Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Iraqis & Americans united against occupation. posted by Richard Seymour

"The people of Fallujah love Cindy Sheehan", as well they might. Cindy will be attending the International Peace Conference, as will Saad Jawad of the Iraqi National Foundation Conference, Iraqi novelist Haifa Zangana and - clutch your pacemakers - Sheikh Hassan al-Zarqani, Foreign affairs spokesperson for Muqtada al-Sadr. Not, you are whispering, that crazy bearded guy who fucks with our attempt to construct a Good Shiite-Bad Sunni dichotomy? The very same, and it's a good thing too. That the Iraqi resistance is persuaded of the importance of the international antiwar movement is significant - not least because it may well pull Sadr away from those dangerously sectarian SCIRI guys. If it also meant that the resistance chose its tactics to assist the antiwar movement in the West, so much the better.

Suffice to say, this is an event of huge importance and I would entreat you to sign up for immediately. Do it now. I'll wait here until you come back.

From the earlier article:

Abd-Muhammed described watching recent television reports with his family showing Americans waving banners that read "Stop the war in Iraq."

"I salute the American people because we know after watching them on satellite that they are ready to leave," Abd-Muhammed said.

"We know that there are now voices, even in the Congress, that want America to leave Iraq as soon as possible," said Fawzi Muhammed, an engineer who is the deputy chairman of Fallujah's reconstruction committee. "It makes us feel very happy and comfortable because it is the only solution to the problems in Iraq."

Not only are the American and British people overwhelmingly behind ending the occupation, but it is becoming difficult for even the most craven politicians to remain in denial about it. I've just seen John Kerry - he who wanted to send more troops to Iraq and do it better - concede on the news that the very presence of US troops in Iraq is the cause of the 'insurgency'. It's unlikely he'll support withdrawal - but curiously, House Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi does. She was too cowardly at first to back Murtha's proposals, but has now decided that the clime is right. Meanwhile, the ardent warmongers are becoming more desperate - witness Bush's speech, and Rumsfeld's "epiphany". And then there's this beautiful moment in The Guardian this morning:

Mr Cheney has been under fire for his role in assembling evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Mr Wilkerson [Powell's former Chief of Staff] told the Associated Press that the vice-president must have sincerely believed Iraq could be a spawning ground for terrorism because "otherwise I have to declare him a moron, an idiot or a nefarious bastard".

Who says you have to choose?

And the political crisis of the US administration is coupled by the continuing moral disintegration of the occupiers. Oh, just for example, they're raiding the hospitals again. It's so bad that Iyad Allawi, pitching for some more votes next time round, has to say that Iraq human rights are now as bad as they were under Saddam and could become worse. The occupiers, meanwhile, are so corrupt that they are paying for the privilege of selling themselves in Iraq. (If they're disseminating this propaganda in Iraq, where to do so might be difficult, how much of this is being pumped into credulous Western news organisations?)

Clearly, there is certain cleavage opening up within the US ruling class. Success in Iraq is central to Bush's imperial strategy, yet many proud imperialists are wondering if the whole enterprise is worth it. The job of the antiwar movement and the Iraqi resistance in the coming weeks and months is to drive that wedge even deeper, inflict defeat after defeat on the warmongers by every means possible, and to make them so conservative in their assumptions about what they can get away with that they can't do anything but retreat. That's why the links between anti-occupation Iraqis and the Western antiwar movement are so important, and why the upcoming International Peace Conference needs to be as widely attended and debated as possible.

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"Not the exception, but the rule": Islamism, liberalism, fanaticism and a few other things for pro-war liberals to chew on. posted by Richard Seymour

Walter Benjamin wrote at an imcomparably darker and graver moment in history:

The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are ‘still’ possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge—unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable.

A while ago, while deriding some media 'criticism' of Bush for its timidity and ersatz 'satire', I suggested that a more important point was that Bush was there negotiating with a horrendous dictator, hoping to augment the profits of US capital etc. Now, mark suggested in the comments boxes that this was "a liberal beat-up", which is to say that it refused the real point that the Chinese premiere ought to have been ashamed of meeting Bush. I liked it then, and I like it now. Quite apart from how I intended my own suggestion, it is worth reflecting on the general tendency among liberals to criticise leading Western politicians for working with murderers, not for being murderers; for excusing torturers, rather than being torturers; for remaining silent on genocidaires rather than being genocidaires.

But the Bush regime does export torture, and murder, and it does happen to murder even those who are within the sacrosanct space of liberal democracy. Yes, even citizens of The Best Democracy in the World can buy it provided there is a justificatory strategy available - in the case of New Orleans, or John Africa, or Mumia, it's because they're black; in the case of Waco, Randy Weaver etc, it's because they're the wrong kind of white. The discursive strategies for demonising poor whites is very similar to those used against blacks - consider the common term 'rednecks', which generally evokes gun-toting, reactionary, anti-intellectual ignorance. The term emerged to describe white farm-workers who didn't tan very well while out chopping, planting and harvesting in the sun all day. It was a disdainful, dehumanising, class-supremacist term - and so it remains, yet somehow it has been appropriated by the liberal-left.

By such means, the murderous behaviour of the West is somehow rendered different, better, perhaps less egregious than that which persists in its Oriental counterpart. It is a simple matter of fact that the US killed more people in Vietnam than Saddam Hussein did in Iran - does ITN ever mention this? Does even the liberal press? The US killed more people in Nicaragua through its counterinsurgency in El Salvador than Milosevic did in Kosovo. Aristide, for his part, wasn't inclined to murder anyone, while both France and the United States currently kill Haitians under a UN mandate. Yet Aristide is the one whose reputation is subtly defamed so that the US liberal press can discuss the ousting of a democratically elected leader by US marines with equanimity. As soon as the West is perpetrating horrendous violence, euphemisms abound freely, are celebrated, indulged, ruthlessly enforced.

Now we have a racist mytheme, which is about the Fanaticism of Others. They are unEnlightened nutters, pre-modern medievalists, pre-rational, reverential and status-oriented. Aside from which, we might add all sorts of other Orientalist fantasies: they are opulent, lazy, cunning, capable only of a sinister kind of humour. Yet, this isn't altogether new. As rising philosophical star Alberto Toscano explains in his paper On Fanaticism:

The equation of egalitarian and primary communist politics under the rubric of fanaticism is hardly a recent fact. Edmund Burke famously spoke of an ‘epidemical fanaticism’, which, in continuity with the peasant depredations, or levellings, of the Anabaptists of Munster, afflicted an anti-clerical revolutionary France – asking ‘to what country in Europe did not the progress of their fury furnish cause for alarm? ... [T]he reproach of fanaticism, and its oppositional pairing with civil society, runs throughout modernity – featuring in such works as Leibniz’s Theodicy, Voltaire’s Muhammad, or Fanaticism and more recently, John Paul II’s Centesimus annus.

If the fanaticism of the Jacobins made the French revolution a success, so the chiliastic, often religious fervour of the Motley Crews and their milieu pushed the American Revolution and the anti-slavery campaigns to their peak. Yet fanaticism is a synonym for what is illiberal, dogmatic, counter-democratic, unrepresentative etc etc. And it is here that it becomes apparent that the mytheme is a case of pure projection. The liberal West is racialising a crisis that is rooted in Enlightenment and modernity (like capitalism, the Enlightenment produces its own grave-diggers). Just as the Islamists are a product of modernity, and reject the traditionalist ulama, so the Iranian Republic derives much of its mode of organisation and discourse from the French Revolution. Reducing all this to 'fanaticism' is at best an abdication of the responsibility to analyse, and at worst racialising essentialism. Worth noting in connection with this Toscano's superb reply to the authors of a recent attack on Foucault over the Iranian revolution:

Foucault tries to resist and provoke what he sees as a typically Occidental supercilious dismissal of religious politics. He highlights the importance, within the mounting social turmoil in Iran, of a religious resistance to what he calls the ‘modernisation-corruption-despotism’ series, explicitly trying to resist the capture of the situation in Iran by the ‘millenarian concept’ of fanaticism.


His intuition was that the supposed absence of a classical political programme driving the revolutionary uprising was matched by the strength of will, ‘the collective will of a people’ (746) – ‘an abstraction in political philosophy encountered for the first time in the flesh’. Tellingly, Foucault seems to elide the idea that Iran manifested a finally embodied Rousseauianism with the provocative notion that this appearance of the popular will in a religiously articulated uprising was a general strike against politics. Or, more precisely, that it demonstrated a political will not to allow any grip within the uprising for politics as it is classically understood.


