Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”
Thus spoke Thomas Jefferson who died nearly 200 years ago (April 13th, 1743 – July 4th, 1826).
But some essays that have passed my eyes in the last few days have profoundly disturbed me. Because they illustrate, well to me anyway, the parlous state of wisdom in today’s world. Or better put, the parlous state of truth and integrity in today’s world.
The first essay was the latest one from Tom Engelhardt over at TomDispatch. Normally I republish TomDispatch essays in full, with permission I hasten to add, because they seem such a fine commentary of where we are as a ‘modern’ society. I used the word ‘we’ in the context of a global ‘we’.
But the latest essay was so disheartening that I couldn’t bring myself to republish it in full. Plus, if I am to be brutally honest (in line with the theme of today’s blog post!) I didn’t want to ‘make waves’ as a non-US citizen albeit a valid US resident (Green Card holder). I want to live freely and openly in the USA for the rest of my natural days!
Then in the last twenty-four hours up popped the latest essay from George Monbiot and I was struck by the harmony, the terrible harmony, between Tom and George.
See if you agree with me.
Tom Engelhardt published on Tuesday a TomGram about American Intelligence. It was called Failure Is Success – How American Intelligence Works in the Twenty-First Century.
Here’s a flavour of Tom’s essay.
What are the odds? You put about $68 billion annually into a maze of 17 major intelligence outfits. You build them glorious headquarters. You create a global surveillance state for the ages. You listen in on your citizenry and gather their communications in staggering quantities. Your employees even morph into avatars and enter video-game landscapes, lest any Americans betray a penchant for evil deeds while in entertainment mode. You collect information on visits to porn sites just in case, one day, blackmail might be useful. You pass around naked photos of them just for… well, the salacious hell of it. Your employees even use aspects of the system you’ve created to stalk former lovers and, within your arcane world, that act of “spycraft” gains its own name: LOVEINT.
You listen in on foreign leaders and politicians across the planet. You bring on board hundreds of thousands of crony corporate employees, creating the sinews of an intelligence-corporate complex of the first order. You break into the “backdoors” of the data centers of major Internet outfits to collect user accounts. You create new outfits within outfits, including an ever-expanding secret military and intelligence crew embedded inside the military itself (and not counted among those 17 agencies). Your leaders lie to Congress and the American people without, as far as we can tell, a flicker of self-doubt. Your acts are subject to secret courts, which only hear your versions of events and regularly rubberstamp them — and whose judgments and substantial body of lawmaking are far too secret for Americans to know about.
Then a few paragraphs later, Tom holds up his mirror:
Whatever the case, while taxpayer dollars flowed into your coffers, no one considered it a problem that the country lacked 17 overlapping outfits bent on preventing approximately 400,000 deaths by firearms in the same years; nor 17 interlocked agencies dedicated to safety on our roads, where more than 450,000 Americans have died since 9/11. (An American, it has been calculated, is 1,904 times more likely to die in a car accident than in a terrorist attack.) Almost all the money and effort have instead been focused on the microscopic number of terrorist plots — some spurred on by FBI plants — that have occurred on American soil in that period. On the conviction that Americans must be shielded from them above all else and on the fear that 9/11 bred in this country, you’ve built an intelligence structure unlike any other on the planet when it comes to size, reach, and labyrinthine complexity.
It’s quite an achievement, especially when you consider its one downside: it has a terrible record of getting anything right in a timely way. Never have so many had access to so much information about our world and yet been so unprepared for whatever happens in it.
Tough words indeed!
But it gets worse.
Let’s focus for a moment, however, on a case where more is known. I’m thinking of the development that only recently riveted the Obama administration and sent it tumbling into America’s third Iraq war, causing literal hysteria in Washington. Since June, the most successful terror group in history has emerged full blown in Syria and Iraq, amid a surge in jihadi recruitment across the Greater Middle East and Africa. The Islamic State (IS), an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which sprang to life during the U.S. occupation of that country, has set up a mini-state, a “caliphate,” in the heart of the Middle East. Part of the territory it captured was, of course, in the very country the U.S. garrisoned and occupied for eight years, in which it had assumedly developed countless sources of information and recruited agents of all sorts. And yet, by all accounts, when IS’s militants suddenly swept across northern Iraq, the CIA in particular found itself high and dry.
The IC seems not to have predicted the group’s rapid growth or spread; nor, though there was at least some prior knowledge of the decline of the Iraqi army, did anyone imagine that such an American created, trained, and armed force would so summarily collapse. Unforeseen was the way its officers would desert their troops who would, in turn, shed their uniforms and flee Iraq’s major northern cities, abandoning all their American equipment to Islamic State militants.
Nor could the intelligence community even settle on a basic figure for how many of those militants there were. In fact, in part because IS assiduously uses couriers for its messaging instead of cell phones and emails, until a chance arrest of a key militant in June, the CIA and the rest of the IC evidently knew next to nothing about the group or its leadership, had no serious assessment of its strength and goals, nor any expectation that it would sweep through and take most of Sunni Iraq. And that should be passing strange. After all, it now turns out that much of the future leadership of IS had spent time together in the U.S. military’s Camp Bucca prison just years earlier.
All you have to do is follow the surprised comments of various top administration officials, including the president, as ISIS made its mark and declared its caliphate, to grasp just how ill-prepared 17 agencies and $68 billion can leave you when your world turns upside down.
Leaving Tom to offer the following sorry conclusions:
Clearly, having a labyrinth of 17 overlapping, paramilitarized, deeply secretive agencies doing versions of the same thing is the definition of counterproductive madness. Not surprisingly, the one thing the U.S. intelligence community has resembled in these years is the U.S. military, which since 9/11 has failed to win a war or accomplish more or less anything it set out to do.
On the other hand, all of the above assumes that the purpose of the IC is primarily to produce successful “intelligence” that leaves the White House a step ahead of the rest of the world. What if, however, it’s actually a system organized on the basis of failure? What if any work-product disaster is for the IC another kind of win.
Perhaps it’s worth thinking of those overlapping agencies as a fiendishly clever Rube Goldberg-style machine organized around the principle that failure is the greatest success of all. After all, in the system as it presently exists, every failure of intelligence is just another indication that more security, more secrecy, more surveillance, more spies, more drones are needed; only when you fail, that is, do you get more money for further expansion.
Keep in mind that the twenty-first-century version of intelligence began amid a catastrophic failure: much crucial information about the 9/11 hijackers and hijackings was ignored or simply lost in the labyrinth. That failure, of course, led to one of the great intelligence expansions, or even explosions, in history. (And mind you, no figure in authority in the national security world was axed, demoted, or penalized in any way for 9/11 and a number of them were later given awards and promoted.) However they may fail, when it comes to their budgets, their power, their reach, their secrecy, their careers, and their staying power, they have succeeded impressively.
You could, of course, say that the world is simply a hard place to know and the future, with its eternal surprises, is one territory that no country, no military, no set of intelligence agencies can occupy, no matter how much they invest in doing so. An inability to predict the lay of tomorrow’s land may, in a way, be par for the course. If so, however, remind me: Why exactly are we supporting 17 versions of intelligence gathering to the tune of at least $68 billion a year?
So over to George Monbiot. Yesterday, he published an essay in the UK’s Guardian newspaper entitled: Bomb Everyone. I am going to republish this in full, with the kind permission of George.
Humanitarian arguments, if consistently applied, could be used to flatten the entire Middle East
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 1st October 2014
Let’s bomb the Muslim world – all of it – to save the lives of its people. Surely this is the only consistent moral course? Why stop at blowing up Islamic State, when the Syrian government has murdered and tortured so many? This, after all, was last year’s moral imperative. What’s changed?
