Tuesday, February 12, 2008

On Truth & Empire

In case you missed it, when asked recently by minion Chris Wallace of FoxNews why he thought Barack Obama has made it so far in his campaign when "people don’t know what he stands for," resident George W. Bush stated, without the slightest hint of irony, but with all the poise and acumen of a prophetic wizard,

“You’re the pundit. I’m just a simple president.”
Maybe he's finally beginning to figure some stuff out. Nah, probably not. Just dumb luck. And I mean dumb.

In response to Bush's comment regarding Obama's platforms that the "only foreign policy thing I remember he said was he’s going to attack Pakistan and embrace Ahmadinejad", the Illinois Senator's campaign scored a point by countering, “Barack Obama doesn’t need any foreign policy advice from the architect of the worst foreign policy decision in a generation."

Anyway, in these dwindling days of this Imperium Americana, we might as well educate ourselves as to what has been actually going on in this world at the hands of our beloved nation for the past sixty to hundred years. So read the articles below and then read Stephen Kinzer's heartbreaking and revelatory book, Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. Oh yeah, and then get acquainted with the books and articles of Chalmers Johnson and The American Empire Project.


Why They Hate Us

The Whining Empire

Sheldon Richman | Counterpunch | 6 February 2008

What's more obnoxious than a person who constantly whines about the real and imagined injustices committed against him while ignoring his own injustices against others?

A country that does the same thing.

One of the great myths accepted by the American people is that historically, the United States -- more precisely, the U.S. government -- has been a gentle giant, powerful and rich but entirely peaceful and well-meaning, and slow to anger when wronged. The truth is nearly the diametric opposite.

We often hear American politicians and commentators reciting a list of "terrorist" acts committed against the "United States." It typically includes the 1982 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the 1996 bombing of U.S. Air Force housing in Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in the port of Aden in Yemen. Reciting this string of attacks supposedly demonstrates, without further argument, that the United States has been the major victim of violence on the world stage -- unprovoked violence perpetrated by "Islamofascists" because we are free and represent democracy. Indeed, it is widely believed that the attacks on September 11, 2001, were in part the result of "our" failure to retaliate for those unprovoked earlier attacks.

But this is sheer balderdash. The attacks, while often criminally misdirected, were hardly unprovoked. They were not bolts out of the blue. On the contrary, they were seen by the perpetrators as retaliation against the world's dominant imperial power.

The last century-plus of U.S. foreign policy has largely been a story of aggression and empire-building. American presidents have intervened and interfered in every region of the world, not in self-defense, but in the name of U.S. "national interest," which in reality means the interest of well-connected corporations and their ambitious political agents who felt appointed by history to bring order to the world. In the view of the policy advocates, the best interests of America, as they conceived them, and the best interests of the people of the world coincided. Of course the people of the world were given no say in the matter. What was in their interest was decided for them by American policymakers and their foreign agents.

Most Americans haven't gained by this approach to foreign affairs -- in fact, they have paid dearly in money and lives. But not as dearly as those on the receiving end of that policy. For all the pious moralizing about democracy and human rights, American foreign policy has treated foreign populations like garbage, beginning with the brutal repression of the Filipino uprising against American colonial rule from 1899 to 1902. That war and its related hardships killed 250,000 to a million Filipino civilians and 20,000 Filipino rebels. In other words, foreigners have been regarded as highly as the Indians were.

How many Americans know that?

Intervention and blowback

Since that time American presidents have intervened, directly or by proxy, in countless places, including Cuba, Haiti, Colombia (Panama), Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua, the Soviet Union, Iran, Iraq, Guatemala, Lebanon, the Dominican Republic, Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. On many occasions American administrations have engineered regime changes (sometimes with assassinations) to install leaders friendly to "American interests." Rarely has intervention occurred without the murder of innocent civilians, degrading hardship for survivors, and arms and (taxpayer) money for repressive "leaders." The paradigm is the 1953 intervention in Iran, when the CIA helped drive an elected, secular prime minister from office so the autocratic shah could be restored to power. His brutal U.S.-sponsored repression of the Iranian people finally provoked an Islamic revolution in 1979, creating an anti-American theocracy that has been a thorn in the side of U.S. presidents ever since.

