“The problem here is to define … a form of life that would not depend on an unsustainable relation of domination over the rest of the world.”
— Jean Bricmont
We live in a time of incredible change, and to have any say at all in the direction that change will take requires a respect for reality. Right now, the United States is losing this battle as it tries mightily – and wastefully — to sustain its post-WWII legacy as the world’s undisputed Top Dog.
The key to this disaster here in the US is a greater and greater restriction of information in conjunction with what can only be called a top down enforced blindness among the population.
If you think this is only the view of a disgruntled leftist, read Thomas Friedman’s latest column in The New York Times, where he imagines WikiLeaks revealing a gleeful cable from the Chinese ambassador in Washington to his bosses in Beijing:
“Things are going well here for China,” the ambassador writes. “There is a willful self-destructiveness in the air here as if America has all the time and money in the world for petty politics. … This leaves us relieved. It means that America will do nothing serious to fix its structural problems: a ballooning deficit, declining educational performance, crumbling infrastructure and diminished immigration of new talent.”
His fictional ambassador goes on to gloat over the $190 million a day being pissed away to war in Afghanistan. He speculates that by the time the US finally leaves the Afghanis will hate the US so much China will have the inside track on all the minerals there.
The real cables recently released by WikiLeaks are, of course, not nearly as crisp and to the point as this fictional one. But they’re equally as insightful and inciting to boot.
Mike Huckabee, a follower of Jesus Christ and a presidential candidate, says Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, should be tried and executed. Others, like Tom Flanagan, a former aide to the Prime Minister of Canada, says that would take too long and Assange should just be assassinated. “Take him out!” is the correct vernacular, I believe. Sarah Palin wants him hunted down like an al Qaeda dog.
The same surely goes for Bradley Manning, the alleged leaker of the 250,000 diplomatic cables. And since The New York Times and virtually every other major newspaper in the world has run some of the cables, presumably Times Editor Bill Keller and the other editors should be “taken out” as well.
The Specialized Class and the Bewildered Herd
The famous meta-journalist Walter Lippman was of the school only a “specialized class” of “responsible men” could handle reality and the rest of the nation’s population – those Lippman called “the bewildered herd” — were to remain spectators fed soothing information, a situation akin to the Roman’s notion of “bread and circus” to appease the citizenry. The art of public relations and propaganda grew to fill this need.
The devoted anti-imperialist Noam Chomsky says this arrangement “has a very close resemblance to the Leninist conception that a vanguard of revolutionary intellectuals take state power … then drive the stupid masses toward a future they’re too dumb and incompetent to envision for themselves.”
No doubt, Chomsky should be “taken out” too. If I’m worthy, I might be put on the list as well.
In Chomsky’s view, one gets into the “specialized class” by reading the tea leaves and figuring out where the leverage is. It’s a calculus not about Truth or even what’s best for the nation. “It’s just a matter of assessing where the power is.” Figure out where the Power is and ingratiate yourself into it.
Our current President was quite good at this kind of calculus, and he got himself elected and into the White House. He’s not an ogre as some on the left suggest, but he has not rocked the Bush boat at all. He seems to understand Lippman’s scheme and fully subscribe to the notion of a “specialized class” of people, in his case himself and appointees like Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, David Petraeus and Timothy Geithner.
Fully in line with Power, President Obama seems to see his mission as sustaining the United States as the Top Dog in the world and sweeping under the rug all the little bits of inconvenient information and analysis that tells those capable of seeing it that, unless some serious, bottom-up change is begun soon, the US is on the road to Hell.
Enter WikiLeaks. Militarism is now so prevalent in our culture that secrecy has become a virtual fetish for the specialized class. They use it more and more to simply hold onto top-down power as they prevent much-needed bottom-up change.
The pressures in this equation become explosive. Keeping the pressure cooker lid on, you have the Huckabees and the Palins and the Obamas using their charisma, religion and/or power to desperately hold onto the past, while naturally evolving elements like WikiLeaks appear to let the pressure out.
I’m a spiritually sensitive atheist attuned to the Great Mystery. If I believed in God I don’t think he/she/it would be an American, and I don’t think he/she/it would want to kill Julian Assange or Bradley Manning for what they are doing. In fact, if God were a truly compassionate being, I think he/she/it would want to clear the air and allow his/her/its “bewildered herd” to be enlightened with as much information as possible about the ways of the world. I think God would support the idea of WikiLeaks.
We are now seeing stories about poor Secretary of State Hillary Clinton forced by the WIkiLeaks revelations to go into “damage-control” mode around the world, to explain an ambassador’s remarks about Kazak President Karim Masimov’s bizarre, narcissistic party habits or why the US so loves right-wing French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s “increasing willingness to downgrade human rights considerations.”
