A People's History of American Empire
By Howard Zinn - Video 8 min
Empire or Humanity? What the Classroom Didn't Teach Me about the American Empire by Howard Zinn.
Narrated by Viggo Mortensen Art by Mike Konopacki Video editing by Eric Wold
A People's History of American Empire
By Howard Zinn - Video 8 min
Empire or Humanity? What the Classroom Didn't Teach Me about the American Empire by Howard Zinn.
Narrated by Viggo Mortensen Art by Mike Konopacki Video editing by Eric Wold
By Paul Craig Roberts
Barack Obama’s Whitewashed History of U.S. Foreign Policy
By Paul Street
Go To Original
The United States has a solution for avoiding discussion of the many crimes it has committed against weaker nations: denial. “It never happened,” say the Americans, when confronted with the facts. Barack Obama is as skilled in the denial arts as anyone, and so are his advisors. “In Obama's world view, as in that of his Harvard friend and former foreign policy adviser Samantha Power, American crimes generally don't exist. They didn't happen.” Denial is serious business. “Candidate Obama's foreign policy pronouncements have been loaded with promises of future criminality under an Obama administration.”
Under the rules of "mainstream" political discourse in the United States, crimes are committed by evil others, never by noble "America." Bad things are done by "them," but not by "us." "They" often have malevolent intent but "we" are fundamentally good, driven by the highest and most noble objectives: peace, democracy, and liberty.
From the end of World War Two through the present, the U.S. Empire has caused "the extinction and suffering of countless human beings. The United States," John Pilger notes, "attempted to overthrow fifty governments, many of them democracies, and to crush thirty popular movements fighting tyrannical regimes. In the process, twenty-five countries were bombed, causing the loss of several million lives and the despair of millions more" (John Pilger, Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire [New York: Nation Books, 2007], pp. 4-5].
The leading imperial crimes include a massive U.S. assault on the peasant nation of Vietnam - an epic attack that killed 3 million Indochinese - and a continuing illegal invasion of oil-rich Mesopotamia. The latter attack has led to the premature death of 1.2 million Iraqis. .
But in the U.S, and indeed across much of the West, the record of this ongoing criminality is airbrushed out from official history and the mass culture. It is tossed down George Orwell's "memory hole," consistent with Big Brother's dictum in Nineteen Eighty Four: "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." As Harold Pinter noted in his biting acceptance of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature, dominant Western cultural authorities behave as if "it never happened." When it comes to America's saga of monumental transgression against civilized norms and international law, "nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening," Pinter added, "it never happened. It didn't matter. It was of no interest" (quoted in Pilger, Freedom Next Time, p. 4).
Dominant U.S.-led Western cultural codes mandate that the only victims worthy of acknowledgement and compassion are those assaulted by officially designated enemies. The larger number victimized by us and our clients and allies (e.g., the Palestinians suffering under Israeli occupation and apartheid) do not merit consideration, sympathy, or even acknowledgement. They didn't happen. They don't exist.
Beyond the question of historical accuracy, the problem here is that powerful nations who deny the occurrence of past transgressions are likely to commit new ones.
Denouncing Wright, Praising George I’s War on Iraq
Which brings us to the avowed "American exceptionalist"  Barack Obama, who enjoys support from a large number of so-called left-liberal voters who want very badly to believe that he is a "progressive" opponent of American war, imperialism and militarism. As he has shown in his comments denouncing Reverend Jeremiah Wright and praising the military "service" of John McCain, Obama is more than ready to wipe "magical" America's historical slate clean when it comes to imperial crimes. Obama denounces Wright because the good Reverend dares to acknowledge and denounce the bloody and dangerous - for states that practice terrorism abroad must expect to face terrorism there and at home - and living American history of imperial atrocity, illegality, and arrogance. McCain is lauded as "American war hero" despite the fact that he was an eager participant in a massive imperial assault on the men, women, and children of a poor peasant nation who posed no danger to the people of America.
Speaking in a high school gymnasium in Greensburg, Pa. last April, Obama said he wanted to return America to the more "traditional" foreign policy of such past presidents as "George Bush's father, or John F. Kennedy," and "in some respects, Ronald Reagan." He spoke in flattering and favorable terms of the way George H.W. Bush handled the supposedly virtuous first Persian Gulf War. The Associated Press article reporting this comment was titled "Obama Align Foreign Policy With GOP" - a rebuke to left-liberal writers who argue that the centrist Obama stands to the recognizably progressive side of Hillary Clinton at least on foreign policy.
Nobody in the mainstream commentariat acted on (or likely even remotely felt ) the urge to point out that Bush I's assault on Iraq involved heinous Superpower butchery, including the bombing and bulldozing to death of thousands of surrendered Iraqi soldiers and the decision to let Saddam Hussein slaughter Kurds and Shiites the U.S. had initially encouraged to rebel. Iraq is still dealing with epidemic cancers caused by American deployment of depleted uranium in the first one-sided Iraq "war," described by many participants as a one-sided "turkey shoot."
As Obama knows, such crimes never happened. They are of no interest.
”The hope of a young lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta”
Obama's eagerness to whitewash the dark record of U.S. foreign policy is hardly just a 2008 thing. Take a look at the following passage from his instantly famous Keynote Address to the 2004 Democratic Convention (the one that catapulted him to overnight celebrity), where he said the following about his repeatedly invoked concept of "hope:"
"I'm not talking about blind optimism here - the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don't talk about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. I'm talking about something more substantial. It's the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a mill worker's son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too... In the end, that is God's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation; a belief in things not seen; a belief that there are better days ahead."
The "young naval lieutenant line" was a reference to John F. Kerry's participation in the invasion of South Vietnam. It took no small chutzpah for Obama to lump African-American slaves' struggles and spirituality with the racist U.S. "crucifixion of Southeast Asia" (Noam Chomsky) under the image of noble Americans wishing together for a better future. Perhaps "God" gave Nazi executioners and Nazi victims the shared gift of hoping for "better days ahead."
It was not clear who or what told Obama that the Mekong Delta was Kerry and his superiors' territory to "patrol." Perhaps it was the same arrogant, nationalist and racist sensibilities that gave 19th century white Americans permission to own slaves and murder and steal land from Mexico and the indigenous first "American" nations and which allowed the Bush administration to attempt to seize Iraq as a colonial possession.
The Wonderful Work of Those Wise White Wilsonians
Obama's eager willingness to whitewash U.S. foreign policy history in accord with the Orwellian requirements of dominant imperial canon was demonstrated in the foreign relations chapter of his bestselling 2006 campaign book The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (New York: Crown, 2006). Bearing the grandiose title "The World Beyond Our Borders," this chapter displayed rigid acceptance of the doctrinal notion that the United States' foreign policies have long and consistently advanced "shared ideas of freedom" and the "rule of law" and "international institutions." It praised the wonderful (for Obama) "post-[World War Two] leadership of president Truman, Dean Acheson, George Marshall and George Kennan" for "craft[ing]...a new...order that married [Woodrow] Wilsonian idealism to hardheaded realism, an acceptance of American power with a humility regarding America's ability to control events around the world" (Obama, Audacity of Hope, p. 284). The benevolent, wise "Wilsonian" architects of the postwar Pax Americana, Obama claimed in Audacity, sought a "democratic" world order in which the U.S. countered the limitless "totalitarian" Soviet threat and "signaled a willingness to show restraint in the exercise of its power" (Obama, Audacity of Hope, p. 285).
