The 2016 US Presidential Election Will Not Take Place

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canned-life

From the beginning, we knew that this election would never happen. An election of representatives for any office involves the belief that they will represent the electorate. In the past, this system has been imperfect and undemocratic, but developing tools of mass persuasion have taken voting societies further and further away from democracy. In 2016 USA things have reached the logical conclusion wherein the public acts of voting are no longer related to a real act of election by an actual electorate.

I take my title and opening line from Jean Baudrillard who claimed the 1991 “Gulf War” was a literal “non-event”. The USA has now become the Disney version of 1984 and it seems right to draw on Baudrillard’s superposition of Disneyland fakery and the all-too-real atrocities that happened in Iraq and Kuwait. However, though Baudrillard leaves room for anger and anguish at the human suffering from the non-event, he indulges the avoidance of naming the real that hides behind the “hyperreal”. The non-event is an extension of the control of language in what Orwell described as “the defence of the indefensible”. Baudrillard was in some ways determined never to look behind the façade, and the non-event of this fake election of dead politics hides a real dynamic of empire which ordinary people would never countenance if it were shown to them as it truly is. I want to go beyond performing the autopsy of US politics, and find the events that do still take place, the ones that polite people don’t like to talk about.

The time also seems right to revisit some lines in a Yeats poem that was written in 1919: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” It describes people yearning for a “Second Coming”, and ends prophetically, on the dawn of Fascism and Nazism, with the lines:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

We have entered a fact-free zone. Sometimes it seems that the truth has entered a state of quantum indeterminacy where two contradictory things are simultaneously true until the waveform is collapsed by observations by political pollsters. For example, when the Clinton camp attributed their candidate’s 9/11 collapse to overheating, differing journalists and commentators simultaneously reported a that it was an unusually hot day or an unusually cold day. Another instance can be seen in these headlines from editions of the Wall St. Journal:

 

Events wildly plot a drunken careering narrative and each potential voter is forced into more and more speculative interpretation of what those events actually signify. People want to vote for a candidate according to their interests and principles, but those who still believe with “passionate intensity” that they can do so by voting for Trump or Clinton are dangerously deluded. As everything else about the year 2016 becomes muddier and weirder with each passing day, the only thing that is becoming more clear at every moment is that the 2016 election will not take place.

The Stinking Corpse of Democracy

From January to March 1991 the post-modernist Jean Baudrillard published 3 articles: “The Gulf War will not take place”; “The Gulf War is not really taking place?” and “The Gulf War did not take place”. Baudrillard was describing the war as a hyperreal simulation of something that has no origin in reality. “Hyperreal” refers to a situation where a simulation of a possible reality is indistinguishable from reality and is thus a type of reality itself. What happened in Kuwait and Iraq in 1991 was not war, however it was made into a simulation of war and it was experienced as being war by those watching it on CNN.

This is why the Gulf War will not take place. It is neither reassuring nor comforting that it has become bogged in interminable suspense. In this sense, the gravity of the non-event in the Gulf is even greater than the event of war: it corresponds to the highly toxic period which affects a rotting corpse and which can cause nausea and powerless stupor.”

Baudrillard put the basic case most succinctly when he wrote: “Since this war was won in advance, we will never know what it would have been like had it existed. We will never know what an Iraqi taking part with a chance of fighting would have been like. We will never know what an American taking part with a chance of being beaten would have been like.”

The Baudrillard articles drew attention to something important (the fact that there was no war) but they also drew attention away from the fact that the “Gulf War” was an act of genocide; a very concrete, banal and definitely not at all “hyperreal” act of co-ordinated mass violence and destruction aimed at the nation and the people of Iraq. Baudrillard may have missed the mark on the Iraq War, but his remarks could be very fittingly adapted to 2016. To paraphrase: “…here comes the dead election and the necessity of dealing with this decomposing corpse which nobody from Washington DC has managed to revive. Trump and Clinton are fighting over the corpse of an election.”

Let me be clear, the people of the US have not lost democracy. They never had it. No modern countries are democracies. In countries with elections undemocratic power is given to numerous people, some of whom are elected. The theory is that by vesting the highest authority in officials who are elected, this will create an electoral process of candidates who seek and receive a mandate. Thus, by acting as a mandated elected official even though the power of the office may be undemocratic, this will bring about democratic governance. This is all jolly good, except that it doesn’t work. Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page made news a couple of years ago by releasing a study in 2014. While they acknowledge that having free speech is an important democratic institution, in policy terms: “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

One writer called the Page and Gillens paper “the ‘Duh’ report” because anyone paying attention should have already known the truth. It roughly confirms what C. Wright Mills had diagnosed nearly 60 years earlier in his book The Power Elite, which showed the oligarchic nature of US political governance. The US has long had issues of plutocratic corruption intervening in government but the 20th century saw a change from influencing government against the wishes of the electorate to consciously shaping the electorate in order to “engineer the consent” of the governed. Democracy had always been a unrealised promise in the US, shoehorned uncomfortably into the Constitution by anti-Federalists against the wishes of Federalists (like the puzzlingly celebrated Alexander Hamilton). The promise of democracy died with the advent of the Commission on Public Information in 1917 which began an era of “guided democracy” in the US. Oligarchs and bureaucrats turned their minds towards shaping and controlling public opinion while plutocrats still tried to ensure that governance was not overly influenced against the interests of capital by this already mediated public opinion.

We take it all for granted now, but suddenly many different entities wanted to adopt the purposes that had previously been those of politicians, impressarios and snake-oil salesmen. The FBI published heroic literature about “g-men”, and black propaganda smearing Black Power and left-wing movements. The CIA, still one of the biggest publishers in the world, promoted jazz, abstract art and the right sort of academic work. They established themselves in every major news media organ in the “free” world. Hollywood established a close working relationship with different parts of the US government, becoming a willing source of propaganda, and largely integrated into the military-industrial complex (through both ownership and the close working relationship with the Pentagon and CIA). Advertising agencies, over and above the immediate purpose of selling, were slavishly loyal promoters of “free enterprise”, the “American dream”, consumerism, and the values of gendered racialised class hierarchy. For evidence you need look no further than this extraordinary (and ballsy) meta-propaganda about advertising:

Throughout the 20th century, governance in the US also became ever more technocratic and removed from public sight at the same time as the more overt part of governance (elected administrations and legislators) became subject to ever more inescapable and sophisticated perception management. It is difficult to see past the projected self-image of the US as the sort of country that has a minimal government (even to the point of neglecting the vulnerable and allowing infrastructure to crumble) but the truth is that the US has a vast state sector. Combining all levels of government it spent $6.134 trillion in 2010. This is many times higher than China which seems to be a distant second in terms of state sector expenditure.

The machinery of government in the US is enormous and has a Byzantine bureaucratic complexity of overlapping jurisdictions. The documentary above gave an image of a society of free agents with a welfare oriented government. In reality under neoliberalism government, using the pretext of shrinking itself, reallocates resources to state coercion: military, intelligence, police and incarceration. What welfare remains becomes a tool of state control under an ideology that criminalises or pathologises neediness of any form. If you have no home, for example, the state feels it can dictate behavioural and moral codes that are the absolute antithesis of the proclaimed “liberty” that is considered the norm of society.

Meanwhile, the US government at various levels has control of the greatest machinery of state violence and oppression that has ever existed. Some people refer to these capabilities as a “turnkey tyranny” (the phrase existed long before Edward Snowden’s usage) but that creates the unfortunate sense that the entire apparatus is currently turned off (and that some people are conspiring to suddenly turn it on). In reality there is a continuum of state coercion. In the US case the capability for rounding people up and putting them in FEMA camps will probably never be more than a remote, but scary, potential. On the other hand, surveillance, intrusive policing and security, militarised policing, restrictions on liberties, and fear-mongering are already familiar parts of routine and banal oppression. These shape and control people in ways that don’t involve direct physical coercion, but are not merely brainwashing people into happy consumerist zombies either. There is a carrot laced with tranquillisers, but there is also a stick. Sheldon Wolin called the resulting system “inverted totalitarianism”.

The freedom enjoyed by Usanians is the contingent freedom enjoyed by the Eloi in H.G. Wells’ anti-capitalist allegory The Time Machine. They live lives of consumerist luxury right up until the point that some are abducted and eaten. The same is true of those who fall foul of the massive private or governmental bureaucracies that run the USA, and I think that it is good to set-aside our visions of a land with 48-flavours-of-ice-cream and look at the grim, grey inhuman machinery that coexists with consumerist pseudo-liberty.

We have found in all of the former “free world” that our sneers at communist bread queues were premature. We felt superior because capitalism seemed to be designed to meet our needs and desires efficiently, but now that it faces no ideological competition we find that it just wants to sell us barely functional goods and when we call for support or service, to place us on hold for hours. I guess it is better than being hungry waiting in the cold winter, but it is hard to deny that capitalist private bureaucracy is just as entitled and unhelpful as socialist government bureaucracy. In the US it can be deadly. For example, by denying insurance cover to people with life-threatening conditions pen-pushing penny-pinchers from Aetna and other such “providers” hand out death-sentences. The US has a corporatised health sector that is measurably more inefficient, more bureaucratic, more inhumane and much more expensive than actual “socialism”, and it forces people to buy private insurance or face a fine (or, as Forbes spins it, because of exemptions “only 4 million people” are expected to be subject to fines in 2016, and we all know that any law that only affects 4 million doesn’t really count). Employers can also simply garnish wages without permission to enrol workers in the employer’s chosen insurance plan.

Moreover, in this land of private/public dual tyranny, eminent domain laws in the US are often used to forcibly alienate property for the benefit of private capital (because individual states can determine what is “public use”) in the manner that does not happen in other countries.

Meanwhile those who fall into the gears of the “justice” system may find fates that seem akin to terrible stories of mediaeval cruelty, grim totalitarianism, or dystopian science-fiction nightmare. In a Milwaukee gaol, under the jurisdiction of Trump supporter David Clarke, an imprisoned suspect had his water shut off for 6 days. Witnesses heard him beg repeatedly for water as he slowly died of “profound dehydration”.

In many countries the rights of criminal suspects are minimal despite the supposed presumption of innocence, but in the US this can reach a soul-crushing extreme such as in the case of Kalief Browder. He refused to plead guilty to stealing a backpack and because the case against him was thin to non-existent, he spent 3 years, from age 16, enduring terrible conditions and violent abuse at Rykers Island prison. He killed himself 2 years after release. A different horror was endured by Roberta Blake. Not knowing that she had an arrest warrant for returning a rental car late, she was detained in California and spent two weeks in a cage in an overheated van being taken to Alabama to face “justice” for her heinous crime: “Lacking both privacy and sanitary napkins, she had to use a cup in front of the male guards and prisoners when she began menstruating. After another prisoner ripped off her shirt, she spent the rest of the trip in a sports bra.” In most developed countries it would be illegal to treat an animal that way.

Staying on the subject of the accused, I want to remind readers that a Pennsylvania judge received millions in kickbacks for sending thousands of children into institutions. Given the level of corruption victimising so many kids, some of them from white-collar households, is it any surprise that some claim similar corruption is part of the adult incarceration system?

I mention these things to show that “guided democracy” (which is not democratic) produces a tyranny with two faces. These things happen because the accused are unpeople and that itself is a product of an elite “guided democracy” culture in the US that is authoritarian, lacking in empathy, and phobic about poor people.

All I have detailed is just passive and reflexive brutality. It is incidental and can fall on any non-rich person unlucky enough to fall foul of a capricious state, but you will notice that I haven’t even mentioned racialised police violence, the school-to-prison pipeline, and mass incarceration. That is a more active aspect of tyranny that functions (like “anti-terrorism” or the “war” on any other internal or external threat) to normalise oppression and market it to a much wider demographic than that specifically targetted. I won’t waste anyone’s time by detailing the latest horrors of police violence in the US, nor the everyday obscenity of mass incarceration. Readers are probably familiar with the topic, and I just ask that they bear it in mind as being an important element of this story that I am consciously omitting.

The Stinking Corpse of Politics

When Sheldon Wolin wrote Democracy Inc. he was effectively writing the obituary of “guided democracy”. Guided democracy was beginning to give way to something new which Wolin likened to 20th century tyrannies, but characterised as “inverted”. A “new type of political system, seemingly one driven by abstract totalizing powers, not by personal rule, one that succeeds by encouraging political disengagement rather than mass mobilization, that relies more on “private” media than on public agencies to disseminate propaganda reinforcing the official version of events.”

Before continuing, I must clear up a problem I have with the terminology. I cannot endorse Wolin’s (or any) use of the term “totalitarianism” because it has no potential for judicious usage. It was coined to refer to Italian Fascism to refer to the totality of the purview of the state, but both that regime and the current US regime show that defining what is and is not the state is actually subjective. The very concept of “inverted totalitarianism” or “totalitarian democracy” along with new coinages like “globalitarian” show that the word itself is useless. In fact, totalitarianism has primarily been used to create a concept which suggests that Nazism and Communism are of the same essence, but Western liberalism existentially distinct (which, by the way, is why it was one of the academic notions promoted by the CIA). Both the Soviets and the Nazis did the same thing in their time, as Slavoj Žižek explains: “Thus Stalinism in the 1930s constructed the agency of Imperialist Monopoly Capital to prove that Fascists and Social Democrats (‘Social Fascists’) are ‘twin brothers’, the ‘left and right hand of monopoly capital’. Thus Nazism itself constructed the ‘plutocratic-Bolshevik plot’ as the common agent who threatens the welfare of the German nation.”

However, Wolin also referred to inverted totalitarianism as being “a kind of fascism”. “Fascism” is a much better term to use, as I have argued at great length (in two parts). Though “fascism” is clearly too common and low-rent a concept for some people (who maintain their status with claims to exclusive multisyllabic knowledge), it is perfect in conveying an apt historical comparison. Henceforth, therefore, I will use “fascism” because it may be subjective, but even people who disagree with the usage will know exactly what I am referring to and why.

Wolin’s annunciation of the conception of a new fascism should also have pointed to the immanence of a new “rough beast”. We have seen, in the last 14 years, that the “inverted” part of Wolin’s described fascism is unstable and contingent. Like the pluralism of Weimar Germany it could be replaced with leader worship and more conventionally oriented fascism in short order. Ann Coulter, (author of In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome) recently said: “I worship him like the North Koreans worship the ‘Dear Leaders’ — yes, I would die for him.” Coulter might seem to be a clown or a liar trying to flog a bad book, but we can no longer doubt that Trump does have a cult of personality and very dangerously deranged followers. For example there is this irrational rant from a Trump supporter:

Note that he is wrong in every aspect of what he accusers Shah of being: her candidate is running against Clinton; Shah is US born; and, as it happens, she is not Muslim. His passion for these lies, though, is about as real as anything gets in this time. The self-deception that is so widespread is part of this erosion of the “inverted” corporate and impersonal aspect of US fascism. Obama has very frequently evinced his Christian faith over the years, but millions think he is either Muslim or even the Antichrist. Trump, on the other hand, doesn’t make a big deal out of religion and yet he is still treated as the instrument of God. My argument would be that some feminists have exactly the same faith-based irrational and ironic view of Clinton that these “Christians” have of Trump. Both are equally unlikely avatars of the spirit of each faith and the blindness of the followers is very reminiscent of a fascist cult of personality.

The ever scary nationalist fervour in the US has also entered into the realms of mass hysteria. This year’s DNC and RNC showed plenty of evidence of violent irrationality. Only ten years ago neoconservatives were mocked by the “reality-based community” for saying things like: “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” Now, their view of history and of the US role in it has gone mainstream. There is no escaping the conclusion politics are dead and the US is taking an extended holiday (or vacation) away from reality.

We have entered what people are calling the “age of post-truth politics”. Here in Aotearoa it happened very suddenly. We went from being very hard on politicians when they were caught lying, to having a Prime Minister who lies constantly and freely and who gets away with it because the media adopted the self-fulfilling prophecy of saying that people are not bothered by his lying and therefore there is little point in drawing their attention to it by making a big deal of it. In short, the media created a new post-truth norm overnight.

In contrast, the US journey towards this post-truth moment has been a long and well sign-posted journey. The practice of “plausible denial” over covert action that began 70 years ago almost immediately became a practice that should more truly be known as “implausible denial” and was extended to overt military action. The system is simple: an official tells a blatant and obvious lie, then reporters report the statement as having been stated. No matter how thin the lie, it is treated as weighty. It is not analysed or fact-checked, because that is reserved for domestic policies that are contended between the two major parties. It may or may not be noted that others dispute the lie, but the real Orwellian and twisted part that occurs is that the media will forever after treat the lie as unquestionably having been believed by the officials in question.

Thus when the US destroyed a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory in 1998, newspapers outside of the US reported that Bill Clinton knew that beforehand that it was a civilian factory, but inside the US the cruise missile attack, even after it was found that the target was not a chemical weapons plant, reported that the strike was “an effort to curb the activities of the Saudi exile Osama bin Laden”.

Hillary Clinton and Trump are the logical outcome of a combination of mainstream media permissiveness when it comes to politicians lies, and the existence of partisan spheres or “reference groups”. These spheres have two levels. The inner level is the “partisan echo chamber” where you will never be informed that your chosen candidate lies. Apparently the inhabitants of this bubble are a minority, but the outer sphere is may be more important. In the outer sphere people aren’t like Coulter; they aren’t uncritically loyal and they don’t think of themselves as belonging to the Great Leader; they just know that the lies of the candidate they support are regrettable but not outrageous, unacceptable and dangerous like those of the rival candidate. Clinton supporters know that their candidate has a few imperfections, but Trump threatens all life as we know it and they don’t seem to find it at all remarkable that their opponents feel exactly the same way in reverse. They do not recognise their mirror images because years of something called the “culture wars” (which I won’t get into here) have made them blind to similarities outside of that culture war framework. In fact each stance can be rationally argued and we once again see a kind of political quantum superposition where these contradictory stances are simultaneously true. Both of them are the greatest threat currently facing humanity and they must both be stopped.

