Comments: Pull The Other One

Oh no! You've got it all wrong! McChrystal is a lesser-evil tortured hero in the homeric tradition who had to torture to save a ticking timebomb from a small child. Or something.

Posted by AlanSmithee at May 14, 2009 12:39 PM

Claiming the fotos pose a danger to USer troops is specious.

He fotos pose no more danger to USer troops than do fotos of cancerous lungs pose a danger to smokers.

It's what the fotos display which is the danger. They show that the Official USer-dom lies, and covers up, and lies some more...

It is the behavior of the USer troops towards captives that is portrayed in the fotos that poses the danger...

and Obama can swear on his sainted mothers dissolving corpse that we don't do that anymore, but the non-credulous of the rest of the world knows better.

Posted by Woody at May 14, 2009 03:27 PM

REMOVE JAY BYBEE FROM THE 9TH CIRCUIT BENCH, call Pelosi @1-202-225-0100. I called today now its YOUR turn.

Posted by Mike Meyer at May 14, 2009 03:42 PM

I have JUST finished watching the movie "REDACTED".
It is shocking, it is very difficult to watch but watch one must and it makes one weep for ALL the victims of the war. It proves ( for me at least--I am against any war ) that there are no 'war crimes' but "WAR" IS A CRIME.
The President needs to hear from concerned citzens ( phone calls, emails, letters) that Americans MUST be allowed to see those pictures to see for themselves what happens in a war and how power is abused. That war only brings more violence and the ONLY policy for the President to follow is to bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan and stop bombing of Afghanistan/Pakistan which is having a devastating effect on the civilian population.

Posted by Rupa Shah at May 14, 2009 04:15 PM

An editorial in the LA Times:

Release the torture photos
The Obama administration is wrong in withholding pictures portraying detainee abuse.

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-ed-photos14-2009may14,0,1797091.story

Posted by Rupa Shah at May 14, 2009 04:35 PM

Rupa, I agree that war is a crime, especially wars of aggression. But there are also war crimes, and torture is one of them.

Posted by Nell at May 14, 2009 05:17 PM

I disagree that Obama's concern was only the impact of the photos on the U.S. public. I think it would be a winning domestic issue for him, except with people who hate him already. I think his present position gets him little domestically from his supporters and antagonizes a big part of his base. Why do Dems end up antagonizing a big part of their base these days? Because that part of their base (high-minded, principled, idealistic, etc.) isn't running the Empire. That is, we aren't powerful.

So why did Obama do what he did? Because I think he believes the issue could really become a big loser for him under the wrong circumstances. I note that a deep connection with reality doesn't dominate our domestic politics, especially in connection with foreign affairs. Obama certainly knows that. My own sense is he knows it extremely well. So perhaps he believes that the fact that releasing bad photos won't actually get US troops killed doesn't mean it won't be possible for his enemies to successfully blame him for getting US troops killed. Perhaps that sort of blame could be assigned so successfully that it would in fact get in the way of other important work. Which is to say, maybe it really isn't good politics for Obama to fight that battle. That sucks, but I don't know any reason to think that Obama's calculation departs from that pragmatism. In connection with national security issues, it is very risky for a President to stake out an idealistic position and fight it out with the bureaucracy, the military, the defense corporations, the media corporations, and the GOP, who all work together like a hydra.
It has been attempted. See e.g. Carter, James.

In any case, I am confident that it wasn't a politically easy decision for Obama. I actually don't think he has a lot of easy decisions, especially involving the military.

I also think it's naive to presume that Obama can decide to make whoever he wants the top commander in Afghanistan. Our military and intelligence communities are, and have long been, a lot more politically "influential" than they are theorized to be under the fairy-tale, high-school civics, mass media view of a nonpartisan, nonpolitical military that we are all supposed to believe we have. If the military ever acted like that, it stopped doing so even before we invaded Cuba for the first time back in 1898. And I don't think it has ever really done it since. Almost no U.S. President after Grover Cleveland has pushed hard against the military without experiencing personal or professional catastrophe. Just try to identify a President who did, and then take a look at how things worked out for him from then on. (Not that there's any connection, heaven forbid!)

I also can imagine circumstances that might further inflame some Iraqi or Afghani public opinion and cause a flare-up in violence. Sure we've done a lot to them already, but that doesn't mean they can't be provoked or inflamed. It may sound good to say that we've been so evil already that nothing we do now can make anything worse (or better?), but i don't buy it.

Sure Obama wants to maximize his political effectiveness and has to make choices about what to fight and what not to fight. Shouldn't he? It's great to want him to fight every battle on principle, but I think if he does he'll be destroyed. I think that is almost a certainty.
Unfortunately, that's just way the power is distributed.

I don't mean to disagree with the spirit of disgust pervading the post. I agree with it. In my opinion, what has happened to Iraq and Afghanistan is not just a tragedy, but a crime. I don't blame the Tillmans for their position about General McChrystal, and I strongly wish the US public could be brought to repudiate the war lust that large media corporations traffic in so that we as a nation could stop killing a million or two people somewhere in the world every ten years or so.

I don't think people need to approve of Obama's decision, or support it, but he isn't the problem. And if people confuse him with the problem, the problem will continue to go unaddressed.

I'll identify what I think the problem actually is: There is almost no meaningful force for peace in the United States, because there is almost no force for people in the United States.

So push Obama, be disappointed, yell at him if you want, but don't impugn his motives, because I think he'd like nothing more than for the political realities he faces to be different. And, I might add, I think plenty of conservatives know that, and that's partly why they hate him.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 14, 2009 05:31 PM

Perhaps that sort of blame could be assigned so successfully that it would in fact get in the way of other important work.

So if I understand you correctly, Obama wants to do the right thing, but he's prevented from doing the right thing by political/practical considerations?

And how do you know what Obama really wants to do? Were you performing similar feats of clairvoyance when George W. Bush was President? "I know President Bush doesn't really want to invade Iraq, but..."

Somehow, I doubt it. My guess is that you saw Bush invading Iraq, and arguing for the invasion of Iraq, and thought, "Well, I guess he wants to invade Iraq." Why don't you apply the same reasoning to Obama?

Posted by SteveB at May 14, 2009 07:03 PM

" don't impugn his motives"


I don't see why we shouldn't. Snark aside, I don't know what goes on in Obama's head, but if we're not going to impugn his motives then let's not talk about his motives at all, but just yell and scream at him when he does something wrong. If he has good motives he might secretly welcome all the lefty yelling. Though I don't know that either.

Al Giordano and his fans seem to believe something like the theory you put forward, even saying, as you seem to hint, that if Obama was totally forthright he'd be deposed by a military coup or assassinated. If that's the case then that's what we should be talking about--I have no idea why people who think this is why Obama does what he does waste time on lefties who are mean to Obama when they should be screaming at the top of their lungs that Obama is a literal hostage to the good opinion of the military. If we actually live in that kind of banana republic isn't that piece of information much more important for people to know, as compared to all this back and forth about whether Obama is secretly in his heart a good guy?

Posted by Donald Johnson at May 14, 2009 07:08 PM

I had very high hopes for Obama, but on one of the most important issues he's faced, governmental secrecy vs. disclosure, he's been no better than Bush. Huge letdown, he gets an F so far.

Posted by Guest at May 14, 2009 07:17 PM

In fairness to Al Giordano, since I just accused him of harboring conspiracy theories , I just revisited his blog and he denies this and says that I read that into what he said.

Posted by Donald Johnson at May 14, 2009 07:20 PM

you don't need a weatherman to know that it's a bad moon rising

Posted by Jesus B Ochoa at May 14, 2009 08:01 PM

Nell, I agree with you. Torture is a crime but it also occurs daily in our major cities by the police depts, independent of war..
e.g. http://www.midwesthumanrights.org/chicago-police-torture-cases-0

imho, every war is an act of aggression and is a crime. I do not differentiate between "regular bombs" ( I would not know what that means ) and white phosphorus bombs. They both kill. I have never understood, how one can say, one kind is acceptable but other is not.

One criminal act ( war ) always follows many others ( massacres, rapes, torture---expressions of power, control, brutality etc ) and if one wants to clasify them as war crimes and separate it from crime of war, may be it is ok. Individual victims of torture, rape etc deserve justice but war victimises the whole population and it will receive justice only when people who waged war against them are punished.

Posted by Rupa Shah at May 14, 2009 08:27 PM

Sorry, but in response to Fairness's comment above - what a crock of shit.

I wish some of us would quit on these esotoric, hypothetical, on the one of many hands, I am a sophisticated political observer who sees all the angles poses, who only offers apologia and smooths over the deplorable actions and decisions of our politicians.

I dont give a shit if there was no easy decision, in fact, if Obama was faced with a set of hard choices and he picked the worst one, then that is worse than if it was an easy choice to make the wrong one compared to the right. Who cares what his private diary says, its what he does that counts.

Posted by Justin at May 14, 2009 08:56 PM

SteveB: Fair question as to why I would cut Obama some slack on this. I don't really know what's in his head, or care about that, but I do think it's important to understand the constraints a President faces making such decisions in order to evaluate and understand them. Obama is not W and doesn't have the same cover. I'm sure we'll be seeing more of Petraeus at future super bowls until he runs for President.

I don't think it's too hard to understand the difference between W and Obama, and I don't think one has to assume Obama is a turd because W was/is, God blast him. Alas, a president is a lot freer to do what W/Cheney did than to get too crazy about peace.

Donald Johnson:

I guess I "believe in" SOME conspiracy theories, though i don't actually consider that a question of belief, or even a meaningful question when it doesn't refer to specific incidents.

I certainly didn't mean to suggest that if Obama were to cross the military on this issue he would get assassinated, let alone deposed (which would indeed make us look a little too much like a banana republic, and for a pretty inconsequential reason in the bigger scheme of things). I think obama actually has a lot of support in the military in opposing torture, though not in publishing pics of it. The military isn't all bad. It has many very good qualities, and many fine people in it. But militarism is bad, and war is bad, and a military that is too powerful leads to them both. That's where we are. That's the problem.

A president can be politically ruined without being killed, and it's more common. What I meant to say is that Presidents aren't even close to all-powerful, especially if they are opposing rather than supporting powerful corporate and military interests. My view is that Presidents like Obama have to pick battles on national security issues more carefully than Presidents like W (or Vice President cheney) just because of the balance of power in our government on national security issues. Presidents who cross the military too much don't thrive. How they haven't thrived across our history varies on the facts of each Presidency, but no one can point to a United States President from McKinley onward who has been at odds with the military and sailed off into the sunset as a success. It hasn't happened, not even once.

Maybe it's fair to read what i said as saying obama is a "hostage" to the good opinion of the military, but i wouldn't say it that way. I do think people should be more clear-eyed about power, where it resides, and where it doesn't, so that they can form an accurate opinion of the various actors, reach the correct judgments about their leaders, and take the appropriate actions to try to correct the course of the country.

Parenthetically, i avoid hot button words like banana republic or conspiracy theory, which involve emotions and associations more than thinking. The real cro magnon types just go purple and froth at the mouth when they hear words like that, but those words have a profound effect on others too, even highly educated people. A lot of educated people don't even recognize that.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 14, 2009 09:37 PM

Not Exactly — Obama may not "be" the problem, but he is helping to enable the problem.

Nell — What makes you think TPM should know better?

Posted by eatbees at May 14, 2009 10:07 PM

Rupa Shah: Most heavy munitions explode and throw shrappnel. Targets are burned to death, vaporized, killed by concussion, or ripped by shrappnel. White Phosphorous munitions are usually air bursts and burning willy pete falls to the ground like giant sparklers. The chunks burn into EVERYTHING they touch and don't go out until ALL of the willy pete is exhausted. Death IS painful and slow, often from complications of the burns, and may even take days. A small amount will burn a hole completely through a human being. That's why its banned in use against civilians as its NOT a fast kill.

Posted by Mike Meyer at May 14, 2009 10:32 PM

Mike Meyer:
"Most heavy munitions explode and throw shrappnel. Targets are burned to death, vaporized, killed by concussion, or ripped by shrappnel"
How does anyone one know how painful that burnt to death scenario is? The dead person is not around to tell the story. And I have seen burn victims of domestic and indusrial accidents with 65-70% burns and IT IS HORRIBLY PAINFUL. If anyone has had to dress those wounds, they know, patients scream with pain. All munitions should be banned. War should be banned. Torture should be banned.

Posted by Rupa Shah at May 14, 2009 10:56 PM

"If we actually live in that kind of banana republic ..."

NYT reporter Stephen Kinzer's book "Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change" makes an irrefutable argument that we do, and have for longer than any of us have been alive.

Marine Corps General Smedley Butler said it best, in his bluntly honest book 'War is a Racket:'

http://www.ratical.org/ratville/CAH/warisaracket.html

Chapter 2 is most revealing. Hard to pull a quote out, it's all so good. And written over 60 years ago, at least.

Big money goes looking for a better return on investment. War is the most lucrative, the most profitable venture. Butler argues that the only way to smash the war racket is to take the profit out of war. But as long as the same concerns that profit from war own our press, that is difficult, to say the least.

Is Obama in thrall to these war pigs? Of course he is. They are cynically using him as the best mechanism by which to quell dissent. Policy is disconnected from politics. You think anyone except paid propagandists actually wants to escalate in AfPak? Elite financial interests seek access to oil in central Asia, as well as all the usual spin-offs of war (not to mention the heroin trade, which has boomed since we liberated Afghanistan). If, in their immoral calculus, releasing photographic evidence of war crimes (Hersh says it's photos of children being sodomized in front of their parents) would interfere with rallying the public to their profitable enterprise, then enormous pressures are brought to bear to stop their release. Pressures that possibly include blackmail. You think they wouldn't do that? And how many innocent civilians did they kill in Iraq, in Vietnam? They care only about profit, not about human rights or "liberty" or "freedom."

A tangent: Do you think Terminator Salvation is a cautionary tale? It's acclimatization. Google 'Military robotics.' Check out this site

http://www.foster-miller.com/lemming.htm

and read about the MAARS system. And this is public domain. Imagine what DARPA is cooking up in its labs.

Anyway, great post, Nell. Courage to all who fight for what is right.

Posted by Oarwell at May 14, 2009 10:58 PM

Not exactly (at least you are will named)"My own sense is he knows it extremely well. So perhaps he believes that the fact that releasing bad photos won't actually get US troops killed doesn't mean it won't be possible for his enemies to successfully blame him for getting US troops killed. Perhaps that sort of blame could be assigned so successfully that it would in fact get in the way of other important work"

Problem is, the IMPORTANT WORK that Obama 'so fervently desires' to carry out might just not sit well with those who want to blame him for the work he so fervently wants to carry out. So i guess you are pretty comfortable with the fact that that things will never change and Obama has the perfect alibi.
Thanks for the fascinating insight into this noble mans motives. I feel better about him already.

Posted by tooearly at May 14, 2009 11:18 PM

Could it be that "Not Exactly" is right? Maybe it is simply not possible to discontinue the mass murder and debt slavery policies of the MICFiC as long as the system endures.

The optimist says, "Obama is doing the best he can." The pessimist says, "I'm afraid you're right."

May the Creative Forces of the Universe stand beside Us, and Guide Us, through the Night with the Light from Above (metaphorically speaking) -

and may all sentient beings be well, happy, and at peace.


Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at May 14, 2009 11:52 PM

Tooearly: What's in a name?

Obama didn't stand up to Odierno once Gates rolled, and maybe he should have, but i don't know the inside scoop, and all the comments i've read has left me with the sense that nobody else knows much of the inside scoop either. everybody is quick to presume a sellout, notwithstanding that there is an occasional flickering of recognition that much of the information we get sucks.

I didn't say Obama is a noble man, though I respect him. Nor was i trying to be fascinating (but thanks). What obama is doing is just a lot harder than commenting. Somebody else mentioned smedley butler and kinzer's book, and that's all fine, i love smedley butler and i think i made pretty clear what i think, but if people can't put pressure on an administration without abandoning it every time it doesn't do what they want, they'll never get anywhere. Right now the left has a lot of great commenters, but preaching to the choir is easy.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 15, 2009 12:01 AM

Obama may not "be" the problem, but he is helping to enable the problem.

The guy in the Oval Office is always part of the problem. I really wish liberals would get over the fantasy that all we need to do is put a nice person in charge of the empire.

Posted by strasmangelo jones at May 15, 2009 12:08 AM

"if people can't put pressure on an administration without abandoning it every time it doesn't do what they want, they'll never get anywhere."

I don't mean to be snarky, but what pressure? Commenter arguments at TPM or Digby don't count, I mean something visible to the general public.

Posted by Jonathan Versen at May 15, 2009 01:20 AM

Smithee knows what's up. He's learned at the feet of nobles.

McChrystal is a lesser-evil tortured hero in the homeric tradition who had to torture to save a ticking timebomb from a small child. Or something.

That's perfect!

Posted by blue ox babe at May 15, 2009 02:07 AM

So push Obama, be disappointed, yell at him if you want, but don't impugn his motives, because I think he'd like nothing more than for the political realities he faces to be different

lacking Smithee's sardonic touch of irony, Not Exactly merely parrots what some "expert" that Not Exactly admires has said on some "expert" commentary offered by some "expert" program giving us an "expert" take on events which, apparently, only an "expert" can comprehend.

I wonder, what causes a mentally complete, supra-75 Stanford/Binet human to take such leave of his/her own intellectual faculties that he/she is compelled to think he/she cannot think? or that he/she must look to an "expert" for what to think?

while Not Exactly thinks Obama roped the Moon but is merely hamstrung bu ugly political realities, I have to wonder -- which Obama is Not Exactly talking about? Barack Hussein Obama, our 44th POTUS?

or just some Obama dude in a funny cartoon version of America that plays in Not Exactly's mind?

Posted by blue ox babe at May 15, 2009 02:12 AM

I didn't say Obama is a noble man, though I respect him. Nor was i trying to be fascinating (but thanks). What obama is doing is just a lot harder than commenting. Somebody else mentioned smedley butler and kinzer's book, and that's all fine, i love smedley butler and i think i made pretty clear what i think, but if people can't put pressure on an administration without abandoning it every time it doesn't do what they want, they'll never get anywhere. Right now the left has a lot of great commenters, but preaching to the choir is easy.

sound and fury, signifying nothing

I'll thank you to not insult my intelligence again with such a morass of puffery, such a pile of obfuscatory lies.

Posted by blue ox babe at May 15, 2009 02:23 AM

not exactly is WAYYY off base.

Good article.

Posted by BuelahMan at May 15, 2009 08:32 AM

blue ox babe: obfuscatory, puffery, morass, and sardonic are all pretty good words, except about me. When they're used about me, they're bad

I don't think anything i said came from an "expert." I'm actually a skeptic on experts, particularly the kind prepacked for media. Here's some British wisdom, from Lord Salisbury (aka Robert Cecil) no less: "No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you never should trust experts." Lord Salisbury, letter to Lord Lytton, 15 June 1877

The reference to faulkner and/or shakespeare is one of my favorite snarks when i'm in the mood too

i don't even get all that stanford binet super supra stuff. sorry

Posted by Not Exactly at May 15, 2009 09:15 AM

Bluelahman: I know you ARRREE but what am I?

Posted by Not Exactly at May 15, 2009 09:17 AM

"if people can't put pressure on an administration without abandoning it every time it doesn't do what they want, they'll never get anywhere."

Well, there's your problem right there. Too many liberals think they're in some sort of relationship with Obama, just because they voted for him or sent him a check for $50. In their minds, this imaginary relationship gives them some tiny bit of extra influence over his administration that the rest of us don't have, and therefore must be preserved at all costs.

They worry about the dire consequences of "abandoning" Obama, as if Obama hasn't already abandoned them.

Sorry, Exactly No!, but we're all in the same boat now. Raving lefty McKinney-voters like me, loyal liberal Dems like you - we're all equal - and equally insignificant - in Obama's eyes.

So why not be honest with yourself and others, and try to hold on to your principles? Obama does something wrong, say so. He does something you like, say that too. But please drop this delusion that criticism is "abandonment." You're not married to the guy, he's just your president.

Posted by SteveB at May 15, 2009 09:21 AM

Christ, give Obama a break. He hasn't even completed six months in office yet. He hasn't even had time to refurbish the dungeons with kinder, gentler manacles, pincers, racks, and tweezers yet.

Posted by gluelicker at May 15, 2009 09:29 AM

Yes, let's give Obama a break:

"They Had it Coming

And how many children -- children -- did the now-progressive-led humanitarian intervention kill at a single stroke in Afghanistan last week? Ninety-five. Ninety-five. Ninety-five. And what does the now-progressive Pentagon say about this atrocity? Why, the Obama Pentagon (the Obamagon?) says that the grieving families are just making shit up in order to get a couple thousand dollars in guilt money -- despite the overwhelming evidence of mass slaughter found by the International Red Cross and myriad other eyewitnesses on the scene. Truly, a great change has come to America, has it not?" (from Scott Horton at Antiwar)

Yeah, give Mr. Hopey-Hope a break. Wait until he's got 100,000 dead kids under his belt, then we'll talk.

Posted by Oarwell at May 15, 2009 09:46 AM

Steve B: I think there is a relationship. If the left runs off wailing and nattering its teeth every time Obama compromises a principle, it kills political momentum and makes them ineffective. I think it's great that people work to oppose torture, support human rights, oppose militarism and work for peace, etc., but if people think Obama is the problem when he compromises principles they wouldn't compromise, that doesn't fix the problem. I think it probably just strengthens the opposition.

That being said, i think there's absolutely nothing wrong with not liking the decision and saying so. i personally don't like it. i just don't believe it was a political sell-out in the way others do.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 15, 2009 09:46 AM

Oarwell: We should quit bombing civilians, whether kids or not. And the use of Predators is sickening. No argument there.

But as for the rest, I'm just stunned that anyone can think the Pentagon becomes "progressive" if the President changes. Uh, no.

And I'm all "ears" (ha, ha, thought you'd like that!) if you want to tell us what you think "Mr. Hopey-hope" should do and let us know how he can actually do it. Seriously, give it a shot. I double dog dare you.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 15, 2009 09:56 AM

a mentally complete, supra-75 Stanford/Binet human

The reference is to IQ scores - where 100 equals average IQ, and "75" is intended to be the cutoff score between intellectually disabled and dull normal.

I disagree with the the previous commenter about it being a question of intellectual ability. It seems to me that understanding something in the psychosocial realm is not a question of cognitive processing power, but of interpretive frameworks, pre-existing explanatory ideas, empathic ability, etc.

As was clearly explained in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life,

"Matter is energy. In the universe there are many energy fields which we cannot normally perceive. Some energies have a spiritual source which act upon a person’s soul. However, this 'soul' does not exist ab initio as orthodox Christianity teaches; it has to be brought into existence by a process of guided self-observation. However, this is rarely achieved owing to man’s unique ability to be distracted from spiritual matters by everyday trivia."

This interacts with the "not wearing enough hats" factor - see the film.

Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at May 15, 2009 09:57 AM

i liked life of brian better

Posted by Not Exactly at May 15, 2009 10:09 AM

Not exactly--

It depends on what you mean by "selling out". If one thinks Obama was ever a lefty, then Obama sold out when he decided he was going to make a serious run for the Presidency. He sold out when he said it wasn't Israel's fault when civilians were killed by their bombs in Lebanon in the 2006 war. He was thinking of selling out when he made his antiwar speech and carefully pointed out that he wasn't against all wars, just dumb ones.

