality of thought we find almost universally established. After all, it is so much safer and easier to praise heroism once the threat it struggled against has faded into history. And, sad to say, but history does tend to support the idea of most people behaving like cowards while they sing the praises of heroism.

We have no less an authority than Nelson Mandela himself, in an opinion shared by the equally admirable Bishop Tutu, that the terrible system of oppression against which they struggled in South Africa is very much alive and flourishing in still another place today. That place is, of course, Israel and its occupied territories.

No matter what past abuse by the former apartheid government the newsmen and commentators may mention, there is an equal, or in some cases an even greater, one not mentioned for Israel. For the Soweto and Sharpeville Massacres, we have Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and the several invasions of Southern Lebanon, the toll of these measured in thousands killed and thousands more injured. For the many people, like Mandela, arrested for opposing oppression and left to rot in prison, we have tens of thousands of illegal arrests by Israel of people also left to rot in prison and often tortured there. For the secret murders which South African security forces routinely carried out in the manner of the Argentine Junta’s “disappearing” people, we have scores of assassinations of Palestinian leaders, including not so very long ago Yasser Arafat. For the Bantustans South Africa created to pen up millions of blacks, depriving them of access to most of the country, we have Israel’s Wall, an armored fortress which snakes through the homes and farms of countless people without regard for their welfare or rights and the utter isolation of Gaza’s one-and-a-half million behind razor-wire fences with radar-controlled machine-gun towers set at intervals and warships blocking the coast. For South Africa’s two classes of citizenship with unequal rights and responsibilities, we have Israel’s two classes of citizenship with unequal rights and responsibilities plus the perpetual consignment of millions to a life of occupation with no defined citizenship or rights.

And what actually brought down the oppressive South African regime? Not really the bravery of the Mandelas and Tutus directly, but the outside world’s gradually turning against that government’s excesses and bringing the force of embargo and economic penalties. The United States was a late-comer to the process – after all, it highly valued the anti-Communist stance of the apartheid government in the Cold War, given its strategic position on the Cape. But once the United States was turned by its own people to join the boycott, apartheid’s days became numbered. And, happily, the end came with remarkable peacefulness.

I have often said that only pressure from the United States will correct the terrible abuses of Israel, but the United States shows few signs yet of exercising that potentially decisive power for good. It is, first, in the midst of another massive equivalent of the Cold War, its so-called War on Terror. In this War, Israel plays the role South Africa once played in the Cold War as occupier of a key strategic point. Israel also makes every effort to have Americans and others see its brutalities as part of a shared battle, a fight against terror, even though its struggles more closely resemble those of the late South African government, a war against the rights and dignity of millions of people with whom they do not want to live. And many Americans still do not understand, being given every encouragement in their press not to understand, that the War on Terror is blowback from Israel’s oppression.

Israel has another advantage it exercises to the fullest. American elections have become utterly corrupted by special interests and money, so much so that American democracy is, at best, described as on life support. This is the work of Americans themselves, but Israel has cleverly devised an expert and systematic way to exploit the corruption. Its lobby rewards with campaign funds and good publicity those who support Israel’s interests, and it punishes those who do not. Newly-elected officials are given the clearest set of guidelines for what is expected of them with initial paid trips to Israel for every new Congressman and regular consultation thereafter concerning issues on which they are to vote.

I have to believe that ultimately the basic human impulse for fairness – something we find remarkably in many people in many lands no matter what kind of government they may live under – will prevail, but I have no hope that can happen soon. In the meantime, maybe we can learn a little bit about our tendency to sing praises with our eyes closed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A VAST WASTELAND OF EFFORT SPENT: AMERICA’S RAMPAGE THROUGH THE MIDDLE EAST

John Chuckman

I read that six thousand people have been killed by sectarian violence so far this year in Iraq, surely a good rough measure of what America’s invasion achieved there. In Afghanistan, America’s chosen man publically disagrees with America’s ideas of what withdrawal means, how many occupying American forces should remain, and the role the Taleban should play. Killing remains a daily occurrence, including regular instances of American special forces murdering civilians, drugs flow freely through the country and out to the world, and most women still wear the burka. Libya is reduced to rag tag bands engaged in fighting like rival gangs of bandits. Syria writhes in agony as the victim of an artificially-induced civil war with even the use of nerve gas on civilians by America’s proxy fighters winked at and lied about.

Such are just the continuing aftershocks of America’s violent, senseless campaign on the Middle East and the Muslim world.

The screams of the hundreds of thousands of initial victims of cluster bombs, Hellfire rockets, depleted uranium explosions, and white phosphorus were what Condi Rice once described as “the birth cries of a new Middle East,” likely just before she set off on another shopping spree to New York for more cute new shoes. You might say Condi and her psychopathic associates assumed the God-like perspective in their work, as the people being devastated were regarded with the importance of ants being squashed by gleeful children in a playground.

Ideas of “nation building” around all the slaughter and destruction are now almost forgotten in the press where they were once earnestly discussed like big government social programs of the 1960s. It is hard to know whether those ideas were ever taken seriously in Washington by the platoons of Pentagon consultants over expense account lunches or whether they were never intended as more than glib slogans and talking points for politicians’ convenience, banners with nice words to cover piles of bleeding bodies. No clear-thinking person ever took the idea seriously, but as we know there is not a great deal of clear thinking in times of war, nor is there much of it at any time among American politicians.

The notion that you can change the basic culture and social structure of a nation of tens of millions over a foreseeable time span is laughable. Culture, including the unpleasant parts contained by any of them, is a complex of habits, beliefs, relationships, and prejudices formed over an immensely long period in the workings of a people’s economy. Just as language and religious traditions cannot be greatly altered or undone quickly, so too all the other aspects of a culture. It is simply nonsense to believe otherwise. The efforts, over much of a century, by Russia’s Communists to change an ancient culture, including its church and national customs, should serve to intimidate glib references to nation-building.

The single most important part of any serious effort to change a place and its ways of doing things is the steady advance of its economy. It is the fluidity of a nation undergoing long-term economic growth that gradually washes away old and inefficient and fearful customs, changing everything from the nature of marriage and the way families work to the kind of clothes people wear and food they eat. After all, America’s backwaters still enjoyed family picnics at public lynchings as late as Franklin Roosevelt’s day, and it was largely the cumulative effects of economies restructured over decades with increasing opportunities and movement of people and ideas that brought those ghastly practices to a close.

Even changing minor aspects of an entire society, as we’ve seen many times in our own, is a long effort. Smoking is the clearest example of this, it having taken over half a century, despite medical understanding of its hazards, to move us from smoking being a stylish part of every Hollywood film to cigarettes being hidden behind the counters at corner stores.

And this is all the more true when you employ force, as the United States does habitually. People do not react well to aggression, and it is not the way to change anything which it may be desirable to change. On even so basic a level as raising children, our laws and courts and schools have evolved to rule out physical force. And despite decades of the war on drugs with its seemingly endless march of folly – armed raids, mass arrests, seizures, and imprisonment plus tens of billions spent – we have made no perceptible progress on what all of us recognize as a gigantic medical and social problem.

But when the force you employ includes B-52s, F-16s, and private armies of hired cutthroats, it is a certainty you will change little beyond the death rate.

The United States government now has been swept by a new enthusiasm in the application of violence. It is a new interpretation of the concept of airpower. In places like Libya, America embraced the almost benign-sounding concept of a “no-fly zone” to bomb and shoot the crap out of a national army fighting rebels. It developed the concept over the decade after the first Gulf War where it enforced a no-fly zone that was actually an active program of attacking any Iraqi installation or suppressing any movement it wanted while an embargo continued to inflict terrible suffering on the children of Iraq. Another version of the concept was used in the invasion of Afghanistan. The United States bombed the country with everything it had, including B-52s doing carpet-bombing, while most of the fighting done on the ground was done by other Afghans, the tribes of the Northern Alliance serving as American stand-ins.

The new approach has several advantages. It sends fewer coffins back home so that political opposition to the killing abroad never grows as it did in the Vietnam holocaust. It’s likely cheaper, too, than sending in and supplying large numbers of troops. After all, I read somewhere that just the air-conditioning bill for American troops in Iraq ran into many billions of dollars. And it maintains a kind of polite charade about not really invading a place.

Over the same period, another form of airpower came into its own, drones used as platforms for Hellfire missiles targeted by remote control. The Israelis, always leaders in the work and technology of murder, used a version of this method in what they blithely call “targeted killings,” a long series of acts known to most of the world by the terms “extrajudicial killing” or “disappearing people” or “political assassination.” Al Capone might have called it simply “rubbing guys out.” Well, whatever you choose to call it, the United States is in the business in a serious way now, having murdered people in Somalia, Bahrain, Pakistan, Yemen, and perhaps other places we don’t yet know about.  It has killed several thousand this way, many of them innocent bystanders and all of them people charged with no crime and given no due process.

Of course, Israel’s long string of murders have achieved little beyond making still more enemies and dragging in the gutter any claim it may once have had to ethical reputation or worthy purpose. And just so with America’s valiant effort by buzz-cut thugs sitting in crisply-pressed uniforms at computer screens playing murderous computer games with real people in the explosions.

As for diplomacy and reason and rule of law, these are practices almost forgotten by America in the Middle East, as it mimics Israel’s reprehensible behavior towards the people of the occupied territories and neighboring states. And all democratic values have been laid aside or bulldozed over in Gaza, the West Bank, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and other places as Israel’s special interests are put before the democratic and human rights of many, many millions of people.

HOW AMERICA LEARNED TO PLAY GOD

The Aftermath of 9/11: America’s Second Great Transformation and the Emergence of a Brave New World

John Chuckman

I call America’s pattern of behavior since 9/11 a “great transformation” because it involves revolutionary changes for the country and, unavoidably, the entire world. In its internal affairs, America has effectively weakened the protections of the Bill of Rights and instituted many of the practices of police states – all under the insidious rationale of “protection from terrorists,” a subject heading which incapacitates the courts and serves to draw a great dark cloak over matters vital to all. Secrecy, always a favorite tool of cowardly politicians, now has assumed an enormous, central position in America. Spying, both on your own people and on those abroad, has become pervasive.

America has increased spending on military and intelligence to levels dangerously high both for the stability of the world and the future integrity of its own society. These resource-wasting establishments also will entangle any state in all sorts of costly unanticipated difficulties over time. Foreign policy has shifted to adopt the once-laughable, malevolent fantasies of the Neocons as official America policy, including an unapologetic and unprincipled use of America’s military strength around the world and a savage effort to remake the entire Middle East to its own liking, ignoring the region’s acute problems and treating the hopes of tens of millions for better lives as so much collateral damage from a bombing run.

These massive changes add to a social and governing structure which already had grown far away from the people, a structure which in many ways resembles that of pre-revolutionary, 18th century France, a state ruled by and for a class of landed aristocrats, a class of church aristocrats, and a ruling family and its armies. In contemporary America, the great hierarchies are the Pentagon, a web of sixteen intelligence agencies, and the great corporations with their immensely wealthy owners.

America’s first great transformation was the Civil War, a war which was not about slavery as is commonly believed and generally taught in public schools but about the division of powers between states and the federal government, affecting the very economic and political structure of the nation. The United States under the original Constitution was a very different place than we have come to know it. The Civil War reduced authorities of the states, demolished many formidable internal barriers to trade and to federal political power, and elevated the federal government from a mere debating forum between states into a powerful central authority. The Civil War transformed, too, the United States into a world-class industrial nation and military power which would in coming decades embark on new colonial wars and adventures. The Civil War made possible the growth of mighty national industries and the coming Age of Robber Barons and was a necessary precursor to the changes now underway.

For a good deal of time, America grew a healthy middle class, and for a brief golden era even industrial workers in America prospered remarkably. Political rights and freedoms tended to expand with that growth. But real per capita income of middle to lower-middle class Americans has dropped for many years now, a result in great part of globalization and new competitors coming up in the world. That has been a major impetus for social change as American middle class families attempt to hold their positions with incomes from two careers and lower costs in a seemingly infinite sprawl of cheap hinterland suburbs. And for years now, the American establishment has made the keenest political issue of taxes, but an issue only in the sense of by just how much to lower them, most particularly those affecting the wealthy.

To some extent a fortress-like mentality had taken hold of the middle class for years as they saw themselves on their way to work passing parts of rotting cities – doors always locked on their tank-like SUVs and vans – struggling to raise their position in the world by fending off taxes as much as possible, and, even, in a growing number of instances, living in “gated communities” out of fear of crime spreading from rotted cities. I think that kind of prevailing mentality helps greatly for accepting America’s new, more oppressive measures.

One might think the United States would have learned from the country it now copies closely: Israel has had a paralyzing web of secret police, border restrictions, secret prisons, and a massive military establishment for 65 years, yet it has never enjoyed genuine peace and lives in a chilling, unpleasant relationship with all of its neighbors. The average Israeli too does not enjoy a great life in an economically-inefficient society (whose interests, moreover, are heavily tilted towards those of its privileged groups), and then there’s that “great mob of Arabs out there” regarded in much the same way America regards its poor blacks. And were it not for immense subsidies and special favors keeping Israel afloat, that security state likely would collapse under the weight of its economic inefficiency. When any state puts absolute security above everything else, much of what it achieves is not worth having. Stalin perhaps provides history’s bleakest, most extreme example of running an absolute security state.

Of course, security, as understood by what Stalin called “wreckers of the revolution” and what Israel and the United States call “terrorism,” is not the complete reason for secret prisons and building walls and networks and police forces and spy systems. Those with great power and wealth and special interests have always had an instinctive impulse to control their environment, including the other people who inhabit it. Vast guarded estates and fences and bodyguards and summary justice for those trespassing have always been features of life for the great and powerful, and the same impulses exist for powerful organizations within a state, especially militarized states. Close control over behavior unacceptable to an establishment – including behavior that is merely different or dissident or embarrassing or slightly shady or emotionally off-balance or politically threatening – is at the heart of the matter. A gigantic network has been created in the United States which will detect, track, and file away information on these behaviors in perpetuity. The potential for blackmail and intimidation of political opponents or NGO leaders or writers or the press is enormous. While this may not be the case at first, over time, can you think of any apparatus that has gone unused by those with power, any apparatus which has not been abused? We should not forget that as recently as the 1960s, the FBI was actively trying to get Martin Luther King to commit suicide with anonymous letters threatening to reveal secret recordings. America is, after all, a country that has used atomic weapons, twice, and both times on civilian targets.

America is now also doing something no other country is in a position to do: it is exploiting the dollar’s privileged position as the world’s reserve currency to pay for much of its gigantic waste through massive future devaluation of an asset held by millions around the world. Unconscionable? Arrogant? Bullying? Those words I think are fairly applied to the changes. It may be no consolation for those being steamrolled by America that its behavior is unavoidably weakening its position in the world, but that is a fact. The bullying will prevail for a time, but it does speed the day when world leadership shifts to new hands, not necessarily to any single country like China but possibly to a consortium of rapidly-growing large states – India, Russia, Brazil, and China – with interests of their own.

It is no wonder that the conspiracy-oriented regard 9/11 as some kind of black operation used to shift the direction of the country towards a brave new world. The only conspiracy I see in the events around 9/11, though, are the American government’s refusal to explain to its own people what happened while exploiting events to its benefit, doing things it likely long has wanted to do. It is covering up both the incompetence and destructiveness of the operations of its own intelligence and military establishments as well as the deadly stupidity of some of its foreign policies, policies which seem fixed in amber through the tireless work of special interests. Dishonesty now has become a hallmark of American government. Those with power feel no obligation to explain to the people they nominally serve what happened in almost any event of genuine importance, and a long-term practice has only become more intense and pervasive.

America’s press, still sometimes is heard patting itself on the back as the “fourth estate” protecting peoples’ interests and handing out meaningless journalism awards to itself, actually works as a silent partner with government, never once investigating the genuinely important stuff. A merged, corporate press has no interest in investigating a corporate government, indeed it depends on government agencies for the leaks and interviews and data access which make it appear as though it is investigating and reporting day-in, day-out. It often provides the security agencies with cover for their overseas operations, it frequently has hired them, sometimes unwittingly, onto its staff, and it provides an outlet for the agencies’ disinformation, again sometimes unwittingly. And of course the corporate advertising which sustains the press puts the scrutiny of many corporate matters out of bounds, including many cozy and anti-democratic relationships with government and its major agencies.

Just as there is a natural cycle in the life of great industries – the scores of early American car manufacturers are now reduced to a few functioning as an oligopoly, an historical pattern repeated in industry after industry  – there appears to be a life cycle for a government organized like that of the United States. The duopoly which runs the American government consists of two parties which differ in almost no particulars except some social issues, but even that difference is rather a sham because the American government no longer has any interest in social issues. It is concerned overwhelmingly with representing and furthering the interests of the nation’s three great power centers of the military-industrial-intelligence complex. Social issues now are soap-box stuff for street-corner politicians and members of NGOs.

But in any case, all players in this political duopoly, no matter to which office they may be elected, know they can never challenge the immense authority and virtual omnipresence of America’s military, intelligence, corporate hierarchies and special interests like the Israel Lobby, powerful anti-democratic institutions which literally shape the space America’s politicians must inhabit.