That is why I say that this election shows the death of politics, rather then merely democracy. There is no longer a machinery to control public opinion, but rather opinions themselves are rendered meaningless. Only the delusional are still taking the rhetoric of Clinton and Trump as being an indication of ideology and policy intent. People are trying to discern their character, but if they juxtapose each against the other trying to make a relative judgement they get into trouble. Which one is the crook? Which one is the liar? Which one is the warmonger? Which one is pro-corporate? If you think that the answers to that are easy, then you aren’t really paying attention.

Things have gotten so bad that in South Park they clearly struggled to decide which candidate should be represented as a Shit Sandwich and which candidate is really a Giant Douche. The creators are lucky that their storyline depicts their own fictional character opposing Clinton, because otherwise they would have to admit that both candidates this year are Shit Sandwich. Their 12 year-old allegory for no meaningful electoral choice is now too mild for the circumstances. We now choose between a Shit Sandwich made with puffy white bread that has a tendency to go soggy with shit juice, and one made with a stale multigrain that is pretty similar but may or may not be a little bit healthier over time.

The Desert of the Real…

was a book by Slavoj Žižek published in the same year (2002) as Wolin’s Democracy Inc. It has its faults. Like Baudrillard on Iraq, Žižek imposes an inappropriate, if not offensive, semiotician’s interpretation of the bombing of Afghanistan. Instead of being a brutal act of imperialist aggression that can and should be compared with historical imperialism, Žižek asks if it isn’t “the ultimate case of impotent acting out?” In fact Žižek’s judgement in this ironically similar to the limitations he describes in others who cannot accept answers that fall outside of presupposed truth. As the old wisdom tells us, when you gaze long into Keanu, Keanu gazes also into you – to which I will add that Keanu knows fuck-all about geopolitics.

Another complaint, of a sort, is that reading The Desert of the Real today is somewhat like reading Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock in that events have so overtaken and exceeded the prophetic work that I tend to react by thinking: “You call that future shock? That is not even mild astonishment compared to what we have to cope with nowadays.” Žižek refers to Alan Badiou’s notion that the 20th century was dominated by “the passion for the real” which “was fake passion whose ruthless pursuit of the Real behind appearances was the ultimate stratagem to avoid confronting the Real.” With the benefit of the last 14 years of reality television informing us we can say back to 2002 Žižek: “No shit, Einstein.”

But Žižek was quite perceptive in seeing the beginnings of the regime that we now live in. The world of 2002 was one of “politics without politics” and Žižek saw the potential for a resurgent and dangerous right-wing. One passage should particularly resonate with those who are following the 2016 US presidential race: “A decade ago, in the State of Louisiana’s governor elections, when the only alternative to the ex-KKK David Duke was a corrupt Democrat, many cars displayed a sticker: ‘Vote for a crook – it’s important!’”

The 20th century “pursuit of the Real” may have chased reality away, but clearly Žižek understood early that this would take us back to the dangerous yearning for the authenticity of a Second Coming that Yeats perceived in 1919.

The Desert of the Real ends by asking “What if the true aim of this ‘war [on terror]’ is ourselves, our own ideological mobilization against the threat of the Act?” In many ways the war on terror has made people in Western countries accept discipline, control and surveillance that they would never have accepted otherwise, but in other ways there has been resistance. In some ways the things that are most obvious are the least significant because they are resisted and ultimately rejected. After 9/11 the US rounded up and detained hundreds of Muslims and foreigners. That practice ended. What stayed was the Department of Homeland Security, the Transport Safety Authority, and a new officially promoted “if you see something say something”. The most profound changes have come in those spaces of knowledge where people assent and accept subliminally because they feel no friction of resistance and they are anaesthetised. Some changes are too subtle, but others are too big. People stop thinking about them almost immediately because they become everyday normality very quickly.

As I alluded to earlier, the path to the current US post-truth post-politics moment follows through the territory of imperialist wars justified by a skein of lies that creates a pseudo-history. It is possible to discuss and dispute aspects of the pseudo-history in that same way that people can discuss and dispute aspects of Game of Thrones. It is still fiction.

Žižek described a dearth and death of reality that, to my prosaic mind, was the culmination of post-WWII US hypocrisy and exceptionalism. What is happening in the 2016 election is due to the fact that on September 11 2001, the US stopped merely stringing together lies and launched a “global” war that is framed within one giant fairytale. For 15 years it has been as if every day the US has destroyed another Sudanese factory, but the lies have become to large and too numerous. They penetrate everywhere and inter-penetrate each other so that they cannot be refuted singly.

The real is abolished, and no one really wants it any more. Trump recently rewrote history by saying that a “stop-and-frisk” policing policy worked wonders for New York. Some challenge that, but not because it is untrue, but because they are not on Trump’s side. Yet there is little objection when John Kerry spoke to the UN General assembly:

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The gall of the man is not merely from the inappropriate dismissiveness (compare this to attitude towards the attack on the USS Cole which killed 17 sailors), but also in brushing over the very obvious questions raised by claiming that this was an “accident”. It took me all of 5 minutes after putting in the search terms “syria deir ez-zor map forces” to find out that there is a prima facie case that the act must have been deliberate. I could easily just look at news reports from the past 6 months that make it hard to avoid the conclusion that the US-led attack must have been intended to aid the forces of the self-proclaimed “Islamic State”. Once you consider in addition that within minutes of the attack the self-proclaimed “IS” launched an attack that has halted or reversed 6 months of slow SAA progress towards lifting the siege of Deir ez-Zor, then the incident looks very much like air support for “IS” forces. I would defy anyone to give any other explanation as to why the US would suddenly decide to bomb in this area, where the only military forces are the Syrian Arab Army and the “IS”. At the very least every journalist should report that the circumstances suggest that until their actions are explained, US claims should not be seen as credible as they are not reconcilable with the facts as we currently understand them.

Down the Rabbit Hole

I am about to write something that may be the most controversial thing I have ever written. I realise that many people will hate me for this, and I fully expect to be hunted down and savaged by vicious sci-fi nerds. But there comes a time when destiny calls, and it is my destiny to say something heretical about The Matrix

Here is my testament: If someone called “Morpheus” (the Greek god of dreams) offers to take you “down the rabbit hole” (an allusion to entering “Wonderland”) and you then end up perceiving a new reality in which you are the messiah, but the most fundamental fact of human existence (that people are in a virtual world being used by a machine intelligence as a way of generating electricity) makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, then accepting Morpheus’ offer is choosing delusion over reality. That means that “taking the red pill” means indulging delusions, lies and fantasy.

To recap: 1) Morpheus = god of dreams; 2) “down the rabbit hole” = journey into fantasy; 3) world of people hooked up as batteries = self-evident nonsense; 4) messianic mission = attractive delusion satisfying to ego and superego (and id once you throw in the inevitable “love interest”).

Ironically people refer to “taking the red pill” as being a path to enlightenment. Even more ironically it is linked to “9/11 truth” activism. But the people who took the red pill on 9/11 were the people in the US government, the elected officials, the military personnel, the spooks, the cops, the administrators. They, along with much of the population of the Western world, entered a phantasmagorical parallel universe, the GWOT Wonderland, where the fundamental premise of the main fact shaping the world makes no sense.

The Matrix tricks its viewers in the same way that science fiction author Philip K. Dick would often trick his readers. But where Dick’s deception was either playful or served a serious purpose (or both), the Wachowskis were either more mean-spirited or simply underestimated the human capacity for self-deception. The desire for purpose and the need for meaningfulness in one’s life drives people to perceive Neo’s journey as a revelation of truth rather than a descent into madness despite the heavy-handed hints I mentioned. The messiah figure is enticing because it satisfies narcissism and altruism simultaneously in a way that real life does not offer. As it happens, Phil Dick also explored this desire with black humour in “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” which formed the basis of the films Total Recall. The short story parallels the Total Recall film adaptations up to a point but has crucial further developments that we omitted from the films. When the protagonist’s belief that he is a secret agent becomes rationally unsustainable he “remembers” that he is actually an alien emissary sent to bring peace and enlightenment to humanity. When the alien emissary narrative is fatally challenged by its own irrational contradictions, then the protagonist “remembers” that even that was actually a cover identity for his real nature which is the actual messiah and saviour of all humankind.

There is a lot of power in the attractiveness of a sense of messianic purpose, but in The Matrix it is used to scam people. They overlook the obvious because that are deceived into doing so. I would even call it the “Neo con” (if I were cruel enough to inflict such a bad pun on readers) because it is a good model of the trickery that keeps people from seeing the obvious lies of the Global War on Terror.

The neocons themselves were and are a mix of scammers and scammed. Whether they believed the lies or not, they evinced a messianic purpose for the US. It is true that the fundamental benevolence of the enterprise did not bear much scrutiny, but then again the fundamental rationality did not bear scrutiny either. The point, like The Matrix, is not to conceal lies but to disincentivise the perception of unhidden lies. As the neocons’ direct influence seemed to fade, the fundamental parts of their worldview were left behind as mainstream political orthodoxy. The distinction between neocons and liberal interventionists (as I have repeatedly written) was never significant anyway and now we inhabit the world they created.

In The Matrix the whole purpose of the eponymous Matrix itself is explained as being a completely infeasible and physically impossible system of generating electricity. It is stated as quickly as possible, and the real trick is that those who do notice the impossibility will blame poor narrative construction and not suspect that it is key evidence of the real nature of what is happening. In the war on terror, Islamic terrorism is constantly highlighted but the connection with foreign policy is passed over very quickly, even though it is the central explanation for why the US needs to invade and bomb so widely. The US military still hands out medals for the GWOT so the basic premise is still that their far-flung interventions are a response to terrorism. The fall-back position is that even if it doesn’t make sense to attack other countries to stop terrorism, it is a real if mistaken belief on the part of officials.

Whether it is the Neocons or the Wachowskis, people never stop to consider whether it is reasonable to think that their unreasonableness is in earnest. Wolin, for example, keeps repeating that “inverted totalitarianism” came about without intention: “It has no Mein Kampf as an inspiration” he tells us in between quotes from various neocon equivalents. The ideology, the strategy, the intention and the foresight of consequences are all there to be seen, for those who will see them rather than asserting that they cannot be there. Once you figure out that the neocons and their allies must have deliberately crafted the terrorism lie, it puts quite a different spin on things.

15 years into this delusion we have seen military actions coalesce into a slow-motion World War. Without citing the threat of terrorism, the US could not have taken military action against Afghanistan or Iraq. Yet we shouldn’t forget that the threat of terrorism is still used to give people the impression that there is some natural and urgent reason for the US to be involved in Islamic countries. If we take the instances of Syria or Libya, they conflate concerns about the crimes of the dictatorial regime with concerns about terrorism. It makes no more sense than when the Nazis claimed that there was a single conspiracy of Communism and Western capitalism. Yet without being able to say the “IS” is a threat to the homeland, moves against regimes like Libya’s and Syria’s might be difficult to explain in light of, say, the ongoing support for Saudi Arabia or Egypt or any of the many brutal regimes that the US considers to be friendly and “moderate”. It makes no sense to attack regimes that oppose the alleged sources of terror, but that doesn’t really matter any more than it makes no sense to provide a massive life support and virtual reality infrastructure to billions of humans just so you can use them as energy cells. The senselessness is irrelevant.

We have gone down the rabbit hole, because even if we know that it is irrational to say that US interventions are against terror or because they oppose the oppression of dictators, we have no other coherent narrative. That is why I am constantly pushing for people to recognise that US interventions are genocides, attacks aimed at extending imperial power by committing violence and destruction against peoples and nations as such. It is that simple. It is also that banal. It is a grey world where even the most cruel of crimes are just another day at the office for some of the perpetrators. People prefer a dramatic fantasy narrative of anti-terror and humanitarian intervention to prevent the “next Rwanda”, yet most highly educated people would consider me a fantasist because suggesting a coherence in US foreign policy is a “conspiracy theory”.

Sauce for the Gander

In the end, if we have accepted irrationality and lies for so long; if we have for 15 years purged those who cannot live with cognitive dissonance from public and private areas of authority; should it surprise us that we have created the circumstances where truth is no longer relevant? Kerry, Clinton, Power and Obama are all capable at any day of the week of telling preposterous and monstrous lies. It is impossible to tell, for example, if Samantha Power is completely insane or not. Like Tony Blair she seems to be so deeply “in character” that the original human host, the once beloved daughter of Mr and Mrs Power, has been murdered by this bloodthirsty monster.

If you think Trump has gumption, think of the sheer chutzpah shown by Power when she turned the US massacre of Syrian personnel into an chance to attack Russia for daring to criticise the US: “even by Russia’s standards, tonight’s stunt – a stunt replete with moralism and grandstanding – is uniquely cynical and hypocritical.” As Gary Leupp writes, she is “condemning Russia for condemning a war crime”.

Our semiotician friends Baudrillard and Žižek like to condemn atrocious actions, but they avoid suggesting that there might be some premeditation and conscious shaping of the semantic. Žižek would probably consider me to be crude, primitive and jarring in my insistence on continually returning to a realist perspective. However Žižek has alienated many on the left with his comments on the European refugee crisis and I like to think that my more pointed view allows me to be honest about the refugee crisis without falling into disproportionate victim-blaming that amounts to xenophobia (regardless of whether it is literally true or not). On this subject Žižek is purely and smoothly in concord with the right. He is effectively like one of those second-degree racists who neatly substitute nurture for nature and justify fear and bigotry on the basis of “environment” instead of genetics. To my mind this is the logical outcome of never being brave enough to go out on a limb and say that there is a locus of power behind the events that shape our narrative perception. It may not be a literal Star Chamber of sinister conspirators, but power coalesces again and again in ways that form virtual Star Chambers and once you understand that mass transformations are often imposed from above then it makes little sense to fret about whether some refugees are rapists in the midst of a metastasising holocaust that has killed millions and threatens tens of millions.

Žižek wants to state a generality that is true and comforting (that the West is not responsible for every bad thing in the world) without testing whether it is actually applicable to the specific case he addresses. For example, Žižek says that the Rwanda genocide can’t be blamed on the West, because he is ignorant of the history. The US acted in co-ordination with Uganda and the Rwandan Patriotic Front to destabilise the country and provoke ethnic violence. Perhaps the resulting genocide was far beyond what they wished for, or perhaps not. It was not the end of US-backed ethnic violence in Rwanda and bordering areas of the DR Congo, so the provocateurs cannot have been too appalled at the violence. Nor does the US history of slaughter in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East allow us to take seriously the horror they evince at the Rwanda Genocide, nor the way they use the memory of it as a pretext for their own acts of genocide.

Likewise, Žižek says that the refugee crisis cannot be blamed entirely on the West because “ISIS” is an “active response”. The problem is that we either have to confront the fact that “IS” is a deliberate creation of the US empire, or we remain in Wonderland where magically, just when the US needs a new pretext to carry on the wars that it is already fighting, “IS” appears. Miraculously, because of “IS”, the US gets to continue the wars it was already fighting for other reasons even when the primary activity of this wars is to attack the enemies of “IS”.

We know that the US armed the “IS” forces, but we are meant to believe that they did it somehow by accident. A country suddenly appeared and found itself governing millions while simultaneously fighting a four-front war against established national armies and ethnic militias. Despite being land-locked and surrounded by putative enemies it has remained in play for 2 years. It is as if the Nazis had consolidated in Bavaria in 1945 and were still there in defiance of the Allies best effort in 1947. It simply makes no sense.

That is why a lying reality show personality and probable child rapist can make a credible run for the highest office in the US. It is because we have had 15 years of deluded and/or shameless US imperialists doubling down over and over and over again on their lies. We are trapped in Wonderland, because it hurts people to think of reality; because people want to believe Žižek’s announcement that not everything is the West’s fault; and they want to join in with his implied sneer at those who say otherwise.

The 2016 US election will not take place because reality is in abeyance. Young people might not even know what it is any more. They see all the shades of grey, but they can no longer conceptualise black or white, so it is hard to find meaning. The trivial and the profound are no longer distinguishable, not because of some general social evolution, but because managed democracy evolved as a system of political domination. This is the result of astroturfing, greenwashing, pinkwashing, native advertising, product placement, grey propaganda, and so forth. We did not just end up like this because we are spoilt and spend too much time on social media. This was done to us.

So there is Trump. He is a sick joke. His party, which he seems almost completely detached from, is like magician’s illusion: a giant edifice that seems to be levitating with no visible means of support. He has the endorsement of the patriarch of the “Duck Dynasty” Phil Robertson who offered to baptise him on camera to get “God on our side”. Apparently even God no longer believes in the Real until it is on reality television. But it takes two to tango; Hillary Clinton is no more real than Trump and the polls show that ordinary people know it.

The 2016 election will be a non-event. The way the votes are counted will shape the destiny of the world, but the voting itself will be an empty ritual. That is not a reason not to vote, it is actually a reason to reject the idea that your vote was wasted. The votes are not wasted, but even if they are counted they are stolen. Stolen by fictional candidates like Trump and Clinton and stolen by the death of politics. Vote your conscience and then live according to it. Let everyone know that your vote was stolen by a system that is fraudulent. Make sure that everyone remembers that it is a lie every time they tell you that you might not like what the President does but you have to accept it because that is the way democracy works.

One day they will push the lies too far and Wonderland will shatter, releasing us from this dark sphere back into the light.

