April 26, 2007

Theater of Death

[Update added.]

Almost one month ago, I wrote about the elaborate, sickening, and sickeningly immoral charade that had gone on in Congress with regard to Iraq spending bills. I realize the central truth that I discussed in that essay is one that most people adamantly refuse to accept. Nonetheless, it remains indisputably true: for our ruling elites, the suffering and death of innocent people, American, Iraqi or of any other nationality, are not of primary importance. In the perverse scheme of their priorities, such matters appear well down on the list. Their major and often sole concern is political power: its acquisition, its maintenance and its expansion. Tactics of only one kind are their concern: the means by which their own power is maintained and enhanced.

It is deeply regrettable, and also inevitable -- since the world of political blogs cannot be other than a reflection of the larger culture -- that this same indifference to human pain and suffering infects the approach of the great majority of political bloggers. For all their ferocious opposition to the Bush administration and to Republicans generally, liberal and progressive bloggers act as if they are largely indifferent to bringing about a quick end to the incomprehensibly deadly Iraq occupation. They certainly demonstrate no sustained, serious effort to pressure Congressional Democrats into defunding the war -- or into acting to oppose an attack on Iran in every way possible. The concerns of these bloggers and the Washington Democrats are perfectly coextensive: they will condemn the Iraq war and act to block an attack on Iran only to the degree such actions will not endanger their perceived political opportunities in 2008. All of them are happy to follow in the wake of public opinion; genuine leadership and daring to educate and motivate the American public are out of the question. Profound courage and opposition to the "consensus" view in the manner that a Robert La Follette once demonstrated is inconceivable; these bloggers and their political representatives have no interest in such matters. They remember only that La Follette was viciously attacked and vilified in his lifetime; they forget (if they even know) that La Follette nonetheless saw a series of personal political triumphs. Most significantly, they forget (if they even understand) that history proved La Follette to have been entirely correct in his unrelenting opposition to the U.S. entrance into World War I. The verdict of history and the avoidance of unnecessary human suffering and death do not concern such people; only political power does. (In very large part, the conduct of our political class and of most bloggers is the consequence of the most barbaric and primitive kind of tribalism. Their goal is the elevation to power of their tribe, and the diminution of the power of the other tribe; almost all other matters are inconsequential details to this kind of psychology. I will be discussing tribalism, its roots, and its far-reaching, immensely destructive effects in a new series of essays, which I hope to begin in the next several days.)

The Washington charade continues without interruption, as the bloody slaughter in Iraq goes on every hour of every day. Proving still another time in an infinite series of such demonstrations that it has learned nothing over the last six years, the NYT plasters an entirely false headline on its story: "War Bill Passes House, Requiring an Iraq Pullout." In fact, the bill "requires" no such thing; it certainly does not require an "Iraq pullout." The charade goes on unchallenged only because our governing class and our major media institutions know they can count on the majority of Americans to be ignorant of the relevant facts and/or largely disinterested in acquiring them. Realizing that it is anathema to the manner in which political conversations are to be conducted, let's review some of the critical facts on this issue.

The Times story begins:
The House on Wednesday narrowly approved a $124 billion war spending bill that would require American troops to begin withdrawing from Iraq by Oct. 1, setting the stage for the first veto fight between President Bush and majority Democrats.

Only hours after Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander in Iraq, told lawmakers he needed more time to gauge the effectiveness of a troop buildup there, the House voted 218 to 208 to pass a measure that sought the removal of most combat forces by next spring. Mr. Bush has said unequivocally and repeatedly that he will veto it.

"Last fall, the American people voted for a new direction in Iraq," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California. "They made it clear that our troops must be given all they need to do their jobs, but that our troops must be brought home responsibly, safely, and soon."
You have to go on to the second page of the story (where most readers never go) to get a glimpse of the truth:
After the briefing, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, disputed criticisms that Democrats were trying to end the war before giving the administration's plan a chance to succeed.

