Theater of Death
by Arthur Silber
month ago, I wrote about the elaborate, sickening, and sickeningly
charade that had gone on in Congress with regard to Iraq spending
bills. I realize the central truth that I discussed in that essay
is one that most people adamantly refuse to accept. Nonetheless,
it remains indisputably true: for our ruling elites, the suffering
and death of innocent people, American, Iraqi or of any other nationality,
are not of primary importance. In the perverse scheme of their priorities,
such matters appear well down on the list. Their major and often
sole concern is political power: its acquisition, its maintenance
and its expansion. Tactics of only one kind are their concern: the
means by which their own power is maintained and enhanced.
It is deeply
regrettable, and also inevitable since the world of political
blogs cannot be other than a reflection of the larger culture
that this same indifference to human pain and suffering infects
the approach of the great majority of political bloggers. For all
their ferocious opposition to the Bush administration and to Republicans
generally, liberal and progressive bloggers act as if they are largely
indifferent to bringing about a quick end to the incomprehensibly
deadly Iraq occupation. They certainly demonstrate no sustained,
serious effort to pressure Congressional Democrats into defunding
the war or into acting to oppose an attack on Iran in every
way possible. The concerns of these bloggers and the Washington
Democrats are perfectly coextensive: they will condemn the Iraq
war and act to block an attack on Iran only to the degree such actions
will not endanger their perceived political opportunities in 2008.
All of them are happy to follow in the wake of public opinion; genuine
leadership and daring to educate and motivate the American public
are out of the question. Profound courage and opposition to the
"consensus" view in the manner that a Robert
La Follette once demonstrated is inconceivable; these bloggers
and their political representatives have no interest in such matters.
They remember only that La Follette was viciously attacked and vilified
in his lifetime; they forget (if they even know) that La Follette
nonetheless saw a series of personal political triumphs. Most significantly,
they forget (if they even understand) that history proved La Follette
to have been entirely correct in his unrelenting opposition to the
U.S. entrance into World War I. The verdict of history and the avoidance
of unnecessary human suffering and death do not concern such people;
only political power does. (In very large part, the conduct of our
political class and of most bloggers is the consequence of the most
barbaric and primitive kind of tribalism. Their goal is the elevation
to power of their tribe, and the diminution of the power
of the other tribe; almost all other matters are inconsequential
details to this kind of psychology. I will be discussing tribalism,
its roots, and its far-reaching, immensely destructive effects in
a new series of essays, which I hope to begin in the next several
charade continues without interruption, as the bloody slaughter
in Iraq goes on every hour of every day. Proving still another time
in an infinite series of such demonstrations that it has learned
nothing over the last six years, the NYT plasters an entirely
false headline on its story: "War
Bill Passes House, Requiring an Iraq Pullout." In fact, the
bill "requires" no such thing; it certainly does not require an
"Iraq pullout." The charade goes on unchallenged only because our
governing class and our major media institutions know they can count
on the majority of Americans to be ignorant of the relevant facts
and/or largely disinterested in acquiring them. Realizing that it
is anathema to the manner in which political conversations are to
be conducted, let's review some of the critical facts on this issue.
House on Wednesday narrowly approved a $124 billion war spending
bill that would require American troops to begin withdrawing from
Iraq by Oct. 1, setting the stage for the first veto fight between
President Bush and majority Democrats.
You have to go
on to the second page of the story (where most readers never go) to
get a glimpse of the truth:
after Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander in Iraq, told lawmakers
he needed more time to gauge the effectiveness of a troop buildup
there, the House voted 218 to 208 to pass a measure that sought
the removal of most combat forces by next spring. Mr.
Bush has said unequivocally and repeatedly that he will veto it.
the American people voted for a new direction in Iraq," said Speaker
Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California. "They made it clear that
our troops must be given all they need to do their jobs, but that
our troops must be brought home responsibly, safely, and soon."
the briefing, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority
leader, disputed criticisms that Democrats were trying to end the
war before giving the administration's plan a chance to succeed.
