Sunday, August 9, 2009

When You Were Here Before...Couldn't Look You in the Eye

Now a full-term pregnancy removed from the most recent exercise in choice between white and eggshell (and I don't mean race), it's safe to reflect the 2008 torrent of change that swept all good coffee-drinking, Idol-watching, Tweet-overloading Americans into a New Age of togetherness and prosperity. No?

One of the most striking differences between the current regime of corporate-imperial bedfellows and the previous one is nuance. So dedicated is Obama to the delicate art of subtlety, that one might miss all the overwhelming change taking place beneath our noses. But since Obama presented his campaign as a 180 from the Bush presidency, it's only fair that we struggle to find some evidence of this in practice.

In Iraq, a promise to extricate American forces from Iraq became removing them from Baghdad intermittently, forming a menacing ring around the city with the understanding that they could rush back in anytime necessary. The declaration of necessity of course being at the discretion of the Americans. Problem solved. Clashing warlords, honor killings, ethnic cleansing and the myriad other realities that make Iraq the most dangerous country in the world are not addressed.

Having played his card in Iraq, Obama was able to ensure smooth functioning of the military-industrial machine by funneling more money into an even more depressing and hopeless situation in Afghanistan. Former member of Afghan parliament, Malalai Joya:

You must understand that the government headed by Hamid Karzai is full of warlords and extremists who are brothers in creed of the Taliban. Many of these men committed terrible crimes against the Afghan people during the civil war of the 1990s.

For expressing my views I have been expelled from my seat in parliament, and I have survived numerous assassination attempts. The fact that I was kicked out of office while brutal warlords enjoyed immunity from prosecution for their crimes should tell you all you need to know about the "democracy" backed by Nato troops.

In the constitution it forbids those guilty of war crimes from running for high office. Yet Karzai has named two notorious warlords, Fahim and Khalili, as his running mates for the upcoming presidential election. Under the shadow of warlordism, corruption and occupation, this vote will have no legitimacy, and once again it seems the real choice will be made behind closed doors in the White House. As we say in Afghanistan, "the same donkey with a new saddle".

Again we see an American foreign policy that pays no attention to the reality of the situation. In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, Americans are not fighting a foreign army susceptible to surrender and treaty. It's fighting an amorphous collection of warlords, the supply of which is endless, while the misery of Afghan life continues unabated by the well-oiled machinations of the very democracy we purport to defend.

And then there's Blackwater. (Yes, their PR flack has renamed the company Xe, but as Tyler Durden said, "Sticking feathers in your ass does not make you a chicken.") For all the platitudes we heap on the American armed forces, little has been made of the truth that in Iraq, the ratio of US forces and private security forces (a euphemism for mercenaries) has run about 1:1, and is likely to rise as US force levels are drawn down.

One of the recurring themes in American foreign policy is the fantasy that the foreign populations directly affected by the many proxies the US uses to fight its wars, overt and secret, are as ignorant of the effect as the ever-distracted American population is. Chileans were never in doubt as to the backing of Pinochet. Nicaraguans knew who was backing the Contras. And Iraqis know from whence came Blackwater.

In many ways, Blackwater is the face of American foreign policy in Iraq, which makes it all the more sad that Americans know so little about their representatives. In March, 2008, I discussed the granting of immunity to Blackwater agents who shot indiscriminately into a crowd of innocent Iraqis. This, of course, left no doubt in the minds of Iraqis as to where they stood in the benevolent American enterprise.

In that same essay, I noted that Obama refused to rule out the use of such extrajudicial bands of marauding crusaders. Huzzah, he followed through on something! Name change or no, the song remains the same:

The two declarations are each five pages long and contain a series of devastating allegations concerning Erik Prince and his network of companies, which now operate under the banner of Xe Services LLC. Among those leveled by Doe #2 is that Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe”:

To that end, Mr. Prince intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis. Many of these men used call signs based on the Knights of the Templar, the warriors who fought the Crusades.

Mr. Prince operated his companies in a manner that encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life. For example, Mr. Prince’s executives would openly speak about going over to Iraq to “lay Hajiis out on cardboard.” Going to Iraq to shoot and kill Iraqis was viewed as a sport or game. Mr. Prince’s employees openly and consistently used racist and derogatory terms for Iraqis and other Arabs, such as “ragheads” or “hajiis.”

Among the additional allegations made by Doe #1 is that “Blackwater was smuggling weapons into Iraq.” He states that he personally witnessed weapons being “pulled out” from dog food bags. Doe #2 alleges that “Prince and his employees arranged for the weapons to be polywrapped and smuggled into Iraq on Mr. Prince’s private planes, which operated under the name Presidential Airlines,” adding that Prince “generated substantial revenues from participating in the illegal arms trade.”

Doe #2 states: “Using his various companies, [Prince] procured and distributed various weapons, including unlawful weapons such as sawed off semi-automatic machine guns with silencers, through unlawful channels of distribution.” Blackwater “was not abiding by the terms of the contract with the State Department and was deceiving the State Department,” according to Doe #1.

This is the face of American foreign policy in Iraq. That Obama is considered to be at the left fringe of American politics in that area is startling, and says a lot less about him than it does us.

And then there's Somalia:

For as the history of American foreign policy in the last 60 years has clearly shown us, there has never been an internal conflict in any country of the world that was not actually, deep down, a direct threat to all the sweet American babies sleeping in their cribs.

The interim Somali president, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed -- an Islamist who only a few years ago was considered by Washington as, well, an evil maniac in league with al Qaeda -- agreed with [Hillary] Clinton, saying that al-Shabab aims to "make Somalia a ground to destabilize the whole world." This would be the same al-Shabab that Ahmed has spent most of his presidency trying to negotiate a power-sharing agreement with. (Where's that scorecard again?)

As usual, the AP story buries some of the most blazing, salient facts way down in the uncritical regurgitation of official rhetoric. But credit where it's due, the story does finally note that the new American assistance is not confined to stuff that can kill more Somalis; it also includes - wait for it again -- U.S. military "advisors" to help "train" the forces of the ever-collapsing transitional government.

Clinton also shook a sword at neighboring Eritrea, accusing it of supporting al-Shabab and "interfering" in Somalia's internal affairs. This, while she was announcing the delivery of 80 tons of American weapons to be poured into Somalia's internal affairs.

Critics on the American Right often use the term "moral relativism" as an epithet. The meaning of the term, that standards of right and wrong should not be influenced by time or culture, seems innocuous until you consider that they mean precisely the opposite of its intended application. Rather than extolling a universal standard of right and wrong, they imply that such standards can only be extrapolated from a situation based upon the actors. America, right. Everyone else, wrong.

Of course, that the Obama administration is carrying the Bush administration's water on this one is not at all surprising to those of us that paid attention to the words of his campaign rather than the ease with which he delivered them.

Many more examples to follow.


Contracting Obama
March 3, 2008
Afghanistan: Right War or No, It's Still War July 21, 2008
Fumbling in the Dark August 2, 2008

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