June 16, 2010

The Afghanistan Decay

Filed under: Afghanistan, Bailouts Only Reopened the Casino, Corporatism, Global War On Terror — Tags: , , — Russell Bangs @ 3:47 pm


Contrary to initial suspicions, General David Petraeus did not in fact pass out in a moment of clarity when his delusions fell away and he beheld the insanity and wickedness of the Global War on Terror in its full truth. It was just dehydration. Apparently he doesn’t know how to drink enough water in the desert. That sounds about right for the jokers running this war.
In a criminal system, every new piece of evidence that you’re on the wrong path is taken as a pretext to accelerate down that path. So it’s likely to be in Afghanistan, even as contrary evidence – on the strategy, on the tactics, on Karzai – continues to pile up. Obama still claims to be sticking to his 2011 partial withdrawal timetable although they’ll “review” in December. Never mind that the touted “withdrawal” from Iraq is already proving to be bogus.
So everyone’s probably seen the big “news”, that the US claims to have discovered vast mineral reserves all over Afghanistan. It’s not in fact news, since the original discoveries were by the Soviets in the 1980s, and Afghan engineers told the Americans about them in 2004. The Americans apparently ignored this information until 2007, when they carried out aerial surveys to augment the data. Now they’re claiming to have located upwards of $11 trillion worth of gold, copper, cobalt, iron, and lithium. The lithium deposit supposedly rivals that of Bolivia, the world’s largest. Electric car believers, rejoice! If the lithium really is there, I’m sure it’ll be used for low-cost mass EV production and not weaponry or luxuries for the rich.
The proximate cause for this old news being announced now is that the much-hyped Kandahar offensive has been postponed and downgraded to an “operation” or dawdle or whatever they’re now calling it. Even the MSM is prognosticating failure, as it ruminates on the fact that the model operation in Marja has already failed.
It looks like they’re trying to artificially stimulate a new pretext for a lost war. (The GWOT itself was in part a textbook foreign distraction from a domestic problem in the first place, in Bush’s case that he wanted to turn the people’s eyes away from his pre-Bailout looting of the country. Sounds quaint today. And yet now the diversionary GWOT needs its own meta-diversion.)
Lots of people had the initial reaction that “now we’ll never leave”. The intention of never leaving was already the case, so this doesn’t really change anything there. But I suppose it may harden the resolve on both sides, in which case it favors the insurgents.
This is because, in spite of idiotic Western hubris, wars of attrition in the Global South always favor the insurgency wherever it fights with resolve. Anywhere this is the case, “You can kill ten of ours for every one of yours we kill, and you’ll still give up and we’ll still win”, as Ho Chi Minh said. Any reason to fight will always be more deeply and ferociously felt in the man fighting for his homeland than in the mercenary/tourist who couldn’t even tell you why he’s there, no matter how professional he is. So it follows that any new reason, in this case fighting to hang onto the mineral wealth of one’s homeland vs. fighting to steal resources from a foreign country, will add to the insurgents’ preponderance of resolve, and thus increase the pro-insurgency attrition spread.
Of course we have no idea whether these mineral reserves exist in such quantity at all, and if they do exist, whether they can ever be extracted under conditions of war and Peak Oil.
And if they do exist and are extracted, who’s likely to be doing the extracting? That would be China, who already deftly picked up many of the Iraqi oil contracts the US had fought so hard to “liberate” for its own oil rackets. Instead the Chinese rackets are looking to rake in the profit after the US expended the blood and money. The same thing is already happening in Afghanistan, where the biggest Karzai mining concession was awarded not to his erstwhile US masters but to the Chinese.
Given the abysmal relations between the US and Karzai, another heckuva job on Obama’s part, there’s no good reason to think US mining interests will have any inside track on any future concessions.
But the Democrats remain stoic. Representative Ike Skelton even saw fit to channel Donald Rumsfeld: “Karzai’s a challenge. But you work with what you have.”
Yes, you launch imperial wars with the stooges you have, not the ones you want.
And how well is this war of aggression going? About as well as can be expected under the circumstances. Petraeus wrote the counterinsurgency (COIN) manual, and it’s Stanley McChrystal’s bible. A basic axiom: You need twenty soldiers per one thousand of the populace. In Afghanistan that means half a million troops. This is a prerequisite, as the commanders decreed.
“I see. So can you do effective counterinsurgency with one hundred thousand?”
Petraeus and McC: “Sure!”
That’s why Marja’s going the way it is, and that’s why Kandahar’s a pipe dream.
I was contrasting Patton, who had the will to fight and was good at it, with Petraeus and McChrystal, who seem to be both lacking in will and incompetent. Patton would be the first to say drone warfare* is cowardly and ineffective. The fact that they’re emphasizing it is evidence of the decayed moral fiber of the army, and reliance upon such gadgetry only furthers the rot. If you want to fight the war, if you have the will to fight the war, you’d say forget the drones, which are counterproductive (as the CIA itself admits), and instead commit to massive force on the ground. If you’re not willing to do that then you’re not serious, you really lack the will to fight, in which case you simply shouldn’t do it period, instead of being half-assed about it.
I’m not saying such ground warfare would work either, but that’s the point. These COIN wars fought for purely piratic, corporate ends, are not winnable. And they’re really not supposed to be. The point of such a war is to hijack the public armed forces as the vehicle of corporate looting, from the weapons contractors to the mercenary and support rackets to the extractive rackets. The war is fought with taxpayer money and public blood while the rackets rake in pure profit. That’s what corporatism’s all about. That’s why the war is meant to be permanent for as long as it can be sustained. It’s a second Bailout alongside the finance Bailout.
(There’s a clear parallel between the expensive, bloody pointlessness of the Global War on Terror and the expensive, economically destructive pointlessness of HFT, bond vigilantism, the carry trade, and all the other games of the Bailout casino. In both cases taxpayer money, in principle infinite, is used as play money by favored rackets. But they get to keep the winnings as real money. The people are stuck with all the real losses.)
So there’s the state of the Afghan bailout. I suppose the services can be compared to the riot police in Greece. It’s unfortunate to have to see things that way, but that’s where the kleptocracy is leading us and will to continue to lead for as long as people follow and obey gangsters.
[* In a chilling but predictable detail, the plans are already being laid to bring the drones home. Soon they won’t need to send a SWAT team to kick down the wrong door and shoot down an innocent homeowner because they wrongly think he’s growing weed. They’ll just target him with a drone instead. That’s the clear logic here.]

April 10, 2010

The Company You Keep

Filed under: Afghanistan, Global War On Terror — Tags: — Russell Bangs @ 2:15 am


Obama and his chickenhawks have been having quite the little problem lately with their stooge Karzai. Even as the Helmand offensive moves on toward Kandahar, Karzai in a series of speeches has been attacking his imperial masters, threatening uncooperation and even going over to the Taliban.
Apparently what set him off is his irritation over the typical US establishment hypocrisy of wanting the forms of good-civics democracy no matter how corrupt the reality. (There’s that process mentality again.) Although the US government wants Karzai to be as corrupt as he has to be, and if necessary to steal elections (in the aftermath of the stolen election Obama contented himself with one of his impotent lectures like he tries to give the banksters; just as with Wall Street, so here too this proves that he approves of the crime but hopes for tidier processes), it also wants to pretend it’s doing something to prevent such fraud in the future. So Karzai’s expected to jump through the hoops of submitting to the oversight of a UN-certified “watchdog”. Karzai, being just a common hood who considers kleptocracy his entitlement, the job he’s being paid for, is chafing at even this fig leaf. So he tried to pass a panel-packing law so his own creatures would staff the panel. Yet his own crony legislature rejected this, I assume because “somebody” paid them more.
In his rage Karzai has been lashing out at the US cabal. “I am not a puppet!”, he shouted. He blamed all the fraud on the UN and US. He claimed there won’t be any Kandahar offensive if he doesn’t support it. He accused the US of interfering in areas beyond its competence or authority and broadly hinted that US interests and his own may not always coincide. He invited Ahmadinejad to visit and speak. He said the US military operation was practically an invasion which may lead to “a national resistance”, and threatened the obvious – unless his government is seen to have legitimacy, the Taliban movement becomes synonymous with a Pashtun national movement. The Taliban will in fact be a legitimate resistance movement.
Leave me alone, he demanded, or “I swear I am going to join the Taliban.”
That’s nice friends you got there, Obama and Bush.
He’s right, of course, about the legitimacy issue, while every antiwar analyst has pointed out this fundamental contradiction in the US government premise. The military’s own counterinsurgency doctrine intones that there must be an indigenous government perceived as legitimate by the people. The Karzai government, of course, is not legitimate and is not seen as legitimate. The Pashtuns rightly see Karzai as a kleptocratic American stooge presiding over a Tajik-dominated alien regime, who stole the election. By our own premise we have to admit this war can’t work and get out. But of course the government stays the course anyway. (I’ve written some stuff about this war’s “credibility” before, for example here, here, and here.)
One of my favorite passages of war commentary is this gem from McChrystal, who does seem to have the virtue of sometimes speaking the absurd truth rather than making up some slick lie.

So many things could scuttle McChrystal’s plans: a Taliban more intractable than imagined, the fractured nature of Afghan society and, no matter what President Obama does, a lack of soldiers and time. But there is something even worse, over which neither McChrystal nor his civilian comrades in the American government exercise much control: the government of Hamid Karzai, already among the most corrupt in the world, appears to have secured its large victory in nationwide elections in August by orchestrating the stealing of votes. A United Nations-backed group is trying to sort through the fraud allegations, and American diplomats are trying to broker some sort of power-sharing agreement with Karzai and his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah.

But increasingly, McChrystal, as well as President Obama and the American people, are being forced to confront the possibility that they will be stuck fighting and dying and paying for a government that is widely viewed as illegitimate.

When I asked McChrystal about this, it was the one issue that he seemed not to have thought through. What if the Afghan people see their own government as illegitimate? How would you fight for something like that?

“Then we are going to have to avoid looking like we are part of the illegitimacy,” the general said. “That is the key thing.”

Here’s a stat which puts into perspective the “legitimacy” of this wholesome democratic government:

* Believe it or not, for instance, U.S. commanders in our war zones have more than one billion congressionally mandated dollars a year at their disposal to spend on making “friends with local citizens and help[ing] struggling economies.” It’s all socked away in the Commander’s Emergency Response Program. Think of it as a local community-bribery account which, best of all, seems not to require the slightest accountability to Congress for where or how the money is spent.