Coincidence? Of course not. Americans may be ignorant or forgetful; the victims seldom are.

To this day we routinely hear references to the Iranian takeover of the U.S. embassy and the 444 days the American hostages were held. Rarely do those references mention that the flare-up of violence followed a quarter century of cruel dictatorship, in which torture was a state policy -- all sponsored by U.S. administrations. One can criticize the embassy seizure and the holding of hostages. But it is wrong to think that America was an aggrieved party. But that's how it works in big-power politics. An imperial force can wreak all kinds of havoc in a weaker foreign country, but there is no outrage in the domestic population until the victims strike back, usually with pathetically meager force compared with what the aggressive power employed.

Iran was neither the first nor the last case of "blowback," the CIA's term for what happens when a foreign operation explodes in one's own face. Indeed, American foreign policy from the end of the 19th century onward can be viewed as a series of blowbacks.

None of this means that innocent American civilians deserve to be killed or injured in retaliation for the government's conduct. The American people did not "invite" the 9/11 attacks. Not even the U.S. government did that, if by "invite" we mean "sought" or "welcomed." Arguing that issue is a distraction from what really matters.

The point is that U.S. policy in the Middle East was bound to create victims who sooner or later would want revenge. That they were less than discriminating in whom they sought revenge against does not alter that fundamental fact. To comprehend is not to excuse. If a victim of a crime goes on to commit a crime himself, that should not be a reason to ignore the initial crime. A country keeps itself safe from terrorism first by not forcibly imposing itself on others.

Every imperial power has been the target of what is called "terrorism." But this term itself should make us suspicious. To be sure, horrific crimes against innocents are included under that label. But one must ask how legitimate the concept is in light of the fact that applying it to any U.S. conduct is impermissible virtually by definition. Something is wrong when the United States in the eyes of many Americans is incapable of committing terrorism, but any resistance to U.S. impositions is condemned with that term. Who controls the definitions controls the future.

How many Americans have any inkling of the crimes -- yes, crimes -- their government has committed against foreign people in their name over the last century? Most don't know and don't care -- and that's fine with their rulers because when vengeful foreigners assault American civilians (unjustifiably) or military occupiers, U.S. leaders and jingoist supporters can say, "America was the victim of another unprovoked attack. Why do they hate us?"

Anyone who is the least bit familiar with history will know the answer. It doesn't take much effort to learn the truth. Reputable scholars and journalists have turned out a library full of books in the last six years documenting the U.S. government's record as an international bully. There's no excuse for ignorance.

Let's stop whining and get curious. As Walt Kelly's Pogo put it, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation, author of Tethered Citizens, and editor of The Freeman magazine. Visit his blog "Free Association".


America in the Time of Empire

Chris Hedges | Truthdig | 26 November 2008

All great empires and nations decay from within. By the time they hobble off the world stage, overrun by the hordes at the gates or vanishing quietly into the pages of history books, what made them successful and powerful no longer has relevance. This rot takes place over decades, as with the Soviet Union, or, even longer, as with the Roman, Ottoman or Austro-Hungarian empires. It is often imperceptible.

Dying empires cling until the very end to the outward trappings of power. They mask their weakness behind a costly and technologically advanced military. They pursue increasingly unrealistic imperial ambitions. They stifle dissent with efficient and often ruthless mechanisms of control. They lose the capacity for empathy, which allows them to see themselves through the eyes of others, to create a world of accommodation rather than strife. The creeds and noble ideals of the nation become empty cliches, used to justify acts of greater plunder, corruption and violence. By the end, there is only a raw lust for power and few willing to confront it.

The most damning indicators of national decline are upon us. We have watched an oligarchy rise to take economic and political power. The top 1 percent of the population has amassed more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined, creating economic disparities unseen since the Depression. If Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes president, we will see the presidency controlled by two families for the last 24 years.