This was remarkably sterile and reactionary commentary on such memorable moments in American "humility" as the arch-criminal atom-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (mass-murderous shots across the bow of the emerging Cold War), the enormous imperial assaults on Korea and Indochina (millions of "enemy" civilians dead), the U.S. restoration of fascist power in "liberated" Italy, the intervention against popular social revolution in Greece (smeared as a Soviet export by U.S. policymakers in order to "Scare the Hell out of the American people" to garner support for massive new imperial "defense" expenditures) and the U.S. subversion of democracy and national independence across the planet. Iran (1953), Dominican Republic (1965), Guatemala (1954), Chile (1970-1973), Indonesia (1965) are just some of the more spectacular examples in a list that goes on and on.
Washington consistently justified its remarkable record of global criminality after World War II with a great enabling myth that Obama eagerly embraces: the existence of a Soviet Union willing and able "to spread [in Obama's words] its totalitarian brand of communism" (Obama, Audacity of Hope, p. 204). Under the guise of protecting the world from that imperially useful but non-existent threat - honest U.S. assessments acknowledged that the real Soviet danger was that USSR modeled the possibility of independent national development outside the parameters of U.S.-led world-capitalist supervision and indicating an impermissible refusal "to complement the industrial economies of the West" (William Yandell Elliot, ed., The Political Economy of American Foreign Policy [New York: Holt, Reinhart & Winston, 1955], p. 42; Noam Chomsky, Deterring Democracy [New York: Hill and Wang, 1991], p.26) - Obama's "hardheaded" "Wilsonians" ordered the murder (preferably via proxy agents like the Indonesian Suharto regime and the Shah of Iran) of untold "Third World" millions.
Humble "restraint" in the "exercise of [U.S.] power" is not the first description that comes into the mind of one who takes an honest and comprehensive look at that troubling record.
It was all very consistent with the "idealistic" history of the actual (Woodrow) Wilson administration, whose "extreme racism" (Noam Chomsky, World Orders Old and New [New York: Columbia University Press, 1996], p. 44) found grisly expression in the brutal U.S. invasions of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. As Noam Chomsky observes, "Wilson's troops murdered, destroyed, reinstituted virtual slavery and demolished the constitutional system in Haiti." These actions followed in accord with Wilson Secretary of State Robert Lansing's belief that "the African race are devoid of any capacity for political organization" and possessed "an inherent tendency to revert to savagery and to cast aside the shackles of civilization which are irksome to their physical nature." As Chomsky notes, "while supervising the takeover of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Wilson built his reputation as a lofty idealist defending self-determination and the rights of small nations with impressive oratory. [But] there is no contradiction [because] Wilsonian doctrine was restricted to people of the right sort: those ‘at a low stage of civilization' need not apply" for the rights of democracy and self-determination (Noam Chomsky, Year 501: The Conquest Continues [Boston, MA: South End, 1993], pp. 202-203).
Racism aside, Lansing said that the effective meaning of the Monroe Doctrine was simply that "the United States considers its own interests. The integrity of other American nations is an incident, not an end" (Lansing is quoted in Chomsky, What Uncle Sam Really Wants [Berkeley, CA: 1992], p. 11). Wilson agreed, but found it politically unwise to say so publicly.
Such high "idealistic" sentiments certainly informed a noble Wilsonian intervention against the Russian Revolution in 1918 and 1919.
Of course, none of this non-existent history prevents Obama from praising Wilson for seeing that "it was in America's interest to encourage the self-determination of all peoples and provide the world a legal framework that could help avoid future conflicts" (Obama, Audacity, p. 283).
“Our Struggle Against Fascism”
Historical deletion was a major problem with an essay Obama published in the establishment journal Foreign Affairs in the summer of 2007. Titled "Renewing America's Leadership," this 5000-word article began by praising Franklin Delano Roosevelt for "buil[ding] the most formidable military the world had ever known" and for giving "purpose to our struggle against fascism" with his "Four Freedoms."
Much of Obama's treatise was dedicated to the erasure of Washington's past imperial criminality. "At moments of great peril in the last century," Obama wrote, "American leaders such as Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy managed both to protect the American people and to expand opportunity for the next generation. What is more, they ensured that America, by deed and example, led and lifted the world - that we stood for and fought for the freedoms sought by billions of people beyond our borders."
It was interesting that Obama's essay never named the "Four Freedoms": freedom of speech and expression, freedom from want, freedom from fear and freedom of worship. One likely explanation for that deletion was that U.S policymakers from Roosevelt II through Kennedy (and beyond) regularly violated most of them in the enforcement of their particular imperial concept of the "national interest." During the middle and late 1930s, US policymakers helped enable the rise of European fascism that culminated in Hitler's march of terror. The US watched with approval as Fascist darkness set over Europe during the inter-war years. American policymakers saw Italian, Spanish, German and other strains of the European fascist disease as a welcome counters to "the Soviet threat" - essentially the demonstration Russia made of the possibilities for national outside the capitalist world system - and to Left movements, parties and related social-democratic policy drifts within Western Europe.
In 1937, Roosevelt's U.S. State Department's European Division argued that European fascism was compatible with America's economic interests. This key diplomatic agency reported that fascism's rise was a natural response of "the rich and middle classes" to the threat posed by "dissatisfied masses," who, with the "the example of the Russian Revolution before them," might "swing to the left." Fascism, the State Department argued, "must succeed or the masses, this time reinforced by the disillusioned middle class, will again turn to the left." The French Popular Front government of the middle 1930s was an example of the democratic socialist threat that made German fascism acceptable to American officials before Hitler launched his drive for a New World Order (Noam Chomsky, Deterring Democracy [New York: Hill and Wang, 1991], p. 41).
It is true that Nazi Germany became an avowed U.S. enemy during WWII. This did not occur, however, until fascism, holding power in two leading rival industrial states, directly attacked U.S. interests. American policymakers intervened against fascism on the basis of perceived national self-interest, not out of any particular concern for the human rights of the French or, for that matter, European Jews or anyone else (Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States [New York: HarperPerennial, 2003], pp. 407-410; Chomsky, Deterring Democracy, pp. 37-42).
“Our Real Task”
But back to noble America's compassionate "restraint in the exercise of its power" in the post-WWII era that was so beautifully guided by the likes of George Kennan and Dean Acheson. After the "good war," America's accommodation of European and Asian fascism in the inter-war period became something of a model for U.S. Third World policy. In the name of resisting supposedly expansionist Soviet influence and "communism," the U.S. sponsored, funded, equipped, and provided political cover for numerous "Third World fascist" regimes. In doing so, it enlisted and protected numerous Nazi War criminals (e.g. Klaus Barbie) deemed to possess useful anti-Left "counter-insurgency" skills (Chomsky, What Uncle Sam Really Wants, pp. 14-25).
To grasp some of the "hardheaded realism" behind such U.S. Cold War policies as the sponsorship of vicious military dictatorships in Indonesia, Iran, Greece and Brazil (to name just a few "Free World" partners), we can consult an interesting formulation from Obama's wise "Wilsonian" hero George Kennan. As Kennan explained in Policy Planning Study 23, crafted for the State Department in 1948:
"We have about 50 percent of the world's wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population...In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity...to do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives...We should cease to talk about vague and ...unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are hampered by idealistic slogans, the better."
Later Kennan would explain the need to crush those who refused to serve U.S. interests in the Third World (defined as "communists") by any means necessary: "The final answer might be an unpleasant one, but...we should not hesitate before police repression by the local government. This is not shameful since the Communists are traitors...It is better to have a strong regime in power than a liberal government if it is indulgent and relaxed and penetrated by Communists" (quoted in Noam Chomsky, What Uncle Sam Really Wants, p. 11).
