Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

Oct 25, 2016 2:00 AM

Submitted by Eric Zuesse via Strategic Culture Foundation

Turkey’s Anadolu News Agency, though government-run, is providing remarkably clear and reliable diagrammatic descriptions of the current status of the
U.S – and – fundamentalist – Sunni, versus Russia – and – Shia – and – NON – fundamentalist – Sunni, sides,
in the current oil-and-gas war in the Middle East, for control over territory in Syria, for construction of oil-and-gas pipelines through Syria supplying fuel into the world’s largest energy-market: Europe.

Russia is now the dominant supplier of both oil and gas, but its ally Iran is a Shiite gas-powerhouse that wants to share the market there, and Russia has no objection.

Qatar is a Sunni gas-powerhouse and wants to become the main supplier of gas there, and Saudi Arabia is a Sunni oil-powerhouse, which wants to become the major supplier of oil, but Saudi oil and Qatari gas would be pipelined through secular-controlled (Assad’s) Syria, and this is why the U.S. and its fundamentalist-Sunni allies, the Sauds, and Qataris, are using Al Qaeda and other jihadists to conquer enough of a strip through Syria so that U.S. companies such as Halliburton will be able safely to place pipelines there, to be marketed in Europe by U.S. firms such as Exxon.

Iran also wants to pipeline its gas through Syria, and this is one reason why Iran is defending Syria’s government, against the U.S.-Saudi-Qatari-jihadist invasion, which is trying to overthrow and replace Assad.

Here are the most-informative of Anadolu’s war-maps:

The first presents the effort by many countries to eliminate ISIS control over the large Iraqi city of Mosul. A remarkably frank remark made in this map is “An escape corridor into Syria will be left for Daesh [ISIS] so they can vacate Mosul” – an admission that the U.S. – Saudi – Qatari team want the ISIS jihadists who are in Mosul to relocate into Syria to assist the U.S. – Saudi – Qatari effort there to overthrow and replace the Assad government: Syria

The second is about the Egyptian government’s trying to assist the Syrian government’s defense against the Saudi – U.S. – Qatari invasion of Syria, at Aleppo, where Syria’s Al Qaeda branch is trying to retain its current control over part of that large city.

The Saud family are punishing the Egyptian government for that:

Syria

 

Here is Russia’s proposed gas-pipeline, which would enable Russia to reduce its dependence upon Ukraine (through which Russia currently pipes its gas into Europe). Obama conquered and took over Ukraine in February 2014 via his coup that overthrew the democratically elected neutralist Ukrainian President there:

Syria

 

In addition, there is the following map from oil-price.com:

Syria

That map shows the competing Shiia (Russia-backed) and Sunni (U.S.-backed) gas-pipelines into Europe — the central issue in the invasion and defense of Syria.

On 21 September 2016, Gareth Porter headlined “The War Against the Assad Regime Is Not a ‘Pipeline War’”, and he pointed out some errors in Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s account that had been published under the headline “Syria: Another Pipeline War”.

Porter argued:

“It’s easy to understand why that explanation would be accepted by many anti-war activists: it is in line with the widely accepted theory that all the US wars in the Middle East have been ‘oil wars’ — about getting control of the petroleum resources of the region and denying them to America’s enemies.”

But the ‘pipeline war’ theory is based on false history and it represents a distraction from the real problem of US policy in the Middle East — the US war state’s determination to hold onto its military posture in the region.

Porter ignored the key question there, as to why the US war state has a determination to hold onto its military posture in the region.
Opening and protecting potential oil-gas-pipeline routes are important reasons why.

Clearly, Kennedy’s documentation that the CIA was trying as early as 1949 to overthrow Syria’s secular government so as to allow to the Sauds a means of cheaply transporting their oil through Syria into Europe, remains unaffected by any of the objections that Porter raised to Kennedy’s article.
The recent portion of Kennedy’s timeline is affected, but not his basic argument.

Furthermore, any military strategist knows that the US war state is intimately connected to the U.S. oil-and-gas industries, including pipelines (oilfield services) as well as marketing (Exxon, etc). And Porter got entirely wrong what that connection (which he ignored) actually consists of:
it consists of U.S. government taxpayer-funded killers for those U.S. international corporations.

Here is how Barack Obama put it, when addressing graduating cadets at West Point, America’s premier military-training institution:

Russia’s aggression toward former Soviet states unnerves capitals in Europe, while China’s economic rise and military reach worries its neighbours.
From Brazil to India, rising middle classes compete with us, and governments seek a greater say in global forums.
And even as developing nations embrace democracy and market economies, 24-hour news and social media makes it impossible to ignore the continuation of sectarian conflicts and failing states and popular uprisings that might have received only passing notice a generation ago.

It will be your generation’s task to respond to this new world.
The question we face, the question each of you will face, is not whether America will lead, but how we will lead – not just to secure our peace and prosperity, but also extend peace and prosperity around the globe.

He was saying there that America’s military is in service to U.S.-based international corporations in their competition against those of Russia, Brazil, China, India, and anywhere else in which “rising middle classes compete with us”. Those places are what Gareth Porter referred to as “America’s enemies”.

Economic competitors are “enemies”. Obama thinks that way, and even a progressive journalist such as Porter doesn’t place into a skeptical single – quotation – mark – surround, the phrase ‘America’s enemies’ when that phrase is used in this equational context. On both the right (Obama) and the left (Porter), the equation of a government and of the international corporations that headquarter in its nation — the treatment of the military as being an enforcement-arm for the nation’s international corporations — is simply taken for granted, not questioned, not challenged.

