Confusing Righteous Indignation With Hatred: Dismantling Michael Eric Dyson’s Critique of Cornel West

Dr. West and I (Jan. 2012)
Dr. West and I (Jan. 2012)

“The righteous indignation of a Martin Luther King Jr. becomes a moment in political calculation and that makes my blood boil.”

–Dr. Cornel West

Arguably the most valuable aspect of democratic culture is the freedom afforded those who choose to dissent. Without constant, unimpeded criticism of the status quo societies collapse into paralysis or, in the direst of circumstances, one or another form of tyranny. Unfortunately, this ability to voice criticisms of power is not always taken advantage of. In fact, the temptation to succumb to ideological conformity is sometimes strongest in societies that purport to champion traditions of liberty. A textbook case of such conformity can be found in the two latest articles (here and here) by Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson in the establishment liberal journal The New Republic.

Responding to what he describes as Dr. Cornel West’s “rage against President Barack Obama”, Dyson condemns the former Princeton professor and public intellectual for his “callous disregard for plural visions of truth”, a malady that can be overcome only through “the prophet’s duty of pitiless self-inventory.” Undoubtedly, the desire to carry out a “pitiless self-inventory” is surely an essential characteristic needed to critically engage with the most pressing problems of the day, a characteristic Dyson ought to have in abundance, at least if he counts himself immune to the hypocrisies he now attributes to his erstwhile mentor.
dyson_westAmong the many crimes appended to Dr. West’s bill of indictment are his impassioned criticisms of Obama’s defenders, who he accuses of sacrificing elementary principles of justice for access to centers of privilege and power. “West’s attacks on me were a bleak forfeiture of 30 years of friendship,” intones Dyson. “It was the repudiation of a fond collegiality and intellectual companionship, of political comraderie and joined social struggle.” Putting aside the tone of West’s criticisms, which are of marginal significance compared to the substance of them, it’s worth investigating what kinds of critiques led to the end of this companionship. Dyson’s original TNR piece features three YouTube videos. In one 43 second video Dr. West, during an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! , describes Obama as a “Rockefeller Republican in Blackface.” Presumably, this was posted to illustrate Dr. West’s penchant for “verbal brutalities”, a term Dyson used to describe West’s “hateful language” in his subsequent article. The two other videos feature a BBC appearance of Dr. West urging Obama not to become “the friendly face of American empire,” and another appearance on C-SPAN (quoted above) where he decries the hypocrisy of Obama conducting his swearing-in ceremony with Dr. King’s Bible while perpetuating policies (drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia for example) that radically depart from King’s emancipatory message.

Again, ignoring the tone of West’s critiques, it’s undeniable that there is a thread that connects them, namely a principled opposition to imperial power and corporate criminality. Notably, even in the Democracy Now! video, despite its brevity, West brings attention to Obama’s “imperial foreign policy at work.” Indeed, if Dyson were truly interested in writing a “sharp polemic” (his self-description) he would at least devote some attention to these hugely consequential topics of global importance. Why else would they reappear in Dr. West’s critiques with such frequency and clarity? Strangely, Dyson’s “self-inventory” yields no results. As the intrepid sportswriter and Nation contributor Dave Zirin observed shortly after the publication of Dyson’s first piece:

The word ‘Palestine’ or ‘Palestinian’ does not once make its way into Dyson’s piece. Neither does ‘Wall Street’ or ‘immigration.’ The word ‘drones’ only comes up in a quote attributed to West. We can debate how sincere West’s commitments are to these issues or whether they are a cover for his hurt feelings and heartbreak that Dyson posits is at the root of all the discord. But they should be reckoned with.

Likewise, author and investigative journalist Max Blumenthal, in a piece written for AlterNet, observed, “BDS might be sweeping American campuses, but Dyson has been largely silent on Israel’s endless occupation. Dyson carps about character assassination, but he is reticent on drone assassinations. Since Obama entered the Oval Office, Dyson has had much more to say about Nas than the NSA.”

Moreover, Dyson’s second article—one which he introduces as “a few lines to address the most salient responses,” to his original article—also devotes zero attention to drone warfare, Israeli criminality, NSA surveillance or imperial power quite generally. Briefly, Dyson addresses this oversight in his second article, arguing he would “leave the breadth and depth of West’s political activities to his advocates or biographers,” since he was more interested in “probing the vituperation that clouds West’s political stances no matter their variety or virtue.”

Discarding the fact that one doesn’t have to be an “advocate” or a “biographer” to expound on Dr. West’s or anyone else’s “political activities” (how one could host a political show on MSNBC with this standard is a mystery to me), that Dyson chooses not to inspect, in the least, the “variety and virtue” of West’s criticism of Obama only reinforces the reasonable suspicion that Dyson is either unwilling to denounce, or more insidiously, in complete agreement with these policies. Particularly glaring is this oversight since it was explicitly brought to his attention via Zirin’s critique, providing him ample opportunity to dispel any false assumptions.

Incidentally, what of the “vituperation” that “cloud’s” Dr. West’s criticism? Is that a crime? Uncontroversially, compared to words that would be uttered by the victims of Obama’s drone policies West would likely be counted too generous. Not only have approval ratings for Obama’s policies in Pakistan equaled those earned by President Bush, an impressive feat, but the New York Times recently reported that drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan have “incited deep resentment toward the United States” (my emphasis). That this “deep resentment” may sometimes find its way to the Oval office and is sometimes directed at the man who, in the wake of the tragic killings of two western hostages in Pakistan, took “full responsibility” for drone policy is not only understandable but perfectly rational. Is it completely inconceivable that Dr. West may empathize with their outrage? Rather than criticize those who are filled with resentment over these criminal policies, Dyson ought to dedicate more time to trying to stop these policies that foster such righteous fury.
drones pewAnd this is where Dr. Dyson and Dr. West part ways. While Dyson falsely accuses West of having his judgment clouded by “vituperation”, his own judgment is, it seems, irreversibly clouded by infatuation, not with the individual that is President Obama, but the power and achievement that he embodies (a form of power that is, at bottom, very reactionary). Examples of this infatuation are as plentiful as they are cringe-inducing. Whether it’s Dyson’s impassioned MSNBC speech announcing his talent in “riding the Obama bandwagon hard” or his less comical, but equally troublesome, appeal to 2012 voters to “join me” in “helping [Obama].” As for sustained criticism? Dyson once “riled the White House” when he bravely denounced Obama as a “gifted leader whose palpable discomfort with discussing race made him a sometimes unreliable and distant narrator of black life.” With critics like this who needs commissars?

Graphic as these testimonials are, they are of secondary importance to what Dyson doesn’t say and what these silences imply. Historically, it has always been incredibly easy to tear down public figures, especially those as vocally anti-authoritarian as Dr. West, on the grounds that they are uncivil or too vigorous in their criticism. Take the example of Native American Studies professor and Palestinian solidarity activist Steven Salaita. After condemning Israeli atrocities in the Gaza Strip during the 51 day massacre last summer he was denied a teaching position at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Reacting to Salaita’s condemnation of Israeli crimes, university Chancellor Phyllis Wise declared that UIUC could not tolerate “personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them”, a justification the widely read Academe Blog deemed “ridiculous.” Fundamentally, Dyson’s dissatisfaction with Dr. West is of the same brand.