The USA is 1984 in Stereo

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(and so are the other Western “Democracies”)

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In George Orwell’s book 1984 the mainstream media language of “Newspeak” was replacing English one word at a time. Complexities were abolished and replaced with simplistic notions where a word with a defined meaning like “democracy” was unnecessary and was replaced with “double-plus good”. This is interchangeable with other “double-plus good” things like “freedom”, “opportunity”, “our troops”, “human rights” and so forth. The point is that when one discusses “double-plus good” one does not have to get bogged down in details such as whether it is used accurately or not, nor what it actually means.

Terrorism” means “double-plus bad”. When people use the term “terrorism” it almost never comes from a critical judgement that characterises certain acts as terroristic because they employ terror. It is just as telling when the word “terrorism” is not allowable. US military violence is almost never called “terrorism”. This is not because people have weighed the characteristics of that violence and ruled our terror as an intended outcome – it is because terrorism is “double-plus bad”, and the US military can never be “double-plus bad”.

What Orwell did not envisage was the growth of another category of words. These represent concepts with two “meanings” in Newspeak – concepts which are “double-plus bad” to 50% of the population, but “double-plus good” to the other 50%. In the US a polarisation of issues that began with the artificial “culture war” created a double-Orwellian political discourse over issues like reproductive rights, guns, gender and sexuality, religion and tradition. In no issue has reason prevailed, instead fatuous unreason and tribal smugness are taking over those who formerly stood for progress. We are left with a bunch of chest-thumping troglodytes on two different sides yelling at each other while their brains shrink with each passing second. The issues they yell about may be important, but they only ever deepen the divisions and strengthen the status quo.

While the two sides compete in drooling primeval aggression, they have no time or energy to question the increasingly threadbare excuses given for the greatest crimes: mass killing; mass destruction (including environmental destruction); and the wholesale appropriation of the wealth of humanity and the resources of the planet.

When split in this way the sort of monolithic orthodoxy alluded to by Orwell is actually strengthened because it is subjected to much less critical scrutiny. It means that left-wing progressives who might be inclined to work for radical change can be distracted by greenwashing or pinkwashing. Equally, reactionaries are actually bolstered by the reforms they loathe but which fuel their apocalyptic rhetoric and fill their ranks with the discontented.

Kakistocracy, Mediocracy, Idiocracy, Ponerocracy, Pathocracy, and other words my spellcheck doesn’t like.

George Orwell’s 1984 was the Idiocracy of its time. Both works are satires about contemporary idiocy which use a science fiction gloss and a futuristic setting in order to mock, but also analyse, the stupidity of the authors’ peers. If each seems to be somewhat prophetic it is not because they were real attempts to predict the future, but rather because they were extremely accurate when exaggerating the trends of their own times.

1984 was more focussed on political stupidity and elite fools, but ultimately Idiocracy is the same – its depiction of mass popular stupidity becomes less important to the narrative than the fact that the people who make the decisions are the pre-eminent morons.

Both works use a disposable and transparent science fiction conceit in the same manner that Jonathan Swift used a fantasy genre in Gulliver’s Travels as a vehicle for criticising the politics and immorality of his own time and place. In Idiocracy there is a plainly whimsical and silly notion of increasing stupidity caused by a form of sexual selection that happens because stupid people choose to have more children. This is nothing more than a pretext for exploring the way marketing-driven ideology makes people into mindless drones. The reason that Idiocracy had predictive power is that the marketing model of deliberately dumbed-down consumers has diffused throughout more and more of society. This is the process which the film was critiquing.

In 1984 the science fiction conceit is more bitter than whimsical. Orwell is satirising the notion of totalitarianism (a notion which he helped into existence) by parodying his own Animal Farm and his former mentor Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. His setting of near omnipresent surveillance cameras and (just as importantly) near omnipresent televisions and loudspeakers is the vehicle for showing that internalised orthodox ideology is a panoptical disciplinary mechanism stronger than any feasible secret police and surveillance regime. He was anticipating the slogan of 1968: “There is a policeman inside all our heads”, suggesting that we internalise the orthodox ideology of the state and it monitors us from within, making us do our exercises and punishing our disloyal thoughts. He was also well ahead of Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman because the allegory implies that greater thought control exists in those regimes with less physical repression.

I know what some of you are thinking – how can I be writing of Orwell’s Oceania having “less physical repression” when the protagonist is thrown in a dungeon and tortured in a real physical manner? That is the whole point, though. All of that is meant to be an allegory of the treatment meted out to those who don’t toe the line within any circles of intellectual, artistic or political communications in late-1940s Britain. When Winston Smith finds a little corner in which he thinks (mistakenly) that he is beyond the view of surveillance cameras and can write freely, it is a clear reference to Orwell’s own comment after a few months working at the BBC: “I consider I have kept our little corner of it fairly clean.” He quit the BBC about a year later in even greater disillusionment. He made reference to the BBC by calling the nebulous leader figure of Oceania “Big Brother”, and by painting journalism as “The Ministry of Truth”. He made an even clearer reference by naming the ultimate torture chamber “Room 101” after a conference room in Broadcasting House in which he attended editorial meetings.

Orwell’s critique of the BBC and other mainstream media is not at all subtle. The fact that there is a sort of conspiracy of silence over the obvious allegorical meaning completely vindicates his accusations of brainwashed obtuseness among the intelligentsia. Historically people have been very insistent that Orwell was critiquing totalitarianism and warning us about how horrible life will be if we let it happen here. That is what people are primed to expect and that is what they find, especially because they are not necessarily familiar with the subjects of satirical references. For those who have only read 1984 under the impression that it is a warning about the potential for future nastiness, I would suggest re-reading the entire work with this different understanding. Apart from anything else it is surprisingly funny in parts (although the humour does tend to leave the bitter after-taste that you get when things are a little too true).

Twice the Bang for your Buck

1984 tackled many mind-destroying facets of orthodox ideology, but I am going to stick simply to the one I mentioned above – the simplistic aspect to Newspeak which replaced complex realities with sterile predetermined moralistic judgements. This is a way of ensuring that people react in a kneejerk fashion and are not subject to the undesirably democractic results of thought, critical engagement and reasoned discourse. (It also parallels the type of stupidity derived from advertising that is seen in Idiocracy. In that film people water their crops with sports drink in the belief that electrolytes will help the plants because electrolytes are a selling point in ads. In other words, electrolytes are double-plus good.)

As I mentioned, though, things are structured a little differently and there are now two exclusive dialects of Newspeak. Imagine if most of the “two minutes hate” that people in Oceania devoted to screaming and yelling spittle-flecked abuse at a screen was redirected so that people on each side of the theatre aisle were pouring forth that very bile and loathing across at each other. If that is hard to imagine, you only need to look around online a little and eventually you will find a comment thread that fits the description.

In our stupid world irony is piled on irony. Ironically, people always misrepresent 1984 because they are being Orwellian in their obtuseness. In short, every time someone mindlessly misses the point entirely by going on about mass surveillance (usually mentioning prefab hero Edward McSnowden, the world’s first 100% synthetic whistle-blowing sheepdog), they are confirming that they are just as cowardly and moronic as the “Outer Party” dweebs of Orwell’s satire.

Idiocracy was also about the spread of stupidity created by the reproduction of ideology. It uses a genetic analogy to create an absurdly exaggerated illustration. There is, in fact, a well-known concept in which ideology is transferred through as an analogue of a gene. This analogue of a gene is a single encapsulated discrete unit of cultural production which can be replicated. The name given to this was “meme”.

The irony in this instance becomes apparent when we examine the history of the meme of the concept of the meme itself. To live, memes must be retained transmitted and propagated, just like genes. The term was created in 1976. It abided and slowly grew. By the 1990s it was becoming important in cultural activism and people started to enter self-consciously into a “meme war”. The hope was that the truth would give memes a greater attraction for retention and transmission. This would even out the unlevel playing field where elite cultural production dominates and propagandises. Hopes rose as the internet made it possible for any smartarse dissident to reach across the world and with a few well-chosen words and maybe a picture that would burst the bubble of stale orthodoxies and self-serving elite ideology. It looked as if the elite ideological hegemony that enslaves the minds of its victims might finally be overthrown.

In reality, of course, the internet actually provided a space of information overload – an environment where the fittest memes were the most facile, simplistic and self-satisfied snippets. Faced with a barrage of things and stuff, people are attracted to sensationalism and that which makes them feel good about themselves. Thus, in a dramatic twist, the very concept of the meme itself has been vastly overshadowed by its mutant offspring, the meme that a “meme” is a picture with a slogan added (the ironic iconic image being that of Gene [sic] Wilder radiating smug condescension). 99% of people who use the term “meme” use it exclusively in this latter sense, happily oblivious to the complex concept they are stomping all over.

These picture “memes” are emblematic of a social media driven paradigm of communication that is also seen in tweets and status updates. These are communications of speed and brevity. They lack complexity and the lack of critical foresight applied to communicating actually makes them deeply conservative. Everyone is a self-promoter and a crowd-pleaser, rigidly self-censoring so as to never challenge the orthodoxies of their own little reference group of followers.

By this mechanism many “progressives” and pseudo-dissidents have been transformed into the mirror image of the hegemonic class and their right-wing brownshirt thugs. They are sucked in to the “left wing” of a meta-orthodoxy embodied most clearly in institutions such as the Guardian or Huffington Post. These are left-wing enough to attract and retain left-wing readers but act almost purely to create boundaries to legitimate discourse and even to move their readers into a conservative outlook.

My Piety is Bigger than Your Piety

Regardless of any media affiliation, the online world tends to bring everyone down to the level of a spoiled bourgeois 18-year old Trotskyist, full of puerile arrogance and derision for those who don’t “get it”. In that sense, although people are getting ever more orthodox and rigid and unthinking, they are also taking on more to the outside appearance of fervent radicals.

The results are threefold. One result is that extremism and tribalism deepen. The second is that those who were once taking a stance based on knowledge and critical engagement are being crowded out by those who hollow out such causes to create mindless pieties. The third is that those same people are easily manipulated into becoming bulwarks of orthdoxy, cheerleaders of elite privilege, humanitarian warmongers, and liberal lovers of imperialist tyranny.

Everyone reading this is likely to recognise a key symptom of the malaise – lazy lies spread on social media and alternative media in support of left-wing causes. Not a day goes by when I do not find something that uses stupidity, ignorance or lies in a supposedly good cause. One that annoyed me recently was an article saying that “abortion is as old as pregnancy” and “abortion has always existed”. The article was making a worthy point, but doing so with idiocy. Because of that it can only ever preach to the choir and it encourages supporters of reproductive rights to become slack and stupid in their argumentation. It leaves them vulnerable to making idiots of themselves. Another example was a “meme” saying that 100 million “Native Americans” were killed by the “US Government”. The intent was arguably good, but the claim made is actually the result of racist chauvinistic parochialism. This is not the antithesis of mindless right-wing patriotic idiocy, it is its complement. Dissent is co-opted into the greater myth of US omnipotence and centrality. Yet everyone clicks “like” because if you don’t use your brain it seems worthy.

A big part of the support given to imperialist Western regimes like the US, and individual leaders like Obama or Sanders, is the use of this tribalism to create an unthinking loyalty. For example, virulent, if not unhinged, right-wing attacks on Bernie Sanders make people rush into his camp and react with fury against any real criticism. As with Obama, they become conditioned to think that criticism of the leader is itself a transgressive act of violence. At the same time they lose any shame about evincing proud support for mass murderers. They become zombie zealots who look normal at first but act exactly like Trump supporters when you criticise their chosen leader.

Similarly, the emotive and uncritical human rights discourse which most “progressives” are immersed in becomes a way to get them into supporting imperialist wars. The demonisation of Third World baddies like Saddam Hussein, Bashar Assad or Muammer Gaddafi allows these “liberals” to get in direct touch with their inner patriot, their inner warmonger, and their inner racist. They are then indistinguishable from the right-wing “hawks” except in being somewhat more insane in their eye-rolling enthusiasm for mass death.

Fans of 1984 might wonder why I haven’t acknowledged that Orwell already suggested a fundamental equivalence between opponents and supporters of Big Brother, symbolised by the fact that the canonical revolutionary text was hidden between the pages of the Newspeak dictionary. The reason is that I think that Orwell indicates a moral equivalence, but I am suggesting that more and more people who might think that they are dissidents are actually loyal party members in a new bifurcated Inner Party divided into two antagonistic wings under the same monolithic and unquestionable orthodoxy.

“Liberal” and “conservative” do not have definitions any more. They both mean double-plus good to some people and double-plus bad to others. Similarly certain issues are no longer really debated on their merits: taxes, guns, abortions, government, civil rights and many other topics are to greater or lesser extents no longer actual issues. They are key indicators of tribal affiliation that are either double-plus good or double-plus bad. It is like a binary code, and most people’s politics can be summarised in just 1 bit. People reading this article are likely to have a more nuanced view than that, but let us face it, if you read things like this you are in a very small minority.

Our job, in this tiny minority, is to crack the system. If you cannot drag someone away from supporting Bernie Sanders or the “humanitarian” bombing of ISIS, then alienate them from yourself and your cause. If you don’t do that, then every single individual issue will continue to be co-opted and subverted. If real activists stop tolerating Party loyalists then more will leave the Party and the short-term losses suffered by activist causes will be more than compensating by not having the cause taken out of the hands of real dissidents, subverted, and then used as a tool of oppression.

Moreover, if you don’t want to be sucked in to the Party, do not give into the temptation to be stupid just because it is easy and gratifying and gives you respite from the unrelenting “pessimism of the intellect”. For example, I have already mentioned Edward Snowden in disparaging terms, which will probably anger some of you. Snowden has done and said some good things, but he has also stated that letting the public know what their government is doing is a danger to democracy. Deep down you must all know on some level that he is an elite concoction, even if his elite faction is a dissenting one. Watch the trailer to Citizen 4 and tell me that his words are not made for Hollywood. You should not trust him – he is a former CIA officer. You should not like him – he is a US patriot who joined the Army after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. And you definitely should not idolise and lionise him as a being hero and the moral equivalent of Chelsea Manning. It is an insult to Manning’s sacrifice and suffering to even mention Snowden in the same breath.

We all want the easy way out and the easy answer. We must have hope, but do not hope for a saviour. Do not hope for the perfect revolution or the perfect movement. Hope for the strength to continue the struggle. Hope to keep hope alive.

Orwell ended 1984 with a vision of history as a boot stomping on a face for all eternity. We need to embrace that in the same way that Buddhists embrace the universality of suffering, and yet may nonetheless devote themselves to fighting suffering. The boot will always be with us and pretending otherwise is the road to delusion, or to despair and surrender. On the other hand, the boot isn’t going to spare you if you stop struggling so you might as well fight. Nor will the boot let you be on its side if you stomp on other people’s faces. It doesn’t have a side. It is a pure avatar of oppression.

Yet the boot is not uniform in the pain it dishes out. In simple terms, our choice is either to protect ourselves from the boot at the expense of others or protect others from the boot at our own expense. If we protect others instead of ourselves we reduce suffering more than if we protect ourselves. If everybody devoted themselves to that then the boot would be like a feather. But that is the trick isn’t it? The most important struggle is to get others to stand in solidarity when they are so prone to division, to fear, and to selfishness.

On the other side of the ledger, part of putting yourself first is also getting others to do the same. Selfishness loves company, resents and loathes altruism, and seeks to sabotage or subvert principled activism. In that sense it is like a conflict of us and them, but we don’t win be scoring points and being superior.

In conclusion: everyone should stop being so wilfully stupid, then things will get much better.

The ICC Will Only Hurt the Palestinian People, Part 2: These People are Warmongers and We Should Revile Them

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In Part 1 I discussed various things relating to the International Criminal Court. With all its humanitarian rhetoric, the actions of the ICC have consistently been a source of injustice and suffering. Moreover it has been the enemy of truth – perhaps the greatest crime because it can perpetuate suffering for generations to come.

Part 2 deals with, among other things, the undue deference paid to those who professionally don the mantle of humanitarian. These are not great humanitarians, quite the reverse. Just as hierarchies of “knowledge” can produce ignorance so can “humanitarian” hierarchies militate against humanitarianism. By analogy, if I want to hear a cogent perspective on US foreign policy I would almost be better off heading to the pub and looking for someone in the mood to be candid than I would be in heading to a foreign policy think-tank. Equally, once professional “humanitarians” have internalised the idea that they are inherently moral, it is pretty easy for them to neglect morality altogether.

I feel that it is constructive to cultivate contempt and anger at those who are more-than-comfortably well off because of their role within agencies of dysfunction and harm such as the ICC. At the same time I am aware that critics of people within institutions often personalise criticism – not as insults nor ad hominem critiques, but as a presumption that a mistaken intellectual stance must be the result of bad intent. Obviously, I am not saying that we should extend the benefit of doubt to Obama or Kissinger or Power. Sometimes, even if people believe that they are doing the right thing it is not relevant. Pol Pot thought he was doing the right thing, but so what? For people with less executive power, though, it is generally counterproductive to attack their motives.

My answer is to cultivate contempt for the collective, and respect for the individual. Self-satisfaction is destroying the intellects of people who succeed in many walks of life, and none of us plebs should continue to feed that.

Preventing Peace

When an accused criminal is the demonised leader of a Third World state, there can be no compromise according to the pundits. Only prosecution to the utmost extent of the law is acceptable, even if innocent people must die to achieve this.

When official villains, certified by the US State Department, are up for prosecution we enter Oppositeland. War is peace and the rule of law means lawlessness. The pundits enter a cop-show fantasy where law is not an imperfect instrument of ethics, but a tool of righteous justice. The rule of law doesn’t mean abiding by the law even when the results are not to your liking, but it now means breaking the rules to ensure that the bad guy is always punished. For example, in How America Gets Away with Murder, Michael Mandel pointed at the “absurdities” of Western newspapers touting the triumph of the “rule of law” after Slobadan Milosevic was illegally extradited from Serbia under extremely political circumstances.

