Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lost In The Land Of Make-Believe

The election of Barack Obama has seemed to many people like a magic trick -- a wish come true, in some cases the wish of a lifetime.

It's a result that seems to confirm their belief that America is still capable of pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

Many seem to think that Obama himself can pull a rabbit out of a hat -- or multiple rabbits out of multiple hats -- whenever he wants to.

But there's a nasty surprise in all the magic: Obama is the rabbit, and the trick is on us!

In "The Era of Magical Thinking: SOFA Smokescreens and Presidential Power", Chris Floyd makes some very important points, beginning with this one:
The American media is by and large swallowing the propaganda line that the Iraqi cabinet's acquiescence to a "Status of Forces Agreement" (SOFA) with the U.S. occupation force means that the Iraq War will be over in 2011.
Not only the mainstream media are swallowing it; many bloggers, on both left and right, are drinking it too: they should know better but then again it's clear that they don't want to.
This will further cement the conventional wisdom that the suppurating war crime in Iraq is now behind us, and the topic will be moved even further off the radar of public scrutiny.
More fiction for more chumps. But who really wants to know the truth? Do you?

Most Americans seem quite happy with "the conventional wisdom".
But as usual, there is a wide, yawning abyss between the packaged, freeze-dried pabulum for public consumption and the gritty, blood-flecked truth on the ground. As Jason Ditz reports at, the so-called "deadline" in 2011 for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces remains, as ever, an "aspiration," not an iron-clad guarantee. The pace and size of the bruited "withdrawal" will remain, as ever, "conditions-based," say Pentagon and White House officials -- a position long echoed by the "anti-war" president-elect. And as we all know, "conditions" in a war zone are always subject to radical, unexpected change.
Or radical, entirely expected change, as the case may be.
Ditz also hones in on a very important -- and almost entirely overlooked -- point: the ballyhooed "agreement" (which has yet to pass the Iraqi parliament, of course) "just covers the rules of US troops operating in Iraq from 2009-2011, and... nothing would prevent a future deal keeping the troops there past the scope of the SOFA." American negotiators had originally insisted on stating this point explicitly in the text of the agreement, but finally removed it to allow their oft-disgruntled puppet, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to claim, falsely, that the SOFA will at last rid the country of the widely-loathed American presence.

It will not. If, by the end of 2011, America's bipartisan foreign policy elite -- and the profiteers of the vast, interlocking corporate conglomerate that fuels the War Machine -- decide that it is in "the national interest" (i.e., their interests) for the occupation to go on, it will go on. If they feel they have squeezed Iraq dry enough, then they may well move on to greener pastures -- in a newly "surging" Afghanistan, no doubt, and perhaps even Pakistan. But that decision will not be in the hands of the Iraqis.
Indeed. As I have written on more than one occasion, no important decisions are in the hands of the Iraqis.

There appears to be only one way in which the Iraqis could force all the widely-loathed Americans out of their country.

They would have to take over our government.

But it's too late; the Israelis have already taken it over.

Chris Floyd shifts gears, and we go with him:
Of course, going this far into the weeds on the details of the "agreement" ignores the fact that the entire process is actually a brutal sham.
Exactly. I have been reading Cernig at At-Largely on the "negotiations" leading up to this "agreement", and seeing a lot of depth in the weeds but no understanding of the fact, as Chris points out, that "the entire process is actually a brutal sham".

Most recently, in the November 13 piece entitled "Hawks Pressure Obama To Ignore Iraqi Sovereignty", Cernig wrote [my emphasis]:
There's certainly a gap between Obama's campaign promise of 16 months and the 36 months of the SOFA wording, but the hawks are seemingly advocating ignoring that SOFA hard limit too, if "conditions" warrant it. If Obama doesn't stick to that timetable, he has to explain why he's setting the SOFA negotiations and the stated intentions of the Iraqi government during those negotiations - that the US withdraw from urban areas by end 2009 and entirely by 2011, no exceptions or takebacks - aside. That's a no-no, as the US cannot unilaterally go ask for an extension of the UN mandate and expect to get it. A continued presence would then be an absolute infringement of Iraqi sovereignty and make the US presence clearly an illegal occupation. It seems to me that its the folks who are pushing for doing just that who are out of bounds. Not only are they asking to set international law at naught but inviting a massively renewed insurgency.
But when Obama becomes the decider, he won't have to explain anything! That's the interesting thing about the job, remember?