It is here, in the fantasy of a mass anti-systemic singularity, of a primal capacity for resistance against which revolution is a mere rationalist domestication, that lies Foucault’s subjection to the trope of fanaticism – not in a supposed collusion with ‘Islamism’ or in some dubious sort of homosexist Orientalism, as the authors of Foucault and the Iranian Revolution contend.

The book itself is considerably less fair to Foucault than even this passage suggests, but that is for another post. The point here is that the carping by liberals (and some Marxists too) about 'fundamentalism' and so on is really a conservative political gesture, par excellence. It refuses analysis, resorting instead to brute moralism, and in doing so acts as a prophylactic, protects the body politic against free radicals. It conserves the domain of moral purity for Western liberals who - regardless of how much blood they soak in - are at least not supererogatory, fanatical, irrational. At least they are calculating, egoistic, rational and so on. At least they could never be truly evil.

On an entirely unrelated note, an audio recording of this weekend's Politics of Truth conference is now available.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"Nuclear power: wrong answer" posted by Meaders

As a follow-on, and because if there’s one myth about nuclear power that needs nailing at the moment, it’s the idea that it’s emission-free:

A complete life-cycle analysis shows that generating electricity from nuclear power emits 20-40% of the carbon dioxide per kiloWatt hour ( kWh) of a gas-fired system when the whole system is taken into account (see Nuclear Power: the Energy Balance by Jan-Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith).

The nuclear process chain also emits other greenhouse gases besides carbon dioxide with far stronger global-warming potential such as chloro- and fluorohydrocarbons and probably SF6. These emissions are difficult to quantify from the open literature, but the total emission of carbon dioxide equivalents by a nuclear system will be significantly more than 20-40% of a gas-fired system with the same energy output.

Only under a system that targeted carbon ahead of other greenhouse gases would nuclear power appear remotely “environmentally friendly”. (Even then, the reduction is only two-thirds compared to gas use: not nearly enough, assuming nuclear power could come onstream tomorrow, to meet Britain’s carbon targets.) Once all gas outputs from nuclear power are taken account, there is simply no way it can be considered a credible, “environmentally-friendly” alternative.

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Gaseous posted by Meaders

This sort of thing always cheers me up:

Anti-nuclear protesters from Greenpeace this morning disrupted an anticipated speech at the CBI conference by Tony Blair, unfurling a banner with the slogan "Nuclear: Wrong Answer".

The prime minister had been due to formally announce a review of British energy policy, which many predict will herald the building of a new generation of domestic nuclear reactors.

Blair, with his usual precision, is marching towards the worst possible solution out of all the available options. Compounding the government’s miserable failure to tackle the demand for carbon emissions, most glaringly from private transport, the UK faces an incipient energy shortage. Within a decade, the Geological Society of London estimate, Britain will be producing only 80% of the electricity it consumes. The BBC asks:

So why is Britain - the world's fourth largest economy, a nuclear pioneer, blessed with wind, wave and tidal potential beyond the normal lot of nations, a once mighty coal producer, provider of innovators to the world, and with a generation's worth of North Sea booty to invest - facing an enormous shortfall in electricity provision while others are not?

They don’t bother supplying an answer, but it should be glaringly obvious: the UK’s liberalised energy markets, like those elsewhere, are grossly inadequate for the task set them. This is recognised by Blair, in his own dim way, since the promotion of nuclear power as the magic cure will require colossal government intervention, whatever its apologists will have us believe: on no possible basis can the invisible hand of the market be allowed to construct its own reactors, secure its own fuel supplies - and then safely cover its noxious droppings for the next million years.

But the very creation of this “liberalised” electricity market necessitated government intervention. During the simultaneous destruction of the nationalised coal and electricity industries, UK electricity production was kept afloat by the deliberate promotion of North Sea natural gas. The extraordinarily costly infrastructure was already in place, funded by more far-sighted public administrators: the UK’s largest gas storage facility, for example, is a depleted gas field, off the Yorkshire coast, that was converted to natural gas storage at vast, public expense. Without it, reliable gas supplies cannot be maintained all year; with 35% of UK electricity now produced from burning natural gas, it has proved vital, if still inadequate.

The so-called “dash for gas” was a short-term solution for the immediate problems of the Conservative government in breaking up what they saw as the antiquated, state-dominated structures of the British economy: with the unions broken, coal production was wound down, power-supply privatised, and the transition to liberalised energy markets dependent upon apparently cheap sources of power. In no sense was it a long-term plan for future energy use; and in no sense has New Labour dealt with its inadequacies. Typically, some early promises to end the “dash” were allowed to fall aside as, after levying a token “windfall tax” on the privatised utilities, the Blair governments trooped back onto the path the Tories had cleared for them: cheap gas, cheap electricity, and don’t worry too much about the future. Natural gas reserves, in an elderly field like the North Sea, were always going to decline; yet even the minimal provision of gas import facilities has been provided very late in the day, the UK’s one major import pipeline opening only in 1998, and its one substantial liquid natural gas terminal only just being completed.

Blair’s failure to plan has led us to the absurd situation in which a suicidally dangerous and deliriously costly failed technology is being resurrected. His government’s failure to plan is a direct result of its unwillingness to confront the electricity market’s vested interests. Because they postponed difficult decisions about promoting renewable resources and energy efficiency, and because they reneged on their environmental pledges, New Labour are prepared to expose us all to the risks of a new generation of Chernobyls. It is obvious that Blair will be remembered for the catastrophe of Iraq; but the lurch towards nuclear power presents with another singularly ill-considered and hazardous scheme to find magic solutions where none exist.

George Monbiot, here, offers some non-magical, practical routes out of the current mess. The Campaign Against Climate Change will be marching this Saturday in central London.

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Human shields posted by Richard Seymour

God Bless Those Troops:

In Iraq, repetition of any sort could be an invitation of the wrong sort - an event for which insurgents could plan. So Mayer and Schuller took out some of the candy they carried, thinking that if children were around, perhaps the terrorists wouldn't attack.
It was a while before the children realized that these two marines, laden with arms to the limit of physical endurance, were not going to hurt them.
Unless they're pretty enough to tow to Abu Ghraib and bugger, that is.

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Monday, November 28, 2005

We Don't Target Civilians. posted by Richard Seymour

Al Jazeera staff have set up a new blog, and it is exquisite.

Meanwhile, although I have little time for the antics of ex-RCPers, this article from Brendan O'Neill is worth a look:

When NATO – with Clinton and Blair at the helm – bombed the headquarters of RTS (Serbian state television and radio) in central Belgrade on April 23, 1999, it was no joke. It was the real thing. In the middle of the night – at 2:20 a.m. – cruise missiles rained down on RTS headquarters, destroying the entrance and leaving at least one studio in ruins. Over 120 people were working in the building at the time; at least 16 were killed and another 16 were injured – all of them civilians, most of them technicians and support staff. The BBC's John Simpson described seeing "the body of a make-up artist … lying in a dressing room."

O'Neill, typically, throws the abortee out with the bath-water. The urge to bomb Al Jazeera was self-evidently no joke either. Al Jazeera has been bombed a number of times, each time by 'accident'. In 2001, their office in Kabul was destroyed by smart bombs. The 2003 attack on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, where many media were stationed, was interpreted as a deliberate assault on Al Jazeera. But the basic point stands - the Kosovo war was such a turn-on for so many liberals that they could not detect the smouldering carrion right under their noses. And it isn't as if this wasn't foreseen. As consummately establishment a journalist as Kate Adie went to considerable efforts to inform RTE Radio 1's Sunday Show audience that the US specifically planned to target independent media before the assault on Iraq. But needs must, and this is too important a point to neglect, so I am Backing Boris even though he is a complete and utter berk.

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Wages, pensions and profits. posted by Richard Seymour

I don't want to be obvious or lacking in nuance or anything, but wouldn't you think that it would generally be considered a good thing if people are getting healthier and living for longer? I can't be sure, but I think there was a time when apologists for capitalism would happily rank among its successes its ability to overcome its need for slavery and child labour, absorb a welfare state and an education system that keeps children out of work at least until 16 years, and allows for retirement at 65. Today, we hear that we are living too long.