The bloodlust and the self-righteousness can lead to a lot worse than subverting sovereignty and bringing the law into disrepute. Hard lines on “the end of impunity” are a potential enemy of peace both indirectly and directly. Take the case of Charles Taylor. He ended a civil war and left the country when he was offered exile in Nigeria. The US Congress soon voted to offer a $2 million bounty on Taylor. Richard Falk criticised his later capture, prosecution and conviction on the ground that it was selective prosecution serving US political ends: “…when the application of international criminal law serves the cause of the powerful, it will be invoked, extended, celebrated, even institutionalised, but only so long as it is not turned against the powerful. One face of Janus is that of international justice and the rule of law, the other is one of a martial look that glorifies the rule of power on behalf of the war gods.”

There is hypocrisy, and the direct intervention of neutralising enemies through the courts, and the implicit threat to other Third World leaders that if they do not run their country according to US wishes they may end their lives in a prison cell far from home. But in some ways, those things are not the worst of it. The worst thing is that the next Charles Taylor will look at his future and weigh whether to concede defeat in war and flee the country. Remembering Taylor, he or she will decide instead to fight to the death and thousands of others will die as well.

That is an indirect way of promoting conflict, but ICC indictments can be used to more immediate warmongering effect. Shortly before NATO started an air war against Libya in 2011, the UNSC instructed the ICC to investigate Libya (despite the fact that the US, Russia and China refuse to be subject to the ICC themselves). The probe centred on the killing of political prisoners in a prison in 1996. As Phillippe Sands pointed out at the time the very existence of the investigation made a negotiated settlement to the civil war in Libya less likely. Indictments for Muammer Ghadaffi, his son Saif al Islam and his brother-in-law came less than two months after NATO bombs killed another of Ghadaffi’s sons and three of his grandchildren. Both flight and negotiation became impossible. The indictment ensured that fighting would continue – meaning that people would continue to be killed and maimed.

Given the timing and the political nature of the decision to indict in the midst of war there are really only three possible reasons for the indictment. One is that US and European leaders wanted to make a salient demonstration to the world of what happens to leaders who they dislike and they don’t care how many Libyans are killed in order to make that demonstration. (In retrospect the Panama invasion of 1989 can be seen as such an operation, and the best estimates of Panamanians killed in “Operation Just Cause” are in the thousands.) The second possibility is that the same powers were actually desirous of conflict in Libya as a divide-and-control strategy whereby independent development is curtailed by ongoing destabilisation and ever-renewable civil strife. This would be entirely fitting within a pattern of interventions which has sown conflict and degraded central governance in dozens of countries. The third option is that both of the previous options are true in varying degrees.

Colonisation by NGO

Palestine is one of a number of societies rife with NGOs. Mandy Turner has shown that the “liberal peacebuilding” practiced by these NGOs is a colonial practice and a contemporary “mission civilatrice”. Israel’s colonial practices are “at the expense of Palestinian self-determination”, but Western-backed “peacebuilding” is “at the expense of a development strategy for national liberation”.

The “liberal peacebuilding” prescription of “neoliberal policies of open markets, privatization and fiscal restraint, and governance policies focused on enhancing instruments of state coercion, ‘capacity building’ and ‘good governance’” is simply neocolonialism. These are the practices developed by the British and imposed wherever possible on colonies, former colonies and parts of the formal empire. Once upon a time it was called “liberalism” now it tends to be called “neoliberalism”, but it amounts to the same thing – colonial control that ensures both dependency and impoverishment. The main difference here, and in other neocolonies, is that the former colonial power does not have an exclusive concession and the exploitation and expropriation (which may be of donor money rather than indigenous wealth) is a multinational Western project.

In short, while Palestinians are concentrated into fragmented reservations by Israel’s settler colonial project, within those patches an additional burden of neocolonial servitude suppresses independent development. But as Turner also indicates, part of the neocolonial NGO dominance is the delegitimisation of violent resistance: “…the ability to decide whether someone is or is not a ‘partner for peace’ and thus act on this decision is unequal. This phrase, therefore, made Israel’s attempts to control Palestinian political elites seem innocuous. It also allowed donors to believe that funding and working with Palestinian elites regarded by Israel as being ‘partners for peace’ would assist their mission of supporting the peace process. In its application this paradigm has variously meant Israel justifying cutting off revenue transfers to the PA, arresting and detaining democratically elected Palestinian politicians, extrajudicial executions and military violence. It has also been used by donors to justify cutting off aid, reverting to ‘bad governance’ practices, and supporting regime change. It has been, in effect, the discursive framework that has bound the two practices of control together and has given them common purpose.”

One Person’s Terrorist is Another Person’s Legally Elected Political Representative

Building on Turner’s work another legal scholar, Vicky Sentas, gave this talk on “peacebuilding as counterinsurgency”. Her focus is on the listing of the Kurdish PKK as a terrorist organisation, but the logic applies equally to Palestinian armed resistance formations given that they all have been or could be declared terrorists on the basis of their resistance activities. The terrorist listing is even worse than politically motivated accusations of war crimes or crimes against humanity because it prejudicially criminalises people on the basis of belonging to a designated terrorist entity. If you delegitimise resistance or insurgency on the basis of acts designated as “terrorism” than all personnel become “terrorists” regardless of their own actions.

Of course the main use of the term “terrorist” in the last 100 years has been as a way of delegitimising armed violence from non-state actors. Our elites work hard to avoid any suggestion that terrorism might actually refer to the intentional use of terror per se, because that would inevitably mean that the greatest terrorists are the most powerful states. Noam Chomsky’s famous assertion that we ignore the “wholesale” terrorism of militarised states and concentrate on the “retail” terrorism of armed non-state entities doesn’t really suffice. “Terrorists” means people with weapons or destructive implements who we don’t like and who we can get away with labelling as “terrorist”. Whether they actually practice the use of terror is not relevant. Anticolonial rebels were called terrorists; the resistance to German occupation in Europe were labelled “Bolshevist terrorists”; the Viet Minh and later the National Liberation Front were labelled “Communist terrorists” from which came “Charlie Tango” and hence “Charlie”. The only difference is that now we have an international regime, subject to US hegemony, which makes this political, and inherently oppressive, act into a internationally legalistic one.

The idea of terrorism itself is a way of implying that the organised armed violence or property destruction of a group is illegitimate as being criminal and outside of the behaviour of combatancy. The old-fashioned approach was to suggest that belligerent parties such as insurgents must be treated as combatants. After the cessation of hostilities the victor could legitimately label the defeated foes as traitors and deal with them as such. This is hardly perfect and does nothing to prevent victor’s justice and judicial massacres. On those grounds some might think that it is a pointless distinction to make. But there is a certain sense that if the belligerents were criminals en masse because terrorism is a crime, then they would properly be dealt with by the normal policing and judicial processes of the state in question. If the response to an organised challenge is military violence, paramilitary violence, counterinsurgency, “counter-terror”, political violence and or political terror, then you are in a situation of armed conflict and the enemy should be treated as a combatant, at least for the duration.

Anyone who has Followed the Thread of This Article to This Point…

deserves a medal. But they also might be asking: “Hang on, surely joining the ICC will strengthen Palestinian claims to statehood and make their resistance more, not less, legitimate.” I wish it were so, but it is unfortunately more accurate to say that those countries that are subject to the ICC may find themselves in the same situation as Palestinians if they face aggression or occupation. They may find that politically determined accusations about the manner in which armed resistance is conducted or internal conflict is dealt with are used to delegitimise all resistance either informally or formally through the enforcement of terrorist listings.

Bear in mind, too, that entities like the US and Israel have a long-standing habit of conflating armed and unarmed resistance activities. In Viet Nam the US coined the term “Viet Cong Infrastructure” (VCI) to designate people who had sympathy for the National Liberation Front and the People’s Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF). The term Viet Cong had already conflated combatants and non-combatants who opposed the Saigon regime, now the VCI designation worked in the same way as a “terrorist” or “VC” designation, legitimising deadly violence as if the victims were combatants yet denying the rights accorded to combatants. VCI were the prime target of the notorious Phoenix Programme. Unlike actual NLF officials or PLAF personnel those fingered as VCI, often by tortured suspects, were easy to abduct or kill at their homes.

A similar mentality is even applied now domestically in the US, with the designation of “material support for terrorism”. This sounds like it could only mean substantive support for actual terrorism such as providing money or materiel to suicide bombers. In practice the case of the Holy Land Foundation 5 shows that it is political designation intended to conflate the crime of thinking the wrong thoughts with unlawful acts of violence. The victims of that judicial persecution are serving sentences of up to 65 years for sending money to charities allegedly controlled by Hamas. They were not accused of funding terrorist activities, but of sending funds to a terrorist entity.

The HLF5 defendants are claiming that they were entrapped because they tried to get a State Dept. list of approved charities, but were denied. The point of the exercise is to create a political language in which giving charity to orphans is “terrorism”. This accompanies an ongoing exercise to “rebrand” military violence, including killing civilians, as “humanitarian”. The most important thing to remember is that this has worked. If you put “holy land foundation trial” into a search engine that does not anticipate your desires (such as duckduckgo), you will find that their conviction was a victory against Jihadi terrorism and the plot to enforce Sharia in the United States of America.

This illustrates that we are really faced with two possible ways of dealing with the overall issue of armed mass violence. We can either accept the Nürnberg precedents and the UN Charter. This would mean that war is illegal, all people have a right to life and that the aggressor is culpable for all loss of life and suffering. The UNSC would be able to authorise legitimate military action, but it could only do so in accordance with the UN Charter, which can only mean acting as a collective defence against an aggressor. This is a highly imperfect system and many bad things can happen to people that this particular system does not act to prevent or discourage. On the other hand, this system outlined does not actively facilitate atrocities, while the alternative does.

The system that is favoured by the US, and ultimately promoted by the ICC, is one in which the armed violence is legitimate if carried out by lawful combatants in a lawful manner. Unlawful actions by lawful combatants are not legitimate, but they are a side-issue of individual criminality. In contrast, unlawful acts committed by unlawful combatants are the retrospective rationale for justifying unlawful status and all resistance by unlawful combatants is unlawful. In other words, might makes right. Lawfulness or unlawfulness depend entirely on the ability to control perceptions. The powerful are allowed to commit mass violence against the weak, and the resistance of the weak will make them the perpetrator and justify the acts of the powerful.

Israel’s Persecution Complex

The ICC’s significance is inevitably that of a public relations exercise. Even the “end of impunity” enthusiast must readily admit that the Court’s function is not to provide specific deterrence but to create general deterrence (supposedly by ending impunity). In fact, there is no evidence or concrete reasoning that would support that claim, but it has a veneer of rationality. This isn’t a matter of common ignorance, this is highbrow ignorance for superior idiots only, but even on these terms the putative general deterrent effect is the result of managing perceptions. Thus even the supporters know that ICC activities are a form of display, and their trial are inevitably show trials.

Because the ICC is one big politicised PR exercise, legalistic analyses of the ICC are less important than discursive analyses. I have concentrated on the ways in which the ICC is part of the ongoing process of creating an international political discourse of “good guys” and “bad guys” in which the powerful control the language, the conversation and thus, ultimately, the perception. This is a thought control process aimed largely at the intelligentsia. But in the case of Palestine, ICC membership will further another project of thought control – that of the Great Israeli Persecution Complex.

Historically Jews have suffered a great deal of persecution. In Europe during World War II this persecution became something that truly defies words. Even at a time when unspeakable acts and unimaginable suffering were the experience of many millions throughout the world, the fate of Europe’s Jews stand out. The German concentration camp, slave labour, and extermination camp systems, and the mobile civilian mass-murder systems, exceeded all historical precedents of cruelty. I do not write that lightly and I am not forgetting Potosí, nor the Atlantic slave trade, nor the victims of Japanese occupation, nor the Ukrainian Terror Famine, nor any of the other great obscenities of humanity. Jews were not the only victims, by any means, but in some respects they were the key and exemplary victims.

If Zionism had ever been purely a response to persecution, perhaps the lesson of the Shoah might have been commit to opposing all acts of genocide. It would be an anticolonial movement. But Zionism was never purely about an enduring escape from persecution. It has always accommodated a combination of nationalism, colonialism, racism, chauvinistic religious belief, and Imperial power politics. In addition we must account for the role that greed and love of power play in all political movements that provide outlets for them. Thus, inevitably, the response to the Shoah was not an organic response that would reject all genocidal cruelty, but an exploitative one by a existing system of power hierarchies whose human components seized on the emotional and political capital provided by the murder of millions.

The historical persecution of Jews and the Shoah actually have very little to do with the realities facing Israel. I am not saying that there has never been persecution of Jews in the Arab world, nor that anti-Judaism is no longer a matter of concern in Europe or elsewhere. These are complicated issues which I cannot get into here. I will confine myself to pointing out that when the Argentine junta was detaining Jews and sending them to camps where they were sometimes tortured in front of pictures of Hitler, and many were killed, the Israel’s government sided with the neo-Nazis, not against them.

But when it comes to the occupation of Palestine, the exploitation of past persecution is the gift that keeps on giving. The ICC will provide an ongoing opportunity for the Zionist regime to harp on about how the entire world hates Jews on a regular basis. It will be like the Goldstone Report on a loop track.

To refresh your memory, the Goldstone Report was slanted against Palestinians. Richard Goldstone, the lead author, is an avowed Zionist despite his history of opposing apartheid. This was a fact finding mission, not a judicial inquiry, but it should still have addressed the question of aggression. Instead it misleadingly affirmed Israel’s right to self-defence. Noam Chomsky characterised the report as being pro-Israel on those grounds. It was also disproportionate, devoting considerable wordage to Palestinian militant activities, when if weighted by deaths caused Palestinian activities would barely get a mention.

Goldstone had watered down some aspects of the report against the wishes of his co-authors, yet on its release the Israeli government lead a chorus of Zionists, neocons, white supremacists and Islamophobes around the world that shrieked like stuck pigs. They claimed that the whole thing was part of the giant world-wide conspiracy of the Jew-hating UN. Goldstone later strengthened these cries by undermining the report with his name on it. All three of his fellow authors issued their own contrary statement, but hardly anyone heard about that.

This is another one of those inversions of reality, this time in three steps rather than two. When Operation Cast Lead was occurring the raw images tended to show the truth – a helpless besieged people were being attacked in a one-sided slaughter. But if you try searching “goldstone report bias” in duckduckgo you have to scroll down a great deal to find anything that counters the notion that the report was biased against Israel, and I don’t even know how many hits you would get before the first one that suggested a pro-Israel bias.

Even anti-Zionist outlets like Electronic Intifada devote their attention to decrying Goldstone’s later betrayal and defending the Goldstone Report against accusations of anti-Israel bias and completely neglect to show the important ways in which the report was unreasonably and unfairly biased in Israel’s favour. That, far more than the report’s actual contents, is the contribution of the report to posterity and our understanding of Israel’s actions in Gaza. Expect more of the same.

Binyamin Netanyahu has just succeeded electorally by taking a “hard line” and playing on fear and racism. The Great Israeli Persecution Complex has become part of an ever-intensifying spiral of extremism where each new crime necessitates a more insane world view. The world increasingly sees the bare injustice of the genocidal project of Zionism in Palestine. The response within Israel and for their fanatical supporters, who are increasingly confined to the US, is the paranoiac vision of a world of savage “anti-Semites” who oppose Israel out of hatred for Jews.

In reality the international community and the UN greatly favour Israel at the expense of Palestinians, including the diaspora. The UN was Israel’s midwife (the father of the child, Britain, decided that it was not desirable to be present at the birth). The UN has acted to shield Israel from the consequences of realising the human rights of Palestinians. It is a complicated story which can be found by scrolling halfway down here or you could just watch Vera Gowland-Debbas here and here. In short, what it means is that every single member of the United Nations, meaning your government, has a specific moral and legal obligation to act to secure the long absent rights of the people of Palestine. They have failed to do so for 66 years and the only reason for not doing so is the potential negative impact on Israel. No country has any such obligation to Israel nor, especially, to the “Jewish state of Israel”. Individual Israelis have the same human rights as we all have, but the state of Israel has no rights which can override the human rights of millions of Palestinians.

They Walk Among Us!

And who will stand for Palestinian human rights? Our over-privileged and well-tailored liberal apparatchiks advocate that the world’s problems will be solved by meting out white-man’s justice from on high. Self-appointed as God’s gift to human rights, in reality these individuals act to reproduce the most cruel and destructive imperialist violence. They perpetuate the most deadly circumstances of direct mass violence and of structural violence. These are the clerics of Hernán Cortés (“Cortez the Killer”) singing hymns to the righteousness of his bloodletting. They share their apparently capacious catholic faith with overtly hawkish liberal interventionists and neocons, but in reality this is a narrow orthodoxy fitting the requirements of “ostensible diversity concealing actual uniformity”.

Many people have come to realise that “neconservatives” are just a subset of “liberal interventionists”. The fact that highly prominent liberals have always been part of the neoconservative movement, and the fact that they both have identical “moral” facets of foreign policy prescription should have made more people realise this earlier. Still, even now most people are blind to the fact. This is an understandable result of the manner in which these ideologies are presented to people as contending and the manner in which the ideologues criticise each other. The political “debates” between various foreign policy factions in the US are nothing but frenetic, and ultimately unbelievable, theatre. The rhetoric clashes, but the exceptionalist interventionism matches – as do the concrete deeds.

