To Be Black and Head of the U.S.Empire: A Contradiction in Terms
by Larry Pinkney
The inescapable but deliberately ignored irony about Barack Obama being installed as this nation’s first so-called black president is that being Black in ‘America’ has in reality always meant so much more than mere color pigmentation.
To be the head of the most aggressive, violent, and hypocritical empire on this planet is not to be Black. It is to be opportunistically and cynically hypocritical while serving the interests of continued U.S. Empire. Those who choose to wrap themselves in the security blanket of the supposed wonderfulness of Obama’s so-called Blackness while ignoring the ongoing horrors that this person supports, are deeply complicitous in perpetrating the misery that this empire is heaping upon Black, White, Brown, Red, and Yellow peoples both inside and outside of its physical borders.
In April of 2007, this writer unapologetically wrote that: “Beyond mere color, being Black is first and foremost a conscious political, social, and economic commitment to the struggle for the collective betterment of the descendants of the Black slavery holocaust in what has now become the United States of America, in conjunction with other people of color and humanity as a whole.” (Reference The Black Commentator, April 19, 2007, issue 226, article entitled, To Be Black In America: An Unflinching Necessity.) In that same aforementioned article, your writer further wrote: “Blackness is, in fact, not only a rainbow of color but also a rainbow of active consciousness and commitment.”
Negrodian misleaders and their so-called “progressive” and “liberal” white counterparts have put forth and pontificated virtually every imaginable sorry excuse as to why Barack Obama and his current regime of the U.S. Empire should be supported. It is a truly pathetic for all conscious people of conscience of all colors to witness.
As the bloody U.S. wars of aggression rage on in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as the war drums of U.S. Empire intensify and deepen into Pakistan under the Obama regime; the peace movement in the United States has been castrated (i.e. made null and void), roaring overwhelmingly with a deafening silence.
As the bankers, the insurance companies, and the other gluttonous barons of Wall Street gorge themselves with trillions of dollars of the people’s money; as more and more people lose their jobs; and as every conceivable action is engaged in to crush the labor movement and the economic and political rights of working people in this nation; the Barack Obama regime, like clever rhetorical sorcerers of the system, keep pouring and passing around the poisonous Kool-Aid of rhetoric for the masses to gulp and ultimately die upon.
Be we Black, Brown, White, Red, or Yellow there is absolutely no legitimate excuse for wrapping ourselves in the hypocrisy of U.S. Empire. We all know, or certainly should know, that the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan are wrong and unacceptable.
Had George W. Bush boycotted and attempted to sabotage the recent United Nations Conference on Racism (in Durban) as did the Barack Obama administration, there would have been enormous outcry from the so-called Black and White left in the U.S. Had George W. Bush continued and even expanded upon the so-called “extraordinary rendition” program (i.e. the illegal kidnapping of persons in other nations by the U.S. Government) as has Barack Obama, there would have been unquenchable outrage! Why the virtual silence and hypocrisy now? It’s time to stop being hypocrites and apologists for yet another administration of U.S. Empire and hegemony.
To be Black has increasingly become clearly less and less about mere color and increasingly about the commitment to political, economic, and social justice.
In the current economic times, how much does truth sell for?
In the recently concluded UN Forum on Racism, the world got a firsthand look at how racism operates. You are welcome to attend if you verbally denounce racism. If, however, you speak directly to current acts of racism, you face the barbed tongues of the media for divisive speech. If you speak of a people who have been dispossessed of their land, those who dispossessed them will walk out of the building. And, if you speak of the history of slavery and the possibility of reparations for the descendants of those who were forcibly abducted from their homes, then, like the US, you neednt bother to even attend.
At the UN World Forum on Racism in Geneva, The President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took advantage of another chance to flummox the feathers of Israel and called frequently for the disempowerment of that nation. But less focused on in his speech were a few other points. He spoke of the need to dissolve the veto power of the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, who at last tally, had quashed some 40 resolutions on the subject of Palestine by the veto of the United States. He spoke of the million souls killed in Iraq and the several million who have been forced out of their homes in that country.
He also gave voice to the deathly silence of genuine action from the UN Security Council beginning in December of 2008 to January 09, when the UN spoke sternly but did not act to stop the slaughter of an estimated 1100 civilians in the Gaza Strip. He called these acts by a name, racism.
Speaking of violence in today’s society is often equated with actual violence. The difference between the two is very real though. Consider, since the year 2000, there are around 6000 fewer Palestinian souls on the planet, and around 1000 fewer Israeli. Taking into account the fact that almost every aspect of Palestinian life is under curfew, that family members often begin decomposing before they can be taken across checkpoints to burial, that women often die in childbirth for the same reason and that upwards of 70% of the citizens lack clean drinking water, one can sense that there might be a perception of racism toward the Palestinians by the Israeli government. Israel has been given material support since its inception by the United States to perform acts of dispossession on a native population. In recent times, they have expanded the ‘settlements’, tripling their inhabitants in a little over a decade and a half.
But as with America, the push for expansion of lands and displacement of native people has no term other than racism, and such crimes seep in to the consciousness of a country, as much as it wishes to shield itself from it.
