December 07, 2006

Of Repetition Compulsion, War Crimes, and National Narcissism (Again)

As a followup to my observations yesterday that nothing will fundamentally alter with regard to our Iraq policy -- regardless of the supposed "seriousness" of the Iraq Study Group, and regardless of the new Democratic Congress -- here are some key excerpts from a recent column by Norman Solomon:
The lead-up to the invasion of Iraq has become notorious in the annals of American journalism. Even many reporters, editors and commentators who fueled the drive to war in 2002 and early 2003 now acknowledge that major media routinely tossed real journalism out the window in favor of boosting war.

But it's happening again.

The current media travesty is a drumbeat for the idea that the U.S. war effort must keep going. And again, in its news coverage, the New York Times is a bellwether for the latest media parade to the cadence of the warfare state.


During the weeks since the midterm election, the New York Times news coverage of Iraq policy options has often been heavy-handed, with carefully selective sourcing for prefab conclusions. Already infamous is the Nov. 15 front-page story by Michael Gordon under the headline "Get Out of Iraq Now? Not So Fast, Experts Say." A similar technique was at play Dec. 1 with yet another "News Analysis," this time by reporter David Sanger, headlined "The Only Consensus on Iraq: Nobody's Leaving Right Now."

Typically, in such reportage, the sources harmonizing with the media outlet's analysis are chosen from the cast of political characters who helped drag the United States into making war on Iraq in the first place.

What's now going on in mainline news media is some kind of repetition compulsion. And, while media professionals engage in yet another round of conformist opportunism, many people will pay with their lives.

With so many prominent American journalists navigating their stories by the lights of big Washington stars, it's not surprising that so much of the news coverage looks at what happens in Iraq through the lens of the significance for American power.

Viewing the horrors of present-day Iraq with star-spangled eyes, New York Times reporters John Burns and Kirk Semple wrote -- in the lead sentence of a front-page "News Analysis" on Nov. 29 -- that "American military and political leverage in Iraq has fallen sharply."

The second paragraph of the Baghdad-datelined article reported: "American fortunes here are ever more dependent on feuding Iraqis who seem, at times, almost heedless to American appeals."

The third paragraph reported: "It is not clear that the United States can gain new traction in Iraq..."

And so it goes -- with U.S. media obsessively focused on such concerns as "American military and political leverage," "American fortunes" and whether "the United States can gain new traction in Iraq."

With that kind of worldview, no wonder so much news coverage is serving nationalism instead of journalism.
In this manner, the status quo protects itself and its prerogatives -- and its propaganda is dutifully amplified by a subservient press. This is why I have maintained that, even after the journalistic debacle of the leadup to the Iraq invasion, the media in this country have learned absolutely nothing. And Ralph Peters may be a repellently extreme and destructive example of this nationalistic narcissism -- with his endless emphasis on what "we" must do in Iraq, even though there never was and never will be any justifiable reason for our invasion and occupation, and despite the slaughter that is the direct result of our actions -- but the identical underlying perspective is revealed by most Americans, and by almost all of our press. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead and horrifically injured -- and still, it's almost all about us.

For a further discussion of the moral implications of these incontestable facts, implications that our national leaders, our media and most Americans resolutely refuse to understand and acknowledge, I turn once more to Jacob Hornberger:
Hanging over the Iraq debacle, however, is that one overriding moral issue that unfortunately all too many Americans have yet to confront: neither the Iraqi people nor their government ever attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. That means that in this conflict, which has killed more than 600,000 Iraqis, the United States is the aggressor nation and Iraq is the defending nation.

Why is that issue so important? Because it involves morality, not pragmatics. Do U.S. troops have the moral right to be killing people, when they are part of a military force that has aggressed against another country? Do they have the moral right to kill people who have done nothing worse than defend their nation from attack or attempt to oust an occupier from their midst? Does simply calling an action "war" excuse an aggressor nation from the moral consequences of killing people in that war?

In other words, does the United States have the moral right to violate the principles against aggressive war, for which it prosecuted Germany at Nuremberg and condemned the Soviet Union in Afghanistan?