For me it is no stretch at all to see some prominent “humanitarians” as blood-drenched imperialists. As soon as I read Samantha Power’s A Problem From Hell I knew she was exactly as she now appears to us all. It doesn’t take a genius, it just takes actual thought. The neocons themselves considered her book a must read. And she is far from alone.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has been described as having a “revolving door” relationship with the US State Dept. Amnesty International (AI), in addition to a long history of providing atrocity propaganda to support US interventions, has been implicated in helping a US regime change plot in Eritrea, along with HRW. The US State Dept in 2011 seems to have specifically funded a joint AI/HRW delegation to Eritrea as part of a destabilisation plan. Many of the people within these organisations are dedicated and well-meaning, but the seem oblivious to the malevolent nature of those running things. The clearest example is Save the Children, whose employees were shocked and appalled at the decision by their superiors to give Tony Blair a “global legacy award”.

What shocks me is that people are actually surprised to find that the folks who run big NGOs are power-loving elitist scumbags. I feel like I’m the guy in the movie They Live who has what Slavoj Žižek describes as “critique of ideology glasses”. When wearing the glasses he sees, among other things, that most rich and powerful people are hideous and foul creatures who are the enemies of humanity.

I am not suggesting here that all rich and powerful people are literally malevolent parasites from another species. What I am suggesting is that their humanity is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if they are loving parents or kind to animals. It doesn’t matter if they spend at least 20 hours each week washing the feet of lepers. In our unequal society even charities are often dizzyingly steep hierarchies; the dynamics of power, and the group dynamics of elite psychology, mean that with some exceptions these people might just as well be bloodthirsty baby-eating reptiles from outer space.

People reflexively defer to the authority of these “successful” people, because they are programmed to believe that advancement within a hierarchy comes through merit, while at the same time they project their own disinterested humanitarian values on to these people. What I see is what I saw in Susan Power, Tony Blair and Barack Obama. These people are happy to take selfies with Bill Clinton, or share a stage with Henry Kissinger. When they debate a neocon like Robert Kagan it is in an atmosphere of mutual respect, if not admiration. The only powerful Westerners who they don’t love are those who actively play the vicious villain, like Donald Rumsfeld, and even then that is entirely contingent and will change as soon as that villain is reinvented by a PR firm and a couple of journalistic puff-pieces.

People like Susanne Nossel (head of PEN, former executive director of AI USA, and warmonger) should only provoke disgust and anger in anyone who really cares about human rights. It is completely irrelevant if they don’t understand why we hate them and if their precious feelings are hurt. They have drunk so deeply from the well of Western hypocrisy that the only thing that can remain true within them is the love of power. The political powers and functionaries that control the ICC are no different. Some may be perfectly well-meaning, particularly if their involvement has simply followed logically from their area of legal expertise, but most are liable to be slime in human form.

The idea that human rights are advanced by a political process of choosing individual designated criminals and punishing them with maximum possible fanfare is likely to appeal to the worst fake humanitarians. Imprisoning people is not a humanitarian pursuit. A true humanitarian is more concerned with emptying prisons than filling them. Moreover, someone who really cared about justice would want to see a stronger International Court of Justice – able to rectify interstate injustice, not spend billions of dollars on prosecuting a handful of cherry-picked expedient pre-fab demons.

I happen to think that many of the people involved in the ICC are most likely to be horrible self-righteous bastards, but even if many of them are deeply concerned humanitarians it does not change the institution. Hans von Sponeck recently said on Democracy Now! “There is a new chief prosecutor in The Hague. And we are now—in mid-April, on the 18th of April, in fact, the War Crimes Commission will meet yet again in Kuala Lumpur to prepare for the second, and hopefully last, draft submission of this documentation to the International Criminal Court.” Obviously there is no harm in handing reports to the ICC, but why bring up the new prosecutor? In the context which he gives the implication is that there is a prospect of the ICC indicting US officials. Does he believe this? Does he identify with the ICC officials and project his own benevolent intents on to them? Is he confused about the difference between the way people act in the real world and, say, the way they might present their desires at a social occasion?

That is why I hang my head in despair when I hear someone as admirable as Dr Francis Boyle discussing the ICC as if Palestinians have nothing to lose, as if the worst of their worries is simply that the ICC will be unable to act on their behalf. In his own words, Boyle “advised President Abbas to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court….” And, because I know that Boyle an intelligent and caring man, from my very bowels comes the unstoppable question: “Are you out of your fucking mind?”

Conclusion

Inevitably the ICC will do everything possible to seem as if it is responding to public pressure to prosecute Israeli crimes, but it will not prosecute Israelis. It will be biased in favour of Israel, but that will be represented as being even-handed and objective by some, and as being biased against Israel by others. Many supporters of Palestine will be sucked into defending the ICC against accusations of bias.

Palestinian leaders will be threatened with ICC prosecutions both publicly and in private. This will deepen the already profound constraints and controls imposed on them by Israel and the US. This may be enough to erode the ability to resist armed mass violence by Israel, such as the resistance to “Operation Protective Edge”. That conflict was once again a one-sided act of mass-murder, but armed resistance caused enough IDF fatalities that there must have been some deterrent effect. That deterrence will be eroded if Palestinians do not feel able to use armed resistance.

Already Palestinians are beaten with the stick of the Hamas terrorist designation. On the other hand Al Jazeera‘s “Palestine Papers” illustrate that Palestinian Authority leaders are compromised in other ways. I draw the inference that Israeli actions such arresting legislators or the 2002 siege of Yasser Arafat’s compound were ways of creating threats which are levers with which to control PA leaders. The PA leaders might not be traitors as much as they are responding to the political realities of the world that they live in. The ICC will provide more ways of threatening and controlling some Palestinian leaders while turning the other into outlaws. It is all bad news for Palestinians.

Meanwhile, the goodhearted people of the world will be drawn into a narrative of atrocity calculus. The criminality of all Palestinian resistance will be arranged alongside the criminality of a few Israeli bad apples. When all eyes see mounds of Palestinian dead, we will still have our thinking obfuscated. The victims will be made to seem the criminals. The ICC will turn up the volume of the conversation which avoids, at all costs, trying to examine the deep historical issues of justice, and instead yells stridently and chest-thumpingly about the criminality of the “bad guys”.

Meanwhile Israel’s leaders will exploit the empty threat of ICC prosecutions against them to deepen the sense of the whole world is hostile to Jews. Israelis and Western Zionists will be deafened to criticism of Israel’s crimes, slipping ever deeper into the lake of Kool-Aid beneath the mirror surface of which lies Oppositeland.

The ICC is nothing but bad news for Palestinians.

Keep Your Guard Up: Why the World Should Not Relax Over Syria

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Though apparently thwarted in its efforts to justify action against Syria, the US is likely to continue looking for cracks in the wall of opposition and will exploit any opportunity to act, relying on its well established impunity.

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Two Superpowers and Two Toadies

By early 2003, fear of the United States had reached remarkable heights throughout the world, along with distrust of and often loathing for the political leadership.”

Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, 2003.

In 2003 Noam Chomsky was one of those who embraced the idea that there are two superpowers in the world – the United States and world public opinion (WPO). Clearly it was the US that won the fight in 2003, but there is a sense that things may be different at this time as the two superpowers end Round 1 of a rematch. Unfortunately a sense of difference is all that there is. In matters of substance, there is nothing which we should really take as comforting, and nothing that we can really point to that will ensure a different outcome. One of the most serious problems is the WPO can only block US moves and has no effective way of fighting back. Even if the US finds its fanciest and most energetic combination blocked and foiled it can just dance around jabbing, waiting for an opening to land a serious blow.

It only takes one blow for the US to be declared the winner, and it doesn’t need to be a great one. The killer punch of Colin Powell’s 2003 UN presentation was actually barely felt by WPO, but as WPO stood by helplessly, the US was declared the winner. The problem lies with the two referees of the fight. One is a weedy and unctuous streak of nothing, with the manner of a Peter Lorre character. This is the UN Secretariat (the primary bureaucracy of the UN). Sometimes it defiantly squeaks at the US, berating it for biting and hitting below the belt, but it can always be relied on to ratify victory like the compliant minion that it is. If this seems overly cynical, we should remember that much the same behaviour is displayed by completely dependent puppet leaders installed by the US (such as Thieu and Ky in Saigon; Karzai in Kabul; Rhee in Seoul; Lon Nol; Mobutu; Suharto; and any number of Latin American dictators who have not been averse to appropriating anti-imperialist rhetoric to further the imperial project). Shows of defiance help build the flimsy constituencies of puppet regimes, but also lend credence to US claims that they are independent actors. This is not a jaded view of the UN Secretariat but a realistic one. To illustrate, I need only point out that there is no obligation whatsoever to be amnesiac. The UN Secretariat does not need to pretend that there was no invasion of Iraq, no bombing of Serbia, no invasions of Granada or Panama, no bombings of Laos and Cambodia. Try as I might, I cannot find that part in the UN Charter that reads: “Never mind. What is done is done and there’s no use crying over spilt milk.” In fact, it seems rather hollow to forbid something if, when those warnings and protestations are ignored, you simply roll your eyes. This is not the way the UN Secretariat behaves towards rivals and enemies of the US such as Iran, North Korea and Sudan whose past sins are never forgotten.

Working closely with the UN Secretariat is a dim-witted giant – the UN itself. The United Nations is a collection of member states, and should not be confused with the UN Secretariat. In practice that means that the UN is the governments of those member states. Collectively they make up this lumbering moron that is quite resentful of the US but far more afraid of it. The confused ambivalence of the UN makes quite a contrast with the clarity of WPO. In theory, the UN should reflect the WPO and be in the WPO’s corner. It should untie the WPO’s hands, and then the US would never even dare step in the ring. If the UN had the clarity of the WPO then its fellow referee would be forced to concur on its decisions. But the UN is ensorcelled – rendered stupid by the glamour of meaningless baubles and flattery while genuinely fearful of the unpredictably psychopathic US. The question of the moment is whether the UN is starting to think that the WPO might also be dangerous, and perhaps rethinking its allegiance.

This is Serious Business

I am going to abandon the boxing analogy now, but I must ask why the US feels compelled to go up against WPO. It is not merely some whim, nor a clash of personalities, nor a money-making scheme for Raytheon. Morevover, Obama and Kerry are utterly incidental – as Tony Cartalucci details, specific plans to foment armed insurgency in Syria were set in motion in 2007. Before that Syria was on a “hit list” of 7 countries dating from 2002. There is also no truth in Washington’s claimed motive of humanitarian concern and a self-declared “red-line”. Many, including John Pilger, have pointed out the sheer breathtaking hypocrisy of citing humanitarian concerns by a power which remains, in MLK’s words, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world”. Others have been specifically enraged by the Obama repeatedly citing the “norms” against using chemical weapons when the US has caused such immense amounts of death and suffering with chemicals such as Agent Orange. For example, Wesley Messamore outlines 10 mass death causing chemical attacks conducted by the US, with US approval, or with US assistance.

In short, US pretensions of humanitarian concern and righteous outrage are a bald-faced and contemptuous deception. Equally, the evinced concern for US credibility is no more than a twisted joke. As I detailed in a recent article, Obama is using language very similar to that used by Richard Nixon in 1970. He explained that the US needed to invade Cambodia otherwise people would think it “a pitiful helpless giant”. Needless to say that any President modelling his words on those of Nixon is truly scraping the bottom of the propaganda barrel. These are rationalisations only liable to persuade the most credulous, the most craven, and the most pious believers in the infallible goodness of the authorities. As indicated in the previous section, this broadly excludes the peoples of the world, but mostly includes their governments.

The stated reasons for US intervention are clearly inaccurate. Here is another explanation given by Daniel Drezner in Foreign Policy:

“To your humble blogger, this is simply the next iteration of the unspoken, brutally realpolitik policy towards Syria that’s been going on for the past two years. To recap, the goal of that policy is to ensnare Iran and Hezbollah into a protracted, resource-draining civil war, with as minimal costs as possible. This is exactly what the last two years have accomplished…. at an appalling toll in lives lost.

This policy doesn’t require any course correction… so long as rebels are holding their own or winning. A faltering Assad simply forces Iran et al into doubling down and committing even more resources. A faltering rebel movement, on the other hand, does require some external support, lest the Iranians actually win the conflict. In a related matter, arming the rebels also prevents relations with U.S. allies in the region from fraying any further.”

This implies that the concern is somehow with Iran and Hezbollah as military powers, but I think security, in that sense, is distinctly secondary. Neither of these parties pose a threat to the US. As to the threat they pose to Israel, US strikes against Syria actually increase that threat immensely. A more realistic realist concern is with Syria itself in petroleum related strategic terms. Nafeez Ahmed outlines the direct interest in gas and oil pipelines involving Syria as well as the wider regional project to control petrochemicals through military force and regime change. If this seems to contradict Drezner’s suggestion that the US is fomenting open-ended deadly conflict, we should remember that oil and gas are strategic resources, not mere commodities. Strategic denial is as important as acquisition of such resources. This means that preventing their exploitation increases the value of other exploitable sources. This was the approach to gold taken by the British Empire, and has been the US approach to oil since 1974 when US client states, Saudi Arabia and Iran, created a sudden 400% rise in oil prices. US destabilisation regionally is already pushing up oil prices which is a big bonus to the likes of Exxon-Mobil and other well connected energy companies. Not to mention the fact that the value of the US dollar and its reserve currency status rely on “interventions” which have become rolling acts of serial genocide. (Some see Syria as the “last line of defense for the US Dollar and the exalted position of OPEC”, but personally I have to think that if it had come to that the US would be seeking to wind down its empire not create an apocalyptic confrontation merely to delay the inevitable.)

To summarise, the plans are old and the stakes are high. I refer to US actions as a rolling serial genocide because it is a war against peoples not their governments or armies, that is the defining characteristic of genocide. The US is systematically fomenting the “bloody civil war”. David Malone, after a detailed 3-part analysis of material/strategic interests, writes of “a dark thought”:

“This is speculation but I think worth keeping in mind. I think certain parts of the US military and intelligence have learned a lesson from Iraq and Afghanistan; that imposing stability is not as easy as they once imagined it might be. Instead Iraq and Afghanistan showed them how a country riven with factions, some of them violent and fundamentalist, can, given enough arms and encouragement, keep a country in a state of barely contained anarchy and chaos for years on end. Just enough order to extract wealth but not enough to ever unify.”

It is a dark thought, but the assertion that the US tried and failed to create stability in Iraq and Afghanistan is simply untrue. The US never attempted to create stability. After more than 12 years of genocidal sanctions on Iraq, the US by direct means did to Iraq exactly what it is doing indirectly to Syria, and in even bloodier fashion. They destabilised, they killed, they destroyed, they poisoned, they unleashed death squads and they deliberately created a civil war. As the list of “failed states” left in the wake of US direct and indirect, overt and covert interventions continues to grow; as the numbers of victims mount and surpass those of past brutal regimes, perhaps it is time for us to shed our denial over the nature of the US empire.

Time is on Their Side

The redoubtable Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report writes that Obama will “soon be back on the warpath, meaner and more aggressive than ever.” That may come to pass, but I am not sure that Obama needs to be more aggressive. The real danger now is that Obama successfully feigns a change of heart and in doing so finesses some form of “authorization” which may be exploited. Historically speaking when the US congress authorised the President to use force in 1964 and 2001, those authorisations were taken as carte blanche for multiple acts of aggression.

Already Obama and Kerry have stated that a credible threat of force is necessary for what they refer to in Orwellian fashion as “diplomacy”. Threats of force are, in fact, illegal under Article 2 of the UN Charter, and one would not normally describe coercing someone into compliance as being diplomatic. There is, however, a relevant precedent. As Noam Chomsky indicated on a recent appearance on Democracy Now! it was the efficacy of threats of force that secured the Sudetenland for Germany in 1938. That too was referred to as diplomacy, and the Germans justified their intervention on humanitarian grounds. But John Kerry has something that Hitler never had – the Munich analogy. He actually said, “this is our Munich moment.” John Kerry gets to justify acting like Hitler by implying that if he doesn’t then Assad will be the next Hitler. If Adolph were around, he’d be green with envy.

Perhaps even more sickening than the Munich analogy is the Obama’s use of the Rwanda analogy. Most people in the world know only the Hollywood version of what happened in Rwanda, as embodied in the film Hotel Rwanda. But the man whose life and actions inspired that film, has said the following about the Hollywood version in a recent interview: “When we hear about this from outside, we take it like something that came out of nowhere and disappeared. The victors, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, told us that it had disappeared, which is not true, because killing, massacres, crimes against humanity, war crimes, kept repeating themselves, not only in Rwanda but also in the Congo.”

Unfortunately Rwanda before 1994 does bear some resemblance to current Syria, for all the wrong reasons. The US backed and armed an unbelievably vicious insurgency which lacked popular support. The insurgent Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) was better armed than the actual Armed Forces of Rwanda (FAR). The RPA inverted the normal practices of traditional insurgents who draw on the support of local populations. Instead they conducted a scorched earth, cleansing, refugee generation and mass destabilisation that centred around massacring civilians to create terror. The achieved the same thing through demonstrative atrocities that the US bombing campaign in Cambodia achieved, emptying the best farmland and creating a volatile tinderbox of frightened refugees. Genocide scholar Alan Kuperman studied the RPA and concluded that they deliberately provoked the genocide against their fellow Tutsi. (The RPA was made up of exiled Tutsi and did not scruple to massacre Tutsi themselves if they were in an area which was to be cleansed). After the RPA won, the massacres continued. The Rwandan regime became, according to the Economist “the most repressive regime in Africa”. Over 100,000 people were imprisoned awaiting trial in the year 2000. Speech crimes such such as “negationism” attract sentences of 10 to 50 years. 2 million fled when the RPA secured victory, of whom 500,000 died in neighbouring Zaire/DRC in what a UN team describes as genocide carried out by Rwanda.