Americans today quite simply could not vote in an informed manner if they wanted to do so (and many are not interested in voting at all, as we shall see): they are completely in the dark as to what happens inside their government, both its operations within the country and in international affairs. No one knows the full extent of spending on intelligence, nor do they know what dark programs are underway. No one knows the full extent of spending on the military, nor do they know to what questionable tasks it is being put around the world. No one knows the immense extent and complexity of lobbying and special interests in the American government. And of course no one is privy to the planning and operations of the great corporations, nor do they know anything of the dealings and financing arrangements between those corporations (or the wealthy individuals who own and run them) and the people’s supposed representatives, who all must spend a substantial part of their time just raising money for the next election (the average American Senator is said to spend two-thirds of his or her time doing just that).

Americans’ votes in elections have become to a remarkable extent meaningless, although an elaborate political stage play keeps the appearance of meaning and keeps those interested in politics involved and entertained. Almost certainly as a result of sensing how little their votes count, Americans often simply do not vote and do so in increasing numbers. The further down the political totem pole you go from the presidential elections which generate the most noise owing to the obscene amounts of money spent on marketing and advertising, the greater is this truth. Maybe 60% vote for president, a minority vote in other national elections, and a tiny fraction vote in state and local elections.

For those who cherish rights and values won since the Enlightenment, it is a disheartening prospect we face. A nasty bully, armed to the teeth and endowed with a profound sense of entitlement and scant regard for the other 95% of humanity, casts a long shadow over the entire planet. Not so terrifying a figure as a Stalin or a Hitler, he is frightening enough, and his insincere words about rights and values and fairness fool many as he proceeds to do just as he pleases, including killing any individual on the planet he decides in secret to be an opponent. It is indeed a brave new world, not Shakespeare’s and something far grimmer than Huxley’s.

 

 

 

 

 

John Chuckman

Of course, the cozy popular myth of America’s Founding Fathers as an earnest, civic-minded group gathered in an ornate hall, writing with quill pens, reading from leather-bound tomes, and offering heroic speeches in classical poses – all resembling Greek philosophers in wigs and spectacles and frock coats – was always that, a myth. They were in more than a few cases narrow, acquisitive men, ambitious for their personal interests which were considerable, and even the more philosophic types among them were well-read but largely unoriginal men who cribbed ideas and concepts and even whole phrases from European Enlightenment writers and British parliamentary traditions.

And much of what they wrote and agreed upon involved what would prove mistaken ideas, with a lack of foresight into what the almost unchangeable concrete their words would shape. Americans today often are not aware that the word “democracy” for many of the Founders was an unpleasant one, carrying just about the same connotations that “communist” would a century and a half later. Men of the world of privilege and comparative wealth – Washington, Morris, and many others – were having nothing to do with ideas which rendered unimportant men important. That is why the country was styled as a “republic” – that most undefined term in the political lexicon, which then meant only the absence of a king with decisions made by a tight group of propertied elites.

False as they are, the very fact that there are such pleasant myths does tell us something about past popular ideals informing their creation. Now, how would any future Americans manage to weave attractive myths about a president who sits in the Oval Office signing authorizations for teams of young buzz-cut psychopaths in secret locked rooms to guide killing machines against mere suspects and innocent bystanders, often adopting the tactics of America’s lunatic anti-abortion assassins, sending a second hellish missile into the crowd of neighbors who come to the assistance of the victims of the first?

How would they weave attractive myths around the CIA’s International Torture Gulag, including that hellhole, Guantanamo, where kidnapped, legally-innocent people are imprisoned and tortured and given absolutely no rights or ethical treatment under international laws and conventions?

During the Revolutionary War, the battles were between armies, and captured soldiers were frequently granted their freedom upon their paroles, pledges of not returning to the fight. Spies were thought poorly of and often hung. Torture was uncommon and certainly not embraced as policy.

What myths can be written of two wars involving the deaths of a million or so people, the creation of millions of refugees, and the needless destruction of huge amounts of other peoples’ property, and all to achieve nothing but a change of government? Or about massive armed forces and secret security agencies which squander hundreds of billions in resources year after year, spreading their dark influence to all corners of the globe, and offering an insurmountable obstacle to America’s own citizens who might imagine they ever can rise against a government grown tyrannous? After all, polls in America show that its Congress is held in contempt by the overwhelming majority of its people, with percentages of disapproval rivaling those held for communism or Satanic rituals.

There are no myths about today’s Congressional figures. Everyone understands they are often to be found bellowing in ornate halls about points most Americans couldn’t care less about. Everyone understands that they are ready to go anywhere and say almost anything for large enough campaign contributions. That they take off on junkets paid for by groups hoping to influence votes and put faces to the exercise of future influence, trips commonly involving a foreign power trying to shape American policy. That their work is often steeped in secrecy from the voters, secrecy not governed by genuine national security concerns but by the often shameful nature of their work. That a good deal of the legislation and rules they create repress their own people’s interests and favor only special interests.

That their government regularly suppresses inconvenient truths and labels those who raise questions as foolishly addicted to conspiracy or even as treacherous. What are just a few of the events which have been treated in this fashion? The assassination of a President. The accidental or deliberate downing of at least three civilian aircraft by America’s military in recent years – an Iranian airliner, TWA Flight 800 on the East Coast, and the fourth plane of the 9/11 plot over Pennsylvania. The CIA’s past cooperation and engagement with the American Mafia during its anti-Castro terror campaign. The CIA’s use of drug trafficking to raise off-the-books income. The military’s assassination of American prisoners of war cooperating with their Vietnamese captors. Obfuscating Israel’s deliberate attack on an American intelligence-gathering ship during its engineered 1967 War. The huge death toll of locals, civilian and military, in America’s grisly imperial wars, from Vietnam to Iraq. 9/11.

I do not believe in 9/11 insider plots, but I know there has been strenuous official effort to disguise that event’s full nature. The motives? One suspects a great deal of embarrassment at demonstrated incompetence has been at work. Blowback from CIA operations in the Middle East seems more than likely. The documented involvement of Mossad in following and recording the plotters inside the United States leaves disturbing unanswered questions. One also knows that America’s establishment discovered in the wake of 9/11 the perfect opportunity for doing a great many nasty things it had always wanted to do anyway. You might say the terrorists did the military-industrial-intelligence complex a big favor. Anti-democratic measures involving surveillance, privacy in communications, secret prisons, torture, and effective suspension of some of the Constitution are all parts of the new American reality.

The FBI can record what you borrow from the public library. The NSA captures your every phone call, text message, and e-mail. The TSA can strip search you for taking an inter-city bus. Drones are being used for surveillance, and the TSA actually has a program of agents traveling along some highways ready to stop those regarded as suspicious. Portable units for seeing through clothes and baggage, similar to those used at airports, are to tour urban streets in vans randomly. Agencies of the government, much in the style of the former Stasi, encourage reports from citizens about suspicious behavior. Now, you can just imagine what might be called “suspicious” in a society which has always had a tendency towards witch-hunts and fears of such harmless things as Harry Potter books or the charming old Procter and Gambel symbol on soapboxes.

America has become in many ways a police state, albeit one where a kind of decency veil is left draped over the crude government machinery. How can a place which has elections and many of the trappings of a free society be a police state? Well, it can because power, however conferred, can be, and will be, abused. And the majority in any democratic government can impose terrible burdens on the minority. That’s how the American Confederacy worked, how apartheid South Africa worked, and that’s how Israel works today. Prevention of those inevitable abuses is the entire reason for a Bill of Rights, but if you suspend or weaken its protections, anything becomes possible.

American police forces have long enjoyed a reputation for brutal and criminal behavior – using illegal-gains seizure laws for profit, beating up suspects, conducting unnecessary military-style raids on homes, killing people sometimes on the flimsiest of excuses – having earned international recognition from organizations such as Amnesty International. The reasons for this are complex but include the military model of organization adopted by American policing, the common practice of hiring ex-soldiers as police, the phenomenon of uncontrolled urban sprawl creating new towns whose tiny police forces have poor practices and training, and, in many jurisdictions, a long and rich history of police corruption. Now, those often poor-quality American police have unprecedented discretion and powers of abuse.

Further, according to the words of one high-ranking general a few years back, the American military is prepared to impose martial law in the event of another great act of terror. Certainly that is an encouraging and uplifting thought considering all the blunders and waste and murder and rape the American military has inflicted upon countries from Vietnam to Iraq.

Where it is possible, power prefers to know about and even to control what is going on at the most humble level of its society, and the greater the power, the more irresistible the drive to know and control. It is essential to appreciate that whether you are talking about the military or huge corporations or the security apparatus, you are not talking about institutions which are democratic in nature. Quite the opposite, these institutions are run along much the same lines as all traditional forms of undemocratic government, from monarchs to dictators. Leadership and goals and methods are not subject to a vote and orders given are only to be obeyed, and there is no reason to believe that any of these institutions cherishes or promotes democratic values or principles of human rights. Of course, corporations, in order to attract talent, must publicly present a friendly face towards those principles, but that necessary charade reflects their future behavior about as much as campaign promises reflect future acts of an American politician.

Those at the top of all powerful and hierarchical institutions inevitably come to believe that they know better than most people, and those with any hope of gaining top positions must adopt the same view. For centuries we saw the great landed gentry and church patriarchs of pre-democratic societies regard themselves as inherently different from the population. It is no different with the psychology of people who enjoy their wealth and influence through positions in these great modern, un-democratic institutions. The larger and more pervasive these institutions become in society – and they have become truly bloated in America – the more will their narcissistic, privileged views prevail. Also, it is axiomatic that where great power exists, it never goes unused. Large standing armies are the proximate cause of many of history’s wars. And just so, the power of corporations to expand through illegality of every description, this being the source of the many controversies about failing to pay taxes in countries where they operate or the widespread practice of bribery in landing large contracts with national governments.

So far as security services go (the United States, at last count, having sixteen different ones), they may well be the worst of all these modern, massive anti-democratic institutions. Their lines of responsibility to government are often weak, and citizens in general are often regarded as things with which to experiment or play. Their leaders and agents are freely permitted to perjure themselves in courts. The organizations possess vast budgets with little need to account for the spending. They can even create their own funds through everything from drug and weapons trading to counterfeiting currency, all of it not accounted for and subject to no proper authority. And their entire work is secret, whether that work involves legitimate national security or not. The nature of their work breeds a secret-fraternity mindset of superiority and cynicism. They start wars and coups, including against democratic governments sometimes, they pay off rising politicians even in allied countries, they use money and disinformation to manipulate elections even in friendly governments, and of course they kill people and leaders they seriously disapprove of. Now, does any thinking person believe that they simply forget these mindsets and practices when it comes to what they regard as serious problems in their own country?

The record of arrogance and abuse by security organizations, such as CIA or the FBI, is long and costly, filled with errors in judgment, abuse of power, incompetence, and immense dishonesty. Owing to the black magic of classified secrecy, much of the record involves projects about which we will never know, but even what we do know about is distressing enough. And I’m not sure that it can be any other way so long as you have Big Intelligence. Apart from Big Intelligence’s own propensity towards criminal or psychopathic behavior, one of the great ironies of Big Intelligence is that it will always agree to bend, to provide whatever suppressions and fabrications are requested by political leaders working towards the aims of the other great anti-democratic institutions, the military and the corporations. This became blindingly clear in the invasion of Iraq and, even before that, in the first Gulf War.

America’s political system, honed and shaped over many decades, fits comfortably with these institutions. National elections are dominated by a two-party duopoly (being kept that way through countless institutional barriers deliberately created to maintain the status quo) , both these parties are dominated by huge flows of campaign contributions (contributions which form what economists call an effective barrier to entry against any third party seriously being able to compete), both parties embrace much the same policies except for some social issues of little interest to the establishment, and election campaigns are reduced to nothing more than gigantic advertising and marketing operations no different in nature to campaigns for two national brands of fast food or pop. It takes an extremely long time for a candidate to rise and be tested before being trusted with the huge amounts of money invested in an important campaign, and by that time he or she is a well-read book with no surprising chapters.

If for any reason this political filtering system fails, and someone slips through to an important office without having spent enough time to make them perfectly predictable, there still remains little chance of serious change on any important matter. The military-industrial-intelligence complex provides a molded space into which any newcomer absolutely must fit. Just imagine the immense pressures exerted by the mere presence of senior Pentagon brass gathered around a long polished oak table or a table surrounded by top corporate figures representing hundreds of billions in sales or representatives or a major lobbying group (and multi-million dollar financing source for the party). We see the recent example of popular hopes being crushed after the election of Obama, a man everyone on the planet hoped to see mend some of the ravages of George Bush and Dick Cheney. But the man who once sometimes wore sandals and bravely avoided a superfluous and rather silly flag pin on his lapel quickly was made to feel the crushing weight of institutional power, and he bent to every demand made on him, becoming indistinguishable from Bush. Of course, the last president who genuinely did challenge at least some of the great institutional powers, even to a modest extent, died in an ambush in Dallas.

BHUTTO, BUSH, AND MUSHARRAF

John Chuckman

With the assassination of Ms. Bhutto, we are given to understand, by many newspaper stories and broadcasts, that anti-democratic religious zealots killed Pakistan’s last hope for democracy.

Ms. Bhutto was in many ways an admirable and accomplished leader, a talented woman of courage, but her assassination was a far more complex event than simplistic claims about the dark work of anti-democratic forces.

President Musharraf, for most of the years since the American invasion of Afghanistan, was treated in public as an acceptable ally by the United States. The U.S. desperately needed Pakistan’s help in its invasion of Afghanistan, a land about which American politicians had little understanding. To secure that help, America forgave Pakistan’s debts, removed its embargo-bad guy status (for developing atomic weapons in secret), provided large amounts of military assistance, and even managed to swallow its pride over the embarrassing work of Pakistan’s scientific hero, Dr. A. Q. Khan, who supplied atomic-weapons technology to other countries.

Once Americans had mired themselves in Afghanistan – after all the hoopla over a “victory” which amounted to little more than massive bombing while the Northern Alliance warlords did most of the fighting against their rival, the Taleban – the extent of the mess into which they had put themselves slowly dawned. This is particularly true regarding the almost non-existent border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, a huge area that forms almost a de facto third country of Pashtuns.

Intense pressure started being applied to Musharraf to allow American special forces to conduct the kind of brutal and socially-disruptive operations they have maintained in the mountains of Afghanistan. The American approach to rooting out the dispersed Taleban, following its initial “victory,” amounted to going from village to village in the mountains, crashing down doors, using stun grenades, holding men at gunpoint in their own homes, separating the village’s women from the men’s protection, plus many other unforgivable insults in such a tradition-bound land.

All of this has really been getting them nowhere. In effect, the American government demonstrated it had no idea what to do in Afghanistan after it invaded, only knowing it wanted to get the “bad guys.”

Recently, Musharraf’s position vis-à-vis the U.S. has undergone a dramatic change. Overnight, the State Department changed him from valiant ally to enemy of democracy, and the American press obliged with the appropriate stories and emphasis.

The reason for this change was simply Musharraf’s refusal to cooperate enough with Bush’s secret demands to extend America’s special-forces operations into Pakistan’s side of the Pashtun territory: that is, to allow a foreign country into his country to terrorize and insult huge parts of its population. In Bush’s worldview, this only amounted to Pakistan’s fully embracing the “war on terror,” but for many Pakistanis, the “war on terror” is only one more aspect of American interference in their part of the world. The Taleban is viewed by millions there as heroic resisters, standing up to American arrogance, a view not without some substance.

In trying to accommodate Bush, Musharraf launched various showy operations by Pakistan’s army, but his efforts were viewed in Washington as weak. The U.S. kept pushing the limits, trying to force Pakistan to internalize the “war on terror,” and Musharraf resisted. There was a horrific incident in which the U.S. bombed a madrassah (a religious school) in rural Pakistan, succeeding only in killing eighty children, falsely claiming it was Pakistan’s work against a terrorist center.

Musharraf has, rather bravely, opposed America’s demands for a de facto American invasion of his country. He has been remarkably outspoken about American policies on several occasions, not something calculated to endear him to Bush’s gang. So, suddenly he became an undemocratic pariah who needed to be replaced. It was easy enough to exploit public dissatisfaction with a military dictator, even if he was only trying to do his best for his country within some terrible limits.

America gave Ms. Bhutto a blessing and a gentle push, likely a bundle of cash, and undoubtedly the promise of lots of future support, to return home as opposition to Musharraf. One could fairly say that her assassination just proves how little Washington policymakers understand the region. It sent her to her death, desperately hoping against hope to get what it wanted.

Ms. Bhutto was regarded in Washington as more amenable to American demands in Pakistan. She had the double merit of being able to give Pakistan’s government the gloss of democracy while serving key American interests. But it couldn’t be clearer that democracy is not what the U.S. was really concerned with, because Musharraf was just a fine ally so long as he did as he was told.

The truth is that Musharraf has, in opposing America’s demands, been a rather brave representative of Pakistan’s interests, a patriot in American parlance.

True democracy for a place like Pakistan is a long way off, not because of this or that leader or party, but because of the country’s backward economic state. This is even truer for Afghanistan. You cannot instantly create democracies out of lands living in centuries-old economies, burdened with centuries-old customs. The best thing America could have done for this region would have been generous economic assistance, but the U.S. has demonstrated, again and again, it has little genuine interest in that sort of thing. The customs and backwardness of centuries only melt away under the tide of economic development. Democracy follows almost automatically eventually.

The quick fix is what the U.S. demands, a quick fix to its own perceptions of problems under the guise of supporting democracy and opposition to terror, will achieve absolutely nothing over the long term.