The real comedy has come from the administration’s reaction to Karzai’s misbehavior and the tantrums of its flacks. Hillary called to complain. Meanwhile Obama “disinvited” him from a scheduled White House visit.
But this effect was somewhat blunted when Obama personally traveled to Kabul as a supplicant, begging for better behavior. (And now Obama has even sent him a thank-you letter, “for receiving him on such short notice”!) This sure is a posture Obama easily assumes. He’s done it with Karzai before, following the stolen election when Obama begged him not to steal any further elections. While we can understand how meek and spineless he is with his masters Dimon and Blankfein, he’s just as prone to bow and scrape before heirarchical inferiors like Lieberman, Republicans, and Karzai.
The jingo flack NYT is trying to cover for his character weaknesses here. In the process it provides a window into its own lack of character. Several pieces try to peddle the line that Obama’s begging expedition was indeed “embarrassing” – but to Karzai. I don’t know – when the President of the United States goes halfway around the world to beg a flunkey to behave himself, it seems to me that’s flattering to the flunkey while shameful for the boss. Strong leaders send other flunkies to deal with flunkies. 
Indeed the NYT’s editorials have been downright hysterical:

American officials have repeatedly warned Mr. Karzai that unless he truly commits to eradicating corruption (including among his own family members), improving governance and institutionalizing the rule of law, there is no chance of defeating the Taliban. Mr. Karzai has repeatedly shrugged off those warnings.

And we have repeatedly warned that by definition such things can never happen in a corrupt war propping up a corrupt stooge.

Mr. Obama made the right decision to send another 30,000 troops to help drive the Taliban out of important strongholds. But there is no way to hold those cities and towns without an effective Afghan government (at both the federal and local level) to take over. And after eight years of fighting, more than 1,000 American lives lost and more than $200 billion from American taxpayers spent, Mr. Karzai’s failure to build a credible, honest and even minimally effective government remains the Taliban’s No. 1 recruiting tool.

No, as all sane people comprehend, your very presence is the #1 recruiting tool. (Along with your own newsreels proudly displaying your normal way of life.)

The rambling speech of President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan on Thursday was alarming. His delusional criticism of the United Nations and governments whose troops are risking their lives by fighting the Taliban complicates the difficult effort to stabilize Afghanistan.

“Rambling…alarming…delusional…” At least he got you to open up about what you really are, since nothing seems more unhinged than the chickenhawk NYT’s tone on this. Referring to Karzai’s calling the invaders “invaders”, the NYT responds that this truth is “conceit”. While we’ve gleaned that from their editorial tone throughout (not just on the war, of course, and only starting in the editorial section), it’s funny to see it openly expressed.
But the most important takeaway is how, while they repeat the declaration the army made years ago and the admission McC made months ago, that “the effort depends on credible leadership in Kabul”, they still to this day refuse to advocate the one and only action which follows from this. Since it’s by now an established fact that Karzai is not credible and never will be credible, by their own premise they have to renounce their aggression and get out.
But incomprehensibly according to any rational measure, they not only refuse to abide by their own stipulation, but they keep stipulating it! It’s insanity.
(The Times says “Mr. Karzai is encouraging those who want the US out of Afghanistan”. No, he’s confirming that we were right, and you by your patent derangement are proving we were right. Just as you’re aligned in every other way, so you both prove right everyone who has pointed out the futility of everything you’re doing.)
The NYT does indeed become frustrated trying to analyze this:

Interviews with diplomats, Afghan analysts and ordinary Afghans suggest that the United States and other Western countries have three options: threaten to withdraw troops or actually withdraw them; use diplomacy, which so far has had little result; and find ways to expand citizen participation in the government, which now has hardly any elected positions at the provincial and district levels.

Threatening to withdraw, which Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, called the “nuclear deterrent” option, would put the United States and other Western countries in the position of potentially having to make good on the promise, risking their strategic interest in a stable Afghanistan. Few experts think the country would remain peaceful without a significant foreign force here. Moreover, withdrawal could open the way for the country to again become a terrorist haven.

Some Western critics of Mr. Karzai believe that the West has no choice but to threaten to leave.

“There is no point in having troops in a mission that cannot be accomplished,” said Peter W. Galbraith, former United Nations deputy special representative for Afghanistan, who was dismissed after a dispute with his superiors over how to handle widespread electoral fraud and what senior U.N. officials later said was his advocacy of Mr. Karzai’s removal. “The mission might be important, but if it can’t be achieved, there is no point in sending these troops into battle. Part of the problem is that counterinsurgency requires a credible local partner.”

Diplomacy has so far failed to achieve substantial changes, although some analysts, like Mr. Biddle, who opposes the so-called nuclear option, believe that the West should demand concessions before spending any more money on development projects like digging wells and building schools.

“We do millions of things in Afghanistan, and any of those things can become a source of leverage,” he said. “Far too much of what we do in Afghanistan we just do without asking for anything explicit in return.”

What’s your leverage? What can you do to demand that? You’re the junkie. You’re the fiend. Karzai may depend upon you for his regime’s literal existence, but your regime depends upon him perhaps even more profoundly, given how the very psyche of the power structure is so bound up in the Permanent War. (Also more nonsense about the regime’s “credibility”.)
We see how emotionally and psychologically committed the administration and the media are. In that sense their own fear is perhaps even deeper than that of the stooge who’s risking his life, which probably doesn’t mean as much to him. Physical existence isn’t held as dear in a place like Afghanistan, the latest such place where that’s true. That’s why spiritually bloated and enervated Westerners will never be able to win wars in such places.
But that passage does contain one hint about a way to extend and pretend with regard to regime “credibility”. Since according to their war premise they need a legitimate regime, and since any sane person knows that regime can’t be Karzai’s, it follows that they can try to prop up their bankrupt war rationale by dumping him and getting another stooge. Nobody buys the crap about “citizen participation in the government”. That’s probably code for, “if Karzai doesn’t fall into line, we can replace him”.
(Replace him with whom? I’m sure these idiots have no idea. They’ll need another Pashtun if they want to keep peddling the lie about “good jobs” awaiting all these Taliban fighters who are expected to lay down their weapons and resume civilian life. Not that’s anyone’s any more likely to believe it then than they believe it now.)
As is so often the case with Karzai, that question makes me think of Diem. The US cabal did replace Diem when his behavior, identical to Karzai’s, became too annoying, and they thought they had alternatives. It turned out they really didn’t have good alternatives, they went through a fast-changing slew of regimes before finally settling on Thieu, the final South Vietnam stooge. As we know, the whole farce was vain from the start. It was always doomed to fail, and it did fail. It would be a joke if not for the fact of 58,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese murdered, and god knows how many on both sides mutilated, physically and spiritually.
Evidently, chickenhawks like Obama and the NYT do think Vietnam was a funny joke, however, since they’re so eager to replay it. There are more parallels here between Diem and Thieu on the one hand and Karzai on the other, which the warmongers really should consider.
I really can’t imagine what today’s jingoes are whining about. They know Karzai – he’s the same guy they’ve always had working for them. Throughout America’s imperial history. It’s always that exact same guy – thuggish, corrupt, lying, demanding, and ungrateful. Diem was that guy, and Thieu was that guy. (Have you ever seen interviews with Thieu after he fled Vietnam with the fall of Saigon? He spent the rest of his life badmouthing America, calling Americans liars and cowards for not continuing to prop up his regime the way Nixon and Kissinger had promised him. That’s your guy, imperialists. That’s your Karzai, that’s your Chalabi.)
One thing I wonder, in case there really is anyone foolish enough to truly believe in the American government’s wars. Does it ever occur to these people that if time after time they undertake these operations and find that the best people always side against them, and that the only people they can find to work with them and serve as their “clients” are these same thugs and crooks, does it ever occur to them that maybe this is evidence that their cause is not “good”, that it is in fact evil?
It always makes me think of the old saying, you can be judged by the company you keep. America has always found itself in the same vile company, for over a hundred years, every time it engages in what we anti-imperialists call imperial wars. Every time the criminals have a new rationale, like today’s “war on terror”, and every time so many people are willing to believe the rationale, but doesn’t anyone ever notice the constant – look at the company you keep.
Does that ever make anyone stop and wonder? What would they think if they found that a new pastime had them associating with such thugs in their own life? Or if their kids were running with such a crowd?