So there is the Rwanda analogy for you. Unfortunately I believe it only too plausible that the US sees parallels between the two situations. The US uses Rwanda as an example of the dangers of inaction but it was the US that actually blocked a Belgian initiative that would have prevented the horrific genocide. In both instances the US level of calculation and degree of control make it morally culpable for every death and every injury.

The US is not omnipotent, but it is very powerful, sophisticated and subtle. It cultivates an image of blundering idiocy, just as the British Empire did before it, but it is in a controlling position. The Obama administration needs only one trigger to attack Syria. This could be an AUMF from US Congress, a “multilateral” agreement, or a UNSC authorisation. The administration will try to convince congress that it should authorise force simply to further “diplomacy”. A multilateral agreement need not be from NATO, but could be a defensive pretext involving a neighbour of Syria. The point is that any trigger could be seized upon. US aggression has not been prevented by widespread public anger, at least not directly, it has been stopped by the lack of such a trigger. If you want to know how important world public opinion is to the US empire, look at the 2003 quote from Chomsky at the top of this article. If “fear”, “distrust” and “loathing” were high in 2003 what exactly has the US done to assuage that feeling since? Fallujah? Abu Ghraib? Guantánamo? Libya? World financial crisis? The US acts with complete impunity and as per the boxing analogy, WPO has no way of fighting back. In fact it gets exhausted by the constant assaults – exhausted and distracted.

Any possible excuse for the use of force will be taken much further than stated which is exactly why no one this far has given the Obama administration the excuse it is seeking. The worst would be a UNSC resolution authorising force under Chapter VII. The US clearly misused the UNSC resolution authorising the use of force to protect civilians in Libya. More striking, however, was the resolution authorising force against Iraq passed in 1990 in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. It was this that was used to justify the genocidal sanctions campaign, the invasion and the occupation of Iraq. What people might not realise is that once a Chapter VII provision is in place, permanent UNSC members can veto its lifting. That means that once such a resolution is in place, the US, UK or France can ensure that it continues indefinitely. In the case of Iraq, Chapter VII authorisation was not lifted until this year – more than 22 years after Iraqi forces left Kuwait and 10 years after Saddam Hussein was ousted.

Keep Fighting

The only answer for now is to keep opposing any US action without ever letting our guard down, but it is about time that the people of the world were given a chance to fight back. We need to create actual democracies. To start making our governments act according to the wishes of the people. The fight against this war, the fight against the TPPA, the fight against GMOs, against corporate and financial corruption, against government surveillance, against paramilitary policing, against the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM), against austerity, and against privatisation – these are all fights against empire. Oddly our fight to democratise our governments and win them back from the imperial thrall (our fight for sovereignty) is exactly the same in the US itself. The people of the US are in exactly the same boat as the rest of us with only slight differences in detail. Fred Branfman has recently concluded that the executive branch of the US government is “the world’s most evil and lawless institution”. The fight in the US is a struggle to force the legislative branch to oppose the imperial executive on behalf of the people. I think, though, that we ought to view the executive branch as the visible tip of the US empire iceberg.

Son of Credibility Gap: Johnson and Nixon Rhetoric Reborn

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Make no mistake – this has implications beyond chemical warfare. If we won’t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules? To governments who would choose to build nuclear arms? To terrorist who would spread biological weapons? To armies who carry out genocide?

We cannot raise our children in a world where we will not follow through on the things we say, the accords we sign, the values that define us.” – Barack Hussein Obama 2013.

If, when the chips are down, the world’s most powerful nation, the United States of America, acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world.” – Richard Milhous Nixon 1970.

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When the US claims that its reasons for using military mass violence are to maintain credibility it is really scraping the bottom of the rhetorical barrel. But is this desperation, or is it simply that they no longer even care enough to lie convincingly? Or is it that the price of being seen as a liar is less than the price of revealing the true motives and reasons for US government actions?

Our Soviet Moment

Even lies can only do half of the work of engineering the consent or assent (or mere apathy) required to launch a war. Lies provide a pretext which gives moral legitimacy and emotive force to the case for war. Lies are also used to adopt a mantle of formal legitimacy under international law. But there is a third component, necessary but so de-emphasised that it may pass entirely unnoticed. It is the component of reason or rational justification. You can establish your moral and legal right to act, but you still have to give some sort of case, however cursory and pathetic, to explain why the use of mass violence and mass killing actually makes some sort of sense. To give an example, lies were told to the about Kuwaiti newborns being dumped to die of exposure by Iraqis to give moral impetus to US intervention, but the rationalisation given for bombing and killing so many Iraqis was encapsulated in the Munich analogy highlighting the dangers of “appeasement”. This was more important and more emphasised than justifying the use of force as a means of liberating Kuwait.

(The essence of the Munich analogy is that if you do not use military force to oppose acts of international aggression you are simply emboldening the perpetrator and ensuring greater aggression – and hence war and suffering – in the future. The analogy doesn’t actually stand up because the Munich Agreement was actually collaboration not appeasement, but most people don’t know that. In 1990 the fundamental reason given that military action, as opposed to other forms of action, was a rational response to the aggression and atrocities of Iraqis was the threat of further aggression. We were told that Iraq was poised to attack Saudi Arabia. Naturally it was a lie, but it was a necessary lie.)

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9-11 was crucial not just for the fact that it caused emotions to over-ride sapience, but because it provided that implicit rationale of using force to kill those who would do harm to you. It is true that this does not bear much thoughtful reflection, but those given to thoughtful reflection tend to oppose wars anyway. This and the Munich analogy are veneer rationalisations designed mainly for those who have faith in the judgements and goodwill of authorities – authorities who have successfully persuaded them to distrust their own perception and mental capacities. The danger for the US government is that these latter people – those whom they count on to support wars – start to think that their leaders are habitual liars. This is called a “credibility gap” a key component of the “Vietnam Syndrome” which prevented overt US aggression for over a few years. The “Vietnam Syndrome” meant that people would not accept further major acts of war.

But the way people seem to feel right now isn’t quite the way they felt when the “Vietnam Syndrome” held sway. It is both a cause for alarm and a great source of hope that the situation faced by the West now resembles the jaded scepticism of the peoples of the Soviet Bloc in 1980 more than it does the uncertain distrust of 1980 Western Bloc peoples. In 1980 radical and dissident voices were, as always, excluded from the public discourse of the mass media, but in the West at least the scepticism of the majority was acknowledged and represented. Now, like the mass media of the Soviet Union, our mass media have become totally detached from public opinion. There is a sense of piety which would view honesty as heresy – even those journalists who harbour the heresy themselves would not dare utter such dangerous notions, while the truly faithful act with such spittle-flecked fervour as would warm the heart of Torquemada. The heresy in question, the unspeakable notion of this moment, is that it makes no sense whatsoever for the Syrian government to have used chemical weapons at this time and therefore Obama and Kerry are probably just bald-faced liars.

It is no coincidence that our decaying Soviet moment is coming at a time when ordinary people can no longer sustain the illusion that there is a fundamental fairness in our system of governance. As with the Soviet Union, the links between political power and material wealth throw a spotlight on the fundamental corruption of a system of power referred to by the meaningless term of “capitalism”. People have long accepted the concept that those who acquire greater wealth wield greater political power, but now that we can no longer deny that it is in fact those who wield greater political power who acquire greater wealth. It was always so, but used to be arranged on a class basis in order that it would seem that some neutral economic mechanics of market functions made certain people wealthier than others. Now we can see quite plainly that the wealthy write laws to make themselves more wealthy at the expense of the poor. People are pissed off, but more to the point they are literally dis-illusioned. It is also no coincidence that this occurs at a time when the fist of the police state is ever more evident in both the use of physical force and in the unprecedented level of surveillance. Our society resembles the late era of the Soviet Union right down to the denial of the metastasised systemic malignancies of a régime that eats its own rotten flesh and sweeps the victims of its dysfunction under a rug bearing a bread-and-circus motif.

Another Reluctant Warmonger

Those who are familiar with the history of the US decision to launch all-out war in Vietnam may get déja vu. Those who already experienced déja vu over the Iraq occupation maybe feeling déja vu encore. (We may not have been impressed with what occurred in Iraq, but clearly someone gave it a standing ovation). Once again the US is proposing that a failure to act will make it appear weak and proposing instead to act in a way which its own analysis suggests will reveal it to be impotent. With regard to Viet Nam concern for “credibility” is still widely accepted as a motive for US aggression. After all, even if it seems a stupid rationale, US policy makers might really have believed it, surely? But, there is a difference between stupid and nonsensical. I don’t personally believe that the US policy makers were individually or collectively stupid, but even if they were that would not be sufficient to give weight to these claims. To claim that the US acted to maintain its “credibility” would be to suggest that they believed their credibility would be heightened by what Kissinger described as, “victory by a third class Communist peasant state.” That, after all, is what their most comprehensive analyses kept suggesting would be the outcome if they continued their escalating commitment, and so, logically, they chose this outcome (being “defeated” by a small nation of peasant farmers) over any other options such as neutralisation or simple unilateral withdrawal and the disowning of the GVN. To reitierate: the idea we are supposed to believe is that being militarily defeated by the poorly armed peasants a small underdeveloped state is supposed to be better for US credibility than doing nothing or bullying said state into massive concessions at the negotiating table.

The credibility motive idea also requires a belief in the highly exaggerated vulnerability of the US evidenced in Nixon’s “pitiful helpless giant” speech. The fact is that all other state actors during the Cold War were at all times very reluctant to really offend or provoke the US. The US no more needed to show a propensity to use its unparalleled might than a 200 kilogram gorilla would have to do so in order to induce those nearby to be cautious. The sheer irrationality of this is perhaps most clearly shown by McGeorge Bundy’s February 1965 memorandum suggesting that the US should bomb the DRV to demonstrate to everyone that the US was willing to bomb the DRV.

In the more recent case Obama is proposing to strike Syria because to leave Syria unpunished is to appear weak, but what exactly are the proposed cruise missile strikes supposed to achieve? They will not diminish anyone’s chemical weapons capacity. They will not achieve régime change. They won’t improve the negotiating position of the rebels. But missile strikes on Syria will demonstrate that the US can conduct missile strikes on Syria. Sound familiar? This weird contention that a message must be sent to Iran and North Korea is to suggest that if either régime attacks its own people with “weapons of mass destruction” the US will also attack their people with weapons that cause mass destruction (not to be confused with “weapons of mass destruction” which are only used by evil régimes).

Abroad in the echoing canyon of mainstream mass yodels is the floating signifier of presidential reluctance. Before the British parliament voted against action, some alleged journalists were trying to say that Obama was having his arm twisted by allied countries. Others say Obama painted himself into a corner with his own rhetoric of a “red line”. More say that the unprecedented nature of these alleged crimes places demands on Obama that he cannot ignore. For those who actually believe that the Syrian army are responsible (given what we know about far more deadly chemical attacks by Iraq) the unprecedented aspect must be the alleged fact that these attacks would have been conducted without US approval and assistance (such as the US supplied to Iraq in numerous ways when it was using CW against Iranian soldiers and civilians. I will admit that it is pretty shocking and chilling to think that people would commit atrocities without Henry Kissinger’s involvement at some level, but I have it on good authority that mass murders occurred before Henry was even born. Strange, I know, but there it is.)

It used to be said of Israel that the Labour Zionist approach to Palestinians was “shoot, then cry”, but for sheer histrionic reluctance while committing mass-murder nothing can quite compare to a Democrat in the Whitehouse. Some point to Wilson’s 1916 campaign pledge to stay out of the Great War and decision to send troops in 1917, but for my money nothing will ever match Br’er Johnson’s “please don’t throw me in the Vietnam quagmire” performance. Johnson made a very vocal show of having his hand forced. He famously, after the fact, referred to the conflict as that “bitch of a war”. In addition, he called it a “god-awful mess”, and himself as “hooked like a catfish” and “trapped”. He had a habit of thinking out loud with regard to the war, wondering how he could maintain his “posture as a man of peace” and making it clear that all the options available to him were unpalatable. He would have frequent theatrical outbursts of indignation against hawkish advisers and, on one occasion, the constant changes of régime in the RVN (brought about by his own administration).

The most bizarre Johnson outburst I have come across is an instance where a Major was, for no apparent reason, made to hold a map during a meeting between Johnson and the JCS, becoming “an easel with ears”. Later he described the event to Christian Appy:

“…Johnson exploded. I almost dropped the map. He just started screaming these obscenities. They were just filthy. It was something like: “You goddamn fucking assholes. You’re trying to get me to start World War III with your idiotic bullshit – your ‘military wisdom.’” He insulted each of them individually. “You dumb shit. Do you expect me to believe that kind of crap? I’ve got the weight of the Free World on my shoulders and you want me to start World War III?” He called them shitheads and pompous assholes and used the f-word more freely than a marine in boot camp. He really degraded them and cursed at them. The he went back to a calm voice, as if he’d finished playing his little role….”

Historian Fred Logevall describes Johnson’s behaviour as a “charade” undertaken because “Johnson wanted history to record that he agonised.”

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Tinkerbell Gets the Clap

Sometimes the more ridiculous and stupid one’s beliefs, the harder to let go of them simply because of the pain of realisation. I recently heard a story of a foreign student in my country who, after an accident, had ended up in hospital with a broken neck, arm, and ribs. She insisted that the sign indicating the suggested speed at which one should take the corner was in fact indicating the number of degrees of bend. She insisted despite being told otherwise by her native-born teacher. She insisted despite the fact that a hairpin bend is obviously not a mere 15 degrees and despite the fact that labelling bends in degrees is a facially ridiculous and unworkable idea. She insisted despite actually being in hospital because of this idiotic belief. However it is tempting to think that if she had been told of her foolishness before her accident she might have been more accepting, so really she insisted because she was in hospital. The problem is that after the event, telling the young woman that she had been really stupid and the author of her own woes does not endear one to her.

I have no doubt that if there is one thing that keeps me isolated from potential intellectual allies it is the fact that I will not soften the blow or sweeten the bitter pill of telling people who oppose US aggression that they are being complete morons every time they smugly condemn the stupidity of US political and military leaders. After 1965 proving that you were smarter that the “best and the brightest” was all the rage for the better and brighter among journalists. Of course the journalists’ problem was that they were fighting the last war (actually the war before that, but a favourite accusation of such iconoclastic journalists is that the US military is “fighting the last war” – there is nothing like a good facile cliché to destroy reflection). They were assuming that the US was losing a war for national security, national self-interest or, at the very least, the enrichment of the national bourgeois ruling class. Instead an imperial cabal was successfully committing an imperial genocide but doing so at a considerable cost to national security, national self-interest and the enrichment of the national bourgeoisie. Some corporate interests did profit immensely, but they were not the “capitalists” who make cars and fridges and such-like, they were imperial interests whose activities (arms, media, finance, oil/energy, biochemical, water) give direct control over populations. The profits they made were also not from the looting of Indochina but from the looting of the US taxpayer in payment for their role in inflicting genocidal death and destruction on Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam.

Beginning with US actions in Indochina, but certainly aided by Ronald Reagan and Dan “Potatoe” Quayle, opposition to US foreign policy became ever more mired in self-congratulatory armchair generalisms. The apex of this was the George W. Bush era. Bush was like the Stupid Fairy (Dumberbell). Every time he should have been politically dead (Enron, 9-11, Tora Bora, Katrina) he was resurrected, not by the meathead war lovers, but by the smug liberals who shut their eyes and clapped: “I believe in the Stupid Fairy! I believe in the Stupid Fairy!” And because they believed, and because their hearts were true and pure, nobody said “hey, this guy is doing all of this stuff on purpose”. With the invasion of Iraq Bush engaged in sophisticated and systematic deception in order to justify the continuation of genocide in a new and more brutal phase using invasion and occupation. Even those who knew he was lying completely about his motives still said he was doing it just because he was stupid.

This brings us back to present-day Obama. Already alternative media commentators who are convinced that Obama is lying are equally certain that he doesn’t have any real reason for attacking Syria. It’s all one big mistake because Obama is stupid, or because he is too proud to back down from his unwise and disingenuous mention of a “red line” (which was just innocently thrown out there as a warning to Syria, and was definitely not a keynote in an ongoing campaign to build support for military action). I can already imagine that the academic hacks who indulge in “psychopolitics” are beginning to see how his absent father and lack of ethno-racial peers in childhood would incline Obama to want to attack Syria in a maverick gunslinger at high-noon sort of way. But one does not construct an elaborate deception without having something to conceal. And one does not use this deception to commit a war crime without a pretty serious motive.

The Real Reason

The helpless giant rhetoric currently being used by Obama and Kerry is incredibly weak. Many millions in the US and throughout the Western world, already much more jaded than during Obama’s first term, will become permanently distrusting of the US government. The very fact that Obama was supposed to be different than Bush has been a huge advantage which has enabled Obama to act in ways that Bush would never have been allowed to act. But now those that lose faith in Obama are liable to lose faith in the régime altogether, and they are likely to stay that way for a very long time if not until the day they die. Outside of the West, the fact that even the lies and rationalisations are so pathetic quite understandably fuels an extreme level of anger and directs that anger far more at the people of the US and the West than Bush’s actions ever could. The Obama administration would not create this situation without significant reasons.

With regard to the the specific instance of the threatened cruise missile strikes against Syria I must be speculative, but with regard to the context of ongoing support for armed rebels in Syria I can speak more firmly. I have heard it said that the US encouraged or allowed its Syrian National Council allies or clients to repudiate offers of negotiations on the basis that the US was hoping for military victory. But without a major outside military intervention there has never been any realistic prospect of a rebel victory. When I outlined to an acquaintance the factors which show that the US is, in fact, trying to ensure that conflict continues without a decision there was a reflexive response that the the driving force must be the US arms manufacturers seeking profits. It think that such a response would be common but, in my opinion, it borders on magic thinking. In general, if you think that the tail is wagging the dog then you do not understand how the dog works. Instead it should be clear that the US ensures the continuation of conflict in Syria because the conflict weakens Syria. The conflict destroys Syrian property, divides Syrian society, and kills Syrians.