Massive debt, much of it in the hands of the Chinese, keeps piling up as we fund absurd imperial projects and useless foreign wars. Democratic freedoms are diminished in the name of national security. And the erosion of basic services, from education to health care to public housing, has left tens of millions of citizens in despair. The displacement of genuine debate and civil and political discourse with the noise and glitter of public spectacle and entertainment has left us ignorant of the outside world, and blind to how it perceives us. We are fed trivia and celebrity gossip in place of news.

An increasing number of voices, especially within the military, are speaking to this stark deterioration. They describe a political class that no longer knows how to separate personal gain from the common good, a class driving the nation into the ground.

“There has been a glaring and unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders,” retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the former commander of forces in Iraq, recently told the New York Times, adding that civilian officials have been “derelict in their duties” and guilty of a “lust for power.”

The American working class, once the most prosperous on Earth, has been politically disempowered, impoverished and abandoned. Manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas. State and federal assistance programs have been slashed. The corporations, those that orchestrated the flight of jobs and the abolishment of workers’ rights, control every federal agency in Washington, including the Department of Labor. They have dismantled the regulations that had made the country’s managed capitalism a success for ordinary men and women. The Democratic and Republican Parties now take corporate money and do the bidding of corporate interests.

Philadelphia is a textbook example. The city has seen a precipitous decline in manufacturing jobs, jobs that allowed households to live comfortably on one salary. The city had 35 percent of its workforce employed in the manufacturing sector in 1950, perhaps the zenith of the American empire. Thirty years later, this had fallen to 20 percent. Today it is 8.8 percent. Commensurate jobs, jobs that offer benefits, health care and most important enough money to provide hope for the future, no longer exist. The former manufacturing centers from Flint, Mich., to Youngstown, Ohio, are open sores, testaments to a growing internal collapse.

The United States has gone from being the world’s largest creditor to its largest debtor. As of September 2006, the country was, for the first time in a century, paying out more than it received in investments. Trillions of dollars go into defense while the nation’s infrastructure, from levees in New Orleans to highway bridges in Minnesota, collapses. We spend almost as much on military power as the rest of the world combined, while Social Security and Medicare entitlements are jeopardized because of huge deficits. Money is available for war, but not for the simple necessities of daily life.

Nothing makes these diseased priorities more starkly clear than what the White House did last week. On the same day, Tuesday, President Bush vetoed a domestic spending bill for education, job training and health programs, yet signed another bill giving the Pentagon about $471 billion for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. All this in the shadow of a Joint Economic Committee report suggesting that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been twice as expensive than previously imagined, almost $1.5 trillion.

The decision to measure the strength of the state in military terms is fatal. It leads to a growing cynicism among a disenchanted citizenry and a Hobbesian ethic of individual gain at the expense of everyone else. Few want to fight and die for a Halliburton or an Exxon. This is why we do not have a draft. It is why taxes have not been raised and we borrow to fund the war. It is why the state has organized, and spends billions to maintain, a mercenary army in Iraq. We leave the fighting and dying mostly to our poor and hired killers. No nationwide sacrifices are required. We will worry about it later.

It all amounts to a tacit complicity on the part of a passive population. This permits the oligarchy to squander capital and lives. It creates a world where we speak exclusively in the language of violence. It has plunged us into an endless cycle of war and conflict that is draining away the vitality, resources and promise of the nation.

It signals the twilight of our empire.

Chris Hedges is the former Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times and a senior fellow at The Nation Institute.


Of Hubris and Atrocities

Why Do They All Hate America?

Brian Cloughley | Counterpunch Weekend Edition | 22/23 September 2007

Many years ago there was a song called "Why do we all love Australia" which was a bit of a spoof although funny and to the point. The main thing was that it was ironic and encouraged people to laugh at themselves, which does us all good from time to time. But there is nothing funny or ironical about a major international matter of the moment: Why do they all hate America?

