December 11, 2007

The Honor of Being Human: Why Do You Support?

I offer here the first of several essays that will focus on general questions connecting to a number of earlier articles, as well as to certain upcoming pieces. The initial issue that requires further clarification is one I am addressing in considerable detail: the question of obedience.

Obedience is a central theme in my continuing "Final Descent" series. In part because of my own thinking about this issue, and in part because of some unusually perceptive and provocative emails I have received, I offer the following descriptive definition of what I mean by "obedience." It may seem to certain readers that I offer this informal definition rather late in the game, since I have been analyzing many issues related to obedience for several years. But in this, I follow a common pattern: it is only after we consider a generally understood phenomenon in many different manifestations that we can begin to isolate the critical underlying features. Even now, I am not entirely satisfied with this description, but it will suffice for the moment. I will undoubtedly have occasion to revisit this description and to refine it, as my own understanding increases.

I describe "obedience" in the following manner for a variety of complicated reasons, which reasons alone would require several lengthy essays to explain. Most importantly for my immediate purposes, I wanted this description to encompass at least three fundamentally different kinds of relationships, but to isolate the dynamics of obedience that are common to all of them. Those three relationships are: parent to child; one adult to another adult; and the adult to the state. Here is the description I've come up with:
Obedience is the term used to describe the demand by a person in a superior position (superior psychologically, legally and/or in terms of the power he possesses in some other form) that a person in an inferior position conduct himself in a particular manner. The essence of obedience is the demand without more: a reason may be provided, but a reason is unnecessary. Moreover, the reason may be unconvincing or incoherent, and it may contradict other reasons provided for other demands. Most importantly, the reason need not be one that the person in the inferior position agrees with. Informed, voluntary agreement occurs when a person is presented with a reason(s) to act in a certain manner; he understands and is ultimately convinced of the validity of the reason(s), and therefore acts in the manner suggested.

Obedience is the opposite of voluntary, uncoerced agreement: the understanding and agreement of the person in the inferior position are not required, and are often not sought at all. The person in the inferior position may profoundly disagree with the reason(s) offered for the demand, if any. When the person in the inferior position obeys, he does so because of his certain knowledge that if he does not, he will be punished in some form: psychologically, legally, socially, or in some other way. Thus, the primary (although not the sole) motivation that ensures obedience is negative in nature: it is not the promise of a reward (even though certain rewards may be offered), but the assurance that he will not suffer consequences that are painful in varying degrees, i.e., that he will not be punished.
I have discussed the centrality of obedience to the way in which almost all children are raised in my numerous essays based on Alice Miller's work, as well as in the "Final Descent" series, and also in one of my articles about the high school students who protested the Iraq occupation, "When Awareness Is a Crime, and Other Lessons from Morton West."

It must be appreciated that the child is in a unique position, one that is uniquely defenseless and dependent. As I often note, the child literally depends on his primary caregiver(s) for everything, including life itself. Because of this dependency inherent in the child's status (especially that of a very young one), the child has no choice but to obey: if he does not, he fears the withdrawal of the caregiver's affection and protection, which might ultimately mean the loss of the child's life. Although the child may not understand this in explicit terms, he feels the certainty of this knowledge very deeply. I will soon be examining in more detail the frequently tragic and destructive results of these factors which place the child at grave risk of abuse, which can be psychological and/or physical in nature.

It must also be seen that, when the child becomes an adult, the relationship is fundamentally altered. The adult is not defenseless and dependent. There are many particular situations in which the adult may be best advised to obey -- and for the adult, the authority he is most likely to be compelled to obey is the state. If a person is threatened with the possibility of torture or even death -- by means, for example, of a taser wielded by an official imbued with the state's authority to dispense torture and death with impunity, even for a reason which is trivial or non-existent -- the person may understandably and justifiably simply do as he is told. But with regard to broader questions of obedience to the state -- obedience on the part of adults -- the issue becomes much more complex.

In this setting, what we often call "obedience" is, in fact, something very different. The question is rendered still more complicated because of the particular state of affairs that exists at present in the United States. In my own thinking, I have begun to identify this state of affairs in this manner: "The Imminent, but Not-Yet, Not-Quite Dictatorship." I will explore the ramifications of this idea in the near future. For now, I note only that all the mechanisms of a full dictatorship are now in place: the passage of the Military Commissions Act establishes that fact beyond all question. In terms of the powers claimed by the executive branch, this has been true for several years: see, "It Can't Happen Here." But the Military Commissions Act explicitly made dictatorial powers the law of the land. As I noted in "It's Called the Ruling Class Because It Rules," even dictatorships have laws. The chimera of "legality" is one maintained even by the most brutal regimes, and even by totalitarian ones.