Ah, yes. That
little exception about "battl[ing] terrorist groups." Gareth Porter
is saying get out tomorrow," Mr. Hoyer said, noting that the legislation
would allow American troops to stay in Iraq to battle terrorist
language on a timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq voted out
of the House-Senate conference committee this week contains large
loopholes that would apparently allow U.S. troops to continue carrying
out military operations in Iraq's Sunni heartland indefinitely.
have been entirely consistent about these "loopholes." John Kerry
specified the same exceptions in his NYT op-ed piece one year
ago. As I commented
at the time it appeared:
coming from the Democratic majority in Congress, makes an exemption
from a 180-day timetable for completion of "redeployment" of U.S.
troops from Iraq to allow "targeted special actions limited in
duration and scope to killing or capturing members of al-Qaeda
and other terrorist organizations of global reach."
exemption, along with a second exemption allowing U.S. forces
to re-enter Iraq to protect those remaining behind to train and
equip Iraqi security forces and to protect other U.S. military
forces, appears to approve the presence in Iraq of tens of thousands
of U.S. occupation troops for many years to come.
loopholes in the Democratic withdrawal plan come against the background
of the failure of the U.S. war against the insurgency – including
al-Qaeda – in Anbar and other Sunni provinces and the emergence
of a major war within the Sunni insurgency between non-jihadi
resistance groups and al-Qaeda.
resistance organizations represent a clear alternative to an endless
U.S. occupation of hostile Sunni provinces that has driven many
activists into the arms of al-Qaeda.
the wording in the House-Senate appropriations bill appears to
suggest a very limited mandate for operations against al-Qaeda,
at least one influential Democratic figure, Senate Foreign Relations
Committee Chairman Joe Biden, intends to interpret it broadly
enough to allow the administration to continue at roughly the
present level of U.S. military operations in Anbar province, even
after the U.S. has withdrawn its troops from the Baghdad area.
See the earlier
post for further details.
that is wrong and destructive about United States foreign policy
over the last century is reflected in John Kerry's op-ed article
in the NYT last week. Furthermore, the overall tone and
perspective that Kerry brings to the question of what we should
now do in Iraq are deeply objectionable. In personal terms, I
can only describe Kerry's approach as sickening in the extreme.
What is additionally shocking to me is the extent to which almost
no one has commented on exactly why it is so sickening;
instead, the majority of Democrats and liberals, for example,
praise Kerry for his "bravery" and "courage." But there is nothing
in the least brave about Kerry's article, because of a huge dishonesty
buried in the middle of his proposed strategy.
Kerry isn't proposing that we withdraw all American combat
forces none of which, I repeat, are there for any legitimate
reason. Oh, no: "Only troops essential to finishing the job of
training Iraqi forces should remain." And: "To increase the pressure
on Iraq's leaders, we must redeploy American forces to garrisoned
status. Troops should be used for security backup, training and
a handy loophole one big enough to drive a decades-long
occupation through, even if it is "only" an occupation confined
to those "enduring bases" we're spending so much money on. In
this manner, Iraq will remain our staging platform for our neverending
efforts to control the future of the Middle East, just as we have
attempted to do ever since World War I.
to the contention that the Democrats are proposing a "troop withdrawal"
(and I emphasize that it is, of course, non-binding). They are proposing
only a withdrawal of "combat troops," and not even all of those.
Here's a key fact about those combat troops, from the NYT
combat troops in the 15 brigades carrying out the American fight
in Iraq which the Iraq Study Group says could be largely
withdrawn in just over a year represent about 23 percent
of the 140,000 military personnel committed to the overall war effort
Some way to "end the war."
given day, according to military officers in Baghdad, only about
11 percent of the Army and Marine Corps personnel in Iraq are
carrying out purely offensive operations. Even counting others,
whose main job is defensive or who perform security missions to
stabilize the country for economic reconstruction and political
development, only half of the American force might be considered
if all of the group's proposals were carried out, it is not possible
to predict exactly how many Americans will stay, or for how long.
