Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Stalinophobia. posted by Richard Seymour

We in the antiwar movement are used to attacks implying guilt by association. One of the odder tactics has been the demand that the left should disaffiliate from those who still think that the Stalinist states have or had something to recommend them. In my view, people who think the Soviet Union was on balance a good thing with some horrible excesses or that Cuba is a workers' state are mistaken, not monsters. The attacks by former lefties turned liberal, such as Nick Cohen, on people like Andrew Murray and George Galloway have a very strange and particular pedigree.

This emerged during the 1940 split between the Trotsky/Cannon faction in the SWP and the Shachtman/Burnham faction, which argued that the Soviet Union was a new form of class society ('bureaucratic collectivism'). Burnham moved very quickly to the right on the basis of this position, writing in 1945 that Stalin was "Lenin’s Heir" (a position Orwell was quite scathing about), that socialism meant slavery, and that Soviet power was expansive and conquering. He later added that "the only alternative to the Communist World Empire is an American Empire". That quote I found in Christopher Hitchens, “How Neo-Conservatives Perish”, For The Sake of Argument, (Verso, London & New York, 1993). Ironically, Hitchens argues in the same piece that the notion of totalitarianism was one used by neoconservatives to give "watery notions the strength of concrete" and "petrify" political opponents. This is ironic, but not ironic enough, because Hitchens likes to refer to "totalitarianism" of a "theocratic" character these days.

Shachtman remained a Leninist until the mid-1950s, but had already argued in the late 1940s that the Stalinist parties were germinal ruling classes, more dangerous to the working class than capitalists, an extreme case of what Irving Howe characterised as "Stalinophobia". (See Alan M Wald, The New York Intellectuals, University of North Carolina Press, 1987). This missed the way in which parties who were organisationally subordinated to the priorities of the Soviet Union could escape that bondage and critically engage with it. And if this was so for parties, it has certainly been so for individuals. Indeed, the essence of the difference between fascism and communism is expressed in the fact that there never was a Trotsky for the fascist movement. That mistaken position would lead Shachtman to support the US in Vietnam and back Richard Nixon, of course. His perspective on the Korean war had also been curious: he was against disruptive strikes during it, and while he felt that the US should withdraw its troops, the British should stay because they had a Labour government in power. But the more immediate and urgent problem was that this dovetailed with the coming McCarthyite campaign which would insist that communists be driven out of the trade unions, a crucial development in the de-radicalisation of the American working class. It disarmed the section of the far left that identified with Shachtman, and also later ensured that some his followers became political supporters of or office workers for people like Henry Jackson and Jeane Kirkpatrick. This wasn't so for people like Hal Draper, whose followers - though burdened with the search for a 'Third Force' (straight out of the lexicon of US imperial strategy - check out Graham Greene's The Quiet American for an vivid illustration of what this meant), in fact remained critical of US imperialism and in fact became strong supporters of the Sandinistas even though they could as plausibly be called 'bureaucratic revolutionaries' as the NLF. However, given the other trend, it isn't really surprising that one of the many tactics of left-imperialists is to appeal to the left critique of Stalinism. Those pro-imperialists who were educated in the Trotskyist critique of Stalinist counterrevolution do at least have a tradition to draw on, even if it isn't a particularly august one. And they also have the advantage of knowing that their critique of renegades that would soon become auto-critique has its precedents too.

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A warning from recent history. posted by Richard Seymour

Alex Callinicos warns:

The Republicans haven’t lost yet. They are past masters of dirty tricks and are much more effective at getting their core vote out than are the Democrats.

And one of the most corrupt features of the US political system is that US Congressional districts are gerrymandered so that only a handful of seats can change hands between the two main parties.

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Ideology and ruling class crime. posted by Richard Seymour

"Ideology", says Lila Rajiva, "prevents the citizens of the state from recognising its violence and allows the state to rewrite the general terrorising of a population through detentions and torture as the inevitable and just operation of law." That's in her excellent book The Language of Empire, an examination of American state violence and political culture in light of Abu Ghraib. The ideology, in Rajiva's account, derives from the myth of Prometheus, America as a rebel taking on the international political and legal establishment lodged atop Mount Olympus. America stealing fire from the world powers to give to the powerless, those states with weak capacity. This myth doesn't so much conceal as provide a semi-coherent story to account for a global system of bribery, coercion, dependency and corruption.

The empire prefers weak states, of course, dictatorships with few of the traditional capacities of modern bureaucratic nation-states, ones that are bought off by the IMF, World Bank, DEA and CIA, ones with weak legitimacy and little accountability to the domestic populace. Hence, you help a general to power in Indonesia, let him butcher a million people, carve up the economy in private sessions with leading multi-national CEOs, encourage the general's family to skim billions off the top of 'development' loans based on exorbitant estimates for construction plans that go nowhere. Even if the CIA or MI6 didn't put you in power, once you take the money you start to factor it into the national and personal budgets, and your sovereignty is compromised. What's more, if you're obliged to integrate into the global economy on empire's terms (accepting neoliberal reforms etc), you have to devise an infrastructure adequate to the demands of investors - and once you're committed to that offer, it is rather difficult to pass and enforce laws restricting environmental or labour practises, or that curtail what would ordinarily be considered criminal behaviour. This logic inevitably extends back into the heart of empire. Having developed the institutions and techniques of covert criminality, one expects that these will acquire a weight of their own within the imperial centre. The CIA, for instance, routinely works to corrupt federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents where it must. Here is an instance of that. The coherence of the narrative of, say, the 'drugs war' would be seriously undermined if there were not laws that could actually apply to intelligence operatives and government officials. Yet, the state itself becomes an opportunity for enterprising individuals, such as coppers who wish to organise armed robberies and drug deals. Similarly, having worked to create business opportunities for domestic capitalist elites overseas, one doesn't stop relating to them domestically. Commercial spying is an aspect of most intelligence agencies' work, and those with experience in state sectors are highly prized assets in the private sector; the state sustains important sectors of capital (especially those associated with its imperial practises, ranging from high finance to semiconductor manufacturing) so that the process of state rule is integrated with the processes of capital accumulation. Now, often highlighting corruption is a means of preserving the furniture aboard the titanic, so that one misses that the system is at fault - but I am merely undertaking the marxist task of pointing out how corruption of this kind is in fact part of the imperial system, an aspect of the techniques of state rule. Of course small-time crooks getting in over their heads are sometimes excellent prophylactics: whether it's Richard Perle shaking down the sheikhs or John DeLorean making off with billions of dollars, the public lesson is that such corruption is an anomaly, rather than an integral part of the social fabric.

Every social system generates its own forms of ruling class crime, of course. The medieval landlords in Britain used to murder one another a great deal in the fifteenth century over disputed properties, and the crown was very reluctant to police these. Not only because justices of the peace were immensely available for corruption, but also because it was seen by state functionaries, most of whom themselves were drawn from the mercantile or landowning elite, as an unpardonable intrusion for the state to have something to say about the private matters of the ruling class. Modern capitalist states have to pay a lot more attention to securing consent, especially where there is a strong and politically sophisticated working class, and so they have hit on the happy thought that if you can sign people up to the overall project, however construed, you can get their acquiescence in almost anything that goes on within it, up to and including stasi-style secret prisons, ritual rape, torture, plunder and murder on an epic scale. Those groups will disavow what they know, ignore what they could know, and rationalise on your behalf. They will strike all the right propaganda notes for you, reaching audiences you might not be able to reach yourself (Rush Limbaugh reaches angry young men, while the Eustonites reach humanities-educated liberals). And then? Well, if you're busily applauding the extirpation of evil overseas, America's eighteen richest families can get you to pay them $71.6bn, and not notice that you lose out, and that the means they have used to get the cash would fall under most people's defintion of a criminal attempt to corrupt the political process.

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Iraq vote and protest. posted by Richard Seymour

The antiwar movement could score another victory against the government this evening. The two nationalist parties have tabled a motion demanding an inquiry into the Iraq war and its aftermath, and the Tories - still pro-war, but aware of which side of the argument is winning, eager to defeat the government, and perhaps laying the basis for some future coalition with the nats - have said that unless the government concedes an inquiry, they will help inflict a defeat on them. Blair is insisting that no such inquiry can be had, since "the enemy" is looking for "signs of weakness". If he holds to this, then I think we could see enough backbenchers vote with the opposition to cause the government a serious defeat.

Stop the War and Respect activists will be holding an emergency protest outside parliament starting at 5pm today. At a time when US soldiers are in overwhelming numbers expressing a desire to come home as soon as possible, when recruitment rates are abysmal, when the resistance keeps expanding, when even the puppet president of Iraq feels obliged to criticise the occupiers (while his subordinates beg the UN to extend to mandate for occupation), when even fucking West Point graduates have formed an antiwar group, the occupiers are in serious trouble. So let's get down to the protest and add to their woes.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

You're Going To Get Your Fees Smashed In. posted by Richard Seymour

There was a slightly larger than expected turnout at today's NUS-backed demonstration against tuition fees. I say "larger than expected", but I have no idea what turnout the organisers had in mind: says here they expected 15,000, but given that a large number of NUS branches didn't bother to organise for it, arrange transport, or even inform students, that more than beat my expectations. The demo was absurdly over-policed with coppers clogging up the pavements in order to keep protesters off them, and stewards being preposterously over-solicitous - one of them approached me and instructed me to dismount from my improvised pedestal where I was taking photographs (okay, it was the railings beside a pedestrian crossing), muttering something about the police and Health & Safety. The police also, for some reason, issued a warning to someone for having a placard bearing the legend 'F**k Fees' outside a tube station. Not 'Fuck Fees' but 'F**k Fees'. It was one of the more popular placards on the demo, but apparently it was too controversial for some London Underground manager. Still, the demo was lively enough, as you will see from the footage and pics. For some reason, students had decided to be creative with the costumes and what have you, so there were Halloween themes as well as superhero ones (one group in Batman and Spiderman outfits blatantly taking the piss out of Fathers 4 Justice). Anyway, here's some pics:

The demo took a curiously circuitous route through Bloomsbury, then Holborn, then the Aldwych and down to the Victoria Embankment. I couldn't be bothered with all that, and simply decided to walk on the other side of street - much faster. Here are some views from Hungerford Bridge:

You can watch video files of the demo at my Youtube account. More are being added as you read. As a part-time student myself, I have a direct interest in such matters. Sure, I already have to pay fees up-front, but the introduction of top-up fees into the higher education system has actually increased the amount that institutions like Birkbeck have to charge if they are to compete effectively, and the government's allowances for poorer students only covers a part of that gap. The problem is with the marketisation of education in itself. Capitalist competition is irrational enough, but competition among educational institutions is insanity. It forces a duplication of resources and costs, places too much emphasis on good advertising, drains resources from less popular and advantageously placed institutions, and when fees are involved it raises the cost for students. The Labourite leadership have, of course, done as little to resist this trend as possible. The NUS leadership has long been a training ground for future Labour MPs, and the union is in its way perhaps the least democratic and accountable of all the unions in this country.