What makes the situation in the United States surpassingly surreal is that these dictatorial powers are indeed "the law" -- but they have yet to be implemented on a scale and in a manner that causes most people to appreciate that liberty has already been utterly destroyed. We exist in a netherworld, where the few remaining fragments of light slowly vanish: freedom no longer exists, and we wait to see what will replace it and just how oppressive it will be. Except for today's usual suspects -- those who are Arab or Muslim, those who are designated terrorists whether they are or not, "illegal" immigrants, many of those who are not male, white and affluent -- the state has yet to tell us who the specific victims will be. If there should be another major terrorist attack in America, these questions may well be answered more quickly than we would wish.

So what does an adult of conscience do, confronted by the specter of The Imminent, but Not-Yet, Not-Quite Dictatorship? I have answered this question with regard to narrower issues, particular issues of immense gravity. For example, if you are ordered to murder innocent human beings who have never threatened you or your country, you must say, "No" -- as Lt. Ehren Watada did. I wrote about Lt. Watada's profoundly heroic stand here and here. If you are ordered to torture another human being, you must say, "No."

For some valuable guidance on the broader issue, I turn to an essay by Hannah Arendt, one that is unusually rich and complex even by Arendt's standards. I have excerpted other passages from "Personal Responsibility under Dictatorship" in an earlier article (Arendt's essay appears in Responsibility and Judgment), and I will soon offer still further ones. Arendt's identifications are relevant to many of the questions I have examined.

The following is the conclusion of Arendt's essay. With the explanatory notes offered above, I think this passage can be appreciated on its own. The influence of Arendt's observations can be plainly seen in my most recent piece, "Supporters of Evil." Arendt writes:
In our context, all that matters is the insight that no man, however strong, can ever accomplish anything, good or bad, without the help of others. What you have here is the notion of an equality which accounts for a "leader" who is never more than primus inter pares, the first among his peers. Those who seem to obey him actually support him and his enterprise; without such "obedience" he would be helpless, whereas in the nursery or under conditions of slavery -- the two spheres in which the notion of obedience made sense and from which it was then transposed into political matters -- it is the child or the slave who becomes helpless if he refuses to "cooperate." Even in a strictly bureaucratic organization, with its fixed hierarchical order, it would make much more sense to look upon the functioning of the "cogs" and wheels in terms of overall support for a common enterprise than in our usual terms of obedience to superiors. If I obey the laws of the land, I actually support its constitution, as becomes glaringly obvious in the case of revolutionaries and rebels who disobey because they have withdrawn this tacit consent.

In these terms, the nonparticipators in public life under a dictatorship are those who have refused their support by shunning those places of "responsibility" where such support, under the name of obedience, is required. And we have only for a moment to imagine what would happen to any of these forms of government if enough people would act "irresponsibly" and refuse support, even without active resistance and rebellion, to see how effective a weapon this could be. It is in fact one of the many variations of nonviolent action and resistance -- for instance the power that is potential in civil disobedience -- which are being discovered in our century. The reason, however, that we can hold these new criminals, who never committed a crime out of their own initiative, nevertheless responsible for what they did is that there is no such thing as obedience in political and moral matters. The only domain where the word could possibly apply to adults who are not slaves is the domain of religion, in which people say that they obey the word or the command of God because the relationship between God and man can rightly be seen in terms similar to the relation between adult and child.

Hence the question addressed to those who participated and obeyed orders should never be, "Why did you obey?" but "Why did you support?" This change of words is no semantic irrelevancy for those who know the strange and powerful influence mere "words" have over the minds of men who, first of all, are speaking animals. Much would be gained if we could eliminate this pernicious word "obedience" from our vocabulary of moral and political thought. If we think these matters through, we might regain some measure of self-confidence and even pride, that is, regain what former times called the dignity or the honor of man: not perhaps of mankind but of the status of being human.
Toward the conclusion of a recent essay, I wrote:
The Bush administration has announced to the world, and to all Americans, that this is what the United States now stands for: a vicious determination to dominate the world, criminal, genocidal wars of aggression, torture, and an increasingly brutal and brutalizing authoritarian state at home. That is what we stand for.

And who says otherwise? The Democrats could -- and the most forceful means of doing so, the only method that is appropriate to this historic moment, the method that is absolutely required if we are to turn away from this catastrophic, murderous course, is impeachment. That is the one method the Democrats will categorically, absolutely not utilize -- because the Democrats are a crucial, inextricable part of the identical authoritarian-corporatist system that has led us to these horrors. They have all worked toward this end over many decades, Democrats and Republicans alike, and now the horrors manifest themselves explicitly, without apology, even with the sickening boastfulness of the mass murderer who is proud of what he has done, and who vehemently believes he is right.

So the dare goes unanswered. These horrors are what the United States now stands for.
I repeat once more: these horrors are now what the United States stands for. Thus, for every adult American, the question is not, "Why do you obey?" but:

Why do you support?

Or will you refuse to give your support? Will you say, "No"? These are the paramount questions at this moment in history, and in the life of the United States. We all must answer them. Our honor, our humanity, and our souls lie in the balance.

