Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Age of Anger

Go To Original

The nihilism and rage sweeping across the globe are not generated by warped ideologies or medieval religious beliefs. These destructive forces have their roots in the obliterating of social, cultural and religious traditions by modernization and the consumer society, the disastrous attempts by the United States to carry out regime change, often through coups and wars, and the utopian neoliberal ideologythat has concentrated wealth in the hands of a tiny cabal of corrupt global oligarchs.

This vast, global project of social engineering during the last century persuaded hundreds of millions of people, as Pankaj Mishrawrites in “The Age of Anger: A History of the Present,” “to renounce—and often scorn—a world of the past that had endured for thousands of years, and to undertake a gamble of creating modern citizens who would be secular, enlightened, cultured and heroic.” The project has been a spectacular failure.

“To destroy a people,” Alexander Solzhenitsynnoted acidly, “you must sever their roots.” The wretched of the earth, as Frantz Fanoncalled them, have been shorn of any ideological or cultural cohesion. They are cut off from their past. They live in crushing poverty, numbing alienation, hopelessness and often terror. Mass culture feeds them the tawdry, the violent, the salacious and the ridiculous. They are rising up against these forces of modernization, driven by an atavistic fury to destroy the technocratic world that condemns them. This rage is expressed in many forms—Hindu nationalism, protofascism, jihadism, the Christian right, anarchic violence and others. But the various forms of ressentimentspring from the same deep wells of global despair. This ressentiment “poisons civil society and undermines political liberty,” Mishra writes, and it is fueling “a global turn to authoritarianism and toxic forms of chauvinism.”

Western elites, rather than accept their responsibility for the global anarchy, self-servingly define the clash as one between the values of the enlightened West and medieval barbarians. They see in the extreme nationalists, religious fundamentalists and jihadists an inchoate and inexplicable irrationality that can be quelled only with force. They have yet to grasp that the disenfranchised do not hate us for our values; they hate us because of our duplicity, use of indiscriminate industrial violence on their nations and communities and our hypocrisy. The dispossessed grasp the true message of the West to the rest of the planet: We have everything, and if you try to take it away from us we will kill you.

The more that Western elites are attacked, the more they too retreat into a mythological past, self-glorification and willful ignorance. Mishra writes:

Thus, in the very places [in the West] where secular modernity arose, with ideas that were then universally established—individualism (against the significance of social relations), the cult of efficiency and utility (against the ethic of honour), and the normalization of self-interest—the mythic Volk has reappeared as a spur to solidarity and action against real and imagined enemies.

But nationalism is, more than ever before, a mystification, if not a dangerous fraud with its promise of making a country ‘great again’ and its demonization of the ‘other’; it conceals the real conditions of existence, and the true origins of suffering, even as it seeks to replicate the comforting balm of transcendental ideals within a bleak earthly horizon. Its political resurgence shows that ressentiment—in this case, of people who feel left behind by the globalized economy or contemptuously ignored by its slick overlords and cheerleaders in politics, business and the media—remains the default metaphysics of the modern world since [Jean-Jacques] Rousseaufirst defined it. And its most menacing expression in the age of individualism may well be the violent anarchism of the disinherited and the superfluous.
The proponents of globalization promised to lift workers across the planet into the middle class and instill democratic values and scientific rationalism. Religious and ethnic tensions would be alleviated or eradicated. This global marketplace would create a peaceful, prosperous community of nations. All we had to do was get government out of the way and kneel before market demands, held up as the ultimate form of progress and rationality.

Neoliberalism, in the name of this absurd utopia, stripped away government regulations and laws that once protected the citizen from the worst excesses of predatory capitalism. It created free trade agreements that allowed trillions of corporate dollars to be transferred to offshore accounts to avoid taxation and jobs to flee to sweatshops in China and the global south where workers live in conditions that replicate slavery. Social service programs and public services were slashed or privatized. Mass culture, including schools and the press, indoctrinated an increasingly desperate population to take part in the global reality show of capitalism, a “war of all against all.”

What we were never told was that the game was fixed. We were always condemned to lose. Our cities were deindustrializedand fell into decay. Wages declined. Our working class became impoverished. Endless war became, cynically, a lucrative business. And the world’s wealth was seized by a tiny group of global oligarchs. Kleptocracies, such as the one now installed in Washington, brazenly stole from the people. Democratic idealism became a joke. We are now knit together, as Mishra writes, only “by commerce and technology,” forces that Hannah Arendtcalled “negative solidarity.”

The backlash, Mishra writes, resembles the anarchist, fascist and communist violence and terrorism that took place at the end of the 19th century and in the early 20th century. In one of the most important parts of his brilliant and multi-layered analysis of the world around us, Mishra explains how Western ideas were adopted and mutated by ideologues in the global south, ideas that would become as destructive as the imposition of free market capitalism itself.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution in Iran, for example, borrowed liberally from Western ideas, including representation through elections, egalitarianism and Vladimir Lenin’s revolutionary vanguard, which was adapted for a Muslim world. Nishida Kitaro and Watsuji Tetsuro of Japan’s Kyoto School, steeped in the romantic nationalism of German philosophers such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte, transformed the glorification of the German nation into a glorification of imperial Japan. They “provided the intellectual justification for Japan’s brutal assault on China in the 1930s, and then the sudden attack on its biggest trading partner in December 1941—at Pearl Harbor.” South Asia’s most important writer and scholar, Muhammad Iqbal, provided a “Nietzschean vision of Islam revivified by strong self-creating Muslims.” And the Chinese scholar Lu Xuncalled for Chinese to exhibit the “indomitable will exemplified by Zarathustra.” These bastard ideologies cloaked themselves in the veneer of indigenous religious traditions and beliefs. But they were new creations, born out of the schöpferische Zerstörung, or the “gale of creative destruction,” of global capitalism.