The problem is becoming so great that big business is terrified for its profits. State pensions cost them money in taxes, while company pensions become a permanent and ever lengthening drag on surplus value. The CBI is horrified that the government will not tear up its existing contracts with public sector workers and oblige them to work until 67. Aside from delaying the pension bill a bit and thus cutting "red tape" (taxes) on corporations and the rich, the imposition of a later retirement age in the public sector (which is already conceded for new entrants to those jobs) would strengthen the private sector's hand as it attempts to enforce the same.

The thought that we are living too long doesn't so much remind me of Scrooge channelling Malthus, as Mrs John Dashland explaining to her husband in Sense and Sensibility the discommodious burden of annuities:

[I]f you observe, people always live for ever when there is any annuity to be paid them ... An annuity is a very serious business; it comes over and over every year, and there is no getting rid of it. You are not aware of what you are doing. I have known a great deal of the trouble of annuities; for my mother was clogged with the payment of three to old superannuated servants by my father's will, and it is amazing how disagreeable she found it. Twice every year these annuities were to be paid; and then there was the trouble of getting it to them; and then one of them was said to have died , and afterwards it turned out to be no such thing.

There is no governing the rages to which Sir Digby Jones is subject over this matter. Not knowing the minuter propensities of the charming and gregarious Sir Jones' brain, I don't want to say he is an avaricious hypocrite who makes more money in one hour than his minimum wage cleaning lady does in a fortnight, but I'm certainly thinking it very loudly. Yet, as enjoyable as it is to see business leaders fume, the fact is that - as ever - they've got nothing to complain about. This government has reduced business taxes to their lowest level for decades - certainly lower than during the Thatcher years. It has also cut inheritance tax so that people like Digby can transmit wealth and every opportunity that life affords to a mewling litter of ruling class progeny. Not only that, but it has succeeded in acquiring the consent of major public sector unions for imposing a higher retirement age on the future intake of public servants.

Further, they are squeezing workers between two pincers. Consider: we are constantly told that we must save, exhorted to take advantage of 'very generous' tax relief, rebuked for not putting by enough for our weary senescence. And yet, even tonight the news reports that the City is worried by any possibility of a compulsory savings scheme, because people who save have less to spend. Consumer demand depends not only upon people not saving, but also upon them spending more and more money that they don't have. Consumer borrowing has shot up for over a decade:

Consumer borrowing in real terms increased each year between 1992 and 1998, from £0.6 billion to £15.6 billion, and then remained fairly level to 2000. That levelling was followed by sharp increases in 2001 and 2002.

Now that consumer demand is tailing off, as people find they are obliged finally to repay their bills and cover their costs, there has coterminously been a surge in home repossessions. Workers will pay with their homes as well as their jobs when the economy hits the skids. In the long run, what is happening is that profit rates in the economy have been declining since the late 1960s, with only brief interruptions, the most recent one during the mid-1990s following "structural adjustment". Unable to sustain effective demand through sufficient wage increases, the economy relies on excessive borrowing and repeated mortages. Profitability could well be restored to immediate post-war levels, but it would require such a destruction of capital as to mean that we must return to a post-war state. In the meantime, capital will avail itself of any crackdown on the gains made by the labour movement during the 20th Century (and perhaps before then). The pensions 'crisis' is really a battle, then - between the priorities of capital and those of human need. If you aren't up for this fight and instead feel like complaining of inconvenience when the rascal multitude of civil servants hits the streets with picket lines, then you may as well forfeit your pension here and now, along with any right to complain about it. Oh, I'm sorry, what I actually meant to say was it's all a state of mind.

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Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Genocidal Imagination of Christopher Hitchens. posted by Richard Seymour

New MRZine essay here:

Picture a necrotic, sinister, burned-out wasteland -- a vast, dull mound of rubble punctuated by moments of bleak emptiness and, occasionally, smoking. Those of you whose imaginations alighted instantly on the Late Christopher Hitchens have only yourselves to blame, for I was referring to Fallujah.

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New Orleans: How Lies Justified Murder. posted by Richard Seymour

Yes, you remember how the story of alleged 'snipers' taking aim at aid relief workers was used to justify withdrawing aid and launching a military campaign to take the city and quosh the 'insurgency'? I was a little bit suspicious about this story at the time, as indeed were quite a few others. Comrades, friends, brothers and sisters - we were right:

Even in the desperate days after Hurricane Katrina, the news flash seemed particularly sensational: Police had caught eight snipers on a bridge shooting at relief contractors. In the gun battle that followed, officers shot to death five or six of the marauders.

Exhausted and emotionally drained police cheered the news that their comrades had stopped the snipers and suffered no losses, said an account in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. One officer said the incident showed the department's resolve to take back the streets.

But nearly three months later — and after repeated revisions of the official account of the incident and a lowering of the death toll to two — authorities said they were still trying to reconstruct what happened Sept. 4 on the Danziger Bridge. And on the city's east side, where the shootings occurred, two families that suffered casualties are preparing to come forward with stories radically different from those told by police.

A teenager critically wounded that day, speaking about the incident for the first time, said in an interview that police shot him for no reason, delivering a final bullet at point-blank range with what he thought was an assault rifle. Members of another family said one of those killed was mentally disabled, a childlike innocent who made a rare foray from home in a desperate effort to find relief from the flood.

The two families — one from New Orleans East and solidly middle class, the other poorer and rooted in the Lower 9th Ward — have offered only preliminary information about what they say happened that day. Large gaps remain in the police and civilian accounts of the incident.


"Five men who were looting exchanged gunfire with police. The officers engaged the looters when they were fired upon," killing four, said Steven Nichols, the police official, according to the Reuters news agency.

In the following weeks, the official account would be modified again. It turned out, police said, that only two of the suspects had been killed.

Although not disclosed by police, one of the dead was the mentally retarded man, 40-year-old Ronald Madison, family and friends said. The other was a 19-year-old man. Four others were injured: Leonard Bartholomew, 44; his wife, Susan, 39; their daughter, Leisha, 17; and their nephew, Jose Holmes Jr., 19.

Now, who would have believed that desperate residents of New Orleans were busily shooting at those who were trying to help them - unless their faces were black? As it happens, violent crime fell during the post-Katrina catastrophe. And that's quite predictable: it is what you would expect. In 2001, not including the mass murder on 9/11, New York's murder rate was the lowest since Kennedy was killed. In fact, just about every kind of crime was down (except for the crimes to self-respect inflicted by the retailers of kitsch and tat). I'm not saying all of it was down to post-9/11 solidarity, but one thing that does stand out is that the disaster did not result in Hobbesian war of all against all, or in the city being "raped". Yet, the stories that enabled the government to block aid from getting into the city, and prevent people from getting out as they prepared for their "little Somalia" were somehow widely enough believed that there was not mass protest about what was being done. I was widely remarked at the time that New Orleans seemed to have joined the Third World. Well, then, think of Haiti:

The atmosphere itself is the explanation, and specifically the blackness of the inhabitants of the atmosphere makes the perfectly implausible and preposterous fragments of 'news' seem reasonable and expected, slipping neatly in to an implied colonial fable, and averts all impulse to inquiry into the identity, motives, funding, agenda of the protagonists of the violence and the identities, agenda and situation of its victims.


But for Haiti, of course, it would be impossible without flagrant and easily debunkable lies to tell the story without revealing the monstrous criminality of the US, France, Canada and its puppet dictatorship(s). But racism solves this problem; by the evocation of its whole elaborate framework, its myths, it literary clichés, and faux social science, the glaring lack of explanation, of indeed actual reporting in the traditional genre, is entirely concealed. A hot, banana-growing place inhabited by black people left to their own devices (having violently, arrogantly thrown off their custodians and tutors before they could be taught to control and govern themselves like Christians) is simply like this, poor, dirty, precarious, menaced by violent 'gangs' with no particular motive for their violence other than the unfettered expression of their nature - for this is what 'young black men' do when they don't make the NBA. This is how they behave on the shitpile their delusional Kings leave after embezzling all the money to dress up in feathers and dine with real royalty.