RFK Jr. was correct, notwithstanding some recent timeline-errors. Syria is “Another Pipeline War”, and Obama is merely intensifying it. (On 9 November 2015, I offered adifferent account than RFK Jr. provided of the recent history — the Obama portion — of the longstanding U.S. aggression against Syria; and it links back to Jonathan Marshall’s excellent articles on that, and to other well-sourced articles, in addition to primary sources, none of which contradict RFK Jr.’s basic view, “Syria: Another Pipeline War”).

Another portion of Porter’s commentary is, however, quite accurate: America’s ‘Defense’ (or mass-killing-abroad) industries (such as Lockheed Martin) are not merely servants of the U.S. government, but are also served by the U.S. government: “the US war state’s determination to hold onto its military posture in the region” is protection of the major market — the Middle Eastern market — for U.S. ‘Defense’ products and services. It’s not only America’s firms in the oil, gas, and pipelines, industries, which benefit from America’s military; it is also America’s firms in the mass-killing industries, that do.

To the extent that the public (here including Barack Obama and Gareth Porter) do not condemn the presumption that “the business of America is business”, or that a valid function of U.S. – taxpayer – funded military and other foreign-affairs operations is to serve the stockholders of U.S. international corporations, the hell (such as in Syria) will continue. Gareth Porter got lost among the trees because he failed to see (and to point to) that forest.

 

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When Lynsey German and the Stop the War Coalition raised the issue of US allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia funding ISIS, they were attacked as lunatic conspiracy theorists…
but, at the time (2014), the US government backed Saudis and their Sunni allies were supporting Isis and al-Qaeda-type movements.

In a leaked US State Department memo, dated 17 August 2014, says they drew on “western intelligence, US intelligence and sources in the region” and there was no ambivalence about who is backing Isis, which at the time of were butchering and raping Yazidi villagers and slaughtering captured Iraqi and Syrian soldiers.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/hillary-clinton-wikileaks-email-isis-saudi-arabia-qatar-us-allies-funding-barack-obama-knew-all-a7362071.html

We finally know what Hillary Clinton knew all along – US allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding Isis

There is a bizarre discontinuity between what the Obama administration knew about the jihadis and what they would say in public

Patrick Cockburn

@indyworld

isisflag.jpg

 

 

It is fortunate for Saudi Arabia and Qatar that the furore over thesexual antics of Donald Trump is preventing much attention being given to the latest batch of leaked emails to and from Hillary Clinton. Most fascinating of these is what reads like a US State Department memo, dated 17 August 2014, on the appropriate US response to the rapid advance of Isis forces, which were then sweeping through northern Iraq and eastern Syria.

At the time, the US government was not admitting that Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies were supporting Isis and al-Qaeda-type movements. But in the leaked memo, which says that it draws on “western intelligence, US intelligence and sources in the region” there is no ambivalence about who is backing Isis, which at the time of writing was butchering and raping Yazidi villagers and slaughtering captured Iraqi and Syrian soldiers.

The memo says: “We need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to Isis and other radical groups in the region.” This was evidently received wisdom in the upper ranks of the US government, but never openly admitted because to it was held that to antagonise Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies, Turkey and Pakistan would fatally undermine US power in the Middle East and South Asia.

For an extraordinarily long period after 9/11, the US refused to confront these traditional Sunni allies and thereby ensured that the “War on Terror” would fail decisively; 15 years later, al-Qaeda in its different guises is much stronger than it used to be because shadowy state sponsors, without whom it could not have survived, were given a free pass.

It is not as if Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and the US foreign policy establishment in general did not know what was happening. An earlier WikiLeaks release of a State Department cable sent under her name in December 2009 states that “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan].” But Saudi complicity with these movements never became a central political issue in the US. Why not?

The answer is that the US did not think it was in its interests to cut its traditional Sunni allies loose and put a great deal of resources into making sure that this did not happen. They brought on side compliant journalists, academics and politicians willing to give overt or covert support to Saudi positions.

The real views of senior officials in the White House and the State Department were only periodically visible and, even when their frankness made news, what they said was swiftly forgotten. Earlier this year, for instance, Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic wrote a piece based on numerous interviews with Barack Obama in which Obama “questioned, often harshly, the role that America’s Sunni Arab allies play in fomenting anti-American terrorism. He is clearly irritated that foreign policy orthodoxy compels him to treat Saudi Arabia as an ally”.

It is worth recalling White House cynicism about how that foreign policy orthodoxy in Washington was produced and how easily its influence could be bought. Goldberg reported that “a widely held sentiment inside the White House is that many of the most prominent foreign-policy think tanks in Washington are doing the bidding of their Arab and pro-Israel funders. I’ve heard one administration official refer to Massachusetts Avenue, the home of many of these think tanks, as ‘Arab-occupied territory’.”

Despite this, television and newspaper interview self-declared academic experts from these same think tanks on Isis, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf are wilfully ignoring or happily disregarding their partisan sympathies.

The Hillary Clinton email of August 2014 takes for granted that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding Isis – but this was not the journalistic or academic conventional wisdom of the day. Instead, there was much assertion that the newly declared caliphate was self-supporting through the sale of oil, taxes and antiquities; it therefore followed that Isis did not need money from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. The same argument could not be made to explain the funding of Jabhat al-Nusra, which controlled no oilfields, but even in the case of Isis the belief in its self-sufficiency was always shaky.