December 09, 2007

Supporters of Evil

For numerous reasons that I have explained in detail, the practice of torture is unalloyed evil: see, "Lies in the Service of Evil." Supporting torture or allowing its practice to continue -- allowing it to continue in any manner at all -- is also evil. Some of you may recoil from the term "evil." If you recall what torture is, you should not:
Torture is the deliberate infliction of unbearable agony on a human being -- a human being who is intentionally kept alive precisely so that he will suffer still more and for a longer period of time -- for no justifiable reason. This is the embrace of sadism and cruelty for their own sake, and for no other end whatsoever.
This does not represent "specialized" knowledge available only to purported experts. These are simple and obvious truths, that can be known by any decent human being who devotes an hour or two to consideration of this subject. One would think that would not be too much to require of national leaders and lawmakers.

With regard to the following "news" -- which is not news to anyone who has paid attention for the last six years -- no one has any reason whatsoever to evince the most minimal degree of surprise:
In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.

"The briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough," said a U.S. official who witnessed the exchange.

Congressional leaders from both parties would later seize on waterboarding as a symbol of the worst excesses of the Bush administration's counterterrorism effort. The CIA last week admitted that videotape of an interrogation of one of the waterboarded detainees was destroyed in 2005 against the advice of Justice Department and White House officials, provoking allegations that its actions were illegal and the destruction was a coverup.

Yet long before "waterboarding" entered the public discourse, the CIA gave key legislative overseers about 30 private briefings, some of which included descriptions of that technique and other harsh interrogation methods, according to interviews with multiple U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge.

With one known exception, no formal objections were raised by the lawmakers briefed about the harsh methods during the two years in which waterboarding was employed, from 2002 to 2003, said Democrats and Republicans with direct knowledge of the matter. The lawmakers who held oversight roles during the period included Pelosi and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), as well as Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan).

Individual lawmakers' recollections of the early briefings varied dramatically, but officials present during the meetings described the reaction as mostly quiet acquiescence, if not outright support. "Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing," said Goss, who chaired the House intelligence committee from 1997 to 2004 and then served as CIA director from 2004 to 2006. "And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement."
People consider such disclosures at this late date to be "news" or to be at all surprising only if they have refused to acknowledge and understand the necessary meaning and implications of the United States' actions in recent years. With regard to torture, the timeline is significantly longer: the U.S. has regularly employed torture for many decades. Most liberals and progressives, together with Democratic apologists generally, prefer to view the Bush administration as "unique" in American history, as representing a profound shift in national policy. None of this is true: these are lies cravenly dishonest apologists tell themselves to justify their otherwise indefensible political allegiances.

I reminded readers recently that I wrote the following last summer, explaining why the Democratic Congress would never impeach any of the major criminals in the Bush administration:
But for the reasons set forth above (and a full case would fill many volumes), the Democrats are not going to impeach any of these criminals, barring events entirely unforeseeable at present. And they will not for one overwhelmingly significant and determinative reason: always with regard to the underlying principles, and frequently with regard to the specifics, the Democrats are implicated in every single crime with which they would charge the members of the administration. The Republicans' crimes are their crimes.
This latest story is but another in an endless series of similar examples that support my judgment.

The leading Democratic presidential contenders have said they reject torture as an official instrument of government policy. In the context of the actions of the Democratic Congress, such claims are contemptibly meaningless:
And no one speaks of repealing the Military Commissions Act. If anyone in Congress actually gave a damn about liberty and civilization on the most basic level, that is what they would discuss, and they would discuss it all the time. For the Military Commissions Act did not simply destroy habeas corpus; it also established the state's use of torture as an acknowledged, acceptable, standardized means of governance. All the Democratic presidential candidates have recently condemned torture as an element of official government policy -- although I am not aware that anyone has asked Hillary Clinton why she has apparently altered her previously expressed approval of a supposedly narrow "exception" to the prohibition against torture, and if she now rejects her own earlier view. But as long as the Military Commissions Act remains the law, all such condemnations are meaningless, and they deserve to be disbelieved. If any of these politicians were seriously opposed to torture, repeal of the Military Commissions Act would be among their very highest priorities.
The Democrats will not repeal the Military Commissions Act. All of the selective attention and outrage focused on waterboarding is yet another sleight of hand, by means of which the Democrats seek to portray themselves as opposed to the "unique" evil of the Bush administration, while they simultaneously allow, and often encourage, the systematic implementation of evil as national policy to continue unimpeded.

As I have observed, there is no "lesser" evil now, when one understands what the two major parties in fact represent. As for those who still insist that the Democrats represent the only hope for "saving" the U.S. government from "within the system" -- a belief which can be maintained only by denying facts on a massive scale and by blinding oneself to the lessons history teaches repeatedly -- I refer you to this statement from one German, noted in Milton Mayer's, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-1945, and excerpted in my essay, "Thus the World Was Lost":
"Yes," said my colleague, shaking his head, "the 'excesses' and the 'radicals.' We all opposed them, very quietly. So your two 'little men' thought they must join, as good men, good Germans, even as good Christians, and when enough of them did they would be able to change the party. They would 'bore from within.' 'Big men' told themselves that, too, in the usual sincerity that required them only to abandon one little principle after another, to throw away, little by little, all that was good. I was one of those men.