Decisions will hinge on military conditions on the ground and
political conditions in Washington.
analysis of the current numbers and tasks of American forces suggests
that it will prove difficult to drop far below 100,000 by early
2008, and that 70,000 or more troops might have to stay for a
Since I am
being unspeakably rude in my insistence that we state the relevant
facts, let's also talk about those "enduring bases." In February
then, a near year to come of withdrawal buzz, speculation, and even
a media blitz of withdrawal announcements, the question is: How
can anybody tell if the Bush administration is actually withdrawing
from Iraq or not? Sometimes, when trying to cut through a veritable
fog of misinformation and disinformation, it helps to focus on something
concrete. In the case of Iraq, nothing could be more concrete
though less generally discussed in our media than the set
of enormous bases the Pentagon has long been building in that country.
Quite literally multi-billions of dollars have gone into them. In
a prestigious engineering magazine in late 2003, Lt. Col. David
Holt, the Army engineer "tasked with facilities development" in
Iraq, was already speaking proudly of several billion dollars being
sunk into base construction ("the numbers are staggering"). Since
then, the base-building has been massive and ongoing.
As the American
press goes, so go the Democrats. For all their phony talk about "withdrawal"
and "ending the war," the Democrats have said next to nothing about
these huge bases, their future, or their purpose.
country in such startling disarray, these bases, with some of
the most expensive and advanced communications systems on the
planet, are like vast spaceships that have landed from another
solar system. Representing a staggering investment of resources,
effort, and geostrategic dreaming, they are the unlikeliest places
for the Bush administration to hand over willingly to even the
friendliest of Iraqi governments.
are at least four such "super-bases" in Iraq, none of which have
anything to do with "withdrawal" from that country. Quite the
contrary, these bases are being constructed as little American
islands of eternal order in an anarchic sea. Whatever top administration
officials and military commanders say and they always deny
that we seek "permanent" bases in Iraq -– facts-on-the-ground
speak with another voice entirely. These bases practically scream
there's a problem here. American reporters adhere to a simple
rule: The words "permanent," "bases," and "Iraq" should never
be placed in the same sentence, not even in the same paragraph;
in fact, not even in the same news report. While a LexisNexis
search of the last 90 days of press coverage of Iraq produced
a number of examples of the use of those three words in the British
press, the only U.S. examples that could be found occurred when
80% of Iraqis (obviously somewhat unhinged by their difficult
lives) insisted in a poll that the United States might indeed
desire to establish bases and remain permanently in their country;
or when "no" or "not" was added to the mix via any American official
denial. (It's strange, isn't it, that such bases, imposing as
they are, generally only exist in our papers in the negative.)
silence surrounds the
U.S. embassy in Baghdad:
the many secrets the American government cannot keep, one of its
biggest (104 acres) and most expensive ($592 million) is the American
Embassy being built in Baghdad. Surrounded by fifteen-foot-thick
walls, almost as large as the Vatican on a scale comparable to the
Mall of America, to which it seems to have a certain spiritual affinity,
this is no simple object to hide.
Is anyone, Republican
or Democrat, talking about this embassy, its construction, or what
it signifies about our government's plans? No.
think the Bush Administration is planning on leaving Iraq? Read
Tribune reports, "Trucks shuttle building materials to and
fro. Cranes, at least a dozen of them, punch toward the sky. Concrete
structures are beginning to take form. At a time when most Iraqis
are enduring blackouts of up to 22 hours a day, the site is floodlighted
by night so work can continue around the clock."
to Knight Ridder, "US officials here [in Baghdad] greet questions
about the site with a curtness that borders on hostility. Reporters
are referred to the State Department in Washington, which declined
to answer questions for security reasons." Photographers attempting
to get pictures of what the locals call "George W's Palace" are
confined to using telephoto lenses on this, the largest construction
project undertaken by Iraq's American visitors.
we know much of what is going on in the place, where there will
soon be twenty-one buildings, 619 apartments with very fancy digs
for the big shots, restaurants, shops, gym facilities, a swimming
pool, a food court, a beauty salon, a movie theater (we can't
say if it's a multiplex) and, as the Times of London reports,
"a swish club for evening functions." This should be ideal for
announcing the various new milestones marking the trudge of the
Iraqi people toward democracy and freedom.
