March 21, 2008

Thus You Lose the World: What the Fuck Is Wrong With You?

[Update, March 26: a new, critically related post -- "Enabling Evil."]

That is an exceptionally rude headline. Count yourselves fortunate that I don't place numerous photographs here of babies being eaten, one delicious morsel at a time. First a finger, then perhaps a foot, then a large spoonful from a baby's tender stomach, then a piece of baby thigh. On and on the photos go, piece by bloody, nauseating piece being consumed with gusto and great pleasure, until the many babies are no more.

Do I have your attention now? I hope to Christ I do.

Chris Floyd:
A very important, very disturbing -- and almost entirely overlooked -- piece appeared on Juan Cole's Informed Comment site this week. It was a guest column by William R. Polk, laying out, in copious and convincing detail, the evidence indicating that the United States will indeed launch a military strike against Iran, most probably before George W. Bush leaves office.

However, even if Bush does hold off for some reason, the processes that Polk describes will almost certainly lead the next president into war with Iran, especially as the three remaining major candidates have forcefully pledged to keep "all options, and I mean, all options on the table" (Polk quotes Barack Obama's bellicose formulation). And none of them are likely to have the political courage that Polk rightly says would be necessary to climb down from the highly aggressive posture that both parties have adopted toward Iran.
From the Polk article:
The article [a piece in US News and World Report outlining "six signs that the U.S. may be headed for war in Iran"] curiously passes over in silence the much more impressive build-up of naval power in the Persian Gulf. As of the last report I have seen, a major part of the U.S. Navy is deployed in and around the Persian Gulf. The numbers are stunning and include not only a vast array of weapons, including nuclear weapons, cruise and other missiles and hundreds of aircraft but also "insertion" (invasion) forces and equipment. Even then, these already deployed forces amount to only a fraction of the total that could be brought to bear on Iran because aircraft, both bombers and troop and equipment transports, stationed far away in Central Asia, the Indian Ocean, Europe and even in America can be quickly employed.

Of course, deploying forces along Iran’s frontier does not necessarily mean using them. At least that is what the Administration says. However, as a historian and former participant in government, I believe that having troops and weapons on the spot makes their use more likely than not. Why is that?

It is because a massive build-up of forces inevitably creates the "climate" of war. Troops and the public, on both sides, come to accept its inevitability. Standing down is difficult and can entail loss of "face." Consequently, political leaders usually are carried forward by the flow of events. Having taken steps 1, 2 and 3, they find taking step number 4 logical, even necessary. In short, momentum rather than policy begins to control action. As Barbara Tuchman showed in her study of the origins of the First World War, The Guns of August, even though none of the parties really wanted to go to war, none could stop the process. It was the fact that President Kennedy had been reading Tuchman’s book just before the Cuban Missile Crisis, I believe, that made him so intent on not being "hijacked by events." His restraint was unusual. More common is a surrender to "sequence" as was shown by the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It would have taken a major reversal of policy – and considerable political bravery -- to halt either invasion once the massive build-up was in place. No such effort was made then. Will it be now? I think the odds are against it.
Chris Floyd's concluding paragraph:
Again, the complex and detailed case Polk puts together should be read in full. But its overall message about a catastrophic and murderous war with Iran is unmistakable: the hour is much, much later than we think.
I have written an inordinate number of essays that focus on the inevitability of a U.S. attack on Iran. The articles discuss the general worldview and the particular premises underlying United States foreign policy, how that policy developed from the end of the 19th century, through the 20th century, and into the 21st century, the various political, economic and cultural forces that shaped that policy, and the numerous ways that policy manifests itself. The first of my major pieces dealing with Iran and these related issues appeared in November 2005. You will find many of my Iran articles, although not all of them, listed at the conclusion of "The Worsening Nightmare."