How about blasting the Shia militias in Iraq? One of them selected 40 people from the streets of Baghdad in June and murdered them for being Sunnis(1). Another massacred 68 people at a mosque in August(2). They now talk openly of “cleansing” and “erasure”(3), once Islamic State has been defeated. As a senior Shia politician warns, “we are in the process of creating Shia al-Qaida radical groups equal in their radicalisation to the Sunni Qaida.”(4)
What humanitarian principle instructs you to stop there? In Gaza this year, 2,100 Palestinians were massacred: including people taking shelter in schools and hospitals. Surely these atrocities demand an air war against Israel? And what’s the moral basis for refusing to liquidate Iran? Mohsen Amir-Aslani was hanged there last week for making “innovations in the religion” (suggesting that the story of Jonah in the Qu’ran was symbolic rather than literal)(5). Surely that should inspire humanitarian action from above? Pakistan is crying out for friendly bombs: an elderly British man, Mohammed Asghar, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, is, like other blasphemers, awaiting execution there after claiming to be a holy prophet(6). One of his prison guards has already shot him in the back.
Is there not an urgent duty to blow up Saudi Arabia? It has beheaded 59 people so far this year, for offences that include adultery, sorcery and witchcraft(7). It has long presented a far greater threat to the west than Isis now poses. In 2009 Hillary Clinton warned in a secret memo that “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qa’ida, the Taliban … and other terrorist groups.”(8) In July, the former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, revealed that Prince Bandar bin Sultan, until recently the head of Saudi intelligence, told him: “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”(9) Saudi support for extreme Sunni militias in Syria during Bandar’s tenure is widely blamed for the rapid rise of Isis(10,11). Why take out the subsidiary and spare the headquarters?
The humanitarian arguments aired in parliament last week(12), if consistently applied, could be used to flatten the entire Middle East and West Asia. By this means you could end all human suffering, liberating the people of these regions from the vale of tears in which they live.
Perhaps this is the plan: Barack Obama has now bombed seven largely-Muslim countries(13), in each case citing a moral imperative. The result, as you can see in Libya, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan,Yemen, Somalia and Syria, has been the eradication of jihadi groups, of conflict, chaos, murder, oppression and torture. Evil has been driven from the face of the earth by the destroying angels of the west.
Now we have a new target, and a new reason to dispense mercy from the sky, with similar prospects of success. Yes, the agenda and practices of Isis are disgusting. It murders and tortures, terrorises and threatens. As Obama says, it is a “network of death”(14). But it’s one of many networks of death. Worse still, a western crusade appears to be exactly what it wants(15).
Already Obama’s bombings have brought Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra, a rival militia affiliated to Al Qaeda, together(16). More than 6,000 fighters have joined Isis since the bombardment began(17). They dangled the heads of their victims in front of the cameras as bait for war planes. And our governments were stupid enough to take it.
And if the bombing succeeds? If – and it’s a big if – it manages to tilt the balance against Isis, what then? Then we’ll start hearing once more about Shia death squads and the moral imperative to destroy them too – and any civilians who happen to get in the way. The targets change; the policy doesn’t. Never mind the question, the answer is bombs. In the name of peace and the preservation of life, our governments wage perpetual war.
While the bombs fall, our states befriend and defend other networks of death. The US government still refuses – despite Obama’s promise – to release the 28 redacted pages from the Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11, which document Saudi Arabian complicity in the attack on America(18). In the UK, in 2004 the Serious Fraud Office began investigating allegations of massive bribes paid by the British weapons company BAE to Saudi ministers and middlemen. Just as the crucial evidence was about to be released, Tony Blair intervened to stop the investigation(19). The biggest alleged beneficiary was Prince Bandar, mentioned above. The Serious Fraud Office was investigating a claim that, with the approval of the British government, he received £1bn in secret payments from BAE(20).
And still it goes on. Last week’s Private Eye, drawing on a dossier of recordings and emails, alleges that a British company has paid £300m in bribes to facilitate weapons sales to the Saudi National Guard(21). When a whistleblower in the company reported these payments to the British ministry of defence, instead of taking action it alerted his bosses. He had to flee the country to avoid being thrown into a Saudi jail. Smirking, lying, two-faced bastards – this scarcely begins to touch it.
There are no good solutions that military intervention by the UK or the US can engineer. There are political solutions in which our governments could play a minor role: supporting the development of effective states that don’t rely on murder and militias, building civic institutions that don’t depend on terror, helping to create safe passage and aid for people at risk. Oh, and ceasing to protect and sponsor and arm selected networks of death. Whenever our armed forces have bombed or invaded Muslims nations, they have made life worse for those who live there. The regions in which our governments have intervened most are those which suffer most from terrorism and war. That is neither coincidental nor surprising.
Yet our politicians affect to learn nothing. Insisting that more killing will magically resolve deep-rooted conflicts, they scatter bombs like fairy dust.
21. Richard Brooks and Andrew Bousfield, 19th September 2014. Shady Arabia and the Desert Fix. Private Eye.
Two journalists reporting from two very different countries separated by thousands of miles.
Yet together they illustrate the very low regard for truth, for truth and integrity I should add, held by two major western Governments. That old saying of never underestimate the power of unintended consequences is hammering inside my head.
What very strange times we live in just now.
The sooner the concepts of truth and integrity are adopted by those with the power, money and influence, the sooner this world will turn away from what looks eminently like future self-destruction.
Let’s turn to dogs for some examples of beautiful ways of living.
Another in the endless series of the strange affairs of man!
Regulars will know that frequently I republish essays from the stables of TomDispatch. Many of you will ask why, I don’t doubt. What have these essays got to do with learning from our closest animal companion; the dog?
Well, the answer is that it is about integrity. Dogs offer mankind a wonderful example of what flows from having a deep sense of integrity. And when it comes to examples of mankind’s ambivalence, to put it mildly, towards integrity, there is no better example than war!
Thus with no further ado, here is a recent essay from TomDispatch that illustrates the long-term relationship of the United States of America with war! Republished with both Tom Engelhardt’s and Peter Van Buren’s kind permission. (NB: In the original essay there are many links to other sources of information. The links were too many for me to ‘copy’ across so please go to the essay on TomDispatch if you wish to see and follow the links. Recommended follows, by the way.)
Tomgram: Peter Van Buren, Back to the Future in Iraq
Posted by Peter Van Buren at 8:01am, September 23, 2014.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.
On April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King delivered a speech at Riverside Church in New York City titled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” In it, he went after the war of that moment and the money that the U.S. was pouring into it as symptoms of a societal disaster. President Lyndon Johnson’s poverty program was being “broken and eviscerated,” King said from the pulpit of that church, “as if it were some idle political plaything on a society gone mad on war… We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.” Twice more in that ringing speech he spoke of “the madness of Vietnam” and called for it to cease.
Don’t think of that as just a preacher’s metaphor. There was a genuine madness on the loose — and not just in the “free-fire zones” of Vietnam but in policy circles here in the United States, in the frustration of top military and civilian officials who felt gripped by an eerie helplessness as they widened a terrible war on the ground and in the air. They were, it seemed, incapable of imagining any other path than escalation in the face of disaster and possible defeat. Even in the years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, when there was a brief attempt to paint that lost war in a more heroic hue (“a noble cause,” the president called it), that sense of madness, or at least of resulting mental illness, lingered. It remained embedded in a phrase then regularly applied to Americans who were less than willing to once again head aggressively into the world. They were suffering from, it was said, “Vietnam syndrome.”