Nowhere is this more true than with the modern calls for jihad by self-styled Islamic radicals, most of whom have no religious training and who often come out of the secularized criminal underworld. The jihadist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, nicknamed “the sheikh of slaughterers” in Iraq, had, as Mishra writes, “a long past of pimping, drug-dealing and heavy drinking.” The Afghan-American Omar Mateenreportedly was a frequenter of the nightclub in Orlando, Fla., where he massacred 49 people and had been seen there drunk. Anwar al-Awlaki, who preached jihad and was eventually assassinated by the United States, had a penchant for prostitutes. Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, a senior leader of Islamic State before he was killed, called on Muslims in the West to kill any non-Muslim they encountered. “Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison,” al-Adnani told followers.

The idea of Mikhail Bakunin’s “propaganda by deed”is, Mishra writes, “now manifest universally in video-taped, live-streamed and Facebooked massacres.” It grew, he writes, “naturally from the suspicion that only acts of extreme violence could reveal to the world a desperate social situation and the moral integrity of those determined to challenge it.” These imported ideas filled the void left by the destruction of indigenous beliefs, traditions and rituals. As Mishra says, these jihadists “represent the death of traditional Islam rather than its resurrection.”

“As it turned out,” he writes, “the autocratic modernizers failed to usher a majority of their wards into the modern world, and their abortive revolutions from above paved the way for more radical ones from below, followed, as we have seen in recent years, by anarchy.”

The terrorist attacks in Paris or London were driven by the same ressentiment, Mishra points out, as that which led Timothy McVey to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168, including 19 children, and injuring 684. And when the American was imprisoned in Florence, Colo., the prisoner in the adjacent cell was Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the mastermind of the first attack on the World Trade Center, in 1993. After McVey was executed, Yousef commented, “I never have [known] anyone in my life who has so similar a personality to my own as his.”

Mishra writes, “Malignant zealots have emerged in the very heart of the democratic West after a decade of political and economic tumult; the simple explanatory paradigm set in stone soon after the attacks of 9/11—Islam-inspired terrorism versus modernity—lies in ruins.” The United States, aside from suffering periodic mass killings in schools, malls and movie theaters, has seen homegrown terrorists strike the Boston Marathon, a South Carolina church, Tennessee military facilities, a Texas Army base and elsewhere.

“The modern West can no longer be distinguished from its apparent enemies,” Mishra notes. The hagiography of the U.S. Navy sniper Chris Kyle—who had a tattoo of a red Crusader cross and called the Iraq War a battle against “savage, desperate evil”—in Clint Eastwood’s movie “American Sniper” celebrates the binary worldview adopted by jihadists who deify their suicide bombers.

“The xenophobic frenzy unleashed by Clint Eastwood’s film of Kyle’s book suggested the most vehement partisans of holy war flourish not only in the ravaged landscape of South and West Asia,” Mishra writes. “Such fanatics, who can be atheists as well as crusaders and jihadists, also lurk among America’s best and brightest, emboldened by an endless support of money, arms, and even ‘ideas’ supplied by terrorism experts and clash-of-civilization theorists.”

Donald Trump, given the political, economic and cultural destruction carried out by neoliberalism, is not an aberration. He is the result of a market society and capitalist democracy that has ceased to function. An angry and alienated underclass, now making up as much as half the population of the United States, is entranced by electronic hallucinations that take the place of literacy. These Americans take a perverse and almost diabolical delight in demagogues such as Trump that express contempt for and openly flout the traditional rules and rituals of a power structure that preys upon them.

Mishra finds a similar situation in his own country, India. “In their indifference to the common good, single-minded pursuit of private happiness, and narcissistic identification with an apparently ruthless strongman and uninhibited loudmouth, [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi’s angry voters mirror many electorates around the world—people gratified rather than appalled by trash-talk and the slaughter of old conventions,” he writes. “The new horizons of individual desire and fear opened up by the neoliberal world economy do not favour democracy or human rights.”

Mishra excoriates the West’s idealized and sanitized version of history, “the simple-minded and dangerously misleading ideas and assumptions, drawn from a triumphant history of Anglo-American achievements that has long shaped the speeches of statesmen, think-tank reports, technocratic surveys, newspaper editorials, while supplying fuel to countless columnists, TV pundits and so-called terrorism experts.” The mandarins who spew this self-serving narrative are, as American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr called them and their ilk, the “bland fanatics of Western civilization” “who regard the highly contingent achievements of our culture as the final form and norm of human existence.”

The roots of modernization and colonization are, as Mishra writes, ones of “carnage and bedlam.” The rapacious appetite of capitalists and imperialists never considered “such constraining factors as finite geographical space, degradable natural resources and fragile ecosystems.” In carrying out this project of global expansion, no form of coercion or violence was off-limits. Those who opposed us simply learned to speak our language.

“The intellectual pedigree of today’s nasty atrocities is not to be found in religious scriptures,” Mishra writes. “French colonialists in Algeria had used torture techniques originally deployed by the Nazis during the occupation of France (and also were some of the first hijackers of a civilian aeroplane). Americans in the global war on terror resorted to cruel interrogation methods that the Soviet Union had patented during the Cold War. In the latest stage of this gruesome reciprocity, the heirs of Zarqawi in ISIS dress their Western hostages in Guantanamo’s orange suits, and turn on their smartphone cameras, before beheading their victims.”

The West’s dangerous faith in the inevitability of human progress is chronicled by Mishra through the dueling French intellectuals Rousseau and Voltaire, as well as Bakunin, Alexander Herzen, Karl Marx, Fichte, Giuseppe Mazzini and Michel Foucault. This intellectually nuanced and philosophically rich book shows that ideas matter.

“The Hindu, Jewish, Chinese and Islamic modernists who helped establish major nation-building ideologies were in tune with the main trends of the European fin-de-siècle, which redefined freedom beyond bourgeois self-seeking to a will to forge dynamic new societies and reshape history,” Mishra writes. “It is impossible to understand them, and the eventual product of their efforts (Islamism, Hindu nationalism, Zionism, Chinese nationalism), without grasping their European intellectual background of cultural decay and pessimism: the anxiety in the unconscious that Freud was hardly alone in sensing, or the idea of a glorious rebirth after decline and decadence, borrowed from the Christian idea of resurrection, that Mazzinihad done so much to introduce into the political sphere.”