That Ahmadinejad spoke so in public is of course anathema to systemic racism, which prefers not to have its name called out in the polis. To be fair to the conference attendees, Ahmadinejad’s statements were in some respects the least eloquent of the conference. The work to address the muliplicity of slave trades between Africa, the Middle East and India is laudable, as is the work to improve human rights and dignity for migrants and modern day slaves. The fact that defamation of religion has for the time being been labeled as a matter of freedom of speech is as well commendable. But Ahmadinejad’s speech still captures something that won’t sit still, even after it has left Durban in 2001 or Geneva in 2009, namely, a striving to create a world which is more just and more humane for the future, starting with an honest admission of the crimes of the past, the crimes of the present and what can be done to best help the future. A good start would be the demanding equity for the Palestinian people, many of whom currently live in isolated camps, are subject to random arrests and are forced further toward hopelessness by a policy that is by now at least two generations old.
Considering that the population that lives in Israeli Settlements in the West Bank has tripled in the last 18 years, with an estimated 40% of the settlements and ‘outposts’ existing extralegally on Palestinian land, it would seem that now would be an opportune moment for reconciliation.
Also recently, was the Indigenous People’s Global Summit on Climate Change, which captured fewer headlines than Hugo Chavez’s timely gift of a book to Barack Obama. The present, Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano’s “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent”, puts forward the notion that if Latin America had been and was now fully reimbursed for all of the land and natural resources stolen from them, from the past up until the present day, they would be the keepers of the keys of the world economy, instead of its most frequent beggars. Indeed if the human species is to gain a footing that would walk it away from self-imposed annihilation and closer to sustainability, taking Native People’s perspective into account would seem to be a good start. The 400 indigenous people from 80 nations making up the Indigenous People’s Global Summit on Climate Change were in the end divided over whether to call for an immediate moratorium on all new oil and gas drilling on native lands in preference for alternative energy.
Though unresolved in the end, such a call is to date not even conceived of being mentioned in the wider populace of any country. They as well called for a stop to ‘false solutions like forest carbon offsets and other market based mechanisms that will benefit only those who are making money’ as Tom Goldtooth stated. With grain prices having doubled in the last 2 years, with ethanol consuming 25% of the US grain supply and with 18,000 children dying each day from starvation, we are fast approaching the day when it will be more profitable to put gas in a car than to feed people.
All of this, and Javed Iqbal, a Staten Island resident originally from Pakistan, was sentenced last week to six years in prison for airing an Arabic television channel and Dov Zakheiv, the rabbi who somehow lost 2.6 trillion dollars while working for the Pentagon from ’01 to ’04, is writing columns for ‘shadowgovernment’ of foreignpolicy.com. Yes, Virginia, there is a racism in the world still.
This week Russell talks to us about self-esteem and how important it is that we rebuild a strong sense of self-worth in the Children now growing up on the Reservations. We are given a first-hand glimpse of how the charitable act of one man really made the day for some kids here at the Porcupine School. He also illustrates the two-faced nature of our sicko, wacked-out USA Government by revealing how the fabulous “new school” is just a fascist coverup for what really goes on here on the Pine Ridge Sioux Indian Reservation.
“Hau Mi Kola (Hello My Friends). The following missive which I am forwarding to you all, is nothing more than a mirror and this is for those that can think critically.”
The Dictionary of American Empire-Speak
[Note to TomDispatch Readers: This week, the website Foreign Policy In Focus, whose work I greatly admire and whose co-director John Feffer is a TomDispatch regular, will be using this piece to kick off its new strategic focus on empire. FPIF will be exploring the question of whether the Obama administration is likely to wind down our empire or will simply try to implement a somewhat kinder and gentler version of the same. Its weekly e-newsletter, World Beat, is particularly useful and can be subscribed to by clicking here. Tom]
The Imperial Unconscious
Afghan Faces, Predators, Reapers, Terrorist Stars, Roman Conquerors, Imperial Graveyards, and Other Oddities of the Truncated American Century By Tom Engelhardt
Sometimes, it’s the everyday things, the ones that fly below the radar, that matter.
Here, according to Bloomberg News, is part of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s recent testimony on the Afghan War before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
“U.S. goals in Afghanistan must be ‘modest, realistic,’ and ‘above all, there must be an Afghan face on this war,’ Gates said. ‘The Afghan people must believe this is their war and we are there to help them. If they think we are there for our own purposes, then we will go the way of every other foreign army that has been in Afghanistan.’”
Now, in our world, a statement like this seems so obvious, so reasonable as to be beyond comment. And yet, stop a moment and think about this part of it: “there must be an Afghan face on this war.” U.S. military and civilian officials used an equivalent phrase in 2005-2006 when things were going really, really wrong in Iraq. It was then commonplace — and no less unremarked upon — for them to urgently suggest that an “Iraqi face” be put on events there.
Evidently back in vogue for a different war, the phrase is revelatory — and oddly blunt. As an image, there’s really only one way to understand it (not that anyone here stops to do so). After all, what does it mean to “put a face” on something that assumedly already has a face? In this case, it has to mean putting an Afghan mask over what we know to be the actual “face” of the Afghan War — ours — a foreign face that men like Gates recognize, quite correctly, is not the one most Afghans want to see. It’s hardly surprising that the Secretary of Defense would pick up such a phrase, part of Washington’s everyday arsenal of words and images when it comes to geopolitics, power, and war.
And yet, make no mistake, this is Empire-speak, American-style. It’s the language — behind which lies a deeper structure of argument and thought — that is essential to Washington’s vision of itself as a planet-straddling goliath. Think of that “Afghan face”/mask, in fact, as part of the flotsam and jetsam that regularly bubbles up from the American imperial unconscious.