March 22, 2010

Post Mortem


Well, I’ve written plenty on this vile reactionary health racket bailout. I don’t have much desire to say much more now. So just a few words.
Everyone agreed in principle that the system was broken, yet instead of chucking the whole thing they all agreed to further entrench the existing broken system. Instead of real reform they entrenched the existing abuses. They doubled down on organized crime.
Don’t let any of this scum get away with comparing this to how Social Security was imperfect to start with but was then built upon. Social Security was structurally headed in the right direction from the inception, and only needed scaling. This reactionary entrenchment of the private parasite heads in exactly the WRONG direction. It builds the parasitic tollbooths into fortresses. It further scales up the inefficiencies, insanities, rent extractions, and crimes.
Today I read this piece on the complete failure of Afghan police training for nine years now. How they’re still handing out “contracts” to the likes of Blackwater and DynCorp, the same who have stolen so many billions already. The piece quotes some would-be reformers offering suggestions on how the process could become more rational and cost-effective.
They don’t get it.
The whole point of the Afghan war, as with every other federal project, is to set up extraction points for well-connected gangs to steal taxpayer money. The government loots on the gangs’ behalf, serves as bagman, hands over the cash. The “contracts”, whatever they’re supposed to be for, are merely fraudulent pretexts. Nobody actually cares if they’re ever performed. Halliburton and Blackwater themselves are indistinguishable from Mafia capo regimes, or from the Bloods and the Crips.
(If anyone needed further proof that the Obama and Bush administrations are identically corrupt down to the very details, the piece says that the “Space and Missile Defense Command and Contracting Office” of all people will be placed in charge of adjudicating the Blackwater-DynCorp turf squabble. I don’t know how they became the bagman of choice, but such idiocy is common in kleptocracies. Indeed, that’s a classic symptom. Then again, “missile defense” was always a world class scam, so maybe scamming’s all that office has ever done.)
The piece quotes DynCorp saying that the US military isn’t good at training indigenous police. I’m sure that’s true. But here’s a memo from reality: If your military, because of the systemic way you set it up, isn’t good at a particular mission, that’s a strong indication that the mission itself is unsuitable and unnecessary; that it doesn’t involve your real interests. So the conclusion you should draw is to reject the mission.
But of course this system does the opposite – if the existing structure’s no good, just pile corporate contracts atop it. Build a corporatist Tower of Babel. Because for this system, a kleptocracy, the real mission is always privatization and looting. Always. In every single case. 
That’s the only reality-based explanation for the Global War on Terror. Any system which actually had the intentions and goals this system claims would act in a completely different way.
In the same way, the only way you can impute any rationality or sanity to supporters of this health racket bailout is to assume their main (and perhaps only) priority is to maximize profits for the rackets. Short of this motive, support for this bill can be ascribed only to ignorance (of what’s really in it, and of regulatory history), cult insanity, and the standard “progressive” cowardice.    
Another of the idiotic “progressive” hack delusions is the way they keep comparing what we have in America today – a gangster cesspool on the verge of overt fascism – with times and places which were/are not at all like that.
Like the comparison with European countries. How can one look at a system that evolved organically among people who still had some sense of a society, and think you can derive a template from that example, and then superimpose it on America’s gangland free-fire zone? News flash – American insurance rackets are nothing like European non-profit private insurance companies, however similar they may seem on paper to the delusionally myopic.
It’s like Krugman trying to compare Canadian bank regulation with what can be done in America. He’s also made the vicious, lying health racket comparison.
This, like everything else by now, is the battlefront of corporatism vs. anti-corporatism, tyranny vs. freedom.
Those who claim to support reform, but who sold out single-payer, and stand by their betrayal today, are traitors.
We know, once and for all, that this system is incorrigible and terminal. The Federal government will never again do anything good for the public interest, or indeed anything which is not a further assault upon the public interest. The American people from here on have to view this government as a foreign, quisling puppet regime. Something to be ignored and evaded as a rule, actively resisted where necessary, and distrusted and rejected always.
It follows that there will never be a significant good piece of federal legislation again. So it’s best if no significant piece of federal legislation ever passes again. I’d really hoped this bill would fail, but oh well..
At any rate, from here on gridlock is our best outcome. The optimal situation would be for Democrats to retain the White House and smaller majorities in both houses. Small enough that on account of their own squabbling they wouldn’t be able to pass anything if the Republicans maintain obstructionist discipline vs. a Democratic president. (By contrast, with a Rep president it’s far more likely that enough Dems would cave in to allow Rep legislation to pass. It happened all the time under Bush.)
It also follows that the filibuster and all other procedural obstructions are now good things.
If that sounds too grim, too pessimistic, just think again about health “reform”, or finance “reform”. Obama and the Democrats came into 2009 with big majorities and an overwhelming mandate to pass real reform legislation. Single payer was theirs for the taking. Castrating Wall Street was theirs for the doing. The banks and the Republicans were on the ropes and could do nothing. (The Reps to this day can still do nothing.)
So what they actually did in both cases – claim that nothing but meager anodyne tinkering could be done, and then not even do that, but aggressively empower the rackets further, turning both “reform” processes into disaster capitalist plundering expeditions – empirically proves what the Democrats will do under the circumstances which are strongest for them. And we already saw during the Bush years what the Republicans will do anytime they have the chance.
So it’s over – the federal government, both Washington parties, and we can throw in the mainstream media, are a total loss. They are now enemies of the people and will never again be anything but that.
It’s a hard, cold realization, but one we have to endure. There will never again be any constructive action in America but new, decentralized action from the ground up.
One thing’s for sure. Now that this monstrosity has passed, if they really go ahead and try to enforce this mandate (it kicks in several years from now; you can gauge their bad faith and their cowardice by how they don’t want it to kick in prior to the 2012 elections) people need to start preparing themselves to become health insurance outlaws, because even millions who would go along with it if they could afford it will not be able to afford it. There will exist, for official consumption, “subsidies”, which in reality will never be even remotely sufficient.
So there, perhaps, is a small, still hazy bright spot, an opportunity in the crisis. Since economic relocalization and the spread of the informal economy are already freedom imperatives, and will be forced upon us by circumstances anyway, perhaps here’s a political pivot for making a virtue of necessity. We can speak the truth – that resisting this mandate will be not only something the system forces upon us, but a positively righteous fight against tyranny, a fight for freedom.

February 22, 2010

Let’s Get Austere, Baby!

Filed under: Afghanistan, Bailouts Intensify Monopoly, Corporatism, Freedom, Globalization, Neo-feudalism — Tags: , — Russell Bangs @ 4:01 am


William Astore recently gave a good example of the triumph of the bourgeois political mentality in America. He discusses how the American military’s response to its defeat in Vietnam was not to question the imperial premise, but to double down on it, deny defeat, and simply blame faulty organizational tactics. The problem, it turns out, was simply a lack of old-style Germanic professionalism. Astore first noticed this when, as an Air Force cadet and officer, he found that his childhood admiration for German arms in WWII not only had been widely shared by fellow officers, but the German model of professionalism was increasingly seen as something to be emulated by the officer corps itself.
The professional: He has no overt politics, which means his politics are implicitly those of the status quo. He is similarly absolved/stripped of any sort of concern for civics or law. These are the business of other types of professionals. The end goal is no longer a citizen who is also a professional, but simply a hyperprofessional.
Meanwhile the recruitment process can similarly dispense with the citizen aspect and be revamped as a standard marketing campaign seeking its target audience, which is a consumer like any other.
In saying that I didn’t even specify “professional officer”, “citizen-soldier” and the like, since it applies as well to most other professional cadres by now. These are all examples of the assimilation of real politics and citizenship by the perverted bourgeois version of politics and civics, which is really anti-politics, anti-citizenship.
This domestic process, which represents a long, erosive struggle, the attempt to destroy American politics, has been greatly intensified by the process of neoliberal imperialism “coming home.” For all the gaudy embellishments of ideology, all the hype and lies and cooing whispers from academia and the MSM, globalization was always the same brutal plunder raid that imperialism has eternally been. (I wrote about it here and here, among many other times.)
In the end it’s always the same – power for power’s sake, violence for violence’s sake. The whole thing can make some kind of pseudo-sense only within the framework of the “growth” ideology. Expansion for expansion’s sake is itself institutionalized insanity, and growth is “the logic of the cancer cell”, as Albert Bartlett called it. But the whole system has long been dedicated to propping up this exponential growth, via exponential debt, and to brainwashing the people into believing the growth ideology is not only rational, equitable, and sustainable, not only the “best” way of doing things according to all these measures, but is the only way.
Alternative ideas are shouted down where necessary, ridiculed, drowned in lies. But most of all they’re simply ignored. Every fact, every metric, every idea, every proposal is implicitly considered only from the point of view of how will this help of hinder “growth”? Growth as such is considered analogous to oxygen. Its needfulness is beyond dispute or even explicit mention.
So this enshrined growth ideology in turn is used to justify the what are alleged to be its mere tactics, domination, plunder, and violence, wherever it’s impossible to simply deny these outright. But in fact it’s not growth, which will allegedly trickle down to benefit the people as a whole, which requires power and violence. It’s the lust for domination itself which is sowing its oats here, which is exercising itself via the vehicle of globalization, and which is using “growth” as both a concentration mechanism and a political fig leaf. But “growth” as a real, sustainable process, and “trickle down” as any kind of reality whatsoever, are nothing but Big Lies. They’re meant to mollify and misdirect the people while economic and (anti-)political liquidation creeps along, and this people themselves are the eventual target of this creeping tyranny.
So that’s the real purpose behind the liquidation of politics, which has always lay at the core of the bourgeois ideology. The imperial process is simple enough. It destroys politics and imposes corruption and corporatism overseas. For example, after having destroyed the Saddam regime in Iraq, the imperialists intentionally let the country be looted and internecine insurgency to flourish. All this was meant to prevent any kind of stable polity cohering to fill the void left by Saddam’s departure. (That they didn’t anticipate how the insurgency would become virulent enough to prevent their turning Iraq into a corporate park of the “American” multinationals was the result of a deficiency in their competence, not in their malevolence.) Even at this late date, when according to Obama they’re “withdrawing”, they’re still manipulating elections. Via their stooge regime they’re trying to disqualify candidates insufficiently coordinated with the imperial master plan.
Similarly, they lie when they say they’re trying to build a new Afghanistan. The record is clear that America is trying to turn Afghanistan into a veritable contractor state, while the Karzai regime is a standard stooge kleptocracy.
These have been the overseas manifestations of “nation-building” as nation-destroying in the most profound sense, destruction of the politics and community at all levels. And so the same process has been brought home to America, by these same neoliberal ideologues on behalf of the same tyrannical predatory corporations, who bankroll the whole thing. All this dovetails with the longstanding bourgeois ideology of privatization, “property rights” which really means the right to property aggression, and “freedom” envisioned as purely negative. The goal of the ideology, and of its economic and anti-political strategy, is to destroy the nation, destroy the community, destroy positive, political freedom, and leave the lonely, atomized individual naked and unprotected in the face of the overwhelming violence of the corporation. 
We can see this in Tom Friedman’s Orwellian theme that Obama needs to engage in “nation-building at home”. He has, he has. In the exact same way as Reagan, Clinton, and Bush before him. All stable political bodies are in the way of total power and wealth concentration. That’s why both Republicans and Democrats, as flunkies of the corporations, want to dissolve all existing public institutions, privatize entitlement programs like Social Security (they really want to gut all entitlements, strip all social spending), privatize all services and amenities.
We can look back to the same totalitarian pattern from history. The Nazis as well corporatized all public services and professional cadres. Nothing non-ideological was allowed to exist at all, let alone anything left to serve the public interest detached form ideology. So in modern America the bourgeois privatization/negative libertine ideology seeks total Gleichschaltung, “coordination”, with its rapacious imperatives. All public services all politics, all civic mentality, the public interest as such, all are slated for complete and absolute destruction, targeted by the same hate-filled, fanatical totalitarian will which has previously infested history.
So we’ve been afflicted for decades now. I’m not sure yet on where to declare the turning point. Structurally it came over the late 60s to early 70s, with the Vietnam adventure in deficits and the American oil peak in 1970 leading to the closing of the gold window in 1971. American real wages peaked in 1973, right around the same time that predatory globalization, previously somewhat ad hoc, started becoming systematized. International and national manipulation were entwined from the start, as petrodollar recycling was used to facilitate the beginning of the American “middle class” debt binge. (I think this was the start of the by now notorious pattern of trade deficits with the foreign exporter lending the fat American consumer the dollars to buy the junk he’s peddling.)
But it seems like the overt political manifestation of this lagged a few years, finally coming in with Reagan. Since then all presidents and the prevailing ideology of all Congressional delegations has been broadly the same: aggressively bourgeois, neoliberal, corporatist. Even the alleged mavericks like Perot were mostly objecting that the government wasn’t being “run like a business” enough. Those who would object to corporatist ideology and government have been driven out completely.
By definition real politics is not Social Darwinist but assimilates the economically “unsuccessful” as well as those who have “succeeded” (i.e., who inherited, extracted rents, scammed, or stole, in most cases). Modern American “politics” is seeking to destroy all public political spaces, strip away all safety nets, and enshrine street fighting as the social standard. It’s seeking to detach public affairs from politics just as much as violence does. Indeed, there’s an intimate relationship between Social Darwinism and violence. The former implies the latter, and there’s no moral standard according to which you can exalt the first but deplore the second.
And as we’ve seen, in their various more bloodthirsty incarnations, as neocon, as “law and order” fanatic (as police rioter), as torture fantasist, these corporatists do in fact revere violence. Their pose, that their advocacy of extreme violence is in response to extreme contexts, is a lie. We have no extreme contexts other than the ones they have created. They seek the power, they need the violence, so they create the context for it, in order to further concentrate the power. And as soon as it’s necessary for them to deploy fascist-level violence right here in America, they will try to do so.
And today we have the apotheosis, Obama, the ultimate neoliberal, bourgeois corporatist, the product of nothing but hype and branding, the guy who worships Blankfein’s “savvy” because savvy is the only quality Obama himself possesses and the only quality he recognizes and respects; zero principle, zero values, zero true politics or community, total vapidity of avarice, total nihilism.
Here’s Adolph Reed’s devastating takedown of Obama as early as 1996; the whole picture was clear even then:

In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of
foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth
Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and
vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat
on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His
fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of
authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale
solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process
over program — the point where identity politics converges with
old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance. I
suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics,
as in Haiti and wherever else the International Monetary Fund has sway.
So far the black activist response hasn’t been up to the challenge. We
have to do better.

Imperialism has been raised to the ultimate domestic political principle. Unless we the people get our heads out the sand and fight for our country as against a foreign invader, the American ex-middle class will now join its poor to become a globalized, structurally adjusted, austerity-clobbered third world people.
It all comes home..  

February 14, 2010

Marja – Notions of Counterinsurgency

Filed under: Afghanistan, Freedom — Russell Bangs @ 4:03 pm


A few days ago American forces launched an offensive to capture the Taliban-held town of Marja. It’s part of the counterinsurgency strategy to secure “urban” areas and use them as foundations to dangle the prospect of stable civic life and good jobs to the many insurgents who are allegedly motivated by money and not jihad.
(Everything I read puts it in those Manichean terms – the fighters are either fundamentalist fanatics or have only socioeconomic motives. That many might not be fanatical Islamists, have economic motives, but also feel the normal motives of freedom-fighting and national liberation against the invader and his quislings, was too nuanced for Bush, and evidently for Obama as well.
Are American soldiers also either pure mercenaries or pure fanatics?)
An NYT analysis gives the basics:

On Saturday morning the long-awaited battle for the walled town began. But as one of Mr. Obama’s own advisers conceded in December, when recounting the arguments that took place in the Situation Room last fall, “it’s not about the battle, it’s about the postlude.”….
In the Bush years, the rallying cry when operations like Marja began was “clear, build and hold.” Mr. Obama has added a fourth step, “transfer.” At the end of the three-month-long review of Afghan strategy, Mr. Obama vowed he would begin no military operation unless a plan was in place to transfer authority promptly to the Afghans.

That plan exists in Marja, at least on paper. Both the Americans and the Afghan military did everything to advertise the coming military strike short of posting billboards with the date and size of the operation. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the American commander who persuaded Mr. Gates, and ultimately Mr. Obama, to try his form of counterinsurgency, insisted last week that the “transfer” element of the strategy had been prepared and would kick in as soon as the Taliban fled or were defeated.

So evidently adding the magic word “transfer” to the old trio which proved to be less than magical is supposed to do the trick.
If the Taliban stick to the guerrilla playbook, they’ll put up a token resistance and then get out of there. A basic rule in fighting the bloated enemy is never to fight a pitched battle at a time and place of his choosing. So I don’t doubt the Americans can “clear.”
But if I were the Taliban this wouldn’t frighten me much. Let them “clear”, let them delude themselves that they’re “building” as they “hold”. And then the “transfer” – I sure wouldn’t be afraid of the yahoos they’re going to transfer it to. Most of them probably secretly support me, and even if they don’t they’re not going to fight once I come back.
The whole build-transfer is a joke since everybody knows that you can’t “transfer” anything here, any more than they could with Vietnamization. Whatever stooges they install, the Americans will be the ones “holding” for as long as they stay, and once they leave the insurgents come back. So it’s still the same clear-hold-build-leave that it always was.
And while they hold, can they induce these insurgents to come back in, become clerks or whatever?

“We’ve got a government in a box, ready to roll in,” General McChrystal said.

The gamble here is that once Afghans see the semblance of a state taking hold in Marja, rank-and-file Taliban will begin to take more seriously the offers that Mr. Karzai and the West are dangling to buy them off. Enticed by the offer of some political role in Afghan society — and a regular paycheck — they will think twice about trying to recapture the town. “We think many of the foot soldiers are in it for the money, not the ideology,” one British official said recently. “We need to test the proposition that it’s cheaper to enrich them a little than to fight them every spring and summer.”

As someone who’s socioeconomically disaffected as well as something of an “extremist”, let me try to put myself in their shoes.
Let’s say I’m a Pashtun with no good job prospects, who hates the invader, seeks action, but is not a jihadist. So of course I’ve joined the Taliban (or fight alongside them; I’m not sure how formal “joining” is). I’m with the insurgency.
Now I look at this regime which is supposedly offering me a job if I give up fighting. I despise the American puppet regime, but I suppose if there really was a good job waiting I might come in. But I look at the Tajik-dominated army, the Tajik-dominated police, the Tajik-dominated civil service, how American contractors paying slave wages (and usually to foreign laborers anyway) dominate many other sectors, and I assume that any future economy will similarly be dominated by a combo of the Tajiks and American corporate interests…..well, I wouldn’t have to be a genius to figure out that there’s no future for me there other than as a little flunkeyboy.
If the insurgency loses, or if I personally cave in and come in, then I’m finished. From then on I’d live as a dog.
But if we could fight and win, and the Pashtuns again dominate all those sectors, all those career paths for which I as a fighter am skilled, then a great career would be in my grasp. All I need to do is keep fighting, grab for the main chance, for any chance at a good life.
If those were the choices, I know what I’d choose in a heartbeat.
So that’s the proposition upon which the American COIN strategy is premised. It depends upon many insurgents choosing the guaranteed wretchedness of a lifetime of low-level drudgery in an army, police, or government where they can never advance, vs. choosing the high-risk, high-reward path of resistance.
They’re counting on cravenness, cowardice, docility, security blanketism, myopia being the main qualities of these men, over courage, daring, vision.
In other words they’re counting on these fighters to be more like today’s Americans, and the way today’s Americans have “reacted” to their own being plundered and enslaved, than like the fighting Americans of the 1770s.
Ascribing your own mindset to that of the enemy is usually a mistake.

January 8, 2010

The Insatiability

Filed under: Afghanistan, Global War On Terror — Tags: , , , — Russell Bangs @ 2:44 am


Apologists for the British Empire have often used the formula that it was acquired in “a fit of absent-mindedness”. That it just sort of happened opportunistically; power was there for the using and entered whatever vacuums it perceived, and then policy had to catch up to rationalize and sustain what impetuous aggression had wrested.
By now most critics of the Global War on Terror recognize the basic insanity of it, and even many of its supporters seem to shrug and justify it as a fact of life rather than anything having a rationale.
It’s clear that the power vacuums America perceives as being filled with terrorists are really vacuums it first imagined up for itself and then encouraged the terrorists to try to occupy. America and Israel generate terrorism through their own GWOT aggression.
Indeed America explicitly blasted open the Iraq vacuum in order to encourage terrorists to rush into it. The rationale was to “fight them there so we wouldn’t have to fight them here”. (Compare the German concept for the Battle of Verdun.) Obama has said the same thing for Afghanistan. Now everyone, terrorists and locals alike, expect that everyplace America goes must become a jihadist battlefield.
This, of course, is exactly what Osama bin Laden wanted. You’d think the US power structure would want the opposite, but in fact the corporate fascists and the jihadists have much in common seeking their nihilistic power goals. Above all both are committed to the spread of terror among all civilian populaces, domestic and foreign. What we have here is really a symbiotic terrorist superstructure, much like the so-called “two parties” in Washington.
Is the Permanent War in any American interest? It clearly serves no national interest and is against all interests. On the contrary, American economic, social, and political well-being all depend upon pulling back from the empire, greatly lowering our exposure and risk, getting rid of all dead weight and top-heavy elements, decentralizing, trending toward autarchy. But the insane drive of unsustainable power and consumption to keep feeding and intensifying itself will lead only to absolute destruction.
Look how phony and tediously repetitive are the rationales.
Vietnam: domino theory, commitment to the ally, “peace with honor”, most of all credibility.
Iraq: WMD, Saddam was behind 9/11, fighting terrorism in general, democracy, dominos, commitment to the ally, credibility.
Afghanistan: Get Al Qaeda, fight the Taliban, terrorism, dominos, Pakistan, Pakistan nukes, commitments (to “democracy”, to women), credibility.
In the end it’s clear that when all the other reasons fail or are proven bogus, the milquetoast warriors always need above all to feel credible in their own timid little minds, since they throw away all real credibility they ever had precisely on their crazed wars.
(Of course I don’t take seriously for a second “democracy” as ever having been a real reason for any imperial war. That was always just chucked in there to give jingoistic “liberals” an excuse to get on board.)
Let’s examine “terror” more closely. All the talk about how “war on terror” was the wrong term because terror is just a tactic, and you really make war on an interest or ideology, was beside the point. War on terror is exactly right, because “Global War on Terror” is simply a contentless, insatiable murder machine. It’s really just a tactic itself. It’s the Permanent War, “pursuit of power after power” (Arendt), war for its own sake, to feed a corporate maw which can never be satiated.
So it’s terminologically sound to call it a war on “terror”, precisely because terror is merely a tactic of the weak trying to fight back vs. America’s pointless endless bullying aggression, while the war on terror is simply this aggression seizing upon the resistance to itself to further justify itself. As we know, the main driver of terrorism is the American presence in these countries, so the self-feeding aggression creates the very rationale used to sanctify it.
Also, the very fact that terror can be plotted anywhere renders the rationale ideal for justifying theoretical war anywhere and everywhere, since there’s few places to attack where you can’t claim there are or can be “terrorists” there.
The term “terrorist” does lots of domestic propaganda work, as to this day an appalling proportion of people are slavish and stupid enough to believe in this “war on terror”, and that terrorism (as opposed to “terror” itself, which the terrorists have been completely successful in imposing; of course these are mostly domestic US government and media terrorists) is some real existential threat. (It’s sociologically and propagandistically similar to the fraudulent 80s scares over street crime, “super-predators” and such. I bet a lot of the same academics of fear are doing this same propaganda work today.)
Domestic fear and hate, creeping totalitarianism – with these we’re getting to some of the “real” reasons for the Permanent War.
The partially real reasons for the GWOT were obvious from the marketing leading up to the Iraq assault. It was a war for oil, and it was a textbook example of launching a foreign adventure to distract from domestic issues, in this case the snowballing looting of the country. It’s very true, they did want the oil and they did want to distract.
And, as Naomi Klein described so wrenchingly in Shock Doctrine, they also wanted to achieve the corporatist “blank slate” to facilitate the complete subjugation and looting of the country way beyond just the oil. And they’ve tried for years to replicate this operation in Afghanistan.
But these, while pieces of the puzzle, still don’t satisfy fully, especially since the plundering of Iraq was largely a bust, with even the American-affiliated multinationals getting aced out of most of the oil. Nor does any of this look promising in Afghanistan.
When I’ve tried to explain Afghanistan in peak oil terms, that they want to control the routing of natural gas pipelines and whatnot, I felt silly trying to offer that as a main explanation. In Afghanistan fossil fuels and corporatist plunder are parts of the puzzle, but just small ones. Fossil fuel, not enough to be worth the effort even under our deranged circumstances, for looting not enough there there. There’s no objective correlative.
(Indeed, we should look at Greenspan’s admission that Iraq was a war for oil in a new light. By now TPTB would probably rather it could be seen as even a war for oil, now that so-called “American” companies got so little a draw from the well.)  
No, here we have to go back to historical irrationalism. Expansion for expansion’s sake, power for power’s sake, greed for greed’s sake, “growth” for growth’s sake. The Permanent War is for its own sake, each step only intended to provide the staging point for the next step, and all of it justified by some obviously bogus rationale.