Today, almost 25 years into what someday might simply be called America’s Iraq War (whose third iteration we’ve recently entered), you can feel that a similar “madness” has Washington by the throat. Just as King noted of the Vietnam era, since 9/11 American domestic programs and agencies have been starved while money poured into the coffers of the Pentagon and an increasingly bloated national security state. The results have been obvious. In the face of the spreading Ebola virus in West Africa, for instance, the president can no longer turn to civilian agencies or organizations for help, but has to call on the U.S. military in an “Ebola surge” — even our language has been militarized — although its forces are not known for their skills, successes, or spendthrift ways when it comes to civilian “humanitarian” or nation-building operations.
We’ve already entered the period when strategy, such as it is, falls away, and our leaders feel strangely helpless before the drip, drip, drip of failure and the unbearable urge for further escalation. At this point, in fact, the hysteria in Washington over the Islamic State seems a pitch or two higher than anything experienced in the Vietnam years. A fiercely sectarian force in the Middle East has captured the moment and riveted attention, even though its limits in a region full of potential enemies seem obvious and its “existential threat” to the U.S. consists of the possibility that some stray American jihadi might indeed try to harm a few of us. Call it emotional escalation in a Washington that seems remarkably unhinged.
It took Osama bin Laden $400,000 to $500,000, 19 hijackers, and much planning to produce the fallen towers of 9/11 and the ensuing hysteria in this country that launched the disastrous, never-ending Global War on Terror. It took the leaders of the Islamic State maybe a few hundred bucks and two grim videos, featuring three men on a featureless plain in Syria, to create utter, blind hysteria here. Think of this as confirmation of Karl Marx’s famous comment that the first time is tragedy, but the second is farce.
One clear sign of the farcical nature of our moment is the inability to use almost any common word or phrase in an uncontested way if you put “Iraq” or “Islamic State” or “Syria” in the same sentence. Remember when the worst Washington could come up with in contested words was the meaning of “is” in Bill Clinton’s infamous statement about his relationship with a White House intern? Linguistically speaking, those were the glory days, the utopian days of official Washington.
Just consider three commonplace terms of the moment: “war,” “boots on the ground,” and “combat.” A single question links them all: Are we or aren’t we? And to that, in each case, Washington has no acceptable answer. On war, the secretary of state said no, we weren’t; the White House and Pentagon press offices announced that yes, we were; and the president fudged. He called it “targeted action” and spoke of America’s “unique capability to mobilize against an organization like ISIL,” but God save us, what it wasn’t and wouldn’t be was a “ground war.”
Only with Congress did a certain clarity prevail. Nothing it did really mattered. Whatever Congress decided or refused to decide when it came to going to war would be fine and dandy, because the White House was going to do “it” anyway. “It,” of course, was the Clintonesque “is” of present-day Middle Eastern policy. Who knew what it was, but here was what it wasn’t and would never be: “boots on the ground.” Admittedly, the president has already dispatched 1,600 booted troops to Iraq’s ground (with more to come), but they evidently didn’t qualify as boots on the ground because, whatever they were doing, they would not be going into “combat” (which is evidently the only place where military boots officially hit the ground). The president has been utterly clear on this. There would be no American “combat mission” in Iraq. Unfortunately, “combat” turns out to be another of those dicey terms, since those non-boots had barely landed in Iraq when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey started to raise the possibility that some of them, armed, might one day be forward deployed with Iraqi troops as advisers and spotters for U.S. air power in future battles for Iraq’s northern cities. This, the White House now seems intent on defining as not being a “combat mission.”
And we’re only weeks into an ongoing operation that could last years. Imagine the pretzeling of the language by then. Perhaps it might be easiest if everyone — Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and Washington’s pundits — simply agreed that the United States is at “war-ish” in Iraq, with boots on the ground-ish in potentially combat-ish situations. Former State Department whistleblower and TomDispatch regular Peter Van Buren spent his own time in Iraq and wrote We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People about it. Now, he considers the mind-boggling strangeness of Washington doing it all over again, this time as the grimmest of farces. Tom
Apocalypse Now, Iraq Edition
Fighting in Iraq Until Hell Freezes Over
By Peter Van Buren
I wanted to offer a wry chuckle before we headed into the heavy stuff about Iraq, so I tried to start this article with a suitably ironic formulation. You know, a déjà-vu-all-over-again kinda thing. I even thought about telling you how, in 2011, I contacted a noted author to blurb my book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, and he presciently declined, saying sardonically, “So you’re gonna be the one to write the last book on failure in Iraq?”
I couldn’t do any of that. As someone who cares deeply about this country, I find it beyond belief that Washington has again plunged into the swamp of the Sunni-Shia mess in Iraq. A young soldier now deployed as one of the 1,600 non-boots-on-the-ground there might have been eight years old when the 2003 invasion took place. He probably had to ask his dad about it. After all, less than three years ago, when dad finally came home with his head “held high,” President Obama assured Americans that “we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.” So what happened in the blink of an eye?
The Sons of Iraq
Sometimes, when I turn on the TV these days, the sense of seeing once again places in Iraq I’d been overwhelms me. After 22 years as a diplomat with the Department of State, I spent 12 long months in Iraq in 2009-2010 as part of the American occupation. My role was to lead two teams in “reconstructing” the nation. In practice, that meant paying for schools that would never be completed, setting up pastry shops on streets without water or electricity, and conducting endless propaganda events on Washington-generated themes of the week (“small business,” “women’s empowerment,” “democracy building.”)
We even organized awkward soccer matches, where American taxpayer money was used to coerce reluctant Sunni teams into facing off against hesitant Shia ones in hopes that, somehow, the chaos created by the American invasion could be ameliorated on the playing field. In an afternoon, we definitively failed to reconcile the millennium-old Sunni-Shia divide we had sparked into ethnic-cleansing-style life in 2003-2004, even if the score was carefully stage managed into a tie by the 82nd Airborne soldiers with whom I worked.
In 2006, the U.S. brokered the ascension to power of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia politician handpicked to unite Iraq. A bright, shining lie of a plan soon followed. Applying vast amounts of money, Washington’s emissaries created the Sahwa, or Sons of Iraq, a loose grouping of Sunnis anointed as “moderates” who agreed to temporarily stop killing in return for a promised place at the table in the New(er) Iraq. The “political space” for this was to be created by a massive escalation of the American military effort, which gained a particularly marketable name: the surge.
I was charged with meeting the Sahwa leaders in my area. My job back then was to try to persuade them to stay on board just a little longer, even as they came to realize that they’d been had. Maliki’s Shia government in Baghdad, which was already ignoring American entreaties to be inclusive, was hell-bent on ensuring that there would be no Sunni “sons” in its Iraq.
False alliances and double-crosses were not unfamiliar to the Sunni warlords I engaged with. Often, our talk — over endless tiny glasses of sweet, sweet tea stirred with white-hot metal spoons — shifted from the Shia and the Americans to their great-grandfathers’ struggle against the British. Revenge unfolds over generations, they assured me, and memories are long in the Middle East, they warned.
When I left in 2010, the year before the American military finally departed, the truth on the ground should have been clear enough to anyone with the vision to take it in. Iraq had already been tacitly divided into feuding state-lets controlled by Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds. The Baghdad government had turned into a typical, gleeful third-world kleptocracy fueled by American money, but with a particularly nasty twist: they were also a group of autocrats dedicated to persecuting, marginalizing, degrading, and perhaps one day destroying the country’s Sunni minority.