Update: Morbo has gorged the demo in his mighty alien mandibles.

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"Unnecessary genocide" in the American mid-terms. posted by Richard Seymour

So, a lot of evangelicals are no longer supporting the Iraq war. Guess why:

The Houston-based preacher said he believes that the Bush administration has delayed the second coming because U.S. foreign policy has blocked Christian missionaries from working in Iraq, Iran and Syria. . . "Somebody needs to say enough is enough," he said to worshippers who stood, waved and called out in support. . . Paul, who claimed to support conservative political leaders in the past, is launching "a crusade to save America from the wrath of God and Republicans abusing their power," according to his press materials. . . "God is mad at this country," Paul told the congregation. He described the war in Iraq as "unnecessary genocide."

So, necessary genocide is one that brings on rapture? It would seem so. The division of principle on the Christian right in America is whether Bush is doing enough to bring about the end of the world. You wouldn't want to have one of these arseholes round the house, would you? Everytime someone dropped a plate or spilt something, they'd be all: "Rapture! Awe shit..."

In other news, the Associated Press says that "middle class" voters are abandoning Bush, with their number one issues being Iraq and the economy, with the war being by far the number one issue. In American politics, "middle class" usually means working class but not queueing up at soup kitchens. But AP reports a new meaning: "those earning less than $75,000 a year and who have graduated high school or have some college education." So, if you graduated high school and earn $12,000 a year for throwing luggage or ripping the innards out of a dead chicken's arse, you're middle class. Such a vacuous definition is deliberately constructed to produce a middle class majority, since according to the US Census Bureau, approximately 70% of American households live on less than $75,000 a year (roughly £39,000), and 55% live on less than $50,000 a year (about £26,000), with the distribution heavily skewed toward the lower end. Interestingly, the US Census Bureau has a "reportable upper limit" of income, which means it pays no attention to the super rich, and in particular doesn't notice that massive amount of inherited wealth, which is the main way in which the ruling class reproduces itself. According to Parenti, the top 0.25% of the US population owns more wealth than the entire remainder of the population combined. That's why they call US income and wealth distribution the L-Curve.

The Economic Policy Institute's State of Working America 2004/5 report notes that disparities in wealth vastly outweigh disparities in income so that "In 2001, 20% of all income went to the top-earning 1% of households, which held 33.4% of all net worth. The 90% of households with the lowest incomes received 54.8% of all income but had only 28.5% of all net worth", while "Since 1983, the top 1% of wealth holders consistently owned more than 30% and the bottom 80% held less than 16% of all wealth from 1983 to 2001."

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Widgery. posted by Richard Seymour

I strongly recommend you have a browse of this.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Victims of police shooting not evil paedophiles after all. posted by Richard Seymour

Funny how the News of the World turns, isn't it?

Interestingly, a number of the images for which Mr Kahar was arrested for possessing were on his Nokia 3G phone: the CPS said it would take specialist knowledge to transfer the images to the phone that Mr Kahar did not possess. I wonder how that happened?

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The ruling imperialist argot: partnership, leadership, capacity-building and empowerment. posted by Richard Seymour

Donald Rumsfeld "pledges" to "increase support for the Iraqi security forces". Governments, where they do not "vow", always "pledge". Kruschev "pledged" his assistance to the oppressed Hungarian workers, and "vowed" to crush their capitalist enemies. In the case of Iraq, in particular, the language is of devoting oneself to assisting an infant state into full maturity. But this is no more than usual, and no different than when the Washington-aligned Kurdish politician Barham Saleh recently begged Western leaders not to "cut and run" - a plea ventriloquised on behalf of those same leaders, directed at their electorates. The idea of a cosy relationship between Iraq and its benevolent occupiers is disrupted from time to time by a desperate squeak from al-Maliki, but if this is designed to make him look like a strong, independent leader, I'm afraid it has the opposite effect. He looks very much like the Bush-elected sap that he is (remember, it was a Bushite putsch against the previous leadership which was moving in the direction of a nationalist bloc that brough Maliki to power).

However, if this pretense at partnership is not new, there is certainly a new emphasis on the idea of assisting formally equal states, building up their capacities as states, rather than publicly appearing to dictate terms. While US imperialism is becoming more and more territorial, and more and more intrusive, a language of denial is increasingly evident. David Chandler deals with this in his latest book Empire in Denial, which, if I don't completely accept the heuristic, is a compelling and very well-researched account of the present strategies of the American empire. Let me summarise a bit. Poverty reduction and international development discourse has raised state-capacity to the centre of concerns. For instance, the World Bank’s World Development Report 1997: The State in a Changing World, and Reforming Public Institutions and Strengthening Governance: A World Bank Strategy from 2000 are complemented by the UK government’s Commission for Africa report from 2005 in arguing that weak state capacity has been the central barrier to continental development. The UN Millennium Project argues that the problem is not so much corrupt government as those that “lack the resources and capacity to manage an efficient public administration”. The US National Security Strategy has it that “America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones”. Rice said in 2005 that “the greatest threats to our security are defined more by the dynamics with weak and failing states than by ... strong and aggressive ones”. And so on. From Clintonite IR theorists like Krasner to neoconservative social theorists like Fukuyama, weak states are thought to unleash every ill on the world, from AIDS to terrorism to poverty.

This is reflected in policy too. Bush's Millennium Challenge Account, which purports to assist the development of state-capacity in non-Western states, has a budget of $3bn, and aims to increase to $5bn. The EU's absorption of Eastern states has a strong focus on state capacities, as does its role in former Yugoslav states. But EU bureaucrats argue that they are mere facilitators in the Stabilisation and Association process agreements, while IMF and World Bank officials argue that Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers are “country-owned” and they merely “endorse” them. The US doesn't formally 'occupy' Iraq, any more than it is formally fighting rebels in the Phillipines: officially, the US is empowering national governments that have been legitimised through elections. A new language has been developed to describe these policies: concepts such as “neo-trusteeship”, “guided sovereignty” and “shared sovereignty”. You hear about are “partnership”, African “leadership”, “capacity-building” and “empowerment”. The discourse is obviously highly technocratic and depoliticised, and it obscures the actual relations of domination, like any other chitter-chatter that derives from managerial speak.

As Chandler remarks: "When it appears that the solutions to the problems of security, development and human rights are amenable to resolutions through therapeutic, legal, administrative and bureaucratic means and are not political questions, then the role or necessity of politics is clearly put to question." Yet: “What appears formally to be a relationship between two contracting partners is in effect a product of the hierarchy of power”, whereas the “new regulatory forms of Empire in Denial seek to deny any direct political control and to reinforce the formal legal status of sovereignty”. Indeed, "new forms of governance open up non-Western states to “metropolitan monitoring, intervention and regulation unprecedented since the colonial period” according to Leeds professor Mark Duffield. Several other theorists working in the field of development studies highlight the "unprecedented" nature of the current level of regulation of non-Western states by Western states. But whereas the old mode of conditionality has not been surrendered, a new means of regulation is emerging, reflected in the output of the Commission for Africa, for instance, which sees past attempts at conditionality as besmirched by attempts to force conditions ill-suited to the country in question, and therefore prefers a focus on accountability and transparency, formally allowing recipients to choose their own course of development (while relying on the competitive accumulation of capital to force governments to insert their societies into the global economy on terms amenable to Western power).

Chandler selects an analogy from New Labour's lexicon: "social exclusion" which, although it has been a theme of New Labour idiotology since 1997, was first defined in public by David Miliband in November last year. The socially excluded are those who experience a range of ten problems including unemployment and poor physical and mental health. This is a technocratic rather than a political designation. It involves no interests and appeals to no social or political constituency. Similarly, Jeffrey Sachs, who is both an advisor to the UN and the Millennium Development Project director, argues that ending poverty by 2005 would mean no one living on less than $1 a day: this focus ameliorates the worst extremes of poverty, rather than ending it. It devises coping strategies for those brutalised, exploited and marginalised by the system: it ‘empowers’ them. This logically derives from the posture of impotence that states adopt in the face of globalisation: we can no longer manage massive transformative projects, and so we manage the system in the nicest way possible.

It is this approach which causes Niall Ferguson to worry in Colossus that without an imperial purpose, there is a risk of “generalised impotence – or, if you like, apolarity”. Savour those metaphors for a second. Ferguson thinks the US punches below its weight, especially since its “defense budget is 14 times that of China”, a greater advantage than activist Britain enjoyed over rivals: “it is an empire that lacks the drive to export its capital, its people, and its culture to those backward regions that need them most urgently and that, if they are neglected, will breed the greatest threats to its security”. Chandler argues that in fact while Western governments "seem happier disclaiming" the rights of power, this isn't because they aren't interested in empire. He concedes part of Ferguson's point: the US is an empire in denial, but it doesn't want to accept responsibility for its power. In formal or explicit relations of domination, the onus and accountability is placed on the dominating states. By contrast, the new conception of sovereignty, elaborated by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, involves only accountability to internal and international constituencies, places all the onus on the dominated states. Contra Hardt and Negri, this process doesn't remove or weaken the involvement of national states. When theorists like David Harvey and Ellen Meiksins Wood emphasise the informal empire of capital, or when Rosenberg speaks of an empire of civil society they all accept that national states are necessary to sustain, expand and manage these relations. It produces in a new form a hierarchy of sovereignty.