But he may never have been a lefty to begin with, or at least not in a very long time. What's interesting about the Obamaphile phenomenon is how some lefties have willfully decided he's on their side, when he seems to be a gifted politician, who might, one hopes, do some good on some issues, but who on foreign policy issues is a sophisticated upholder of American exceptionalism. Which he has to be to have made it as far as he has. Someone with Obama's political talents, but Kucinich's or Nader's beliefs would get no further than Kucinich or Nader in a Presidential race. One can understand why this is the case without thinking that we must therefore give Obama the benefit of the doubt. It doesn't matter that he might be a secret radical, if his public pronouncements and actions suggest he's a centrist liberal. Your own arguments make a good case for treating Obama as a cog in the machine. A cog can have its own opinion on what the machine should be doing, but it doesn't have a separate power source it can draw upon.

Posted by Donald Johnson at May 15, 2009 10:16 AM

Not exactly, when you talk of "strengthening the opposition," what opposition? Am I being too Chomskyian when I note that elite policy is utterly disconnected from "politics?" The "people," fractious and liberty-loving, are the enemy, in the eyes of our elites. (And no, I'm not using 'elite' as code: I merely mean 'those who rule.') Is it doctrinaire to point out that elites seek to manipulate public opinion through propaganda, whether it be Judy Miller writing in sedate tones about yellow cake or Medved/O'Reilly/Limbaugh/Savage spouting their venom? Millions marched against the Iraq war in 2003, here and in Europe, but did it matter one iota? No, just another problem for Minitrue to whitewash or ignore. Policy had already been determined, before 9-11, before W even got in office.

You also commented "Presidents who cross the military too much don't thrive. How they haven't thrived across our history varies on the facts of each Presidency, but no one can point to a United States President from McKinley onward who has been at odds with the military and sailed off into the sunset as a success. It hasn't happened, not even once."

You are too smart to confuse "the military" with the elites who control them, and use them, in Butler's words, as the "enforcer." As Arthur Silber and others have pointed out, complaining about specific tactics employed by the military misses the big picture. Although 'torture' is an instance of the mask slipping off the face of the Beast, and presents yet another problem for the propagandists, it is clearly just a symptom of the malady that afflicts us, which is Imperialism. Imperialism being the name we call Elite Finances' desire for greater profit. Whether in the hands of Spanish conquistadores, or British troops doing the bidding of the East India Company, or Petraeus following Unocals/PNAC's doctrine, it is always the same: brown people die, and ledger sheets show profit. If the home crowd cries 'foul,' new propaganda stratagems are rolled out, just like a Madison Avenue campaign. EXACTLY like Madison Avenue, as Bernays taught. 'Obama,' the symbol, is part of the new campaign.

The red-meat right never has a problem with the imperial project, they're safely amused by NASCAR and '24.' But the 'left' can be more problematic: sometimes the Wobblies have to be physically crushed, but it's cleaner, cheaper, probably, to put up a "leftish" front man, a poster boy for "prog" attitudes. Give 'em gay marriage, give 'em abortion, that is hardly an important component of imperialist calculus. But when it comes to what is really important, War, then shazaam, Sarge, nothing ever seems to change.
LBJ, Mr. Great Society, killed millions. Even Carter, probably our most moral president, gave aid to the forces crushing the Timorese. Clinton bombed a European city on Christmas Eve, to secure mining rights in Kosovo for George Soros, and consolidate the heroin pipeline. And now Obama will, PLIANT PUPPET THAT HE IS, kill more brown people, using robot planes. Slowly, slowly, the "left" will wake up to this fact, but it will be awhile before Chuck D (who I venerate) does a rap number slamming 'Robo Obomber,' and Bill Moyers rubs his chinny-chin chin and wonders "was it all worth it?"

Obama is exactly what Herbert Marcuse meant when he wrote about the iron fist in the velvet glove (I think it was Marcuse).


Posted by Oh Well at May 15, 2009 10:29 AM

In every conflict with the military/intelligence segment of the government during his brief stint as President Obama has had to back down from either his previous positions or positions held by his supporters and often the majority of Americans. This is simply not good politics. What's the saying? At least throw me a bone.

Last year when Obama folded on FISA liberals were shocked and dismayed. But Republicans were near unanimous in supporting the bill. Think about it. The Republicans were on the verge of losing the White House and ever larger chunks of Congress and they were quite willing to hand over huge spying power to the Imperial Presidency. What was with that? Did they trust Obama to do the right thing once in office?

What Republican politicians know, and what many progressives won't admit, is that the power doesn't accrue to the Presidency. It accrues to the NSA, the CIA and military, not the Presidency. The NSA won't spy on Mitch McConnell's sex life for the benefit of Democrats, but the FBI will spy on Elliot Spitzer, using legal tricks from the War on Drugs and the Patriot Act to sink a Democrat who was about to blow the whistle on the great mortgage scam of 2008.

I'm not saying the Obama is good or bad as far as governing this country. I am saying he's mostly irrelevant. While it's nice to get political every four years and vote for a President, elections have become more and more irrelevant and often fixed since the coup of 1963. When Eisenhower warned against the military-industrial complex it was already too late. It was probably too late soon after WWII.

Until people step away from the personality games that currently are American politics, and until enough people recognize the true structure of our government, and don't get panicky when know-nothings blather "conspiracy theory" at them, we will continue to be trapped in this little hell of ours.

Posted by Bob In Pacifica at May 15, 2009 10:30 AM

I'll thank you to not insult my intelligence again with such a morass of puffery, such a pile of obfuscatory lies.

Look, I dount that Not Exactly means to insult anyone. He's just parroting dnc talking points like a good little progressive dembot. Of course everyone knows you have to make demands of your politicians BEFORE you vote for them, but that's not the progressive way. Progressives are just like Freepers, they care about rhetoric, not results. They're looking for the lesser evil, the path of least resistance, and "just a cog" excuses to let themselves off the hook.

Rationalization is the name of the game here. Effecting actual political change is a very very hard thing to do. It takes real effort and work and it's dangerous to boot. Progressives, like their Freeper cousins, want to lose weight by eating ice cream. To paraphrase Frederick Douglass, Progressives are farmers who want rain, but without the thunder and lightning.

So it's no wonder that their only crop is bullshit.

Posted by MediaGhost at May 15, 2009 10:52 AM

Donald Johnson:

I guess I don't think compromising is selling out. It is impossible to be in politics without compromising. If you can't compromise, you have to do something else. I think i would suck at it.

It doesn't seem possible for there to be a successful US politician right now who isn't a big proponent of american exceptionalism. Maybe if the schools start having high school students read Andrew Bacevich that will change in a few decades, but i think it will take something a lot more painful than that. every other empire seems to have learned that lesson the hard way, and i certainly don't think we're different in that way.

You'll get no argument from me that a highly progresive program is not going to make its way to Congress or the White House anytime soon. There's not even much left of the New Deal. but we better get a humanist mass political movement sometime in the next couple of decades, at the latest, or i think we're likely to get the ugly kind of mass political movement. some things just never change.

i certainly don't think obama is a secret radical. i think he's a politician trying to make the best political decisions he can. change the political calculus facing him, he'll make better decisions. strengthen his opposition he'll make worse decisions. when the going gets really tough--and I don't think it has for him yet--i hope he'll be courageous, but that remains to be seen. i see some signs for optimism, because i think his mother's voice is in his head, and my sense is that she had a good voice. but i certainly could be wrong about that. The thing about the future is that it hasn't happened yet.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 15, 2009 10:52 AM

"Maybe if the schools start having high school students read Andrew Bacevich that will change in a few decades, but i think it will take something a lot more painful than that."

Agree about that, NE. When this latest little fiat-bubble pops, there's going to be a big war, with a draft, and lots of young Ipodians are going to get killed, along with the obligatory untold millions of brown folk. Then, finally, the exhausted husk of the US will be abandoned, sucked dry, and China will take over as the new global Master. Maybe they'll do a better job with it, but looking at the Cultural Revolution (progs on crack), I kinda doot it.

The future hasn't happened? It keeps happening over and over, tragedy to farce back to tragedy. Wash, rinse, etc. "Exceptionalism?" Nothing exceptional about it. Ask the Romans.

Phil Dick had it right: The Empire never ended. But I hope Chekhov was wrong (mutatis mutandis) when he said that if there's a gun in Act 1, it will go off by play's end, now that the gun's an H-bomb.

Donald J, StevieB, Bob in Pacifica, Media Ghost, I doff my porkpie--great comments. U 2, NE. (And our mysterious hosts, who sit silent, waiting, ever waiting...)

Posted by Oarwell at May 15, 2009 11:19 AM

The thing about the future is that it hasn't happened yet.

Sort of. On the other hand, speaking from my experience as a time traveler from the twentieth century, I believe that "THIS is the future. You got to LIVE it, or live WITH it." Or, as the Firesign Theatre didn't say, get out of the way.

In one alternative future American high school kids WILL read Andrew Bacevich - although they've been reading (or at least, been assigned) Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five for some time, but it doesn't seem to have sunk in yet. Vonnegut had given up on the possible future of a "humane and reasonable" United States by the time he died. And so it goes.

Whether the change we ALL want will ever happen at all is in question. If it does, whether it will take "a few decades" depends on what happens next. "Learning the hard way" could be on the menu sooner than some people expect. And, of course, what one learns from one's experience depends on, among other things, the cognitive structures on offer from one's leaders.

Someone who agrees in many ways with our colleague "Not Exactly" but puts a different spin on it also wrote about this issue yesterday. Paul Craig Roberts said,

"Americans elected Obama because he said he would end the gratuitous criminal wars of the Bush brownshirts, wars that have destroyed America’s reputation and financial solvency and serve no public interest. But once in office Obama found that he was ruled by the military/security complex....

Why is the US making itself impotent fighting wars that have nothing whatsoever to do with is security, wars that are, in fact, threatening its security?

The answer is that the military/security lobby, the financial gangsters, and AIPAC rule. The American people be damned."

To me, this seems to be an accurate description of what's happening. Does Obama disagree? Then he's a fool. Does he recognize it, but go along for reasons of self-interest? Then he's a knave.

Or else he's a self-aware, seeming collaborator with the MICFiC, who


a) who has a plan and/or
b) has placed himself in such a way that he can take advantage of an unforeseen opportunity

to further truth, justice, and the potentially sentient way.


We'll know more later.

Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at May 15, 2009 11:26 AM

Rupa Shah: I don't make wars, I don't stop wars, I just make every effort on my part to refuse to PAY for war. Trying to find some logic in the rules of war or the reasons to use one munition or another against one population and not another is a WASTE of time.
I would suggest if YOU want to see an end to wars then STOP PAYING FOR THEM. Politicians make the rules for war, BUT without YOUR MONEY its a waste of their time. Even the caveman had to PAY that spear maker to have enough spears to conduct a war. When the general population LEARNS to withhold that war dime then YOU will see progress toward peace. As long as WE ALL PAY for war then WE ARE THE PROBLEM.

Posted by Mike Meyer at May 15, 2009 11:57 AM

Oh Well:

I think Chomsky is right about a lot of things, and he sure is a heck of a smart fella, but if you want things for people, there is certainly an opposition. That's all i meant. I think Obama would like to help people have health care, help working people have a better life, improve education, etc. Corporations and those who own them, on the other hand, don't care about that, don't want to pay for it, and/or actually are contemptous of it. Gees, there's just about nothing BUT opposition.

in that comment on my comment about the military, there is too much ground for me to cover, and i'm not sure what to focus on. Except, if you think the military is just a tool of the ruling class and has no independent significance, i disagree. i don't think that view holds up historically. the world isn't ONLY class struggle and racism, whether or not it predominantly is. There are times when those issues are not the most significant, let alone controlling everything

but thanks for saying i'm too smart to disagree with you! :)

i wouldn't pick carter as our most moral president. i actually think there have been quite a number of them, though i guess i think carter wins (excluding obama because it's too early to say) for the last 40 years. alas, there's not been so much competition lately.

i don't know whether marcuse (remarkable guy) said something about the iron fist in the velet glove, but louis althusser did. so did Lord Mountbatted, the Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, some guy named Guy (ha ha) Pourtales, another guy named Reinhard Maeser, and the economist in 1843. (I highly recommend the evil "do no evil" google book search.) So it's an old idea, and sure the u.s. military is pretty darn iron fisted, and i guess obama is more velvety, so i guess that's not the worst metaphor, though i don't have any idea what to conclude from it

Bob in Pacifica:

I agree that Obama is not all that powerful just because he is commander in chief. I also agree that just because someone becomes President, everything in the vast national security bureaucracy does not suddenly become theirs to do with as you please. Hell, the CIA didn't even tell LBJ about their foreign (well, we hope) assassination program. I guess he didn't have a high enough security clearance. And I don't think that is a unique example.

That being said, I don't think Obama is irrelevant, and I don't think politics are irrelevant either. We weren't frozen in hell in 1963, whether or not it was a coup. That certainly was not the lesson that JFK wanted drawn from his quite death, at least RFK's response means anything, and RFK also wouldn't have wanted that conclusion drawn from his own death. But Chomsky has always been good at pointing out that choices like that have always and often faced ordinary people. It's not like undemocratic rule is a new thing.

By the way, I wouldn't make Eisenhower some kind of radical because of his farewell speech--i think the inter-service bickering over defense money was on his mind more than concern about the US being too warlike. The best thing about Ike was that he kept the crazies in the Pentagon at that time from blowing up Asia/Eurasia, an idea for which there was a lot of real enthusiasm, though of course we're supposed to pretend we don't know that even if somebody as mainstream as Stephen Ambrose described it. (Those Generals really couldn't quite believe Ike was a commie even if he wasn't quite a Bircher.) I was more than 30 years old before I realized that Dr. Strangelove was actually a documentary, not a parody.

Media Ghost:

Ok, i'll make an exception and insult you, since that seems to be what you want:

your post is snarky, not really so witty, and doesn't actually say anything useful while somehow managing to put progressives and freepers in the same boat. What boat is that---earth?

Go ahead and lay out YOUR plan for critique if it's so good, but don't confuse facetiousness with perceptiveness.

all that aside, the bullshit line is epic, and Frederick Douglass was too

Posted by Not Exactly at May 15, 2009 11:59 AM

If the left runs off wailing and nattering its teeth every time Obama compromises a principle, it kills political momentum and makes them ineffective.

It's interesting how often this idea comes up when Democrats are being criticized. We're "losing focus", we're not "keeping our eye on the ball," don't we know there's a big health-care bill in Congress RIGHT NOW, and here we are yammering about some pictures?

If you only know a person through the comments they post on a website, it's easy to assume that ALL they do is post comments on websites. And so we get this silly "the left runs off wailing and nattering its teeth" response. Maybe the person who's tearing Obama a new one about these torture photos is also working through their union to try to get EFCA passed, or they're active in setting up a local CSA farm, or they're setting out bottles of water in the Arizona desert so people crossing the border don't die of thirst. My point is, there are lots of ways to work for change that don't involve palling around with torturers and their apologists, so let's not make lazy assumptions about what others are or are not doing, thank you very much.

Posted by SteveB at May 15, 2009 12:26 PM

SteveB

Fair enough, but it's a political comment, not a personal criticism. A fabulous or even a sainted person can make a political mistake. You, for example, may dedicate your whole life to fighting for what's right. i'm not making an assumption on that either way, and i'm certainly not suggesting you're not great. you're reading this site, so you must be!


but if everyone, including all the great people working for good things, starts blaming obama for disappointing them by not remaking us foreign policy more profoundly, i don't think it helps him OR addresses the crux of the problem.

i was commenting originally mostly on what i saw, and commonly see: a tendency for people to underestime how politically constrained a President is vis a vis the national security bureaucracy. Many presidents have crashed into the national security iceberg--mckinley, wilson, harding, fdr, truman, jfk, lbj, nixon, ford, carter, and even reagan certainly did. The list just goes on and on. Poppy Bush probably would have had that problem too if he were anything but an organ of the national security elite, and I suppose in a way W did run afoul of the "multilateralist" part of it (elites aren't necessarily homogeneous).

i think einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. blame obama if you like for his disappointments in connection with national security issues, but try to recognize that he's in the same "heads they win tails he loses" situation that has bedeviled so many of his predecessors.

Because he is.


Posted by Not Exactly at May 15, 2009 01:04 PM

Mistah Charley, you can't quote Paul Craig Roberts, the former Reagan Asst. Treasury Sec. That's not allowed. (tongue, meet cheek)

Not Exactly, I forgot to mention the shudder you gave me with your "Petraus as President" prophecy. I thought we'd see Jeb redivivus, but you could be spot on. American Caesar, just the man to call on when Freedom's tide has dimmed. What rough beast slouches etc.

Also, your realization that 'Strangelove' is a documentary. I'm in awe. What about 'Eyes Wide Shut?' (sorry, can't help myself)

Anyway, I never answered your question, either as Oarwell or my doppelganger, Oh Well (sorry, bad habit of mine). What's to be done? Live simply that others may simply live, is my hackneyed answer. Consume less, deprive the debt monster of its food. Avert thy gaze from Imperium. Counter the warmongers with words and acts of peace. Assist widows and orphans. Beware wolves in sheep's clothing. Read Bill Kaufman and Wendell Berry and Ed Abbey and Murray Rothbard. The usual blandishments.

Not terribly useful, I know. But sometimes practicality isn't the point.

Also, wouldn't hurt to support the Grayson/ Paul bill (big groan goes up from audience) HR1207, to audit the Federal Reserve. 149 congressmen have signed on. Little sunshine can't hurt, right?

Posted by Oarwell at May 15, 2009 01:28 PM

Thanks, SteveB, you've saved me some breath.

@NE: "runs off wailing and nattering its teeth"
I think you meant 'gnashing' there. Nattering is for nabobs.

Who's running off? You're pretty quick with the condescension based on assumptions you haven't bothered to check.

It should be fairly clear from my post that the elevation of Stanley McChrystal is the big problem, not the (probably temporary) suppression of the torture images. And that his confirmation hearings provide an avenue for pressure.

Whether it's possible to prevent his confirmation or not, there's no reason to sit quietly and avert our eyes from his unsettling history, or to let members of the Senate Armed Services committee do so.

There are a ton of fronts on which to be active; any one person needs to focus and specialize to be effective and stay sane. Ending torture and getting accountability for those who've overseen it is my focus; I didn't choose it so much as it chose me, decades ago.

Posted by Nell at May 15, 2009 01:38 PM

Oh well Oarwell:

I think we're probably already way past Eyes Wide Shut (though I don't get invited to THOSE parties), so maybe it was a documentary too!

i like your blandishments, though i also admit to liking spicy mustard on my burger

so keep on blandishing!

Posted by Not Exactly at May 15, 2009 01:45 PM

Very dissapointing that our elected officials, especially within the Democratic Party, has now taken such a different approach in the discussions of Torture and the previous administrations corruption and illegal activities.

I am glad to see Cheney (and Pelosi for that matter) in the media (especially places other than foxnews) and is helping keeping the torture debate front and center.

We need to continue to keep the pressure on the President and Congress to do as we voted for. Change.

Posted by WeVotedforYou at May 15, 2009 02:13 PM

Nell: I'm more pessimistic than you are. I don't think half of Americans are "unwilling or unable to conceive of U.S. torture unless shown pictures." They watch 24 and they love it -- btw, shouldn't a TV series that glorifies torture be boycotted?

Support for torture is much stronger in the US than in Europe (by almost a factor of 2 in latest WPO report). Why? Maybe 9/11, maybe the media propaganda, maybe the permanent violence of American life. In the torture dept, the supermax in Colorado is way up there.

There are good reasons to release the pictures and I am all for it. But counting on them to make torture less popular is naive.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at May 15, 2009 02:27 PM

Nell:

The comment mentioning gnashing instead of gnattering (sorry spiro agnew) wasn't directed at or to or about you, so neither was the condescension you perceived in it.

opposing mcchrystal is good, opposing the policies even better. i certainly don't want any eye averting going on. that's not something i get accused of a lot.

i just thought/think your post was wrong in attributing the mcchrystal pick so heavily to obama. of course, i don't get invited to a lot of those White House or Pentagon meetings, but I think generally the Pentagon is pretty hands-on about appointments like this. And Gates probably is too. not that obama couldn't go his own way, and maybe he did for all i know, but they have ways to respond too. I think the fact that Gates is still Secretary of Defense strongly hints at the complicated politics Obama is faced with in connection with our asian wars.


So i think it's great for you to oppose McChrystal, and i've got no problem with people pressuring obama. pressure is really important. (i think i said that somewhere, but maybe i'm just talking to myself) I just think you shouldn't assume obama is running the whole show and write posts, let alone strategize, as if this is really a problem that derives from Obama. i don't think it does.

it's great, and rare, that you've been working to end torture for decades. extremely commendable. in fact, its even hard for me to think of anything more commendable. so good job and keep it up

Posted by Not Exactly at May 15, 2009 02:32 PM

I like ATR, including Nell & B. Chazelle, etc. But I wish my country didn't suck and my sorry-ass president was crazy, brave and decent instead of craven, cautious and insincere.

As far as support for torture goes, I think a good 50-70 percent of people just hold opinions they find others holding, which they choose like you might choose peas and carrots in a little bowl rather than mashed potatoes in a little bowl at Luby's cafeteria, and are pretty malleable in their thinking. When the president and the guy on TV were against torture, so were they.

Posted by grimmy at May 15, 2009 03:10 PM

blame obama if you like for his disappointments in connection with national security issues, but try to recognize that he's in the same "heads they win tails he loses" situation that has bedeviled so many of his predecessors.

I honestly have no idea what I'm supposed to do with this information. OK, Obama, like all Presidents, is constrained by the military-industrial complex. But, in the end, he's the guy standing up at the press conference giving bullshit justifications ("it will inflame anti-American sentiment") for keeping evidence of torture secret. If our criticism (or "blame", as you would have it) is not to be directed at Obama, where should it be directed?

Holding a President accountable for his own actions does not require one to believe that the president is a god-emperor, utterly free to do what he will. Sure, he's just a functionary in a rotten system, but until we find out what post-office box "the system" is taking its mail at, 1600 Pennsylvania avenue will do as well as any other address.

And, just to point out the bleedin' obvious, it makes absolutely no difference to those tortured if the President is a sadist who enjoys torture, or a decent man who is forced to approve torture because the MIC makes him do so.

That's why all of this speculation about Obama's secret thoughts, the noble thoughts that he thinks only to himself after he's carefully covered his head with tinfoil to block out the MIC's brain-scan rays, is such a complete waste of time.

Judge him by his actions. And a heavy dose of "What would I be saying if George W. Bush did this?" wouldn't hurt either.

