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• • •
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December 02, 2009



We are, of course, exceptional and will succeed where every other empire has failed, so it's nothing to worry about. Carry on.

You'd think this was a sardonic exaggeration of reality—that whatever someone believes in their heart of hearts, the people in charge are intelligent enough not to say this explicitly out loud.

But you'd be wrong. Here's Gen. David McKiernan, then commander of U.S. force in Afghanistan, back in February:

Q General, why should the U.S. expect to succeed in Afghanistan where other superpowers have failed?

GEN. MCKIERNAN: ...especially with the history of Afghanistan, there's always an inclination to relate what we're doing now with previous nations and history that have been in Afghanistan for other reasons. And I think that's a very unhealthy comparison.

We're in Afghanistan with the support of the Afghan people, to bring stability and a better future to that country. That's a, certainly, far different reason than, say, for instance, the Soviets were in there.

Yes, that's a very, very unhealthy comparison indeed. Perhaps the person asking that question needs to be sent to a psychiatric hospital.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at December 2, 2009 11:45 PM

Ok, ONE: Who's Digby? Christmas approaches so I can only imagine he be one of those gloved villians from Dickens, yes?

TWO: Villian or not, I'm thinking I might know his name. Hmmm, Oliver Reed perhaps?

Wait, what? Oh yeah. It's called "Miracle On Ice" and relates in a most thrilling manner (I shit you not) the victory, by sheer pluck (sic), the victory by the US hockey team over the Soviets in WW!!, I mean the 1980 Winter Olympics replete with late 60's hair (hey-hockey players always play cultural catch up, oy!) - but there is a moment where some smartass banner announces "Get The Puck Outta Afghanistan!"

Go Disney!

Posted by: john at December 3, 2009 12:43 AM

Last time I checked, the Soviets were in there at the behest of the communist government in Kabul, which had instituted rights for women and freedom of religion and was carrying on a land reform agenda. This annoyed the usual suspects in the outback, who were busy trying to overthrow the regime. The US started supplying arms and aid to the government's opponents, and thus created the situation we have now.

Yes, the US is there for rather a different reason than the Soviets were. I wonder whether McKiernan knows what that is?

Posted by: NomadUK at December 3, 2009 02:03 AM


Posted by: buermann at December 3, 2009 04:10 AM

I always thought this observation was funny:

"For the past 25 years I have been searching to find some reference in mainstream journalism or scholarship to a U.S. invasion of South Vietnam, or U.S. aggression in Indochina -- without success."

I remember reading something to that effect years ago and went and googled it, all I found was this oblique reference:

But it's enough to prove that Chomsky is wrong about everything ever always.

Posted by: buermann at December 3, 2009 04:20 AM

America the Super Duper Power:

...One of the most revealing moments on my journey came over lunch with Irving and Bea Kristol in Washington. They are a delightful couple of high intelligence and sophistication. When I asked what kind of people made up America's imperial class, both strongly denied that there was any such thing. None the less, I said, America did seem to be behaving in a very imperial way. Bea looked puzzled and shocked. "But," she said, "the word 'imperial' implies that there is something in it for America."

To me, her remark bespoke an astonishing and unfathomable innocence. She seemed to imply that America was never self-interested, that it only ever acted for the good of others. Even at the height of the British Empire, we never managed to delude ourselves that the venture was purely altruistic...

Posted by: Carl at December 3, 2009 05:22 AM


Not from around here, are you.

Posted by: Blackfish at December 3, 2009 06:50 AM

But it's enough to prove that Chomsky is wrong about everything ever always.

Inasmuch as Chomsky wrote his article in 1989 and the CBS piece you link to was written in 2000, your statement is valid only if you think Chomsky is able to gather research from material that will be written in the future. He's good, but I have my doubts about his being that good.

It's pretty clear, however, how good at it you are.

Posted by: NomadUK at December 3, 2009 07:29 AM

NomadUK--Buermann was being sarcastic.

Posted by: Anon at December 3, 2009 08:15 AM

Second try at this post...first one didnt seem to go through. Too many links in post, I think.

Beurman has written some of the best and sharpest responses to some of Chomsky's critics that you can find. I think this is the same Beurmann that posted here?

See the site and on the right side look under "Wheres the Beef?" or "A Very Khmer-Chomsky" and "Planet Dershowitz."

He is also a Wobbly, I think, which is exactly what is needed in this day and age!-Tony

Posted by: tony at December 3, 2009 08:37 AM


"Not from around here, are you."

