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Saturday, September 24, 2011

War and shopping - an extremism that never speaks its name by John Pilger

John Pilger in London defending Julian Assange last year.

Looking for a bookshop that was no longer there, I walked instead into a labyrinth designed as a trap. Leaving became an allusion, rather like Alice once she had stepped through the Looking Glass. Walls of glass curved into concentric circles as one "store" merged into another: Armani Exchange with Dinki Di Pies. Exits led to gauntlets of more "offers" and "exciting options". Seeking a guide, I bought a lousy pair of sunglasses: anything to get out. It was a vision of hell. It was a Westfield mega mall.

This happened in Sydney - where the Westfield empire began - in a "mall" not half as mega as the one that opened in Stratford, east London on 13 September. "Everything" is here, reported the architectural critic Jonathan Glancey: from Apple to Primark, McDonalds's to KFC and Krispy Kreme. There is a cinema with 17 screens and "luxurious VIP seats", and a mega "luxury" bowling alley. Tracey Emin and Mary Portas lead the Westfield "cultural team". The biggest casino in the land will overlook a "24-hour lifestyle street" called The Arcade. This will be the only way into the 2012 Olympic Games for 10m people attending the athletics. The simple, grotesque message of "buy me, buy me" will be London's welcome to the world.

"If you've seen the Disney film Wall-E," wrote Glancey in 2008, "you'll certainly recognise Westfield and malls like it. In the film, humans who long ago abandoned the Earth they messed up through greed, live a supremely sedentary life shopping and eating. They are very tubby and have lost the use of their legs. Is this how we'll end up? Or will we plunge into the depths of some mammoth recession... with nothing and nowhere to spend?" In the less apocalyptic short term, Westfield is "a step towards our collective desire to undermine the life and culture of the traditional city, along with its architecture, and to shop and shop some more."

The original development plan for Stratford City evoked Barcelona: a grid of defined streets of shops and places to live. Modern, civilised. Then the Olympics loomed and so did Westfield, a major corporate sponsor. The mega mall, the biggest in Europe, is built in the midst of grey tower blocks not far from where the recent riots occurred, its "designer" products, made mostly with cheap, regimented labour, beckon the indebted. That it stands on a site where London workers made trains - thousands of locomotives, carriages and goods wagons -in what was once called manufacturing is of melancholy interest. The mega mall's jobs produce nothing and are mostly low-paid. It is an emblem of extreme times.

The co-founder of Westfield is Frank Lowy, an Australian-Israeli billionaire who is to shopping what Rupert Murdoch is to media. Westfield owns or has an interest in more than 120 malls worldwide. The Sydney Tower, the city's most visible structure, is emblazoned "Westfield". Lowy, a former Israeli commando, gives millions to Israel, and in 2003 set up the "independent" Lowy Institute for International Affairs which promotes Israel and US foreign policy.

On the day after the Stratford mega mall opened, Unicef researchers reported that British children were caught in a "materialistic trap" in which they were bought off with "branded goods". Low-income parents felt "tremendous pressure from society" to buy "branded clothes, trainers, technology" for their children. TV advertising and other seductions of the "consumer culture", together with low pay and long working hours, were responsible. Children told the researchers they preferred to spend time with their families and to have "plenty to do outdoors", but this was often no longer possible. As "welfare" has become a dirty word, basic facilities for the young such as youth clubs are being eliminated by local authorities.

Four years ago, Unicef published a league table of children's wellbeing across 21 industrialised nations. The UK was bottom. A fifth of British children live in poverty: a figure forecast to rise in the Olympic year. The priority of Britain's political class, regardless of party, is the repayment by ordinary people of "the deficit", a specious and cynical term for the epic handouts to crooked banks, and the simultaneous waging of squalid colonial wars for the theft of other countries' resources. This is extremism that never speaks its name.

It is an extremism that has emasculated the social democracies that were Europe's redemption following the second world war. The forced impoverishment of Greece with exorbitant returns demanded by German and French central bankers is likely to produce another fascist military coup. The forced impoverishment of millions of Britons by the ancien regime of David Cameron, with its growing police state and compliant bourgeoisie, especially in the media, will produce more riots: nothing is surer. One can count upon the extremism of apartheid in any form to trigger such a result, no matter its consumerist gloss hermetically sealed in a mega mall. The prospect is democracy for the rich and totalitarianism not only for the poor; and "liberal intervention", as the Guardian calls it approvingly, for those useful foreign parts too weak to resist our "precision" Brimstone missiles.

I went to Parliament Square the other day. The graphic display of state crimes mounted by peace and justice campaigner Brian Haw had been finally removed by the Metropolitan Police, knowing that Brian could no longer stand up to them, bodily and in the courts, as he did for a decade. Brian died in June. Visiting him one freezing Christmas, I was moved by the way he persuaded so many passers-by and the power of his courage. We now need millions like him. Urgently.

22 September 2011

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tariq Ali:America's selective vigilantism will make as many enemies as friends

Under the guise of humanitarianism, the frontiers of the west's squalid protectorate are being decided in Washington

"Sovereign is he who decides on the exception," Carl Schmitt wrote in different times almost a century ago, when European empires and armies dominated most continents and the United States was basking beneath an isolationist sun. What the conservative theorist meant by "exception" was a state of emergency, necessitated by serious economic or political cataclysms, that required a suspension of the constitution, internal repression and war abroad.

A decade after the attentats of 9/11, the US and its European allies are trapped in a quagmire. The events of that year were simply used as a pretext to remake the world and to punish those states that did not comply. And today while the majority of Euro-American citizens flounder in a moral desert, now unhappy with the wars, now resigned, now propagandised into differentiating what is, in effect, an overarching imperial strategy into good/bad wars, the US General Petraeus (currently commanding the CIA) tells us: "You have to recognise also that I don't think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. It's a little bit like Iraq, actually… Yes, there has been enormous progress in Iraq. But there are still horrific attacks in Iraq, and you have to stay vigilant. You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we're in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids' lives." Thus speaks the voice of a sovereign power, determining in this case that the exception is the rule.

Even though I did not agree with his own answer, the German philosopher, Jürgen Habermas posed an important question: "Does the claim to universality that we connect with human rights merely conceal a particularly subtle and deceitful instrument of western domination?" "Subtle" could be deleted. The experiences in the occupied lands speak for themselves. Ten years on the war in Afghanistan continues, a bloody and brutal stalemate with a corrupt puppet regime whose president and family fill their pockets with ill-gotten gains and a US/Nato military incapable of defeating the insurgents. The latter now strike at will, assassinating Hamid Karzai's corrupt sibling, knocking off his leading collaborators and targeting key Nato intelligence personnel via suicide terrorism or helicopter-downing missiles. Meanwhile, sets of protracted behind-the-scenes negotiations between the US and the neo-Taliban have been taking place for several years. The aim reveals the desperation. Nato and Karzai are desperate to recruit the Taliban to a new national government.

Euro-American liberal and conservative politicians who form the backbone of the governing elites and claim to believe in moderation and tolerance and fighting wars to impose the same values on the re-colonised states are still blinded by their situation and fail to see the writing on the wall. Their pious renunciations of terrorist violence notwithstanding, they have no problems in defending torture, renditions, targeting and assassination of individuals, post-legal states of exception at home so that they can imprison anybody without trial indefinitely. Meanwhile the good citizens of Euro-America who opposed the wars being waged by their governments avert their gaze from the dead, wounded and orphaned citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan, Libya and Pakistan … the list continues to grow. War – jus belli – is now a legitimate instrument as long as it is used with US approval or preferably by the US itself. These days it is presented as a "humanitarian" necessity: one side is busy engaged in committing crimes, the self-styled morally superior side is simply administering necessary punishment and the state to be defeated is denied its sovereignty. Its replacement is carefully policed both with military bases and money. This 21st-century colonisation or dominance is aided by the global media networks, an essential pillar to conduct political and military operations.

Let's start with homeland security in the US. Contrary to what many liberals imagined in November 2008, the debasement of American political culture continues apace. Instead of reversing the trend, the lawyer-president and his team have deliberately accelerated the process. There have been more deportations of immigrants than under George W Bush; fewer prisoners held without trial have been released from Guantánamo, an institution that Barack Obama had promised to close down; the Patriot Act with its defining premises of what constitutes friends and enemies has been renewed; a new war begun in Libya without the approval of Congress on the flimsy basis that the bombing of a sovereign state should not be construed as a hostile act; whistleblowers are being vigorously prosecuted and so on – the list growing longer by the day.

Politics and power override all else. Liberals who still believe the Bush administration transcended the law while the Democrats are exemplars of a normative approach are blinded by political tribalism. Apart from Obama's windy rhetoric, little now divides this administration from its predecessor. Ignore, for a moment, the power of politicians and propagandists to enforce their taboos and prejudices on American society as a whole, a power often used ruthlessly and vindictively to silence opposition from all quarters – Bradley Manning, Thomas Drake (released after a huge outcry in the liberal media), Julian Assange, Stephen Kim, currently being treated as criminals and public enemies, know this better than most.