Posted by SteveB at May 15, 2009 03:18 PM

SteveB:

I don't think secret thoughts, or the nonsecret ones, are what this is about.

as to your q about what to do with the info, i'd use it to change the political system as much as possible so that Presidents become less constrained than they presently are by military and intel communicty, oh yeah, and banks and big media corporations too, but now i'm getting redundant. that's obviously a long tough slog


i also think tortured people wouldn't feel much better about how the President or some other politician felt about what happened to them, but then this is really about effective future prevention, and i think attributing the problem to obama's lack of principle or excess pragmatism or lack of spine is a misdiagnosis, so a treatment for that political malady won't work

i suspect a majority of the public wouldn't agree with you about the concern about troops being killed in response to disclosure of pics of torture is a "bullshit justification." they certainly wouldn't agree with you after some officers in uniforms wearing shiny medals told them that's what happened, and at that point they would probably find the characterization of it as bullshit offensive

as for where to direct energy, there's certainly plenty of work to do for peace, against war, against torture, in public education, etc. etc. etc.. as i've said a couple of times, criticizing obama is ok too when he gets on the wrong side of an issue. but i'd say it'd be best to do that with an awareness of what the problem really is.

when you talk about holding obama responsible for "his own actions," i pause. if the pentagon comes to the President and says something may get troops killed, and the Secretary of Defense then concurs, and the President doesn't overrule them, i guess that's technically the President's "own actions" in a "buck stops here" sort of way. but only in that kind of way.

I think it's not correct to use the question "what would I say if W were doing this?" to judge how to react to Obama doing it. I suppose that would make sense if circumstances and political realities and more or less the whole context of the decision is irrelevant, but it isn't. W (or Cheney) wouldn't be compromising at all, and back when this barbarity got going in its latest iteration afer 911, the impetus was in fact theirs. Just like the war in Iraq was theirs. Obama isn't writing on a clean slate here, to say the least.

if we want to judge him by HIS actions, we have to properly understand what HIS actions really are, as well as his alternatives.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 15, 2009 04:02 PM

from what I've seen thus far, if McCain were president right now we'd have

1.a largely similar stimulus package, albeit with more tax cuts and the GOP governors wouldn't complain about taking the money,

2.possibly the same defense secretary, and pretty much the same foreign policy,

3.a highly suspect healthcare reform initiative with single-payer "off the table".

Totally different.

Posted by grimmy at May 15, 2009 04:16 PM

Mike Meyer at May 15, 2009 11:57 AM:
I agree, there should be NO FUNDING for War and Americans need to let their elected officials know, the tax dollars are NOT FOR making war. If they do, they would be voted out of office. Of course, this is more easily said than done but with projects done by say AFSC where they inform high school students about the truth in recruiting ( with lies by the govt ), we will have fewer and fewer kids wanting to join the army.

Prof Chazelle, I agree with you that release of photos will not change the minds of almost 50% of Americans who support torture but revusion felt by the other 50% that is against it, may make them even more determined to fight it to have it banned and bring the perpetrators to justice. Personally, I have seen enough and it is sickening and it is only one of the obscenities of War.

Nell, your statement "Ending torture and getting accountability for those who've overseen it is my focus," I am sure resonates with many others. Below are two petitions by ACLU and AI worth signing and passing on.

http://www.care2.com/news/member/760164053/1142243

http://www.amnestyusa.org/take-action-online/page.do?id=1031043

Posted by Rupa Shah at May 15, 2009 04:26 PM

i certainly don't think obama is a secret radical. i think he's a politician trying to make the best political decisions he can. change the political calculus facing him, he'll make better decisions. strengthen his opposition he'll make worse decisions. when the going gets really tough--and I don't think it has for him yet--i hope he'll be courageous,

Not Exactly,

Your comments above are par for the course for liberals-unfortunately and show a lack of understanding of how things change...you can "hope" all you want for Obama to do the right thing but thats not how change happens..Things change from people being active and working for change through social movements....thats hard work...people want silver bullets thinking that all we have to have is the right person in office-the great man theory of history which is about as far form the truth as one can be...you have the force the political establishment to make change by social movements....you up the ante for them and force them to make a choice....either you make change or you and the political economic elite that you represent may not may not be in power anymore.... and that understanding is what causes change to happen...thats how all change for the better has happened in this country and how it will continue to happen.....So yeah, if one paid attention to what Obama stood for before the election and just looked at say his voting pattern on a whole host of issues while he was a senator, I dont know how anyone could think he was some sort of progressive,or a peace candidate, never mind a leftist...of course there is "Brand Obama" that says all of the nice things that progressive like to hear.. like the "The USA does not torture..." Really? What USA? This one or some other one on another planet...maybe in George Orwell land, but not in the real world...See Chris Hedges excellent recent article on "Brand Obama" on Commondreams, http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/05/04

or for the definitive account of the Obama phenomenon from his early days to his rise up the democratic party till his presidency see Paul Street's devastating "Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics." The best account of the Obama rise from a true leftist perspective...So just to close, you can hope all you want...but hope will get you nowhere fast...working for change through social movements is the course of action, not voting for one person over another and then hoping that that person will do the right thing...just remember that both political parties stand well to the left of the majority of the US population on a whole host of issues...thats one reason why I dont waste much time with Dems...they dont represent me or my interest...yes they are marginally better on certain issues than the Republicans but that is not saying much.-Tony

Posted by tony at May 15, 2009 05:10 PM

A little typo above....I meant to say that both political parties stand well to the right of the majority of the US population, not to the left as i said above...Just take health care as one of many examples...The US population is favor of a single payer govt run program like the rest of the civilized world has...this has been the case for years...Obama says if starting from scratch it would be the best option but we cant do that now...Someone should give Obama a civics lesson...its not his choice to make if he believes in democracy which he doesn't...the population wants it, but somebody is not too keen on the idea...Obama works for them, not us.-Tony

Posted by tony at May 15, 2009 05:24 PM

tony:

i don't think you have figured out my understanding of how things change, at least not yet, so you're getting ahead of yourself in calling it wrong. Like you, i think movements, not great men, do the real work of change. Ultimately, politicians are followers, not leaders. ironic, eh, that political leaders might really more aptly be called followers?

i sort of thought i was saying something a little closer to the opposite of what you thought i was saying, so i guess i didn't say it very well. sorry

i'll have to read paul steets' book sometime. i haven't read it as of now. with a quick look, i saw that john pilger praised it, and i think he's good

i don't disagree with your views, which i think are often also stated by chomsky, that the population overwhelmingly supports policies that don't make it into the political arena because elites don't support them. I've been persuaded of that for a while, and you don't have to be chomsky to see it. elizabeth warren has long been trying to draw attention to the onslaught against the middle class (and poor) since Reagan. and she's getting some attention right now because of a very biased interview of her on NPR's Planet Money. Likewise, Kevin Phillips, once a big thinker for the GOP (see southern strategy), also has written with alarm about this fact in his excellent book Wealth and Democracy. this is a big, ugly, obvious fact, and i think the GOP has been forced (without much recent success) to inflame its base so people don't start to go hmmm and reflect on their political affiliation.

What i don't get about your view is this: the left, at least what you or I consider the left, isn't strong right now in the US. It just isn't, and we are where we are, and that's the reality in which obama governs. i don't think he has claimed to be a leftist in a long, long time, and i don't really understand your gripe with him about that. ok, if you want to support leftists, do that, but if he were a leftist he'd be a powerless leftist, not President. I think that is obvious. So what was wrong in his concluding that being a leftist wouldn't be effective in getting anything done? I wouldn't conclude from that that he works "for them," not "us." Is the idea that if somebody isn't an uncompromising, ideological politician he can't be trying to do anything good? By that standard, the U.S. has NEVER had a good President, not even Lincoln, let alone FDR or JFK or Wilson or Carter. Do we all have to hate everyone as much as Gore Vidal? (whose essays I enjoy) Or, like Chomsky,do we all have to conlclude that every US President has been basically no good, notwithstanding. . .what's the word. . .FACTS. Whether or not Chomsky can coneive of it, or will admit it, there have been Presidents who did brave, selfless things despite not being socialists. (I think Chomsky's views on JFK, for example, are not only wrong, but unfair and far beneath his intelligence, which is a disappointment to me.)

So build a people's movement. That's great. I'd love more egalitarianism. So would most people. But until there actually is some power in the movement you are helping to build, i don't think it would be too intelligent of any President, Obama or someone else, to just pretend that movement exists.

i hope nothing there was rude, and if it was i apologize, but i'm all worn out for now. i really would like to see a return to people's politics. Unfortunately, that just isn't going to happen unless the intelligence agencies become accountable. And unfortunately, that probably isn't going to happen absent a successful people's movement first. so we have a nasty chicken and egg problem. meanwhile the empire slouches on, to steal a little yeats from someone whose earlier post escapes me right now.

over and out

Posted by Not Exactly at May 15, 2009 07:04 PM


As for the 50% of Americans who support torture, according to Laurence Vance, the figure might even be higher among self-described "Christians." Comforting thought, that.

I often wonder what it would take to rouse these people, these prototypical American buttheads, from their state of torpor. What if George HW Bush went on Larry King and admitted to running the JFK hit? Or if Dick Cheney admitted to planning and executing 9-11, or, what the hell, eating children in his secret bunker? And the next day the press simply ignored it, on instructions from GE and Westinghouse and Murdoch. "Bad for the bottom line." Only in the blogosphere would there be a hue and cry. Glenn Greenwald would be in high dudgeon, Arianna would cluck her tongue, maybe Maddow and Olbermann would issue a few splenetic denunciations. And then what?

Seriously, then what?

I don't think anything would come of it, because of the unparalleled power of mainstream propaganda in molding people's opinions, in making normative what any rational person would consider shocking and evil. If it isn't ballyhooed over and over and over again on the corporate media, then, as far as the hoi polloi are concerned, it simply didn't happen, no matter what a few "lefty extremists" or Jesse Ventura might say. But Manny Ramirez took steroids? HFS! Outrage! Hands are wrung raw, hair is pulled out--what kind of a country ARE we?

That is why, if you ask me, all humane actions in this propaganda-drenched, post-Orwellian world, have to be, can only be, individual actions. YOU don't have to love Big Brother--you can spit in his face. Sure, single-payer health care would be nice, but if you're healthy yet still living in what is tantamount to Nazi Germany-lite, then the moral issue has still gone begging.

There is precious little hope of "rallying the masses" to end the imperial warmongering, the torture and blood-lust, in any country in the thrall of media owned by defense manufacturers and their boosters. The wars are going to happen even if every single sentient American opposes them, because the propaganda is so effective at manipulating the non-sentient. Your vote, your congressional phone call, is negated by the moron with the "Support the Troops" bumper sticker, and more than negated by the lobbyists employed by the war pigs. Possibly, possibly, there might be a Gramscian takeover through the ranks, but it's pretty darn unlikely in a society obsessed, as per indoctrination, with inane celebrity culture. Only when the majority see the corporate media as the enemy, see them as the vile lying toadies that they really are, would we see real change.

Posted by Oarwell at May 15, 2009 08:12 PM

Okay, so Obama, in his heart of hearts, might want to buck the system, but he's too pragmatic to do the right thing because of the MIC(FiC), etc. He has been force to make tough (wrong) choices. My heart weeps for him. I still don't see how it helps me to have a secret friend in the White House.

Put another way, paraphrasing SteveB, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is still a fine place to send our discontent. (But in what form? Teabags are taken!)

Posted by Save the Oocytes at May 15, 2009 08:29 PM

Not exactly,

i don't think you have figured out my understanding of how things change, at least not yet, so you're getting ahead of yourself in calling it wrong. Like you, i think movements, not great men, do the real work of change. Ultimately, politicians are followers, not leaders. ironic, eh, that political leaders might really more aptly be called followers?

Ok Fair enough, but I quoted you in my original post...you said, "i hope he'll be courageous,"...You can hope all you want....but hoping something will happen wont make it happen especially when in comes what th egovt does or does not do...they respond to pressure on them not hope....

i don't disagree with your views, which i think are often also stated by chomsky, that the population overwhelmingly supports policies that don't make it into the political arena because elites don't support them. I've been persuaded of that for a while, and you don't have to be chomsky to see it.

Its common sense...one does not have to read a radical like Chomsky to see this...Where do both political parties get their money from...who backs them? Wall ST is getting trillions of tax payer money right now...who was Obama's biggest source of money for his election? Who was one of his main economic advisors? Bob Rubin..where did he use to work? Obama proudly calls himself a "new democrat" meaning a neo-liberal freemarket corporate cheerleader etc and so on...heis open about this...he has to be if he wants to attract any funding and be taking seriously as a candidate...its fundamental to the process of corporate elections....

What i don't get about your view is this: the left, at least what you or I consider the left,

Well lets be clear...when I mean the left I dont mean the more liberal or progressive elements of the democratic party or liberals/progressives in general....not that there arent points of agreement on issues...they have to be looked at individually but my view are left libertarian or anarchists...which is left of say Lenin who crushed left/anarchists as soon as he could in russia because he saw it a s threat which it was to an dictator authoritarian like Lenin...I dont want to go into a whole history of anarchism since I dont know if you understand this at all but probably what you think of as socialism is an ok understanding for you to have of my views..again I am basing that on you not having any understanding on anarchism but I could be wrong and apologize in advance if you do....or maybe look at the Spanish Revolution as an expression of what my view are.

what you or I consider the left, isn't strong right now in the US. It just isn't, and we are where we are, and that's the reality in which obama governs.

Well I agree that the left-at least an orgainzed left isnt strong...thats our fault...we are dispersed, all over the place, one group does no the other exists etc and so on, but who have to remember that the population is mostly on our side on issue after issue, so its an organizers dream but we dont have the infrastructure, funding, outlets, and so on to take advantage of it...a re-birth of the union movement would be step toward this...if the population was unionized that would be a good first step toward this...

i don't think he has claimed to be a leftist in a long, long time, and i don't really understand your gripe with him about that.

Well then why all of the progressive rhetoric in his campaign leading up to the election...Do you need me to post some of his quotes?

if you want to support leftists, do that, but if he were a leftist he'd be a powerless leftist, not President. I think that is obvious. So what was wrong in his concluding that being a leftist wouldn't be effective in getting anything done?

But you are operating under a false assumption...If he was a leftists he would not be president and would not even be in a position to be elected in the first place...he would not have gotten any support from corporate america...no funding to even begin a campaign...John Edwards to progressive for corporate america...and forget about Kucinich...who have demonstrate long before hand that you have internalized the views, perspective, values and so on of corporate America or you didnt even get the chance to run..And I dont support leftist as you mean in your comments...i support movements of social change, not political parties..As I said earlier i dont waste my time with the democratic party...they are corrupt, war mongering, mass killers just as the republicans are...

I wouldn't conclude from that that he works "for them," not "us." Is the idea that if somebody isn't an uncompromising, ideological politician he can't be trying to do anything good?


See above....Sure he can do good...if forced to do so by an active population...if left alone he will do what is best for his constituents and that is not the population...go read those OECD numbers Bernard posted the other day...then tell me what Obama plans to do about them...nothing thats what unless he forced to do so...Why you may ask, because the people that own and run the govt benefit from policies that harm the great majority of the population let alone the rest of the world...Obama will not do anything to question or overturn corporate rule, if he would he would not be President unless again he forced to do so....

By that standard, the U.S. has NEVER had a good President, not even Lincoln,

Dont know enough about Lincoln to comment....

let alone FDR

About the best of the bunch but look at the social conditions of the time and you will see why he did what he did...as I side note..The US supported fascist Spain under FDR watched and the US supported both Hitler and Mussolini through trade and investment...See Christopher Simpson's "The Splendid Blonde Beast..."

or JFK or Wilson or Carter.

War criminals...every one of them...

Do we all have to hate everyone as much as Gore Vidal? (whose essays I enjoy) Or, like Chomsky,do we all have to conlclude that every US President has been basically no good, notwithstanding. . .what's the word. . .FACTS.

What facts...the facts are they are war criminals...

Whether or not Chomsky can coneive of it, or will admit it, there have been Presidents who did brave, selfless things despite not being socialists.

Give an example..maybe I'll agree with you...

(I think Chomsky's views on JFK, for example, are not only wrong, but unfair and far beneath his intelligence, which is a disappointment to me.)

Give an example...JFK was ultra hawk who invaded South Vietnam a major war crime...he used a phony weapons gap to justify an arms race with the USSR and which almost blew up the whole world..

So build a people's movement. That's great. I'd love more egalitarianism. So would most people. But until there actually is some power in the movement you are helping to build, i don't think it would be too intelligent of any President, Obama or someone else, to just pretend that movement exists.

Then he should say so and stop pretending that a vote for him is "Change You can believe in" or stop pretending that he is anti-war and just be honest about it...he should say i will kill thousand and thousands of people as i see fit as long US domination and control over the world remains unchecked and unchallenged...just say it...Just say I will commit war crimes and invade other counties illegally as we determine..."What we say goes..." but let me ask you question...would like it if someone did it to the US? If not why not? Why can the US do as it pleases but not other countries?

As movement building...yes I have determined that is where my efforts are best put to use if one wants to make the USA and the world a better place to live.

i hope nothing there was rude, and if it was i apologize, but i'm all worn out for now.

No apology needed...ive been far worse political debates over the years...mostly with people on the left!! Marxist and such....

i really would like to see a return to people's politics.

well good but again this is not something to hope for..its something to act upon.

Unfortunately, that just isn't going to happen unless the intelligence agencies become accountable.

I dont know what this means.

And unfortunately, that probably isn't going to happen absent a successful people's movement first. so we have a nasty chicken and egg problem. meanwhile the empire slouches on, to steal a little yeats from someone whose earlier post escapes me right now.

Yeah the Empire continues but cracks are everywhere..just look South America...one popular elected leftist after another all in the Empires backyard...there is an example of democracy in action...we can learn a thing or two from Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela etc.-Tony


Posted by tony at May 15, 2009 08:42 PM

But I hope Chekhov was wrong (mutatis mutandis) when he said that if there's a gun in Act 1, it will go off by play's end, now that the gun's an H-bomb.

Aa. Chilling.

Lots of good comments all around. This is my favorite 'blog.

Posted by Cloud at May 15, 2009 08:45 PM

Stan Goff shares his thoughts on McChrystal.

http://www.feralscholar.org/blog/index.php/2009/05/15/mcchrystal-pelosi/

"One can’t be sure where to start in unpacking what people need to know about this guy — Stanley McChrystal, the military-culture that is refracted in his personhood, and the peculiar institutional ecology of that military.

I don’t know Stanley McChrystal. I came in the Army a couple of years before him. We are both named Stanley. We were both in Special Operations. He was an officer; I was enlisted. We both served in A Company 2nd Ranger Battalion, in 75th Ranger Regiment, in 7th Special Forces, and he commanded the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) of which was in a constiuent unit once. Nonetheless, neither of us ever served in these units at the same time. A Company 2nd Ranger Battalion was also Pat Tillman’s company when he was killed in April 2004. So I don’t know Stanley McChrystal, and all I can say about him specifically is based on stuff that I’ve read. But I can say some things that don’t require detailed knowledge of McChrystal’s wherabouts and activities at any given time. Because I am familiar with the ways that military culture is reflected in the individuals who are part of that culture."

On the subject of Americans and Torture, DeAnander has some interesting ideas on the connections between our Industrialized Food and Torture.

http://www.feralscholar.org/blog/index.php/2009/04/27/mike-davis-on-swine-flu-capitalism/#comment-320780

Posted by Bruce F at May 15, 2009 08:47 PM

NE: Just got to read all your comments. Though I disagree with quite a few of them, you make many good points.

A people's movement is not going to happen until the american left (whatever that is) acquires a vision of society. Right now, the left is a giant collection of micro-causes with no real thread tying them together. So the whole debate whether Obama controls the Pentagon or the other way around, to me, has a certain "dancing on a pin" quality.

Take torture (to return to the topic at hand). I'll compare the current debate with a situation I know pretty well. The revelations of torture in Algeria were a huge watershed in the French left: Camus, Sartre, Simone of Beauvoir, Aron, Duras, Mauriac, Vidal-Naquet, Fanon, Breton, etc, etc, went into overdrive to denounce torture as a singular evil that,as they saw it, fit necessarily within the colonial power structure. The times being what they were, it was all full of master-slave Hegelian nonsense but it was extremely influential. They figured out quickly that whether it was Massu's initiative (McChrystal) or Mollet's (Bush's) was irrelevant. Imperial structures in deep shit torture. Period. It's got nothing to do with who's in charge. That's why I think the torture memos are mostly irrelevant. So certain fundamental principles emerged and who knows, oerhaps that's why the anti-torture stand in France is much stronger than it is here? There's a foundation for the rejection of torture that's completely missing from the works of contemporary american writers in the mainstream media (and most of the people I mentioned were published in the French mainstream media).

This is not an "In praise of intellectuals" post. But there's something to be said about people who to the effort of thinking things through. How often have you heard the anti-torture argument "It does not work"? Do people who say that even see why this is a complete surrender of the moral turf? That with such arguments Krauthammer will always win. That "useful idiot" would not have lasted 5 minutes against Sartre. But the best Kinsley can say is that the ticking time bomb scenario is a good college dorm question. How originalm Michael! Sartre would have been impressed. Danner clings to the notion that "if it was ordered from DC, it changes everything," blah, blah...

Funny to see how even on this blog, people seem to disagree fundamentally on why torture is wrong. Everyone is offering a different argument.

If you think I am criticizing people, of course I am. But not Nell, whose work and dedication I admire.


Posted by Bernard Chazelle at May 15, 2009 09:17 PM

Prof Chazelle, regarding your statement, "Funny to see how even on this blog, people seem to disagree fundamentally on why torture is wrong. Everyone is offering a different argument", speaking for my self, I feel it in my gut and in my bones and inside me that torture is wrong. Period.

I have just finished seeing the documenatry "Taxi to the Dark Side". The images from Abu Ghraib are almost pornographic ( there were some I had never seen before ) and frankly I do not care to see any more of them. I would much rather spend my energy on trying to bring the perpetrators to justice and gettting torture BANNED by our govt.

Posted by Rupa Shah at May 15, 2009 10:49 PM

Bernard: Raymond Aron wrote against torture? He was later of the right, yes? But your point is understood. Of course, the French are better readers than Americans, at least judging from Parisian bookstore windows last time I was there.

There was certainly a time in our country when no public intellectual would have dared endorse torture, even though, in the quonset huts of Empire, torture was taking place. Not even Max Lerner would have endorsed torture. Out of curiousity, I just took Arendt's 'The Origins of Totalitarianism' off the shelf. There are two index entries under 'torture:'

"If the reports of arrested NKVD agents can be trusted, the Russian secret police has come uncomfortably close to this ideal of totalitarian rule. The police has secret dossiers about each inhabitant of the vast country, carefully listing the many relationships that exist between people, from chance acquaintances to genuine friendship to family relationships..." (imagine! And without Facebook!)

"In totalitarian countries all places of detention ruled by the police are made to be veritable holes of oblivion into which people stumble by accident and without leaving behind them such ordinary traces of former existence as a body and grave..." (Ghost prisoners, anyone?)

"The methods of dealing with ... the human person are numerous...They begin with the monstrous conditions in the transports to the camps, when hundreds of humans beings are packed into a cattle-car stark naked...for days on end...the well-organized shock of the first hours, the shaving of the head, the grotesque camp clothing; and they end in the utterly unimaginable tortures so gauged as not to kill the body, at any event not quickly. The aim of all these mthods, in any case, is to manipulate the human body--with its infinite possibilities of suffering--in such a way as to make it destroy the human person as inexorably as do certain mental diseases.