Nothing further need then be said about the unidentified 'gangs' of Haiti than that they are the cause of an uncontrollable mayhem and chaos. The edifice of racist ideology looming in the shadows of every report, fully present though only very subtly hinted at with a sprinkling of key words and the evocation of a few key images, creates an illusion of comprehension and coherence in reportage that is entirely incoherent, contradictory, nonsensical and fragmentary; there doesn't seem to be any story missing, any information suspiciously withheld. Where they got their guns and ammunition - this is not a mystery, for these kinds of beings know how to get those things. It's what they do. And its for "us" to argue among ourselves about whether we can best help them by the tough love of incarceration or the gentle patronage of charity and education.

That we are the 'gangs' terrorizing Haiti, that the personnel have been trained and armed at our expense and with our expertise, and are terrorizing on our payroll and under our direct orders, a portion of them in blue helmets, for the benefit of shareholders trading on our stock exchange; that 'we' seduce and coerce individuals laboriously into this profession, and that they would, and do, delightedly retire to Fresh Meadows, Queens given adequate pensions, is the inadmissible, obvious fact which the ancient, ornate racist discourse allows journalists to entirely avoid, leaving us concerned and puzzling over how we, in our moral and political maturity - we the enfranchised citizenry of the hyperpower dictatorship who are certain that we are not a 'basket case', that the Haitian people who overthrew their dictator and sustain their political organizations and resistance against relentless, murderous terror, are the basket case and that we are an able-bodied politic - can find a way to tame these wildmen and help lift 'them' from their savage condition in which 'they' prey, irrationally and ruthlessly, 'on their own. '

Le Colonel Chabert.

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It keeps the men happy... posted by Richard Seymour

The revelation that the US has been running a mini-Guantanamo prison in Kosovo may not be a surprise to any of those who remember the involvement of UNMIK and K-FOR in the dramatic escalation of sex-slavery in the 'protectorate'. Not to mention in Bosnia where DynCorp, a private military contractor with close links to the US government was found to have been involved in sex-slavery. (The same company is running security operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and the US-Mexico border, while also piloting the aircrafts that dump poison on Colombian farmland. Dyncorp was also charged with the task of protecting Aristide, who had disbanded the Haitian army, which is why he was so easily deposed, and they have since trained the new national police force, bringing several Tonton Macoutes leaders back into state power).

Similarly, in South Korea, where US troops are stationed, the International Organisation for Migration reports that local US military commanders have forged agreements with local business and government to promote a prostitution complex in camp-towns, based on the enforced trafficking of sex slaves from former Soviet states and the Phillipines. The idea, it seems, is to "keep the men happy". This is one often neglected widespread consequence or corrollary of US imperialism:

Feminist anthropologists such as Cynthia Enloe have documented how the U.S. military perpetuates the sexual commodification of women around military bases both in the U.S. and abroad, to manage and motivate its largely male workforce. Additionally, we must analyze collusion between foreign and indigenous patriarchies under imperialism in exacerbating women's oppression.

Following a pattern observed across different conflict regions by feminist scholars, Iraqi women face increasing pressures to earn their subsistence from men by bartering their sexuality. This is due to a lack of other economic options under both military attack and oppressive gender relations. In Baghdad, prostitution reportedly became widespread between the fall of the Hussein administration in April 2003 and November 2003, as women disproportionately suffered growing poverty. Today, reports have surfaced of young Iraqi teens working in Syrian brothels, after being displaced from Fallujah where U.S. forces launched brutal offensives and chemical weapons attacks on civilians. Sexual violence, as well as the trafficking of Iraqi women and girls, showed horrific rises almost immediately after the invasion and continue. While initially perpetrated largely by Iraqi men, these rapes and abductions were exacerbated by the occupation force's negligence and inability to establish security -- its priorities, afterall, have been to secure the oil.

The U.S. anti-war left was in general embarrassingly unsure how to address such violence, inconveniently at the hands of Iraqis rather than U.S. forces -- let alone suggest an adequate remedy which might have direct effects on the problem, besides calls for a (male-led) resistance to replace the occupiers. But an understanding of the gender dynamics typical of wartime economies would press the need to provide solidarity for Iraqi anti-occupation movements for women's rights. The U.S. anti-war movement largely has not treated freedom from sexual violence as a human right equal to Iraqi struggles for food, water, shelter, or healthcare. Meanwhile, as the occupation persists, with growing contact between military forces and Iraqi civilians, sexual brutality by both U.S. troops and Iraqi police under occupation authority has increased.

Jennifer Fasulo is co-founder of Solidarity with Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (SOWFI), a U.S.-based group providing political support to an anti-occupation, feminist women's group in Iraq. She reminds us of the specific historical and geopolitical context of the occupation, pointing out that the conflict has intensified the growing religious fundamentalist movement in Iraq -- opposed by Iraqi feminists and socialists -- including segments that systematically perpetrate violence against and harassment of women. The rise of Islamist fundamentalism throughout the Middle East is not merely indigenous, but has its roots in U.S. support, which recruited Islamist militias as opposition to secular, democratic, and socialist movements throughout earlier decades.

Militarization helps perpetuate sexual violence, domestic violence, and violence against women -- both in the U.S. and Iraq.
Even though women serve as soldiers, the U.S. military is a misogynist, homophobic institution that relies on patriarchal ideologies and relations to function -- with effects on larger society, as well as the countries we occupy or station bases. While the racist ideologies behind the war are regularly paid lip service by activists, we less frequently raise how this war depends on sexism. But the military and its public support are based on deeply embedded patriarchal values and practices.

The U.S. military trains men to devalue, objectify, and demean traits traditionally associated with women. It molds men into a gender role of violent masculinity defined in opposition to femininity. By "violent masculinity" I mean a mode of operating that glorifies violence as a solution to tension and that casts civilians in general and women in particular as objects of soldiers' "protection" who are not equal to the masculine "protectors." As Lutz observes, militarism teaches us to "prove and regenerate ourselves through violence.”

One soldier reported his training in boot camp:

"Who are you?" "Killers!"

"What do you do?" "We kill! We kill! We kill!"

Furthermore, soldiers are purposefully trained to eroticize violence -- from a heterosexual, male-aggressor perspective, even if some soldiers are gay and some are women. For example, during the first Gulf War, Air Force pilots watched pornographic movies before bombing missions to psyche themselves up. Until 1999, hardcore pornography was available at military base commissaries, which were one of its largest purchasers.

The military teaches soldiers to internalize the misogynistic role of violent masculinity, so they can function psychologically. At the 2003 Air Force Academy Prom, men were given fliers -- using taxpayer dollars -- which read, "You Shut the Fuck Up! We'll Protect America. Get out of our way, you liberal pussies!" They were then treated to a play which provided instructions on how to stimulate a female's clitoris and nipples to get her vaginal juice flowing (in case she was otherwise unwilling?).

Alarmingly but not so surprisingly, according to the Veterans Association itself, over 80 percent of recent women veterans report experiencing sexual harassment, and 30 percent rape or attempted rape, by other military personnel. Crimes of sexual violence by military personnel are shocking -- and institutionally ignored. Lawyer Dorothy Mackey of Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel (STAMP) reports that of the 4,300 sexual assault and abuse cases she is handling which were brought up to military and government officials, only 3 were actually prosecuted. In Mackey's own experience as a survivor of repeated sexual assault by military personnel, her attempt to press charges was opposed by the Department of Justice as a threat to national security.

Military service may be more conducive to domestic violence than most civilian occupations, owing to the military's authoritarianism, use of physical force in training, and the stress of frequent moves and separations as factors. The incidence of domestic violence in the military is far higher than in the civilian world:

CBS News' 60 Minutes report estimated that the rate of domestic violence in the military is five times that in the civilian population. The recent report says only that among 700,000 military families, incidents reported to military agencies are down from 22 per 1,000 couples in 1997 to 17 per 1,000 in 1999. The military figures do not count unmarried "intimate partners," which are included in most civilian studies.

Current studies by Richard Gelles of the University of Pennsylvania, among others, estimate domestic violence in the military is at least two to three times higher than among civilians.

Might the military's institutional sexism and indifference to violence against women be a factor? A checklist used by the military to determine if rape reports are valid lists a women's financial problems with her partner and "demanding" medical treatment, as factors indicating she's lying. The Army recently offered the perk of free breast implants for servicewomen, so its surgeons could "get practice." Meanwhile, it has a drastic shortage of rape kits in combat regions and refuses to pay for servicewomen's abortions even in the case of rape.