Nothing illustrates this debasement so well as the assassination of Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad. He could have been captured and put on trial, but that was never the intention. The liberal mood was reflected by the chants heard in New York on that day: "U-S-A. U-S-A. Obama got Osama. Obama got Osama. You can't beat us (clap-clap-clap-clap-clap-clap) You can't beat us. Fuck Bin La-den. Fuck Bin La-den." These were echoed in more diplomatic language by the leaders of Europe, junior partners in the imperial family of nations, incapable of self-determination. Cant and hypocrisy have become the coinage of political culture.

Take Libya, the latest case of "humanitarian intervention". The US-Nato intervention in Libya, with United Nations security council cover, is part of an orchestrated response to show support for the movement against one dictator in particular and by so doing to bring the Arab rebellions to an end by asserting western control, confiscating their impetus and spontaneity, and trying to restore the status quo ante. As is now obvious, the British and French are boasting of success and that they will control Libyan oil reserves as payment for the six-month bombing campaign.

Civil society is easily moved by images and Muammar Gaddafi's brutality in sending his air force to bomb his people was the pretext that Washington utilised to bomb another Arab capital. Meanwhile, Obama's allies in the Arab world were hard at work promoting democracy.

The Saudis entered Bahrain where the population is being tyrannised and large-scale arrests are taking place. Not much of this is being reported on al-Jazeera. I wonder why. The station seems to have been curbed somewhat and brought into line with the politics of its funders. All this with active US support. The despot in Yemen, loathed by a majority of his people, continues to kill them every day by remote control from his Saudi base. Not even an arms embargo, let alone a "no-fly zone", have been imposed on him. Libya is yet another case of selective vigilantism by the US and its attack dogs in the west. That the German Greens, among the most ardent European defenders of neoliberalism and war, wanted to be part of this posse reveals more about their own evolution than the intrinsic merits or demerits of intervention.

The frontiers of the squalid protectorate that the west is going to create are being decided in Washington. Even those Libyans who, out of desperation, are backing Nato's bomber jets, might – like their Iraqi equivalents – live to regret their choice.

All this might trigger a third phase at some stage: a growing nationalist anger that spills over into Saudi Arabia and here, have no doubt, Washington will do everything necessary to keep the Saudi royal family in power. Lose Saudi Arabia and they will lose the Gulf states. The assault on Libya, greatly helped by Gaddafi's imbecility on every front, was designed to wrest the initiative back from the streets by appearing as the defenders of civil rights. The Bahrainis, Egyptians, Tunisians, Saudi Arabians and Yemenis will not be convinced, and even in Euro-America more are opposed to this latest adventure than support it. The struggles are by no means over.

The 19th century German poet Theodor Däubler wrote:

The enemy is our own question embodied

And he will hound us, and we will hound him to the same end.

The problem with this view today is that the category of enemy, determined by US policy needs, changes far too frequently. Yesterday Saddam and Gaddafi were friends and regularly helped by western intelligence agencies to deal with their own enemies. The latter became friends when the former became enemies. And so the planetary disorder continues. The assassination of Bin Laden was greeted by European leaders as something that would make the world safer. Tell that to the fairies.

The Guardian Tuesday 6 September 2011

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mark Steel: Bankers: eight billion years in jail should do it

Instead of this pointless Vickers Report about how to sort out the banks, the investigation should have been carried out by Supernanny. She'd have sorted it.

Because the problem seems to be they've got no discipline. And governments have been like these soppy posh parents you get who watch their toddlers go berserk in public, and eventually say, "Polyglot, darling, I've warned you haven't I, about drilling through a stranger's leg with a masonry bit. Now please put the tools down or you won't get a canapé."

For example, David Cameron said the banks would face a "day of reckoning" for destroying the economy, which is true in that he's told them, "I reckon you can carry on doing whatever you want."

Now the Vickers Report suggests the banks should have two sections, one that's "ring-fenced" and behaves reasonably, and a separate wild part where they can carry on gambling with the country's finances, because we all need a bit of fun and relaxation sometimes. And the Government really means it because they've given the banks only eight years to put this in place or else.

The trouble is they're already squirming out of the report's suggestions, by arguing that anything that could slightly lower their profits will be damaging to the economy. So that's why they've carried on drawing the same bonuses as before – it's an act of generosity to protect the economy. When Bob Diamond of Barclays received £6.5m on top of his salary this year, he must have thought, "Oh no, I've got nowhere to put this. But if I don't accept it the economy might suffer so I suppose I should be community-minded and take it," and then I expect he spent it on setting up a hospital for sick mice.

The bankers often suggest it's in the country's interest they take this money. Because when they're asked why they should have it, none of them say, "So I can buy the South of France". Instead they make up something like, "If you look at the history of recessions, it's clear that if the banks' profitability is reduced, the nation tends to catch fire. So if we cut bonuses everything will burn to the ground, and that could threaten consumer confidence, as no one will go shopping because everything will be too hot."

One way to deal with this would be to make the rules consistent. So after an inquiry into the riots, the gangs would be given eight years to separate their regular mooches round shopping centres from their time looting Dixons. Or we could apply the same sentence to bankers as to looters for each pound's worth stolen. So as one looter was given four months for stealing two bottles of water, the average banker would be jailed for around eight billion years, though obviously they could be out in four billion for good behaviour.

But such stern measures would be unfair. It's not their fault they're irresponsible. They've been allowed to get away with it, with no boundaries or guidance to give them a sense of discipline. This is where Supernanny would be so helpful. Instead of dithering with unclear proposals, her report would go: "In order to ensure a stable banking system that may enhance sustainable economic growth, you'll get NO more salaries until you've worked off all those bonuses you swiped. So to start with Mr Goodwin, you're going to clean up all the leaves in Scotland. I don't care WHAT your prime ministers let you do, we've got new rules now."

For a while we'd have to endure bankers banging on the door and shouting, "I HATE YOU, give me my five million NOW!" and screaming "HOW can I invest in a HEDGE FUND while I'm on this stupid NAUGHTY STEP?" But eventually they'd learn self-respect and control, and then we could reward them with treats, so if they didn't take a Christmas bonus for being a director of a bank that had lost 80 million quid they'd get a day out at Alton Towers.

Because there's no such thing as a naughty banker, they just need to be shown how to behave.

The Independent Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mark Steel: Welcome to the Wapping Experience

As the Murdochs are selling off their plant at Wapping, it should be bought by English Heritage the way they do with other shut-down workplaces, and turned into "The News International Experience".

Visitors could be offered headphones with a commentary that plays as they go round, saying: "Hi, I'm Bob Hoskins, and I've seen some right goings-on round the East End I can tell yer, but what they got up to in 'ere takes the bloomin' biscuit. Come with me on a journey through the grime, the backhanders and the porky pies for a tale of right slippery so-and-sos, you wouldn't believe."

There could be an interactive section where you ask questions to actors playing Rupert and James and see if you can get them to remember anything they've ever done. And children could be given one of those sheets of paper with a series of questions to answer from what they see on the way round, to see if they've got what it takes to be a top policeman. If they throw it away and say, "There's no point in trying to find anything out", they pass.

It would have the impact of museums about slavery or the First World War, where people sign a book as they leave, adding comments such as: "We must never let this horror happen again." Then at the gift shop you could buy a story written about yourself based on messages hacked from your phone as you were queuing to pay.

The other possibility is News International will keep the building and turn it into one of these new free schools. To pass history, students will have to write an essay on The Battle of Waterloo, giving an objective and accurate view in not more than 20 words. They'll get an A* if they put: "It's Napoleon Torn-apart. Our boys give frogs the Wellington boot."

As future visitors wander round the museum, the question they may ask is why did so many people let him walk all over them, to the extent that Alastair Campbell's deputy described Rupert Murdoch as the 24th member of his cabinet? Blair might dispute this, arguing: "No he wasn't. Gaddafi was the 24th member, Murdoch was third, then came Bush, Berlusconi, Cliff Richard and, at the back, the Foreign Secretary."

Partly it may be Murdoch benefited from an old tradition among British politicians, of bravely standing up to tyrants, as long as they've already been overthrown. Then they're fearless, condemning apartheid or Victorian mill owners or Nero with not a thought for their own safety. It just seems to be that minority of tyrants who still have power they have difficulty with.
So for 30 years the political system in Britain cowed to him, especially when Fortress Wapping was created, as the reason he moved there was to destroy the print unions. The argument was that we couldn't carry on letting printers get paid ridiculous amounts. So I wonder what Murdoch did with all those printers' wages he saved. I haven't looked it up but I imagine he gave it to old blind people and a leper colony. It's also possible that history might be different if proper trade unions had existed inside Wapping. Because everyone seems to agree now that the culture inside News International made it impossible for anyone to object to the company's methods and stay in the job, which a union could have resisted.

You can tell how powerful that culture is from the way that even now it carries on, because in the past six months News International has used private investigators to follow the lawyers that are trying to sue them. It's as if they can't help it, it's a compulsive disorder, and if they were stranded on a desert island they'd be planting bugs to listen in to the parrots, who would wonder why there was a story written about them having a row with a chimpanzee.

