Posts Tagged ‘Masters of War’
Video Interview: Chalmers Johnson on American Hegemony : Information Clearing House: ICH.
Goodbye, Chalmers Johnson. Condolences to his friends and family. He was a clear-sighted intellectual and US foreign policy analyst who revealed the facts predicting the downfall of the US empire and explained their import. He tried to warn those in power. He seemed to be, in this interview, a gentle, patient, reflective person with a strong sense of history.
Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope (American Empire Project)Chalmers Johnson, the renowned political scientist of Asia, died on Saturday. Steve Clemons, who worked closely with him, has written awarm and generous tribute. It is fully deserved.
Thanks to Steve I first met Chalmers over a decade ago, spending some time with him in Washington and San Francisco and Tokyo. It didn’t take more than a few seconds to realize that Chalmers was an inimitable figure–corruscating, engaging, witty, alert, cantankerous. He had the ability of many great professors to treat anyone’s question or assertion with the greatest seriousness–and then patiently elucidate his response. With the higher-ups, though, he wasn’t always so patient–I remember him referring to one member of the American embassy in Japan as an “intellectual geisha.” Johnson’s attitude, I think, could be summed up in the 1960s phrase “question authority.” Chalmers did a lot of questioning.
For much of his career, Johnson was a scholar. His doctoral dissertation called Peasant Nationalism and Communist Power compared the mobilization of the pesantry in communist China and Yugoslavia. It’s a deeply researched book. In focusing on the power of nationalism in both countries, Johnson was ahead of the curve, to use the kind of cliche that he would have shunned. He probably would have used a word like “percipient.” He went on to cause a stir in the 1980s and 1990s with his analyses of Japan, which he saw as controlled by the state bureaucracy–a kind of hybrid capitalism (the forerunner of what would emerge in China). Others, including Steve Clemons, can chronicle the history of these disputes over Japan more ably than I can.
Though I do remember a fascinating conversation between Murray Sayle, the Australian expatriate and crack journalist who lived for years in a small fishing village in Japan, and Chalmers at the Tokyo press club over whether America could survive without an industrial base. Murray, like Chalmers, was a contributor to the National Interest–he, too, had a penchant for upending conventional wisdom, arguing, as I recall, that the number of dead at Tiananmen Square, which he visited, had been greatly exaggerated. Murray died this September.
Steve Clemons explains Johnson’s academic ascension and upheavals better than I can. One thing that bears noting, however, is that Chalmers, I think, was greatly influenced by his service to the CIA as a consultant during the 1960s. He was a champion of the Vietnam War. He lost his faith. As I understand it, Chalmers made the reverse evolution of the neoconservatives, from the right to the left. He became a sharp and trenchant critic of what he dubbed the American empire.
In fact, Chalmers became a fierce foe of America’s presence at Okinawa and, more generally, what he saw as the inevitable “blowback,” to quote the title of one of his books, that accompanied America’s expansion around the globe. Chalmers would have none of it. Not for him the temptations of empire, the swagger, the braggadoccio that took off after the end of the Cold War and culminated in the George W. Bush presidency. I recall introducing him for a talk early on during the Bush presidency at the New America foundation. I think much of the audience thought he had gone off his rocker as he denounced America’s foreign policy. But by the end of the Bush presidency, much of what he espoused had become conventional wisdom. One of his best essays appeared in 2007 in the London Review of Books, where he reviewed a book called Ghost Planes. Chalmers discussed how spotters had traced CIA transports of terrorism suspects to secret prisons around the world–the rendition program, to use the government euphemism. WIth Washington sanctioning torture, Chalmer’s once-radical critique was starting to appear commonplace. He was, you could say, being overtaken by events. Now that America’s economy has been battered, his critique looks even more telling.
In a sense, it may be a mistake to say that Chalmers moved to the “left.” He personified many of the “old right” themes as well. But to try and categorize Chalmers is probably a mistake. Some would classify him as anti-American. To the contrary, he was an American original. His was the pain of a patriot who saw his country debasing and debauching the very ideals it purported to uphold. He thought it could do better.
Whether he will be fully vindicated in his dire view of the fall of the American Republic remains unclear. But this clairvoyant figure made a lasting contribution to the debate about American foreign policy. His command of English and sweeping analyses will not be soon forgotten. His cautions about American foreign policy will be continued by Steve Clemons and other admirers. Chalmers may have passed away, but the questions he raised will not. He didn’t simply leave behind a body of work. He has left a legacy.
Sunday, Nov 21 2010, 12:30PM
Next week, Foreign Policy magazine and its editor-in-chief Susan Glasser will be releasing its 2nd annual roster of the world’s greatest thinkers and doers in foreign policy. I have seen the list — and it’s impressively creative and eclectic.
There is one name that is not on the FP100who should be — and that is Chalmers Johnson, who from my perspective rivals Henry Kissinger as the most significant intellectual force who has shaped and defined the fundamental boundaries and goal posts of US foreign policy in the modern era. [gimme a break..]