It isn't good for the world to have such a hate figure. Recent and current actions by Washington haven't bound nations together, as fear and loathing of an outsider sometimes do. There is no benefit from the world-wide perception that the America of Bush and Cheney is astonishingly arrogant. And the problem is that this arrogance has created and continues to spawn an unknown but obviously large number of fanatics who want to destroy a country whose leader revels in displaying an insolent and unjustified superiority.

Consider the absurd contention in Washington that it is entirely the fault of Iraq's Prime Minister Maliki that his country is an ungovernable shambles. "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki is unable to govern his country effectively and the political situation is likely to become even more precarious in the next six to 12 months, the nation's intelligence agencies concluded in a new assessment", announced the LA Times on August 24. Of course the man can't govern the country. Nobody can govern the country so long as US troops and their mercenary comrades swagger round the place acting as a law unto themselves. Here's an AP report of August 31:

"Everybody was pretty much upset," [Sergeant Sanick] Dela Cruz told the prosecutor, Lt. Col. Sean Sullivan. "We were smoking outside . . . for whatever reason Staff Sergeant Wuterich made this comment that if we ever got hit again we should kill everybody in that vicinity, sir, to teach them a lesson." . . . . Dela Cruz testified that he saw Wuterich shoot the five men by the car, then follow up with close-range chest shots to make sure they were dead. Dela Cruz said he too fired at the men.

Wuterich has previously said he shot the men because they were running away from the scene of the bomb blast. Military rules at the time allowed Marines to kill those seen fleeing in this way. But Dela Cruz claimed the men were "just standing around," some with their hands interlocked on their heads. "Those men [were] not running, sir," Dela Cruz testified. "Some of them had their hands up."

"Some of them had their hands up". How could ANY soldier kill an unarmed man with his hands up? Who trained and motivated the man who killed a defenseless human being? Who was in command of the soldiers who did this? The American people must ask why they should tolerate a regime that authorizes the shooting in the back of a terror-stricken civilian fleeing a bomb blast. (The report's caveat "at the time" is meaningless. Nothing has changed in the Rules of Engagement.) And it's even worse when you consider the filthy money-grubbing gung-ho mercenaries who, among other things, are responsible for the security of US diplomats.

When Blackwater's thugs killed eleven Iraqi civilians a few days ago it wasn't just bizarre and indefensible: it was yet another example of such action. Prime Minister Maliki said on September 20 that there had been six other instances of murder by Blackwater's band of brutes, all of which had been reported to US officials. No action had been taken.

". . . the Americans told us to turn back," [Mr Jabir] said. "They shouted 'Go' 'Go' 'Go.' . . . When we started turning back, the Americans began shooting heavily at us. The traffic policeman was the first person killed." The shooting set off a panic, Jabir said, with men, women and children diving from their vehicles, trying desperately to crawl to safety. "But many of them were killed," he said. [He saw a] "boy jump in fear from one of the minibuses. He was shot in his head. His mother jumped after him and was also killed." Suddenly, Jabir felt two bullets strike his back -- one pierced his left lung and the other lodged in his intestines." ­ AP September 20.

Make no mistake: there is no law in Iraq other than that imposed, tolerated or endorsed by the US occupation force that is not accountable to any Iraqi government orders or decisions.

The people of Iraq detest American rule. The government of Mr Maliki can say anything it likes. It can even pass laws. But nothing it says or tries to do will have the slightest effect on the country. There is only one government in Iraq, and that is the imperial regime of the invader (except for the independent north where Kurds are running their own affairs and conducting US-tolerated ethnic cleansing as regards Arabs). Soldiers and mercenaries care nothing for Iraq's own laws. They follow the orders of their demented leaders in Washington who despise and deride (and have almost destroyed) international conventions intended to make it easier for us all to live together on what has become a truly horrible planet, courtesy of Bush and Cheney. Consider another imperial exercise of power in Baghdad:

US forces have released seven Iranians who were detained in a swoop on a hotel in Baghdad, Iraqi officials say. The men were seized overnight from one of the main hotels in the capital and led away blindfolded and in handcuffs. The Iranian embassy in the city said the men were helping rebuild electricity power stations in Iraq. (BBC, August 29, 2007.)