Degree being vizarded,
The unworthiest shows as fairly in the mask.
The heavens themselves, the planets and this centre
Observe degree, priority and place,
Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,
Office and custom, in all line of order;
And therefore is the glorious planet Sol
In noble eminence enthroned and sphered
Amidst the other; whose medicinable eye
Corrects the ill aspects of planets evil,
And posts, like the commandment of a king,
Sans cheque to good and bad: but when the planets
In evil mixture to disorder wander,
What plagues and what portents! what mutiny!
What raging of the sea! shaking of earth!
Commotion in the winds! frights, changes, horrors,
Divert and crack, rend and deracinate
The unity and married calm of states
Quite from their fixure! O, when degree is shaked,
Which is the ladder to all high designs,
Then enterprise is sick! How could communities,
Degrees in schools and brotherhoods in cities,
Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
The primogenitive and due of birth,
Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels,
But by degree, stand in authentic place?
Take but degree away, untune that string,
And, hark, what discord follows! each thing meets
In mere oppugnancy: the bounded waters
Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores
And make a sop of all this solid globe:
Strength should be lord of imbecility,
And the rude son should strike his father dead:
Force should be right; or rather, right and wrong,
Between whose endless jar justice resides,
Should lose their names, and so should justice too.
Then every thing includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite;
And appetite, an universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make perforce an universal prey,
And last eat up himself.

Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida Act 1, scene 3.

January 6, 2010

The Shock Decade


It’s now been nearly ten years of Shock and Awe for America. Two great shocks in ten years. The first puncturing of the blue sky was the destruction of the World Trade Center and Pentagon. In retrospect this seems appropriately symbolic, as the WTC was the avowed icon of globalization (even if few of its clients were ever in fact real world traders; appropriately as well, it was mostly fictional finance traders residing here).
The cosmetics of this are compelling: Globalization reaches its final bottleneck, and only extreme measures can keep it going. Thus a conveniently timed defacement of the hood ornament. Meanwhile the military was well was ready to serve as the vehicle of the next great corporate adventure. So it’s also appropriate that the Pentagon received its wounds it could then show off like Coriolanus, and with the same surly intent.
It’s not important where this attack came from, which is why the whole Truther debate is really beside the point. The power system took full ownership immediately, strategically and morally. The watchwords for the decade: War, fear, and the escapism of the housing bubble, the magical force which would let the bounty of consumer binging go on forever.
The second great shock has been the Bailout War upon America itself. Here there can be no doubt about who were the criminals who intentionally blew up an insane bubble, who enabled it, who shilled for it, who raked in the rents through every kind of con and swindle, and who then used the inevitable crash to embark upon history’s ultimate looting frenzy.
There has never been a crime like this before, and there never will be again.
The country has now been permanently converted into a serf whose harvest is to be seized to keep the lord of the manor fat. Just as the administration keeps extending the tenure of the Iraq and Afghan wars into the indefinite future, so Obama has now announced that Fed and administration purchases of worthless MBS from the GSEs are to be permanent.
This is confirmation that all the banks are insolvent. All the paper on their balance sheets is worth nothing but the phony value they can pretend so long as the government keeps buying. The ultimate goal, as it has been from the start, is for the government to directly buy all the bank-held paper as well.
How can all this be? It’s all nothing but simple insanity. Some sentences from Hannah Arendt convey the vastation:
“Never has our future been more unpredictable, never have we depended so much on political forces that cannot be trusted to follow the rules of common sense and self-interest – forces that look like sheer insanity…”
“Desperate hope and desperate fear seem often seem closer to the center of such events than balanced judgement and measured insight.”
It seems as if “all traditional elements of our political and spiritual world were dissolved into a conglomeration where everything seems to have lost specific value, and has become unrecognizable for human comprehension, unusable for human purpose.”
“Under the most diverse conditions and disparate circumstances, we watch the development of the same phenomena – homelessness on an unprecedented scale, rootlessness to an unprecedented depth”
It seems this homelessness and rootlessness go to the core of the crisis. Spiritually and politically everything has been traduced and violated and corrupted and just plain bought. We are homeless in the most literal sense, most of even the so-called “ownership society” just debtor transients on an alienated ground.
How did the literal soil get stolen from literally under our feet? How was the American soul itself slathered in paint and turned out onto the filthy streets?
We must now face the fact of tyranny. For as long as the government continues to exist in this form, it will be nothing but the executor of the Bailout War and the Permanent War. All else – entitlements, infrastructure, public works, national parks, public and environmental health, social amenities, law enforcement for anything other than as hired corporate goons, and of course the fraudulent subsidies for worthless “health insurance” around which so many idiot “progressives” are making their last stand like some moonie cult – will be gutted. It’ll be sold off, allowed to rot, discontinued. We will sink inexorably into slavery.
The evil goals of the power system cannot succeed in the end, as they depend upon an unsustainable level of energy use for their centralization. But the descent is unpredictable, and there may be many years of aggressive fascism ahead of us.
Few are aware of the full picture, and it looks like people are divided into the delusionaries who still believe in a miracle to revive consumerist “prosperity” (with two groups among these, the liberals who still dream “reform” is possible, and the teabaggers who think they can make a good living as goons of the tyranny), and those who have surrendered to fear, ignorance, fate.
Looking around the world we see the same delusion playing out everywhere. In some places some rays of light may seem to peek through the clouds, for most the sky is as black as over America. But everywhere the great storm must rain. In Dubai extend and pretend has worked again for the moment. The sovereign default contagion, like the Black Death of the 14th century, will march from country to country. Voodoo hexes way ward it off in one place of another, for a little while. But in the end it will be triumphant throughout the globalized economy, since this economy is bankrupt.
I hope we are figuring out the real forces at play here. We are in the clutches of the core rapacity of the growth ideology; we have the fundamental predation of feudal racketeering, monopoly-seeking; its first attempt through 19th century European imperialism to keep the machine going forever once European resources, physical and economic, reached their limits; America’s post-war attempt at internal colonization in the form of suburbanization and consumerism; their facing the simultaneous limits of the consumer economy and the American oil Peak (basically the same limits Europe had run up against a hundred years earlier, in somewhat different form); how America embarked upon its own replay of European imperialism in the form of globalization, petrodollar recycling, financialization; how financialization also propped up the otherwise doomed domestic consumer economy via exponential debt; how with the end in sight Bush embarked upon the Permanent War; how the debt bubble and global Peak Oil simultaneously reached their greatest extent, broke, and must now roll back forever; and how the US power system must now become ever more kleptocratic and fascistic to try to preserve its wealth, power and privilege for as long as it can, to the extent of first debt slavery and then the de jure kind.
This is the story of the age; no other has any real life, order, or meaning, but is just one of the innumerable funhouse paths of escapism and decadence the MSM/entertainment cadres have been deputized to offer as anesthesia.
We must comprehend all this, however outrageous, however unpleasant. We mustn’t let the endless bombardment of lies and distractions, and the blazing lights in our eyes meant to just plain blind us, lead us astray.
Nor can we let perhaps well-meaning but clueless and captured interpreters try to normalize the unprecedented convulsions and great crimes. This is the Peak of the oil age, and of all that was lofted with it. History must now return, however violently, to its normal road.
So the question before us is whether we shall let ourselves be carried along fatalistically, as goons or as victims, or whether we shall try to carry our humanity through the flames. There is much from the last 250 years worth preserving, and we can return to history as wiser citizens than we left it. But nothing shall stand, and least of all ourselves, if we don’t force ourselves to stand tough. Strong with the will to see, to know, to speak, to fight.
I’ll try to do whatever small part I can, but I can only hope the same idea rises among others, perhaps soon to shine forth everywhere. The sleeping citizen must awaken from his dreaming to a bracing, gray dawn. he must build a fire. Then, maybe, that small point of organic light shall soon find its reflection somewhere behind the clouds.

