Thursday, February 21, 2008

concerns for the population are matters of little moment in a modern democracy, or how i learned to stop caring and love the noblesse oblige

Chomsky discusses the state of the world in "Good News," Iraq and Beyond. It's hard to imagine a person with a brain and a conscience not being moved to tears by these words, but admittedly there are so damn many of them and our attention spans so short, so I've cherrypicked some interesting bits, though I strongly recommend reading the whole thing.

Iraq remains a significant concern for the population, but that is a matter of little moment in a modern democracy. The important work of the world is the domain of the "responsible men," who must "live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd," the general public, "ignorant and meddlesome outsiders" whose "function" is to be "spectators," not "participants." And spectators are not supposed to bother their heads with issues. The Wall Street Journal came close to the point in a major front-page article on super-Tuesday, under the heading "Issues Recede in '08 Contest As Voters Focus on Character." To put it more accurately, issues recede as candidates, party managers, and their PR agencies focus on character (qualities, etc.). As usual. And for sound reasons. Apart from the irrelevance of the population, they can be dangerous. The participants in action are surely aware that on a host of major issues, both political parties are well to the right of the general population, and that their positions that are quite consistent over time, a matter reviewed in a useful study by Benjamin Page and Marshall Bouton, The Foreign Policy Divide; the same is true on domestic policy (see my Failed States, on both domains). It is important, then, for the attention of the herd to be diverted elsewhere.


At the war's end, in 1975, the position of the extreme doves was expressed by Anthony Lewis, the most critical voice in the New York Times. He observed that the war began with "blundering efforts to do good" - which is close to tautology within the doctrinal system -- though by 1969 it had become "clear to most of the world -- and most Americans -- that the intervention had been a disastrous mistake." The argument against the war, Lewis explained, "was that the United States had misunderstood the cultural and political forces at work in Indochina -- that it was in a position where it could not impose a solution except at a price too costly to itself."

By 1969, "most Americans" had a radically different view. Some 70% regarded the war as "fundamentally wrong and immoral," not "a mistake." But they are just "ignorant and meddlesome outsiders," whose voices can be dismissed - or on the rare occasions when they are noticed, explained away without evidence by attributing to them self-serving motives lacking any moral basis.


That Iraq is "a land of ruin and wreck" is not in question.. There is no need to review the facts in any detail. The British polling agency Oxford Research Bureau recently updated its estimate of extra deaths resulting from the war to 1.3 million - that's excluding Karbala and Anbar provinces, two of the worst regions. Whether that is correct, or the true numbers are much lower as some claim, there is no doubt that the toll is horrendous. There are several million internally deplaced. Thanks to the generosity of Jordan and Syria, the millions of refugees fleeing the wreckage of Iraq, including most of the professional classes, have not been simply wiped out. But that welcome is fading, for one reason because Jordan and Syria receive no meaningful support from the perpetrators of the crimes in Washington and London; the idea that they might admit these victims, beyond a trickle, is too outlandish to consider. Sectarian warfare has devastated the country. Baghdad and other areas have been subjected to brutal ethnic cleansing and left in the hands of warlords and militias, the primary thrust of the current counterinsurgency strategy developed by General Petraeus, who won his fame by pacifying Mosul, now the scene of some of the most extreme violence.

One of the most dedicated and informed journalists who has been immersed in the shocking tragedy, Nir Rosen, recently published an epitaph entitled "The Death of Iraq," in Current History. He writes that "Iraq has been killed, never to rise again. The American occupation has been more disastrous than that of the Mongols, who sacked Baghdad in the thirteenth century" - a common perception of Iraqis as well. "Only fools talk of `solutions' now. There is no solution. The only hope is that perhaps the damage can be contained."

Though the wreckage of Iraq today is too visible to try to conceal, the assault of the new barbarians is carefully circumscribed in the doctrinal system so as to exclude the horrendous effects of the Clinton sanctions - including their crucial role in preventing the threat that Iraqis would send Saddam to the same fate as Ceasescu, Marcos, Suharto, Chun, and many other monsters supported by the US and UK until they could no longer be maintained. Information about the effect of the sanctions is hardly lacking, in particular about the humanitarian phase of the sanctions regime, the oil-for-peace program initiated when the early impact became so shocking that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had to mumble on TV that the price was right whatever the parents of hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi children might think. The humanitarian program, which graciously permitted Iraq to use some of its oil revenues for the devastated population, was administered by highly respected and experienced UN diplomats, who had teams of investigators all over the country and surely knew more about the situation in Iraq than any other Westerners. The first, Denis Halliday, resigned in protest because the policies were "genocidal." His successor, Hans von Sponeck, resigned two years later when he concluded that the sanctions violated the Genocide Convention. The Clinton administration barred him from providing information about the impact to the Security Council, which was technically responsible. As Albright's spokesperson James Rubin explained, "this man in Baghdad is paid to work, not to speak."