"It is here that the utter lunacy of the entire process becomes most apparent. Torture, to be sure, is an essential feature of the whole totalitarian police and judiciary apparatus; it is used every day to make people talk ...To this rationally conducted torture another, irrational, sadistic type was added in the first Nazi concentration camps and in the cellars of the Gestapo....This type of torture seemed to be not so much a calculated political institution as a concession of the regime to its criminal and abnormal elements...Behind the blind bestiality of the SA, there often lay a deep hatred and resentment against all those who were socially, intellectually, or physically better off than themselves, and who now, as if in fulfillment of their wildest dreams, were in their power..

"The real horror began, however, when the SS took over the administration of the camps. The old spontaneous bestiality gave way to an absolutely cold and systematic destruction of human bodies, calculated to destroy human dignity; death was avoided or postponed indefinitely. The camps were no longer amusement parks for beasts in human form, that is, for men who really belonged in metnal instituions and prisons;..." etc.

This is where we find ourselves, in 2009, in the United States of America. It is nothing but shameful. Anyone of conscience can read those passages in Arendt's book and immediately see the parallels between the Gestapo, the Nazi SS, and our own military. And twisted, hate-filled individuals like Krauthammer, who truly belongs in a mental institution, are put on television to argue for the practices engaged in by the Gestapo and SS. Just tonight I heard some pusbag named Crowley telling John Mclaughlin that Obama's reversal shows "how right George Bush was about all of his national security decisions, starting with Guantanamo...." And that was PBS.

Kurt Vonnegut was right. We have lost our fucking minds.

Posted by Oarwell at May 15, 2009 11:05 PM

Apparently, Sydney Morning Herald has just released some pictures. You are warned, it is not for soft hearted.

http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/photos-us-doesnt-want-seen/2006/02/14/1139890737099.html

Posted by Rupa Shah at May 15, 2009 11:08 PM

Sorry about the link to SMH but apparently it is from Feb 2006 though a website has posted them today as newly released pictures and all the other photogalleries are from may 2009.
http://www.smh.com.au/ftimages/2006/02/15/1139890768716.html

Posted by Rupa Shah at May 15, 2009 11:29 PM

I think, Professor Chazelle, I should give your country of birth some well deserved credit.

When I hear jingoist twits go on and on about those socialist French criticizing our wondrous Republic I can't help but realize it was the French protesting labor practices well before the financial crisis and it is them now that are courageous enough to go out into the streets and tell the popular Sarkozy that they aren't putting up with his shit.

For a Republic borne of Thomas Jefferson, many Americans sure are acting "French".

Social movements indeed..

Posted by Nikolay Levin at May 16, 2009 01:34 AM

We are all victims of war (in the united states). The people who support (morally and monetarily etc.) the war are victims, however unintentional or misguided they may be, because they corrupt their own character for it.
You can't doubt this if you understand that all these wars are outrageous and criminal. Our responsibility cannot be explained away or diminished because of the involuntary nature of the 'support' in the form of taxation. To say that it is not your fault because you are a slave is cowardly and repulsive, isn't it?
the O man knows better than this. He knows better than to use the constitution for toilet paper, but he does, without hesitation.
That indicates to me, that his betrayal happened long ago, before we ever heard of him.
He is a punk, just like George Bush (and others) who have held the office.
It's just an old tune with with a new beat.
Rich

Posted by Rich Laplante at May 16, 2009 08:47 AM

This is an update to my comments last night at 11.o8 and 11.29pm.... from raw story. PLEASE, do not continue to look at the pictures if they are revolting and they are. It is incomprehensible to me, how one human being can treat another one like this.

http://rawstory.com/08/news/2009/05/15/leaked-torture-photos-published-in-2006-may-be-among-photographs-obama-administration-shielding/

Posted by Rupa Shah at May 16, 2009 10:31 AM

To Not Exactly and all,

Well the great Howard Zinn writes and speaks a lot better than I do...he sums up quite well what i think needs to be done and how it is going to get done...see link below after the quote.-Tony

That's been the story of this country. Where progress has been made, wherever any kind of injustice has been overturned, it's been because people acted as citizens, and not as politicians. They didn't just moan. They worked, they acted, they organized, they rioted if necessary to bring their situation to the attention of people in power. And that's what we have to do today.


http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/05/16-0

Posted by tony at May 16, 2009 10:54 AM

Professor Chazelle:

I concur a vision of society is necessary, and personally I'd like liberty, fraternity, equality to gain some traction again.

I don't know much about Algeria, though I did once read A Savage War of Peace and I have seen the Battle of Algiers. I also have read elsewhere that French attitudes about torture, intellectual and popular, were affected by the Nazi occupation and the long, terrifying shadow of the Gestapo. The French were torturers in Algeria, other parts of Africa and Southeast Asia, but in France they were tortured too, and by the thousands. Lately the French have not trafficked in power the way Americans have, so i'm not surprised there is more freedom among French journalists and intellectuals to confront ugly truths, especially ugly truths about US rather than French behavior.

I agree with much of what you’re saying too, but I think the torture memos do matter—and matter very much. I tried to explain last week why i think the recent public embrace of torture by Cheney, the neocons, and some in the military has happened. I concur with you that the change is in a sense related principally to appearances, not the evil itself, but I think I explained poorly. There is a deep significance to the public embrace of torture that goes beyond the practice itself. By way of analogy, think of what lynching used to be—it was more than murder. We have been using torture for a long time, both domestically and abroad, but there was for a long time a curtain drawn over it, accompanied by the plausible deniability that you posted about. You were correct that some, Cheney most notably, have concluded that we need to abandon our hypocritical practice of concealing the evil. But I think there are reasons for that sea change beyond Cheney's insanity.

What led to this open defense of torture? My view is that it has resulted from an expansion in the relative military power of the United States, accompanied by a weakening in the martial sprit of, and social discipline in, the United States.

Externally, our military power is now unprecedented. Andrew Bacevich has written very well about some of the consequences and temptations and hubris resulting from that, but others have written similarly: Chalmers Johnson, Chomsky, Gore Vidal, others less famous. Gareth Porter wrote a book a few years back called Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam that impressed me. His thesis was that we became involved in war in Vietnam because even then we were so militarily dominant that the national security bureaucracy (including the Pentagon) saw that we could and decided that we should. The risks were simply not great enough for appropriate caution to prevail. The ideological and commercial stakes were high, and we had military power far superior to our enemies. Plus, some hoped it would create an opportunity to take care of both Russia and China once and for all, a military goal that only makes sense to those convinced that the conflict was inevitable eventually, so better to fight it when we would win handily. That fairly summarizes the view of the JCS and Pentagon for a long, long time. Let us give thanks for what didn’t happen. In focusing on the many tragedies of history, we often overlook those that were avoided.

At present we are even more powerful than we were in the 60s and 70s. We're not just a dominant superpower with significant adversaries who restrain us from, for example, becoming too bold in the Middle East and Central Asia. Now we’re a hyperpower, the only one in the world and without historical precedent, and we have decided that we are also what Bacevich quotes Madeline Albright as calling the world’s "indispensable" nation, charged with overseeing the the whole world. Only once did Poppy Bush mention the New World Order, somehow forgetting that Woodrow Wilson is not a friend of the right in the U.S., but that is obviously our role even if the GOP can’t say it. We maintain the equilibrium of the world—especially in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Militarily, we have full spectrum dominance and the ability to destroy any other nation on earth. We feel exceptional morally and militarily, and justified in all violence necessary for the greater good of ourselves and the world. From a purely military standpoint, we have a greater ability to project power than ever before, and from the perspective of grand strategy, greater reason to do so.

The rub is that for the most part we have lost our martial spirit. Culturally, most of us don't want to run the world; we don’t want to kill huge numbers of people abroad, let alone sustain American casualties to do it. The rationale of racism that sustained past empires, including our own, has been largely abandoned, and with the passing of the Cold War, we have had insufficient justification for our role in the world and are limited to reasons that were politically unusable or lacked emotional force. Americans want education, health care, happiness for their children, not resource wars in Central Asia. But Americans want the life they have too. So how do we sustain our position in the world?

Running the world requires both hypocrisy and brutality. As history seems to be unfolding, that will probably become even more true over time. Perhaps the future won’t quite be like Mad Max or Bladerunner, but it seems to be trending in that direction at a pace that we can observe but not quite feel—as if our society is a frog in water being brought ever so gradually to a boil. Perhaps that’s too bleak a view—I hope so—but global warming and population demographics and the enormous waste built into our society suggest that we face major social adjustments. Those adjustments would be less painful if we weren’t so opposed to sharing, but for those who have the lion's share of our wealth, sharing is presently taboo.

And we’re definitely not getting tougher as a people. From the perspective of the wingnuts in the military, most colorfully expressed by General Boykin, the united States has become a country that is much too soft. Per Jane Mayer in the Dark Side, General Boykin, famous for his outspoken evangelical views during the Bush/Cheney years, has said that the United States "has too soft an underbelly." Boykin would sometimes apparently make a stroking gesture with his hand and says "she's soft, too soft." Now, Boykin was not inconsequential. He was in charge of US Special Forces. And his view was held by many others. That was obviously Cheney and Rumsfeld's view as well. It has been the view of the Kagans in their books comparing the U.S. to Britain in the 1930s. It certainly seems to have been Tommy Franks' view, and I think many other senior officers who thought the army should be about war, not gay rights. Bacevich has written about the increasing partisanship of the officers corps, and you can pick up any number of right-wing books published in the 90s that are contemptuous of the weakness of the United States under Clinton, often deriding Clinton’s unwillingness to involve the U.S. in any action that would entail casualties and in general attacking his whole liberal outlook. From the point of view of our warriors and wannabee warriors, it’s hard to carry Teddy Roosevelt’s big stick if everyone knows you won’t use it because someone might get hurt.

What does this have to do with the open embrace of torture? I think a great deal. How do you toughen up a weak-willed country that you think desperately needs toughening up? Well, in poart you appeal to baser instincts. We may not be able to lynch people any more, or terrorize our labor force quite as openly as we once did, but we could take steps in that direction. And we have done that, with Jack Bauer cheering the way. Cheney and those of his mind on this believe the United States needs to behave something like the drunk Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, when he rides out of town and tells everyone lined up in the streets not to shoot him or he’ll kill their family and their friends and their friends’ families. You might note that in the movie it worked. The West, including the Brits, came to rule the world with a combination of brutality and superior technology, not tea and high-minded principles. Cheney et al want our effectiveness to be more like that of Britain in Ireland or India in the 19th century, or the Nazis in Occupied Europe, where resistance was suppressed with such brutality that the whole generation of French intellectuals you so rightly applaud were awakened to clear moral thinking able to pierce even the thickest Hegelian fog. I think Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Addington and Feith and John Yoo and so on were engaging, in part, in an effort to make the U.S. a more brutal power. Partly that decision was calculating, partly it sems from some genuine brown-shirted instincts. But I think it also happened, in part, because the US was less constrained than it had been before the disintegration of the USSR. (I say in part because there was more going on, and more than we presently know, in connection with the role of Guantanamo in what used to be called the Global War on Terror.)

In short, I think an effort has also been made and is bieng made to make us the kind of country that will more readily use our enormous military power. I think Tolkien understood power. It almost seems to have a will of its own, because men want to use it when they have it.

You are of course entirely right that our practices haven’t changed. Our true history has many painful chapters. The United States military never felt the contempt for the German military that watching old movies might suggest. Michael McClintock’s fine book Instruments of Statecraft (readable online http://www.statecraft.org/) details the influence of German counterinsurgency and counterterrorism doctrine on the US military after World War Two. Far from being horrified by the practices used by the Wehrmacht during the invasion of the USSR in 1941 and 1942, our military actually emulated those practices for the next fifty years. We followed the pioneering work of Nazi scientists too. In fact, we recruited them. See Linda Hunt’s Secret Agenda and Project Paperclip (also readable online http://www.yamaguchy.netfirms.com/miscell/clip_00.html) This played no small part in leading to the Cold War, and Christopher Simpson’s excellent book Blowback lays out some of the disastrous effects. Not that the effects were just domestic. Korea, the forgotten war, was so destructive from the air that even Churchill was appalled by our overuse of napalm. And that war was fought largely to preserve the same social order that the Japanese had brutally imposed on Korea. Of course, Macarthur would have liked to take the war on to Beijing and probably Moscow too, and for the next twenty years we had one close call after another with nuclear war, mostly because at that time we would have handily won the exchange. You don’t need to convince me that there’s a dark side to US power. We can skip world history since the early 50s. You'll get no argument from me that we're capable of evil, as every nation is. In practice, the torture memos describe nothing new, and in a way they put an end to hypocrisy. Maybe the shrill, enraged voice of a crazy old man like Krauthammer is refreshingly honest in a sense. But I don’t think so. The honesty we need has to be be rooted in peace, not fascism.

So I think the torture memos do matter, and matter very much. Successful attacks on human rights and the rule of law are a prelude to fascism, the real kind, potentially even worse than it's predecessors. We don’t want to go down that road, not even part of the way, because if we do we might find one day that the future contains even uglier surprises than the past.

I wholeheartedly agree with you that the torture debate is poor and seems to be media-driven. Dershowitz is sickening, but the notion that torture doesn't work is false. It was used successfully by the Nazis and the Japanese in World War II. I assume we have used it successfully too, though it’s easier to find out what our enemies did more than half a century ago than to find out the truth about what we're doing now. The CIA long liked to suggest that it didn’t torture—when in fact they certainly did—by asserting that torture doesn’t work, and therefore they wouldn’t use it as a tactic. They made that assertion believing that it had a ring of plausibility to it to cynical people who astutely didn’t believe them capable of moral considerations. But it was a lie. Of course they tortured, and of course they knew it can work. Not that it can be done when a bomb is ticking, or that the information actually protects Americans. The goal doesn't ever seem to be noble. Often it's simply been about finding out the names and whereabouts of other people to torture and murder, though it looks like it almost might have been done in 2003 to help justify a fraudulent, unlawful war that has killed more than a million people and torn apart the lives of millions more.

The reason torture shouldn’t be permitted is that it’s an abomination and an invitation to hell. It kills the spirit of tortured and tortures alike and debases society. It undermines the rule of law and democracy and every value of the Enlightenment. It’s evil. That's a short debate.

Dang that's long. I better shut up.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 16, 2009 12:35 PM

Long, but worth reading, Not Exactly. I think that deserved a front page post. Jon is sometimes looking for other contributors (as you can see from the various guest posts and full-fledged co-bloggers like Bernard).

Posted by Donald Johnson at May 16, 2009 01:56 PM

Fantastic last post there, Not Exactly, adroit analysis. The only thing I would question would be your assertion that "The rationale of racism that sustained past empires, including our own, has been largely abandoned." I think a lot of what motivates Dershowitz and Krauthammer and all the other filth who cheerlead for torture is a racist animus against arabs. I know we're not supposed to say that, it's impolitic, but if the shoe were on the other foot, I can't imagine them endorsing its use. Should we have tortured Pollard to find out his other contacts in what, at the time, was called by Cap Weinberger the most damaging espionage case in U.S. history? I find it rather unlikely that Dershowitz would take up those cudgels. But smear shit on arabs, torture them to death? Seems quite a few of our policy makers were more than okay with that.

Of course, as I quoted Hannah Arendt saying above, there are always those "beasts in human form" who relish the opportunity to indulge their inner orc.

I've wondered, too, about the chicken-egg argument in relation to Operation Paperclip: was it fascist sympathizers who wanted proximity with these nazi scientists and intelligence officers, or did the presence of nazis encourage nascent tendencies? Just as Britain had its Oswald Mosely, we harbored interests not opposed to nazism. Prescott Bush working with Fritz Thyssen and the National City Bank, IBM offering punch card technology which was used in the Holocaust (google "IBM and the Holocaust" if you don't believe it), Standard Oil providing synthetic fuel formulae to IG Farben (Kevin Phillips touches on this rather taboo subject in "The Bush Dynasty,"). Paperclip, in a sense, was business as usual for this claque, and terribly corrupting.

"The reason torture shouldn’t be permitted is that it’s an abomination and an invitation to hell." Exactly so, bringing us back to Nell's original post.

The word abomination applies to so much of recent U.S. foreign policy. Maybe the Obama nation will do better, but so far it seems suspiciously eager not to be seen rejecting that diabolical invite.

Posted by Oarwell at May 16, 2009 01:59 PM

Tony:

It just is not true that JFK and Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter were war criminals. And it certainly isn't true that "JFK was ultra hawk who invaded South Vietnam a major war crime...he used a phony weapons gap to justify an arms race with the USSR and which almost blew up the whole world..." In fact, that is a slander of the first order against JFK, who did everything in his power to prevent nuclear war when it was repeatedly quite literally recommended to him. Seriously.

If you want to know the truth about JFK, you unfortunately can't avoid conspiratorial waters, though given your outlook that shouldn't bother you. Fortunately for you, those waters aren't as murky as they used to be. I think the best book on the subject is the most recent, Jim Douglas's JFK and the Unspeakable, Why He Died and Why it Matters (2008), written by a long-time anti-war activist, follower of Thomas Merton, and a spiritual man capable of moving eloquence. There aren't many factual errors in the book either, as far as I could tell. Praised by several academic theologians, Richard Falk, Marcus Raskin, Peter Dale Scott, Daniel Ellsberg, Gaston Foenzi, Vince Salandria, Dan Mosely, Gerald McKnight, and Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, the book should change your view that JFK was a war criminal. Check it out of the library or buy a copy and read it. Don't just take my recommendation. There's a reason I mentioned all those theologians and peace activists who sing the book's praises.

As for Wilson, he's harder to evaluate, but before you dismiss him you might read Thomas Knock's fine book To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order. Wilson certainly did try to avoid the US getting into WWI, and he also tried to ensure that it wouldn't happen again. He just failed. But since he destroyed himself trying, i think he should get some credit for the effort. That's certainly not a mistake W would have made. Or did, come to think of it. Calling everyone a war criminal, even those who resist war, makes the charge meaningless.

And Jimmy Carter? Well, i've said enough.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 16, 2009 02:12 PM

Not Exactly has the smug IKE-ness** that most organic intellectuals quickly come to despise... the self-assuredness of rectitude that's confirmed by more self-assuredness. Not Exactly talks of political "realities" and basically makes excuse after excuse for The Obamessiah and The Pwoggies and The Lib-Wools. Essentially, Not Exactly is doing a Chomsky -- sounding informed, using big words and pompous conclusions, and thereby deluding his fellow Formal Intellectuals (such as Prof Chazelle and the others who are steeped in The Official Legend of America).

The mealy-mouthed implorings of "political reality" being all about "compromise" take us nowhere. What is it Not Exactly thinks would change our society? More and better Democrats? A "super-majority"? Worship of the Electoral College? Continued injustice from the SCOTUS?

I'd love to hear the experiential background of Not Exactly, and what informs his/her views. Thus far his/her posts read like Katrina vandenHeuvel's boolshyte... lib-wool pwoggie excuse-mongering. In fancy dress, no less.

Where's the wisdom? In some textbook yet read?

..............

**IKE = acronym for I Know Everything

Posted by blue ox babe at May 16, 2009 02:28 PM

I have a soft spot for Jimmy Carter, Not Exactly, but he continued the Ford/Kissinger policy of arming Indonesia as they slaughtered the Timorese. He told Amy Goodman recently (within the past year) that he didn't know what was happening, which I'd like to believe, but supposing that was true he still should have known--certainly the people under him (Richard Holbrooke for one) had to have known and so Carter's defense would amount to saying that he was betrayed by his underlings.

Wilson I don't know much about. I gather he was extremely racist, but I can't say much more than that off the top of my head.

JFK--I'd need a heck of a lot of persuading to think he was the saint some people claim he was--to me he seems like the early 60's Obama, someone with charisma that seemed to charm people on the left far beyond anything he deserved. He only looks good in the Cuban Missile crisis in comparison to the Dr. Strangelove types in the military who wanted to bomb Cuba. Anyone with an ounce of sanity would look good in that company. In Vietnam, much of the bombing of South Vietnamese villages by US forces was well under way during Kennedy's time--Sheehan describes that quite eloquently in "A Bright Shining Lie."

You seem to have some need to believe in good guys in the White House. It's a sentiment widely shared in liberal circles and much less so further to the left. And it doesn't make that much sense. Anyone who makes it that far is going to have to sell out his or her principles to get there, if they had any principles to begin with. I think Carter is a good person, but his personal decency didn't save the Timorese and if anything, in some ways it's a handicap having such a person in the White House, because so many liberal President-worshippers just can't wrap their heads around the notion that one of their heroes like JFK or Obama (Carter was not a liberal hero in his day) could be responsible for war crimes. I think a fair number of liberal hatred of Bush is really just a class or style thing--they hate his accent, his phony cowboy macho bluster as much as any of his actual crimes and they're much quicker to believe that war crimes have been committed under Bush than they would be (or will be) to believe they've been committed under an intelligent classy, charismatic Democrat.

On the racism thing, I agree with Oarwell--racism against Arabs and Muslims (or religious bigotry or whatever) is very much alive and well in the US. Not that other forms of racism have been eliminated, but anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice is even more respectable and mainstream than being pro-torture.

Posted by Donald Johnson at May 16, 2009 02:35 PM

I think Carter is a good person, but his personal decency didn't save the Timorese and if anything, in some ways it's a handicap having such a person in the White House, because so many liberal President-worshippers just can't wrap their heads around the notion that one of their heroes like JFK or Obama (Carter was not a liberal hero in his day) could be responsible for war crimes.

I agree, Donald. Completely. There is a lot of romanticism fondly remembering Saintly, Noble Democrat Heroes. Each of these supposed heroes may be seen to have great complicity in nefarious domestic and foreign policies resulting in human (physical, emotional) and economic injustices of various types.

Partisanship is offered by many --including implicitly by Not Exactly in his/her posts here-- as a "political reality" that must be accepted. These partisans then begin numbering the flaws of the Horrid, Evil Elephants while completely ignoring identical flaws in the Saintly, Noble Donkeys. It's an attrition-based assessment of lesser evils, and the partisans don't mind committing some evil, or endorsing some evil, as long as their Us can say that the other Them is more evil.

Strangely, the Formal Intellectuals seem to find this comparison of evil a fruitful discussion, as if making up apologies for the lesser evil is somehow advancing human social interests. They would say those of us who opt out of supporting evil are "naive idealists" and they would urge us to join them in excusing a measure of evil as long as one's not supporting the "greater" evil.

It's no wonder America is a sewer. The Formal Intellectuals have made it so, by using their highfalutin' training to create more fecal and urinary effluent.

Posted by blue ox babe at May 16, 2009 02:53 PM

blue ox babe:

I'm not such an impressive guy. I think you'd be pleased to be disappointed in my experiential background, to use your phrase. I do like to read a lot, and i do believe that understanding what's going on is better than not understanding. but perhaps that's because i've dealt with a lot of tricky people who punish those who aren't paying attention.

I must say, i'm flattered to be referred to by you an an intellectual, and especially referred to as a "Fellow Formal Intellectual" of Professor Chazelle. Now that's a high complement. But I'm pretty sure i'm not going to be playing on his team anytime soon.