No. I'm not from around THERE. I guess I made the silly mistake of thinking anyone with cerebral event can take such nonsense seriously.

But thanks for the link. I'd send along another one (perhaps the Collected Works of Swift), except satire seems to have expired long ago.

Posted by: john at December 3, 2009 09:33 AM

NomadUK--Buermann was being sarcastic.

If so, my apologies for my tin ear.

Posted by: NomadUK at December 3, 2009 09:41 AM

[Bea looked puzzled and shocked. "But," she said, "the word 'imperial' implies that there is something in it for America."]

And well she should be shocked. Oil, you see, WANTS to become gasoline for Tiger's mighty Escalade. Poppies want to become heroin for our collective veins, and the airspace over Tehran wants nothing so much as to be graced with our bombs. There is no benefit for "America," only for the war profiteers. It would be very wrong to identify America with its war profiteers. “Imperialism” would suggest that there is some benefit for Americans-qua-Americans. But there is none: imperialism only impoverishes America. Peer into your Kristols and this you will see: decaying infrastructure, millions without healthcare, hungry children, failing schools. Who can argue her point? Her innocence is inviolate, as pure as the dawn, the fruit of her loin a smiling benison.

Posted by: Oarwell at December 3, 2009 09:44 AM

"I guess I made the silly mistake of thinking anyone with cerebral event can take such nonsense seriously."

What does this sentence mean? It reads like gibberish ... is "cerebral event" a stroke? WTH are you on about here?

Posted by: Stephen at December 3, 2009 11:02 AM

i think that sort of article is chomsky at his best.

that america the super duper power article is very good. it's hard to remember the atmosphere of phony hysteria that existed around that time. i bet that turd fred barnes found it really exciting, as many seemed to. OMG, we're at war with the terrorists! We better flee to our country cottages!

back in the early 80s in mexico, i knew a young guy named Tom who had been a student at harvard but was taking a break from the books. he was a handsome, fresh-faced young Trotskyite, the intellectual kind and funny. he wore a pink button-down cotton shirt a lot, and when I asked what was up with that, he smiled and quipped: dress for success!

the thing I have always remembered about Tom was that he started an argument about the soviet invasion of afghanistan with about 30 freshmen study-abroad students from Colby College, all of whom couldn't even imagine that maybe the USSR had some reasons for what they did. So young Tom would take on all 30 at once and argue what a bunch of throwbacks to the middle ages that the USSR was opposing in an effort to bring just a smidgeon of human progress to the region, such as women's rights and economic democracy. Alas, those colby kids' heads' almost exploded. They couldn't believe anyone would say that the commies were the good guys! And they stuttered and mumbled and had no idea how to respond. I have to admit that Tom was pretty impressive. I didn't have many good responses for his points either, and I still don't, except that maybe they weren't so sincere about those things.

Of course, many of the reasons we trot out for being their--bringing progress and helping women and keeping the country from being run by barbarians--that's all exactly the same things that shocked and appalled those Colby kids when Tom said that's why the USSR was there. "THEY don't have the right to decide those things!"

Oh really. Good point.

Posted by: N E at December 3, 2009 12:13 PM

-----------"I guess I made the silly mistake of thinking anyone with cerebral event can take such nonsense seriously."

What does this sentence mean? It reads like gibberish ... is "cerebral event" a stroke? WTH are you on about here?-------

Classic. Watching someone try to support an indefensible position (which through the incoherence I'm guessing is his belief in American righteousness)is like seeing someone with a brown streak on their pants.

Posted by: Marcus at December 3, 2009 12:15 PM

someone needs to take this thread out back and put it out of its misery.

Posted by: sloweducation at December 3, 2009 02:22 PM

"I bet that turd Fred Barnes..."

See, there's that latent Liberal that dwells within N E's faux-critic noggin.

Who cares what Fred Barnes wants? He's just George Will with a sense of "humor". He's not influencing anything of moment.

But oh, I forgot. Fred Barnes is a GOP supporter. Which means N E has to take a pot-shot at him.

Ignoring him is wiser, but N E's accumulated wisdom seems inaccessible when it comes time to attack a GOP person for the purpose of defleting from The Saintly Obama and The Noble Donklefascism.

Posted by: the anti-federalist at December 3, 2009 02:58 PM

I don't want to take anything away from the dazzling ferocity of the mujahideen. Nossirreebob. They flew contact grenades on kites to bring down Soviet helicopters. But the reason history is being ignored in Afghanistan is because the Soviets would have prevailed absent considerable support to the Afghans from the United States. That is why the murderating fucks are ignoring all the empires that died in Afghanistan right now.