December 4, 2009

The Gods Must Be Crazy


“How much should Goldman Sachs pay Lloyd C. Blankfein?” This question kicks off an earnest analysis of one of corporatism’s pressing issues. How much should a temporarily legalized robber get to openly steal? The piece takes this very seriously. They’re clear that they consider this purely a tactical question, a PR issue. There’s no morality or justice involved, of course.
It’s silly to be so serious about such an absurd question. How much?
1. He “should”, by the standards of himself, the government, and the NYT, take all he can get, just as Goldman Sachs does. By that standard he is indeed the most “talented” of them all.
2. The real answer, which any human being would give when asked “What does he deserve?”, is a noose around his neck. (Or a prison term if you’re a pacifist, I guess.)
“Let each man be paid in full.”
So the question is rather incoherent when they pretend it’s not a class war question. But like I said they’re offering PR advice. How do you least rile up the peasants?
Their advice: Throw out the “bubble year” 2007 where Blankfein extracted $68 million. By the percentage of income measure he’d get $64 million this time around. Too much. Those populists will go nuts. And yet proven losers like Richard Fuld and Jimmy Cayne got a higher percentage in 2007 than he did. (Blankfein’s $68 million was only .6% of GS’s net income, whereas Fuld got 1.2 and Cayne a whopping 1.9% for running their banks into the ground.) So yes, Lloyd, life’s not fair sometimes.
The piece does concede that GS as well is a ward of the state. Blankfein should therefore do the noble thing and take far less than his dazzling talent deserves. Would $9 million be good, the nice symbolism of a single digit?
“But critics of Wall Street and executive pay probably would oppose a $9 million payout almost as much as one that was twice as large.*” That’s true, some of us would. Nine cents is too much for these villains. But the higher it goes, the more obvious it is to more people.
Blankfein has to be worth more than Benmosche at AIG at $9 million. The logic is irrefutable. Even the NYT thinks Benmosche’s worthless.
“The right number for Mr. Blankfein may be around $20 million.” Ninety percent in stock, vs. 60% in 2007; .2% in profits.
So that’s expert advice from professional journalists who wish “Mr. Blankfein” well.
It looks like there’ll be a lot more executive freedom to ponder pay once Bank of America pays back the TARP. Citi as well is looking for a way out.
It’s simply insane that this is where we still are after all that’s happened. In every case every banker’s sole concern regarding the TARP, which was supposed to help recapitalize these things, is “How will it affect my pay”.
As Yves Smith said today, this is pure looting.

The Bank of America stock offering, which will be used to repay the TARP, went off well, so surely this means the Charlotte bank is on the mend and its finances are sound, right?

Chris Whalen, who is an expert on the banking industry and has a proprietary database that measures the risk of individual banks, doesn’t buy it:

We are reaffirming our “negative” outlook on operating results for BAC….

We…look at the specific transaction proposed by BAC, we see the repayment of government TARP equity and a $20 billion reduction in the overall capital of BAC at precisely the time when the Fed is withdrawing many forms of subsidies for the largest banks. Assuming that BAC can place $18.8 billion in new securities and sell $4 billion in assets at valuations that do not generate capital losses, the consolidated entity ends up with $20 billion less capital on a consolidated basis than today.

Ahem, the point of this exercise was to make sure the banks came out sounder, and did not weaken themselves by paying back the TARP funding. Instead, the reverse is happening. A company that threw a fit to get funding from Uncle Sam early this year is now depleting its capital….so it can pay executives better than if it was on the government short leash.

Scrimping on capital to show better returns to allow for bigger bonuses is looting, and it’s what got us in this mess in the first place. But here the authorities are now enabling this process, because “paying back the TARP,” no matter what the true costs and risks are, validates Obama’s economic programs.

According to the TARP principle, and the propaganda of the bailout in general, the only measure should be the health of the balance sheet. But just as with the phony “stress tests”, so here the government and the media are going along with systematic looting fraud.
BofA is clearly weakening its financial state in order to facilitate looting by its executives and cadres. Citi is looking for a way to do the same thing. Otherwise its traders are said to be gearing up for an “exodus” next year if this year’s bonuses are too insulting to their “talent”.
We get the standard lies about how paying the TARP will render Citi free and clear, and never mind the continuing $300 billion in government guarantees plus god knows what Fed support.
Once they succeed the way Goldman did we’ll be able to read analyses on how much Pandit and whoever succeeds Lewis should go ahead and plunder, based on the political cosmetics.
The MSM already can’t wait, judging by the tone of these articles, which are both opinion pieces masquerading as journalism. Even at this late date they’re still solemnly using the Orwellian term “talent” with nary a quotation mark in sight. The very headline of the BofA piece decrees that it will now “shed its stigma”, and the celebration continues from there.
“Its recovery, while many ordinary Americans are still struggling, is an important milestone in the government’s yearlong effort to stabilize the nation’s financial industry.” How many lies in that sentence? BofA recovery, milestone, effort to stabilize….The sentence does, I imagine inadvertently, starkly juxtapose the struggling of real Americans with the fact that the government does not care about Americans, only big banks.
We’re treated to the opinion that Citi has “a clear strategic direction”. This is, to say the least, highly disputed. Many commentors have said that Pandit’s proclaimed strategy is just as incoherent and senseless as this assemblage of this Frankenstein’s monster in the first place.
And then there’s the bizarre ongoing spectacle of the MSM openly admitting, as if it’s a matter of course, that the whole bailout premise of “getting the banks lending again” was a fraud.
“Citi’s fortunes have slipped recently as rising consumer losses overshadow gains from its trading activity”. I thought the point of bailing Citi out in the first place was to improve the fortunes of Main Street, of the “consumer”. If the bailout was ever anything other than a lie, then what possible meaning could it have to even talk about “Citi’s fortunes” other than from the point of view of its consumer lending? Yet here we are right back to casino business as usual, trading activity shows gains, everything’s great except for that stupid bank lending stuff…
Same here:

Indeed, Merrill’s businesses have improved this year as Wall Street’s traditional business of trading and deal making picked up. At the same time, Bank of America’s core consumer lending units suffered greater losses as the economy weakened.

How many lies in there?
Why is the casino still open AT ALL? There’s only one answer: our government is irremediably corrupt.
“Core consumer units” – you mean the one and only thing the bailout was supposed to be about? They got the bailout, they were supposed to lend. PERIOD. What’s this garbage about “losses”?
Again we know the answer. The bailout was a LIE.
“Suffered greater losses as the economy weakened”. Yeah – it’s a force of nature, and it’s all impersonal.
Try this way of phrasing it: Criminal robbers continue to rob  and to party with the loot while the real Americans who actually create 100% of the wealth freeze and starve.
It’s like when 9/11 was supposed to mean the end of all frivolity and stupidity in the media. America in general and the media in particular were finally going to grow up. Strike One!
And now the financial crisis and the alleged “need” for the bailouts were supposed to accomplish the same thing. Strike Two!
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I need to wait for the next pitch.
After all that, it shouldn’t be surprising to see Ben Bernanke compare himself to a bank robber. I didn’t know he had such a lively sense of irony, although it could mean that political tutorial isn’t coming along so well.
At his reconfirmation hearings, which are getting a little bumpy what with holds by Sanders and Bunning, as well as the Paul/Grayson Audit the Fed amendment and Dodd’s plan to strip the Fed of much of its regulatory authority looming in the background.
How does Bernanke defend his atrocious record? He uses the stupidity defense: “I did not anticipate a crisis of this magnitude.”
Then there’s the old I’ve-learned-my-lesson. Subprimes and reserve requirements? “That is a mistake we won’t make again.”
Then you claim things would’ve been much worse. You claim credit for “significant improvements”.
Apparently no one asked him, worse for whom? Improvement for whom?
We don’t have to ask him, since even in his political discomfort he got to his real agenda: the great call for cutbacks in the hated Social Security and Medicare.
I really can’t improve on Bernanke’s own larcenous frankness here, so I’ll let him speak for himself:

Ben Bernanke has overseen the greatest expansion of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet in its history, pouring trillions of dollars into Wall Street firms at roughly zero interest rates.

His generosity, however, has a limit.

In testimony before the Senate Banking Committee today, where he’s seeking re-appointment as the Fed’s chairman, Bernanke called for cutbacks in Medicare and Social Security even as unemployment rises and the middle class is endangered.

Citing legendary bank robber Willie Sutton, Bernanke said of the retirement and health care funds that are the legacy of the New Deal: “That’s where the money is.”…

“Well, Senator, I was about to address entitlements,” Bernanke replied. “I think you can’t tackle the problem in the medium term without doing something about getting entitlements under control and reducing the costs, particularly of health care.”

Bernanke reminded Congress that it has the power to repeal Social Security and Medicare.

“It’s only mandatory until Congress says it’s not mandatory. And we have no option but to address those costs at some point or else we will have an unsustainable situation,” said Bernanke…..

“Willie Sutton robbed banks because that’s where the money is, as he put it,” Bernanke said. “The money in this case is in entitlements.”

And what about the Fed’s vaunted political “independence”? It’s non-politicality? Well, Bernanke is very clear on how much he hates civilian entitlements, and how much he loves bankster entitlements.
Yet when he’s asked about instead taxing the rich for their fair share? “These decisions are up to Congress.” But what about Greenspan’s advocacy of tax cuts in 2000? “I have not done that. I’ve done my best to leave that authority where it belongs, with the Congress.”
So with the political advocacy of Ben Bernanke and his highly politicized Fed, disaster capitalism seeks its next big scalp: entitlements. This assault is coordinated in the Senate with a right-wing “bipartisan” goon squad led by Kent Conrad, where they’re demanding an extra-legal, unconstitutional Star Chamber empowered to gut Social Security and Medicare.
With this assist from Bernanke and the Senate, Obama hopes to succeed where Bush failed, to destroy these programs completely.
This is class war at its most vicious short of actual violence. Bernanke is a cadre. Bernanke’s mission in life, as a mercenary and as an ideologue, is to steal as much as possible from the Americans who create America and convey it to rich parasites. If we always keep that fact in mind, and apply it to every last thing he says and does, we’ll always understand him perfectly.
The same goes for a guy who, as the Greatest Depression sets in, as millions of jobs continue to be destroyed, with a $27 trillion bankster bailout as the centerpiece of his entire policy, can convene a “jobs summit”, look America in the eye, and say: “It’s important to face the fact that our resources are limited”.
It’s a flat out LIE. The bailouts prove he has infinite resources for anything he wants to do. So anywhere he starts crying poverty, that means nothing other than he DOESN’T CARE.
Well, Obama does care about one thing here. No matter what comes out of this job summit, the first priority is corporate profit. He likes “cash for caulkers” because big box stores like Walmart and Lowes can be “contracted” to “advertise” it.
More generally, he emphasized that he wants the corporatized private sector to rule. “Ultimately true economic recovery is only going to come from the private sector.”
Would that be the same corporatist private sector that destroyed it? Who have done all they can to destroy as many jobs as possible for nearly forty years now? Who are only gearing up to destroy more jobs now?