Of course, words create realities even though such language, in all its strangeness, essentially passes unnoticed here. Largely uncommented upon, it helps normalize American practices in the world, comfortably shielding us from certain global realities; but it also has the potential to blind us to those realities, which, in perilous times, can be dangerous indeed. So let’s consider just a few entries in what might be thought of as The Dictionary of American Empire-Speak.
War Hidden in Plain Sight: There has recently been much reporting on, and even some debate here about, the efficacy of the Obama administration’s decision to increase the intensity of CIA missile attacks from drone aircraft in what Washington, in a newly coined neologism reflecting a widening war, now calls “Af-Pak” — the Pashtun tribal borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Since August 2008, more than 30 such missile attacks have been launched on the Pakistani side of that border against suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban targets. The pace of attacks has actually risen since Barack Obama entered the Oval Office, as have casualties from the missile strikes, as well as popular outrage in Pakistan over the attacks.
Thanks to Senator Diane Feinstein, we also know that, despite strong official Pakistani government protests, someone official in that country is doing more than looking the other way while they occur. As the Senator revealed recently, at least some of the CIA’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) cruising the skies over Af-Pak are evidently stationed at Pakistani bases. We learned recently as well that American Special Operations units are now regularly making forays inside Pakistan “primarily to gather intelligence”; that a unit of 70 American Special Forces advisors, a “secret task force, overseen by the United States Central Command and Special Operations Command,” is now aiding and training Pakistani Army and Frontier Corps paramilitary troops, again inside Pakistan; and that, despite (or perhaps, in part, because of) these American efforts, the influence of the Pakistani Taliban is actually expanding, even as Pakistan threatens to melt down.
Mystifyingly enough, however, this Pakistani part of the American war in Afghanistan is still referred to in major U.S. papers as a “covert war.” As news about it pours out, who it’s being hidden from is one of those questions no one bothers to ask.
On February 20th, the New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti and David E. Sanger typically wrote:
“With two missile strikes over the past week, the Obama administration has expanded the covert war run by the Central Intelligence Agency inside Pakistan, attacking a militant network seeking to topple the Pakistani government… Under standard policy for covert operations, the C.I.A. strikes inside Pakistan have not been publicly acknowledged either by the Obama administration or the Bush administration.”
On February 25th, Mazzetti and Helene Cooper reported that new CIA head Leon Panetta essentially bragged to reporters that “the agency’s campaign against militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas was the ‘most effective weapon’ the Obama administration had to combat Al Qaeda’s top leadership… Mr. Panetta stopped short of directly acknowledging the missile strikes, but he said that ‘operational efforts’ focusing on Qaeda leaders had been successful.” Siobhan Gorman of the Wall Street Journal reported the next day that Panetta said the attacks are “probably the most effective weapon we have to try to disrupt al Qaeda right now.” She added, “Mr. Obama and National Security Adviser James Jones have strongly endorsed their use, [Panetta] said.”
Uh, covert war? These “covert” “operational efforts” have been front-page news in the Pakistani press for months, they were part of the U.S. presidential campaign debates, and they certainly can’t be a secret for the Pashtuns in those border areas who must see drone aircraft overhead relatively regularly, or experience the missiles arriving in their neighborhoods.
In the U.S., “covert war” has long been a term for wars like the U.S.-backed Contra War against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in the 1980s, which were openly discussed, debated, and often lauded in this country. To a large extent, when aspects of these wars have actually been “covert” — that is, purposely hidden from anyone — it has been from the American public, not the enemies being warred upon. At the very least, however, such language, however threadbare, offers official Washington a kind of “plausible deniability” when it comes to thinking about what kind of an “American face” we present to the world.
Imperial Naming Practices: In our press, anonymous U.S. officials now point with pride to the increasing “precision” and “accuracy” of those drone missile attacks in taking out Taliban or al-Qaeda figures without (supposedly) taking out the tribespeople who live in the same villages or neighboring compounds. Such pieces lend our air war an almost sterile quality. They tend to emphasize the extraordinary lengths to which planners go to avoid “collateral damage.” To many Americans, it must then seem strange, even irrational, that perfectly non-fundamentalist Pakistanis should be quite so outraged about attacks aimed at the world’s worst terrorists.
On the other hand, consider for a moment the names of those drones now regularly in the skies over “Pashtunistan.” These are no less regularly published in our press to no comment at all. The most basic of the armed drones goes by the name of Predator, a moniker which might as well have come directly from those nightmarish sci-fi movies about an alien that feasts on humans. Undoubtedly, however, it was used in the way Col. Michael Steele of the 101st Airborne Division meant it when he exhorted his brigade deploying to Iraq (according to Thomas E. Ricks’ new book The Gamble) to remember: “You’re the predator.”
The Predator drone is armed with “only” two missiles. The more advanced drone, originally called the Predator B, now being deployed to the skies over Af-Pak, has been dubbed the Reaper — as in the Grim Reaper. Now, there’s only one thing such a “hunter-killer UAV” could be reaping, and you know just what that is: lives. It can be armed with up to 14 missiles (or four missiles and two 500-pound bombs), which means it packs quite a deadly wallop.
Oh, by the way, those missiles are named as well. They’re Hellfire missiles. So, if you want to consider the nature of this covert war in terms of names alone: Predators and Reapers are bringing down the fire from some satanic hell upon the peasants, fundamentalist guerrillas, and terrorists of the Af-Pak border regions.
In Washington, when the Af-Pak War is discussed, it’s in the bloodless, bureaucratic language of “global counterinsurgency” or “irregular warfare” (IW), of “soft power,” “hard power,” and “smart power.” But flying over the Pashtun wildlands is the blunt-edged face of predation and death, ready at a moment’s notice to deliver hellfire to those below.