AND TO ALL, A GOOD NIGHT
A Contemporary Christmas Tale

John Chuckman

It was only a matter of time before Santa Claus himself came under the Neanderthal-eyed scrutiny of American intelligence. After all, Santa’s citizenship is unknown, and he crosses borders with no passport or other form of identification. No one knows whether he even has a valid pilot’s license.

Although his image is well known, there is no official photograph on file with American border control, and he has never been fingerprinted or body-searched. Most disconcerting of all, he delivers parcels to children all over the world, including the children living in the Axis of Evil. His intentions with this activity are not understood beyond some fuzzy generalization about kindness and generosity to all. Clearly, here was the world’s largest unplugged pipeline to potential terrorists.

It was only after receiving no response to several urgent letters from the State Department requesting an immediate meeting in Washington that a decision was made to approach Santa’s North Pole solitude. As usual in such matters with the people now running America, a wing of America’s most lethal killing machines was employed for the purpose. You never know what you might encounter in such a forbidding place.

As the planes first zoomed over the icy silence of the North Pole workshop, one of the pilots decided to swoop down for a closer look. He was one of those daring fly-boys, and his tail struck the only wire for thousands of miles around, the North Pole Telegraph, sending his plane hurling into the workshop in a ball of flames with tons of ammunition and missiles exploding.

Santa and Mrs. Claus rushed out of their snow-blanketed gingerbread house to see what was happening, trying to calm the terrified reindeer running from their stable at one end of the house. The elves, too, scurried towards the stable, trying to stop the reindeer from running or flying off.

Above, in the dark vault of sky, the other pilots observed the explosion and saw missile trails smoking into the air. They also saw the frantic activity below and quickly concluded their comrade had come under anti-aircraft attack. So they swooped down in attack formation, rapid-fire canon tearing into everything ahead of them.

Most of the reindeer fell in the snow, spurting warm blood across the bluish-white surface. Most of the elves, too, fell gasping for life. Mrs. Claus received a wound in the head and instantly fell limp. Santa tried heroically to reach his wife but realized the situation was hopeless and turned, running into the darkness accompanied by Prancer, the only surviving reindeer.

The only witness to the massacre is one surviving elf now living somewhere in Canada under an assumed identity, fearful for his life. It is only from his testimony that we know anything about Santa’s fate.

Realizing the horrific mistake they had made, the pilots dropped white phosphorus bombs with the intention of incinerating all evidence. The entire North Pole lit up and Santa and Prancer could be seen in the distance on a huge block of ice drifting off into the dark sea, the ice everywhere cracked and weakened by the combined effects of white phosphorus and years of global warming.

Within in a few hours, the beating sound of a black helicopter approached Santa and Prancer. The elf, from his hiding place in a snowdrift, could only make out intermittent sounds across the howling coldness, but it seems armed men emerged from the helicopter, shot Prancer and shackled Santa, shoving him into the dark, beating machine. The elf heard a word that sounded like Guantanamo and Santa has not been heard from since. Reports of his fate reached the International Red Cross and organizations like Amnesty International, leading to inquiries, but these have been met only with silence from American authorities.

WHY PAT ROBERTSON ISN’T TREATED AS A TERRORIST

John Chuckman

America’s fundamentalist carnival includes many fascinating acts. Pay your money, and you can watch preachers weeping and screaming, dismissing whole segments of humanity as evil, threatening murder, shaking down congregations for extra donations to named-after-themselves projects, or hitting people in the head to heal cancer. You will also see some monsters finally caught after years of molesting children or hear others advocating crimes against humanity such as using nuclear weapons.

Pat Robertson is one of the Christian Sideshow’s longer-running acts, periodically adding some new nightmare to his grim repertoire. Oddly, Pat regards himself as a kind statesman-preacher, a latter-day boondocks version of Talleyrand, Talleyrand having started his remarkable and utterly unprincipled career as a Bishop. Pat regularly mixes the tax-free benefits of religion with the promotion of nasty politics. He has run for President, started quasi-religious organizations to promote his political ambitions, and freely offers his uninformed advice on national and world affairs.

Talleyrand had his various church properties and offices to support him in princely fashion while he worked at politics. Pat supports his public-minded work on resources gathered through one of America’s greatest money-changer-in-the-temple careers. The fortune generated through decades of his appeals to unhappy, lonely people watching television gives him access to a genuine commercial empire, from so-called Christian broadcasting to oil refining.

A key difference between Talleyrand and Pat is that Talleyrand was frightfully clever and was a breathtaking success at politics. I put the difference, in part, down to style. Talleyrand in person might remind one of the late Archbishop Sheen, snapping and twirling his scarlet cape and watching his listeners with penetrating eyes – to all that would be added something of Lord Byron’s fascinating stench of corruption. Robertson has never quite escaped the Jesus-on-the-dashboard flavor of his early career. Pat is pure Super Duper Auto Parts, Aisle Six, smiling salesman for mud flaps and sequined sets of big dice, but with enough animal cunning to have risen to running every Aisle Six on the continent.

Pat recently announced on national television that America should murder the elected leader of another country, President Chavez of Venezuela. Previously Pat restricted himself to insulting the religion of a billion people, Islam, or insulting the victims of natural disasters in the United States. After a hurricane in which old men, women, and children died, Pat blamed the victims for their fate by claiming God was punishing America’s immorality. His latest effort breaks new ground, being, by any meaningful definition, public advocacy of terror.

Why won’t Pat Robertson be treated as a terrorist? Believe me, if you said what he said about any of America’s current leaders, you would be arrested quickly under the Patriot Act and locked away. Why will Pat Robertson’s broadcasting empire not be classified as an organization supporting terrorist activities? Perfectly legitimate organizations in other parts of the world have been declared outlaw in the United States for having less direct association with terrorist hate-speech. Several bloodthirsty-sounding Muslim clerics, completely unrepresentative of their faith, have been jailed recently for speech closely resembling Robertson’s.

At the very least, Robertson should be charged under hate-speech laws. But such laws are weak in the United States, and many Americans fear the idea of hate-speech laws. So radio and television broadcasters continue spewing hate and dishonest claims in the exalted name of free speech.

We really do know why Pat Robertson won’t be treated as a terrorist. It’s for the same reason Bush’s former Attorney General of the United States could tell a group of decent, honest, hard-working American Muslims that they should count themselves lucky they weren’t being treated the way Japanese Americans were during World War II. It’s for the same reason that Bush protects a mass murderer named Luis Posada Carriles from extradition and trial. It’s for the same reason that American troops have made a horror of the lives of millions of innocent Iraqis. It’s for the same reason a distraught mother who lost her son in Iraq is vilified by Right Wing savages. It’s the same reason why the morally-contemptible Bush is President.

The reason is the worship of power and greed. While it’s true that a great deal of America’s history has to do with worshipping power and greed, never in my memory has it been so openly expressed, so contemptuously embraced as it is today. It is sad to reflect in my twilight years that almost everything I was taught as a boy has proved to be wrong. I don’t mean subjects like math or English. I mean values. Most of the evidence of my adult life tends to support the opposite of every moral lesson of my youth, certainly as they apply to the land of my birth, a place where power and greed now trump everything.

I was taught murder always is wrong. I was taught lying always is wrong. I was taught that lusting after money and power is wrong. I was taught that good men prevailed and evil men sooner or later paid for their acts. These lessons came from a ferociously-honest and brave mother who alone raised two boys on the South Side of Chicago. They came also from the church I attended. And they came from some wonderful books and stories I read.

The success of vicious Pat Robertson and his even more vicious President, George Bush, provide almost perfect allegories for the soul-dead thing America has become.

Religion, politics, journalism, and even academics serve the American worship of power and greed. I had a brief exchange recently with an exalted fellow from one of America’s many well-financed propaganda mills tarted up to resemble research organizations. This exalted fellow had been on a national radio interview, interestingly enough on the same subject of Venezuela. Apart from inaccurate claims about a new broadcast network established in Venezuela while he made a case for American interference, when reminded that Mr. Chavez was democratically elected, he chimed in with, “So was Hitler!”

Hitler, despite huge expenditures and desperately hard campaigns, never received more than just over a third of votes. He was appointed Chancellor, after a long series of backroom manipulations, by the Republic’s ancient and exhausted President von Hindenburg. Hitler’s rise more closely resembles that of some of America’s favorite shady men in Iraq and Pakistan than it does that of a man whose election was closely scrutinized and declared fair by international watchers.

I couldn’t let such an inaccurate claim stand and looked up his outfit on the Internet. There, on a page resembling something from a university or research center, was a large quote from Rush Limbaugh about the tremendous job they were doing. What kind of a research institution quotes Rush Limbaugh? There were also, importantly, links for bequests and gifts. And there was an e-mail link to the man on the Venezuela case.

My particular exalted fellow answered at length, accepting the truth of my correction, but making a mighty effort to turn someone’s getting one-third of the vote into a de facto election. There were paragraphs of labored reasoning larded with unnecessary facts, perhaps from a history text quickly consulted before replying. He missed the point entirely of respecting a genuinely democratic decision. Here is the kind of analysis being touted across America in an effort to influence the world. And these people do influence the world. The same people helped bring you the murderous disaster in Iraq.

9/11: THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED, THREE YEARS ON

John Chuckman

A lot can happen in three years.

In the United States since 9/11, about 4,000 children died from child abuse and neglect; in more than 80 percent of cases, parents were the perpetrators. About 36,000 Americans died from unnecessary surgery. Another 21,000 died from medication errors in hospitals, along with another 60,000 from other errors in hospitals. Adverse reactions to prescription drugs killed about 100,000. Roughly 10,000 Americans died from accidental drowning. About 2,100 died from bicycle accidents. Homicidal Americans killing other Americans took another roughly 60,000 lives. Suicide took more than 90,000. Traffic deaths amounted to well over 120,000.

Despite all of America’s mayhem and death (more than 7,000,000 Americans died in the last three years, including the clearly avoidable ones listed above plus hundreds of thousands not listed that were at least in part avoidable), the subject of 9/11 is never allowed to rest. About 3,000 Americans died on 9/11 in a spectacular act of hatred and vengeance, carried out, so far as we know, by 19 men, all of whom were themselves consumed.

Those who attacked America certainly did not do so because they hated democracy or rights, no matter what President Muffinmouth keeps deliriously muttering. Likely, they would not even have understood such concepts, coming as they did from cultures where conditions prevail comparable to those of centuries ago in Europe. But anyone understands abuse and bullying, and it is America’s terrible, careless abuse of its wealth and power to which they were violently responding.

In a Congress which consistently fails to remedy America’s social ills, its members always disparaging sensible regulation and rules to cover their abject political cowardice and bought-and-paid-for status, it took no time to start a war, even though it was clear that no nation had attacked the United States, and to pass legislation more repressive than any possible regulation. Scene after scene of America’s grunting, spewing legislators resembled life imitating art in the form of a movie for teen-agers, The Planet of Apes.

Whoever was responsible for 9/11 beyond those who killed themselves (America’s press automatically attributes the act to al Qaeda, a shadowy and rather small organization at best, although still no proof has been offered), the U.S. responded by spending tens of billions of dollars to invade two nations. Billions more were spent stuffing already-bloated intelligence agencies like geese being prepared for pâté de foie gras and cranking up the megawatts snapping and crackling through the wires to the nation’s military Frankenstein.

The money wasted on killing and maiming in Iraq might have done many fine things for the world. It might have built new schools in every wretched ghetto and backwater across the United States. It might have been used to launch an historic alternate-energy program, bringing down costs dramatically for technologies such as solar cells, contributing to the future well-being of all of humanity. Even a small portion of it could have done some spectacular things for fundamental science or medicine. Another small portion would have generously funded the simple technologies used for bringing clean drinking water to parts of the Indian subcontinent where arsenic and other compounds slowly poison millions year after year. The possibilities are almost endless.

But no, it all went to a destructive, psychotic fantasy called the war on terror (and more specifically to invade a place where, much as in the old Soviet Union, terror was never tolerated for a second). It should be clear, there can be no such thing as a war on terror, because terror is not a society or a regime or an army or even an ideology. Terror is a violent response to severe grievances. You can work hard to track down specific law-breakers and you can enhance security measures and you can work to redress grievances – all these are reasonable and fitting things to do – but there is no place or army that you can attack with any meaningful purpose. Of course, that simple fact hasn’t stopped America from instituting vast new abuses in the name of fighting a war on terror. As with the country’s crusade against communism, the pointless violence reflects America’s own shibboleths, fears, and internal politics rather than meaningful policy. American politics are so utterly poisonous and corrupted that the failure of one party to commit some barbarism abroad automatically is used by the other party as a visceral issue. When Bush speaks of a long-haul war against terror, he really means a renewal of the same cycle of vicious domestic politics with a new foreign bogeyman and new foreign victims.

Estimates of civilians killed by American forces in Iraq have been slow in coming. America’s press shows almost no interest, perhaps taking its lead from a government which doesn’t want the subject mentioned. But then, Daddy Bush never advertised how many he slaughtered in the brief, first Gulf War he started with subtle winks and suggestions to Hussein. It is certain that tens of thousands of pathetically-equipped conscripts died under waves of B-52s whose carpet bombing on the desert sealed the men in their own graves: cooked and packed underground by millions of pounds of high explosive.

Quite recently, an Iraqi group announced what may be the best count in view of its language and network of contacts in every part of the country. It spent months talking to everyone from gravediggers to doctors, deliberately avoided counting military deaths, and came up with 37,000 civilian killed.

The immense suffering of a major part of the population who, overnight, lost the means to earn a living must be added to America’s achievement, as well as the birth of violent resistance to occupation, an excellent laboratory for developing future generations of terrorists, and tidal waves of violent crime (things consistently under-reported in the U.S. press). Independent observers in Europe, including many British soldiers, have been taken aback by the violence and heavy-handedness of America’s occupation. The abuses documented in the published photos from Abu Ghraib prison (and there are many others not published) show a small part of what American soldiers have done. Consider one clear instance, fairly typical according to witnesses in Iraq brave enough to speak up and at least one Marine non-commissioned officer who has left the service, the Pentagon-invented Battle of Samara. Headlined in America’s press as a remarkable American victory, it was actually a slaughter of scores of civilians by sweltering, disgruntled, trigger-happy soldiers.

Only devotees of the Orwellian fantasies of Fox News and CNN and those who depend on Defense Department contracts for a living (and, sadly, that is now a truly gigantic number in the U.S.) ever accepted Bush’s claims about Iraq. Recent American stories about “they knew,” referring to the fact that Bush was informed by outsiders of the weak nature of his claims, are bitterly amusing. The world was awash in good information that told us Bush was lying before the invasion. It came from past weapons inspectors, current weapons inspectors, Iraqi refugees, diplomats, national leaders, and scrupulous journalists (a category that notably excluded employees of the New York Times and Washington Post). As it always does, understanding the truth required that essential skill, prized by courts everywhere, of evaluating the credibility of each witness. In Bush’s case, this was an open-and-shut judgment for anyone with powers of observation. The man’s every word is shrill and hollow.

America’s stubborn refusal to think was broadcast to the world in childish demonstrations of antipathy towards France – restaurant owners pouring vintage wines down the drain – and, to a lesser extent, Canada. Had Americans just listened to sane voices coming from outside their nearly hermetically-sealed society, about 1,000 of their soldiers now dead would be alive, taxpayers would be at least 100,000,000,000 dollars richer, oil prices wouldn’t be setting record highs, and the country would not be facing a years-long burden in Iraq, something, by the way, that is not going to change in the slightest if John Kerry is elected. (No one should forget, although the Democratic candidate strains the meaning of words to maintain otherwise, Kerry voted with the thumping, spewing gorillas to launch the war).

Of course, more Americans and others working for Americans have died than the 1,000 or so soldiers. For in this disgraceful war, America farmed-out substantial occupation duties to richly-paid private contractors – people once known, before the dawn of political correctness, as mercenaries or assassins. No effort is even made to keep track of how many of these are killed although I doubt many people much care.

Many small stories of 9/11 remain untold. I do not mean the kind of mawkish-tabloid stories that will be featured on the anniversary, but stories that help explain what happened afterward. One of mine concerns an American woman I know who left her job that morning and frantically raced around to gather her three children from schools and daycare and take them home, just in case, any terrorists were going to sacrifice their lives to send airliners hurling into rural Maine. Of course, the odds – infinitesimally small as they were – were at least the same that any airliners would crash near her house located in a more populated area. A deadly road accident during her frenetic car trip was a far more likely outcome than avoiding another hijacked plane crashing.

The point of the story was repeated only recently in testimony at Congressional hearings by members of “9/11 families,” an American lobby group of professional victims, some of whom made flatly ridiculous statements about the country being unprepared for another attack, including Twilight Zone stuff about little Elizabeth or Kyle not being able to play outside safely (Good God, one wishes such people could spend one day with a miserable Iraqi family cooped up in a shattered apartment surrounded by violence and ruin so that they truly understood what terror is). Well, I do suppose a twenty-foot wall could be built around America and all of its possessions and embassies abroad with all planes and boats being required to stop outside for complete inspection, but in an age of globalization and the huge economic gains being made from it, it does seem an unpromising idea.

