It is not “Ridiculous” to Reject Hillary, Part 2: Bride of the Monster

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bride

In Part 1 of this article I argued that the 2016 US presidential race is the Alien vs. Predator election. The joke, which is at the expense of everyone on this planet, is that they are both aliens and both predators. Many ordinary people understand the situation perfectly well. A South Carolina real estate billboard shows Trump and Clinton and reads: “Moving to Canada? We can sell your home.” Even a month ago you could read this Onionesque headline at The Hill: “Poll: 13 percent prefer meteor hitting earth over Clinton, Trump”. It is even heard “out of the mouths of babes”. My 11 year-old daughter and her friend just told me a joke they heard in school:

Q: Clinton and Trump are together in a plane crash, who survives?

A: America.

Many ordinary US folks get it. They understand. Some may grit their teeth and vote for Clinton, but most people do not have positive feelings about her. A small number of others feel the same about Trump and argue that he is actually the lesser evil. I will return to that subject later.

Clinton and Trump are much more similar to each other than they are to any ordinary mortals. The Clintons are estimated to be worth $110 million in wealth. Trump is clearly also obscenely rich (even if it is partly delusional). It is widely known that Ivanka Trump and Chelsea Clinton are friends, but Bill and Donald are much closer than people think. In 2012 Clinton said of Trump: “I like him. And I love playing golf with him,” and Trump called Clinton “a really good guy”.

The other link between Bill and Donald is their mutual friend, the paedophile billionaire Jeffrey Epstein. It is very important, if indirect, evidence that Clinton and Trump inhabit an elite sociopathic world where ordinary people’s lives are insignificant and expendable. People might think I am making the following stuff up, so I will simply quote from named news sources:

Daily Wire: “Both presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton have ties to convicted pedophile and Democratic donor, billionaire Jeffery Epstein and ‘Sex Slave Island.’”

Fox: “Former President Bill Clinton was a much more frequent flyer on a registered sex offender’s infamous jet than previously reported, with flight logs showing the former president taking at least 26 trips aboard the “Lolita Express” — even apparently ditching his Secret Service detail for at least five of the flights, according to records obtained by FoxNews.com.

The tricked-out jet earned its Nabakov-inspired nickname because it was reportedly outfitted with a bed where passengers had group sex with young girls…

New York magazine: “’I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,’ Trump booms from a speakerphone. ‘He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.’” [This is from 2002. The investigation leading to Epstein’s conviction for child-sex offences began 3 years later.]

VICE: “In 2010, Epstein pled the Fifth when asked by a lawyer representing one of Epstein’s victims about his relationship with Trump: ….
Q. Have you ever socialized with Donald Trump in the presence of females under the age of 18?
A: Though I’d like to answer that question, at least today I’m going to have to assert my Fifth, Sixth, and 14th Amendment rights, sir.”

Epstein was also allegedly involved as the procurer of the 13 year-old who was allegedly raped by Trump in Epstein’s apartment. As both Lisa Bloom and Drew Salisbury point out, these are not accusations that can be dismissed out of hand.

Hillary Clinton cannot wash her hands of Bill’s record of sexual violence, in part because her denials have helped him escape the consequences. Particularly damaging is Juanita Broaddrick’s belief that Hillary tried to ensure her silence after Bill almost certainly raped Broaddrick in 1978. The National Review reports: “Juanita Broaddrick’s claim was supported by not one but five witnesses and a host of circumstantial (though no physical) evidence.” The allegation seems difficult to deny because Broaddrick never voluntarily came forward. Rather, she was served with a subpoena and then taped without her knowledge after years of rumours. Hillary’s approach to this has been to brazen it out in a frankly Trumpian show of denial: “On December 3, a couple of weeks after Clinton tweeted, ‘Every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported, ‘a woman at an event in Hooksett, New Hampshire, asked, ‘Secretary Clinton, you recently came out to say that all rape victims should be believed. But would you say that Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones be believed as well?’ Clinton replied, ‘Well, I would say that everyone should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence.’ The audience applauded.”

These rape allegations are symptomatic of an aristocratic system in which Marie Antoinette would feel at home. Epstein, for example, received a secret “sweetheart” non-prosecution deal from the FBI and only served 13 months. There is no equality under the law and many ordinary people are becoming acutely conscious of the divide between Us and Them.

A good argument can be made that voting for Trump or Clinton is essentially exactly the same thing. They are friends, peers, comrades and co-conspirators. Trump puts on a good show of dirty negative campaigning, but remember that this guy really does come from the entertainment world and even from pro-wrestling. His CV includes “body-slamming, beating and shaving” WWE owner Vince McMahon, and anyone who doesn’t at least entertain some doubts about the sincerity of his campaigning trash-talk is simply refusing to see what is in front of them. It is possible that this invective is just his natural way of being, but if that is true then he isn’t actually sincere in anything he does. The only question is whether he remains friends with the Clintons after this campaign.

We have now reached a point where both of these super-rich aristos are campaigning for the votes of the working class. Trump knows that he gets far more votes campaigning against trade liberalisation than he does by pushing xenophobia, and it was a key component of his recent speech in Detroit (though he did promise jobs to “titties like… Detroit” instead of “cities”). But he mixed “fiscal conservative” tax-cut rhetoric with anti-trade-deal rhetoric in a way that was unconvincing. Trump runs as an outsider and a maverick, but so has every Republican candidate since 1996. He decries Clinton as a creature of Wall St., but his own economic team includes several billionaires including financier John Paulson.

In essence Trump and Clinton also have identical stances on the TPP, a point that should give as much pause to Clinton supporters as to Trump supporters. Tim Kaine, who went against most Senate Democrats in support of TPP “fast-track” authority and defended the decision hours before being nominated as VP candidate, stands out because his flip-flop objections to the TPP (a transparent ploy to dilute the left-wing anger against his nomination) differ sharply from Trump and Clinton in that they reference unfairness in practical, ethical, and moral terms. Clinton’s TPP stance agrees with Trump’s and his implication that the problem with the TPP is that US negotiators were outsmarted and outmanoeuvred by us cunning foreigners with our underhanded slyness. Indeed, while some of us here in Aotearoa are wondering why our government is signing us up to a pact which will hurt and alienate our biggest trading partner (China), Trump is saying that the TPP “was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone.” The media don’t particularly care to highlight the fact, but Clinton has stuck to the same risible line: “We can not let rules of origin allow China — or anyone else, but principally China — to go around trade agreements. It’s one of the reasons why I oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership because when I saw what was in it, it was clear to me there were too many loopholes, too many opportunities for folks to be taken advantage of.”

Understanding the dynamics of these elections, and the ramifications of taking one stance or another, cannot be reduced to “candidate X says they support A and I support A, therefore I support X”, but our journalists and pundits are simply not capable of dealing with the reality of the politics we have to live with.

Broadcaster Paul Jay (who would much prefer Clinton as POTUS than Trump) put his finger on something when he observed that people should choose the lesser evil but “the problem is… they don’t call them the ‘lesser evil’; they start saying good things about them.”

Trump and Clinton are both vicious parasitic lifeforms too loathsome for people to bear in ordinary circumstances, but the people’s instincts are blunted and confuted by a journalistic and academic culture that gets stuck in half-think. Half-think, I should explain, is the process by which some people take the surface appearance of things and then apply fatuous received wisdom. Half-thinkers apply pre-fabricated generalities to any situation in order to make all things conform to an established ideology of complacent authoritarianism. Thus, when the common plebeians of Pompeii became alarmed by a smoking mountain and shaking ground they were probably reassured by one of their social betters: “Well actually, according the Greek authorities on such phenomena, belching is a healthy response for the human body and if the earth itself should belch it is surely a good omen. Quod erat demonstrandaaaaaaaah!”

Those who use half-think gain a sense of superior education and intellect, having gone past the mere vulgar issues of “plain fact” and “common sense”. However, this is no process of interrogation in which the half-thinker delves beneath the surface. It is an unthinking response that can be arrived at instantaneously, or sheltered behind over a long period. The half-thinker simply grabs onto any generality which they can pass off as being an educated insight in order to defend the status quo. That is to say that half-think is used to defend racism, inequality, war, state violence and so forth. It is fundamentally conservative in nature and often revolves around defending the indefensible because it is natural, unavoidable, part of human nature, or what anyone would expect of any “red-blooded male”.

I mention all of this because in times of political and social decadence and dysfunction, half-thinkers will always do their best to convince people that there is “nothing to see here”. Chris Trotter, who readers may remember from Part 1, has been employing the phrase politics is the “art of the possible” as a kind of snobby way of blocking his ears and going “lalalalala I’m not listening, I’m not listening lalalalala”. On one hand he is using a commonplace generality to assert something that he could never safely assert in specific reference to Clinton herself, and on the other hand, in doing so, he is performing the standard half-think trick of making remarkable things unremarkable.

I do agree with the half-thinkers on one thing, because they believe that there is nothing new under the sun. Where I differ from the half-thinkers is that for them this means: Western liberalism is the acme of civilisation; the people in charge are there for a reason; the police are doing their best in a difficult situation; North Korea is a rogue nation; ordinary people are dangerously stupid; Putin is a villain; our politicians mean well; you have to have a seat at the table to enact real change.

Half-thinkers like Trotter never examine their assumptions, they just use safety in numbers to avoid being challenged. They use their compatibility with power to keep real intellectuals at the margins.

In contrast to Trotter, Luciana Bohne, compares Clinton to Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Agatha: “the one who chews broken bottles and kills rats with her teeth.” She casts Trump as Charybdis, “a huge bladder of a creature whose face was all mouth and whose arms and legs were flippers”, and Clinton as the Basilisk. “I’m raving, you say? This is the Age of Empire, and empire breeds monsters.”

Bohne’s imagery is extravagant because her eyes are open and the times demand it. Man-eating giants are striding the land stuffing screaming peasants in their maw by the handful, like so many jelly-babies, and people like Trotter are saying: “What giants? I can only see windmills and people have always been crunched up in windmill accidents. It is nothing new. Yelling about it will only cause more windmill deaths.”

Trotter wants us to be practical, but is his business-as-usual, vote-for-the-lesser-evil-then-appeal-to-her-progressive-principles actually practical? Or is it based on Panzaist delusions that turn a bloodthirsty mass-muderer into a well-meaning advocate of the rights of children? To counter cliché with cliché, is supporting Clinton the “art of the possible” or is it sticking your head in the sand?

Trotter doesn’t simply rely on the threat of Trump to argue that the US electorate should settle for Hillary, he also claims “This was the battle that Bernie won. As he told the Convention: ‘This is the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party!’ Yes, he endorsed Hillary, but in doing so he took care to bind her to that progressive platform with chains of rhetorical steel.”

In reality the platform is fatally flawed. Cornel West abstained from passing the platform because it did not oppose the TPP, acknowledge the occupation of Palestine as an occupation, or call for universal healthcare: “I have no other moral option”, he explained. Worse still, by stating “we will not hesitate to take military action if Iran violates the agreement”, the platform is advocating illegal aggression. The US has no right to take military action if Iran breaks its nuclear deal. Moreover the threat of a war with Iran horrifies most of the US public, particularly Democrats, so slipping a phrase like that in without mass protest shows how US exceptionalism and these “lesser evil” oligarchic politics create a massive and dangerous cognitive dissonance.

Even if the platform did have stronger and less ambiguous commitments, it is still nothing more than rhetoric. In the US system, there is no comeback for an administration or a caucus that does not abide by a platform. The platform means nothing. Obama entered his first term with Democrats in control of both houses of Congress so the 2008 Democratic platform should have been more binding than ever, right? Here are some of my favourite excerpts from that 2008 platform so you can judge for yourself:

* “We believe that the people of Puerto Rico have the right to the political status of their choice, obtained through a fair, neutral, and democratic process of self-determination. The White House and Congress will work with all groups in Puerto Rico to enable the question of Puerto Rico’s status to be resolved during the next four years.” [Under the Obama administration Puerto Rico has just been stripped even further of self-determination and been placed under similar governance to that which worked so well for Flint, Mi.]