"Nobody is saying get out tomorrow," Mr. Hoyer said, noting that the legislation would allow American troops to stay in Iraq to battle terrorist groups.
Ah, yes. That little exception about "battl[ing] terrorist groups." Gareth Porter notes the following:
The language on a timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq voted out of the House-Senate conference committee this week contains large loopholes that would apparently allow U.S. troops to continue carrying out military operations in Iraq's Sunni heartland indefinitely.

The plan, coming from the Democratic majority in Congress, makes an exemption from a 180-day timetable for completion of "redeployment" of U.S. troops from Iraq to allow "targeted special actions limited in duration and scope to killing or capturing members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations of global reach."

The al-Qaeda exemption, along with a second exemption allowing U.S. forces to re-enter Iraq to protect those remaining behind to train and equip Iraqi security forces and to protect other U.S. military forces, appears to approve the presence in Iraq of tens of thousands of U.S. occupation troops for many years to come.

The large loopholes in the Democratic withdrawal plan come against the background of the failure of the U.S. war against the insurgency – including al-Qaeda – in Anbar and other Sunni provinces and the emergence of a major war within the Sunni insurgency between non-jihadi resistance groups and al-Qaeda.

The Sunni resistance organizations represent a clear alternative to an endless U.S. occupation of hostile Sunni provinces that has driven many activists into the arms of al-Qaeda.

Although the wording in the House-Senate appropriations bill appears to suggest a very limited mandate for operations against al-Qaeda, at least one influential Democratic figure, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, intends to interpret it broadly enough to allow the administration to continue at roughly the present level of U.S. military operations in Anbar province, even after the U.S. has withdrawn its troops from the Baghdad area.
The Democrats have been entirely consistent about these "loopholes." John Kerry specified the same exceptions in his NYT op-ed piece one year ago. As I commented at the time it appeared:
Everything that is wrong and destructive about United States foreign policy over the last century is reflected in John Kerry's op-ed article in the NYT last week. Furthermore, the overall tone and perspective that Kerry brings to the question of what we should now do in Iraq are deeply objectionable. In personal terms, I can only describe Kerry's approach as sickening in the extreme. What is additionally shocking to me is the extent to which almost no one has commented on exactly why it is so sickening; instead, the majority of Democrats and liberals, for example, praise Kerry for his "bravery" and "courage." But there is nothing in the least brave about Kerry's article, because of a huge dishonesty buried in the middle of his proposed strategy.


Of course, Kerry isn't proposing that we withdraw all American combat forces -- none of which, I repeat, are there for any legitimate reason. Oh, no: "Only troops essential to finishing the job of training Iraqi forces should remain." And: "To increase the pressure on Iraq's leaders, we must redeploy American forces to garrisoned status. Troops should be used for security backup, training and emergency response..."

That's a handy loophole -- one big enough to drive a decades-long occupation through, even if it is "only" an occupation confined to those "enduring bases" we're spending so much money on. In this manner, Iraq will remain our staging platform for our neverending efforts to control the future of the Middle East, just as we have attempted to do ever since World War I.
See the earlier post for further details.

Let's return to the contention that the Democrats are proposing a "troop withdrawal" (and I emphasize that it is, of course, non-binding). They are proposing only a withdrawal of "combat troops," and not even all of those. Here's a key fact about those combat troops, from the NYT last December:
Frontline combat troops in the 15 brigades carrying out the American fight in Iraq -- which the Iraq Study Group says could be largely withdrawn in just over a year -- represent about 23 percent of the 140,000 military personnel committed to the overall war effort there.

On any given day, according to military officers in Baghdad, only about 11 percent of the Army and Marine Corps personnel in Iraq are carrying out purely offensive operations. Even counting others, whose main job is defensive or who perform security missions to stabilize the country for economic reconstruction and political development, only half of the American force might be considered combat troops.