Posted by: 99 at December 3, 2009 04:24 PM

Nomad, I recently read this, on the Soviet invasion:

Posted by: StO at December 3, 2009 06:52 PM

99 - I think you've nailed it!

Posted by: Harpfool at December 3, 2009 07:09 PM

the Soviets would have prevailed absent considerable support to the Afghans from the United States

Maybe, maybe not. I'm sure that some people have come to that conclusion - and that some of these people drawing this conclusion are interested parties who would want this to be true, whether or not the preponderance of the evidence points in that general direction

But I want to point out that if there had NOT been considerable support by the MICFiC given to ONE FACTION OF the Afghans - the counterrevolutionaries - by the U.S., then the history of the world might have been different in numerous other ways - for example, whatever happened on September 11, 2001 might not have happened, or happened in a different way, or on a different day...

Posted by: mistah 'MICFiC' charley, ph.d. at December 3, 2009 07:10 PM

On a lighter note, we were talking about positive disintegration a thread or two ago, and a movie that depicts this in a charming if admittedly non-realistic way is Groundhog Day

After we got married, missus charley and I made a pilgrimage to Punxatawney (we stayed in a motel with a coin-fed vibrating bed - I wonder if it's still there)

The movie was not filmed in Pennsylvania, but in Berkeley, Illinois, but we're on the East Coast and were on our way to Niagara Falls, so Illinois was too big a detour (and of course they don't have Gobbler's Knob, the Groundhog Zoo, and all that stuff there, either)

Posted by: mistah "Devananda" charley, Ph.D. at December 3, 2009 07:22 PM

"the Soviets would have prevailed absent considerable support to the Afghans from the United States"

and, of course, there is the other question that Devananda MICFiC charley hasn't addressed:

what does 'prevail' mean?

sure, if the afghans hadn't received stinger missiles and weapons and men and money via the US through our saudi proxies, the USSR would have "prevailed" in one way in that they probably would have been able to keep their army there longer.

But if they could not have consolidated their position and created a stable society and government, it would only have compounded their ultimate problem and made them more and more unpopular, and i wouldn't call that prevailing

Likewise, our military guys are sure we'll "prevail," and they may well be right. We may well prevail ourselves to death.

Posted by: N E at December 3, 2009 09:33 PM

I am much more familiar with the Afghan side of it than the Soviet side, and I merely meant by "prevail" that they would have satisfied themselves in whatever was their goal. It seems their gig was akin to our stated goals... from their POV.

And, I should have said they would have prevailed if they were not going belly up at the time... not without ongoing troubles and having to stay forever, or until they just didn't want to anymore. Later in the game their troops were bartering their guns to the locals for food. So the Kremlin finally gave up.

Between the heavy flow of arms from us making it so much more difficult, requiring so much more time, expense and manpower, the eventual inability to pay and feed their troops -- the Soviets had to leave.

Maybe it will come to that for us now too, if we can't resist the profits in arming the Afghans against ourselves... which... don't act so surprised... we do that crap all the time. The purpose isn't to "win" anything. It's to keep sucking our treasury dry while "opening markets" in other people's resources.

I'm just sayin'... it's not at all inscrutable why they would be so stupid as to escalate where empires go to die. They have the most sophisticated weaponry on earth, a bottomless supply of starving kids who will enlist for citizenship.... There's just no reason the murderating fucks would heed history for thirty seconds. They don't care who dies. They don't care if there are naked and starving hordes in our streets. They don't care if our empire dies! They're taking it global anyway. They'll just change the flags at all our bases across the globe. Pfeh. Pleeeeze.

They can keep it up for a very long time.

Unless we stop them.

What's that intertubes saying? Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more?

Posted by: 99 at December 4, 2009 04:48 AM


John recommended Miracle on Ice, a movie in which a sign in the crowd said, "Get the Puck Outta Afghanistan."

On a different blog someone mentioned an intention to watch more comedies, for personal reasons. In addition to endorsing one of my own favorite movies (Atrapado en el tiempo, Hechizo del tiempo o El día de la marmota - en 2004 se realizó un remake con actores españoles en la película Un día sin fin protagonizada por Goya Toledo), as well as a couple of other Bill Murray vehicles (What About Bob?, Big), I suggested a movie in which Oliver Platt had second billing (behind Liam Neeson, in front of Sandra Bullock): Gunshy. Clever, warm, human, ultimately hopeful - the reason we love fiction so much. Check it out.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at December 4, 2009 08:08 AM

correction on where Groundhog Day location shooting took place

It was Woodstock, Illinois.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at December 4, 2009 08:13 AM

"They'll just change the flags at all our bases across the globe."