Without venturing into hagiography, which is always an unattractive trait for those genuinely committed to critical thought, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of Dr. West as a voice of dissent and social uplift, not only in the Black community but in the United States as a whole. From the numerous arrests that he has undergone in the spirit of grassroots civil disobedience, to his outreach to the younger generation, to his defense of political prisoners like Mumia Abu Jamal and Palestinians languishing in the open air prison of the Gaza Strip, no amount of “philosophical meditation on prophetic vocation, scholarly craft and writerly art” can diminish his contributions to our national discourse and the movements that spring from them, a combination that is helping to construct a more just society. Legendary German socialist Rosa Luxemburg famously remarked that “those who do not move, do not notice their chains.” It’s about time Dr. Dyson joined Dr. West and noticed his own.

Sources:

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121640/michael-eric-dyson-responds-cornel-west-all-black-lives-matter

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121550/cornel-wests-rise-fall-our-most-exciting-black-scholar-ghost

http://www.thenation.com/blog/204769/cornel-west-not-mike-tyson

http://academeblog.org/2014/08/22/chancellor-phyllis-wise-explains-the-firing-of-steven-salaita/

http://www.pewglobal.org/2012/06/13/global-opinion-of-obama-slips-international-policies-faulted/

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/25/opinion/regret-over-a-drones-deadly-damage.html?smid=fb-share

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-warren-weinstein-killed-20150423-story.html

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/cornell-wests-radical-critique-race-and-us-brutality-middle-east-driver-michael

Advertisements

No Compensation: Drone Killing of Western Hostages Reveals Glaring Double Standard on Civilian Deaths

CIA drone strikeNo one remotely interested in US foreign policy can ignore the fact that massive civilian death has become an integral part of US warfare. Often termed “collateral damage”, these deaths are explained as the inevitable outcome of US hi-tech weaponry which often cannot discriminate between legal targets and innocent bystanders. Nonetheless, we can gain valuable insight into the reigning moral culture of certain societies by examining how powerful actors who wield these weapons respond to these deaths. Are the deaths acknowledged with remorse and sympathy or are they simply written off as the consequence of being “in the wrong place at the wrong time”? Sometimes the news cycle offers us case studies to test this question.

Such a case study can be observed in the killing of two western hostages, Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto. An American and an Italian, they were killed in a US drone strike targeting a “suspected Al Qaeda compound,” in Pakistan. As the Wall Street Journal reported “The incident also underscores the limits of U.S. intelligence and the risk of unintended consequences in executing a targeted killing program that human-rights groups say endangers civilians.” That drone strikes “endanger civilians” has been well documented for several years by reputable organizations like Reprieve and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Latest statistics reveal between 2,449 and 3,949 people have been killed in Pakistan since 2004. Of that figure between 421 and 960 were civilians (172-207 children killed). Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan are among the other countries targeted by drone strikes with the civilian death toll in Yemen between 65 and 96.

Unlike the tragic deaths of Weinstein and Lo Porto, none of these deaths elicited serious commentary within the US press beyond the predictable dismissal of unfortunate “collateral damage.” In fact, this indifference sometimes ventured into pure callousness. Take for example White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ response to the extrajudicial killing of Denver born teenager Abdulrahman Awlaki, a killing Attorney General Eric Holder rationalized on the grounds that he was “not specifically targeted.” After being asked by a reporter why this strike was authorized, Gibbs coldly replied that Abdulrahman “should have had a more responsible father,” a reference to Anwar Awlaki who was killed weeks before his son met the same fate. Needless to say, Gibbs would be ridiculed as a mindless sociopath if he expressed a similar sentiment in response to the deaths of Weinstein and Lo Porto, who, like Abdulrahman Awlaki, were not implicated in any crime. So the question is where does this indifference come from and, more importantly, what measures can be instituted to overcome it. Scholarship has plenty to say in this regard. MIT professor John Tirman explores this in his exhaustive study of civilian deaths The Death of Others. “The very fundamental norm of nation building and national survival as enabled by violence against savages,” Tirman observes, “is enormously consequential for how the deaths of the savages will be viewed.”

Further into the text Tirman adds:

“Correlating beliefs in a just world with beliefs in American ‘values’ is an essential addendum to understanding indifference … It is a foundation of American culture and has been from the beginning, and it powerfully shapes the attitudes and behavior of Americans from childhood. In its sheer explanatory power for the ‘American experience,’ it really has no rivals. It is an account of the entire scope of European immigration, expansion, and subjugation of the indigenous tribes, class conflict, and finally, American globalism.”

Therefore, engaging with the roots of American indifference to the deaths of others entails far more than merely becoming more “sensitive” to civilian suffering but a much more fundamental reevaluation in our complicity in crimes against humanity and what we can do to terminate these crimes given our ability to influence state policy. Recent polling illustrates that such an engagement has been severely lacking. Global polls published by Pew Research reveal the US as an international outlier in their support for drone strikes. Opposition in other countries is not only held by majorities but overwhelming majorities. In Lo Porto’s native Italy only 18% of its citizens supported drone strikes. MSNBCNevertheless, US public opinion has remained relatively stable in the face of these enormous costs to civilian populations abroad. It was only after the deaths of these two western hostages that MSNBC raised the question if US drone policy should be changed. If one believes in an afterlife, there were no doubt hundreds of Yemeni, Pakistani, and Somalian ghosts asking themselves why this question could not be raised after their deaths. The huge role that pure racism plays in entrenching popular indifference to non-western victims of drone strikes cannot be ignored. In Tirman’s words, “because of the long history of racism in America, its powerful political effects over the whole of American history, and its insinuation into U.S. expansion, its plausibility as the base of indifference is apparent.”

Further insight how racism serves as “the base of indifference” can be deciphered in the rules of engagement surrounding the Obama administration’s drone policy. In all the commentary that has flooded newspapers and television programs about these tragic killings, not one person has thought to ask what right the US has to bomb Pakistan in the first place. Legal questions of this kind are inconceivable. Instead we are subjected to presidential platitudes about the unintended outcomes inherent in the “fog of war.” Incidentally, this question about the legality of drone strikes is alive and well outside of circles of US power. PakistaniNot only has the Pakistani High Court in Peshawar condemned drone strikes as an act of aggression but UN official Ben Emerson has raised many, albeit mild, criticisms of the Obama administration’s drone program, particularly what he described as “a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.” When Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar attempted to enter the US to testify about drone strikes his entry was blocked. “Before I started drone investigations I never had an issue with US visa. In fact, I had a US diplomatic visa for two years,” Akbar remarked when interviewed by the UK Guardian. None of these valiant efforts to shed light on the US drone program influenced US policy makers or public opinion in the slightest regard nor were there any polls on MSNBC (as there have been since the killing of the two western hostages) asking viewers to go online and vote if drone policy should be rethought.