Imperial Arguments: Let’s pursue this just a little further. Faced with rising numbers of civilian casualties from U.S. and NATO air strikes in Afghanistan and an increasingly outraged Afghan public, American officials tend to place the blame for most sky-borne “collateral damage” squarely on the Taliban. As Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen bluntly explained recently, “[T]he enemy hides behind civilians.” Hence, so this Empire-speak argument goes, dead civilians are actually the Taliban’s doing.
U.S. military and civilian spokespeople have long accused Taliban guerrillas of using civilians as “shields,” or even of purposely luring devastating air strikes down on Afghan wedding parties to create civilian casualties and so inflame the sensibilities of rural Afghanistan. This commonplace argument has two key features: a claim that they made us do it (kill civilians) and the implication that the Taliban fighters “hiding” among innocent villagers or wedding revelers are so many cowards, willing to put their fellow Pashtuns at risk rather than come out and fight like men — and, of course, given the firepower arrayed against them, die.
The U.S. media regularly records this argument without reflecting on it. In this country, in fact, the evil of combatants “hiding” among civilians seems so self-evident, especially given the larger evil of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, that no one thinks twice about it.
And yet like so much of Empire-speak on a one-way planet, this argument is distinctly uni-directional. What’s good for the guerrilla goose, so to speak, is inapplicable to the imperial gander. To illustrate, consider the American “pilots” flying those unmanned Predators and Reapers. We don’t know exactly where all of them are (other than not in the drones), but some are certainly at Nellis Air Force Base just outside Las Vegas.
In other words, were the Taliban guerrillas to leave the protection of those civilians and come out into the open, there would be no enemy to fight in the usual sense, not even a predatory one. The pilot firing that Hellfire missile into some Pakistani border village or compound is, after all, using the UAV’s cameras, including by next year a new system hair-raisingly dubbed “Gorgon Stare,” to locate his target and then, via console, as in a single-shooter video game, firing the missile, possibly from many thousands of miles away.
And yet nowhere in our world will you find anyone making the argument that those pilots are in “hiding” like so many cowards. Such a thought seems absurd to us, as it would if it were applied to the F-18 pilots taking off from aircraft carriers off the Afghan coast or the B-1 pilots flying out of unnamed Middle Eastern bases or the Indian Ocean island base of Diego Garcia. And yet, whatever those pilots may do in Afghan skies, unless they experience a mechanical malfunction, they are in no more danger than if they, too, were somewhere outside Las Vegas. In the last seven years, a few helicopters, but no planes, have gone down in Afghanistan.
When the Afghan mujahedeen fought the Soviets in the 1980s, the CIA supplied them with hand-held Stinger missiles, the most advanced surface-to-air missile in the U.S. arsenal, and they did indeed start knocking Soviet helicopters and planes out of the skies (which proved the beginning of the end for the Russians). The Afghan or Pakistani Taliban or al-Qaeda terrorists have no such capability today, which means, if you think about it, that what we here imagine as an “air war” involves none of the dangers we would normally associate with war. Looked at in another light, those missile strikes and bombings are really one-way acts of slaughter.
The Taliban’s tactics are, of course, the essence of guerrilla warfare, which always involves an asymmetrical battle against more powerful armies and weaponry, and which, if successful, always depends on the ability of the guerrilla to blend into the environment, natural and human, or, as Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong so famously put it, to “swim” in the “sea of the people.”
If you imagine your enemy simply using the villagers of Afghanistan as “shields” or “hiding” like so many cowards among them, you are speaking the language of imperial power but also blinding yourself (or the American public) to the actual realities of the war you’re fighting.
Imperial Jokes: In October 2008, Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador, refused to renew the U.S. lease at Manta Air Base, one of at least 761 foreign bases, macro to micro, that the U.S. garrisons worldwide. Correa reportedly said: “We’ll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami — an Ecuadorean base. If there’s no problem having foreign soldiers on a country’s soil, surely they’ll let us have an Ecuadorean base in the United States.”
This qualifies as an anti-imperial joke. The “leftist” president of Ecuador was doing no more than tweaking the nose of goliath. An Ecuadorian base in Miami? Absurd. No one on the planet could take such a suggestion seriously.
On the other hand, when it comes to the U.S. having a major base in Kyrgyzstan, a Central Asian land that not one in a million Americans has ever heard of, that’s no laughing matter. After all, Washington has been paying $20 million a year in direct rent for the use of that country’s Manas Air Base (and, as indirect rent, another $80 million has gone to various Kyrgyzstani programs). As late as last October, the Pentagon was planning to sink another $100 million into construction at Manas “to expand aircraft parking areas at the base and provide a ‘hot cargo pad’ — an area safe enough to load and unload hazardous and explosive cargo — to be located away from inhabited facilities.” That, however, was when things started to go wrong. Now, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has voted to expel the U.S. from Manas within six months, a serious blow to our resupply efforts for the Afghan War. More outrageous yet to Washington, the Kyrgyzstanis seem to have done this at the bidding of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has the nerve to want to reestablish a Russian sphere of influence in what used to be the borderlands of the old Soviet Union.
Put in a nutshell, despite the crumbling U.S. economic situation and the rising costs of the Afghan War, we still act as if we live on a one-way planet. Some country demanding a base in the U.S.? That’s a joke or an insult, while the U.S. potentially gaining or losing a base almost anywhere on the planet may be an insult, but it’s never a laughing matter.