Johnson, who passed away Saturday afternoon at 79 years, invented and was the acknowledged godfather of the conceptualization of the “developmental state“. For the uninitiated, this means that Chalmers Johnson led the way in understanding the dynamics of how states manipulated their policy conditions and environments to speed up economic growth. In the neoliberal hive at the University of Chicago, Chalmers Johnson was an apostate and heretic in the field of political economy. Johnson challenged conventional wisdom with he and his many star students — including E.B. Keehn, David Arase, Marie Anchordoguy, Mark Tilton and others — writing the significant treatises documenting the growing prevalence of state-led industrial and trade and finance policy abroad, particularly in Asia.
Today, the notion of “State Capitalism” has become practically commonplace in discussing the newest and most significant features of the global economy. Chalmers Johnson invented this field and planted the intellectual roots of understanding that other nation states were not trying to converge with and follow the so-called American model.
Johnson for his seminal work on Japanese political economy, MITI and the Japanese Miracle was dubbed by Newsweek‘s Robert Neff as “godfather of the revisionists” on Japan. Neff also tagged Clyde Prestowitz, James Fallows, Karel van Wolferen and others like R. Taggart Murphy and Pat Choate as the leaders of a new movement that argued that Japan was organizing its political economy in different ways than the U.S. This was a huge deal in its day — and these writers and thinkers led by the implacable Johnson were attacked from all corners of American academia and among the crowd of American Japan-hands who wanted to deflect rather than focus a spotlight on the fact that Japan’s economic mandarins were really the national security elite of the Pacific powerhouse nation.
In the 1980s when Johnson was arguing that Japan’s state directed capitalism was succeeding at not only propelling Japan’s wealth upwards but was creating “power” for Japan in the eyes of the rest of the world, Kissinger and the geostrategic crowd could not see beyond the global currency and power realities of nuclear warheads and throw-weight. The revisionists were responsible for injecting the economic dynamics of power and national interest in the equation of a nation’s global status.
To understand China’s rise today, the fact that China has become the Google of nations and America the General Motors of countries — the US being seen by others as a very well branded, large, underperforming country — one must go back to Chalmers Johnson’s work on the developmental state.
Scratch beneath these Johnson breakthroughs though and go back another decade and a half and one finds that Chalmers Johnson, a one time hard-right national security hawk, deconstructed the Chinese Communist revolution and showed that the dynamic that drive the revolutionary furor had less to do with class warfare and the appeal of communism but rather high octane “nationalism.” Johnson saw earlier than most that the same dynamic was true in Vietnam. His work which was published asPeasant Nationalism and Communist Power while a UC Berkeley doctoral student launched him as a formidable force in Asia-focused intellectual circles in the U.S.
Johnson’s ability to launch an instant, debilitating broadside against the intellectual vacuousness of friends or foes made him controversial. He chafed under the UC Berkeley Asia Program leadership of Robert Scalapino whom Johnson viewed as one of the primary dynastic chiefs of what became known as the “Chrysanthemum Club”, those whose Japan-hugging meant overlooking and/or ignoring the characteristics of Japan’s state-led form of capitalism. Johnson was provocatively challenged graduate students in the field to choose sides — to work either on the side where they acquiesced to a corrupt culture of US-Japan apologists who wanted the quaint big brother-little brother frame for the relationship to remain the dominant portal through which Japan was viewed or alternatively on the side of those who saw Japan and America’s forfeiture of its own economic interests as empirical facts.
When Robert Scalapino refused to budge despite Johnson’s agitation, Johnson who then headed UC Berkeley’s important China Studies program abandoned the university and became the star intellectual of UC San Diego’s School of International Relations and Pacific Studies. There is no doubt that Johnson but UCSD’s IRPS on the map and gave it an instant, global boost.
But as usual, Johnson — incorruptible and passionate about policy, theory, and their practice — eventually went to war with the bureaucrats running that institution. Those who had come in to head it were devotees of “rational choice theory” — which was spreading through the fields of political science and other social sciences as the so-called softer sciences were trying to absorb and apply the harder-edged econometrics-driven models of behavior that the neoliberal trends in economics were using.
Johnson and one of his proteges, E.B. “Barry” Keehn, wrote a powerful indictment of rational choice theory that helped trigger a long-running and still important intellectual divide that showed that rational choice theory was one of the great ideological delusions of the era. I too joined this battle and wrote extensively about the limits of rational choice theory which I myself saw dislodging university language programs, cultural studies, and more importantly — the institutional/structural approaches to understanding other political systems.
Johnson once told me when I was visiting him and his long-term, constant intellectual partner and wife, Sheila Johnson, that the UCSD School of International Relations and Pacific Studies no longer either really taught international relations or pacific studies — and that a student’s entire first year was focused on acultural skill set development in economics and statistics. To Johnson, this tendency to elevate econometric formulas over the actual study of a nation’s language, history, culture and political system was part of America’s growing cultural imperialism. Studying “them” is really about “us” — as “they” will converge to be like “us” or will fall to the way side and be insignificant.
