August 15, 2007

The Worsening Nightmare

This will be my last post in the foreseeable future about the coming attack on Iran, widening war in the Middle East and beyond, and concerning the likely dire consequences within the United States. I will undoubtedly note stories and developments of special significance -- but as for documenting the inexorable path leading to actions that will be the moral and political equivalent of Nazi Germany's attack on Poland, no. No more of that. If you want to remain informed about the steps of our descent into hell, I recommend you follow Chris Floyd,, and Counterpunch. (That list isn't intended to be exclusive by any means; those are a few of the best sites for "alternative" views of current events, and ones that I myself keep apprised of.)

There is a great deal of other writing I want to do. As my health permits, I will continue the "Cosmic Dualism" series, and complete "Dominion Over the World" (which will have at least four or five additional installments). I also very much want to explore political tribalism, and its causes and consequences. I consider the extraordinarily primitive tribalism that corrodes our political debates today to be profoundly destructive in numerous ways. So I'll get to that as soon as practicable.

Before explaining in a bit more detail why I won't devote more time to Iran developments specifically, let's examine today's major story:
The United States has decided to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country's 125,000-strong elite military branch, as a "specially designated global terrorist," according to U.S. officials, a move that allows Washington to target the group's business operations and finances.

The Bush administration has chosen to move against the Revolutionary Guard Corps because of what U.S. officials have described as its growing involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as its support for extremists throughout the Middle East, the sources said. The decision follows congressional pressure on the administration to toughen its stance against Tehran, as well as U.S. frustration with the ineffectiveness of U.N. resolutions against Iran's nuclear program, officials said.
As Will Bunch notes, one of the major purposes of this designation is to bring an attack on Iran within the 2002 Authorization of Military Force against Iraq. But what many people miss is that the "terrorist" designation also brings an Iran attack within the language of the 2001 AUMF. Moreover, while the specific language in the final sections of both AUMFs is relevant, no one seems to pay attention to the critical prefatory statements.

The final introductory paragraph of the 2001 AUMF states:
Whereas, the President has authority under the Constitution to take action to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States...
And Congress underscored its approval of this view of Executive warmaking authority in the 2002 AUMF:
Whereas Congress has taken steps to pursue vigorously the war on terrorism through the provision of authorities and funding requested by the President to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 or harbored such persons or organizations;

Whereas the President and Congress are determined to continue to take all appropriate actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such persons or organizations;

Whereas the President has authority under the Constitution to take action in order to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States, as Congress recognized in the joint resolution on Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40); and

Whereas it is in the national security of the United States to restore international peace and security to the Persian Gulf region...
But, you might object, these provisions empower the executive branch to do whatever it wants, provided it manages to bring its actions within the rubric of acting "to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States," and/or "to restore international peace and security to the Persian Gulf region." Exactly -- and that is exactly what the Bush administration has argued for the last several years. Didn't you believe they meant what they said?

This is why some of us have objected to both AUMFs from the beginning, and why Congress should never have approved them. This is why I've consistently recommended that, if Congress wished to deter an attack on Iran, they had to rescind both AUMFs (see Point Two), not only the 2002 AUMF concerning Iraq. I've been recommending that for more than six months.

The AUMFs must be viewed in the context of the history of Executive war, as that doctrine has developed since World War II. Surely I need not remind readers that no Constitutionally required declaration of war has been utilized since the last World War. But that has not stopped a long, unending series of wars -- from Korea, through Vietnam, through Latin America and the Middle East, and in Yugoslavia (see the second half of that entry). Both parties approve the doctrine of Executive war in its essential outlines; their only argument is about which party "best" utilizes it. Neither party has any principled objection to Executive war, although they might strongly criticize a war begun by a president of the opposing party -- and even then, their criticisms are only about matters of strategy and tactics, not about the basic immorality of what is unquestionably a war of aggression, and therefore an international crime.