"You know," he went on, "when men who understand what is happening--the motion, that is, of history, not the reports of single events or developments--when such men do not object or protest, men who do not understand cannot be expected to. How many men would you say understand--in this sense--in America? And when, as the motion of history accelerates and those who don't understand are crazed by fear, as our people were, and made into a great 'patriotic' mob, will they understand then, when they did not before?

"We learned here--I say this freely--to give up trying to make them understand after, oh, the end of 1938, after the night of the synagogue burning and the things that followed it. Even before the war began, men who were teachers, men whose faith in teaching was their whole faith, gave up, seeing that there was no comprehension, no capacity left for comprehension, and the thing must go its course, taking first its victims, then its architects, and then the rest of us to destruction...."
I do not want to be misunderstood on this point, so let me state it as plainly as I can. The time is long since past for every minimally decent American to take a stand: either you are on the side of civilization and humanity, and the irreplaceable, supreme value of an individual human life -- or you are on the side of evil, brutality, torture, sadism, genocidal war, and endless death. The Democrats and the Republicans both stand for Empire, and for the endless horrors already inflicted -- and the endless horrors that still lie in our future. If the Democrats do not repeal the Military Commissions Act or at least try to do so, and if you still support them in the 2008 elections, then you are on the side of all these horrors as well.

If the Democrats do not repeal the Military Commissions Act -- and they will not -- and you support them in 2008, you are supporting evil. To that extent, you are evil yourself.

At this terrible moment in history, we must call things by their proper names. Let the world know where you stand: for life, and the possibility of joy and happiness -- or for death, and cruelty, barbarism and the repetition of horrors that the monsters among us insist on reviving when given the opportunity.

If you choose to support evil and to embody evil yourself, I suggest you follow the vile example of the current administration: do so without apology, and brazenly revel in the evil you choose to inflict on the world. It is far more contemptible -- and, to speak personally, it is sickening beyond my capacity to describe accurately, in significant part because of the complex psychological dishonesties that are required -- to enable evil, while claiming you represent the "moral" and "practical" choice. These are the justifications used by those who made possible the cruelest and most unspeakably horrifying regimes in history, as Mayer's witness and many others attest.

Withdraw your support entirely from those who perpetrate and make excuses for evil. If the refusal to support such people were widespread enough, we still might have a chance. I regard it as the very slightest of chances, one that will almost certainly be destroyed by another significant terrorist attack in the United States -- but it is the only one we have.

December 04, 2007

Played for Fools Yet Again: About that Iran "Intelligence" Report

The opening paragraph of my essay, "The United States as Cho Seung-Hui: How the State Sanctifies Murder," reads as follows:
The most crucial argument concerning the horrifying killings at Blacksburg, Virginia, last week -- the argument that implicates the foundational moral and political principle that ought to most concern us at this moment in history -- was, of course, the one that almost all mainstream commentary studiously avoided. The monolithic, unassailable mythology that is America's lifeblood is never to be questioned; the cacophony of national voices may disagree about numerous other subjects, but American culture is united in its conspiracy of silence on every matter of genuine importance. In our blindness, we have brought ourselves as close to perfection as is possible for human beings: we obliterate and distort the past, we render ourselves incapable of grasping the present, and we blindly plunge into an increasingly desolate future, with all our cognitive abilities rendered permanently disabled. Our ignorance is complete.
With full justification and comprehensive accuracy, the same can be said with regard to "every matter of genuine importance," exactly as I maintained. It is true in spades of the reaction to yesterday's news concerning the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran: that the combined assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies is that "Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen..."

Our political establishment, our media and, with only a handful of exceptions, all bloggers are akin to the tenth-generation products of a relentless experiment in genetic manipulation, one designed to select exclusively for gross stupidity and an unerring ability to miss every relevant point completely and utterly. We have generously been provided with "authoritative" takes on the Iran story from both right (broadly defined), courtesy of Instapundit, and left (broadly defined), courtesy of Digby.

It deserves emphasis that this latest NIE tells us nothing -- let me repeat that, nothing -- that was not entirely obvious to a reasonably intelligent layperson who followed mainstream media reports about Iran for the last several years. As just one example, see my post, "Iran: The Growing Threat that Isn't," from close to a year ago. It is true that "official" government recognition of the non-threatening status of Iran, but only in this one respect, is of marginal importance, but it is only that: marginal. It simply means that the warmongers -- whether of the Republican or Democratic variety (and please let us not forget the Democratic warmongers, who have been far more resolute and consistent in the pursuit of the glories of war over the last century than the Republicans, with the hugely notable exception of the criminal gang in charge of the executive branch at present) -- cannot easily avail themselves of this particular bogeyman for the moment. For those who seek to begin the next phase of this neverending war, there are many other bogeymen available for use to the identical end, as we shall see in a moment.

