December 17, 2008
Examples of political chameleons
In Monday's post, I spoke about how we can expect to see the political chameleons of the one-party ruling class try to camouflage their past in order to blend in with their new political environment. Glenn Greenwald, easily one of the best political analysts around, sees right through this strategy. He reveals the truth about people like Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, who use their home in the allegedly 'liberal' Brookings Institution to help pursue this goal.
To lavish themselves with credibility -- as though they are war skeptics whom you can trust -- they identify themselves at the beginning "as two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq." In reality, they were not only among the biggest cheerleaders for the war, but repeatedly praised the Pentagon's strategy in Iraq and continuously assured Americans things were going well. They are among the primary authors and principal deceivers responsible for this disaster.
But as always, Tom Friedman provides the clearest example of such shameless self-serving revisionism. Greenwald points to what the so-called 'liberal' New York Times columnist was saying in 2003 justifying the invasion of Iraq on PBS's Charlie Rose show:
We needed to go over there basically, and take out a very big stick, right in the heart of that world, and burst that bubble. . . .
And what they needed to see was American boys and girls going from house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, and basically saying: which part of this sentence do you understand? You don't think we care about our open society? …
Well, Suck. On. This. That, Charlie, was what this war was about.
We could have hit Saudi Arabia. It was part of that bubble. Could have hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could [my italics]. That's the real truth.
And guess what? People there got the message, OK, in the neighborhood. This is a rough neighborhood, and sometimes it takes a 2-by-4 across the side of the head to get that message. But they got the message and the message was, "You will now be held accountable."
What does Friedman say now (November 29, 2008) was the reason for the Iraq war?
It’s a reminder of the most important reason for the Iraq war: to try to collaborate with Iraqis to build progressive politics and rule of law in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world, a region that stands out for its lack of consensual politics and independent judiciaries.
Really? That is what you thought all along? He seems to have replaced those revenge-filled early words with pompous platitudes. Observe how he has conveniently forgotten the sordid past and his own role in it, switching from insane bellicosity (what he called 'the real truth') about teaching those dastardly Muslims a lesson by hitting Iraqis on the head with blunt objects (just because they are the most convenient target), to noble goals of collaborating to create a model civil society. He can make such a switch effortlessly because he has had so much practice at it.
Friedman, like many mainstream commentators both 'liberal' and 'conservative', has no compunction about people in other countries getting killed in wars to satisfy his own lust for destruction or some weird private geopolitical theory. Here he is writing in 1999 (New York Times, April 23) about the need for heavier attacks on Serb civilians during the conflict over Kosovo:
Let's at least have a real air war.... It should be lights out in Belgrade: Every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road, and war-related factory has to be targeted. Like it or not, we are at war with the Serbian nation (the Serbs certainly think so), and the stakes have to be very clear: Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set back your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too.
Bill O'Reilly (whom most people would consider to be at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Friedman) said something very similar six days later, showing how united the pro-war one party ruling elite is.
I believe that we have to go in there and drop leaflets on Belgrade and other cities and say, 'Listen, you guys have got to move because we're now going to come in and we’re going to just level your country. The whole infrastructure is going.'... Any target is OK. I'd warn the people, just as we did with Japan, that it’s coming, you’ve got to get out of there, OK, but I would level that country so that there would be nothing moving—no cars, no trains, nothing.
Notice again the smug arrogance of power, writing with the confidence that no other country can make similar threats against their own country. Would they approve of their own neighborhoods being flattened by bombs because another country did not like some US policy? Do none of these people know or care that what they are advocating, the destruction of civilian infrastructure like water, electricity, and sewage systems that have no direct military value, is a war crime?
The Geneva Conventions (Protocol 1, Part IV, Chapter III, Article 54) says quite clearly:
It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive.
The examples I've given above can be multiplied. Chris Floyd chronicles Friedman's relentless bloodlust while media critic Edward Herman similarly calls out 'leftist' Christopher Hitchens as another pro-war demagogue who vociferously supported the wars started by Clinton and Bush despite the heavy toll they inflicted on civilians, and even gleefully joked about Afghanistan being "the first country in history to be bombed out of the stone age."
This is why the labels liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, have such little value in most discussions. They are merely the veneer to disguise one party rule and the desire to impose American will and power on the rest of the world, whatever the cost on ordinary people.
POST SCRIPT: Media complicity with the one-party state
Why is it that members of the war party get so much air time in the media while anyone who critiques the policies of the one-party state gets shut out? Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman clearly laid out how it works in their classic 1988 book Manufacturing Consent. A documentary of the same name was made in 1992 that presents the key arguments in a very entertaining manner. It is well-worth viewing.
Here is a short clip from that documentary that explains how the very organizational structure of the programs on TV prevents any real discussion of important issues, to be replaced by the uttering of conventional wisdom platitudes.
This is why only extended commercial-free discussions that allow for in-depth analysis, such as Bill Moyers's program Buying the War on PBS, are the only things worth watching on TV.