Today has learned that the "massive new embassy, being built
on the banks of the Tigris River, is designed to be entirely self-sufficient
and won't be dependent on Iraq's unreliable public utilities."
Thus, there will be no reason or excuse for any of the thousands
of Americans working in this space, which is about the size of
eighty football fields, to share the daily life experience of
an Iraqi or even come in accidental contact with one.
gigantic complex does not square with the repeated assertions
by the people who run the American government that the United
States will not stay in the country after Iraq becomes a stand-alone,
democratic entity. An "embassy" in which 8,000 people labor, along
with the however many thousand military personnel necessary to
defend them, is not a diplomatic outpost. It is a base. A permanent
I will make
this point very slowly. I will use simple words. The Democrats and
Republicans, the governing class, and the foreign policy establishment
all agree that our foreign policy should be directed to ensuring
global hegemony for the United States. See my series "Dominion
Over the World" for the details. They all agree that the United
States is "entitled" to direct events around the world, and that
we must have the most
powerful military the world has ever seen to make certain that
our will can never be thwarted. They all agree that we must always
have our way. There is no country and no event around the world
that is immune to our interference. With only a handful of exceptions,
no one in government or in a position of significant influence thinks
otherwise. Historically, the Democrats have been in the vanguard
of this policy, and they have been its most vociferous advocates,
beginning with Woodrow Wilson. The Democrats have initiated more
overseas interventions, both covert and by means of outright war,
than the Republicans, by far. If you have any remaining doubts on
this score, read Barack Obama's recent foreign
policy address. A more complete compendium of the vacuous but
deadly phrases expressing belief in "American exceptionalism," our
indisputable "right" to rule the world, and the religious belief
in U.S. "indispensability" would be close to impossible to find.
(See Max Sawicky
for more on Obama's awful utterances.)
unbroken through-line of U.S. foreign policy going back to World
War I (and to the Spanish-American War even earlier), and since
this foreign policy is virtually entirely unchallenged by anyone
among our governing elites, there is only one conclusion with regard
to our presence in Iraq. No, we will not always be there in the
current numbers. But as the above facts indicate and I said
I will keep this simple
Offerings, consistently refusing to vote in favor of funding for
the immoral and criminal U.S. war on and occupation of Iraq results
note that Rep. Ron Paul did not vote for the Iraq war funding bill.
Now, I know that Paul always has perfectly good and principled reasons
to vote against things, especially spending bills, but this funding
bill contains timetables for withdrawal. To let the perfect be the
enemy of the good weakens the hand of the people who have a real
chance at ending our involvement in the Iraqi Civil War. If he were
to vote with them, and perhaps provide cover for a few other Republican
mavericks to join him, it would strengthen the hand of the Congressional
leaders working to end this insanity. I have to say that I’m disappointed
This is deeply
regrettable, and in part barely coherent. According to Thoreau, "Paul
always has perfectly good and principled reasons to vote against things,"
but he's "disappointed" in Paul precisely because Paul acts
in accordance with his convictions. If only Paul had rotten, unprincipled
reasons for agreeing to a meaningless compromise that will do
nothing to end our occupation of Iraq SINCE WE ARE NOT LEAVING
then he might garner Thoreau's approval. One fears the nature
of Thoreau's response to La Follette's intransigent opposition to
Wilson's vicious warmongering. Perhaps he would have joined those
calling for La Follette's expulsion from the Senate and prosecution
as a traitor.
lights always begin to flash whenever I read or hear the phrase,
"To let the perfect be the enemy of the good..." In political contexts,
this cliché is almost always used to defend the indefensible, and
to condemn those who dare to point out that it is indefensible.
What is "good" about the Democrats' spending bill? It is utterly
toothless and non-binding. It will fund the murder and devastation
for at least another year, in a war that was a monstrous war crime
from the moment it began. Even if the "guidelines" were to be followed,
a minimum of 50,000 American troops will remain in Iraq for the
foreseeable future, probably for decades to come. The enduring bases
will remain, as will the Baghdad embassy.
