February 21, 2007
Recent Reading: The Return - I
As February is almost over it's about time for the January round-up of highlights from internet commentary I've been reading instead of posting stuff here. In no particular order, of course, linked by irrelevant segues, and including a bunch of stuff from this month just to undercut the premise.
There's a lot so I think I might stagger it over few posts, just to be super-lazy.
First up there's The General in his Labyrinth, Tariq Ali's review of In the Line of Fire, Pervez Musharraf's memoirs, and a potted history of Pakistan.
In 1977, when Zia came to power, 90 per cent of men and 98 per cent of women in Afghanistan were illiterate; 5 per cent of landowners held 45 per cent of the cultivable land and the country had the lowest per capita income of any in Asia. The same year, the Parcham Communists, who had backed the 1973 military coup by Prince Daud after which a republic was proclaimed, withdrew their support from Daud, were reunited with other Communist groups to form the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), and began to agitate for a new government. The regimes in neighbouring countries became involved. The shah of Iran, acting as a conduit for Washington, recommended firm action – large-scale arrests, executions, torture – and put units from his torture agency at Daud’s disposal. The shah also told Daud that if he recognised the Durand Line as a permanent frontier the shah would give Afghanistan $3 billion and Pakistan would cease hostile actions. Meanwhile, Pakistani intelligence agencies were arming Afghan exiles while encouraging old-style tribal uprisings aimed at restoring the monarchy. Daud was inclined to accept the shah’s offer, but the Communists organised a pre-emptive coup and took power in April 1978. There was panic in Washington, which increased tenfold as it became clear that the shah too was about to be deposed. General Zia’s dictatorship thus became the lynchpin of US strategy in the region, which is why Washington green-lighted Bhutto’s execution and turned a blind eye to the country’s nuclear programme. The US wanted a stable Pakistan whatever the cost.It's often forgotten that Brzezinski's bright idea to give Russia their own Vietnam not only made a mess of Afghanistan, it also succoured the Islamic Religious Right (as "Islamism" / "radical Islam" / "militant Islam" would be more accurately termed) in Pakistan.
From 1979 until 1988, Afghanistan was the focal point of the Cold War. Millions of refugees crossed the Durand Line and settled in camps and cities in the NWFP. Weapons and money, as well as jihadis from Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Egypt, flooded into Pakistan. All the main Western intelligence agencies (including the Israelis’) had offices in Peshawar, near the frontier. The black-market and market rates for the dollar were exactly the same. Weapons, including Stinger missiles, were sold to the mujahedin by Pakistani officers who wanted to get rich quickly. The heroin trade flourished and the number of registered addicts in Pakistan grew from a few hundred in 1977 to a few million in 1987. (One of the banks through which the heroin mafia laundered money was the BCCI – whose main PR abroad was a retired civil servant called Altaf Gauhar.)
As for Pakistan and its people, they languished. During Zia’s period in power, the Jamaat-e-Islami, which had never won more than 5 per cent of the vote anywhere in the country, was patronised by the government; its cadres were sent to fight in Afghanistan, its armed student wing was encouraged to terrorise campuses in the name of Islam, its ideologues were ever present on TV. The Inter-Services Intelligence also encouraged the formation of other, more extreme jihadi groups, which carried out acts of terror at home and abroad and set up madrassahs all over the frontier provinces. Soon Zia, too, needed his own political party and the bureaucracy set one up: the Pakistan Muslim League.
Here's a cheery topic: Eliminationism in America, a 10 part series from David Neiwert.
From Counterpunch, The Profits of Escalation: Why the US is Not Leaving Iraq by Ismael Hossein-Zadeh.
This is key to an understanding of why the US ruling elite is reluctant to pull US troops out of Iraq. The reluctance or "difficulty" of leaving Iraq stems not so much from pulling 140,000 troops out of that country as it is from pulling out more than 100,000 contractors. As Josh Mitteldorf of the University of Arizona recently put it, "There are a lot of contractors making a fortune and we don't want that money tap turned off, even though it is borrowed money, which our children and grandchildren will have to repay."Here's a nice rant from Bernard Chazelle, "Bush, the Empire Slayer".
Cravenness is bigotry's favorite nourishment, and cynics might expect the political class to gorge on it by blaming our imperial agony on the natives. In America, today, cynics rarely go wrong; and the air, indeed, is thick with talk of fainthearted hordes of Mesopotamian ingrates, who quail at the latest bombing and wail at the moon in exotic garb.In The Nation, George Scialabba laid out a program for the new Democratic Majority, a lot of which makes sense.