Iraqi and Kurdish leaders said that they did not believe a word of it, claiming privately that Isis was blackmailing the Gulf states by threatening violence on their territory unless they paid up. The Iraqi and Kurdish officials never produced proof of this, but it seemed unlikely that men as tough and ruthless as the Isis leaders would have satisfied themselves with taxing truck traffic and shopkeepers in the extensive but poor lands they ruled and not extracted far larger sums from fabulously wealthy private and state donors in the oil producers of the Gulf.

Going by the latest leaked email, the State Department and US intelligence clearly had no doubt that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were funding Isis. But there has always been bizarre discontinuity between what the Obama administration knew about Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states and what they would say in public. Occasionally the truth would spill out, as when Vice-President Joe Biden told students at Harvard in October 2014 that Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates “were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war. What did they do?

They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad. Except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world”. Biden poured scorn on the idea that there were Syrian “moderates” capable of fighting Isis and Assad at the same time.

Hillary Clinton should be very vulnerable over the failings of US foreign policy during the years she was Secretary of State. But, such is the crudity of Trump’s demagoguery, she has never had to answer for it. Republican challenges have focussed on issues – the death of the US ambassador in Benghazi in 2012 and the final US military withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 – for which she was not responsible.

A Hillary Clinton presidency might mean closer amity with Saudi Arabia, but American attitudes towards the Saudi regime are becoming soured, as was shown recently when Congress overwhelmingly overturned a  presidential veto of a bill allowing the relatives of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government.

Another development is weakening Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies. The leaked memo speaks of the rival ambitions of Saudi Arabia and Qatar “to dominate the Sunni world”. But this has not turned out well, with east Aleppo and Mosul, two great Sunni cities, coming under attack and likely to fall. Whatever Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the others thought they were doing it has not happened and the Sunni of Syria and Iraq are paying a heavy price. It is this failure which will shape the future relations of the Sunni states with the new US administration.

 

 

The Five Rules Of Propaganda as laid out by Edward Bernays, godfather of PR, nephew of Freud.

The Five basic rules of propaganda, once you’ve read, absorbed and understood these five points, you will almost certainly see all these techniques within minutes of turning on the TV news or picking up a newspaper.

1:The rule of simplification:

reducing all data to a simple confrontation between ‘Good and Bad’, ‘Friend and Foe’ (or even ‘Right and Wrong’).

2:The rule of disfiguration:

discrediting the opposition by crude smears and parodies.

3:The rule of transfusion:

manipulating the consensus values of the target audience for one’s own ends.

4:The rule of unanimity:

presenting one’s viewpoint as if it were the unanimous opinion of all right-thinking people: draining the doubting individual into agreement by the appeal of star-performers, by social pressure, and by ‘psychological contagion’.

5:The rule of orchestration:

endlessly repeating the same messages in different variations and combinations.


Thirty one minutes of outstanding lecture on the history of propaganda and it’s relevance to Obama and the Empire of the USA.

John Pilger – Obama & Empire

https://t.co/PGHxb4ggme
Bernays, Disinformation, PR & Propaganda speech 2013. WHAM – Winning Hearts And Minds
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAmtNIC8zv0)

Published on

Five Years On, the WikiLeaks ‘Collateral Murder’ Video Matters More than Ever

A still image from “Collateral Murder.” Soldiers arrive at the scene of the attack. (Credit: CollateralMurder.com)

This weekend marks the fifth anniversary of the release of the WikiLeaks “Collateral Murder” video which showed a July 12, 2007 US Apache attack helicopter attack upon individuals in a Baghdad suburb. Amongst the over twelve people killed by the 30mm cannon-fire were two Reuters staff. The video was part of the huge cache of material leaked to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning.

It is worth marking the anniversary of its release for a number of reasons.

First is the film’s enduring, haunting quality. I have written numerous articles and conference papers on Collateral Murder, which I consider to be the one of the most influential pieces of material released by WikiLeaks. Yes, WikiLeaks has made public a massive volume of written information, but the raw emotional power of this video is special. Every time I show it to students or colleagues it never fails to elicit a strong emotional reaction. Some people can’t watch. Some look away. Many are mesmerized. Almost all get angry.

In a statement by Manning made during her 2013 trial she outlined her motivations for the leak, stating (in relation to Collateral Murder) that one of the most disturbing aspects was the “bloodlust” exhibited by the US military. At one point we can hear members of the aerial weapons team begging a wounded Iraqi to pick up a weapon so that they would have a reason open fire on him once again.

This, as Manning put it, was “similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass.” The violence in the video is both dehumanizing and grotesque, and serves to remind viewers of the perversity of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, as well as the subsequent deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

This brings me to the second reason why the video is so important.

In the film we see two Reuters staffers killed by US military cannon-fire, and the symbolism of this act is striking. The lead-up to the US occupation of Iraq was marked by a high level of government propaganda and disinformation, as well the failure of mainstream journalism in the United States to engage (in a critical fashion) with the claims made by the Bush administration that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

So, to me, when those two Reuters employees are blown to bits on the ground in the suburb of New Baghdad, their deaths symbolized all state violence committed against those who search for the truth. In addition to the tragedy of human death, there is also the tragedy of what is symbolically destroyed. Transparency. Democracy. Knowledge. Critical thinking.

Finally, what makes Collateral Murder such a powerful video is not only what it shows, but also the knowledge of how it was obtained. This was classified material, seen by a US citizen who felt that it violated the things for which her country was supposed to stand, and so she leaked it (aware of what this might entail at the personal level) for all the world to see. If the content of the video illustrates the violent arrogance of power, then the leak of the video illustrates the potential power of dissent and courage. As we now know, such dissent is not taken lightly as Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison as thanks for her act of conscience.