By invading and occupying Iraq, Bush and Cheney have put the American people in the uncomfortable position of either supporting their government and its troops or supporting morality. Should a person support the actions of his government and its troops or should he obey the laws of God, when the government has placed its actions in contravention to those laws? What are the moral consequences for each individual faced with that choice?

Americans, quite naturally, want to continue believing that the federal government projects its power around the world just to help people. They want to believe that their government invaded Iraq just to help the Iraqi people -- well, at least after the WMDs failed to materialize and that primary justification for the invasion fell by the wayside.

But it's all a life of the lie -- a life of self-imposed deception and delusion -- a life that has refused for decades to confront the brutal and hypocritical role of the federal government in the affairs of other nations, including ouster of democratically elected leaders (e.g., Mossadegh in Iran and Arbenz in Guatemala), assassinations and miltary coups (e.g., Vietnam and Chile), the support of brutal dictators (e.g., Saddam in Iraq, the Shah of Iran, and Musharraf in Pakistan), brutal and deadly sanctions and embargoes (e.g., Iraq and Cuba), foreign aid to socialist or authoritarian regimes (e.g., Israel and Egypt), the teaching of torture to Latin American military brutes at the School of the Americas, interference in the domestic affairs of other nations (e.g., Venezuela) under the guise of promoting "democracy," and, of course, the far-flung secret empire of torture camps run by the CIA.

But the prospect of indefinite failure and continuous death might well cause people to face reality and cause them to confront the painful facts and truth about U.S. foreign policy.
I deeply hope that Hornberger is correct that ongoing slaughter and destruction might cause people "to face reality" and "confront the painful facts and truth about U.S. foreign policy" -- but thus far, the signs are not at all encouraging.

The myth of Western, and more particularly, of American "exceptionalism" is a fundamental part of our nation's view of itself. It is deeply embedded in our national psyche, and I strongly doubt it will be dislodged in the foreseeable future. I recently quoted from Hampton Sides' new book, on the subject of the U.S. war against Mexico. Recall this sentence especially:"To conquer Mexico, in other words, would be to do it a favor. "

And that remains the American perspective, and it very accurately captures our colonialist, condescending, and racist national attitude toward Iraq and its peoples: we were doing them a favor. If it turned into a genocidal murder spree, well, that's only because it was managed "incompetently." Most people still will not see the inescapable moral meaning of what we have done. And most people will never acknowledge that if we had implemented a murderous plan of conquest "competently," that would only make the results infinitely worse, not "better."

We have murdered an entire country, and an unconscionable and entirely unforgivably huge number of innocent Iraqis. We have murdered them, without even the merest shadow of a justifiable reason.

Remember it for next time. And unless our entire perspective and worldview is challenged and rejected, there will be a next time. That is the single fact of which you can be absolutely certain.

December 06, 2006

Our Genocidal National Narcissism: We Are the Very, Very "Bad Guys"

Patrick Cockburn:
The cautious words of the Baker-Hamilton report stand in sharp contrast to the savagery and terror that dominate everyday life in Baghdad. Many of the terrible disasters it fears may occur in future are in fact already happening. It states that there is a risk of "a slide towards chaos", but with almost 4,000 Iraqis being killed every month, the chaos is already here.

"Ethnic cleansing could escalate," the report warns but, in reality, it does not have to for Iraq to fragment into three hostile homelands for Sunni, Shia and Kurds. Baghdad and central Iraq has already broken up into heavily armed and hostile Sunni and Shia townships.

Some 170 individuals spoke to the Iraqi Study Group, including Tony Blair, President George Bush, Iraqi leaders and numerous ambassadors and senior officials. But the conclusions of the report at times give the alarming impression that Republicans and Democrats on the panel never really understood Iraqi politics.

The report says: "The United States should work closely with Iraq's leaders to support the achievement of specific objectives - or milestones - on national reconciliation, security and governance." The problem here is that Iraq has already fallen apart as a political entity. Supposedly national institutions such as the police, army and government ministries have been divided up between Shia, Sunni and Kurds.