I also feel pretty good about being compared to Chomsky, even though i disagree with him about a air amount. All my past teachers would say Chomisky is more than a little out of my intellectual league. And that's without even considering that linguistic career of his!

By the way, what is an "organic intellectual"?

Since you ask, and only since you ask (i have no expertise) I'd say if you want change, organize a democratic movement. I'd recommend starting with
labor, but again i have no expertise. pass laws if you can and demand that they be enforced. but you'll need to make sure that law enforcement, intel, and the military don't start with shenanigans to justify a crackdown on the efforts, because that has happened every time this has ever been tried in this country before, so i assume it will happen again. in fact, i bet it's happening right now as i type

if you don't think obama has to compromise, i think you're wrong. if you think he's no good, i disagree. if you want to hate him, that's your right, but I think that emotion could be better directed. ultimately, i think he's more on your side than you know, but i could be wrong. that's just my feel.

I'm sorry if i used too many big words. my teen-age daughter hates that about me too, and she's much more outspoken about her feelings than you are (how's that for a personal nugget for you?) You can insult ne and even my mother and everything else i you want, and i'll still think you're wrong about compromise.

So go ahead, but it is sort of bad manners, don't you think?

rock on


Posted by Not Exactly at May 16, 2009 03:02 PM

blue ox babe:

"fecal and urinary effluent"?

You're going to confuse me about whether i'm supposed to use big words or little words.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 16, 2009 03:12 PM

Dershowitz is sickening, but the notion that torture doesn't work is false.

Sorry, you're wrong, and I know that because this cartoon tells me so.

What you're missing is how the debate has shifted with the admission that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times. Suddenly, waterboarding doesn't look like some ultra-effective means of extracting information, it just looks like unproductive (in terms of intelligence) brutality.

Since 9/11, the pro-torture crowd has dominated the debate with two things: 1) the ticking-time-bomb scenario, and 2) the myth that waterboarding would extract information from even the most hardened terrorist in seconds.

Without 2), 1) is no longer looking like such a hot argument for torture. So it would be a mistake to confine the argument against torture to only moral grounds, when we know have a powerful argument for the ineffectiveness of torture that we didn't have mere weeks ago.

Posted by SteveB at May 16, 2009 03:16 PM

Not Exactly, I agree with your take on Eisenhower. It's a little hard seeing him as a radical on the barricades when the Dulles Brothers ran his administration. Nevertheless, he did create (popularize?) the expression "military-industrial complex."

For that matter "Deep Throat" came up with "follow the money" which has been instructive even as Woodward turned out to be an ONI dweeb who was helping to orchestrate Nixon's demise.

Posted by Bob In Pacifica at May 16, 2009 04:05 PM

Steve B:

People can argue what is effective for political reasons, and since public debate doesn't seem to have much to do with reality anyway (See War on Terror), i guess in a way it's fine to use effective argumens even if they're false. but i don't think it's right that anyone actually is engaged in a real "argument" about torture. Reasoning isn't what has carried the day for Cheney et al, notwithstanding columns by Dershowitz.


And here's my problem with making the effective pragmatic argument important: people start to accept way the debate has been framed for them, and soon they're engaged in an amoral calculus about effectiveness. they presume that what happens is justified as long as somebody had a good faith belief that it would work. well, that's pretty hard to challenge absent real sadism, and even then if the victim isn't sympathetic. (I agree with an earlier post that there is plenty of racism against arabs.)

once you've quit framing the argument and accepted realpolitik parameters, even if opportunistically, those will remain the parameters. As a matter of advocacy, i'd be reluctant to ever do that. if you let somebody else frame the argument, i think you're likely to lose. you won't be able to overcome the disadvantage that puts you at. so know the story you want to tell and always stick to it.

i think the story about torture is the oldest of all stories, right and wrong. sure you can throw in that who knows if it even works. and if it's so effective, why 83 times. but don't make that the centerpiece. it shouldn't be. that's my view

Posted by Not Exactly at May 16, 2009 04:05 PM

Donald Johnson:

It wouldn't surprise me that Carter didn't know what was happening in East Timor. There were certainly many things he wasn't aware of at the time, though the events involving the Gulf and South Asia, especially Iran and Afghanistan, had a more ruinous effect on his Presidency. I'm not sure how much Holbrooke had to do with, but Carter was betrayed. This is one small part of my view that being President is challenging.

I suppose Wilson was racist, since that was prevalent then, but he was less racist than most people and certainly less racist than the many Southern Democrats in his administration. I suppose because the buck was supposed to stop with him, he's to blame for that, but it's not like you can personally supervise the whole country. I wouldn't expect you to say anything off the top of your head. Knock's book is very good,but there are others. I think Wilson was a tragic figure, though certainly flawed. then again, aren't we all?

Your view of JFK is unfair to him, but that can only be determined by what he actually did and what his choices were, and only if you look at it with an open mind. that takes some time and effort Sure the violence in South Vietnam was well under way during his time. It was also well under way before he became President, which isn't any longer disputed by historians.

When you say "anyone with an ounce of sanity would look good in that company," referring to how JFK handled the JCS during the missile crisis, you may be right, but look good to whom? Almost no one in his own administration other than his brother stood shoulder to shoulder with JFK when the JCS were urging him to plunge the world into or dangerously close to nuclear war, and he said no and didn't blink. Bear in mind they were advising him that he was risking the national security of the country and that it was hugely risky to him politically, if not personally. LeMay afterward said it was the greatest defeat in American history. Fancy that, our greatest defeat was not having a war at all. But you won't get enough information from this post even if i continue for quite some time. Read the Douglas book with an open mind if you want to see what I believe the facts to be. Douglas doesn't think JFK was a saint, just very brave and committed to peace. At least a few theologians and peae activists concur, and i really don't think it's because they felt a need to think highly of the Presidency.

I certainly don't think i have a need to believe in good guys in the White House, and i don't think i actually have that many views that are "widely shared" in liberal circles once you get past basic values. i agree with you that every President has been "responsible" for some crimes, sometimes including war crimes, in the sense of being at the top of the chain of command. But it's not easy to micromanage a military, a nation, or an empire, especially when not everyone is working with you and many are actively trying to undermine you.

my own views about bush don't have anything to do with his accent or cowboyism. i love cowboys, especially the ones who are my relatives.

i mentioned in another post oarwell is right about racism against arabs and muslims, and i think it is mainstream. it's too easy to demonize.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 16, 2009 04:37 PM

Not Exactly

It just is not true that JFK and Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter were war criminals.


What are you talking about? JFK did in fact invade South Vietnam...maybe you think an act of aggression against another country is not a war crime...well you're wrong...It very much is a war crime...in fact the worst there is...So you are just wrong about this.

And it certainly isn't true that "JFK was ultra hawk who invaded South Vietnam a major war crime...

Really how so?

Sending troops half way around the world and bombing a peasant society into oblivion is a war crime. If that doesn't make him a hawk what does?


he used a phony weapons gap to justify an arms race with the USSR and which almost blew up the whole world..." In fact, that is a slander of the first order against JFK, who did everything in his power to prevent nuclear war when it was repeatedly quite literally recommended to him.

A slander? He pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war with the Cuban missile crisis which in fact almost happened....Bernard, I think, has a post about the Soviet Submarine commander who reused to launch missiles against the US...I think that was on this blog...It may be another one...and please remember the Soviets did what they did in retaliation against US missiles in Turkey....

If you want to know the truth about JFK, you unfortunately can't avoid conspiratorial waters, though given your outlook that shouldn't bother you.

Please refrain from cheap shots....I dont appreciate comments like the one above...I dont believe in conspiracies around JFK...He was a thug and a war criminal...I could give a rats ass if the US govt had anything to do with his death...I dont think that but the question is of no interest to me...frankly who cares...he bombed Vietnam and killed innocent people who were no threat what so ever to the US...so please dont accuse me of conspiracies....

Fortunately for you, those waters aren't as murky as they used to be. I think the best book on the subject is the most recent, Jim Douglas's JFK and the Unspeakable, Why He Died and Why it Matters (2008),

Like I said...it is of no interest to me....I don't really care about JFK....


written by a long-time anti-war activist, follower of Thomas Merton, and a spiritual man capable of moving eloquence. There aren't many factual errors in the book either, as far as I could tell. Praised by several academic theologians, Richard Falk, Marcus Raskin, Peter Dale Scott, Daniel Ellsberg, Gaston Foenzi, Vince Salandria, Dan Mosely, Gerald McKnight, and Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, the book should change your view that JFK was a war criminal.

Well maybe I read it but I doubt it will change my view he was a war criminal....If you bomb innocent people and carry out acts of aggression against another country then by definition you're a war criminal....simple as that.

Check it out of the library or buy a copy and read it. Don't just take my recommendation. There's a reason I mentioned all those theologians and peace activists who sing the book's praises.

Well those are some impressive people...some of whom I really admire like Kathy Kelly

As for Wilson, he's harder to evaluate, but before you dismiss him you might read Thomas Knock's fine book To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order. Wilson certainly did try to avoid the US getting into WWI, and he also tried to ensure that it wouldn't happen again.

Actually I had his invasion of Haiti in mind when I made the comment that he was a war criminal not WWI...again a war crime..pretty cut and dry actually....

That's certainly not a mistake W would have made. Or did, come to think of it. Calling everyone a war criminal, even those who resist war, makes the charge meaningless.

You seem to be unaware of his invasion of Haiti...again that is what I was talking about...I should have said so in my original post...


And Jimmy Carter? Well, i've said enough.

Carter's responsibility for the continuation of Indonesia East Timor slaughter has already been mentioned...read about it if you dont know of it...Also who is Arch Bishop Oscar Romero?

Sorry, Carter is a war criminal.-Tony


Posted by tony at May 16, 2009 04:43 PM

Re: Wilson, a broader point than simply invading Haiti is the doctrine underlying it; his so-called "Wilsonian idealism", calling for self-determination of all peoples, did not seem to apply to the Western hemisphere, where Wilson initiated a number of military interventions, seemed generally fond of the use of force, and absolutely insisted on U.S. hegemony. I'm going to blame this discrepancy on his being an inveterate racist.

As for Carter, in addition to the (not trivial) slaughter he approved in East Timor, he also approved similar kinds of violence by South Korea's (then) fascist government against democratic uprisings, notably in Gwangju. And, as Zbig Brzezinski has triumphantly claimed in recent years, it was Carter who first approved and began a program of destabilizing the communist regime in Afghanistan and encouraging the mujahideen who would turn the country into the morass it is today.

I think tony ably outlined JFK's failings above.

Posted by saurabh at May 16, 2009 05:29 PM

Here's why I think it's not terribly important to know if President A knew about horror B that adviser C unleashed while A slept.

One reason we elect one president at a time, and not say giant committees of "very wise people," and why we bestow upon the president such humongous power ("When I feel like bombing, I bomb") is precisely so that we never have to ask the previous question.

The president is responsible. Always. That's the price to pay for riding Air Force I. If you want to hold on to the excuse "But, sir, I was sleeping at the time!" then don't run for president.

This is why it's so important to distinguish between the person and the president (which takes us back to the shoe thrower guy). That's why good human beings should be given the benefit of the doubt but presidents, even "good ones," never should.

Obama might well be a really swell guy. With moral principles as high as it gets. Same with Carter. Perhaps Clinton is a jerk in person. Or not. When we discuss these people "as presidents" these considerations are entirely irrelevant. I don't care if Carter agonized about the Timorese. We should only judge presidents by their actions, not by the personal morals of the human beings behind them. If the words "commander in chief" has any meaning it must be that the guy takes all the blame for any military action.

Another way to see why is to ask yourself: does the family of the slaughtered Timorese care how Carter felt deep inside at the time? If they don't care, then we shouldn't either. Those upon whom the bombs falls gets to pass moral judgment. We don't.


Re. the torture memos, I am glad they are out and I am glad they were written. If you're going to torture, please by all means write memos about it. And try to get the top guy to sign them.
In what moral universe is it better when people are renditioned to Egypt to be horribly tortured (much worse than waterboarding) and there's not a document in sight to investigate? And yet we all know it was approved by Clinton and then Bush.

Maybe we're all saying the same thing: it's a good thing the torture memos are out in the open. But I am adding, please let's make sure that all torture anywhere comes with memos and videotapes posted automatically on YouTube. If we're going to behave like Freak Nation, then I want us to look like Freak Nation.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at May 16, 2009 06:03 PM

It's absolutely not plausible that "Carter didn't know what was happening in East Timor". It was reported in the American media, we had a long relationship with Suharto's government, and the slaughter had been going on for YEARS, for god's sake. AND his administration was sending them planes and missiles they could use to perpetuate their crimes. The only way he could have not known is if he were severely mentally disturbed. This was only one of a number of Carter failings on foreign policy; are you going to argue he was also ignorant about the nature of Somoza's government? About the nature of the Shah of Iran's government? Etc. That claim is about as credible as Reagan's claim that he was totally unaware of the Iran arms deals.

Posted by saurabh at May 16, 2009 06:12 PM

"I could give a rats ass if the US govt had anything to do with his death...I dont think that but the question is of no interest to me...frankly who cares..."

Huh? You don't think it's a matter of vital import whether or not elements within the government assassinated the president? WTF?

That's as absurd as Chomsky, now in his dotage, saying it "doesn't matter" who did 9-11. An amazing statement, coming from someone who has based his entire polemical career on analysis of history. Both statements are exactly the same as "nothing matters." They are utterances of nihilism. Perhaps the cognitive dissonance is too great for you to bear, Tony, but for a great many people it matters whether or not Atlee Phillips and David Morales and Howard Hunt killed Kennedy.

BTW, Hunt confessed to the whole thing on his deathbed two years ago. But of course, he was a novelist, too, as well as being a black ops guy, and you know how those novelists are in their hour of extremis.

Why beat up on NE for not coming out and saying politics is pointless when you've just said the same thing, in a nutshell?

But to NE, Kennedy did approve the assassination of Diem, yes? Not nice for papists to kill papists. I'm always reminded of PJ O'Rourke's old ditty, that ran something like

Isn't tempting to impute
Virtue to the very cute?

While asking, at the time, however did these sewer trout (the Kennedys) swim upstream into our body politic.

But you've piqued my interest with your recommendation of the James Douglass book, so I'll give it a read.

Posted by Oarwell at May 16, 2009 06:29 PM

Abu Ghraib Video Broadcast By SBS - Australia - Dateline - 02/15/06 ( with interviews with ACLU lawyer and senators).

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article11944.htm

ps I hope, all the concerned commenters and readers have signed the petitions I posted and called the Whitehouse to register their opinions and demands. Many thanks.

Posted by Rupa Shah at May 16, 2009 06:40 PM

Professor Chazelle:

I agree that attacking a president as president is not an ad hominem attack. it certainly does comes with the territory. i'm not worried about obama's feelings from anything here. my god, i don't read what the Freepers say about him, but i can imagine. (nor am i worried about my own in connection with this discussion, though of course i get irritable like everyone else sometimes)

my view is that the method you have described to evaluate a President is too crude to create meaningful judgments. basically, it's too simplistic. it's somewhat similar to how chomsky looks at the issue, so obviously it's not a brainpower issue i just think it becomes very difficult to distinuish obama from clinton from either bush from reagan from carter from nixon from wilson etc. if the various Presidents are each evaluated on the basis of everything that happens in the world during their terms in office being their fault. they all end up war looking like criminals, because it's a big world and there is always something terribly unjust happening. and unfortunately the united States is involved in all of it.

i think a method of evaluation that makes it hard to distinguish jfk from nixon is appallingly bad. it results in people having no accurate sense of history. if woodrow wilson and teddy roosevelt were the same, they were certainly unaware of it. they hated each other, and many of wilson's problems stemmed from the activities of Teddy Roosevelt and Lodge and that snake Robert Lansing (uncle of the Dulles brothers). If fdr and harry truman were the same, the whole history of the United States in the 1940s becomes almost senseless, which is actually how it's taught

perhaps in a way it's fine for people to hold politicians responsible for their positions without understanding the judgments those politicians made, why they made them, who their political enemies were and what political penalties would have been exacted for reaching different decisions, but i think those things do matter. otherwise, we misunderstand the real reason for each bad decision and attribute it to the wrong source. and we never fix anything, which also certainly seems to be the case

I think this may be hard to appreciate in the abstract. it's easier to say that once again we just have another power-hungry President with no principles. and sometimes that's certainly true. but sometimes a president is misinformed, sometimes backed into a corner, sometimes faced with truly bad political consequences if he fights a fight that he might lose, and always forced to prioritize and use limited time and resources. I think being successful as President while doing good things for people and not for powerful interests is very, very challenging.

On the issue of the torture memos, i think we are arguing about different things to some extent. I understand the general point that we should have to look evil if we're going to do evil. As a moral principle, we shouldn't be able to commit acts of evil and pretend to be righteous. I agree with that. My concern is that the battle Cheney is fighting is to make the culture worse. I don't think putting torture on youtube or television will necessarily get you the result you presume or hope for. people might end up watching it while eating popcorn and cheering. I think you should be very careful in wanting us to have to look like Freak Nation if we're going to be Freak Nation. I don't think it's a zero-sum situation. If i may dare try to put it mathematically, an increase in the extent to which we look like Freak Nation may give rise to a much greater than proportionate increase in the extent to which we are Freak Nation. The function might even be exponential. Culturally we might embrace viciousness if we go down that path, and then we might turn out be nostalgic for hypocrisy and wish that we had never let such evil loose among us.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 16, 2009 07:17 PM

Tony:

You don't know me so instead of me writing things that have been written about by someone praised by people you respect, i encourage you again to read the Douglas book. I think it will change your opinion about JFK. You seem open-minded and well-intentioned, and also concerned about humanity and in favor of peace, so I don't think there's any question about that. Just read the book.

As for my remark that conspiratorial waters shouldn't trouble you given your outlook, that wasn't even intended by me as an insult, let alone a cheap shot. I can see why you might not have known that though, because people have had it drilled into their heads that thinking anything conspiratorial is crazy, so being called that must be an insult. The Douglas book is about the assassination of JFK, Douglas believes by the CIA. (And obviously I agree.) By suggesting that you would be open to agreeing with me, i wasn't intending to insult you. And maybe i'm wrong--maybe you couldn't accept that conclusion even if the evidence leads you there. But usually people like that are very pro-military and not too concerned about East Timor. I really wouldn't even have mentioned it you hadn't said JFK is a war criminal. Despite my better judgment, i just couldn't let that slide, because it galls me how far that lie has traveled. But like i say, you don't know me, so just read the Douglas book and decide for yourself. Douglas would have saved me a lot of time if he had published that book five years earlier. But i thank him anyway, and as I said I didn't see many mistakes. I don't say that so often.

as for you not caring about jfk, i certainly can't make you care, but there's no point saying anything else if you don't want to care. and if it's true that you don't care, you really shouldn't really call him a war criminal. he did after all get his head blown off, and i think knew it was a risk he was taking.

as for wilson, i'm aware of his invasion of haiti, and of mexico. but he had a lot of people working against him both in and outside his administration. he certainly had flaws and weaknesses, and they were exploited, but he was betrayed too--by Lansing, by Palmer, by burleson, even in the end by House. what lodge did to him i wouldn't call betrayal, since lodge openly hated him, but that wasn't helpful either.

i didn't address carter because i didn't want to run on and on. i actually don't know that much about east timor so i won't comment on that. i said in another post only that it wouldn't surprise me if he didn't know because he wasn't always kept in the loop by his own state department, let alone the cia, which considered him their enemey after he fired several hundred of the operations agents. that was highly principled of him, and it certainly heavily contributed to him being a one-term president.

i don't know what to say to you about Archbishop Romero, because I didn't mention him and i don't know what you want to know. in short, he was a moderately conservative archbishop who became appalled by the mass killings and torture committed by the salvadorean military, and he spoke out about it. He was murdered by the Salvadorean military during the early years of the Reagan administration when the US was openly supporting them. I think it's fair to say that the US government basically murdered him by proxy, but Carter didn't have anything to do with it so i don't know why you're asking about him.

Tony, i hope i've not offended you by the remark above that i explained. it's very hard to know what to believe because so many lies are told, and as i said, you have no reason to believe anything i say.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 16, 2009 07:56 PM

NE: Interesting how your two points purse the same utilitarian goals but via seemingly contradictory ways. The first one insists of shedding the most light possible "so we can fix things." The second insists on keeping everything in the dark "so we don't embrace viciousness."

I note that the "we" binds to two different groups. In the first one, it's the intellectuals who need to integrate all the info to reach precise, nuanced judgments. In the second, it's the brutish masses who need to be kept from the truth so they don't get the wrong idea.

I tend to think just the opposite. The great human complexity of what goes on in the corridors of power is great stuff for history books and tragic plays, but it tends to hide the forest for the trees.

Let me illustrate my point. Take politics in the US and Norway. The forest is this: the US is a belligerent imperial power; Norway is a small (mostly) peaceful nation. That's the bit that matters.

But if you look at politics in Norway, you'll find the same array of power-hungry politicians, vicious operators, etc, as you do here. You'll find tragic heroes who sell their souls, and genuine bastards. All of that. So you'll never get that one bit that matters.

Now, back to Freak Nation. Hypocrisy gives you Japan, which still teaches their kids they liberated Asia. Truth gives you Germany.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at May 16, 2009 08:38 PM

Tony, you just don't understand. The fact that our president is "commander in chief" doesn't mean that much. Or military is always going off somewhere and attacking someone for whatever reason. It's unreasonable and emotional to expect our presidents to keep track of every little massacre! Also, please read the latest hagiography of martyred Hero/Saint JFK. You can't possibly understand anything about martyred Hero/Saint JFK without it. Or Hero/Saint Wilson. Of Hero/Saint Obama...

Posted by MediaGhost at May 16, 2009 08:46 PM

from Alternet: a glimpse inside Bagram

"One day they took me to a room that had very large snakes in glass boxes. The room was all painted black-and-white, with dim lights. They threatened to leave me there and let the snakes out with me in the room. This really got to me, as there were such sick people that they must have had this room specially made."

Deghayes was eventually moved to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where he was beaten and "kept nude, as part of the process of humiliation due to his religion." U.S. personnel placed Deghayes "inside a closed box with a lock and limited air." He also described seeing U.S. guards sodomize an African prisoner and alleged guards "forced petrol and benzene up the anuses of the prisoners."

"The camp looked like the Nazi camps that I saw in films," Deghayes said.

O say can you see...

Posted by Oarwell at May 16, 2009 08:59 PM

You're outnumbered here, Not Exactly, so I'll keep this short. Also, to be honest, I'm feeling too lazy to outline where I agree and disagree with you. Anyway, you said this--

"woodrow wilson and teddy roosevelt were the same, they were certainly unaware of it. they hated each other,"

This is silly. Power elites in any society have rival factions, people who hate each other because they all want to be top dog. The Mafia is like this, I gather. I read "I, Claudius" as a child and if Robert Graves was sticking close to the historical record, then the same was true of ancient Rome. It proves nothing to say that Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson hated each other. It's conceivable I could change my mind about JFK, but from what I know about him I don't think there's a huge moral distinction between Nixon and him. (If you want to read a liberal who dislikes JFK, Gary Wills is your man, iirc.)