The directly and indirectly U.S.-slaughtered millions of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia (the last were victims of what Obama's Audacity of Hope charitably called a "morally rudderless" U.S. bombing campaign ) and Central America stand as grisly but - inside the "inverted totalitarian" United States (see Sheldon Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008) and much of the West - officially invisible testimony to Uncle Sam's marvelous "restraint." And so do the countless other Asians, Africans and Latin Americans who suffered under oppressive dictatorships and ruling classes routinely funded and equipped by "the watchtower on the walls of freedom" (as Obama's hero John Fitzgerald Kennedy once described the United States) in the name of the mythic battle against messianic Soviet expansionism - victims of what Obama's Audacity of Hope called the United States' "occasional encouragement of tyranny...when it served our interests (Obama, Audacity of Hope, p. 279).
Such "unworthy victims" of U.S. foreign policy stand as tragic historical testimony to the dark secret behind the United States' passionately declared commitment to "democracy" during the Cold War: the United States supported popular governance and national self determination abroad only in the rare incidents when and where (never and nowhere or close to it) these principles were deemed consistent with "American" global aims determined by the U.S. power elite.
The officially nonexistent historical casualty roster includes murdered East-Timorese masses butchered by a nearly genocidal Indonesian invasion that the Gerald Ford White House approved and could have prevented with one phone call. It was a call that Ford and his secretary of State Henry Kissinger restrained themselves from making. Obama deleted the Timor atrocities from his reflections in The Audacity of Hope on what he learned about "Indonesia's subsequent history" after he lived in that country as a young boy during the 1960s. In Obama's world view, as in that of his Harvard friend and former foreign policy adviser Samantha Power, American crimes generally don't exist. They didn't happen .
The Biggest Casualty of that War”
Obama's nationalistic and whitewashed take on the history of U.S. foreign relations was starkly evident in The Audacity of Hope's reflections on the Vietnam War, an illegal U.S. invasion that killed at least 3 million Indochinese. By Obama's disturbing account:
"The disastrous consequences of that conflict - for our credibility and prestige abroad, for our armed forces (which would take a generation to recover), and most of all for those who fought - have been amply documented. But perhaps the biggest casualty of that war was the bond of trust between the American people and their government - and between Americans themselves. As a consequence of a more aggressive press corps and the images of body bags flooding into the living rooms, Americans began to realize that the best and the brightest in Washington didn't always know what they were doing - and didn't always tell the truth. Increasingly, many on the left voiced opposition not only to the Vietnam War but also to the broader aims of American foreign policy. In their view, President Johnson, General Westmoreland, the CIA, the ‘military industrial complex,' and international institutions like the World Bank were all manifestations of American arrogance, jingoism, racism, capitalism and imperialism. Those on the right responded in kind, laying responsibility for the loss of Vietnam but also for the decline of America's standing in the world squarely on the ‘blame America' first crowd - the protestors, the hippies, Jane Fonda, the Ivy League intellectuals and liberal media" (Obama, Audacity of Hope, pp. 287-288)
The Audacity of Hope  left it to alienated carpers of the "moral absolutist" (Obama's description of both the New Left and the New Right) Left to point out that Vietnam wasn't America's to "lose" and that the massive U.S assault on Indochina reflected U.S. foreign policy aims of subordinating Third World development to the perceived needs of U.S-supervised world capitalist order. It was left to deranged radicals to point out that the one-sided "war" was ordered by elites who were criminal - not just stupid or ignorant - and that many of the policy makers did "know [very well] what they were doing": murdering Vietnam
As for the supposed tragic fraying of the "bond of trust between the American people and their government," many "unrealistic" leftists (this author included) have sound reasons to think that the so-called "Vietnam Syndrome" - the often skeptical attitude of many Americans towards the militaristic pronouncements and war plans of their foreign policy "leaders" - is a very healthy thing. It's a welcome development, many progressives believe, whenever US citizens subject "their" foreign policy establishment to skeptical, even "distrustful" scrutiny. It's much to be applauded, many of us think, that during the late 1960s and early 1970s much of the American populace turned against a bloody colonial war in which "Fortunate Son" children of the "elite" were deemed too privileged to "serve." It's fantastic, many Americans rightly believe, that part of the population came to grasp the class and related racial domestic bases of the imperialism that Obama's campaign book portrayed as the mythological creation of left "caricature" (The Audacity of Hope, p. 288).
The Audacity of Hope neglected to note that the previous supposed "bond of trust" (whose dissolution Obama mourned) between the people and "their" government was based largely on establishment lies calculated to "scare the Hell of the American people" (US Senator Vandenburg in 1947) with crassly exaggerated global Soviet and "Communist" threats. The deceptions were meant to induce the U.S. populace to cower under the umbrella of the National Security State and to accept on faith the global and domestic proclamations of the American system's wise and benevolent managers.
Obama left it to irrelevant radicals and hopeless arch-iconoclasts to note that his frequently invoked icon Dr. Martin Luther King was among those "on the left" who saw the Vietnam War as an expression of the United States' broader imperialism and racism and of its related captivity to what former U.S. president and World War II Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower identified as the military industrial complex - a very real and easily identifiable political-economic entity that deserves to be mentioned without sarcastic quotations marks around it.
Also left for "unreasonable" "zealots" of the "unrealistic" radical fringe to note was the inconvenient truth that the "biggest casualt[ies]" of the remarkably one-sided Vietnam "war" - an exercise in imperial aggression that was fought entirely on illegally invaded Vietnamese (and Cambodian and Laotian) soil - was suffered by the people of Vietnam. The terrible U.S. GI body count (58,000 during the war and more through suicide since) pales before the millions of Vietnamese killed and the related astonishing damage done to Indochinese villages, cities, infrastructure, ecology, and agriculture. The number of South Vietnamese civilians killed just in the CIA's "Operation Phoenix" torture and assassination program was equivalent to 45 percent of the U.S. death total in Vietnam.
With perhaps as many 700,000 Iraqis killed by "Operation Iraqi Freedom" by the time The Audacity of Hope became a U.S. bestseller, moreover, the people of Iraq could be forgiven if they didn't share Obama's sense that it was a good thing for the U.S. Armed Forces to have "recover[ed]" after Vietnam.
As for Obama's daring observation that Vietnam indicated that U.S. foreign policy makers "didn't always tell the truth" (p. 287), it must be one of the most understated observations of elementary reality in the recorded history of campaign literature.
“Oura Own Defense Department: v. That Crazy Radical Jesus
The same perverse Orwellian historical deletion and distortion that characterized The Audacity of Hope's foreign policy chapter has been repeated again and again in Obama's various foreign policy speeches and in his Foreign Affairs essay. In all of these and other venues, Obama has been willing to function as what Pilger calls "the voice of the Council on Foreign Relations."
Here is a typical proclamation from Obama's voluminous record of imperial pronouncements beyond just his book: "At moments of great peril in the past century our leaders ensured that America, by deed and by example, led and lifted the world, that we stood and fought for the freedom sought by billions of people beyond their borders."
"That," John Pilger noted in Chicago last year, "is the nub of the propaganda, the brainwashing if you like, that seeps into the lives of every American, and many of us who are not Americans."
One of my (least) favorite Obama comments on U.S. foreign policy came in a speech that wasn't dedicated to that topic per se. At one point in his 2006 "Call to Renewal" conference keynote address on religious values, Obama inserted an interesting remark into a section of his address that criticized literalist interpretations of Christian scripture by noting that the Bible contains some truly wacky judgments and pronouncements:
"And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson's, or Al Sharpton's? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is an abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount - a passage so radical that is doubtful our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let's read our bibles." (Barack Obama, "Call to Renewal Keynote Address," Washington D.C., June 28, 2006, read at http://obama.senate.gov/speech/060628-call_to_renewal/index.php).
The "Sermon on the Mount" appears in the book of Matthew in the New Testament. It includes the following aphorisms from Jesus:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall attain mercy."
