Letters to the editor, comments, etc (4)
A sort of blog, but without any claims to regularity - and all back-to-front
|23 February 2007.|
- Professor Ira Chernus' article, originally published the day before yesterday under the title Will we suffer from the Iraq syndrome? Beware of the boomerang on Tom Dispatch and a day later under the truncated title Beware the Iraqi boomerang on the Asia Times website, provides us with a brief, but thought provoking analysis of the what may be the future development of a polymorphic «Vietnam syndrome», one in which the so-called «backlash» is far more powerful than the «syndrome» itself. Professor Chernus writes :
The very idea of such a «syndrome» implied that what the Vietnam War had devastated was not so much the Vietnamese or their ruined land as the traumatized American psyche. As a concept, it served to mask, if not obliterate, many of the realities of the actual war. It also suggested that there was something pathological in a post-war fear of taking our arms and aims abroad, that America had indeed become (in Richard Nixon's famous phrase) a «pitiful, helpless giant», a basket case. ... Iraq -- both the war and the «syndrome» to come -- could easily evoke a similar set of urges: to evade a painful reality and ignore the lessons it should teach us. The thought that Americans are simply a collective neurotic head-case when it comes to the use of force could help sow similar seeds of insecurity that might -- after a pause -- again push our politics and culture back to a glorification of military power and imperial intervention as instruments of choice for seeking «security».What put an end to the US war on Indochina was not a sudden revulsion on the part of the citizens and residents of the United States for the death and destruction wreaked in their name on the peoples of Indochina, but a gradually increasing unwillingness to accept the growing costs of the war upon themselves, and the realisation on the part of their leaders that the war, which by that time had long since attained its primary objective - that of making excruciating clear to all the costs of pursuing a course of development opposed by the economic and political of the United States - was now destroying the country's army and indeed, the elite's ability to manipulate public opinion. «Cutting and running» - after placing the responsibility for maintaining an illusory balance of power on an equally illusory Government of the Republic of Vietnam, etc, and dropping extra plane-loads of bombs and napalm on the Indochinese peoples to give further expression to US displeasure - became the better part of valour, and we saw those shots of helicopters departing in unseemly haste from the symbolic places of US power in Vietnam. But as in Germany after WWI, the elite could not accept the fact that their reach had, however slightly, exceeded their grasp - and a new, US version of the old stab-in-the-back theory was launched, the more easily believed by a people who have been carefully taught to believe that the US exercise of power, in particular military power, in foreign lands is always an act of virtue, and that virtue - the good guys - always wins in the end, unless its purpose is subverted by traitors - the bad guys - at home. And so, as Professor Chernus writes, «[t]he desire to 'cure' the Vietnam syndrome became a springboard to unabashed, militant nationalism and a broad rightward turn in the nation's life».... If all this sounds distressingly familiar, it should, and it tends to demonstrate the validity of the aphorism that the only thing we learn from history is the fact that we learn nothing from history. Is it our primate genes that make us constitutionally incapable of controlling our greed and our lust for power, our self-serving gullibility, and our propensity for violence on a scale unknown to other species ? I do not know, but here below the letter I sent to the Asia Times (with a copy, as usual, to StumbleUpon) regarding Professor Chernus' article :
- As humans, we exhibit a propensity to compare and order more or less disparate entities into categories and, within each category, to make choices as to the excellence of the elements found therein. We see this in everything from the Nobel prizes awarded annually to persons judged to have, in their respective fields, «during the preceding year, ... conferred the greatest benefit on mankind», to Miss XX contests, and judgements as to the «100 best books of the last 1000 years». That such rankings, despite more or less serious attempts to lend them some sort of universal validity and objectivity, are deeply subjective is obvious upon even the most cursory consideration. But if I were to dare to take upon myself the parlous enterprise of selecting candidates for the «best» political article of 2007 after scarcely more than four and a half months of that year have passed, I should place my bets on Professor Chalmers Johnsons's Ending the Empire, published today on Tom Engelhardt's invaluable TomDispatch. Below, the letter of appreciation that I sent to Tom :
Dear Tom, Just as I thought you would, you - and Tom Dispatch - have come up with the goods - and in so brilliant and timely a fashion ! But then again, you could hardly have had better help : Professor Johnson seems to be one of the few (several other names, among them those of Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, also come to mind) in the United States able to grasp the uncomfortable truth - that the current problem cannot be reduced to one of the persons of Messrs Bush and Cheney, as many would have it, nor can it be adequately addressed by a simple change in the political party in power, even if that must be a part of any solution. The issue, rather, is the much larger one of Republic or Empire, Democracy at home or Tyranny both at home and abroad. As Professor Johnson puts it :16 September 2007.