The attempt is to intensify the real relations of domination while making them invisible, in the same way that those perpetuated through the capitalist market are invisible; to convert open domination into routine, daily, minute exertions of power, of regulation, surveillance and discipline, ultimately backed up by a threat of force which is seen as exceptional. Indeed, like the enclosures and the accompanying Great Confinement, precisely at the moment when this reaches its most oppressive, intrusive and restrictive phase, it will be treated as a new kind of freedom, a new egalitarianism in international relations. Rights and responsibilities, everyone in partnership, everyone answerable to the community of responsible states. Precisely as sovereignty is 'unbundled', in Krasner's term, and reconceived as a variable concept rather than an indivisible right, precisely as this introduces a legal hierarchy of sovereignty, it will be understood as an attempt to 'level up' state capacities. And, precisely as these new arrangements insulate the public from political and economic decisions, it will be understood as profoundly democratising and empowering.

This is the new 'democratic imperialism': stripped of its moralistic secretions, it is an effort to entrench a violent, exploitative and oppressive world order that favours ruling elites in non-Western states without the potential for accountability. The Bush administration are, contrary to some popular leftist wisdom, not deviating from this tack: they are simply pursuing it more ruthlessly than ever before, and in the process racking up considerable advantages to the segment of America's capitalist class that is closest to them. And this is why resistance movements are so important. The enclosure movement is sweeping Iraq, Lebanon, Haiti, Nigeria, everywhere the empire touches down (which is everywhere), and local resistance movements of various kinds are thwarting the attempt to coopt populations into relations that, once entrenched, would be much more difficult to overturn than formal colonialism was. This is why we can speak of a looming failure in Iraq: the Bush administration have certainly trashed the place and made money for their rich friends, but if their army is so demoralised that 72% now want to come home, if they have no legitimacy among the population they purport to be assisting, if they are increasingly unable to sustain their military presence, they will end up with a government that cannot be integrated, deserted military bases and an empty embassy. And they know it, and cannot let it happen, which is why they have become more and more ruthless as the war has gone on. That is why they have turned to Israel to help break up any germinal regional bloc against the empire. And that is why they are threatening Iran. If they were to get their preferred governments in power in the Middle East, (a tripartite Iraq, MEK and Modern Right in Iran, a broken Fatah movement in Palestine, the Hariri Gang in Lebanon etc), they would get to be the rulers while posing as partners with the legitimate national governments. They would subordinate the region for another few generations at least. If they don't, then the American empire is in serious peril.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Les Roberts on Iraq deaths. posted by Richard Seymour

Ady Cousins has done some stellar work again, this time uploading footage of Les Roberts explaining the methods and findings of the first survey of Iraq mortality published in the Lancet, and dealing with the criticisms.

These criticisms and the replies, it happens, preempted practically everything that has been said in criticism of the latest survey.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Attack on Iran? posted by Richard Seymour

Now that Israel has moved overtly to the quasi-fascist right, bringing an advocate of ethnic cleansing into the government, is it time for an attack on Iran? Not without America's say so, of course, but the consensus in the IDF appears to be yes, and there has been pressure from Tel Aviv to speed it up. William Polk, formerly of the US Policy Planning Council, has been writing about why he thinks a US-led attack is likely soon, but probably not before the November mid-term elections. Dave Lindorff has been suggesting in The Nation that US government announcements and rhetoric have tended that way, although he was anticipating an October Surprise. Bush and Rice in particular have long been threatening Iran, and it didn't go completely unnoticed when the USS Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group moved to the Persian Gulf. Debkafile, a source that can be unreliable but can also be surprisingly accurate, recently suggested that the American Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group has arrived in the Gulf. Today Michel Chussodovsky has a well-sourced discussion of recent military manoeuvres in the Persian Gulf.

It seems obvious that an attack on Iran is on the way, probably an aerial attack, but the Republicans would require a 'Tonkin' incident, as Chussodovsky suggests, to make an attack this close to the election pass without a huge loss of votes. I wouldn't anticipate an attack before the Democrats have disappointed themselves yet again (even where they succeed, they will have done much less well than they should have done).

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Hungarian Revolt and 'totalitarianism'. posted by Richard Seymour

You know, of course, that the Hungarian revolutionaries demanded more and better 'totalitarianism', not less? I speak here as if 'totalitarianism' was a synonym for any non-liberal social system, which is more or less exactly what it is. The Hungarian revolutionaries demanded genuine socialism, socialism from below. It wasn't one of these turgid, rock-festival revolution-lite affairs either: these guys were serious, and armed to the teeth. It is ironic that this anti-Stalinist socialist insurrection has been appropriated as an icon of the struggle for Western freedom during the Cold War. The standard picture of the Hungarian Revolt runs something like this: the Soviets sent their tanks in, overthrew a democratically elected government, nationalised everything, run down the economy like only commies know how, and this led to a civil revolt in favour of Karl Popper's Open Society.

But the revolutionary councils and the workers' councils actually dared to democratise the factories and plants, and real power lay with them, not initially even the Imre Nagy government. They not only sought to get rid of unpopular regulations, but to manage the factories as collective socialist enterprises. The UN report on the crisis conceded that "Steps taken by the Workers’ Councils during this period were aimed at giving the workers real control of nationalized undertakings and at abolishing unpopular institutions, such as the production norms." The report goes on:

"When these Soviet forces succeeded in crushing the armed uprising, it was again the Hungarian workers who continued to combat, by mass strikes and passive resistance, the very régime in support of which Soviet forces had intervened. In every case, the workers of Hungary announced their intention of keeping the mines and factories in their own hands. They made it abundantly clear, in the Workers’ Councils and elsewhere, that no return to pre-1945 conditions would be tolerated. These workers had shown all over Hungary the strength of their will to resist. They had arms in their hands and, until the second Soviet intervention they were virtually in control of the country. It is the Committee’s view that no putsch by reactionary landowners or by dispossessed industrialists could have prevailed against the determination of these fully aroused workers and peasants to defend the reforms which they had gained and to pursue their genuine fulfilment."

This is not merely the "view" of a committee of capitalist plenipotentiaries, of course. It is unambiguously the case. The US naturally hoped that they could utilise the situation in Hungary, send in Special Forces and claim the territory for Western capital, but decided that it was "unpromising". They hoped to utilise Hungarian nationalism which "on its positive side, is Christian and pro-Western", and to mobilise resentment against "the disproportionate number of Jews in high official positions". This revolt did not meet America's criteria: it did not promise to bring a racist, Christian nationalist, pro-capitalist movement to power. And so, the US restricted itself to PR, whispering sweet things to the insurrectionists through Radio Free Europe, with a dim hope of persuading Hungarian workers that the capitalist bloc was their friend.

The revolutionaries almost won, in part because Kruschev didn't want to end up looking like the Anglo-French-Israeli invaders in Suez. This linked article from the BBC, by the way, tells you nothing about the nature of the revolt, merely that it sought extrication from the Warsaw Pact and under an Imre Nagy government. Because of that, it manages to portray the US as a well-meaning giant, unable to "liberate" Hungary at the time, when the plain fact is that they wanted no part of a genuinely socialist Hungary. But a celebration of workers control of industry and the abolition of exploitation would be the wrong message for BBC viewers.

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A polite declaration of mutiny. posted by Richard Seymour

This is quite an important, if excessively civil, development: More than 100 U.S. service members have signed a rare appeal urging Congress to support the "prompt withdrawal" of all American troops and bases from Iraq. Now, these are off-duty service members: you can't sign this sort of thing if you're on-duty. Nevertheless, although a bit of fragging on the frontlines would help it along, it does significantly add to the difficulties faced by the Bush administration in Iraq. Right at this moment, military desertions in the two main occupying armies are at record levels, while recruitment is at its lowest level for years. Equipment shortfalls are rife, and the US army has had to slacken its standards to even make a stretch at meeting targets: they'll now recruit you if you're 42 years old, for instance, even if you haven't had prior service. I don't know how easy it is to break in a 42 year old, but if there are any out there who feel like going to Iraq, perhaps it won't be such a challenge.

Governments lose wars that their armies do not wish to fight. I doubt any army wants to fight in Iraq any more, beyond the demented segment of the officer corps and a few psychotic wastrels who could easily be left behind. Of course, there is a great deal to lose, and the Bush administration will not give up without the serious risk of domestic disorder as well as the breakdown of the army, which no state can do with. Withdrawal would mean leaving a huge embassy unfinished and depopulated, and the construction of several massive bases would have been a colossal waste of effort. It would mean allowing for the possibility that Iraqis might control their oil and cooperate with Iran. It would mean showing every other country in the world that the empire can be defeated. Precisely as the loss in Vietnam opened up possibilities for revolutionaries in US-supported regimes like South Korea, Nicaragua, Iran, Angola, even Portugal and Spain. It reduced the US scope for direct military intervention for decades. Imperial malaise is not something the Bush administration wants to accomplish. Yet, if the army is increasingly unwilling to fight, and if the local surrogates will not do as they are told, no other outcome is available.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

It was the NUJ wot won it. posted by Richard Seymour

The National Union of Journalists took action several days ago at the Daily Star to prevent a racist spoof, purporting to show what the paper would look like under shari'a law. This newspaper is, suffice to say, a hideously misogynistic piece of shit that made itself notorious in 1989 when it published a front page picture of a fifteen year old schoolgirl holding her hands over her nipples. The paper informed readers that when she was sixteen, they could see the nipples. It does not, of course, purport to tell you a great deal about the news. It's target audience is apparently working class and lower-middle class men, to whom it offers a cheering up after a horrible day at work with some semi-pornographic pictures, celebrity gossip and humour: the sort of inconsequential shite that one can recite to mates without any controversy ("here, listen to this, Katie Price has gone and had her baps deflated, hur hur hur"). To put it another way, the Daily Star is not a champion of women's rights.

