Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Unjust Nation

Ten days after President Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech, I have come to some sense of clarity concerning my feelings about it. My immediate gut reaction was revulsion, and it marked the point at which I finally have stopped liking Obama personally (a “liking” which I see in retrospect was a far too hopeful reaction against my hatred of the barbaric yawping of Bush-Cheney and the neofascist forces they represent).

Just on the surface, it seems troubling to accept the peace prize with an argument for just war. Coupled with Obama’s recent escalation in Afghanistan, which I oppose, this might account for the sense of dissonance. Of course, the Nobel Peace Prize is symbolic, and a very weak and compromised symbolism at that. What little good it can do lies in the accumulated prestige conferred upon it by the world, prestige that may perhaps provide some help to a truly brave and embattled figure of peace, such as Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi. A lot of the time it seems like not much more than self-congratulation for liberal moneyed elites. To give the prize to Henry Kissinger, for instance, because he helped negotiate an end to a war that he had viciously prolonged, symbolizes not peace but blind complacency. Obama’s award seems to indicate a desperate hope that the U.S. will recover from the sink of depravity represented by Bush-Cheney.

Knowing, therefore, that the prize is symbolic, it is clear to me on reflection that the President’s acceptance speech symbolizes something more disturbing than any immediate political significance it may have. I see now that what I find revolting in such an argument for “just war” doctrine, presented in the context of peace on the world stage, is its stubborn refusal of accountability for unjust war, in short, its embrace of imperial hubris.

The invasion of Iraq and its aftermath resulted in somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million deaths, according to the most conscientious and objective sources. In 2007, the Iraqi government reported that there were about 5 million orphans in the country. Estimates of the number of children killed have ranged between about 8-12% of total casualties, with many thousands more killed by malnutrition and disease. Iraqis themselves have reported that virtually every family in Iraq has experienced the violent death of a first- or second- degree relative. During much of the war, there were terrorist bombings going off on practically a daily basis, with casualties often in the hundreds. If a comparable death toll had taken place in the United States, it would have plunged the country into unimaginable grief and terror. Yet the relatively prosperous citizens of the U.S., insulated by distance and a silent and complicit news media, did not adequately comprehend or feel the enormity of Iraqi losses. Attention has been paid to the deaths of over 4300 American soldiers, although even that has been blunted by government and media neglect, of which the prohibition against showing photographs of dead soldiers, or up until recently, even their coffins, is a symptom. In addition, there have been over 30,000 wounded soldiers, many of them seriously, and this toll has been similarly muted.

Proponents of this war have often said that getting rid of Saddam Hussein has made Iraq a better place, but Iraqis themselves disagree: the death toll during his reign was much lower, and the displacement of people has been catastrophic: somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million Iraqis fled the country, almost 10% of the entire population. It should be abundantly clear to all but the most ignorant by now that the U.S. invasion itself was based wholly on deception. The claim that Iraq was involved in the September 11 attacks was a shameful lie that has been repeatedly disproved. The Cheney fall-back position from this, that Saddam was aiding Al Qaida, has been thoroughly discredited. Then of course there was the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The evidence is now overwhelming that intelligence reports were manipulated and in some cases completely fabricated in order to support this false claim.

Once the invasion took place, the United States did nothing to help Iraq stabilize its infrastructure or to promote a peaceful transition to a post-Saddam government. The “strategy” of the Bush-Cheney war effort was one of utter venality. The oil resources were to be protected, but the people were expendable. The callous behavior of the military (and the mercenaries) towards civilians produced a death toll that actually exceeded the deaths from sectarian violence in the war’s first two years. The neocon crackpots who tried their hand at nation-building failed at every step of the way and on every level. The piles of dead bodies, the tragic destruction of an entire nation, are directly attributable to the greed, imperial ambition, and stupidity of the United States government.

So as a result of an invasion that was based on deliberate falsehoods, and carried out without the approval of the United Nations, many hundreds of thousands of people, probably over a million, have died, and millions more lives have been shattered forever.