One of my most important articles was the third and final installment of "Dispatch from Germany, Summer of 1939," titled: "Building an Effective Resistance." In that piece, I set forth a detailed plan for educating the American public about the profound immorality and immense destructiveness of an attack on Iran, and for mobilizing opposition to such an attack. At the end of that article, after detailing my proposed program, I wrote:
Most Americans rarely think about politics at all; they can't afford to, in any sense of that phrase. When they very briefly pay attention, they simply absorb the ideas that predominate on television or radio, or in newspapers they may occasionally glance at. Today, virtually everything they hear or read tells them that Iran is the "greatest threat" we face, and that an Iran with nuclear weapons is "intolerable" and "unacceptable." None of that is true: see here and here for more on those points.

They don't hear another point of view, because there isn't one. It's past time for those of us who approach these issues in a radically different way to provide it to them, on the largest scale possible. For many of you reading this, your involvement in and knowledge about politics is a great luxury, one you often take for granted. But I would suggest that, along with that luxury, comes greatly increased responsibility. You know more, you are able to spend more time on these subjects, and so more can rightfully be expected of you.

Yes, this is a monumental battle. Yes, the odds are not in our favor. But the stakes are the greatest ones in the world -- peace, and freedom. In different ways, many of you have indicated this was the kind of battle you wanted. Many of you have said this was why you got involved in politics in the first place.

We cannot choose the moment in history during which we happen to spend our lives. But we can choose what we do about it, and how we try to affect the course of events, to the extent we can. We are living during an especially critical time, one that is filled with terrible dangers -- and one that might change the world and our country for the rest of our lives. We may not have chosen this battle, but it is here whether we want it or not. So I hope some of you will choose to join it, on the side of peace, liberty and the infinitely precious value of a single human life.

And I hope some of you start, or continue with renewed dedication, today.
As I have stated a number of times since that essay appeared, I am certain that many people could think of additional and far better ways of trying to marshall opposition to the United States' criminal and entirely insane policy of aggressive war, and in particular to the world-obliterating insanity of an attack on Iran. I kept hoping that at least a few bloggers would take up the cause, and enlist their readers in the effort. With the exception of a handful of bloggers with very small readerships, no one did a goddamned fucking thing. The "big" bloggers couldn't have cared less. That was entirely understandable for, as but one example, the "big" bloggers have been engaged in fighting some of the major enemies of civilization in our time -- for instance, Chris Matthews. They repeatedly choose to spend their days on similar campaigns, all of equally earth-shattering proportions.


I made another appeal in, "Still Another Call to Activism." Sometimes, my anger and frustration overwhelmed me. On one such occasion, I wrote, "And Don't Say a Single Goddamned Word":
I also proposed certain actions that individuals, including the leading liberal bloggers -- who enjoy a combined readership somewhere between half a million and one million people per day -- could take. If they chose to, these bloggers could mobilize their readers to put enormous pressure on the Democratic members of Congress. They could continue the pressure every day, which is what it would take with these worthless cowards, until the Congress did something. With only one or two exceptions, they have done and do nothing. Why not? There are not that many explanations, and all of them are uniformly awful: they're too stupid to realize how catastrophic the consequences of an attack on Iran would be; they understand what the consequences would be, but they're too cowardly themselves to take any action that might matter; they value their "influence" and their "connections" with prominent Democrats too highly even to consider endangering them; or they agree that America is uniquely great, so great and so indescribably good and perfect that we have the right to tell the entire rest of the world how it must conduct itself. And if anyone dares to defy us, they further agree we have the right to murder millions of people who never attacked us, and who do not even threaten us.

So let me tell you something. If this paralysis and inaction continues, and if the Bush administration does order an attack on Iran, I don't want to hear one goddamned word from a single goddamned Democrat about how terrible and calamitous it is. They've been able to take action for months, and they can take action now. They do nothing.

And for all those goddamned bloggers who have done and continue to do nothing: if an attack should come, don't say a goddamned word about how monstrous it is. You had your chance. You blew it. You didn't give a shit.

I don't want to hear a single goddamned word. Not one.
Since "Building an Effective Resistance" appeared, I have seen many comments -- on various comment threads at different blogs, and in my email -- telling me that many people are already taking the steps I proposed, as well as other similar ones. That's a goddamned lie. Show me the newspaper and television ads; show me the op-eds; show me the fucking blog posts mobilizing opposition to an attack on Iran. NO ONE IS DOING A GODDAMNED FUCKING THING.