The strongest criticism of the Iraq catastrophe is that it represents "the worst strategic blunder" of the last hundred years. No one who is prominent in our national political life will say that it is a monstrous war crime. (Even that claim about Iraq is not true as things stand at present, although it might turn out to be accurate: for the worst "blunder" of the last century, and setting aside the fact that our entrance into World War I was also a deliberate and carefully calculated decision, designed to maintain and expand the global power of the United States and England, you need to look to Woodrow Wilson. World War I and its aftermath set in motion the long series of events that led to World War II, the Cold War, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the other occurrences that led to 9/11 -- and to the present crisis. If the United States should attack Iran, then this period may very well represent the worst decisions in foreign policy of the last century, depending specifically on how events play out. But we don't know that...not yet.)

With regard to Iran in particular, the current Democratic Congress has already approved the critical rationales for an attack. The Senate approved -- by a vote of 97 to nothing -- an amendment that accuses Iran of committing acts of war against the United States. Thus, if we were to attack to Iran, we would purportedly only be acting defensively, and in response to what Iran has already done. This amendment, based entirely on unproven, propagandistic, intentionally warmongering allegations, was pushed in large part by Lieberman. Democrats (and progressive bloggers) may condemn the former Democrat all they wish: the fact remains that every Democratic Senator who voted on this measure voted for it. When the wider war begins, they will have no serious basis on which to object.

In a similar manner, the House approved a resolution -- by a vote of 411 to 2 -- that contained this language:
Whereas Iran has aggressively pursued a clandestine effort to arm itself with nuclear weapons....
About this, I wrote:
And that, as they say, is the ball game. In this manner, the Democratic House concedes, sanctifies, and gives its nearly unanimous support to the major propaganda point of the Bush-Cheney-Israel drive to war with Iran.

Thank God the Democrats took back Congress. That's all I can say. Otherwise, who knows what might have happened! Why, we might be on our way to a nuclear world war!

Please note: Iran disputes, as it has always disputed, the truth of this charge. Moreover, it is very far from clear just how far Iran may have gotten in its pursuit of nuclear weapons, even if one assumes that is what they are doing.

And I repeat: even if Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, SO WHAT?

But now, the House is fully on board with the Bush-Cheney-Israel program. When Bush gives his speech announcing that bombing runs began four hours earlier, that some of Iran's nuclear installations have already been destroyed, and that the rest of them will be similarly destroyed in another two or three days, on what grounds will the Democrats object? As war, possibly with nuclear weapons, spreads across the Middle East and beyond, on what grounds will the Democrats object?
I began my first series about the coming war with Iran in November 2005, more than a year and a half ago. (Links to most of my major articles about Iran and related issues will be found at the end of this post.) Many people told me I was worrying about nothing, that I was creating a crisis where there wasn't one. I wonder what they might be saying today. I claim no special insight for my concern: I study history, and I try to understand the patterns that emerge over time. Every conflict in the past had a long gestation period, which was usually ignored or diminished in significance in ways similar to those we've seen over the last few years. Such crises are almost always ignored, until they finally explode -- and until it is too late to do anything to prevent them.

I wrote about the moral and political significance of an attack on Iran in an essay which I still think is among my best, from April 2006: "Morality, Humanity and Civilization: 'Nothing remains...but memories.'" At the conclusion of that article, I wrote:
[L]et me offer the only suggestion I have, and a possible way to stop our trance-like sleepwalking into catastrophe. For the reasons Billmon details and those discussed above, we cannot expect a spontaneous grassroots movement of any size to protest this insanity. I would offer a judgment about what that signifies about the moral character and intellectual seriousness of the American public, but I consider that unnecessary -- and you know what that judgment is in any case. And we certainly cannot expect our criminally negligent and completely unserious media to make clear what is at stake, even if it is literally the future of the world.