Mishra goes on:

ISIS, born during the implosion of Iraq, owes its existence more to Operation Infinite Justice and Enduring Freedom than to any Islamic theology. It is the quintessential product of a radical process of globalization in which governments, unable to protect their citizens from foreign invaders, brutal police, or economic turbulence, lose their moral and ideological legitimacy, creating a space for such non-state actors as armed gangs, mafia, vigilante groups, warlords and private revenge-seekers.

ISIS aims to create a Caliphate, but, like American regime-changers, it cannot organize a political space, as distinct from privatizing violence. Motivated by a selfie individualism, the adepts of ISIS are better at destroying Valhalla than building it. Ultimately, a passion for grand politics, manifest in ISIS’s Wagnerian-style annihilation, is what drives the Caliphate, as much as it did [Gabriele] D’Annunzio’s utopia. The will to power and craving for violence as existential experience reconciles, as [philosopher and social theorist Georges] Sorel prophesized, the varying religious and ideological commitments of its adherents. The attempts to place them in a long Islamic tradition miss how much these militants, feverishly stylizing their murders and rapes on Instagram, reflect an ultimate stage in the radicalization of the modern principle of individual autonomy and equality: a form of strenuous self-assertion that acknowledges no limits, and requires descent into a moral abyss.
Philosopher George Santayana foresaw that America’s obsessive individualistic culture of competition and mimicry would eventually incite “a lava-wave of primitive blindness and violence.” The inability to be self-critical and self-aware, coupled with the cult of the self, would lead to a collective suicide. Cultural historian Carl Schorske in “Fin-de-Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture” wrote that Europe’s descent into fascism was inevitable once it cut the “cord of consciousness.” And, with the rise of Trump, it is clear the “cord of consciousness” has also been severed in the twilight days of the American empire. Once we no longer acknowledge or understand our own capacity for evil, once we no longer know ourselves, we become monsters who devour others and finally devour ourselves.

“Totalitarianism with its tens of millions of victims was identified as a malevolent reaction to the benevolent Enlightenment tradition of rationalism, humanism, universalism and liberal democracy—a tradition seen as an unproblematic norm,” Mishra writes. “It was clearly too disconcerting to acknowledge that totalitarian politics crystallized the ideological currents (scientific racism, jingoistic nationalism, imperialism, technicism, aestheticized politics, utopianism, social engineering and the violent struggle for existence) flowing through all of Europe in the late nineteenth century.”

Mishra knows what happens when people are discarded onto the dung heap of history. He knows what endless wars, waged in the name of democracy and Western civilization, engender among their victims. He knows what drives people, whether they are at a Trump rally or a radical mosque in Pakistan, to lust after violence. History informs the present. We are afflicted by what writer Albert Camus called “autointoxication, the malignant secretion of one’s preconceived impotence inside the enclosure of the self.” And until this “autointoxication” is addressed, the rage and violence, at home and abroad, will expand as we stumble toward a global apocalypse. The self-alienation of humankind, Walter Benjaminwarned, “has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.”

The conflicts in Egypt, Libya, Mali, Syria and many other places, Mishra notes, are fueled by “extreme weather events, the emptying of rivers and seas of their fish stocks, or the desertification of entire regions on the planet.” The refugees being driven by their homelands’ chaos into Europe are creating political instability there. And as we sleepwalk into the future, the steady deterioration of the ecosystem will ultimately lead to total systems collapse. Mishra warns that “the two ways in which humankind can self-destruct—civil war on a global scale, or destruction of the natural environment—are rapidly converging.” Our elites, oblivious to the dangers ahead, blinded by their own hubris and greed, are ferrying us, like Charon, to the land of the dead.

Why Does the U.S. Hate Iran? Think Oil and Strategic Power.

Go To Original

Why, a correspondent recently asked me, is there so much animosity between the United States and Iran? On Iran’s side, it goes back to 1953, when the U.S. engineered a coup against the secular and democratically elected Iranian government of Mohammad Mossadegh. After the coup, there followed a quarter-century of dictatorial rule under the U.S.-sponsored Shah Reza Pahlavi, whose ruthless secret police relied on training, weapons and funding from the CIA and Israel’s Mossad.

When the shah was deposed in the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Washington froze Iranian government assets in the United States and U.S. banks overseas and imposed a full trade embargo. By the time those economic punishments were lifted, Iran was mired in a U.S.-backed war with its neighbor Iraq. The eight year (1980-88) Iran-Iraq War produced at least 1 million Iranian casualties, including 300,000 soldiers killed and untold thousands still suffering from Iraqi chemical weapons developed with U.S. assistance.

During the war, the USS Vincennes crossed into Iranian waters and shot down an Iranian civilian plane, killing 290. Washington never apologized. The Vincennes’ commander was granted an award for “exceptionally meritorious conduct.” American warships continue to violate Iranian sovereignty and harass Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf.

Even so, after the attacks of 9/11, Iran let the United States“fly to Afghanistan over their territory, agreed to help rescue downed American pilots, and provided assistance to the Northern Alliance—America’s military ally in the US invasion,” wrote Jeff Faux for The Nation. In 2002, President George W. Bush repaid Iran by calling it part of an international “axis of evil,” giving credence to Iranian fears that Washington was on a new Crusade, seeking imperial regime in Tehran as well as in Baghdad.

A U.S.-led economic sanctions regime has caused significant hardship on Iranians for more than two decades. The only reasonPresident Obama engineered his sanctions-reducing 2016 “nuclear deal” with Tehran (based on the false Western premise that Iran posed a serious nuclear danger in the Middle East) was that Washington required help from Iran to defeat Islamic State, the horrific terrorist movement funded by the United States’ good friend Saudi Arabia. Just last week, the U.S. Senate chose by a near unanimous vote (98-2) to impose new sanctions on Iran (a move that has since hit a snag).