Let us start with the most crucial point. The reaction from all quarters to the NIE relies on several interrelated central assumptions, ones that are regarded as so unquestionably true that no one thinks they need to be stated: that major policy decisions, including decisions of war and peace, are based on intelligence in the first place; that a decision to go to war is one made only after cool and careful rational deliberation; and that nations go to war for the reasons they announce to the world.


I put this fact in bold capital letters because I have explained these dynamics in detail in numerous essays over the last several years. I hasten to add that I suffer from not even a single illusion that this new article will make the slightest dent in "conventional wisdom," for I know it will not. Nonetheless, for the ten or twelve of you who are amenable to considering them, here are the facts.

From "You, Too, Can and Should Be an 'Intelligence Analyst'":
Intelligence is completely irrelevant to major policy decisions. Such decisions are matters of judgment, and knowledgeable, ordinary citizens are just as capable of making these determinations as political leaders allegedly in possession of "secret information." Such "secret information" is almost always wrong -- and major decisions, including those pertaining to war and peace, are made entirely apart from such information in any case.

The second you start arguing about intelligence, you've given the game away once again. This is a game the government and the proponents of war will always win. By now, we all surely know that if they want the intelligence to show that Country X is a "grave" and "growing" threat, they will find it or manufacture it. So once you're debating what the intelligence shows or fails to show, the debate is over. The war will inevitably begin.

To repeat: the decision to go to war is one of policy, and the intelligence -- whatever it is alleged to show -- is irrelevant. Don't argue in terms of intelligence at all. If you do, you'll lose. The administration knows that; many of its opponents still haven't figured it out, even now.
In the same article, I later wrote:
I therefore repeat my major admonition, and give it special emphasis:
It is always irrelevant to major policy decisions, and such decisions are reached for different reasons altogether. This is true whether the intelligence is correct or not, and it is almost always wrong. On those very rare occasions when intelligence is accurate, it is likely to be disregarded in any case. It will certainly be disregarded if it runs counter to a course to which policymakers are already committed.

The intelligence does not matter. It is primarily used as propaganda, to provide alleged justification to a public that still remains disturbingly gullible and pliable -- and it is used after the fact, to justify decisions that have already been made.
For newer readers, here are two notable statements of this principle that I have often referred to, and please be aware that this principle is nowhere to be found in all the commentary I have seen and heard about the latest Iran story. From Barbara Tuchman:
Acquiescence in Executive war, [Fulbright] wrote, comes from the belief that the government possesses secret information that gives it special insight in determining policy. Not only was this questionable, but major policy decisions turn "not upon available facts but upon judgment," with which policy-makers are no better endowed than the intelligent citizen. Congress and citizens can judge "whether the massive deployment and destruction of their men and wealth seem to serve the overall interests as a nation."


The belief that government knows best was voiced just at this time by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who said on resumption of the bombing, "We ought to all support the President. He is the man who has all the information and knowledge of what we are up against." This is a comforting assumption that relieves people from taking a stand. It is usually invalid, especially in foreign affairs. "Foreign policy decisions," concluded Gunnar Myrdal after two decades of study, "are in general much more influenced by irrational motives" than are domestic ones.
From Gabriel Kolko:
It is all too rare that states overcome illusions, and the United States is no more an exception than Germany, Italy, England, or France before it. The function of intelligence anywhere is far less to encourage rational behavior--although sometimes that occurs--than to justify a nation's illusions, and it is the false expectations that conventional wisdom encourages that make wars more likely, a pattern that has only increased since the early twentieth century. By and large, US, Soviet, and British strategic intelligence since 1945 has been inaccurate and often misleading, and although it accumulated pieces of information that were useful, the leaders of these nations failed to grasp the inherent dangers of their overall policies. When accurate, such intelligence has been ignored most of the time if there were overriding preconceptions or bureaucratic reasons for doing so.
A few comments are in order about the blog posts noted above. Several of the reactions collected by Glenn Reynolds advance the notion that, assuming the NIE is accurate, this demonstrates that the invasion and occupation of Iraq did in fact lead to the elimination of a gravely serious threat, namely, the threat that an Iran with nuclear weapons would have represented. If the invasion and occupation of Iraq prevented such a development, that means the Iraq catastrophe was justified.

It is difficult to imagine a more heinously bankrupt moral argument. Iraq itself was no threat to the United States, and it was known to be no threat. We have destroyed Iraq completely, unleashed a genocide that continues with every blood-drenched day that passes, created refugees in the several millions, and wreaked havoc and devastation in numerous other ways. Because Iraq was known to be no threat to the U.S., the U.S. did all this in a criminal war of aggression -- precisely the kind of crime against peace for which we properly condemned the Nazi regime. Yet now it is suggested that all this was morally justified -- because it may have prevented a threat from arising in another country. Because most Americans know only the mythologized, sanitized version of our history, many of you may be surprised to learn that this was one of the "justifications" used to defend the incineration of hundreds of thousands of civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- to deliver a "message" to Soviet Russia. It was abominable then, and it is abominable now.