So, as Collateral Murder turns five, rather than looking at the video as a curiosity from a bygone conflict, we should watch it again and consider how the film continues to speak to us about the state of contemporary geo-politics, journalism and whistleblowing.

How much has actually changed?

Manning continues to sit in jail.

Snowden continues to sit in Russia.

Civilians continue to die in Iraq.

US drones continue to kill civilians.

And whistle-blowers continue to be targeted.

Happy Birthday..?

http://www.salon.com/2015/03/05/i_found_myself_turning_into_an_idiot_david_graeber_explains_the_life_sapping_reality_of_bureaucratic_life/

“I found myself turning into an idiot!”:

David Graeber explains the life-sapping reality of bureaucratic life

The activist-academic and Occupy Wall Street champion tells Salon about his new book on the bureaucratic state
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TOPICS: DAVID GRAEBER, OCCUPY WALL STREET, INEQUALITY, BUREAUCRACY, ANARCHISM, CONSERVATISM, LIBERALISM, POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY, BARACK OBAMA, TONY BLAIR, NEOLIBERALISM, MEDIA NEWS, BUSINESS NEWS, NEWS, POLITICS NEWS

“I found myself turning into an idiot!”: David Graeber explains the life-sapping reality of bureaucratic life
David Graeber (Credit: AP/Michelle Mcloughlin)
David Graeber, a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics, is a man who wears many hats. He’s an academic, of course — and a respected one at that. But he’s also an author, an activist and political anarchist. But his most unique attribute may be this: He’s an honest-to-God public intellectual in an era when such figures are few and far between.
Graeber proved as much with “Debt: The First 5000 Years,” his ambitious tour de force overview of the role debt has played throughout the history of civilization and into the present day. And while it may be the case that, in the years since “Debt” was first released, Graeber has come to be best-known for his role within the Occupy Wall Street movement, he is still, fundamentally, a writer and a thinker who tries to grapple with some of life’s biggest and most unwieldy ideas. On that score, his latest release, “The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy,” stands as proof.

Recently, Salon spoke with Graeber over the phone to discuss the book and his views on the bureaucratic phenomenon. Our conversation also touches on why Graeber thinks it was a mistake for the left to abandon a more thorough critique of bureaucracy, how bureaucracy can be a response to a deep-seated, psychological need, and why it is that it so often makes us both act and feel, well, “stupid.” This interview has been edited for clarity and length and can be found below.

What was it that made you want to devote so much time to writing about bureaucracy?

I’d actually written a couple of these essays beforehand, but I realized that bureaucracy was sort of a theme that kept popping up in all sorts of different things that I was working on … Also there wasn’t a very interesting existing literature on it. Part of it comes from my academic work and my political work — both constantly bumping into themes of bureaucracy, and not having a book like that that I could read. (You often write books you would have liked to have been able to read.)

The more time went on, the more I realized [bureaucracy] was also politically important. The fact that the discourse of the way we talk about bureaucracy, the political issue of bureaucracy, used to be a big left-wing issue back in the ’60s, and now it’s sort of been abandoned to the right — I think the political consequences of that have been disastrous.

How so?

Because, in a way, the left began against bureaucratization of life. It’s about freedom. The mainstream left, which is barely left at all at this point in traditional terms … has really embraced a combination of market and bureaucracy, an equal synthesis of the worst aspects of capitalism and the worst aspects of bureaucracy.

Nobody really likes it. It’s this kind of constant compromise in principles, which creates this [policy] mish-mash that basically nobody would come up with or promote as a program in itself. The very fact that people vote for these guys — Blair, Obama, etc. — at all just shows the enduring power of the appeal of leftist ideas. And because it’s a horrible program, the right-wing grabs all the popular rebellion votes.

So in terms of mixing the bureaucratic and the capitalist in a way that gets you the worst of both, the high-profile policy that came to my mind most immediately was the Affordable Care Act. Is that a good example?

Yeah, pretty much. You can’t tell if it’s public or private; and it’s partly government regulated profit-taking, forcing you into a profit-making enterprise [whether you like it] or not. And it creates completely unnecessarily complicated layers of bureaucracy.

This brings to mind a concept you call “the Iron Law of Liberalism.” Mind telling me a bit more about that and its significance?

There was this liberal fantasy in the 19th century that government would dissolve away and be replaced by contractual market relationships; that government itself is just a feudal holdover that would eventually wither away. In fact, exactly the opposite happened. [Government has] kept growing and growing with more and more bureaucrats. The more free-market we get, the more bureaucrats we end up with, too.

So I kind of looked around for a counter-example: Is there an example of a place where they did market reforms and it didn’t increase the total number of bureaucrats … I couldn’t find any. It always goes up. It went up under Reagan.

The idea that free-market policies create bureaucracies is pretty counterintuitive, at least for most Americans. So why is it the case that laissez-faire policy creates bureaucracy?

Part of the reason is because in fact what we call the market is not really the market.

First of all, we have this idea that the market is a thing that just happens. This is the debate in the 19th century: market relations creeped up within feudalism and then it overthrew [feudalism]. So gradually the market is just the natural expression of human freedom; and since it regulates itself, it will gradually displace everything else and bring about a free society. Libertarians still think this.

