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Thu

04

Dec

2008

Vote First. Ask Questions Later
Thursday, 04 December 2008 08:32
by William Blum

Okay, let's get the obvious out of the way. It was historic. I choked up a number of times, tears came to my eyes, even though I didn't vote for him. I voted for Ralph Nader for the fourth time in a row.

During the past eight years when I've listened to news programs on the radio each day I've made sure to be within a few feet of the radio so I could quickly change the station when that preposterous man or one of his disciples came on; I'm not a masochist, I suffer fools very poorly, and I get bored easily. Sad to say, I'm already turning the radio off sometimes when Obama comes on. He doesn't say anything, or not enough, or not often enough. Platitudes, clichés, promises without substance, "hope and change", almost everything without sufficient substance, "change and hope", without specifics, designed not to offend. What exactly are the man's principles? He never questions the premises of the empire. Never questions the premises of the "War on Terror". I'm glad he won for two reasons only: John McCain and Sarah Palin, and I deeply resent the fact that the American system forces me to squeeze out a drop of pleasure from something so far removed from my ideals. Obama's votes came at least as much from people desperate for relief from neo-conservative suffocation as from people who genuinely believed in him. It's a form of extortion – Vote for Obama or you get more of the same. Those are your only choices.

Is there reason to be happy that the insufferably religious George W. is soon to be history? "I believe that Christ died for my sins and I am redeemed through him. That is a source of strength and sustenance on a daily basis." That was said by someone named Barack Obama.1 The United States turns out religious fanatics like the Japanese turn out cars. Let's pray for an end to this.

As I've mentioned before, if you're one of those who would like to believe that Obama has to present center-right foreign policy views to be elected, but once he's in the White House we can forget that he misled us repeatedly and the true, progressive man of peace and international law and human rights will emerge... keep in mind that as a US Senate candidate in 2004 he threatened missile strikes against Iran2, and winning that election apparently did not put him in touch with his inner peacenik. He's been threatening Iran ever since.
The world is in terrible shape. I don't think I have to elucidate on that remark. How nice, how marvelously nice it would be to have an American president who was infused with progressive values and political courage. Just imagine what could be done. Like a quick and complete exit from Iraq. You can paint the picture as well as I can. With his popularity Obama could get away with almost anything, but he'll probably continue to play it safe. Or what may be more precise, he'll continue to be himself; which, apparently, is a committed centrist. He's not really against the war. Not like you and I are. During Obama's first four years in the White House, the United States will not leave Iraq. I doubt that he'd allow a complete withdrawal even in a second term. Has he ever unequivocally called the war illegal and immoral? A crime against humanity? Why is he so close to Colin Powell? Does he not know of Powell's despicable role in the war? And retaining George W. Bush's Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, a man against whom it would not be difficult to draw up charges of war crimes? Will he also find a place for Rumsfeld? And Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, a supporter of the war, to run the Homeland Security department? And General James Jones, a former NATO commander (sic), who wants to "win" in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who backed John McCain, as his National Security Adviser? Jones is on the Board of Directors of the Boeing Corporation and Chevron Oil. Out of what dark corner of Obama's soul does all this come?

As Noam Chomsky recently pointed out, the election of an indigenous person (Evo Morales) in Bolivia and a progressive person (Jean-Bertrand Aristide) in Haiti were more historic than the election of Barack Obama.

He's not really against torture either. Not like you and I are. No one will be punished for using or ordering torture. No one will be impeached because of torture. Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, says that prosecuting Bush officials is necessary to set future anti-torture policy. "The only way to prevent this from happening again is to make sure that those who were responsible for the torture program pay the price for it. I don't see how we regain our moral stature by allowing those who were intimately involved in the torture programs to simply walk off the stage and lead lives where they are not held accountable."3

As president, Obama cannot remain silent and do nothing; otherwise he will inherit the war crimes of Bush and Cheney and become a war criminal himself. Closing the Guantanamo hell-hole means nothing at all if the prisoners are simply moved to other torture dungeons. If Obama is truly against torture, why does he not declare that after closing Guantanamo the inmates will be tried in civilian courts in the US or resettled in countries where they clearly face no risk of torture? And simply affirm that his administration will faithfully abide by the 1984 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, of which the United States is a signatory, and which states: "The term 'torture' means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining information or a confession... inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or any other person acting in an official capacity."