* “We support equal rights to democratic self-government and congressional representation for the citizens of our nation’s capital.” [For the actual situation here is John Oliver’s rant]

* “We will close the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay,….” [No comment]

* “We support constitutional protections and judicial oversight on any surveillance program involving Americans.” [LOL]

* “Working together, we can cut poverty in half within ten years. We will provide all our children a world-class education, from early childhood through college.” [Data from Feb. 2015: “The official poverty rate is 14.5%, meaning 45.3 million people in the US live in poverty, up by over 8 million since 2008. An additional 97.3 million (33%) of people living in the United States are low-income, defined as incomes below twice the federal poverty line, or $47,700 for a family of four. Taken together, this means that 48% of the US population is poor or low income, 1 in every 2 people. More than 1 in 5 children in America (21.8%) are living under the official poverty line. Half of all children will be on food stamps before they turn 20, including 9 out of 10 African American children. ]

* “To renew American leadership in the world, we must first bring the Iraq war to a responsible end. … At the same time, we will provide generous assistance to Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons. We will launch a comprehensive regional and international diplomatic surge to help broker a lasting political settlement in Iraq, which is the only path to a sustainable peace. We will make clear that we seek no permanent bases in Iraq. We will encourage Iraq’s government to devote its oil revenues and budget surplus to reconstruction and development.” [The US just announced 400 more troops deploying to Iraq: “Last month, President Obama raised the “cap” on the number of ground troops in Iraq to 4,647. This cap has become something of a running joke, as the Pentagon has repeatedly admitted to having well more troops than that. Most recent estimates have over 6,000 US ground troops in Iraq already, before this new deployment.”]

The 2008 Democratic Party platform also promised to end nuclear weapons, whereas Obama has launched the biggest nuclear weapons programme since the Cold War. They promised to institute transparent government, but “transparency” and the FOIA system has become even more of a farce than under Bush II. Redactions are so commonplace and arbitrary that they release whole redacted pages that now have “redactions within redactions”, as if redacting something once is not enough any more.

So much for this year’s allegedly “progressive” platform, but we are still left with the major practical argument that supporting Clinton is necessary to stop Trump, even if she is not a desirable leader in her own accord. There are several important assumptions behind that which should be interrogated. One: can Trump win, and under what circumstances? Two: does supporting Clinton actually help stop Trump? Three: is Trump actually worse than Clinton? Four: balancing all these factors and more, what are the practical repercussions of supporting Clinton?

Like most people, I am frightened of what Trump might unleash on the world, but I have become much more relaxed on the specific subject of him winning the Presidency. All things being equal, Trump really doesn’t have a chance simply because this is a negative election (where the vote is decided on whom you most hate) and Trump alienates more people in swing states, while Clinton alienates people in populous safe Democrat states. In practical terms, as Rik Andino has pointed out, it is hard, if not impossible, to see a scenario in which Trump wins 50% of electoral college votes.

Since Clinton’s nomination, Trump is looking even less viable. In fact, with Clinton’s nomination it was as if a switch was thrown and suddenly the media that had previously made it seem that Trump could get away with murder, found his standard daily outrages now damaging and intolerable. Tellingly, it all began with him saying of Gazala Khan: “Maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me, but plenty of people have written that.” Suddenly this typical Trump comment was unacceptable, with news reports switching from telling people that Trump can say these things with impunity to running pompous features like this Guardian piece about how the dead “hero” Humayun Khan “could derail his campaign”.

Meanwhile, Trump has plummeted in the polls. Even previously safe Republican states , like Georgia, seem to be leaning towards Clinton. In Republican Arizona Clinton now leads in the polls. On the one hand this might seem to be expected in a state that is nearly 30% Hispanic, but on the other, Arizona has a history of supporting some extremely Trumpish policies including the notorious SB 1070 “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act”. This is widely felt to have encouraged racial profiling and was formally opposed by 11 other states, Mexico, large numbers of Obama administration officials and Obama himself, law enforcement heads, 68 national members of Congress, and dozens of human rights and civil liberties organisations. The state also banned successful Mexican-American studies programmes after Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal had been horrified to find that “they were portraying Ben Franklin as a racist”, and “they got a poster of Che Guevara.” Many books were banned from schools including important texts from James Baldwin, Isabelle Allende, and Howard Zinn along with Chicano writers that include some of the most important literary and scholarly figures in Arizona itself. They banned Martin Luther King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, and the novelist and professor Manuel Muñoz is banned in the school just across the street from where he lectures.

In Maricopa County, which is home to 4.2 million of Arizona’s 6.8 million population, SB 1070 was welcomed by 4 term “toughest Sheriff in America” Joe Arpaio. To call Arpaio controversial simply cannot do justice to his proven hatefulness, dishonesty, sadism, xenophobia (or crypto-racism), corruption and abuse of power. Arpaio is a Trump supporter who makes Trump himself seem like Mahatma Gandhi. I cannot detail his impressive record of lunacy, so I will take the unusual step of recommending this section of his Wikipedia page.

Arizonan’s have stuck with Arpaio through thick and thicker. They voted for a State Congress that banned hundreds of books from schools and a Senate that passed SB 1070. Yet they are turning away from Trump (perhaps they are also belatedly having qualms about their “tough” sheriff). It really doesn’t bode well for Trump’s bid for the White House.

There is also the question of how serious Trump is in his Presidential bid. From the beginning, on an escalator, his campaign has played out like a prolonged amateurish publicity stunt. A tax specialist who examined the possible reasons that Trump would continue to refuse to release his tax returns could only conclude: “Donald Trump will not publish his tax returns because he does not expect to be President, or at best has not internalized what becoming President actually entails. Trump’s tax return strategy is directed at a future in which he is not President, but is an even richer self-promoter.” More recently still, Representative André Carson (D-Ind.) claimed that Trump is “trying to sabotage himself to clear the way for President Clinton”: “It appears as if he knows he will not be the next President of the United States, so he’s trying to sabotage this thing because he’s not used to losing.”

Perhaps it is irrelevant whether Trump really wants to win or not. Trump is a threat and he has the potential to unleash violence upon the world, but it does not follow that supporting Clinton lessens that threat. As Kshama Sawant (a socialist city councillor from Seattle) suggested on Democracy Now!, if people to the left of Clinton give her their support out of fear, then they will drive masses of ordinary people into Trump’s camp. It is actually the politics of the lesser evil that have given us Trump. What is more Trump is not necessarily going anywhere.

If Trump is just playing a game, using extremist rhetoric to stampede people into the Clinton camp (like a sheepdog, but with rabies) then an electoral loss may or may not mean the end of Trump’s political career. If Trump is earnest, however, then everything we know about him suggests that he will not accept defeat in the way we have come to expect. Defeated major party Presidential candidates have a tendency to recede like clumps of rotting matter back into the roiling mire of party politics, thereafter surfacing occasionally or not at all. But Trump, if he is what he appears to be, will not accept defeat. He has repeatedly claimed in advance that the election will be rigged and one of his Republican Party supporters warned that there will be a “bloodbath” if he loses in November.

People are understandably concerned that Trump’s loaded language, such as his recent hint about “2nd amendment people” taking action, will inspire political violence, but let’s keep this in perspective: Trump may inspire some lone nutcases, but whoever is next President will be killing thousands of people with the US military.

The most tangible and certain fact about the Trump campaign is that his campaign is shifting the discourse of politics altogether. From that perspective it fits a long tradition of pushing rightwards, of increasing oversimplification, of increasing extremism, of increasing self-righteous chauvinism, and of decreasing empathy. It is a slow drift into what can best be described as a type of fascism. It is a one-way street, a ratchet system that can only go towards fascism and never away from it (though it may feature socially liberally aspects which are very different from historical fascism). The thing that makes this drift so certain and unremitting is the politics of the lesser evil. Democrat and Republican leaders have been playing Good Cop/Bad Cop since the Reagan years. The very logic of the lesser evil ensures that each new election cycle will see both greater and lesser evils being more evil than the last time around. We might worry about what Trump might hypothetically do if he takes office, but this is an effect that we know he is having. It is happening now and supporting Clinton only strengthens the shift towards a more encompassing and total fascism.

Not only does supporting Clinton empower Trump’s transformation of politics (bearing in mind that Trump and Clinton are merely the latest in a line of electoral double-acts), but some people see Trump as the lesser evil. Anthony Monteiro, for example, is an activist and African-American studies scholar linked to Black Agenda Report and Counterpunch: “His positions come as close to the working class as you’re going to get.” Talking to Don Debar and Glen Ford he says “he is to the left of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama….” He and others like him point out that Clinton is supported by the neoconservatives, Wall St., the military-industrial-complex, and appears much closer to overt plutocrats like the Koch brothers than Trump.

Those who see Trump as the lesser evil point out that Hillary Clinton is an undeniable war hawk, whilst Trump is an advocate of détente. Clinton has a public and undenianble track record of advocating, supporting, and committing war crimes that is far more significant from any perspective (including a feminist perspective) than Trump’s overt misogyny and probable history as a rapist. But then again, Trump is a monster, so treating him as the lesser evil is no more sensible than treating Clinton as the lesser evil.

Listening to Anthony Monteiro talk about Trump is exactly like listening to apologists for Clinton. The polemic follows exactly the same formula for either: Find the positive things and avoid testing them to see of they actually make sense; point out how scary the opponent is; state that there really are good reasons to treat the nicer rhetoric as substantive (like “chains of rhetorical steel”); find some reason to say that unlike the opponent this particular very rich powerful establishment figure is actually on the side of the common people; don’t mention the long public record that shows your candidate is against the common people (but do mention the corresponding record of the opposing candidate); et cetera.

In the end it is impossible to support Clinton or Trump in good conscience and that in itself is a practical consideration. Trump supporters should be aware of his extensive record of scams, lies and ties to organised crime. David Cay Johnston, for example, has been reporting on Trump for 27 years: he is not some stooge for the Clinton campaign; he isn’t protecting Wall St. from the new champion of Joe Lunchbox (quite the opposite really); he just reports that Trump has a long ongoing close working relationship with organised crime and reaches the conclusion (which is amply supported by evidence) that Trump is a dangerous “world-class narcissist”.

I am personally less interested in the individual character of a candidate than in the political dynamic that they create and that would result form their taking office. From that perspective Trump is terrifying. Almost everything that Trump says stokes anger. He is not only inflaming aggrieved white male entitlement syndrome, he is appealing to all who believe in US exceptionalism. He paints a picture of a noble and strong USA belittled and persecuted by inferior foreigners. This trope has historical roots from 19th century nationalism that continue through Fascism and Nazism. In the US context the conceit was a staple of the most violent hard-line Cold Warriors, but went mainstream under Ronald Reagan. Most relevant to Trump, however, was when it was used to justify one of the greatest war crimes of the 20th century by Richard Nixon – the invasion of Cambodia, which was followed by bombing that killed hundreds of thousands and is significantly responsible for the Khmer Rouge takeover and subsequent autogenocide. Nixon justified his act of aggression by saying that if the US “acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world.”

Trump is openly Nixonian, which again suggests that he is not very serious about winning the Presidency. Aides avowed that Trump’s nomination acceptance speech was modelled on Nixon’s 1968 acceptance speech. There are many similar themes, but in fact Trump’s speech was far more alarmist and negative, and thus more inflammatory. The scariest thing for me is that Nixon’s speech was a launching pad for a campaign of right-wing authoritarian law-and-order at home combined with a crucial promise of “peace with honor” abroad. Trump 2016 and Nixon 1968 are part of a US tradition of loudly avowing peace in an election campaign when you are set on war. Other examples include Wilson’s 1916 slogan “He Kept US Out of the War” and Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 declaration “we are not about to send American boys 9 or 10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves”. Nison’s “Peace with honor” meant 7 more years of war, in which millions died. Incidentally Nixon had recruited the Democrat and liberal Henry Kissinger (who was on LBJ’s staff at the time) to sabotage the 1968 Paris peace talks thus guranteeing more war.