For their own safety the board of News International should be confined to a cage in the new Wapping museum, where Bob Hoskins can encourage children to point at them and poke them with sticks.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011 The Independent

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Robert Jensen:Imperial Delusions: Ignoring the Lessons of 9/11

Ten years ago, critics of America’s mad rush to war were right, but it didn’t matter.

Within hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it was clear that political leaders were going to use the attacks to justify war in Central Asia and the Middle East. And within hours, those of us critical of that policy began to offer principled and practical arguments against aggressive war as a response to the crimes.

It didn’t matter because neither the public nor policymakers were interested in principled or practical arguments. People wanted revenge, and the policymakers seized the opportunity to use U.S. military power. Critical thinking became a mark not of conscientious citizenship but of dangerous disloyalty.

We were right, but the wars came.

The destructive capacity of the U.S. military meant quick “victories” that just as quickly proved illusory. As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq dragged on, it became clearer that the position staked out by early opponents was correct -- the wars not only were illegal (conforming to neither international nor constitutional law) and immoral (fought in ways that guaranteed large-scale civilian casualties and displacement), but a failure on any pragmatic criteria. The U.S. military has killed some of the people who were targeting the United States and destroyed some of their infrastructure and organization, but a decade later we are weaker and our sense of safety more fragile. The ability to dominate militarily proved to be both inadequate and transitory, as predicted.

Ten years later, we are still right and it still doesn’t matter.

There’s a simple reason for this: Empires rarely learn in time, because power tends to dull people’s capacity for critical self-reflection. While ascending to power, empires believe themselves to be invincible. While declining in power, they cling desperately to old myths of remembered glory.

Today the United States is morally bankrupt and spiritually broken. The problem is not that we have strayed from our founding principles, but that we are still operating on those principles -- delusional notions about manifest destiny, American exceptionalism, the right to take more than our share of the world’s resources by whatever means necessary. As the United States grew in wealth and power, bounty for the chosen came at the cost of misery for the many.

After World War II, as the United States became the dominant power not just in the Americas but on the world stage, the principles didn’t change. U.S. foreign policy sought to deepen and extend U.S. power around the world, especially in the energy-rich and strategically crucial Middle East; always with an eye on derailing any Third World societies’ attempts to pursue a course of independent development outside the U.S. sphere; and containing the possibility of challenges to U.S. dominance from other powerful states.

Does that summary sound like radical hysteria? Recall this statement from President Jimmy Carter’s 1980 State of the Union address: “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” Democrats and Republicans, before and after, followed the same policy.

The George W. Bush administration offered a particularly intense ideological fanaticism, but the course charted by the Obama administration is much the same. Consider this 2006 statement by Robert Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense in both administrations: “I think the message that we are sending to everyone, not just Iran, is that the United States is an enduring presence in this part of the world. We have been here for a long time. We will be here for a long time and everybody needs to remember that -- both our friends and those who might consider themselves our adversaries.”

If the new boss sounds a lot like the old boss, it’s because the problem isn’t just bad leaders but a bad system. That’s why a critique of today’s wars sounds a lot like critiques of wars past. Here’s Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assessment of the imperial war of his time: “[N]o one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over.”

Will our autopsy report read “global war on terror”?

That sounds harsh, and it’s tempting to argue that we should refrain from political debate on the 9/11 anniversary to honor those who died and to respect those who lost loved ones. I would be willing to do that if the cheerleaders for the U.S. empire would refrain from using the day to justify the wars of aggression that followed 9/11. But given the events of the past decade, there is no way to take the politics out of the anniversary.

We should take time on 9/11 to remember the nearly 3,000 victims who died that day, but as responsible citizens, we also should face a harsh reality: While the terrorism of fanatical individuals and groups is a serious threat, much greater damage has been done by our nation-state caught up in its own fanatical notions of imperial greatness.

That’s why I feel no satisfaction in being part of the anti-war/anti-empire movement. Being right means nothing if we failed to create a more just foreign policy conducted by a more humble nation.

Ten years later, I feel the same thing that I felt on 9/11 -- an indescribable grief over the senseless death of that day and of days to come.

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center . His latest book is Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity. Jensen is also the author of The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege and Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity; and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (Peter Lang). He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online here

Published on Friday, September 9, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

John Pilger:Hail to the true victors of Rupert's revolution

On 13 September, one of the world's biggest arms fairs opens in London, backed by the British government. On 8 September, the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry held a preview entitled "Middle East: A vast market for UK defence and security companies". The host was the Royal Bank of Scotland, a major investor in cluster bombs. According to Amnesty international, the victims of cluster bombs are 98 per cent civilians and 30 per cent children. The Royal Bank of Scotland has received £20 million in public money. The blurb for the bank's arms party reads: "The Middle East is one of the regions with the greatest number of opportunities for UK defence and security companies. Saudi Arabia... is the world's top defence importer, having spent $56bn in 2009... a very worthwhile region to target."

Such are the Cameron government's priorities following the great "humanitarian" victory in Libya. As Margaret Thatcher once declared: "Rejoice!" And as the bankers and arms merchants raise their glasses, let us not forget the heroic RAF pilots who made Libya ours again by incinerating countless "pro Gaddafi elements" in their homes and cots and clinics, and the unsung stalwarts of the British drone industry at Menwith Hill in Yorkshire who, before and after lunch, provide the information for drone targets so that Hellfire missiles can flatten homes and suck the air out of lungs, a specialty. And cheers to QuinetiQ's drone testing site at Aberporth and at UAV Engines Limited in Lichfield.

The west's humanitarian mission is not quite finished. Nearly six months after securing a UN resolution authorising "the [protection] of civilians and civilian-populated areas under the threat of attack", Nato is raining fragmentation bombs on civilian-populated Sirte and other "Gaddafi strongholds" where, says a Channel 4 News reporter, "until they cut off the head of the snake, Libyans will not feel safe". I quote that not so much for its Orwellian quality but as a model of journalism's role in justifying "our" bloodbaths in advance.

This is Rupert's Revolution, after all. Gone from the Murdoch press are pejorative "insurgents". The action in Libya, says The Times, is "a revolution... as revolutions used to be". That it is a coup by a gang of Muammar Gaddafi's ex cronies and spooks in collusion with Nato is hardly news. The self-appointed "rebel leader", Mustafa Abdul Jalil, was Gaddafi's feared justice minister. The CIA runs or bankrolls most of the rest, including America's old friends, the Mujadeen Islamists who spawned al-Qaeda.

They told journalists what they needed to know: that Gaddafi was about to commit "genocide", of which there was no evidence, unlike the abundant evidence of "rebel" massacres of black African workers falsely accused of being mercenaries. European bankers' secret transfer of the Central Bank of Libya from Tripoli to "rebel" Benghazi by European bankers in order to control the country's oil billions was an epic heist of little interest.

The entirely predictable indictment of Gaddafi before the "international court" at The Hague evokes the charade of the dying "Lockerbie bomber", Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, whose "heinous crime" has been deployed to promote the west's ambitions in Libya. In 2009, Al-Megrahi was sent back to Libya by the Scottish authorities not for compassionate reasons, as reported, but because his long-awaited appeal would have confirmed his innocence and described how he was framed by the Thatcher government, as the late Paul Foot's landmark expose revealed. As an antidote to the current propaganda, I urge you to read a forensic demolition of el-Melgrahi's "guilt" and its political meaning in Dispatches from the Dark Side: on torture and the death of justice (Verso) by the distinguished human rights lawyer, Gareth Peirce.

This is not to detract from Gaddafi's awful dictatorship, a "rendition" destination for MI6, we now learn. But his odium is unrelated to the rape of his country by imperial caricatures such as Nicholas Sarkozy, a Napoleonic Islamophobe whose intelligence services almost certainly set up the coup against Gaddafi. US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks disclose the west's panic over Gaddafi's refusal to hand over the greatest source of oil in Africa and his overtures to China and Russia.

Propaganda relies not only on Murdoch but on apparently respectable voices inducing historical amnesia. The Observer, which has yet to apologise for its catastrophic promotion of Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction, is in thrall to the "honourable intervention" of Sarkozy and Cameron and their "humanitarian and emotional" motives. Its political columnist Andrew Rawnsley completes an impressive double. As Media Lens reminds us, in 2003, Rawnsley wrote of Iraq: "The death toll has been nothing like as high as had been widely feared." A million dead Iraqis later, Rawnsley insists that, in Libya "Britain got it right" and "the number of civilian casualties inflicted by the air strikes seems to have been mercifully light". Tell that to Libyans with loved ones obliterated by corporate-friendly Hellfires.

Nato attacked Libya to counter and manipulate a general Arab uprising that took the rulers of the world by surprise. Unlike his neighbours, Gaddafi had come to power by denying western control of his country's natural wealth. For this, he was never forgiven, and the opportunity for his demise was seized in the usual manner, as history shows. The American historian William Blum has kept the record. Since the second world war, the United States has crushed or subverted liberation movements in 20 countries, and attempted to overthrow more than 50 governments, many of them democratic, and dropped bombs on 30 countries, and attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders.