It was that night that Chalmers Johnson, Sheila Johnson and I agreed to form an idea on had been developing called the Japan Policy Research Institute. Chalmers became President and I the Director. We maintained this working relationship at the helm of JPRI together for more than 12 years and spoke nearly every week if not every other day as we tried to acquire and publish the leading thinking on Japan, US-Japan relations and Asia more broadly. We became conveners, published works on Asia that the official journals of record of US-Asia policy viewed as too risky, and emerged as key players in the media on all matters of America’s economic, political, and military engagement in the Pacific. Today, JPRI is headed by Chiho Sawada and is based at the University of San Francisco.
However, this base of JPRI gave Chalmers Johnson the launch pad that led to the largest contribution of his career to America’s national discourse. From his granular understanding of political economy of competing nations, his understanding of the national security infrastructure of both sides of the Cold War, he saw better than most that the US had organized its global assets — particularly its vassals Japan and Germany — in a manner similar to the Soviet Union. Both sides looked like the other. Both were empires. The Soviets collapsed, Chalmers told me and wrote. The U.S. did not — yet.
The rape of a 12 year-old girl by three American servicemen in Okinawa, Japan in September 1995 and the statement by a US military commander that they should have just picked up a prostitute became the pivot moving Johnson who had once been a supporter of the Vietnam War and railed against UC Berkeley’s anti-Vietnam protesters into a powerful critic of US foreign policy and US empire.
Johnson argued that there was no logic that existed any longer for the US to maintain a global network of bases and to continue the occupation of other countries like Japan. Johnson noted that there were over 39 US military installations on Okinawa alone. The military industrial complex that Eisenhower had warned against had become a fixed reality in Johnson’s mind and essays after the Cold War ended.
In four powerful books, all written not in the corridors of power in New York or Washington — but in his small home office at Cardiff-by-the-Sea in California, Johnson became one of the most successful chroniclers and critics of America’s foreign policy designs around the world.
Before 9/11, Johnson wrote the book Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. After the terrorist attacks in 2001 in New York and Washington, Blowback became the hottest book in the market. The publishers could not keep up with demand and it became the most difficult to get, most wanted book among those in national security topics.
He then wrote Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, and most recently Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope. Johnson, who used to be a net assessments adviser to the CIA’s Allen Dulles, had become such a critic of Washington and the national security establishment that this hard-right conservative had become adopted as one of the political left’s greatest icons.
Johnson measured himself to some degree against the likes of Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal — but in my mind, Johnson was the more serious, the most empirical, the most informed about the nooks and crannies of every political position as he had journeyed the length of the spectrum.
Chalmers Johnson served on my board when I worked at the Japan America Society of Southern California. He and I, along with Sheila Johnson — along with Tom Engelhardt one of the world’s great editors — created the Japan Policy Research Institute. Johnson served on the Advisory Board of the Nixon Center when I served as the Center’s founding executive director. We had a long, constructive, feisty relationship. He helped propel my career and thinking. In recent years, we were more distant — mostly because I was not ready, as he was, to completely disown Washington.
Many of Johnson’s followers and Chal himself think that American democracy is lost, that the republic has been destroyed by an embrace of empire and that the American public is unaware and unconscious of the fix. He may be right — but I took a course trying to use blogs, new media, and a DC based think tank called the New America Foundation to challenge conventional foreign policy trends in other ways. Ultimately, I think Chalmers was content with what I was doing but probably knew that in the end, I’d catch up with him in his profound frustration with what America was doing in the world.
Chalmers and Sheila Johnson saw me lead the battle against John Bolton’s confirmation vote in the Senate as US Ambassador to the United Nations — but given the scale of his ambitions to dislodge America’s embrace of empire, Bolton was too small a target in his eyes. He was probably right.
Saying Chalmers Johnson is dead sounds like a lie. I can’t fathom him being gone — and with all of the amazing times I’ve had with him as well as the bouts of political debate and even yelling as we were pounding out JPRI materials on deadline, I just can’t imagine that this blustery, irreverent, completely brilliant force won’t be there to challenge Washington and academia.
Few intellectuals attain what might have been called many centuries ago the rank of “wizard” — an almost other worldly force who defied society’s and life’s rules and commanded an enormous following of acolytes and enemies.
Wizards don’t die — and I hope that those who read this, who knew him, or go on reading his works in the decades ahead provoke, inspire, jab, rebuke, applaud, and condemn in the way he did.
In one of my fondest memories of Chalmers and Sheila Johnson at their home with their then Russian blue cats, MITI and MOF, named after the two engines of Japan’s political economy — Chal railed against the journal, Foreign Affairs, which he saw as a clap trap of statist conventionalism. He decided he had had enough of the journal and of the organization that published it, the Council on Foreign Relations. So, Chalmers called the CFR and told the young lady on the phone to cancel his membership.