“I want to be clear: While I believe the government has a critical role in creating the conditions for economic growth, ultimately true economic recovery is only going to come from the private sector,” he told his audience, which included critics as well as executives from American Airlines, Nucor Corp., Google Inc., Walt Disney Co. and Fed-Ex.

Mr. Obama told the chief executives that he wanted to know: “What’s holding back business investment and how we can increase confidence and spur hiring? And if there are things that we’re doing here in Washington that are inhibiting you, then we want to know about it.”

WTF is this, Bush?
Since we’re doing the flunkey round, how about the elaborations on Obama’s war speech the other night? Gates has gone before Congress and assured everyone nothing Obama said about timelines has any real meaning. 2011 is an “inflection point”. Actions will be determined by “conditions on the ground”. “Gradual”. Zero timetable.
Hillary, same thing. No timetable, and everything depends upon “requests for logistical support” from the corrupt client. If that’s true, forget about it. We’d still be in Vietnam today propping up the South if Nixon and Kissinger hadn’t lied to Thieu about that.
Also, “civilian commitment must continue” indefinitely, which of course will require military protection, which won’t be included in the “withdrawal” schedule, and so on. She even patronizes Jim Webb, one of the handful in Congress who actually know something about this stuff. He asked her a “profoundly important question”, according to her. Another Fuck You from a chickenhawk. (I hope it’s not just my own pet peeve when somebody replies “that’s a good question!” There’s no way that’s not patronizing, since the question usually wasn’t any good at all, but rather stupid or pedestrian. Or if it really is a good question then you’re basically saying, “That really is a good question. I never expected that from a moron like you.”)
Admiral Mullen of the JCS also said “conditions on the ground” will decide. So we have confirmation that whatever they really intend, whatever happens, the notion of a firm 2011 timetable is simply feathers thrown into the wind.
So there’s a rundown on what Bernanke, Obama, and some lesser flunkies have been up to as their masters work out the details of how to get their bonus mojo back.
One last thread of the constricting ropes. At the Dallas Morning News they’ll be reporting more directly to their masters.

In an interview, Bob Mong, the editor of The Morning News, stressed that no other parts of the paper would report to people outside the newsroom, though advertising managers had been assigned to work with several other areas, like health, education, travel and real estate. Asked if there were plans to apply the structure in sports and entertainment to other parts of the paper, he said, “not at this time.”

It looks like a wedge. Soon the ad department, really just in-house corporate lobbyists, will have to directly vet editorials. And then on to all the newspapers.
I guess it cuts down on some of the farce. 
[*The kind of lesson “progressives” absolutely refuse to learn.]

December 2, 2009

The Next Level of the War

Filed under: Afghanistan, Global War On Terror, Peak Oil — Russell Bangs @ 6:23 am


Over the last several months I’ve written quite a bit on Afghanistan and the Global War on Terror. (For example here and here.) My position is clear – Afghanistan is just the current centerpiece theater for a corporatist war, what is intended to be a permanent war. The goal is to use intimidation and force to prop up the Western corporate machine for longer than its economic fundamentals would allow.
In particular, since it will no longer be economically possible for America to consume as much oil as it would like, and since Peak Oil would rule out sating this level of demand anyway if the “free market” were allowed to function, the goal is to use the military to strong-arm this oil out of the Middle East and Central Asia.
This strategy is also unsustainable, and the empire’s decline is fated. But this permanent war, as an element of the elites’ overall strategy of resource fascism, can perhaps prop up their wealth and power for longer than economic fundamentals would have allowed.
So we should view the GWOT, the “Long War”, Full Spectrum Dominance, or whatever other lying or deranged name they come up with, as the foreign policy extension of the bank bailout. It’s the same giant insolvent corporatist zombie.
So that’s the context in which we must place Obama’s escalation. This speech contained some allusions to the real nature of things.

Now, let me be clear: None of this will be easy. The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will be an enduring test of our free society, and our leadership in the world. And unlike the great power conflicts and clear lines of division that defined the 20th century, our effort will involve disorderly regions, failed states, diffuse enemies.

So as a result, America will have to show our strength in the way that we end wars and prevent conflict — not just how we wage wars. We’ll have to be nimble and precise in our use of military power. Where al Qaeda and its allies attempt to establish a foothold — whether in Somalia or Yemen or elsewhere — they must be confronted by growing pressure and strong partnerships.

And we can’t count on military might alone. We have to invest in our homeland security, because we can’t capture or kill every violent extremist abroad. We have to improve and better coordinate our intelligence, so that we stay one step ahead of shadowy networks…..

And finally, we must draw on the strength of our values — for the challenges that we face may have changed, but the things that we believe in must not. That’s why we must promote our values by living them at home — which is why I have prohibited torture and will close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And we must make it clear to every man, woman and child around the world who lives under the dark cloud of tyranny that America will speak out on behalf of their human rights, and tend to the light of freedom and justice and opportunity and respect for the dignity of all peoples. That is who we are. That is the source, the moral source, of America’s authority.

This is a veiled but still unmistakable reference to the permanent war. The standard blathering about the American “values” he’s betraying in real time should be understood in purely Orwellian War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery terms.
The basics are what we expected. Thirty thousand more troops, which military experts and the Joint Chiefs themselves are saying is the absolute maximum the American military can sustain. The personnel are too overstretched, the army is at its breaking point. Once these 30000 are deployed there won’t be a single spare man left. Zero resiliency, zero slack. That’s the level of desperation our “leadership” has brainwashed itself into, given its suicidal commitment to the zombie bailout.
This escalation is being carried out now in order to help start the withdrawal in 2011? Yeah, I don’t get it either. This guy can’t seem to make up his mind whether it’s 1965 or 1970. (We have to destroy the village in order to save it? Or like Paulson saying at the inception of the bailout that we need to make Fannie and Freddie bigger now so they can get smaller later.) And no sooner did he say this than his flunkies elaborated that the 2011 deadline is really not a deadline at all, but more of a vague aspiration.
But we knew that already. The whole concept of wanting to get out at all is a lie. As I wrote, if Obama really wanted to get out he had the rationale at hand with Karzai’s election fraud. As Petraeus and McChrystal themselves have always said in their own counterinsurgency manual, COIN can’t work unless you have an allied government seen by the populace as legitimate. We know for a fact the Karzai regime is not legitimate and will never be seen as legitimate. So we know for a fact that this war can’t work according to the US military’s own lights. So we know for a fact everyone was always lying and continues to lie about the real purpose and prospects for this war.
Sure enough, in his speech Obama explicitly repudiates this logic.

In Afghanistan, we and our allies prevented the Taliban from stopping a presidential election, and — although it was marred by fraud — that election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan’s laws and constitution.

Does he provide any explanation for how it is they’re overthrowing a basic pillar of their entire doctrine? Of course not. He can’t. The doctrine was always a fraud, meant to be used and abused at will. So we know the entire Vietnamization plan is a fraud as well. By their own doctrine they’ve already said it’s impossible.
There’s some comedy where he squawks about how they’re going to make real demands on Karzai this time around.

This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over. President Karzai’s inauguration speech sent the right message about moving in a new direction. And going forward, we will be clear about what we expect from those who receive our assistance. We’ll support Afghan ministries, governors, and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people. We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable.

I’m sure Karzai’s just as scared as the banks Obama just “shamed” over their failure to make permanent mortgage modifications.
The real core of incoherence comes with Obama’s answer to the objection against setting a time frame.

Finally, there are those who oppose identifying a time frame for our transition to Afghan responsibility. Indeed, some call for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort — one that would commit us to a nation-building project of up to a decade. I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests. Furthermore, the absence of a time frame for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.

As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests. And I must weigh all of the challenges that our nation faces. I don’t have the luxury of committing to just one. Indeed, I’m mindful of the words of President Eisenhower, who — in discussing our national security — said, “Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs.”

Over the past several years, we have lost that balance. We’ve failed to appreciate the connection between our national security and our economy. In the wake of an economic crisis, too many of our neighbors and friends are out of work and struggle to pay the bills. Too many Americans are worried about the future facing our children. Meanwhile, competition within the global economy has grown more fierce. So we can’t simply afford to ignore the price of these wars.

All told, by the time I took office the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan approached a trillion dollars. Going forward, I am committed to addressing these costs openly and honestly. Our new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us roughly $30 billion for the military this year, and I’ll work closely with Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit.

But as we end the war in Iraq and transition to Afghan responsibility, we must rebuild our strength here at home. Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power. It pays for our military. It underwrites our diplomacy. It taps the potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry. And it will allow us to compete in this century as successfully as we did in the last. That’s why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended — because the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.

He rambles about the need to set goals, then lurches into his real argument, that it costs too much.
But this makes little sense. He doesn’t refute the argument against the time frame on its merits. The war-mongers are saying in effect “if it’s worth doing it’s worth doing right”. Since Obama shares their basic premise, that the war should be escalated at all, the burden of proof is on him to argue that on the one hand it should be escalated, but on the other hand that the escalation isn’t worth doing unless there’s a time limit on it.
Obama shares the escalation premise, the war necessity premise, including that the cost is worth it for now. But they rightists say, perfectly reasonably given the premise, that this requires an open-ended commitment. Obama simply asserts, but doesn’t establish (and of course he can’t), that the premise needs a time limit in order to “work”. But his real argument seems to be simply that we can’t sustain the cost for that long.
The obvious question is, if it’s not worth paying for indefinitely, and all the evidence is that it hasn’t been worth paying for so far, then why is it worth paying for for this shorter time frame?
But of course the answer to this is that Obama has zero intention of adhering to this time frame. The date is only a political ploy, as I mentioned above. (The Republicans probably know that and are just slamming him anyway for partisan purposes. Does Obama hope they might cut him some slack? Maybe. It wouldn’t surprise me. There’s no evidence that he’s capable of learning any lesson, let alone the one on “bipartisanship”.)
So the current situation is as follows. Obama will escalate as much as is possible given the current manpower levels. They might try to enlarge the army, using their artificially engineered Depression as the economic equivalent of a draft. And if necessary they might actually try to reinstate the real draft. Meanwhile the 2011 date is supposed to provide some political breathing space for the war to continue, business as usual, while they try to figure out the next level of escalation, how to afford it, how to man it, how to extract enough wealth from it that the zombie has enough juice to keep staggering along.
This is a Death March from here on, and it’ll continue until the structure collapses. That’s all.