8 September 2011

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Noam Chomsky:The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Using Privilege to Challenge the State

 In 1967, as the Vietnam War escalated, Noam Chomsky penned The Responsibility of Intellectuals, a stunning rebuke to scientists and scholars for their subservience to political power. Today we face a similar array of crises, from wars to escalating debt. What are the obligations of intellectuals in this day and age?

Since we often cannot see what is happening before our eyes, it is perhaps not too surprising that what is at a slight distance removed is utterly invisible. We have just witnessed an instructive example: President Obama’s dispatch of 79 commandos into Pakistan on May 1 to carry out what was evidently a planned assassination of the prime suspect in the terrorist atrocities of 9/11, Osama bin Laden. Though the target of the operation, unarmed and with no protection, could easily have been apprehended, he was simply murdered, his body dumped at sea without autopsy. The action was deemed “just and necessary” in the liberal press. There will be no trial, as there was in the case of Nazi criminals—a fact not overlooked by legal authorities abroad who approve of the operation but object to the procedure. As Elaine Scarry reminds us, the prohibition of assassination in international law traces back to a forceful denunciation of the practice by Abraham Lincoln, who condemned the call for assassination as “international outlawry” in 1863, an “outrage,” which “civilized nations” view with “horror” and merits the “sternest retaliation.”

In 1967, writing about the deceit and distortion surrounding the American invasion of Vietnam, I discussed the responsibility of intellectuals, borrowing the phrase from an important essay of Dwight Macdonald’s after World War II. With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 arriving, and widespread approval in the United States of the assassination of the chief suspect, it seems a fitting time to revisit that issue. But before thinking about the responsibility of intellectuals, it is worth clarifying to whom we are referring.

The concept of intellectuals in the modern sense gained prominence with the 1898 “Manifesto of the Intellectuals” produced by the Dreyfusards who, inspired by Emile Zola’s open letter of protest to France’s president, condemned both the framing of French artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus on charges of treason and the subsequent military cover-up. The Dreyfusards’ stance conveys the image of intellectuals as defenders of justice, confronting power with courage and integrity. But they were hardly seen that way at the time. A minority of the educated classes, the Dreyfusards were bitterly condemned in the mainstream of intellectual life, in particular by prominent figures among “the immortals of the strongly anti-Dreyfusard Académie Française,” Steven Lukes writes. To the novelist, politician, and anti-Dreyfusard leader Maurice Barrès, Dreyfusards were “anarchists of the lecture-platform.” To another of these immortals, Ferdinand Brunetière, the very word “intellectual” signified “one of the most ridiculous eccentricities of our time—I mean the pretension of raising writers, scientists, professors and philologists to the rank of supermen,” who dare to “treat our generals as idiots, our social institutions as absurd and our traditions as unhealthy.”

Who then were the intellectuals? The minority inspired by Zola (who was sentenced to jail for libel, and fled the country)? Or the immortals of the academy? The question resonates through the ages, in one or another form, and today offers a framework for determining the “responsibility of intellectuals.” The phrase is ambiguous: does it refer to intellectuals’ moral responsibility as decent human beings in a position to use their privilege and status to advance the causes of freedom, justice, mercy, peace, and other such sentimental concerns? Or does it refer to the role they are expected to play, serving, not derogating, leadership and established institutions?

One answer came during World War I, when prominent intellectuals on all sides lined up enthusiastically in support of their own states.

In their “Manifesto of 93 German Intellectuals,” leading figures in one of the world’s most enlightened states called on the West to “have faith in us! Believe, that we shall carry on this war to the end as a civilized nation, to whom the legacy of a Goethe, a Beethoven, and a Kant, is just as sacred as its own hearths and homes.” Their counterparts on the other side of the intellectual trenches matched them in enthusiasm for the noble cause, but went beyond in self-adulation. In The New Republic they proclaimed, “The effective and decisive work on behalf of the war has been accomplished by . . . a class which must be comprehensively but loosely described as the ‘intellectuals.’” These progressives believed they were ensuring that the United States entered the war “under the influence of a moral verdict reached, after the utmost deliberation by the more thoughtful members of the community.” They were, in fact, the victims of concoctions of the British Ministry of Information, which secretly sought “to direct the thought of most of the world,” but particularly the thought of American progressive intellectuals who might help to whip a pacifist country into war fever.

John Dewey was impressed by the great “psychological and educational lesson” of the war, which proved that human beings—more precisely, “the intelligent men of the community”—can “take hold of human affairs and manage them . . . deliberately and intelligently” to achieve the ends sought, admirable by definition.

Not everyone toed the line so obediently, of course. Notable figures such as Bertrand Russell, Eugene Debs, Rosa Luxemburg, and Karl Liebknecht were, like Zola, sentenced to prison. Debs was punished with particular severity—a ten-year prison term for raising questions about President Wilson’s “war for democracy and human rights.” Wilson refused him amnesty after the war ended, though Harding finally relented. Some, such as Thorstein Veblen, were chastised but treated less harshly; Veblen was fired from his position in the Food Administration after preparing a report showing that the shortage of farm labor could be overcome by ending Wilson’s brutal persecution of labor, specifically the International Workers of the World. Randolph Bourne was dropped by the progressive journals after criticizing the “league of benevolently imperialistic nations” and their exalted endeavors.

The pattern of praise and punishment is a familiar one throughout history: those who line up in the service of the state are typically praised by the general intellectual community, and those who refuse to line up in service of the state are punished. Thus in retrospect Wilson and the progressive intellectuals who offered him their services are greatly honored, but not Debs. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were murdered and have hardly been heroes of the intellectual mainstream. Russell continued to be bitterly condemned until after his death—and in current biographies still is.

Since power tends to prevail, intellectuals who serve their governments are considered the responsible ones.

In the 1970s prominent scholars distinguished the two categories of intellectuals more explicitly. A 1975 study, The Crisis of Democracy, labeled Brunetière’s ridiculous eccentrics “value-oriented intellectuals” who pose a “challenge to democratic government which is, potentially at least, as serious as those posed in the past by aristocratic cliques, fascist movements, and communist parties.” Among other misdeeds, these dangerous creatures “devote themselves to the derogation of leadership, the challenging of authority,” and they challenge the institutions responsible for “the indoctrination of the young.” Some even sink to the depths of questioning the nobility of war aims, as Bourne had. This castigation of the miscreants who question authority and the established order was delivered by the scholars of the liberal internationalist Trilateral Commission; the Carter administration was largely drawn from their ranks.

Like The New Republic progressives during World War I, the authors of The Crisis of Democracy extend the concept of the “intellectual” beyond Brunetière’s ridiculous eccentrics to include the better sort as well: the “technocratic and policy-oriented intellectuals,” responsible and serious thinkers who devote themselves to the constructive work of shaping policy within established institutions and to ensuring that indoctrination of the young proceeds on course.

It took Dewey only a few years to shift from the responsible technocratic and policy-oriented intellectual of World War I to an anarchist of the lecture-platform, as he denounced the “un-free press” and questioned “how far genuine intellectual freedom and social responsibility are possible on any large scale under the existing economic regime.”

What particularly troubled the Trilateral scholars was the “excess of democracy” during the time of troubles, the 1960s, when normally passive and apathetic parts of the population entered the political arena to advance their concerns: minorities, women, the young, the old, working people . . . in short, the population, sometimes called the “special interests.” They are to be distinguished from those whom Adam Smith called the “masters of mankind,” who are “the principal architects” of government policy and pursue their “vile maxim”: “All for ourselves and nothing for other people.” The role of the masters in the political arena is not deplored, or discussed, in the Trilateral volume, presumably because the masters represent “the national interest,” like those who applauded themselves for leading the country to war “after the utmost deliberation by the more thoughtful members of the community” had reached its “moral verdict.”

To overcome the excessive burden imposed on the state by the special interests, the Trilateralists called for more “moderation in democracy,” a return to passivity on the part of the less deserving, perhaps even a return to the happy days when “Truman had been able to govern the country with the cooperation of a relatively small number of Wall Street lawyers and bankers,” and democracy therefore flourished.

The Trilateralists could well have claimed to be adhering to the original intent of the Constitution, “intrinsically an aristocratic document designed to check the democratic tendencies of the period” by delivering power to a “better sort” of people and barring “those who were not rich, well born, or prominent from exercising political power,” in the accurate words of the historian Gordon Wood. In Madison’s defense, however, we should recognize that his mentality was pre-capitalist. In determining that power should be in the hands of “the wealth of the nation,” “a the more capable set of men,” he envisioned those men on the model of the “enlightened Statesmen” and “benevolent philosopher” of the imagined Roman world. They would be “pure and noble,” “men of intelligence, patriotism, property, and independent circumstances” “whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.” So endowed, these men would “refine and enlarge the public views,” guarding the public interest against the “mischiefs” of democratic majorities. In a similar vein, the progressive Wilsonian intellectuals might have taken comfort in the discoveries of the behavioral sciences, explained in 1939 by the psychologist and education theorist Edward Thorndike:

It is the great good fortune of mankind that there is a substantial correlation between intelligence and morality including good will toward one’s fellows . . . . Consequently our superiors in ability are on the average our benefactors, and it is often safer to trust our interests to them than to ourselves.