The paper's first reaction to Mr Straw's bogus "veil" controversy was to exclaim: "Get 'Em Off!" This in a big headline, mark you, in case any passing Muslim women might have missed the instruction from Whitey. Had it not been for action from the NUJ, there would have been a "Daily Fatwah" page devoted to explaining "“How Britain’s fave newspaper would look under Muslim rule". The spoof headline was to be "Death to all Infidels", and there would have been a page 3 called "Burqa Babes". I referred to this kind of fantasy about Muslim women as 'Veil Fetishism', but the reality is that it is simply another way in which non-white women are specifically targeted for oppression and, let's be blunt about it, rape. The newspaper that encouraged readers to crouch over their rags, cock in hand, awaiting the appearance of a sixteen year old girl with her nipples displayed, is not terribly scrupulous about encouraging fantasies about rape, even of minors.

Trade unionists have often been at the forefront of challenging both Islamophobia and sexism. In this case, the NUJ struck a blow against both. If you feel like commending them, contact your MP to support George Galloway's early day motion, and also send messages of support to the NUJ.

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American counterinsurgency tactics. posted by Richard Seymour

Michael McClintock's Instruments of Statecraft: U.S. Guerilla Warfare, Counterinsurgency, and Counterterrorism, 1940-1990 is now available in full online. Chapter 11 deals with "Tactical Totalitarianism".

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The bomb factory that still didn't make the news. posted by Richard Seymour

You remember this. You also remember this. The BBC explained that:

It appears a reporter from BBC Radio Lancashire investigated initial reports but the police "played it down". Our regional televison centre in in Manchester found out about the story only after it was reported in the Colne Times. By this time it was several days old. On investigation they discovered that reporting restrictions were in place which severely curtailed what could be said by the media.


Two arrested men are due to appear at Blackburn Crown Court on October 23rd, BBC TV News will attend the hearing.

So, does anyone know what date it is?

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Anyone remember last year's air war? posted by Richard Seymour

Censored story number one in 2005 was possibly the American air war in Iraq. It was one of the most under-reported phenomena in Iraq that I was aware of. Michael Schwartz wrote the following at the time:

Quoting military sources, the Post reported that the number of U.S. air strikes increased from an average of 25 per month during the Summer of 2005, to 62 in September, 122 in October, and 120 in November. The Sunday Times of London reports that, in the near future, these are expected to increase to at least 150 per month and that the numbers will continue to climb past that threshold.

Consider then this gruesome arithmetic: If the U.S. fulfills its expectation of surpassing 150 air attacks per month, and if the average air strike produces the (gruesomely) modest total of 10 fatalities, air power alone could kill well over 20,000 Iraqi civilians in 2006. Add the ongoing (but reduced) mortality due to other military causes on all sides, and the 1,000 civilian deaths per week rate recorded by the Hopkins study could be dwarfed in the coming year.

And so, the big surprise when the Lancet produced their new study this year was...? Well, IBC said that the media didn't report anything like what Burnham et al were saying and so it couldn't be right...

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Mythology and imagined pasts. posted by Richard Seymour

We use the term 'myth' to refer, often enough, to simple falsehood. As in 'five myths about immigration' or 'demolishing the myth that Iraqis are ready to take over their own security'. In the classical usage, a myth is not merely a lie, but a structured tale involving heroic beings. In Roland Barthes Mythologies, we are - after several dozen articles on contemporary themes from politics and mass culture, from wrestling to soap adverts - given an essay that draws out some of the implications of the articles. In it, he explains that objects are not merely utilitarian or functional: there is no such thing as a car that is merely an operational device, that is resistant to cultural meanings, or a bar of soap that merely accrues pubic hair. These items, however functional, are saturated with connotations: and of course, these are produced by advertisers. This isn't simply a clever analysis of cultural artefacts, and nor is it depoliticised: for Barthes, these techniques are used to legitimise and naturalise power, they obscure what is historically produced by packaging it (the item, the situation) in a modern mythical structure. In his way, Barthes was really updating and expanding on the marxist theory of commodity fetishism and reification, showing how social relations were naturalised, how the traces of production were removed from commodities so that they appear as pristine, finished objects.

One item of historical renown is the Soviet blockade of Berlin in 1948-9, and the magnificent, heroic flights of fuel and food by C-54s into Tempelhof airport to break the blockade. It is described in the centrist historical literature as a straightforward attempt to starve Berlin into submission to the Soviets, which America successfully subverted. Clinton, at his oleaginous best, attended a 'remembrance ceremony' at Tempelhod airport in May 1998 and remarked that "the fate of free Berlin had hung by a thread". The visionary effort to supply a whole city by air had become "a sharing of the soul - a story that tells people never to lose faith, adversity can be conquered, prayers can be answered, hopes realised, freedom is worth standing up for." This was, perhaps, the founding myth of the Cold War: the partition of Germany inaugurating an adept strategy of containment, the application of counter-force against the totalitarian behemoth at crucial geopolitical pressure points across the world, a strategy that eventually (perhaps with some errors and maybe even unfortunate allies) paid off, and secured the world for freedom. Here you have the classical myth, with its heroes and foes, adversity and success, one that is provided by rulers in order to structure the sentimental life of the community that they hold sway over.

Revisionist historians have long debunked this tale: Carolyn Eisenberg, one of the better historians of the Cold War, has through careful and forensic research through the diplomatic archives shown that in fact the blockade was in reality a part of the process by which American leaders (often to the immense discomfort and chagrin of Western European politicians) pursued the division of Germany. That pursuit brought with it blockade, counterblockade, heightened military tensions and the threat of nuclear war. To summarise very brutally, the zonal agreement from Potsdam had divided Germany among the four powers on the Allied Control Council, and the abandonment of this quadripartite agreement would in itself undermine the West's basis for a presence in Berlin since it had been agreed that it was in the Soviet zone. But since the persistance of that division would risk prolonged Soviet involvement in the West European economy. In March 1948, the US, UK, France and other European powers agreed to allow the Western military governors to devise principles for a future West German state. Since this would deprive the Russians of access to the Ruhr and a substantial labour supply, they withdrew from the Allied Control Council and imposed restrictions on rail and highway traffic into Berlin. Stalin's advisors might have told him that this would entrench the moves toward partition, and so he relented in April of that year and began pushing for talks on currency to facilitate inter-zonal trading. He also tried to open negotiations on a number of fronts which the Truman administration took to be both a hindrance to their ends of hegemonising the European economy and also probably a means of aggravating differences among the Western states. Not having it, they pursued a West German constituent assembly which would draft a constitution - any prospect of a settlement would delay this outcome, and so the Americans found a vital problem was solved when the congressional passage of the famous European recovery programme gave them vital leverage over those states. A currency reform was initiated in the western zones, including in the former capital. Russia's military authorities responded by blocking the railroads, barges, cars and pedestrians from travelling between Berlin and the western zones. They cut off the electricity. These were callous moves, without doubt, mounted to frustrate the moves toward the partition of Europe that they opposed (and that, in fact, violated agreements at Yalta and Potsdam). The Soviets would not yield on the necessity for German unification under a quadripartite agreement, and the US would not relent on their drive toward partition. Neither the French nor the British could accept such strict parameters, but as their economies were on their knees, they were in no position to mount a serious challenge. When it was clear that the Russians would remove the blockade in the event that a multilateral forum could be convoked to discuss Germany's future, the US was alone among Western states in attempting to sabotage the agreement. Airlifts were a means of avoiding potentially damaging diplomacy. On the other hand, Marshal Sokolovsky had pledged to provide "the normal supply of essential goods" throughout, and Soviet provisions were available in West Berlin either through registration or the black market. No effort had been made to seal the west of Berlin from the east or surrounding countryside, and so tonnes of Soviet wheat and food entered the city.

Truman, seeking re-election and naively supposing that his subordinates would welcome a peaceful resolution to the crisis, actually opened up dialogue through back-channels and was promptly told to stuff it, which he did. Instead, the matter was transferred to what was hoped would be a docile security council in Leo Pavolsky's recently formed United Nations. The UNSC did not, as hoped, simply issue an unmixed condemnation of Russia, but actually tried to put the matter of Germany's future back on the negotiating table. But since the Soviets did not accept the authority of the UNSC in the matter, the US instructed its representative to await sure signs that the USSR would veto and then issue official US approval. By November of that year, the partition of Berlin was seen as the first step in the partition of Germany. The Berlin city government was disintegrating, and the US military government was encouraging the City Assembly to hold elections which would ensure that the western sectors became politically separate. Under pressure to hold off on these until the currency had been settled, the blockade lifted and the city calmed, the US could not believe their luck when pro-Russian politicians in Berlin met, proclaimed themselves the true city assembly and formed a Magistrat. Happily for the Americans, they had divided the city before the elections.

At the same time, a Western counterblockade was affecting the eastern zones, depriving factories of coal and steel. The Soviets were deeply unpopular, and not only because of the blockade: they had in their brief time controlling the eastern zones diminished their support among communists and socialists. Soviet occupation policy as exercised through a previously exiled KPD leadership, had been to rebuild Germany as a capitalist democratic country, viewing the German working class as too imbued with Nazi ideology and in need of retraining in the habits of democracy. (Such was the political argument: the more likely reality is that Stalin was pitching for respectability and international integration, as he had during the Spanish Civil War, for instance). The savagery of Nazi policies may be partially responsible for the racist view expressed by Stalin that the Germans were "savages" who hated "the creative work of human beings". Whatever the case, the patronising view of Germany as unready for socialism was used to legitimise an interim goal of creating capitalist democracy under Red Army tutelage, which turned out to involve the 'Stalinisation' of the east, which not only meant political dictatorship but also the intensified exploitation of the German working class. Soviet occupation policy had thus alienated not only the passive population who were suspicious of left-wing politics, and not only those who were still loyal to the fallen Nazi regime, but also the communists, socialists and active anti-fascists of all stripes who were supposed to comprised the Militant Bloc for German democracy (which would complete the 'tasks' of 1848).