Trump has included Iran in his attempted Muslim travel ban, which he tries to justify on anti-terror “national security” grounds. The ban omits Iran’s chief regional rival, the Saudi kingdom, home to 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, much of the funding that sustains Islamic State, and the Wahhabi religious fundamentalism that fuels Islamist terrorism within and beyond the Middle East.

When 18 Iranians were killed in a recent Islamic State terror attack in Tehran, Trump couldn’t offer condolences without adding a vicious dig: “States that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote”—curious commentary from a president who killed an 8-year-old girl and 29 others, including 10 women and childrenin southern Yemen in January.

Trump has sided with the Saudisin their recent blockade of Qatar, which is accused of being too close to Iran.

The United States’ empire of military bases surrounds Iranon nearly all borders.

A Bipartisan Contempt

Contempt for Iran runs wide and deep across U.S. political culture, where it is bipartisan doctrine. It was hardly invented by Donald Trump. During last year’s presidential campaign, both Hillary Clinton and Trump told votersthat Iran was the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism and that Iran’s goal was to take over the entire Middle East.

These preposterous charges were repeated by Barack Obama’s State Department. Its 2016 report referred to Iran as “the world’s greatest state sponsor of terrorism.”

During his presidency, Obama repeatedly said that “all options are open” regarding Iran, meaning, in Noam Chomsky’s words, that “if we want to use nuclear weapons [against Iran], we can, because of this terrible danger to peace.”

An editorial in The Washington Postnearly two years ago urged Congress to “make clear that Mr. Obama or his successor will have support for immediate U.S. military action” if Iran were found to be building a bomb as part of “its attempt to establish hegemony over the Middle East by force.”

A Curious Setting for Lectures on Democracy and Human Rights

Trump has upped the Iran-hating ante. He campaigned on the claim that Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran was “the worst deal ever negotiated.” As president, Trump made Iran’s great enemy, the Saudi kingdom, the destination for his first trip abroad. He trekked to Riyadh to make a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudis and to denounce Iran in a speechto the Middle East’s assembled Arab dictators and monarchs. Trump accused Iran of “giv[ing] terrorists … safe harbor, financial backing and the social standing needed for recruitment” and of being “responsible for so much instability in that region. … For decades, Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror.”

Rex Tillerson, Trump’s secretary of state, used the trip to Riyadh and a news conference with the kingdom’s foreign minister to call for Iranto dismantl[e its] network of terrorism, dismantl[e] its financing of that terrorist network” and to “restore … the rights of Iranians to freedom of speech, to freedom of organization, so that Iranians can live the life that they deserve.”

It is hard to imagine a nation less suited to host such lectures. Saudi Arabia does not permit free speech, free association, trade unions, national elections or political parties. Dissenters are imprisoned, tortured and executed. Women are kept in a horrifically subordinate position in Saudi Arabia, arguably the mostly sexist and reactionary nation on the planet. The Saudis have long used U.S-provided arms to crush human rights and democracy at home and in adjacent principalities.

Iran, by contrast, is a comparative regional paragon of human rights and democracy. The country elected a progressive reformer, Hassan Rouhani, as president in 2013. As Faux noted last year, “evidence of growing Westernization is widespread in Iran—in the shops and shopping malls, the billboards advertising appliances and cars, the cellphones and selfies, and especially in the visible pushback by women against the strict Islamic dress code. Social life is nowhere near as repressive as in the US-supported theocracies of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman, or Turkmenistan. Women in Iran drive cars, manage businesses, and are elected to public office.”

Rouhani was re-elected by a wide marginwith big support from the nation’s urban middle classes in May, an ironic backdrop for Washington’s denunciation of Iranian authoritarianism.

Why the U.S. Policy Establishment Hates Iran

If ordinary Iranians’ fear and suspicion of the United States is richly rooted in history, the U.S. public’s hostility toward Iran is not. Iran has harmed a small number of U.S.-Americans who have gotten on the Islamic Republic’s wrong side on its home turf or elsewhere in the Middle East. Probably less than 2 percent of the U.S. populace could identify Iran on a blind global map. Few Americans even know that Iran is not an Arab state. They can tell you that Iran is a Muslim nation (in itself that is scary to most Americans) but not that it is Shiite Muslim or how Shiite Islam differs from Sunni Islam.

All most Americans “know” is that Iran is “bad” and that they don’t like it. This is because of what their leaders and the mainstream U.S. media tell them. Their hostility to the nation comes from the top town, from the U.S. imperial elite and its mouthpiece media, where demonization of Iran is doctrine.

The real question on the American side, then, is, why does the U.S. policy establishment hate Iran? We can dismiss serious concern over human rights abuses and democracy in Iran. The United States remains deeply allied and entwined with autocratic governments, including the single most reactionary and repressive state on earth (the Saudi kingdom), across the region. “Our” big “enemy” Iran is a comparative beacon of political democracy and social liberty.

Concerns over Tehran’s purported quest to establish “hegemony over the Middle East by force,” with or without nuclear weapons? Whatever the chest-pounding rhetoric of its leaders, Faux notes, Iran is a “third-rate military power” that is no match for Israel (which has as many as 200 nuclear warheads that could “send Iran back to the Stone Age in minutes,” as Faux wrote) or even Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt.

Yes, Iran has supported the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shia rebels in Yemen, and people fighting al-Qaida and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. But that is all about regional and political rivalries and alignments in the region, along with ethno-religious ties. It has nothing to do with suicidal efforts to take over the Middle East.

Iran’s supposed “sponsorship of terrorism”? The main Islamo-terrorist forces in the region and world are Sunni. Shia Iran is the Middle Eastern country that is most clearly and militantly aligned against Islamic State, al-Qaida, the Taliban and other extremist Sunni groups. Iranian support for the Iraqi Army and allied Shia militias has been crucial to U.S. success against Islamic State. It is well known that Tehran and Washington “shake hands under the table,” as Patrick Cockburn wrote, in common opposition to Islamic State behind the scenes while hurling insults at each other in public.