That's a very important point closely related to the issues written about (which I haven't yet read since yesterday) by the economist mister charley mentioned yesterday, Michael Hudson, and by Franz Schurmann in his biography of Nixon, which focuses heavily on the changes in the world created by the abandonment of Breton Woods in 71 and the emergence of a petrodollar economy, and Barnett and Wills and the folks who used to write about Trilateralism, and by others with a series interest in what the hell is holding the world together now. Not just the sort of PR pablum Tom Friedman writes, but honest words.

It seems pretty obvious that the "American" empire is no longer serving the interests of the average American, if it ever was. The liberal internationalism that took off under Wilson and FDR has by now been so thoroughly debased and corrupted that it isn't even recognizable, though of course Chomsky is correct that most of that was there from the beginning. Whatever FDR and Wilson were seeing once upon a time has become so tiny now that it's invisible, and we have something more like a world where supranational corporations rule over us all like the gods on Olympus. Our Olympus is the Pentagon, and Zeus is a monstruous creature with many heads known as the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The lesser gods are various allied governments and their intelligence services and international banks and supranational corporations, and though they can't cross Zeus, they are still gods, not merely mortals like American citizens, who may be disposed of the way the gods always dispose of mortals. The heirarchy among the lesser gods is established by treasure, because though the gods are not mortal, they are corruptible.

You are right 99, that the Pentagon and this pantheon of lesser gods that rules over us can keep this up for a very long time by our mortal standards. They already disposed of the Titans, formerly known as communists, and now all they have to contend with are terrorists and the people of the world, mortals one and all. Our clocks and even our calendars mean little to them, though of course the close of each fiscal year requires sacred accounting observances and may give rise to exactions of terrible retribution against those mortals who have interfered with the business of the gods.

But the gods will have their day of reckoning, the same day of reckoning that all pagan gods fear. One day not so far off according to the timeframe of gods, the One God will appear to bring an end to this idolatry. He will not appear through his prophets of old, but through the great prophet Reality. Once the Pentagon and all the lesser gods finally expend their treasure quarreling over the the remaining unclaimed treasure, the natural gas and oil of Central Asia, the great prophet Reality will appear high above the Himalayas, in the Pashtun sky that hovers over Afghanistan like a blanket, and the Prophet's voice will shout out to the gods in a terrible and fearsome voice, and the Pentagon and the lesser gods will be driven mad by the sound of it, and they will run amok and wreak havoc on the earth, killing mortals by the tens or hundreds of millions, or maybe more, for gods do not concern themselves with the lives of mortals.

What new world the Prophets will herald we mortals who live in the shadow of the as-yet-unvanquished gods cannot say, but if on that future day of destiny men are finally able to stop being enslaved by their own creations and rule themselves, things should start to get better.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Posted by: N E at December 4, 2009 09:16 AM

"Sic transit gloria mundi."

Where is Gloria going in the ambulance on Monday?

Posted by: Mooser at December 4, 2009 11:03 AM

Mooser--woodstock, illinois, dummy.

Posted by: N E at December 4, 2009 12:36 PM

Who's Digby? Well, "she" is one of the most prolific writers and thinkers I've ever read. I enjoy her blog and respect her immensely.

Give her a read - you might learn something outside of Palin's realm and the teabagging mania tha's so popular around these parts...

Posted by: Reddog the Sailor at December 4, 2009 06:44 PM
What new world the Prophets will herald we mortals who live in the shadow of the as-yet-unvanquished gods cannot say, but if on that future day of destiny men are finally able to stop being enslaved by their own creations and rule themselves, things should start to get better.

"Meantime, the world in which we exist has other aims. But it will pass away, burned up in the fire of its own hot passions; and from its ashes will spring a new and younger world, full of fresh hope, with the light of morning in its eyes." —Bertrand Russell, 1918

I think crotchety cynicism is entirely warranted at this point, don't you?

Posted by: Cloud at December 4, 2009 09:45 PM

crotchety cynicism has always been warranted

digby is a great writer and great analyst of the media. she's especially good on seeing the craziness of the right, but that is sort of an easy mark.

Posted by: N E at December 5, 2009 01:26 AM

Thanks Std, I was gonna post that.

Posted by: Jenny at December 5, 2009 02:28 AM

[a few of the] Grumpy Blogs I Have Read

Cloud wrote I think crotchety cynicism is entirely warranted at this point, don't you?