In fact, if you look at what actually happens historically, this is just not true. Self-regulating markets were basically created with government intervention. It was a political project. Certain assumptions of how these things work just aren’t true. People don’t do wage labor if they have any choice, historically, for example. So in order to get a docile labor force, you have to create police and [a] large apparatus to ensure that the people you kick off the land actually will get the kinds of jobs you want them to … this is the very beginning of creating a market.

Basically, we assume that market relations are natural, but you need a huge institutional structure to make people behave the way that economists say they are “supposed” to behave. So, for example, think about the way the consumer market works. The market is supposed to work on grounds of pure competition. Nobody has moral ties to each other other than to obey the rules. But, on the other hand, people are supposed to do anything they can to get as much as possible off the other guy — but won’t simply steal the stuff or shoot the person.

Historically, that’s just silly; if you don’t care at all about a guy, you might as well steal his stuff. In fact, they’re encouraging people to act essentially how most human societies, historically, treated their enemies — but to still never resort to violence, trickery or theft. Obviously that’s not going to happen. You can only do that if you set up a very strictly enforced police force. That’s just one example.

Stipulating that the bureaucratic state inexorably grows in response to free-market policy, why should it bother us? It’s annoying, sure; but are there costs bigger than that?

I really think that bureaucracy is a way of crushing the human imagination. It also makes people stupid. And that was the thing that really impressed me about my first major encounter with bureaucracy — I found myself turning into an idiot! I was filling out the form wrong, I was making the obvious mistake that anybody with any degree of intelligence wouldn’t do, and constantly being told: “But you did it wrong!” And that experience of wandering around and feeling like an idiot and incompetent in life, is the necessary clunkiness of living under a bureaucratic regime.

You also write in here, though, that there is a kind of appeal to bureaucracy, at least in the abstract. What do you mean when you say that?

Because it’s like a machine; you don’t have to worry about other people, you don’t have to do all that work of interpretive labor … you just press a button and things will appear. You can just go to the store and give them your money, and you don’t have to explain why you want this or why you need it. That’s a total separation of means and ends.

And on a deeper level … there’s this dream of a world where you actually know what the rules are, and that has a deep appeal. And this is why I called the book what I did. The phrase “Utopia of Rules” actually applied, when I first coined it, to games. Why do we enjoy games? Well, one reason we enjoy games is because it’s one of the only situations we ever experience in life, perhaps the only experience, where we know exactly what the rules are.

There’s always rules [in life], but usually they’re not spelled out; everyone has a slightly different idea of what they are, there’s all these ambiguities, it’s sort of complicated and then people break them all the time anyway. Life is this endless game of trying to figure out what the rules are and nobody quite understands. Then, [with bureaucracy], you create this imaginary situation, totally bounded in time and space, where everybody knows exactly what the rules are, people actually do follow the rules, and even people who follow the rules can win — which is very unusual in real life.

So there’s two fantasies or freedoms you can imagine: one based on play and one based on games. Play is like pure creativity; in fact, it sort of generates rules. It’s like the ultimate power. But pure creativity is scary on a certain level. On the other hand, pure rule-bound game is a stifle and boring. So there’s a kind of constant tension between those two principles that seems to play in every aspect of human existence. Bureaucracy is seizing on one of those impulses and riding it as far as it can go.

 

 

 

 

 

With Easter upon us, powerful narratives of rebirth and resurrection are in the air and on the breeze. However, winter’s stubborn reluctance to leave to make way for the pleasing and hopeful season leads me to think not of cherry blossoms and Easter Bunnies but of Prometheus, Nietzsche, Barack Obama and the very roots of hope. Is hope always such a wonderful thing? Is it not rather a form of moral cowardice that allows us to escape from reality and prolong human suffering?

Is hope always such a wonderful thing? Is it not rather a form of moral cowardice that allows us to escape from reality?
Prometheus the Titan was punished by the Olympian Zeus by being chained to a rock in the Caucasus, quite possibly not that far from Crimea. Each day for eternity, an eagle pecked out his liver. Every night, the liver grew back. An unpleasant situation, I’m sure you would agree. His transgression was to have given human beings the gift of fire and, with that, the capacity for craft, technological inventiveness and what we are fond of calling civilization.

This is well known. Less well known is Prometheus’ second gift. In Aeschylus’ “Prometheus Bound,” the chained Titan is pitilessly interrogated by the chorus. They ask him whether he gave human beings anything else. Yes, he says, “I stopped mortals from foreseeing doom.” How did you do that, they ask? His response is revealing: “I sowed in them blind hopes.”

This is a very Greek thought. It stands resolutely opposed to Christianity, with its trinity of faith, love and hope. For St. Paul — Christianity’s true founder, it must be recalled — hope is both a moral attitude of steadfastness and a hope for what is laid up in heaven for us, namely salvation. This is why faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so absolutely fundamental to Christians. Christ died on the cross, but he was resurrected and lives eternally. Jesus is our hope, as Paul writes in the First Letter to Timothy, namely he is the basis for the faith that we too might live eternally. Heaven, as they say, is real.

Photo

Credit Leif Parsons
In his Letter to the Romans, Paul inadvertently confirms Prometheus’ gift of blind hope. He asserts that hope in what is seen is not hope at all, “For who hopes for what he sees?” On the contrary, we should “hope for what we do not see” and “wait for it with patience.”

Now, fast forward to us. When Barack Obama describes how he came to write his keynote speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, the speech that instantly shot him to fame and laid the basis for his presidential campaign and indeed his presidency, he recalls a phrase that his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., used in a sermon: the audacity of hope. Obama says that this audacity is what “was the best of the American spirit,” namely “the audacity to believe despite all the evidence to the contrary.”