Until I read The New York Times account of the WikiLeaks material on North Korea I really didn’t understand what was going on there. Now I know the so-called “hermit kingdom” makes us look good because the ability of its “specialized class” to bamboozle and mislead its population is vastly superior to ours.
And of course, we get some insight into how the whole Korea issue hinges on an understanding of the rising giant China vis-a-vis what remains of US imperial power in Asia. This is something US citizens need to know in order to make wiser decisions about their own future lives.
The most worrisome disclosures I read involved Pakistan and the macabre dance-step US leaders go through balancing Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. Pakistan needs to keep links with the Taliban in Afghanistan to protect it from India, which the US now wants to put on the UN Security Counsel.
None of the Pakistan revelations are really news; it’s just reading the actual diplomatic cables makes our bizarre commitment to a war in Afghanistan seem that much more wasteful and absurd.
Like MacNamara knew in Viet Nam in the mid-1960s, US leaders no doubt now know their war in Afghanistan is equally doomed. They just have to keep their stories straight and continue to bamboozle the American public into thinking the debacle there is anything but what it really is: A case of saving face on a mission begun nearly a decade ago by the US equivalent to Emperor Nero.
One thing the WikiLeaks revelations do is nicely clear up the brief scandal in September over a video showing Pakistani troops gunning down six young men in blindfolds in the Swat Valley. We learn that the US ambassador knew full well that this kind of summary execution of Pashtun civilians was going on regularly.
US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson cables the State Department in Washington that such killings are a potential hot potato. Here’s her cable:
“Post advises that we avoid comment on these incidents to the extent possible and that efforts remain focused on dialogue and the assistance strategy.” In English that seems to mean, keep the killings from the press and the public and schmooze the Pakistanis to be nicer, while we keep giving them money and weapons so they can keep cutting a bloody swath through the Tribal Areas of northwest Pakistan.
Thus, the cable sheds significant clarity on how things really work in the US war now spilling from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Here’s the process the cable shows:
First, we cajole or pay off the Pakistani military to reluctantly launch a major military assault against their own people in the Tribal Areas because some of those people threaten US soldiers across the border in Afghanistan.
Of course, most Pakistanis hate the United States for just this kind of activity.
When the Pakistani military’s indiscriminately violent assault against civilians is revealed publicly, the US is forced to turn on them and criticize them — lest the home front US public think their leaders had anything to do with the atrocities in the assault they pressured the Pakistanis to undertake.
The fact is, as writer William Polk emphasizes in his brilliant counter-insurgency primer, Violent Politics, all counter-insurgency campaigns necessarily devolve into indiscriminate killing. The United States tries mightily to turn Polk’s truism on its head with humanitarian programs and public relations – but the fact is, to be effective, indiscriminate killing is necessary, something the Pakistanis instinctually know.
Who’s really to blame?
It should be clear to Americans interested in positive, progressive change that, despite the gray areas and any conceivable collateral damage, the WikiLeaks revelations are helpful and positive because they help us better understand what’s being done by the “specialized class” making decisions in our names with our tax resources.
Hysterical charges by the Palins and the Huckabees about WikiLeaks endangering our troops are deceptive and dishonest. It needs to be said over and over that those leaders who committed our soldiers to the two wars we’re so deeply entrenched in and those who keep them there are the ones endangering their lives.
Sure it’s complicated, but calls to kill the messenger only make it clear the messenger is onto something.
One of the best and most clear examples of the attitude of Lippman’s Specialized Class has been voiced by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. It was in response to questions about the 2000 Bush v. Gore ruling that closed down the Florida recount that would, research suggests, have given the 2000 Presidential election to Al Gore.
Scalia’s response to questions, according to Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker, is, “Get over it!”
Think of all the rotten top-down policy decisions attributable to that 2000 Supreme Court decision. For me, it was the most disillusioning event since the Kennedy assassination.
Think of the mess we face now – the financial collapse, the loss of job security, the dismal downward slide of the American education system and, finally, the huge waste of resources hosed into Iraq and Afghanistan.
If the Belgian physicist Jean Bricmont is right and our challenge in the West is to define “a form of life that (does) not depend on an unsustainable relation of domination over the rest of the world,” eight years of the Bush Administration and its unprecedented regime of secrecy was the absolute worst thing that could have happened to America and Americans. The current Democratic regime has done little to change this legacy.
Julian Assange and Bradley Manning did not create the mess we now find ourselves in. But what they have had the courage to do may just eventually let enough sunshine in for change to happen.
So there’s one thing to say to all the bloodthirsty critics of WikiLeaks:
Get over it!
JOHN GRANT is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent, collectively-owned, journalist-run online alternative newspaper.