War Criminal Charges Money To Speak At Fundraiser For Veterans

If you declare an illegal war, send thousands of men to their death, and cause the death of hundreds of thousands others, the ones who are bombed, shelled, and then later, become the victims of fratricidal conflict; if you refuse to adequately protect those you send to war, and care little for their eventual rehabilitation–physically, mentally, and socially; if you have been lucky enough to escape prosecution as a mass murdering war criminal because the political class you are a member of protects its own and would rather get on with the business of lining its pockets; then, hopefully, for the sake of this world’s moral orderings, you possess a modicum of self-aware shame that causes you to slink away–post-retirement–into the shadows, keeping a low profile and hoping a prosecutorial boom is never lowered on you.

But if you are George W. Bush, you do no such thing. Instead, you double and triple down, and ask for exorbitant speaking fees at fundraisers for the very community you have done the most to betray: military veterans. And you ask to be flown there in a private jet.

There was a time, when in the midst of some fulmination against the Unholy Troika of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, I would stop and say, “You know, Dubya feels a little less malevolent to me; his mental capacities seem diminished; perhaps one can forgive him just a tad; this much benevolence can be shown to those who are not as blessed as we are.” But that time passed quickly, because Dubya was always as bad as he came across as being. We shouldn’t expect any less from a man whose very rise to the Presidency was ensured by a compliant Supreme Court, who never had a mandate of any kind, but acted as if he had been elected by a landslide, who roped in old, encrusted remnants of another criminal administration as his Vice President and Secretary of Defense.

Dubya’s speaking engagement highlights yet another coach on the gravy train that our elected representatives can look forward to occupying during their long, lucrative careers: the speaking circuit. Fools and their money are parted every day, and there is no end to the national–or perhaps international–obsession with getting ‘big names’ to ‘speak to us.’ Whether it’s commencement or ground-breaking, we, as a species, as a culture, are convinced that among the most profitable–no pun intended–way to spend our time is to pay pontificators large amounts of money. Think silence is golden? Think again. (This disease is noticeably manifest in academia where departments fall over each other to deplete their budgets as quickly as possible so that they may invite a ‘superstar’ to come shower his intellectual benedictions on them.)

The Deadly Trio–Dubya, Dick and Donald–are the most vivid elements of a long, never-ending national nightmare. Having escaped jail time, they now mock us, not from the sidelines, but from the cultural center. Their time on this planet, like ours, is finite. But not finite enough.

Sam Harris Should Read Bernard Williams

In Shame and Necessity (Sather Classical Lectures, University of California Press, 2nd ed., 2008, pp. 68-69) writing on the ancient Greeks’ conceptions of responsibility and human agency via the tale of Oedipus, Bernard Williams writes:

[T]here is another aspect to responsibility, which comes out if we start on the question not from the response that the public or the state or the neighbours or the damaged parties demand of the agent, but from what the agent demands of himself….

Oedipus’s response, when he made his discovery, was self-imposed: “I have done it with my own hand,” he says of his blinding….he says that he afterwards came to think that what he had inflicted on himself was excessive. He also, at Colonus, says that he did not really do the things for which he blinded himself—and in a notably compacted expression: “I suffered those deeds more than I acted them…What these words express is…Oedipus’s attempt to come to terms with what his erga, his deeds, have meant for his life.

For what, if one can ask a very ingenuous question, is one supposed to do if one discovers that not just in fantasy but in life one has murdered one’s father and married one’s mother? Not even Oedipus…thought that blinding and exile had to be the response. But should there be no response? Is it as though it had never happened? Or rather, to put the right question: Is it as though such things had happened, but not by his agency….The whole of the Oedipus Tyrannus , that dreadful machine, moves to the discovery of just one thing, that he did it. Do we understand the terror of that discovery only because we residually share magical beliefs in blood-guilt, or archaic notions of responsibility? Certainly not: we understand it because we know that in the story of one’s life there is an authority exercised by what one has done, and not merely by what one has intentionally done.

In recent days, Sam Harris has, by virtue of an embarrassing–for him–email exchange with Noam Chomsky, made much of how some actions which resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocents should be subjected to far less moral condemnation (if any) than those which resulted because of expressly ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ intentions. Bill Clinton’s orders to bomb a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Sudanese innocents thus gets off the hook rather lightly – as say, compared to the ISIS‘ slaughter of innocents (you may, if you like, substitute your favorite act of Islamist mass murder here to get the flavor of Harris’ arguments.)