Even if all of the group's proposals were carried out, it is not possible to predict exactly how many Americans will stay, or for how long. Decisions will hinge on military conditions on the ground and political conditions in Washington.

But an analysis of the current numbers and tasks of American forces suggests that it will prove difficult to drop far below 100,000 by early 2008, and that 70,000 or more troops might have to stay for a considerable time.
Some "withdrawal." Some way to "end the war."

Since I am being unspeakably rude in my insistence that we state the relevant facts, let's also talk about those "enduring bases." In February 2006, Tom Engelhardt wrote:
Assuming, then, a near year to come of withdrawal buzz, speculation, and even a media blitz of withdrawal announcements, the question is: How can anybody tell if the Bush administration is actually withdrawing from Iraq or not? Sometimes, when trying to cut through a veritable fog of misinformation and disinformation, it helps to focus on something concrete. In the case of Iraq, nothing could be more concrete -- though less generally discussed in our media -- than the set of enormous bases the Pentagon has long been building in that country. Quite literally multi-billions of dollars have gone into them. In a prestigious engineering magazine in late 2003, Lt. Col. David Holt, the Army engineer "tasked with facilities development" in Iraq, was already speaking proudly of several billion dollars being sunk into base construction ("the numbers are staggering"). Since then, the base-building has been massive and ongoing.

In a country in such startling disarray, these bases, with some of the most expensive and advanced communications systems on the planet, are like vast spaceships that have landed from another solar system. Representing a staggering investment of resources, effort, and geostrategic dreaming, they are the unlikeliest places for the Bush administration to hand over willingly to even the friendliest of Iraqi governments.


There are at least four such "super-bases" in Iraq, none of which have anything to do with "withdrawal" from that country. Quite the contrary, these bases are being constructed as little American islands of eternal order in an anarchic sea. Whatever top administration officials and military commanders say -- and they always deny that we seek "permanent" bases in Iraq -– facts-on-the-ground speak with another voice entirely. These bases practically scream "permanency."

Unfortunately, there's a problem here. American reporters adhere to a simple rule: The words "permanent," "bases," and "Iraq" should never be placed in the same sentence, not even in the same paragraph; in fact, not even in the same news report. While a LexisNexis search of the last 90 days of press coverage of Iraq produced a number of examples of the use of those three words in the British press, the only U.S. examples that could be found occurred when 80% of Iraqis (obviously somewhat unhinged by their difficult lives) insisted in a poll that the United States might indeed desire to establish bases and remain permanently in their country; or when "no" or "not" was added to the mix via any American official denial. (It's strange, isn't it, that such bases, imposing as they are, generally only exist in our papers in the negative.)
As the American press goes, so go the Democrats. For all their phony talk about "withdrawal" and "ending the war," the Democrats have said next to nothing about these huge bases, their future, or their purpose.

Identical silence surrounds the U.S. embassy in Baghdad:
Among the many secrets the American government cannot keep, one of its biggest (104 acres) and most expensive ($592 million) is the American Embassy being built in Baghdad. Surrounded by fifteen-foot-thick walls, almost as large as the Vatican on a scale comparable to the Mall of America, to which it seems to have a certain spiritual affinity, this is no simple object to hide.

So you think the Bush Administration is planning on leaving Iraq? Read on.

The Chicago Tribune reports, "Trucks shuttle building materials to and fro. Cranes, at least a dozen of them, punch toward the sky. Concrete structures are beginning to take form. At a time when most Iraqis are enduring blackouts of up to 22 hours a day, the site is floodlighted by night so work can continue around the clock."


According to Knight Ridder, "US officials here [in Baghdad] greet questions about the site with a curtness that borders on hostility. Reporters are referred to the State Department in Washington, which declined to answer questions for security reasons." Photographers attempting to get pictures of what the locals call "George W's Palace" are confined to using telephoto lenses on this, the largest construction project undertaken by Iraq's American visitors.