There must be a real and substantive motive behind US behaviour. These are matters of extreme weight undertaken by an enormous bureaucratic machine. Between the State Department, the National Security Council, the “intelligence community” and the Department of Defense it is not as if Obama could or would just poke his head around the door one Tuesday afternoon and say: “Hey Chuck, how about we arm those FSA dudes?” If there is reason and consideration behind US actions then, why do they not just share those reasons with us? George Orwell had the answer to that question back in 1946: “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties.”

The fact is the Obama and Kerry could honestly explain what they are doing in Syria, but to do so would cause worldwide riots; would see allies repudiating their relationship with the US; and might even spawn serious moves towards war-crimes trials perhaps even in the US itself. The US needs to exert some form of control over the Middle East because of its oil resources. Since it cannot rule directly or even indirectly (because the interests of most Middle Eastern people are not compatible with US imperial interests) it must seek to enfeeble these inherently inimical societies through destabilisation and direct or indirect destruction. This is very deadly and very brutal behaviour.

In Iraq it was exactly this sort of behaviour, working on exactly this sort of rationale, that saw the US by direct means cause over 2 million Iraqi deaths in the space of 20 years and leave a shattered and poisoned land of ongoing mass violence behind. This was war conducted against the nation of Iraq – not the government of Iraq, nor the army of Iraq, but the people of Iraq. When Raphaël Lemkin wanted to describe the “antithesis of the … doctrine [which] holds that war is directed against sovereigns and armies, not against subjects and civilians” he came up with a brand new term. That term was “genocide”. That is what genocide means, it means war conducted against a people, their society, their culture, their economy and not their government’s army. In this sense, and under the law contained in the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, there is no question that the US committed genocide in Iraq. If it were ever to be argued properly in court, the case would be open and shut regardless of the fact that many Iraqis died at the hands of the avowed enemies of the US.

Am I then suggesting that the US is committing genocide in Syria when it is not directly involved and when it is the Syrian government forces that have caused many if not most of the fatalities? Yes and no. It is not important whether people apply the term “genocide” or not. What is important is that people realise that the logic behind US actions is the logic of genocide. Some might say that if you are going to look at things this way, you might just as well say that almost everything the US government does is genocidal, including most of its behaviour towards the people of the US itself. Again, that is for the reader to decide. You can make up all the conditions you want for what is and is not genocide as long as they are cogent and applied consistently, but bear in mind that Lemkin invented the term to describe the German approach to all occupied Europe as a whole, not just to certain minorities. Genocide denoted the general strategic approach to direct rule by the Germans (including many actions which were not direct violence) but Lemkin applied the term to imperialist and colonialist dominance and would certainly have applied it to neocolonial violence and control where it was merited.

That is why the Obama has to recycle some of the lamest Johnson, Nixon and Bush rhetoric. That is why Kerry is comparing Assad to Saddam Hussein and Hitler. These are not words which endear the US régime to the world. They don’t inspire confidence or belief. They sound strained and desperate. But the Obama administration is willing to lose credibility at home and abroad because the cost of explaining it real motives would be far far higher.

As to the specifics of why this current behaviour of deliberately and theatrically telegraphing an intent to deliver illegal “punishment” it is probably both a show of force and impunity and a provocation. Given that calling for US attacks is not going to win the SNC and FSA many friends in Syria, it seems a little like the last throw of the dice, but remember that the US has nothing to lose but its credibility. Even if the bulk of the armed resistance to Assad is crushed or quits in disgust at the actions of the US and the most fanatical Islamists, there will be ample opportunity for the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and whomever else wishes to continue destabilisation operations that continue to push Syria ever and ever closer to failed statehood and a permanent crisis of violence and misery.

That is a good point to end on – a reminder that 20 years ago there was no such thing as a “failed state”. It is true that we could have applied the term to Lon Nol’s Cambodia and to the Democratic Kampuchea régime that followed (Kissinger could take the bulk of the credit for both). There would have been other scattered instances before, but on the whole it is a new phenomenon. US destabilisation programmes and warfare, often undertaken by proxies, are responsible for creating these failed states. Events in the Eastern Congo (part of the Democratic Republic of Congo) have shown that having a society being ripped apart and the violent deaths of millions need not interfere with mineral extraction and obscene profits – quite the contrary. This is the neocolonial equivalent of King Leopold’s holocaust. Even if at lower intensities, it is applied throughout the poor states of the world, particularly those rich in resources. This is a genocidal approach aimed at “the destruction in whole or part” of underdeveloped peoples and ultimately even the peoples of the global North.

In the case of Syria, from an imperialist perspective it may be that the horrors of this civil war are doing their job quite well. With 100,000 dead and 2 million external refugees, Israel has decided to allow oil and gas exploration in the Golan Heights. Given that the Golan Heights are part of Syria, Israel would never have dared such a move if the Syria had not been drastically weakened. The contract has been awarded to Genie energy, a company whose “strategic advisory board” include Dick Cheney, Jacob Rothschild and Rupert Murdoch.

 

Drone Hypocrisy: The Toxic Self-regard of the 5% and the Dangerous US Constitution Fetish

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Original image:Attribution Some rights reserved by Tjebbe van Tijen / Imaginary Museum Projects (updated by myself)

Many in the US are up in arms over the fact that Eric Holder has not rejected the President’s use of lethal force against US citizens on US soil, but what are the implications of the outrage shown by “progressives” in the US? Why is it so natural for US citizens to privilege themselves and their lives over the lives of others? Where is the shame of those who claim to oppose US militarism but devote their greatest passion and attention to a minuscule or non-existent threat to themselves?

On a personal level, it is sad for me to find people I normally admire among those reacting in shock and horror to the fact that there is a hypothetical outside chance that they may be killed in the same manner that the US employs to kill lesser beings on a regular basis. Sometimes I actually feel betrayed by people from the US, including some I know personally, who reveal that deep down they see foreigners like myself and my family and friends as having lives worth less than theirs. This was how I reacted in a comment when TomDispatch posted an article of this type on their facebook page: “What about all the people outside of the US? Are you all so jaded and selfish and despicable that you only care about whether they can get you when you are drinking coffee in Boston? Why do you have no shame about this? What do you think it looks like for those outside the US to constantly have our noses rubbed into the fact that you think your government that YOU voted for can kill us, but bleat on so much about the fact that they might be able to kill you? At least you can do something about it. Why is it breaking news that Obama (in “extraordinary circumstances”) can kill 5% of the population when 95% can be killed without even being identified personally. Just wiped out like insects, and you endorse that every fucking time you privilege your concern for US citizens over others – and now its US citizens on US soil that are more important than everyone else. This sickens me.”

Of course, the fact that people from the US endorsed my comment made me feel much better about life in general. I am quite happy to view US politicians as evil hell-spawn, but I tend to think that US people, like all people, are basically good. On the other hand, though, that leaves me to explain why some who devote a lot of themselves to opposing US imperial injustices, including drone strikes, should let themselves down so badly. Joining in the hysteria and hype over the Holder letter is unacceptable, and here is why.

First, divide the world into the “5%” (US citizens) and the “95%” (others). We already knew that the baseline of USG policy is that the executive branch can kill whomever it wants, wherever it wants, whenever it wants based on secret applications of secret legal rationalisations using secret evidence. So far the application of this when using UAVs to kill people has seen 5 US citizens killed. In contrast, the figure of 4700 killed in total has been acknowledged by Sen. Lindsay Graham and that must be excluding those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 95% are simply at a far, far higher risk than the 5%. This is acutely so in countries or regions where US destabilisation has destroyed the functioning of governments, or where governments are in some other way unable to protect their citizens from US violence. The figure of those killed on US soil, by the way, is 0. So the actual figures would suggest that Rand Paul’s dramatic image of someone being incinerated by a hellfire missile when drinking a coffee in Boston might be overdrawn. But it is so much worse than that. People in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, and an ever increasing number of other places are really being incinerated when they sit down to have coffee with friends. I understand that Paul opposes the killing of those people too, but why bring up the unlikely hypothetical example when the reality is right there?

Attorney General Eric Holder responded to Sen. Paul with a letter. This letter confirms the privilege accorded to the 5%. The US isn’t going to kill people on US soil because “well-established law enforcement” obviates the necessity. One reading of this is that there was no need for White House involvement in Fred Hampton’s killing, or the MOVE bombing, while administration involvement in the Waco siege would now be unnecessary altogether (as with Christopher Dorner’s demise). US law enforcement killed at minimum an average of one person every 15 hours in 2012. Carrying out covert targeted killings in the milieu of such deadly and militarised policing seems far more logical than using drones. In other words, the US can rely on “law enforcement” to kill people when desirable, which also calls into question the point of Rand Paul’s fatuous question. As always, however, the implications are far worse for the 95% than for the 5%, but no US “progressives” seem to care. The 5% talk of the “chilling effect” of various repressive authoritarian government behaviours on their own society, but imagine the chilling effect that this might have on, say, Iceland – a country that recently deported FBI agents. This is a reiteration to the world that non-compliance with US law enforcement in its hunt for political dissidents may cause the US to take unilateral action, possibly lethal, without regard for sovereignty nor for international law.

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A fairly constant theme of the aghast is the horror of an attack on the Constitution. The basis of this, however, is an unhealthy and historically untenable vision of a mythic Constitution carved in granite and handed down from on high through the agency of semi-divine authorities known as “founding fathers”. But the aspects of the US Constitution that we today tend to admire the most came originally from being forced on the Federalists by anti-Federalists and Jeffersonians, while others were amendments added because of the insistence and agitation of the common people. Not only that, but the application of the Constitution to secure actual meaningful rights for the bulk of the people only tends to occur after people toil, fight and often die to secure them. I’m assuming that the progressives I complain of here (who should know better than to echo the sentiments of not one but several Republican Senators) have read A People’s History of the United States, and are familiar with critiques of Hamilton and Madison. And yet, clearly against their own interests, instead of the people actually taking credit for establishing their own human rights and civil rights through their own power and sacrifice, all to often the discourse is of “constitutional rights”.

Once upon a time, the wise men known as the “founding fathers” gave the US a wise Constitution and the wise men of the US Supreme Court are now tasked with the duty of interpreting it according to “founders intent”. Right? Well, the Supreme Court’s role in interpreting the constitution was not originally mandated, but is a self-arrogated power. And they are political appointees. And they dress funny. And, though I may be an ignorant foreigner, no one has actually explained to me why there even is such a creature as a “Justice Scalia”, let alone why he is allowed to hold a responsible position. Altogether, this patriarchal myth is a quasi-religious understanding of the US Constitution (meaning the written document and 27 ratified amendments). But the actual constitution of the federal polity known as the United States of America is much more than can be found in such document. It includes, for example, English Common Law traditions. Moreover, I concluded a previous piece touching on this subject with these words:

This fetishisation of the idolised US Constitution is getting old. Besides which, the US Constitution’s “Supremacy Clause” (Article 6, Clause 2) actually gives treaties the same status as federal law – which would include the Nuremberg Charter and the UN Charter, among other things. Furthermore, by allowing the issue to be framed in such a manner, psychologically you set yourself and others up for being mollified by cosmetic measures offered to guarantee the rights of US citizens while retaining the right to kill foreigners at will. Do you really believe that being a US citizen or being born in Denver makes someone more human?”

Since writing that I have come to realise that framing the issues as “Constitutional Rights” restricts and controls the discourse in a way that disempowers people considerably. Not only does all of the credit get given to the authority figures, but it emphasises those liberal rights of freedom from state interference over all else. But these were never even intended to be the rights of the poor, nor of women, nor the indigenous people, nor slaves. It is the English Whig tradition which had much to do with protecting privilege in the form of property, and little to do with universal notions of rights despite its pretensions. It would be preferable not to view this issue through the lens of the constitution at all, but rather through the lens of universal human rights. Or even better, targeted killings should be framed as violations of international law or criminal law. You don’t normally have to go to the supreme court to establish that a murder victim had a right to life under the US constitution, but it is accepted that the POTUS can murder whatever foreigner he wants because no one has yet established their constitutional right not to be murdered.

Of course, the Bill of Rights does not say at any stage that it is restricted to US citizens…

“…nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law….”

ADDENDUM – from a bit later.

I wrote a response to a comment which I feel may be superior to the actual article above. Becuase of this, and since the embedded videos did not come through on the comment, I am reprinting it here:

The inaptness of your analogies reveals the degree to which you are blinded to the reality and the extent to which you will fight to keep your own chains of mental slavery. People in other states do not automatically lack empathy in exactly the manner which you suggest. Distance does lessen empathy, and many other societies also dehumanise poorer peoples, traditional enemies, or those considered inferior due to culture, ethnicity, religion or race. However, the vast disparity in the way life is valued by those in the US, and the overtness of it, and the prominence of its repetition are without contemporary parallels. Chauvinism is a matter of degree, an the US is at the extreme end. It may not be alone in this, but it is alone in marrying this chauvinist patriotism (this exceptionalism) with a virulent militarism; and a military capacity beyond anything known to history; and an imperialist interventionism which brought about many millions of deaths.

To illustrate, let me use your first example of Nigerians and Canadians. If the Nigerian government had an assassination programme killing thousands of Canadians using missiles and refusing to give details of its justifications. A handful of Nigerians on Canadian soil had been killed and though many Nigerians opposed all such killings, much more mainstream public attention is devoted to those handful of Nigerians. The Nigerian victims generate several times more questions in Parliament, and 5- or 10-fold as many mainstream media mentions and editorial condemnations. And then, someone brings up the prospect that the Nigerian government might extend the programme to Nigerians on Nigerian soil. There is no ongoing programme to do so, like the ongoing assassination programme in Canada. There are no plans to do so. And an assassination of this type, using missiles to kill someone in Nigeria would lead to riots and the fall of the government. Yet somehow, in the mainstream discourse, this is what the Nigerians care most about, and even those who oppose the ongoing slaughter of Canadians join them in their cries of horror – because this barely hypothetical possibility, this empty signifier, this big fat nothing of no news at all, is taken as a sign of the dissolution of traditional Nigerian rights. Yeah, the cops can gun Nigerians down in the streets at will, but to kill them the same way you would kill a Canadian – what horror is this!

I’ll tell you how the world would react to this alternative world Nigeria, shall I? Nigeria would be an absolute pariah state. The Nigerian people would be viewed by most of the world with hostility, fear, suspicion and/or disgust. A rare few would pity them. The BBC and Al Jazeera English would compete to see who could make the most smug and pompous documentary about how the Nigerian Dream had turned into a poisonous sludge of fascistic nationalism, narrow-minded ignorance and violent xenophobia. The moderate Nigerians would object that that isn’t the real Nigeria, but the BBC and AJE microphones would be pointed at those other ones – the ones who say that all Canadians should be killed; the one’s who say that if they attack Nigerians again we should nuke them to show we mean business; and the ones who say that Canadians are Gods wrathful vengeance wreaked on Nigeria for straying from the path of righteousness. That is how we would see these Nigerians, even the ones that don’t say the mad things out loud must believe them inside because otherwise why would they continue to support valuing Nigerian lives over those of the victims of their own government. But what the Nigerians don’t understand is that those who are making monsters of them are also making fools of them.

I do not hold US citizens morally culpable for what their government does, nor even for their inhumane form of patriotism. It is the same as with the Germans of the Third Reich. On a purely intellectual level the claims of not knowing the basics of Nazi mass atrocities were untrue. The German people did know that their government was committing mass murder, but they were not the irrational Jew-hating monsters that Daniel Goldhagen would have people believe .They had systematically been indoctrinated and manipulated into a state of moral anaesthesia and psychological denial. Clear signals which should have let the Germans know immediately that their government was irredeemably monstrous were stripped of their real meaning – their ethical and moral significance. A seminal book about the creation of the national German consciousness by the Nazis was called They Thought They Were Free, here’s an extract:

But Then It Was Too Late

“What no one seemed to notice,” said a colleague of mine, a philologist, “was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing.

“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.

“This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.

Such was the German belief in German freedom, that part of their strategic calculation, and a widely held belief, was that Soviet soldiers would not put up much of a fight because, unlike Germans, they were unfree and thus deprived of initiative and sapped of will. You might well be thinking – ah, but this is exactly why we in the US must guard our constitutional rights, so that we guard our fundamental freedoms. But you are not guarding any real freedoms at all. You are just like those Germans. You have been led and manipulated, through your own excessive pride and self-importance, to fight for the meaningless fetish of a piece of paper while tyranny and rot spread throughout the entire regime from top to bottom. If you want to see the ugly militarist face of Western society, look at the excitement over the technology of death when a new war is launched. But if you want to see why the US slips into a different category, why the US looks more fascist than its allies, look at the celebrations of Osama Bin Laden’s death. Look at last year’s political conventions when if there was the slightest hint of protest or dissent the crowd around the protestor, without external direction, would begin chanting “U S A! U S A!” like hundreds of little kid blocking their ears and going “lalalalala I can’t here you”, but much, much scarier. What would you think if Mexicans started doing that at political rallies? Maybe you think it’s perfectly normal to do that and keep shouting “we’re number one!”, but no one else does it.