U.S. influence was fading fast, leaving the State Department, a small military contingent, various spooks, and contractors hidden behind the walls of the billion-dollar embassy (the largest in the world!) that had been built in a moment of imperial hubris. The foreign power with the most influence over events was by then Iran, the country the Bush administration had once been determined to take down alongside Saddam Hussein as part of the Axis of Evil.
The Grandsons of Iraq
The staggering costs of all this — $25 billion to train the Iraqi Army, $60 billion for the reconstruction-that-wasn’t, $2 trillion for the overall war, almost 4,500 Americans dead and more than 32,000 wounded, and an Iraqi death toll of more than 190,000 (though some estimates go as high as a million) — can now be measured against the results. The nine-year attempt to create an American client state in Iraq failed, tragically and completely. The proof of that is on today’s front pages.
According to the crudest possible calculation, we spent blood and got no oil. Instead, America’s war of terror resulted in the dissolution of a Middle Eastern post-Cold War stasis that, curiously enough, had been held together by Iraq’s previous autocratic ruler Saddam Hussein. We released a hornet’s nest of Islamic fervor, sectarianism, fundamentalism, and pan-nationalism. Islamic terror groups grew stronger and more diffuse by the year. That horrible lightning over the Middle East that’s left American foreign policy in such an ugly glare will last into our grandchildren’s days. There should have been so many futures. Now, there will be so few as the dead accumulate in the ruins of our hubris. That is all that we won.
Under a new president, elected in 2008 in part on his promise to end American military involvement in Iraq, Washington’s strategy morphed into the more media-palatable mantra of “no boots on the ground.” Instead, backed by aggressive intel and the “surgical” application of drone strikes and other kinds of air power, U.S. covert ops were to link up with the “moderate” elements in Islamic governments or among the rebels opposing them — depending on whether Washington was opting to support a thug government or thug fighters.
The results? Chaos in Libya, highlighted by the flow of advanced weaponry from the arsenals of the dead autocrat Muammar Gaddafi across the Middle East and significant parts of Africa, chaos in Yemen, chaos in Syria, chaos in Somalia, chaos in Kenya, chaos in South Sudan, and, of course, chaos in Iraq.
And then came the Islamic State (IS) and the new “caliphate,” the child born of a neglectful occupation and an autocratic Shia government out to put the Sunnis in their place once and for all. And suddenly we were heading back into Iraq. What, in August 2014, was initially promoted as a limited humanitarian effort to save the Yazidis, a small religious sect that no one in Washington or anywhere else in this country had previously heard of, quickly morphed into those 1,600 American troops back on the ground in Iraq and American planes in the skies from Kurdistan in the north to south of Baghdad. The Yazidis were either abandoned, or saved, or just not needed anymore. Who knows and who, by then, cared? They had, after all, served their purpose handsomely as the casus belli of this war. Their agony at least had a horrific reality, unlike the supposed attack in the Gulf of Tonkin that propelled a widening war in Vietnam in 1964 or the nonexistent Iraqi WMDs that were the excuse for the invasion of 2003.
The newest Iraq war features Special Operations “trainers,” air strikes against IS fighters using American weapons abandoned by the Iraqi Army (now evidently to be resupplied by Washington), U.S. aircraft taking to the skies from inside Iraq as well as a carrier in the Persian Gulf and possibly elsewhere, and an air war across the border into Syria.
It Takes a Lot of Turning Points To Go In a Circle
The truth on the ground these days is tragically familiar: an Iraq even more divided into feuding state-lets; a Baghdad government kleptocracy about to be reinvigorated by free-flowing American money; and a new Shia prime minister being issued the same 2003-2011 to-do list by Washington: mollify the Sunnis, unify Iraq, and make it snappy. The State Department still stays hidden behind the walls of that billion-dollar embassy. More money will be spent to train the collapsed Iraqi military. Iran remains the foreign power with the most influence over events.
One odd difference should be noted, however: in the last Iraq war, the Iranians sponsored and directed attacks by Shia militias against American occupation forces (and me); now, its special operatives and combat advisors fight side-by-side with those same Shia militias under the cover of American air power. You want real boots on the ground? Iranian forces are already there. It’s certainly an example of how politics makes strange bedfellows, but also of what happens when you assemble your “strategy” on the run.
Obama hardly can be blamed for all of this, but he’s done his part to make it worse — and worse it will surely get as his administration once again assumes ownership of the Sunni-Shia fight. The “new” unity plan that will fail follows the pattern of the one that did fail in 2007: use American military force to create a political space for “reconciliation” between once-burned, twice-shy Sunnis and a compromise Shia government that American money tries to nudge into an agreement against Iran’s wishes. Perhaps whatever new Sunni organization is pasted together, however briefly, by American representatives should be called the Grandsons of Iraq.
Just to add to the general eeriness factor, the key people in charge of putting Washington’s plans into effect are distinctly familiar faces. Brett McGurk, who served in key Iraq policy positions throughout the Bush and Obama administrations, is again the point man as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran. McGurk was once called the “Maliki whisperer” for his closeness to the former prime minister. The current American ambassador, Robert Stephen Beecroft, was deputy chief of mission, the number two at the Baghdad embassy, back in 2011. Diplomatically, another faux coalition of the (remarkably un)willing is being assembled. And the pundits demanding war in a feverish hysteria in Washington are all familiar names, mostly leftovers from the glory days of the 2003 invasion.
Lloyd Austin, the general overseeing America’s new military effort, oversaw the 2011 retreat. General John Allen, brought out of military retirement to coordinate the new war in the region — he had recently been a civilian advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry — was deputy commander in Iraq’s Anbar province during the surge. Also on the U.S. side, the mercenary security contractors are back, even as President Obama cites, without a hint of irony, the ancient 2002 congressional authorization to invade Iraq he opposed as candidate Obama as one of his legal justifications for this year’s war. The Iranians, too, have the same military commander on the ground in Iraq, Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’s Quds Force. Small world. Suleimani also helps direct Hezbollah operations inside Syria.
Even the aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf launching air strikes, the USS George H.W. Bush, is fittingly named after the president who first got us deep into Iraq almost a quarter century ago. Just consider that for a moment: we have been in Iraq so long that we now have an aircraft carrier named after the president who launched the adventure.
On a 36-month schedule for “destroying” ISIS, the president is already ceding his war to the next president, as was done to him by George W. Bush. That next president may well be Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state as Iraq War 2.0 sputtered to its conclusion. Notably, it was her husband whose administration kept the original Iraq War of 1990-1991 alive via no-fly zones and sanctions. Call that a pedigree of sorts when it comes to fighting in Iraq until hell freezes over.
If there is a summary lesson here, perhaps it’s that there is evidently no hole that can’t be dug deeper. How could it be more obvious, after more than two decades of empty declarations of victory in Iraq, that genuine “success,” however defined, is impossible? The only way to win is not to play. Otherwise, you’re just a sucker at the geopolitical equivalent of a carnival ringtoss game with a fist full of quarters to trade for a cheap stuffed animal.
Apocalypse Then — And Now
America’s wars in the Middle East exist in a hallucinatory space where reality is of little import, so if you think you heard all this before, between 2003 and 2010, you did. But for those of us of a certain age, the echoes go back much further. I recently joined a discussion on Dutch television where former Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra made a telling slip of the tongue. As we spoke about ISIS, Hoekstra insisted that the U.S. needed to deny them “sanctuary in Cambodia.” He quickly corrected himself to say “Syria,” but the point was made.