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly father will also forgive you."
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘you shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment."
"But whoever slaps you on your right check, turn the other to him also..."
"Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away."
"Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you."
"Take heed you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them."
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth...for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also"
"Whatever you want men to do, do also to them."
The problem with Obama's comment wasn't that he sensed contradiction between these sayings and the actions of the U.S. Pentagon. It is an understatement to say that the history of U.S. military behavior does not look terribly good in light of these statements. With millions of overseas civilians corpses as a result, "Christian" America's military and foreign policy over the last century and more - firmly dedicated to the expansion and preservation of the Few's "treasures on earth” - the last half century and more stands as a gruesome and monumental rejection of these and other maxims in Jesus' mountain-top speech to "the multitudes."
The real difficulty with Obama's aside is that he found that long-haired Sixties "radical" Jesus' pacifism and egalitarianism so over the top that they actually - imagine - lead one to question the benevolence and wisdom of "our own defense department” - as if the U.S. Pentagon was and is some sort of generally understood paragon of global peace and justice.
The majority of morally and politically cognizant humanity disagrees, pointing to the millions of victims of U.S. Empire - the countless faceless masses of killed and suffering humans who "didn't happen," who don't exist, and who are "of no interest" within the tragically narrow moral parameters of U.S. and Western political culture. By the nationally narcissistic American exceptionalist perspective of Obama's "Call to Renewal" address, this disagreement is on moral and intellectual part with supporting slavery or calling for the stoning of insufficiently religious 10-year-olds.
Let’s “Stop Trying to Put Iraq Back Together”
Building on his denial of past U.S. criminality, candidate Obama's foreign policy pronouncements have been loaded with promises of future criminality under an Obama administration. Obama's Foreign Affairs essay gave explicit reasons for people and states beyond U.S. borders to fear the prospect of an Obama White House. "The American moment is not over, but it must be seized anew," Obama proclaimed, adding that "we must lead the world by deed and by example" and "must not rule out using military force" in pursuit of "our vital interests."
The last three words harkened back to another Democratic imperialist's "Carter Doctrine," which updated the Monroe Doctrine for the global petro-capitalist era to include the Persian Gulf region in the United States' inviolable sphere of special interest and unilateral action). They constitute a code phrase with a useful imperial translation: "other nations' oil," located primarily in the Middle East.
"A strong military," Obama wrote in Foreign Affairs last year, "is, more than anything, necessary to sustain peace." We must "revitalize our military" (to foster "peace"), Obama declared, partly by adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 to the Marines. Here the junior Senator from Illinois echoed George Orwell's fictional totalitarian state of Oceana, which proclaimed that "War is Peace" and "Love is Hate."
And then Obama gave reasons to expect future unilateral and "preemptive" wars and occupations carried out in the name of the "war on terror" by an Obama White House. "We must retain the capacity to swiftly defeat any conventional threat to our country and our vital interests," Obama pronounced. "But we must also become better prepared to put boots on the ground in order to take on foes that fight asymmetrical and highly adaptive campaigns on a global scale." Reassuring the bipartisan imperialist establishment that he will not be hamstrung by international law and civilized norms when "our vital interests" (other peoples' petroleum, primarily) are "at stake," Obama added that "I will not hesitate to use force unilaterally, if necessary, to protect the American people or our vital interests wherever we are attacked or imminently threatened."
"We must also consider using military force in circumstances beyond self-defense," Obama added, "in order to provide for the common security that underpins global stability -- to support friends, participate in stability and reconstruction operations, or confront mass atrocities" (Barack Obama, "Renewing American Leadership," Foreign Affairs (July/August 2007), read online at http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20070701faessay86401/barack-obama/renewing-american-leadership.html).
As Glen Ford has observed, Obama has gone "out of his way to prove" that he is "no peace candidate" (Glen Ford, "Barack Obama the Warmonger," Black Agenda Report, August 8, 2007, read at www.blackagendareport.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=305&Itemid=34).
To be more precise, Obama has gone to elaborate lengths to prove his imperial credentials to the foreign policy establishment while posing as a peace candidate to the more gullible and less informed but predominantly antiwar voting majority. As part of that project, Obama studiously avoids any explicit reference to the blatant criminality and illegality of Bush's War on Iraq - a war that he promises (between the lines of his shifting, cunning, calibrated and deceptive rhetoric on "withdrawal") to continue.
He even claims, absurdly, that Bush II's transparently petro-imperialist and colonial invasion was motivated by a desire to "export democracy through the barrel of a gun" and even "to create a Jeffersonian democracy." Last February, Obama told autoworkers in Janesville, Wisconsin that "It's time to stop spending billions of dollars a week trying to put Iraq back together and start spending the money putting America back together" (WIFR Television, CBS 23, Rockford, Illinois, "Obama Speaks at General Motors in Janesville," February 13, 2008, read at http://www.wifr.com/morningshow/headlines/15618592.html).
Yes, "trying to put Iraq back together."
As Iraq was being pushed to the margins of the Democratic presidential debate (and of mainstream news) last January, the people of that occupied state suffered under the weight of what amounted to a U.S.-imposed Holocaust. While the media obsessed about a slightly racialized soap opera conflict between Hillary and Obama, Tom Engelhardt noted the following:
"Whether civilian dead between the invasion of 2003 and mid-2006 (before the worst year of civil-war level violence even hit) was in the range of 600,000 as a study in the British medical journal, The Lancet reported, or 150,000 as a recent World Health Organization study suggests, whether two million or 2.5 million Iraqis have fled the country, whether 1.1 million or more than two million have been displaced internally, whether electricity blackouts and water shortages have marginally increased or decreased, whether the country's health-care system is beyond resuscitation or could still be revived, whether Iraqi oil production has nearly crept back to the low point of the Saddam Hussein-era or not, whether fields of opium poppies are, for the first time, spreading across the country's agricultural lands or still relatively localized, Iraq is a continuing disaster zone on a catastrophic scale hard to match in recent memory" (Tom Engelhardt, "The Corpse on the Gurney: the Success Mantra in Iraq," Antiwar.com, January 18, 2008, read at www.antiwar.com/engelhardt/?articleid=12229).
According to the respected journalist Nir Rosen in the December 2007 edition of the mainstream journal Current History, "Iraq has been killed, never to rise again. The American occupation has been more disastrous than that of the Mongols who sacked Baghdad in the thirteenth century. Only fools talk of solutions now. There is no solution. The only hope is that perhaps the damage can be contained" (Nir Rosen, "The Death of Iraq," Current History, December 2007, p. 31).
Airbrushing and Cherry-Picking
As Obama's comments on Iraq suggest, it matters a great deal when top U.S. elected officials and candidates delete and deny past U.S crimes. Those in global power who fail to acknowledge the imperial crimes of the past are likely to repeat them in the present and future.
After reviewing Obama's biblical reflections and The Audacity of Hope's musings on the supposedly noble and benevolent, democratic record of past U.S. foreign policy - scarred only by occasional "strategic blunders" (but not moral crimes) like the Vietnam and Iraq Wars - I was reminded of an argument advanced by Chris Hedges in his book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (2006). It will not do, Hedges argued, for "mainstream Christians" who are appalled by the Christian Right's militaristic use of scripture to "cherry pick the Bible to create a Jesus and God who are always loving and compassionate. Such Christians," Hedges noted, "often fail to acknowledge that there are hateful passages in the Bible that give sacred authority to the rage, self-aggrandizement and intolerance of the Christian Right."
The Bible is loaded with such material, Hedges observed. Some of the worst is found in the Book of Revelation, which portrays a final and bloody battle between the forces of Good - led by a Warrior Christ that would make the messianic militarist and Middle Eastern Crusader George W. Bush proud - and the forces of evil. Concluding with great birds of prey feasting on the flesh of vanquished non-Christians, it is "a story of God's ruthless, terrifying and violent power unleashed on nonbelievers."