... the war itself is the outcome of an imperial presidency and the abject failure of Congress to perform its Constitutional duty of oversight. Had the government been working as the authors of the Constitution intended, the war could not have occurred. Even now, the Democratic majority remains reluctant to use its power of the purse to cut off funding for the war, thereby ending the American occupation of Iraq and starting to curtail the ever-growing power of the military-industrial complex. ...It is you, the residents of the United States who must make this fearful choice ; we in the rest of the world have little say in the matter, as our ability to resist the military power exercised in your name is limited, and attempts to do so risk setting off the very conflagration we wish to avoid. Or, in Professor Johnson's words :
The American people must make the decision to dismantle both the empire that has been created in their name and the huge (still growing) military establishment that undergirds it. It is a task at least comparable to that undertaken by the British government when, after World War II, it liquidated the British Empire. By doing so, Britain avoided the fate of the Roman Republic -- becoming a domestic tyranny and losing its democracy, as would have been required if it had continued to try to dominate much of the world by force. For the U.S., the decision to mount such a campaign of imperial liquidation may already come too late, given the vast and deeply entrenched interests of the military-industrial complex. To succeed, such an endeavor might virtually require a revolutionary mobilization of the American citizenry, one at least comparable to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. ... The American approach to diplomatic relations with the rest of the world would also require a major overhaul. We would have to end our belligerent unilateralism toward other countries as well as our scofflaw behavior regarding international law. ... In terms of the organization of the executive branch, we need to rewrite the National Security Act of 1947, taking away from the CIA all functions that involve sabotage, torture, subversion, overseas election rigging, rendition, and other forms of clandestine activity. The president should be deprived of his power to order these types of operations except with the explicit advice and consent of the Senate. The CIA should basically devote itself to the collection and analysis of foreign intelligence. We should eliminate as much secrecy as possible so that neither the CIA, nor any other comparable organization ever again becomes the president's private army. ... Normally, a proposed list of reforms like this would simply be rejected as utopian. I understand this reaction. I do want to stress, however, that failure to undertake such reforms would mean condemning the United States to the fate that befell the Roman Republic and all other empires since then. That is why I gave my book Nemesis the subtitle "The Last Days of the American Republic." When Ronald Reagan coined the phrase "evil empire," he was referring to the Soviet Union, and I basically agreed with him that the USSR needed to be contained and checkmated. But today it is the U.S. that is widely perceived as an evil empire and world forces are gathering to stop us. The Bush administration insists that if we leave Iraq our enemies will "win" or -- even more improbably -- "follow us home." I believe that, if we leave Iraq and our other imperial enclaves, we can regain the moral high ground and disavow the need for a foreign policy based on preventive war. I also believe that unless we follow this path, we will lose our democracy and then it will not matter much what else we lose. In the immortal words of Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us."To those who ask «What is to be done ?», Professor Johnson has spelled out the alternatives clearly. Will it be done ? I am not optimistic. But thank you once again for publishing Professor Johnson's clear-sighted and moving analysis.... Henri
- In a review of Alan Greenspan's new book In the age of turbulence: Adventures in a new world, Guardian correspondents Peter Beaumont and Joanna Walters cite the former head of the USA's Federal Reserve Corporation : «I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.» At the same time, they refer to a new survey by the British polling organisation ORB that suggests that some 1.2 million Iraqis have died as the result of the US/UK war of aggression :