We’ve been here before, as the failures of American policy and strategy in Vietnam metastasized into war in Cambodia and Laos to deny sanctuary to North Vietnamese forces. As with ISIS, we were told that they were barbarians who sought to impose an evil philosophy across an entire region. They, too, famously needed to be fought “over there” to prevent them from attacking us here. We didn’t say “the Homeland” back then, but you get the picture.
As the similarities with Vietnam are telling, so is the difference. When the reality of America’s failure in Vietnam finally became so clear that there was no one left to lie to, America’s war there ended and the troops came home. They never went back. America is now fighting the Iraq War for the third time, somehow madly expecting different results, while guaranteeing only failure. To paraphrase a young John Kerry, himself back from Vietnam, who’ll be the last to die for that endless mistake? It seems as if it will be many years before we know.
Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during the Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. A Tom Dispatch regular, he writes about current events at his blog, We Meant Well. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.
Copyright 2014 Peter Van Buren
This is not an easy essay to read; far from it! Let alone make wise reflections! I spent a number of minutes wondering how to close the post but, in the end, couldn’t think of anything useful to add. There was something overpoweringly sad about Peter’s essay. That something encapsulated in a sentence Peter wrote in the first half: “Revenge unfolds over generations, they assured me, and memories are long in the Middle East, they warned.“
The strange affairs of man!
Because you clearly are not listening to Nature!
Sunday: 10:30 PDT. Won’t rabbit on too long as we are due out with our guests in the next thirty minutes. Just dipped into the online BBC News headlines and, frankly, was more than disappointed to see that the Climate March in New York, and many other cities all around the world, was the third headline after Afghanistan and Yemen.
This should be read in full!
The People’s Climate March: Taking the Evolutionary Leap of Radical Democracy
The People’s Climate March in New York City is just one manifestation of a huge sea-change sweeping through our culture. Or perhaps “seeping” would be a better verb—this shift in awareness is not happening with the tsunami force of a revolution, but more with the steady, determined drip-drip-drip of water undermining rock.
Humans are paradoxical. On the one hand, we love everything that’s new and innovative, we all want to be out ahead of the curve when it comes to technological breakthroughs and new ideas. On the other hand, we hold tight to the received wisdom of our forebears, living by enshrined writings thousands of years old (the Bible, the Koran, the Mahabharata, Confucius, etc.) or hundreds of years old (the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights).
We have established elaborate educational, political and legal systems designed to hold us to a particular form of society, permitting free, innovative thinking only along narrow channels carefully defined by the interests of business and commerce.
The arts and humanities, traditionally the realm of creative, imaginative exploration, have been steadily starved in this brave new world, which can only imagine creativity in the service of profit.
What happens to a society that can only envision creative energy in an instrumental, utilitarian light?
We become a society of robots. We lose our connection to the soul of the world, the anima mundi that sustains us humans along with all other living beings on the planet.
The People’s Climate March, which is happening not only in New York City but worldwide, with 2,808 marches and events in 166 countries, bears welcome witness to the fact that the sparks of creative, independent thinking have not totally gone out.
There are many, many people worldwide who are aware, and aghast, at the failure of our political and business leaders to act in the best interests of the people and all the beautiful, innocent creatures who are slipping away into the night of extinction day by day due to the relentless human assault on our shared planet.
We are here, we are aware, and we are engaged. We are not going to stand by silently and let corporate greed and shortsightedness overwhelm us.
It is true that business and government have a stranglehold on official channels of communication, education and social change.
They control the curricula taught in our schools, what appears on our major media channels, and what projects and areas of creative exploration are funded. They keep us in line with the debt bondage of school loans, mortgages, car payments and the fear of not having enough money in the bank for a comfortable old age. We’re so busy running on the treadmills they’ve set up we have no time or energy to think about changing the system.
Or do we?
We saw it happen in the Arab Spring, where people used cell phones and texts to organize themselves to resist oppression.
We saw those people get beaten back, the promise of their revolution squashed by the entrenched power of men with guns and tear gas.
The rise of the Islamic State, like the rise of Al Quaeda and the Taliban, is all about conservative forces resisting change.
I am just as afraid of men with guns and tear gas as the next woman. I am happier making revolution on my laptop than in the streets. But at some point we have to come out from behind our screens, get off the treadmills of debt bondage, look around us at the beauty of the world, and say: this is what I want to live for, and this is what I’m willing to die for.
So far, the one social area that has not been overtaken by corporate/governmental control is the World Wide Web. It’s still a Wild West space, a place where you can find everything and everyone, from dangerous sadists to beneficent spiritual leaders. There’s room for every kind of idea out there to percolate through our collective consciousness. And make no mistake: the energy we’re seeing in the People’s Climate March is fueled in large part by the distribution power of the Web, the ability to get the word out and get people fired up to come together to take a stand.
Environmental activist and writer Terry Tempest Williams, in her book The Open Space of Democracy, says that the time has come to “move beyond what is comfortable” (81) in pursuit of what she calls a “spiritual democracy.”
“We have made the mistake of confusing democracy with capitalism and have mistaken political engagement with a political machinery we all understand to be corrupt,” she says.
“It is time to resist the simplistic, utilitarian view that what is good for business is good for humanity in all its complex web of relationships. A spiritual democracy is inspired by our own sense of what we can accomplish together, honoring an integrated society where the social, intellectual, physical and economic well-being of all is considered, not just the wealth and health of the corporate few” (87).
Williams calls for a radical recognition of the interdependence of all life on Earth. “The time has come to demand an end to the wholesale dismissal of the sacredness of life in all its variety and forms,” she says. “At what point do we finally lay our bodies down to say this blatant disregard for biology and wild lives is no longer acceptable?” (86)
If we humans could step into our destiny as the stewards of our planet, the loving gardeners and caretakers of all other living beings, we would harness our incredible intelligence and creativity to re-stabilize our climate and do what needs to be done to ensure the well-being of all.
Williams calls this “the next evolutionary leap” for humanity: “to recognize the restoration of democracy as the restoration of liberty and justice for all species, not just our own” (89).
If we are able to take this leap, we will not only avert climate-related disaster on a Biblical scale, we will also overcome many of the social problems that we currently struggle with. “To be in the service of something beyond ourselves—to be in the presence of something other than ourselves, together—this is where we can begin to craft a meaningful life where personal isolation and despair disappear through the shared engagement of a vibrant citizenry,” says Williams (89).
Williams’ small gem of a book grew out of a speech she gave at her alma mater, the University of Utah, in the spring of 2003, as America was rushing into its ill-conceived War on Terror in Iraq. She describes her heart pounding as she got up to make a speech advocating a different form of democracy than that embraced and espoused by all the conservative friends and family sitting in the audience before her.
Challenging one’s own friends and family, betraying one’s own tribe, is the hardest aspect of being a social revolutionary. You have to question the very people you love most, who have given you so much and made your whole life possible.
But if we become aware that the social systems that gave birth to us are the very social systems that are undermining the possibility of a livable future on this planet, can we continue to just go with the flow, to avoid asking the difficult questions?
Or will we become change agents who work slowly and steadily, drip by drip, to awaken those around us, those we love most, to the necessity of undertaking “the next evolutionary leap” in the human saga on the planet?
From that BBC News website:
On Tuesday, the UN will host a climate summit at its headquarters in New York with 125 heads of state and government – the first such gathering since the unsuccessful climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009.
So world leaders, are you going to reflect the wishes of millions of your peoples across the world and step up to the mark? We will see.
Whatever the outcome, may it truly represent the wishes of the majority.