In Hedges' view, religious authorities should "denounce the biblical passages that champion apocalyptic violence and hateful political creeds...As long as scripture, blessed and accepted by the church, teaches that at the end of the time there will be a day of Wrath and Christians will control the shattered remnants of a world cleansed through violence and war, as long as it teaches that all non-believers will be tormented, destroyed and banished to Hell, it will be hard to thwart the message of radical apocalyptic preachers or assuage the fears of the Islamic world that Christians are calling for its annihilation."
Christians need to stop "airbrushing" the Bible, Hedges argued, if they want to "to assuage the fears of the Islamic world that Christians are calling for its annihilation." Christians seeking to advance a morally respectable version of their faith must acknowledge and repudiate scriptural passages that justify and promise mass messianic-militarist devastation for supposed spiritual enemies (Chris Hedges, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (New York: Free Press, 2006), pp. 5, 6, and 7).
A similar point could be made about the dominant civic religion of American exceptionalism at home and abroad. A policy maker who denies the existence and/or relevance of past racism is not a good candidate to seriously address racial oppression in the present. A candidate or office-holder who thinks the American historical story is one of endless progress and opportunity, classlessness, democracy and gentle cultural melding is not in a good position to meaningfully represent, understand and serve disadvantaged people or advance justice and democracy in the present and future. And U.S. presidential hopefuls who trumpet whitewashed perspectives on America's record of global transgression are candidates to advance deadly imperial crimes in the future. Obama's airbrushing out of past U.S. imperial arrogance and criminality is problematic for reasons that are more than merely academic.
1. "American exceptionalism" is the nationally narcissistic notion of the United States as a specially benevolent and far-seeing super-state who uses its power only for good and democratic purposes. The United States is seen as an inherently noble "city on the hill" that is beyond significant moral reproach. It is reflexively taken to be a special beacon of democracy and liberty that the world can learn from and emulate. Under "American exceptionalist" doctrine, there can be no serious moral, ideological, or legal criticism of the basic underlying motives, structures (class forces), and actors behind U.S. foreign policy. Obama has proclaimed his belief in American exceptionalism on numerous occasions. An early statement is Barack Obama, "Remarks of Barack Obama at the Knox College Commencement," June 4, 2005, read at www.barackobama.com.
2. The title of Obama's audaciously imperial book is lifted from an anti-imperial sermon given by his frankly anti-imperialist and "Afro-Centric" former pastor Jeremiah Wright. Wright's statements about and against U.S. racism and imperialism (fairly reflective of mainstream sentiment in the black community) have been used by the powerful American right-wing republican noise machine and U.S. corporate media to push the temperamentally and ideologically conservative and centrist Obama further to the right. Last spring, Obama denounced his insufficiently patriotic former minister, who once brought the future presidential candidate to Christianity and who presided over Obama's wedding and the baptism of Obama's children.
3. The main reason for Samantha Power's popularity in elite U.S. cultural and policy circles is her reflexive blindness to U.S. crimes. In her famous, award-winning book "A Problem From Hell: America and the Problem of Genocide" (New York: Basic, 2002), those monumental transgressions are nearly completely absent and the small number of cases treated are selectively interpreted through the lens of her paradigm asserting that our sole blemish is failing to respond adequately to the sins of others. See Edward S. Herman, "The Cruise Missile Left, Part 5: Samantha Power and the Genocide Gambit," ZNet Magazine (May 17, 2004), read at http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/8538; Edward S. Herman, "Response to Zinn on Samantha Power," ZNet Magazine (August 27, 2007), read at http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/14622.
If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It!
By Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich
On July 7th, U.S. navy announced that it would carry out exercises in the Persian Gulf. Commodore Peter Hudson claimed that these exercises were being carried out to protect “maritime infrastructure such as gas and oil installations”. As the expression goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. If in the 1980s the United States managed to fool the world into believing that it was protecting the crude oil passage with its naval build up in the Persian Gulf, 20 or so years later it can use the same argument and no one will be the wiser for it. After all, most people think that “relying on foreign oil” is a sin and any act, even ensuring the flow of ‘foreign oil’ justifies provocative U.S. action.
But before we send our boys to protect our interests in someone else’s back yard, lets examine what happened in the 80s that makes these brave men report for duty so readily, and confident in their success.
It has always been the U.S. position that it should be the only country allowed to dominate the region, notwithstanding Israel of course. When the war between Iran and Iraq broke out (1980-88), it gave Regan the perfect pretext to send the navy to ‘protect the passage of oil’. Later however, a Congressional report found that during 1981-1987, the U.S. naval buildup had made shipping more dangerous[i]. The aggressive naval buildup in the Persian Gulf was to provoke Iran into war in order to secure alliances in the region. It was no accident that in 1987, the U.S. fired on a UAE fishing boat thinking it was Iranian[ii].
Furthermore, while the U.S. has often declared that the shooting down of a civilian Iranian airliner and the killing of all 290 passengers by the Vicennes was an accident, the commander of another U.S. ship in the Persian Gulf has said that while "the conduct of Iranian military forces in the month preceding the incident was pointedly non-threatening," the actions of the Vicennes "appeared to be consistently aggressive”. The Vicennes inclination to kill ruthlessly earned it the nickname “Robo Cruiser”[iii]
At the cost of innocent lives, prompting the continuation of the Iran-Iraq war which many blame solely on Khomeini-- thanks to Washington, the U.S. reached its main objective. The tensions caused the Arab states to turn to the United States for security and protection in return for which, the U.S. built bases for expanding its empire and was paid for it. On a per capita basis, the Persian Gulf states are the biggest spenders of “protection money’. Bahrain pays a total of $53.4 million, Kuwait 252.9 million, Qatar 81.3, and United Arab Emirates $217.4 million[iv].
Mr. Bush is following in Reagan’s footsteps. With Israeli military maneuvers threatening war and provoking Iran without any protest from the international community, Mr. Bush has ordered a naval buildup in the Persian Gulf for ‘protecting’ the safe flow of oil. No doubt, the U.S. navy will be hard at work provoking Iran and the tension caused will enable the U.S. to demand more ‘protection money’ from the Arab states; even though they have been amply armed by the biggest arm-dealer in the world – the United States. Should Iran fail to respond to America’s provocations, no doubt a false flag operation will be substituted.
The navy is off to protect the $140 per barrel of oil which before the Iraq invasion was under $30/barrel. If history is any indication, the naval buildup, Israel’s bellicose and expansionist policies, the Iraq war, and Mr. Bush’s personal history of repeated failures, all implications are that America is headed for disaster, taking with it all those who ‘are with us’, and destroying all those ‘who are with them’.
Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich is an Iranian-American studying at the University of Southern California. Her research focus is U.S. foreign policy and the influence of lobby groups. She is a peace activist, essayist, and public speaker.
[i] War in the Persian Gulf: The U.S. Takes Sides, staff report to the Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, 1987.
[ii] Ronald O'Rourke, "The Tanker War" (1988)
[iii]Stephen Shalom “The United States and the Iran-Iraq War: 1990”
[iv] Chalmers Johnson ‘Commission on Review of Overseas Military Facility Structure, Report p.Mp’
It's the Oil, stupid!
By Noam Chomsky
Go To Original
The deal just taking shape between Iraq's Oil Ministry and four Western oil companies raises critical questions about the nature of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq — questions that should certainly be addressed by presidential candidates and seriously discussed in the United States, and of course in occupied Iraq, where it appears that the population has little if any role in determining the future of their country.