Another war hawk who donned the election-year dove suit was George W. Bush. He opposed military over-commitment and nation building. He said, “I just don’t think it’s the role of the United States to walk into another country and say: ‘We do it this way, so should you!’” Trump has reprised Bush’s semi-isolationist pragmatic deal-maker rhetoric in its entirety. People seem to have forgotten that this was the platform on which Bush campaigned because he did exactly the opposite when he was in office but that should be a lesson about how we really need to view political rhetoric. Rhetoric has meaning, but it is not as simple as equating an expressed wish with an actual desiure or inclination. Sometimes it means exactly the opposite. In taking the same pragmatic dove stance (which does not reject chauvinist patriotism or exceptionalism) Trump is positioning himself exactly as Bush, Johnson, Wilson and Nixon did. He is stating a desire for peace in order to create political space to wage war.

Choosing between Trump and Clinton is a lot like choosing between Nixon and Kissinger. Clinton is unashamedly close to Kissinger and is rumoured to be seeking his endorsement. Clinton and Trump, by their positive referrals to the widely loathed Nixon and Kissinger, are showing how contemptuous they both are of ordinary people.

I tend to see Trump as more dangerous, but someone responded to my stance by pointing out that Clinton is more dangerous because she would have bipartisan support for waging war. In parliamentary terms (not in terms of public opinion) this is certainly true and may or may not become crucial to the future of the world. GOP senators and congressional representatives will support every military adventure, every increase in surveillance and secrecy, every assassination, every arms deal, and so forth. Like Tony Blair in the UK, the only legislative opposition that Clinton will face will come from a weak sub-group of her own party. So as well as being like the choice between Nixon and Kissinger, this election presents a choice akin to voting either for Tony Blair or George W. Bush: one is unstoppable because she has captured and controls the one party that might oppose her warmongering, the other is unstoppable because he has created the space to govern as a partisan rogue who is not subject to congressional restraint or restraint by public opinion.

In the final analysis, any acquiescence to Trump or Clinton is a grovelling surrender to a sick slave-master who is demanding that we eat a pile of steaming dog turds. People like Chris Trotter lick their lips at the prospect and expect us to do the same, but how can supporting for Clinton not be an act of self-debasement? The FBI, predictably, decided not to prosecute her even though it is clear from their account that they believe that she committed a serious crime, but their account contradicts what Clinton said on three occasions under oath. As Clinton will be aware, that perjury makes her eminently impeachable, which really should have ended her presidential run then and there. How can people be expected to vote for someone who could be impeached on the moment she takes office? Now she is involved in a “pay-to-play” scandal from her time in the State Department that, among other things, is the perfect example of why her attempt to keep her emails private was a serious crime. Clinton will enter office with a number of unresolved scandals that should disqualify her. The worst thing is that she will probably do so with impunity, revealing that she is above the law and that people like her can openly mock the law. To support Clinton is to support demockracy [sic] – the farce of elections that are used to legitimate an actual kakistocracy.

Chris Trotter recently compared Clinton to F. D. Roosevelt and claimed that the US role in Libya was just lending “support to British and French efforts in the UN Security Council to provide air support to Libyan rebels fighting Muamma Gaddafi.” He is coming very close to simple outright lying and seems completely unfazed by the masses of negative comments he receives and equally disinclined to answer any of the arguments and evidence presented within them.

I agree with Paul Jay that our best hope for the future is that Clinton becomes President, but then becomes the immediate focus for discontent and agitation. If we support Clinton (by “we” I mean those of us who know more than what is fed to us by a mendacious system of mass media) we will undermine our own future. Mumia Abu Jamal said “If Trump is the price we have to pay to defeat Clintonian neoliberalism – so be it.” I want to suggest that Trump is not likely to become POTUS and the we already pay the price of having Trump in our world. The real issue whether we are willing to risk an outside chance of a Trump presidency, or whether we will be self-defeating losers who let ourselves be spooked by the scary clown. People in the US and outside need to gear up to oppose the next President, whoever she may be.

Many Trump supporters are like Brexit supporters who, as Jonathan Pie pointed out, made an almost rationally irrational decision to choose a self-destructive hopeless gamble over the certainty of slow neoliberal degradation. They weren’t really being offered a choice, because the entire referendum was framed so that voting stay would be taken as an endorsement of the wider status quo. US voters are faced with a similar non-choice. Clinton’s election will be taken as a mandate for war, empire and neoliberalism. Moreover, if people do not make a show of rejecting both Trump and Clinton it will validate and consolidate the demockracy. It will be a watershed in the slow murder of democracy, perhaps not as irremediable as the 1932 Nazi electoral victory, but a definite goose-step in the same direction.

As a long-standing student of US history and wars, this election reeks to me of the election before a major war. I suspect that we will be tested by the next administration and our responses will write the future for us and our children. The distinction between war abroad and war at home has always been blurry and it looks like becoming much more so. The US is heading back into the Middle East at a time when conflict in the Middle East and North Africa is metastasising and consolidating into a single historic bloodletting.

It is time to ask the question, which side are you on? Supporting Trump could be hateful or delusional or simply the product of desperation, but supporting Clinton (even out of fear) is a clear endorsement of neoliberalism, neoconservatism and empire. Do you think that your hatred of Trump can justify supporting the killing of tens of thousands in the Middle East? the suffering of tens of millions as whole countries are slowly ground up and turned into failed states to maintain US hegemony? the immiseration of hundreds of millions as neoliberalism continues its march towards a nightmare future? If you choose Clinton, whether you are witting or only half-witting, you are the enemy of humanity.



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Will There Be Another Deadly Assault on Fallujah?

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The Iraqi government has declared that Fallujah has fallen entirely into the hands of “Al Qaeda and Daash”. This follows over a month of US and Iraqi PR campaigning in the news media touting Al Qaeda’s ambitions to carve out an emirate in the region. It also comes just days after the revelation that the regime in Baghdad has received hellfire missiles and drones from the United States for the stated purpose of fighting Al Qaeda in the last month.

Behind the scenes, however, Shafaq News reports that some government sources admit that the claims are a deliberate deception. One source describes the government stance as: “Deliberate confusion in the information and attempts to create a dangerous atmosphere in the city to be dealt with in a militarily way in every way,” but in reality, “Fallujah and even other cities are still experiencing quieter days than before”. By citing Al Qaeda and linking it to the brutal terrorist mass-murder campaign as well as alleged ambitions to create an entire state, the Iraqi government may be working towards justifying unleashing high levels of military violence on Fallujah, but who really is controlling Fallujah?

Political revolutionaries affiliated with the protest movement in Iraq have been describing the anti-government forces in places such as Fallujah as “Tribal Rebels”. Many are from the “Awakening” who were originally opponents of the US occupation recruited and armed by the US to fight Al Qaeda. Clearly some in the protest movement are supportive of armed attacks against government forces, and that represents a large section of the Iraqi population. While Western media have been reporting the horrific and seemingly ever-increasing bombing campaign, they have neglected the massive peaceful protest movement that has been in action for a year. As The Common Ills reports, Iraqi reporters face death and serious government repression for reporting on such matters, but the Western media need only the will to write something that might contradict the official Western narrative on Iraq. Now it seems as if armed clashes between regime forces and militias are spreading and intensifying – perhaps enough to foreshadow bottom-up regime change in Iraq, but that too is not deemed newsworthy. Instead there is a deliberate and convenient conflation with the bombing campaign and the aforementioned supposed ambitions of Al Qaeda. One Washington blogger has already taken the opportunity provided by Baghdad’s claims about Fallujah: He rehabilitates George W. Bush and attacks Obama for letting Al Qaeda take over Fallujah again [sic] when Bush had done such a good job of eradicating them earlier.

However, far from being a threat such as presented by mass protests and armed insurgency, the principle Iraqi beneficiary of the terrorist bombing campaign is the regime of Nouri al-Maliki itself. It fuels and justifies government repression which includes disappearances, torture, unfair trials (in a court system created by the US) and many, many executions of “terrorists”. The regime’s political enemies are “terrorists” and rivals for power in place like Anbar province (where Fallujah is) are frequently assassinated or arrested. This too goes unreported in the Western media. The immediate trigger for this recent upsurge in armed militia violence was the arrest on December 28 of a Sunni member of parliament at his home ion Ramadi. The government claims that they were trying to arrest his brother for terrorism but were met with armed resistance (in which the brother was killed). The MP was thereafter arrested for attacking the security forces not as a terrorist as such

The principle overseas beneficiary of all of Iraq’s violence is the US. Unlike regional powers it is not threatened by the instability that it creates. In fact Middle Eastern instability maintains high oil prices which stabilise US global hegemony. (Admittedly this is at the expense of the “99%” in the US, but US foreign policy has never directed by concern for the US people and it is becoming ever less excusable to claim that it is.) Iraqis are ever more hostile to Iran, which a real rival/enemy of the US. The US officially supports the Maliki government and unofficially supports the Sunni Islamist militias who are part of the anti-government forces. Iran also supports the Maliki government, perhaps feeling they have no choice or perhaps not understanding how much this benefits the US. The repression they sponsor (in cooperation with the US) drives the extremism they fear. Iran would be better served by a democratic, tolerant and pluralistic Iraq (or, for that matter, a democratic tolerant and pluralistic Iran).

In Iraq the lines between “real” terrorism and “false flag” terrorism are blurred. Historically agents provocateurs have often blurred those lines, sometimes transforming revolutionaries into terrorists by their presence alone. In this instance we need no details of such infiltration to draw the same sort of conclusions. It is enough to know that the bombing helps maintain the power of the current government in Iraq and that their overseas backers are inevitably linked to the US which also backs their allies in Syria and simultaneously backs the Iraq government. Though it tries to maintain deniability (and apparently uses “a complex, shadowy system of weapons movement, with diverse, sometimes parallel, supply routes”) US involvement is too comprehensive to properly conceal. As with Syria, the US imperial interest is served by conflict and instability and the brutal truth is that US actions are crucial in creating and maintaining these conflicts.

Now, as it was in 2004, a whole city is being labelled “terrorist”, but it is first and foremost a city of resistance. In 1920, when it was only a small town, Fallujah was a centre of spreading resistance to British imperial rule and this seems to have been formative. In 2004, in response to the crimes of US personnel (including the murder of unarmed demonstrators) Fallujah rose in resistance to the US-led occupation. Any so-called “Al Qaeda” who entered the city thereafter were drawn by the strength of the resistance there, they were not the cause of the resistance nor were they the target of the US assaults. Now it seems that the current Iraqi government, a client of both the US and Iran, may be preparing to repeat the destruction and suffering wrought on the people of Fallujah in 2004.

Argo: Time to Grow Up and Get Angry?

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The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off” – Gloria Steinem.

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There have been a number of critical condemnations of the film Argo. The most thoroughgoing that I have read is this one. What seems to me to be missing is any critique that successfully conveys the utter ludicrousness of expecting something other than lying propaganda to come out of a Hollywood film about the CIA in 1979. It is like expecting the Soviets to have made an accurate and unbiased account of KGB activities during the Prague Spring. I saw the preview before the film’s release, and after about 5 or 10 seconds of suspense it became apparent that it was a load of crap – the usual Orientalist stuff, straight out of the Reel Bad Arabs playbook, except with Persians instead of Arabs. The film mirrors the preview – at first it seems possible that one might be about to see a balanced and thoughtful movie, and then… not. Decidedly not.