What we desperately need is a hero -- either an individual or a group, or some combination of both. It is entirely possible that it would require only one individual of national prominence to state the issues clearly to the American public. He or she could give a series of speeches and press conferences, preferably starting tomorrow. I still hope and would like to think that, if the issues were made unmistakably plain, enough Americans would respond. Our hero would have to explain the immorality of an attack on a nonexistent threat, and why it is unthinkable that we would use nuclear weapons, even "tactical" ones, in a non-defensive way. The issues are not that complicated. What dooms us is the current conspiracy of silence: a culture where no one dares to identify with stark clarity what is at stake, and what will result from our actions. And it must be made absolutely clear that if we were to launch yet another series of attacks on a country that does not threaten us, and if we were to use even one nuclear weapon of any kind, the mantle of "exceptionalism" would still be ours -- but it would be the kind of exceptionalism accorded to the worst monsters of history.

There is still time for Americans to hear that message. If enough of them responded -- and I think they might -- then we could have a massive march on Washington, hopefully numbering in the millions. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. And even if such a demonstration or series of demonstrations did not succeed in stopping the current group of madmen in power, it would have one possibly critical additional result: it would at least tell the rest of the world that a significant number of Americans protested the madness, and were completely opposed to this unleashing of destruction. That might matter in the aftermath; it might matter a lot.

And here is a note for any politicians who might happen to read this, especially any politicians with presidential ambitions: contrary to what many people believe, the moral is also the practical. If you had the courage to undertake this battle, the resulting tide might just sweep you into the White House in 2008. You would have saved the honor and reputation of the United States, and perhaps civilization itself. That's not a bad platform to run on. I would vote and campaign for you myself, even if I violently disagreed with every other position you took.

Surely there must be one person who will take on this battle. If there isn't...well, then I guess I will have to conclude that there isn't much worth saving.

The world as we have known it may well be swept away in time, just as all the great civilizations of the past have been: "Nothing remains of it but memories."

Let us hope that it doesn't happen. And if you pray, I suggest you do so now.
I repeated my plea for action to prevent an attack on Iran in the final part of my "Dispatch from Germany, Summer of 1939" series: "Building an Effective Resistance." I indicated again that an educational campaign directed at the American public had to be a major part of any such effort.

There appears to be only one indispensable requirement for entrance into the hallowed ranks of serious foreign policy commentators: an almost total ignorance and appreciation of history and its many lessons (a subject I've discussed with regard to Iraq in "Sacred Ignorance," and the earlier, "Embracing Ignorance on Principle"). For that and related reasons, my essays received comparatively little attention. The great majority of people remain resolutely focused on the trivia of the day, and the latest "controversy" of the moment. Developments over a period of years and even decades bore them, and they have no interest in understanding them. Our politicians specialize in such ignorance, and most bloggers indulge their stupidity, and imitate it to varying degrees.

And most Democrats and their dedicated partisans (and I regretfully include almost all liberal-progressive bloggers in this category) remain absolute in their determined refusal to see the continuity of our foreign policy, from the annexation of Hawaii, through the Spanish-American War and the occupation of the Philippines, through Woodrow Wilson and the Open Door doctrine of global hegemony, to global interventionism, and all the other issues I've discussed in my "Dominion Over the World" series.

The Democrats don't object and they completely fail to mount serious opposition to our inevitable course toward widening war and an attack on Iran, not because they are cowards, not because they're afraid of being portrayed as "weak" in the fight against terrorism, and not because of any of the other excuses that are regularly offered by their defenders. They don't object because -- they don't object. That is: they agree -- they agree that the United States is the "indispensable" nation, that we have the "right" to tell every other country how it is "permitted" to act, that we must pursue a policy of aggressive interventionism supported by an empire of military bases. They agree about all of it; moreover, in most critical respects, they devised these policies in the first instance, and they implemented and defended them more vigorously and more consistently than Republicans, with the exception of the criminal now residing in the White House.

They agree. Try to wrap your head around it. Try to absorb the indisputable fact, which has been proven over and over and over again in the last century, and particularly in the last 60 years.