Negotiations are under way for Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners decades ago in the Iraq Petroleum Company, now joined by Chevron and other smaller oil companies — to renew the oil concession they lost to nationalisation during the years when the oil producers took over their own resources. The no-bid contracts, apparently written by the oil corporations with the help of U.S. officials, prevailed over offers from more than 40 other companies, including companies in China, India and Russia.
"There was suspicion among many in the Arab world and among parts of the American public that the United States had gone to war in Iraq precisely to secure the oil wealth these contracts seek to extract," Andrew E. Kramer wrote in The New York Times.
Kramer's reference to "suspicion" is an understatement. Furthermore, it is highly likely that the military occupation has taken the initiative in restoring the hated Iraq Petroleum Company, which, as Seamus Milne writes in the London Guardian, was imposed under British rule to "dine off Iraq's wealth in a famously exploitative deal."
Later reports speak of delays in the bidding. Much is happening in secrecy, and it would be no surprise if new scandals emerge.
The demand could hardly be more intense. Iraq contains perhaps the second largest oil reserves in the world, which are, furthermore, very cheap to extract: no permafrost or tar sands or deep sea drilling. For US planners, it is imperative that Iraq remain under U.S. control, to the extent possible, as an obedient client state that will also house major U.S. military bases, right at the heart of the world's major energy reserves.
That these were the primary goals of the invasion was always clear enough through the haze of successive pretexts: weapons of mass destruction, Saddam's links with Al-Qaeda, democracy promotion and the war against terrorism, which, as predicted, sharply increased as a result of the invasion.
Last November, the guiding concerns were made explicit when President Bush and Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki signed a "Declaration of Principles," ignoring the U.S. Congress and Iraqi parliament, and the populations of the two countries.
The Declaration left open the possibility of an indefinite long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq that would presumably include the huge air bases now being built around the country, and the "embassy" in Baghdad, a city within a city, unlike any embassy in the world. These are not being constructed to be abandoned.
The Declaration also had a remarkably brazen statement about exploiting the resources of Iraq. It said that the economy of Iraq, which means its oil resources, must be open to foreign investment, "especially American investments." That comes close to a pronouncement that we invaded you so that we can control your country and have privileged access to your resources.
The seriousness of this commitment was underscored in January, when President Bush issued a "signing statement" declaring that he would reject any congressional legislation that restricted funding "to establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq" or "to exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq."
Extensive resort to "signing statements" to expand executive power is yet another Bush innovation, condemned by the American Bar Association as "contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional separation of powers." To no avail.
Not surprisingly, the Declaration aroused immediate objections in Iraq, among others from Iraqi unions, which survive even under the harsh anti-labour laws that Saddam instituted and the occupation preserves.
In Washington propaganda, the spoiler to US domination in Iraq is Iran. U.S. problems in Iraq are blamed on Iran. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sees a simple solution: "foreign forces" and "foreign arms" should be withdrawn from Iraq — Iran's, not ours.
The confrontation over Iran's nuclear programme heightens the tensions. The Bush administration's "regime change" policy toward Iran comes with ominous threats of force (there Bush is joined by both US presidential candidates). The policy also is reported to include terrorism within Iran — again legitimate, for the world rulers. A majority of the American people favours diplomacy and oppose the use of force. But public opinion is largely irrelevant to policy formation, not just in this case.
An irony is that Iraq is turning into a US-Iranian condominium. The Maliki government is the sector of Iraqi society most supported by Iran. The so-called Iraqi army — just another militia — is largely based on the Badr brigade, which was trained in Iran, and fought on the Iranian side during the Iran-Iraq war.
Nir Rosen, one of the most astute and knowledgeable correspondents in the region, observes that the main target of the US-Maliki military operations, Moktada Al Sadr, is disliked by Iran as well: He's independent and has popular support, therefore dangerous.
Iran "clearly supported Prime Minister Maliki and the Iraqi government against what they described as 'illegal armed groups' (of Moktada's Mahdi army) in the recent conflict in Basra," Rosen writes, "which is not surprising given that their main proxy in Iraq, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council dominates the Iraqi state and is Maliki's main backer."
"There is no proxy war in Iraq," Rosen concludes, "because the U.S. and Iran share the same proxy."
Teheran is presumably pleased to see the United States institute and sustain a government in Iraq that's receptive to their influence. For the Iraqi people, however, that government continues to be a disaster, very likely with worse to come.
In Foreign Affairs, Steven Simon points out that current US counterinsurgency strategy is "stoking the three forces that have traditionally threatened the stability of Middle Eastern states: tribalism, warlordism and sectarianism." The outcome might be "a strong, centralised state ruled by a military junta that would resemble" Saddam's regime.
If Washington achieves its goals, then its actions are justified. Reactions are quite different when Vladimir Putin succeeds in pacifying Chechnya, to an extent well beyond what Gen. David Petraeus has achieved in Iraq. But that is THEM, and this is US. Criteria are therefore entirely different.
In the US, the Democrats are silenced now because of the supposed success of the US military surge in Iraq. Their silence reflects the fact that there are no principled criticisms of the war. In this way of regarding the world, if you're achieving your goals, the war and occupation are justified. The sweetheart oil deals come with the territory.
In fact, the whole invasion is a war crime — indeed the supreme international crime, differing from other war crimes in that it encompasses all the evil that follows, in the terms of the Nuremberg judgment. This is among the topics that can't be discussed, in the presidential campaign or elsewhere. Why are we in Iraq? What do we owe Iraqis for destroying their country? The majority of the American people favour US withdrawal from Iraq. Do their voices matter?
Noam Chomsky's writings on linguistics and politics have just been collected in "The Essential Noam Chomsky," edited by Anthony Arnove, from the New Press. Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.
By Tom Engelhardt
It's been on the minds of antiwar activists and war critics since 2003. And little wonder. If you don't remember the pre-invasion of Iraq neocon quip, "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran..." -- then take notice. Even before American troops entered Iraq, knocking off Iran was already "Regime Change: The Sequel." It was always on the Bush agenda and, for a faction of the administration led by Vice President Cheney, it evidently still is.
Add to that a series of provocative statements by President Bush, the Vice President, and other top U.S. officials and former officials. Take Cheney's daughter Elizabeth, who recently sent this verbal message to the Iranians: "[D]espite what you may be hearing from Congress, despite what you may be hearing from others in the administration who might be saying force isn't on the table... we're serious." Asked about an Israeli strike on Iran, she said: "I certainly don't think that we should do anything but support them." Similarly, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton suggested that the Bush administration might launch an Iranian air assault in its last, post-election weeks in office.
Consider as well the evident relish with which the President and other top administration officials regularly refuse to take "all options" off that proverbial "table" (at which no one bothers to sit down to talk). Throw into the mix semi-official threats, warnings, and hair-raising leaks from Israeli officials and intelligence types about Iran's progress in producing a nuclear weapon and what Israel might do about it. Then there were those recent reports on a "major" Israeli "military exercise" in the Mediterranean that seemed to prefigure a future air assault on Iran. ("Several American officials said the Israeli exercise appeared to be an effort to develop the military's capacity to carry out long-range strikes and to demonstrate the seriousness with which Israel views Iran's nuclear program.")
From the other side of the American political aisle comes a language hardly less hair-raising, including Hillary Clinton's infamous comment about how the U.S. could "totally obliterate" Iran (in response to a hypothetical Iranian nuclear attack on Israel). Congressman Ron Paul recently reported that fellow representatives "have openly voiced support for a pre-emptive nuclear strike" on Iran, while the resolution soon to come before the House (H.J. Res. 362), supported by Democrats as well as Republicans, urges the imposition of the kind of sanctions and a naval blockade on Iran that would be tantamount to a declaration of war.