Perhaps the worry of losing influence in what they hoped would be a prosperous and unified German economy was behind it, but there can be no doubt that the USSR was ready for compromise and the US was not: Stalin had accepted in late December 1948 a UN offer to implement a currency plan in the divided city in return for a lifted blockade, but since the US refused to support it, it failed at the first hurdle. The team of UN economists who had devised the deal pegged the blame squarely on the West, although the UNSC did not publish the report. Since that plan had failed, the UN was no longer a realistic part of resolving the issue. The trouble was that the UN had shown that support for partition among Western states was precarious at best, and even an offer of discussions about Germany's future would risk the US losing the principle of a divided Europe. The prospect of armed confrontation, though not desired, was apparently preferable to the dangers inherent in a negotiated settlement. Knowing that at some point their own supplies might not be adequate, they were aware that they might have to fight or leave. B-29 bombers were transported to Europe as a deterrent, to present the possibility that nuclear weapons might be used (a different version of the B-29 had bombed Hiroshima), and thereby prevent any menace to the airlifts. The Defense Department was anxious to be able to invoke the nuclear threat when it wanted, and pressured Truman to remove the bomb from civilian custody. Truman, whatever else can be said about him, was wise to be wary of those bastards in the uniforms - the Army Secretary complained that it made no sense to spend all the money on the damned things and not even threaten to use them in the middle of a crisis. Yet, his National Security Council had concluded that "in the event of hostilities" they military should be prepared to use all "appropriate means", including atomic weapons. Truman later assented, saying that if necessary, he would permit their use. However, in pursuing such a strategy, it would be necessary to be able to implement threats effectively, and to make counterattacks either impossible or unwise. Hence, an imperative for a much more lethal stockpile of nukes. At the same time, the militarisation of Europe under America's 'protective' hegemony was the only way to obtain their desired West German state. Since European leaders were terrified of a reconstituted, and independent Germany, the US offered NATO as a means of containing Germany and warding off the Soviets. It was only through this agreement that West Germany was founded in April 1949. The blockade, such as it was, was finished, and yet because of policies pursued by both superpowers, the contours of the future Cold War were established.

No evidence has emerged that Stalin expected to run the societies he occupied for very long or that he wished for the partition of Europe. However, given the US policy of preferring a partitioned Germany and therefore a divided Europe, the Soviets would make do with controlling their lot behind the 'iron curtain', and the US developed the 'national security' policy that involved the aggressive pursuit of superior nuclear capability and which precipitated a costly and destructive arms race. The Berlin crisis, decisive as it was, was handled in the main by figures from the military and diplomatic establishments, not by elected representatives. The mythological depiction of this sequence of events, along with the hysteria about the Korean war, facilitated the embedding of the doctrine of NSC-68, and the elevation of the undemocratic executive organ, the National Security Council. As Melvyn Leffler wrote (upsetting the smug post-revisionist 'consensus' of Lewis Gaddis), this was a logical outcome of the war planning by the US elite itself: many of the considerations involved did not directly involve the Soviet Union (preserving hegemony in Latin America and control of the Panama Canal, for instance), but the development of a positive balance of power for the US in Eurasia did. The US, he noted, was not particularly worried about Soviet military power, so much as the possibility that the turmoil across Europe would result in a political order that excluded or diminished American influence (communism, socialism, anything like that). As early as 1943, they had concluded that they should have a ring of outlying bases surrounding the Western hemisphere, and in 1945 they were already worried about the political assimilation of an area including the Ruhr Rhineland industrial complex. Private intelligence assessments depicted the USSR as being militarily degraded and inefficient, and economically insecure. It was an advantageous situation for the US, provided they could mobilise populations and leaders behind their tutelage. Hence, the narrative of 'totalitarianism' and an 'evil empire'. Ironically, the US was far more expansionist and militarily aggressive, and as Moshe Lewin writes, the post-Stalin Soviet Union, while in no way a workers' state, was nowhere near as repressive as it had been and in fact nowhere near as repressive as many of the regimes that America was to end up supporting. I don't highlight this to exculpate the Stalinist regime, for the liberalisation of the polity was, as in Western capitalist societies, partly effected to make the society more efficient and productive, and therefore more competitive. Rather, it is - as with everything else raised here - simply to disrupt the regnant banality of the triumphalist Cold War narrative that is being disinterred in order that we might reconcile ourselves to perpetual war again.

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An urgent appeal for humanitarian intervention. posted by Richard Seymour

655,000 dead, government death squads wiping out families, mass starvation and malnourishment; the government is venal and corrupt, promotes fanatical sectarianism, and hides the true scale of deaths; so far 1.6 million people have had to become refugees. I think we can safely call this a humanitarian catastrophe, so when are the Americans going to invade?

Oh, wait...

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

On not reporting from Iraq. posted by Richard Seymour

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A note on Paul Berman's "anti-totalitarianism" posted by Richard Seymour

It transpires that Berman is a Jeane Kirkpatrick "anti-totalitarian". That is to say, he spent much of the 1980s trying to smear the Sandinistas (while professing to support the revolution), and in the 1990s took to making heroes of the Contras. Although initially he used the language of anarchism to oppose the Sandinistas, he later came out openly claiming (during the famously CIA-rigged election), that the Contras were a broad-based peasant army fighting against a Leninist dictatorship (as opposed to CIA-sponsored death squads who raped and killed teachers and their pupils). In 1996, writing for the New Yorker magazine, he penned an article so enthusiastic for the Contras that it produced an angry retort from the Center for Constitutional Rights, who were then trying to ensure that the Contra killers of Benjamin Linder were tried. This is ironic, for at the time Berman was busily supporting Western intervention into Yugoslavia on the grounds that Milosevic was a 'totalitarian'.

Funny how 'totalitarianism' works, is it not?

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Iraq's unions resist occupation and neoliberalism. posted by Richard Seymour

Kamil Mahdi talks about the General Union of Oil Employees and their fight to stop privatisation:

The workers' efforts also prove that they are perfectly capable of running the oil industry on their own terms, even if technical and economic assistance is needed. According to Madhi, "The workers are able to manage the industry themselves. They can decide what is needed in terms of technical expertise and investment to develop the current and future oilfields - even when this is through service contracts with other companies, both domestic and foreign. But they will not allow production sharing with foreign companies because this would become a new form of the concession system."

Although the Iraqi government formulates social and economic policies behind closed doors, it takes note of GUOE because, in Mahdi's words, "the union has shown that it has strength on the ground in mobilising people for or against policies." Basra oil workers are also raising awareness about labour and economic issues within the wider community. Through their contacts with political groups, other trade unions and the international anti-war movement, GUOE's president Hassan Jumaa spoke both at the Marxism 2006 event this summer and at the International Peace Conference in London last December where he stressed the union's support for the Iraqi resistance's campaign to drive the occupiers out of Iraq. They did this because they believe the future of Iraq is at stake if the military occupation becomes an economic one.

It is worth reading at least to be reminded that Iraqis are not divided between passive victims and 'insurgents', and that the resistance is broader than the armed component which is staging victory celebrations in towns across Anbar (where, if the US can be kept out, I predict a sharp decline in the level of violence). Amid all the talk of civil war, which has hitherto been an elite-directed affair, and to a large extent a cover for counter-insurgency warfare, there are forces capable of uniting Iraqis on grounds other than sectarian affiliation.

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Israel admits using chemical weapons. posted by Richard Seymour

During Israel's ferocious assault on Lebanon, the Lebanese President Emile Lahoud accused Israel of using white phosphorus. A CNN video report interviewed Lebanese doctors and showed children bearing horrible chemical burns attributed to the substance. Doctors had noticed that the dead bodies found in suburbs were charred in a way not familiar from the civil war. Ambulance workers were among those burned with the material.

Israel now admits to having used it, but insists that it was only at Hezbollah targets in open ground. To be sure, when you've levelled all the housing in an area, the ground is open. When you can have "Hezbollah towns" and "Hezbollah houses", practically anything you direct weaponry at is a military target.

None of the British media is carrying this story.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

The "anti-totalitarian" left, and terrorised liberals. posted by Richard Seymour

Neoconservatives and the pro-war left are not only united on their purblind support imperialism: they share a vocabulary, and a conceptual apparatus. Totalitarianism and the Enlightenment are among the favourite themes of the pro-war left. Increasingly, so is Islam. Eustonite Alan Johnson avers that every generation “has to re-discover anti-totalitarianism for itself”. (Alan Johnson, “No One Left Behind: Euston and the renewal of Social Democracy”, Normblog, 1st June, 2006). Jeffrey Herf et al. signed the manifesto because “radical Islamism” is “the third major form of totalitarian ideology of the last century, after fascism and Nazism, on the one hand, and Communism, on the other”. (Jeffrey Herf et al., “American Liberalism and the Euston Manifesto”, Euston Manifesto, 12th September 2006). Francis Wheen embraces a fetishism of unproblematised Enlightenment, and he has taken the trouble to upbraid Adorno & Horkheimer for having blamed modernity’s ills on the Enlightenment and not grasping its contribution to the norms that condemned Nazi atrocities. Evidently, he did not get all the way through the first page of Dialectic of Enlightenment, in which the authors write that “social freedom is inseparable from enlightened thought”. He cites Spinoza and Kant, opposing received ideas and daring readers to know, and yet seems curiously open to received ideas himself (not least in the dishonest diatribe about Noam Chomsky). He raises the spectre of messianism, starting with 1979 as the moment when Iran's revolution and Thatcher's election brought new forms of "Mumbo-Jumbo" to town, accompanied by a postmodernist attack on reason. The conflict between the Iranian revolution and the Thatcher revolution, "more apparent than real" culminated for Wheen in the twin tower attacks. Conflating the political Islam of Khomeini with that of bin Laden is problematic for various reasons, but coherence is not Wheen's strong point: hence, he advises us that Khomeini wished to return Iran to "medieval" times, yet mocks the notion that political Islam is a medieval doctrine, noting that it is rooted in modernity. (Francis Wheen, How Mumbo-jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions, Fourth Estate, London, 2004; Theodor W Adorno & Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, Verso, London, 2002). The fairly straightforward technique of making distinctions, something advocates of the Enlightenment and even their precedents have been known for, is no longer in demand when discussing Islam. For Hitchens, it is the Enlightenment that Al Qaeda are after: in a phrase, they hate our scientific enquiry. (Christopher Hitchens, "Against Rationalization: Minority Report", The Nation, 8th October, 2001). The Euston Manifesto defends what signatory Eve Garrard calls “Enlightenment values”, and among other glittering generalities echoes the “great rallying calls of the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century” (Eve Garrard, “Lipstick and Enlightenment”, Normblog, 18th June 2006; “Statement of Principles”, The Euston Manifesto, 29th March 2006). The problem with this isn’t, as John Gray imagines, that Enlightenment values had a “seamy side”, or that the zealous pursuit of such values can undermine the prospects for a modus vivendi because these values can issue incompatible demands. It is that their invocation is in this instance utterly vapid, self-congratulatory and platitudinous, providing a patina for score-settling on the part of those who fear and loathe the enormous success of the Stop the War Coalition. (John Gray, “Ideas: Beyond good and evil”, New Statesman, 19th June 2006; John Gray, Two Faces of Liberalism, Polity, London, 2000).

