August 26, 2008

Death Match (II): The Hideous Horror of the Biden Selection

Part I: If the Words Don't Kill You, the Bombs Will

Here are some highlights from Stephen Zunes' article, "The Biden Betrayal":
[Biden]has been one [of] the leading congressional supporters of U.S. militarization of the Middle East and Eastern Europe, of strict economic sanctions against Cuba, and of Israeli occupation policies.

Most significantly, however, Biden, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the lead-up to the Iraq War during the latter half of 2002, was perhaps the single most important congressional backer of the Bush administration's decision to invade that oil-rich country.

One of the most important differences between Obama and the soon-to-be Republican presidential nominee John McCain is that Obama had the wisdom and courage to oppose the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Obama and his supporters had been arguing correctly that judgment in foreign policy is far more important than experience; this was a key and likely decisive argument in the Illinois senator's campaign against Sen. Hillary Clinton, who had joined McCain in backing the Iraq war resolution.

However, in choosing Biden, who, like the forthcoming Republican nominee, has more experience in international affairs but notoriously poor judgment, Obama is essentially saying that this critical difference between the two prospective presidential candidates doesn't really matter. This decision thereby negates one of his biggest advantages in the general election. Of particular concern is the possibility that the pick of an establishment figure from the hawkish wing of the party indicates the kind of foreign policy appointments Obama will make as president.
Let's pause here for a moment. With regard to "the kind of foreign policy appointments Obama will make as president," the makeup of Obama's Senior Working Group on National Security is still more instructive and comprehensive. And the makeup of that group is sickeningly awful: see, "The Truth Shall Drive You Mad: The Wise Men and Women of the Empire of Death."

Of equal or greater importance is what Obama himself has said about what the broad contours of U.S. foreign policy should be. Obama gave a major address on this subject in the spring of last year; his views are the same today. In "Songs of Death," I considered the major elements of Obama's speech: the undiluted embrace of "American exceptionalism"; the belief that "the American moment" should extend for "this new century"; and an alleged justification for foreign intervention that would serve to justify any intervention, anywhere, anytime, for any reason at all -- or for no reason. Obama said:
In today’s globalized world, the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people. When narco-trafficking and corruption threaten democracy in Latin America, it’s America’s problem too. When poor villagers in Indonesia have no choice but to send chickens to market infected with avian flu, it cannot be seen as a distant concern. When religious schools in Pakistan teach hatred to young children, our children are threatened as well.

Whether it’s global terrorism or pandemic disease, dramatic climate change or the proliferation of weapons of mass annihilation, the threats we face at the dawn of the 21st century can no longer be contained by borders and boundaries.
See the earlier post for more in this vein.

About this, I wrote:
While I do not minimize the (possibly) serious dangers of avian flu, it must be acknowledged that this is a novel justification of the notion that the U.S. must continue to maintain the greatest military in the history of the world, as Obama goes on to insist. It appears we must be able to invade, nuke or otherwise coerce every nation on earth into doing our bidding -- so that the world will be safe for healthy chickens. And here I had thought the Marx Brothers all were dead.

This is the Open Door world carried to impossible, entirely unrealizable and ridiculous extremes. The door is not only open: the door and the entire structure in which it had been installed have been obliterated. The United States must be the global hegemon so that every human being eats well, is properly educated, and has a good job, until every society and culture is thriving and properly "democratic" in the form we alone will dictate, and until there is a (healthy) chicken in every pot.
Thus did Obama tell us over a year ago that our future is war, endless war, nothing but war. The composition of his National Security Working Group and the selection of Biden only confirm this horrifying and deadly reality.

Back to Zunes:
It is difficult to overestimate the critical role Biden played in making the tragedy of the Iraq war possible. More than two months prior to the 2002 war resolution even being introduced, in what was widely interpreted as the first sign that Congress would endorse a U.S. invasion of Iraq, Biden declared on Aug. 4 that the United States was probably going to war. In his powerful position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he orchestrated a propaganda show designed to sell the war to skeptical colleagues and the American public by ensuring that dissenting voices would not get a fair hearing.


Rather than being a hapless victim of the Bush administration's lies and manipulation, Biden was calling for a U.S. invasion of Iraq and making false statements regarding Saddam Hussein's supposed possession of "weapons of mass destruction" years before President George W. Bush even came to office.