A comforting doctrine, though some might feel that Adam Smith had the sharper eye.

Since power tends to prevail, intellectuals who serve their governments are considered responsible, and value-oriented intellectuals are dismissed or denigrated. At home that is.

With regard to enemies, the distinction between the two categories of intellectuals is retained, but with values reversed. In the old Soviet Union, the value-oriented intellectuals were the honored dissidents, while we had only contempt for the apparatchiks and commissars, the technocratic and policy-oriented intellectuals. Similarly in Iran we honor the courageous dissidents and condemn those who defend the clerical establishment. And elsewhere generally.

The honorable term “dissident” is used selectively. It does not, of course, apply, with its favorable connotations, to value-oriented intellectuals at home or to those who combat U.S.-supported tyranny abroad. Take the interesting case of Nelson Mandela, who was removed from the official terrorist list in 2008, and can now travel to the United States without special authorization.

Twenty years earlier, he was the criminal leader of one of the world’s “more notorious terrorist groups,” according to a Pentagon report. That is why President Reagan had to support the apartheid regime, increasing trade with South Africa in violation of congressional sanctions and supporting South Africa’s depredations in neighboring countries, which led, according to a UN study, to 1.5 million deaths. That was only one episode in the war on terrorism that Reagan declared to combat “the plague of the modern age,” or, as Secretary of State George Shultz had it, “a return to barbarism in the modern age.” We may add hundreds of thousands of corpses in Central America and tens of thousands more in the Middle East, among other achievements. Small wonder that the Great Communicator is worshipped by Hoover Institution scholars as a colossus whose “spirit seems to stride the country, watching us like a warm and friendly ghost,” recently honored further by a statue that defaces the American Embassy in London.

What particularly troubled the Trilateral scholars was the ‘excess of democracy’ in the 1960s.

The Latin American case is revealing. Those who called for freedom and justice in Latin America are not admitted to the pantheon of honored dissidents. For example, a week after the fall of the Berlin Wall, six leading Latin American intellectuals, all Jesuit priests, had their heads blown off on the direct orders of the Salvadoran high command. The perpetrators were from an elite battalion armed and trained by Washington that had already left a gruesome trail of blood and terror, and had just returned from renewed training at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The murdered priests are not commemorated as honored dissidents, nor are others like them throughout the hemisphere. Honored dissidents are those who called for freedom in enemy domains in Eastern Europe, who certainly suffered, but not remotely like their counterparts in Latin America.

The distinction is worth examination, and tells us a lot about the two senses of the phrase “responsibility of intellectuals,” and about ourselves. It is not seriously in question, as John Coatsworth writes in the recently published Cambridge University History of the Cold War, that from 1960 to “the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those in the Soviet Union and its East European satellites.” Among the executed were many religious martyrs, and there were mass slaughters as well, consistently supported or initiated by Washington.

Why then the distinction? It might be argued that what happened in Eastern Europe is far more momentous than the fate of the South at our hands. It would be interesting to see the argument spelled out. And also to see the argument explaining why we should disregard elementary moral principles, among them that if we are serious about suffering and atrocities, about justice and rights, we will focus our efforts on where we can do the most good—typically, where we share responsibility for what is being done. We have no difficulty demanding that our enemies follow such principles.

Few of us care, or should, what Andrei Sakharov or Shirin Ebadi say about U.S. or Israeli crimes; we admire them for what they say and do about those of their own states, and the conclusion holds far more strongly for those who live in more free and democratic societies, and therefore have far greater opportunities to act effectively. It is of some interest that in the most respected circles, practice is virtually the opposite of what elementary moral values dictate.

But let us conform and keep only to the matter of historical import.

The U.S. wars in Latin America from 1960 to 1990, quite apart from their horrors, have long-term historical significance. To consider just one important aspect, in no small measure they were wars against the Church, undertaken to crush a terrible heresy proclaimed at Vatican II in 1962, which, under the leadership of Pope John XXIII, “ushered in a new era in the history of the Catholic Church,” in the words of the distinguished theologian Hans Küng, restoring the teachings of the gospels that had been put to rest in the fourth century when the Emperor Constantine established Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire, instituting “a revolution” that converted “the persecuted church” to a “persecuting church.” The heresy of Vatican II was taken up by Latin American bishops who adopted the “preferential option for the poor.” Priests, nuns, and laypersons then brought the radical pacifist message of the gospels to the poor, helping them organize to ameliorate their bitter fate in the domains of U.S. power.

That same year, 1962, President Kennedy made several critical decisions. One was to shift the mission of the militaries of Latin America from “hemispheric defense”—an anachronism from World War II—to “internal security,” in effect, war against the domestic population, if they raise their heads. Charles Maechling, who led U.S. counterinsurgency and internal defense planning from 1961 to 1966, describes the unsurprising consequences of the 1962 decision as a shift from toleration “of the rapacity and cruelty of the Latin American military” to “direct complicity” in their crimes to U.S. support for “the methods of Heinrich Himmler’s extermination squads.” One major initiative was a military coup in Brazil, planned in Washington and implemented shortly after Kennedy’s assassination, instituting a murderous and brutal national security state. The plague of repression then spread through the hemisphere, including the 1973 coup installing the Pinochet dictatorship, and later the most vicious of all, the Argentine dictatorship, Reagan’s favorite. Central America’s turn—not for the first time—came in the 1980s under the leadership of the “warm and friendly ghost” who is now revered for his achievements.

The murder of the Jesuit intellectuals as the Berlin wall fell was a final blow in defeating the heresy, culminating a decade of horror in El Salvador that opened with the assassination, by much the same hands, of Archbishop Óscar Romero, the “voice for the voiceless.” The victors in the war against the Church declare their responsibility with pride. The School of the Americas (since renamed), famous for its training of Latin American killers, announces as one of its “talking points” that the liberation theology that was initiated at Vatican II was “defeated with the assistance of the US army.”

Actually, the November 1989 assassinations were almost a final blow. More was needed.

A year later Haiti had its first free election, and to the surprise and shock of Washington, which like others had anticipated the easy victory of its own candidate from the privileged elite, the organized public in the slums and hills elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a popular priest committed to liberation theology. The United States at once moved to undermine the elected government, and after the military coup that overthrew it a few months later, lent substantial support to the vicious military junta and its elite supporters. Trade was increased in violation of international sanctions and increased further under Clinton, who also authorized the Texaco oil company to supply the murderous rulers, in defiance of his own directives.

I will skip the disgraceful aftermath, amply reviewed elsewhere, except to point out that in 2004, the two traditional torturers of Haiti, France and the United States, joined by Canada, forcefully intervened, kidnapped President Aristide (who had been elected again), and shipped him off to central Africa. He and his party were effectively barred from the farcical 2010–11 elections, the most recent episode in a horrendous history that goes back hundreds of years and is barely known among the perpetrators of the crimes, who prefer tales of dedicated efforts to save the suffering people from their grim fate.

If we are serious about justice, we will focus our efforts where we share responsibility for what is being done.

Another fateful Kennedy decision in 1962 was to send a special forces mission to Colombia, led by General William Yarborough, who advised the Colombian security forces to undertake “paramilitary, sabotage and/or terrorist activities against known communist proponents,” activities that “should be backed by the United States.” The meaning of the phrase “communist proponents” was spelled out by the respected president of the Colombian Permanent Committee for Human Rights, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Alfredo Vázquez Carrizosa, who wrote that the Kennedy administration “took great pains to transform our regular armies into counterinsurgency brigades, accepting the new strategy of the death squads,” ushering in what is known in Latin America as the National Security Doctrine. . . . [not] defense against an external enemy, but a way to make the military establishment the masters of the game . . . [with] the right to combat the internal enemy, as set forth in the Brazilian doctrine, the Argentine doctrine, the Uruguayan doctrine, and the Colombian doctrine: it is the right to fight and to exterminate social workers, trade unionists, men and women who are not supportive of the establishment, and who are assumed to be communist extremists. And this could mean anyone, including human rights activists such as myself.

In a 1980 study, Lars Schoultz, the leading U.S. academic specialist on human rights in Latin America, found that U.S. aid “has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their citizens . . . to the hemisphere’s relatively egregious violators of fundamental human rights.” That included military aid, was independent of need, and continued through the Carter years. Ever since the Reagan administration, it has been superfluous to carry out such a study. In the 1980s one of the most notorious violators was El Salvador, which accordingly became the leading recipient of U.S. military aid, to be replaced by Colombia when it took the lead as the worst violator of human rights in the hemisphere. Vázquez Carrizosa himself was living under heavy guard in his Bogotá residence when I visited him there in 2002 as part of a mission of Amnesty International, which was opening its year-long campaign to protect human rights defenders in Colombia because of the country’s horrifying record of attacks against human rights and labor activists, and mostly the usual victims of state terror: the poor and defenseless. Terror and torture in Colombia were supplemented by chemical warfare (“fumigation”), under the pretext of the war on drugs, leading to huge flight to urban slums and misery for the survivors. Colombia’s attorney general’s office now estimates that more than 140,000 people have been killed by paramilitaries, often acting in close collaboration with the U.S.-funded military.