Apart from that, the invasion, destruction and continued occupation of Iraq already qualify as an "absolute infringement of Iraqi sovereignty". "Iraqi sovereignty" has ceased to exist.

International law has already been "set at naught". And five years ago the people who started this war crime were counting the demolition of international law among their greatest victories!

But, according to Cernig, it won't get really illegal unless three more years pass and then the Americans violate the SOFA.

Stunning , isnt it?

Here's Chris Floyd again:
Disregarding for a moment the murderous nature of the Hitlerian war crime perpetrated on Iraq by the American government -- which removes the situation from any kind of "normal" considerations of diplomacy -- what we have here are negotiations dealing directly with the very essence of a nation's sovereignty, and America's continuing, intimate -- and armed -- involvement in that nation's life. It is absurd in the extreme to pretend that this is not a treaty-level matter, requiring full debate and a vote in the Senate, but simply a side issue to be left up to the President's discretion.
The whole thing is absurd, of course.

If it hadn't already killed more than a million people, and destroyed the lives and livelihoods of millions of others, it might be somewhat funny -- because it's so twisted. But it's not funny at all.

Bush wiggles away from congressional oversight in starting the war, then wiggles away from any Constitutional-style international treaty as well.
Yet that is the case. Bush makes the deal alone -- after all, as Obama continually reminds us, "we only have one president," and even if he is a twerpish, murdering, nation-gutting son of a bitch, we should all defer respectfully to his judgment.
Alleged judgment, please!
All Obama asks is that any agreement to extend the war crime in Iraq will provide "sufficient protections for our men and women in uniform."
That's it. That's all he asks; that's all he's allowed to care about. And that's all we're supposed to care about, too.

It's a totally psychopathic mindset, where outrageous expressions of destructive power are honored and the suffering of innocent victims is disregarded. But this is the kind of mindset a militaristic nation needs to inculcate in its soldiers. If the country has pretenses to democracy then the militarists need to create an entire nation with this mindset, not simply an army that "thinks" that way.

But this has been happening in the USA for a long time: popular culture worships psychopaths (from shoot-em-up video games that make killing "fun", to allegedly "true crime" documentaries that glorify the serial killers): modern politics, business, the military and the "news media" select for psychopathy; and the best liars get the best jobs.

But in the meantime, "protections for our men and women in uniform" constitute all the reason that could ever be needed for the indefinite continuation of this immense crime against humanity -- to the end of the SOFA, and beyond.
As for "sufficient protections" for the Iraqi men and women -- and children -- out of uniform, who have been killed and displaced by the millions, our singular president and his successor have little to say. As always, they play no part in these high affairs of state.
This is exactly true and it's one of the easiest parts of the puzzle to sort out.

This war crime -- like all war crimes, like all politics -- is a power struggle, nothing more or less.

Do the Iraqi people have any power? No.

Can they vote American politicians out of office? No.

Can they prosecute American soldiers, politicians or pundits for war crimes? No.

So who cares about them? Certainly not the people who are committing this enduring crime.

The Iraqi people simply do not matter at all.
And neither, apparently, do the American people, or their elected representatives.
Two questions here. First, the American people.

Do the American people have any power? No.

Can they vote American politicians out of office? Sometimes. But only under certain conditions.

Can they prosecute American soldiers, politicians or pundits for war crimes? Absolutely not.

So who cares about them?

As for our "elected" representatives, the situation is less clear but no more hopeful.

The combination of rigged elections and corrupt media makes it impossible that we could ever elect a president who actually represented us.