Not long ago, the achingly earnest Nicholas D. Kristof, a New York Times columnist whose only sin is to be more virtuous than you—and keep you informed of this in each and every one of his bromidic columns—reassured his readers that the trouble is not with the Muslims but with the Arabs. They are too violent and they give Islam a bad name. Well, that settles that. Funny, though, that in the last twenty years Americans have outkilled Arabs in a ratio in excess of one hundred to one. But there I go again, nitpicking, while Saint Kristof is back in Cambodia, rescuing teenage prostitutes one Pulitzer prize at a time.
Any nonrich, nonreligious person who has paid attention to politics since 1994, when the Goldwater/Gingrich Republicans took over Congress, and above all these past six years, has probably exhausted his or her capacity for indignation. The greed, the mendacity, the indifference, even hostility, to such notions as the common good or the public interest--the whole sorry record, reviewed in sickening detail by David Sirota and Mark Green, whose powerful books very much warrant their enraged titles and subtitles--have left many of us gasping.Richard Seymour recently linked to The Conscience of the Ex-Communist, Isaac Deutscher's 1950 review of The God That Failed, which measures the disillusionment of mid-20th century leftists with the Russian revolution against the similar turning away by 19th century former admirers of the French. He makes the point that recognising the betrayal of a revolution is no excuse for joining the reactionaries - a point which should be blindingly obvious in the age of the neocon.
We now have a bit of breathing space, thanks to the midterms. It's time to consider how the right got away with it and how to prevent it from happening again. The most useful of these books ... is Steven Hill's 10 Steps to Repair American Democracy. "To ponder the shortcomings of our political system is to court despondency," Hendrik Hertzberg observes in his foreword. The Electoral College, the Senate, the disenfranchisement of the District of Columbia, the two-party duopoly, the winner-take-all principle, partisan redistricting, 95 percent incumbent re-election rates, media concentration, Buckley v. Valeo, the K Street Project, voter turnout below 50 percent, shortages of voting machines and poll workers--this is a functioning democracy? If these travesties of logic and fairness promoted majority rule rather than prevented it, they would doubtless have been abolished long ago.
An honest and critically minded man could reconcile himself to Napoleon as little as he can now to Stalin. But despite Napoleon's violence and frauds, the message of the French revolution survived to echo powerfully throughout the nineteenth century. The Holy Alliance freed Europe from Napoleon's oppression; and for a moment its victory was hailed by most Europeans. Yet what Castlereagh and Metternich and Alexander I had to offer to "liberated" Europe was merely the preservation of an old, decomposing order. Thus the abuses and the aggressiveness of an empire bred by the revolution gave a new lease on life to European feudalism. This was the ex-Jacobin's most unexpected triumph. But the price he paid for it was that presently he himself, and his anti-Jacobin cause, looked like vicious, ridiculous anachronisms. In the year of Napoleon's defeat, Shelley wrote to Wordsworth:And speaking of Mr Seymour, here's his review of Dominick Jenkins' The Final Frontier
In honoured poverty thy voice did weave
Songs consecrate to truth and liberty—
Deserting these, thou leavest me to grieve,
Thus having been, that thou shouldst cease to be.
If our ex-Communist had any historical sense, he would ponder this lesson.