So they keep you on this track of patriotic rubbish and actually draw out and amplify the hypocritical and callous aspects of nationalism to make you accept the unacceptable. I have a good historical example, which has some currency at the moment thanks to Ritchie Cunningham. I love Arrested Development and I was brought up firm in the faith of Monty Python. Without David Frost there would never have been a Monty Python, yet I still consider him to be one of the most loathsome creatures ever to have slithered on the face of this Earth. Without Ron Howard there would have been no Arrested Development and though I doubt that Howard is as much of a scumbag as Frost, he nevertheless replicated quite faithfully Frost greatest crime against humanity. In a very famous series of interviews Frost talked to Richard Nixon (and Howard made a movie with the same punchline). Frost let Nixon rewrite history over and over again over many many hours of interviewing. He was not challenged on his crimes against humanity and his war crimes at all, but was able to contextualise all of his actions in his own apologetics without the slightest hint that he was a mass murderer responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in Cambodia alone (just the top of a very long list of serious crimes). Towards the end there came a dramatic breakthrough, which to my mind was clearly a pre-ordained and staged breakthrough. Nixon, under suddenly dogged interrogation, finally broke down and admitted to something. Voice utterly laden with sombre reluctance (really very overacted if you actually listen to it critically) Nixon admitted to lying and that he had “let the American people down”. In a horrible way, this was genius propaganda. The people of the US could suddenly feel like they were the real victims.

Well, this sort of propaganda is fundamental to everything now, especially under Obama. Not all of it appeals to pride, vanity, selfishness and fear. The US regime has become very good and harnessing far more positive energies into meaningless empty nonsense or, sometimes, things that are very important on a human level but ultimately pose no challenge to the structural status quo. Among these are greenwashing, gaywashing and femiwashing. These can have real effects on people’s lives, but above all they feed myths of US freedom and a higher level of development.

When you act like your Constitution is some divine idol to be worshipped, one which makes you society superior to those poor benighted nations that do not have this shining fount of justice; and when any of you decides to privilege concern for US life over the life of others; and whenever you have the gall to say that others do the same, you feed the regime that oppresses you. If you are going to be selfish, you might as well be more enlightened about it.

The Cambodia Precedent: Justifying New Crimes on the Basis of Past Crimes

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For John Kerry the incoming Secretary of State, the bombing of Cambodia by the US was illegal. But, even as Kerry reaffirms his condemnation of US actions in Cambodia, it comes to light that in June his colleagues in the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees were issued a white paper from the Department of Justice which claimed US intervention in Cambodia as being a legal precedent for the administrations use of targeted killings using drone strikes. In fact, “legal precedent” might be too strong a term, because what is actually cited is an address given by legal counsel to the State Department to a legal forum. Yes, they are using a speech rather than an adjudication as a claim of precedence, much as one might in some future time quote John Yoo as the legal precedent for a systematic programme of child torture by testicular crushing. On the other hand, the carpet bombing of Cambodia was one of the most brutal and notorious war crimes of the post-WWII era and not only has no one been prosecuted for the crime, but the principle perpetrator was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a few years later – perhaps this is exactly the sort of precedent that the Obama administration looks towards.

With all of that in mind, it is worth revisiting exactly what the US did to the people of Cambodia. Then we can understand exactly what sort of moral precedent applies here – the sort that would make almost any organised crime boss, or terrorist, or psychopathic serial killer blanch with horrified disgust. If you think I’m exaggerating, read on.

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In 2007 Barack Obama said: “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” In questioning John Kerry about Obama’s departure from that principle in Libya, Rand Paul elicited from Kerry, a reaffirmation that he, Kerry, still believed that the bombing of Cambodia was illegal. One might wonder, then, whether Obama’s new Secretary of State is going to oppose his famous “drone” assassination programme. I broach the subject because the Department of Justice rationalised the use of deadly force in other sovereign territories citing Cambodia as a precedent. This is an excerpt from their recently released White paper:

The Department has not found any authority for the proposition that when one of the parties to an armed conflict plans and executes operations from a base in a new nation, an operation to engage the enemy in that location cannot be part of the original armed conflict, and thus subject to the laws of war governing that conflict, unless the hostilities become sufficiently intense and protracted in the new location. That does not appear to be the rule of the historical practice, for instance, even in a traditional international conflict. See John R. Stevenson, Legal Adviser, Department of State, United States Military Action in Cambodia: Questions of International Law, Address before the Hammarskjold Forum of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York (May 28,1970)…, (arguing that in an international armed conflict, if a neutral state has been unable for any reason to prevent violations of its neutrality by the troops of one belligerent using its territory as a base of operations, the other belligerent has historically been justified in attacking those enemy forces in that state).

Now, let me start off by saying something absolutely clearly. The idea that the US can legally engage in a programme of assassinations using hellfire missiles fired from unmanned aerial vehicles is a patent falsehood – a complete joke – a non-starter – a parody – a stupid idea that no one should take seriously. A single ad hoc emergency strike might be justified as self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter, but a programme cannot be as self-defence because, under the charter, it can only be applied to imminent threats. This aspect of law isn’t rocket science, nor hidden within some mystical realm of legalese. The standard legal textbook dealing with this subject is Yoram Dinstein’s, War, Aggression and Self-Defense, now in its 4th edition. It is a pretty straightforward book (and I’m no lawyer) and on this particular subject it is so unequivocal that it is impossible that any superior authority might find some crucial flaw which would invalidate Dinstein. The reason it is so unequivocal is that the US arguments have already been ruled against by no lesser body than the International Court of Justice. The reason for this is that the US has already deployed almost the exact same reasoning to justify its actions against Nicaragua.

On Nicaragua v. United States of America, the ICJ ruled “By twelve votes to three, Rejects the justification of collective self-defence maintained by the United States of America in connection with the military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua the subject of this case; …. By twelve votes to three, Decides that the United States of America, by training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the contra forces or otherwise encouraging, supporting and aiding military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua, has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another State….” And goes on to add other grounds of violation, including a similar finding against the US mining of Nicaragua’s main port. Dinstein explores the US self-defence claims and notes that although self-defence was ruled out on other grounds this did not prevent judges from further noting that the three requisite conditions of immediacy, necessity, and proportionality were also unsustainable.1

In the Nicaragua case, as now, the US argued that conditions of immediacy, necessity and proportionality were met, but then, as now, these are just empty words disproved by the simplest of geographical facts. Such claims are even further disproved by publicly available details of the US assassination programme, such as the use of “signature strikes” and the use of “double tap” follow up strikes. These practices demolish self-defence arguments even as they raise further questions about breaches of International Humanitarian Law (such as the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949)) and International Human Rights Law (such as Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which affirms “the right to life, liberty and security of person”).

So, how much does citing US actions in Cambodia strengthen the feeble claims of legal rationale for drone strikes? I would say somewhat less than not at all, partly because US military actions in Cambodia were clearly not legal and partly because they too failed the test of self-defence (hence arguably being crimes against the peace) but they were also gross breaches of International Humanitarian Law, and should be classified as genocide – which is considered an “aggravated crime against humanity

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When people think of genocide and Cambodia, they tend to think of the Khmer Rouge, and the “Killing Fields”; of their evidently insane Democratic Kampuchea regime which began its “Year Zero” in 1975. But a Finnish Inquiry Commission designated the years 1969 to 1975 in Cambodia (a time of massive aerial bombardment by the US and of bitter civil war wholly sustained by the US) as Phase 1 of the ‘Decade of Genocide’.2Estimates of Cambodian deaths resulting from the 1969-75 war range from Vickery’s 500,000 killed3 to a credible 1 million excess deaths estimated by Sorpong Peou.4 Given that the Cambodian population was an estimated 6 or 7 million in the period of the Second Indochina War, this gives us a figure of between 1 in 6 and 1 in 14 of all Cambodians killed.

US actions inside Cambodian borders began years before the devastating carpet bombing. The US ‘Studies and Operations Group’ conducted attacks with US Special Forces personnel in Cambodia throughout the 1960s. In 1967 these were institutionalised as “Salem House” (later known as “Daniel Boone”). This programme was kept secret from the US congress and conducted a total of 1,835 missions. Their primary activity appears to have been the laying of “sanitized self-destruct antipersonnel” mines anywhere up to 30 kilometres beyond the border. Their supposed mission was intelligence gathering, but throughout the whole programme they only captured 24 prisoners.5 The Special Forces troops usually disguised themselves as Vietnamese PLAF fighters and sometimes murdered civilians in false-flag operations.6

In 1970 Sihanouk was overthrown by General Lon Nol7 and Prince Sirik Matak with tacit support from Washington and probable assistance by the CIA. Washington recognised the new regime within hours.8 So fast was recognition of Lon Nol’s government that it must have precluded any possibility that the changes on the ground were being assessed, which strongly suggests that the US must have had detailed foreknowledge in order to have any confidence in its judgement. Sihanouk’s overthrow made civil war unavoidable.

In 1969, before the above events, the US began bombing Cambodia in what was known as “Operation Menu”. From Saigon, US General Creighton Abrams insisted that he had “hard evidence” that the Central Office for South Vietnam headquarters (COSVN HQ) had been located in the “Fish Hook” salient of Cambodia.9 The problem was that no such place ever existed, though for years the US had mounted operations to crush it when they claimed it was located in South Vietnam.10 Once under way, Operation Menu spread to other areas. Despite the carpet bombing of area supposed to contain COVSN HQ, in April 1970 Abrams claimed that the headquarters still existed as a fortified underground bunker with 5000 personnel.11 In May US and RVN forces invaded Cambodia, the action justified in part as an attempt, yet again, to wipe out the COVSN HQ “which had become the Holy Grail of the American war”.12 The US/RVN invasion simply, and predictably, drove communist forces deeper into Cambodia.13

It is a known and predictable effect that the killing of civilians drives people to take up arms, it is a “counterproductive” counter-insurgency tactic which actually strengthens the enemy.14 It is worth remembering that the famous maverick US Army officer John Paul Vann made the same observation in 1962.15One of the most striking examples of generating an enemy by killing civilians, is what occurred in Cambodia from 1969 onwards. Ben Kiernan repeatedly cites evidence in numerous consecutive instances that US/RVN aerial bombardment strengthened the Khmer Rouge insurgency, and, more specifically the anti-Vietnamese faction of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot.16 In 1969, the Khmer Rouge consisted of perhaps 4000 – an ultimately unthreatening insurgency. By the end of 1972, they were able, with DRV logistical support, to “hold their own” against Lon Nol’s armed forces, which, at US instigation, had been enlarged to between 132,000 and 176,000 (not counting “ghost” soldiers, who existed only on the books of the corrupt officers who collected their pay) and had massive US/RVN air support.17 In William Shawcross’s words, “the new war was creating enemies where none previously existed”18 and by this stage, Lon Nol’s regime was already reduced to the control of shrinking and fragmenting enclaves.19

When the the US generated a war in Cambodia they had already had a great deal of experience in Vietnam and Laos, and what occurred in Cambodia is, in many ways, a naked exposure of the logic behind the genocidal war system, less obfuscated because, ironically, Cambodia was a “sideshow” where it was not the details but the whole war which was kept obscure from the public.

Within a year of Lon Nol’s coup, as mentioned, the economy of Cambodia was virtually destroyed, not only by bombing, but also by US aid. Aid was channelled to the import of commodities and surplus US agricultural goods. It also underwrote the Cambodian government and armed forces: “By the end of 1970, the government was spending five times its revenue and earning nothing abroad.”20 Most of the population became reliant on US aid to eat, and rice supplies were kept at the minimum level needed to prevent food riots. By 1975, malnutrition was widespread and many children starved to death.21

Going back in time to 1970, less than two months after the coup that brought Lon Nol to power, the US invaded Cambodia, along with ARVN forces. They did not bother to forewarn Lon Nol who found out after Richard Nixon had announced the invasion publicly.22 This invasion along US and RVN bombing and the civil war made refugees of around half of the Cambodian population.23Lon Nol was outraged by the invasion and when later briefed by Alexander Haig (then military assistant to Kissinger) about US intentions he wept with frustration. According to Shawcross, “He wished that the Americans had blocked the communists’ escape route before attacking, instead of spreading them across Cambodia. … The Cambodian leader told Haig that there was no way his small force could stop them. … [Haig] informed Lon Nol that President Nixon intended to limit the involvement of American forces…. They would be withdrawn at the end of June. The the President hoped to introduce a program of restricted military and economic aid. As the implications of Haig’s words for the future of Cambodia became clear to Lon Nol, he began to weep. Cambodia, he said, could never defend itself.”24

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As has been detailed, US actions, particularly in bombing, were directly responsible for creating the communist enemy which overthrew Lon Nol. The bombing between 1969 and 1973 took up to 150,000 lives.25 If averaged out, over 33 tons of ordnance were used to kill each Khmer Rouge insurgent.26 Despite the fact that Vietnamese pilots bombed any Cambodian they could, which aided only the Khmer Rouge, Lon Nol acceded to a US demand that he request an increase in VNAF bombing in 1971.27 By May 1972, the Lon Nol regime had control of perhaps 10 per cent of the country and continued to lose territory which was thereafter fragmented into ever smaller enclaves.28 The result was by that stage foregone, and yet the war dragged on for three years with the greater part of the 1 million deaths occurring after that point.

In 1970, when Henry Kissinger briefed Jonathan “Fred” Ladd, who was slated to conduct the war in Cambodia, he told him, “Don’t even think of victory; just keep it alive.”29 The point of the US bombing was not to win a military victory – it was to destroy Cambodia as part of an Indochina “exit strategy” – and that is a clear instance of genocide under the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. When the US Congress finally blocked aid to Cambodia and South Vietnam, it was with the belated realisation that such aid would not give any hope of victory or improve a bargaining position. Senator Mike Mansfield spoke out, “Ultimately Cambodia cannot survive…. Additional aid means more killing, more fighting. This has got to stop sometime.”30

So that was the end of the US involvement in Cambodia, and their legal culpability. The Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh, and the refugees were shocked to see that the black-clad cadres were mostly young teens, fanatical and brutalised by half a young lifetime of fighting and death. The US was not responsible for the fantasies of the Pol Pot clique, who believed that supernatural amounts of food could be produced without recourse to machine power, nor for their refusal to accept aid. But the US had deliberately brought the Cambodian population to the brink of starvation – destroying farmland and driving peasants off the land. Perhaps 500,000 or more died of starvation. Hundreds of thousands were executed for political or ideological reasons, murdered by the Khmer Rouge who the US had largely brought into existence. And when the Vietnamese put the regime to an end (and despite what you may read about this being justifiable as “humanitarian intervention” it was in fact legitimate self-defence – if you don’t believe me you can read about Khmer Rouge foreign policy, border attacks, and espoused official desire to exterminate all Vietnamese) when the Khmer Rouge were supplanted, the US insisted that they retain a seat at the UN and started giving aid to their guerilla forces.

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So, do I think that the Cambodia precedent is a good one to justify an assassination programme? No, I do not. But then again I am not from the US, and perhaps I am failing to grasp the subtle point that next to no “Americans” died in Cambodia (none that were officially acknowledged) therefore it did not happen. I don’t want to be offensive, but if they do not wish to be complicit with the crimes of the US regime, US anti-drone campaigners must avoid all trace of exceptionalism. I am sure they mean no harm, but why allow yourselves to be drawn into this ridiculous framework of seeing the drone programme as being primarily a question of “the targeting of Americans without due process.” There have been 5 US citizens killed with US drones whereas at least 4000 non-US citizens have been killed. Why would anyone, in those circumstances, give primacy to concern over “US citizens” and “due process”? This fetishisation of the idolised US Constitution is getting old. Besides which, the US Constitution’s “Supremacy Clause” (Article 6, Clause 2) actually gives treaties the same status as federal law – which would include the Nuremberg Charter and the UN Charter, among other things. Furthermore, by allowing the issue to be framed in such a manner, psychologically you set yourself and others up for being mollified by cosmetic measures offered to guarantee the rights of US citizens while retaining the right to kill foreigners at will. Do you really believe that being a US citizen or being born in Denver makes someone more human?

1 Yoram Dinstein, War, Aggression and Self-Defence (3rd ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001, pp 184-5.

2 Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. London: Vintage, 1994 (1988), p 260.

3 Ibid, p 263.

4 Sorpong Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia: Towards Democracy? Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2000, p 54.

5 Ibid, pp 64-5.

6 Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996, p 18.

7 The US had developed ties with Lon Nol in the 1950s and by 1970, according to CIA officer Frank Snepp, he was one of two candidates being groomed by the CIA to take Sihanouk’s place (William Shawcross, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia. London: Fontana, 1980 (1979), pp 114-5).

8 Ibid, pp 114-23; William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II (2nd ed.), Monroe: Common Courage Press, 2004, pp 137-8; Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia, pp 125-6.

9 Shawcross, Sideshow, p 19.

10 Marilyn Young, The Vietnam Wars 1945-1990, New York: Harper Perennial, 1991, pp 72, 186; Tucker, Vietnam, p 129; Turley, The Second Indochina War, pp 79-80.

11 Shawcross, Sideshow, p 140.

12 Young, The Vietnam Wars, p 245.

13 Shawcross, 1979, p 151.

14 David Keen, Endless War? Hidden functions of the ‘War on Terror’. London, Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2006, pp 58-61.

15 Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (New York: Vintage 1989 (1988), p pp 106-111.

16 Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, pp 19-23. Also see Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia, p 128.

17 Shawcross, Sideshow, pp 73, 180, 194-5, 261.

18 Ibid, p 249.

19 Ibid, p 254.

20 Ibid, p 220.

21 Ibid, p 317-9.

22 Ibid, p 149.

23 Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia , p 127.

24 Shawcross, Sideshow, p 163.

25 Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, p 24.

26 Ibid, p 19.

27 Shawcross, Sideshow, p 186.

28 Ibid, pp 254-5.

29 Ibid, p 169.

30 Nigel Cawthorne, Vietnam: A War Lost and Won. London: Arcturus Publishing, 2003, p 213.