Stir in a string of new military bases the U.S. has been building within miles of the Iranian border, the repeated crescendos of U.S. military charges about Iranian-supplied weapons killing American soldiers in Iraq, and the revelation by Seymour Hersh, our premier investigative reporter, that, late last year, the Bush administration launched -- with the support of the Democratic leadership in Congress -- a $400 million covert program "designed to destabilize [Iran's] religious leadership," including cross-border activities by U.S. Special Operations Forces and a low-level war of terror through surrogates in regions where Baluchi and Ahwazi Arab minorities are strongest. (Precedents for this terror campaign include previous CIA-run campaigns in Afghanistan in the 1980s, using car bombs and even camel bombs against the Russians, and in Iraq in the 1990s, using car bombs and other explosives in an attempt to destabilize Saddam Hussein's regime.)
Add to this combustible mix the unwillingness of the Iranians to suspend their nuclear enrichment activities, even for a matter of weeks, while negotiating with the Europeans over their nuclear program. Throw in as well various threats from Iranian officials in response to the possibility of a U.S. or Israeli attack on their nuclear facilities, and any number of other alarums, semi-official predictions ("A senior defense official told ABC News there is an 'increasing likelihood' that Israel will carry out such an attack…"), reports, rumors, and warnings -- and it's hardly surprising that the political Internet has been filled with alarming (as well as alarmist) pieces claiming that an assault on Iran may be imminent.
Seymour Hersh, who certainly has his ear to the ground in Washington, has publicly suggested that an Obama victory might be the signal for the Bush administration to launch an air campaign against that country. As Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service has pointed out, there have been a number of "public warnings by U.S. hawks close to Cheney's office that either the Israelis or the U.S. would attack Iran between the November elections and the inaugural of a new president in January 2009."
Given the Bush administration's "preventive war" doctrine which has opened the way for the launching of wars without significant notice or obvious provocation, and the penchant of its officials to ignore reality, all of this should frighten anyone. In fact, it's not only war critics who are increasingly edgy. In recent months, jumpy (and greedy) commodity traders, betting on a future war, have boosted these fears. (Every bit of potential bad news relating to Iran only seems to push the price of a barrel of oil further into the stratosphere.) And mainstream pundits and journalists are increasingly joining them.
No wonder. It's a remarkably frightening scenario, and, if there's one lesson this administration has taught us these last years, it's that nothing's "off the table," not for officials who, only a few years ago, believed themselves capable of creating their own reality and imposing it on the planet. An "unnamed Administration official" -- generally assumed to be Karl Rove -- famously put it this way to journalist Ron Suskind back in October 2004:
"[He] said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors.... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'"
A Future Global Oil Shock
Nonetheless, sometimes -- as in Iraq -- reality has a way of biting back, no matter how mad or how powerful the imperial dreamer. So, let's consider reality for a moment. When it comes to Iran, reality means oil and natural gas. These days, any twitch of trouble, or potential trouble, affecting the petroleum market, no matter how minor -- from Mexico to Nigeria -- forces the price of oil another bump higher.
Possessing the world's second largest reserves of oil and natural gas, Iran is no speed bump on the energy map. The National Security Network, a group of national security experts, estimates that the Bush administration's policy of bluster, threat, and intermittent low-level actions against Iran has already added a premium of $30-$40 to every $140 barrel of oil. Then there was the one-day $11 spike after Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz suggested that an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities was "unavoidable."
Given that, let's imagine, for a moment, what almost any version of an air assault -- Israeli, American, or a combination of the two -- would be likely to do to the price of oil. When asked recently by Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News about the effects of an Israeli attack on Iran, correspondent Richard Engel responded: "I asked an oil analyst that very question. He said, 'The price of a barrel of oil? Name your price: $300, $400 a barrel.'" Former CIA official Robert Baer suggested in Time Magazine that such an attack would translate into $12 gas at the pump. ("One oil speculator told me that oil would hit $200 a barrel within minutes.")
Those kinds of price leaps could take place in the panic that preceded any Iranian response. But, of course, the Iranians, no matter how badly hit, would be certain to respond -- by themselves and through proxies in the region in a myriad of possible ways. Iranian officials have regularly been threatening all sorts of hell should they be attacked, including "blitzkrieg tactics" in the region. Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari typically swore that his country would "react fiercely, and nobody can imagine what would be the reaction of Iran." The head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, Mohammed Jafari, said: "Iran's response to any military action will make the invaders regret their decision and action." ("Mr. Jafari had already warned that if attacked, Iran would launch a barrage of missiles at Israel and close the Strait of Hormuz, the outlet for oil tankers leaving the Persian Gulf.") Ali Shirazi, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative to the Revolutionary Guards, offered the following: "The first bullet fired by America at Iran will be followed by Iran burning down its vital interests around the globe."
Let's take a moment to imagine just what some of the responses to any air assault might be. The list of possibilities is nearly endless and many of them would be hard even for the planet's preeminent military power to prevent. They might include, as a start, the mining of the Strait of Hormuz, through which a significant portion of the world's oil passes, as well as other disruptions of shipping in the region. (Don't even think about what would happen to insurance rates for oil tankers!)
In addition, American troops on their mega-bases in Iraq, rather than being a powerful force in any attack -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has already cautioned President Bush that Iraqi territory cannot be used to attack Iran -- would instantly become so many hostages to Iranian actions, including the possible targeting of those bases by missiles. Similarly, U.S. supply lines for those troops, running from Kuwait past the southern oil port of Basra might well become hostages of a different sort, given the outrage that, in Shiite regions of Iraq, would surely follow an attack. Those lines would assumedly not be impossible to disrupt.
Imagine, as well, what possible disruptions of the modest Iraqi oil supply might mean in the chaos of the moment, with Iranian oil already off the market. Then consider what the targeting of even small numbers of Iranian missiles on the Saudi and Kuwaiti oil fields could do to global oil markets. (It might not even matter whether they actually hit anything.) And that, of course, just scratches the surface of the range of retaliatory possibilities available to Iranian leaders.
Looked at another way, Iran is a weak regional power (which hasn't invaded another country in living memory) that nonetheless retains a remarkable capacity to inflict grievous harm locally, regionally, and globally.
Such a scenario would result in a global oil shock of almost inconceivable proportions. For any American who believes that he or she is experiencing "pain at the pump" right now, just wait until you experience what a true global oil shock would involve.
And that's without even taking into consideration what spreading chaos in the oil heartlands of the planet might mean, or what might happen if Hezbollah or Hamas took action of any sort against Israel, and Israel responded. Mohamed ElBaradei, the sober-minded head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, considering the situation, said the following: "A military strike, in my opinion, would be worse than anything possible. It would turn the region into a fireball..."
This, then, is the baseline for any discussion of an attack on Iran. This is reality, and it has to be daunting for an administration that already finds itself militarily stretched to the limit, unable even to find the reinforcements it wants to send into Afghanistan.
Can Israel Attack Iran?
Let's leave to the experts the question of whether Israel could actually launch an effective air strike against Iranian nuclear facilities on its own -- about which there are grave doubts. And let's instead try to imagine what it would mean for Israel to launch such an assault (egged on by the Vice President's faction in the U.S. government) in the last months, or even weeks, of the second term of an especially lame lame-duck President and an historically unpopular administration.
From Iran's foreign minister, we already know that the Iranians would treat an Israeli attack as if it were an American one, whether or not American planes were involved -- and little wonder. For one thing, Israeli planes heading for Iran would undoubtedly have to cross Iraqi air space, at present controlled by the United States, not the nearly air-force-less Maliki government. (In fact, in Status of Forces Agreement negotiations with the Iraqis, the Bush administration has demanded that the U.S. retain control of that air space, up to 29,000 feet, after December 31, 2008, when the U.N. mandate runs out.)