The Military Services Institute, formed in 1878, was to represent and coordinate the interests and knowledge disciplines of what Jenkins calls the 'military progressives', those who were persuaded of the need for a professionalised officer corps, a standing army, military academies... the trouble was, they depended on Congress for appropriations but could not point to a single enemy that raised the need for a large standing army. What they sought to do therefore was to offer the state control over warmaking, using the sciences to derive laws akin to those provided by mathematics and mechanics. Far from being dangerous to liberty, they could show with copious example, standing armies were essential to it. What is more, by understanding the mechanics of conflict better, they could minimise the risk of war, as well as the risks of warmaking. It was necessary, of course, to engage in the inflation of threats (or the invention of them), since America's railway system, industry and agricultural surpluses all favoured its rapid defense in the event of an attempted invasion. General Emory Upton advanced some unique arguments: first, that America's military successes were impaired by excessive human and financial waste, a matter which would be remedied through science and professionalisation; and second, that there was a great propensity for internal commotion - Shay's Rebellion, the Whisky Rebellion, the Great Rebellion, the Rail Roads riots of 1877 - which would need to be crushed before it became a nation-wide insurgency so that democracy could prevail. Others wondered how much the immigrant communities really valued American interests, particularly given a conflcit with the societies from which they had emigrated. Further, it was argued that America's growing transportation and commerce internationally would make it more vulnerable to attack, and that to assert her rights as a trading nation, it would be essential to have the military werewithal to resist rival intimidation. And they offered the instance of China, a great civilisation, plundered and humbled by a cluster of imperial locusts. New York's growing financial prominence might well surrender to foreign conquest as the Yangzi Delta's manufacturing dominance once had.Apropos of which, here's Chalmers Johnson's National Intelligence Assessment on the United States, published in Harper's
While the patrician reformers converged with the military progressives in their empire-building tendencies, the crucial gulf between them was how they perceived military service itself. The reformers tended toward a romanticised view of volunteer warriors, and of the army as a place to emulate American heroes past. The military progressives knew that it could never be thus. They sought an army capable of defeating a large European or Asian power, which meant conscription - men would be forced to fight by drill, propaganda and the threat of the firing squad. What is more, the military leadership knew as well as the reformers did that the main examples of heroism past were less salutary than anyone would publicly admit: the war against the south having been won through the prodigious use of terror against the civilian population. There was one way, and one way alone, to get around this: if the ordinary soldier could not be a hero, the commander could. The future of romantic combat lay in the charismatic power of commanding officers.
I think in all of this, you have the essential ingredients for the transition from an increasingly challenged, polarised and crisis-ridden republic to an empire.
Eisenhower went on to suggest that such an arrangement, which he called the “military-industrial complex,” could be perilous to American ideals. The short-term economic benefits were clear, but the very nature of those benefits—which were all too carefully distributed among workers and owners in “every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government”—tended to short-circuit Keynes's insistence that government spending be cut back in good times. The prosperity of the United States came increasingly to depend upon the construction and continual maintenance of a vast war machine, and so military supremacy and economic security became increasingly intertwined in the minds of voters. No one wanted to turn off the pump.The CIA aren't allowed to do a National Intelligence Estimate on the US itself but, as Johnson says, the ones on other countries he vetted while at the Agency were little different from magazine articles. "When my wife once asked me what was so secret about them, I answered that perhaps it was the fact that this was the best we could do."
Between 1940 and 1996, for instance, the United States spent nearly $4.5 trillion on the development, testing, and construction of nuclear weapons alone. By 1967, the peak year of its nuclear stockpile, the United States possessed some 32,000 deliverable bombs. None of them was ever used, which illustrates perfectly Keynes's observation that, in order to create jobs, the government might as well decide to bury money in old mines and “leave them to private enterprise on the well-tried principles of laissez faire to dig them up again.” Nuclear bombs were not just America's secret weapon; they were also a secret economic weapon.
To understand the real weight of military Keynesianism in the American economy today, however, one must approach official defense statistics with great care. The “defense” budget of the United States—that is, the reported budget of the Department of Defense—does not include: the Department of Energy's spending on nuclear weapons ($16.4 billion slated for fiscal 2006), the Department of Homeland Security's outlays for the actual “defense” of the United States ($41 billion), or the Department of Veterans Affairs' responsibilities for the lifetime care of the seriously wounded ($68 billion). Nor does it include the billions of dollars the Department of State spends each year to finance foreign arms sales and militarily related development or the Treasury Department's payments of pensions to military retirees and widows and their families (an amount not fully disclosed by official statistics). Still to be added are interest payments by the Treasury to cover past debt-financed defense outlays. The economist Robert Higgs estimates that in 2002 such interest payments amounted to $138.7 billion.
Also at Harper's, on Ken Silverstein's "Washington Babylon" weblog (the name is taken from the book Silverstein, then co-editing Counterpunch, wrote with Alexander Cockburn detailing the seamier side of business as usual in the US capital, from which I heard about their newsletter, way back in the '90s, years before I had access to the net), various experts give their views on the likelihood of Bush starting a war with Iran, and the likely result, if you're following that stuff. The consensus seems to be that there is no deliberate plan for an attack, and certainly not for an invasion, but Bush's posturing might just start a war accidentally. The opinion on intent seems about right; the gibberish currently being spouted about Iranian arms shipments to the Iraqi "insurgency" could very well be less an attempt to manufacture a casus belli for war with Iran, than a way of claiming America's abject failure in Iraq is due not to incompetence but the hidden machinations of mastermind
Saddam Zarqawi Ahmadinejad. The agenda is domestic, and all about the administration's refusal to admit their own idiocy.