Let me begin with some historical context. The CIA’s first coup in Iran, considered at the time “its greatest single triumph”,1 brought the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi to a position of supreme power. The CIA “wove itself into Iran’s political culture”.2 They created SAVAK, a notorious “intelligence” agency, trained in torture by the CIA3 and supported by the CIA and DIA in a domestic and international dissident assassination programme.4 Repression was at its peak between 1970 and 1976 resulting in 10,000 deaths.5 By 1976 Amnesty International’s secretary general commented that Iran had “the highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture that is beyond belief. No country in the world has a worse record of human rights than Iran.”6

Nafeez Ahmed cites the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) who detail an extensive police state of intense surveillance and informant networks and torture “passed on to it” by US, UK and Israeli intelligence. Ahmed quotes the FAS on methods including “electric shock, whipping, beating, inserting broken glass and pouring boiling water into the rectum, tying weights to the testicles, and the extraction of teeth and nails.”7 Racism allows commentators such as Tim Weiner to blithely exculpate the CIA of fundamental guilt: “The CIA wanted SAVAK to serve as its eyes and ears against the Soviets. The shah wanted a secret police to protect his power.”8 After all, what could civilised Westerners teach Orientals about torture? But something of the real US attitude to such repression can be seen in the official reaction to the unrest developing in the late 1970s. Aside from US officials consistently urging and praising military responses to protest action, including inevitable massacres,9 the US ambassador objected strongly to a reduction in repression. In June 1978 he reported his finding that, “the Shah’s new directives to his security forces, such as instructions to desist from torture… are disorienting.”10 The funny thing about this was that it occurred after the US had forced the Shah into the liberalisation that set loose the forces that were to rip his régime apart.11 This may seem puzzling, but it made more sense for the US to push Iran into the easily vilified “enemy” hands of an Islamic theocracy than to try to maintain control over a Shah who, however repressive, was determined to develop his populous oil-rich country independently.

That is the key point that you will almost never hear about: the US was sick of the Shah. He had become too nationalistic and developmentally inclined, and they didn’t want him any more. They may not have really wanted a revolution in Iran, but they weren’t going to shed tears over the Shah’s departure. Their main fear was the strength of the secular revolutionary left, which had more popular power than the Islamists (despite SAVAK’s repression) so the US helped nurture the Islamist factions.

The CIA were far from unaware of the impending fall of the Shah’s régime, here is a quote in the film which is an instance of absolute barefaced deception: “Iran is 100% not in a pre-revolutionary state. CIA brief, November first, 1979.” Let’s not be stupid here – it is one thing to claim not to know of an impending revolution, but the film is claiming that the CIA were unaware of a revolution that had already happened. Of course some people in the CIA knew that revolution was brewing and the actual CIA brief was from August 1978 and was plainly dishonest even then. By that stage even the State Department was planning for a post-Shah Iran.12 The revolution had actually happened nearly a year before Argo claims that the CIA believed it wasn’t going to happen (the Shah fled Iran in January, Khomeini returned from exile on February 1). But Argo makers really, really, really want you to “know” that the CIA were caught flat-footed and are willing to go to considerable lengths to make you believe this lie.

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[By XcepticZP at en.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons]

There is another deception in the film which indicates a conscious systematic attempt to indoctrinate the audience. Some describe Argo as “well-intentioned but fatally flawed”, but these “good intentions” cannot possibly be reconciled with the disgusting propaganda treatment of the issue of the shredded documents put together by Iran. The documents seized by radicals in the embassy takeover were the Wikileaks of their time. Most seized documents were not shredded and they exposed massive systematic illegality and wrongdoing by US personnel, especially the CIA. They were extremely historically significant. Iran spent years piecing together the shreds and the reconstruction was a major intelligence and propaganda coup. In the film, however, we see a very different narrative played out, and we are shown a set of very different images.

In the film, for some inexplicable reason, there were xeroxed photographic images of the staff who had escaped from the embassy when it was seized by radicals. Could this simply be a cinematic plot device for generating suspense? Not really. Any number of other devices might have been used – such as a dragnet, or informants, or surveillance (mobile or static), signals interception and cryptography. You name it, if you are willing to make stuff up, then there is quite a lot you could make up that would be potentially more suspenseful and, unlike this particular conceit, wouldn’t run such a risk of the audience losing their suspension of disbelief because of such an obvious unrealism.

Realism”, I should add, is a very import aspect of this film. It is not done in a documentary style, but is presented as a dramatisation of historical events. Let me illustrate with a quote at length from Wide Asleep in America:

[Salon’s Andrew] O’Hehir perfectly articulates the film’s true crime, its deliberate exploitation of “its basis in history and its mode of detailed realism to create something that is entirely mythological.” Not only is it “a trite cavalcade of action-movie clichés and expository dialogue,” but “[i]t’s also a propaganda movie in the truest sense, one that claims to be innocent of all ideology.”

Such an assessment is confirmed by Ben Affleck’s own comments about the film.  In describing “Argo” to Bill O’Reilly, Affleck boasted, “You know, it was such a great story. For one thing, it’s a thriller. It’s actually comedy with the Hollywood satire. It’s a complicated CIA movie, it’s a political movie. And it’s all true.”  He told Rolling Stone that, when conceiving his directorial approach, he knew he “absolutely had to preserve the central integrity and truth of the story.”

“It’s OK to embellish, it’s OK to compress, as long as you don’t fundamentally change the nature of the story and of what happened,” Affleck has remarked, even going so far as to tell reporters at Argo’s BFI London Film Festival premier, “This movie is about this story that took place, and it’s true, and I go to pains to contextualize it and to try to be even-handed in a way that just means we’re taking a cold, hard look at the facts.”

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Affleck went so far as to say, “I tried to make a movie that is absolutely just factual. And that’s another reason why I tried to be as true to the story as possible — because I didn’t want it to be used by either side. I didn’t want it to be politicized internationally or domestically in a partisan way. I just wanted to tell a story that was about the facts as I understood them.”

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[Angela George [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons]

To emphasise this point, the initial part of the end credits juxtaposes images from the film with real documentary images. They show how much the actors look like the people they portray. The show how they had faithfully recreated scenes from the revolution. And they show the teeny tiny hands a the poor slave children forced to piece together shredded CIA documents. Wait a second though… don’t the hands in the real photo, despite severe cropping, look more like a woman’s hands? And why would young children be used to piece together valuable and vulnerable documents written in a language that they could not possibly understand?

For some reason the film makers took it upon themselves to invent a whole bunch of “sweatshop kids” putting together these documents. There is no conceivable reason to do so that does not involve conscious deceptive propaganda. In this case, the intent is to make deliberate emotive subliminal association. What do I mean by subliminal? As Joe Giambrone explains:

The father of modern propaganda, Edward Bernays, wrote in the late 1920s:

The American motion picture is the greatest unconscious carrier of propaganda in the world to-day. It is a great distributor for ideas and opinions.  The motion picture can standardize the ideas and habits of a nation.” (Bernays 1928)

Bernays noted the “unconscious” character of much film propaganda.  It was not necessary to directly state messages, but to let the scenarios and the story world carry the messages in the background.  Once immersed in the foreground story — whatever it was — the “unconscious” background elements were passed to the audience without critical interference and often without the viewer’s knowledge.

This subliminal quality is praised by Bernays as a positive thing, in his view. This is hardly surprising as Bernays’ concept of propaganda is broad in scope encompassing every medium and method of communication that exists.  Bernays’ seminal book Propaganda begins:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.  We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized.” (Bernays 1928)”

Subliminality doesn’t mean that images are flashed too quickly to be noticed, rather that associations are made without conscious thought. It is true that you can find a great number of deliberately concealed images in advertising, but the claim that this is all that constitutes subliminal advertising is itself a deception. Advertising, in particular television advertising, is dominated by subliminal messaging, and it is not about tricky concealment. It uses repetition more than anything else, to make associations between advertised products and services with other desires – particularly, but not exclusively, sexual. If you want to sell a car, you don’t generally use brake horsepower or fuel consumption statistics. You associate it with a lifestyle, with attractive people, with status, with sex, with success, with normalcy, with excitement, with fine wine and food, and so forth. That is subliminal.

Obviously when film makers are unconsciously disseminating their own internalised propaganda they convey such messages subliminally. Subliminal means below the threshold, meaning, in this case, below the threshold of consciousness. This is a very, very significant manner in which an orthodox ideology, such as chauvinist US exceptionalism, is deepened and perpetuated. However the deliberate use of techniques designed to manipulate people by subliminal means can be far more powerful still. As an apposite example, let us examine Michelle Obama’s Oscar night appearance. Some have pointed out that Obama being flanked by military personnel as “props” suggests a desire to subliminally associate the First Lady and the presidency with military virtues. That may well be the case, but think how common it is to see faces arrayed behind political speakers in our times. Every time it is possible to do so nowadays, major US politicians will have a bunch of people in uniform behind them when they speak. But it is not strictly about the association with uniforms. Press conferences often pose colleagues behind the speaker – including military briefings almost as a matter of course – and when politicians speak to political rallies or party conferences, they are framed by a sea of supporters’ faces behind them.

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You see, we automatically respond to other people’s facial expressions. In fact eliciting an emotional response is as much a component of facial expression as conveying emotion is, and this occurs subliminally. Now think again of Giambrone’s description: “… the ‘unconscious’ background elements were passed to the audience without critical interference and often without the viewer’s knowledge….” The people behind the speaker are being used as a way of evoking an emotional reaction like some science fiction mind control ray. Fortunately, people are fickle creatures and often their reaction to watching the back of a speaker’s head, no matter how eloquent, is to look bored or embarrassed. But clearly the technique is being perfected, and the people chosen are those who can be relied upon to convey the right emotions, hence the predilection for military personnel and partisan enthusiasts.

Similarly, subliminal messaging in advertising and film is often also aimed at a gut level. They are not conveying particular ideas, but emotions. The victim (I mean viewer) can rationalise these emotions any way they might later choose, and the brilliance of the system is that it enlists every victim’s own inventiveness tailored in response to each specific circumstance that might challenge or belie the conditioned sentimental sense of reality. So where does this leave us with regards to Argo‘s mythical “sweatshop kids”? We have precisely four references to them. The first is in our hero’s initial briefing: “The bastards are using these [pause and do gesture to indicate need to convey novel concept] mmm sweatshop kids.” Nearly an hour later, we are shown about 5 seconds of the “sweatshop”. It actually looks very stupid if you pay attention to it, but it is over too quickly to register (more subliminality similar to that used in The Hurt Locker). What it actually shows, when the camera pulls back to reveal the scene for around one second, is dozens of children aged about five to eight sitting amidst piles of paper shreds. There is an unnatural hush, redolent with a sense of fear. Half of them are just staring into space, and there is no conceivable way that any of them could actually be doing any useful work. Accompanying the scene is one of the 16 tracks on the official soundtrack. It is called “Sweatshop” and here it is:

Note the image chosen for the album cover.

The third sweatshop scene is also brief. A boy succeeds in producing a usable image. The image is taken without thanks or reward. Then there is a cut to a particularly young and vulnerable looking child. His expression is not inconsistent with a look of anxiety. He looks to the side, as if watching the successfully reconstructed image being taken. But there is only the merest hint of curiosity or concern as his head turns back and down almost immediately, as if returning to work. This is the culmination of this sweatshop depictions.

Inevitably now you feel a queasiness and a sense of concealed horror. The coda to this, the fourth reference, is the already mentioned juxtaposition of the film scene with the documentary photo. Just to tidy away any niggling sense that the film makers might be playing you like an idiot violin.