It is precisely this kind of hope that I think we should try to give up. It is not audacious, but mendacious. As the wise Napoleon said, “a leader is a dealer in hope” who governs by insisting on a bright outlook despite all evidence to the contrary. But what if we looked at matters differently? What if we expected more from political life than a four-yearly trade-in of our moral intelligence to one or other of the various hope dealers that appear on the political market to sell us some shiny new vehicle of salvation?

The problem here is with the way in which this audacious Promethean theological idea of hope has migrated into our national psyche to such an extent that it blinds us to the reality of the world that we inhabit and causes a sort of sentimental complacency that actually prevents us from seeing things aright and protesting against this administration’s moral and political lapses and those of other administrations.

Against the inflated and finally hypocritical rhetoric of contemporary politics, I think it is instructive to look at things from another standpoint, an ancient and very Greek standpoint. Just as our stories shape us as citizens, their stories shaped them and might shape us too. So, let me tell you a little story, perhaps the most terrifying from antiquity.

In “The History of the Peloponnesian War,” Thucydides, the sober and unsentimental historian, describes a dialogue between the representatives of the island of Melos in the Aegean Sea, which was allied with Sparta, and some ambassadors from invading Athenian military forces. The ambassadors present the Melians with a very simple choice: Submit to us or be destroyed.

Rather than simply submit, the Melians wriggle. They express hope that the Spartans will come to rescue them. The Athenians calmly point out that it would be an extremely dangerous mission for the Spartans to undertake and highly unlikely to happen. Also, they add, rightly, “We are masters of the sea.” The Spartans had formidable land forces, but were no match for the Athenian navy.

The Melians plead that if they yield to the Athenians, then all hope will be lost. If they continue to hold out, then “we can still hope to stand tall.” The Athenians reply that it is indeed true that hope is a great comfort, but often a delusive one. They add that the Melians will learn what hope is when it fails them, “for hope is prodigal by nature.”

What we need in the face of a hard factuality is not hope, but courage in the face of that reality.
With consummate clarity and no small cruelty, the Athenians urge the Melians not to turn to Promethean blind hopes when they are forced to give up their sensible ones. Reasonable hopes can soon become unreasonable. “Do not be like ordinary people,” they add, “who could use human means to save themselves but turn to blind hopes when they are forced to give up their sensible ones – to divination, oracles and other such things that destroy men by giving them hope.”

At this point, the Athenians withdraw and leave the Melians to consider their position. As usually happens in political negotiations, the Melians decide to stick to exactly the same position that they had adopted before the debate. They explain that “we will trust in the fortune of the Gods.”
In a final statement, the Athenians conclude that “You have staked everything on your trust in hope … and you will be ruined in everything.”

After laying siege to the Melian city and some military skirmishes back and forth, the Athenians lose patience with the Melians and Thucydides reports with breathtaking understatement, “They killed all the men of military age and made slaves of the women and children.”

* * *

Thucydides offers no moral commentary on the Melian Dialogue. He does not tell us how to react, but instead impartially presents us with a real situation. The dialogue is an argument from power about the nature of power. This is why Nietzsche, in his polemics against Christianity and liberalism, loved Thucydides. This is also why I love Nietzsche. Should one reproach Thucydides for describing the negotiations between the Athenians and the Melians without immediately moralizing the story and telling us how we should think?
Not at all, Nietzsche insists.
What we witness in the Melian Dialogue is the true character of Greek realism.

Elected regimes can become authoritarian, democracies can become corrupted, and invading armies usually behave abominably.
What we need in the face of what Nietzsche calls “a strict, hard factuality,” is not hope, but “courage in the face of reality.”

For Nietzsche, the alternative to Thucydides is Plato. With his usual lack of moderation, Nietzsche declares that Platonism is cowardice in the face of reality because it constructs fictional metaphysical ideals like justice, virtue and the good.
Nietzsche sees Platonism as a flight from the difficulty of reality into a vapid moralistic idealism. Furthermore, he adds, we have been stuck with versions of moral idealism ever since Plato, notably in Christianity, with its hope in salvation, and modern liberalism, with its trust in God and its insistence on hope’s audacity contrary to all evidence.

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Where does this leave us? Rather than see Thucydides as an apologist for authoritarianism, I see him as a deep but disappointed democrat with a cleareyed view of democracy’s limitations, particularly when Athens voted to engage in misplaced military adventures like the disastrous expedition to Sicily that led to Sparta’s final victory over Athens in the Peloponnesian Wars. Thucydides would have doubtless had a similar view of the United States’s military expeditions to countries like Afghanistan and Iraq on the basis of metaphysical abstractions like enduring freedom or infinite justice. But he would have thought it was even worse for democracies to speak out of both sides of their mouths, offering vigorous verbal support for invaded or embattled peoples and talking endlessly of freedom and hope while doing precisely nothing.

When democracy goes astray, as it always will, the remedy should not be some idealistic belief in hope’s audacity, which ends up sounding either cynical or dogmatic or both. The remedy, in my view, is a skeptical realism, deeply informed by history. Such realism has an abiding commitment to reason and the need for negotiation and persuasion, but also an acute awareness of reason’s limitations in the face of violence and belligerence. As Thucydides realized long before the 2004 Democratic National Convention, it is not difficult to make beautiful speeches in politics, but they very often do little to change people’s minds and effect palpable improvement in social arrangements.