Signs of the slaughter are everywhere. On a nearly impassible dirt road to a remote village in southern Colombia a year ago, my companions and I passed a small clearing with many simple crosses marking the graves of victims of a paramilitary attack on a local bus. Reports of the killings are graphic enough; spending a little time with the survivors, who are among the kindest and most compassionate people I have ever had the privilege of meeting, makes the picture more vivid, and only more painful.

This is the briefest sketch of terrible crimes for which Americans bear substantial culpability, and that we could easily ameliorate, at the very least.

But it is more gratifying to bask in praise for courageously protesting the abuses of official enemies, a fine activity, but not the priority of a value-oriented intellectual who takes the responsibilities of that stance seriously.

The victims within our domains, unlike those in enemy states, are not merely ignored and quickly forgotten, but are also cynically insulted. One striking illustration came a few weeks after the murder of the Latin American intellectuals in El Salvador. Vaclav Havel visited Washington and addressed a joint session of Congress. Before his enraptured audience, Havel lauded the “defenders of freedom” in Washington who “understood the responsibility that flowed from” being “the most powerful nation on earth”—crucially, their responsibility for the brutal assassination of his Salvadoran counterparts shortly before.

The liberal intellectual class was enthralled by his presentation. Havel reminds us that “we live in a romantic age,” Anthony Lewis gushed. Other prominent liberal commentators reveled in Havel’s “idealism, his irony, his humanity,” as he “preached a difficult doctrine of individual responsibility” while Congress “obviously ached with respect” for his genius and integrity; and asked why America lacks intellectuals so profound, who “elevate morality over self-interest” in this way, praising us for the tortured and mutilated corpses that litter the countries that we have left in misery. We need not tarry on what the reaction would have been had Father Ellacuría, the most prominent of the murdered Jesuit intellectuals, spoken such words at the Duma after elite forces armed and trained by the Soviet Union assassinated Havel and half a dozen of his associates—a performance that is inconceivable.

The assassination of bin Laden, too, directs our attention to our insulted victims. There is much more to say about the operation—including Washington’s willingness to face a serious risk of major war and even leakage of fissile materials to jihadis, as I have discussed elsewhere—but let us keep to the choice of name: Operation Geronimo. The name caused outrage in Mexico and was protested by indigenous groups in the United States, but there seems to have been no further notice of the fact that Obama was identifying bin Laden with the Apache Indian chief. Geronimo led the courageous resistance to invaders who sought to consign his people to the fate of “that hapless race of native Americans, which we are exterminating with such merciless and perfidious cruelty, among the heinous sins of this nation, for which I believe God will one day bring [it] to judgement,” in the words of the grand strategist John Quincy Adams, the intellectual architect of manifest destiny, uttered long after his own contributions to these sins. The casual choice of the name is reminiscent of the ease with which we name our murder weapons after victims of our crimes: Apache, Blackhawk, Cheyenne . . . We might react differently if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes “Jew” and “Gypsy.”

The first 9/11, unlike the second, did not change the world. It was ‘nothing of very great consequence,’ Kissinger said.

Denial of these “heinous sins” is sometimes explicit. To mention a few recent cases, two years ago in one of the world’s leading left-liberal intellectual journals, The New York Review of Books, Russell Baker outlined what he learned from the work of the “heroic historian” Edmund Morgan: namely, that when Columbus and the early explorers arrived they “found a continental vastness sparsely populated by farming and hunting people . . . . In the limitless and unspoiled world stretching from tropical jungle to the frozen north, there may have been scarcely more than a million inhabitants.” The calculation is off by many tens of millions, and the “vastness” included advanced civilizations throughout the continent. No reactions appeared, though four months later the editors issued a correction, noting that in North America there may have been as many as 18 million people—and, unmentioned, tens of millions more “from tropical jungle to the frozen north.” This was all well known decades ago—including the advanced civilizations and the “merciless and perfidious cruelty” of the “extermination”—but not important enough even for a casual phrase. In London Review of Books a year later, the noted historian Mark Mazower mentioned American “mistreatment of the Native Americans,” again eliciting no comment. Would we accept the word “mistreatment” for comparable crimes committed by enemies?

If the responsibility of intellectuals refers to their moral responsibility as decent human beings in a position to use their privilege and status to advance the cause of freedom, justice, mercy, and peace—and to speak out not simply about the abuses of our enemies, but, far more significantly, about the crimes in which we are implicated and can ameliorate or terminate if we choose—how should we think of 9/11?

The notion that 9/11 “changed the world” is widely held, understandably. The events of that day certainly had major consequences, domestic and international. One was to lead President Bush to re-declare Ronald Reagan’s war on terrorism—the first one has been effectively “disappeared,” to borrow the phrase of our favorite Latin American killers and torturers, presumably because the consequences do not fit well with preferred self images. Another consequence was the invasion of Afghanistan, then Iraq, and more recently military interventions in several other countries in the region and regular threats of an attack on Iran (“all options are open,” in the standard phrase). The costs, in every dimension, have been enormous. That suggests a rather obvious question, not asked for the first time: was there an alternative?

A number of analysts have observed that bin Laden won major successes in his war against the United States. “He repeatedly asserted that the only way to drive the U.S. from the Muslim world and defeat its satraps was by drawing Americans into a series of small but expensive wars that would ultimately bankrupt them,” the journalist Eric Margolis writes.

The United States, first under George W. Bush and then Barack Obama, rushed right into bin Laden’s trap. . . . Grotesquely overblown military outlays and debt addiction . . . . may be the most pernicious legacy of the man who thought he could defeat the United States.

A report from the Costs of War project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies estimates that the final bill will be $3.2–4 trillion. Quite an impressive achievement by bin Laden.

That Washington was intent on rushing into bin Laden’s trap was evident at once. Michael Scheuer, the senior CIA analyst responsible for tracking bin Laden from 1996 to 1999, writes, “Bin Laden has been precise in telling America the reasons he is waging war on us.” The al Qaeda leader, Scheuer continues, “is out to drastically alter U.S. and Western policies toward the Islamic world.”

And, as Scheuer explains, bin Laden largely succeeded: “U.S. forces and policies are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world, something Osama bin Laden has been trying to do with substantial but incomplete success since the early 1990s. As a result, I think it is fair to conclude that the United States of America remains bin Laden’s only indispensable ally.” And arguably remains so, even after his death.

There is good reason to believe that the jihadi movement could have been split and undermined after the 9/11 attack, which was criticized harshly within the movement. Furthermore, the “crime against humanity,” as it was rightly called, could have been approached as a crime, with an international operation to apprehend the likely suspects. That was recognized in the immediate aftermath of the attack, but no such idea was even considered by decision-makers in government. It seems no thought was given to the Taliban’s tentative offer—how serious an offer, we cannot know—to present the al Qaeda leaders for a judicial proceeding.

At the time, I quoted Robert Fisk’s conclusion that the horrendous crime of 9/11 was committed with “wickedness and awesome cruelty”—an accurate judgment. The crimes could have been even worse. Suppose that Flight 93, downed by courageous passengers in Pennsylvania, had bombed the White House, killing the president. Suppose that the perpetrators of the crime planned to, and did, impose a military dictatorship that killed thousands and tortured tens of thousands. Suppose the new dictatorship established, with the support of the criminals, an international terror center that helped impose similar torture-and-terror states elsewhere, and, as icing on the cake, brought in a team of economists—call them “the Kandahar boys”—who quickly drove the economy into one of the worst depressions in its history. That, plainly, would have been a lot worse than 9/11.

As we all should know, this is not a thought experiment. It happened. I am, of course, referring to what in Latin America is often called “the first 9/11”: September 11, 1973, when the United States succeeded in its intensive efforts to overthrow the democratic government of Salvador Allende in Chile with a military coup that placed General Pinochet’s ghastly regime in office. The dictatorship then installed the Chicago Boys—economists trained at the University of Chicago—to reshape Chile’s economy. Consider the economic destruction, the torture and kidnappings, and multiply the numbers killed by 25 to yield per capita equivalents, and you will see just how much more devastating the first 9/11 was.

Privilege yields opportunity, and opportunity confers responsibilities.

The goal of the overthrow, in the words of the Nixon administration, was to kill the “virus” that might encourage all those “foreigners [who] are out to screw us”—screw us by trying to take over their own resources and more generally to pursue a policy of independent development along lines disliked by Washington. In the background was the conclusion of Nixon’s National Security Council that if the United States could not control Latin America, it could not expect “to achieve a successful order elsewhere in the world.” Washington’s “credibility” would be undermined, as Henry Kissinger put it.

The first 9/11, unlike the second, did not change the world. It was “nothing of very great consequence,” Kissinger assured his boss a few days later. And judging by how it figures in conventional history, his words can hardly be faulted, though the survivors may see the matter differently.