The Sin of National Independence

So what’s the U.S. imperial establishment’s hatred of Iran really about beneath the propaganda? Since 1979, Washington’s Iran policy has been all about punishing and containing the regional power and model of what U.S. planners have considered to be an excessively and dangerously disobedient state in a critical oil-rich part of the world system.

The U.S. has never forgiven Iran for having had the audacity to overthrow the dictator the U.S. imposed in 1953. This has never been about any special love for the shah. It’s about oil—more specifically, the control of oil. As Chomsky has explainedover many years, “What U.S. planners do care about is control of the enormous oil resources of the Middle East [since] … a big part of the way you run the planet is by controlling Middle Eastern oil.”

“Since the mid-1940s,” Chomsky elaborated during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, “Washington has regarded the Persian Gulf as ‘a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history’ [in the words of leading U.S. post-World War II imperial strategist George Kennan]—in Eisenhower’s words, the ‘most strategically important area of the world’ because of its ‘strategic position and resources.’ Control over the region and its resources remains a policy imperative.”

American control of the flow of capitalism’s critical raw material, oil, garnered the U.S. critical leverage over Europe, Japan and other nations. Middle Eastern oil was the great lever, and U.S. planners knew that other rich nations were more dependent on that oil than the U.S. That’s still the case today.

Beneath claims of concern over Soviet incursion, the real threat to this control was Middle Eastern nationalism. A National Security Council Memorandumin 1958 identified the main enemy of the United States in the region as what U.S. planners called “radical Arab nationalism”—“which means independence,” Chomsky observeda quarter-century ago: “countries pursuing a course other than submission to the needs of American power. That’s always the enemy: The people there don’t always see why the enormous wealth and resources of the region have to be in the control of American and British investors while they starve.”

“Radical” Iranian “nationalism” has been no more acceptable to U.S. strategists than Arab variants. The Mossadegh government that the U.S. overthrew at the height of the Cold War committed two unpardonable and interrelated sins as far as U.S. policymakers were concerned: introducing progressive social reform and (most disturbing of all to Washington) nationalizing Iranian oil. Mossadegh explained that “with the oil revenues we could meet our entire budget and combat poverty, disease, and backwardness among our people” while undoing the outsized influence of Western corporations in “the internal affairs of our country.” Imagine that.

Shah Reza Pahlavi was groomed to be one of Uncle Sam’s top enforcers in the Gulf region. He was expected to play a pivotal role in Washington’s great petro-imperial chess game in the Middle East.

Washington placed special emphasis on the shah’s regime after Britain announced that it could no longer afford to serve as a major military power “protecting” Gulf monarchies from “Soviet expansion” during the late 1960s. The United States, with its military mired in Vietnam, was in no position to fill the imperial void. After the U.K. withdrew from the Middle East in 1968, Richard Nixon’s “twin pillars” strategyanointed the Saudi kingdom and Iran as the two great U.S.-sponsored guarantors of “stability” in the region.

Washington had a third pillar: Israel. Tel Aviv proved its great utility to the U.S. empire by crushing Egypt’s Nasser regime—regarded by Washington as “the main Arab nationalist force in the Middle East” (Chomsky)—and most other Arab armies during the Six-Day War of 1967.

Washington’s strategic plan for Pax Americanawas built in no small part on this “tripartite system for controlling the Middle East” (Chomsky). The Saudi kingdom’s main value to Washington was its possession of most of the region’s known oil reserves. Iran and Israel were to be the region’s top two pro-U.S. military gendarmes—the “Guardians of the Gulf.”

Along the way, the absolutist oil regimes of the Middle East (led by the Saudis) supplied the U.S. with oil at bargain prices and purchased huge arms shipments from U.S. weapons manufacturers, which produced them in politically crucial U.S. states.

Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution challenged a key part of the grand American petro-imperial strategy. It took the Iranian “pillar” and “guardian” out from under U.S. supervision. Adding insult to strategic injury, revolutionary Iran humiliated the superpower by taking dozens of its diplomats and marines hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and 1980. The U.S. imperial class has never forgiven that insolence.

Regional and Social-Cultural Disobedience

Post-revolution Iran has further antagonized Washington by telling its Arab Muslim neighbors to redistribute wealth, shun opulent display, serve the poor and live modestly. Tehran tried to provide a role model for such decency. This irked not just U.S. policymakers but also the petro-monarchies across the Middle East, led by the Saudis—all of whom militantly embraced ostentatious lifestyles for the wealthy few atop vast inequality.

As author Eric Margolis notes:

Iran demanded that its Arab neighbors follow Islam’s calls to share wealth, avoid ostentation, live modestly, and care for the needy—in short, the very opposite of the flamboyant Saudis and Gulf Arabs. Iran set the example by funding extensive social programs and education. Of course, Iran’s challenge to share the wealth was anathema to the oil monarchs and their American patrons.
When Saddam Hussein was overthrown by U.S. invasion, the chaos that ensued in Iraq “raised the specter of a Shia alliance across majority Shia Iraq. Especially threatening” to Washington, the Lehigh University political scientist Anthony DiMaggio recently wrote me, has been “the prospect of such an alliance including ... Shia in Saudi Arabia, who live under oppressive condition mainly in the east, the oil-rich region of the country.”

As a nation and civilization (Persia) that predates all others in the Gulf region, Iran demands recognition as the greatest power in the Middle East. Since 1979, it has seen itself as what historian David Crist calls “the new defender of the downtrodden Shia across the Middle East and, by extension, all Muslims resisting the West and Israel.” It doesn’t help, DiMaggio adds, that post-1979 Iranian leaders, media and citizens do not hesitate to express open contempt for U.S. policymakers and policy America’s excessively “materialist,” self-indulgent and crass, mass-consumerist lifestyle.

What bothers Washington most is Iran’s recalcitrant independence. As Crist writes at the end of his 2012 volume, “The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year War with Iran”: “In the final analysis, Iran simply rejects any vision of the Middle East as imposed by the will of the United States.”

Imagine that.