Both stories are measures of the terrible job America’s press does informing people on politically-sensitive matters and of the irrationality so commonly observed in American society. Americans behave this way partly because they have so little understanding of the world and live in a fantasy concerning even the realities of their own country. American television doesn’t ever show pictures of the country’s dead, abused or murdered children although there are plenty of them (anymore than it showed the pictures of piteous Iraqi children mangled by bombs), but for videos of the planes striking the World Trade Center, networks left the replay switch in the “on” position for weeks. The flashing-message signs at service-station gas pumps are not used to remind motorists of dead kids in their neighborhood, but they sure were used to blink out idiotic slogans like “Never Forget!” over and over after 9/11. It all became something of a national computer game with life-like graphics, frightening and titillating Americans, reinforcing paranoid conceptions.

So far as the world is concerned, it might be fine were Americans to remain happily cocooned in their fantasies, if only they didn’t leave their bloody set of butcher’s tools in the hands of some of the world’s most ignorant and dreadful elected leaders. These armies and weapons are never used to defend democracy or freedom or human rights (or even to stop the several horrifying genocides that have taken place in recent decades) – in fact, there exists no threat to America requiring such huge armies and dreadfully destructive machines – they exist solely to bully and intimidate and overthrow.

Can you think of one example of America displaying behavior that might be regarded as that of a human rights-respecting democracy towards Iraq and its neighborhood? Would you include actively supporting the tyrant Hussein for many years? Supplying him the means to wage chemical warfare during the Iran-Iraq war? Supporting the tyrant Shah in neighboring Iran for decades, right down to the day of his death in exile? Shooting down an Iranian airliner full of civilians with no apologies or proper compensation? Kissinger’s duplicitous promises to the Kurds when they proved briefly useful? Pushing American forces into view near the holy places of Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War?

Doing decades of Enron-style business with Saudi Arabia’s feudal ruling family? Supporting, against all reason and decency, the violent apartheid policies of Israel? Putting a leader like Musharraf of Pakistan, elected by coup, on the regular payroll? Invading Afghanistan and making cozy deals with psychopathic warlords? Keeping an embargo on Iraq for a decade in the face of overwhelming proof that it was killing hundreds of thousands of innocents? Invading and occupying Iraq?

Please, is there a even hint in any of that about democracy and concern for human rights? No, there is only the ruthless manipulation and menacing displays of an imperial power using its might to get what it wants. Observed from the receiving end, in no case could you distinguish an enlightened nation at work. At the same time, on the sending end of things, America’s cowardly politicians flatter constituents’ vanity about having done brave and heroic deeds in the cause of freedom, and, truth be told, they get away with it, every time.

I wish Americans had the least spark of imagination and will to compare their almost delusional fears with the colossal human misery they have inflicted on the world. I wish, too, they had the imagination and will to understand that nothing has changed with American policies which literally assembled the forms and poured the concrete foundation for 9/11. All that has changed is that America has spent immense resources to pitch the world into more violence and lunacy.

Osama bin Laden or whoever was responsible for 9/11 must sit back on the anniversary date quietly chuckling as he reflects on his achievement, not only because he was able to see all of this happen at the mere cost of 19 followers, but because it is so stunningly clear that America still doesn’t get it.

“THESE COLORS DON’T RUN”

John Chuckman

Given its strutting brownshirt quality, here is a slogan that might well have been coined by America’s most articulate political thug, Pat Buchanan.

But the slogan, with little waving-flag pictures, is being used for bumper stickers selling John Kerry. Good marketers know that you want an offering for every niche, so here’s Kerry for the belly-over-the-belt, beer-belching, walrus-mustache set.

Niche marketing also explains goofy pieces about Kerry’s military service versus that of Republican chicken hawks (for those unfamiliar, “chicken hawks” is an informal American political term for men who never fought yet advocate sending others off to war, a group largely, but not exclusively, consisting of Republicans). Never mind the moral obtuseness of opposing an armchair-psychopath like Bush with arguments in favor of a man who did his own killing, there’s a weird market niche out there to be reached.

They sell everything in America. I recall the many patriotic displays of flags, buttons, and sweats in parking lots, supermarkets, and doughnut shops – all for sale, day and night, right after 9/11. Many claimed to be at reduced prices or even offered at two-for-one in especially touching displays of national feeling.

I recognize that Kerry needs all the advertising and marketing he can get. Every niche counts for one of the most uninspiring candidates in memory, although competition for the distinction of “most uninspiring” is tight in America. The nation’s political system seems capable only of advancing con men, bumblers, and paste-board cutouts anymore, although, occasionally, as in the case of the late Great Communicator, a single man combines all three identities. A network of powerful interests much like rivers and tributaries running together to form one roaring cataract sweeps away any candidate in a major party who might actually stand for something other than the imperial ethos.

God knows Kerry never has never represented much of substance. Efforts to sell him are likely wasted. Ask any professional marketer whether he or she thinks Bud Lite, even with the best marketing effort, can outsell Bud. If there’s a better description of John Kerry than “Bush Lite,” it eludes me.

Kerry, the boring, monotone moose of American politics, has hung up his set of Senate-fundraising cummerbunds – or at least restricted photographers access to the galas when he still hitches them up – in favor of casual plaid shirts. Well, he isn’t completely consistent about the plaid shirts: it’s a matter of which group he’s addressing whether he wants to suggest being a regular guy or society swell. When he does wear the plaid – always immaculately pressed to make sure no one mistakes him for someone who actually works for a living – there is more than a passing nod to millionaire, perpetual candidate, Lamar Alexander, who made a hobby of running for the Republican nomination sporting custom-made red lumberjack shirts.

People in struggling or oppressed lands who dream of being able to vote freely will be distressed to learn that America squanders her national elections on such costumed silliness, but it really cannot be otherwise when candidates have almost nothing to say.

Kerry’s casual shirts are probably custom-made, too, with enough of them in each of his wardrobes to provide a fresh change three times a day. After all, Kerry is a very wealthy man, coming from a privileged background and having married the fabulously-rich heiress to the Heinz Pickle and Canned Spaghetti fortune (no, she has no connection to the company, now part of a monstrous agglomerate, she just sits on mountains of cash it generated). You can see where Kerry’s sympathy and understanding for the little guy might come from.

There are precedents. George Washington inherited wealth and also married a very wealthy lady, Martha Custis, probably the richest widow in the colonies. Washington was famous for his warm qualities, too. The icy, piercing stare given to anyone for so much as touching his sleeve unbidden was legendary. His private characterization of early militiamen in Massachusetts, the men who genuinely had risked everything to start the revolt against Britain that he and other aristocrats then took over, was along the lines of filthy rabble.

Kerry is not built of quite the same stern stuff as the Father of His Country. Washington would never have worn a plaid shirt, but a lot has changed since his day when maybe the wealthiest one-percent of Americans could vote. Now, most Americans can vote, so you can’t be standoffish and you must expose yourself to the mob if you want to become President. The wealthiest one-percent now are limited strictly to determining with their campaign contributions which candidates the rabble sees on its ballots.

But Washington did sometimes coyly draw his silk frock coat over his cummerbund for touching moments when he spoke to people who weren’t fellow aristocrats: he was skilled at acts like removing his glasses as his eyes went misty addressing the men, whose poor promises for pay he would in some cases later buy up at severe discount. You wouldn’t recognize his capacity for empathy with ordinary men, though, from the monstrous bill he submitted to Congress after the Revolution for everything you can imagine including the wagon trains of wine he consumed at table while the rabble often did without a decent meal.

It’s true that wealthy people sometimes make inspired leaders – F.D.R. comes to mind as does the greatest prince in Europe’s history, Elizabeth I – but such people give strong signs of their remarkable talents long before they’ve reached Kerry’s age. You don’t hide your light until the near approach of senility. More often than not, you get Bushes or Rockefellers from the likes of Kerry, people with no more motivation for serving than capping their family’s list of achievements with the nation’s highest office.

Kerry rarely speaks of working people or the poor, rather he speaks of “the middle class,” feel-good language adopted by contemporary politicians to cover just about everyone in the country down to McDonald’s employees with more than one-month’s service. You are not supposed to speak of class differences in America. Everyone there is middle-class, unless extremely wealthy like Mr. Kerry or Mr. Bush or Mr. Cheney or Mr. Rumsfeld, something not to be mentioned, or so poor as not to be worth mentioning. Economically-marginal Americans like to be called “middle class,” just as they like to brag about their kids “going to college,” even when the kids are working towards a degree in playground supervision or fast-food management in one of America’s countless sleazy, for-profit diploma mills.

Mr. Kerry, of course, didn’t attend a diploma mill. Only the best for him, the Yale of George and Daddy Bush. Incidentally, Bush’s graduating Yale is often advanced as an argument for his actual intelligence being higher than the public’s perception. But those old schools just love accepting the sons and daughters of rich patrons, and they manage to graduate them virtually always. You don’t build fat institutional endowments by flunking guys like Georgie Bush. Even Oxford and Cambridge in England follow the practice, accepting and graduating some of the most mediocre members of the Royal Family.

America’s love affair with everyone’s being middle class nicely serves the establishment’s belligerent foreign policy. It just doesn’t count for much when you kill peasants somewhere on the periphery of the empire, it’s a bit like stepping on ants while doing your gardening, and Kerry knows, firsthand, about killing peasants. He and his merry band of men buzzed up and down the rivers of Vietnam in a boat shooting people too poor and ignorant to understand the great blessings of liberty being offered them.

That experience may equip Kerry to handle the revolt of Iraqi peasants against American occupation. After all, in Vietnam they didn’t bother with stripping prisoners naked and smearing excrement on them. That was a war for real men. They took prisoners up in helicopters and threw them out from several thousand feet if they didn’t give the right response, and frequently even when they did give the right response. It just made for one less gook (the affectionate nickname American troops bestowed on the locals). When America’s good old boys tired of such vicious games, they just napalmed whole villages instead of bothering to find out what should or should not be attacked. That’s how you build a “body count” of about three million.

Kerry’s statements on foreign policy indicate, as they are intended to do, that he is ready and willing to kill and maim for whatever are America’s interests of the moment abroad. Of course, he doesn’t say just those words, but what he does say carries those implications. Never mind any emphasis on diplomacy, international institutions, or cooperation – that’s all sissy stuff. On the issue of Israel’s bloody occupation of the Palestinians, a dreary, deadening reality at the heart of much of America’s current trouble in the world, Kerry sounds even more fanatical than Bush.

Of course, the one comforting thought about an idiotic slogan like “These colors don’t run,” is that it is so plainly false. The colors ran like a cheap dye in Vietnam and Cambodia, leaving a trail of death, disillusionment, and broken promises. And the colors ran again in Somolia where an arrogant people busied themselves more with trying to shoot-up the bad guys than they did with feeding desperate people.

A stark summary of what actually has occurred over the last few years highlights the slogan’s goonish nature. The only attack on America was by nineteen fanatics with virtually no weapons who all died. It is positively inspiring that Old Glory, imperial symbol of the world’s mightiest country, didn’t run on such a challenging field of battle. Old Glory also withstood the heroic assault and occupation of two pathetically-poor countries whose combined capacity for defense was roughly comparable to the state of Missouri.

How could you lose with cruise missiles, stealth bombers, high-tech fragmentation bombs, the poison of depleted uranium, plus all the money and means imaginable to bribe officials and reward disloyalty? It was indeed a shining achievement, and if you recall John Kerry’s voice standing against any of it, you heard something the world missed.

The examples are countless of headstrong people like Americans learning hard lessons only by banging their heads into walls. A second dose of Bush’s truly destructive leadership will likely do more for America’s ailments than taking a placebo like John Kerry.

DOES THE AMERICAN ELECTION MATTER?

John Chuckman

Presidential elections in America are long, with formal campaigns lasting about a year and positioning leading to the campaigns lasting nearly three years. A President’s four-year term of office leaves just enough time to dish out contracts and jobs.

There is nothing out of the ordinary in America about the length of presidential campaigns. Elections for other offices consume time pretty much in proportion to their power and importance. Senators, for example, spend about two-thirds of their six-year term just raising money for the next election.

American elections consume not just time but money, a great deal of money. Bush is expected to have a quarter-billion dollars in donations ready to fight for re-election. The nation’s air waves will be jammed for months with mind-numbing images easily confused with personal-hygiene or toothpaste commercials.

In America’s early years, only a few men of considerable substance could vote. Any concept of wider democracy disturbed America’s founding fathers as risking their wealth to the votes and whims of men without any. With the gradual, unavoidable extension of the American franchise over two hundred years of wars and social movements, a political system gradually emerged preserving the founders’ concerns. Americans in theory can vote for anyone, but the candidates they see and hear and whose names appear on all the ballots in so vast a land will only be people effectively pre-selected by those of great substance. It is an inherently conservative system.

I don’t want to put too much weight on the result of the Iowa caucus, it is hardly a future-shaping event, but the winner, John Kerry, brings pretty modest potential for change in America.

Kerry is an uninspiring figure, a man who has never stood out on matters of life and death or great injustice. He declared his candidacy in front of an aircraft carrier. Yes, he can shout his lines with the best of them when seeking the power and privilege of high office, but Kerry’s voice is not one known for defending great principles. He opposed the war in Vietnam toward the latter part of that holocaust against Asians, but by that time being anti-war had become almost stylish, and Kerry’s opposition came only after a ferociously-ambitious effort at a successful career in the war, a career that included shooting a man running away as well as a man under his command killing a child.

The War on Terror, while remaining an undefined slogan, is supported by Americans. Despite the odds of death by terror being not much greater than death by lightning, an attack by nineteen men, all of whom died in the effort, has caused America to kill thousands of innocent civilians abroad, destroy the economy of Iraq, keep thousands of shackled prisoners in offshore kennels, deport people against whom it has no evidence so they can be tortured in other lands, and to pass fearful new laws.

Sentimental liberals continue to write about a glorious national past blotted out by Bush, ignoring America’s tradition of near-rabid responses to real or imagined danger. This tradition began before the Revolution with periodic waves of fear and violence in the South over imagined slave revolts, and it continued with crazed slaughters of aboriginal people, the police-state Alien and Sedition Acts under President Adams, Jefferson’s police-state enforcement of a boycott on British trade, beatings and killings of blacks in the North thought responsible for conscription during the Civil War, Lincoln’s police-state suspension of basic rights in what was a totally-avoidable war, periodic mass slaughters of blacks during the twentieth century, the internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II, the wanton incineration of Japanese cities, the McCarthy-era lunacy, a holocaust in Vietnam second in size only to the Nazi’s grim work, and countless ugly little colonial wars and overthrows of elected governments.

It is notable that much of this kind of liberal writing ignores the international dimension of what Bush has done, the truly new and highly dangerous part of his handiwork. The authors focus on nasty domestic laws and bringing the troops home. Most liberals, like most conservatives in America, have a remarkable indifference about what happens to the world, so long as it doesn’t affect their enjoyment of life. It is a disturbing orientation for people who, secretly or overtly, regard themselves as divinely-anointed planetary overseers. So many times during the Vietnam War, I was astounded that people went right on happily sucking beer and dancing while American pilots napalmed villages in Asia. It was only when American coffins started arriving by the hundreds that much popular music turned harsh and full of protest and many proms lost their cozy glow.

There will be no return to what, before Bush, passed as normal in America until the nation has shaken its latest violent seizure. Even then, actions have been taken that will continue to sour the future. Does anyone believe that all the new oppressive legislation in the United States will be rescinded? that the bloated, dangerous increases in military spending will be undone? that America’s damage to international institutions will be corrected? that America’s contempt for its more thoughtful allies will disappear? that the immense welling-up of prejudice against Arabic people will simply disappear?

The truth is that even if a moderately liberal person were elected President, he or she would face exactly what the Clintons faced for eight years, a hideous and relentless assault with opportunity for few meaningful accomplishments. The American Congress is so conservative, and has demonstrated itself so lacking in courage or imagination or largeness of view, that only the most modest changes can be expected under any president.

Failing new developments, the one big issue promises to be whether the costly, pointless invasion of Iraq was a legitimate part of the War on Terror. I believe the answer will hinge on how many Americans continue to die rather than any rational discussion. The most troubling aspect of this is the way many Bush opponents seem only to care about getting American troops out of there. Where’s the sense of responsibility for the mess America created? Iraq will take many years to return to any kind of meaningful society.

Well, by all means, it would be nice to see Bush back with the rattlesnakes in Texas and once again to have a President capable of addressing civilly the rest of the world – nice things but not a lot to get excited about. No likely Democratic candidate is going to produce a greatly more rational and decent United States. One or two Democrats, Lieberman or Clark, almost certainly would be as narrow and harsh as Bush, offering nothing beyond a day’s satisfaction in seeing Bush sent packing.

POLICY THROUGH ROSE-COLORED PILOT’S GOGGLES

John Chuckman

Everyone, not attached by threadbare ideology or plain old war profiteering to President Bush’s War on Terror, knows that even on its own terms, it can only fail miserably in a great waste of lives and substance. You cannot fight a war against religious faith and opposition to injustice unless you are prepared to be as utterly ruthless as Stalin, and even then, when you lie pickled in your tomb, the roots you missed destroying will grow hardy new plants, as they have in contemporary Russia. But I would never have expected stark evidence for failure to come so quickly.

Massive explosions in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, just before the arrival of Colin Powell for talks, have left a smoking mass of blood and charred bodies.

Before this, only hours after talks in Israel about easing restrictions on the Palestinians, Mr. Powell was rewarded by Mr. Sharon’s sealing Gaza. Already Sharon had dismissed the new peace plan, and already he has publicly broadcast that Israel will continue to build new settlements.