There’s plenty more that could be said about the illegality and blatant immorality of a program world-renowned political dissident Noam Chomsky has described as “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times”, but these insights should suffice in exposing the glaring double standard that drives media discourse about drones and, by association, the hideous policies that increase civilian casualties outside the gaze of public scrutiny. Perhaps if the people of Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Somalia could magically evolve into blonde haired, blue-eyed white people this conversation would have emerged earlier. It’s utterly disgraceful that it took the tragic deaths of two western aid workers for it to finally begin but that doesn’t diminish the significance of the fact that this conversation has begun and that’s a promising start for all genuinely concerned about human life both in the “west” and abroad.

Sources:

The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars by John Tirman

http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drones/drones-graphs/

http://www.pewglobal.org/database/indicator/52/

http://www.wsj.com/articles/american-italian-hostages-killed-in-cia-drone-strike-in-january-1429795801

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/16/us-un-drones-idUSBRE92E0Y320130316

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/24/us-accused-drone-hearing-lawyer-visa-pakistan

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/01/19/noam-chomsky-obamas-drone-program-most-extreme-terrorist-campaign-modern-times

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/pakistani-court-declares-us-drone-strikes-in-the-countrys-tribal-belt-illegal-8609843.html

A Critique of Sam Harris’ Commentary on “Martyrdom As a Genuine Metaphysical Principle”

I7GHGI1410118407
Official doctrine requires that those recognized as members of the educated class scrupulously avoid any serious self-reflection. Any crime or atrocity must be traced back to the incurable savagery of the Great Enemy. Today that Great Enemy is “Islamic terrorism.” Much like the “international communist conspiracy” which preceded it, “Islamic terrorism” is meant to strike fear in the hearts of all right-thinking Americans. Any deviation in this arena is troubling a sign of one’s lack of patriotism or, even worse, “anti-Americanism.” In accord with these highly jingoistic narratives, one can easily find intellectuals willing to volunteer their talents in order to sustain this image of the US as a bastion of civilization valiantly resisting the “scourge” of Muslim “extremism.” Among the partisans in this campaign are the so-called New Atheists, in particular neuroscientist Sam Harris. Harris contends that the violence emanating from domains of US control are not the result of decades of imperial policies that has left the region in ruins. Instead, these incidents of sub-state violence demonstrate that Muslims believe in martyrdom as “a genuine metaphysical principle.” Harris made this argument in a 2006 debate with author Scott Atran.

In order to advance this view he relied on the oft-repeated myth of Iranian “human wave” attacks during the Iran-Iraq war. When astrophysicist Niel deGrasse Tyson asked if Muslims resort to suicide bombing because they lack an Air Force and tanks Harris was quick to dismiss it. “How do you get a mother to celebrate the suicidal atrocities of her children,” Harris asked. Absent from this complete fabrication was the fact that Iranians were compelled to engage in the “human wave” tactic because they lacked the military equipment to combat Iraqis by conventional means. This fact was pointed out in Flyntt and Hillary Mann Leverett’s excellent study of Iranian society, Going to Tehran. Here they observe that Iranians “did not have adequate [military] equipment.” Furthermore, “at times some Iranian soldiers did not even have rifles … or protective gear.” So not only was Harris incorrect in his conclusion that the desire for “martyrdom” lay behind the “human wave” attacks, but Tyson’s suggestion—that suicidal terrorism is partly traceable to the radical disparity in military technology—would be reinforced if Harris were more intellectually honest about Iranian history. Even the New York Times highlighted this disparity in a 1987 report on the human wave attacks in their description of “Iraq’s vastly superior military arsenal.” A recent report from Flinders University’s Suicide Terrorism Database undermines Harris viewpoint as well. The report concluded that “more than 90 percent of suicide attacks are directed at an occupying force,” and “Of the 524 suicide terrorists carried out in the past 30 years, more than half of the attackers were secular.”
Human Wave AttacksNone of these unacceptable facts are likely to enter into any discussion about the horrors of “Islamic terrorism.” Consequently, Harris joins the chorus of other scholars for empire who, in the words of the Leveretts, “embellished” this historical moment “with colorful but unsubstantiated accounts of plastic ‘keys to heaven’ being distributed to soldiers and actors dressed as Imam Husayn appearing on horseback to inspire frontline units.” Alongside this complete whitewash of the empirical record is a corresponding dedication to obscuring the US role in fueling atrocities in the Middle East. Therefore, Harris can feign moral indignation over mothers who “celebrate the suicidal atrocities of their children,” but this same sense of outrage it nowhere to be found in relation to US crimes. For instance, in the same video where Harris counters Tyson’s comment on how suicide terror may be linked to the disparity in weaponry he portrays the Iran-Iraq war as a conflict in which the US had no role: “Get the US out of this. Look at the war between Iran and Iraq.”

Any moderately informed student of history could easily point out that it’s impossible to “get the US out” the Iran-Iraq war. Not only did the US support Saddam Hussein in his aggression against Iran, but they also supplied him with the critical intelligence needed to use chemical weapons against Iranians (a fact affirmed in a recent Foreign Policy piece which elicited no cries of “barbarism!” from Harris or any of the other New Atheists). Harris’ response was similarly muted in the aftermath of Israeli terror in Gaza. In an article titled Why I Don’t Criticize Israel? Harris states “the onus is still more on the side of the Muslims here,” and “Even on their worst day, the Israelis act with greater care and compassion and self-criticism than Muslim combatants have anywhere, ever.”

One passage of particular interest is when Harris describes how “Muslims”—He doesn’t designate a specific organization. A crucial feature of essentialist narratives—“have committed suicide bombings, only to send another bomber to the hospital to await the causalities—where they then blow up all the injured along with the doctors and nurses trying to save their lives.” In military parlance, these kinds of attacks are called “double taps”, a clear sign that the culprit is engaged in terrorist atrocities. It’s therefore of special interest that Harris has no words to condemn President Obama, who also engages in double taps in his international drone assassination program. The UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism has carried out meticulous analysis of this grotesque policy in multiple reports.