I don't think that being opposed to nuclear war actually requires that much courage or nobility--just common sense. I'll give JFK some credit for that. But I also give Reagan some credit for recognizing that Gorbachev was sincere about wanting an end to the Cold War, when all or most of Reagan's advisors thought Reagan had gone senile (they weren't entirely wrong) and that Gorby was leading us into a fiendish commie trap. It remains true that Reagan supported vicious killers on several continents.

And you're much too quick to excuse American presidents. It's possible, maybe, that Carter didn't know much about East Timor--it's one of Chomsky's main points, actually, that the mainstream press almost totally blacked out what was happening on East Timor during Carter's term. But Carter could and should have known (and I suspect he probably did).

That was longer than I meant to go on.

Posted by Donald Johnson at May 16, 2009 09:35 PM

Not Exactly:

"i actually don't know that much about east timor so i won't comment on that."

Since about a third of the Timorese population was wiped out with the help of US weapons and political cover, much of which took place during the Carter administration, I think that might have a teensy bearing on Carter's complicity. I'm sure it would were he, say, a Soviet premier instead of a glorious, misunderstood American prez.

"[Romero] was murdered by the Salvadorean military during the early years of the Reagan administration when the US was openly supporting them. I think it's fair to say that the US government basically murdered him by proxy, but Carter didn't have anything to do with it so i don't know why you're asking about him."

Umm, Romero was murdered on March 24, 1980, when Carter was still president, mowed down thanks to Washington bullets provided by said president.

Posted by Dennis Perrin at May 16, 2009 09:41 PM

Not Exactly,

You don't know me so instead of me writing things that have been written about by someone praised by people you respect, i encourage you again to read the Douglas book. I think it will change your opinion about JFK.

Frankly i doubt it....I gave reason why he was a war criminal...they are not open to debate if one accepts the definition of a war crime which I do...You have avoided my comments...I said bombing a civilian peasant society half way around the world is an act of aggression and by definition is war crime..its a cut and dry matter...either aggression is a war crime or it isn't...you seem to think that it isn't, I think, since you havent answered the question...So I'll drop it since you wont answer...But lets just say someone did the same thing to the US...would you think it was ok? I've asked this question before..you have not answered...aggression is a crime pure and simple no matter who is doing it...The US invaded Vietnam- I wont even use the term South Vietnam since it was an artificial creation to begin with-Kennedy bombed the country, the South...the area we were suppose to be protecting from its own people...million killed over the course of the US attack....war crime. Period.

You seem open-minded and well-intentioned, and also concerned about humanity and in favor of peace, so I don't think there's any question about that. Just read the book.

That is true...I am personally against the use of violence in order to achieve a political goal and I do admire the people you list as giving the book in question a positive review, but i dont have to read it to understand what Kennedy did...His actions speak for him.


As for my remark that conspiratorial waters shouldn't trouble you given your outlook, that wasn't even intended by me as an insult, let alone a cheap shot.

Ok, no problem....

I can see why you might not have known that though, because people have had it drilled into their heads that thinking anything conspiratorial is crazy, so being called that must be an insult.


Well conspiracies happen all of time...its a legal concept and people are found guilty of them all of the time...so I dont have problems with the concept..they exists...but sometimes people use them to just defect attention from other matters...it stops critical thinking and prevents you from viewing the world properly, in my opinion...so I said earlier that I dont really care if the US govt killed Kennedy and I really dont...I havent seen any compelling evidence of it but lest assume it is true...So what...does that tell us anything about the US govt that we dont already know...Kennedy was one person...millions have died in Iraq...million die every year from poverty..The US will invade some country next year and the year after that and the year after that and so on until th epolitical economy in this country changes...thats where I try to focus my energy, not some endless debate whether the govt killed Kennedy...its time consuming and a distraction from focusing on crimes being committed today in my name with my tax dollars that we should be working to prevent...I dont really care about Kennedy, honestly.

The Douglas book is about the assassination of JFK, Douglas believes by the CIA. (And obviously I agree.) By suggesting that you would be open to agreeing with me, i wasn't intending to insult you.

Ok.. I miss read this...my mistake, but given what I just said you can see that I wont be reading the book anytime soon....

And maybe i'm wrong--maybe you couldn't accept that conclusion even if the evidence leads you there.

Well like I said I dont accept that the govt killed him but it is not a priority for me..


But usually people like that are very pro-military and not too concerned about East Timor. I really wouldn't even have mentioned it you hadn't said JFK is a war criminal. Despite my better judgment, i just couldn't let that slide, because it galls me how far that lie has traveled.

What lie? I've given you reason why he was a war criminal...you have given none as too why he wasnt except to claim that he wasnt...thats not proof of him not being a war criminal....we will get no where regarding this until you give specific reasons why he isn't a war criminal....

But like i say, you don't know me, so just read the Douglas book and decide for yourself.

I've already decided...he invaded and bombed another country...end of story.

as for you not caring about jfk, i certainly can't make you care, but there's no point saying anything else if you don't want to care

I care about the victims of US aggression since I can do something about it...this is suppose to be a democracy..the govt acts in my name and with my tax dollars..I can affect what the govt does by my actions...so that is what I choose to do, not wonder if Kennedy was killed by the CIA, or the mafia, or Castro or whomever..he really doesnt concern me.

and if it's true that you don't care, you really shouldn't really call him a war criminal. he did after all get his head blown off, and i think knew it was a risk he was taking.

This is pointless...you obviously feel that invading another country illegally and bombing it to bits is ok, I guess...well if so, there is nothing further worth discussing but I'll ask one more time is it ok for some country say Cuba or maybe Vietnam, or East Timor, or El Salvador, or Iraq and so on down the list of countries the US has either invaded or attacked outright or through some proxy, to bomb and attack the USA? Is that ok with you? I assume you will say no that is not ok..well if that is indeed the case why is ok for the USA to do it?

as for wilson, i'm aware of his invasion of haiti, and of mexico. but he had a lot of people working against him both in and outside his administration.

besides the point...he is the president....he is responsible..and yes the govt in toto is usually made up of like minded criminals...they would be there if the thought otherwise....they are all criminals by and large....this is back to my original point about Obama...he has to act a certain way and do certain things...if he did otherwise he would not be president...sure some are more odious that others...some are worse than others but they are all criminals of one sort or another....States are not moral agents, people are....States are instruments of violence in service to some form of political economic elite...ALL of them throughout history..ALL OF THEM....not just the USA...The USA is particularly dangerous just because of its overwhelming power which it will use as it see fit because that is what powerful states do.... there is only one deterrent to this the population...we can change things if we want to by being active and forcing change...thats how change happens..

every president has carried out some form of aggression or another against some country or group...It doesn matter if its a dem or republican...they all accept the legitimacy of US hegemony and al believe the US can do as it wishes...that is what it means to be powerful...you do as you please and screw everyone else....how was the US established? By extermination of the native population and slaver..its what happens when you are an Empire...not a pretty picture.

he certainly had flaws and weaknesses, and they were exploited, but he was betrayed too--by Lansing, by Palmer, by burleson, even in the end by House. what lodge did to him i wouldn't call betrayal, since lodge openly hated him, but that wasn't helpful either.

I dont doubt anyone of this...it's the same argument people make about Lenin when he was destroying socialism in russia...like when he crushed the Kronstadt rebellion...it was the circumstances...it was this and it was that...never was it he was an authoritative despot which was a logical outcome of Bolshevik mentality and institutional structure that saw themselves as the natural leaders of the revolution since they were the smart guys who understood Marx while the general population, that actually brought about the revolution, but most of whom could barely read and therefore too stupid to take matters into their own hands so they needed to be guided from above by their altruistic benefactors...not different, I might add, from the attitude of most elitists though out history, but thats another topic...

so you can talk all you want about this backstabber, or this party member betraying Wilsons noble efforts and so on...they all miss the larger more important point of the logic of Empire regardless of who is in power...Like I said earlier just look at US history from the very beginning...it is not pretty.


i didn't address carter because i didn't want to run on and on. i actually don't know that much about east timor so i won't comment on that.

Well it is relevant to the main question...was he a war criminal or not..you said he wasnt....The Timor example was given as an example as a war crime...

i said in another post only that it wouldn't surprise me if he didn't know because he wasn't always kept in the loop by his own state department, let alone the cia, which considered him their enemey after he fired several hundred of the operations agents. that was highly principled of him, and it certainly heavily contributed to him being a one-term president.

Let me get this straight....a US backed and armed Indonesia invades East Timor and carries out a genocide-over one third of the entire population killed(from memory but I think that is the correct number) and the President of the USA knows nothing about it...No comment.

i don't know what to say to you about Archbishop Romero, because I didn't mention him and i don't know what you want to know. in short, he was a moderately conservative archbishop who became appalled by the mass killings and torture committed by the salvadorean military, and he spoke out about it. He was murdered by the Salvadorean military during the early years of the Reagan administration when the US was openly supporting them. I think it's fair to say that the US government basically murdered him by proxy, but Carter didn't have anything to do with it so i don't know why you're asking about him.

The US was supplying the Salvadorean army with its weapons under Carters watch...The human rights president...Romero sent Carter a letter asking not to supply weapons...Carter was well aware what was going on not only in El Salvador but through out the region in general..Reagan basically continued with Carters policies...Ill admit that Carter has done a lot of good work after his time in office and he should really be praised for his stand regarding Israel and the Palestinians but he has a lot to answer for his time in office...

As I said above it this post we are getting no where and we should stop...I am tired of sitting in front of my computer writing like I am....I take no offense to anything you have said, so dont worry about it...

I'll let you have the last words if you want.-Tony

Posted by tony at May 16, 2009 10:55 PM

Dennis Perrin:

i never said carter was glorious or misunderstood. he's actually not my favorite, though the switch to reagan was an enormous negative change. also, i didn't say i have never heard of east timor or was unaware that there was a genocide there. i just don't know enough to write about it.

which brings me to my second point. My bad about the date of Archbishop Romero's assassination. I haven't done any work on Central American issues since the 80s, or been to El Salvador since the bullets mostly stopped flying in 89 a little while before all the Jesuits were murdered, and I didn't remember that Romero was assassinated when Carter was still President, when i was still in school. I guess I should have double-checked my memory instead of typing quickly, given the obvious gravity of that oversight, though I have more confidence about those issues than others because i know much of what I now from actual experience with real people contemporaneous to the events in question, back when nuns were getting killed and lots and lots of people were disappearing and lots of bodies were being found in the dump in san salvador, which was disgusting and still pisses me off. And it sure as hell didn't happen because of Jimmy Carter, of that i am not in doubt.

I apologize for my error, but I'm occasionaly a little sloppy about dates when i'm not really focused on them, though when i am focused i think i'm pretty reliable. i guess it mever pays to write without double-checking.

that being said, sometimes i sense a little enthusiasm for not considering other points of view. hmmm--i wonder why?

by the way, your accusation that the bullets were "provided by said president" reenforces my view. Blaming Carter for the murder of Romero, which I don't remember anyone thinking back in the 80s, implies a view of Presidential responsibility so broad as to obliterate disctintions between good and bad Presidents, such as the difference between Carter and Reagan.
The result of that change in Presidents i'm pretty clear was, for lack of a better word, BIG.


Posted by Not Exactly at May 16, 2009 11:05 PM

Dennis Johnson:

There was a very big moral difference betwen Nixon and JFK. Unlike East Timor and many other things, that's not something i need to research further. (I've read Gary WIlls.)

Sure, maybe JFK just had common sense to be unwilling to follow the recommendations of the JCS and get millions of people killed. I think that not having nuclear wars is common sense too. But that sense wasn't so common in the military, and almost no one in his own administration had the guts to speak up to support him. and it's one thing to have common sense and another to have courage and composure under extreme duress. for all i know i would pee on myself if put in that spot. does pressure get bigger than that?

reagan's problem was that he wasn't too smart; he was a charming spokesperson for TV use. even the people in his own administration all routinely shook their heads at how little he knew and did. they all wrote about it later.

that being said, reagan did have some natural dislike of the possibility of nuclear war and thought he could maybe work something out with the USSR, both when he was brand new to the job and, as you describe, later with Gorby at Reykjavik. In both instances others in his administration took steps to stop peace from breaking out. Carlucci and Bush almost had to kidnap Reagan to keep him from agreeing with Gorby that we really didn't need nukes.

But yes, Reagan thought anyone fighting communism was a freedom fighter. He didn't know anything about the contras, but i think it's hard to say whether his mind could have processed the information if he had known. by the way, I don't excuse him for that. he did support them, voluntarily and enthusiastically, even if he mabe wouldn't have if he hadn't been so dumb

i don't anything new to say about wilson and teddy roosevelt. my point is what it is.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 16, 2009 11:24 PM

Carter had swung rightwards in his foreign policy in his last year or two in office. In El Salvador the Reagan Administration's policy was to support the government there, which is what Carter had been doing. He had pretty much abandoned human rights at that point. Carter's ambassador to El Salvador was more honest than anyone Reagan would have picked, but when you say the distinction was BIG, it's not very clear what you mean. I think Reagan was worse, but the differences can be exaggerated and I think you are exaggerating them.

Posted by Donald Johnson at May 16, 2009 11:31 PM

@Not Exactly:
Thanks for stimulating responses and a good discussion, and for hanging in there and engaging.

I particularly appreciate your treatment in the loooong comment at 12:35 pm today (threads like this make you really see the point of numbered comments, eh?) about the change under Bush and Cheney from the old torture-by-proxy/plausible deniability approach to the more open "we're moving to the dark side" line, culminating in Bush's nonchalant confirmation a year ago that sure, he'd authorized water torture (only, of course, "it isn't torture, and it's legal"). I'm not sure I agree completely, but your take gets closer than I've been able to articulate for myself.

(I seem to remember getting crabby with Bernard recently when he posted on the same topic, at least partly because it's ane aspect of the issue that I just can't seem to express myself on with any clarity.)

Posted by Nell at May 16, 2009 11:34 PM

I don't give a rat's ass what Obama's motives are, nor do I want to hear silly excuses for the evil he decides to engage in.

I will be sending pictures of dead children to Obama, just like I did to Bush. If he wants to kill children, then HE SHOULD SEE THE PICTURES.

And he is killing a bunch of them.

Posted by Susan at May 17, 2009 12:03 AM

@NE: I feel compelled to add that nuns getting killed and lots and lots of people being disappeared and bodies ending up in dumps in El Salvador did, in fact, happen in 1979-80 because of policy choices made by Jimmy Carter.*

I spent a lot of the eighties with people who understood that quite well. The reason you may not remember any of us saying it is that we tended to discuss that mostly among our left-wing selves: Reagan was already president and much more openly and enthusiastically backing the worst elements of the Salvadoran right, so it was just easier to avoid pissing off our liberal friends and instead focus on how to work together to blunt the next Reagan horror offensive.

*specifically: Carter's administration supported the 'First Junta', a government of reformist colonels who overthrew the military government in October 1979. This was a smart move; the FJ was genuinely reformist, e.g. on the fundamental issue of land tenure, and had some real radicals in its cabinet (gun-totin' Education Minister Salvador Samayoa!). They could and would have made changes that would have greatly reduced the explosive level of popular pressure, and improved people's lives. The tiny elite would have been seriously pissed, but if the U.S. government had shown that it was committed, they'd have accommodated themselves to it.

But (and this is probably why the administration supported the first junta at all) it also included a few of the rightist lizard colonels, who were the members of the government with the closest relationships with U.S. officials -- military-to-military bonds formed through the School of the Americas and joint exercises etc. etc. With nods and winks from their U.S. buddies, before too many months passed the rightist colonels made their own play, and there came into being the Second Junta, which they dominated -- with "plucky reformer" Napoleon Duarte as decorative frontman.

Aren't you glad you brought it up? ;>

For more, google "El Salvador" "first junta" "second junta" and read away, which I should probably have done before writing this but hey, it's midnight, and I'm operating from (yikes!) thirty-year-old memories.

Posted by Nell at May 17, 2009 12:22 AM

Professor Chazelle:

I actually strongly support sunshine laws and think a major problem with the country is the lack of openness about anything involving national security, which has reached such absurd lengths that we have global war that no one is really allowed to know much about involving this suspicious looking guy that no one has seen in years who periodically releases audio tapes that are translated for everyone just before elections. that i have lived to see this just amazes me.

So i'm wondering how this round-robin method of communication, at which I'm new, has actually led me to apparently sound like i want to keep everything in the dark. i'm baffled by how i ended up with that as my position. i can only conclude that i must really not be good at expressing myself.


ok, let me try anyway. What I want is to keep torture and similar atrocities from being an accepted part of our culture, which is what i perceive the Cheney goal to be. That certainly doesn't mean i want them to be able to torture or rendition people and keep anyone from ever finding out. i think criminals should be put in prison, and torturing people is most certainly a crime. I just don't agree with you that it's an improvement for Cheney et al to announce what they did openly and say it was not only justified but necessary. i worry about the outcome of that public debate, about where that road leads. That doesn't mean i support them getting away with doing it, or that it should be classified and that therefore they should be forever unaccountable (not that prosecutions eer occurred historically). I even support truth commissions. (how coincidental that pelosi started having problems when she suggested one). To repeat myself over and over, because i obviously either love that or have some weird form of Turrets, I just disagree that it's an improvement for the Cheney faction to lift the veil of hypocrisy that's been over our practices for 50 years. that doesn't mean i support the practices. not wanting more of an evil is consistent with not wanting it to happen at all. ergo, i think my position is consistent.


i wouldn't normally divide society into intellectuals and masses, and certainly not "brutish masses." i may be an intellectual, kind of sort of maybe depending on who you ask, and apparently i seem to be by vocabulary and highfalutinness, but those brutish masses are my people. and my people would not like being called brutish (if you ask me, it sounds sort of roman or sort of Popeyish, one or the other) That sort of term just gets my highfalutin' dander up, though i feel sure you don't mean any offense.

Does the complexity of what goes on in the corridors of power hide the forest for the trees? I have to admit that i haven't considered these issues from that angle. Now I have a hunch I know as much about Norway as you do, and maybe even a little more, and yes, the Norsk snokkers definitely are peaceful and have been pretty much since the 12th century. (here's an idea: let's find out what they got and get some of it!)

But are people in Norway power-hungry still? I don't think so, because i think power causes power hungry, and they haven't seen the ring of power in Norway in a long, long time. Plus, the Norsk I know aren't at all power hungry, and there really aren't many bastards among them either, maybe because they have health care and can educate their children and don't have to pay for a military the size of every other military in the world combined. And so they spend a lot of time just sort of, you know, being happy.

But i don't want to lose your point. if your point is that the forest is that the U.S. is a belligerent imperial power and norway is a small peaceful nation, i'm right there with you: that's the forest i see too. But i'm all mixed up about the trees. Are the trees the people in the corridors of power? Norway has really nice trees, memories of which are distracting me, but i never even saw a corridor of power there. Are you sure there actually are corridors of power in Norway? i think they might have abolished that, through a referendum of the brutish masses, supported by the intellectuals, none of whom are ever impolite and all of whom are always friendly. Those are the Norwegian brutish masses i love.

i have to confess i don't know much about japan, or perhaps more honestly i should say that i don't know ANYTHING about japan, though after watching that documentary Jonathan recommended i get your point. I can say I also read a book called The Good Man of Nanking about Jon Rabe, a Nazi official who saved the lives of thousands of Chinese being killed by the Japanese back in 1937. Imagine that, a noble Nazi official who saved the lives of innocent people who were going to be killed by a foreign army! just goes to show how dangerous sterotypes are.

But i don't follow your statement about "truth giving you germany," despite the remarkable John Rabe. I'm surprised by that. I once chased a girl to germany as a youth and spent six months there trying to recover from the rude surprise she gave me by announcing that it had been a wasted trip, and I just can't bring myself to associate truth with Germany. maybe i just never got over that experience, and i certainly haven't been there in a long time, but i'm a little skeptical about how honest most Germans are with themselves about their past. just about every german i met when i was there wanted to talk to me about american indians, and i'm pretty sure i didn't ever ask one of them about dachau.

which reminds me about dachau, which is in a lovely suburb of munich, and at that time was next to a soccer field on which children were playing. i thought that was incongruous. but what i most remember was a letter from J.Edgar Hoover to Himmler written in 1933, on display in the museum congratulating himmler on the opoening of his new camp. It was apparently quite a trophy at the time, the envy of law right-wing law enforcement eerywhere. Apparently the letter has been removed and lost, though whether that had anythign to do with German honesty i don't know, because a few years ago i unsuccessfully tried to locate it. Maye it's just been misplaced or i corresponded with someone looking for a new job. i'd still like to find that letter sometime, not that i need that letter to tell me anything about the character or aims of Edgar Hoover. I want to see it just because i wonder how the past slips away, honestly.


Posted by Not Exactly at May 17, 2009 12:39 AM

"which reminds me about dachau"

Wow! That's also the title of my one man show!

Posted by Dennis Perrin at May 17, 2009 12:50 AM

Dennis Johnson: It sure is easy for confusion to enter this way of communication. I was thinking of the overall difference between Reagan and Carter when i said it was a big difference, not about the change in policy re salvador at that time. but i'm pretty sure that Carter's central american policy wouldn't have been like reagan's in the 80s. Even as to central america alone, i think the difference in the change from Carter to Reagan would merit an all caps BIG.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 17, 2009 12:57 AM

Nell:

I didn't work on any central american issues in the 70s, though i did a little later do some work that retrospectively involved the 70s, so i know that lots of killing went on in 79, i believe especially in Morazon. it was classic u.s. counterinsurgency, so the u.s. military had already done the training and may have actually supervised (i don't recall or recall even knowing the answer to that), but whether the civilians, such as the President, were even consulted i don't know. people seem to think the military always asks permission, but i don't assume that.

So what I don't know is the extent to which Jimmy Carter was actually signing off on anything that caused the killing in salvador. 1979 was one heck of a busy year for Carter, and he was under siege from a lot of powerful forces--the CIA, Chase Manhattan, Kissinger, the GOP, more than a few Democrats (a low point for Ted Kennedy). I just don't know the details--i'm not saying Carter wasn't responsible. maybe he was, maybe he wasn't.

i've got enough of a feel for this now to be confident that view is going to really hack somebody off

Posted by Not Exactly at May 17, 2009 01:07 AM

Who the hell is Dennis Johnson, and why can't I see his comments?

Posted by Save the Oocytes at May 17, 2009 01:43 AM

Dennis PERRIN:

Please do not be funnier than me again. I will not stand for it.

DONALD Johnson:

I am sorry i called you Dennis. For some reason you remind me of late great former point guard for the 86 celtics instead of that unshaven guy you should remind me of.

Oocytes:

I don't believe we have met. I apologize for responding to the late former Celtic great Dennis Johnson instead of Donald Johnson, and therefore making you nuts.

P.S. I went to a great party tonight!

Posted by Not Exactly at May 17, 2009 01:57 AM

"I care about the victims of US aggression since I can do something about it...this is suppose to be a democracy.."

Posted by tony at May 16, 2009 10:55 PM

Hate to disappoint you Tony but the United States is NOT a democracy it is a REPUBLIC. When you study the rise and fall of the Roman one you realize what a huge difference this makes.

Speaking of differences..

The perceived differences between Carter and Nixon are insignificant because things like the Nuremberg Principles decide that for us. Just in case you didn't know, thats INTERNATIONAL LAW. Principle III clearly says, "The fact that a person who committed an act which constitutes a crime under international law acted as Head of State or responsible government official does not relieve him from responsibility under international law."