The convention affirms that: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

Instead, Obama has appointed former CIA official John O. Brennan as an adviser on intelligence matters and co-leader of his intelligence transition team. Brennan has called "rendition" – the kidnap-and-torture program carried out under the Clinton and Bush administrations – a "vital tool", and praised the CIA's interrogation techniques for providing "lifesaving" intelligence.4

Obama may prove to be as big a disappointment as Nelson Mandela, who did painfully little to improve the lot of the masses of South Africa while turning the country over to the international forces of globalization. I make this comparison not because both men are black, but because both produced such great expectations in their home country and throughout the world. Mandela was freed from prison on the assumption of the Apartheid leaders that he would become president and pacify the restless black population while ruling as a non-radical, free-market centrist without undue threat to white privilege. It's perhaps significant that in his autobiography he declines to blame the CIA for his capture in 1962 even though the evidence to support this is compelling.5 It appears that Barack Obama made a similar impression upon the American power elite who vetted him in many fundraising and other meetings and smoothed the way for his highly unlikely ascendancy from obscure state senator to the presidency in four years. The financial support from the corporate world to sell "Brand Obama" was extraordinary.

Another comparison might be with Tony Blair. The Tories could never have brought in university fees or endless brutal wars, but New Labour did. The Republicans would have had a very difficult time bringing back the draft, but I can see Obama reinstating it, accompanied by a suitable slogan, some variation of "Yes, we can!".

I do hope I'm wrong, about his past and about how he'll rule as president. I hope I'm very wrong.

Many people are calling for progressives to intensely lobby the Obama administration, to exert pressure to bring out the "good Obama", force him to commit himself, hold him accountable. The bold reforms of Roosevelt's New Deal were spurred by widespread labor strikes and other militant actions soon after the honeymoon period was over. At the moment I have nothing better to offer than that. God help us.

The future as we used to know it has ceased to exist. And other happy thoughts.

Reading the accounts of the terrorist horror in Mumbai has left me as pessimistic as a dinosaur contemplating the future of his grandchildren. How could they do that?... destroying all those lives, people they didn't even know, people enjoying themselves on vacation ... whatever could be their motivation? Well, they did sort of know some of their victims; they knew they were Indians, or Americans, or British, or Zionists, or some other kind of infidel; so it wasn't completely mindless, not totally random. Does that help to understand? Can it ease the weltschmerz? You can even make use of it. The next time you encounter a defender of American foreign policy, someone insisting that something like Mumbai justifies Washington's rhetorical and military attacks against Islam, you might want to point out that the United States does the same on a regular basis. For seven years in Afghanistan, almost six in Iraq, to give only the two most obvious examples... breaking down doors and machine-gunning strangers, infidels, traumatizing children for life, firing missiles into occupied houses, exploding bombs all over the place, pausing to torture... every few days dropping bombs on Pakistan or Afghanistan, and still Iraq, claiming they've killed members of al-Qaeda, just as bad as Zionists, bombing wedding parties, one after another, 20 or 30 or 70 killed, all terrorists of course, often including top al-Qaeda leaders, the number one or number two man, so we're told; so not completely mindless, not totally random; the survivors say it was a wedding party, their brother or their nephew or their friend, mostly women and children dead; the US military pays people to tell them where so-and-so number-one bad guy is going to be; and the US military believes what they're told, so Bombs Away!... Does any of that depress you like Mumbai? Sometimes they bomb Syria instead, or kill people in Iran or Somalia, all bad guys... "US helicopter-borne troops have carried out a raid inside Syria along the Iraqi border, killing eight people including a woman, Syrian authorities say" reports the BBC.6... "The United States military since 2004 has used broad, secret authority to carry out nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks against Al Qaeda and other militants in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere, according to senior American officials.... The secret order gave the military new authority to attack the Qaeda terrorist network anywhere in the world, and a more sweeping mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the United States," the New York Times informs us.7 So it's all nice and legal, not an attack upon civilization by a bunch of escaped mental patients. Maybe the Mumbai terrorists also have a piece of paper, from some authority, saying that it's okay what they did.... I'm feeling better already.

The mythology of the War on Terrorism

On November 8, three men were executed by the government of Indonesia for terrorist attacks on two night clubs in Bali in 2002 that took the lives of 202 people, more than half of whom were Australians, Britons and Americans. The Associated Press8 reported that "the three men never expressed remorse, saying the suicide bombings were meant to punish the United States and its Western allies for alleged atrocities in Afghanistan and elsewhere."