In the course of the email exchange cited above, Chomsky rather effectively eviscerated the simplistic understanding of politics and human nature this view of Sam Harris’ rests on. Furthermore, as I noted in my initial response to a podcast in which Harris makes this claim in ponderous and pedantic detail, Harris’ view leads to the worst excesses of utopianism:  “I intended to bring about this future desirable state, therefore, all else is excusable, as I certainly didn’t intend to bring about any of these intermediate states. My mind is fixed firmly on the state to be realized, the one I intend to bring about. ” Or more colloquially, “it’s ok to climb over heaps of bodies if you are going to a ‘good’ place.” This sort of argument has the bizarre consequence of considering Dick Cheney to not be a war criminal for the mass murders he is responsible for–after all, Cheney did say he was doing it all for democracy.

As the excerpt above shows, Harris, who considers himself an educated man, should really read some Bernard Williams, and using him as an introduction, read some more about the ancient Greeks. Otherwise, he will find himself, time and again, getting schooled by those who know better.

Dickipedia Was Invented For Dick Cheney

Dick Cheney‘s continued existence, his persistent and unconscionable consumption of space, oxygen, and sundry precious natural resources, has long been an airtight argument against the existence of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omniscient God. To wit, does such a God know of his existence? If not, then he is not all-knowing. If God does know of his existence, his foul, malevolent presence, his blighting of our lives, why does he not bring it to an end? If he chooses to not do so, then he is not all-good. If he wants to, but cannot, then he is not omnipotent. QED.

As Ivan might have said in The Brothers Karamazov, if the price of admission to your heaven, your promised abode of well-being, your supposed land of milk and honey, O Lord, is to tolerate this Dick, then I’d rather be intolerant; if the fraternity of man includes this Dick, then I don’t wish to put up with this hazing.  Mighty theologians tremble in the face of the Cheney phenomenon; they prepare to change professions; they acknowledge defeat; they know well their usual sophisticated maneuvers, their slippery, sophistical evasions, will find no traction here. No invocation of the free will of man, no suggestions that the suffering of Man is the suffering of God, no suggestion that this benighted presence prepares us for greater bliss,  will do justice to this ineluctable fact, this producer of dread. We are, yet again, confronted with an awful truth: there is no God. There is, instead, this Dick.

Not only does Dick Cheney survive heart attacks–again and again, and I think, again, shoot friends, and wage illegal wars that cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents, he shows up on national media, grinning and leering, reminding us that cartoon villains have a long way to go in catching up to him in the evil stakes. Defending the torture of innocents for the sake of a patently useless, ineffective and counterproductive tactic establishes that fact pretty clearly. Those not inclined to be force-fed this latest serving of Dick Soup will change channels or cancel subscriptions; the rest of us will defriend those who share video links showing his foul visage.

As mass-murdering war criminals go, this Dick hasn’t done too badly. He will never face trial, be cross-questioned, or spend time in jail, thanks to an administration that resolutely turns its face away–perhaps it holds its nose instead; he has many cheerleaders, who admire his forthright disavowal of humanity and decency, having long forsworn their own. Indeed, thanks to Halliburton and the determined dispensation of favors to cronies, he will continue acquire considerable fortunes, thumbing through gigantic stacks of greenbacks, now rapidly acquiring a distinctive shade of crimson thanks to the unwashable blood on his war-profiteering hands.

This Dick will live a long life, and die an old man, surrounded by those who, mysteriously, persist in their love for him. If the arc of his life thus far is any indication, he will feel no pain, no misery, no fear. In death, even as he is lowered into his grave, he will grin back at us, a rictus of triumph reminding us that he outwitted us all.

The only hope, if any, for this world, is that his grave will not be left unmarked. Perhaps sometime in the future, a well-placed and firmly hammered stake–or two, just to make sure–will bring deliverance and closure.

Iraq and the Pottery Barn Rule: Don’t Break It Any More Please

As turban-wearing hordes ride down on their stallions from the hills, their sharpened scimitars gleaming in the bright Mesopotamian sunshine, threatening to add to the steadily growing mound of heads separated from their now-twitching bodies, should the United States saddle up, lock and load, and ride out to meet them? Should  it crush its enemies, see them driven before its eyes (and possibly, hear the lamentation of their women)? Should it, having broken it, now buy it?

Ja oder nein?

Ich glaube nicht. In the Middle East, the US is not just the proverbial bull in a china shop, it is a heavily armed and irresponsible member of Bos Taurus.  The last time the US went into Iraq, it was for an illegal war that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis; it set off a series of cosmic political earthquakes which sparked some of the most bitter and bloody internecine conflict seen in the region (and trust me, given that region’s history, that takes some doing.) The war criminals that conducted that war–George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld–are now comfortably retired and unlikely to face charges in a court any time soon; the political pusillanimity of Barack Obama and many others has ensured their great escape. But their ghoulish minions and their associated sensibility would presumably like to run the highlights reel of the Iraq War in repeat mode, thus ensuring a particularly nightmarish version of the eternal recurrence for all concerned, whether they be Iraqis or Americans.