Seeking stability for America’s Middle East policies was the central purpose of the Iraq invasion. One might think Sharon would show some gratitude for the monstrously-costly invasion of Iraq, but instead something like “Well, you can’t take back the invasion now, so it’s not going to change what I do” seems to be his response.

These signs follow others. The American Proconsul for Baghdad has been sacked for incompetence as chaos still characterizes life for a city of five million souls. Reports by independent journalists – that is, those not tied to America’s propaganda consortium of major networks and newspapers – indicate a growing fierce resentment towards the liberators. My, such ingratitude.

And in a move strikingly reminiscent of Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 triumphant return to Iran from exile in France, last Saturday (May 10), Ayatollah Baqir al-Hakim, a noted Shia cleric and fierce opponent of Saddam Hussein, returned after twenty-three years of exile. He was greeted in Basra with far more enthusiasm than anything seen by America’s kevlar-clad warriors for peace, justice, and the American way – especially the American way. The cleric has made statements both about a widely-based elected government and an Islamic state – goals that are not entirely inconsistent since Iraq is about sixty-percent Shia.

How that will be reconciled with Iraq’s more modern elements is not clear – many Americans being unaware that Hussein was a rather secular ruler and women, for example, in Baghdad lived a more modern life than those in most other Arab capitals. Of course, there’s still the angry demands of the Kurds in northern Iraq for autonomy, a people previously betrayed by American foreign policy. Who knows what they’ll be up to if betrayed again?

The Kurds’ demands are accompanied by a background roar from Turkey against any such thing happening, but then Turkey is in the dog house for failing to permit a second front against Iraq from its territory, even after being offered billions in bribes. Still, Turkey is a key ally and is trying to join the modern world as quickly as possible, so it can’t be treated as badly as Bush is determined to treat France and Germany.

Such are the rewards of rudely elbowing your way into the intimate affairs of others. If only America’s great power were ever actually used against the world’s great injustices or to protect the weak, but all evidence since the end of World War II points the other way. It is used only to defend narrowly-defined interests, fight superstitious fears such as those it feels around communism or now Islam, and lay low anyone who seriously gets in its way. Any end to an injustice along the way is strictly coincidental.

Of course, one can only be glad the murder in Iraq is largely over, despite receiving notice of the fact from an odd man in an Armani suit and pilot’s goggles on the deck of an aircraft carrier. The likelihood of Bush understanding what he has actually achieved in Afghanistan and Iraq is not high. So too the likelihood for success of his limp effort to control Israel’s bloody excesses.

And what of the longer-term results of Mr. Bush’s mismanagement? Additional attacks against American interests will bring further suppression of American rights and freedoms, and I believe this may be supported by the almost childish fears and lack of understanding of many Americans. “Heavens, there was a terror alert while we were buying ice-cream cones at Disney World!” Of course, there will be more violent, hatred-inducing incursions abroad.

At the same time that Mr. Bush increases repressive and intrusive measures at home and destruction abroad, he insists on massive, economically-obtuse tax cuts as voter bait. This is a formula for re-creating the economic chaos of Israel, only there is no one out there able to bail the United States.

The combined effects of massive American security restrictions, secrecy, retaliation against otherwise-friendly states opposed to its destructive acts, national deficits, trade deficits, war and the resentments it generates may well depress the growth of international trade seen in recent decades, imposing still a further cost on the world.

The first part of the twenty-first century looks promising indeed. Let’s hear it for Commander Bush, giggling in goggles, while he launches us all into darkness.

TWELVE RUSTED PIPES

John Chuckman

My head turned when I heard on the radio that a number of chemical warheads had been discovered in Iraq, the words “chemical warheads” evoking powerful suggestions and images. Shortly after first reports, one of Mr. Bush’s spokespeople termed it “significant.” Within a day, restraint was thrown to the wind, and Mr. Bush claimed the find was solid “proof” of Iraq’s refusal to cooperate with arms inspectors.

I found a picture on the Internet of the U.N. inspectors in chemical-protective suits with their discovery spread on the ground in front of them. The “chemical warheads” resembled twelve rusted, 8-inch pipes, exactly the kind of junk you could find strewn in yards piled with corroded ’49 Ford transmissions, World War II relics, winches, and bedsprings on countless rural roads across America.

The “warheads” are the remains of 122mm Katyusha-style rockets (the same type of inaccurate and relatively ineffective small rockets used sporadically against northern Israel during the bloody occupation of Lebanon) that had been designed to deliver chemical weapons.

Of course, if you’ve been conditioned by Monty Python performances like former Secretary of Defense Cohen holding up a 5-pound bag of sugar on national television and asserting its volume represented all that was necessary to wipe out a country, you might still be concerned. His presentation came around the time when the seemingly custom-minted expression “weapons of mass destruction” was introduced to blur the immense differences between chemical/biological weapons and nuclear ones.

To put the “warhead” discovery into perspective, some 20,000 such munitions were surrendered by Iraq after Desert Storm a dozen years ago. I have no idea how many artillery rounds and rockets, of 122mm and greater size, were fired by U.S. forces during that brief war, but a hundred thousand is likely a modest estimate.
The American munitions weren’t loaded with chemicals, but in their accuracy and destructive power plus the hideous aftereffects of tons of vaporized uranium left for civilians to breathe, they likely were far more lethal than the Iraqi rockets of twelve years ago could ever have been. I say this because such rockets have a very limited range and very poor accuracy. The chemicals they contain also are subject to such untoward events as sudden wind shifts blowing the stuff back onto your own troops. Moreover, any modern army is equipped to avoid contact with such material.

Even in mint condition and in the substantial numbers of pre-Desert Storm days, such rockets represent a very limited threat. Any army general would trade them all for one American W-88 thermonuclear warhead with its guaranteed ability to obliterate instantly a city or an army and render a large area uninhabitable for weeks.

But of course, these weren’t 20,000 new munitions, they were twelve rusted remnants containing nothing – threatening stuff indeed.

Iraq has experienced two furious conflicts over the last two decades. Undoubtedly, there is tons of rusted war materiel scattered over the landscape, stuff that no one has records of or cares about. And Iraqis do have other things to occupy them, things like sheer survival under America’s horrific embargo and with much of their country’s basic infrastructure still in ruins.

Whether Bush’s statements reflect careless, offhand remarks or deliberate misrepresentations, they starkly highlight why he is neither trusted nor believed by millions of thoughtful people around the world. At his level of responsibility, and with the gravest consequences of war hinging on his words, it is reprehensible of him to twist language so that rusted pipes become proof of vast destructive plots.

Not long after the pipes’ discovery, there were revelations in The Daily Telegraph and The Times (of London) that three thousand pages of documents dealing with nuclear weapons had been found in the home of an Iraqi scientist.

This information, probably leaked to re-focus public concern after the rusted-pipe caper, made attention-getting headlines, but the details proved rather pathetic reading. As it turned out, the documents concern the project for producing fissile material that the entire world knows existed before Desert Storm, a costly project that according to Mr. Scott Ritter, former chief arms inspector, was destroyed by his technicians.

It does seem that Mr. Bush is willing to grab at any flimsy argument for war, and Britain’s Mr. Blair – the leak to the British papers almost certainly coming from his government – is never far behind in making sweeping claims that he cannot support.

When I think of the situation in Iraq, I have the painful image of a huge scab that has just barely closed over a terrible, bloody wound. Mr. Bush keeps telling us that rather than let the doctors keep the wound under examination, he wants to rip away the massive scab and slash still more deeply into the remaining flesh to make sure there is no infection.

Well, I have about the same trust in Mr. Bush as surgeon as I do as statesman. Let Mr. Blix’s experts carry on with inspections, and let the man who sniggered at souls waiting on death row keep his mouth closed until the full evidence is in.

FROM THE MOUTHS OF BABES

John Chuckman

I’ve written before that much of American foreign policy is determined by domestic attitudes and politics, in a society driven by the fantasies of adults who never want to grow up, rather than by the complex realities of the world.

How else do you explain the perverse and destructive nature of so many of America’s intervention in the world after World War II? Like big, thoughtless kids kicking at colonies of birds’ nests, destroying lives and community without noticing anything much more than the exhilarating time they’ve had doing it.

Meanwhile, where great power might really have achieved something worthwhile, generally it has gone unused. I refer to the several genocides that occurred in the last third of the Twentieth Century, not using that word genocide loosely as it often is used in America but to describe massive, blood-soaked horror inflicted on a class or type of people. Indonesia, Cambodia, and Rwanda – each of these involved upwards of half a million people being slaughtered by their own countrymen. In each case, America never lifted a finger.

The rivers of Indonesia ran red and thick with gore at the end of Mr. Sukarno’s regime, but the American government thought that was fine since it was presumed members of the Communist party that were having their throats cut en masse.

Cambodia’s agony, brought on by America’s destabilizing secret bombing and invasions during the Vietnam War, was also fine since it only demonstrated the inhumanity of Communists and the validity of the paranoid “domino theory,” it being the intervention of war-weary Vietnam that mercifully ended the “killing fields”

There is no consistency here at all. In one genocide, Communists were being killed. In the other, Communists were doing the killing. Perhaps the State Department took to heart Emerson’s line about a “foolish consistency being the hobgoblin of little minds.” The same philosophy undoubtedly prevailed in the several instances of America’s overturning unfriendly democracies and installing friendly brutal thugs. America only likes democracies that yield acceptable results.

Consistency did show up in the attitude towards Rwanda. After all, that was Africa, and who the hell cares about Africa?

There are many perverse and not-widely-understood aspects to this relationship between foreign affairs and domestic attitudes and politics. One of the most interesting was suggested to me by an off-handed remark in a letter from a reader in Holland. Americans can’t even keep peace and order in their own cities. What makes them think they are capable of doing it anywhere else?

Indeed, and that might explain the philosophy of “we destroy, you rebuild as best you can” so characteristic of America’s interventions. The big kid can climb aboard his supersonic plane and, almost like pushing the buttons on a fancy video-game, make flashes and puffs of smoke rise from tiny structures far below with even tinier, ant-like dots running in all directions. Some Americans are capable of mustering that much interest. Besides, you get to be called a hero for doing that.

The immense arrogance of a term like “regime change” is lost on America. Much of the world, in American eyes, just resembles beat-up, ugly ghettos run by gangs that can’t speak English, anyway. Why would anyone complain if we blew some of them up? This is the world as seen by American suburbanites cruising along in shiny, four-ton SUVs from “gated communities” to gated corporate headquarters, showing no interest in the scenes that rush by between one island of security and another. All that “stuff” in between might just as well be China or Egypt or Iraq.

America is a country that has almost no experience of war, except during the Civil War, and that was a very long time ago and was pretty much limited to one region of the country. America has never seen a city reduced to the rubble of Berlin or Tokyo after World War II, peopled by phantoms flitting about desperate to find any scrap of something useful or edible. It has never had to deal with millions of displaced persons who’ve lost everything, even their identification papers. Or had to endure a siege like that of Leningrad where tens of thousands of frozen corpses were stacked like logs in the streets as the living were reduced to conditions resembling the Stone Age. It has certainly never experienced the remorseless rape and pillage of a foreign army sweeping through its towns and cities. It never had to bury millions of its own.

Even in the gigantic upheaval of World War II, America’s loss of life amounted to just over one-half of one percent of the fifty million souls who perished.

So when decisions are made to bomb the homes and factories of others, killing and maiming thousands of people far away, most Americans have no experience. It’s all a little abstract. The job of politicians to decide.

And being immersed in concerns like whether they’ll be able to find just the right doll for little Kaitlyn’s birthday, they show little inclination to imagine what it would be like to feel the ground shudder hundreds of times between the screams of bombs and dying neighbors. Hell, who wants to think about things like that after a tough day at the office?

Another interesting aspect of this relationship between foreign policies and domestic matters reflects America’s attitude towards its own national government. Basically, since the nation’s beginnings, Americans have hated having a national government. Americans would never even have won the Revolutionary War without the immense assistance of the French. Many contemporary observers tell us how indifferent Americans had become to events in the last years. M. Duportail wrote that there was more excitement about the American Revolution in the cafes of Paris than he found in America. Washington spent most of his time writing desperate letters pleading for help, letters that often fell on deaf ears.

The proximate cause of the American Revolution, Britain’s imposition of taxes designed to help pay its vast expenses in securing victory over the French in the Seven Years War (a.k.a., the French and Indian War), a war which greatly benefited American colonists, reflected the colonists’ hatred of paying taxes. And little has changed in two and a quarter centuries. There are many Americans who view Washington as the distant capital of an occupying Roman power.

They have matured to this extent since the Revolution: they are willing to pay taxes for the military, although not much else.

This strange arrangement has a profound effect on foreign affairs. With many Americans taking little interest in foreign events and little interest in national government, a great deal of “maneuver room” is afforded to the nation’s power establishment. Their actions are effectively not subject to quite the scrutiny you might expect in an ostensibly democratic country. That is one reason a country that has so many of the characteristics of a democracy is capable of the kind of shameful things abroad you might expect from oligarchs or juntas.

This effect is further enhanced by the way in which elections are financed. Those who pay the bills are heard, and they are anything but a majority of Americans. And the country’s major popular information sources are owned by a relatively small number of powerful groups whose interests tend to be with the jingoistic and imperial.

It is often only intense international pressure which prevents America from doing some truly destructive and stupid things, just as on more than one occasion during the Cold War, Washington stood fully ready to use atomic weapons. One can only hope that international pressure has been sufficient to prevent the moral and intellectual mediocrity that now occupies the White House from launching an action whose long-term consequences may be just as terrible and unforgiving as the use of atomic weapons.

FLIRTING WITH FASCISM

John Chuckman

“Perhaps America will one day go fascist democratically…” William L. Shirer

Long before the unsavory American politician, Patrick Buchanan, was accused by the just-ever-so-slightly less unsavory American politician, William Bennett, of “flirting with fascism,” the country had a rich history of doing that very thing.

There is a keen and almost pathetic sense one gets from the words of many liberal American commentators insisting Mr. Bush’s war measures represent a heart-wrenching departure from the nation’s traditions. I beg to differ.

Flirting with fascism has been an important historical current since the founding of the Republic. Certain underlying attitudes and tensions, almost like buried toxic sludge, have regularly bubbled to the surface over two and a quarter centuries.

As to thinking that the election of a Democrat will change everything, well, that is twinkly-eyed, “Look what the Tooth Fairy gave me!” stuff. Mr. Gore doesn’t raise his voice against the ugly excesses, and Mr. Clinton set a dreadful, bloody precedent in Kosovo. And where is the indignant voice of major newspapers and broadcasters, the self-anointed, Fourth-Estate protectors of rights, over the murder and torture and mistreatment of prisoners?

It has often been observed that there is a kind of perpetual adolescence in America, and there is an peculiarly adolescent quality to fascism. Whether it’s in the emotions that center on uniforms, puppy-love hero worship, and drum-crashing spectacles, or in the belief that there are easy answers to society’s difficult problems, especially through the application of force. Fascism is generally associated with the notion that a people are special in some way and have a destiny or birthright to claim, given only the necessary, daring leadership. Hyper-patriotic, chest-thumping displays are typical behavior. Fascism lingers in the territory of misty, adolescent dreams about power, courage, and invincibility.

The observed niceties of Mr. Bush’s snatching and torturing people only outside the boundaries of America’s Constitutional protections, for example, is part of a long tradition of brutality-under-legalism where it’s convenient or profitable. During the first century of the new republic, the Supreme Court deemed the Bill of Rights as applying only to federal matters. Since individual states at that time were responsible for virtually everything touching people’s lives, the Bill of Rights was pretty much a parchment nullity. Which is exactly how it was treated by slaveholders and others, including Andrew Jackson, the president closest to being a genuine madman, when he practiced large-scale ethnic cleansing of native Americans.

Right at the country’s founding, some tendency towards what we now call fascism was evident. Of course, there was slavery. Dr. Johnson’s apt remarks about “drivers of Negroes” speaking of liberty and patriotism’s being “the last refuge of scoundrels,” were shafts aimed directly at Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and other Virginia “gentlemen.” And lest there be any misunderstanding on that, the incomparably-honest Johnson hated both imperialism and slavery decades before America even thought about being a separate country.

The American Constitution avoided the glaring issue of slavery, only quietly allowing the small population of slave-holders to enlarge their representation in Congress by counting each slave as three-fifths of a person represented. To further secure the interests of slavery, the Senate was designed to give disproportionate power to states with small populations. One might call this the backwater bias of the Constitution, and, to this day, it assures that truly parochial, uninformed politicians fill many important committees, committees that are the real power in Congress (For non-American readers, this is so because rural Congressional seats often tend to become lifetime sinecures, and appointments to committees are based on tenure).

Contrary to a common belief, the intellectually-advanced world of the late 18th century had already passed judgment on slavery. It was not an acceptable institution among the thoughtful and morally considerate. Men like Jefferson understood this, being in communication with many thinkers in Europe, and that’s why he felt compelled to write some noble-sounding rhetoric against slavery while continuing all his life to enjoy its benefits. Even with two hundred slaves, Jefferson was so addicted to luxury that he died in debt, often buying new silver buckles or a fancy new coach rather than paying old debts.