The lady said, “Professor Johnson, I’m sorry sir. No one cancels their membership in the Council in Foreign Relations. Membership is for life. People are canceled when they die.”
Chalmers Johnson, not missing a beat, said “Consider me dead.”
I never will. He is and was the intellectual giant of our times. Chalmers Johnson centuries from now will be seen, I think, as the intellectual titan of this past era, surpassing Kissinger in the breadth of seminal works that define what America was and could have been. [NO COMPARISON. Johnson never overthrew a government nor murdered innocent people]
My sincere condolences to Sheila, to others in his extended family — particularly among all of his students and colleagues who were part of the Johnson dynasty — and to his friends in San Diego who were a vital part of the texture of the Johnson household.
— Steve Clemons
3 June 2010
The Israeli military’s killing of nine civilians and wounding of scores more on a ship carrying humanitarian supplies in international waters was an act of cold-blooded murder and a war crime.
For millions of people around the world, this military assault on an aid convoy carrying wheelchairs, cement, water purification systems, children’s toys and notebook paper to Gaza—all items barred by Israel’s blockade of the occupied territory—epitomizes the role played by Israel, as well as that of its US sponsor, in global affairs.
As always in the aftermath of such atrocities, the Israeli government has blamed its victims. In a televised speech Wednesday, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu described the aid convoy as a “flotilla of terror supporters” and praised the slaughter on the high seas as an act of self-defense by besieged Israeli commandos.
Those who engaged in self-defense were the passengers on the ship, and they had every right to do so. The fact that nine of them were killed, while the Israel Defense Force (IDF) commandos suffered not a single fatality, is evidence as to who was the aggressor.
This is a regular pattern. The massacre in the Mediterranean comes just a year and a half after Operation Cast Lead, the far greater slaughter that the Israeli regime unleashed against the suffering people of Gaza. Claiming then as now to act in “self defense,” in December 2008 and January 2009 Israel rained bombs, missiles and tank and automatic weapons fire upon Gaza, killing over 1,400 Palestinians, the overwhelming majority of them unarmed men, women and children. This one-sided war by one of the world’s most powerful military machines against a relatively defenseless civilian population claimed just 13 Israeli lives, all but three of them soldiers.
The aid convoy was a response to the barbaric blockade that has subjected an entire population of 1.5 million people in Gaza to hunger, disease and misery.
Since the tightening of the blockade in 2007, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the number of Gazan refugees living in abject poverty has tripled.
The UN reported at the end of 2009 that “insufficient food and medicine is reaching Gazans, producing a further deterioration of the mental and physical health of the entire civilian population since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead against the territory.” Among the starkest expressions of Israel’s deliberate starvation of an entire population was a finding by the Food and Agriculture Organization last year that 65 percent of babies between the ages of nine and 12 months suffer from anemia.
Israel is able to carry out this kind of medieval siege as well as piracy and murder not merely because of its own military might, but thanks to the unwavering patronage and funding of Washington. This latest mass killing has only underscored that—as with so much else—the advent of the Obama administration has effected no significant change in US policy.
While issuing a hypocritical expression of “deep regret at the loss of life,” the Obama administration is doing everything it can to assure that Israel bears neither blame nor consequences for these killings. It quashed any criticism of Israel’s action at the UN Security Council and has implicitly adopted the Zionist state’s justification for the massacre.
Israel’s criminality and Washington’s role as its unconditional enabler both have a long history. It is worth recalling another Israeli attack on a vessel in international waters that took place 43 years ago. In that attack, 34 sailors aboard the USS Liberty were killed by Israeli napalm, missiles and machine-gun fire, while another 171 while wounded—the worst casualties suffered by the US Navy in a hostile action since World War II.
An intelligence ship, the Liberty was attacked off the Sinai Peninsula on June 8, 1967 in the midst of the Six-Day War. While Israel called it a tragic “mistake,” ample evidence emerged that the Zionist state attacked the ship because it wanted to stop Washington from listening in to its communications. Intercepts flatly contradicted Tel Aviv’s claim that it was acting in self-defense and revealed that Israel wanted to conceal evidence of its aggressive intentions as it moved to seize Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, all of which remain under illegal occupation to this day.
Much of the criticism of this week’s attack on the aid convoy, including within Israel itself, has treated it as a “botched” operation, an excessive use of force and a public relations fiasco. But this is not a matter of a government losing its head. The Netanyahu regime’s policies are directed to a definite socio-political base, composed of religious extremists, right-wing settlers and the most politically reactionary layers within Israeli society. Its orientation is personified by the fascistic background and ideology of its foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.
Deeply reactionary and in deep political crisis, the Israeli government is driven more and more to act as a global pyromaniac, threatening renewed wars against Syria and Lebanon and, according to a report in the London Times this week, sending submarines armed with nuclear missiles to the waters off Iran.