Crist, who strangely calls America “largely the good guy” in the conflict, might want to envision how Washington would respond to any vision of North America as imposed by the will of Russia and/or China.

“A famous quote by [the 1979 revolution’s leader] Ayatollah Khomeini,” Crist notes, “puts it succinctly: ‘We will resist America until our last breath.’ ” Superpower does not take kindly to such criticism and, above all, to such proud national defiance.

Meanwhile, Iran poses a threat to America’s great ally, Israel. Israel pretends to be concerned with an Iranian nuclear threat, but its real problem with Iran is Tehran’s ongoing support for the oppressed Palestinians. Iran is the last Middle East nation still giving real support to the cause of a Palestinian state. The Arab regimes have been silenced on this issue. Syria, Libya and Iraq have been devastated and riven by war. Egypt and Jordan have been bought off. The Saudis are secretly allied to Israel. That has left Iran alone to meaningfully champion Palestine. And Israel, as well as Iran’s other great regional enemy, Saudi Arabia, exercises no small influence in Washington’s corridors of power.

That is why “we”—well, “our” foreign policy “elite” and its obedient media—hate Iran.

One silver lining in this unpleasant story is that Iranians have a much higher opinion of the American people than they do of the American government. Eric Zuesse notes that a recent opinion survey finds that Iranians “don’t believe that America’s government represents the American people, at all. They think it represents instead the American aristocracy” (emphasis added).

Why Afghanistan? Fighting a War for the War System Itself

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President Donald Trump is hesitating to agree to thousands of additional troops for the war in Afghanistan as recommended by his secretary of defense and national security adviser, according to a New York Times report over the weekend.
So, it's a good time to put aside, for a moment, the troop request itself and focus on why the United States has been fighting the Taliban since 2001 -- and losing to them for well over a decade.
Some of the war managers would argue that the United States has never had enough troops or left them in Afghanistan long enough. But those very figures are openly calling for an indefinite neocolonial US military presence. The real reason for the fundamental weakness of the US-NATO war is the fact that the United States has empowered a rogues' gallery of Afghan warlords whose militias have imposed a regime of chaos, violence and oppression on the Afghan population -- stealing, killing and raping with utter impunity. And that strategy has come back to bite the Pentagon's war managers.
The Taliban hold the same sexist ideas as many members of rural Afghan society about keeping girls out of schools and in the home. But the organization appeared in 1994 in response to the desperate pleas of the population in the south -- especially in a Kandahar province divided up by four warlords -- to stop the wholesale abduction and rape of women and pre-teen boys, as well as the uncontrolled extortion of tolls by warlord troops. The Taliban portrayed themselves as standing for order and elementary justice against chaos and sexual violence, and they immediately won broad popular support to drive the warlords out of power across the south, finally taking over Kabul without a fight.
Then in 2001 the United States ousted the Taliban regime -- implicitly as retribution for 9/11, even though the Taliban leader Mullah Omar had not been informed of Osama bin Laden's plot and had strongly opposed any such plotting. Instead of forcing the warlords to give up their power or simply letting Afghan society determine the Taliban's fate, the United States helped its own warlord allies consolidate their power. President Hamid Karzai was encouraged to appoint the most powerful warlords as provincial governors and their private militias were converted into the national police. The CIA even put some of the militias on their payroll along with their warlord bosses to help track down Taliban and al Qaeda remnants.
These early US decisions created the plague of abuses by the "police" and other militias that has remained the underlying socio-political dynamic of the war ever since. Ron Neumann, US ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, explained the accepted rules for the warlords and the commanders of their militias toward those who are not part of their tribal in-group. "You take the people's land, their women -- you steal from them -- it's all part of one package," he told me in a 2009 interview.
It was not long before the Taliban began to reorganize for a second resistance to the warlords. From 2003 to 2006, they were taking the offensive across the Pashtun area of the south, with a rapidly increasing tempo of attacks.
In 2006 the US-NATO command responded to the Taliban offensive by creating the "Afghan National Auxiliary Police" (ANAP). ANAP officers were given new AK-47 assault rifles and uniforms like those of regular police, but the group was in essence another warlord militia, composed of the same individuals as other warlord militias. As a senior official in the Afghan Ministry of Interior told Human Rights Watch, the ANAP "was made for the warlords." They were "the same people, committing the same crimes, with more power."
The ANAP program was abandoned in April 2008, an apparent failure, but the US-NATO reliance on the warlords' militias continued. When US and British troops moved back into Lashkar Gah district of Helmand Province in mid-2009, their plan was to rely on police to reestablish a government presence there. But the police, commanded by mujahideen loyal to province warlord Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh, had terrorized the population of the district with systematic violent abuses, including the frequent  abduction and rape of pre-teen boys. The residents and village elders warned the British and Americans stationed in the district that they would again support the Taliban if necessary to protect themselves against being victimized by the police.
By September 2009 as the US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal was pressing Obama to add 40,000 more troops, his command was no longer under any illusions about being able to regain the support of the rural Pashtun population as long as it was so closely associated with the warlords. In his initial assessment of August 2009, McChrystal referred to "public anger and alienation" toward the US and NATO troops, because of the general perception that they were "complicit" in "widespread corruption and abuse of power."
But by then McChrystal and the US-NATO command chose to continue to rely on their warlord clients, because the US military needed their militias to supply all the US and NATO troops in the country. In order to get food, fuel and arms to the foreign troops at over 200 forward-operating military bases and combat outposts, the command had to outsource the trucking of the supplies and the security to private companies. Otherwise the command would have had to use a large percentage of the total foreign troops in Afghanistan to provide security for the convoys, as the Russians had done in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
But the only plentiful and instantly available supply of armed forces to provide the security was in the ranks of the warlords' own militias. So, the Pentagon designed a massive $2.16 billion annual logistics contract in 2008-09 under which about 25,000 militiamen were paid by dozens of private trucking companies and security companies owned by the warlords. The warlords were paid tens of millions of dollars a year, further consolidating their hold on the society.
The abuses by militias continued to be the primary complaint of village residents. The district governor in Khanabad district of Kunduz province told Human Rights Watch, "People come to me and complain about these arbakis [militias], but I can do nothing about this. They collect ushr [informal tax], take the daughters of the people, they do things against the wives of the people, they take their horses, sheep, anything."
When he assumed command in Afghanistan in mid-2010, Gen. David Petraeus immediately decided to turn yet again to the same warlord source of manpower to create the "Afghan Local Police" or ALP to provide 20,000 men to patrol the villages. Each ALP unit had its own Special Forces team, which gave its officers even greater impunity. The chief of the Baghlan Province council recounted a meeting with the US Special Operations Forces officer in charge of the ALP at which he had warned that the militiamen were "criminals." But the officer had flatly rejected his charge.
In theory, the ALP was supposed to be accountable to the chief of police in each district where it was operating. But one district chief of police in Baghlan province complained that it was impossible to investigate ALP crimes because the US Special Operations Forces were protecting them.
A Green Beret officer interviewed by the Christian Science Monitor in 2011 explained the US Special Operations Forces' perspective on the depredations of its Afghan clients:  "The ugly reality," he said, "is that if the US wants to prevail against the Taliban and its allies, it must work with Afghan fighters whose behavior insults Western sensibilities."
By 2013 the ALP had grown to nearly 30,000, and even the State Department annual report on human rights in Afghanistan acknowledged the serious abuses blamed on the ALP. The 2016 State Department report on human rights in Afghanistan refers to "credible accounts of killing, rape, assault, the forcible levy of informal taxes, and the traditional practice of 'baad' -- the transfer of a girl or woman to another family to settle a debt or grievance" -- all attributed by villagers to the ALP.
The linkage between warlord militia abuses and the cooperation of much of the rural population with the Taliban has long been accepted by the US command in Afghanistan. But the war has continued, because it serves powerful interests that have nothing to do with Afghanistan itself: the careers of the US officers who serve there; the bureaucratic stakes of the Joint Special Operations Command and the CIA in their huge programs and facilities in the country; the political cost of admitting that it was a futile effort from the start. Plus, the Pentagon and the CIA are determined to hold on to Afghan airstrips they use to carry out drone war in Pakistan for as long as possible.
Thus Afghanistan, the first of the United States' permanent wars, is in many ways the model for all the others that have followed -- wars that have no other purpose than to serve the US war system itself.