Martin Amis, like his friend Hitchens, makes the link between Enlightenment and his hostility to Islam explicit. We've been introduced to his retinue of received ideas before, and needn't trouble ourselves over them again. Sam Harris, in a book purportedly celebrating the values of Enlightenment as against religion, singles out Islam for particular opprobrium. While Christianity has apparently passed through its most repressive phrase, he writes of Islam that “the basic thrust of the doctrine is undeniable: convert, subjugate, or kill unbelievers; kill apostates; and conquer the world”. Further, the West is at “war with Islam … with precisely the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran”. Writing about the Danish ‘cartoons’ controversy, he wrote: “’Muslim extremism’ is not extreme among Muslims. Mainstream Islam itself represents an extremist rejection of intellectual honesty, gender equality, secular politics and genuine pluralism.” Further, “Muslims intentionally murder noncombatants, while we and the Israelis (as a rule) seek to avoid doing so”. Co-existence is simply implausible in Harris’s account, which owes much to Samuel Huntington’s ‘clash of the civilisations’ thesis. Yet, with 1 billion Muslims in the world, the wonder is that the vast preponderance of them have thus far decided against converting, subjugating and killing unbelievers and apostates. Nevertheless, it is because of the omnipresent threat of Islam that Harris supports the war on Iraq and the use of torture against prisoners (citing arguments developed by Alan Dershowitz). (Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason, Norton, New York, 2004; Sam Harris, “In Defense of Torture”, The Huffington Post, 17th October 2005; Sam Harris, “Sam Harris on The Reality of Islam”, Truthdig, 7th February 2006; Sam Harris, “Head-in-the-Sand Liberals: Western civilization really is at risk from Muslim extremists”, Los Angeles Times, 18th September 2006).

The present obsession with Islam is, of course, an artefact of the racist hysteria generated to support the current strategies of imperialism, and the integration of Islam into the ‘totalitarianism’ thesis is a very crude update of Cold War doctrine. When Arthur Schlesinger, writing at the start of the Cold War, derided the notion that “totalitarianism and democracy can live together”, he articulated a liberal consensus that was to last until the late 1960s. Hailing America’s “world destiny” in combating this “totalitarianism”, he claimed that an “assault on free institutions” was underway. The liberal intellectuals recruited by the State Department composed the founding document of Cold War doctrine, NSC-68, which asserted that the Kremlin sought to “eliminated the challenge of freedom” and therefore laid the basis for a national security state and an aggressive foreign policy. George Kennan wrote of a “messianic movement” which threatened the United States with “destruction”. This was hysterical nonsense: Soviet foreign policy was conservative and opportunistic, while the least that can be said about US foreign policy is that it did not on the whole support “freedom” in any corner of the planet. The spectre of totalitarianism advancing on the free world was raised to terrify liberal intellectuals into compliance with the state's foreign policy goals. (John Ehrman, The Rise of Neoconservatism: Intellectuals and Foreign Affairs, 1945-1994, Yale University Press, 2005, pp 2-17; NSC 68: United States Objectives and Programs for National Security, April 14, 1950, A Report to the President Pursuant to the President's Directive of January 31, 1950; George Kennan, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct”, Foreign Affairs, July 1947)

Yet those tropes are familiar today. It was, of course, the collapse of that “anti-totalitarian” consensus brought about by mass opposition to the Vietnam war that produced the neoconservative reaction, whose patron saint, the right-wing Democrat Henry Jackson, is still a hero for today’s liberal imperialism. In an analogous development, the massive antiwar movement produced by the invasion and occupation of Iraq led to the formation of Britain’s own Henry Jackson Society, supported by both Labour and Tory MPs as well as senior military figures and a few columnists, and whose ‘manifesto’ has recently been published by the Social Affairs Unit. (The British Moment: The Case for Democratic Geopolitics in the Twenty-First Century, A Manifesto of the Henry Jackson Society, Social Affairs Unit, London, 2006). And while the isolation of communism after the 1930s led many Trotskyists, such as Max Shachtman, to and support imperialism in Cuba and Vietnam, by the same token, the collapse of the revolutionary left in the 1970s led many activists to embrace “anti-totalitarianism” and scuttle into the fold of NATO. Nowhere was this more so than in France, where ultra-left critiques of the PCF gradually lent themselves to lesser-evilism and accommodation with the Socialist Party, under hysterical anti-marxist crusades led by Francois Furet and Andre Glucksmann. (See, for instance, Michael Scott Christofferson, French Intellectuals Against the Left: The Antitotalitarian Moment of the 1970s, New York and Oxford, Berghahn Books, 2004). Among descendants of the Maoist left to embrace "antitotalitarianism" and thenceforth humanitarian imperialism was Bernard Kouchner, who founded Medicin Sans Frontiers, served in the Mitterand government in 1992-3, went on to become the UN’s proconsul in Kosovo, and argued in favour of war on Iraq. (Alvin Powell, “Kouchner: Iraqi voices remain unheard: People are the silent players amid all the talk”, Harvard University Gazette, 20th March 2003). Kouchner, understandably, is Paul Berman’s political hero, exemplifying the “anti-totalitarian” politics that he espouses.

What is totalitarianism? In the hands of Jeane Kirkpatrick, a prominent neoconservative and US Ambassador to the United Nations under Reagan, “totalitarianism” was what distinguished the dictatorships the US supported from the often democratic governments that it opposed, with the latter branded as “totalitarian” and the former as merely “authoritarian”. Hence, Somoza was preferable to the Sandinistas, South African apartheid beat Nelson Mandela, and the Shah was better than anything that might ensue from a revolution. (Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, “Dictatorship and Double Standards”, Commentary Magazine, Vol. 68, No. 5, November 1979)

In the hands of Paul Berman, the ‘liberal hawk’, it is whoever might be considered an enemy of the US today. It is necessary to say a word or two about Berman’s style. At no point is one exposed to anything so impersonal as logic. It is not in his nature to make a political argument: rather, he makes his points by way of anecdote, loose association and an invitation to feel much as he does about the things he describes. Hence, he tells is in Power an the Idealists about how mean Edward Said was to Kanan Makiya, and how nice it was that some 1968ers abandoned anti-Zionism, and so on. He complains that it took the 9/11 attacks to “reopen the public discussion of totalitarianism in the Muslim world”, which includes Ba’athism and “Islamic fundamentalism”, but not imperialism or Zionism, for instance. Ironically, Berman cluelessly cites Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, without noticing that a substantial part of the book argued that imperialism was a crucial ingredient in twentieth century totalitarianism, or that she had been repelled by the “totalitarian methods” of Zionism against the Palestinians. The least connection that can be asserted between the Muslim Brothers or Michel Aflaq and the Nazis is milked for all it is worth, while the fairly extensive involvement of the US imperialism in supporting fascism leaves its “noble intentions”, which Berman knows any “sophisticated” observer must grant the US, intact. At no point does Berman give any hint that there is anything fundamentally wrong with American imperialism, and so the “totalitarians”, by miraculous coincidence, are all enemies of the US government.

Similarly in Terror and Liberalism, we are led to believe that the totalising gesture is inherent in marxism, fascism and Qutb's version of political Islam - on the grounds, for instance, that Qutb praised the notion of tawhid, while George Lukacs upheld the "primacy of the category of totality" as what distinguished marxist from bourgeois thought. The concept of tawhid does not, at any rate, translate as totality, (it literally translates as 'monotheism'), but the gesture of tracing 'totalitarianism' back to the tainted philosophical sources is orthodox "anti-totalitarian" liberalism. Berman goes on to cite Qutb's appeal to the unity of religion and society as an instance of the totalising movement, in contrast with liberalism which insists on pluralism and a polyglot society. This bears only the most superficial resemblance with Hitler's call for a racially homogenous society unified under a fanatically nationalist movement led by a great personality (his emphasis on individual "genius" was not one that Qutb would have approved of, nor would Hitler have approved of Qutb's view that Christianity had gone astray by moving too far from the Judaic scriptures). And at any rate, this prescriptive 'totalising' is substantially different from marxism's appeal to totality as an analytical device. Of course, in Berman's view, Hegel is to blame for much of this. We all know about marxism and Hegel, and it is implied (as almost everything else is) that he inspired Qutb's Arab nationalism. Berman doesn't like Hegel, as he doesn't like God, as he detests Chomsky's rationalism: not everything is "rationally explicable", and "no single logic rules the world". It is ironic that what this "anti-totalitarian" despises most of all is the universalist appeal to reason, since in his view America's enemies are not "rationally explicable". Having thus united fascism, communism and political Islam under the rubric of 'totalitarianism', the rhetoric of appeasement is simple enough: "good-hearted" 1930s liberals "sneered" at Stalin's victims, while the Paul-Fauristes, s group of socialists in Leon Blum's Popular Front, was not altogether eager for war. Paul Faure rallied to Vichy in 1940, and now (it is implied, again), there are liberals who want to be bin Laden's best mate. Curiously, Berman does not notice that Paul Faure was an anti-communist centrist like him. Trotsky, who was not, had a rather different attitude to the threat of fascism, but sadly it did not involve becoming a cheerleader for imperialism. Even the US-supported Iraqi invasion of Iran in the 1980s is taken as an occasion to insult the left - where were they, Berman wants to know, when this catastrophe was happening? Most of them, since he asks, were protesting against the Western policy of providing armaments, funding, diplomatic support and intelligence to Saddam Hussein. (Paul Berman, Terror and Liberalism, Norton, London & New York, 2003).