Nonetheless, we know much of what is going on in the place, where there will soon be twenty-one buildings, 619 apartments with very fancy digs for the big shots, restaurants, shops, gym facilities, a swimming pool, a food court, a beauty salon, a movie theater (we can't say if it's a multiplex) and, as the Times of London reports, "a swish club for evening functions." This should be ideal for announcing the various new milestones marking the trudge of the Iraqi people toward democracy and freedom.

USA Today has learned that the "massive new embassy, being built on the banks of the Tigris River, is designed to be entirely self-sufficient and won't be dependent on Iraq's unreliable public utilities." Thus, there will be no reason or excuse for any of the thousands of Americans working in this space, which is about the size of eighty football fields, to share the daily life experience of an Iraqi or even come in accidental contact with one.


This gigantic complex does not square with the repeated assertions by the people who run the American government that the United States will not stay in the country after Iraq becomes a stand-alone, democratic entity. An "embassy" in which 8,000 people labor, along with the however many thousand military personnnel necessary to defend them, is not a diplomatic outpost. It is a base. A permanent base.
Is anyone, Republican or Democrat, talking about this embassy, its construction, or what it signifies about our government's plans? No.

I will make this point very slowly. I will use simple words. The Democrats and Republicans, the governing class, and the foreign policy establishment all agree that that our foreign policy should be directed to ensuring global hegemony for the United States. See my series "Dominion Over the World" for the details. They all agree that the United States is "entitled" to direct events around the world, and that we must have the most powerful military the world has ever seen to make certain that our will can never be thwarted. They all agree that we must always have our way. There is no country and no event around the world that is immune to our interference. With only a handful of exceptions, no one in government or in a position of significant influence thinks otherwise. Historically, the Democrats have been in the vanguard of this policy, and they have been its most vociferous advocates, beginning with Woodrow Wilson. The Democrats have initiated more overseas interventions, both covert and by means of outright war, than the Republicans, by far. If you have any remaining doubts on this score, read Barack Obama's recent foreign policy address. A more complete compendium of the vacuous but deadly phrases expressing belief in "American exceptionalism," our indisputable "right" to rule the world, and the religious belief in U.S. "indispensability" would be close to impossible to find. (See Max Sawicky and IOZ for more on Obama's awful utterances.)

Given the unbroken through-line of U.S. foreign policy going back to World War I (and to the Spanish-American War even earlier), and since this foreign policy is virtually entirely unchallenged by anyone among our governing elites, there is only one conclusion with regard to our presence in Iraq. No, we will not always be there in the current numbers. But as the above facts indicate -- and I said I will keep this simple --





At Unqualified Offerings, consistently refusing to vote in favor of funding for the immoral and criminal U.S. war on and occupation of Iraq results in condemnation from Thoreau:
I note that Rep. Ron Paul did not vote for the Iraq war funding bill. Now, I know that Paul always has perfectly good and principled reasons to vote against things, especially spending bills, but this funding bill contains timetables for withdrawal. To let the perfect be the enemy of the good weakens the hand of the people who have a real chance at ending our involvement in the Iraqi Civil War. If he were to vote with them, and perhaps provide cover for a few other Republican mavericks to join him, it would strengthen the hand of the Congressional leaders working to end this insanity. I have to say that I’m disappointed in him.
This is deeply regrettable, and in part barely coherent. According to Thoreau, "Paul always has perfectly good and principled reasons to vote against things," but he's "disappointed" in Paul precisely because Paul acts in accordance with his convictions. If only Paul had rotten, unprincipled reasons for agreeing to a meaningless compromise that will do nothing to end our occupation of Iraq -- SINCE WE ARE NOT LEAVING -- then he might garner Thoreau's approval. One fears the nature of Thoreau's response to La Follette's intransigent opposition to Wilson's vicious warmongering. Perhaps he would have joined those calling for La Follette's expulsion from the Senate and prosecution as a traitor.