I'd like to mention a few blogs you might possibly like.

This is written by a British gentleman, whom I believe to be in his seventies. For example, he begins his most recent posting:

When quite young my pocket money was six pence in old money or two and one half pence in new money. This may not seem much, but after my parents had paid their rent, food, coal and fuel costs, it did amount to ten per cent of what was left. So it was as much as I could hope for.

The author calls himself Demetrius and posts a photograph of a bird totem under that name, with watching, watching... under the photograph. I noticed this morning that although I recall this iconic image as having been an owl, now the picture, though very similar in coloring, is a vulture. Hmmm.

Moving across the Pond to a blog said to be based in Pittsburgh (where my mother was born, incidentally), we find

Ioz is a self-professed male homosexual, and I believe him to be 30something, though I could be wrong. Ioz can be quite caustic about digby, but it's nothing personal - he can be quite caustic about everything. I think he overdoes the cynicism, as I occasionally note in my very rare comments at his blog. But he can be very funny.

I have no particular hypothesis about the age of the other bloggers I mention here, but I realize that the reader may be wondering about my own age. You have heard, perhaps, that 60 is the new 40, and 62 is the new 58. I'm 58.

Focusing on what's happening in the world of business, economics, and government-sponsored organized theft, with varying amounts of pointing at and/or commenting on recent news accounts, I like

For rational doomster perspectives, I go to

And from the blogroll that Jonathan puts here, (some of whom I've never even looked at, and so might be just what I'd like if I actually gave them a chance) I go to Chris Floyd's Empire Burlesque and Arthur Silber's Once Upon a Time.

Finally, for semi-retired world champion crotchety cynicism, I would like to mention Fafblog!, slightly re-animated these days after a long hiatus, described by a commenter there as a "blog noir",

An interplay of cultural references, snark, the occasional smutty joke, Dadaism, Mamaism, and a genuine outrage at the horrors of The Situation.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at December 5, 2009 09:54 AM

mistah charley gets the ball rolling... IOZ is almost always a good read, but be prepared for the nearly non-stop recitation of lines from The Big Lebowski, which will confuse the novice reader of IOZ's blog.

Dirty Greenie Hippie takes IOZ's cynicism and makes it a bit more middlebrow and a bit more angry/disgusted, and subtracts the food and other personal diary posts.

Stop Me Before I Vote Again is a good bit more serious and usually focused on an economic analysis.

Guys from Area 51 is non-stop satire with a visual message medium.

And as to whether Digby is a "great writer" I can only laugh, laugh, laugh. She's neither a good writer nor a passable analyst. Git along, little pwoggie --

Posted by: the anti-federalist at December 5, 2009 11:55 AM

A link I just fell over referring to US weapons in Taliban hands....

Posted by: 99 at December 5, 2009 09:14 PM

As far as blogs go, the link below is worth your time...very good on a whole host of issues...and he-Richard-is an anarchist which automatically makes it a read for me!-Tony

Posted by: tony at December 6, 2009 09:56 AM

well, if people want to read more than a blog, tom schachtman and len colodny have written a book, The 40 Years War, that promises to be guite revelatory:

Here's what Schachtman has said about it:

"This is going to be a revolutionary book, Len and I believe, and so does Roger Morris, who wrote the spectacular foreword. It tells the story of how the clash between the ideologues and the pragmatists over foreign policy helped to oust Nixon, undermined the presidencies of Ford and Carter and, as the war evolved -- with many of the same players who began the fight in 1969, who became the neo-cons -- eventually led the United States to invade Iraq in 2003. Len and I have been working on this for quite a while. The book will present a new understanding of a long swath of recent American history that most people thought they already knew. It's revisionist history at its best. For just one instance: after reading it, you'll never think about 'Watergate' in the same old way."

Posted by: N E at December 6, 2009 12:22 PM

@N E: "We may well prevail ourselves to death."

If by 'we' you mean the US state, its imperial power and economic domination, then we can but hope that said prevailing unto death comes quickly.

Posted by: Phillip Allen at December 7, 2009 11:07 AM

alas, phillip allen, this prevailing of us to death will work for americans just the same way that sanctions against iraq worked for iraqis. after the sanctions against iraq were put in place, everybody suffered, but saddam stayed in power. for americans, everybody will suffer or a long timefrom our imperial overburden before the empire collapses, and that won't be any fun either.

Posted by: N E at December 7, 2009 11:58 PM