On what is allegedly the "other" side of the political divide, Digby writes:
I can't wait to see how the Iran hawks spin [the NIE story] ...

I suspect they will just drag out their old tried and true tropes against against [sic] the intelligence agencies, perhaps even start up a new Team B project. In fact, they'll likely have to dredge up how the CIA supposedly screwed up the Iraq WMD assessment, in which case we should bring out the Orville Reddenbacker [sic]. It should be quite a show.

But time runs short for this administration. I don't know for sure that this means we can breathe a little bit easier, but I think it probably does. It's hard to see that Bush could push the button with this kind of assessment in public.

Of course, they are nuts...
On that last point and insofar as the crucial general principles involved are concerned, may it be duly noted that the leading Democrats are just as "hawkish" and "nuts" on this issue: Hillary Clinton, who speaks of our inalienable "right" to take "offensive military action against Iran"; Barack Obama ("In today's globalized world, the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people," which is license to intervene anywhere and everywhere, on any pretext whatsoever, real or imagined); and all the other prominent Democrats, with their endless trash talk of keeping "all options on the table."

Note how Digby implicitly relies on the erroneous notion that if the intelligence had been correct on Iraq, a reasonable conclusion might have been reached, and thus the invasion of Iraq might have been forestalled. That is the meaning of, "how the CIA supposedly screwed up the Iraq WMD assessment..." If only the CIA had been allowed to tell the "truth" without political interference, there might have been a better chance that all would have been well. But that only makes sense if one assumes that policy decisions are based on intelligence. Again: they are not.

Digby's larger argument is coherent only from the standpoint of purely partisan politics. Of course, since the Democrats took control of Congress, it often appears that the exclusive concern and endless preoccupation of the major liberal and progressive bloggers is to prevent anyone from questioning the wisdom of voting for Democrats, since, it is alleged, any alternative is so much worse. That is an increasingly impossible case to make -- with regard to the absolute necessity of impeachment if anything like a republican form of government is to survive, with regard to civil liberties at home, and about any other issue you can name. Moreover, in their ongoing determination to corral votes for Democrats, many of the same bloggers who earlier condemned "false narratives" now repeatedly utilize identical tactics themselves.

Is Digby seriously suggesting that we should not acknowledge that one critical part of the "old tried and true tropes against the intelligence agencies" is correct -- that is, that those agencies are almost always wrong? In addition to my own essays -- and see "How the Foreign Policy Consensus Protects Itself" and the additional essays listed at its conclusion for much more on these issues -- I suggest you consult Chalmers Johnson's review of Legacy of Ashes, about the decades of failure by the CIA (to say nothing of its covert criminal activities). Here is one excerpt to give you the flavor:
From 1967 to 1973, I served as an outside consultant to the Office of National Estimates, one of about a dozen specialists brought in to try to overcome the myopia and bureaucratism involved in the writing of these national intelligence estimates. I recall agonized debates over how the mechanical highlighting of worst-case analyses of Soviet weapons was helping to promote the arms race. Some senior intelligence analysts tried to resist the pressures of the Air Force and the military-industrial complex. Nonetheless, the late John Huizenga, an erudite intelligence analyst who headed the Office of National Estimates from 1971 until the wholesale purge of the Agency by DCI James Schlesinger in 1973, bluntly said to the CIA's historians:
"In retrospect.... I really do not believe that an intelligence organization in this government is able to deliver an honest analytical product without facing the risk of political contention. . . . I think that intelligence has had relatively little impact on the policies that we've made over the years. Relatively none. . . . Ideally, what had been supposed was that . . . serious intelligence analysis could.... assist the policy side to reexamine premises, render policymaking more sophisticated, closer to the reality of the world. Those were the large ambitions which I think were never realized."
With very rare exceptions, the intelligence agencies always get it wrong. That they got it wrong with Iraq, and possibly with Iran (either earlier, or now, or both) is not news: that is what they do.

Yet it appears that Digby now suggests we should ignore this incontrovertible history, because the particular conclusion in this NIE is one that supports the argument she wishes to advance. So much for a principled and serious approach to these issues, and so much for stepping beyond the thought-stopping, constricted limits of "conventional wisdom." (I obviously agree with her argument, since I am unalterably opposed to an attack on Iran in the present circumstances and in the foreseeable future -- but not for these particular reasons.)

In the most critical sense, I don't care about this latest assessment, just as I did not care about the earlier ones, about Iran or on any other subject at all -- for in addition to the rather important fact that such assessments are invariably wrong, I recognize that policy decisions are made on different grounds altogether. Moreover, in terms of U.S. foreign policy, I don't care if Iran does get nuclear weapons. As I have noted before, I do not view it as a remotely good thing that any nation has nuclear weapons, including the U.S. -- and I remind you once again that it is only the U.S. that has used them, when it did not have any legitimate reason for doing so and when it lied about every aspect of its actions and their consequences. But in terms of an Iran with nuclear weapons five or ten years in the future: "So Iran Gets Nukes. So What?" But the bipartisan commitment to American world hegemony has not altered in the slightest degree. The criminal catastrophe of Iraq is irrelevant to our ruling class, and it has not caused them to alter any of their most crucial goals.