I must note
that, should the Bush administration launch an attack on Iran and
the region erupts in widening war, possibly including nuclear weapons,
then all bets are off. In such a case, it is possible no Americans
will remain in the Middle East, since all of them will be fleeing
in terror or dead, as will be true of most of the inhabitants of
that region. But of course, the Democrats are doing nothing
to try to prevent that eventuality, either. Following her usual
path, Hillary Clinton has again announced a notably and criminally
irresponsible hawkish line on Iran that
concedes nothing to Bush:
presidential candidate and New York Senator Hillary Clinton said
Tuesday that it might be necessary for America to confront Iran
militarily, addressing that possibility more directly than any of
the other presidential candidates who spoke this week to the National
Jewish Democratic Council.
"It would be far
better if the rest of the world saw it as a position of last resort..."
Not that it will stop a future Clinton administration if they don't.
As a consequence of such statements, this is far from
an unlikely scenario. As I said above, and as I here repeat: historically,
the Democrats have engaged in more futile, destructive, pointless
wars than the Republicans. Woodrow Wilson first dragged the U.S. onto
the world stage to run events around the globe, and the Democrats
have never questioned that policy since. The disagreements about Iraq
are a detail in the context of the last century; keep the larger picture
in mind at all times.
first said that the US should be engaging directly with Iran to
foil any effort to gain nuclear weapons and faulted the Bush administration
for "considerably narrowing" the options available to America
in countering Iran.
she said, all avenues should be explored, since "if we do have
to take offensive military action against Iran, it would be far
better if the rest of the world saw it as a position of last resort,
not first resort, because the effect and consequences will be
I think Thoreau is providing a vitally needed service. We desperately
need more defenses of the Democrats' ultimately meaningless political
theater, all of which is constructed solely with the 2008 elections
in mind. Never mind the chaos, death and suffering that continue
from day to day, and minute to minute. Our politics is a show, where
the warring Statist tribes fight for power. The tribes don't dispute
that the State should be ever more powerful, and that the State
is entitled to run our lives and the world. They fight only about
who gets to wield the power. But we assuredly need defenses
of this theater of death; lord knows, we don't have enough bloggers
on the right and the left defending it in almost every post, all
that sounds very bitter and angry. Hell, yes:
officials who say there has been a dramatic drop in sectarian violence
in Iraq since President Bush began sending more American troops
into Baghdad aren't counting one of the main killers of Iraqi civilians.
and other explosive devices have killed thousands of Iraqis in
the past three years, but the administration doesn't include them
in the casualty counts it has been citing as evidence that the
surge of additional U.S. forces is beginning to defuse tensions
between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
Bush explained why in a television interview Tuesday. "If the
standard of success is no car bombings or suicide bombings, we
have just handed those who commit suicide bombings a huge victory,"
he told TV interviewer Charlie Rose.
however, say that not counting bombing victims skews the evidence
of how well the Baghdad security plan is protecting the civilian
population one of the surge's main goals.
the administration keeps saying that failure is not an option,
they are redefining success in a way that suits them," said James
Denselow, an Iraq specialist at London-based Chatham House, a
foreign policy think tank.
in Iraq was at a moderate level on Wednesday as the UN scolded
the Iraqi government for holding back figures on civilian deaths.
Overall, the media reported that 52 Iraqis were killed or found
dead today and 80 were injured in violent attacks. The U.S. military
reported that a GI was killed in a non-hostile incident. A British
soldier was also killed.
sources reported on the death of a GI in Baghdad and on a British
soldier who was killed in Basra yesterday. This death marks April
as the bloodiest month for British soldiers since March of 2003.
April has also been deadly for American troops with a daily average
nearing four soldiers per day. The toll for April is at least
86 American deaths and 11 British.
United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq criticised Baghdad on
Wednesday for concealing the casualty figures from its sectarian
war and charged that many detainees have "disappeared."