I have not hidden my feelings as to the outcome that I would welcome. My post of the 11th September was subtitled “My hope for a ‘yes’ vote for Scottish Independence.” After my introduction to that post, I then republished an essay by George Monbiot that was published in the Guardian newspaper on the 3rd September 2014. Mr. Monbiot has made it very clear as to where he stands on this matter.
George Monbiot then followed up that Guardian article with another one published in the Guardian yesterday. It offers cogent points and, with his permission, I am delighted to republish it.
September 16, 2014
How the media shafted the people of Scotland.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 17th September 2014
Perhaps the most arresting fact about the Scottish referendum is this: that there is no newspaper – local, regional or national, English or Scottish – which supports independence except the Sunday Herald. The Scots who will vote yes have been almost without representation in the media.
There is nothing unusual about this. Change in any direction except further over the brink of market fundamentalism and planetary destruction requires the defiance of almost the entire battery of salaried opinion. What distinguishes the independence campaign is that it has continued to prosper despite this assault.
In the coverage of the referendum we see most of the pathologies of the corporate media. Here, for example, you will find the unfounded generalisations with which less enlightened souls are characterised. In the Spectator, Simon Heffer mainatains that “addicted to welfare … Scots embraced the something for nothing society”, objecting to the poll tax “because many of them felt that paying taxes ought to be the responsibility of someone else.”(1)
Here is the condescension with which the dominant classes have always treated those they regard as inferior: their serfs, the poor, the Irish, Africans, anyone with whom they disagree. “What spoilt, selfish, childlike fools those Scots are … They simply don’t have a clue how lucky they are,” sneered Melanie Reid in the Times(2). Here is the chronic inability to distinguish between a cause and a person: the referendum is widely portrayed as a vote about Alex Salmond, who is then monstered beyond recognition (a Telegraph leader last week compared him to Robert Mugabe(3)).
The problem with the media is exemplified by Dominic Lawson’s column for the Daily Mail last week(4). He began with Scotland, comparing the “threat” of independence with the threat presented by Hitler (the article was helpfully illustrated with a picture of the Fuhrer, unaccompanied in this case by the Mail’s former proprietor). Then he turned to the momentous issue of how he almost said something wrong about David Attenborough, which was narrowly averted because “as it happens, last weekend we had staying with us another of the BBC’s great figures, its world affairs editor John Simpson”, who happily corrected Lawson’s mistake. This was just as well because “the next day I went to the Royal Albert Hall as one of a small number of guests invited by the Proms director for that night’s performance. And who should I see as soon as I entered the little room set aside for our group’s pre-concert drinks? Sir David Attenborough.”
Those who are supposed to hold power to account live in a rarified, self-referential world of power, circulating among people as exalted as themselves, the “small number of guests” who receive the most charming invitations. That a senior journalist at the BBC should be the house guest of a columnist for the Daily Mail surprises me not one iota.
In June the BBC’s economics editor Robert Peston complained that BBC news “is completely obsessed by the agenda set by newspapers … If we think the Mail and Telegraph will lead with this, we should. It’s part of the culture.”(5) This might help to explain why the BBC has attracted so many complaints of bias in favour of the No campaign(6,7).
Living within their tiny circle of light, most senior journalists seem unable to comprehend a desire for change. If they notice it at all, they perceive it as a mortal threat: comparable perhaps to Hitler. They know as little of the lives of the 64 million inhabiting the outer darkness as they do of the Andaman islanders. Yet, lecturing the poor from under the wisteria, they claim to speak for the nation.
As John Harris reports in the Guardian, both north and south of the border “politics as usual suddenly seems so lost as to look completely absurd.”(8) But to those within the circle, politics still begins and ends in Westminster. The opinions of no one beyond the gilded thousand with whom they associate are worthy of notice. Throughout the years I’ve spent working with protest movements and trying to bring neglected issues to light, one consistent theme has emerged: with a few notable exceptions, journalists are always among the last to twig that things have changed. It’s no wonder that the Scottish opinion polls took them by surprise.
One of the roles of the Guardian, which has no proprietor, is to represent the unrepresented – and it often does so to great effect. On Scottish independence I believe we have fallen short. Our leader on Saturday used the frames constructed by the rest of the press, inflating a couple of incidents into a “habit” by yes campaigners of “attacking the messenger and ignoring the message”, judging the long-term future of the nation by current SNP policy, confusing self-determination with nationalism(9).
If Westminster is locked into a paralysing neoliberal consensus it is partly because the corporate media, owned and staffed by its beneficiaries, demands it. Any party that challenges this worldview is ruthlessly disciplined. Any party that more noisily promotes corporate power is lauded and championed. UKIP, though it claims to be kicking against the establishment, owes much of its success to the corporate press.
For a moment, Rupert Murdoch appeared ready to offer one of his Faustian bargains to the Scottish National Party: my papers for your soul(10). That offer now seems to have been withdrawn, as he has decided that Salmond’s SNP is “not talking about independence, but more welfarism, expensive greenery, etc and passing sovereignty to Brussels”(11) and that it “must change course to prosper if he wins.”(12) It’s not an observation, it’s a warning: if you win independence and pursue this agenda, my newspapers will destroy you.
Despite the rise of the social media, the established media continues to define the scope of representative politics in Britain, to shape political demands and to punish and erase those who resist. It is one chamber of the corrupt heart of Britain, pumping fear, misinformation and hatred around the body politic.
That so many Scots, lambasted from all quarters as fools, frauds and ingrates, have refused to be bullied is itself a political triumph. If they vote for independence, they will do so in defiance not only of the Westminster consensus, but also of its enforcers: the detached, complacent people who claim to speak on their behalf.
Never say never!
Next Monday, the 21st September, is going to be the most important day this year. No! The most important day ever!
Because next Monday is the date of the People’s Climate March in New York. It is predicted to be the largest climate march in history. Well over 100,000 are expected to attend. I shall write more about this event during the coming week.
But also the 21st September will be International Day of Peace. That coincidence strikes me as highly significant. For a world at peace would cause the most massive reduction in our use of carbon-based fuels.
Do I mention dogs? Read through to the end to find out! (Probably not difficult to guess the answer!)
Seven Reasons Why World Peace is Possible
The 21st of September will be International Day of Peace. It may seem a little premature to declare that world peace is due to break out by the end this month. I do not deny that the amount of killing and death and war and torture and death and coercion and abuse and death all over everywhere can be overwhelming. Nor do I deny that considering this, it is a natural assumption to believe people are sinners, destined for extinction. However, I do argue that compassion is as much a part of human nature as cruelty.
There is evidence that humankind did not always live violent lives. In fact, I assume most people reading this article are not habitually violent, and do not desire to watch someone suffer. All animals have the capacity to enrich the lives of others. We have the capacity to be both selfish and kind. What matters is which quality we chose to focus on; bringing that quality into focus within ourselves, the world, and our children.
Here I have collected an array of research demonstrating that there is a positive potential within each social group and person. I argue that humans can learn to build societies which are not founded on the expectation of organised violence. Here are seven reasons why world peace is possible. You won’t believe your own strength of belief: There is at least some hope.
The balance of this powerful and fascinating article may be read here.
How many links did you follow? Most of them are wonderful links to organisations that many readers, including me, may not have come across before.
So to close.