Thinking without hope might sound rather bleak, but it needn’t be so. I see it rather as embracing an affirmative, even cheerful, realism.
Nietzsche admired Epictetus, the former slave turned philosophy teacher, for living without hope. “Yes,” Nietzsche said, “he can smile.” We can, too.

You can have all kinds of reasonable hopes, it seems to me, the kind of modest, pragmatic and indeed deliberately fuzzy conception of social hope expressed by an anti-Platonist philosopher like Richard Rorty. But unless those hopes are realistic we will end up in a blindly hopeful (and therefore hopeless) idealism. Prodigal hope invites despair only when we see it fail. In giving up the former, we might also avoid the latter. This is not an easy task, I know. But we should try.
Nietzsche writes, “Hope is the evil of evils because it prolongs man’s torment.
Often, by clinging to hope, we make the suffering worse.

John Pilger, 8th October 2014

In transmitting President Richard Nixon’s orders for a “massive” bombing of Cambodia in 1969, Henry Kissinger said,

“Anything that flies on everything that moves”.

As Barack Obama ignites his seventh war against the Muslim world since he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the orchestrated hysteria and lies make one almost nostalgic for Kissinger’s murderous honesty.

As a witness to the human consequences of aerial savagery – including the beheading of victims, their parts festooning trees and fields – I am not surprised by the disregard of memory and history, yet again. A telling example is the rise to power of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, who had much in common with today’s Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They, too, were ruthless medievalists who began as a small sect. They, too, were the product of an American-made apocalypse, this time in Asia.

According to Pol Pot, his movement had consisted of “fewer than 5,000 poorly armed guerrillas uncertain about their strategy, tactics, loyalty and leaders”. Once Nixon’s and Kissinger’s B52 bombers had gone to work as part of “Operation Menu”, the west’s ultimate demon could not believe his luck.

The Americans dropped the equivalent of five Hiroshimas on rural Cambodia during 1969-73. They levelled village after village, returning to bomb the rubble and corpses. The craters left monstrous necklaces of carnage, still visible from the air. The terror was unimaginable. A former Khmer Rouge official described how the survivors “froze up and they would wander around mute for three or four days. Terrified and half-crazy, the people were ready to believe what they were told… That was what made it so easy for the Khmer Rouge to win the people over.”

A Finnish Government Commission of Enquiry estimated that 600,000 Cambodians died in the ensuing civil war and described the bombing as the “first stage in a decade of genocide”. What Nixon and Kissinger began, Pol Pot, their beneficiary, completed. Under their bombs, the Khmer Rouge grew to a formidable army of 200,000.

ISIS has a similar past and present. By most scholarly measure, Bush and Blair’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to the deaths of some 700,000 people – in a country that had no history of jihadism. The Kurds had done territorial and political deals; Sunni and Shia had class and sectarian differences, but they were at peace; intermarriage was common. Three years before the invasion, I drove the length of Iraq without fear. On the way I met people proud, above all, to be Iraqis, the heirs of a civilization that seemed, for them, a presence.

Bush and Blair blew all this to bits. Iraq is now a nest of jihadism. Al-Qaeda – like Pol Pot’s “jihadists” – seized the opportunity provided by the onslaught of Shock and Awe and the civil war that followed. “Rebel” Syria offered even greater rewards, with CIA and Gulf state ratlines of weapons, logistics and money running through Turkey. The arrival of foreign recruits was inevitable. A former British ambassador, Oliver Miles, wrote recently, “The [Cameron] government seems to be following the example of Tony Blair, who ignored consistent advice from the Foreign Office, MI5 and MI6 that our Middle East policy – and in particular our Middle East wars – had been a principal driver in the recruitment of Muslims in Britain for terrorism here.”

ISIS is the progeny of those in Washington and London who, in destroying Iraq as both a state and a society, conspired to commit an epic crime against humanity. Like Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, ISIS are the mutations of a western state terror dispensed by a venal imperial elite undeterred by the consequences of actions taken at great remove in distance and culture. Their culpability is unmentionable in “our” societies.

It is 23 years since this holocaust enveloped Iraq, immediately after the first Gulf War, when the US and Britain hijacked the United Nations Security Council and imposed punitive “sanctions” on the Iraqi population – ironically, reinforcing the domestic authority of Saddam Hussein. It was like a medieval siege. Almost everything that sustained a modern state was, in the jargon, “blocked” – from chlorine for making the water supply safe to school pencils, parts for X-ray machines, common painkillers and drugs to combat previously unknown cancers carried in the dust from the southern battlefields contaminated with Depleted Uranium.

Just before Christmas 1999, the Department of Trade and Industry in London restricted the export of vaccines meant to protect Iraqi children against diphtheria and yellow fever. Kim Howells, a medical doctor and parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Blair government, explained why. “The children’s vaccines”, he said, “were capable of being used in weapons of mass destruction”. The British Government could get away with such an outrage because media reporting of Iraq – much of it manipulated by the Foreign Office – blamed Saddam Hussein for everything.

Under a bogus “humanitarian” Oil for Food Programme, $100 was allotted for each Iraqi to live on for a year. This figure had to pay for the entire society’s infrastructure and essential services, such as power and water. “Imagine,” the UN Assistant Secretary General, Hans Von Sponeck, told me, “setting that pittance against the lack of clean water, and the fact that the majority of sick people cannot afford treatment, and the sheer trauma of getting from day to day, and you have a glimpse of the nightmare. And make no mistake, this is deliberate. I have not in the past wanted to use the word genocide, but now it is unavoidable.”