Genug ist genug. There are, quite possibly, some domains in which a judicious application of overwhelming American military force might work to bring about better political outcomes–though I have to admit, I’m having a hard time thinking of any off the top of my head. Still, even if the set of nations ripe for American military intervention is a non-empty one, its characteristic function would most certainly reject any member of the set {x: x is a Muslim country in the Middle East} as an element. The US did not seem to realize, back in 2003, that armed invasion and occupation of a Muslim nation was geo-political dynamite–the kind that blows off your fingers in the most favorable of eventualities. More often than not, it incapacitates you permanently, permanently foreclosing many future paths of action. As it has.

Whatever strategy the US adopts in its response to the ISIS, it should not be one that includes high explosives–whether dropped with laser-guided precision or merely steered into the arsenals of one of the combatants. These options will ensure–I find myself saying this with some mysterious foreknowledge–an even more catastrophic denouement than the one currently under way.

The United States is the mother of all superpowers; it should find ways to express that power through channels other than the military. We are often reminded of American ingenuity and innovation, its most distinctive features in a world populated by unimaginative copycats; now might be good time to dig into the stores and put some of those on display.

But no more shock and awe please.

Ten Years After: War Criminals Still Walk Free

You call someone a ‘mass-murdering war criminal’, you best not miss.  And so, when I use that term to describe the unholy troika of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld–as I have in the past–I should have very good reasons for doing so. Fortunately, that isn’t hard to do: a pretty systematic case for the appropriateness of that description can be found in this piece by Nicholas J. S. Davies–author of Blood On Our Hands: The American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq, a book length development of the same argument. Many others have made similar cases; googling ‘Bush war crimes’ , ‘Cheney war crimes’ and ‘Rumsfeld war crimes’ nets a pretty decent catch; similarly, crimes committed at Gitmo–torture, abuse and murder–implicate a host of other folks too: former deputy assistant attorney general John Choon Yoo, former assistant attorney general Jay Bybee, and former counsels Alberto Gonzales, David Addington and William Haynes, for instance. (And of course, the prosecution of the war did not just hurt Iraq–and kill Iraqis–it hurt the US–and killed Americans too–as Juan Cole points out.)

This description can no longer be considered hyperbole. At the very least, even if one grants the highly offensive premise than an Iraqi life is worth less than an American life, it is clear a war conducted on false pretense–an illegal exercise of executive power–sent thousands of Americans to their death. Just that bare fact should convict the prosecutors of the war of mass murder.

So, what’s left to do? You could ask for prosecution of the criminals by the US justice system but the Obama administration has made it clear there will be no movement in this direction. That is entirely unsurprising, given the blending together of the national security policies of the two administrations. This obliviousness to the compelling moral logic of the war crimes case against the Terrible Trio should not however, blind us to the fact that,

[I]t is also a well-established principle of international law that countries who commit aggression bear a collective responsibility for their actions.  Our leaders’ guilt does not let the rest of us off the hook for the crimes committed in our name.  The United States has a legal and moral duty to pay war reparations to Iraq to help its people recover from the results of aggression, genocide and war crimes….

Turns out therefore, it is not enough to say ‘it was the Bush folks wot did it’ and do our best Pontius Pilate impression.  The responsibility for the Iraqi war is the American people’s.

PS: The killing hasn’t ended yet in Iraq:

Iraq closed a painful decade just as it began: with explosions reverberating around the capital.

Beginning in the early morning Tuesday with the assassination of a Ministry of Finance official by a bomb attached to his vehicle and continuing for hours, the attacks were a devastating reminder of the violence that regularly afflicts Iraq. And they somehow seemed more poignant coming on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the American-led invasion, which is being marked in the West by new books, academic studies and polls retesting public attitudes a decade later.

By midmorning, the familiar sight of black smoke rose above a cityscape of palm fronds, turquoise-tiled mosque domes and squat concrete buildings. By midafternoon, the numbers stacked up: 52 dead and nearly 180 wounded in separate attacks that included 16 car bombs, 2 adhesive bombs stuck to cars, and 1 assassination with a silenced gun.

Ten Years After: The Anti-War March of Feb 15, 2003

Exactly ten years ago, I gathered with hundreds of thousands of others, on a freezing cold day in New York City, to take part in an anti-war march. I was still hungover from a friend’s book party the previous night. We marched, got corralled into pens, felt our extremities freeze, jousted with policemen, lost friends, made new ones, read angry, witty, colorful banners, shouted slogans, marched some more, and then finally, late in the evening, exhausted, numb, hungry, finally stumbled off the streets. (In my case, straight into a bar, to drink a couple of large whiskies. Yes, the hangover had worn off by then, and my rapidly dropping blood circulation seemed to call for rather vigorous stimulation.)