So why the “sweatshop kids”? As I’ve mentioned the whole pictures-from-shredded-mugshots scenario is a bit too cheesy and overtly Hollywood to make great suspense. It is true that the film has some other rather implausible nail-biting parts, but these are all last minute glitches. The sweatshop storyline carries on throughout most of the movie. And there is no need at all, other than propaganda, to just decide that it should be a bunch of oppressed kids who are doing the work of putting together paper shreds. Not only is it a very silly idea – risking the onset of disbelief – but it actually destroys the main potential for suspense. Engaged adults committed to reconstructing pictures because they actively wish to apprehend the fugitives are inherently far more suspenseful than a bunch of sullen, frightened and apathetic children forced to reconstruct documents without any understanding of why they must do so.

The answer to why this is done is that one of the purposes of this film is to transform, disrupt or destroy certain “memes”. I’m quite serious in writing that. “Meme” might be a buzzword (so to speak), or even worse, yesterday’s buzzword, but it is a very appropriate word to use for those quanta of information that convey a “truth”. In particular, and far more to the point, a “meme” can belie an entire orthodox discourse. The Iranian revolution created many such memes, their power being almost entire due to the fact that they ran counter to the established official discourse. In many instances, not least those coming out of the hostage taking at the embassy, one might see young impassioned revolutionaries animated by a desire for justice and freedom who gave of themselves bravely, sacrificing without hesitation. To present that as being all there was to the story would be ludicrous. One cannot, and should not, ignore the violence and excesses of revolution whether their source is secular or religious in its expression. But to erase it altogether is equally wrong, but hardly surprising on the US part.

A proper narrative of the hostage crisis in Tehran would juxtapose the aspirations of brave, intelligent, dedicated, moral revolutionaries; the vicious excesses of revolutionary violence; the repressive nature of Shah’s régime; the repression of the revolution and the republican régime; the role of the US and the ongoing role of the CIA operating out of the Tehran embassy; the suffering and ill-treatment of the hostages in a 444 day ordeal. But that sort of narrative is balanced. It does two unwelcome things – it humanises Iranians as victims of the US régime; and it indicts the régimes of the Shah; the US, and the Islamic Republic, but not the peoples of the US or Iran. Another undesirable thing is that the idea that a CIA officer could be a hero is risible. Indeed, without trying to sound too anarchistic here, a balanced view of what the history tells us with regard to the actions of individuals is that when they act out of individual conscience they may be “heroic”, but when they act under orders as agents of régimes they will almost always be either victims or “villains” or both. So, for example, Lt. Calley and Capt. Medina were ordered to “kill anything that moves” at My Lai; but W.O. Hugh Thompson who risked his own life, the lives of his men, and threatened to kill his compatriots in order to bring that same slaughter to an end, did so because of his own sense of humanity, not from orders, or duty, or military indoctrination. Indeed, the history of Iran-US relations going back to 1953 can be seen as two peoples who share exactly the same two enemies – their own and the other’s state régimes which would have them slaughter each other. As with the trenches of the Western Front in WWI, the revelation of common humanity and circumstance is a serious threat to the “fighting spirit” required to achieve the geostrategic goals of the ruling class. In the trenches, among the troops of WWI, demonisation and atrocity propaganda were common techniques to combat the threat of “live and let live”.13 Image

The point is to ensure that people don’t start seeing anything admirable in Iran’s revolutionaries, nor see them as potential agents of their own liberation. The US will bring them “democracy” in its own time. In the lens through which the West is meant to view the lesser beings of the East – Persians (like Filipinos) are “half devil and half child”, or maybe about four-fifths devil in this instance. The point is this, the US did a bad thing by overthrowing Mossadeq – that is the official reality, complete with official apology (unlike all of the other places where the US has overthrown the rightful government). However, the way they are constructing the meaning of this fact echoes Colin Powell’s “pottery barn rule” – you know, the one that says that if you illegally invade a country you are morally obligated to occupy it for years, steal billions from its people, kill hundreds of thousands, rewrite its constitution to your own liking; and so forth. I think you get the picture. The admission of guilt in the Mossadeq overthrow is being rewritten as license, nay duty, to deal with the consequences (the repressive régime of the Islamic Republic) while the Iranian people are necessarily recast as the monstrous creations of US intervention who can only be redeemed by further US intervention – 80% devil, 20% child (the approved portions for victims of Islamofascism).Image

The shredded documents are of central importance. The makers of Argo went to extraordinary lengths to subliminally create negative associations with the issue, though not that issue alone. The entirety of the Iranian revolution is sullied, not by the association of revolutionaries with the suffering brought about by the revolution in reality, but by filthying the very characters of the participants in the same way that the orators of Occupy Wall Street movement are smeared with ordure and disfigured (figuratively) in The Dark Knight Rises. Not only was this a serious undertaking, but it was a risky one too. If someone of prominence had, in timely fashion, started pulling at the “sweatshop kids” thread they could might have caused considerable unravelling long before Oscar time. I cannot help but think of Glenn Greenwald. But Greenwald, like many other astute political critics, has been so busy critiqueing the even more repugnant CIA propaganda of the year, that it is only now after Argo has won best picture that people are posting trenchant, but comparatively simple posts criticising Argo‘s historical inaccuracy, racist monolithic depictions of fanatical Iranians, and CIA/US boosterism. Image

In a sane world, the Hollywood critics would have so totally panned Zero Dark Thirty that it was never an Oscar contender, nor seen as anything but a prurient sadistic flick for maladjusted teenagers – the contemporary equivalent of another ambivalent CIA assassination/torture propaganda flick from the previous millenium, The Evil Men Do (the difference being that while Charles Bronson was known to some as “Mr Monkey Scrotum Features”, director Kathryn Bigelow more subtly manages to place the ugliness inside of her characters, like cancerous pus that oozes just below the surface).

In a sane world? One cogent blogger writes: “What if instead of making a movie about the hostage situation and replaying the same narrative of victim Americans, villain Iranians, Ben Affleck made a movie about the 1953 coup? What if someone made a movie about the CIA teaching the Iranian intelligence agency torture methods copied from the Nazis? What if we gave a little bit more background before jumping to make labels of good guy and bad guy?” But is the audience living in a sane world?

In a sane world the audience would never accept such a portrayal of the CIA. It might be possible to have a CIA hero, if, and only if, s/he was just doing a job in an Agency context of, in film terms, rampant evil villainy. I do hate to break it to everyone, but in cinema conventions the scheming, murdering, corrupt torturers are supposed to be the “bad guys”. At best, people should perceive the idea of CIA heroes as a bit off and uncomfortable, if not disgusting or simply comical. The irony is that the hostage crisis occurred in the middle of a period when no one would have dared make a film with a CIA officer as hero unless they were a renegade being persecuted by the agency (or unless it was some violent b-grade right-wing action film starring Charles Bronson). I am not merely referring to a matter of taste here. There is something utterly basic at issue as well. Something so fundamental that it strikes at the roots of the entire film, making a nonsense of everything that is projected on to the screen.

In a sane world the central premise that the CIA was animated by a concern for the preservation of the lives of 6 human beings, just because they were US citizens and innocent of wrongdoing, would be widely and immediately apparent as utter unadulterated nonsense. In 1979 many people were aware, and they seem to have since forgotten, that the CIA was happy enough to kill innocent US citizens themselves when it seemed expedient. Unknown numbers of deaths were brought about by the reckless drug experiments undertaken on thousands of unwitting victims. As investigations such as those of the “Church Committee” showed the CIA’s lack of concern for their victims’ safety alone established that these innocent US citizens were as disposable to the CIA as toilet paper. Enough people would have known this that no such movie as Argo could have been a large mainstream Hollywood hit without it raising serious questions about what exactly the CIA’s real motives were.

What were the CIA’s real motives? Let me begin by saying that I can understand why the fugitive diplomats would have feared for their lives at the hands of the Iranian government. I understand why Western diplomats such as the Canadians and the gratuitously maligned UK and New Zealand diplomats took steps to help them evade capture and escape. Nevertheless, in the cold light of day and historical retrospect, the greatest risk to the lives of the fugitives was from the CIA, not the Iranian régime. The film as much as gives that away at one point when a CIA character says: “Six Americans get pulled out of a Canadian diplomat’s house and executed it’s a world outrage. Six Americans get caught playing movie make-believe with the CIA at the airport and executed, it’s a national embarrassment.” The audience doesn’t see a problem with that, because they are preconditioned to expect that the “Mad Mullahs” will gladly cause “world outrage” because they froth at the mouth and hate everyone and everything Western, and because the film keeps telling us that they will execute them publicly and juxtaposing such claims with grotesque imagery based on real executions.

Let us take a step back from our conditioning here and remember that:

  1. contrary to the depiction of the film (which would have us believe that the embassy was stormed three days after the CIA reported no sign of “pre-revolutionary” activity) the revolutionary régime had been in power for over 9 months – long enough to stop screaming fanatical slogans and spraying spittle everywhere; and long enough to develop a degree of concern about international perceptions and diplomacy.
  2. One very central point about the hostage crisis which is omitted is the shady US role in its origins. Even if one dismisses some things as conspiracy nonsense, the perfectly well established and uncontroversial facts of the “October Surprise” conspiracy were also omitted from Argo. They were omitted because they would show that the US establishment tended to see the hostages as disposable pawns
  3. If the “mad mullahs” really were so determined to do public beheadings of US citizens as Argo claims, they had reasonably easy access to 52 others, some of whom they could very credibly have tried for spying and for committing other crimes in Iran.
  4. Another point about the hostage crisis, so crucial and central to the history that it absolutely had to be obscured, is that the Iranian régime was making a show of being at arm’s length from the actions of the kidnappers. You see they had learnt a thing or two from being at the receiving end of the CIA’s dirty tricks – (im)plausible denial being one of them.
  5. The US discourse around these events was ripe, it was fecund, it was completely laden with what I call “stuff”. The blindfolded hostages. The young radicals. The red headbands. The yellow ribbons. The counting of the days. And above it all the stern visage of the Grand Ayatollah (Big Brother) Khomeini.
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[By Mr.minoque (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons]

Tropes were flying through the air thick and fast, attaching themselves to memes with such violence that if you weren’t careful you could lose an eye. The resulting one-eyed narrative is positively mythic in quality.

The mythic narrative (where everything was larger than life) was a propaganda coup for the US régime, particularly for the CIA, who had been having a hard time of it since 1974 and weren’t exactly anyone’s favourite people, as has already been mentioned. The US government got to pull its “helpless giant” act – always a favourite, particularly to distract from dirty hands. The CIA and their Hawk allies were able to use the whole thing as leverage against Carter and do their bit to get him replaced by Reagan (that was the essence of the aforementioned “October surprise”).

Taking all of this into account, we can conclude that if the Iranian régime had gotten hold of the fugitives, then they might have simply put them with the other hostages, but that would have spoilt the pretence of the independence of the kidnappers. They might have killed them, furthering their international pariah status. Or, they might have done the thing that posed the greatest threat to the CIA. They might have protected them from those whom they would explain as being regrettably but understandably over-enthusiastic young revolutionaries. They might have interrogated them to check that they weren’t spies (for form’s sake), and then given them a nice escort to the airport for a civilised journey home as seen on TV by the entire globe. Having done that, the Iranian régime would suddenly look more reasonable, especially to non-aligned countries, and a little bit of a crack would appear in the US demonisation discourse. A crucial crack, because although the Iranian régime would remain brutally repressive to its own people, it would be plainly apparent that it was actually rational and subject to appeals other than brute force.

