Tinpot Bombardiers

The alleged purpose of  UN Security Council resolution 1973, passed on March 17, was to seek to protect Libyan civilians from violent attacks by both  sides. In NATO’s eager hands, cosseted by uncritical Western press coverage, it has rapidly mutated into an overt bid to destroy Qaddafi’s regime, specifically to murder Qaddafi, by missile or bombardment with  land-based teams of Special Force assassins doubtless  deployed in the desert, assigned the same task.

NATO says more than 10,000 sorties have been flown over Libya since operations began. This includes 3,794 ‘strike’ bombing raids across country. In the heaviest strikes yet, concentrating on attacks in Tripoli, NATO launched 157 strike missions on Tuesday, more than three times the previous daily average.

In fact, NATO’s first thirty days they flew about 5,000 sorties.  Since then, nearly another two months, they have flown another 5,000, so despite the trumpeting  about intensifying the campaign, the tempo of operations has actually been falling over time ? which as one seasoned observer remarks —  is “not a surprise,  considering what we know about readiness, spare parts inventories, and the capacity to ramp up spares production.”

Pierre Sprey, one of the design team that produced the F-16 and A-10 remarks acidly that “the flea bites inflicted on Qadaffi’s army by the all-out efforts of the entire NATO air armada are a lovely demonstration of the fruits of our overarching strategic principle of pursuing Unilateral Disarmament at Maximum Expense.”

Sprey continues, “Libya also provides empirical verification of the most expensive component of the Principle of Unilateral Disarmament at Maximum Expense: bombing the enemy’s homeland lengthens every war in which it is attempted. There have been no documented exceptions in the hundred years since Sottotenente Giulio Gavotti’s heroic first bombing of a Libyan oasis in 1911 *.  Clearly, 2011’s equally heroic bombing of Tripoli is no exception.”

It is clear that despite Homeric paeans by Western journalists to their zeal and prowess, the rebels headquartered in Benghazi are an ineffective rabble,  whose prime activity is to complain that NATO is not fighting the war hard enough on their behalf.  Qaddafi faces NATO’s  tinpot bombardiers acting with no legal mandate and with barely a whisper of criticism in the Western press about the absurd pretense that they are operating within the terms of UN Security Council Resolutions. The rebels have been unable to make any effective military showing.

On June 6 the independent International Crisis Group, stocked with well-informed regional experts and former diplomats,  issued a report “Making Sense of Libya”. It stated forthrightly that NATO was in the business of “regime change” and was strongly critical of NATO’s refusal to respond to calls for ceasefire and negotiation, a stance which the ICG says is guaranteed to prolong the conflict, and the tribulations of all Libyans.

The ICG then address the topic of Qaddafi’s alleged “crimes against humanity”, even genocide. Remember that the relevant UN resolutions that led to NATO’s current onslaughts  were rushed through the Security Council powered by fierce rhetoric about Qaddafi’s  “massacre of his own people”, aand his  “crimes against humanity”, even genocide. The diffuse and mostly vague  allegations were usually studded with adverbs like “reportedly”.

On the issue of Qaddafi’s alleged war crimes the  International Crisis Group notes reports of mass rapes by  government militias, but declares  that at the same time,

“much Western media coverage has from the outset presented a very one-sided view of the logic of events, portraying the protest movement as entirely peaceful and repeatedly suggesting that the regime’s security forces were unaccountably massacring unarmed demonstrators who presented no real security challenge. This version would appear to ignore evidence that the protest movement exhibited a violent aspect from very early on?.there is also evidence that, as the regime claimed, the demonstrations were infiltrated by violent elements. Likewise, there are grounds for questioning the more sensational reports that the regime was using its air force to slaughter demonstrators, let alone engaging in anything remotely warranting use of the term ‘genocide.’”

In this context, since the International Criminal Court’s  record of ductility  to NATO’s requirements is one of near 100 per cent compliance one can view with reasonable cynicism its timing in issuing accusations of mass Viagra-assisted rape against Qaddafi’s militias immediately in the wake of  NATO bombing onslaughts on Tripoli on Tuesday. On the issue of systematic mass rapes, Amnesty International  said on Thursday that its researchers in eastern Libya, Misurata and in refugee camps along the Tunisian border, “have not to date turned up significant hard evidence to support this allegation.”

A hundred years down the road the UN/NATO Libyan intervention will be seen as an old-fashioned colonial smash-and-grab affair. There may even be a paragraph  or two about the collapse of the U.S. left,  in mounting any powerful show of protest.

*A footnote here from Sprey: “Amateur historians and think tank pundits love to quote Hiroshima as the first and most obvious exception. Far from being an exception, the nuclear bombing of Japan actually confirms that bombing lengthens wars. The historical record shows, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Truman and Byrnes deliberately delayed the acceptance of the urgently-proffered Japanese surrender offer (and of the Potsdam Peace Conference) by at least a month in order to make sure the war would not end before we had impressed the world (mainly the Russians) with the power of a nuclear bomb unleashed on Japanese civilians. Thousands of American soldiers, sailors and airman died unnecessarily because of that profoundly stupid–and profoundly immoral–strategic blunder.”