More than one million deaths were already being suggested by anti-war campaigners, but such high counts have consistently been rejected by US and UK officials. The estimates, extrapolated from a sample of 1,461 adults around the country, were collected by a British polling agency, ORB, which asked a random selection of Iraqis how many people living in their household had died as a result of the violence rather than from natural causes. Previous estimates gave a range between 390,000 and 940,000, the most prominent of which - collected by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and reported in the Lancet in October 2006 - suggested 654,965 deaths. [Beaumont and Walters - or their editors in London - have here misunderstood the reports : the figures 390000 and 940000 represent the outer limits of 95 % confidence interval arrived at in the same Johns Hopkins survey published by the Lancet in October 2006, which estimated the number of excess deaths due to the war during the first three years of that conflict (which now is entering its fifth year, with no end in sight) at 655000. Not surprisingly, the Bush administration has consistently reporteded ludicrously low figures when reporting any at all, claiming, e g, 30000 civilian dead «more or less» in December 2005, and dismissing the John Hopkins survey («I don't consider it a credible report») when it appeared nearly a year ago.] Although the household survey was carried out by a polling organisation, rather than researchers, it has again raised the spectre that the 2003 invasion has caused a far more substantial death toll than officially acknowledged.The article raises, to my mind, certain questions which go far beyond the boundaries of a tortured Iraq ;below, my brief response as posted to StumbleUpon :
- Today's Information Clearing House - one of the most essential organs for anyone with the English language at his or her disposal who wishes to remain à jour with what is happening behind that which seems to be happening in our little world - has published a must-read article, entitled The Tibet Card by Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich. Her article being so brief, I permit myself in the following to quote from it extensively :
During the Vietnam era, the United States eagerly supported the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, a man who brutally oppressed the Buddhists; yet today our government has risen in defense of the Dalai Lama and Tibet. Has our sordid history finally led to compassion for the people of Tibet? One must wonder which people we want to protect for there are 41 races in Tibet, including Tibetan, Menpa, Luopa, Han Chinese, Hui, Sherpa, Deng, and so on; although by far, the majority are Tibetans. Perhaps the US is reaching out to the Dalai Lama - again?It would seem, however, that the risk that the United States government will dispatch its «ally», the Dalai Lama, as readily as it dispatched Ngo Dinh Diem when the latter couldn't deliver the goods is very small ; after all, the task assigned to Tenzin Gyatso is much less arduous than that assigned to Ngo Dinh Diem, who was to keep the southern half of Vietnam safely within the Empire's grasp. All the former has to do is help to keep the present Chinese government off balance, and draw attention from the egregious human rights violations being actively committed by the United States (and its «coalition of the willing» around the globe. At this, the Dalai Lama seems to be quite adroit - at least for readers and, not least, watchers of our corporate media, which have projected into our minds an image of an ancient Shangri-La which is being pillaged and ravished by the dastardly Chinese (by which is meant the majority, Han, population of China ; in the so-called «Western» media, none of the non-Han «minority peoples» are to be regarded as Chinese, whatever their contribution to the civilisation we subsume by that name. As can be expected, this mythical version of a peaceful paradise hardly stands up to scrutiny (which, of course, is why it almost never receives such scrutiny) ; as pointed out in Michael Parenti's brief essay, Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth,
A reading of Tibet’s history suggests a somewhat different picture. “Religious conflict was commonplace in old Tibet,” writes one western Buddhist practitioner. “History belies the Shangri-La image of Tibetan lamas and their followers living together in mutual tolerance and nonviolent goodwill. Indeed, the situation was quite different. Old Tibet was much more like Europe during the religious wars of the Counterreformation.” 