So too Madison, although his words on the subject ring with considerably-less nobility than Jefferson’s. The “father” of the Bill of Rights advocated all his adult life the mass deportation of black slaves to Africa (as did Jefferson), if and when by some miracle they were liberated and only providing their owners were fully compensated for lost property. Never mind that many slaves had been born in the United States, some going back more generations than many planters, or had grown to have attachments in the course of their lives of forced exile, off they all would go to Africa.

Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence (amended by other committee members and edited down mercilessly by members of the Continental Congress) actually included a lengthy, whining effort to blame Britain for imposing the slave trade on the colonies, as though there could be a trade without ready buyers. Of course, by the late 18th century, the slave trade was beginning to put downward pressure on the value of Virginia’s human holdings. After all, breeding slaves itself would become a business, and the laws of supply and demand worked even for human commodities. When Congress later put a moratorium on the trade, it was with this economic reality in mind, and not with any urgent sense of morality.

Thomas Jefferson conducted one of the most ruthlessly-oppressive policies ever undertaken by an American President. Determined not to go to war with Britain over grievances that, afterwards under Madison, caused the War of 1812, Jefferson imposed an embargo on trade with Britain. It was a foolish policy and a vivid example of Jefferson’s intense single-mindedness where he believed he was right.

The embargo crippled New England, most of its trade being with Britain or the British colonies of the West Indies and Canada, and drove hundreds of established businesses into bankruptcy. Opposition to the law was determined, as one can imagine with people’s very livelihoods at stake, indeed it started a serious movement towards New England’s secession from the Union. Jefferson only became enraged and demanded ruthless enforcement. He came down extremely harshly on people who were only trying to earn a living, treating them as though they had committed crimes against the state.

Now, this was the same Jefferson who during an earlier, ineffective, colonial embargo, insisted on ignoring it to import the special English windows he wanted for his pet project, Monticello. This was the same Jefferson who had come to power accusing the John Adam’s administration of tearing at the very fabric of the Republic with its Alien and Sedition Acts, laws intended to prevent the hot embers of the French revolution from starting a fire in America.

The Alien and Sedition Acts were indeed ugly laws, typical of what any American today would think of when he or she thinks of fascism, including the power to throw people into prison for saying or writing anything disrespectful of the national government. Ironically, the Alien and Sedition Acts were never enforced in the same ruthless fashion as Jefferson’s embargo. Only a small number of people suffered seriously under them, while Jefferson put New England into a great depression and arrested anyone who opposed his doing so.

Jefferson was a great admirer of the French Revolution, and he did not cease admiring it even when it started being very bloody. This man who never lifted a musket during the Revolution and who as governor of Virginia dropped all the state’s business to gallop away as the British approached Charlotttesville (there was actually an official investigation into his behavior) was always writing lurid stuff about the need for “blood to fertilize the tree of liberty.” Conor Cruise O’Brien has quite accurately compared some of his expressions admiring what was happening in France to someone admiring the statecraft of Pol Pot.

When the slaves of Haiti rebelled against the French revolutionary government, Jefferson, then Secretary of State, was horrified at the idea of a republic run by ex-slaves. Later as President, he imposed an embargo against Haiti and supported Napoleon’s bloody, unsuccessful effort to restore French control. So much for the Jeffersonian “Empire of Liberty” where blacks were concerned.

So that I may keep this piece to a reasonable length, I’m going to skip to the Twentieth Century, although in doing so I leave behind some rich examples of America’s continuing, lurching dance with fascism.

General Douglas McArthur, who later distinguished himself as a general who would challenge directly civilian control over the military, first achieved some note for leading troops in Washington in 1932, exceeding his authority to beat in the heads of bonus-marchers, veterans of World War l who had fallen on hard times and sought early payment of a Congressionally-authorized bonus for their war service.

During the early Twentieth Century, eugenics became an important movement in the United States. There were many dreadful laws passed that required the involuntary sterilization of those considered unfit to reproduce. The program during the 1930s was huge with tens of thousands of legal victims. It may surprise many Americans, but the program was larger and more developed than one that existed in Hitler’s Germany at the same period. Indeed, it was admired by many Nazis.

If you want to get a real flavor for what was a very prominent strain of American thinking of the time, you should read the startling words of Henry Ford, a truly hateful man. Or you might sample the wisdom of Charles Lindbergh on Nazis.

Speaking of Nazis, there was a Bund movement in America. This organization was popular in the 1930s. At a 1939 rally in New York, the Bund drew 20,000 people. These dashing fellows held special summer camps and marched around in dark uniforms and jackboots just like Ernest Roehm’s gang of thugs, the SA, had in the years leading up to Hitler’s taking power.

The Pledge of Allegiance was given throughout the 1930s with a salute exactly like that of the Nazis with the right arm extended out and slightly upward. Only in 1942, when the pledge first gained some official status in being incorporated by Congress into the flag code and the nation was at war with Hitler, was this practice stopped.

Of course, there were the various massacres of blacks, especially during the 1920s. These were horrific events, complete with hidden mass graves, every bit as terrible as the kind of acts we associate with Kosovo. The Klu Klux Klan became a powerful movement, estimates of its membership in the mid-1920s are 4 to 5 million, at a time when the U.S. population was less than 40% of what it is now, although participation dropped quickly after a series of financial scandals and the start of the Great Depression.

Brandeis University in Massachusetts was founded in 1947 with the aim of creating a Jewish institution for higher learning that would one day compete with Harvard and Yale and the other ivy-league universities. Why would this be necessary? Because at that time these eminent institutions of learning only reluctantly accepted Jews and in small numbers. How did they know people were Jews? The same way the Nazis did, you asked them. And where you didn’t believe the answers, you made assumptions. And note that date, 1947.

After Word War II, it was common to hear American ex-servicemen say that the U.S. had fought against the wrong side. How anyone could say this, after the revelations of the death camps, is almost unbelievable. Yet I have heard this said by men who otherwise seemed decent, ordinary citizens.

Guilt over America’s treatment of Jews was part of the reason for the government’s postwar support of the new state of Israel. Before the Final Solution – which only started when the 1941 invasion of Russia provided an environment of total chaos to hide the unspeakable work of the Einsatzkommandos – Hitler was willing to deport all the Jews, just as Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain had done in 1492.

Of course, one of the most logical places for them to go was the wide open spaces of the United States, but Americans wanted no part of that. It was political anathema during this period to advocate accepting Jews from Europe. A boatload of Jews seeking asylum in the U.S. before the war was turned away. Although killing Jews at that point in the Reich was not common, treating them as less-than human was a matter of law. America’s behavior very much served to confirm Hitler in his belief that no one wanted the Jews.

America’s postwar support for Israel also had a dark underside. American politicians gladly embraced the benefit of large numbers of Jews migrating from war-ravaged Europe to any place other than America. It was one of those happy opportunities in history, much as with the moratorium on the slave trade, when you can do something utterly selfish while taking credit for noble motives.

The traditions of the American Bund come right down to the militia movements and Aryan “church” movements of our own day. There is absolutely nothing exceptional about these people in American history. Timothy McVeigh has been reincarnated many times in American history. And one should recall that Mr. McVeigh’s most cherished ambition had been to become a Green Beret, the brave fellows who murdered at least twenty thousand civilians – yes, that’s civilians, not soldiers – as part of Operation Phoenix during the war in Vietnam.

The FBI never took a determined interest in these bizarre, violent groups before events in Oklahoma City, an observation which brings me to the dramatic civil-rights movement in the 1950s and early 1960s. Hollywood often portrays the FBI as having been at the forefront of the fight for human rights and dignity. This is utterly false. J. Edgar Hoover hated blacks, would not allow them to become FBI agents, and acted as though a few pitiful communists were a vastly greater threat than the club-swinging, church-going lunatics in the South. Only under intense political pressure did the FBI become more actively involved in the violence against blacks and civil-rights workers.

Still, despite the FBI’s turnaround, Dr. King, one of America’s authentic modern heroes, later was the victim of an ugly FBI project, part of COINTELPRO, reminiscent of the kind of thing South African secret police practiced under Apartheid. Intimate tapes and suggestive, threatening letters were sent to the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize with the intention of shaming him and hopefully inducing his suicide. Visitors to the nation’s capital will notice that Mr. Hoover’s name yet remains in big, shiny letters on FBI headquarters, much as the Confederate battle-flag still waves from official flagpoles in parts of the South.

Some of the Southern states, right into the 1960s, actually had secret state agencies that operated very much like the Gestapo in gathering information about, and intimidating, people concerned with civil rights.

The Southern Baptist Convention, one of the largest fundamentalist churches in America, was founded in 1845 by extreme, pro-slavery interests and has never since been a voice for tolerance or broad human rights. Recently-released recordings of Billy Graham, the nation’s most famous Southern Baptist, talking with the late President Nixon, reveal not only anti-Semitism but an unblinking willingness to see nuclear weapons used on Asians.

There have been many debates over the ethnic-origin questions in the American census. Despite the fact that most Americans are of mixed descent, and despite the fact many are not even aware of their ancestors beyond a generation or two, they are still asked in every census to identify their ethnic/national origins.

After two hundred years of slavery and another hundred years of de facto servitude, breathes there one black person in America without European genes? Are there Hispanic people without American Indian genes, or, going back centuries earlier to Spain, without Moorish genes? Even the English are a hybrid people of early Britons, Romans, Scandinavians, Germans, Norman French, and other bits. Indeed, since it is quite possible all the world’s peoples originated out of Africa, what can be the meaning of such questions? Is ethnicity defined by some arbitrary length of time? Is it defined only by a last name whose national origin almost always hides an immensely-complicated past? What do these intrusive questions achieve that is of genuine scientific or social value?

The same kinds of questions are routinely asked by potential employers to comply with certain federal regulations. Somehow, America has managed to turn an effort at insuring equality of opportunity into another collection of statistics about race. Totally inappropriate forms are supplied by potential employers to be filled with information about the applicant’s ethnic origin/race. They are blunt and insulting, but always come with the official assurance that the information has no bearing on your employment and remains confidential.

That is just a brief reflection on some dark, violent, and unmistakably-fascist events and attitudes that helped shape American history, and there is every indication they will continue shaping it for many years to come. What’s more, William L. Shirer in making his famous remark about fascism and America perhaps never anticipated the possibility of people cozy with fascism coming to power without actually being elected.

OF WAR, ISLAM, AND ISRAEL

John Chuckman

War between Islam and the nations of the West? There have been a good many careless words printed and broadcast in America touching on this simplistic idea. And an American president who lacks the most superficial knowledge of the world or its history offers no reassurance, as he lurches from one misstatement to another, that this idea is not being incorporated into national policy.

The concept of Islam as an intrinsically violent, anti-progressive opponent in the modern world is both ignorant and dangerous. The new prominence of this idea in America provides a good measure of the distorted information that exists in our political environment. It’s almost as though the bloody, parochial views of Ariel Sharon on the nature of Palestinians had been exalted to a world view, worthy of every statesman’s consideration.

How easily we forget that the history of organized Christianity provides almost certainly the bloodiest tale in all of human history.

The Crusades, that dark saga of Christianity written in blood and terror, continued sporadically over hundreds of years. They served little other purpose than gathering wealth through spoils and sacking cities and easing the periodic domestic political difficulties of the papacy and major princes of Europe.

We hear of the treatment of women under Islam in certain places, not remembering that Christian women were left locked in iron chastity belts for years while their husbands raped their way across the Near East. And the character of Saladin, hard warrior that he was, shines nobly in history compared to the moral shabbiness of Richard Lionheart.

Europe wove a remarkable tapestry of horrors in the name of Christianity from the beginning of the modern era. There was the Holy Inquisition, the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the Thirty Years’ War, the English Civil War, the St Bartholomew Massacre, Cromwell’s slaughter in Ireland, the enslavement and widespread extermination of native peoples in the Americas, the Eighty Years’ War in Holland, the expulsion of the Huguenots from France, the pogroms, the burning of witches, and numberless other horrific events right down to The Holocaust itself, which was largely the work of people who considered themselves, as did the slave drivers of America’s South, to be Christians.

Over and above the conflicts motivated by religion, European and American history, a history dominated by people calling themselves Christian, runs with rivers, lakes, and whole seas of blood. Just a sampling includes the Hundred Years’ War, the War of the Spanish Succession, the Seven Years’ War, the slave trade, the French Revolution, the Vendée, the Napoleonic Wars, the Trail of Tears, the Opium War, African slavery in the American South, the American Civil War, the Franco-Prussian War, the massacre in the Belgium Congo, the Crimean War, lynchings, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, World War I, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II.

How anyone with this heritage can describe Islam as notably bloodthirsty plainly tells us that immense ignorance is at work here.

What limited knowledge I have of Islam is enough to know that there is no history, despite bloody characters like Tamerlane, to overtop Europe’s excesses, and, in some cases, there has been generosity of spirit exceeding that shown by Christians.

The Moorish kings of Spain tended to follow the same tolerant attitude towards religion that the classical Romans had done. The Romans allowed any religion to flourish, often officially adopting the gods of a conquered people, so long as the religion represented no political threat to Rome’s authority.

People today point to a well-publicized excess like the Taliban’s destruction of ancient statues, apparently completely oblivious to the fact that the religiously-insane Puritans, direct ancestors of America’s Christian fundamentalists, ran through the beautiful, ancient cathedrals of England after the Reformation, smashing stained glass, desecrating ancient tombs, destroying priceless manuscripts, and smashing sculptures.

A remarkably tolerant society flourished under the Moors in Spain for hundreds of years. Jews, Christians, and Muslims were tolerated, and the talented served the state in many high capacities regardless of religion. Learning advanced, trade flourished.

During the centuries of the Jewish Diaspora, the Arab people of the Holy Land looked after the holy places and largely treated Jewish visitors with hospitality and respect. There was none of the bitter hatred we see today. All this changed at the birth of modern Israel and the expulsion of Palestinians from places they had inhabited for centuries.

No reasonable, decent-minded person can deny that the manner of Israel’s rebirth did a great injustice to the Palestinians. And the great powers, first Britain and then the United States, had entirely selfish motives in seeing this done. Under the original UN proposal for Israel, there were to be two roughly-equal states carved out of Palestine, and the city of Jerusalem was to have an international status. More than half a century later, what we have is an Israel that covers three-quarters of Palestine and militarily occupies the rest.

Yet somehow, the burden of appropriate behavior, in a fuzzily-defined “peace process” leading to some fuzzily-defined Palestinian state at some undefined date, is always placed upon the Palestinians. They are supposed to live patiently, exhibiting the peacefulness of model citizens in Dorothy’s Kansas, while under a humiliating occupation in order just to earn the privilege of talking to Israel about the situation.

I often wonder how Americans, with their Second-Amendment rights and hundreds of millions of guns, would behave under such circumstances. Would they patiently wait decade after decade, watching “settlers” fresh from other places build on what was their land? watching bulldozers flatten their orchards? watching their people harassed and often demeaned at checkpoints as they simply travel from one point to another near their homes? not being able to so much as build a road or a sewer without the almost impossible-to-get permission of the occupying authorities? being told that only their patient behavior can earn them the right to talk with those who control their lives?

Looking at the situation in that hypothetical light may offer a better appreciation for what the Palestinians have endured with considerable patience.

The simple fact is that it has been the clear policy of Israeli governments over the last half century to avoid, at all costs, the creation of a Palestinian state. Every effort at delay, every quibble over definitions, every tactical shift that could possibly be made has been made, many times over, in an effort to buy time, hoping that time alone will somehow make the problem of the Palestinians go away.

This policy may have changed, ever-so-slightly, under Mr. Barak from one of preventing the creation of a Palestinian state to one of preventing the creation of a viable Palestinian state, but that is not the same thing as “the great opportunity missed” that has been dramatized, over and over again, in America’s press. And even this slight change in policy remains unacceptable to many conservatives in Israel.

And when the Palestinians, morally exhausted by endless waiting that yields no change, resist the occupation they are under with the limited, desperate means they possess, they are regarded as unstable lunatics who don’t love their children. A number of apologists for Israel’s worst excesses have repeated this theme, an extension of a remark attributed to the late Golda Meir about peace coming “when the Palestinians learn to love their children more than they hate us.” The actual quote from Ms. Meir that is most applicable here is one she made to the Sunday Times of June 15, 1969, “They [the Palestinians] did not exist.”

We are repeatedly told that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and it is defending itself against malevolent forces. This vaguely-defined image of enlightenment versus darkness appeals to Americans. But democracy has never been a guarantee of fairness or decency. It is only a means of selecting a government.

Under any democracy, a bare majority of people with an ugly prejudice can tyrannize over others almost in perpetuity. Indeed, this very experience is a large part of the history of the United States, even with its much-vaunted Bill of Rights. But Israel has no Bill of Rights, and what’s more important for actual day-to-day fairness and decency, the very will to act in a fair manner appears to be absent. What else can one say where assassination, torture, and improper arrest have been management tools of government for decades?

Israel’s politics are highly polarized, undoubtedly far worse than those of the United States, and the balance of power needed to form any parliamentary coalition is always in the hands of far-out religious parties. The interests of these people are anything but informed by enlightenment values and democracy, holding to views and ideas, as they do, that predate the existence of democracy or human rights. It is not an exaggeration to say that killing the Philistines or tearing down the walls of Jericho are regarded as current events by a good many of these fundamentalist party members. A number of their leaders have, time and again, described Palestinians as “vermin.”

The extreme conservatives receive many special privileges in Israel that distort the entire political mechanism. For example, their rabbis decide the rules governing who is accepted as a Jew or what are acceptable religious, and religiously-approved social, practices. The students in the fundamentalist religious schools traditionally have been exempt from the army. In effect, they are exempt from the violent results of the very policies they advocate.