But these stories
only concern human beings who are ripped apart, lives being snuffed
out, people's bodies and minds destroyed forever. No matter.
placing the blame for the majority of violent civilian deaths
on the insurgents and illegal militias fighting in Iraq, UNAMI
expressed concern about the human rights record of Prime Minister
Nuri al-Maliki's government.
quarterly report on the human rights situation, the UN mission
said the Iraqi government had stopped providing casualty figures
and denied that its previous reports had exaggerated the death
toll in the conflict.
report on January 16, UNAMI said more than 34,400 people had died
in the daily acts of violence across the country in 2006.
Let the show
should have noted the observations about the Iraq spending bill
offered by Dennis Kucinich, one of the extraordinarily rare members
of Congress who genuinely understands the matters of principle involved
in our criminal occupation of Iraq. Here is the beginning of Kucinich's
interview with Truthdig:
Harris: This is Truthdig on the phone, Dennis Kucinich, representative
from the state of Ohio since 1996. Today we have the honor of talking
to you just after the bill that passed on the House floor, a bill
that will require President Bush to oppose benchmarks for progress
on the Iraqi government and link them to the continued presence
of American combat troops. Dennis, is this bill a victory for Democrats?
Here's the rest
Kucinich: It’s a disaster for the American people. The Democrats
should have been voting or come up with a plan to get out
of Iraq. Not one that’s going to keep us there a year or two.
It’s the same kind of thinking that led us into Iraq that
we didn’t have any alternatives. It’s the same thing that caused
the Democrats to construct a plan that will keep us there at least
for a year, and saying, well, we don’t have any other alternatives.
I can tell you something, we could have come up with a plan that
would have called for the troops to come home in the next few
months. But we didn’t do that, so I, no one can tell me it’s a
time for celebration. It’s a disaster.
What should we do instead, Dennis?
We should be listening to what the American people had to say
last October, and that is taking steps to immediately end the
war. And that means to set in motion a plan to end the occupation,
close the bases, bring the troops home using money that’s already
in the pipeline to do so. At the same time there’s a parallel
process of bringing in international security and peacekeeping
forces to stabilize Iraq. And we can get that help once we end
the occupation. Then you have to have a number of other steps
that are taken. Most people aren’t aware that this bill that Congress
passed sets the stage for the privatization of Iraq’s oil, oil
industry. To have the Democratic Party involved in something like
that is outrageous. Furthermore, we should be pushing for the
stabilization of Iraq’s food and energy crisis. There’s no talk
about that. Basically we’re blaming Iraq for the disaster that
the United States and this administration visited upon them. We’re
telling them, either they’re going to get their house in order
or we’re going to leave. Well, you know what, this approach is
wrongheaded and the Democrats should have known better and they
should have done better.
Nancy Pelosi, I think she’s partying right now. She feels like
she’s done a good job. I’m going to say, Dennis, that I think
she has done a good job if you follow the diplomatic line of things.
She couldn’t go in with guns blazing and saying “get those troops
out.” These benchmarks do mean something.
Why couldn’t she have said: “This war must end”? Congress has
the power to cut off funds. Congress has the power to limit the
funds. Congress could have taken a new direction. Let’s face it,
Democrats are expected to do that. ... We need to go in a new
direction. And that direction is out. And the fact that we gave
the president money today to keep the war going through the end
of his term constitutes a sellout of the interests of the American
people. And a continuation of the war for another year at least,
possibly two, and this is just wrong. Just totally wrong.
For more on
the control of Iraq's oil industry by American and allied outsiders,
the plan to which the Democrats have acceded, see here
Silber's [send him mail]
blog is Once Upon
a Time, where he writes about political and cultural issues.
He has also written a number of essays based on the work of psychologist
and author Alice Miller, concerning the implications of her work
with regard to world events today. Descriptions of those articles
will be found at a companion blog, The
Sacred Moment. Silber worked as an actor in the New York theater
many years ago. Upon relocating to Los Angeles in the late 1970s,
he worked in the film industry for several years. After pursuing
what ultimately proved to be an unsatisfying business career, he
decided to turn to writing full-time, a profession which he happily
© 2007 Arthur Silber