If one does a search through Harris’ blog one can only find one passing reference to drone strikes and it’s quite instructive, not only because of its brevity but also its content. On the necessity of drone strikes in Pakistan Harris writes “Yes, our drone strikes in Pakistan kill innocent people—and this undoubtedly creates new enemies for the West. But we wouldn’t need to drop a single bomb on Pakistan, or anywhere else, if a death cult of devout Muslims weren’t making life miserable for millions of innocent people and posing an unacceptable threat of violence to open societies.” Just two months prior to this statement from Harris (August 2013) the Bureau of Investigative Journalism released a report which stated “Across seven attacks, reports suggested the [CIA] had deliberately targeted a mosque with worshipers inside; to have targeted funeral prayers for a victim of a previous strike; and on six occasions, to have deliberately targeted people going to rescue victims and retrieve the dead from the scene of an earlier attack – a tactic also known as a ‘double-tap’ strike.”

sam-harrisAs a thought experiment, suppose Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi responded to criticism of IS by saying “Yes, our fighters behead journalists and this undoubtedly creates new enemies for the Islamic State. But we wouldn’t need to behead a single journalist from the United States, or anywhere else, if a death cult of patriotic Americans weren’t making life miserable for millions of innocent Muslims and posing an unacceptable threat of violence to Muslim societies.” Even if all of al-Baghdadi’s claims were accepted as true—that the US was making life miserable for millions of Muslims—no rational person would accept such a statement as legitimate because it justifies the murder of innocent people. Yet this elementary moral observation is jettisoned when the security of Harris’ “open society” is under threat. Here Harris is endorsing policies which, by his own admission, “kill innocent people” (in fact, kill innocent people in a way strikingly similar to suicide bombers). Perhaps the “moral imbalance” between “Muslims” and “us” is not disturbed by these outbursts of mass murder because the perpetrator of these unspeakable crimes cannot be accused of religious fanaticism or Islamic “dogmatism”, a “psychopathology” exclusive to those with “frontal lobe anomalies.” We also must scrupulously avoid the fact that Obama consults the “just war” doctrines of Christian theologian St. Augustine to put a nice “civilized” gloss on his murders.

What Harris and other like-minded commentators have failed to do is recognize the transparently political character of the violence carried out by those who the US condemns as enemies. Makerere University professor Mahmood Mamdani articulated this reality in his book Good Muslim, Bad Muslim. “Suicide bombing,” Mamdani notes “needs to be understood as a feature of modern political violence rather than stigmatized as a mark of barbarism.” As these samples of imperial apologetics illustrate, Harris would much rather decry the savage “barbarism” of “Muslims” than investigate the roots of this violence or, more importantly, the violence carried out by the so-called leaders of his own country. Such hypocrisy reveals a commitment to power systems that rises above mere tribalism. This is state worship as a “genuine metaphysical principle.”

Sources: 

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror by Mahmood Mamdani

Going to Tehran: Why America Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Iran by Flyntt and Hillary Mann Leverett 

http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/why-dont-i-criticize-israel
http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/no-ordinary-violence

http://www.nytimes.com/1987/07/05/world/human-wave-raid-losses-iran-s-favor.html

http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2013/08/01/get-the-data-the-return-of-double-tap-drone-strikes/

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/08/25/secret_cia_files_prove_america_helped_saddam_as_he_gassed_iran

http://www.salon.com/2014/09/06/richard_dawkins_sam_harris_and_atheists_ugly_islamophobia_partner/

Retail Realpolitik: Washington, The “Just God”, & The Islamic State in Iraq

CNNBreakingNewsIt’s standard for powerful states to justify the most egregious of crimes by cloaking it in obscure terminology. Torture becomes “enhanced interrogation”, kidnapping is “extraordinary rendition”, and civilian casualties are “collateral damage.” While moderate criminals limit themselves to mere terms, more ambitious crooks embrace entire schools of thought to legitimize their behavior. Take for example what’s called in international affairs scholarship realpolitik. Realpolitik proposes that “foreign policy ought not to be driven by the demands for justice,” and that “a society’s principles, no matter how deep-rooted or heartfelt, [have] to be compromised in the name of international stability.” These are the words of Princeton University political scientist Gary J. Bass in his description of Henry Kissinger. Kissinger employed this concept in his backing of the Pakistani genocide in East Bengal, one of his lesser known contributions to global “stability.”

Perhaps no other doctrine has been applied with as much consistency and rigor and this one. President Obama’s policies in the Middle East offer a textbook example. While providing support to “rebel factions” in Syria, he has authorized airstrikes against the closely associated Islamic State in Iraq. The consequences of these policies have been gruesome. One effect was graphically portrayed in the murder of Global Post journalist James Foley. Captured in Syria in 2012, Foley was beheaded by a member of the Islamic State. According to the killer, the murder was carried out in retaliation against the Obama administration’s decision to bomb Iraq after news surfaced that Iraqi Yazidis, driven from their homes by IS terror, were under siege atop Sinjar mountain.

“No just God would stand for what they did yesterday or every single day,” intoned Obama after receiving news of Foley’s murder. Without a doubt, IS has amply demonstrated their capacity for cruelty and indifference but this is obvious. Less obvious is how they arrived at this point and, furthermore, if Washington shares any responsibility in their rise. This deeply disturbing connection between US policy in the Middle East and the proliferation of sub-state terror has a long history. In symbolic terms, this connection could be discerned in Foley’s attire at the time of his execution. As the New York Times acknowledged in a recent report, “the video shows the journalist kneeling in a desert landscape, clad in an orange jumpsuit — an apparent reference to the uniforms worn by prisoners at the American military detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.”

Aside from its transparent illegality, the existence of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp has long been recognized as a “recruitment tool” for terrorism. So unavoidable is this reality that even conservative outlets like the Council on Foreign Relations concede this. In a 2010 “expert roundup” report there was unanimous agreement on this fact. William Yeomans of the Washington College of Law described the prison as “a powerful recruiting tool for terrorists,” adding that a decision not to close the prison “would be calamitous.” Four years have passed since the publication of this report and 149 prisoners (more than half of them cleared for release) remain caged in this penal colony far outside the bounds of international law. And this isn’t the only case of the Obama administration consciously pursuing policies which escalate the threat of terrorism. For years, the Obama administration has ignored statements, even by those within his administration, that his drone assassination program—a campaign of international terrorism unparalleled in global affairs—is heightening the threat of terrorism.

In his penetrating study Obama and the Middle East: the End of America’s Moment? London School of Economics International Relations professor Fawaz Gerges states that “the Obama administration has so far been unwilling to acknowledge the link between escalation of hostilities in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the rising incidence of homegrown radicalization.” When the so-called Times Square bomber cited the Obama administration’s drone campaign as the reason for his attempt to set off a bomb in New York CIA chief John Brennan (then White House counterterrorism adviser) “dismissed the notion,” and “argued that the suspect was ‘captured by the murderous rhetoric of Al Qaeda and TTP [Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan] that looks at the United States as an enemy.'” Meanwhile, “in private deliberations, according to Bob Woodward, Obama’s national security team [appeared] to be aware that their policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan [helped] fuel radicalization and terrorism.” Even Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, in one of her more overlooked statements, addressed this dangerous linkage when she visited Obama in the White House. Incidentally, these crimes, unlike those of IS, received the blessing of Washington’s deity , presumably because the author of these atrocities internalized the “just war” doctrines of St. Augustine prior to engaging in acts of terror that that have left approximately 3,800 dead in Pakistan alone.
james foley Given this sordid history of terror-generating policies, it’s not the least bit surprising that the New York Times published a story on August 10 headlined US Actions in Iraq Fueled the Rise of a Rebel. Writing on the ascendancy of the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Times observed “most of the political changes that fueled his fight, or led to his promotion, were born directly from some American action.” This is but one of many reports highlighting the troubling intersection between US military aggression and the growth of subnational terror. While Global Post journalist Lauren Dean stated IS “was born out of a security vacuum left by the 2003 American invasion”, UK investigative journalist Robert Fisk described the brutality of IS as “the epic violence which our invasion unleashed.” Anyone serious about reversing the influence of IS would not dismiss these reports.