U.S. Interrogations Held at Secret Yemeni Prison

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A report published by Human Rights Watch and The Associated Press exposes how United States forces may have violated international law while interrogating detainees in a secret prison in Yemen. The detainees reportedly were tortured and abused by forces from the United Arab Emirates and Yemen prior to interrogation by the U.S.
Senior American defense officials acknowledged Wednesday that U.S. forces have been involved in interrogations of detainees in Yemen but denied any participation in or knowledge of human rights abuses. Interrogating detainees who have been abused could violate international law, which prohibits complicity in torture.
The AP documented at least 18 clandestine lockups across southern Yemen run by the United Arab Emirates or by Yemeni forces created and trained by the Gulf nation, drawing on accounts from former detainees, families of prisoners, civil rights lawyers and Yemeni military officials. All are either hidden or off limits to Yemen’s government, which has been getting Emirati help in its civil war with rebels over the last two years. ...
Several U.S. defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the topic, told AP that American forces do participate in interrogations of detainees at locations in Yemen, provide questions for others to ask, and receive transcripts of interrogations from Emirati allies. They said U.S. senior military leaders were aware of allegations of torture at the prisons in Yemen, looked into them, but were satisfied that there had not been any abuse when U.S. forces were present.
The UAE denied allegations of torture in a statement to AP, but Yemeni lawyers and family members allege that at least 2,000 men have been locked up in the secret prisons. The AP continues:

“None of the dozens of people interviewed by AP contended that American interrogators were involved in the actual abuses,” the AP continues. “Nevertheless, obtaining intelligence that may have been extracted by torture inflicted by another party would violate the International Convention Against Torture and could qualify as war crimes, said Ryan Goodman, a law professor at New York University who served as special counsel to the Defense Department until last year.”

In an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, Kristine Beckerle of Human Rights Watch further explains the report. She says:
The UAE is a member of the Saudi-led coalition, and it’s the U.S.’s main counterterror partner in Yemen. And so, what the AP then reports is that not only is the U.S. aware of these allegations of abuse, but the U.S. itself is sending in interrogators into these prisons and involved in interrogations of Yemeni detainees—the exact same places where we and the AP are reporting that former detainees, family members, government officials have been telling us that there’s sort of rampant abuse. And so, the big question that you then have is, OK, so now the U.S. is on the hook potentially legally for selling arms to Saudi Arabia, and you now have the U.S. potentially complicit or involved in detainee abuse with the UAE in Yemen. ...
The thing is, the ban on torture is one of the most fundamental prohibitions in international law. And that includes not only directly engaging in torture, but also being complicit in torture or using intelligence gleaned from torture. And again, that’s why these allegations are so—I mean, the U.S. and the UAE need to address them, because at this point it’s not just the AP reporting, it’s not just Human Rights Watch reporting. There are Yemeni groups who are reporting this. It’s sort of not in the realm of rumors. It’s in the realm of: At what point do you say, “OK, we’ve now talked to basically 50—we’ve documented 50 cases of abuse. You can’t come back at me and say you’re unaware, you’re not taking action”? Which, basically, the UAE’s response to the AP’s report was “There’s no secret detention sites. Don’t worry about it.” But it sort of defies belief, beggars belief, that we, the AP and others have documented all of these allegations of abuse and it isn’t in fact true.
Read the full AP story here, and watch Beckerle’s full interview on Democracy Now! here.