These parties generally believe in a greater Israel, that is, an Israel that includes what little is left of Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza, minus its current undesirable inhabitants. It has been the view of Israeli government after Israeli government over the last half century to consider Jordan as the Palestinian’s proper home. Thus, when Israeli governments talked of peace, it meant something entirely different than what Palestinians meant.

And when, finally, an offer for a Palestinian state was made by Mr. Barak at Camp David – an offer that, by all reports, was made quite angrily and contemptuously to Mr. Arafat – under any honest, rational analysis, it reduced to one for a giant holding facility for people not wanted in Israel. How surprising that Mr. Arafat left in anger when after days of being subjected to good-cop/bad-cop treatment by Mr. Clinton and Mr. Barak, this was the end result. Surely, this was an immensely-frustrating disappointment to the Palestinians after years of effort and compromise to achieve and implement the Oslo Accords.

Mr. Bush’s War on Terror, a mindless crusade against disagreeable Islamic governments, has had the terrible effect of casting the bloody-minded Mr. Sharon in the role of partner against the forces of terror and darkness. He has received a new mantle of legitimacy for continued destruction and delay, for continued injustice against those too powerless to effectively oppose him.

As Israel’s leaders well know, the Palestinian population is growing rapidly. Rapid population growth is the general case for poor people throughout the world. Israel’s highly organized and costly efforts to support Jewish immigration reflect awareness of this fact. But a combination of large birth rates on one side and heavy immigration on the other is a certain formula for disaster in the long term. The region’s basic resources, especially water, will sustain only a limited population.

A large population, outsizing its resources, almost certainly is the major underlying reason for the immense slaughters and numberless coups and civil wars of Western Africa in recent years, a region whose population growth has been high but whose usable resources are limited. And the history of civilization tells us that vast changes and movements of population have been far more decisive in human affairs than atomic weapons.

So it appears that not only in the short term, but over some much longer time horizon, Israel and the Palestinians are on a deadly collision course.

There is hope. Modern societies have all experienced a phenomenon called demographic transition. This term simply means that, faced with a reduced death rate, people’s normal response is a reduced birth rate, yielding a net result of slow, or even negative, population growth. Couples prefer to have only two or three children who are almost certain to survive instead of six or more, at least half of whom die before growing up. This is the reason why modern countries depend entirely on migration for growth, or to avoid actual decline, in population.

Israel, populated largely by people from Europe and North America and being a fairly prosperous society, follows the pattern of advanced nations. The West Bank and Gaza, with some of the world’s highest birth rates, do not. Now, the only way to trigger demographic transition is through healthful measures like adequate diet, good public sanitation, and basic health care, especially measures for infant care. These things done, nature takes a predictable path and people stop having large families.

But these are not measures that can be accomplished quickly, and the need to get on with them should add some sense of urgency to ending the occupation and helping the Palestinians achieve a state with some degree of prosperity.

By now, it should be clear that life in Israel for the foreseeable future cannot be quite the same as life in Dorothy’s Kansas no matter who leads the government. No one has been more ruthless or bloody-minded than Mr. Sharon, and he has only succeeded in making every problem worse.

Yet life in Israel similar to Dorothy’s Kansas – that is, a life as though you were not surrounded by people seething over injustice and occupation and steeped in poverty – is a condition that Mr. Sharon insists on as a precondition even for talking about peace. Somehow, Mr. Arafat, with a wave of his hand, is to make all the violence disappear. This is not only unrealistic, it is almost certainly dishonest.

Israel herself, in any of the places she has occupied, and despite having one of the best equipped armies in the world, has never been able to do that very thing. All those years in Lebanon, and the violence continued at some level for the entire time. Indeed, a new enemy, Hizballah, rose in response to Israel’s activities. It is simply a fact that there has always been some level of violence in any place occupied by Israel. How is Mr. Arafat, with his limited resources and in the face of many desperate factions, supposed to be able to accomplish what the Israeli army and secret services cannot?

And were he to try running the kind of quasi-police state one assumes Israel favors, with regular mass arrests of suspects, how long would he remain in power?

Moreover, Mr. Sharon treats Mr. Arafat with utter contempt, dismissing him as insignificant, and has destroyed many of the means and symbols of his authority. How can a leader, treated as contemptible, exercise authority? For all his faults, and he has a number of them, Mr. Arafat has demonstrated through many compromises related to the Oslo Accords that he is a man who sincerely desires peace and a constructive relationship with Israel.

Mr. Sharon’s entire adult life has been dedicated to killing. I do believe there is more blood on his hands than any terrorist you care to name. Mr. Sharon first made a name for himself with the Qibya massacre in 1953, when a force under his command blew up forty-five houses and killed sixty-nine people, most of them women and children. Nearly thirty years later, in 1982, he was still at it when Lebanese militia forces under his control murdered and dumped into mass graves, using Israeli-supplied bulldozers, between two- and three-thousand civilians in the refugee camps called Sabra and Shatila. Mr. Sharon was responsible for the disastrous invasion of Lebanon which saw hundreds of civilians killed by Israel’s shelling of Beirut and precipitated a bloody civil war in which thousands more died.

Mr. Sharon’s policies of assassination and bombing have succeeded only in multiplying the suicide bombings beyond anything in recent memory. It is almost impossible to imagine this man as capable of making a meaningful gesture towards peace. Yes, of course he wants peace, peace on his terms, a cheap peace without giving anything, but by definition that is not peace for the Palestinians.

We always hear about what is required of the Palestinians for peace, but a genuine peace requires some extraordinary things on Israel’s part. First, she must at some point accept a Palestinian state. This condition is a necessary one, but it is far from sufficient, for she must be prepared to generously assist this state towards achieving some prosperity, reducing the causes of both run-away population growth and the dreary hopelessness that causes people to strap bombs to their bodies.

Most difficult of all, it is hard to see how Israel can avoid some level of violence during a period of Palestinian nation-building. This is something no ordinary state would consciously embrace, but then Israel is no ordinary state. The norms of Dorothy’s Kansas simply do not apply. The hatreds generated by a half century of aggressive policies are not going to just melt away, but if there is enough genuine, demonstrated goodwill, it does seem likely that such violence would be minimal. It is a unappetizing risk that almost certainly needs to be taken, for no one is going to run a police state on Israel’s behalf in the West Bank.

Considering the immense difficulty of these things and political barriers that exist against them in Israel, it does not seem likely that peace is coming any time soon. The prospect seems rather for low-grade, perpetual war, paralleling that Mr. Bush so relishes speaking of. For someone of Mr. Sharon’s turn of mind, this may be a wholly acceptable alternative.

URGENT CALL FROM CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN

John Chuckman

On the President’s desk in the Oval Office, a phone’s red light urgently flashes. It’s the signal for an incoming call. Only calls from deep inside the vast command-center redoubt known as Cheyenne Mountain come in on this line. Constructed during the Cold War, this hollowed-out mountain contains a virtual Pentagon satellite-city built to survive a hundred years behind million-ton blast-proof doors.

The president gleefully picks up the receiver. He just loves getting important calls.

“Howdee!”

“Mr. President, this is a secure line, so we may speak freely.”

“Dick, you old son of a gun, how’s it goin’ out there, livin’ under the mountain an’ all? T’aint getting’ to ya none?”

“I’m just fine, Mr. President, don’t concern yourself. You know, I spent a lot of time as a congressman with folks who live in abandoned missile silos and mine shafts.

“Anyway, compared to some of those places, this is just damn luxurious. The mountain’s totally climate-controlled, and we have an artificial beach under sun lamps on the distilled-water reservoir.”

“A goddam climate-controlled mountain! Jeez, Dick, I jus’ gotta get on out there one of these days an’ see that.”

“Good idea, Mr. President, uh, er, of course, once the crisis is over.”

“Crisis? Oh, y’all mean that there Osama guy? Don’t worry none ’bout him. He ain’t goin’ nowheres, an’, I’ll tell ya, the only damn climate-control his damn mountains got is two-thousand pound bombs re-arrangin’ the lan’scape…(guffaw, guffaw)”

“No, Mr. President, the crisis I’m talking about is the next election. We have to get you through that looking the part of commander-in-chief.”

“Oh, I get your meanin’, Dick. Well, I’m a working on that, real hard. Ain’t even thinkin’ of another month at the ranch. An’ I’m doin’ jus’ what ya said for me to do.

“After dinner, I come back here an’ jus’ sit by the window for a while, wearin’ my glasses, turnin’ pages on one them big reports. Once or twice, Laura comes in with a cup of hot cocoa to keep me goin’, an’ puts her arm on my shoulder jus’ like ya showed us.

“Don dropped by on the way home from the Pentagon t’other night an’ checked me out. He said I looked good, real presidenshul, in the window. He said the T.V. guys’d be eatin’ it up.”

“Wonderful to hear, Mr. President. Remember, nothing but liberal scum is going to vote against a seated president in wartime. I’ll keep the war going here. You just keep sitting.”

“Righto, Dick. Say, how they all feedin’ ya down there?”

“I’ve got to say, Mr. President, the food could be better. It’s freeze-dried rations. A lot of my survivalist friends swear by them and eat nothing but. They’re okay for a couple of days.”

“Dick, y’all want me to have some nice big juicy steaks flown on up from the ranch?”

“No, thank you very much, Mr. President, I’ll stick to what the boys in uniform are having. Good mess-hall photos, sets a fine example. Anyway, they went and sealed the blast-proof doors, and it’s a major operation getting them open again. Nothing gets in or out of here with those damn doors sealed.

“Well, you know, Mr. President, (chuckle, chuckle) it does have its advantages. They can’t exactly serve any subpoenas for Enron, now can they?”

The President enjoys a hearty laugh.

“Tarnation, that’s right, Dick. I almos’ forgot about that shit, sittin’ here by the window an’ all.

“Don’t worry none, ’cause I jus’ keep tellin’ ’em we got ya outta harm’s way with all them damn terrorists flyin’ ‘roun’ the country. An’ I tol’ ’em how all the head guys in them big oil companies never fly on the same plane or even take the same elevator.”

“Now, George, I mean Mr. President, you’re not saying anything off the script, are you? Especially nothing about a certain company?”

“Oh, shucks, no, Dick, I know better’n that.”

“Good, Mr. President, just call Ari to check on any little thing you’re thinking of adding. He can always pass it by Don. Mark my words, Mr. President, sticking to the script’s going to get us through this.”

“Okay, Dick. So what else y’all up to down there, you ol’ rascal?”

“The officers have an underground driving range and putting green, Mr. President, so the golf score won’t suffer too badly.

“We get satellite feed right from the B-52s, so we’re watching the boys give all those damn turban-heads what they deserve. You can freeze the action, do re-plays, or move in for close-ups.”

“Anything else, you ol’ rascal? I know ya can’t stick to serious stuff long.”

“Well, Mr. President, we do have a couple of those special channels, if you know what I mean?”

“Shucks, Dick, I know egzac’ly what y’all mean. An’ ya ain’t got Lynne down there, sniffin’ out your trail.

“Mr. President, just between you and me, that is the part that’s just like a real vacation.”

“I tell ya, Dick, she’s havin’ the time a her life out here, scowlin’ an’ spoutin’ them goddam librarian pamphlets a hers at anyone that says things is less than hunky-dory!”

” ‘Libertarian,’ Mr. President, they’re ‘libertarian pamphlets.’ ”

“Well, still, don’t ya go worrin’ none ’bout what she’s up to. She’s doin’ a hell of a job goin’ after them no-good fifth wheels!”

” ‘Fifth columnists’, Mr. President, I think you mean ‘fifth columnists.’ ”

“Shucks, Dick, I think I gotta go. I jus’ seen the docs pullin’ up out front. I reckon they’re a comin’ to change the bandage.”

“Excellent, Mr. President, that bandage locks-in the sympathy vote. America has already forgotten all about your pretzel caper. Joe Six-pack never thought it was anything unusual anyway. But just the sight of a wounded President in time of war gives us an 80% floor-rating.

“Do you think you could ask them to just put the new one on a little higher up? I noticed it’s not showing up on some of the news shots.”

“Okay, Dick, what ya figure, ’bout half an inch?.”

“That’d be just about right, Mr. President. And try not to spill any more gravy on it. That’s a real turn-off for some of the women.”

“Gotchya, Dick. Be talkin’ to ya soon.”

“Thank you, Mr. President.”

DARK TALES FROM THE MINISTRY OF TRUTH

John Chuckman

Wars always have their propaganda, but it is often not very subtle. In the first world war, the Germans bayoneted babies, and nearly a century later, in a rework of the same false story, the Iraqis tore babies from respirators. But if you want to study the techniques of effective propaganda, you could hardly do better than the War on Terror.

For many, the word propaganda raises an image of ham-fisted Soviet commissars insisting that black is white. But effective propaganda is far more subtle than that. And who should understand better the dark art of planting suggestions than the most practiced people on the planet at advertising and marketing?

The most effective propaganda theme during the Afghan phase of the War on Terror was the status of women under the Taliban. Almost as if by magic, when the B-52s were ready to make those Afghan heathens understand what red-blooded Christians really mean by hell, articles and broadcast commentaries sprang up like mushrooms after a humid spell to enlighten us on the plight of women in Afghanistan. The subject seems to have been of rather marginal interest before saddling up the B-52s with their thirty-ton loads of high explosive and shrapnel.

Now, please don’t misunderstand, women were treated hideously under the Taliban. But women were treated horribly anywhere during the fourteenth century, and that is approximately the phase of development in which the average Afghan lives. Women fared little better under some of the thugs in the Northern Alliance when they ruled previously.

And women do not exactly thrive under the absolutism of Saudi Arabia, a country whose important financial support of the Taliban has been more or less expunged from the record by America’s informal-but-effective Ministry of Truth. Women are not treated well in Pakistan either, a vital supporter of the Taliban now redeemed by a cornucopia of bribes.

Wherever economies are poor and backward and wherever religious fundamentalism plays a significant role, women are not treated as full human beings. My goodness, just think of all those old Virginia planters, Thomas Jefferson among them, using their young female slaves for sex.

An interesting sidelight to the Jefferson-Hemmings story, one that gives you a good raw whiff of life under American slavery, is that Sally was the half sister of Jefferson’s dead wife, and she resembled her closely. The existence of half-brothers and sisters by slave women was an ordinary fact of Southern plantation culture, but it was not one discussed at Sunday dinner after church.

The American notion that you can just sweep political players off the board and change the basic patterns of a society has no basis in history. It is wishful thinking at best. Advanced societies evolve over long periods of economic growth in which large numbers of people gain the influence that comes with economic resources. This is the way democracy and modern attitudes towards human values develop. This is the story of civilization since the dawn of the modern era about five hundred years ago.

The record of political revolutions when societies were not ripe for their results is one of utter failure. After the American Civil War – a truer political revolution in many respects than the original American Revolution – blacks were fitted into a new, more sophisticated form of bondage for another century. As late as the 1930s in the American South, lynchings were an occasion for family picnics. Only long-term, solid economic growth bringing an end to rural stagnation made it possible to change the status of America’s blacks.

Now America has just about achieved its limited purpose in Afghanistan. America is not about to try occupying the place as the Russians tried doing, nor does it seem likely that truly generous financial assistance will be given to these very poor people once our dirty work is done. No, that kind of generosity is saved by the State Department for places we need to bribe.

Does anyone believe that the status of Afghan women will change greatly after the first photo-op schools for girls, with a few hundred token students, have been adequately featured in our press? Or that we will ever hear much about anything in Afghanistan once we have destroyed what we came to destroy?

I hope I am wrong, but history doesn’t support optimism here. Afghanistan – like Haiti, following a more elaborate, showboat intervention – will recede from our view and sink back more or less to the same early state of economic and social development that characterized it before.

The point of the propaganda effort on women’s rights was that the subject should be on people’s minds when it counted, when our bombs were blowing the limbs off peasants. Aroused concern in America over those rights blunted potential criticism by middle-class women to the bombing. It made the sensibilities of soccer moms safe for Bush. And, like all the best propaganda, it started with truth.

Another line of propaganda in Afghanistan, less subtle and less truthful, has been that familiar refrain, “weapons of mass destruction.” This phrase, so overused in the case of Iraq, is beginning to sound a bit tinny and hollow, but it proved still serviceable for Afghanistan. Although coming as it does from the only nation that ever totally incinerated two cities full of civilians, it is remarkable that the speakers have not choked on the words.

One cannot help recalling Secretary of Defense Cohen at a pulpit in the Pentagon a few years ago, preaching to us about “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. In his best, earnest vacuum-cleaner salesman’s style, he held up a bag of sugar to illustrate how small a quantity of some nasty things could destroy American society.

The truth is that there is only one weapon of mass destruction, and that weapon is a nuclear or thermonuclear device. Biological agents, while all advanced countries have experimented heavily with them, are not effective weapons of mass destruction.

The actions of our own armed forces support this assertion. The Pentagon never saw a weapon it didn’t like, so long as it does a good job of killing people – and that is the very reason it strongly opposes the international treaty against land-mines. But the Pentagon is not uncomfortable with existing international regimes concerning biological warfare.

Sophisticated delivery systems are essential to any success with these weapons – we saw with the anthrax scare that crude distribution methods render biological agents to be anything but weapons of mass destruction. Even with such delivery systems, weather and other factors make using these weapons full of uncertainty.

Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War did not use his supply of biological and chemical weapons. American and Israeli nuclear weapons provided a complete check against his paltry arsenal. The calculation is easy enough to make: inflict some highly uncertain and limited damage on your enemy in exchange for the certainty of being obliterated. Even a man often called mad was unwilling to take those odds.

Now, anyone with a fully-functioning brain knows that a true terrorist would relish having a nuclear weapon. I am sure Timothy McVeigh dreamed dreams of possessing such power. And the boys who were to die slaughtering their fellow students at Columbine High School undoubtedly enjoyed such fantasies. But what has that to do with reality? Reports of pieces of paper with such dreams found in Al Quaida caves are meaningless, except to scare people by combining the words nuclear and bomb and Al Quaida in the same statement.

The only kind of bomb involving nuclear material that an organization like Al Quaida would be remotely capable of making is a conventional bomb wrapped in radioactive material. Such a bomb would leave an area littered with radioactive debris, but it is not a particularly effective weapon. Discussing it in the same breath with a device capable of a nuclear explosion is confusing and dishonest.

Nuclear weapons still represent a massive technological and financial undertaking, far beyond the resources of an Al Quaida, and Washington’s experts know this. Even Iraq, with all its oil wealth and the kind of government that can direct resources without answering to anyone, working very hard to develop a nuclear weapon, remained at least a few years from getting it.

INSPIRATION FROM THE TOP
Observations on the President Addressing the Nation in the War against Terror

John Chuckman

Millions of Americans settle into their couches with bowls of popcorn, bags of potato chips, and diet cola. They enjoy the color pictures on the evening news report of bombs exploding in Afghanistan. Pictures of explosions are always popular in America, no matter what their meaning or origin.

True, news pictures are less impressive than Hollywood special effects, and you generally don’t get to see any blood or bodies – that would be unsuitable for a family show – but these pictures have their own thrilling quality, much like those grainy pictures of violent arrests or sting operations photographed with pin-hole cameras that are so popular. They offer the satisfaction of peeping into the face of horror, into the anguish of others from the complete safety of your living room.

The television pictures do bring a satisfying sense of justice being done, of having witnessed America’s retribution on the godless, or at least on those unlucky enough to have embraced the wrong god. Satisfaction lingers into the evening while families munch their way through the next couple of hours before the big event: The president is going to address the nation.

“Boy, he’ll tell us what we need to know!” flashes through minds as the scene from the Oval Office suddenly snaps on. An objective observer, perhaps a de Tocqueville-like visitor from another planet, might wonder at such thoughts, for here is a provincial politician, a flop at business but with impeccable contacts, who bragged about never reading the international section of the newspaper just before his election to national office. But an objective observer might not be aware that except for enjoying explosions on the evening news, most Americans share the president’s level of interest when it comes to foreign affairs.

The boyish-faced president, his hair suitably graying enough to suggest the heavy burden of office, with a perfectly-knotted, thick silk tie and an obviously expensive suit whose shoulders look a little over-padded, seems just slightly uncomfortable at his desk, like a home-town actor playing his first big role in the amateur-theater group, but it is a look generally interpreted as humility or decency rather than ineptitude or fear.

If he were a better actor, a few gulps to tug at his Adam’s apple and a suggestive bit of moisture at the corners of his eyes might evoke images of Jimmy Stewart speaking on behalf of the little man. But Jimmy Stewart through the lens of Frank Capra is as outdated in America as the stirring tones of Franklin Roosevelt re-assuring people with ideas like fear itself being the only fear they need have. And, as for the little man, well, that’s just not a topic of discussion any more, suggesting, as it does, the existence of class in America.

Heavens! America long ago abolished class by declaring everyone a consumer. No bleeding-heart garbage about class and society, no boring stuff about citizenship and responsibilities – just a nation of open mouths with differing abilities to fill them. Inspiring.

Indeed, ideas themselves are pretty much outdated in a place totally immersed in the shallow fantasies of advertising, self-help books, television series, and vacations in Disneyland – the only exceptions being ideas about how to make lots of money.

And besides, this president is a man who actually works for the likes of Claude Rains’ and Raymond Massey’s most memorably villainous characters. Nothing he says, nothing he does, is not first carefully scrutinized and sniffed by teams of mole-like eyes and noses. He went through a few hundred million dollars of their money getting elected, and he’s not about to let them down now.

As always, he is surrounded by flags, beautifully-sewn flags, as thickly textured and elegantly draped as the president’s custom-made clothes, undoubtedly provided fresh from a supportive manufacturer hoping to receive the much-coveted White House letter on elegant stationery suitable for framing and showroom display. In fact, it is known that this president goes nowhere without two fresh, four-hundred square foot flags, one just for backup. Rumor has it that the labels, “Made in China,” are carefully snipped before shipment.

The excessive use of flags and patriotic slogans has always been suggestive of the tyrant’s temperament, even when soft words are used (after all, Hitler, who never went anywhere without scores of monster flags, made one of the most effective speeches about peace ever heard). But this man could not possibly be confused with a tyrant. First off, he’s just too gawky and ordinary.

Yes, there is an underlying sense of meanness that pokes through his words, here or there, like elbows protruding from the frayed fabric of a comfortable jacket, especially when he talks about death-row inmates or terrorists dying. His harsh, almost adolescent sense of humor, displayed on a number of occasions during the campaign, betrays something fairly mean in his make-up. Maybe, Mama Bush wasn’t all that warm and loving after all.

But for the most part, the look and sound are what Americans like to call family: it’s kind of a code word for a set of qualities that might be summed as three-car-garage Christian.

There is something in his character much like the hamburger oases that dot the American landscape, so beloved by suburban families on shopping safaris in air-conditioned Jeeps – safe-and-cheerful way stations replicated beyond counting across a continent, offering the assurance today in Wichita of exactly what you had last year in Greensboro. Of course, these are the very qualities for which he had his pockets stuffed with cash to play leader of a party actually run by people whose faces won’t bear much direct exposure without revealing the hard lines and ugly attitudes of lives spent in predatory behavior.

And when you have nothing to say, flags help a lot. It is almost impossible for any crowd to boo when flags are present in a country whose Congress has passed an anti-flag-burning amendment to the Constitution 437 times. Only the ponderously slow, complex, and costly provisions of an 18th century constitution have prevented this glorious measure from taking its rightful place with freedom of speech.

This president is Disney’s version of Fred McMurray giving calm, fatherly advice about joining Neighborhood Watch or coaching Little League as a helpful public response to terrorists crashing airliners into skyscrapers.

This is Fred McMurray without the cigarettes and booze of his early film-noir career. There is an aura in his tone and looks of redemption, of having moved on from drunken midnight pranks and naked table-dancing to bowing in prayer and dispensing the Lord’s justice as Governor of Texas. Some might say his manner of dispensing justice in Texas, or in Afghanistan for that matter, reflects the self-hatred characteristic of alcoholic personalities.

And redemption is a favorite with Americans who just never tire of the tales of country-and-western singers who hit bottom and live to strum and strut with a wireless mike once again. Only celebrity beats redemption in the admiration of America. And anyone, anyone, who gets to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to put his benignly smiling face on television, no matter how wooly and slurred his words, no matter how banal his thoughts, no matter how unexceptional his achievements, is a celebrity in America.

For some sentences the president manages to keep a carefully-coached cadence, but too often his words take on the urgency of a nervous teen-ager trying to speed through a recitation without missing a line. You almost expect to hear him to say, “Whew, Miss Jones, I did it!” at the end of tough passages. He arouses the same kind of anxiety you feel about watching a kid wobble down the street on a bicycle for the first time – eliciting the indulgence of viewers brought up on The Little Engine That Could and winning the same kind of unearned praise that a cute child receives for a charmingly bad performance in a school pageant.

It is very important for politicians in class-less America, even when they come from wealthy, privileged families and hold offices in which they serve almost exclusively the interests of other wealthy, privileged families, to assume a tone of ordinariness, with no high-falutin’ airs. And this president excels at doing so. He is the best since Richard Nixon talking about his wife’s cloth coat.

His accent is a disconcerting blend of slightly ineffectual, preppy kid who never did his own homework and the corn-husk intonations of the land of armadillos, rattlesnakes, stolen elections, and Confederate battle flags on pick-up trucks – a place that has blessed the country with a vastly-disproportionate share of its more lunatic politicians.

And tent-preachers – yes, there is the unmistakable cadence, however subdued for a national audience, of innumerable, heads-bowed invitations under the sweltery fabric of tents filled with damp white shirts stuck to the backs of folding chairs and mosquitoes droning between the notes of electric organs.

It is difficult to reconcile this man in this office with the Founding Fathers’ vision of the nation. What an immense distance for a people to have traveled in just two centuries under the influence of a feverish consumerism, of a selfish, grasping, child-centered culture in which the children are the adults, of entitlements with no sense of responsibility or citizenship, of unspoken imperialistic attitudes that color all foreign policy under the guise of freedom, and of the influence of a section of the country that supposedly lost the Civil War but now dominates the nation’s political culture and imbues it with stagnant, backwater values.

THE FIRST VICTIM IN THE WAR AGAINST TERROR

JOHN CHUCKMAN

It takes a good deal of time to realize the full impact of any large and sudden change in foreign policy, and this is especially true of the kind of sudden, violent interventions often undertaken by the United States since the end of World War ll.

In the case of Mr. Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War, it took the best part of a decade for results to unfold: a beautiful, peaceful country was reduced to despair and savagery by bombing, a coup, invasions, and a politically-motivated holocaust.

The men responsible for destabilizing Cambodia in the name of expedient policy were not only ten thousand miles removed from the misery they created, they were soon gone from office, busying themselves with memoirs justifying their deeds to others also ten thousand miles removed. In all cases, the stench never quite reached their nostrils.

The most important antecedent of the War against Terror was another expedient, violent policy – the recruitment, training, and supply of Islamic fighters for a proxy war against the Soviet Union during the 1980s. Once America’s immediate goal had been met in that war – that is, inflicting maximum damage on the Soviet Union – the mess created in achieving it was of no interest. Just as was the case in Cambodia. And just as was the case in many lesser American interventions from Chile to El Salvador.

Part of the behavior exhibited in these examples is a direct extension from American domestic life – enjoy your beer and toss the can for someone else to pick up. Only in foreign affairs, it’s other people’s lives being tossed.

The impact of intervention in Afghanistan during the 1980s has only been realized more than a decade after the Soviet Union ceased to exist. The Afghan people have experienced more than a decade of anarchy, tribal warfare, and the Taliban’s coming to power as a result (Despite the Taliban’s obvious shortcomings as a government, they came to power to end the violence that Americans, after arming everyone to the teeth, couldn’t be bothered about, and they did succeed at least in cleaning up America’s carelessly tossed trash).

The War against Terror itself will have many unforeseen results. This very fact was one of the soundest arguments against proceeding in the fashion that Mr. Bush has done, without ever attempting to use diplomacy or international institutions to bring to justice those responsible for terrible acts. Now, with the fairly rapid collapse of the Taliban, the Bush people are having a difficult time controlling a tendency to smirk, but the savage work of B-52s does seem an odd thing to smirk about.

The first clearly discernable victims of carpet-bombing Afghanistan and overthrowing its government (other than dead and starving Afghan peasants, streams of refugees, murdered prisoners of war, and a new bunch of thugs in power – none of which appear to be of great concern to Americans or their government) are the Palestinians.

Mr. Bush’s actions in Afghanistan have made it almost impossible for him to resist the bloody-minded Mr. Sharon. After all, Bush’s approach to terror originating out of Afghanistan is the Israeli model: you destroy things and kill people even if their only connection with an attack is shared geography.

The absurdity of the policy is made clear by analogy. Imagine the American government bombing the city of Buffalo, New York, because that is where Timothy McVeigh grew up. Or bulldozing the homes of his relatives.

The futility of the policy is obvious from Israel’s decades-long experiment on unwilling subjects. She has succeeded only in raising new generations of bitter enemies – groups like Hamas or Islamic Jihad, more fanatical than the PLO, are in large part creatures of Israeli policy.

Despite extremely harsh practices, Israel has never succeeded in silencing such opposition groups in territories she herself occupied. Despite a lifetime’s experience in brutality, Mr. Sharon is not able to stop desperate young men from committing kamikaze acts in the heart of Israel. Yet we have Mr. Sharon’s demand that Mr. Arafat, with his pitiful resources and unstable political environment, do so as a pre-condition even for talking. At the same time, Mr. Sharon labels Mr. Arafat “irrelevant,” proceeds with a policy of serial assassination in the West Bank, and blows up the tiny bit of infrastructure that gives Arafat’s government any sense of authority.

This is plainly irrational, yet Mr. Bush is in no position to say so. Mr. Sharon has very pointedly made the comparison between the two situations, Bush bombing Afghanistan and Sharon bombing the West Bank and Gaza. Of course, there are many differences in the two situations, starting with the fact that the Palestinians live under conditions that most Americans would never tolerate without making full use of Second-Amendment rights. But the differences are too complex to explain to a broad political audience, while the gross parallels are obvious to everyone – facts which work in Mr. Sharon’s favor.

In the long term, Mr. Sharon’s approach is hopeless, but hopeless policies can do a lot of damage in the meantime. The Palestinians are not going to disappear or become, as so many of Israel’s leaders have wished them to be, absorbed by Jordan. Israel with her policy of settlements in the West Bank has always talked of having “facts on the ground,” but there are no more convincing facts on the ground than a few million people with a high birth rate.

And a few million people living with no hope, right next to a few million people who regard them darkly only as something to contain while themselves living in considerable comfort, is by definition a volatile and dangerous situation. Israel controls this situation, just as South Africa did in very similar circumstances (even more so, since the Palestinians are a minority rather than a great majority). It seems almost sarcasm to write or speak, as most of our press does, of two “partners” in a “peace process” and how one of them, the Palestinians, has utterly failed its responsibilities.

A viable Palestinian state with generous Israeli assistance for its economic success is the only intelligible concept of peace. But it seems impossible that the statesmanship required can ever come from a man with as much blood on his hands as Mr. Sharon, or from his nemesis, the Nixonesque Mr. Netanyahu who waits grinning darkly in the wings. And it seems equally impossible that Mr. Bush, purring with satisfaction over the immediate results of his nasty work in Afghanistan, can rise to what is required of an American president with any pretensions to genuine leadership in the world.

AND TO ALL, A GOOD NIGHT
A Contemporary Christmas Tale

John Chuckman

It was only a matter of time before Santa Claus himself came under the Neanderthal-eyed scrutiny of American intelligence. After all, Santa’s citizenship is unknown, and he crosses borders with no passport or other form of identification. No one knows whether he even has a valid pilot’s license.

Although his image is well known, there is no official photograph on file with American border control, and he has never been fingerprinted or body-searched. Most disconcerting of all, he delivers parcels to children all over the world, including the children living in the Axis of Evil. His intentions with this activity are not understood beyond some fuzzy generalization about kindness and generosity to all. Clearly, here was the world’s largest unplugged pipeline to potential terrorists.

It was only after receiving no response to several urgent letters from the State Department requesting an immediate meeting in Washington that a decision was made to approach Santa’s North Pole solitude. As usual in such matters with the people now running America, a wing of America’s most lethal killing machines was employed for the purpose. You never know what you might encounter in such a forbidding place.

As the planes first zoomed over the icy silence of the North Pole workshop, one of the pilots decided to swoop down for a closer look. He was one of those daring fly-boys, and his tail struck the only wire for thousands of miles around, the North Pole Telegraph, sending his plane hurling into the workshop in a ball of flames with tons of ammunition and missiles exploding.

Santa and Mrs. Claus rushed out of their snow-blanketed gingerbread house to see what was happening, trying to calm the terrified reindeer running from their stable at one end of the house. The elves, too, scurried towards the stable, trying to stop the reindeer from running or flying off.

Above, in the dark vault of sky, the other pilots observed the explosion and saw missile trails smoking into the air. They also saw the frantic activity below and quickly concluded their comrade had come under anti-aircraft attack. So they swooped down in attack formation, rapid-fire canon tearing into everything ahead of them.

Most of the reindeer fell in the snow, spurting warm blood across the bluish-white surface. Most of the elves, too, fell gasping for life. Mrs. Claus received a wound in the head and instantly fell limp. Santa tried heroically to reach his wife but realized the situation was hopeless and turned, running into the darkness accompanied by Prancer, the only surviving reindeer.

The only witness to the massacre is one surviving elf now living somewhere in Canada under an assumed identity, fearful for his life. It is only from his testimony that we know anything about Santa’s fate.

Realizing the horrific mistake they had made, the pilots dropped white phosphorus bombs with the intention of incinerating all evidence. The entire North Pole lit up and Santa and Prancer could be seen in the distance on a huge block of ice drifting off into the dark sea, the ice everywhere cracked and weakened by the combined effects of white phosphorus and years of global warming.

Within in a few hours, the beating sound of a black helicopter approached Santa and Prancer. The elf, from his hiding place in a snowdrift, could only make out intermittent sounds across the howling coldness, but it seems armed men emerged from the helicopter, shot Prancer and shackled Santa, shoving him into the dark, beating machine. The elf heard a word that sounded like Guantanamo and Santa has not been heard from since. Reports of his fate reached the International Red Cross and organizations like Amnesty International, leading to inquiries, but these have been met only with silence from American authorities.