October 27, 2009

Two Incredible Governments

Filed under: Afghanistan, Global War On Terror, Mainstream Media — Tags: — Russell Bangs @ 10:16 am
The history of America’s dismal, self-destructive trudge through Vietnam includes many missed opportunities where the circumstances were ripe for a politically plausible withdrawal.
The most obvious was Johnson’s overwhelming victory in the ’64 election running as the peace candidate vs. Barry Goldwater’s warmongering.
There were also the many proofs of Diem’s incorrigible corruption, and that of his string of successors, offering ample justification to throw our hands up and say, “We can do nothing without a legitimate national government, but clearly there’s no prospect of that here. Therefore we have to end our involvement.”
Similarly, when the history of America’s even more futile and self-destructive Afghan war is written, it will take note of milestones that were missed.
Not that this is important to me personally, or to anyone who opposes imperial corporate wars on both principle and pragmatism. Where it comes to the big things, we have principles and a clear view of the possible, and therefore don’t need to seek pretexts.
But there seem to be a lot of people, and not all of them obvious right-wingers or corporatists, for whom “credibility” and “peace with honor” and all that self-hypnotizing moonshine are paramount. At least that’s what they claim when they oppose a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan and a general disengagement from and winding down of the Global War On Terror and the imperial footprint (hundreds of bases and “consulates”) in general.
So for them I propose that the means are at hand to withdraw with honor. The politics allow it. Indeed, the only thing which can preserve American credibility and honor (“preserve”? maybe more like try to start to restore) is to recognize the futility of the venture and cut our losses.
I’m referring of course to the new Diem, the equally irredeemable Hamid Karzai.
By now everyone’s familiar with Karzai’s brazen attempt to steal the election. When the embarrassment finally forced the administration and the UN to demand a run-off, they had to beg Karzai to even agree to this. Of course, there’s little chance that the same fraud won’t be replicated, albeit perhaps it won’t be as blatant and grotesque. But Karzai’s flunkey who heads the election commission has already declared, “with a grin”, that “Karzai will win”.
Does this sound like a recipe for credibility going forward?
Here’s Obama sounding quite credible and honorable:

So Karzai had to agree to at least go through the motions of participating in a real election.

And when he did, Obama hailed a man who stands accused of orchestrating a massive effort to thwart democracy as someone whose “constructive actions established an important precedent for Afghanistan’s new democracy.”

Obama’s precise statement went like this: “While this election could have remained unresolved to the detriment of the country, President Karzai’s constructive actions established an important precedent for Afghanistan’s new democracy. The Afghan constitution and laws are strengthened by President Karzai’s decision, which is in the best interests of the Afghan people.”

The “yuck factor” was high.

But it got higher when Obama praised Karzai for helping to foster “such a vibrant campaign.”

It is, of course, true that Obama is not the first American president to have to pretend that a local bad guy who got caught red handed was some kind of statesman.

Still, having to speak well of Karzai is a lot — arguably too much — to ask.

And if Obama has any sense of the region — or of the trouble his Afghanistan initiative is in — he had to be hoping that Karzai and his henchmen would refrain from obvious lawbreaking in the second round.

Meanwhile in another typical quote Gary Hart declared that you get one mulligan where it comes to stealing an election, but now Karzai better straighten up and fly right:

The international community must make it clear to the incumbent Karzai government that it will be held accountable for the integrity of the runoff voting process. This can be enforced by post-election audits of the sort that disclosed the blatant fraud in the unstable eastern and southern provinces. If the Karzai government tries manipulation again, it will sacrifice the confidence of the international community and suffer the consequences.

Supplicating before a crook, genuflecting with a thug…smells like credible spirit to me.
But don’t take my word for it. Mr. “Suck on this” himself, uber-neocon Tom Friedman, recently agreed:

But I keep asking myself: How do we succeed with such a tainted government as our partner?
I know that Jefferson was not on the ballot. But there is a huge difference between “good enough” and dysfunctional and corrupt. Whatever we may think, there are way too many Afghans who think our partner, Karzai and his team, are downright awful.

That is why it is not enough for us to simply dispatch more troops. If we are going to make a renewed commitment in Afghanistan, we have to visibly display to the Afghan people that we expect a different kind of governance from Karzai, or whoever rules, and refuse to proceed without it. It doesn’t have to be Switzerland, but it does have to be good enough — that is, a government Afghans are willing to live under. Without that, more troops will only delay a defeat.

I am not sure Washington fully understands just how much the Taliban-led insurgency is increasingly an insurrection against the behavior of the Karzai government — not against the religion or civilization of its international partners. And too many Afghan people now blame us for installing and maintaining this government…..

We have to be very careful that we are not seen as the enforcers for this system….

This is crazy… I would not add a single soldier there before this guy, if he does win the presidency, takes visible steps to clean up his government in ways that would be respected by the Afghan people.

If Karzai says no, then there is only one answer: “You’re on your own, pal. Have a nice life with the Taliban. We can’t and will not put more American blood and treasure behind a government that behaves like a Mafia family. If you don’t think we will leave — watch this.” (Cue the helicopters.)

So, please, spare me the lectures about how important Afghanistan and Pakistan are today. I get the stakes. But we can’t want a more decent Afghanistan than the country’s own president. If we do, we have no real local partner who will be able to hold the allegiance of the people, and we will not succeed — whether with more troops, more drones or more money.

(Meanwhile McChrystal says, “If every soldier is authorized to make one mistake then we lose the war.”)
It’s obvious that this government can never be legitimate and credible even by normal standards. But even if it didn’t win by out-and-out fraud, it has a deeper ethnic problem.
The key to Afghan legitimacy is the Pashtuns, who represent 42% of the population. Most of the Taliban come from their ranks, which means that any attempt to entice Taliban factions or rank and file fighters to join a governing coalition will have to come from a government seen as legitimate by the Pashtuns.
But while Karzai is the “Pashtun face” of this regime, its real power base derives from the former Northern Alliance, who were predominantly from the 27% Tajik minority. On account of this the Tajiks comprise over 70% of the officer cadres of the army, police, and intelligence service. They are set on maintaining that monopoly.
For as long as that condition holds, with Tajik cadres monopolizing the instruments of violence while Pashtuns face such career barriers in the few areas where real jobs might seem to exist, the Pashtuns will see this as an alien, oppressive government.
And on top of that you can add how this government is clearly a stooge of the foreign occupier, meant only to faciliate that foreigner’s imperial goals.
Imperial puppet, ethnically oppressive, and winning only through election fraud, there’s no way this government can achieve legitimacy with the Afghan people.
And without a legitimate national government in place, any American attempt at counterinsurgency is doomed to fail.
One guy who knows this very well is General Stanley McChrystal. He’s intimately familiar with the Army’s Counterinsurgency Manual, which says

Success in counterinsurgency operations requires establishing a legitimate government supported by the people and able to address the fundamental causes that insurgents use to gain support. Achieving these goals requires the host nation to defeat insurgents or render them irrelevant, uphold the rule of law, and provide a basic level of essential services and security for the populace. Key to all these tasks is developing an effective host-nation security force.

Or perhaps he knows this and yet doesn’t know. By his own official premise, the effort is hopeless and we must withdraw.
But like with almost every other officer, careerism supersedes known truths. If accepting his own COIN premise would require McC to recommend withdrawal, he’ll instead throw over his premise and call for escalation anyway, perhaps giving some nonsensical disclaimer.
What if the people view the government as hopelessly illegitimate, McC?

Then we are going to have to avoid looking like we are part of the illegitimacy.

Of course, McC already violated his own doctrine on troop levels. According to his manual successful COIN requires 20-25 troops per 1000 populace. By this measure COIN in Afghanistan would require over half a million troops, not somewhat over 100000 as he’s currently claiming will get the job done.
Is he just trying to get his foot in the door to ratchet up the demands later, Westmoreland-style? Either way, we cannot trust anything he says, since everything he says contradicts what he wrote before.
(So much for the Washington Post’s sycophancy regarding what “General McChrystal believes” he needs. We know this is a fallacious appeal to authority, since McC is clearly not an authority here. Rather, it’s clear he’ll say anything to get what he wants, and that there’s no conceivable context where he wouldn’t want a large escalation, because he’s motivated by careerism and nothing else.)
So for anyone who’s worried about this kind of American credibility, here you see how it’s impossible for the American adventure in Afghanistan to ever be credible or successful according to the state of the art counterinsurgency doctrine authored by McChrystal himself.
This government cannot be retrieved for legitimacy, and an imperial government which would wage aggressive, exploratory war in “partnership” with such an illegitimate government would be laying bare the illegitimacy of its own policy, and therefore of itself.
Is it possible to retrieve the legitimacy of American policy, of this government? It’s clear that America has trashed its credibility with the deranged foreign policy it’s been pursuing. There’s no question of escalation or muddling through* in Afghanistan being the path to maintain the credibility which has already been lost on account of that very path.
Rather, it’s a matter of restoring this lost credibility, and the only way to do this is to break the pattern, snap out of the derangement, end the policy, get out of Afghanistan.
The political argument is sitting right there: The generals themselves including McC said this can only work given certain preconditions. Those conditions don’t hold. There’s no viable national government. Karzai betrayed us. Therefore our own military doctrine decrees that we should end the war. Our boys shouldn’t be dying for a gang of thieves. We’re getting out.
What could be more credible to a public who already wants to get out than that?
[*Not long ago the MSM was still framing the “debate” (which of course never included even momentary discussion of getting out completely) as a choice between the McC escalation, counterinsurgency, and nation-building plan, or the Biden notion of shifting to video-game counterterrorism with an emphasis on drones over Pakistan.
Regardless of the merits of these (they’re both stupid but at least internally coherent), one thing apparently not on the table was simply splitting the difference, muddling through, sending some troops but less than McC wanted, only sort of modifying their deployment, and in general trying to split the difference between McC and Biden. This would guarantee failure from every point of view.
Back then nobody seemed to take this possibility seriously, but I knew my Obama.
Sure enough, out of all his dithering we’re hearing that he’s leaning toward no major strategic changes, but simply sending another 10000-20000 troops to continue with business as usual.
Muddling through. (Or maybe they’ll guarantee the “credibility” of this next election, the way the previous 20000-troop escalation was supposed to guarantee the last one.)]
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