So you tell me: Is it more realistic that the CIA, an organisation that had shown itself in no uncertain terms to be both brutal and callous, would care deeply for the lives of 6 citizens? Or would they care more about geopolitical manoeuvres and the domestic political game against Carter? We need to get back to where we were in 1979 with regards to what was considered credible in film. In their own way of distorting history and privileging US personnel’s suffering over that inflicted by US personnel, films of the time like The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now were bad enough, but Argo would not have been seen as a serious film in 1979. 1979 was more than 10 years after Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner had taken a postmodern pickaxe to the serious dramatic pretensions of spy adventures. In 1979, the small screen saw Alec Guiness playing George Smiley in an adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy that was at least as grim and disillusioned and unheroic as the more recent film adaptation, while on the big screen Roger Moore’s James Bond saved the word from evil space shuttle hijackers in Moonraker (featuring that guy with steel teeth!). There was no in-between. That should tell you all you need to know.

Conclusion – Get Angry

In Sheldon Wolin’s conception of “inverted totalitarianism” one of the few differences between US totalitarianism and Fascist or Communist totalitarianism is that under Fascist corporatism or Communism the state exerts a central control over corporations and in inverted totalitarianism that arrangement is, umm, inverted. I’m always a bit sceptical about the use of the word totalitarian. It functions better, to my mind, at highlighting a tendency rather than being used as some absolute characterisation. But Wolin’s usage can easily accommodate this, and he is absolutely correct in characterising the locus of state power in US society. (Some people might pick a fight with him over the locus of power in Fascist and Nazi societies, but there are two sides to that argument.) The point is, however, that restricting our understanding of what constitutes the “state” in the US to government only and not including corporate power is foolish and untenable.

Hollywood produces state propaganda not because Karl Rove tells them to – he just gives them some suggestions and they are happy to oblige. Hollywood produces state propaganda because Hollywood is part of the state, a big and important part of the state. As I have written elsewhere, the corporatist powers of the US régime form an “empire complex”, a team that might squabble, but pulls in the same direction. Newscorp stands shoulder to shoulder with the DoD, Goldman Sachs walks arm in arm with the Dept. of Treasury, while the FDA seems little more than a deformed growth and mildly irritating growth on Monsanto’s back. You get the picture anyway. The non-governmental “stakeholders” of the imperial state are more numerous and often bigger than the biggest governmental peers. This is state propaganda – straight from the politburo with the rubber stamp of approval as state propaganda given by the people who made the film in the first place, because they are part of the politburo.

So we must stop catering to those who claim that Ben Affleck means well, or that Hollywood liberals are not jingoistic right-wing scumbags, or that the CIA was ever anything but rotten at the core. Mark Ames writes a fantastic retrospective on some of the unsavoury violence of the CIA. The only time they ever had real limitations put on them was during the administration of this guy called Jimmy Carter:

As everyone knows, Carter’s presidency was one long bummer. But what most people don’t know — or have forgotten — is that Carter did more than any president to bring the national security state under control. Especially the CIA, which Carter gutted, purged, and chained down with a whole set of policies and guidelines meant to protect American citizens’ civil liberties.

In his first year in office, Carter purged nearly 20% of the Agency’s 4500 employees, gutting the ranks of clandestine operatives, sending hundreds of dirty trickster vets into the private sector to seethe for the next few years. Carter signed an executive order worked out with Frank Church and the Senate committee on intelligence putting more serious limits on the CIA’s powers — unequivocally banning assassinations, restricting the CIA’s ability to spy domestically, and putting their covert operations under strict oversight under the president, Congressional committees and the attorney general. The CIA’s paramilitary was even disbanded, though not banned.

What happened to Carter, according to former US, Iranian, Israeli and Russian officials, is that there was this, like, hostage crisis thing, right? It was in Tehran in Iran, OK? Maybe you’ve heard of it? Anyway, this guy who worked for the CIA, called George H. W. Bush, went to Paris in October of 1980 to make deal with Iranian officials to delay reaching a deal with the US on releasing the hostages because any such deal might have gained Carter some votes. It worked. Carter was voted out. The CIA found new funds, new respectability, new drugs and arms to sell, new torturers and death squads to train, and new lies to tell. Yay.

And then liberal Ben Affleck and liberal George Clooney made a movie about what great guys the CIA are. How should we act when the wilfully blind watch this smug flag-waving offensive propaganda and tell us that we’re being unfair and political to criticise it? Do we go on the defensive? “Yes, but Edward Said wrote…”; “It is entertainment, but…”; “Yes, but when you analyse the protrayal of the Islamic male…”? Or do we show them our anger, our distaste, and our disdain? Why the hell should we be apologising for just pointing out basic known facts that people like to forget as much as possible? They’re the CIA. They are murderers. They were murderers. That is the reality. Grow up. Santa Claus does not exist, and if there is any such thing as a “hero” in real life then, by definition, they aren’t loyal CIA officers. Grow up.

Get angry.

1Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, London: Penguin, 2007, p 105.

2Ibid.

3William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II (2nd ed.), Monroe:

Common Courage Press, 2004, p 72.

4Roger Morris, “The Undertaker’s Tally (Part 1): Sharp Elbows,” TomDispatch, 1 February 2007. Retrieved 2

February 2007 from http://www.tomdispatch.com/index.mhtml?pid=165669.

5 Frederick H. Gareau, State Terrorism and the United States: From Counterinsurgency to the War on Terror,Atlanta and London: Clarity Press and Zed Books, 2004, p 172.

6 Blum, Killing Hope, p 72.

7 Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, Behind the War on Terror: Western Secret Strategy and the Struggle for Iraq,

Gabriola Island, BC: New Society, 2003, pp 38-9.

8 Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes, p 105.

9 Ahmed, Behind the War on Terror, pp 43-5.

10 Ibid.

11 Amin Saikal, Islam and the West: Conflict or Cooperation, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003, p 73.

12 Gary Sick, All Fall Down: America’s Tragic Encounter with Iran. New York: Penguin Books, 1986, p 98.

13 Eric J. Leed, No Man’s Land: Combat and Identity in World War I, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1979, p 107; J.G. Fuller, Troop Morale and Popular Culture in the British and Dominion Armies 1914-1918, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990, p 17.

Amnesty International and Liberal Imperialism – Video, Audio, Illustrated Transcript.

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The following is a commentary, meaning that it is me editorialising a lot. Some listeners or readers may find some of what is said to be opaque. I am particularly aware that my use of the term “liberal” may be unfamiliar and problematic. I won’t go into what it is exactly that I mean by “liberal”, but it is broadly consonant with the usages in political science when describing regimes, policies or ideological formations. It is a definition of liberal that doesn’t fall apart when one tries to put it in a broader context.

In contrast, Chris Hedges has recently written of The Death of the Liberal Class. Everything Hedges writes makes perfect sense and everyone knows what he means when he uses the term ‘liberal’. What Hedges would be hard-pressed to do is to reconcile this usage of the term liberal with other unavoidable usages such as as a way of describing the inescapably (if not virulently) liberal policies of “conservatives” and “neo-conservatives”. I’m sure that Hedges is aware of this. What he is doing is referring to self-identified “liberals” which roughly corresponds to what US political scientists refer to as “welfare liberals”.

I don’t believe that there is any such thing as a “welfare liberal”. It is very well understood in political science that most in the US who identify as “conservative” are actually liberals, and I would argue that anti-socialist sentiment has driven many to misidentify themselves as liberals. Most “welfare liberals” are very much at one with their fellow liberals in the “conservative” camp. The putative divide between them is much as the divide between Republican and Democrat – not really a divide at all.

If, at times, it seems that I am overstating matters out of some callow need to dramatise and you feel that my credibility is tarnished, I would urge consideration of the following. 1) It is not possible in this medium to demonstrate the evidence and reasoning behind every position I take; 2) conservatism is not neutral – it is a positive affirmation of an orthodox position; 3) in many cases the orthodox position is not even a reasoned position, but rather simply unexamined “commonsense” received ideology, in other cases it is specious; 4) thus by the avoidance of statements which cannot be demonstrated I would, of necessity, be promulgating fallacies; 5) if there really are things that you simply cannot allow to pass unremarked, please feel free to contact me with and questions and I will happily explain the basis of any such assertions on my part.

I hope that makes this talk a little clearer.

Here is a video version.

Or download audio from here:

Intro

Hello and welcome to this On Genocide audioblog commentary. Today I tackle the vexed question of whether Amnesty International are still the profoundly compassionate force for good which inspired millions like me in past times or have become a pack of mass-murdering sociopaths or are merely the pandering toadies of a pack of mass murdering sociopaths? I can reveal in advance that the answer is yes.

Part 1: The KONYism of Amnesty International

I received a phone call the other day from a telemarketer working for Amnesty International. He informed me that he was calling to raise awareness about events in Syria. He cited an urgent need for international action under the United Nations Security Council. Part of my response was to ask why Amnesty International felt a need to “raise awareness” over Syria, which is hardly absent from mainstream news reporting, while not having done so with their own reports of atrocities and ethnic cleansing in post-Gadaffi Libya.

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In a formal sense, Amnesty International remains politically neutral, however, Amnesty has an extremely problematic record. In October 1990 Amnesty gave crucial support to the fraudulent, and now infamous claim that Iraqi personnel had murdered premature babies by removing them from incubators. Image

They would later retract that support, but less than three weeks after the incubator lies Amnesty released a report on atrocities carried out by Iraqis in Kuwait. The report contained unconfirmed as well as independently verified reports of atrocities. Atrocities were definitely taking place, but why dramatise the report with unconfirmed allegations? Amnesty’s answer: to “raise awareness”? But, the entire world was already watching. Saddam Hussein was the most vilified person on the planet (except among some Arabs). George Bush had labelled him as worse than Hitler.

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And it was not as there were no atrocities taking place elsewhere such as Myanmar and Honduras, nor even that they were not occurring in military occupations such as those of Western Sahara, East Timor, Palestine and West Papua.

Amnesty produced this report as the US was trying to gain support for unleashing the greatest mass violence on the world since the invasion of Afghanistan by Soviet forces. Amnesty must have known that this was going to involve massive suffering. To be absolutely clear, bombs dropped by US warplanes (even smart bombs) do not build schools, they do not organise elections, and they do not emancipate women (except in giving the equality of the grave).

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I mention this because most news and entertainment media treatment of the subject would have you believe that they do these things. What bombs actually do is kill, maim and destroy bringing the suffering of physical pain, fear, grief and material loss.

Amnesty International played a crucial role in in unleashing Desert Storm and the repercussions dwarf by far any good that Amnesty has done in this world since its inception.

Part 2: What did Amnesty enable in Mesopotamia?

It is worth understanding just how much the scale of suffering brought about with Amnesty’s crucial support outweighs the suffering they prevent in their fights against political imprisonment, torture, and capital punishment. The numbers are simply beyond a level that Amnesty could realistically dream of helping. But these victims suffered too, and their suffering is equally tragic, equally unjustified and equally obsene.

Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Desert Sabre can now be seen as the inauguration of a two decades long genocide which took hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives – probably in excess of 2 million.(1)

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The US was never interested in any human rights as their betrayal of anti-Baathist rebels revealed. Famously, General Norman Schwartzkopf gratuitously allowed the rather surprised Iraqi military to use helicopter gunships against the uprisings that President Bush had personally and explicitly encouraged to take up arms against the Iraqi regime. Also, while US forces had allowed Iraq’s Republican Guard to withdraw intact from Kuwait, on the so called “highway of death”, they massacred hapless conscripts who, by some accounts, were mutineers.

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In these accounts by exiles (who had fled Iraq after the Basra uprising was brutally crushed) those killed on Highway 80’s Mutla Ridge were conscripts headed to join the anti-Saddam uprising which had grown out of the antiwar movement in and around Basra.

There is some controversy over the numbers killed by US warplanes on the Mutla ridge. Initial military eyewitnesses and journalists such as Peter Turnley described and documented a large scale of mortality (perhaps thousands).

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Later arriving journalists, most notably Michael Kelly, saw less evidence of mortality but given the undenied disposal of bodies by US personnel this is hardly surprising.(2) The explanation given later was that vehicles were abandoned before being attacked. Photographs of the vehicles are widely available, although they are often from long after the event. It is clear that they were almost all attacked, whether it is conceivable that most were abandoned at this point, or indeed whether it is conceivable that they were not abandoned at this point, I leave to the reader’s judgement.