My warning lights always begin to flash whenever I read or hear the phrase, "To let the perfect be the enemy of the good..." In political contexts, this cliche is almost always used to defend the indefensible, and to condemn those who dare to point out that it is indefensible. What is "good" about the Democrats' spending bill? It is utterly toothless and non-binding. It will fund the murder and devastation for at least another year, in a war that was a monstrous war crime from the moment it began. Even if the "guidelines" were to be followed, a minimum of 50,000 American troops will remain in Iraq for the foreseeable future, probably for decades to come. The enduring bases will remain, as will the Baghdad embassy.

I must note that, should the Bush administration launch an attack on Iran and the region erupts in widening war, possibly including nuclear weapons, then all bets are off. In such a case, it is possible no Americans will remain in the Middle East, since all of them will be fleeing in terror or dead, as will be true of most of the inhabitants of that region. But of course, the Democrats are doing nothing to try to prevent that eventuality, either. Following her usual path, Hillary Clinton has again announced a notably and criminally irresponsible hawkish line on Iran that concedes nothing to Bush:
Democratic presidential candidate and New York Senator Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that it might be necessary for America to confront Iran militarily, addressing that possibility more directly than any of the other presidential candidates who spoke this week to the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Clinton first said that the US should be engaging directly with Iran to foil any effort to gain nuclear weapons and faulted the Bush administration for "considerably narrowing" the options available to America in countering Iran.

Still, she said, all avenues should be explored, since "if we do have to take offensive military action against Iran, it would be far better if the rest of the world saw it as a position of last resort, not first resort, because the effect and consequences will be global."
"It would be far better if the rest of the world saw it as a position of last resort..." Not that it will stop a future Clinton administration if they don't. As a consequence of such statements, this is far from an unlikely scenario. As I said above, and as I here repeat: historically, the Democrats have engaged in more futile, destructive, pointless wars than the Republicans. Woodrow Wilson first dragged the U.S. onto the world stage to run events around the globe, and the Democrats have never questioned that policy since. The disagreements about Iraq are a detail in the context of the last century; keep the larger picture in mind at all times.

Nonetheless, I think Thoreau is providing a vitally needed service. We desperately need more defenses of the Democrats' ultimately meaningless political theater, all of which is constructed solely with the 2008 elections in mind. Never mind the chaos, death and suffering that continue from day to day, and minute to minute. Our politics is a show, where the warring Statist tribes fight for power. The tribes don't dispute that the State should be ever-more powerful, and that the State is entitled to run our lives and the world. They fight only about who gets to wield the power. But we assuredly need defenses of this theater of death; lord knows, we don't have enough bloggers on the right and the left defending it in almost every post, all day long.

I realize that sounds very bitter and angry. Hell, yes:
U.S. officials who say there has been a dramatic drop in sectarian violence in Iraq since President Bush began sending more American troops into Baghdad aren't counting one of the main killers of Iraqi civilians.

Car bombs and other explosive devices have killed thousands of Iraqis in the past three years, but the administration doesn't include them in the casualty counts it has been citing as evidence that the surge of additional U.S. forces is beginning to defuse tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

President Bush explained why in a television interview Tuesday. "If the standard of success is no car bombings or suicide bombings, we have just handed those who commit suicide bombings a huge victory," he told TV interviewer Charlie Rose.

Others, however, say that not counting bombing victims skews the evidence of how well the Baghdad security plan is protecting the civilian population -- one of the surge's main goals.

"Since the administration keeps saying that failure is not an option, they are redefining success in a way that suits them," said James Denselow, an Iraq specialist at London-based Chatham House, a foreign policy think tank.
Yes, I'm very angry:
Violence in Iraq was at a moderate level on Wednesday as the UN scolded the Iraqi government for holding back figures on civilian deaths. Overall, the media reported that 52 Iraqis were killed or found dead today and 80 were injured in violent attacks. The U.S. military reported that a GI was killed in a non-hostile incident. A British soldier was also killed.