5 In the thirteenth century, Emperor Kublai Khan created the first Grand Lama, who was to preside over all the other lamas as might a pope over his bishops. Several centuries later, the Emperor of China sent an army into Tibet to support the Grand Lama, an ambitious 25-year-old man, who then gave himself the title of Dalai (Ocean) Lama, ruler of all Tibet. Here is a historical irony: the first Dalai Lama was installed by a Chinese army. His two previous lama “incarnations” were then retroactively recognized as his predecessors, thereby transforming the 1st Dalai Lama into the 3rd Dalai Lama. This 1st (or 3rd) Dalai Lama seized monasteries that did not belong to his sect, and is believed to have destroyed Buddhist writings that conflicted with his claim to divinity. The Dalai Lama who succeeded him pursued a sybaritic life, enjoying many mistresses, partying with friends, and acting in other ways deemed unfitting for an incarnate deity. For these transgressions he was murdered by his priests. Within 170 years, despite their recognized divine status, five Dalai Lamas were killed by their high priests or other courtiers. 6 For hundreds of years competing Tibetan Buddhist sects engaged in bitterly violent clashes and summary executions. In 1660, the 5th Dalai Lama was faced with a rebellion in Tsang province, the stronghold of the rival Kagyu sect with its high lama known as the Karmapa. The 5th Dalai Lama called for harsh retribution against the rebels, directing the Mongol army to obliterate the male and female lines, and the offspring too “like eggs smashed against rocks…. In short, annihilate any traces of them, even their names.” 7 In 1792, many Kagyu monasteries were confiscated and their monks were forcibly converted to the Gelug sect (the Dalai Lama’s denomination). The Gelug school, known also as the “Yellow Hats,” showed little tolerance or willingness to mix their teachings with other Buddhist sects. In the words of one of their traditional prayers: “Praise to you, violent god of the Yellow Hat teachings/who reduces to particles of dust/ great beings, high officials and ordinary people/ who pollute and corrupt the Gelug doctrine.” 8 An eighteenth-century memoir of a Tibetan general depicts sectarian strife among Buddhists that is as brutal and bloody as any religious conflict might be. 9 This grim history remains largely unvisited by present-day followers of Tibetan Buddhism in the West.[For the references, and more on Tibet during the first half of the last century, which may strike some as more relevant to our discourse, as they touch on the present, 14th (or 12th, depending upon how one wishes to count) Dalai Lama, please see both Ms Sepahpour-Ulrich's and Professor Parenti's orginal articles, accessible via the links above.]Let us return to Ms Sepahpour-Ulrich's article. She has the temerity to indicate that other interests than «human rights» may play a role in the concern exhibited by the US and certain other countries for the plight of one group among the population of Tibet :
What is the reason behind America’s sudden interest in Tibet, the Buddhist ideology of 1649 Dalai Lama preserving animal and nature (we certainly could be preserving nature at home) or is it what is under nature? Tibet has the world’s largest reserve of uranium, and in addition to gold and copper, large quantities of oil and gas were discovered in Qiangtang Basin in western China's remote Tibet area[iii]. A friendly Dalai Lama would help reimburse the CIA subsidies, and much more.While it is certainly true that the government of the United States (and that of its «allies») would very much like to gain control over these resources - and moreover, has shown itself more than willing to go to war to secure them, I think, as also Ms Sepahpour-Ulrich seems to do (see below), that this is not the major factor in determining the present policy ; it seems unlikely that the rulers of the United States would prove as successful in splitting China and installing client states on the periphery of the rump as they were in the case of the Soviet Union, and my best guess is that they are very much aware of this fact. (This is not to say, however, that any opportunities in that direction will be overlooked....) There are other more important factors. Israel’s interest is undeniable. In fact, they have been helping this ancient green land with ‘agriculture techniques’ in recent years[iv]. Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor, is recruiting fellow Nobel winners to press China on Tibet. Other notables such as Spielberg have already cooperated, and Sarkozy is considering boycotting the Olympics. One has to ask why these humanitarians are not concerned with the well-being of 1.4 million Palestinians described by the UN and the ICRC as being subjected to worst possible human disaster witnessed. China has always shown reluctance to impose sanctions on Iran. From an Israeli and American perspective, China became a veritable short-term liability (versus a long term power challenging the US) when Iran and China engaged in talks to allow for a military base for China in one of Iran’s Persian Gulf ports. This was in response to Sarkozy making an announcement that France and the UAE were negotiating a deal in which France would have a small base in that region. Such a cooperation between Iran and China would make Iran less vulnerable to an attack by Israel