Imperial Thought: Recently, to justify those missile attacks in Pakistan, U.S. officials have been leaking details on the program’s “successes” to reporters. Anonymous officials have offered the “possibly wishful estimate” that the CIA “covert war” has led to the deaths (or capture) of 11 of al Qaeda’s top 20 commanders, including, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report, “Abu Layth al-Libi, whom U.S. officials described as ‘a rising star’ in the group.”
“Rising star” is such an American phrase, melding as it does imagined terror hierarchies with the lingo of celebrity tabloids. In fact, one problem with Empire-speak, and imperial thought more generally, is the way it prevents imperial officials from imagining a world not in their own image. So it’s not surprising that, despite their best efforts, they regularly conjure up their enemies as a warped version of themselves — hierarchical, overly reliant on leaders, and top heavy.
In the Vietnam era, for instance, American officials spent a remarkable amount of effort sending troops to search for, and planes to bomb, the border sanctuaries of Cambodia and Laos on a fruitless hunt for COSVN (the so-called Central Office for South Vietnam), the supposed nerve center of the communist enemy, aka “the bamboo Pentagon.” Of course, it wasn’t there to be found, except in Washington’s imperial imagination.
In the Af-Pak “theater,” we may be seeing a similar phenomenon. Underpinning the CIA killer-drone program is a belief that the key to combating al-Qaeda (and possibly the Taliban) is destroying its leadership one by one. As key Pakistani officials have tried to explain, the missile attacks, which have indeed killed some al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban figures (as well as whoever was in their vicinity), are distinctly counterproductive. The deaths of those figures in no way compensates for the outrage, the destabilization, the radicalization that the attacks engender in the region. They may, in fact, be functionally strengthening each of those movements.
What it’s hard for Washington to grasp is this: “decapitation,” to use another American imperial term, is not a particularly effective strategy with a decentralized guerrilla or terror organization. The fact is a headless guerrilla movement is nowhere near as brainless or helpless as a headless Washington would be.
Only recently, Eric Schmitt and Jane Perlez of the New York Times reported that, while top U.S. officials were exhibiting optimism about the effectiveness of the missile strikes, Pakistani officials were pointing to “ominous signs of Al Qaeda’s resilience” and suggesting “that Al Qaeda was replenishing killed fighters and midlevel leaders with less experienced but more hard-core militants, who are considered more dangerous because they have fewer allegiances to local Pakistani tribes… The Pakistani intelligence assessment found that Al Qaeda had adapted to the blows to its command structure by shifting ‘to conduct decentralized operations under small but well-organized regional groups’ within Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
Imperial Dreams and Nightmares: Americans have rarely liked to think of themselves as “imperial,” so what is it about Rome in these last years? First, the neocons, in the flush of seeming victory in 2002-2003 began to imagine the U.S. as a “new Rome” (or new British Empire), or as Charles Krauthammer wrote as early as February 2001 in Time Magazine, “America is no mere international citizen. It is the dominant power in the world, more dominant than any since Rome.”
All roads on this planet, they were then convinced, led ineluctably to Washington. Now, of course, they visibly don’t, and the imperial bragging about surpassing the Roman or British empires has long since faded away. When it comes to the Afghan War, in fact, those (resupply) “roads” seem to lead, embarrassingly enough, through Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Russia, and Iran. But the comparison to conquering Rome evidently remains on the brain.
When, for instance, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post recently, drumming up support for the revised, age-of-Obama American mission in Afghanistan, he just couldn’t help starting off with an inspiring tale about the Romans and a small Italian city-state, Locri, that they conquered. As he tells it, the ruler the Romans installed in Locri, a rapacious fellow named Pleminius, proved a looter and a tyrant. And yet, Mullen assures us, the Locrians so believed in “the reputation for equanimity and fairness that Rome had built” that they sent a delegation to the Roman Senate, knowing they could get a hearing, and demanded restitution; and indeed, the tyrant was removed.
Admittedly, this seems a far-fetched analogy to the U.S. in Afghanistan (and don’t for a second mix up Pleminius, that rogue, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, even though the Obama-ites evidently now believe him corrupt and replaceable). Still, as Mullen sees it, the point is: “We don’t always get it right. But like the early Romans, we strive in the end to make it right. We strive to earn trust. And that makes all the difference.”
Mullen is, it seems, the Aesop of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and, in his somewhat overheated brain, we evidently remain the conquering (but just) “early” Romans — before, of course, the fatal rot set in.
And then there’s the Washington Post’s Thomas Ricks, a superb reporter who, in his latest book, gives voice to the views of Centcom Commander David Petraeus. Reflecting on Iraq, where he (like the general) believes we could still be fighting in “2015,” Ricks begins a recent Post piece this way:
“In October 2008, as I was finishing my latest book on the Iraq war, I visited the Roman Forum during a stop in Italy. I sat on a stone wall on the south side of the Capitoline Hill and studied the two triumphal arches at either end of the Forum, both commemorating Roman wars in the Middle East… The structures brought home a sad realization: It’s simply unrealistic to believe that the U.S. military will be able to pull out of the Middle East… It was a week when U.S. forces had engaged in combat in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan — a string of countries stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean — following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, the Romans and the British.”
With the waning of British power, Ricks continues, it “has been the United States’ turn to take the lead there.” And our turn, as it happens, just isn’t over yet. Evidently that, at least, is the view from our imperial capital and from our military viceroys out on the peripheries.