A therapist who practices near a large Army Base and treats soldiers returning from Iraq reports that domestic violence has escalated ever since troops began coming back. Even more disturbing, she says, "The soldiers tell me that the killing of spouses at military bases is at an all time high, but I have no concrete evidence to this effect, and the Army is pretty quiet about it." She also mentions "a dramatic increase in sexual addiction" among soldiers, as they are compelled to substitute solitary enjoyment of pornography for sexual relationships in war zones, "to the detriment of interaction with another."

Militarism's patriarchal roles extend into larger culture, not just ideologically in terms of how little boys broadly are taught to be soldiers -- but institutionally as well. Phoebe Jones of Global Women’s Strike and Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel (STAAAMP) places the Abu Ghraib scandal in the context of a prison-military complex of abuse:

It's all connected. . . . You have prison guards here, like Charles Grainer [implicated in the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal], who go to Iraq and abuse people there. Then you have soldiers come back from Iraq or Afghanistan getting jobs as prison guards, and they rape and abuse people. The military could stop it if they want to, but they don’t want to. They’re socializing men into doing this.

Prison torture was outsourced to U.S. companies using personnel from domestic prisons. Beyond the prison-military complex, the impact of rape culture nurtured by the military can be traced through U.S. society further. In 1997, "about 35% of veterans in State prison, compared to 20% of nonveterans, were convicted of homicide or sexual assault" -- in fact, the number one reason for veterans to be in prison at the state level was for sexual assault.

Huibin Amee Chew

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Friday, November 25, 2005

American Socialism, American Capitalism posted by Richard Seymour


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has decided to send millions of liters of cheap oil to the US to offset the growing cost of home heating for low income families.

The oil will be sold to the US at an estimated 40 per cent below market price.

The crude will reportedly be shipped to Massachusetts by way of Citgo Petroleum, a US-based subsidiary of Venezuela’s own state-owned oil company. The 45 million liters of discount oil will be used by some 45,000 homes in the Boston area, according to one analyst who said Chavez’s intentions were both altruistic and an effort to upstage the US.

“What this does is hold a magnifying glass up to the situation in the US and show that some Americans are really suffering,” Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, told ISN Security Watch.

Massachusetts Democratic Congressman William Delahunt, who helped orchestrate the sale, called the deal “an expression of humanitarianism at its best”.


The House of Representatives passed a budget bill yesterday that changes eligibility requirements for the Food Stamp Program, cutting benefits for approximately 220,000 to 250,000 vulnerable people. The budget reconciliation bill aims to cut the Food Stamp Program by $675 million.

Coincidentally, poverty decreases in Venezuela, while poverty increases in the US. Never mind, there'll be more slave labour to exploit in Haiti soon.

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Sharon, the centrist, man of peace etc. posted by Richard Seymour

Some time ago, I suggested that Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza was a prelude to consolidation of its occupation of the West Bank. Israel historian Avi Shlaim - copycat that he is - made the same point on C4 News in response to Ariel Sharon's pitch for the 'centre-ground' earlier this week. Partial corroboration arrives this morning in the form of a secret British government document, which accuses Israel of hastily taking over the Arab areas of the West Bank:

A confidential Foreign Office document accuses Israel of rushing to annex the Arab area of Jerusalem, using illegal Jewish settlement construction and the vast West Bank barrier, in a move to prevent it becoming a Palestinian capital.
In an unusually frank insight into British assessments of Israeli intentions, the document says that Ariel Sharon's government is jeopardising the prospect of a peace agreement by trying to put the future of Arab East Jerusalem beyond negotiation and risks driving Palestinians living in the city into radical groups. The document, obtained by the Guardian, was presented to an EU council of ministers meeting chaired by the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, on Monday with recommendations to counter the Israeli policy, including recognition of Palestinian political activities in East Jerusalem.

Surprise, right? Well, mark this:

It adds: "Israeli activities in Jerusalem are in violation of both its Roadmap (peace plan) obligations and international law."

International law? Now, do you suppose there might be some resolution somewhere that says Israel's whole occupation of the West Bank is in violation of international law? Never mind countless other practises including the imprisonment and torture of children, the use of chemical weapons, collective punishment etc etc. Anyway, to the crux of the matter:

"Israel's main motivation is almost certainly demographic ... the Jerusalem master plan has an explicit goal to keep the proportion of Palestinian Jerusalemites at no more than 30% of the total." All of this, the document says, greatly reduces the prospects of a two-state solution because a core demand of the Palestinians is for sovereignty over the east of the city. [Emphasis added]

Indeed, in everything has said and done, it has indicated that it has no intention at all of allowing even a minimal Palestinian state on the tiniest patch of territory that Palestinian Authority still stakes a claim to. As Bionic Octopus highlighted some while ago, Sharon's senior adviser Dov Weisglass acknowledged that 'disengagement' was really an attempt to subdue any 'peace process':

The disengagement plan is the preservative of the sequence principle. It is the bottle of formaldehyde within which you place [Bush's] formula so that it will be preserved for a very lengthy period. The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.

Sharon, man of peace, centrist etc. I think it's worth pausing to consider that even if Amir Peretz, the new left-wing leader of the Israeli Labour Party, is serious about pursuing his Peace Now plan, the Israeli political and military establishment will probably never allow it to happen. As Ran Ha Cohen writes, the military has anomalous weight within the Israeli state, comparable to that of Turkey. Not that Peretz is entirely useless - he could potentially galvanise Israeli public opinion and force some kind of recognition of the legitimacy of Palestinian aspirations. But even if the former Histradut leader does engage in the necessary Stakhanovite efforts, he will probably find that state which is founded on an expansionist and racist ideology, and which is now imbricated with Israeli and international capital in helping to exploit Palestinian labour in the West Bank where the latter is not simply excluded or gunned down, is not terribly interested in allowing Palestine to be anything but a dream or a museum. And Histradut, by the way, was and remains an integral component of Zionist rule in Palestine. If there is hope, it doesn't rest with those proles.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Tatchell and pink-veiled Islamophobia posted by bat020

[Another guest post, this time from Kevin from our comments boxes]

Call me naïve, but I like to hope that Peter Tatchell might one day embrace an inclusive brand of politics which seeks the widest possible unity against homophobia. That would require him desisting from specious polemics against the left. But we're a long way from that felicitous day, judging by the latest outburst from Tatchell's OutRage organisation (unfortunately recycled over at Direland)
There was, according to Tatchell, a "grassroots revolt" over LGBT rights at the Respect conference last weekend. You can picture the scene: rank and file delegates queuing up to denounce their unprincipled leaders, heckling, cheers and high drama...

Except it never happened. Instead, the conference unanimously passed a motion which regretted that an explicit defence of LGBT rights (which, as the motion pointed out, is part of Respect's founding statement) was not included in the manifesto and ensured that the mistake would be rectified. No one spoke against this motion. There was no showdown. There was no revolt.
But from Tatchell — clearly keen not to let the facts get in the way of a good smear — this becomes a clear breach between "the grassroots membership" and "Respect's leaders" (who were part of the unanimous vote, it being unanimous and all). Very odd.

And it gets odder still when he tells us: "Respect regards LGBT rights as a marginal issue of no serious interest or concern." Presumably this must be a different Respect from the one whose "grassroots membership" he praises for standing up over the issue against their supposedly reluctant leaders.
The same delegates went on to pass an amendment to the resolution — again unanimously. It reads:
Conference notes that prejudice against gay men and lesbians exists throughout society. We note in particular recent violent attacks such as the homophobic murder of Jody Dobrowksi on Clapham Common.
Conference notes that a hotel in Devon recently refused a booking from a gay couple purely on the grounds of prejudice.
Conference notes that some LGBT campaigners, such as OutRage, disproportionately highlight homophobia among African Caribbeans and Muslims, and suggest it is one of the main sources of such attacks. This is despite LGBT organisations based in these communities strongly opposing such an approach.  
Conference condemns all homophobic attacks and acts of prejudice.
Conference recognises that homophobia is not mainly a problem among ethnic minorities but is a problem in society as a whole. The largest group perpetrating attacks are likely to be white men, as was the fascist David Copeland, who bombed Brick Lane, Brixton and Soho.