and/or the United States. I do not wish here to deny that some people may be genuinely concerned with the fate of Tibetan people(s) and convinced that what we there are witnessing (through the eyes of our corporate media) is a Manichaean struggle beween the forces of light - represented by the Dalai Lama and his group and certain monks in Tibet, backed by such idealistic practitoners of human rights as the guide to policy as George Walker Bush, Richard Bruce Cheney, and Nicolas Paul Stéphane Sárközy de Nagy-Bócsao (not to mention assorted Hollywood actors, who know - or whose managers know - a good publicity stunt when they see one) on the one hand, and the forces of darkness, represented by the Chinese government (and behind that goverment, die gelbe Gefahr, the great mass of the Chinese people. But these well-meaning people are not the «movers and shakers» behind the policies which may yet again cause more suffering on the «Roof of the World» ; they are merely, as always, those in whose name these policies are carried out.... Below, in any event, my brief response to Ms Sepahpour-Ulrich's article. as posted to Information Clearing House and my StumbleUpon page :
- The Great Game is on again, it seems, but this time 'round, the United States is not the only major player involved ; instead, as Professor Chossudovsky points out in this insightful analysis, Washington's man in Tbilisi, Mikheil Saakashvili, by using the occasion of the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing* to launch an all-out attack on South Ossetia, and thereby, according to news reports, succeeding in destroying much of the capital Tskhinvali and killing some 1500 residents (a majority of which, as usual in this kind of attack, were civilians) managed also to draw in Russia. As a consequence, the «victory» of Georgian (or US and Israeli) arms was not long-lasting, however, and shortly the Georgian troops found themselves in full retreat, pounded by the Russian military. Much can be said about this matter, and much that is hidden now will no doubt come to light in drips and drabs during the course of the next thirty years, but with regard to the outstanding question - what's next ? - what seems most important is whether Saakashvili's foreign «advisors» tried but failed to restrain him (he has, as Jonathon Steele points out in the Guardian a (well-deserved) reputation as a «hot head», or whether, on the contrary, as Professor Chossudovky seems to indicate here, his handlers rather made use of this character flaw, employing him as a pawn to draw Russia into a conflict from which she may find it difficult to extract herself. «Conspiracy theory !» some will cry, but conspiracies are what Departments of State and Foreign Ministries and intelligence agencies, etc, etc are for, and as any psychologist can tell you, the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. After all, the US has pulled this stunt previously ; smarting from its forced retreat from Indochina, it decided to create a situation in Afghanistan in which the Soviet leadership would find itself forced to intervene - quite successfully, as a matter fact, as Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzeziński has been bragging about ever since. But today's Russia is hardly the same as the Soviet Union of thirty years ago, nor are Bush/Cheney/Rice the same as Carter/Brzeziński or Putin/Medvedev the same as an aging Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev. My guess, for what it is worth, is that Russia will speedily agree to a cease-fire when all Georgian troops have been driven from South Ossetia and probably from Abkhazia as well (which latter would involve their retreat from the Kodori Valley, occupied (or «liberated», depending upon one's point of view) by Georgian troops in 2006). That Messrs Putin and Medvedev would be so imprudent as to attempt an occupation of Georgia seems to me unlikely in the extreme - as for Mr Saakashvili, he is now thoroughly discredited and when the patriotic fervour in Georgia cools, he will probably not survive the maelstrom of Georgian politics, which is not especially kind to those who have gambled with the nation's destiny and lost. Personally, I should like to see Mr Saakashvili answer to a tribunal in Den Haag for the entirely unnecessary loss of lives his foolhardy policies have caused. (Were his bagmen to join him there, my cup would run over, but I suppose that is too much to ask of le meilleur monde possible).... **My guess is that the Chinese leadership are quietly fuming at this violation of the «Olympic Truce» and blatant attempt to steal the thunder of the opening of the Games, but careful and prudent as they usually are, will say nothing, as their vital interests are not touched. But I doubt they are particularly impressed with the statecraft of the United States....