I was about half-way through arranging today’s post when I realised that dogs have evolved without the need to have their own police forces or armies. It’s not as silly as it first sounds. Of course, dogs fight and some fights can be brutal and, occasionally, fatal to one or more of the participants. But they have a keen sense of their locality, of their tribal space; so to speak. Even as domestic animals, they are fiercely protective of what is their own place. Before dogs were domesticated, like the wolves from whence dogs evolved, the pack size was around fifty animals with just three animals having any form of status; something that has been mentioned many times before in this place.
The point is that dogs are creatures that have evolved to live in a local community and to live peacefully; by and large. My sense is that ancient man also evolved to be most complete within a community environment.
This is the end of the era of huge federal and national social constructions.
We must return to locally run and managed communities, which is the pathway to peace across this planet.
The second of George Monbiot’s essays on Scotland.
In yesterday’s post Alba an Aigh or Scotland the Brave, I closed it by saying, “Since preparing this post, I see that George Monbiot has published a second essay on the subject of the Scottish referendum. I’m pondering republishing that second essay next Monday.”
Upon further reflection, it struck me that Mr. Monbiot’s second essay was better appreciated being republished in this place the following day; i.e. today.
Thus with no further ado, here it is.
England the Brave
September 9, 2014
The rest of the UK doesn’t need to be rescued by Scottish votes: independence could inspire transformation everywhere.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 9th September 2014
Of all the bad arguments urging the Scots to vote no – and there are plenty – perhaps the worst is the demand that Scotland should remain in the Union to save England from itself. Responses to last week’s column suggest that this wretched, snivelling, apron-strings argument has some traction among people who claim to belong to the left.
Consider what it entails: it asks a nation of 5.3 million to forgo independence to exempt a nation of 53 million from having to fight its own battles. In return for this self-denial, the five million must remain yoked to the dismal politics of cowardice and triangulation which have caused the problems from which we ask them to save us.
“A UK without Scotland would be much less likely to elect any government of a progressive hue”, the former Labour minister Brian Wilson claimed in the Guardian last week(1). We must combine against the “forces of privilege and reaction” (as he lines up with the Conservatives, UKIP, the LibDems, the banks, the corporations, almost all the rightwing columnists in Britain and every UK newspaper except the Sunday Herald) – in the cause of “solidarity”.
There’s another New Labour weasel word to add to its dreary lexicon (other examples include reform, which now means privatisation, and partnership, which means selling out to big business). Once solidarity meant making common cause with the exploited, the underpaid, the excluded. Now, to these cyborgs in suits, it means keeping faith with the banks, the corporate press, cuts, a tollbooth economy and market fundamentalism.
Here, to Wilson and his fellow flinchers, is what solidarity meant while they were in office. It meant voting for the Iraq war, for Trident, for identity cards, for 3,500 new criminal offences(2), including the criminalisation of most forms of peaceful protest(3). It meant being drafted in as political mercenaries to impose on the English policies to which the Scots were not subject, such as university top-up fees and foundation hospitals(4,5). It meant supporting every destructive and injust proposition advanced by their leaders: the brood parasites who hatched in the Labour nest then flicked its dearest principles over the edge. It’s no surprise that the more the Scots see of their former Labour ministers, the more inclined they are to vote for independence.
So now Better Together has brought in Gordon Brown, scattering bribes in a desperate, last-ditch effort at containment. They must hope the Scots have forgotten that he boasted of setting “the lowest rate in the history of British corporation tax, the lowest rate of any major country in Europe and the lowest rate of any major industrialised country anywhere”(6). That he pledged to the City of London “in budget after budget I want us to do even more to encourage the risk takers”(7). That, after 13 years of Labour government, the UK had higher levels of inequality than after 18 years of Tory government(8). That his government colluded in kidnapping and torture(9). That he helped cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands through his support for the illegal war on Iraq.
He roams through Scotland, still badged with blood, promising what he never delivered when he had the chance, this man who helped unravel the social safety net his predecessors wove; who marketised and dismembered public services; who enriched the wealthy and shafted the poor; who pledged money for Trident but failed to reverse the loss of social housing(10); whose private finance initiative planted a series of timebombs now exploding throughout the NHS and other public services(11); who greased and wheedled and slavered his way into the company of bankers and oligarchs while trampling over the working people he was elected to represent. This is the progressive Prester John who will ride to the rescue of the No campaign?
Where, in Scotland’s Labour party, are the Keir Hardies and Jimmy Reids of our time? Where is the vision, the inspiration, the hope? The shuffling, spineless little men with whom these titans have been replaced offer nothing but fear. Through fear they seek to shove Scotland back into its box, as its people rebel against the dreary, closed future mapped out for them – and the rest of us – by the three main Westminster parties.
Sure, if Scotland becomes independent, all else being equal, Labour would lose 41 seats at Westminster and Tory majorities would become more likely(12). But all else need not be equal. Scottish independence can galvanise progressive movements across the rest of the United Kingdom. We’ll watch as the Scots engage in the transformative process of writing a constitution. We’ll see that a nation of these islands can live and – I hope – flourish with a fully elected legislature (no House of Lords), with a fair electoral system (proportional representation), and with a parliament in which only representatives of that nation can vote (no cross-border mercenaries).
Already, the myth of political apathy has been scotched by the tumultuous movement north of the border. As soon as something is worth voting for, people will queue into the night to add their names to the register(13). The low turn-outs in Westminster elections reflect not an absence of interest but an absence of hope.
If Scotland becomes independent, it will be despite the efforts of almost the entire UK establishment. It will be because social media has defeated the corporate media. It will be a victory for citizens over the Westminster machine, for shoes over helicopters. It will show that a sufficiently inspiring idea can cut through bribes and blackmail, through threats and fearmongering. That hope, marginalised at first, can spread across a nation, defying all attempts to suppress it. That you can be hated by the Daily Mail and still have a chance of winning.
If Labour has any political nous, any remaining flicker of courage, it will understand what this moment means. Instead of suppressing the forces of hope and inspiration, it would mobilise them. It would, for example, pledge, in its manifesto, a referendum on drafting a written constitution for the rest of the United Kingdom.
It would understand that hope is the most dangerous of all political reagents. That it can transform what appears to be a fixed polity, a fixed outcome, into something entirely different. That it can summon up passion and purpose we never knew we possessed. If Scotland becomes independent, England – if only the potential were recognised – could also be transformed.
By this day next week, we shall know the outcome.
My hope for a ‘yes’ vote for Scottish Independence.
“Alba an Aigh” is Scottish Gaelic for the Scottish patriotic song, Scotland the Brave. It was one of several songs considered an unofficial national anthem of Scotland.
Before the main purpose of today’s post, I want to republish three comments to a recent post from Patrice Ayme, Free Scotland From Thieves.
First Alex Jones, he of The Liberated Way, commented:
I hope that “yes” is the outcome in the Scottish vote. I believe Scotland is part of a trend away from globalism and centralism to a new devolved form of localism.
To which I added:
Delighted to agree with Alex and for exactly the reasons he offers. All around the globe we are seeing countless examples of the failure, to put it mildly, of BIG GOVERNMENT.
Just as much in my new home country as it was in my old one.
On Sunday evening, neighbours Janell and Larry threw a short-notice BBQ. Thirty minutes after Larry’s phone call, we walked across our fields to their place, to join three other neighbours. It was a wonderful evening and the majority of the talk was about local issues: when is it going to rain, we are all short of hay, that sort of stuff.
Towards the end, there was a general rant about the state of the world. I hesitated, aware of my ‘new boy’ status, and then quietly remarked that Jean and I were overwhelmed by the friendship and cooperation of all those living nearby. And went on to add that the contrast between how our community worked and how the American government failed to work was stark.
Everyone signalled by grunts, words and body language their agreement.
