January 31, 2012

Distancing Evil, and Searching for Rescue

Patrick Cockburn is frequently an unusually perceptive and reliable commentator. I've cited his work on a number of occasions.

In his latest column, Cockburn writes:
The way in which the growing confrontation with Iran is being sold by the US, Israel and West European leaders is deeply dishonest. The manipulation of the media and public opinion through systematic threat exaggeration is similar to the drum beat of propaganda and disinformation about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction that preceded the invasion in 2003.

The supposed aim of imposing sanctions on Iran’s oil exports and central bank, measures officially joined by the EU, is to force Iran to abandon its nuclear program before it reaches the point where it could theoretically build a nuclear bomb. Even Israel now agrees that Iran has not yet decided to do so, but the Iranian nuclear program is still being presented as a danger to Israel and the rest of the world.

There are two other menacing parallels between the run-up to the Iraq war and what is happening now. The purported issue is the future of the Iranian nuclear program, but, for part of the coalition mustering against Iran, the real purpose is the overthrow of the Iranian government.


In reality, sanctions are likely to intensify the crisis, impoverish ordinary Iranians and psychologically prepare the ground for war because of the demonization of Iran.
I obviously agree with all of this: it's what I said just the other day, as well as a few days before that.

But note what else Cockburn says, which is most definitely not similar to anything I've written. Writing about U.S. neoconservatives, the Likud Party and the Israel lobby in Washington, Cockburn states:
These are very much the same people who targeted Iraq in the 1990s. They have been able to force the White House to adopt their program and it is now, in turn, being implemented by a European Union that naively sees sanctions as an alternative to military conflict.


It is this latter policy [of toppling the Iranian government] that has triumphed. Israel, its congressional allies and the neoconservatives have successfully bamboozled the Obama administration into a set of policies that make sense only if the aim is overthrow of the regime in Tehran.


It is difficult not to admire the skill with which Netanyahu has maneuvered the White House and European leaders into the very confrontation with Iran they wanted to avoid.
Let me see if I understand this correctly. Obama was strapped down, blindfolded, deprived of all food and water for weeks on end, and tortured in numerous ways. Perhaps Netanyahu screamed at him nonstop for 10 or 12 days. (It would unquestionably work on me.) And then, on top of that, Obama was tricked. Tricked!!! How unbelievably dastardly.

Thus was Obama -- who happens to be the goddamned President of the United States, who happens to be the goddamned Commander-in-Chief of all the U.S. military forces -- "forced," "bamboozled" and "maneuvered" into taking actions he doesn't begin to understand and doesn't actually intend.

Poor, poor Barack. To be exploited, taken advantage of, and grossly abused in such a horrifying manner. Let us all bow our heads for several moments of contemplative compassion.

I repeat: Cockburn is often an unusually perceptive writer, and much of his work is of considerable value. But not when it comes to comments of this kind. I also have to say, if I may speak more informally, that I am absolutely exhausted by this kind of shit.

In addition to the arguments provided in the recent posts (here and here, in case you missed them before), let's hit a few highlights. It was Barack Obama who, in a major foreign policy address in the spring of 2007 -- five years ago -- proclaimed that America was still "the last, best hope of Earth," and that "the American moment" is to extend for "this new century." I described Obama's speech as the undiluted embrace of American exceptionalism, and discussed it at length in "Songs of Death."

Obama emphasized his worship of American exceptionalism in numerous utterances, none more famous (or infamous, in my own view) than his heralded speech on race. I analyzed that speech as well. In "Obama's Whitewash," I said:
Almost every politician lies, and most politicians lie repeatedly. Yet in one sense, Obama's speech is exceptional, rare and unique -- but not for any of the reasons offered by Obama's uncritical, mindless adulators. It is exceptional for this reason: it is rare that a candidate will announce in such stark, comprehensive terms that he will lie about every fact of moment, about every aspect of our history that affects the crises of today and that has led to them, about everything that might challenge the mythological view of America. But that is what Obama achieved with this speech. It may be a remarkable achievement -- a remarkable and detestable one, and one that promises endless destruction in the future, both here and abroad.
I seem to have been correct. Imagine.

For still more on these issues, see this essay, including the numerous links provided near the beginning.

Now, seriously. Seriously, godfuckingdammit. After all this -- and after the ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and on and on and on -- an intelligent writer is going to tell me that Obama is being forced, bamboozled and maneuvered into a course of action that very probably will lead to regime change in Iran? And that result has nothing whatsoever to do with what Obama himself intends? That gentle, kindly, big-hearted Barack has been tricked?

What interests me about this kind of mental contortion -- and where I think its significance lies -- is what it achieves, and what unspoken premises it reveals. Among other things, it accomplishes a distancing from evil. If we acknowledge that Obama knows exactly what he's doing and that he intends the likely outcome of the events he sets in motion, we are compelled to conclude that he is engaged in a plan which can only be described as deeply, unforgivably evil. The effects of regime change, most likely accompanied by air strikes or military action(s) of some other kind, will include the widespread deaths of innocent human beings and vast destruction. As Cockburn points out, those same effects can be terrible and awful with notably harsh sanctions alone, but there can be no question that the results of sanctions followed by military action will be still worse.

This resort to "oh, poor Obama" argumentation also implies that, if only Obama were delivered from the clutches of those who "force" and "bamboozle" him into acting against his will, Obama would be free to follow his "true" convictions. It is further implied that those "true" convictions are far preferable, and more humane and just (and, it appears, more in line with Cockburn's own beliefs).

So I have to ask, keeping in mind even the brief recitation of Obama's own declarations as to his beliefs given above as well as his own record to date, where in hell is the evidence for those "true," better beliefs? Is there any evidence for them at all? All of the evidence to date supports only one conclusion: what Obama is doing comports fully and precisely with what he himself believes. The evidence permits no other conclusion.

To speak of Obama being "forced" and "bamboozled" in this manner may be regarded by some (although not by me) as a touching article of faith, but it cannot be considered a serious point of view, not if one is focused on the facts.

Another element of this form of denial merits mention. The implications of the "poor Obama" argument can be stated in a different way: if only we had a leader not subject to such wicked trickery and manipulation, we would be set on the right course. The policies of the U.S. Government would be vastly improved, perhaps even good -- and we will be saved!

To which I respond, as emphatically as I can: Absolutely not. You are not going to be "saved," not that way.

These issues -- distancing ourselves from evil, and the endless search for rescue by a savior (on a national and international scale, no less) -- are very complex and worthy of more detailed examination. And in fact, I'm planning such a discussion in the near future (and I've begun it, in part). So there will be more to come on these subjects.