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Regardless of what exact portion of vehicles were occupied when attacked hundreds or maybe thousands of human beings died. Violent death is always obscene, but the photographs and descriptions of the victims here seem sometimes beyond obscenity. Helpless, fleeing, posing no conceivable threat to Allied forces, many victims were burnt alive while trapped in their vehicles.

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Schwarzkopf said: “This was a bunch of rapists, murderers and thugs who had raped and pillaged downtown Kuwait City and now were trying to get out of the country before they were caught.” It is exactly this sort of application of mass condemnation (in this case, given substance and verisimilitude by Amnesty itself) that often underlies massacres and other atrocities, but along with reports of a column of mutineers, there are also reports of Palestinian refugees and even Kuwaiti hostages who were among those fleeing along Highway 80.

In Desert Storm, (the bombing campaign conducted under a specious air power doctrine which, like “Shock and Awe”, invented a military significance for civilian infrastructure(3)) the US had attacked all sorts of civilian targets including power generation and water treatment and so forth. It is a war crime to attack such targets, of course, and it is difficult to see how the US could even claim some military advantage. It made no difference to the military outcome what civilians were killed and what civilian infrastructure was destroyed. The military “contest” was so uneven, the opposing forces so disparate, that even the killing of Iraqi military personnel was gratuitous as well as grotesque.

What followed thereafter was the “sanctions regime”, a cruel slow form of genocide inflicting the greatest suffering of all on children. As water-borne disease and malnutrition condemned tens of thousands of under-5’s to avoidable deaths, ironically it was Iraq’s premature infants that were forced to share incubators and were dying for lack of simple bottled oxygen.

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(In another irony, Madeleine Albright, who felt that 500,000 dead infants was “worth it” as a price for Iraqi containment, would in 2012 be the keynote speaker at an Amnesty International event, but I’m getting ahead of myself.) Maybe in 1990 Amnesty was doing nothing more that to report Iraqi atrocities in that same way as any other, but the context of impending war was unmistakeable and they helped bring about one of the greatest mass atrocities of the post-WWII era.

Part 3: Unrepentant

Did Amnesty, seeing this horrifying mistake, take steps to ensure that in future it would not simply become a source of atrocity propaganda for Western warmongers? Clearly not. Instead its formal neutrality and its original central purpose are being corrupted by expedience and by the corrosive permeation of the Western discourse of humanitarian intervention.

The context is this: Since World War II the state that has committed the most war crimes is the United States; the state that has caused the most deaths of innocents (notwithstanding China’s Great Leap Forward) is likewise the US. One might use different modes and criteria of calculus, but any consistent and defensible reckoning will return the same answer. When it comes to the use of mass violence, when it comes to the use of deadly ordnance, none can even be considered in the same league as the US. Horrible atrocities such as the Soviet bombing of Herat, the Russian bombing of Grozny or the Syrian shelling of Hama are as buckets next to the swimming pools of blood from North Korea, South Korea, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Further context: every large-scale mass atrocity and the majority of those on a smaller scale is preceded by atrocity propaganda wherein the future victim group is portrayed as perpetrators. Sometimes the atrocities are fictitious or massively exaggerated; sometimes one blames one’s own atrocities on an enemy; sometimes false-flag atrocities are actually staged; and sometimes the atrocities are real. The attribution and contextualisation, however, are fantastically important. The actual perpetrators (often impossible to distinguish in any event) become of no importance whatsoever, the perpetrators become defined instead by a group membership. They become, as Schwarzkopf put it “a bunch”.

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But, instead of learning the lesson of 1990, instead of taking steps to avoid becoming a source of atrocity propaganda which facilitates massive suffering and death, Amnesty has more often acted to embrace the very same US imperialist causes which facilitate atrocities. But Amnesty and others, including some alternative news outlets, actively jump at any opportunity to join with the US State Dept. and White House in condemnation of human rights abuses. It is as if they wish to ensure that everyone knows that they aren’t really anti-American, or anti-government, they do have haircuts, they do have jobs. It is as if the tension of having to oppose authority is suddenly released and they can get on with their job of righteous opposition to wrongdoing without fear of being criticised, misapprehended, scorned or argued with. Like the dissidents who, after years of hopeless opposition to Bush Jr’s crimes of aggression, so passionately embraced the slogan “Out of Iraq, into Darfur”, they themselves embrace the advocacy and support of war crimes.

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By not rejecting outright the discourse of humanitarian intervention and of “R2P” Amnesty may become a party to war crimes while its history of refusing to determine the legality of military actions as a whole (for example, the Iraq Invasion or Operation Cast Lead) means that only selected suffering and death is worthy of protest. This is an extremely dangerous mixture. It means that as long as the conduct of the war is in accordance with International Humanitarian Law they are not going to comment on “lawful” killings, even in cases of aggression wherein these “lawful” killings are actually unlawful murders. They deal with “human rights” and apparently there is no right not to be maimed or painfully killed, or to have your family killed, or your children killed by a foreign military power.

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In addition, Amnesty International has of late, like so many others, been embracing what might be described as KONYism. By this term I mean the enthusiastic and rigid insistence on criminal proceedings be taken against official villains who are generally not powerful (often spent forces and no longer a threat); are generally non-Caucasian and certainly not Westerners; and, ipso facto, are from the poorer countries in the world.

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This functions to put a black face in people’s minds when thinking of atrocities, the face of savagery – a twisted uncivilised creature of personal violence and sadism. But the greatest culpable mass-murderers sit in offices, no matter what their skin colour, and usually don’t personally torture maim and kill. Amnesty has become a keen proponent of prosecutions in the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda as well as the International Criminal Court.

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Both the ICTY and ICTR are seen by critics as overly politicised at the expense of justice. As ad hoctribunals they are unavoidably selective, while the ICC seems merely to be avoidably selective but selective nonetheless. Its indictments are, without exception, against the enemies and defiers of the US, a state which itself refuses to allow its own personnel to be subject to ICC prosecution. By analogy, it is as if the Mafia controlled a criminal court and used it against small-time rivals – sure those prosecuted may be guilty of heinous crimes, but there is still a massive injustice in that their very indictment advances the purposes of even greater criminals.

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Supporters of such courts claim that we cannot allow impunity. Indeed, there are many times when impunity is tantamount to incitement. Some claim that the culture of tit-for-tat atrocities in some civil conflicts stems in part from impunity. So Amnesty International, set up to oppose political imprisonment, is a big proponent of this system which arguably creates political prisoners and inarguably creates selective impunity along strict and consistent lines of privileging the most powerful state actors and their leaders, who, not coincidentally, are quantifiably the greatest abusers of human rights. But its actually even worse than that because the current ‘international justice’ regime has become a massive impediment to conflict resolution. Evincing at all times self-righteous condemnation for the irredeemable evil malefactors, it is made increasingly clear to the enemies of the West that they will not escape Western vengeance. What, for example, can Bashar al-Assad glean about Western intentions? Should he look to Saddam Hussein’s fate?

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Or maybe Gaddaffi’s? In the latter instance the ICC was so prompt in announcing an intent to prosecute and issuing an arrest warrant that Gaddaffi knew from very very early in the piece that his fate, at best, would be to end his days in prison. Not a great incentive to find a peaceful solution. What about Charles Taylor? His immunity under peace accords which had ended conflict and killingwas immediately undermined by the US Congress inducement of $2 million for his capture. The precedents all send a very clear message. Or how about Sudan’s OmarHassan al-Bashir, a man who now knows that his safety and freedom requires that he cling to power no matter what the cost?

Amnesty would claim, no doubt, that its stance stems from principles – they don’t change whether the perpetrator state is China or the US, Iran or Israel, Syria or Turkey. Is this true? In reality they exclude from their remit the most serious crimes committed by the US. Moreover, they clearly have decided, in the cases of Syria or Joseph Kony for example, to emphasise those instances where they are in accord with Western governments. Without shame they refer to this as “awareness raising” when it is clear that these are the instances of very heightened public awareness in the West. In these instances groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are massive force multipliers in propaganda wars waged by Western institutions and leaders who might otherwise have fragile credibility on the subject of human rights and be vulnerable to countercharges.

If Amnesty wanted to base itself on principle, it would base itself around opposition to the suffering caused by state violence. In conflict it can’t simply choose only to oppose jus in bello infringements (those relating to the conduct of war) as if jus ad bellum matters (the legality of the war itself) were of no relevance. Firstly, one cannot simply treat something as presumed legal because one does not wish to determine its legality. Secondly, Amnesty can’t ethically justify ignoring suffering simply because it may be legal – much of their energies are spent opposing the use of the death penalty which in most relevant jurisdictions is completely legal.

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Consider the implications of Amnesty’s stance. Amnesty strongly condemned Israel’s use of white phosphorous in Gaza on the ground that it was indiscriminate, hence illegal. But that immediately means that Amnesty’s area of concern is not whether Israel inflicted horrible suffering and death, but whether this was lawful. Consider a child – it could be in Fallujah, it could be in Gaza, it could be in the next place – a victim of white phosphorous (WP). WP wounds and fatalities are particularly horrific in all instances. Fragments of WP can burn right through flesh and bone – they may continue burning until surgically removed. The remnants may still cause problems through toxicity and the very nature of the burns may cause crippling and agonising complications that last a lifetime. More horrifying than that, however, is that fine partially oxidised particles of WP can form a cloud where in both oxygen and moisture are depleted, a cloud that is forced downwards by airbursts as practiced in Fallujah and Gaza.Image

We know that in Fallujah this property must have been deliberately exploited because “shake ‘n bake” fire missions were described in a US military journal as being used against positions immune to high explosive artillery. Such a cloud might penetrate, for example, into the shelter of a family. Imagine this hypothetical child, cowering fearfully in a shelter, whose eyes start to burn as the phosphorous particles ignite on the eyeball itself. The child draws breath to scream and the child is as good as dead, because now the particles are in the lungs themselves. Many square meters of surface area are burning, a child is actually dying from being burnt from the inside out. This is not completely speculative. There are photographs from Fallujah of children who seem to have died in this manner.

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Amnesty’s stance is to oppose the illegal use of white phosphorous, but this death could have resulted from the legal use of WP (except of course that it is not legal if the war isn’t legal, but that’s no concern of Amnesty’s). So you can see why I believe that the only possible stance of principle is to oppose the suffering caused by state violence. How can anyone say that its sometimes OK to inflict agonising death on a child as long as it is “lawful”? Yes, I do inevitably mean that Amnesty must oppose all war casualties, but remember that under international law (including the UN Charter) war is actually illegal. All casualties of war are crimes, and rightly so since these are actual human beings and there is no morally justifiable reason for saying its OK to kill some of them. Even if they are military personnel they still feel pain and fear, their passing still leaves grief. If a party is forced to take life out of a need for national self-defence, then the aggressor, under a precedent established at Nuremburg, is culpable for that loss of life.

So what should Amnesty do? Well, the fact is that there are more limits on doing good than there are on doing harm. On Syria they need to revert to marshaling intelligence and moral force and eschew alignment with state actors and advocacy of any form of “international action” based on a UNSC resolution. In general, advocacy of an international governmental response should be confined to cases of international aggression, Amnesty should harness citizen activism, not lobby states or international bodies. The whole world should, in addition, move away from the self-righteous demonisation of the ICC and strengthen the International Court of Justice or other mechanisms for holding states (not individuals) accountable and for putting an end to ongoing crimes such as occupations, blockades or aggressive sanctions regimes which inflict mass suffering.

Part 4: Or are Amnesty Really Evil Lizards Psychopaths After All?