During the recent US election campaign, John McCain and his followers repeated a sentiment that has become a commonplace – that the War on Terrorism has been a success because there hasn't been a terrorist attack against the United States since September 11, 2001; as if terrorists killing Americans is acceptable if it's done abroad. Since the first American strike on Afghanistan in October 2001 there have been literally scores of terrorist attacks against American institutions in the Middle East, South Asia and the Pacific, more than a dozen in Pakistan alone: military, civilian, Christian, and other targets associated with the United States. The year following the Bali bombings saw the heavy bombing of the US-managed Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, the site of diplomatic receptions and 4th of July celebrations held by the American Embassy. The Marriott Hotel in Pakistan was the scene of a major terrorist bombing just two months ago. All of these attacks have been in addition to the thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan against US occupation, which Washington officially labels an integral part of the War on Terrorism. Yet American lovers of military force insist that the War on Terrorism has kept the United States safe.

Even the claim that the War on Terrorism has kept Americans safe at home is questionable. There was no terrorist attack in the United States during the 6 1/2 years prior to the one in September 2001; not since the April 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. It would thus appear that the absence of terrorist attacks in the United States is the norm.

An even more insidious myth of the War on Terrorism has been the notion that terrorist acts against the United States can be explained, largely, if not entirely, by irrational hatred or envy of American social, economic, or religious values, and not by what the United States does to the world; i.e., US foreign policy. Many Americans are mightily reluctant to abandon this idea. Without it the whole paradigm – that we are the innocent good guys and they are the crazy, fanatic, bloodthirsty bastards who cannot be talked to but only bombed, tortured and killed – falls apart. Statements like the one above from the Bali bombers blaming American policies for their actions are numerous, coming routinely from Osama bin Laden and those under him.9

Terrorism is an act of political propaganda, a bloody form of making the world hear one's outrage against a perceived oppressor, graffiti written on the wall in some grim, desolate alley. It follows that if the perpetrators of a terrorist act declare what their motivation was, their statement should carry credibility, no matter what one thinks of their cause or the method used to achieve it.

Just put down that stereotype and no one gets hurt.

Sarah Palin and her American supporters resent what they see as the East Coast elite, the intellectuals, the cultural snobs, the politically correct, the pacifists and peaceniks, the agnostics and atheists, the environmentalists, the fanatic animal protectors, the food police, the health gestapo, the socialists, and other such leftist and liberal types who think of themselves as morally superior to Joe Sixpack, Joe the Plumber, National Rifle Association devotées, rednecks, and all the Bush supporters who have relished the idea of having a president no smarter than themselves. It's stereotyping gone wild. So in the interest of bringing some balance and historical perspective to the issue, allow me to remind you of some forgotten, or never known, factoids which confound the stereotypes.

  • Josef Stalin studied for the priesthood.
  • Adolf Hitler once hoped to become a Catholic priest or monk; he was a vegetarian and was anti-smoking.
  • Hermann Goering, while his Luftwaffe rained death upon Europe, kept a sign in his office that read: "He who tortures animals wounds the feelings of the German people."
  • Adolf Eichmann was cultured, read deeply, played the violin.
  • Benito Mussolini also played the violin.
  • Some Nazi concentration camp commanders listened to Mozart to drown out the cries of the inmates.
  • Charles Manson was a staunch anti-vivisectionist.
  • Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, charged with war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, had been a psychiatrist specializing in depression; the author of a published book of poetry as well as children's books, often with themes of nature; and a practitioner of alternative medicine.
I'm not really certain to what use you might put this information to advance toward our cherished national goal of becoming a civilized society, but I feel a need to disseminate it. If you know of any other examples of the same type, I'd appreciate your sending them to me.

The examples above are all of "bad guys" doing "good" things. There are of course many more instances of "good guys" doing "bad" things.

Notes

  1. Washington Post, August 17, 20081
  2. Chicago Tribune, September 25, 2004 2
  3. Associated Press, November 17, 2008 3
  4. New York Times, October 3, 2008 4
  5. Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom (1994) p.278; William Blum, Rogue State, chapter 23, "How the CIA sent Nelson Mandela to prison for 28 years" 5
  6. BBC, October 26, 2008 6
  7. New York Times, November 9, 2008 7
  8. Associated Press, November 9, 2008 8
  9. See my article at: http://www.killinghope.org/superogue/terintro.htm 9


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
  • Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire
Portions of the books can be read, and signed copies purchased, at www.killinghope.org

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