In "Blinded by the Story," I analyzed the failure of many commentators and bloggers to understand and appreciate the developments of the last hundred years, and the manner in which a corporatist-authoritarian state admirably comports with the goals of the ruling elites. I am similarly astonished by the naivete of many progressive bloggers when it comes to understanding what would happen in the wake of a conflict with Iran. In "Still Another Call to Activism," I wrote:
The horrifying consequences of an unprovoked U.S. attack on Iran should be painfully obvious to everyone; over a year ago, I detailed those consequences at length. Possibly millions dead, chaos and war that spread across the globe, severe economic dislocation and possibly economic collapse, the complete isolation of the United States from the community of nations, and still more and still worse -- possibly including the imposition of martial law in the U.S. itself. The conclusion is stark and infinitely bleak: an attack on Iran would wipe every other issue and concern out of existence for the foreseeable future, probably for years to come if not much longer. Forget debates about global warming; nuclear clouds might be spreading across the globe. Never mind reforming our health care system; millions of people around the world, and possibly here at home, will be worried about survival of the most primitive kind. Nothing else will matter in the least.
With this in mind, listen to this discussion about the ramifications of pursuing impeachment; Digby is one of the three participants. [For the radio discussion, try this link.]

(Digby was the target of much of my criticism in "Blinded by the Story," so I want to mention the following. I wrote to Digby several days ago, to tell her that it gave me no pleasure to criticize her in the manner I did; the same is true for what follows here. In addition to the quality of her writing, which is often among the best on the progressive blogs, Digby has been generous and kind to me, both publicly and privately. Such actions are deeply important to me, and I do not set them aside without very careful consideration. With regard to these issues, I view what I consider to be Digby's failures of analysis as of critical importance. In large part, Digby has only herself to blame: it is because she is among the very best of the progressive bloggers that I view her errors as ones that are especially important to understand. If she were not as well-regarded and as widely read as she is, those errors wouldn't matter nearly as much. Without detailing our private communications further, I can state that our relationship remains cordial. I think I can accurately say that we both appreciate that our differences concern political theory and strategy, and that personal animus has no role at all in our significantly different views. For that, and for her kindness, I shall always be enormously grateful.)

The discussion about impeachment is measured and deliberate, with careful consideration given to the various possibilities and their implications. One quality is notably absent: any sense of urgency. Then, toward the end of the discussion, the participants consider what might happen if the Bush administration ordered an attack on Iran. At that point, Digby says, everything would be on the table: impeachment, plus other possibilities for action. Digby maintains that an attack on Iran would be against what "the American people" want, and would be so outrageous that any and all strategies of opposition should be immediately pursued.

This is, I submit, utterly fantastic. As I noted in that earlier article, the aftermath of an attack on Iran and what would almost certainly be a rapidly widening war would wipe every other issue out of existence. Consider only some of the possibilities.

First, despite the monumental Judith Miller embarrassments (and other, similar instances of unquestioningly transmitting government lies), the New York Times has been carrying administration propaganda about Iran on its front pages for months. Actually, it's been much longer than that: see this post, from October 2005. As I note from time to time, it is not only the case that our entire governing class has learned nothing from the Iraq debacle: not a single part of the mechanisms by which the elites continue their rule has altered in any significant degree. That is certainly true of the mainstream media, which continue to dutifully convey whatever arguments and whatever "facts" the government wishes to be disseminated. The public is already convinced that Iran represents "the new Hitler," and the latest incarnation of "Ultimate Evil," even though they may have some generalized resistance to further war. But that would quickly be overcome, and all the major press organs will happily see to it that it is. Which brings me to the second point:

Second, one of the standard objections to the likelihood of an attack on Iran is that it will put American troops in Iraq in grave peril. If you make that objection, I have only one thing to say to you: Wake the hell up. Of course it will put American troops in Iraq in grave peril. A great many of them will probably be killed. But -- and please try as earnestly as you can to get this -- the administration is counting on exactly that happening. [Added, to clarify: this must be true, given the logic of the situation, at least implicitly. In individual cases, it might also be true explicitly, in the sense that a particular person is consciously aware of what must happen.] I'm sorry to be rude, but honest to God, how stupid are some of you? Imagine that 500, or a thousand, or even several thousand, American soldiers are killed in a single engagement, or over several days or a week. What do you think would happen?