To cite another instructive example, consider Gerald Seib's reflections in the Wall Street Journal on "Time to Look Ahead in Iraq." Seib is impressed that debate over Iraq is finally beginning to go beyond the "cartoon-like characteristics" of what has come before and is now beginning to confront "the right issue," the "more profound questions":

The more profound questions are the long-term ones. Regardless of how things evolve in a new president's first year, the U.S. needs to decide what its lasting role should be in Iraq. Is Iraq to be a permanent American military outpost, and will American troops need to be on hand in some fashion to help defend Iraq's borders for a decade or more, as some Iraqi officials themselves have suggested? Will the U.S. see Iraq more broadly as a base for exerting American political and diplomatic influence in the broader Middle East, or is that a mistake? Is it better to have American troops just over the horizon, in Kuwait or ships in the Persian Gulf? Driving these military considerations is the political question of what kind of government the U.S. can accept in Iraq….

No soft-headed nonsense here about Iraqis having a voice on the lasting role of the US in Iraq or on the kind of government they would prefer.

Such reflections of the imperial mentality are deeply rooted. To pick examples almost at random, in December 2007 Panama declared a Day of Mourning to commemorate the US invasion of 1989, which killed thousands of poor people, so Panamanian human rights groups concluded, when Bush I bombed the El Chorillo slums and other civilian targets. The Day of Mourning of the unpeople scarcely merited a flicker of an eyelid here. It is also of no interest that Bush's invasion of Panama, another textbook example of aggression, appears to have been more deadly than Saddam's invasion of Kuwait a few months later. An unfair comparison of course; after all, we own the world, and he didn't. It is also of no interest that Washington's greatest fear was that Saddam would imitate its behavior in Panama, installing a client government and then leaving, the main reason why Washington blocked diplomacy with almost complete media cooperation; the sole serious exception I know of was Knut Royce in Long Island Newsday. Though the December Day of Mourning passed with little notice, there was a lead story when the Panamanian National Assembly was opened by president Pedro Gonzalez, who is charged by Washington with killing American soldiers during a protest against President Bush's visit two years after his invasion, charges dismissed by Panamanian courts but still upheld by the owner of the world.

To take another illustration of the depth of the imperial mentality, New York Times correspondent Elaine Sciolino writes that "Iran's intransigence [about nuclear enrichment] appears to be defeating attempts by the rest of the world to curtail Tehran's nuclear ambitions." The rest of the world happens to exclude the large majority of the world: the non-aligned movement, which forcefully endorses Iran's right to enrich Uranium, in accord with the Non-proliferation treaty (NPT). But they are not part of the world, since they do not reflexively accept US orders.

We might tarry for a moment to ask whether there is any solution to the US-Iran confrontation over nuclear weapons. Here is one idea: (1) Iran should have the right to develop nuclear energy, but not weapons, in accord with the NPT. (2) A nuclear weapons-free zone should be established in the region, including Iran, Israel, and US forces deployed there. (3) The US should accept the NPT. (4) The US should end threats against Iran, and turn to diplomacy.


Let us return to first member of Axis of Evil, Iraq. Washington's expectations are outlined in a Declaration of Principles between the US and the US-backed Iraqi government last November. The Declaration allows US forces to remain indefinitely to "deter foreign aggression" and for internal security. The only aggression in sight is from the United States, but that is not aggression, by definition. And only the most naïve will entertain the thought that the US would sustain the government by force if it moved towards independence, going too far in strengthening relations with Iran, for example. The Declaration also committed Iraq to facilitate and encourage "the flow of foreign investments to Iraq, especially American investments."

The unusually brazen expression of imperial will was underscored when Bush quietly issued yet another signing statement, declaring that he will reject crucial provisions of congressional legislation that he had just signed, including the provision that forbids spending taxpayer money "to establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq" or "to exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq." Shortly before, the New York Times had reported that Washington "insists that the Baghdad government give the United States broad authority to conduct combat operations," a demand that "faces a potential buzz saw of opposition from Iraq, with its…deep sensitivities about being seen as a dependent state." More third world irrationality.

In brief, Iraq must agree to allow permanent US military installations (called "enduring" in the preferred Orwellism), grant the US the right to conduct combat operations freely, and ensure US control over oil resources of Iraq while privileging US investors. It is of some interest that these reports did not influence discussion about the reasons for the US invasion of Iraq. These were never obscure, but any effort to spell them out was dismissed with falsification and ridicule. Now the reasons are openly conceded, eliciting no retraction or even reflection.


Events elsewhere in early 2008 might also turn out to be "good news" for Washington. In January, in a remarkable act of courageous civil disobedience, tens of thousands of the tortured people of Gaza broke out of the prison to which they had been confined by the US-Israel alliance, with the usual timid European support, as punishment for the crime of voting the wrong way in a free election in January 2006. It was instructive to see the front-pages with stories reporting the brutal US response to a genuinely free election alongside others lauding the Bush administration for its noble dedication to "democracy promotion," or sometimes gently chiding it because it was going too far in its idealism, failing to recognize that the unpeople of the Middle East are too backward to appreciate democracy - another principle that traces back to "Wilsonian idealism."