Myths systematically promulgated by US civil and military spokesmen at a thousand press briefings in Baghdad and Washington are quietly dumped by Mr Baker and his group. Again and again, the spokesmen emphasised the role of foreign fighters in the war in Iraq but the report cites US military officials as saying that al-Qa'ida in Iraq is responsible for only a small portion of the violence. It says there are only 1,300 foreign fighters in the country. It notes that the Mehdi Army of the nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr numbers at least 60,000 men.

There is a further blind spot in the report. The US is in part responsible for the weakness of the Iraqi government. It never wanted an Iraqi administration dominated by the Shia parties with possible sympathies with the regime in Tehran. Such an outcome was a political nightmare for Washington. The US helped create a political system in which each community can paralyse united action. It has also tried to split the Shia alliance which won the most votes in the two elections in 2005.
On that last point, that the U.S. itself "is in part responsible for the weakness of the Iraqi government," see this earlier post, "A Genuine Mission Impossible," which excerpts another Cockburn column.

And with regard to the issue that the members of the Iraq Study Group "never really understood Iraqi politics," I wrote the following only two months ago (and this essay also relied on Cockburn's enormously valuable reporting):
From the Philippines, through Vietnam, through Central America, through numerous other interventions (acknowledged and covert), through Iraq -- it's the same theme, repeated with endless variations. We never learn -- and we pride ourselves on the fact that we are not obliged to learn. We are unique and "exceptional." Everyone wants what only we have. It is our "right" to bring the rest of the world into line with our goals and desires, using military force as required.

And then we wonder why chaos, destruction and death follow in our wake.
I obviously have a very high opinion of Cockburn's writing and his invaluable perceptiveness. So it is with considerable surprise that I must disagree with the concluding paragraph of his latest piece:
In terms of domestic Iraqi politics, the most positive aspect of the report is that it exposes the hollowness of claims by the White House and Downing Street that victory in Iraq is still feasible and it is all a matter of staying the course.
I wish it were true that these "claims" (aka "lies") were "exposed" -- but it is not. I recently discussed the ultimate purpose of the Iraq Study Group's work and recommendations, which is primarily to protect the foreign policy status quo -- a status quo that encompasses both Republicans and Democrats. I will have considerably more on that soon. And I quoted Andrew Bacevich on this very point:
[The ISG's members'] purpose is twofold: first, to minimize Iraq's impact on the prevailing foreign policy consensus with its vast ambitions and penchant for armed intervention abroad; and second, to quell any inclination of ordinary citizens to intrude into matters from which they have long been excluded. The ISG is antidemocratic. Its implicit message to Americans is this: We'll handle things - now go back to holiday shopping.
In fact, all the ISG recommends is that we "stay the course" -- and the newly-empowered Washington Democrats have already made it clear they will do absolutely nothing to change our direction in any manner that actually might affect events. In the near future, I will offer further thoughts on that as well.

The most critical element of the status quo that remains unchallenged is our alleged "idealism," the notion that we act out of the best of motives and that we "meant well." Most Americans refuse to seriously consider the idea that Iraq represented no serious threat to us whatsoever, and that our leaders knew it. If you doubt that point at all, I recommend you read this wonderfully argued Jacob Hornberger column: "They Lied About the Reasons for Going to War." You should read the entire article; here are Hornberger's concluding paragraphs:
Defenders of the war might argue, "By relying on faulty intelligence, the president and vice president just made an honest mistake, and therefore, U.S. officials are not morally responsible for the massive death and destruction in Iraq." But that’s just not true: even if the WMD intelligence reports had been faulty, the circumstantial evidence overwhelmingly establishes that President Bush and Vice President Cheney and their associates were being dishonest with respect to the real reason they were sending the nation into war against Iraq. As Vice President Cheney pointed out, even if the president and vice president had known that the intelligence reports were false, they would have ordered an invasion anyway.

Is the WMD lie important? Yes, because it led an untold number of Americans to support a war and an occupation that have unleashed forces that have resulted in the deaths and maiming of hundreds of thousands, on both sides. Thus, while it is entirely possible that Bush and Cheney would have invaded Iraq anyway if the American people had known the truth about why they were invading, at least the war and occupation would not have received the moral sanction of a deceived people.
What this means is very simple, and the only possible conclusion is utterly damning: by invading and occupying Iraq, we engaged in a completely unjustified war of aggression. Our presence in Iraq constitutes nothing less than an unforgivable war crime. Critics of our viciously immoral war bemoan American casualties -- and those casualties are indeed tragic. But even most of those critics almost never mention the hundreds of thousands of dead and injured Iraqis -- or the fact that we have destroyed an entire nation beyond any hope of recovery in the foreseeable future. This narcissism is displayed almost as much by liberal and progressive bloggers as it is by the mindlessly robotic Bush and America defenders.