The unconditional support and approximately $3 billion in annual aid to Israel bestowed by Washington—and continued under Obama—pose a mortal danger to people across the globe.
This is not a matter merely of a single outlaw regime, but of a general descent of world affairs into a state of criminality and the disintegration of any semblance of international law, with Israel’s main patron setting the pattern.
The Obama administration continues two wars of aggression initiated under Bush and has maintained intact a police state apparatus of unlawful detentions, rendition and torture. It has now earned the ignominious designation as the number one practitioner of “targeted killings”—assassinations—through CIA drone attacks that have killed “many hundreds of people” in Pakistan, according to a United Nations report released Wednesday. The report condemned Washington for claiming a “license to kill without accountability.”
The behavior of the US and other governments as if they were the state incarnation of Murder Inc., acts of state terrorism and piracy like that committed by Israel this week, and the constant threats of new aggression have created a global climate that bears ever closer resemblance to the conditions that prevailed on the eve the Second World War.
These developments are driven by the mortal crisis of world capitalism and will not be reversed by either protests or pacifism. Only by uniting the working class, including both Jewish and Arab workers in the Middle East, in a common struggle to put an end to the profit system can a new global conflagration be prevented.
Simply unbelievable arrogance and stupidity again on display in DC. Thanks for Ron Paul for his 5 minutes of rational, considered opinion. The 300 legislators who voted to censure Iran apparently were all drinking the same kool aid. They’re apparently lusting for WW III and the destruction of our nation. Traitors all.
IN CASE SOMEONE IS WONDERING – A Note from China Rose
Is the phrase “The Synagogue of Satan” quoted by Rev Farrakhan the most egregious example of anti-Semitism in the New Testament? Lets’s take a look.
The phrase Synagogue of Satan, is followed by a clear explication: “they who say they are Jews but are not.” Thus fake Jews are comprise Synagogue of Satan, not real Jews. So you cannot look at this phrase and see it as a blanket condemnation of every Jew. But it does condemn the poseurs. The problem that John’s vision reveals is people who claim to be Jews, but do NOT have a clue what being a Jew really means. The controversy over who is a Jew, and what that means continues to this day. Why is the nature of Jewish identity so disputed? Is being Jewish supporting Israel and AIPAC, amassing piles of money, following customs and traditions, living in Israel, being a cultured liberal, or embracing the tenets of the Talmud? Reform, Conservative or Orthodox? Is it ethnicity, religion, national pride? Are Ashkenazism Jews at all? What about Zionism? Can a campaign to dominate a geographical region by force be a pre-condition of qualifying to be Jewish?
John the Revelator’s metaphor suggests that all the above are pretenders and frauds and comprise the Synagogue of Satan. “Satanic” not because Jews are inherently evil, which is a ridiculous interpretation. It is a Satanic Synagogue because it substitutes worldly affiliations for spiritual, carnal values for Biblical. If there is one theme that persists from Old to New Testament it is this: God’s ways are not Man’s Ways, Don’t Trust in Man and in the succinct words of Jesus, “My Kingdom is Not of This World” From the very beginning – the flight from Egypt – there were pretenders, worshippers of the Golden Calf, the self-deceived, who thought they could break God’s laws and get away with it.
While it is true that very few Jews are following their own precepts, it’s also true for Gentiles.
If there is anything that sets Jews apart, it is the level of hypocrisy required to maintain that their Jewishness makes them better than anyone else, and that being “the chosen ones” means they don’t have to study the Bible and read the phrases about God’s condemnations & judgements of a nation that was “uncircumcised in heart.” Jesus was aware of that hypocrisy, despised it and condemned it. Being Jewish, He was surrounded with it. But He was not the first. Most of the Hebrew prophets had already experienced the lethal hypocrisy of the their Jewish leaders. Their lives were threatened when they exposed it.
Isaiah 6:5 So I said: “Woe [is] me, for I am undone! Because I [am] a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts.”
God’s condemnations of the people of Israel and imprecations against them for their hypocrisy occur thoughout the people. The Book of Isaiah is a good case in point. http://tinyurl.com/y35lthj Read at least Chapter 1 if you think Jews have a free pass from God to do whatever they want and remain in God’s grace. In short the Synagogue of Satan refers to hypocrisy based on selfish motives and self-deceit. Unfortunately, this synagogue is still taking new members.
2 Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth!
For the LORD has spoken:
“I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me.
3 The ox knows his master,
the donkey his owner’s manger,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”
4 Ah, sinful nation,
a people loaded with guilt,
a brood of evildoers,
children given to corruption!
They have forsaken the LORD;
they have spurned the Holy One of Israel
and turned their backs on him.