For example, no serious person would look at the US-instigated terror drowning the entire region in blood and urge “sudden”, “swift”, and “surgical” strikes against IS, but this is precisely what retired General John Allen called for in a recent piece published in Defense One. Portraying IS as a grave threat to America and Europe, General Allen implored the Obama administration to act “NOW” (he actually used all capital letters. A tell-tale sign of intellectual sobriety). Moreover, this military action would not limit itself to Iraq. It also would extend to Syria, “a failed state neither capable of acting as a sovereign entity nor deserving the respect of one.” Contrarily, the United States—the “greatest threat to world peace” according to a recent WIN/Gallup poll—is not a “failed state,” but “remains the only nation on the planet capable of exerting the kind of strategic leadership, influence and strike capacity,” to eradicate the IS “scourge.” Consequently, the UN initiative to provide technical support to the Iraqi government to aid imperiled Yazidis atop Sinjar Mountain is, as Gen. Allen describes the border between Syria and Iraq, “irrelevant.” Equally irrelevant is the analysis of distinguished scholars like Flynt Leverett. Appearing on Background Briefing with Ian Masters he remarked that “nothing will rehabilitate [ISIS] like being bombed by the United States.”
Destroy ISIS NOW

This clear record of the US instigating rather than diffusing terror is rarely, if ever, highlighted in the pages of the “free press.” Instead the public is treated with alarmist descriptions of a “the most despicable band of barbarians to plague the world since the Khmer Rouge.” Los Angeles Times columnist David Horsey used these terms to describe IS, a group that has inflicted such extreme levels of violence that “a comparison to the Nazis” would not be “an exaggeration.” Conversely, he describes the US invasion of Iraq—the “supreme crime” of military aggression under the standard of the Nuremberg Tribunal—as a “misguided and frustrating occupation” and a “past mistake.” Notice the problem with the occupation was not that it killed over half a million Iraqis while turning hundreds of thousands of others into refugees. Rather, it was the “frustration” of the occupiers unable to subdue a population by force, a standard view within the American intellectual class.

Quite apart from a “misguided” war, the assault on Iraq was a carefully guided and deliberate war crime. The horrors unfolding in Iraq cannot be properly understood unless this elementary reality is first acknowledged.  It’s worth recalling that Obama hailed the invasion of Iraq as a war that left the country “to its own people.” Omitted from this statement was the long record of state-terror the US has inflicted on Iraq from bombings under the First Gulf War, to the genocidal sanctions of the 1990s, to the 2003 invasion and subsequent destruction of Iraq’s central government. With the commencement of this aerial bombing campaign, Obama has opened another chapter in Washington’s multi-decade torture session of Iraqis. It shouldn’t require stating, but aerial bombing will only exacerbate the nightmare that has enveloped the region. The actions of the Obama administration are not only illegal—he authorized air strikes in violation of the War Powers Act and the UN Charter—but they evade viable, peaceful alternatives that would significantly lower the risk of more violence.

Perhaps this is just another iteration of presidential “realism.” As Harvard University scholar Stephen Walt stated in a recent article which appeared in Foreign Policy magazine “[Obama’s] style as president resembles Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone and Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone in many ways. They don’t make many threats, they never bluster, and they rarely raise their voices. But when the time comes, they dispatch opponents with remorseless indifference and pay little attention to who might get hurt in the process. ‘It’s not personal; it’s strictly business.'” Likewise, IS murdered James Foley with “remorseless indifference.” Moreover, they paid “little attention to who might get hurt in the process.” Did not the “cancer” of IS merely emulate, in a less sophisticated form, the “realpolitik” of their despised foe albeit in a more “personal” fashion? Why then are we rightfully appalled by their heinous crimes, but coldly silent about our own? Perhaps these questions will be contemplated by the more honest among us who remain unconvinced by the harsh moral judgments of President Corleone’s “just God.”

Sources:

Obama and the Middle East: The End of America’s Moment? by Fawaz Gerges

The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide by Gary J. Bass

http://www.cfr.org/human-rights/should-guantanamo-bay-closed/p21247

http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drones/drones-graphs/

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/11/world/middleeast/us-actions-in-iraq-fueled-rise-of-a-rebel.html?_r=0

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/20/world/middleeast/isis-james-foley-syria-execution.html?_r=0

http://goingtotehran.com/flynt-leverett-on-iraqi-politics-iranian-iraqi-relations-and-how-to-think-about-the-islamic-state

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/140820/why-the-islamic-state-still-so-strong

http://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2014/08/gen-allen-destroy-islamic-state-now/92012/

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/10/11/205176/obama-and-first-lady-meet-with.html

https://www.aclu.org/national-security/guantanamo-numbers

http://www.salon.com/2014/01/09/the_top_4_threats_to_global_peace_guess_who_is_number_one_partner/

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/middle-east-crisis-we-know-all-too-much-about-the-cruelty-of-isis–but-all-too-little-about-who-they-are-9681873.html

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/08/19/is_barack_obama_more_of_a_realist_than_i_am_stephen_m_walt_iraq_russia_gaza?utm_content=buffer23543&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-naiman/obama-iraq-air-strikes_b_5662055.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/03/26/obama-defends-iraq-invasion-a-little/

http://www.democracynow.org/2014/8/8/as_us_air_strikes_in_iraq

Ambassador for Humanity?: Nigeria, Boko Haram & Fantasies of Benevolent Intervention

central-accord-opens-in-coloful-styleIt’s no surprise that imperial states think of themselves as having a monopoly on humanitarianism. In the words of President Obama, the United States has for decades been “an anchor of global stability.” Even filmmakers buy into this charade. Recently Steven Spielberg, in one of his less known departures into the world of science fiction, honored President Obama for his humanitarianism at an event organized by the Shoah Foundation. Obama was recognized as an “Ambassador for Humanity” whose “interest in expanding justice and opportunity for all is remarkably evident.” It’s easy to laugh at fantasies of this kind but when national leaders attempt to act on them they should be examined more seriously. Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls and US policymakers and the “free press” have exploded into a fit of pro-interventionist hysteria. It’s hard to escape media reports about the ruthless cruelty of Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau and his vow to sell his hostages into slavery.