Now this starts to take us to how Tatchell can so spectacularly misreport a conference that he did not attend.
Tatchell is disturbingly fixated on men with dark skin. How else can you explain why, when invited to comment on the murder of Jody Dobrowski, he rapidly started telling his radio audience about the homophobia of a well known Muslim cleric? I doubt the two white men charged with the crime place much store by the words of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
There are many other examples of the distortions this obsession leads to. Egregiously, there's Tatchell's article earlier this year in the Guardian trying to work up a case for Malcolm X being gay. Among the telltale signs, apparently, was Malcolm's upbringing. You see:
After the death of his father, when Malcolm was six, he lacked male role models and was dominated by strong women — in particular, his tyrannical mother. He feared women and his early sexual experiences with girls were mostly unsatisfactory. Far from macho, Malcolm hated fighting and got beaten by other men.

Absent father, tyrannical mother — I was waiting for some other bit of 1950s cod psychologising, something along the lines of "the homosexual disorder is an exaggerated form of attention seeking".
Now, if the only result of Tatchell's fixation was that such drivel tripped off his keyboard, then his drivel would be unremarkable.

But one consequence, intended or otherwise, is to provide a pink patina for Islamophobic stereotypes. It's fairly explicit when his outfit comes up with slogans denouncing "Muslim homophobia", as if the epithet were necessary or in some way aggravated the offence.
From there, it's not difficult for him to lose his bearings entirely. In Tatchell's response to the unanimous Respect conference vote, there's the following:
Respect has betrayed progressive Muslims, in favour of an alliance with Islamist conservatives and fundamentalists whose policies on gay and women's rights are even more reactionary than those of the despicable neo-Nazi BNP.

I'll come to the alleged betrayal of progressive Muslims, but note here the casual downplaying of the "neo-Nazi BNP" — not that despicable really, and nothing like as a big a threat as the "Islamist conservatives".
And where does indulging pink-veiled Islamophobia end up? Look no further than the autumn issue of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist magazine, which on page six gives us this noxious nugget: "What does a moderate Muslim do, other than excuse the real nutters by adhering to this barmy doctrine?”

In the same issue is an article referring to immigrants as "often poor, ill-educated and culturally estranged Third Worlders, many of whom are criminals of the worst kind" (see Islamophobia Watch for more details).
As the mover of the above resolution told delegates on Sunday: "This kind of Islamophobia can appear in what has historically been a progressive magazine only because a climate has been created in which it is respectable to single out Muslims as anti-gay."
As for the alleged betrayal of progressive Muslims by Respect. Well, among those resisting attempts to use LGBT rights as an outrider for anti-Muslim racism are all the major black and Asian LGBT groups, including the gay Muslim organisation Imaan.
The smear is also news to the gay, lesbian, bisexual members of Respect who are Muslim or who are from Muslim families. (Well, that's not entirely true — I'm not remotely surprised by the smear.)
It'll be news to reactionaries such al-Muhajiroun, who spent the election campaign in east London telling anyone who would listen that George Galloway and Respect supported equalising the age of consent, opposed Section 28 and were in favour of full equality for lesbians and gay men.
It wasn't only the Islamists, of course — I witnessed a number of Muslim Labour supporters doing the same in Tower Hamlets, and Muslim Respect members in Newham fielded a suspicious number of calls on election day from people supposedly outraged at Respect's stance, and spent time defending the policy.  
I don't know the party allegiance of the people who rang Galloway on a local Bengali radio phone-in during the campaign to ask if he was a "promoter of gay marriage". I do know he told them, as well as an 800-strong rally in the constituency and indeed anyone who asked him, that he was in favour of equality "and that means equal treatment for all, so it cannot be right to deny gay people the right to marry".  
I do know that Abdul Khaliq Mian, Respect's candidate in East Ham, received a call from a woman who said she did not want to vote for him because he is a Muslim and her gay son had been attacked by some Muslim boys. Abdul condemned the attack, went round to see her and said he would work with the family to bring catch those responsible and to prevent any further attack.
I remember sitting in the gay pub round the corner from my boyfriend's in Bethnal Green (taking a well earned rest from campaigning) when a couple of bricks were lobbed at it. Oliur Rahman, Respect councillor in the neighbouring ward, offered take up the issue, but the landlord didn’t think it necessary.
There are many, many more examples — but they won't be enough to satisfy the pink Islamophobes. So I've got a better idea.
I bought a badge on the first gay pride demonstration I attended (alright, it was 21 years ago). It read: "How dare you presume I'm heterosexual." I'm thinking of minting a new one for Muslims or those, such as me, who are taken to be Muslim in these fevered times: "How dare you presume I'm a homophobe."

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Of course it's about oil, stupid! posted by Richard Seymour

BBC Newsnight still has the report available for while, so do try to watch it: forward to 13 mins, 35 seconds.

A special report by Paul Mason exposes the way in which Western oil companies are locking Iraq into 30 year permanent 'agreements'. The Oil Ministry decided in September 2005 to embark on a series of agreements which would be decided before the December elections and before the signing of a new oil law. These laws are curious for at least one particular factor: ordinarily, the revenues flow to host countries, whereas in the case of what are called Production Sharing Agreements, the Iraqi government pays the oil companies to invest. Greg Muttit, an analyst at the London-based energy NGO Platform, explains that the total funds that could flow to Western oil companies from Iraq would be $74bn at the low end, and $194bn at the high end. The higher figure is six times Iraq's total GDP.

The programme also interviews Dr Fadhil Chalabi who defends it as a necessary compromise. Chalabi works as the Executive Director of the UK-based 'market analysis' organisation, the Centre for Global Energy Studies, set up in 1990 by the former Saudi oil minister Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani - board members of that organisation included Giscard D'Etaing, Ted Heath and Denis Healey. He used to be an acting secretary for OPEC, as well as being Iraq's oil minister during the Baathist dictatorship from 1968 (the second Ba'athist coup) until 1976. I'm just telling you who the guy is - there's no reason why you should conclude that he is an oleaginous ex-autocrat who works for the interests of Western capital. His colleague at the CGES was Dr Muhammad-Ali Zainy, another former Iraqi oil minister who was drafted to work for the State Department's team to plan what should happen to Iraq once "shock and awe" had run its course.

These PSAs commonly contain a "stabilisation clause", and these immunise the companies involved from any changes in the law that could potentially damage their profits - these include labour, environmental and tax laws. Iraq is largely an oil-based economy, like many in the Middle East including Syria, the remaining Baathist state. Any agreement that gives such leverage to Western oil companies effectively renders Iraq a dependency - which was the point of sanctions and is the point of present policy. There are enormous opportunities for exploitation of the oil in Iraq. According to the EIA, unexplored regions of Iraq could yield an additional 100 billion barrels of oil. And Iraq's oil production costs, the US government brags, are the lowest in the world. At the moment, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria provide more oil to the US than Iraq - but evidently, this is about to change.

Update: Full report available here.

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Rapprochement: it's time for negotiations. posted by Richard Seymour

David Clark, a former advisor to the Labour government, prescribed his solutions for re-uniting a "divided left" in The Guardian the other day. Leaving aside the fact that there really isn't much of a division, except that which persists for a small number of liberal anti-intellectuals some of whom are gravitating toward neoconservatism, I have a better plan. Clark suggests all sorts of irrelevancies that appear to address some of the qualms and complaints of the pro-war Left: perhaps the antiwar movement should be more robust in eschewing cultural relativism, perhaps we should be clearer in asserting the superiority of parliamentary democracy, perhaps we should be more nuanced and less Manichean, and perhaps we shouldn't be so mean about President Bush. The truth is that the hysterical shrieking from some of the pro-war liberals on these themes is symptomatic of, and therefore a displacement of, the more fundamental disagreement, which is unlikely to be overcome. This accounts for the curious recursion and exponentialism in their arguments - each stupid, petty point leads to a hundred other miniscule sulks, misrepresentations and so on.

However, in some ways, there ought to be consensus on Iraq at the moment, and if there isn't then one has to be established. It seems to me that the best way to proceed in this is to begin with the obvious. If we can't agree on that, then we're not going to agree on anything that it might entail. Those who were purblind enough to have thought that the US invading Iraq would lead to peace, freedom and prosperity need not be forced to plead guilty, repent and beg forgiveness - they just have to acknowledge the glaringly apparent.