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts
my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood;
16 wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds
out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,
|The Accomodationists: Memo to Liberals on the White House Death Warrants|
|WRITTEN BY CHRIS FLOYD|
|THURSDAY, 08 APRIL 2010 16:12|
Let us hear no more excuses for Barack Obama. Let us hear no more defenses, no more special pleading, no more extenuations. Let us have no more reciting of the “pressures” he is under, of the “many obstacles” that balk him in his quest to do us good, of the “bad advisors” who are swaying him to unworthy acts against his will. Let us be done at last with all these wretched lies, these complicitous self-deceptions that are facilitating atrocity and tyranny on a monstrous scale.
Barack Obama has ordered the murder of an American citizen, without trial, without due process, without the production of any evidence. All it takes to kill any American citizen in this way is Barack Obama’s signature on a piece of paper, his arbitrary designation of the target as a “suspected terrorist.” In precisely the same way — precisely the same way — Josef Stalin would place a mark by a name in a list of “suspected terrorists” or “counterrevolutionaries,” and the bearer of that name would die. This is the system we have now, the same as the Soviets had then: a leader with the unchallengeable power to kill citizens without due process.
That this power has not been used on the same scale in the American system as in the Stalinist state — yet — does not alter the equivalence of this governing principle. In both cases, the leader signs arbitrary death warrants; the security services carry out the task; and the ‘great and good’ of society accept this draconian power as necessary and right.
This is what you support when you support Barack Obama. It does not matter if you think his opponents in the factional infighting to control a bloodsoaked empire and its war machine are “worse” than he is in some measure. When you support him, when you defend him, when you excuse him, it is arbitrary murder that you are supporting. It is the absolute negation of every single principle of enlightenment and human rights professed by liberals, progressives — indeed, by honorable people of every political stripe — for centuries.
There is nothing particularly remarkable about Obama’s order to kill an American citizen without trial or evidence, of course. George W. Bush claimed the same powers. As I have noted here and elsewhere for many years, our American presidents now claim the right to kill any person on earth whom they arbitrarily designate as an enemy — or even a suspected enemy — of the United States. Barack Obama embraced this power as soon as he took office, ordering a “surge” in the “targeted killings” on “suspected terrorists” in Pakistan. Hundreds and hundreds of innocent human beings have been murdered in these drone attacks; many thousands more have been driven from their homes, and terrorized into lives of mental anguish, their psyches lamed by trauma, upheaval and the ever-present dread of death raining down on them from the skies.
And of course, thousands of innocent people continue to die in the wars of dominion and profiteering that Obama has so eagerly embraced. In Afghanistan, they die directly at the hands of American forces — including secret assassins who raid villages by night, often slaughtering civilians, even those cooperating with the military occupation. As Obama’s hand-picked commander in the region, Stanley McChrystal, has openly admitted: “We have shot an amazing number of people [at checkpoints and on the roads], but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat.” And in Iraq — the scene of the abominable, Nazi-like war crime of military aggression whose continuation by Bush’s “surge” was hailed by Obama as “an extraordinary achievement” — innocent people continue to die in droves at the hands of the vicious and violent forces unleashed and empowered by the American invasion and occupation, while they wait to see which brutal “hard man” will seize power over their riven and ruined society.
No, the only remarkable thing about Obama’s direct order to murder his fellow American citizen, Anwar al-Alwaki, is its openness. A few weeks ago, he sent his intelligence chieftain, Dennis Blair, to Congress to openly proclaim the president’s “right” to kill American citizens arbitrarily. Bush had kept this claimed power obscured, letting it out in dribs and drabs of directed leaks, and hints and winks in public statements; but Obama has taken us beyond that, to the open declaration and institutional entrenchment of the principle of death without due process for citizens. This indeed is “change” — with a vengeance.
(And to think that only a few years ago, capital punishment — with its vast and cumbersome legal machinery — was banished in America as too unjust and arbitrary in its application; now a president need not trouble himself with the slightest bit of legal process if he wants to have someone killed. I suppose this too is “progress”: more streamlined, more efficient, quicker, more modern — like wireless broadband. It’s simply there all the time at the president’s pleasure.)
Now, there can be no shuffling, no waffling on the matter. Obama has made it crystal clear for even the most avidly self-duping progressive: He will murder his fellow citizens without trial or evidence if he sees fit. The state can murder whom it pleases. This is the system we have. This is what you support when you support Barack Obama. You cannot escape this logic, this judgment. If you support Obama now, in this, then there is no crime he can commit that you will not support.
And thus you become one of those people that we all used to puzzle over, the accomodationists to brutal tyranny: “How did all those people go along with the Nazis? Why wasn’t there more opposition to Stalin? How could they countenance all those obvious abominations? What kind of people were they?”
Now you know. They were you. You are them.
NOTE 2: While I was writing this piece, I got the welcome news that Arthur Silber was back, after a long hiatus due to his chronic ill health. And, as usual, his insights cut straight to the heart of the matter. As I noted here the other day, Silber was one of the very few writers who saw through the shining cloud that surrounded the Obama campaign to the corroded core within. He also noted the greatest danger of an Obama presidency: that it would confirm, entrench, expand — and normalize — the worst aspects of the American imperium, precisely because the system’s crimes and atrocities would now be presented in a more pleasing package, with all “progressive” opposition to them completely disarmed by partisan adherence to their standard-bearer.