In other words, on the eve of the arrival of a new American administration, Israel, a small, vulnerable Middle Eastern state deeply reliant on its American alliance, would find itself responsible for starting an American war (associated with a Vice President of unparalleled unpopularity) and for a global oil shock of staggering proportions, if not a global great depression. It would also be the proximate cause for a regional "fireball." (Oil-poor Israel would undoubtedly also be economically wounded by its own strike.)
In addition, the latest American National Intelligence Estimate on Iran concluded that the Iranians stopped weaponizing parts of their nuclear program back in 2003, and American intelligence reputedly doubts recent Israeli warnings that Iran is on the verge of a bomb. Of course, Israel itself has an estimated -- though unannounced -- nuclear force of about 200 such weapons.
Simply put, it is next to inconceivable that the present riven Israeli government would be politically capable of launching such an attack on Iran on its own, or even in combination with only a faction, no matter how important, in the U.S. government. And such a point is more or less taken for granted by many Israelis (and Iranians). Without a full-scale "green light" from the Bush administration, launching such an attack could be tantamount to long-term political suicide.
Only in conjunction with an American attack would an Israeli attack (rash to the point of madness even then) be likely. So let's turn to the Bush administration and consider what might be called the Hersh scenario.
Will the Bush administration Attack Iran If Obama Is Elected?
The first problem is a simple one. Oil, which was at $146 a barrel last week, dropped to $136 (in part because of a statement by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissing "the possibility that war with the United States and Israel was imminent"), and, on Wednesday rose a dollar to $137 in reaction to Iranian missile tests. But, whatever its immediate zigs and zags, the overall pattern of the price of oil seems clear enough. Some suggest that, by the time of any Obama victory, a barrel of crude oil will be at $170. The chairman of the giant Russian oil monopoly Gazprom recently predicted that it would hit $250 within 18 months -- and that's without an attack on Iran.
For those eager to launch a reasonably no-pain campaign against Iran, the moment is already long gone. Every leap in the price of oil only emphasizes the pain to come. In turn, that means, with every passing day, it's madder -- and harder -- to launch such an attack. There is already significant opposition within the administration; the American people, feeling pain, are unprepared for and, as polls indicate, massively unwilling to sanction such an attack. There can be no question that the Bush legacy, such as it is, would be secured in infamy forever and a day.
Now, consider recent administration actions on North Korea. Facing a "reality" that first-term Bush officials would have abjured, the President and his advisors not only negotiated with that nuclearized Axis of Evil nation, but are now removing it from the Trading with the Enemy Act list and the State Sponsor of Terrorism list. No matter what steps Kim Jong Il's regime has taken, including blowing up the cooling tower at the Yongbyon reactor, this is nothing short of a stunning reversal for this administration. An angry John Bolton, standing in for the Cheney faction, compared what happened to a "police truce with the Mafia." And Vice President Cheney's anger over the decision -- and the policy -- was visible and widely reported.
It's possible, of course, that Cheney and associates are simply holding their fire for what they care most about, but here's another question that needs to be considered: Does George W. Bush actually support his imperial Vice President in the manner he once did? There's no way to know, but Bush has always been a more important figure in the administration than many critics like to imagine. The North Korean decision indicates that Cheney may not have a free hand from the President on Iran policy either.
The Adults in the Room
And what about the opposition? I'm not talking about those of us out here who would oppose such a strike. I mean within the world of Bush's Washington. Forget the Democrats. They hardly count and, as Hersh has pointed out, their leadership already signed off on that $400 million covert destabilization campaign.
I mean the adults in the room, who have been in short supply indeed these last years in the Bush administration, specifically Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen. (Condoleezza Rice evidently falls into this camp as well, although she's proven herself something of a President-enabling nonentity over the years.)
With former Carter National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, Gates tellingly co-chaired a task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations back in 2004 which called for negotiations with Iran. He arrived at the Pentagon early in 2007 as an envoy from the world of George H.W. Bush and as a man on a mission. He was there to staunch the madness and begin the clean up in the imperial Augean stables.
In his Congressional confirmation hearings, he was absolutely clear: any attack on Iran would be a "very last resort." Sometimes, in the bureaucratic world of Washington, a single "very" can tell you what you need to know. Until then, administration officials had been referring to an attack on Iran simply as a "last resort." He also offered a bloodcurdling scenario for what the aftermath of such an American attack might be like:
"It's always awkward to talk about hypotheticals in this case. But I think that while Iran cannot attack us directly militarily, I think that their capacity to potentially close off the Persian Gulf to all exports of oil, their potential to unleash a significant wave of terror both in the -- well, in the Middle East and in Europe and even here in this country is very real… Their ability to get Hezbollah to further destabilize Lebanon I think is very real. So I think that while their ability to retaliate against us in a conventional military way is quite limited, they have the capacity to do all of the things, and perhaps more, that I just described."
And perhaps more… That puts it in a nutshell.
Hersh, in his most recent piece on the administration's covert program in Iran, reports the following:
"A Democratic senator told me that, late last year, in an off-the-record lunch meeting, Secretary of Defense Gates met with the Democratic caucus in the Senate. (Such meetings are held regularly.) Gates warned of the consequences if the Bush Administration staged a preemptive strike on Iran, saying, as the senator recalled, 'We'll create generations of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America.' Gates's comments stunned the Democrats at the lunch."
In other words, back in 2007, early and late, our new secretary of defense managed to sound remarkably like one of those Iranian officials issuing warnings. Gates, who has a long history as a skilled Washington in-fighter, has once again proven that skill. So far, he seems to have outmaneuvered the Cheney faction.
The March "resignation" of CENTCOM commander Admiral William J. Fallon, outspokenly against an administration strike on Iran, sent both a shiver of fear through war critics and a new set of attack scenarios coursing through the political Internet, as well as into the world of the mainstream media. As reporter Jim Lobe points out at his invaluable Lobelog blog, however, Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Gates's man in the Pentagon, has proven nothing short of adamant when it comes to the inadvisabilty of attacking Iran.
His recent public statements have actually been stronger than Fallon's (and the position he fills is obviously more crucial than CENTCOM commander). Lobe comments that, at a July 2nd press conference at the Pentagon, Mullen "repeatedly made clear that he opposes an attack on Iran -- whether by Israel or his own forces -- and, moreover, favors dialogue with Tehran, without the normal White House nuclear preconditions."
Mullen, being an adult, has noticed the obvious. As columnist Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Constitution put the matter recently: "A U.S. attack on Iran's nuclear installations would create trouble that we aren't equipped to handle easily, not with ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, drove that point home in a press conference last week at the Pentagon."
The Weight of Reality
Here's the point: Yes, there is a powerful faction in this administration, headed by the Vice President, which has, it seems, saved its last rounds of ammunition for a strike against Iran. The question, of course, is: Are they still capable of creating "their own reality" and imposing it, however briefly, on the planet? Every tick upwards in the price of oil says no. Every day that passes makes an attack on Iran harder to pull off.
On this subject, panic may be everywhere in the world of the political Internet, and even in the mainstream, but it's important not to make the mistake of overestimating these political actors or underestimating the forces arrayed against them. It's a reasonable proposition today -- as it wasn't perhaps a year ago -- that, whatever their desires, they will not, in the end, be able to launch an attack on Iran; that, even where there's a will, there may not be a way.
They would have to act, after all, against the unfettered opposition of the American people; against leading military commanders who, even if obliged to follow a direct order from the President, have other ways to make their wills known; against key figures in the administration; and, above all, against reality which bears down on them with a weight that is already staggering -- and still growing.
And yet, of course, for the maddest gamblers and dystopian dreamers in our history, never say never.