Disgusted, Von Sponeck resigned as UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Iraq. His predecessor, Denis Halliday, an equally distinguished senior UN official, had also resigned. “I was instructed,” Halliday said, “to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults.”

A study by the United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef, found that between 1991 and 1998, the height of the blockade, there were 500,000 “excess” deaths of Iraqi infants under the age of five. An American TV reporter put this to Madeleine Albright, US Ambassador to the United Nations, asking her, “Is the price worth it?” Albright replied, “We think the price is worth it.”

In 2007, the senior British official responsible for the sanctions, Carne Ross, known as “Mr. Iraq”, told a parliamentary selection committee, “[The US and UK governments] effectively denied the entire population a means to live.” When I interviewed Carne Ross three years later, he was consumed by regret and contrition. “I feel ashamed,” he said. He is today a rare truth-teller of how governments deceive and how a compliant media plays a critical role in disseminating and maintaining the deception. “We would feed [journalists] factoids of sanitised intelligence,” he said, “or we’d freeze them out.”

On 25 September, a headline in the Guardian read: “Faced with the horror of Isis we must act.” The “we must act” is a ghost risen, a warning of the suppression of informed memory, facts, lessons learned and regrets or shame. The author of the article was Peter Hain, the former Foreign Office minister responsible for Iraq under Blair. In 1998, when Denis Halliday revealed the extent of the suffering in Iraq for which the Blair Government shared primary responsibility, Hain abused him on the BBC’s Newsnight as an “apologist for Saddam”. In 2003, Hain backed Blair’s invasion of stricken Iraq on the basis of transparent lies. At a subsequent Labour Party conference, he dismissed the invasion as a “fringe issue”.

Now Hain is demanding “air strikes, drones, military equipment and other support” for those “facing genocide” in Iraq and Syria. This will further “the imperative of a political solution”. Obama has the same in mind as he lifts what he calls the “restrictions” on US bombing and drone attacks. This means that missiles and 500-pound bombs can smash the homes of peasant people, as they are doing without restriction in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia – as they did in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. On 23 September, a Tomahawk cruise missile hit a village in Idlib Province in Syria, killing as many as a dozen civilians, including women and children. None waved a black flag.

The day Hain’s article appeared, Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck happened to be in London and came to visit me. They were not shocked by the lethal hypocrisy of a politician, but lamented the enduring, almost inexplicable absence of intelligent diplomacy in negotiating a semblance of truce. Across the world, from Northern Ireland to Nepal, those regarding each other as terrorists and heretics have faced each other across a table. Why not now in Iraq and Syria.

Like Ebola from West Africa, a bacteria called “perpetual war” has crossed the Atlantic. Lord Richards, until recently head of the British military, wants “boots on the ground” now. There is a vapid, almost sociopathic verboseness from Cameron, Obama and their “coalition of the willing” – notably Australia’s aggressively weird Tony Abbott – as they prescribe more violence delivered from 30,000 feet on places where the blood of previous adventures never dried. They have never seen bombing and they apparently love it so much they want it to overthrow their one potentially valuable ally, Syria. This is nothing new, as the following leaked UK-US intelligence file illustrates:

“In order to facilitate the action of liberative [sic] forces… a special effort should be made to eliminate certain key individuals [and] to proceed with internal disturbances in Syria. CIA is prepared, and SIS (MI6) will attempt to mount minor sabotage and coup de main [sic] incidents within Syria, working through contacts with individuals… a necessary degree of fear… frontier and [staged] border clashes [will] provide a pretext for intervention… the CIA and SIS should use… capabilities in both psychological and action fields to augment tension.”

That was written in 1957, though it could have been written yesterday. In the imperial world, nothing essentially changes. Last year, the former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas revealed that “two years before the Arab spring”, he was told in London that a war on Syria was planned. “I am going to tell you something,” he said in an interview with the French TV channel LPC, “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business. I met top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria… Britain was organising an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer Minister for Foreign Affairs, if I would like to participate… This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned.”

The only effective opponents of ISIS are accredited demons of the west – Syria, Iran, Hezbollah. The obstacle is Turkey, an “ally” and a member of Nato, which has conspired with the CIA, MI6 and the Gulf medievalists to channel support to the Syrian “rebels”, including those now calling themselves ISIS. Supporting Turkey in its long-held ambition for regional dominance by overthrowing the Assad government beckons a major conventional war and the horrific dismemberment of the most ethnically diverse state in the Middle East.

A truce – however difficult to achieve – is the only way out of this imperial maze; otherwise, the beheadings will continue. That genuine negotiations with Syria should be seen as “morally questionable” (the Guardian) suggests that the assumptions of moral superiority among those who supported the war criminal Blair remain not only absurd, but dangerous.

Together with a truce, there should be an immediate cessation of all shipments of war materials to Israel and recognition of the State of Palestine. The issue of Palestine is the region’s most festering open wound, and the oft-stated justification for the rise of Islamic extremism. Osama bin Laden made that clear. Palestine also offers hope. Give justice to the Palestinians and you begin to change the world around them.

More than 40 years ago, the Nixon-Kissinger bombing of Cambodia unleashed a torrent of suffering from which that country has never recovered. The same is true of the Blair-Bush crime in Iraq. With impeccable timing, Henry Kissinger’s latest self-serving tome has just been released with its satirical title, “World Order”. In one fawning review, Kissinger is described as a “key shaper of a world order that remained stable for a quarter of a century”. Tell that to the people of Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Chile, East Timor and all the other victims of his “statecraft”. Only when “we” recognise the war criminals in our midst will the blood begin to dry.