The US escalation in Syria and the threat of world war

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In the wake of Sunday’s US shoot-down of a Syrian fighter plane and the following day’s warning from Russia that it will treat all American warplanes flying west of the Euphrates River as targets for its surface-to-air missiles, the threat of an armed confrontation between the world’s two largest nuclear powers is now greater than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis nearly 55 years ago.
This threat, which carries with it the grim prospect of the annihilation of humanity, is the product of a calculated escalation on the part of US imperialism.
The downing of the Syrian fighter marked the first time in this century that a US warplane has shot down the plane of another country. The last instance of such aerial combat took place in 1999 during the US-NATO war against Serbia, when an American fighter plane shot down a Serbian MiG.
The gravity of the event was underscored Tuesday with Australia’s announcement that it is grounding its planes that have been flying over Syria. Australia was one of the few members of the US-led “anti-ISIS coalition” that made any significant contribution to the increasingly murderous US air campaign against both Iraq and Syria. While the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, responded to the Russian threat with bravado, extolling the ability of US pilots to “take care of themselves,” the Australian military clearly believes that one of its planes could be brought down.
The escalation of the conflict continued Tuesday with a US warplane shooting down an Iranian drone in southeastern Syria.
What will be the consequences if a Russian surface-to-air missile battery fires on a US plane seen as posing an imminent threat to Moscow’s forces on the ground in Syria, or, for that matter, if a US warplane “painted” with the radar of a Russian SAM site takes preemptive action?
No one knows. Complacent US foreign policy “experts” insist that the last thing either Washington or Moscow wants is a nuclear conflagration, and, therefore, it will not happen. This fallacious argument is then employed to justify unbridled US aggression.
The supposed rationality of capitalist ruling classes has again and again proven no deterrent to the outbreak of catastrophic wars. As former defense secretary Robert McNamara recalled in the documentary “Fog of War,” during the Cuban missile crisis, “Rational individuals”—Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro—“came that close to total destruction of their societies.”
In a number of ways, the current situation is even more combustible than that in 1962. At that time, the demand of the fascistic Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Curtis LeMay, that he be allowed to bomb Russian missile sites in Cuba was overruled by President Kennedy. Today, US military policy in Syria, and for that matter in Iraq, Afghanistan and across the globe, has been delegated by Trump to a cabal of active-duty and recently retired generals, headed by Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis, as well as to area commanders, whose outlook, in most cases, does not differ from that of LeMay.
A glimpse of their attitude toward the Syrian crisis was provided by a recent forum of the Council on Foreign Affairs featuring the longtime Pentagon advisor on both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Kimberly Kagan.
Kagan, who now heads the Institute of the Study of War, first invoked the tired pretext of the “war on terror” as the justification for the US intervention. Syria, she asserted, represented a “vital national security threat” because it was “exporting terror and terror groups from its borders.” She acknowledged that ISIS posed a threat, but went on to insist that Al Qaeda posed an even greater danger because it had been allowed to carve out “its own safe haven in Idlib province.”
The hypocrisy is staggering. Syria is not an “exporter” of terror, but rather the victim of the Al Qaeda-linked militias that were unleashed upon the country by the CIA and Washington’s regional allies in a war for regime change. As for Al Qaeda’s “safe haven,” it has been defended by the US, which has repeatedly denounced the Syrian government and Russia for bombing these so-called “rebels” and insisted that only ISIS can be targeted.
Kagan dispensed with her twisted arguments about terrorism to concentrate on the real concerns within the US military and intelligence apparatus. Iran and Russia posed a “long-term strategic threat” to the US, she argued, because of their military presence in Syria, challenging American dominance of the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
The threat was to be dealt with by the US military seizing for itself “a base of operations in what is eastern Syria, along the Euphrates,” from Raqqa in the north to the Iraqi and Jordanian borders to the south. One of the aims of the American intervention, she stated, would be to “energize Sunni populations in the Euphrates River zone, which has been a hotbed of ISIS support, but before it, Al Qaida support.” In other words, Washington will seek to reignite the sectarian war for regime change based on Sunni Islamist militias, but this time with American “boots on the ground.”
How many US troops will this operation require? “I don’t know,” Kagan said. “It’s not 150,000 guys. But it’s got to be enough to be present and to extend presence forward.” Key to this military adventure, she added, was to “prepare for what the Russians and the Iranians will try to do to respond.”
In other words, what is being prepared—behind the backs of the American people and without any debate, much less a shred of legality—is another full-scale Middle East war directed not just at Syrian regime change, but at confronting Iran and nuclear-armed Russia.
Nor is this conflict confined to the Middle East. Also reported on Tuesday was a Russian jet armed with air-to-air missiles intercepting a US RC-135 spy plane over the Baltic Sea near the strategic Russian military base at Kaliningrad, with the two planes reportedly coming within five feet of each other. Each side accused the other of operating dangerously.
Meanwhile, NATO held a ceremony in the former Soviet Baltic republic of Latvia to mark what it said was the full deployment of a 4,500-strong “deterrent force” on Russia’s border. The Pentagon recently deployed B-2 stealth bombers and other aircraft as well as Army units to the region for “exercises.” Russia has reportedly countered with a buildup of its own on its western border.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he didn’t see any “imminent threat” of an armed confrontation in the Baltic region, but Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Alexander Grushko, described the “military dynamic” as “dangerous.”
The American media has treated the escalating confrontation in the Middle East and the heightened tensions in the Baltics as virtual nonissues. At the first White House press briefing held in over a week, press secretary Sean Spicer made no statement regarding recent US military actions in Syria and the assembled poodles of the press corps didn’t ask him a single question on the growing war danger.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party, working in close sync with the Pentagon and the CIA, has conducted an unrelenting campaign of anti-Russian hysteria aimed at creating a new, ostensibly liberal, constituency for war among privileged layers of the middle class. Democrats have endorsed every new act of military escalation in Syria, demanding only that the Trump administration present a “comprehensive” plan for war and, in some cases, calling for the passage of a new authorization for use of military force to legitimize military aggression.
The efforts of the Democratic Party and the pseudo-left organizations that orbit it notwithstanding, the same crisis of US and world capitalism that gives rise to war also produces its opposite, the growth of the class struggle and ripening of the objective conditions for socialist revolution. The most urgent task is the development of a mass political movement of the working class in opposition to war and its source, the capitalist system.