Ironically, one of Silber’s most incisive pieces on this subject was provoked by what many people — and almost all “progressives” — still consider Obama’s finest moment during the campaign: his speech calling for a “national dialogue on race” — part of a particularly brutal effort to knife his long-time friend, mentor and pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, deeply and repeatedly in the back.
Go read the new piece now, and follow the links, which provide chilling chapter and verse to underscore the insights. But here is brief excerpt, one of the conclusions that Silber draws today from that early speech:
UPDATE: David Swanson at Counterpunch nails the situation well: “Murder is the new torture,” indeed. As Swanson notes, now that torture — always with us, but previously shrouded — has been mainstreamed, acceptance of outright murder is the logical next step. And as Swanson observes, it is actually a much more efficient tool of imperial policy:
by William Blum, The Anti-Empire Report
Featured Writer, Dandelion Salad
5 April, 2010
When did it begin, all this “We take your [call/problem/question] very seriously”? With answering-machine hell? As you wait endlessly, the company or government agency assures you that they take seriously whatever reason you’re calling. What a kind and thoughtful world we live in.
The BBC reported last month that doctors in the Iraqi city of Fallujah are reporting a high level of birth defects, with some blaming weapons used by the United States during its fierce onslaughts of 2004 and subsequently, which left much of the city in ruins. “It was like an earthquake,” a local engineer who was running for a national assembly seat told the Washington Post in 2005. “After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there was Fallujah.” Now, the level of heart defects among newborn babies is said to be 13 times higher than in Europe.
The BBC correspondent also saw children in the city who were suffering from paralysis or brain damage, and a photograph of one baby who was born with three heads. He added that he heard many times that officials in Fallujah had warned women that they should not have children. One doctor in the city had compared data about birth defects from before 2003 — when she saw about one case every two months — with the situation now, when she saw cases every day. “I’ve seen footage of babies born with an eye in the middle of the forehead, the nose on the forehead,” she said.
A spokesman for the US military, Michael Kilpatrick, said it always took public health concerns “very seriously”, but that “No studies to date have indicated environmental issues resulting in specific health issues.” 1
One could fill many large volumes with the details of the environmental and human horrors the United States has brought to Fallujah and other parts of Iraq during seven years of using white phosphorous shells, depleted uranium, napalm, cluster bombs, neutron bombs, laser weapons, weapons using directed energy, weapons using high-powered microwave technology, and other marvelous inventions in the Pentagon’s science-fiction arsenal … the list of abominations and grotesque ways of dying is long, the wanton cruelty of American policy shocking. In November 2004, the US military targeted a Fallujah hospital “because the American military believed that it was the source of rumors about heavy casualties.” 2 That’s on a par with the classic line from the equally glorious American war in Vietnam: “We had to destroy the city to save it.”
How can the world deal with such inhumane behavior? (And the above of course scarcely scratches the surface of the US international record.) For this the International Criminal Court (ICC) was founded in Rome in 1998 (entering into force July 1, 2002) under the aegis of the United Nations. The Court was established in The Hague, Netherlands to investigate and indict individuals, not states, for “The crime of genocide; Crimes against humanity; War crimes; or The crime of aggression.” (Article 5 of the Rome Statute) From the very beginning, the United States was opposed to joining the ICC, and has never ratified it, because of the alleged danger of the Court using its powers to “frivolously” indict Americans.
So concerned about indictments were the American powers-that-be that the US went around the world using threats and bribes against countries to induce them to sign agreements pledging not to transfer to the Court US nationals accused of committing war crimes abroad. Just over 100 governments so far have succumbed to the pressure and signed an agreement. In 2002, Congress, under the Bush administration, passed the “American Service Members Protection Act”, which called for “all means necessary and appropriate to bring about the release of any US or allied personnel being detained or imprisoned by … the International Criminal Court.” In the Netherlands it’s widely and derisively known as the “Invasion of The Hague Act”. 3 The law is still on the books.
Though American officials have often spoken of “frivolous” indictments — politically motivated prosecutions against US soldiers, civilian military contractors, and former officials — it’s safe to say that what really worries them are “serious” indictments based on actual events. But they needn’t worry. The mystique of “America the Virtuous” is apparently alive and well at the International Criminal Court, as it is, still, in most international organizations; indeed, amongst most people of the world. The ICC, in its first few years, under Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, an Argentine, dismissed many hundreds of petitions accusing the United States of war crimes, including 240 concerning the war in Iraq. The cases were turned down for lack of evidence, lack of jurisdiction, or because of the United States’ ability to conduct its own investigations and trials. The fact that the US never actually used this ability was apparently not particularly significant to the Court. “Lack of jurisdiction” refers to the fact that the United States has not ratified the accord. On the face of it, this does seem rather odd. Can nations commit war crimes with impunity as long as they don’t become part of a treaty banning war crimes? Hmmm. The possibilities are endless. A congressional study released in August, 2006 concluded that the ICC’s chief prosecutor demonstrated “a reluctance to launch an investigation against the United States” based on allegations regarding its conduct in Iraq. 4 Sic transit gloria International Criminal Court.