The march ‘didn’t work’: it was perhaps the visible zenith of the anti-war moment; an illegal, unjust and cruel war kicked off five days later. (I joined another protest march on the night news of the first bombings came in; it was pure unadulterated misery in cold, freezing rain, one only made barely palatable thanks to the running induced by attempted escapes from over-enthusiastic baton-wielding policemen.) Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of Americans would die, and the next stage of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld nightmare began. Whatever its ramifications for the US, those for the Iraqi people were much worse: sectarian warfare would be the least of them.

I learned several important things that February 15th, ten years ago: massive mobilization of anti-war sentiment was possible some seventeen months after 9/11; a government committed to war is perhaps the most intransigent of all; policing of demonstrations was entering a new restrictive phase, one in which the First Amendment would be merely paid lip service and in which protest was to be as attenuated as possible. The first one was heartening and awe-inspiring; I learned later of the massive amount of organizing that the march required. The latter two were harbingers of further atrocities to come. (I also learned protective clothing for winters needs to be considerably enhanced if sustained, long-term exposure  lies ahead; I had worn long-johns, a heavy coat, gloves, and a hat, and I was still frozen after merely thirty minutes outside.)

Ten years on, war continues. The spectacular shock-and-awe bombing raids, the rumbling tanks, are gone, replaced by special forces operations and silent drone attacks, conducted from the US and felt far away. But non-combatants continue to die. The motivation for the war remains mysterious; the expenses for it steadily pile up, bankrupting budgets and national priorities. Two presidents got themselves elected to second terms using as a central campaign prop, the promise that they would pursue war as vigorously as possible. The Constitution took a battering; torture was defended; ‘rendition’ entered our vocabulary; war criminals were let off, and we were urged to move on. Veterans came home, sometimes in body bags, sometimes in wheelchairs; some committed suicide, others went off to try to adjust to ‘normal life.’ In their case, as with the dead children and civilians, we were urged to look away.

All war, all the time. Ten years of it. I’ve seen better decades.

Bridging Partisan Divides with Patriotism? No Thanks.

Have you, dear reader, seen the latest cinematic masterpiece making the rounds of YouTube channels, ‘Americans, Fuck Yeah‘? (I lie ever so slightly; the actual title is just ‘Americans’.) Directed by James Stafford and starring musical maestro Kid Rock and actor and director Sean Penn, it aims to bring Americans together, to bridge partisan divides, to heal rancor in these increasingly divisive times. Roughly: no matter if you think Dick Cheney is a bloviating war criminal, Rush Limbaugh is an idiotic windbag, or Paul Ryan is full of bean-induced flatulence, you are still an American, and you can do better than that. (I haven’t bothered to list insults from the other end of the political spectrum.) Namely, you can put down your political cudgels to embrace The Political Other.

Unfortunately Stafford’s Sermon loses considerable steam thanks to the manner of its execution. There are, to begin with, some rather mundane problems having to do with hokey acting and the unbearable preachiness of it all, nowhere better captured than in the two moments of supposed enlightenment that lead to political reconciliation: the lecture by the–I think–Caribbean waitress, who, in a terrible accent, reminds the two Americans of just how good they have it, and the televised reminder of a war that is claiming the lives of brave American troops.

But there is a more fundamental problem with this pulpit-pounding call to hit the political middle. Far more problematic than this video’s irredeemable sappiness, its invocation of the quiescence-preaching black female immigrant, is its basic premise: political conflict is a bad thing, one to be avoided, one that can be smoothed over. Unfortunately, politics is conflict; to be a political animal is to engage in disputation. There is an irreducible conflict at its core; banal smoothing over is nothing more than acceptance of the status quo. Which status quo? In Stafford’s Sermon, the one in which American troops go off to fight endless wars overseas. Thus: put aside your worries, swap NASCAR and ‘PETA Rocks!’ t-shirts, raise a toast to freedom, and keep sending troops overseas, those that have volunteered from the ranks of this country’s dispossessed, to die.

Political subjects, political participants of any ilk, should be wary about messages urging them to drop the fighting and come together. Those who claim they are apolitical and disdain political stances are full of it; for their stance is a political one too. Invariably, such a coming together can only take place on some other patch of political ground. There is no neutral ground in politics; whatever one must use to rest on in this turbulent ocean of conflict is a political raft. ‘Come together for the sake of the nation’ is a political appeal too, one that appeals to a very particularly framed national  allegiance and patriotism. Stafford’s message is decidedly political; it comes down on one side, and one alone, of a live debate. Stafford isn’t splitting the difference; he is an ideologue himself. His political rafts are built out of unquestioning patriotism and subscriptions to militarism. No thanks.