Outrage has covered a broad spectrum of media and political personalities from Rep. Peter King who said “If the president decided to use special forces, I certainly would not oppose them,” to Michelle Obama who joined the “Bring Back Our Girls” Twitter campaign and released a video condemning the “grown men” in Boko Haram attempting to “snuff out” the aspirations of young girls. Missing from this hysteria is a serious look at the US role on the African continent and the credibility of its “humanitarian” claims. Since the early post-war period the US has been an overwhelmingly negative force in Africa. Shortly after the Second World War US policy makers decided that the African continent “was to be ‘exploited’ for the reconstruction of Europe.” In the following years the US contributed to this exploitation by supporting the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the apartheid government in South Africa and brutal dictators like Mobutu Sese Seko in the Congo and Samuel Doe in Liberia. Nothing has fundamentally changed since this period. In fact, US involvement in Africa has grown since the creation of the US Africa Command also known as AFRICOM. Scholar Stephen Graham points out how AFRICOM has targeted Nigeria’s oil wealth. In his book Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism he writes that AFRICOM “is being established with the explicit goal of dealing with ‘oil disruption’ in Nigeria and West Africa.”

It is widely conceded that the popular base of Boko Haram is a response to severe economic inequality that has disproportionately impacted Nigeria’s northern region. Unlike the south, Nigeria’s north faces severe problems meeting basic human needs of education, healthcare and clean water. Unemployment among young males in northern Nigeria “is in excess of 50 percent.”  This stark inequality is largely a symptom of what’s commonly called its “oil curse”, nations which are extraordinarily rich in natural resources but, due to corporate and often western-backed policies, are unable to meet the basic material and educational needs of its citizens. Consequences of this curse can be deciphered in the Pentagon’s latest Quadrennial Defense Review where the Department of Defense outlines a policy “to sustain a heightened alert posture in regions like the Middle East and North Africa.” The review also highlights “the security of the global economic system” as one of the primary goals of US “National Security Strategy.”

michelle-obama-nigeria-bring-back-our-girls

Many would dismiss these observations as a “justification” of Boko Haram’s crimes but it’s quite the opposite. The crimes of the Nigerian state, amply documented by reputable organizations like Human Rights Watch, have done far more to strengthen the arguments of Boko Haram than any analyst ever could. HRW reports that Nigerian security forces “have engaged in numerous abuses, including extrajudicial killings, which contravene international human rights law and might also constitute crimes against humanity.” Even conservative analysts like John Campbell of the Council on Foreign Relations conceded that “Individuals in the north talk about a military that comes in and responds to the Boko Haram threat as being just as predatory and disrespectful of their civil liberties as Boko Haram has been,” and “an elephant in the living room is just how much popular support Boko Haram actually enjoys.” And this isn’t the only “elephant in the living room.” Other elephants include the stunning similarity between Boko Haram’s crimes, in terms of their impact on education, and those of high officials in Washington. One of the main arguments for intervention in Nigeria is that it’s necessary to defend the rights of girls’ education. Girls’ education should be defended but it’s very easy to demonstrate how committed policy makers in the US are to girls’ education. Last year NYU and Stanford University released a study titled Living Under Drones. In this report they describe how President Obama’s drone program has endangered access to education among Pakistani children or as the study states “some of those injured in [drone] strikes reported reduced access to education and desire to learn because of the physical, emotional, and financial impacts of the strike.” Pakistani parents have also reportedly began pulling their children from school out of fear that they will be killed in a drone strike.

jonathan-obama1

Michelle Obama reserved no words for these young girls though she did take time to praise the heroism of Malala Yousafzai in her fight for girls education in defiance of the Taliban. Interestingly, Mrs. Obama did not mention that Malala also criticized her husband’s drone policy for “fueling terrorism.” Apparently, the US does not “snuff out” the dreams of young girls. The US only snuffs out “militants.” Rational analysis would also take into consideration the view of the Nigerian public. A 2013 Pew poll reports that only 39% of Nigerians–it was 74% in 2010–support President Obama’s “international policies”, a strange figure considering the US is “an anchor of global stability.” The percentage of Nigerians who look at the US favorably decreased from 81% in 2010 to 69% in 2013. Moreover, a stunning 12% of Nigerians think that their country is “moving in the right direction.” Filtered through the system of American power, this means President Jonathan is “committed to building on the democratic process”, Obama’s words when Jonathan visited the US. But this shouldn’t be too surprising. President Obama’s support for brutal, anti-democratic governments in the Middle East and North Africa is very consistent. Take for example his description of Hosni Mubarak, a dictatorial mass murderer, as “a proud patriot.”

When examined in historical context it’s quite clear that the United States is participating in the same ideological campaign that the British embraced, in a much more sustained fashion, during their colonial rule. Historian and sociologist W.E.B. Dubois wrote about this in the early post-independence years of Nigeria.  Since Nigeria was a “rich land” with “stores of coal, oil, lead, tin, zinc and other metals,” it was a prime target for western industrial capitalists. In order to combat any move toward socialism the British sought to manipulate Nigerians to regard them “mainly as benefactors.” But this campaign was unable to defeat the Nigerian people’s “irresistible demand for independence.” If the US military continues its expansion into Nigeria we can expect similar attacks against this demand for independence. Military intervention of any kind runs the risk of drowning out the voices of Nigerians who have bravely stood up against these atrocities, setting the stage for a catastrophe too painful to imagine.

Sources:

B., Du Bois W. E. The World and Africa: An Inquiry into the Part Which Africa Has Played in World History: An Enlarged Edition: With New Writings on Africa, 1955-1961. New York, International Publishers: n.p., 1972. Print.

Chomsky, Noam. Deterring Democracy. London: Verso, 1991. Print.

Graham, Stephen. Cities under Siege: The New Military Urbanism. London: Verso, 2010. Print.

http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/media-call-nigeria/p32955

http://www.politico.com/story/2014/05/peter-king-boko-haram-106616.html

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/10/michelle-obama-nigeria-schoolgirls-kidnapping-boko-haram

http://www.defense.gov/pubs/2014_Quadrennial_Defense_Review.pdf

http://www.pewglobal.org/database/indicator/1/country/160/

http://www.hrw.org/features/nigeria-boko-haram-attacks-and-security-force-abuses

Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBC

mediumblue.cover_5.06x7.81_EC-e1394643725270Shortly after news surfaced that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden provided Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras with secret documents detailing the massive crimes of the American surveillance state, beltway journalists wasted little time in denouncing Snowden as a “traitor” and “narcissist” who jeopardized US “national security.” Now, nearly a year later, journalism which would have been impossible without Snowden’s courageous act of conscience has earned praise from populations around the world, foreign parliamentarians, and even the creator of the world wide web, who called Snowden a “hero” for his actions. Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras have also received accolades for their fearless journalism, winning the prestigious George Polk award. The Washington Post and the Guardian has also been recognized by the Pulitzer board for their reports on NSA criminality. All of these changes highlight how Edward Snowden’s revelations not only provided the global public with vital information about the “likely unconstitutional” deeds of the US government but have reinvigorated a long overdue conversation about journalism and the role of journalists vis-a-vis power centers. Part of this conversation should include a sober examination of the most prominent media outlets, the interests they represent and the ideas they espouse. Michael Arria’s Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBC offers a revealing glimpse into the prevailing values at a purportedly “liberal” network that former President Bill Clinton described as “our version of Fox.” In this incredibly sharp, and often humorous, critique of MSNBC Arria raises the question that probably seemed obvious in the immediate aftermath of the Snowden revelations, namely that an honest evaluation of American media is not compatible with the conservative-liberal dichotomy of elite discourse. Instead larger questions should be asked about the relation of the public to private power or as Arria states “the issue has never been whether the media is too liberal or conservative, the problem is who controls the media.” In this book this question is answered and the implications are ominous. Analyzing interviews, articles and the institutional structure of this GE-owned network, Arria exposes MSNBC for what it really represents: a team of deeply subservient mouthpieces for wealth and power, specifically the Obama administration.