As to the crime of aggression, the Court’s statute specifies that the Court “shall exercise jurisdiction over the crime of aggression once a provision is adopted … defining the crime and setting out the conditions under which the Court shall exercise jurisdiction with respect to this crime.” In short, the crime of aggression is exempted from the Court’s jurisdiction until “aggression” is defined. Writer Diana Johnstone has observed: “This is a specious argument since aggression has been quite clearly defined by U.N. General Assembly Resolution 3314 in 1974, which declared that: ‘Aggression is the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State’, and listed seven specific examples,” including:
The invasion or attack by the armed forces of a State of the territory of another State, or any military occupation, however temporary, resulting from such invasion or attack, or any annexation by the use of force of the territory of another State or part thereof; and
Bombardment by the armed forces of a State against the territory of another State or the use of any weapons by a State against the territory of another State.
The UN resolution also stated that: “No consideration of whatever nature, whether political, economic, military or otherwise, may serve as a justification for aggression.”
The real reason that aggression remains outside the jurisdiction of the ICC is that the United States, which played a strong role in elaborating the Statute before refusing to ratify it, was adamantly opposed to its inclusion. It is not hard to see why. It may be noted that instances of “aggression”, which are clearly factual, are much easier to identify than instances of “genocide”, whose definition relies on assumptions of intention. 5
There will be a conference of the ICC in May, in Kampala, Uganda, in which the question of specifically defining “aggression” will be discussed. The United States is concerned about this discussion. Here is Stephen J. Rapp, US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, speaking to the ICC member nations (111 have ratified thus far) in The Hague last November 19:
I would be remiss not to share with you my country’s concerns about an issue pending before this body to which we attach particular importance: the definition of the crime of aggression, which is to be addressed at the Review Conference in Kampala next year. The United States has well-known views on the crime of aggression, which reflect the specific role and responsibilities entrusted to the Security Council by the UN Charter in responding to aggression or its threat, as well as concerns about the way the draft definition itself has been framed. Our view has been and remains that, should the Rome Statute be amended to include a defined crime of aggression, jurisdiction should follow a Security Council determination that aggression has occurred.
Do you all understand what Mr. Rapp is saying? That the United Nations Security Council should be the body that determines whether aggression has occurred. The same body in which the United States has the power of veto. To prevent the adoption of a definition of aggression that might stigmatize American foreign policy is likely the key reason the US will be attending the upcoming conference.
Nonetheless, the fact that the United States will be attending the conference may well be pointed out by some as another example of how the Obama administration foreign policy is an improvement over that of the Bush administration. But as with almost all such examples, it’s a propaganda illusion. Like the cover of Newsweek magazine of March 8, written in very large type: “Victory at last: The emergence of a democratic Iraq”. Even before the current Iraqi electoral farce — with winning candidates arrested or fleeing 6— this headline should have made one think of the interminable jokes Americans made during the Cold War about Pravda and Izvestia….
My apartment is running out of space. Would anyone like some FBI files I received under the Freedom of Information Act?
Liberation News Service (the Associated Press of the left), late 1960s, early 1970s, about 800 pages.
Prairie Fire Organizing Committee, mid-1970s, about 1,000 pages. From their website:
“In 1974, the Weather Underground Organization published a book entitled ‘Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism.’ Discussion groups sprang up around the country to discuss the book. In response, Prairie Fire formed in cities across the U.S.”
BBC, March 4, 2010; Washington Post, December 3, 2005 ↩
New York Times, November 8, 2004 ↩
Christian Science Monitor, February 13, 2009 ↩
Washington Post, November 7, 2006 ↩
Diana Johnstone, Counterpunch, January 27/28, 2007 ↩
Washington Post, April 2, 2010 ↩
Associated Press, March 2, 2008 ↩
The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney, Australia), August 10, 2003 ↩
William Blum is the author of: Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2; Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower; West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir; and Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire. Portions of the books can be read, and signed copies purchased, at http://www.killinghope.org. Previous Anti-Empire Reports can be read at this website at “essays”.
Must See Rare Interview with William Blum
Thanks to Reuters for digging up and securing this footage of US military personnel in choppers shooting 12 civilians near Baghdad. Thanks to WikiLeaks and CollateralMurder.com for recently posting this video with background information. How many times have these atrocities been repeated?
ONE MILLION PEOPLE HAVE BEEN MURDERED in IRAQ. Millions more have lost their homes and families. Now the same thing is happening in Colombia, Haiti, Pakistan and Afghanistan and is being planned for Africa, Indonesia, Yemen, Russia and Venezuela. Fed up yet?
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