There is no ambiguity. A President can be a war criminal. Carter AND Reagan are not exceptions.

Posted by Nikolay Levin at May 17, 2009 04:37 AM

Oarwell,

I given my reasons why I am not interested in the killing of JFK...see my reply to not exactly...Thats all I am going to say on the matter...Its not a priority for me and I dont care...As I said it tells me nothing about the US govt I didnt already know and i would rather spend my time and efforts in other areas...

As for 9/11 being another US govt run operation I find that highly doubtful...if for no other reason that the Bush and his cronies are perhaps the most incompetent administration in history...but when it comes to pulling off something as complex and huge as 9/11 Bush turns into Lex Luthor...

I admit I have not read all of the stuff about it ..I ve seen that ridiculous documentary-Loose Change, I think it was called that-that just put forth one silly assertion after another...like the plane that went down in PA didnt really go down in PA in landed in Chicago or something...so all of the people on the plane and the pilots and so on are all part of the conspiracy...I stopped watching after that...Like I said to Not exactly conspiracy thinking leads to a lack of critical thinking...anything that doesnt fit, or cant be explained then becomes part of the conspiracy and so on...The conspiracy thinkers sound very much like creationists when talking about evolution...if some gap is found in the evolutionary record, or if something cant be explained etc, then evolution is false...its just nonsense..

Let me add though that the idea that the US might have known that something was in the works and just allowed events to take their course is different than saying the US plan and operated the whole thing...that argument is plausible but I have not seen enough evidence to reach that conclusion.-Tony

Posted by tony at May 17, 2009 09:57 AM

Nikolay,

Hate to disappoint you Tony but the United States is NOT a democracy it is a REPUBLIC. When you study the rise and fall of the Roman one you realize what a huge difference this makes.

your point is well taken.-Tony

Posted by tony at May 17, 2009 10:05 AM

Tony--

I didn't say 9-11 was a US op, only that Chomsky said in an interview "it doesn't matter who did it." Which I find absurd, the same as any homicide detective anywhere saying it doesn't matter who committed a murder (and, to extend the analogy, for the detective then to go out and kill a bunch of innocent people so he can steal their cars).

As you might have intuited, I do think 9-11 was a black op. Saying Bush was incompetent is hardly a defense: while the op was being run, Bush was sitting in Sarasota reading My Pet Goat while Cheney was running 4 simultaneous war games to confuse the air defense.

Norman Mineta was Bush's Transportation Secretary, in testimony before congress stated that Cheney refused to countermand the order not to shoot down the plane approaching D.C. Next day he resigned his office. Rather telling.

But for me, the most damning thing I've ever seen was the video of the collapse of WTC 7. If that wasn't a controlled demolition, nothing was. Also, the fact that the BBC newsreader announced the collapse of the building 20 minutes before it collapsed. Prescient.

You and I are probably equally cynical about this latest manifestation of Empire, of the Will to Power, called the United States. It is the lot of anyone who reads widely, who is cursed with intelligence, with knowing. Pynchon wrote Gravity's Rainbow, I think, in part to tell the story of Standard Oil and IG Farben. It is obscure, purposely so. He never named Rockefeller directly, apparently fearing that he'd be killed if he did so.

But as he said at the end of 'Against the Day,' (in so many words, ha ha), we all must move continually towards the light. Otherwise, darkness. The forces arrayed "against the day" are many, and seemingly immortal, and can only be countered through countless small acts of courage, and love. I'm sure everyone drawn to ATR understands this, and are horrified, yet again, by how current events are unfolding.

Stan Goff, the ex-army Ranger, has it right. Become the peace you want. You too, Perrin. Next time someone cuts you off in traffic, smile. Susan, mail your photos. Mike Meyers, keep exhorting people to call their representatives. R. Shah, everyone, keep insisting that sunshine is better than darkness.

Allow me to be the idiot who says, comment no. 120,

"Shantih."

Posted by Oarwell at May 17, 2009 10:45 AM

Tony and Oarwell:

Now that you are/were arguing about the JFK assassination, just because i got ticked off about jFK being called a war criminal and was dumb enough to bring that up, i feel responsible. Peace!

Oarwell: if you, unlike Tony, like to read about that, David Talbot's book Brothers is an excellent look at how everyone in what Professor Chazelle called the "corridors of power" actually viewed the assassination after it happened. RFK did more than start reading Aeschylus, and in particular the passages about the emissary that he and Jackie sent to Mowcow with a message about the resumption of detente as soon as RFK could gain the Presidency is fascinating (and important). You won't hear about that on PBS or anywhere on TV anytime soon, though the facts were corroborated. I thought it also interesting that when RFK ultimately did run for President, the initial reaction of Jackie, LBJ, and Nixon was that he would be killed. (LBJ also spent the rest of his life keeping his head down; Nixon, on the other hand, had the limo in which JFK was killed refurbished so he could use it.) Whatever you might say about those people in the corridors of power, they do know what's going on. I caution, however, that Talbott included some material about JFK that i think is very questionable, i presume so he wouldn't be accused of hagiography. Which he certainly can't be. That book was published before the DOuglas book, and it isn't about the assassination at all--it's about how everyone in those "corridors of power" responded--but i think that's just as interesting.

finally, since it's Sunday book list morning for me, if the question is what does this have to do with our government now, Russ Baker's very recent book Family of Secrets about Poppy Bush and W is very good. it was already clear to me before reading that book that Poppy was heavily tied into Langley long before he became Director in 1976 (Kevin Phillips wasalso good on that in his book) but Baker did some very clear analysis. SOmeone, and it may have been you Oarwell, said sopmething about Woodward's ONI background in a post, and that's in there too. I think the stuff on Woodward would be news to most people, but probably not as much as what Baker says about Poppy.

i don'w know how anybody could read the douglas, talbott, and baker books and conclude that the information doesn't have anything to do with the present state of government in the U.S. i just don't think that conclusion would make any sense at all.

somebody was arguing about whether the US is a democracy or a republic. i guess it's SUPPOSED TO BE a republic rather than a democracy, because that's what those old Framers settled for, but i don't think we're doing so well at EITHER. So what have we got?

Maybe we should have a contest? I've heard 'kleptocracy,' and that's got some legs. 'Junta' seemed pretty good to me for a while, but i guess we're in a little different place now. 'Crap' could still be defended on grounds of simplicity. I think 'aristocracy' could be defended too, as accurate. How about "conocracy?"--nah, sounds like a gas station to me. "Bankdom" doesn't seem to bad to me, since they're obviously in charge. (hell, nobody else can just demand money like that.) but i haven't said anything funny yet, so i give up. there are funnier people around to come up with something and rub my nose in it

Posted by Not Exactly at May 17, 2009 11:32 AM

Oarwell:

Chomsky made a calculated decision, decades ago, that he wasn't going to say anything about conspiracies. I believe he did that after Martin Schotz went to visit him to convince him to weigh in on the JFK assassination, but it might have been someone other than Schotz who paid him the visit and discussed evidence with him for a few hours. (I think it was Schotz though, i just don't recall for sure right now.)

I don't think Chomsky should be second-guessed about that decision, whether in connection with assassinations or 911 or anything else. His position is essentially that focusing on those questions is a waste of time. By the way, that was also RFK's position, who really did care very much who murdered his brother. Personally, I think they were/are right, which i say as a dedicated and compulsive time waster. that doesnt' actually mean that what really happened is irrelevant or doesn't matter--chomsky's too smart to think the truth is irrelevant. it means, by way of shorthand, that any sort of change that prevents such things in the future and creates a better society is NOT going to result from annual conventions in dallas, fascinating discussions among the interested, or books discussing history. if change happens, it will come when and only when the power that makes such things possible is constrained, and that will happen only and if democratic movements make it so.

also, and i think importantly, some nobody like me can say something about jfk or 911 or whatever on a blog comment, and my life goes on as normal except for a couple of emails with you and tony and maybe somebody dismissing me as a whacko who believes in conspiracies. and hell, i've been dismissed for better reasons than that! But if chomsky says something conspiratorial, just once, he will spend the rest of his life dealing with the never-ending debate that will result. every question will become about that instead of about what he wants to say. his message will get buried by it. it would just be an endless controversy that he couldn't get free of. bear in mind that he started out his life as an academic and it was purely conscience that prompted him to get into the antiwar movement back during vietnam and start speaking and writing about the mess of a society we have. he has spent a huge amount of time since then speaking and writing in areas that he didn't need to weigh in on instead of doing the academic work he had chosen to do with his life. He has said at least once that he was pretty happy as an academic and didn't have a burning desire to go public on politics--he just felt that's what he should do morally. So he obviously deserves much credit and i wouldn't question what was i think a very considered decision. But he can't even explain all that without generating a huge controversy, so his only option is to say something cryptic like "it doesn't matter" and move on to the next topic.

That's my take, and i unfortunately wasted more than a little time thinking about it.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 17, 2009 12:02 PM

Not exactly--If the Democrats in power are as innocent and well-intentioned as you say they are, shouldn't we be inundated with tell-all books by either ex-Presidents or their civilian underlings explaining in detail how it was that President X really didn't know that the death squads in country Y were running wild with the blessings of our rogue military and intelligence establishment? It's extremely implausible that the only well-intentioned person in government is in the Oval Office and everyone else is busy stabbing him in the back and I'm sure you don't mean that.

I think that people who make it that far in politics make up their minds that they are going to ditch their principles as necessary. Obama was lying about Israeli human rights violations almost three years ago, for example.

You haven't mentioned LBJ, presumably because you don't see him as one of the good guys. But I think LBJ is probably the prototypical example of a politician who is simultaneously well-intentioned, power-hungry, and ultimately a war criminal. I've read much of Caro's biography of him so far and he was a complicated character. Set aside Vietnam. (I can't wait to read what Caro has to say about that). He would side with racists when it was in his political interest, and then turn around and fight for civil rights when he thought he could win. If you want to say that some Democratic Presidents were well-intentioned in the sleazy, corrupt, self-serving and yet somewhat genuine way that LBJ was, I'd go along with that. I suspect Obama might be well-intentioned in the same way, though of course Obama's style is far more, well, sophisticated than Johnson's.

Posted by Donald Johnson at May 17, 2009 01:56 PM

Donald Johnson:

In my opinion, Caro is an excellent historian, and his multi-volume biography of LBJ is already a towering accomplishment. If you've read Caro, you certainly don't actually need my opinion of LBJ. When Caro finally tracked down LBJ's brother (i think that's who it was) and got an account of LBJ's childhood and relationship with his father, i thought that was quite revealing and quite a piece of historical investigation. Caro notes once that he took out another mortgage on his house when he was working on those books, and i believe him. my opinion so far is that he is honest and doesn't leave stones unturned. he's taking a long time on his last volume, the one that interests me most (and apparently you too), and apparently he recently said it won't be released until 2012. i don't know whether that's because of knopf or him, or what the trouble is. my hunch is that he'll steer clear of some topics that he really shouldn't steer clear of in writing about lbj, and that he'll do that because knopf will insist. but there is more latitude now than there was a decade or two ago, because so much time has passed and so much is already public. we'll see.

i certainly don't see LBJ as "one of the good guys," though i don't really see him as one of the bad guys either. he was a very complicated person and historical figure both--Caro hasn't just been getting paid by the word for the two thousand pages and counting he has written so far. it will be interesting to see what Caro says about Vietnam, which is a very complex story. you might be surprised, but i would count McNamara as one of the good guys, which was certainly not the judgment of the peace movement at the time. The venerable Peter Dale Scott might not even have liked McNamara in the 60s (i was just a kid), but he certainly would give him some credit now. Even LBJ should get some credit for keeping Vietnam from escalating into a nuclear war. Had the original crazy Senator from Arizona, Goldwater, ever got to Pennsylvania avenue, things might have taken a worse turn. People act like LBJ's controversial tv commercials were unfair or hyperbolic and set the tone for all the unfair ads since, but don't be so sure. Generals LeMay, Powers, et al--they wanted the big war while the outcome still wasn't in doubt, before too many of the Soviet ICBMs came on line.

An important thing to always remember about LBJ's presidency is his relationship with RFK. Literally from the moment lbj became President on Air-Force One in Dallas, he was posturing to keep RFK from replacing him. He put the Great Society in motion for that purpose, to make it essentially impossible for RFK to challenge him without destroying JFK's political legacy. And I suspect that JFK made sure before his assassination that RFK understood the political work was what mattered, because JFK certainly considered the possibility of a coup, and he was a brave man. I mean, it was JFK himself who recommended that Seven Days In May be made into a film. (You all call him a war criminal all you want, but the only thing that will protect you from embarrassment is not looking into it more, even if you don't like to hear it.) Ironically, though LBJ resented and envied and hated the kennedies, he became a better President than he would have been because of them. Of course, he did also reverse the course JFK had set for a withdrawal from Vietnam, something which is no longer disputable. (That, of course, may not stop everyone from having opinions to the contrary, but there's nothing i can do about that. McNamara himself was clear about that in In Retrospect; John Newman, a military historian and a good one who had no axe to grind, plowed that ground). Buy hey, reading is time consuming and people have other things to do.)

I don't think Obama is much like LBJ, certainly not psychologically. I really can't see Obama summoning people to stand next to him and take notes next to him while he's taking a crap. He certainly doesn't have those deep insecurities like LBJ. My own sense is that Obama has very deep confidence and very deep discipline, and if he's doing the wrong thing politically it's for different reasons. Not that he isn't--he could be doing the wrong thing just by overthinking or believing too much in compromise. I worry that he might not place enough importance on inspiring people. And maybe he can be conned. But i tend to think highly of his abilities and goals. i don't have any reason to think my judgment about that is anything special. There are many, many reasons for doing the wrong thing, usually not so many to do the right thing, and maybe he's taking the wrong approach. We'll see. (Weirdly, LBJ is a strange case where he ended up doing some right things for the wrong reason. He did by adopting the Great Society keep RFK from running against him until the horror of Vietnam destroyed LBJ and finally forced RFK's hand in 68.)

So you know, people can get as mad as they want, but i think to view all these people as the same or morally equivalent is fundamentally wrong. (And i'm not going to take it back because it ruins the party.)

I wouldn't say that all people in politics ditch their principles, though certainly most do. And i certainly wouldn't say all Democrats in power are innocent and well-intentioned. I don't even think Dems are always better than Republicans. I think pretty highly of McKinley, because he was willing to look weak and take risks for peace. I think much more highly of Harding than nearly all historians do, because he took his responsibilties seriously and tried (without so much success) not to be controlled even though that was expected and ultimately demanded of him. (Those are definitely Republicans.)

As for Dems, I do not think highly of Bill Clinton, because i think he has no courage and is all about himself. I have a very low opinion of Harry Truman until 1950 when he finally stood up to Macarthur, but i give him a bit of credit for that. I don't think that highly of LBJ because the Presidency and power were more important to him than what was right. (And he was just such a mess pychologically.) I deeply respect George McGovern as a person and think he was a fiasco as a Presidential candidate, not because he believe too much in peace but because it takes more than good intentions to succeed. Nixon was a complete snake who got outsnaked when he decided he would like to go down in the history books as more than a red-baiter. Reagan was an amiable dunce who actually had a few decent impulses (like nuclear war would be bad) but ultimately wasn't allowed to control much of anything, and certainly not that. Poppy Bush, apart from being a terrible politician, is an aristocrat's aristocrat and deeply implicated in everything that is wrong with the country. W is even phonier and also rotten to the core.

so you're right that i don't mean the only well-intentioned person is generally in the oval office. sometimes there's no one well-intentioned at that address, and there are always plenty of well-intentioned people elsewhere in government. the government is big and many people have good intentions, including in the military, but they also have responsibilities and orders, and not many of them are powerful. A President has a huge amount to oversee, and there is much deep corruption, along with a national security apparatus that has an agenda of its own that seems almost like a life of its own.

sure obama undoubtedly knows about many bad things. i don't know whether he is compromising too mcuh or picking the right battles. maybe he should take a firm position about israel. that would cetainly be bold though, and i really don't know how it would work out.

wow, where did all this start out again? Torture?

anyway, i hope i've responded.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 17, 2009 03:39 PM

I am intrigued by this uniquely American fascination with their presidents, most of whom were utter mediocrities. It's a cultural thing, not a value judgment. Don't take this as criticism. Everyone has their own idiosyncracies. But I see royalty envy in it.

I just don't see why the inside-baseball soap opera of who crossed whom when over what issue at what meeting is particularly enlightening. In the end we get this statement:


"i certainly don't see LBJ as "one of the good guys," though i don't really see him as one of the bad guys either. he was a very complicated person and historical figure both"

Do I really need to read a biography to reach this conclusion?

Also I dispute the implication that being president is such a hard, complex job with so much to oversee. Actually I think it's a relatively easy job. (Very hard to get! But easy to do.) It requires no particular skill, little training, and the day-to-day routine seems quite simple actually. Workload can be as low as you want. Clinton spent a lot of his time sleeping with interns, and Reagan just sleeping. Bush cut a lot of brush. As far as overseeing, a president gets to oversee as little as he wants. It's entirely up to him.

I think people should avoid reading presidential biographies. They might make them sympathetic to the characters, which is a very dangerous feeling to have toward rulers if you want to understand history.


Posted by Bernard Chazelle at May 17, 2009 04:38 PM

Professor Chazelle:

Royalty envy? Puhleeeze! This hidden-curtain method of communication leads to strange statements. I like Franklin and Paine, not John Adams.

Ok, I admit my remark about LBJ being complicated wasn't too profound. You should just be thankful i didn't repeat it. Sometimes i get stupid and think saying it twice will help.
But I might already have said that.

I don't know whether it's a European approach, or French, but you almost sound your like recommending that people understand history by not knowing it. That must be Foucault, because I don't think Camus or Sartre would buy it. And here I thought Americans lead the way in ahistoricism!

I agree that being President was easy for Reagan, and probably for W, and maybe even for Clinton (since everything is easy in a way if you're just in it for yourself) I mean, if somebody else is actually doing the work, sure it's easy. What isn't? I bet math and music would be easy for me if I could get you to do it for me.

But for those Presidents who are actually trying to do what they think is the right thing for the country and/or the world, and not having somebody else do their job, it's not easy. I mean, I guess being President for JFK could be considered to have been easy, but only by those who follow your advice and don't waste time reading anything about the decisions he had to make, and even then only if they overlook that his head was blown off (or believe what they have been told to believe about that). Other than that, being President for JFK was a piece of cake, not nearly as hard as, for example, doing math.

ok, that was maybe a bit of a cheap shot, but i think one you earned. Easy job, sure, ok, if you say so.

On the other hand, maybe you're just saying people shouldn't try to sympathize with their rulers, because people are always being ruled and should never forget that. Fair enough, that seems sensible to me. We do have rulers and should remember that instead of believing some silly story about citizenship. Rulers don't need sympathy anyway, especially the good ones. And people worth their salt, rulers or not, don't waste too much time worrying about other people's opinion of them.

But, if there's anything to be said for an empirical approach to social reality in place of a bunch of theoretical or ideological generalizing and a lot of quetching, i continue to think maybe people should know who really holds power, why decisions end up being made the way they repetitively are, and what any President really can and can't do. Maybe that's too hard, maybe the information is all too classified to make it possible to figure it out anyway, but that approach does at least offer some possibility of eventual success instead of an endless cycle of getting nowhere.

If we don't understand those things--whatever feelings we develop for ANY politician, and whether or not we think any of them are any damn good--we won't even really understand what needs to be and can be fixed. We'll just keep on decrying the continuing failure of politicians and Presidents to meet our expectations, over and over again, in perpetuity. Hasn't that been happening?

So if people take your advice and don't try to crack open a biography or a memoir or anything like it to try to figure out how important decisions involving war and peace are made, people won't ever know what things happen over and over again, or why.

and geez, what's so terrible about actually seeing a different point of view anyway, even from, heaven forbid, a ruler? I don't for understand what's so dangerous about that, or how it would prevent us from understanding history, and i'm pretty sure you haven't told me. And you need to if you want me to understand the point, because it makes no intuitive sense to me at all.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 17, 2009 05:46 PM

Galois, Lavoisier? JFK had it easy.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at May 17, 2009 06:24 PM

Bernard--

The Caro biography is good--it shows the ugliness of the Washington scene close up and certainly didn't make me feel inclined to worship politicians. The volumes are about much more than just LBJ.

I didn't mean that LBJ's personality was similar to Obama's, as Not Exactly seemed to think I meant, but that the mixture of ruthlessness and hypocrisy with some good intentions strikes me as the same. (That LBJ was crude and Obama isn't is a triviality.) This mixture is probably a political universal--except for the ones who go into politics with no good intentions whatsoever.

Posted by Donald Johnson at May 17, 2009 06:34 PM

All these thousands of words, dead presidents and US policy thru th' decades, and somehow nobody's mentioned Freud, or at least Eric Fromm. Chazelle does mention Hegel and Sartre, but that's not exactly the same thing.

I joke, but I'm also serious. Even though much of the above is fascinating, I wonder if one of the reasons substantial numbers of people are apparently conflicted about torture is the sense we have that our whole society is built on blood, and once we start examining it more closely we'll find many more of our beliefs foundering. (I'd argue Obama played to that unfocused guilt a bit in his campaign, obliquely offering middle America a no-muss, no-fuss indemnification.)

Posted by grimmy at May 17, 2009 06:34 PM

Professor Chazelle:

I hope your sympathies are not confined to great scientists and mathemeticians!

Posted by Not Exactly at May 17, 2009 06:41 PM

Grimmy:


The idea being that people actually don't want to know what's holding the social order together? Interesting. That rings true to me.

But how does that equate to 'unfocused guilt' among the public and how did Obama offer a 'no-muss, no-fuss indemnification'? That part i don't follow. I don't necessarily disagree--i just don't understand.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 17, 2009 06:55 PM

Jim Douglas's JFK and the Unspeakable, Why He Died and Why it Matters

I'm curious what he has to say about Cheddi Jagan and Abdel Kassem.

Posted by Happy Jack at May 17, 2009 07:39 PM

Happy Jack:

I didn't remember douglas covering them, but i pulled it out and looked in the index just to check, and they aren't in there. nor are iraq and guyana. (Roger Morris sure looks prescient in that 2003 article you linked; his books on nixon, kissinger, and haig are also good. oh yeah, and the one on the clintons too. he's one of the few people who has been in the U.S. corridors of power and chose to walk away rather than do something he couldn't stomach)

Douglas focuses on the ussr, cuba, laos, and vietnam, and to some extent the congo and indonesia.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 17, 2009 08:12 PM

NE: Turns out I have a family link to Lavoisier, so his decapitation is not something we celebrate much en famille. (I never liked chemistry, but still -- family, first).

Now since you asked, think about it. To become Einstein or Ellington or Joyce, you actually have to do something rather impressive. But to become president you have to demonstrate only 2 qualities:

1. A mastery of scheming and hot air generation.

2. An oversized ego bordering on megalomania.

That's a huge strike against you right there. So I'll say, yes, you'll have to overcome your "original sin" and make up for that huge handicap.

Now the nice thing about presidents is that they produce objective observables: number of people killed; number of people in poverty; etc.