Who ordered US soldiers to blindfold, handcuff and detain foreigners who were in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government? The fact that they were released is proof that nothing they were doing was of assistance to those fighting against occupation troops. There is no point in trying to guess what was in the minds of US commanders in Iraq when they gave orders for the snatch-job. Their myopic, self-defeating operation was in line with Bush-Cheney policy as sent down the line to the forelock-tugging generals: all Iranians are Bad Guys, so go get them. And the result, as could be predicted by anyone who is not George Bush or a US general, is that more and more Iranians and Iraqi Shias think, with justification, that the Bush Administration understands only force and doesn't care a toss about any sort of law, be that national or international ­ or even its own legal system, politicized and debased as it has become. So what is the US commander in Iraq, General Petraeus, doing about the situation?

Do you remember Art Buchwald's wonderful column in 1969 about the US generals' reaction to the Tet Offensive in Vietnam? (A year before I arrived there, incidentally, having believed all the propaganda we were fed at the time. This makes me feel sorry for young officers presently in Iraq: I was in a similar situation, fellas. I was a sucker, too.)

Part of the Buchwald column read:
Dateline: Little Big Horn, Dakota. General George Armstrong Custer said today in an exclusive interview with this correspondent that the Battle of Little Big Horn had just turned the corner and he could now see light at the end of the tunnel. "We have the Sioux on the run", General Custer told me. "Of course we'll have some cleaning up to do, but the Redskins are hurting badly and it will only be a matter of time before they give in."
Is the wonderful General Petraeus (My name's Petraeus, what's YOUR hobby?) going to turn the corner in Iraq? Or is the corner going to turn him into a Custer? He wrote an Op-Ed piece in a national newspaper in support of the Republican Party's presidential candidate, an act of blatant and indefensible political sniveling. Petraeus is the very model of the Cold War Warrior. He favors military confrontation over diplomacy. And it's military confrontation that Bush-Cheney America is all about.

It isn't just President Putin and his government and people who realize that Washington has gone out of control by surrounding Russia with anti-missile systems and increasing its military footprint in as much of a threatening circle as it can. The latest instance of needless provocation is Washington's arrangement for "military facilities" (not BASES of course) in Romania, adding to the scores of existing US military airfields and troop staging posts that directly menace Russia. Naturally Putin has reacted to such arrogance. Bush-Cheney picked a quarrel with Russia, and nobody would care if it were only their personal problem. But they have insulted and aggravated a world power of immense importance, adding to the rapidly growing number of America-haters.

Then there is the amazingly idiotic US announcement of a 30 billion dollar military support program for Israel over the next decade. Has nobody in Washington got any idea just how much resentment and hatred this proclamation caused in the Islamic world? It is regarded as contemptuous spurning of the Muslim community, irrespective of the other billions to be given to rich oil-producing Arab countries. The process is only transfer of money from American taxpayers to US weapons' manufacturers, but in international political terms it is disastrous.

The State Department could have made it clear to the White House that cash for Israel would send an incendiary message. In fact it is probable that State's professionals did warn that there would be uproar and reaction. But since the time that State was right in its advice about the war on Iraq it has been distrusted and reviled by the warniks. The Secretary of State has become a joke and one of her Under Secretaries, Nicholas Burns (a career officer, alas), has sold his soul to the Company Store and declared that the 30 billion dollar endorsement of the nuclear-armed Israeli military machine "says to the Iranians and Syrians that the United States is the major power in the Middle East and will continue to be and is not going away."

What right has America (or any other country) to trumpet itself so imperiously as "the major power" anywhere in the world? In fact, most people very much want the United States to cease meddling in the Middle East because its influence, activity and undeviating support of Israel have produced nothing but chaos.

We don't have to ask: "Why Do They All Hate America?"

It's obvious.

Brian Cloughley is a former army officer who writes on political and military affairs. His website is www.briancloughley.com


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