Honestly, Freud would have loved these guys. They seem to channel the imperial unconscious. Take David Petraeus. For him, too, the duties and dangers of empire evidently weigh heavily on the brain. Like a number of key figures, civilian and military, he has lately begun to issue warnings about Afghanistan’s dangers. As the Washington Post reported, “[Petraeus] suggested that the odds of success were low, given that foreign military powers have historically met with defeat in Afghanistan. ‘Afghanistan has been known over the years as the graveyard of empires,’ he said. ‘We cannot take that history lightly.’”
Of course, he’s worrying about the graveyard aspect of this, but what I find curious — exactly because no one thinks it odd enough to comment on here — is the functional admission in the use of this old adage about Afghanistan that we fall into the category of empires, whether or not in search of a graveyard in which to die.
And he’s not alone in this. Secretary of Defense Gates put the matter similarly recently: “Without the support of the Afghan people, Gates said, the U.S. would simply ‘go the way of every other foreign army that’s ever been in Afghanistan.’”
Imperial Blindness: Think of the above as just a few prospective entries in The Dictionary of American Empire-Speak that will, of course, never be compiled. We’re so used to such language, so inured to it and to the thinking behind it, so used, in fact, to living on a one-way planet in which all roads lead to and from Washington, that it doesn’t seem like a language at all. It’s just part of the unexamined warp and woof of everyday life in a country that still believes it normal to garrison the planet, regularly fight wars halfway across the globe, find triumph or tragedy in the gain or loss of an air base in a country few Americans could locate on a map, and produce military manuals on counterinsurgency warfare the way a do-it-yourself furniture maker would produce instructions for constructing a cabinet from a kit.
We don’t find it strange to have 16 intelligence agencies, some devoted to listening in on, and spying on, the planet, or capable of running “covert wars” in tribal borderlands thousands of miles distant, or of flying unmanned drones over those same borderlands destroying those who come into camera view. We’re inured to the bizarreness of it all and of the language (and pretensions) that go with it.
If The Dictionary of American Empire-Speak were ever produced, who here would buy it? Who would feel the need to check out what seems like the only reasonable and self-evident language for describing the world? How else, after all, would we operate? How else would any American in a position of authority talk in Washington or Baghdad or Islamabad or Rome?
So it undoubtedly seemed to the Romans, too. And we know what finally happened to their empire and the language that went with it. Such a language plays its role in normalizing the running of an empire. It allows officials (and in our case the media as well) not to see what would be inconvenient to the smooth functioning of such an enormous undertaking. Embedded in its words and phrases is a fierce way of thinking (even if we don’t see it that way), as well as plausible deniability. And in the good times, its uses are obvious.
On the other hand, when the normal ways of empire cease to function well, that same language can suddenly work to blind the imperial custodians — which is, after all, what the foreign policy “team” of the Obama era is — to necessary realities. At a moment when it might be important to grasp what the “American face” in the mirror actually looks like, you can’t see it.
And sometimes what you can’t bring yourself to see can, as now, hurt you.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the American Age of Denial. He also edited The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), a collection of some of the best pieces from his site and an alternative history of the mad Bush years.
[Note: In thinking about a prospective Dictionary of American Empire-Speak, I found four websites particularly useful for keeping me up to date: Juan Cole's invaluable Informed Comment (I don't know how he stays at day-in, day-out, year after year); Antiwar.com and the War in Context, where editors with sharp eyes for global developments seem to be on the prowl 24/7; and last but by no means least, Noah Shachtman's Danger Room blog at Wired.com. Focused on the latest military developments, from strategy and tactics to hunter-killer drones and "robo-beasts," Danger Room is not only a must-follow site, but gives an everyday sense of the imperial bizarreness of our American world. Finally, a deep bow of thanks to Christopher Holmes, who keeps the copyediting lights burning in Japan, and TomDispatch eternally chugging along.]
Copyright 2009 Tom Engelhardt
Walter Bockus, Pedophile Priest
Greenfield Park’s Child Rapist & Sodomizer
Fully Protected by the Anglican Church of Canada
What a Sickening Legacy for a Priest & His Church!!
This is the twisted pervert who “ministered” in eight Canadian parishes, using little children to satisfy his personal sexual desires, destroying many families in the process.
His latest handshake must have been with Saddam!
The Anglican Church of Canada has not only refused to defrock him …. but this child molester also retains the honorary title “Canon”, proving just how hypocritical the Anglican Church of Canada truly is!
Some of his Victims’ testimonials are linked in the right hand margin.
We thank N.S for locating an image of one of Greenfield Park’s worst perverts.
Direct Navigation to Greenfield Park Victim Impact Statements
Indian Lawsuits on School Abuse May Bankrupt Canada Churches
BYLINE: By JAMES BROOKE
DATELINE: REGINA, Saskatchewan
Lawsuits filed by thousands of former Indian boarding school students in Canada, claiming sexual, physical and “cultural” abuse, threaten to swamp the financial resources of four mainstream Christian churches that ran the schools until 1970.
“I simply see us going broke,” Duncan D. Wallace, the Anglican bishop of Qu’Appelle, which encompasses Regina, said of his diocese. With resignation, he added, “When you get down to it, all we need is a bottle of wine, a book and a table, and we are in business.”
Settlements could snowball into billions of dollars, devastating the financial resources of Canada’s four old-line Christian churches: Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and United Church. By the end of next year, the Canadian government forecasts, 16,000 Indians will have entered some form of claim; that number is equal to 17 percent of the living alumni of the boarding schools.
Already there are four class-action suits against the churches and the government, which had the churches run schools in distant communities under contract.