The same combination makes it impossible for any major party to select such a person as a presidential candidate.

Since the Glorious War On Terror began, every prominent politician who has opposed the military-industrial-media complex has been turned, or demolished, or both.

Early in 2004, Howard Dean looked like an anti-war Democratic presidential candidate in the making -- and he was promptly destroyed by extraordinarily slanted "news" coverage of a fairly ordinary, if rousing, speech.

So to the fore stepped John Kerry, a "hero" of the anti-war movement who served in Vietnam and then led the charge against that war. He suddenly started winning primaries despite having almost no personal appeal, and guess what? By the time the nominations had been sealed and the debates rolled around, Kerry's position on the war crime in Iraq was slightly to the right of Bush's: thus Kerry of anti-war stood before the nation and told us with as straight a face as he could manage that we needed more troops, more allies, and more effort, so we could "win" this war crime.

Four years later, the Democrats had made it very clear that seriously anti-war candidates were too "fringe" to be taken seriously, even though upwards of two-thirds of the country supported some variety of anti-war position. So Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich were ignored and barred from debates and so on, while Barack Obama became the candidate of hope and change and even peace!

Obama has embraced all the bogus basics of the Glorious War on Terror; he's made a pledge of undying, unconditional support for Israel; he's even pledged to resume the vain hunt for the dead man who didn't attack us on 9/11. But he has remained a symbol representing hope and change -- just like he represents us, meaning: not at all.

At lower levels of the political ladder, the dynamic is exactly the same, although the dirty tricks are smaller and less visible. Anyone who doesn't toe the party line -- support for Israel, continuation of the Glorious War on Terror, continuing increases in military and homeland security budgets, and so on -- is turned or demolished, or both.

Meanwhile, up on the Hill, we are continually lied to by people who think we know nothing and who are usually right. So Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader, was lamenting the other day about how even though the Democrats have increased their majority in the Senate, they still have less than 60 seats.

Reid was implicitly talking about filibuster, and in effect he was saying that if he had greater than 60/40 control of the Senate, the Republicans wouldn't be able to filibuster against a Democratic legislative agenda.

What Reid doesn't want you to think about is this: If the Republicans can stop a Democratic agenda with just over 40 seats, then the Democrats could have done the same thing to Bush for all those years when they had more than 40 seats, and yet they pretended to be helpless.
But all of this is entirely in keeping with our cowed and craven post-Republic era, where in the end, all must yield to the prerogatives of the "commander-in-chief." The constant use of this title as a synonym for "the president" is yet another mark of our democratic degradation. For of course the president is only the commander-in-chief of the armed forces in wartime -- not the military commander of the entire country. It has been astonishing to see the erasure of this distinction not only in the popular mind but also among our powerful elites. It is one of the clearest expressions of the true state of the Union: a nation that has willingly submitted itself to rule by a military junta, surrendering, without a shot, the liberties it once claimed as its very raison d'etre.
Yes! Absolutely! And this is the point -- definitely the main point, and quite possibly the whole point, of the Glorious War on Terror.

Republican strategists have been saying for a long time that American presidents were "weak" if they didn't wage war. Conversely, if a president does wage war, he gets to be commander-in-chief. And if he wages endless war, he gets to be commander-in-chief forever.

So it was no accident that this vicious little twerp, who wasn't legitimately elected in 2000 -- at whom and at whose selection people used to laugh -- stood on a pile of smoking rubble and spoke the famous words:
"An act of war has been declared against the United States."
It didn't make very much sense, and the small amount of sense it did make wasn't true, but the media started talking about how this vicious little twerp was "presidential". And you believed them!

You waved your red, white, and blue flags, and you sang "God Bless America" and you felt something you'd never felt before: Pride. National pride. Pride of purpose. Pride in belonging. Your country was being hijacked, and you were proud to be a part of the hijacking party.

Maybe you personally were not proud. Maybe you personally were not part of the party. But everyone around you was, or nearly everyone.