As I said above, this latest NIE makes it considerably more difficult for the administration to use this particular argument to justify a criminal act of aggression against a non-existent threat. But if the administration is determined to attack Iran, they have plenty of other arguments to use, and many of those arguments have the full and enthusiastic support of the Democrats. See "The Worsening Nightmare," and the numerous related essays listed there: the drive to worldwide dominance, by means of military force as required, is a fully bipartisan affair, as it has been for over a century and especially since World War II.

This brings us to the most likely way in which a conflict with Iran may still occur in the very near future: as the direct result of the continuing, ghastly, genocidal, criminal occupation of Iraq. In moral and historic terms, it is unforgivable that the Democratic Congress has not defunded the Iraq occupation completely. They have the power to do so, and they refuse to use it. Some people object to defunding on the grounds that Bush will use other funds to pay for it -- and the Democratic Congress has obligingly provided plenty of those. But if Bush is going to do that, then make him do it. It is only the nauseating corruption of our politics that makes it necessary to point out that decent human beings would choose not to have blood on their own hands. With two or three exceptions, there are no such decent human beings to be found in Washington.

On the connection between the occupation of Iraq and Iran, I can do no better than to point you to "Living Under the Guillotine's Blade." I discussed four deadly blades hanging over us: the first blade is the Military Commissions Act, to which the Democrats offered only the most lamentably pathetic opposition, far too late to prevent its passage, and they have shown no seriousness at all about repealing this abomination; the second is the ease with which Bush can now impose martial law, a result also made possible with the indispensable aid of many Democrats; and the third is the bipartisan drive toward an attack on Iran. See the earlier essay for the details.

About the fourth and final blade, the criminal occupation of Iraq which the Democrats have no intention of ending for years and, more likely, decades to come, I wrote:
If we are fortunate enough to make it through the remainder of Bush's term without a U.S. attack on Iran, it will not be because of anything anyone has done to prevent it. No one has done anything to prevent it. It will simply be because we were lucky. But as the remarks from Hillary Clinton and every other leading Democrat make clear, the danger will not pass away with Bush's exit from the national stage. As long as our governing class and the foreign policy establishment remain committed to American global hegemony as our foundational foreign policy goal (see "Dominion Over the World" [and a more recent essay, "One Hundred Routes to War"]), I consider it certain that the U.S. will attack Iran at some point, if not during this administration, then probably during the next one.

The fourth blade is, of course, the unending occupation of Iraq. As I explained yesterday, it will be unending, even if the number of American troops is reduced to 50,000 or 70,000 in the next few years. We will be there for decades into the future; no prominent politician, Democrat or Republican, opposes that plan, which was the plan from the outset. As a number of knowledgeable people predicted prior to the Iraq invasion, Iran has been the primary victor in this imperial disaster. The episode with the British sailors recently demonstrated, as have any number of other incidents, that the longer we remain in Iraq, the greater the likelihood that some incident, real or manufactured, will lead to open conflict with Iran, and to the attack on Iran that every leading politician seems to long for. Our ruling elites are determined to effect "regime change" in Iran in any case, but a border incident or one of some other kind might hasten the schedule, and make a U.S. attack easier to "sell" to a gullible American public.

So we see how the fourth blade connects to the third, and how all the blades interconnect and multiply the dangers. We have already destroyed Iraq, and we may yet destroy Iran and much of the Middle East. We may cause an international economic collapse, or severe economic dislocation at a minimum. We may see the final end of liberty here at home, and the installation of a dictatorship via a declaration of martial law.

And almost no one speaks of the incomprehensible catastrophes that lie in wait. Almost no one takes action to prevent even one of them. Our lives proceed as if nothing at all unusual is transpiring in our world, either abroad or at home. Occasionally, a few people shout warnings. They are almost entirely ignored.

The blade is suspended above us. With every moment that passes, the rope that holds it back frays and weakens still more.

Death hangs in the air.

We will not move.
Now, with the news of the latest NIE about Iran, many people breathe sighs of relief, believing the danger has lessened. It has not, except perhaps for a tragically brief moment. Their relief, even in the smallest degree, reveals their inability and/or refusal to understand the lethal forces in play, and their inability and/or refusal to comprehend that those dangers continue on their murderous and bloody path.

And so we still refuse to move, even now.

Even now.

December 02, 2007

And Bring On Bette!

I do my very best to provide continued life to certain colorful, theatrical aspects of faggotry. Since many of you continue to think we're freaks, we're gonna entertain you, or at the very least ourselves, until you stop thinking and acting like bigoted morons. So I called upon Joan Crawford to explain the nuances and motivations of our murderous and genocidal foreign policy -- not once, "Joan Crawford Does Foreign Policy", but twice, "Indescribably Joan!" I am so over the top. There, I said it before you could. We're thoughtful, too. (And such talents for decorating and cooking!)