By the time the so-called “surge” was put into place in 2007, Iraq was already a broken shell of a country and the bloodletting had already destroyed whatever hopes there might have been for a better post-Saddam reality. The war enthusiasts now use this contemptible and phony “surge” as a point of pride, even claiming that the United States somehow “won” the war, although what exactly we have won I have been unable to fathom.

I won’t even try to detail the massive looting and impoverishment of Iraqi resources (and the U.S. treasury) by rapacious corporations such as KBR, or the shameful use of torture on detainees which has called into question our very values as a people. The list of murders, crimes, and obscenities goes on too long to adequately discuss in a short piece.

And here is my question to the United States of America, not only to President Obama and the Congress but to our servile excuse for a news media, our corporate elites, the millions of flag-waving warmongering “patriots,” and the many more passive citizens watching their TV and saying nothing: Where is our remorse? Will there be no acknowledgment of guilt at all? Will no one express even a public sense of grief for the terrible damage and loss of life caused by this unjust, illegal and immoral war?

The so-called leaders of this country, the politicians, corporate executives, and other public figures and spokespersons, seem to think that you can wish murder away with silence and denial. And in this, I’m afraid, they represent the ignorance and sense of entitlement of a large percentage of the American people. The best many can do is admit that the war was a “mistake.” Many can not even do that, trapped as they are in the delusion that the United States has to be magically right in all things. The delusion of power, of “we’re number 1,” the fatal soul-sickness known as “American exceptionalism,” prevents most of us from even seeing the blood that stains our country.

If it is too much to ask for an admission of fault, guilt, or remorse, will we not at least allow mourning for what has been done to be publicly expressed? No, apparently, we will not. It is, I am told, politically unfeasible to do so. Those of us who express such things will be labeled weak at best, and at worst traitorous. So instead we have our President accepting the Nobel Peace Prize with a feeble and misguided apology for American “just war.”

“Whatever mistakes we have made,” Obama said, “the plain fact is this: the United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest.”

This is the refined pseudo-intellectual version of the imperial lie. We kill for the good of the world, and for peace. I suppose Obama believes the lie. Henry Kissinger, at least, knew that “enlightened self-interest” was a rhetorical device masking what he considered the necessities of realpolitik. The military industry that has been in charge of American foreign policy for over half a century (at least) plays a global chess game with the lives of millions, and for the consumption of the stupid dolts, the citizens and voters, the game is called “just war” and “self-interest.” Well, it does represent the self-interest of a very few men whose ideas are centered solely on naked power and the economic control which sustains it. The actual self-interest of the vast majority of the human beings don’t matter. We are just pieces in this game.

There is a price to be paid. Responsibility for mass murder may be hidden and denied, and the killers may go unpunished in our courts of law. But crimes of such enormity take their toll on the spirit of a country’s people, and unless they are acknowledged with grief, remorse, and correction in values and behavior, they result in a gradual and steady corruption which can only end in disaster. No pretty words by eloquent politicians, no phony peace prizes, no empty proclamations of hope, can change that. Staying upon our present course, like a blind giant stumbling through chaos while proclaiming his own greatness, we will surely fall.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Deadly Denial

The so-called conservatives are in full denial that global climate change is happening, and they have been for years. Recently they’ve pounced on some stolen emails from a UK research center as proof that global warming is a hoax. In fact, playing around with data in simulations is a common practice, and none of this tricked-up data was ever published. That hasn’t stopped the American media, always willing to run with whatever lies they’re fed by the right, from pretending this is a real story.

A recent open letter to Congress from U.S. scientists reaffirms that “The body of evidence that human activity is the dominant cause of global warming is overwhelming.” Yet the rightists and their corporate backers continue in their insistence on a hoax.

Take a moment to consider the implications of this. The climate change deniers would have us believe that there is a vast conspiracy of scientists to convince the world of a falsehood concerning the environment. And the motive for such a conspiracy would be the undermining of the capitalist system. In other words, all these scientists are being accused of plotting to bring down the economy. In the mythology of the right, they are being placed in the camp of the “liberals,” who are enemies of the American way of life.