I wasn't proud. I was sickened. I was utterly horrified, not just at what had happened, but because of what it meant would happen next.

On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, one of my neighbors asked me a tough question. "Why don't they stand up and fight?"

The question was tough because I knew he didn't want to hear the answer: "They don't want us to know who they are!"

It was so clear -- it was so obvious! Here were Rumsfeld and Rice and Kissinger and everybody including Bush himself, all sneering and leering and telling us this was the beginning of a war that wouldn't end in our lifetimes!

How would they know that?

Maybe because that's the way they were planning it.

And they planned it well: not perfectly; not perfectly by any means. There are hundreds of holes in their tale. But they planned it well enough to get away with it.

And now we're paying the price -- and we're going to keep paying that price -- for as long as we both shall live.
So now we lurch from election to election, hoping that this time we will get a "good" commander, a benevolent tyrant. Witness the plethora of recent articles in our most august journals, wondering anxiously what Obama will do about the concentration camp in Guantanamo, and the issue of "preventive" indefinite detention, and the torture techniques instituted by Bush, and the secret, warrantless wiretapping of the American people, and the "signing statements" that ignore the Constitutional authority of the elected legislature and impose the arbitrary will of the president, and all the other authoritarian powers now claimed by the Unitary Executive.
It's all a distraction, of course. It's all right up there with the speculation about "the first dog" and whether the president-elect will try to impose his will on the so-called playoff structure of American college football.
The unspoken assumption behind all the stories is that it is up to Obama, alone, to decide these issues. It is he who will now decide how we define torture. He will now decide what's to become of the captives in Gitmo and the other gulag hidey-holes around the world. He will decide whether or not to "re-visit" the spying powers that he voted to give the Executive just a few months ago. And so on down the line.
But the unspoken assumption is a false one; the reality is that Obama won't be allowed to decide anything of the sort. He will be presented as a decider but he has already declared his intention to be the front man of a unification government.

The "unity" Obama will bring will not heal us, of course. It's not designed to do that. We are divided according to any number of criteria: racial, economic, geographical, political, and so on; Obama doesn't intend to do anything about these divides other than possibly proclaim them irrelevant.

The "unity" Obama promises does nothing for the most serious division in America -- between the people who are so enraged over the course America has taken during the past eight years that they have brought Obama to the pinnacle of power, and the people who steered that course.

Obama's administration represents a reconciliation between the two groups. And to a certain extent, it's working. Websites and writers who appeared to stand firmly against the American imperial project have turned out to be merely anti-Bush, and quite satisfied with the "change", even if it is only cosmetic.

Chris Floyd again:
All of the extraordinary hopes now invested in Obama boil down to this: the powerless wish that he will be a "good" king, well-intentioned and masterful, and not a cruel and bumbling ruler like the last "commander."
He may certainly be "masterful". He may avoid "bumbling". But Barack Obama has already shown that he has no intention of being a "good" king.

A good king would never renounce the pastor who taught him this:
Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. Terrorism begets terrorism.
A good king would not resume the costly, deadly and ultimately fruitless, and powerfully misleading search for a dead man.

A good king would never try to pretend that racism isn't "endemic to America"; or that America's problems in the Middle East are caused not by its own actions or the actions of Israel but rather by the "perverse and hateful ideologies of Islam".

Barack Obama has told all these lies, and many more; he has pledged more war against countries that never attacked -- or even intended to attack -- us.

Chris Floyd has the right words for the thoughts going on in the heads of the people who brought Barack Obama to power and now hope he will bring them the "change" that he taught them to "hope" for.
Magical thinking. Cringing and fawning. Looking to the Leader to make everything right. This is the state of American "democracy" today -- even after the historic "transformation" of Election 2008.
I am still amazed at the depth of the self-deception going on, the willingness to be deceived that I see almost everywhere.

Oh well. I deceive myself, too. I know where this is headed. I know what it would take to stop it. I know that's not about to happen, and I know that blogging about it isn't going to make any difference. But I do it anyway.

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