I addressed this subject at some length in "Passing on the Sense of Wonder." I wrote:
I've seen some people say that those who are deeply opposed to the Bush administration are already taking [the actions I proposed] -- but if you read or reread that entry, you will see that is just not true. I don't have a large readership myself, but a number of liberal-progressive blogs do. As just one example, if they wanted to, five or 10 of the leading blogs could probably raise enough money themselves to run some newspaper and TV ads of the kind I suggested, perhaps with relative ease and perhaps enough money to run a series of ads. The same is true in different ways of my other suggestions. I desperately hoped that at least a few of the leading bloggers might take my ideas, improve on them and/or add further ideas of their own, and then run with them.

Of course, none of that has happened, although some people have noted that post (and other similar ones). But in terms of my general purpose, my suggestions have fallen with a dull thud. In truth, and although I fervently hoped it might be otherwise, I didn't expect any other result. Still, I hoped, and I continue to hope even now, since we can always choose to alter our course, until incapacity, imprisonment, or death extinguish all possibilities for action. And my writing continues to point to alternative courses of action, as you will see in "Living Under the Guillotine's Blade" or "Theater of Death," for example. As I attempt to make clear the ultimate meaninglessness of the sad and pathetic pageant that passes for our political debates today, I am always saying, in effect: "It doesn't have to be this way. We could act otherwise."

I am enormously struck by the unnecessary and indefensible narrowness of action that most people, including almost all progressive bloggers (and certainly all national Democrats), view as feasible or "realistic." I will be discussing this in detail in a new essay I'm working on, and that I hope to complete by tomorrow; it will deal with a few political heroes on a grand scale, and how such people have vanished from our lives, to be replaced by two-bit charlatans for the most part. For the moment, I will simply observe that almost all people think only within the severely circumscribed limits of what others have already determined to be "acceptable" behavior. In connection with progressive writers especially, the irony is exceptionally heavy: these are people who endlessly rail against "conventional wisdom" and "inside the Beltway thinking," while they themselves vehemently reject the merest suggestion that anyone should break the accepted rules in any significant way, or refuse to play the game as it has always been played. In part, this is why my suggestions in "Dispatch from Germany" were almost universally ignored: I purposely insisted that the bounds of what is "acceptable" be expanded, and that the rules of the game be changed. For most people, this is unthinkable. They say such ideas are not "realistic"; what they mean is that they are not willing to take the necessary risks.But on rare occasions, a hero will come along who takes precisely those risks and completely rejects the conventional rules. Many progressives hail these heroes, and simultaneously prove entirely incapable of applying the indicated lessons to our situation today.
My last plea to date appeared in Part II of "A Nation on the Edge of the Final Descent." I discussed the cultural background and significance of Andrew Meyer's desperate question to John Kerry: "[W]hy, if Kerry is so concerned about Iran, isn't Kerry urging impeachment of Bush now, before he can order an attack on Iran? Meyer pointed out that Clinton was impeached for a blowjob, for God's sake. Shouldn't Bush be impeached now, before another monstrous crime is committed -- and before a possible world war is begun?" I continued:
At this moment in history, and in view of the stakes involved -- which stakes involve literally the future of the world and of civilization, to employ those words with their genuine meanings for once -- that is the question that should be asked of every national leader at least once a day, and preferably a hundred times a day. It is the question that should be asked all the time, of everyone. It is the question that should be asked of every Democratic member of Congress all the time, every day. Almost no one asks it. Democrats and their partisans continue their dull-witted fixation on the 2008 elections, forbidding themselves and anyone else to acknowledge that by then, it may be far, far too late. Major actors in the Bush administration have longed to attack Iran for years, and they have never tried to hide it. Now, their viciously murderous purpose is being aided and abetted by leading Democrats such as Hillary Clinton.

And no one will ask: Why don't you act to stop this insanity?