Indian plaintiffs have won all five boarding school abuse trials held in the last two years — two in Saskatchewan and three in British Columbia. In the Saskatchewan cases, both involving sex abuse, and both filed against the government, one plaintiff won $54,000 and the other $114,000. In the British Columbia cases, lawyers for the government and the churches negotiated secrecy over damage awards.
Auditors for the Anglican Church of Canada predict that legal fees alone will push the church into bankruptcy next year.
“There is a lot of denial, people thinking this is a bad dream,” Bishop Wallace said of the responses of priests and parishioners to the claims. “I told a priest recently, ‘When your rectory gets sold out from underneath you and you are living in the street, maybe you will understand this is for real.’ ”
Parishioners have proposed selling the oldest church in Alberta to raise $2 million for legal costs and settlements faced by the United Church of Canada. In Manitoba, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Roman Catholic order, want to hand over to the federal government virtually all their property in the province in return for Ottawa’s assuming liability for about 2,000 claims against the order. The Oblates fear that legal bills will eat up their assets before any money can flow to legitimate claimants.
In British Columbia, some members of the now bankrupt Anglican diocese of Cariboo, embittered with the government, propose complying with a government order to inventory church art for auction by sending their Sunday school drawings to Ottawa.
Behind the suits is the real pain of many Canadian Indians who were rounded up and forced into the schools.
In the late 19th century, Canada’s government turned to established churches to carry out federal obligations to educate the new nation’s Indians. With few civil servants willing to work in remote areas, churches agreed to run a network of aboriginal boarding schools, which numbered about 100 at its peak.
In a forced assimilation popular in North America a century ago, children as young as 5 were taken from their families to faraway boarding schools where their hair was cropped short, they were often dressed in uniforms and they were forbidden to speak their native languages or learn their traditional arts, religion and dances.
“How do you get 6-year-olds who only speak Sioux, who only speak Lakota, who only speak Cree to speak English?” asked Anthony Merchant, head of a group here that represents about 4,000 claimants. “You use Gestapo-type tactics to punish this 6-year-old. Punishment becomes increasingly barbaric, sadistic.”
Mr. Merchant, who said there were no statutes of limitations for sex abuse cases, said that about one-third of his clients charged such abuse. With the pace of trials picking up, he estimated that his firm would handle half of the roughly 70 cases scheduled for trial next year.
“You couldn’t say one word or you would get slapped,” said Jerry Shepherd, a plaintiff from the White Bear Nation, recounting in an interview his days at Gordon School, about 65 miles north of here, in the mid-1960′s.
With parents often forbidden to visit, boarding schools sometimes became places where pedophiles freely preyed on defenseless, disoriented children, Indians say.
“The sexual perverts went all over the West,” Mr. Merchant said. “We have some that were in six or seven schools.”
School defenders say that for aboriginal Canadians to survive in the modern era, it was essential for them to learn English, to adopt Western-style dress and to learn vocational skills.
Anger over the schools surfaced in suspicious fires that decimated the buildings, most recently an arson attack last summer that destroyed a boarded-up building that once housed the Edmonton Indian Residential School in Alberta.
Some Indians remember that their abusers were fellow Indians. Edmund Gordon, 39, a former student at the Gordon School, recalls that the supervisor who gave him marijuana and then tried to rape him was “an aboriginal, he taught powwow.” Mr. Gordon, a claimant who now runs a residence for H.I.V.-positive Indians here, said that he blamed the supply of free drugs and alcohol for derailing his boyhood goals of becoming a policeman or professional hockey player.
According to “Sins of the Fathers,” a report on the schools published by The Anglican Journal, the church’s monthly newspaper, last May, eight Indian men committed suicide after they were subpoenaed to testify about their sexual abuse at the boarding school in the Cariboo diocese.
“When they got handed a piece of paper, they knew their secret was out,” Fred Sampson, a former student of St. George’s Indian Residential School, said about friends called to testify in an abuse suit that went to trial last year. “They thought, ‘Everybody’s going to know that I let this guy do it to me for candy.’ ”
Robert Desjarlais, 53, a Saskatchewan Indian, walked 1,500 miles from here to Ottawa last summer, demanding educational programs to restore lost languages. Walking the last 100 miles barefoot, Mr. Desjarlais said that in the mid-1950′s he was regularly abused by a Catholic priest at a church school.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which once was charged with enforcing mandatory school laws for Indians, started a task force in 1995 to investigate allegations of boarding school abuse. Since then, the Mounties have received 3,400 complaints against 170 suspects. So far, only five people have been charged, with crimes like sexual abuse, a low tally that the police attribute to faulty memories and deaths of teachers.
Seeking redress through civil suits, lawyers believe that the British Columbia judge in the Cariboo case set a national precedent when she assigned a 60 percent share of liability to the Anglican Church and 40 percent to the federal government.
The churches protest that they ended their involvement in the schools around 1970, though the government took them over and did not close the last one for two more decades. Anglicans say their primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, made a full apology to Indians for abuses at the schools in 1993, five years before Canada’s government made a similar apology.
Faced with selling churches, rectories, women’s shelters and soup kitchens, churches say that settlements should be mediated outside the courts, that the federal government should pay the greatest part of the claims, and that a fact-finding panel similar to South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission should be set up.
Blurring battle lines, Canada’s Anglican Church today has four aboriginal bishops and 130 aboriginal priests. Some tribal leaders have banned from their reserves lawyers working on contingency fees seeking claimants.