These events of little consequence were not limited to the military coup that destroyed Chilean democracy and set in motion the horror story that followed. As already discussed, the first 9/11 was just one act in the drama that began in 1962 when Kennedy shifted the mission of the Latin American militaries to “internal security.” The shattering aftermath is also of little consequence, the familiar pattern when history is guarded by responsible intellectuals.

It seems to be close to a historical universal that conformist intellectuals, the ones who support official aims and ignore or rationalize official crimes, are honored and privileged in their own societies, and the value-oriented punished in one or another way. The pattern goes back to the earliest records. It was the man accused of corrupting the youth of Athens who drank the hemlock, much as Dreyfusards were accused of “corrupting souls, and, in due course, society as a whole” and the value-oriented intellectuals of the 1960s were charged with interference with “indoctrination of the young.”

In the Hebrew scriptures there are figures who by contemporary standards are dissident intellectuals, called “prophets” in the English translation. They bitterly angered the establishment with their critical geopolitical analysis, their condemnation of the crimes of the powerful, their calls for justice and concern for the poor and suffering. King Ahab, the most evil of the kings, denounced the Prophet Elijah as a hater of Israel, the first “self-hating Jew” or “anti-American” in the modern counterparts. The prophets were treated harshly, unlike the flatterers at the court, who were later condemned as false prophets. The pattern is understandable. It would be surprising if it were otherwise.

As for the responsibility of intellectuals, there does not seem to me to be much to say beyond some simple truths. Intellectuals are typically privileged—merely an observation about usage of the term. Privilege yields opportunity, and opportunity confers responsibilities. An individual then has choices.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Noam Chomsky:9/11 and the Imperial Mentality, Looking Back on 9/11 a Decade Later

We are approaching the 10th anniversary of the horrendous atrocities of September 11, 2001, which, it is commonly held, changed the world. On May 1st, the presumed mastermind of the crime, Osama bin Laden, was assassinated in Pakistan by a team of elite US commandos, Navy SEALs, after he was captured, unarmed and undefended, in Operation Geronimo.

A number of analysts have observed that although bin Laden was finally killed, he won some major successes in his war against the U.S. "He repeatedly asserted that the only way to drive the U.S. from the Muslim world and defeat its satraps was by drawing Americans into a series of small but expensive wars that would ultimately bankrupt them," Eric Margolis writes. "'Bleeding the U.S.,' in his words." The United States, first under George W. Bush and then Barack Obama, rushed right into bin Laden’s trap... Grotesquely overblown military outlays and debt addiction... may be the most pernicious legacy of the man who thought he could defeat the United States” -- particularly when the debt is being cynically exploited by the far right, with the collusion of the Democrat establishment, to undermine what remains of social programs, public education, unions, and, in general, remaining barriers to corporate tyranny.

That Washington was bent on fulfilling bin Laden’s fervent wishes was evident at once. As discussed in my book 9-11, written shortly after those attacks occurred, anyone with knowledge of the region could recognize “that a massive assault on a Muslim population would be the answer to the prayers of bin Laden and his associates, and would lead the U.S. and its allies into a ‘diabolical trap,’ as the French foreign minister put it.”

The senior CIA analyst responsible for tracking Osama bin Laden from 1996, Michael Scheuer, wrote shortly after that “bin Laden has been precise in telling America the reasons he is waging war on us. [He] is out to drastically alter U.S. and Western policies toward the Islamic world,” and largely succeeded: “U.S. forces and policies are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world, something Osama bin Laden has been trying to do with substantial but incomplete success since the early 1990s. As a result, I think it is fair to conclude that the United States of America remains bin Laden’s only indispensable ally.” And arguably remains so, even after his death.

The First 9/11

Was there an alternative? There is every likelihood that the Jihadi movement, much of it highly critical of bin Laden, could have been split and undermined after 9/11. The “crime against humanity,” as it was rightly called, could have been approached as a crime, with an international operation to apprehend the likely suspects. That was recognized at the time, but no such idea was even considered.

In 9-11, I quoted Robert Fisk’s conclusion that the “horrendous crime” of 9/11 was committed with “wickedness and awesome cruelty,” an accurate judgment. It is useful to bear in mind that the crimes could have been even worse. Suppose, for example, that the attack had gone as far as bombing the White House, killing the president, imposing a brutal military dictatorship that killed thousands and tortured tens of thousands while establishing an international terror center that helped impose similar torture-and-terror states elsewhere and carried out an international assassination campaign; and as an extra fillip, brought in a team of economists -- call them “the Kandahar boys” -- who quickly drove the economy into one of the worst depressions in its history. That, plainly, would have been a lot worse than 9/11.

Unfortunately, it is not a thought experiment. It happened. The only inaccuracy in this brief account is that the numbers should be multiplied by 25 to yield per capita equivalents, the appropriate measure. I am, of course, referring to what in Latin America is often called “the first 9/11”: September 11, 1973, when the U.S. succeeded in its intensive efforts to overthrow the democratic government of Salvador Allende in Chile with a military coup that placed General Pinochet’s brutal regime in office. The goal, in the words of the Nixon administration, was to kill the “virus” that might encourage all those “foreigners [who] are out to screw us” to take over their own resources and in other ways to pursue an intolerable policy of independent development. In the background was the conclusion of the National Security Council that, if the US could not control Latin America, it could not expect “to achieve a successful order elsewhere in the world.”

The first 9/11, unlike the second, did not change the world. It was “nothing of very great consequence,” as Henry Kissinger assured his boss a few days later.

These events of little consequence were not limited to the military coup that destroyed Chilean democracy and set in motion the horror story that followed. The first 9/11 was just one act in a drama which began in 1962, when John F. Kennedy shifted the mission of the Latin American military from “hemispheric defense” -- an anachronistic holdover from World War II -- to “internal security,” a concept with a chilling interpretation in U.S.-dominated Latin American circles.

In the recently published Cambridge University History of the Cold War, Latin American scholar John Coatsworth writes that from that time to “the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of non-violent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those in the Soviet Union and its East European satellites,” including many religious martyrs and mass slaughter as well, always supported or initiated in Washington. The last major violent act was the brutal murder of six leading Latin American intellectuals, Jesuit priests, a few days after the Berlin Wall fell. The perpetrators were an elite Salvadorean battalion, which had already left a shocking trail of blood, fresh from renewed training at the JFK School of Special Warfare, acting on direct orders of the high command of the U.S. client state.

The consequences of this hemispheric plague still, of course, reverberate.

From Kidnapping and Torture to Assassination

All of this, and much more like it, is dismissed as of little consequence, and forgotten. Those whose mission is to rule the world enjoy a more comforting picture, articulated well enough in the current issue of the prestigious (and valuable) journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. The lead article discusses “the visionary international order” of the “second half of the twentieth century” marked by “the universalization of an American vision of commercial prosperity.” There is something to that account, but it does not quite convey the perception of those at the wrong end of the guns.

The same is true of the assassination of Osama bin Laden, which brings to an end at least a phase in the “war on terror” re-declared by President George W. Bush on the second 9/11. Let us turn to a few thoughts on that event and its significance.

On May 1, 2011, Osama bin Laden was killed in his virtually unprotected compound by a raiding mission of 79 Navy SEALs, who entered Pakistan by helicopter. After many lurid stories were provided by the government and withdrawn, official reports made it increasingly clear that the operation was a planned assassination, multiply violating elementary norms of international law, beginning with the invasion itself.

There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim, as presumably could have been done by 79 commandos facing no opposition -- except, they report, from his wife, also unarmed, whom they shot in self-defense when she “lunged” at them, according to the White House.

A plausible reconstruction of the events is provided by veteran Middle East correspondent Yochi Dreazen and colleagues in the Atlantic. Dreazen, formerly the military correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, is senior correspondent for the National Journal Group covering military affairs and national security. According to their investigation, White House planning appears not to have considered the option of capturing bin Laden alive: “The administration had made clear to the military's clandestine Joint Special Operations Command that it wanted bin Laden dead, according to a senior U.S. official with knowledge of the discussions. A high-ranking military officer briefed on the assault said the SEALs knew their mission was not to take him alive.”

The authors add: “For many at the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency who had spent nearly a decade hunting bin Laden, killing the militant was a necessary and justified act of vengeance.” Furthermore, “capturing bin Laden alive would have also presented the administration with an array of nettlesome legal and political challenges.” Better, then, to assassinate him, dumping his body into the sea without the autopsy considered essential after a killing -- an act that predictably provoked both anger and skepticism in much of the Muslim world.

As the Atlantic inquiry observes, “The decision to kill bin Laden outright was the clearest illustration to date of a little-noticed aspect of the Obama administration's counterterror policy. The Bush administration captured thousands of suspected militants and sent them to detention camps in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. The Obama administration, by contrast, has focused on eliminating individual terrorists rather than attempting to take them alive.” That is one significant difference between Bush and Obama. The authors quote former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who “told German TV that the U.S. raid was ‘quite clearly a violation of international law’ and that bin Laden should have been detained and put on trial,” contrasting Schmidt with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who “defended the decision to kill bin Laden although he didn't pose an immediate threat to the Navy SEALs, telling a House panel... that the assault had been ‘lawful, legitimate and appropriate in every way.’"