As far back as 1998, Biden was calling for a U.S. invasion of Iraq. Even though UN inspectors and the UN-led disarmament process led to the elimination of Iraq's WMD threat, Biden – in an effort to discredit the world body and make an excuse for war – insisted that UN inspectors could never be trusted to do the job. ...

Calling for military action on the scale of the Gulf War seven years earlier, he continued, "The only way we're going to get rid of Saddam Hussein is we're going to end up having to start it alone," telling the Marine veteran "it's going to require guys like you in uniform to be back on foot in the desert taking Saddam down."

When Ritter tried to make the case that President Bill Clinton's proposed large-scale bombing of Iraq could jeopardize the UN inspections process, Biden condescendingly replied that decisions on the use of military force were "beyond your pay grade." As Ritter predicted, when Clinton ordered UN inspectors out of Iraq in December of that year and followed up with a four-day bombing campaign known as Operation Desert Fox, Saddam was provided with an excuse to refuse to allow the inspectors to return. Biden then conveniently used Saddam's failure to allow them to return as an excuse for going to war four years later.
Biden's selection as vice presidential candidate has nothing to do with "change" or "hope": this is the status quo of chaos, destruction and widespread death, with a vengeance.

I want to focus for a moment on a critical point offered by Zunes: that Biden called for a U.S. invasion of Iraq as far back as 1998. Biden was not alone in this call for war; many Republicans -- and not a few Democrats -- had similar views. You should keep this in mind in connection with a favorite defense offered by Democratic partisans of a certain kind; that if Gore had become president in 2001, the invasion of Iraq would never have happened, the genocide would not have occurred, and the destabilization of the Middle East would have been avoided (from a much longer list of baleful consequences).

This is an entirely invalid argument. I will mention here only several reasons for my statement. First, while they may be entertaining as a kind of "what-if" exercise, counterfactuals are of no genuine analytic value. That must be true for a painfully obvious reason: since we are dealing with hypotheticals, we simply don't know. If we don't know, we are not entitled to say X would or would not have happened.

But the notion that "if Gore had been president, this catastrophe would have been avoided" falters for much more fundamental reasons. Of greatest importance is the fact that the bipartisan drive to American global hegemony is precisely that: bipartisan. See my "Dominion Over the World" series for the fuller arguments, with much supporting historical material; all the installments are listed at the end of that essay. The very first part of that series was titled, "Iraq Is the Democrats' War, Too." Please see the full essay for the details. Here is one critical passage:
It may be true that a Gore Administration would not have chosen to invade Iraq after 9/11, but the Democratic apologists would attach undue greater meaning to this single particular. They would imbue the (possible) avoidance of the Iraq catastrophe with a significance that directly contradicts the historical context in which it has taken place. In effect, Democrats (and many liberal and progressive bloggers) would have you believe that something like the Iraq disaster would never occur if the Democrats were in charge.

This is flatly false. It is a lie offered for the least admirable and most petty of ignoble partisan motives. The Democrats would have you forget Woodrow Wilson and World War I, and the century of conflict to which our entrance into that war led (and the effects of which still play out in the Middle East and beyond today); they would have you forget Vietnam, which parallels the Iraq catastrophe in ways beyond counting -- and they would have you forget the Balkans and Kosovo.

The Democrats' unceasing defense of our interventions in the Balkans and Kosovo is especially revealing. The Democrats refuse to acknowledge the continuity between the policies championed by the Clinton Administration and the Iraq invasion.
See the earlier piece for much more on the Balkans and Kosovo, and this more recent essay as well.

For the moment, I will mention only one further reason why the "if Gore had been president" argument is worthless. It may be true that the U.S. would not have invaded Iraq, but the U.S. might well have done something as bad or even worse. If you want to engage in hypotheticals, there's one that Democratic apologists will mysteriously omit from their calculations. But, oh, no!, the Democratic apologists protest. The Democrats couldn't possibly do anything like that! These are the protestations of children, and not very bright children. Vietnam? The Balkans and Kosovo? And with the conflict in Georgia, we see some of the effects of the Clinton interventions playing out today -- and those effects are far from over, and we have very little idea how bad they may ultimately be (which would primarily be the result of the indefensible policies of the U.S., not because of Russia's actions; more on that another time).