To begin with, the prodigal lefties will have to start by acknowledging that however much they may want the troops to stay in Iraq, Iraqis do not want them there. By every possible means available to them, Iraqis have registered this. In demonstrations, in the January elections, in repeated opinion polls, and in the growing support for the resistance - both passive and active. This is not opinion in flux, it is rock-solid consensus. And if you are advocating the military invasion and occupation of Iraq on behalf of oppressed and humiliated Iraqis, you really ought to pay attention when they tell you that they feel oppressed and humiliated by the occupation. Okay? That ought to be simple enough. If you still insist on telling them that they must put up with the occupation, then you are obliged to explain how you still have the needful Iraqis at heart, and you cannot complain about being called an imperialist, and you certainly can't associate yourself with the left. A withdrawal, as soon as is practicable (rather than expedient) is what Iraqis desire, and it should be decided upon now. So much is obvious.

The next thing is that an occupied people has a right to resist their occupation. Not only is this a legal right , but it is - at least for the left - a political right. Occupiers don't knock, and don't seek an invite - they kick the door down and shoot the place up. The occupied are entitled to undertake all necessary means to evict the invader armies, and those means include military means. In particular, the Iraqis have the right to resist this occupation, the cited one, the one we've been arguing about. Well, why not? Hasn't it been brutal enough for you yet? Regardless of exactly how many deaths, civlian and otherwise, that you lay directly at the door of the occupiers, isn't it obvious that it is too many? And have not the occupying forces repeatedly and persistently announced that, regardless of what Iraqis desire or require, they are there to stay and will not set a timetable for withdrawal? Are we not supposed to notice that when Saddam murders, tortures, rapes and imprisons his population - with or without Western assistance - resistance is heroic, yet when the occupiers mimic all of this resistance is impudent? You can hide if you like behind the chimeric notion that the resistance is composed largely of Baathists and Al Qaeda affiliates, but that's going back to the avoidance of the obvious, and the success of our negotiations relies upon your foreswearing that practise. What is empirically established by most measures available is that the resistance by and large does not target civilians - there is a sectarian element whose strategy centres around the targetting of civilians, but the resistance is dealing with them. The bulk of the resistance, as the CIA itself admits, is nationalist, domestic and emerges from anger at the brutalities of the occupation. This is a legitimate resistance based on a nationalist rejection of foreign occupation, it expresses the hostility of Iraqis to the occupations in both armed and unarmed ways, it is growing, increasingly popular and deserves your support. If the desires and requirements of Iraqis is really what motivates you, then you have to support both military and non-military efforts to get the occupiers out of Iraqi towns and villages, where they have already killed enough. So much is apparent.

Remaining strictly with the obvious, if you are as delighted that Saddam is to be tried for war crimes as you say you are (and there is every reason why he should be), then you have to support efforts to try those who are committing war crimes in Iraq right now. International law is notoriously slippery, and I don't like appealing to it, but if you appeal to the law in dealing with one war criminal, then others merit similar consideration. By which I mean to say, if you merely wanted to see Saddam beheaded or lynched in Firdos Square, then consistency would have Blair hung over the Tyburn and Bush electrocuted in Ricky Ray Rector's chair. Sticking with the law, however, there are clear grounds for trying those who decided to invade Iraq, since Kofi Annan has expressed the clear view that the invasion of Iraq was illegal, and since it proceeded without the authorisation of the UN Security Council. There is an argument over the interpretation of past and present resolutons, but this matter will be for Bush and Blair's lawyers to elaborate on in court. Those who authorised the use of White Phophorus, which we now know the US considers a chemical weapon and therefore banned, and also thermobaric explosives, must also face trial. Those who authorised the occupation of one hospital in Fallujah and the bombing of another should be in the docks with them, as should those who authorised the destruction of electricity and water supplies. The use of torture also invites investigation and judgement up to the highest echelons of government. Also, there is no need to temporally delimit ourselves. If you agree that Saddam should be tried for crimes committed in 1982, then we have a duty to see those who helped murder El Salvador and Nicaragua tried, as well as those who perpetuated the slaughter in Haiti and who ordered the invasion of Panama. Those generals who authorised the destruction of the civilian infrastructure in 1991 should also be before the docks. And those who participated in the 'turkey shoots' will have a charge to answer to as well. We can also include Clinton and those officials who ordered various bombings throughout the 1990s. It's going to be some trial process as broad as it is long, but there is no sarcasm here: if you are serious about using international law to punish war crimes, then we have to make a start with this. And that, too, is obvious.

And one last thing: don't ever try anything this stupid again. Learn your lesson. If you find yourself banking on the power of brute imperialism to emancipate oppressed people, then you will have no right to run away from your guilt and shame when you see to what uses this military might is put to, and what prerogatives the imperialists really pursue. If it isn't nosebleedingly manifest to you by now that you cannot rely upon amoral centres of power to dispense justice and dispose of the tasks of the left, then you may as well forget it, take the blue pill and subside into an early senescence. Just as there is no longer any excuse to be supporting the occupation of Iraq, there is no longer the option of entrusting the lives of the oppressed with agents who are manifestly unconcerned about oppression, since they themselves perpetuate it daily. There never really was that excuse available, but now you have had as stark a warning as you could ask for.

I stress that all of the above is as epistemically apparent as the most banal observations in politics and life in general. Since agreement cannot be based on lies, these elementary facts ought to be acknowledged. Supposing they are, everything else is up for discussion.

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Monday, November 21, 2005

The Comedy Murderer posted by Richard Seymour

What, will you murder me? Thou gaoler, thou, I am thy prisoner.

The infantilising of politics, the reduction of dissent to weak graffiti-satire (invariably portrayed as savage critique), the obsession with personalities, the gigantism in which relatively minor facts are inflated well above their true value. How could these be more amply portrayed than in this story? Isn't it satisfying? Doesn't it show Bush for the inept clown that you suppose he is? What fun! Crazy guy, crazy country.

And yet, what is Bush doing in this story, aside from discovering a locked door (doh! the rest of humanity exists on an ethereal plane where such misfortune could never happen)? He is, if I am not very much mistaken, doing business with a hideous dictatorship. One which has WMDs, moreover. Further, it has invaded its neighbours. Well, Bush does the usual routine: liberalisation (free trade), democratisation (free markets) and openness (fill in blank) are the order of the day. But Bush understands, of course. His country has been doing the same thing since Manifest Destiny. It's just peculiar that this thought never occurred to the BBC's finest minds, that's all. Somehow, "Bush is a hypocrite and blood-stained liar" became translated as "*giggle*, look at how foolish Bush is, he got the wrong door!"

Ironically, despite earlier anti-China propensities, Bush is positioning himself in relation to China in exactly the fashion that Clinton did. It reflects the interests of the US ruling class - on the one hand, Wal Mart and semiconductor manufacturers, plastic bag makers, and other operations focused on medium to low-level consumer goods see big labour and consumer markets in China; on the other, they also see a big competitor looming over the horizon. China is potentially a major rival for the provision of basic commodities, and also a growing military power.Similarly, Bush - an 'isolationist' in opposition - is pursuing Clintonite foreign policy rhetoric and prerogatives (Clinton, who bombed Iraq but didn't invade, cannot bring himself to say that the invasion was wrong - merely that it was badly carried out). And Bush is also pursuing a more aggressive version of Clinton's right-wing domestic policies. One very revealing irony is that one formerly left-wing critic of the Clinton administration is willing to defend Bush while he does exactly what Clinton did, only worse.

The position on China reflects one the tensions in imperial planning in the US. On the one hand, China is a rapidly growing power which, according to the American international relations analyst John Mearsheimer, could "be much wealthier than its Asian rivals", its huge population base enabling it to "build a far more powerful army than either Russia or Japan could". China "has the potential to be considerably more powerful than even the United States." (JJ Mearsheimer, “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics”, New York, 2001). This has the neoconservatives of the PNAC reaching desperately for that window of opportunity supplied by the end of the Cold War and the absence of a major geopolitical rival, to assert American power for a much more sustained period. This partly explains the aggressive policies toward China in the early Bush administration. On the other hand, there is money to be made and the economy could well do with a hot cash injection. Besides, as Joseph Nye - a major IR theorist and Clinton's former assistant secretary of defense - explains, China might be much more easily won over by 'soft power' (he coined the term) than military projection. He cites a Chinese activist who uses lawsuits to undermine the dictatorship, saying "We've seen a lot of Hollywood movies - they feature Weddings, funerals, and going to court. So now we think it's only nature to go to court in your life". (Joseph S Nye jr., Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, 2004, p 12).