Beyond this blanket accusation, the climate change deniers offer us no insight into why scientists would violate their ethics in such a way. Nor do they offer any plausible scenario for how so many hundreds of people could coordinate such a hoax. The whole theory is so patently absurd that it’s a wonder they even attempt it, but in the climate of stupidity fostered by Republicans in America for decades, there are many who are willing to believe anything they’re told.

The very simplest insights are often the ones never expressed in our public discourse. Here is one that needs to be said: economic self-interest is the obvious motive for attacks on climate change science. Global warming spells disaster for the petroleum industry, and a lot of other industries are heavily invested in petroleum—not just cars, but agriculture, pharmaceuticals, plastics, weapons, you name it.

Rather than consider the implications of climate change, these corporate elites look only at the short term: their profits. They go into full denial because they don’t know how to do anything else. The principle of short-term self-interest holds true in every aspect of politics, but what’s peculiar about this is that the stakes for humanity are unbearably high. If global warming creates catastrophe for the earth, it’s also bad for business in the long-term. Perhaps some of these people just don’t care—they figure they’ll be dead by the time anything happens, and they can let their kids or grandkids deal with it. But it seems more likely that they believe their own denials because it’s too frightening for them to contemplate the truth.

What we have is a situation in which a small segment of the population with a disproportionate amount of the world’s wealth has become, for all intents and purposes, insane. Learned and intelligent experts are sounding the warning; many reasonable people are listening; but these stupid, greedy elites are actually trying to prevent anything being done to save our future from environmental disaster. Whether they believe their own lies or not becomes irrelevant. They must not be allowed to drive our world off a cliff.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Bad News

I actually like Barack Obama. I think he’s a great improvement on the gangster Republican rule of Cheney/Bush. But here’s the bad news: Obama still represents the moneyed establishment in this country. This was not news to me. I knew this when I voted for him. I just think it’s easy to lose perspective when watching the political spectacle in Washington. The right wing in this country is so rabid, dangerous, and delusional that it tends to distort one’s awareness of the big picture.

In the economic crisis, Obama has chosen to prop up the Wall Street bankers. He’s also made some steps to stimulate the economy, but the attempt to keep the bankers alive will be a major failure. I don’t know how long it will take for this failure to fully manifest, it could even be delayed until after Obama’s second term. But these people don’t know any other principle than greed and piracy, and they will drive us all into a ditch again.

Obama has also rolled over to the military industrial complex. The policies are imperialistic in the old style, as opposed to the scarier crypto-fascist Cheney approach. But they’re still imperialistic, so we’re still being the cop of the world and the guardian of multinational corporations as opposed to the oppressed millions on this earth. Obama also flinched on Israel—there will be no serious stand against expansion of illegal settlements. The situation in foreign affairs is back to the status quo, which was never a healthy thing. The United States will apparently have to keep learning the hard way that world hegemony is untenable.

Even the arrogance of Bush’s “unitary executive” initiatives has not been repudiated in full. Obama has not renounced the criminal and unconscionable policies of CIA “rendition.” The same specious arguments are made by Obama’s Justice Dept. in favor of so-called preventive detention and other unconstitutional means in the bogus “war on terror.”

Being a moderate on social issues means that Obama doesn’t go to the mat for gay rights, but gives them lip service instead. He is not pro-active on equality, civil rights, labor rights, or human rights abroad—and sometimes actively ignores these issues in order to curry favor with more conservative members of his own party. Time and again he takes the support of progressives and liberals, who were responsible for getting him elected, for granted, while pursuing a na├»ve and unattainable ideal of bipartisanship.

My purpose is not to discourage aspirations to change, but to emphasize that real change only comes from the bottom up. The establishment elects its own to run its business—they will preserve and promote the status quo as long as the American people tolerate the status quo. The mass of American citizens will continue to passively observe their own exploitation as long as they identify their interests with the rich. When they stop doing that, what follows is committed action on the local level. When progressive-minded people serve their communities instead of living passive lives of consumption, change will accelerate.