Bon chance, New Scotland.
Patrice then offered:
Dear Paul: 100% agree. The strength of the USA is that the average state is 6 million people. The state of Massachusetts has excellent results on the PISA tests, in stark distinction with most of Euramerica. That’s entirely due to localism.
In my more or less native Bay Area, governance is extremely local, and there is the secret of Silicon Valley: most deals are made with handshakes, or people who argue with each other, while knowing they will have to keep on living with each other. Silicon Valley exists, because it’s 3,000 miles from Washington and New York.
They signaled with grunts and body language because of these low PISA tests, but, right now in the Bay Area, the PISA rising movement is engaged (having a 4 year old, I am in the middle of it).
Bonne Chance Scotland, indeed. Independence (from London’s plutocracy) ought to be easy as pie for Scotland.
BTW, the “City” is technically a plutocracy: voting there depends upon the money…
So it’s already clear where I stand!
As is the stance from The Automatic Earth Please Scotland, Blow Up The EU. Or try The London School of Economics: The ‘domino effect’ from Scotland’s referendum is increasing demands for independence in Italian regions. Then The Daily Telegraph weighs in with Britain faces storm as giant global investors awaken to break-up dangers. All great fun!
However, the most eloquent and powerful argument read in recent days comes from George Monbiot in his essay Someone Else’s Story. It is republished here with Mr. Monbiot’s kind permission.
Someone Else’s Story
September 2, 2014
Scots voting no to independence would be an astonishing act of self-harm
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 3rd September 2014
Imagine that the question was posed the other way round. An independent nation is asked to decide whether to surrender its sovereignty to a larger union. It would be allowed a measure of autonomy, but key aspects of its governance would be handed to another nation. It would be used as a military base by the dominant power and yoked to an economy over which it had no control.
It would have to be bloody desperate. Only a nation in which the institutions of governance had collapsed, which had been ruined economically, which was threatened by invasion or civil war or famine might contemplate this drastic step. Most nations faced even with such catastrophes choose to retain their independence – in fact will fight to preserve it – rather than surrender to a dominant foreign power.
So what would you say about a country that sacrificed its sovereignty without collapse or compulsion? That had no obvious enemies, a basically sound economy and a broadly functional democracy, and chose to swap it for remote governance by the hereditary elite of another nation, beholden to a corrupt financial centre?(1)
What would you say about a country that exchanged an economy based on enterprise and distribution for one based on speculation and rent?(2) That chose obeisance to a government which spies on its own citizens, uses the planet as its dustbin, governs on behalf of a transnational elite which owes loyalty to no nation, cedes public services to corporations, forces terminally ill people to work(3) and can’t be trusted with a box of fireworks, let alone a fleet of nuclear submarines? You would conclude that it had lost its senses.
So what’s the difference? How is the argument altered by the fact that Scotland is considering whether to gain independence, rather than whether to lose it? It’s not. Those who would vote no – now, a new poll suggests, a rapidly diminishing majority(4) – could be suffering from system justification.
System justification is defined as the “process by which existing social arrangements are legitimised, even at the expense of personal and group interest”(5). It consists of a desire to defend the status quo, regardless of its impacts. It has been demonstrated in a large body of experimental work, which has produced the following surprising results.
System justification becomes stronger when social and economic inequality is more extreme. This is because people try to rationalise their disadvantage by seeking legitimate reasons for their position(6). In some cases disadvantaged people are more likely than the privileged to support the status quo. One study found that US citizens on low incomes were more likely than those on high incomes to believe that economic inequality is legitimate and necessary(7).
It explains why women in experimental studies pay themselves less than men, why people in low status jobs believe their work is worth less than those in high status jobs, even when they’re performing the same task, and why people accept domination by another group(8). It might help to explain why so many people in Scotland are inclined to vote no.
The fears the no campaigners have worked so hard to stoke are – by comparison to what the Scots are being asked to lose – mere shadows. As Adam Ramsay points out in his treatise Forty-Two Reasons to Support Scottish Independence, there are plenty of nations smaller than Scotland which possess their own currencies and thrive(9). Most of the world’s prosperous nations are small: there are no inherent disadvantages to downsizing(10).
Remaining in the UK carries as much risk and uncertainty as leaving. England’s housing bubble could blow at any time. We might leave the EU. Some of the most determined no campaigners would take us out: witness Ukip’s intention to stage a “pro-Union rally” in Glasgow on September 12(11). The Union in question, of course, is the UK, not Europe. This reminds us of a crashing contradiction in the politics of such groups: if our membership of the EU represents an appalling and intolerable loss of sovereignty, why is the far greater loss Scotland is being asked to accept deemed tolerable and necessary?
The Scots are told they will have no control over their own currency if they leave the UK. But they have none today. The monetary policy committee is based in London and bows to the banks. The pound’s strength, which damages the manufacturing Scotland seeks to promote, reflects the interests of the City(12).
To vote no is to choose to live under a political system that sustains one of the rich world’s highest levels of inequality and deprivation. This is a system in which all major parties are complicit, which offers no obvious exit from a model that privileges neoliberal economics over other aspirations(13). It treats the natural world, civic life, equality, public health and effective public services as dispensable luxuries, and the freedom of the rich to exploit the poor as non-negotiable.
Its lack of a codified constitution permits numberless abuses of power. It has failed to reform the House of Lords, royal prerogative, campaign finance(14) and first-past-the-post voting (another triumph for the no brigade). It is dominated by a media owned by tax exiles, who, instructing their editors from their distant chateaux, play the patriotism card at every opportunity. The concerns of swing voters in marginal constituencies outweigh those of the majority; the concerns of corporations with no lasting stake in the country outweigh everything. Broken, corrupt, dysfunctional, retentive: you want to be part of this?
Independence, as more Scots are beginning to see, offers people an opportunity to rewrite the political rules. To create a written constitution, the very process of which is engaging and transformative. To build an economy of benefit to everyone. To promote cohesion, social justice, the defence of the living planet and an end to wars of choice(15).
To deny this to yourself, to remain subject to the whims of a distant and uncaring elite, to succumb to the bleak, deferential negativity of the no campaign; to accept other people’s myths in place of your own story: that would be an astonishing act of self-repudiation and self-harm. Consider yourselves independent and work backwards from there, then ask why you would sacrifice that freedom.
5. John T. Jost and Mahzarin R. Banaji, 1994. The role of stereotyping in system-justification and the production of false consciousness. British Journal of Social Psychology, 33, 1–27.
6. John T. Jost, Mahzarin R. Banaji and Brian A. Nosek, 2004. A Decade of System Justification Theory: Accumulated Evidence of Conscious and Unconscious Bolstering of the Status Quo . Political Psychology, Vol. 25, No. 6, 2004. http://www.psych.nyu.edu/jost/Jost,%20Banaji,%20&%20Nosek%20%282004%29%20A%20Decade%20of%20System%20Justificati.pdf
7. John T. Jost et al, 2003. Social inequality and the reduction of ideological dissonance on behalf of the system: evidence of enhanced system justification among the disadvantaged. European Journal of Social Psychology, 33, 13–36.
8. John T. Jost, Mahzarin R. Banaji and Brian A. Nosek, 2004, see above.
12. See also, on these questions, the Common Weal report by the Jimmy Reid Foundation: http://reidfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/The-Common-Weal.pdf
15. There’s more on all this at http://commonwealth-publishing.com/?p=255
Since preparing this post, I see that George Monbiot has published a second essay on the subject of the Scottish referendum. I’m pondering republishing that second essay next Monday.