Rejecting charges of “cultural genocide,” John Clarke, the Anglican bishop of Athabasca in northern Alberta, told The Anglican Journal, “There’s a whole pile of upper-middle-class guilt here that’s running the show, not much common sense.”
Arguing that the most effective therapy is counseling, apologies and moderate settlements, church leaders say that additional steps like teaching lost languages could be paid out of a $240 million “healing fund” the federal government set up in 1998.
Most suits did not originally name the churches. Instead, Ottawa drew the churches into the legal wrangles by naming them as third-party defendants. The Anglican Church is urging parishioners to write Prime Minister Jean Chretien using lines like, “Your Department of Justice is literally driving my church into bankruptcy.”
Compounding bureaucratic caution, clouds were recently cast over one of Canada’s largest school abuse settlements, in Nova Scotia. A provincial justice department report in September on the $25 million that the province paid in the late 1990′s to 1,237 reported victims at a boys’ reform school concluded that, in retrospect, “most of the allegations are either unsustainable or implausible.”
With a national election scheduled for Nov. 27, some Christian commentators are urging people to vote against Mr. Chretien’s Liberal Party and for the Canadian Alliance, a conservative party led by Stockwell Day.
“Jean Chretien and the Liberals have basically announced it’s open season on our nation’s mainstream churches,” Paul Jackson, a columnist, wrote in The Calgary Sun.
Mr. Chretien recently asked Herb Gray, Canada’s deputy prime minister, to find a negotiated solution. Without setting a timetable, Mr. Gray said he sought a solution “that is fair to all, that primarily does not involve litigation.”
But with no solution near, church leaders nervously await a court test here in December of a new legal concept: “cultural abuse,” or loss of language, oral traditions and spiritual beliefs.CA
There are three points of view when it comes to the federal government:
1) Everything is more or less going along just fine. Sure we have some problems but we’ll work them out.
2) It’s too cumbersome and intrusive, taxes are excessive, the national debt is a disgrace, and our foreign policy is long on machismo and short on goodwill. The Democrats and Republicans got us into this mess and probably can’t get us out.
3) If you ignore it, it will go away.
Our recent presidential election took place in November of 2008. As usual, our so-called democracy basically gave us two choices.
The Democrats want an extensive, intrusive federal government to engineer social change and redistribute wealth. Higher taxes and more government involvement (intervention), thereby suffocating free enterprise and diminishing individual freedom. Their goal is to nurture (control) their subjects from cradle to grave.
The Republicans want a strong federal government to engineer endless economic growth and support a vast military-industrial complex. Increased military expenditures and more self-appointed international police action, thereby contributing to global strife and tarnishing our relationship with the rest of the world.
Both of these philosophies are extremely costly. Democrats and Republicans have driven our national debt up to nearly $12 trillion, and it continues to rise. Future generations will bear the burden for this insane federal spending recklessness.
If you’re enthusiastic about one of these two options, by all means stay the course.
But if you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place trying to choose the lesser of two evils, perhaps it’s time to unscrew your head back out of the sand and seek an alternative. Even though the media will try to convince you that a vote for anyone other than a Democrat or a Republican is a wasted vote, there are other alternatives.
The election process is meant to give the voters the illusion of a free democracy without actually having one.
The two major candidates for president, one Democrat and one Republican, are basically chosen by a handful of small states (the New Hampshire Primary, the Iowa Caucuses, etc.), then each of the candidates personally selects their respective running mate and potential successor.
To maintain their position of power and control, the two major political parties enacted election laws that have given them a decisive advantage over any emerging alternative philosophies.
Democrats and Republicans in Congress have awarded matching campaign funds to the two major political parties (themselves) while making it difficult for third parties to qualify for them. The candidates of these two parties are automatically placed on ballots in every state, while third party candidates must contend with legal quagmires on a state by state basis to get on ballots. And so on.
To anyone with a brain larger than a pinto bean this doesn’t seem like much of a democracy.
To make matter worse, the mass media focuses only on the two major political parties, as if they’re the only two points of view, further diminishing a free democracy.
There aren’t many choices when there are only two alternatives.
This unbalanced, unfair system wasn’t the result of evil intent. But government operates on endless compromise and those in power tend to manipulate the system to favor those in power. And the mass media goes along with it to maintain a positive relationship with those in power in order to obtain access.
Basically, the system is rigged.
The two parties in power have made it difficult for a third party to compete and the mass media has become their ally by promoting an illusion of a democracy, encouraging everyone to participate in the process under the mistaken premise that the public is apathetic rather than disgusted.
So the masses turn out every four years to do their civic duty and vote for the lesser of two evils. But a vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil and an illusion of a democracy is only an illusion.
A two-party system is not a democracy – it’s a closed system tightly controlled by the two parties in power. Anyone who enthusiastically supports such a system is perpetuating a narrow, unjust form of government.
Every citizen has three choices:
1) You can participate in a rigged system, giving legitimacy to that system, by voting for one of the two major candidates as usual. Be sure to pat yourself on the back for doing your civic duty.
2) You can vote for a third party candidate, preferably one that seeks to limit the power and scope of government, sending a message to the two major parties and the mass media that politics as usual is unacceptable. Be sure to pat yourself on the back for having a mind of your own.
3) You can choose to ignore your enslavement by ever increasing government forces and bang your head against the wall. Be sure to pat yourself on the back so you don’t swallow your gum.
Choose wisely. The fate of eternity is in your hands.
Bret Burquest is a former award-winning columnist and author of four novels. Contact email@example.com