Nye first formulated his theories of 'transnationalism' and 'soft power' in the 1970s, and he was not alone. There was a serious and sustained crisis of US imperialism following the Indochina subventions, and many theorists wanted to understand power in international relations in terms that didn't merely reduce everything to the military power of states in the old realist fashion. Nye, John Burton and several others began to conceive of IR as a cobweb of relations between different sources of authority and agency - not merely states, but multi-national companies, NGOs, trade unions, pressure groups, cultural flows etc. 'Soft power' involved the notion that there was no necessary hierarchy of powers: a military pygmy could become an economic giant and begin to threaten in this way. Cultural incursions could erode polities. Again, not to be reductionist, but this was in a time when Nemesis arrived in the US economy in the form of Japanese car manufacturers, and when 1968 had spread its political contagion to Berkeley and other hated citadels of insurrection. People listened to Nye et al, by the way. John Burton moved to Virginia to study world-systems in a behaviourist fashion, while the US government began to pursue soft-power strategies while relegating violence to covert, low-level activities. Hence, during the 1970s, Chile was flooded with Disney films (they are evil), while the Nixon administration did its best to orchestrate an eventually successful coup.

So what we appear to have is a continuation of the interregnum, in which the multipolar world continues to develop, in fits and starts: and the main division is between those who think the US should rule by pulverising people into red mist; and those who think the US should rule by exploiting people into pink sweat while supplying attractive delusions. What fun. Bush got the wrong door. I bet the White House is wincing its ass off.

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Democrats work for Bush: will not call for withdrawal. posted by Richard Seymour

News from the Iraq reconciliation talks says that they have demanded a timetable for "immediate withdrawal" of occupying troops. Further, while condemning attacks on civilians, they have acknowledged the "legitimate right" of Iraqis to resist. Doubtless, the formulation on the latter point was the most that could have been agreed on with Jalal Talabani involved, for instance, since he stipulated afterward that his goal was to "bring the resistance of the Arab nationalists to an end". At least he didn't pretend that the resistance was the work of Al Qaeda. However craven Iraq's pro-US leaders, most of them depend electorally on being against the occupation, which some 82% of Iraqis strongly oppose.

Murtha's call for an immediate timetable for pullout within six months, meanwhile, hit the skids immediately. It received a derisory vote in Congress. Leading Democrats like John Kerry immediately recoiled from the very suggestion of withdrawal. The Democrats are only now trying to form an official position on the Iraq war. Whatever emerges from such a colloquium, it is unlikely to be what Iraqis want to hear, and it is certainly unlikely to inspire voters. The Democrats are congenitally incapable of saying anything to their base beyond "Bush is Baaaaaad", for the splendid reason that they intend to pursue the same policies once in government.

However, as even hardline, hawkish Republicans are discovering, continuing the occupation is not a vote-winner. Rick Santorum, the young gay-baiting Christer in the Senate, has even gone so far as to make timid little noises criticising the White House and has voted for a withdrawal plan - because he is 16% down in the polls in his home state of Pennsylvania, which also happens to be Murtha's home state. The White House strategy of going on an all-out offensive on Murtha, invoking the dread name of Michael Moore and sending Rumsfeld out to 'rebut' the anti-occupation arguments, was so successful that Bush immediately distanced himself from it. The utter failure of the occupation has produced a more generalised antiwar reflux with 42% of US voters saying that America ought to "mind its own business internationally". Let no one bleat about "isolationism" in this context: America being obliged to cease its latest round of empire-building would be a massive improvement on the present policy.

Fox News is littering its studios with bricks over the prospect of a "fall out" in the stock market if there is a pull-out, but I tend to think most voters will blame the war for GM's announcement that 30,000 jobs are to be cut after demand for SUVs supposedly declined due to higher petrol prices. If that really is the reason why these jobs are being cut, then we may well have started to reach the stage where the capitalist class decides that the war is too costly, just as in the later stages of the Indochina cataclysm.

Among Rumsfeld's various 'rebuttals' of Murtha was this intricate bit of emotional blackmail:

Put yourself in the shoes of a soldier who thinks that we’re going to pull out precipitously ... Put yourself in the shoes of the Iraqi people ... . Put yourself in the shoes of the enemy.

Never mind that the soldiers would probably rather be coming home. The interesting thing here is that the Iraqi people are the enemy as far as the occupiers are concerned. Hence, the death squads in which the US and Britain are implicated, the drill-killings being carried out by British-trained police, and the regular accidental killings that Major Steve Warren insists "only happen because Zarqawi and his thugs are out there driving around with car bombs". Well, the root-cause-brigade, eh?

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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Rape: apparently it's an improvement. posted by Richard Seymour

Tell you what, I don't mind revealing to you that when I wrote to Noam Chomsky a couple of times about a year ago, he explained that "Hitchens is not worth taking seriously any more". I'll come back to that later. I was just reading some material on Abu Ghraib, and I couldn't help but being struck by some of the language being deployed by General Antonio Taguba, who has been charged with investigating the torture and rape of Iraqi inmates. Unreleased photographs clearly depict this rape taking place. He described a Military Policeman 'having sex' with a female Iraqi detainee. The rest of what he says, or is quoted as saying, appears as neutral description of appalling crimes. But that particular statement refers to rape.

Seymour Hersh famously reported that there was video evidence made of these assaults, and among them was the rape of children. Taguba's report appears to contain some substantiation for this claim:

Excerpt from statement provided by Kasim Mehaddi Hilas, Detainee #151108, on January 18 2004:

I saw [name deleted] fucking a kid, his age would be about 15 - 18 years. The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets. Then when I heard the screaming I climbed the door because on top it wasn't covered and I saw [name deleted] who was wearing the military uniform putting his dick in the little kid's ass. I couldn't see the face of the kid because his face wasn't in front of the door. And the female soldier was taking pictures. [name deleted], I think he is [deleted] because of his accent, and he was not skinny or short, and he acted like a homosexual (gay). And that was in cell #23 as best as I remember.

Another testimony alleging abuse of minors from a statement provided by Thaar Salman Dawod, Detainee #150427, on January 17, 2004:

I saw lots of people getting naked for a few days getting punished in the first days of Ramadan. They came with two boys naked and they were cuffed together face to face and Grainer was beating them and a group of guards were watching and taking pictures from top and bottom and there was three female soldiers laughing at the prisoners. The prisoners, two of them, were young. I don't know their names.

I return to Christopher Hitchens, whose lumpen insensitivity regarding the victims of American imperialism makes Taguba look like a fairy godmother. Addressing the layer of bumpkin billionaires that reads the Weekly Standard - which has to be the most intellectually retarded ruling class rag in America - he says: "Prison conditions at Abu Ghraib have improved markedly and dramatically since the arrival of Coalition troops in Baghdad." There follows the concession that, yes, the American troops were very very bad, but nevertheless "the improvement is still, unarguably, the difference between night and day". There is much much more one could say about Hitchens's comportment on such questions, but this will do for now, except to note that Hitchens can't seem to get his facts right on Abu Ghraib - or much else these days.

So far have we come - in blood, Stepp'd in so far that, should we wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o'er. Martin Shaw remarks in his recent book, The New Western Way of War, that the argument over the war on Iraq was instantly cast by many of its defenders in terms of a corpse-trade. If Saddam killed more people during his approximately 24 year reign than were killed during the war, then the war was apparently worth it. Indeed, he notes, Blair staked much of his 'humanitarian' case for war on Iraq in these terms on February 15th 2003: if there are 500,000 marching today, it will be less than the number of Saddam's victims; if there are 1 million marching today... etc. Forget, if you like, that the West is co-responsible for the bulk of the massacres Saddam undertook. Forget that, as quite clearly many of the apologists have. And leave aside any qualms you have about the numbers killed by Saddam Hussein who would have had no moral issue about killing three or four times as many as he did. Corpse-trading is one thing, and its logical and moral flaws are obvious - but trading beating, rape and electrocution? I'll just venture that anyone who thinks that this amounts to a defense of the occupation of Iraq is at the very least mentally deranged. And the fact that a large number of people would accept it even as an argument points to the deranged condition of our present affairs.

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