Now it's Bette Time.

Why might that be? you wonder, as you daringly shoot us furtive, longing glances. No need for concern, it'll be our little secret. A propos this from BooMan, answered in large part here. I want to note this passage from Booman, about an editor at Time magazine:
Understanding Priscilla Painton is important. What the hell is her problem? Is she self-consciously aware that her job is 'precisely to mold, variate, amplify, and disseminate a very particular kind of information' and that that information is false and serves Republican interests?
And right there, as IOZ explains in further detail, is the problem. BooMan, like most good online liberals and progressives, still believes that -- with regard to their most critical, most fundamental beliefs and purposes -- important differences exist between "Republican interests" and "Democratic interests."

It's Sunday, a good day for leisurely reading for those so inclined, and a good day for me not to repeat myself too much. I've been over this ground in detail in the last several months. For your consideration, for those so inclined:

The Elites Who Rule Us

It's Called the Ruling Class Because It Rules

Blinded by the Story

Once More into the Land of the Blind

Cui Bono? -- and Bush's Monstrous, Deadly Dare

The Barren, Deadly Wasteland that is Now Our Life

The Barren, Deadly Wasteland Further Considered, and the New Normal

There Is No "Lesser" Evil Now

Yes: I Told You So

And there are still others (you could, as is said, follow the links), but that will get you started. In addition, you must read the indispensable Chris Floyd -- with regard to this subject, particularly this essay (which I discussed here), and this recent one. That last-linked essay deals with the Democratic leadership's recent enthusiastic alignment with torture General Ricardo Sanchez, and Hillary Clinton's alignment with Colin Powell. Floyd writes:
What is perhaps most remarkable about all of this is that none of it is regarded as remarkable by the molders and mouthers of public opinion in the echo chamber of the political-media world. Should it not be scandalous for an "opposition" candidate – one nominally opposed to a disastrous war – to embrace a man who by all rights should be on trial for his key role in creating that disaster? Should it not be scandalous for an "opposition" party – one nominally opposed to the Administration's "lawlessness" – to embrace a man who by all rights should be on trial for his complicity in torture and atrocity?

But it is not scandalous – because the bipartisan American Establishment does not consider aggressive war, lawlessness and torture to be scandalous, as long as these crimes advance the interests – and flatter the prejudices and self-regard – of the elite. And if you wish to belong to this elite, to reap the rich bounty of such an inclusion, then you must embrace those who commit the crimes that maintain you in your marvelous privilege. You must accept whatever means are necessary to perpetuate the system that undergirds your lofty position.

To be sure, there will be quibbles over tactics, over points of emphasis, over specific policies, and whether or not they best serve the system; this happens under every form of government, even the most totalitarian. But the presence of politics in any given system has nothing to do with its moral content. And as we have seen this week, to play in the big leagues in the American system, you must openly signify your approval of aggressive war, deceit and torture. You must dip your hands in blood. And that is exactly what Hillary Clinton and the Democratic leadership have done -- yet again -- in the last week.
As I wrote at the conclusion of "The Barren, Deadly Wasteland Further Considered":
The Bush administration has announced to the world, and to all Americans, that this is what the United States now stands for: a vicious determination to dominate the world, criminal, genocidal wars of aggression, torture, and an increasingly brutal and brutalizing authoritarian state at home. That is what we stand for.

And who says otherwise? The Democrats could -- and the most forceful means of doing so, the only method that is appropriate to this historic moment, the method that is absolutely required if we are to turn away from this catastrophic, murderous course, is impeachment. That is the one method the Democrats will categorically, absolutely not utilize -- because the Democrats are a crucial, inextricable part of the identical authoritarian-corporatist system that has led us to these horrors. They have all worked toward this end over many decades, Democrats and Republicans alike, and now the horrors manifest themselves explicitly, without apology, even with the sickening boastfulness of the mass murderer who is proud of what he has done, and who vehemently believes he is right.

So the dare goes unanswered. These horrors are what the United States now stands for.
No, my friends, I haven't forgotten Bette. BooMan writes:
IOZ thinks we're clueless.
To which, our heroine of the moment -- in many respects, a deeply regrettable heroine in this incarnation, although in this specific moment she is, as is said, right on the money -- responds with deadly accuracy:
Blanche: You wouldn't be able to do these awful things to me if I weren't still in this chair.

Jane: But cha AAH, Blanche, ya AAH in that chair!
Unlike Blanche, the online liberals and progressives aren't paralyzed -- except in one crucial way, perhaps the crucial way: intellectually. Almost without exception, they are immovable by choice. Why don't they get out of the chair? They could, you know, if they chose to.

To further explain what's going on here, I see once again that I must finally begin my long-threatened series on contemporary political tribalism. It shall be done! In several days, though; I need to attend to a few other essays in progress first.