A quick word about Nick Cohen's citation of this ridiculously over-praised book. Cohen has it that reading it brought on a minor ephiphany: "He convinced me I'd wasted a great deal of time looking through the wrong end of the telescope. I was going to have to turn it round and see the world afresh." (“Writer’s Choice 5: Nick Cohen”, Normblog, 5th July 2005). This book was the inspiration, allegedly, for his conversion to the 'war on terror'. It won't wash: the book was published in April 2003, more than a year after Nick Cohen began beating the drum for an invasion of Iraq, and several years after he had stridently supported the 1999 war on Yugoslavia. It was his opposition to the war on Afghanistan, not his subsequent support for the war on Iraq, that was a deviation.

One of the weaknesses of the 'totalitarianism' thesis has always been its availability for manipulation: it is, as Domenico Losurdo writes, a ‘polysemous category’, possessing several distinct meanings. It refers to ideologies, movements, states – whatever you like – and can embrace a critique of imperialism, or not. It can even be a criticism of anti-imperialism - hence, John Lloyd complains about the “totalising critique” of US imperialism (John Lloyd, “How anti-Americanism betrays the left”, The Observer, 17th March 2002). Its inclusions and exclusions depend on what kind of discourse it is embedded in. As a method of comparative analysis, it has been used by some sociologists and historians to point to similarities in the mode of rule of Stalinism and Nazism, and the total claim those states made on the lives of subjects. Yet, these similarities tend to be superficial, operating in quite different contexts to quite different ends, and the comparative model is weakened by its teleological tendency to take for granted the end product of a movement before examining its origins. (For instance, this criticism is made by Hans Mommsen, cited in Ian Kershaw, The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, Fourth Edition, Arnold, London, 2000, p 39). In its more common, ideological, useage, it is a metaphor for Original Sin, locating a direct and unbroken tradition from the poisoned ideological sources of left and right-wing organicisms to the extremist political movements of the 20th Century and the regimes that ensued. This does not so much synthesise as liquefy, blending the concrete and distinct into puree of abstractions, into 'liquid terror' if you like. It is a confection produced and conserved by those who hate our freedoms, a form of intellectual terrorism that refuses to discriminate, an inducement to appease evildoers who promise to protect one from fear. Like most 'totalitarian' doctrines, it relieves one of the duty to think, allows one to return to received ideas, to retreat into what Kant called "immaturity" - the cowardly refusal to use one's own understanding without guidance from another. Its various manifestos, creeds, declarations and tomes are so many overwrought notes from blackmailers, and those who receive them gladly, who gratefully forfeit their probity and consistency, are no friends of Enlightenment.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A contrived atmosphere of atrocity. posted by Richard Seymour

Stephen Soldz writes about "terror management theory" (TMT): "TMT postulates that most people, when the threat of death enters their peripheral awareness, become more conventional in attitudes, more punitive, and more intolerant of 'outsiders.'" Furthermore: "One of the exciting things about TMT is the huge empirical base, involving hundreds of studies, in its support. One of my favorites was conducted in Germany. People were interviewed regarding their attitudes towards immigrants in two locations: in front of a funeral parlor (enhanced death threat) and one block away. Those interviewed in front of a funeral parlor were markedly more anti-immigrant than those interviewed a block away." This is research that ruling classes understand intuitively from centuries of rule, from centuries of experience in the calculated use of violence and persuasion to sustain their bountiful existence. No government in the world would fail to understand it.

It is in this light that we have to understand the government's strategy for tackling the antiwar movement: they need, as it were, to bring the threat of death immediately to bear, to have it breathing down one's neck. This is why the government drove tanks through Heathrow Airport in the run up to war. This is why the Home Secretary raised hell about a mostly bogus plot involving 'liquid explosives'. This is why the topic of Islam and its putatively problematic relationship with the West is eternally on the lips of politicians. Not only do they wish to break the growing opposition of the British public, (dramatised in the seething hostility of the organised working class experienced by Blair in his TUC speech), but they wish to intimidate Muslims, to send them retreating into their households in fear of the BNP, to have them begging to be allowed entry to New Labour's protection racket.

So, things like this can happen:

“As I was walking past a bus stop I was surrounded by about five youths, one of them a girl. They stood and waited for me then followed me down the street shouting abuse, telling me to take off my veil.

“They then repeatedly said that Straw has made it illegal so I had to take it off. They shouted ‘Jack Straw’ repeatedly. I think Straw has made racists think it’s OK to abuse people like me.”

And then Ruth Kelly can "remind" the Muslim community about the extremist threat from the BNP. And of course, the government has a brilliant line on this, drawn directly from the late Pim Fortuyn: their attacks on Muslims are about defending liberal values, hence you've got liberal feminists imagining that this picking off of veiled Muslim women, a beleaguered minority within a beleaguered minority, is about liberating women. Thus are people diverted with endless pedantries about whether the veil is strictly practicable for the purposes of communication. (Parenthetically, it cannot be a coincidence that 'communication', the idealised model of which involves the transparent, free exchange of information between bourgeois subjects, is an obsession of businesses everywhere. The ideology of open, tolerant societies involves the supposition that reducing one's communication is something that only intransigent trade unionists, and freaks, and hermits, and monks do; communication is what open, tolerant societies demand, on pain of ex-communication. One should, therefore, expose oneself to the tolerance of the panopticon, embrace one's liberating visibility to the surveillance government, and throw off the yolk of oppressive privacy). It is not, of course, about liberating women. It is about creating an atmosphere of murder. It is about a strategy of tension.

Anyway, for some light relief from firebombings, racist attacks, death threats and an ongoing war that has killed on a genocidal level, here is Steve Bell:

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Exodus. posted by Richard Seymour

If this onslaught was about Jews, I would be looking for my passport, says Jonathan Freedland:

I've been trying to imagine what it must be like to be a Muslim in Britain. I guess there's a sense of dread about switching on the radio or television, even about walking into a newsagents. What will they be saying about us today? Will we be under assault for the way we dress? Or the schools we go to, or the mosques we build? Who will be on the front page: a terror suspect, a woman in a veil or, the best of both worlds, a veiled terror suspect.

Don't laugh. Last week the Times splashed on "Suspect in terror hunt used veil to evade arrest". That sat alongside yesterday's lead in the Daily Express: "Veil should be banned say 98%". Nearly all those who rang the Express agreed that "a restriction would help to safeguard racial harmony and improve communication". At the weekend the Sunday Telegraph led on "Tories accuse Muslims of 'creating apartheid by shutting themselves off' ".

That's how it's been almost every day since Jack Straw raised the matter of the veil nearly two weeks ago. Even before, Muslims could barely open a paper without seeing themselves on the front of it. David Cameron's speech to the Tories a week earlier was trailed in advance as an appeal for Muslims to open up their single-faith schools: "Ban Muslim ghettos" was one headline.


The result is turning ugly and has, predictably, spilled on to the streets. Muslim organisations report a surge in physical and verbal attacks on Muslims; women have had their head coverings removed by force. A mosque in Falkirk was firebombed while another in Preston was attacked by a gang throwing bricks and concrete blocks.

Of course, such violence would be condemned by any politician asked about it. But a climate is developing here and every time a politician raises a question that would, on its own and in the quiet of the seminar room, be legitimate for debate, they are adding to it. They should feel shame for their reckless spraying of petrol on a growing blaze. Instead they applaud themselves, and are applauded in the press, for their bravery in daring to say what needs to be said.

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Lenin v IBC posted by Richard Seymour

You might get a laugh out of this: on a thread at the Persistence of Vision message board, Josh Dougherty of Iraq Body Count defends his organisation from my criticisms.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The first sucker. posted by Richard Seymour

I pity the fool who tries to diss the Lancet survey on the basis of complacent ignorance. Tim Lambert and Steven Poole have already pitied the fool, but I add my pity in abundance. I would only at that the claim that the Lancet figures are "taken from selective war-torn provinces" is, like everything else this fool says, false. If there isn't a retraction soon, there should be a libel case. Which would be fun.

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Blunkett: machine gun prisoners posted by Richard Seymour

More revelations about the psychotic bastard Tony Blair appointed as Home Secretary during the three most authoritarian years of New Labour's legislative reign (a record certain to be broken). Martin Narey, the former head of prisons, says Blunkett ordered him to deal with a prison riot by hauling in the army and gunning down the prisoners:

He said that, during a telephone conversation in October 2002, he told Mr Blunkett he would not rush into ordering staff back into jail if it put lives at risk.

He told The Times: "[Mr Blunkett] shrieked at me that he didn't care about lives, told me to call in the Army and 'machine-gun' the prisoners and - still shrieking - again ordered me to take the prison back immediately.

"I refused. David hung up."

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Counting the Dead: IBC attempt to undermine Lancet report. posted by Richard Seymour

I had anticipated that the team behind Iraq Body Count would react to the latest survey on Iraqi mortalities published in the Lancet by trying to minimise their import and undermine their reliability. I was not wrong. The reason is fairly simple: they're defending their turf. They have been engaged in this operation ever since Media Lens asked them what they thought of the fact that mainstream media outlets were using their figures as reliable maximum estimates of the dead, and why they didn't challenge this evident untruth even though they acknowledged on their site that it was indeed an untruth. Their place in the media spotlight is threatened, and such is the only occasion under which they have put up any kind of a fight, even going so far during the spat with Media Lens to compare their opponents to terrorists on BBC 2.