The administration would immediately blame "Iranian interference" and "Iranian meddling." They do that now. Every major media outlet would repeat the charge; almost no one would question it. Pictures of the slaughtered Americans would be played on television 24 hours a day. The outrage would grow by the minute. Within a day, and probably within hours, certain parties would be calling for nuclear weapons to be dropped on Tehran. Almost everyone would be baying for blood, and for the blood of Iran in particular.

No one, and certainly no prominent politician, would dare to remind Americans that we have no right to be in Iraq in the first place. They won't say that now. Who would point it out after 800 Americans have been killed? And what Democrat would dare to oppose the tide, especially with a presidential election looming? Not one. Everyone with a national voice would be demanding the destruction of the current regime in Iran. No one would oppose such a course.

And Congress would begin impeachment proceedings in this atmosphere? Please tell me you're kidding.

That is only one way events might play out. See this post from a long time ago for other scenarios. Perhaps Israel is attacked. Again, the calls for retribution would be universal, and not a single major voice would be raised in opposition. Probably the government of Pakistan is toppled; that is close to happening even today. And then we would need to worry about actual nukes getting into the hands of those who might genuinely wish to attack us. The possibilities are many, but they all lead to the same end: widening war, war, and more war.

And now it is too late. The kind of educational campaign I recommended as essential might have had a chance six months ago; it has no chance at all today, even if someone were prepared to undertake it -- and no one is. I see only one possibility that might stop these events: a massive demonstration or series of demonstrations in Washington, probably accompanied by a massive sit-in in the offices of Congress. Nothing short of that has a chance in hell.

But that's not going to happen. So we proceed on our path to a still worse and deepening nightmare. Our destination was set a long time ago. The intention to provoke a wider war has been announced repeatedly. No one believed it could happen, or wanted to believe it could happen. Such resistance and denial are common before all catastrophes of this kind. The warning signs are all around us and have been for years. Almost no one paid attention. No one acted to prevent what was obviously coming.

And still, no one will act to prevent it. So I see no point in documenting the further steps on this route to hell, for the same reason I avoid a certain kind of horror film: it is the contemplation of cruelty, murder, barbarism and sadism for their own sake. Such exercises in psychopathology have no interest to me, and I will leave the dreadful task to others.

I feel I can say I did what I could. My efforts, such as they were, had no effect at all. I can't do anything further with regard to this especially hideous subject. I will turn my attention elsewhere.

Good luck to you, and to all of us -- or at least to those of us who can still appreciate the irreplaceable value of a single, unique human life, and treat it with the reverence it must always command.

Essays on Iran, and about related issues of foreign policy and political theory:

"Walking into the Iran Trap"

A Decision of Policy -- and the Intelligence Won't Matter

The Folly of Intervention

Mythic War -- and Endless Enemies

The National Myth that Sustains Us -- and Its Inevitable Racism

Endless War -- and the Destructive Search for "Meaning"

Messianic Zealotry as Foreign Policy -- "Our Children Will Sing Great Songs..."

Folly Marches On -- and Seeking a New Direction

The Old Theme -- A "Redeemer Nation," with Some Explaining to Do


Morality, Humanity and Civilization: "Nothing remains...but memories..."

Dispatch from Germany, Summer of 1939 (I)

Dispatch from Germany, Summer of 1939 (II)

Dispatch from Germany, Summer of 1939 (III): Building an Effective Resistance

So Iran Gets Nukes. So What?

Still Another Call to Activism

Dominion Over the World (with links to all the installments)

Blinded by the Story: Liberals and Progressives as Political Creationists