Monday, January 29

Unfit for battle

Gorals ("Highlanders")

The 2004 Freedom Roller
, a post that first appeared in a university magazine, included a satirical scenario in which the U.S. government sets out to bypass all federal and international laws and regulations by hiring private citizens to intervene in international conflicts favorable to U.S. business interests. Here is the scenario, which is relevant to the discussion that follows:
The recently formed SUT Club, Inc. has commandeered a number of its members into a veritable vigilante fleet, capable of responding to the behest of local or federal officials. This drivers club (web site) describes itself as a not-for-profit corporation whose aims are to promote the adventurous and safe use of SUTs (Sports Utility Tanks) and to encourage its members to act as a social force for the security of the Motherland. It and similar clubs will be free to embark on deer hunting expeditions, take diversionary excursions through Yellowstone National Park, or patrol gang-infested neighborhoods and quell public expressions of political dissent or cultural ambiguity. The crime-fighting benefits may be called upon by the federal government to battle terror itself. With sufficient training, it is thought, such a club could one day confront brutal dictators suspected of potentially harboring, or of conceiving of, or of being able to share their conceptions of harboring, WMD-related-program-like activities (or conceptions). They would thereby spare the government from having to make academic presentations at the United Nations or appease dilly-dallying allies while threats gravely gather. Indeed, with such a swiftly acting force at its command, the government could redirect its military spending to much needed nuclear and space-oriented weaponry.
Even I was surprised to see that such a mad proposal--far from being satire--made its way into President Bush's State of the Union address last week--admittedly, with less detail and color. Bush's team has baptized the proposed hired team of internationally-operating civilian assassins with the benevolent-sounding name "Civilian Reserve Corps." Jeremy Scahill explains that the president,
slipped in a mention of a major initiative that would represent a significant development in the U.S. disaster response/reconstruction/war machine: a Civilian Reserve Corps.

'Such a corps would function much like our military Reserve. It would ease the burden on the armed forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them,' Bush declared.
The frightening thing about Bush's proposal is that it is, in fact, already a reality, on a relatively smaller scale of approximately 100,000 civilian fighters in Iraq. As Scahill continues,
This is precisely what the administration has already done, largely behind the backs of the American people and with little congressional input, with its revolution in military affairs. Bush and his political allies are using taxpayer dollars to run an outsourcing laboratory.
Scahill has written on this phenomenon in his book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

As Naomi Klein remarks in regard to Scahill's work:
If the Republicans lose in 2008, they will leave office armed and dangerous. Blackwater is the utterly gripping and explosive story of how the Bush Administration has spent hundreds of millions of public dollars building a parallel corporate army, an army so loyal to far right causes it constitutes nothing less than a Republican Guard.
One day, soon, it seems, "America's wars" may be fought not only for the sake of, but also entirely by, sweet-hearted corporations such as Blackwater. This shows just how confident U.S. leadership is in being able to sell their self-profiting wars as "matters of national interest." (It is understandable that the adventure in Iraq has emboldened them in the deception.) Even when the very fighters are connected to the U.S. only by virtue of the fact that it is U.S. taxpayer money that supports them, you can be sure that every conflict fought by such mercenary forces will be described as a privately-engaged patriotic enterprise (i.e., "Civilian Reserve Corps") that, as such, tolerates neither criticism nor, surely, governmental oversight.


Saturday, January 27

A Just Resolution in Iraq

Etretat, France (photos by terrette unless otherwise noted)

While many debates in TV LAND U.S.A. about U.S. policy in the current occupation and assault on Iraq are most often reduced by the duopolistic political machine and the media power that shapes and sustains it to questions of "procedure" and "efficiency," it is worth underscoring what a just policy would look like if the concerns were not only "how to do things easily" or "how to win." Imagine: to win at perpetrating a crime. That gives you a measure of the discussion's merit as broadcast daily across the United States. And it is worth underscoring that the spectacle of TV LAND U.S.A is in this case, as in many others, at odds with real public opinion in the United States.