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The vast majority of people are in one of two camps – either Amnesty is a bunch of misguided bleeding heart lefties unintentionally helping the terrorists of this world, or they are unimpeachable fighters for justice, human rights and dignity. If one reads the Global Research website, however, it is replete with admirable writers and thinkers, such as Francis Boyle and Felicity Arbuthnot, for whom Amnesty is more of less The Enemy, whether they like it or not. Of course such critics understand that Amnesty members and activists try to live up to Amnesty’s founding principles, but in practical terms they have to deal with an organisation that is far more effective in promoting injustice, indignity and human suffering. It is probably worth contemplating this vast disparity between the commonplace perceptions of of Amnesty and those of what, in the final analysis, are a small subset of radical dissidents. Nevertheless it is these few dissidents who tend to have fact and logic on their side. In the final analysis Amnesty might as well be run by the evil alien lizards, and I think the explanation for this state of affairs lies in the nature of liberalism.

John Pilger recently described liberalism as the world’s most powerful and violent ‘ism’” in an article linking liberal ideology to imperial state policies. At a later date I will doubtless be detailing all of the evils which can be ascribed to liberalism (always a fun topic) but here I will confine myself to saying that any ideology which claims to have tenets which are “good” in moral terms and by extension whose adherents are “good” as adherents (and inescapably better morally than non-adherents) is prone to violent hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance. A liberal can enthusiastically endorse condemnations of liberal atrocities, because those atrocities aren’t really liberal because liberal means good. You could ascribe the same behaviour to a Communist, a Muslim, or a Christian. The more predominant and self-satisfied an ideology is, the more violent and schizophrenic it becomes. There are two differences between liberalism and and other such ideologies. The first is that liberalism has made a quantum leap in its ability to subsume and subvert its own critics and their condemnations. The second is that liberal schizophrenia is being deliberately harnessed by the most massive imperial military in human history.

Imagine liberal interventionismn as being a call to enforce liberal political and economic governance within which is a “bundle”. The liberal “bundle” includes humanitarian aspects, or at least it seems to. Take women’s rights, liberals believe that imposing liberal governance and norms improves women’s rights. If women actually suffer under the imposition of liberalism, then things aren’t liberal enough. Either that or the liberal will trot out racist or cryptoracist rationalisations which either blame the victim directly or blame their, often equally suffering, male compatriots. In the final analysis, the imposition of liberal governance has not been a great boon for women and girls in places such as Southeast Asia and Latin America. In fact, compared with advances for women’s rights under socialist regimes of various types, liberal feminism has been beyond pathetic. Even in the West the women’s rights for which liberals claim credit have mostly come through grassroots left-wing agitation, like many other progressive changes.

So the liberal “bundle” is really kind of agnostic when it comes to humanitarian matters. Their ideology says that they have the cure, but they don’t care if the cure actually works. Likewise the economic aspects of the bundle are supposed to do all sorts of wonderful things, but they don’t and when liberals bother to concern themselves with that inconvenient fact, they tend to say that more drastic liberalisation is the answer.

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Liberal interventionism is now often expressed as humanitarian interventionism. This is one of several Newspeak terms which attend the liberal interventionist discourse. “Intervention” being understood to be military in nature, it means that causing destruction and death is “humanitarian”. Here is where the creepy post-Orwellian brilliance of it comes, through: out of two sets of strident fanatics for explicitly liberal intervention in the US, one bunch deliberately positions itself as being right-wing and calls itself neoconservative and another lot characterises itself as being left-wing and calls itself liberal. They use exactly the same tropes, evince exactly the same motives and call for exactly the same interventions. There is only one significant difference, and I’ll get to that shortly. Perhaps the epitome of the latter variety, the liberals, is Samantha Power, the very image of a bleeding heart who wants to drop humanitarian bombs.

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Journalist David Reiff tells of her response to his suggestion that “her reasoning on foreign policy was similar to that of neoconservatives who supported the Iraq War. “She said, jokingly, ‘I am not Paul Wolfowitz,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, actually, I think you are,’”

Power, along with Clinton and Obama, thrives by taking the moral high ground and harnessing opposition to the liberal imperialism of neocons and others who identify themselves as more right-wing (and may or may not take more socially and culturally conservative positions). The take the very energy of outrage at US imperialism and channel into support for… US imperialism. Pretty nifty, huh?

There is another of that ilk named Susanne Nossel – a former State Department employee who “would have worked for and with Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Samantha Power and Susan Rice, and undoubtedly helped them successfully implement their “Right to Protect (R2P)” – otherwise known as “humanitarian intervention” – as well as the newly created “Atrocities Prevention Board.”

ImageShe credits herself with having come up with the term “Smart Power” which is so often now on Clinton’s lips.(4) I won’t go into the complicated process of paring away the meaningless rhetoric around the term “smart power”. What it means, put simply, is exactly the same liberal imperialism pursued by Bush and his neocon allies, dressed up a bit differently. One can already detect that a key differentiation is in the way these costumes are gendered – smart power is sly and feminine whereas Bush era cowboy style is masculine and muscular. Thus, one could summarise the Obama vs. Romney foreign policy debate in two short lines (saving us a great deal of time). Romney calls Obama a wimp. Obama calls Romney an idiot. Then we all go home.

It is all just making a virtue of necessity. Bush era unilateralism isn’t practicable, nor realistically desirable for current imperial geostrategic wants. If, for example, they wished to repeat their actions against Iraq on Iran they would be looking at a decade or so of genocidal sanctions that isolate the Iranian people and increase an inescapable dependency on their increasingly oppressive regime. Only then, when international public revulsion and regional disobedience among client states threaten to destroy the genocide regime – would it be desirable to unleash the gung ho bulldozer of a Bush/neocon style war machine.

So that’s what Nossel is about, and guess what her job is now? That’s right, she’s the CEO of Amnesty International USA. That’s why people are referring to Amnesty as a “shill” or the “propaganda arm” of NATO or as an “imperialist tool”. Consternation has particularly been fueled by Amnesty USA’s crucial support for NATO’s ongoing occupation of Afghanistan. In an excellent article Ann Wright and Colleen Rowley write of “announcements posted online as well as billboard advertisements on Chicago bus stops, telling ‘NATO: Keep the Progress Going!‘” these “beckoned us to find out more on Sunday, May 20, 2012, the day thousands of activists marched in Chicago in protest of NATO’s wars.” Image

Another article is worth quoting at length where it takes up the same story of what Amnesty was doing on the very day that people were mobilising to oppose war:

…Amnesty USA put on a “shadow summit” of its own during the NATO meeting, featuring Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s notorious secretary of state, who will be forever remembered for her chilling response to a question on 60 Minutes about sanctions imposed on Iraq in the 1990s. Correspondent Lesley Stahl asked, “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright responded, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.”

With a veritable war criminal as one of its star speakers, Amnesty USA’s shadow summit launched a campaign that, for all intents and purposes, called for the extension of NATO’s “good works” in Afghanistan. Its speakers and promotional materials recycled George Bush’s “feminist” justification of the invasion and occupation–that NATO would liberate women from Taliban rule.

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The article then examines the realities of womens lives in occupied Afghanistan, finding claims of progress “laughable” – “As Sonali Kolhatkar, founder of the Afghan Women’s Mission, and Mariam Rawi, of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan, wrote:

Under the Taliban, women were confined to their homes. They were not allowed to work or attend school. They were poor and without rights. They had no access to clean water or medical care, and they were forced into marriages, often as children. Today, women in the vast majority of Afghanistan live in precisely the same conditions, with one notable difference: they are surrounded by war.”

Part 5: Conclusions

  1. Yes to mass-murdering sociopaths. People like Nossels are mass murderers. OK she may not be a sociopath, but then again she might be. We don’t know, and why would we care. Some mass murders believe deeply that they will make the world a better place; others are driven by hatred, fear or insanity; and others still are monstrously callous and simply don’t care for the suffering they cause. In this I agree with the biblical sentiments – know people from their actions, but leave the judging to some hypothesised supernatural omniscient being because we aren’t in a position to judge.
  2. Yes to toadies enabling mass-murder. Amnesty members want to do good, but self-satisfaction is unreflexive and causes complacency. Amnesty members need to discriminate more in terms of what they support and what they don’t. It might sound complicated, but it isn’t. When Amnesty is calling for petition writing and pressure to be put on a government which is commiting abuses it’s all good. When they are calling for petitions and pressure to be put on a government to “intervene” in another state, it is not good at all, it is the opposite of good, which some of us like to refer to as “bad”.
  3. Yes to compassionate voice for good. Of course most Amnesty members, volunteers and staff are fundamentally committed to alleviating human suffering. Perhaps it should be no surprise then, that there is a movement to reform Amnesty International from within. Staff and members have expressed disquiet and there is also a Code Pink petition campaign.

I would argue that reform of Amnesty is worth pursuing. It might be too much to expect deep principled reform, but even at worst a curtailing of pro-imperialist efforts in order to regain lost credibility and avoid critical scrutiny deprives the empire of a very significant tool, albeit temporarily. A more confrontational approach, aiming to publicise Amnesty’s “true nature” and reveal it for what it effectively is might seem attractive and understandable, but most people are never really going to understand the premise that this renowned humanitarian organisation is engaged in warmongering with postmodern jingoism. That makes Amnesty and suchlike a bit of a tarbaby, which is also quite handy for the US empire as a form of distraction. If you want to attack something just attack the policies and the false justifications behind them. People will work out for themselves that Amnesty is behaving inappropriately from that context.

I would like to thank you for listening to this commentary. A transcript, complete with photographs, hyperlinks and even a few good old fashioned endnote citations is available at the On Genocide blog, which is at ongenocide.wordpress.com. There is also a facebook page called – you guessed it – On Genocide. If you like the facebook page I promise to post no more than 3 or 4 items a day, including, of course, updates to the blog.

(1) Kieran Kelly, Context of the Iraq Genocide (https://ongenocide.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/context-of-iraq-genocide.pdf), pp 176-9.

(2) Michael Kelly, Martyr’s Day: Chronicle of a Small War, New York: Random House, 1993.

(3) Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, The Generals’ War, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1995, p 80.

(4) Wright and Rowley, op cit.

Other links:

Great article on Suzanne Nossel

RAWA – Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan

Scary quote

Standard

“Out of curiosity, I ran some Google searches.  The results were striking.

  • “Iran’s disputed nuclear weapons program”: 4 hits
  • “Iran’s possible nuclear weapons program”: about 8,990 hits
  • “Iran’s civil nuclear program”: about 42,200 hits
  • “Iran’s civilian nuclear program”: about 199,000 hits
  • “Iran’s nuclear weapons program”: about 5,520,000 hits
  • “Iran’s nuclear program”: about 49,000,000 hits.”

This is from a TomDispatch article.

Also: “A large majority of Americans believe that Iran has an ongoing nuclear weapons program, 71% in 2010 and 84% this March.  Some surveys even indicate that a majority of Americans would support military action to stop Iran from developing nukes.”

I don’t know whether war with Iran is a realistic threat. It clearly benefits the US to make a credible threat. The US stands to lose a lot in such a war, at least the US people do, but what might their elites gain? Equally, as a threat to world peace as a whole it is an implicit or explicit threat to other states and formations such as Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, or the “BRIC” states, or the supposed “friends” of the US like the EU. In a way it means that no matter how much of an outlaw “Rogue State” the US is, between this and the economic and financial hegemony of the US, nothing substantive can be done to constrain the US.

The google data above, however, suggest something about thought control in modern society. The vast disparity in phraseologies is both the result of and the act of determining an agenda, controlling the idiom of a discourse. Mainstream news reporting has been compared to schools of fish, wherein individuals somehow know without information or instruction, the direction to pursue, the line to take. The same evidently applies to the blogosphere, the broader collection of information purveyors. They maintain the Party line by determining the language which may be used to apply thought to areas of interest.Image