One final highlight from Stephen Zunes' article:
Biden has been the principal congressional backer of a de facto partition of the country between Kurdish, Sunni Arab, and Shia Arab segments, a proposal opposed by a solid majority of Iraqis and strongly denounced by the leading Sunni, Shia, and secular blocs in the Iraqi parliament. Even the U.S. State Department has criticized Biden's plan as too extreme. A cynical and dangerous attempt at divide-and-rule, Biden's ambitious effort to redraw the borders of the Middle East would likely make a violent and tragic situation all the worse.
It is difficult to properly describe the murderous arrogance of Biden's plan for the "soft partition" of Iraq. Always remember that Iraq constituted no serious threat to the United States, and that this critical fact was ascertainable prior to the invasion of 2003. Many people in the U.S. and around the world understood the insanity of the course on which the U.S. was about to embark -- but that overriding truth failed to penetrate the distorted and corrupted thought processes of the ruling class in Washington.

Because the U.S. invasion of Iraq was an unjustified act of aggression, it was a war crime. War crimes of this kind are the worst of international crimes against peace. This war crime unleashed a genocide, and over a million innocent people are now dead. Many more are grievously wounded, and their lives have been altered and often significantly destroyed forever. After all this -- after all this -- Biden proposed that the United States, the genocidal aggressor that perpetrated these crimes, should redraw the map of Iraq according to its own judgments. Yes, Biden and others with the same perspective will insist that they would generously provide the victims of our crimes with a new map still one more time "for their own good" -- but this is what monsters always say.

This is vicious colonialist arrogance and condescension that brings to mind the perspective of Britain and the European nations in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. And it was at the conclusion of World War I that the Western powers first engaged in this kind of mapmaking in earnest. In "Narcissism and Paternalism as Foreign Policy," I offered an excerpt from David Fromkin's valuable book, A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. For the sake of completeness here, I offer it again:
As you will see when you read the book, Middle Eastern personalities, circumstances, and political cultures do not figure a great deal in the narrative that follows, except when I suggest the outlines and dimensions of what European politicians were ignoring when they made their decisions. This is a book about the decision-making process, and in the 1914-22 period, Europeans and Americans were the only ones seated around the table when the decisions were made.

It was an era in which Middle Eastern countries and frontiers were fabricated in Europe. Iraq and what we now call Jordan, for example, were British inventions, lines drawn on an empty map by British politicians after the First World War; while the boundaries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq were established by a British civil servant in 1922, and the fronters between Moslems and Christians were drawn by France in Syria-Lebanon and by Russia on the borders of Armenia and Soviet Azerbaijan.

The European powers at that time believed they could change Moslem Asia in the very fundamentals of its political existence, and in their attempt to do so introduced an artificial state system into the Middle East that has made it into a region of countries that have not become nations even today. The basis of political life in the Middle East--religion--was called into question by the Russians, who proposed communism, and by the British, who proposed nationalism or dynastic loyalty, in its place. Khomeini's Iran in the Shi'ite world and the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere in the Sunni world keep that issue alive. The French government, which in the Middle East did allow religion to be the basis of politics--even of its own--championed one sect against the others; and that, too, is an issue kept alive, notably in the communal strife that has ravaged Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s.

The year 1922 seems to me to have been the point of no return in setting the various clans of the Middle East on their collision courses, so that the especial interest and excitement of the years with which this book is concerned, 1914 through 1922, is that they were the creative, formative years, in which everything seemed (and may indeed have been) possible. It was a time when Europeans, not implausibly, believed Arab and Jewish nationalism to be natural allies; when the French, not the Arabs, were the dangerous enemies of the Zionist movement; and when oil was not an important factor in the politics of the Middle East.

By 1922, however, the choices had narrowed and the courses had been set; the Middle East had started along a road that was to lead to the endless wars (between Israel and her neighbors, among others, and between rival militias in Lebanon) and to the always-escalating acts of terrorism (hijacking, assassination, and random massacre) that have been a characteristic feature of international life in the 1970s and 1980s. These are a part of the legacy of the history counted in the pages that follow.
The beliefs and policies that resulted in this kind of world transformation -- effected by privileged men comfortably ensconced in their plush, well-appointed offices, men who were largely ignorant of the millions of peoples whose lives they so heedlessly, casually and criminally rearranged -- led to a century of bloody conflict. The effects of their actions continue today, as do the slaughter and death.

And by their own words and actions, Obama and Biden tell us that they will bring us another century of death and destruction, and war without end.

Will the ruling class ever have enough? No, I deeply fear they will not. In that case, they will deserve what they get -- but the unfathomable tragedy is that many innocent people will not. Our rulers can appeal to their fictitious God for forgiveness, if they wish. No decent human being should grant them dispensation.