Consider what historian Paul Street has written about the just resolution facing U.S. leadership and weigh, if you will, the magnificence distance between what Street proposes and what is both being said and done with respect to the occupation in Iraq today by leadership from the two major parties within the highly crafted but loud and persistent voice-and-image-factories of TV LAND U.S.A.
Here is what a civilized United States – a U.S. that actually cared about democracy, human rights, international law, and the people of the Middle East and the world – would “do about Iraq.” It would stop talking about the occupation of Iraq as a “mistake” and start speaking accurately and honestly about O.I.F ("Operation Iraqi Freedom") as a CRIME: a great international transgression for which the U.S. must make reparations and be held legally and morally accountable. It would end its military invasion and occupation and work with international agencies and other states (within and beyond the region) to guarantee Iraqi security with an international peacekeeping force. It would dismantle all permanent U.S. military installations in Iraq. It would abolish all laws/rules opening the Iraqi economy to foreign and predominantly U.S multinational corporate exploitation. It would renounce all U.S. designs on Iraqi petroleum reserves. It would convert a massive portion of the sum it currently spends on militarily attacking Iraq to the provision of basic health, social, and infrastructural services and reconstruction in Iraq. It would work with Iraqis and international agencies to assist and enable the holding of genuinely free and fair Iraqi elections devoid of U.S. pressure.

It would pay massive reparations for the staggering damage it has inflicted on Iraq over many years and indeed decades, not just during the current open military assault. In determining the nature and scope of these reparations, it would inquire into and then responsibly tend to the needs of the victims. It would work with international authorities to investigate, prosecute, try, and sentence the top guilty parties behind the invasion in accord with the well-known Nuremberg principles, the UN Charter, and numerous national and other international legal and policy instruments.

Those in my opinion are reasonable alternatives. You start by ceasing and desisting from illegal aggression. You begin by calling off the assault. You move to meeting others needs and accepting responsibility. You offer your criminal “leadership” up for accountability. You acknowledge, apologize, and pay for what you have done – the hundreds of thousands you have killed and maimed, the water systems and food supplies and roads you have destroyed and polluted, the resources and opportunities you have stolen, the exodus you have forced, etc. You contribute to healing as best you can. You ask for help from international others and empower those others in proper accord.

Doing the right... thing along these lines is in obvious concurrence with elementary principles of civilized internationalism. It is also very much in lines (sic) with reputable surveys of U.S. public opinion on foreign policy. Under current U.S. political, institutional and ideological conditions, however, it is nearly impossible to have a reasonable and relevant public conversation about these basic alternatives. (Quotation from "The Empire and Inequality Report," Issue no. 8, January 26, 2007)
This is the right note to close on, for sure. In my own phraseology, it is nearly impossible to find in TV LAND U.S.A a reasonable discussion of a just resolution of U.S. violence in Iraq.

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Monday, January 22

U.S. Media Tirelessly Creating Evil Dictators

Majdanek: Where corporate efficiency and bigotry meet

Here is a typically pro-war corporate news article, brought to you by the beautiful people at CNN (no single author takes responsibility for the piece). The title is patently absurd and irresponsible. It is designed to scare Americans and get them to hate Chavez by making them think that Chavez hates them; when, in fact, his comments were obviously directed at particular corporate-controlled U.S. critics of his government. The beginning of the article is meant to solidify in the mind of Joe and Jane Public the image of Chavez as a dictator. Did he speak of Marxism? Ooh, scary! Does he like Castro? That's evil! However, nowhere in the article is it mentioned that Chavez is the most popular leader among his citizens in all of South and Central America. Nowhere in the article are readers reminded that, far from hating Americans, Chavez has made serious efforts to provide cheap heating oil or reduced gas prices to impoverished communities in the U.S.

Despite its propagandistic tone, the article is not air-tight. It lets in two inconvenient details concerning life in Chavez's Venezuela.

One: the price of gas is 12 cents a gallon in that terrible socialist country. Oh my, socialism sounds terrible, doesn't it? 12 cents a gallon! Where is God in that country? Is this some kind of mind control? Gas should be at least 2 dollars, with 1 dollar and 88 cents of profit going to a couple of oil corporations who occasionally lease their executives into the halls of government. That's the free American way, right? Just as God meant it?

Two: the final line squeaks out a little inconvenient truth: Chavez was reelected in a landslide victory. Gee, I wonder why the leftist dictator is so popular? Didn't he say that gringos should go to hell? Doesn't that mean that he is evil? Since, you know, the U.S. is God's country, and all the company men who come from it necessarily carry out the intentions of God wherever they spread criticism of foreign governments?

Or is there something missing in CNN's comic-strip portrayal of Chavez?

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