Chris-Matthews-screenshot
Hardball host Chris Matthews, who admitted to feeling a pleasurable “thrill go up his leg” when President Obama spoke.

He begins his analysis with the climate of nationalism that dominated the country in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11th. While the overwhelming majority of network personalities were agitating to bomb Iraqis there was a rare exception. MSNBC host Phil Donahue invited anti-war voices on his program. This deviation was considered unacceptable at MSNBC headquarters and for this decision Donahue lost his job. Explaining his dismissal Donahue stated “we were the only antiwar voice that had a show, and that, I think, made them very nervous.” Donahue’s colleague and current host of Hardball Chris Matthews reserved a particular distaste for Donahue’s “advocacy journalism”, as sympathy for victims of US power is disparagingly described. “Matthews declared he would bring down the network if Donahue stuck around,” Arria notes citing a US News and World Report article. This institutional pressure to conform stood out as a dominant value in MSNBC’s corporate culture and Arria provides startling examples of its effectiveness. Take for example his critique of Rachel Maddow, a reporter who, despite her “liberal” leanings, parroted misinformation about Iran’s “nuclear weapons program”, defended NATO’s bombing of Libya–characterizing the aerial assault as an American effort to “stabilize Libya”–and asserted that “drones don’t change the politics of war that much.” When CODE Pink activist and fearless anti-drone campaigner Medea Benjamin disrupted President Obama’s speech at the National Defense University to highlight the humanity of drone war victims, Maddow responded with a condescending report, mocking Benjamin. “After anti-war activist Medea Benjamin interrupted an Obama speech on drones … Maddow ran a graphic reading, ‘Stop Agreeing With Me!’ the implication being that, if Benjamin just shut up and listened, she would quickly learn that Obama had many of the same reservations.” Obama’s “agreement” with Benjamin was recently reiterated in his administration’s decision to boycott a UN conference on drones, an inconvenient contradiction that likely can be resolved by asking, like a good “liberal” commissar, “would you prefer Mitt Romney to blow up Pakistani children?” Incidentally, this hypothetical may be too generous. MSNBC employee and co-host of The Cycle Toure distanced himself so far from the victims of drone warfare that when the murder of 16 year old Abdulrahman Awlaki was brought up on his show he didn’t even know who Awlaki was.

“… During an MSNBC panel discussing drone strikes Toure seemed completely unaware that Abdulrahman, had ever even existed: ‘What do you mean a 16 year old who is killed? I’m not talking about civilians’, he declared, when the subject came up. After fellow panelists, liberal Steve Kornacki and conservative S.E. Cupp, explained to Toure who Abdulrahman Awlaki was, he shrugged, ‘If people are working against America, then they need to die.'”

Other reporters covered in Arria’s critique are Chris Hayes, Melissa Harris-Perry, Ezra Klein, Ed Schultz and Joy Reid. Of particular interest is the story of Chris Hayes, who Arria acknowledges as someone who is often seen as the “progressive” exception to the otherwise Democratic Party tribalists that have come to dominate MSNBC. After Hayes made an extremely mild and unoffensive statement questioning the heroism US soldiers the cultural managers in the elite press dropped the hammer on him. Richard DeNoyer, the National Commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars, condemned Hayes statement as “reprehensible and disgusting”, a grave insult to “our fallen service members.” Immediately Hayes backtracked on his statement and issued an apology, asking “who was I to say who is and who isn’t a hero?” and admitting that “he fell short in a crucial moment.” This incident causes Arria to make the compelling observation that “If every soldier storming into Afghanistan and Iraq is hero, merely by extension of being American, then logic dictates, soldiers on the opposing side should be viewed as heroes, by their fellow citizens,” and “these are the questions we must ask, and the kinds of discussions we must have, if we ever hope to live in a country that doesn’t possess an aggressive, and murderous, foreign policy.”

Melissa-Harris-Perry-EdwardSnowden-screenshot-13July2013
Melissa Harris Perry kindly encouraging Snowden to “face the music” (go to jail) in a televised open letter.

Logical exercises of this kind are alien to MSNBC journalists who operate under an intellectual and moral code of silence where any examination of imperial ideology, no matter how superficial, makes everyone “very nervous.” The nervousness that paralyzes MSNBC journalists when dealing with issues of imperial power was put on full display in Melissa Harris Perry’s appraisal of the Obama administration. In what Arria accurately describes as a “tremendously disrespectful version of history” Perry asserted that President Obama is “stunningly similar” to Dr. Martin Luther King. Meanwhile, serious critics like Dr. Cornel West attacked these illusions, pointing out that King “would talk about drones. He’d talk about Wall Street criminality. He would talk about the working class being pushed to the margins as profits went up for corporate executives in their compensation.” Arria summed up the distinction more straightforwardly: “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream; President Obama has a Kill List.”

A review of this excellent book would be incomplete without mention of the many humorous scenes Arria paints from Chris Matthews announcing that he got so excited listening to one of Obama’s speeches that he “felt a thrill going up [his] leg” to Joy Reid’s interrogation of Wikileaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson, a tense exchange that forced Arria to conclude “the spirit of Joe McCarthy lives deep in the heart of Joy Reid.” He also satirizes a decision by Ed Schultz to do a report about televangelist Pat Robertson’s advice to a mother on “demon-sweaters” from Goodwill instead of covering the incomparably more consequential story of Chelsea Manning’s trial. In another comedic aside, Arria opens the chapter on Ezra Klein with the following observation: “It’s very possible that everything you need to know about the young Washington Post columnist and MSNBC contributor Ezra Klein, can be deduced from the opening line of a New Republic profile on him: ‘The first time I interviewed Ezra Klein, the 28-year old prince of DC media, he brought me a sandwich: prosciutto on a poppy-seed baguette.'”

This injection of humor, in an otherwise serious book, makes Medium Blue a highly engaging read for anyone unimpressed by the easy, self-flattering denunciations of Fox News, which is certainly a highly jingoistic, racist and xenophobic network, but “undeserving of rigorous analysis.” As Arria states in the introduction “Liberals frequently bite on the trolling, bothering to waste time and words on superfluous tasks like fact-checking Ann Coulter books.” Perhaps this is the most significant contribution of his book, that he penetrates the simplistic tribalist paradigm of elite discourse, where the limits of thought are narrowly constrained by party affiliation, and lays down a devastating critique of American mass media. No one who reads this book can afterwards watch MSNBC and not be overcome with feelings of contempt, if not amusement. In a recent appearance on the network, award-winning investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill compared MSNBC’s editorial line to an “Obama for America meetup.” One can only imagine how many employees he made “very nervous.”