This glaring illustration of elite hatred and contempt for democracy is routinely reported, apparently with no awareness of what it signifies. To pick an illustration almost at random, Cam Simpson reports in the Wall St Journal (Feb. 8) that despite the harsh US-Israeli punishment of Gaza, and "flooding the West Bank's Western-backed Fatah-led government with diplomatic and economic support [to] persuade Palestinians in both territories to embrace Fatah and isolate Hamas," the opposite is happening: Hamas's popularity is increasing in the West Bank. As Simpson casually explains, "Hamas won Palestinian elections in January 2006, prompting the Israeli government and the Bush administration to lead a world-wide boycott of the Palestinian Authority," along with much more severe measures. The goal, unconcealed, is to punish the miscreants who fail to grasp the essential principle of democracy: "Do what we say, or else."

The US-backed Israel punishment increased through early 2006, and escalated sharply after the capture of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in June. That act was bitterly denounced in the West. Israel's vicious response was regarded as understandable if perhaps excessive. These thoughts were untroubled by the dramatic demonstration that they were sheer hypocrisy. The day before the capture of Corporal Shalit on the front lines of the army attacking Gaza, Israeli forces entered Gaza City and kidnapped two civilians, the Muammar brothers, taking them to Israel (in violation of the Geneva Conventions), where they disappeared into Israel's prison population, including almost 1000 held without charge, often for long periods. The kidnapping, a far more serious crime than the capture of Shalit, received a few scattered lines of comment, but no noticeable criticism. That is perhaps understandable, because it is not news. US-backed Israeli forces have been engaged in such practices, and far more brutal ones, for decades. And in any event, as a client state Israel inherits the right of criminality from its master.

The US-Israel attempted to organize a military coup to install their favored faction. That was also reported frankly, considered entirely legitimate, if not praiseworthy. The coup was preempted by Hamas, which took over the Gaza Strip. Israeli savagery reached new heights, while in the West Bank, US-backed Israeli operations carried forrward the steady process of taking over valuable territory and resources, breaking up the fragments remaining to Palestinians by settlements and huge infrastructure projects, imprisoning the whole by takeover of the Jordan Valley, and expanding settlement and development in Jerusalem in violation of Security Council orders that go back 40 years to ensure that there will be no more than a token Palestinian presence in the historic center of Palestinian cultural, commercial, and social life. Non-violent reactions by Palestinians and solidarity groups are viciously crushed with rare exceptions. And scarcely any notice. Even when Nobel laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire was shot and gassed by Israeli troops while participating in a vigil protesting the Separation Wall - now better termed an annexation wall - there was apparently not a word in the English-language press, outside of Ireland.


International law cannot be enforced against powerful states, except by their own populations. That is always a difficult task, particularly so when articulate opinion and the Courts declare crime to be legitimate.

There's much more in the complete article. I hope some of you (Hi Dad - is there any way anyone else has gotten this far?) take the time to read it and think about what it all means. And if you come up with something other than banging your head on the wall, please let me know.


Sandip said...

Thanks man, great article. It's a sad thing when the most powerful country promotes world justice and equality in self-serving terms, condemning (and preventing) any grass roots rise of democracy in countries when it interferes with its own imperialistic vision. Chomsky blames the hypocrisy on the government and not the American people who believe in the noble "American" values/ideals that their govt preaches but never practices. When/wherever i have traveled, I hear it from every foreigner I have met. "It's not the American people we blame, it's their leadership." But Americans dont know the real policies their own govt is following/pursuing, rarely is anything like that put forward in the mainstream media. Which leaves it all at the media's doorstep, ultimately. How can you blame anyone but the American media for not bringing forward all this for the public to read? I would argue that we, the American people, are the most unpeople (as Mark Curtis puts it). Amazingly, Americans have the convictions AND power, more so than any other people en masse, to do something about the way this world turns, but ignorance of the facts precludes us from being able to do anything about it.

rananda said...

yea, powerful stuff, sandip. easy to blame the media, but really the media is just selling their product and serving their clients as best as they can. their product is their audience (readership or viewership), that is, the people who read newspapers and magazines, watch tv news, etc. their clients, the people who buy that product, are large companies that that spend money on advertising. companies pay the media money to have an audience looking at their advertisements. and those companies that are paying that money generally have a certain world view which allows for greater control and freedom by large corporations (greater control and freedom to make money, particularly). so those companies definitely want their audience, you and me, thinking and behaving in a certain way. and necessarily, those companies want the media portraying a certain world view. it's all interconnected and it's all completely messed up and insane that this is where 10,000 years of human existence has deposited us. any time you have a small population trying to control the remainder of us, whether it's state-socialism or state-capitalism, that minority certainly doesnt want the media telling it like it is. you can use force to do it, or even some weird ideology/money combo. both pretty effective, but the latter even more so, it seems.