Andrew Meyer asked that question. The prospect of an attack on Iran appeared to upset him a great deal, and he wondered why Kerry wasn't more upset than he seemed to be. Why aren't you more upset? Why aren't you asking that question? Why don't you act to stop this? Almost eight months ago, I offered a number of practical suggestions to try to avert this looming catastrophe, one with effects that are likely to stretch across the globe. With very few exceptions, no one gave a damn about them.

The first of those suggestions involved the placement of a series of newspaper ads. I am unable to raise the necessary funds and do all the required work myself -- but if several people (including, I would hope, one or two bloggers with readerships far larger than mine) were willing to assist me, I'll help write the ads and get them placed, if it seems at all possible to raise the money needed. (And as I've stated many times before, if you have different and better ideas, I'd be most grateful for them.)

No one else will do it. So I will, or at least try to. Your help is needed, and a lot of it. If no one wants to help to try to stop this nightmare, that means you don't give a damn either. If that turns out to be the case, to hell with you.
I received only four or five responses to that essay, nothing even close to what is required. But I repeat the offer now. The offer is still good.


If you choose to do nothing, if you choose to spend your days on absolutely meaningless trivialities, if you choose to parse every word spoken by McCain, Clinton and Obama -- not one of whom will stop an attack on Iran -- then you have damned yourselves, and you are of no further interest to me. And I remind you of the conclusion of "Thus the World Was Lost," which discussed the Military Commissions Act -- that bill which makes dictatorship and torture the law of the United States -- and which also talked about certain cultural parallels between our situation today and that which prevailed in Germany in the 1930s. Parts of the testimony of two unusually intelligent Germans are worth recalling:
"You know," he went on, "when men who understand what is happening--the motion, that is, of history, not the reports of single events or developments--when such men do not object or protest, men who do not understand cannot be expected to. How many men would you say understand--in this sense--in America? And when, as the motion of history accelerates and those who don't understand are crazed by fear, as our people were, and made into a great 'patriotic' mob, will they understand then, when they did not before?

"We learned here--I say this freely--to give up trying to make them understand after, oh, the end of 1938, after the night of the synagogue burning and the things that followed it. Even before the war began, men who were teachers, men whose faith in teaching was their whole faith, gave up, seeing that there was no comprehension, no capacity left for comprehension, and the thing must go its course, taking first its victims, then its architects, and then the rest of us to destruction...."
"You are an American," he said again, smiling. "I will explain. There I was, in 1935, a perfect example of the kind of person who, with all his advantages in birth, in education, and in position, rules (or might easily rule) in any country. If I had refused to take the oath in 1935, it would have meant that thousands and thousands like me, all over Germany, were refusing to take it. Their refusal would have heartened millions. Thus the regime would have been overthrown, or, indeed, would never have come to power in the first place. The fact that I was not prepared to resist, in 1935, meant that all the thousands, hundreds of thousands, like me in Germany were also unprepared, and each one of these hundreds of thousands was, like me, a man of great influence or of great potential influence. Thus the world was lost."

"You are serious?" I said.

"Completely," he said. "These hundred lives I saved--or a thousand or ten as you will--what do they represent? A little something out of the whole terrible evil, when, if my faith had been strong enough in 1935, I could have prevented the whole evil."
This is the conclusion of that essay; it applies with full force to an attack on Iran, just as it applies to the Military Commissions Act:
So, take the time to be sure to understand the momentous nature of the battle. Speak out about it, wherever and as often as you can. Make clear to everyone you know what is at stake, and convince them to fight, too.

For the present, we have the certainty of the Military Commissions Act -- and the hope that we may still prevent its most ghastly eventualities. I pray that hope will be realized. The most terrible and terrifying thing of all, for those of you who will still be alive in forty or fifty years, will be to look back on this time, and to have to say, "Thus the world was lost" -- and to know that, because you did not do everything you could, you helped to lose it.
So what is your choice? Do the world -- and your life, and the lives of those you love -- mean so little to you, that you will risk losing them all? Is that what you want? Do you still choose to do nothing?

Do you?