The Godfather’s Wish for Ukraine

The Subject:
10152600_10151993375571074_1895792527_n

XB: *Disclaimer: Unless you’re in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Iraq or any other country where we want to send drones.

MG: only to preserve their independence. Which of this countries did US anex? none!

MZ: You forgot about Egypt

XB: Bombing Pakistani civilians from the sky does not help them preserve independence. It violates their independence. This is even conceded by the Peshawar High Court in Pakistan which considers drone strikes a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

Throughout history military superpowers have reflexively justified their resort to violence by saying they were carrying it out for the good of the country they are invading. Fascist Japan did this, Germany did this, France did this and the British Empire did this. Thinking people ignore such statements because they are entirely predictable.

You also ask which countries did the US annex. Did you forget that the US wouldn’t exist if it were not for the annexation of half of Mexico and the Mexican-American war, a war that continued a genocidal campaign against America’s original inhabitants?

Or if this is too remote, what about the annexation of Hawaii or Puerto Rico? These territories were stolen by the US. In the case of Puerto Rico there is still a Puerto Rican independence movement.

Incidentally, I should note that even if the US annexed zero countries throughout it’s history this is the wrong thing we should be focusing on. What we should be focusing on is the impact of US intervention in other countries.

If we focus on this I think President Obama’s words about upholding ideals of independence become more transparent for the lies they are. The US only believes in independence when doing so conforms with its strategic and economic interests. This is how States and power systems behave. Everything else is public relations.

Source:

http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2013/05/09/pakistani-court-rules-cia-drone-strikes-are-illegal-and-war-crimes/

GC: For a good cause.!! …. is the key!

XB: @GC: Are you arguing that the US bombs other countries for a good cause? I don’t understand your comment.

@MZ: I also forgot about Palestine, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and a host of other countries. Indeed, the list is long.

AI: All those countries governments are typically notified about the drone use prior to any attacks. Their governments coordinate with the US military and often supply the intelligence….. The reason why these governments and their officials don’t announce their cooperation with the US forces is because they will most likely not get re-elected, because the public is often ignorant and attaches to statements like the one you have just said….

DS: I have an idea, XB…how ’bout the US stop all foreign aid, and use those wasted tax dollars to fix our own problems? Go back to a policy of isolationism. If the rest of the world can’t keep up, too bad. Adapt, adopt, improvise…or cease to exist.

XB: @AI: What difference does it make that the country being bombed is notified prior to them being attacked? Would you support another country bombing the US and killing American civilians as long as they notified the US government before they did it? Drone strikes are clearly in violation of international law which restricts the use to force those who have received UN Security Council authorization. In the case of Obama’s drone strikes not only has he not received such authorization but he didn’t even try to get authorization.

Then there’s the fact that it’s illegal for the CIA, which runs the drone program, to participate in war. This is even conceded in the Yale International Law Journal. Here scholar Andrew Burt notes the following:

“In what ways, then, are civilian CIA drone operators legally distinct from the unprivileged belligerents they target? A strong argument exists that if civilians are operating armed drones, they assume a ‘continuous combat function’ and thus are unlawfully taking a direct part in hostilities based on their status. If so, then according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), they would be considered an ‘armed organized group’ and apparently legally indistinguishable from the terrorists they target.”

I should add Burt is not an opponent of drone warfare but even he can see that drone strikes, in their current form, expose the US to credible accusations of criminality (he calls the argument I cited above “strong.”) Aside from this, drones disproportionately murder innocent civilians. UN official Ben Emmerson recently cited 30 separate attacks that require “public explanation.”

You are also ignoring some other relevant facts. Last December the parliament in Yemen “called for a stop to drone attacks in a symbolic vote that reflected growing public anxiety about Washington’s use of the unmanned aircraft to combat al Qaeda in the impoverished country.” In this same month the UN “adopted the resolution calling on US … to comply with international law.” President Obama most recently boycotted a conference on drones. Why do you think he boycotted the conference? If it’s a legitimate exercise of military force why would he do this? The answer isn’t obscure.

Your comment that “the public is often ignorant and attaches to statements like the one you have just said,” is also worth examining. A brief look a global public opinion reveals that clear majorities or pluralities in Asia, Europe, Latin America, and North Africa are opposed to drone strikes. 90% of Greeks are against it. 59% of Germans are against drones and 76% of Spanish citizens oppose drone strikes.

To quote the Pew report “A 2012 survey of 19 countries plus the U.S. found that, in 17 of them, more than half disapproved of the U.S. conducting drone strikes to target extremists. The policy was particularly unpopular in majority Muslim nations, but it also faced disapproval in Europe and other regions as well.” Would you include the populations of all these countries in the “ignorant” public that “attaches to statements” like the one I just said?

Now with this wealth of legal analysis, rulings and global public opinion data it’s worth asking why this information is not well known. The answer is unambiguous and quite ugly namely that the Obama administration doesn’t give a damn about what the victims of US policy think or what the populations in other countries think, even when opposition is as overwhelming as the figures I just cited.

If any public is filled with “ignorance” on this topic it’s the American public, where a majority of citizens (65%) support drone strikes, a real outlier in global public opinion. I should say it’s not entirely the fault of the American public. I think the vast indifference in America to drone strikes is a natural consequence when we have a corporate media that fails to or inadequately covers any of the relevant information I just mentioned .

In a free society the views of the public should have some influence in policy making. It’s in this spirit that I criticize the drone policy, not to lead on an “ignorant” public. By the way, your argument that Obama’s drone bombings are legitimate because he notifies the government of those countries carries an interesting logical conclusion.

If it’s fair for Obama to bomb Pakistan, Yemen or any other country because he notified the government, was the Russian invasion of Crimea also legitimate? The Russians have claimed that Yanukovych requested they intervene in Crimea. If true, would this justify Russia’s intervention? I don’t think it would.

@ DS: I think what you are calling US “aid” is a bit misleading. I also think your statement has an underlying assumption that the US is a benevolent empire constantly sticking its neck out for the poor and dispossessed. I don’t agree with this portrayal. Much of the aid the US provides to the world is military aid. If the US dramatically cut back on military aid I would support it enthusiastically. I also think we should be giving reparations, not aid, to the several countries in the world we have devastated. Iraq would be a good start. After this is done then I would accept an isolationist policy.

Sources:

‪http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2014/03/19/exclusive_us_boycotts_un_drone_talks

‪http://www.yjil.org/…/o-38-burt-wagner-blurred-lines.pdf

‪http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/03/russia-ukraine-yanukovych_n_4892417.html

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/05/24/obama-and-drone-strikes-support-but-questions-at-home-opposition-abroad/

http://tribune.com.pk/story/647672/un-passes-resolution-against-drone-strikes-unanimously/

http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2014/03/12/countries-must-investigate-civilian-drone-death-claims-says-un-investigator-ben-emmerson/

‪http://www.gallup.com/poll/161474/support-drone-attacks-terrorists-abroad.aspx