I appreciate the Socratic method involved in IBC's attempt to rebut the findings of Burnham et al: rather than address themselves to matters of data collection, statistical analysis and methodology, about which the research team are often attacked in ignorance, IBC tries to examine a number of implications that result if one accepts the study's findings. Describing these implications as extremely anomalous, they conclude that the findings cannot be accurate. This assessment and their offering of it rests on some assumptions that are unsound.

The first implication that they don't like is that on average, "a thousand Iraqis have been violently killed every single day in the first half of 2006, with less than a tenth of them being noticed by any public surveillance mechanisms." Let's assume that this is in fact a sensible implication to draw from the report: why is it inherently improbable? Because the IBC asserts that it is. They assert that these deaths might be accounted for by 150 of what they called "medium-sized" assaults per day, missed by the media. (Notice that a medium-sized assault here is about five, but that mean is arrived at from a limited sample, that is the sample of reported deaths). They assert that it is "unlikely that incidents of this scale would be so consistently missed by the various media in Iraq." Why? Because the IBC gathers information on reported attacks, and has noticed, moreover, that these attacks were in fact reported. So, if these attacks were reported, it is inherently unlikely that a large number of others were not. They further assert that since 42% of the total deaths estimated by the Lancet comprise car bombs, air strikes and other explosions and ordinance, these cannot have been 'secret'. This is, once more, question-begging, since whether they are 'secret' or not depends to a large extent on whether they were reported or not. Similarly, IBC goes on to say that their data shows that deadly car bombs kill seven or eight people on average. The Lancet figures correspond to approximately 20 deadly car bombings a day, most of them unreported. And yet, say the IBC, we have data that shows that other car bombings have been widely reported. Precisely the ones that we know about, the ones that have in fact been widely reported. The IBC once more stipulates the conclusion in the premisses, a technique which is, as I say, known as question-begging. The killer blow: "The Pentagon, which has every reason to highlight the lethality of car bombs to Iraqis, records, on average, two to three car-bombings per day throughout Iraq, including those hitting only its own forces or causing no casualties, for the period in question." The claim that the Pentagon wish to maximise the extent of violence in Iraq in the public imagination is interesting, but as it is offered without proof, it can be dismissed with proof. Unless there is an additional claim, one with proof this time, that the Pentagon actually goes out of its way to measure and report on such matters, then the claim is unworthy of serious attention.

The second implication is as follows: "Some 800,000 or more Iraqis suffered blast wounds and other serious conflict-related injuries in the past two years, but less than a tenth of them received any kind of hospital treatment." Again, let's assume that this is a sensible implication to draw from the report, except this time we must add one stipulation: they mean recorded hospital treatment. Why do they think this improbable? Well: "people suffering injuries usually make strenuous efforts to receive appropriate treatment, or if they are severely incapacitated, others see to it that they do so." This is indeed the case in most instances. We might add that people without much money usually make strenuous efforts to become more affluent. Their success is often determined by something other than their strenuous efforts. But let's suppose that such strenuous efforts are made: hospitals are not the only possibility for treatment in any society, and are not necessarily the best if they happen to be bombed out, have little access to water, be short on medicines and blood stocks, have few staff etc etc. Additionally, given the general disarticulation of society in Iraq at the moment, and the lack of extensive control by the occupiers over huge areas of Iraq, it would not be surprising if large numbers of hospitals in high population areas did not keep good records, especially in cases of short-term emergency treatment, and did not communicate well with the Ministry of Health. Even those hospitals that are under the control of the Ministry of Health are reported to be the scene of sectarian killings (of patients), in which case statistics issuing from them are certainly not to be taken at face value. What is more, Iraq's health care system has been marked by serious embezzlement and corruption under the occupation, so that even where there has been little armed combat, many hospitals are barely functioning. One would anticipate a level of underreporting of casualties, and certainly a high level of undertreatment of them within the official healthcare system, in such circumstances. The point is that since IBC relies upon what it thinks are safe assumptions, we can easily add a number of other assumptions, which are grounded in empirical reports and data, that make the implication of under-reporting that they see as inherently implausible seem entirely predictable. The circularity from IBC continues when they remind us of monitoring systems already in place: it is implied that because those maintaining the system have an interest in keeping it in place, this must mean that it is in fact, well in place, and recording the situation quite well. Indeed, there was an interest in not allowing the invasion of Iraq to take place, and not allowing any hospital to be occupied, and not allowing sectarian parties to come to power, and not allowing the water infrastructure to be destroyed, and not allowing the medicines to run dry, and not allowing billions of dollars to be embezzled, and not allowing anyone to be killed or wounded. You can be certain that there was a powerful interest for many Iraqi social groups in preventing this, and they stood to lose a great deal from what happened, yet they seemed curiously reluctant to stop it: almost as if the question were to a large extent out of their hands.

The next implication is that "Over 7% of the entire adult male population of Iraq has already been killed in violence, with no less than 10% in the worst affected areas covering most of central Iraq." IBC doesn't like this because - well, in fact, they do not say. They simply tell us that this is what is implied. One assumes that they think this is inherently unlikely, but surely they were supposed to be testing that implication? Another version of this argument would be: "one implication of the report is that close to 655,000 people may well have died in Iraq. Furthermore, as if that wasn't bad enough, a further implication is that close to 600,000 of those have died violently. In Iraq! In one of the most violent societies in the world right now! Could you credit it?"

The next implication is that "Half a million death certificates were received by families which were never officially recorded as having been issued." In this, the IBC feels confident enough to chuckle. Either "500,000 documented violent deaths, for which certificates were issued, have somehow managed to completely disappear without a trace to Iraqi officials or the international media" or "there is a vast, elaborate, and very successful, cover up of this massive number of bodies and their associated paper trail being carried out in Iraq." So either the authors of the report believe in magic, or they believe in conspiracies. Indeed, the Lancet authors hint at conspiracy, but profoundly believe in magic, since they argue in supplementary notes that "Even with the death certificate system, only about one-third of deaths were captured by the government's surveillance system in the years before the current war, according to informed sources in Iraq." IBC adds "No one argues that Iraq's official figures are complete, including its officials. But could their coverage be so bad as to amount to no more than a small fraction of deaths, as suggested above?" This, indeed, is the very question which IBC is supposed to be trying to answer in the negative, without much success so far. Nevertheless, if the IBC accepts that the official figures are incomplete, then they have automatically subscribed to the crazy theory of 'disappearances' that they find so funny. They assert that the figures underlying the Lancet's claim are false, because a) there is no corroboration for the 5/1,000/year mortality rate in 2002 upon which the report's authors operate, and b) the claim that the Iraqi government recorded less than 40,000 deaths from all causes in 2002 is false, and that they have the official statistics as forwarded to them by the Los Angeles Times for 2002, which are closer to 80,000 (thereby reducing the level of under-reporting). At least this is an argument. About the first charge, it is worth noting that the figure, although based on one report, is corroborated in part by the ILCS, which records roughly the same infant mortality rate in 2002 as do Burnham et al. (If it matters, the CIA's estimate for total mortality in Iraq in 2002 was 6.02/1,000/year.) If IBC are now asserting that the true mortality rate could have in fact been lower, thereby acquitting the Iraqi government of undercounting substantially, then the implication of that is that the excess deaths were much higher than those recorded by the Lancet study. On the second point, we can assume for now that the IBC are correct, the Lancet authors are mistaken in their supplementary notes, and Hussein's government measured 70% of total deaths in 2002, not 30%. And then what is entailed? That because the previous Iraqi government measured Iraqi deaths less imperfectly than Burnham et al had supposed, it must not be possible for the occupation government to have measured them highly imperfectly, much less competently than the Hussein one. Yet, the crucial distinction, that one government operated in a situation of relative peace, and the other in war, seems to have escaped them. On this note, the evidentiary base that the Lancet authors adduce as corroborative support for the idea that one could expect a substantial gap between official reports of mortality based on mortuary reports and reliable statistically detected mortality is not restricted to this one example, contrary to what the IBC claims. The Lancet report notes in its conclusion that: "Other than Bosnia, we are unable to find any major historical instances where passive surveillance methods (such as morgue and media reports) identify more than 20% of the deaths which were found through population-based survey methods." This tends to be a problem in circumstances of war, especially in situations where the occupiers have specifically prohibited the counting of the dead.

The last implication the IBC doesn't like is: "The Coalition has killed far more Iraqis in the last year than in earlier years containing the initial massive "shock and awe" invasion and the major assaults on Falluja." This is apparently improbable because "All available evidence points to a significant and progressive reduction in Coalition military operations overall since the first year of the invasion." It transpires that the available evidence they avert to is simply that there were not widely reported assaults like 'shock and awe' and Falluja afterwards. Once again, if it wasn't reported in the largely Western press that IBC uses, then it doesn't count as "available evidence". Further, IBC cites the effects of reporting (what they "keenly recall") as evidence that the reporting can't be far wrong.

And this is it. The whole thing is an enormous and misleading exercise in circularity, a massive raise of the eyebrow, a titanic exercise in obfuscation. They cannot touch the study for methodology, they cannot find anything in it that is badly done: not a single cluster wrongly placed, not a single false extrapolation, not a particle of evidence of any fraudulence or fecklessness. They hazily refer to possible bias, but on the basis of nothing more solid than that this would explain away the uncomfortable implications that they draw. As Daniel Davies points out, the chances of the Lancet authors obtaining the sample they did, if the facts were much closer to what the IBC records, are so low that it would have to be fraud. The IBC cannot and do not make this accusation, because they are not prepared to test their flimsy insinuations and doubts in a court of law. For a proffered rebuttal entitled 'Reality Checks', the IBC's intervention is breathtakingly short on either rebuttal or reality.

Here is what an epidemiologist thinks.

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