The disposal of the body without autopsy was also criticized by allies. The highly regarded British barrister Geoffrey Robertson, who supported the intervention and opposed the execution largely on pragmatic grounds, nevertheless described Obama’s claim that “justice was done” as an “absurdity” that should have been obvious to a former professor of constitutional law. Pakistan law “requires a colonial inquest on violent death, and international human rights law insists that the ‘right to life’ mandates an inquiry whenever violent death occurs from government or police action. The U.S. is therefore under a duty to hold an inquiry that will satisfy the world as to the true circumstances of this killing.”

Robertson usefully reminds us that “[i]t was not always thus. When the time came to consider the fate of men much more steeped in wickedness than Osama bin Laden -- the Nazi leadership -- the British government wanted them hanged within six hours of capture. President Truman demurred, citing the conclusion of Justice Robert Jackson that summary execution ‘would not sit easily on the American conscience or be remembered by our children with pride... the only course is to determine the innocence or guilt of the accused after a hearing as dispassionate as the times will permit and upon a record that will leave our reasons and motives clear.’”

Eric Margolis comments that “Washington has never made public the evidence of its claim that Osama bin Laden was behind the 9/11 attacks,” presumably one reason why “polls show that fully a third of American respondents believe that the U.S. government and/or Israel were behind 9/11,” while in the Muslim world skepticism is much higher. “An open trial in the U.S. or at the Hague would have exposed these claims to the light of day,” he continues, a practical reason why Washington should have followed the law.

In societies that profess some respect for law, suspects are apprehended and brought to fair trial. I stress “suspects.” In June 2002, FBI head Robert Mueller, in what the Washington Post described as “among his most detailed public comments on the origins of the attacks,” could say only that “investigators believe the idea of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon came from al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan, the actual plotting was done in Germany, and the financing came through the United Arab Emirates from sources in Afghanistan.”

What the FBI believed and thought in June 2002 they didn’t know eight months earlier, when Washington dismissed tentative offers by the Taliban (how serious, we do not know) to permit a trial of bin Laden if they were presented with evidence. Thus, it is not true, as President Obama claimed in his White House statement after bin Laden’s death, that “[w]e quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al-Qaeda.”

There has never been any reason to doubt what the FBI believed in mid-2002, but that leaves us far from the proof of guilt required in civilized societies -- and whatever the evidence might be, it does not warrant murdering a suspect who could, it seems, have been easily apprehended and brought to trial. Much the same is true of evidence provided since. Thus, the 9/11 Commission provided extensive circumstantial evidence of bin Laden’s role in 9/11, based primarily on what it had been told about confessions by prisoners in Guantanamo. It is doubtful that much of that would hold up in an independent court, considering the ways confessions were elicited. But in any event, the conclusions of a congressionally authorized investigation, however convincing one finds them, plainly fall short of a sentence by a credible court, which is what shifts the category of the accused from suspect to convicted.

There is much talk of bin Laden's “confession,” but that was a boast, not a confession, with as much credibility as my “confession” that I won the Boston marathon. The boast tells us a lot about his character, but nothing about his responsibility for what he regarded as a great achievement, for which he wanted to take credit.

Again, all of this is, transparently, quite independent of one’s judgments about his responsibility, which seemed clear immediately, even before the FBI inquiry, and still does.

Crimes of Aggression

It is worth adding that bin Laden’s responsibility was recognized in much of the Muslim world, and condemned. One significant example is the distinguished Lebanese cleric Sheikh Fadlallah, greatly respected by Hizbollah and Shia groups generally, outside Lebanon as well. He had some experience with assassinations. He had been targeted for assassination: by a truck bomb outside a mosque, in a CIA-organized operation in 1985. He escaped, but 80 others were killed, mostly women and girls as they left the mosque -- one of those innumerable crimes that do not enter the annals of terror because of the fallacy of “wrong agency.” Sheikh Fadlallah sharply condemned the 9/11 attacks.

One of the leading specialists on the Jihadi movement, Fawaz Gerges, suggests that the movement might have been split at that time had the U.S. exploited the opportunity instead of mobilizing the movement, particularly by the attack on Iraq, a great boon to bin Laden, which led to a sharp increase in terror, as intelligence agencies had anticipated. At the Chilcot hearings investigating the background to the invasion of Iraq, for example, the former head of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency MI5 testified that both British and U.S. intelligence were aware that Saddam posed no serious threat, that the invasion was likely to increase terror, and that the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan had radicalized parts of a generation of Muslims who saw the military actions as an “attack on Islam.” As is often the case, security was not a high priority for state action.

It might be instructive to ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos had landed at George W. Bush's compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic (after proper burial rites, of course). Uncontroversially, he was not a “suspect” but the “decider” who gave the orders to invade Iraq -- that is, to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country and its national heritage, and the murderous sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region. Equally uncontroversially, these crimes vastly exceed anything attributed to bin Laden.

To say that all of this is uncontroversial, as it is, is not to imply that it is not denied. The existence of flat earthers does not change the fact that, uncontroversially, the earth is not flat. Similarly, it is uncontroversial that Stalin and Hitler were responsible for horrendous crimes, though loyalists deny it. All of this should, again, be too obvious for comment, and would be, except in an atmosphere of hysteria so extreme that it blocks rational thought.

Similarly, it is uncontroversial that Bush and associates did commit the “supreme international crime” -- the crime of aggression. That crime was defined clearly enough by Justice Robert Jackson, Chief of Counsel for the United States at Nuremberg. An “aggressor,” Jackson proposed to the Tribunal in his opening statement, is a state that is the first to commit such actions as “[i]nvasion of its armed forces, with or without a declaration of war, of the territory of another State ….” No one, even the most extreme supporter of the aggression, denies that Bush and associates did just that.

We might also do well to recall Jackson’s eloquent words at Nuremberg on the principle of universality: “If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

It is also clear that announced intentions are irrelevant, even if they are truly believed. Internal records reveal that Japanese fascists apparently did believe that, by ravaging China, they were laboring to turn it into an “earthly paradise.” And although it may be difficult to imagine, it is conceivable that Bush and company believed they were protecting the world from destruction by Saddam’s nuclear weapons. All irrelevant, though ardent loyalists on all sides may try to convince themselves otherwise.

We are left with two choices: either Bush and associates are guilty of the “supreme international crime” including all the evils that follow, or else we declare that the Nuremberg proceedings were a farce and the allies were guilty of judicial murder.

The Imperial Mentality and 9/11

A few days before the bin Laden assassination, Orlando Bosch died peacefully in Florida, where he resided along with his accomplice Luis Posada Carriles and many other associates in international terrorism. After he was accused of dozens of terrorist crimes by the FBI, Bosch was granted a presidential pardon by Bush I over the objections of the Justice Department, which found the conclusion “inescapable that it would be prejudicial to the public interest for the United States to provide a safe haven for Bosch.” The coincidence of these deaths at once calls to mind the Bush II doctrine -- “already… a de facto rule of international relations,” according to the noted Harvard international relations specialist Graham Allison -- which revokes “the sovereignty of states that provide sanctuary to terrorists.”

Allison refers to the pronouncement of Bush II, directed at the Taliban, that “those who harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves.” Such states, therefore, have lost their sovereignty and are fit targets for bombing and terror -- for example, the state that harbored Bosch and his associate. When Bush issued this new “de facto rule of international relations,” no one seemed to notice that he was calling for invasion and destruction of the U.S. and the murder of its criminal presidents.

None of this is problematic, of course, if we reject Justice Jackson’s principle of universality, and adopt instead the principle that the U.S. is self-immunized against international law and conventions -- as, in fact, the government has frequently made very clear.

It is also worth thinking about the name given to the bin Laden operation: Operation Geronimo. The imperial mentality is so profound that few seem able to perceive that the White House is glorifying bin Laden by calling him “Geronimo” -- the Apache Indian chief who led the courageous resistance to the invaders of Apache lands.

The casual choice of the name is reminiscent of the ease with which we name our murder weapons after victims of our crimes: Apache, Blackhawk… We might react differently if the Luftwaffe had called its fighter planes “Jew” and “Gypsy.”

The examples mentioned would fall under the category of “American exceptionalism,” were it not for the fact that easy suppression of one’s own crimes is virtually ubiquitous among powerful states, at least those that are not defeated and forced to acknowledge reality.

Perhaps the assassination was perceived by the administration as an “act of vengeance,” as Robertson concludes. And perhaps the rejection of the legal option of a trial reflects a difference between the moral culture of 1945 and today, as he suggests. Whatever the motive was, it could hardly have been security. As in the case of the “supreme international crime” in Iraq, the bin Laden assassination is another illustration of the important fact that security is often not a high priority for state action, contrary to received doctrine.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor (retired) at MIT. He is the author of many books and articles on international affairs and social-political issues, and a long-time participant in activist movements. His most recent books include: 9-11: 10th Anniversary Edition, Failed States, What We Say Goes (with David Barsamian), Hegemony or Survival, and the Essential Chomsky.

Published on Tuesday, September 6, 2011 by TomDispatch.com