Military sources reported on the death of a GI in Baghdad and on a British soldier who was killed in Basra yesterday. This death marks April as the bloodiest month for British soldiers since March of 2003. April has also been deadly for American troops with a daily average nearing four soldiers per day. The toll for April is at least 86 American deaths and 11 British.
Very angry indeed:
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq criticised Baghdad on Wednesday for concealing the casualty figures from its sectarian war and charged that many detainees have "disappeared".

While placing the blame for the majority of violent civilian deaths on the insurgents and illegal militias fighting in Iraq, UNAMI expressed concern about the human rights record of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government.

In its quarterly report on the human rights situation, the UN mission said the Iraqi government had stopped providing casualty figures and denied that its previous reports had exaggerated the death toll in the conflict.

In a report on January 16, UNAMI said more than 34,400 people had died in the daily acts of violence across the country in 2006.
But these stories only concern human beings who are ripped apart, lives being snuffed out, people's bodies and minds destroyed forever. No matter.

Let the show go on.

UPDATE: I should have noted the observations about the Iraq spending bill offered by Dennis Kucinich, one of the extraordinarily rare members of Congress who genuinely understands the matters of principle involved in our criminal occupation of Iraq. Here is the beginning of Kucinich's interview with Truthdig:
James Harris: This is Truthdig on the phone, Dennis Kucinich, representative from the state of Ohio since 1996. Today we have the honor of talking to you just after the bill that passed on the House floor, a bill that will require President Bush to oppose benchmarks for progress on the Iraqi government and link them to the continued presence of American combat troops. Dennis, is this bill a victory for Democrats?

Dennis Kucinich: It’s a disaster for the American people. The Democrats should have been voting—or come up with a plan to get out of Iraq. Not one that’s going to keep us there a year or two. It’s the same kind of thinking that led us into Iraq—that we didn’t have any alternatives. It’s the same thing that caused the Democrats to construct a plan that will keep us there at least for a year, and saying, well, we don’t have any other alternatives. I can tell you something, we could have come up with a plan that would have called for the troops to come home in the next few months. But we didn’t do that, so I, no one can tell me it’s a time for celebration. It’s a disaster.

Harris: What should we do instead, Dennis?

Kucinich: We should be listening to what the American people had to say last October, and that is taking steps to immediately end the war. And that means to set in motion a plan to end the occupation, close the bases, bring the troops home using money that’s already in the pipeline to do so. At the same time there’s a parallel process of bringing in international security and peacekeeping forces to stabilize Iraq. And we can get that help once we end the occupation. Then you have to have a number of other steps that are taken. Most people aren’t aware that this bill that Congress passed sets the stage for the privatization of Iraq’s oil, oil industry. To have the Democratic Party involved in something like that is outrageous. Furthermore, we should be pushing for the stabilization of Iraq’s food and energy crisis. There’s no talk about that. Basically we’re blaming Iraq for the disaster that the United States and this administration visited upon them. We’re telling them, either they’re going to get their house in order or we’re going to leave. Well, you know what, this approach is wrongheaded and the Democrats should have known better and they should have done better.

Harris: Nancy Pelosi, I think she’s partying right now. She feels like she’s done a good job. I’m going to say, Dennis, that I think she has done a good job if you follow the diplomatic line of things. She couldn’t go in with guns blazing and saying “get those troops out.” These benchmarks do mean something.

Kucinich: Why couldn’t she have said: “This war must end”? Congress has the power to cut off funds. Congress has the power to limit the funds. Congress could have taken a new direction. Let’s face it, Democrats are expected to do that. ... We need to go in a new direction. And that direction is out. And the fact that we gave the president money today to keep the war going through the end of his term constitutes a sellout of the interests of the American people. And a continuation of the war for another year at least, possibly two, and this is just wrong. Just totally wrong.
Here's the rest of the interview.

For more on the control of Iraq's oil industry by American and allied outsiders, the plan to which the Democrats have acceded, see here and here.