I freely admit that I find this national narcissism disgusting and sickening to an extent that far surpasses my ability to express it fully and accurately. It is absolutely nauseating. Underlying this narcissism, and an inextricable part of it, is a repellent streak of murderous racism in our national makeup -- and that, too, I will be writing about at greater length in the near future.

For the moment, I offer this prediction: five years from now, toward the end of the year 2011, there will still be approximately 50,000 American troops in Iraq. It will not matter in the least if a Democrat is elected President in 2008. The foreign policy consensus to which our governing elites subscribe knows no party lines: it is a Western and an American perspective.

That perspective is factually false, and it is morally detestable. And very, very few Americans even dare to question it.

AND: Still more on these topics, here.

(I apologize for my intermittent writing at present. But times are exceptionally difficult for me personally at the moment. Two good friends are very seriously ill. One friend has just been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer, and her husband has been hospitalized for over a week with a worsening heart condition, and he will soon probably have to go into a hospice. I'm trying to help out to whatever extent I can, which unfortunately is not a great deal. But this is turning out to be a very grim "holiday" season here. Nonetheless, there is a great deal I plan and want to write about, so I will do the best I can. Given the circumstances, posting will be unavoidably sporadic for the time being.)

December 01, 2006

Culture Notes

Admittedly, I use the word "culture" in a criminally loose manner. But I suppose this was inevitable:
New York, New York - In a development that has the entire entertainment industry talking, Andrew Lloyd Webber has secured the rights to the Iraq Study Group Report which he plans to turn into an opera. Calling it his most ambitious project to date, Mr. Webber said, "Iraq Study Group Report, the Opera will be bigger than Jesus Christ Superstar, more moving than Cats, and a greater love story than The Phantom of the Opera. It will be my true masterpiece."
Andrew Lloyd Webber is responsible for more evil in the world than any other single human being, the sole exception being Dick Cheney. Other than that, I have no strong opinion about Lloyd Webber's oeuvre, and his "music." (In fact, it's not even his "music." It's everyone else's, ruined and cheapened in a manner for which water boarding would be kind and generous punishment.) By the way, that same item indicates that Jon Lovitz will play Cheney in the "opera," scheduled to open on Broadway in mid-May.

One of the comments (appropriately enough, from an obvious traitor named "pinko") lists the "musical" numbers on the two-CD set that will soon befoul our planet. On CD 2, we find:
1. "With A Guy Like You" (Bush/Cheney/Rove/Chalabi)
2. "Last Throes" (Cheney)
3. "The Boogeyman's Gonna Get Ya!" (Cheney)
4. "Got All Those Ducks in a Row" (Rove, Diebold chorus)
5. "But, But, But" (reprise); Abu Ghraib" (The Democrats' chorus, the Press Corps chorus)
6. "Stay the Course!" (Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld)
7. "I'm the Decider" (Bush)
8. "Stand Up, Stand Down" (Bush, The Generals' chorus)
9. "About to Turn That Corner" (Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rice/Rove/Lieberman and the Neocon chorus)
10. "Vote, Vote, Vote" (Cheney/Rove/Bush/the Democrats' chorus)
11. "I have Bad News" (Rove)
13. "Forget About It" (Kissinger)
12. "Poppy" (G.H.W. Bush/James Baker/Brent Scowcroft)
13. medley: "Stay the Course" (reprise); "Last Throes" (reprise);"But, But, But" (reprise)"Forget About it" (reprise) (The Neocon chorus, The Press Chorus, The Generals' chorus)
14. Finale: "Does Anybody Know What To Do?" (ensemble)
Assimilated Press is a site new to me. There are some illuminating and instructive stories covered there, which the mainstream media mysteriously ignore. Dare to check it out.