So when judging them, I think tables of raw numbers are much more meaningful than long soap opera scripts about which president went to the toilet with a note taker in order to dictate his strategy to screw over the brother of his former boss. Or whatever.


Posted by Bernard Chazelle at May 17, 2009 08:44 PM

grimmy: no doubt about obama indemnification. The beauty about liking the guy is that a self-flattering sentiment.

Re. torture and the blood lust in all of us, i think the death penalty is a good comparison. In the countries where it was abolished support for the death penalty plummeted aftwards.

I think most people here support torture. Polls say 50% but that means 70% (who's going to say: yeah, torture's cool in front of a stranger).
So simply screaming torture is bad, torture has to stop is a huge mistake. The case has to be made why it's bad. Simply to insult the pro-torture crowd is a waste of time.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at May 17, 2009 09:03 PM

Professor Chazelle:

I deplore the decapitation of any chemist, especially your ancestor. As for the mathemeticians. . . :)

Hey, i'm not going to get backed into arguing that Presidents are comparable to geniuses. Nice try! You said it's an easy job, a little different position.

Objective observable data is good, but now you're starting to sound like an economist to me. What was the name of that old book--"lies, damn lies, and statistics"?

I didn't say LBJ needs to be or should be judge on his warped idiosyncracies, just as whom JFK screwed doesn't really have anything to do with anything in my opinion. A source of confusion in this freewheeling forum results from the fact that many questions are just matters of interest to various people, and my responses include other matters of interest to me, and maybe i'm a bit of a digressor, and perhaps it does maybe make it unclear what is pertinent

but as much as i applaud genius, i'm a little wary of elevating genius above all other human qualities and achievements. perhaps my franklin and paine is showing. (chomsky would approve of that much)

you have set forth a very negative view of the qualities needed to be President. but i think it's one-dimensional and withers if you spend some time forgetting numbers and look at who the men actually were. more than a few were at least at times decent men (oh no, here comes . . .), brave, dedicated, including when it really counted. some are really bad men, some megalomanacs, some full of hot air, among other things. i think data alone just can't tell the story.

but i will say over long time periods data are very revealing. since FDR died and the cold war started, everything in the U.S. has steadily gotten harder comparatively for ordinary people. that's clear. since jfk was killed, even moreso.
since carter's presidency was sabotaged and reagan elected in place of him, yet moreso. Since bush/cheney, even moreso.

So can you tell the story only with objective observable data, but if so what is that story?


Posted by Not Exactly at May 17, 2009 09:44 PM

Not E.,

Obama: "Vote for me and be cleansed. American history no longer sits on your shoulders."

Posted by grimmy at May 17, 2009 09:58 PM

Grimmy:

I grew up in a lily white fairly small city out in farm/cowboy country, and one thing that i always thought was funny is that if you were to take a look at the high school class presidents on the various yearbooks, the school would look racially diverse. But if you flipped through the whole book, in each one you'd see that wasn't so. There were really only a few african americans--one of them just often ended up class president for some reason. These were high school kids in the 70s, so i assume that seemed progressive and cool. Those kids are grown up now.

but i'm actually not sure about your point. i hesitate because i think the "guilty american conscience" vote is solidly Dem anyway and also probably isn't big enough. Manifest Destiny and let's kick some foreign butt seems to me to have carried more elections.

but that's an interesting thought and you could be right

i think it's certainly true that obama because automatically gets some credit (and blame) for progressivism or liberalism apart from any of his actual positions on issues

Posted by Not Exactly at May 17, 2009 11:09 PM

I think Americans voice support for torture in part because they have been trained by the panopticon to view every else as "the other." In a tightening economic vise, where everyone is in competition with everyone else, other humans become enemies. There is no social imperative for building community, for working together to achieve a human economy. It's dog eat dog, and that little saying is so ingrained in our consciousness that it gets manifested in concrete manifestations of dehumanization. Once a human being is "other," an enemy, dehumanized, it becomes easier to endorse killing or torturing them.

Part of it is the profound atomization and alienation that exists. I've always thought that if everyone rode bikes to work rather than locked up in their separate cars, we'd be a happier people. Jim Kunstler and a million others have written about this, I'm certainly no expert. But even the simple act of vying for space on roads makes us angry. As the US collapses into itself, these tendencies will only worsen.

The culture in general is much worse: movies like Saw and Hostel being obvious examples. I've never seen 24, but apparently it pushed torture in nearly every episode as expedient and useful. These "engines of indoctrination" have a cumulative effect. What teenage boy doesn't play, isn't addicted to first-person killer games? Images implanted over and over into the immature limbic system. Meet people in highly realistic virtual environments, kill them. Repeat that process one million times, and pretty soon it becomes pretty normal, SOP, just as the war pigs want.

For those who routinely sneer and say that "tv doesn't affect people's behavior," I always ask why Mad Ave spends millions on commercials if that's not the case?

All I know is, this isn't going to end well, all this operant conditioning towards violence and inhumanity. As our "cage" shrinks, as the economy contracts and options for the future, for your kids, become increasingly circumscribed, those atavistic chickens will come home to roost (mixed metaphor, that).

As I posted way way up there, the new Terminator movie isn't a cautionary tale: it's acclimatization.

Anyway, blah blah. NE, I ordered 'Unspeakable,' looks good, thanks for the recommendation. I saw the Russ Baker book on Amazon when I ordered the Douglass book, but I'm already a convert in that regard. We agree about Poppy being recruited out of Yale for the CIA. As for Caro, some things he obviously won't touch, or, like you say, Knopf will put the kabosh on it. But sometimes even the dark stuff has a funny side: Pynchon himself couldn't have written a subplot where Scotty McClellan's attorney father writes a book implicating LBJ in the JFK assassination.

Posted by Oarwell at May 17, 2009 11:20 PM

I'm a little slow sometimes--I didn't know what you were talking about when you said there were some things Caro couldn't touch. So, okay, you meant the Crime of the 20th Century, the murder of St. JFK by dark and nefarious forces in the US government. LBJ was involved, I take it, or maybe not, but in any event, Caro wouldn't DARE TOUCH this subject.

As one of the Amazon commenters pointed out, there are a bunch of books "proving" (taken all together) that virtually everyone killed JFK. It might be easier if we just focused on who couldn't have done it and didn't have a motive. We can eliminate people not yet born, I suppose, but maybe not, what with wormhole physics. One doesn't have to have a firm commitment to any theory (including the official one) to start rolling one's eyes when yet another book is praised as the final word on the subject. Does Douglas get into physical and documentary evidence that proves his theory and if so, where do all the debunkers go wrong? Or has he come up with completely new evidence that the debunkers have never had to confront?

BTW--a bunch of theologians and activists praising the book doesn't do much for me. A bunch of historians would be more impressive and the closest I saw was Daniel Ellsberg, who didn't come out and say the book proved its case. I have nothing against theologians and activists, but they come across as people praising a modern day Book of the Martyrs.

Posted by Donald Johnson at May 17, 2009 11:46 PM

Oarwell:

I don't think we're unique in being capable of torturing people, tv and alienation and all that aren't necessary to make people capable of evil. the german psychoanalyst alice mller examined that question at length and wrote a book, For Your Own Good, as to which nearly all i've ever remembered--but i've never forgotten--were the front quotes. Google book search makes it possible to look at them online, so here they is the link to that page:

http://books.google.com/books?id=cSVHYdqLu3wC&pg=PP1&dq=intitle:for+intitle:your+intitle:own+intitle:good&lr=&as_drrb_is=q&as_minm_is=0&as_miny_is=&as_maxm_is=0&as_maxy_is=&as_brr=0&as_pt=ALLTYPES#PPR26,M1

i still think i've never seen a string of quotes on one page make a point that well.

The only thing about torture that is unique to the u.s. is that we pioneered the dramatic 20th century improvement in technique, a switch away from gouging out eyes, or stuffing people full of uncooked rice like the japanese and then pumping them full of water, to sensory deprivation and psychological methods that our scientists honed. Alfred McCoy's book A question of Torture: CiA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror is the book to read. And of course we then trained most of the world in our new improved methods. (This is the veil of hypocrisy that i don't want to lift for fear that we'll start to be proud of our brutality, a Nazi trait.)

On your other subject, those McClellans are a funny bunch. I haven't read Barr McClellan's book, to which you referred, but I don't need to read that to know it's just ridiculous. Hunt was peddling that crap at the end of his life too; it figures he'd go to his grave lying. LBJ most certainly was not behind JFK's assassination. He couldn't have done that if he had wanted to. Not that he was probably all that surprised.

As for the Baker book, I think the Talbot book is actually even more interesting(though they're both very good) because it deals with what i think is a really fascinating question: what did RFK, Jackie, Castro, Khruschev, Nixon, LBJ, Warren, etc. think after the assassination, and how did they react? That info wasn't readily available for decades, but it is now. The funny thing is, once you know how all those people reacted, it's pretty obvious what happened even if that's all you know. It's not a story of the assassination at all, but of the reactions to it. And illuminating those reactions are.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 18, 2009 12:23 AM

Donald Johnson:

LBJ wasn't involved in the killing of JFK, but he was certainly heavily involved in everything after it, and he was heavily involved in everything before it, and Robert Caro is an extremely smart and extremely thorough man, and it will be a big challenge to him to avoid the subject of the assassination of JFK and the coverup of the assassination in a biography of LBJ. I think it will absolutely drive Caro crazy.

For example, it is now known that on the day after the assassination, LBJ had a conversation with Edgar Hoover during which Edgar Hoover told LBJ that the man on a surveillance tape in Mexico City purporting to be Oswald trying to see the KGB was in fact not Oswald. Now you haven't looked into any of this, but when someone who has just been arrested for killing the President has been discovered to have been filmed a few weeks earlier trying to see the KGB, that raises some huge questions that might cause a war. It turned out, however (because the assassin, Oswald, was captured rather than killed and therefore interviewed at length by the FBI), that the FBI could identify that the assassin in their custody actually wasn't the same person who pretended to be the assassin contacting the KGB a few weeks before. Well, that raises even bigger questions, if that's possible. Caro will have a hard time ignoring that, and Caro will have an even harder time explaining it except as evidence of a conspiracy, and a conspiracy intended to frame the KGB and Cuba.

There are many things like that which have come to light. Now, i don't know where Caro will come out on all this, but other very respected scholars (notably John Newman and Peter Dale Scott but others too) have already written on this. Caro will read that stuff, I assume. He's no slacker.

It shouldn't surprise you that a huge effort is made to prove that "everyone" killed JFK so that it doesn't become accepted that anyone in particular did it, such as somebody in counterintelligence in the CIA. That Oswald did it alone is just silly--my GOd, then who was impersonating him in Mexico when he was supposedly trying to meet with the KGB? Was he a lone nut who had hired somebody to impersonate himself because he wanted to frame the Russians and Castro? That's one odd lone nut.

SO the CIA's fall back position has become that anyone could have done it--LBJ, the mob, Castro, the Russians, an angry girlfriend, martians. And boy has there been a lot of ridiculous crap published. There has probably been more stupid drivel published about the JFK assassination than anything in history, especially in my opinion those "the mob did it" books. (The analysis in those is just so weak, the inferences so broad, and the evidence ignored so voluminous.) The only thing that supports most theories is the power of desire: People believe what they want to believe.

I actually don't know how the Douglas book would be viewed by someone who doesn't look fairly hard at the evidence. I say that because by the time I read it I had already done a very large amount of reading, and i was nothing if not thorough. Douglas does not focus on physical evidence, just as i never have. frankly, i find that a little dull, though one would think that the fact that Arlen SPecter openly says he is the guy who "came up with" the single bullet theory would make most people go "huh."

As for what evidence that douglas cites is new, it's hard for me to say. some i know to be quite new, resulting from the huge release of documents that followed the public demand caused by Stone's movie JFK. Much wasn't known until that vast document relase, which seems to have dragged on for years in the 90s (before I paid any attention) including more than a few files that Langley had always said didn't exist. (They are not the most honest bunch.)

Likewise, it wasn't until recent years that it became known that someone purporting to be Oswald had been photographed and recorded in Mexico City trying to contact the KGB (but that it wasn't Oswald per the FBI).

It wasn't known until the mid 1990s, after the release of documents following the collapse of the USSR, that RFK and Jackie had sent an emissary to Moscow shortly after the assassination bearing a message that they would resume detente once RFK was able to obtain the Presidency, and expressly attributing the assassination to a powerful and wide conspiracy--a coup.

Nor was it known until the 90s that Khruschev's reaction to the assassination was to wander around the Kremlin for days fearing a nuclear attack.

Nor was it known that Cuba had gathered evidence of a frame-up against them, per their intelligence diretor Fabian Escalante.

Not until recent years were the JFK and IBJ Vietnam orders declassified, orders which John Newman and Peter Dale Scott have written extensively about and that i think make unequivocal that JFK was withdrawing from Vietnam.

Not until recent years did Newman write his book about Oswald's tenure with the CIA in Japan and thereafter.

Not until the mid 90s did McNamara confirm in his memoir that JFK had decided to pull out of Vietnam, something also written about by Newman. John Newman, I should note, is a retired career military officer and military historian and has done nothing but follow his mind and the evidence. (Not too many military historians and officers are eager to implicate elements of the military and intel community in killing a President.)

New information also has been learned about what was going on within the secret service, notably through a book written by the first african-american officer in the service, who had been hired by JFK himself and then, around the time of the assassination was framed and jailed (after some racist incidents against him).

New info also has been learned about JFK's efforts at that time to end the cold war as a result of his realization that it was insane (born out by the fact they nearly had a nuclear war over cuba).

Much has been learned about the Warren Commission and how LBJ got Warren to agree to be on the Commission. (You may or may not know, but in the days after the assassination there was a very great concern about nuclear war, because the assassination was being blamed on Cuba and the USSR, and LBJ told Warren that he was asking him as his President because tens of millions of people could be killed if the nation didn't accept that Oswald had did it).

Much has been learned about the Clay Shaw trial and about the media campaign against Jim Garrison organized by the CIA. (That's not speculation--it's documented that the CIA did that.)

It just goes on and on. I think the biggest problem is that there is just so much evidence. I mean, who has the time? (ok, except me)

ALl that being said, if you're not inclined to believe it, you probably won't. I hold no great belief in the power that facts hold on the human mind, especially when people are uncomfortable with them. It probably depends on what circles you travel in and how much you care what anybody thinks. And maybe it doesn't matter anyway. It's just history now, even if it's tragic history, and even if we live in its shadow.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 18, 2009 01:49 AM

JFK and IBJ Vietnam orders... that i think make unequivocal that JFK was withdrawing from Vietnam.

Well the orders themselves certainly aren't unequivocal. They are contingent.

Per these orders, withdrawal could happen if certain conditions were achieved. Which would be a judgment call.

To think those orders make anything unequivocal says more about the reader than about the orders themselves.

Posted by Guy at May 18, 2009 07:49 AM

Guy:

Well, notwithstanding that it was late and i was typing off the top of my head because someone asked me a question, i stand by "unequivocal." Sure you have to look at context, and not just read the orders alone in isolation (now that that's possible), and sure it helps to read books like newmans or mcnamara's memoirs, among other things. absolutely

but it's not unique to those orders that interpretation of them says more about the reader than the text. that's a typical problem, and one that i suspect also applies to your reading of what i wrote

Posted by Not Exactly at May 18, 2009 08:18 AM

NE, thanks for your civility and thoroughness in answering me and everyone else. I don't think LBJ "ordered" the JFK hit, that would have been, presumably, the Dulles', working through David Atlee Phillips, probably Cord Myer, since JFK was screwing Mary, later "rolled up" near the Georgetown canal, utilizing Morales and other members of the Bay of Pigs thing (as Nixon called it on tape). But LBJ had to be someone they could trust not to insist on a thorough investigation, and not to countervail the coup's intent, which was to ramp up the SE Asia conflict.
Of course, those guys were servants of a greater darkness. "To serve is to rule," they thought, but not if the men you're serving are evil. Then, you yourself become, quite literally, ruled by evil.

As an aside, have you ever stumbled across the Spartacus website? For a history buff, a real treasure trove, and not just on JFK stuff.

I wouldn't be so quick to discount Hunt's deathbed statement, although I see your point. I wonder, too, why Barr McClellan would write such a ridiculous book, esp. knowing it would embarrass his chubby liar of a son. Who knows, maybe family dynamics.

Re: Stone's film, I remember the NYT printed no less than 30 articles debunking the film before it was released. The Mighty Wurlitzer wheezed into action one more time to prevent that meme from going pandemic. I guess it did, anyway, 90% of Americans a few years ago believed the assass. was a conspiracy, and like you point out, the fall-back position is to throw up tons of chaff, as neatly parroted by Donald Johnson (with whom I probably have little else to disagree about).

Divide and conquer, always the same. We're all patsies now.

We certainly live in the shadow of that coup. I sometimes wonder (per John Caruso's spot on morning post) if creatures like KVDH (sounds like a faux-tetragrammaton), Huffandpuffington, etc. actually operate under the false assumption that we continue to be a nation of laws, and that if only Obama wouldn't make these silly policy blunders, all would be well. Laughable, really, once you've glanced down the rabbit hole and found not rabbits but "beasts in human form."

Earlier on you were casting about for names to call our form of government. My favorite has always been kakistocracy. Rule by the worst, although more literal translations of the Greek exist.

Posted by Oarwell at May 18, 2009 10:30 AM

Not Exactly --

Your use of this place's comment threads to alleviate your own boredom while advancing a Donklebot agenda is not something I'd find to be such a great thing, at least not worthy of a pretense at passing humility in the form of almost taking a poke at yourself in reference to your teenage daughter's distaste for your communication style.

I just don't find the analysis-by-halfsies method you use to be the least bit persuasive. It's the type that says

"well some famous author said X and another one said Y so let's discuss X and Y rather than what actually happened"

that I find annoyingly wasteful. but then, I doubt you're here to do anything but waste your own and others' time. nothing of your posts smells genuine to me. and that makes for a lot of doo-doo and pee-pee in the cesspool that has become the ATR comment threads.

the least you could do is skim off the turds like a good janitor.

Posted by blue ox babe at May 18, 2009 10:46 AM

blue ox babe:

I hope this rudeness problem works for you. Sorry i was cheeky with you, but you did sort of fire a round or crap at me. i keep posting things because people (such as you) keep making remarks to me or sking me questions. i'm not just talking to myself here. maybe close, but not quite.

Nobody's making you or anyone else read anything, and i feel very confident that many, many people are not. But if you get something out of reading what i write, even if it's just a good dose of being irritated by it, well, here it is, knock yourself out. I certainly won't stalk you if you ignore me.

ciao

Posted by Not Exactly at May 18, 2009 11:26 AM

Oarwell:

I lost something I just wrote to you so I’ll try again, but no proofing.

Spartacus is great.

Somebody probably paid barr mcclellan, and blaming lbj is almost as good as blaming the mob which is almost as good as blaming the russkis.

The mighty Wurlitzer plays on. It actually played even before frank wisner dubbed it that and made just about the whole media part of the cia. Big money has always controlled the media and seems to more than ever now. If there is a difference between wall street and the intel agencies, it’s negligible.

I dunno whether KVDH is coopted or just weak. Her dad was an assistant to Bill Donovan years before he started hanging around rfk, not that there’s anything in that. it’s just a small elite world with all sorts of conflicted, compromised principles and interests.

I doubt hunt could have told the truth to save his life. I certainly would never believe anything he said without corroboration.

I don’t believe stories about jfk screwing anybody or doing nearly anything without corroboration either. A lot of that stuff was made up long after the fact. Sy hersh printed a bunch of that crap, because sy hersh’s work is only as good as what he is told. Weirdly, he is perceived as an outsider even though he himself says it isn’t true. His best work has always resulted from power struggles within the government, often Langley. And he doesn’t deny it. His crap Camelot book contains dumb stories that hadn’t ever been printed before. It’s easy to print lies about dead people.

I think David atlee philipps and david morales were involved, as was hunt. My focus has never been on bullets or even shooters though. Jim Garrison really was a lot closer to right than I would have thought. Clay shaw was cia all the way and also apparently involved.

No way lbj was going to have an investigation. Instead of being replaced on the ticket in 64, he got to be president. Plus, he didn’t even like JFK—envy yes, like no. And look what had just happened to his predecessor. I mean, that definitely was a reminder not to be too independent.

Don’t be so sure we’re all patsies. Yeah, we have a corrupt, murderous government. What’s new? At least it allows people some space to live their lives. There have been much worse. Not that there isn’t huge room for improvement.

You'd probably like Carl Oglesby's The Yankee Cowboy War, published 1977, though a used copy costs some money. Oglesby was the President of SDS in 1965, before the CIA and FBI started seriously messing around with the antiwar movement. He is trustworthy. His chapter on "the watergate plane crash" that killed Dorothy Hunt is really something. He quotes Chuck Colson attributing it to Langley. The closer people get to power, the less surprised they seem to be by such things (except when they're on TV).

I thnk the difficulties obama faces to try to effect real change are enormous. I’m not sure how hard he’s really trying, because I don’t have any inside info. But if he were to go lock himself in a room and meditate, then come out and announce that we’re not going to do any more bombing in Afghanistan, or that we’re going to pull out all our forces from iraq and shut down the bases, he would immediately start having enormous problems until he either changed his position, was forced to resign, had a stroke, or choked to death on a hot dog. Even if he tried to do it, it wouldn’t happen, and I’m sure he knows it. He just doesn't really have that power. He’s not so stupid as to think that he was swept to power on a wave of revolutionary movement. He can only make things better incrementally, and even then only over powerful, nasty opposition.


Thanks for being so nice!

Posted by Not Exactly at May 18, 2009 02:03 PM

I keep reading how the right believes that Dem's will back down from a Truth Commission or other independent investigation as some believing that non-repubs will be caught up in the net. I say, as so ignorantly said previously "Bring it on". If democrats (or independents for that matter) or any other governmental body knew of, approved or in any way were co-conspirators in this illegal activity, they too should be brought to accountability. I think it's a ridiculous presumption one would ignore the misdeeds of the past years in order to preserve a few people for partisan reasons. It really is time to remind the politicians that wevotedforyou!!!

Posted by WeVotedforYou at May 18, 2009 04:34 PM

unfortunately a truth commission probably won't get off the ground. pelosi was pushing that, and whaddayaknow, the next thing you know all of a sudden she ran into this cia flap which is not going so well for her, thanks mostly to the media

if the media would explain anything accurately, it should go better for her. i don't think anybody even knows that even if she was told the truth, which she says she wasn't, she would have been breaking the law if she had told anyone about the contents of a briefing, even her staff! So just exactly how could she have acted on whatever info she was given?

Posted by Not Exactly at May 18, 2009 05:43 PM

I miss pith.

Posted by al at May 18, 2009 07:23 PM

don't--you're a master!

Posted by Not Exactly at May 18, 2009 07:26 PM

It sounds like a very tough and regrettable situation for Sen. Pelosi. Deep in her heart, I believe, she is on our side. Really, she only wants to help.

Posted by Save the Oocytes at May 18, 2009 07:27 PM

ergo no truth commission

Posted by Not Exactly at May 18, 2009 07:39 PM

comic

Posted by Save the Oocytes at May 19, 2009 02:27 AM