Larry Portis

In late 2006 I was in France in the summer and went to  Montpellier to give a talk on the war in Iraq, invited by CounterPuncher Lawrence McGuire, of “Americans for Peace and Justice”. CounterPuncher Lawrence McGuire, part of the group, had invited me to speak..  Amid the visit, Jack Goodfellow and Larry Portis took me to lunch at a good restaurant in a little town in a river gorge in the Cevennes. Jack gave a marvelous account of traveling in the Sixties through the South, somewhere around 1964, with Chris Strachwitz, whom he’d fallen in with in New Orleans. Strachwitz,  by origin a Silesian  land baron known formally as Christian Alexander Maria, Graf Strachwitz von Gro?-Zauche und Camminetz, was recording blues singers in the Delta for Arhoolie Records, which he’d founded in 1959.

Jack said Chris was fearless and wouldn’t put up with any kind of racist talk. A sheriff, taxed with telling them where to find Mississippi Fred McDowell’s place, overstepped Chris’s rigorous bounds, and ended up ordering them to be out of town by sundown. They did find McDowell’s home. Jack described Fred coming in from the fields, warming his hands in front of the stove to dry the red dirt, which he then peeled off, picked up his guitar and began to play. Later as Chris and Jack  headed into Houston, there were shenanigans with Lightnin’ Hopkins and his two brothers, Joel and John Henry and Mama Hopkins, and a shotgun along for the ride. It was Strachwitz who got royalties for Fred McDowell from the Rolling Stones’ performance of his song “You Gotta Move” on their Sticky Fingers album

Later I stayed the night at Larry Portis’s house up in the mountains ? an abode on which he and his partner Christiane Passevant  had lavished much creative attention, with beautiful mosaic, dry stone walls  and kindred enterprises.  I liked Larry and enjoyed talking with him. He’d grown up in  a working-class family in  Seattle and then Billings, MT. His father was a sheet metal worker. The late Sixties saw him graduating In 1968 from Montana State University Billings where he was active in university and local politics, and radical journalism. He helped  organizing the municipal water workers in Billings, then went and  got a  Ph.D. in history from Northern Illinois University.

He left for  Europe in 1977 and in  1981  began teaching at the American University of Paris, where he created a section of the CGT labor union, and then in several other universities in France. He was a member (1984-89) of the editorial collective of the Editions Spartacus, and  a member of the editorial committee of the sociology journal L’Homme et la Soci?t? from 1987 to 2007. He wrote for many radical publications both sides of the Atlantic.

In 2002, Larry co-founded “Americans for Peace and Justice” in Montpellier. After my visit, he began to write for CounterPunch on movies, then on French politics. His little book on fascism, in French, recently popped into my letterbox in Petrolia, then a novel. His last piece for our newsletter was on Marine LePen. I was about to email him looking for an update and got a note from Jack, headed “terrible news”:

“Our friend Larry Portis just died of a massive heart attack this weekend at his house in the C?vennes. He was in fine form, plenty of projects, just published a novel. He’d even had exams last week in Paris and they found nothing.”

This morning answering a note I’d sent him Jack wrote, as he prepared to leave for the funeral in Al?s:

Larry had so much left to say and do. Retirement from the university was a release to get on with dozens of other things. It’s somehow not surprising that he should die as he was about to leave to give a speech many hours away. He would have been in the process of doing something, always another project, another book, another dry stone wall, terracing to make things grow better. I’ll miss the conversations up there in Soudorgues, on top of the world in the C?vennes.  A couple of old white guys crazy about the blues, strumming a duo in the late hours. The sentence was cut off in the middle. I’ll have to figure out how it would have gone on. And how I would have answered it.

Our sympathies to Christiane.

The Cemetary of Exhausted Possibilities

Here’s Trotsky on C?line – “…Louis-Ferdinand C?line walked into great literature as other men walk into their own homes. A mature man, with a colossal stock of observations as physician and artist, with a sovereign indifference toward academicism, with an extraordinary instinct for intonations of life and language, C?line has written a book which will survive, independently of whether he writes other books, and whether they attain the level of his first. Journey to the End of the Night is a novel of pessimism, a book dedicated by terror in the face of life, and weariness of it, rather than by indignation. Active indignation is linked up with hope. In C?line’s book there is no hope… Decay hits not only parties in power, but schools of art as well. The creative methods become hollow and cease to react upon human sensibilities — an infallible sign that the school has become ripe enough for the cemetery of exhausted possibilities — that is to say, for the Academy…C?line will not write a second book with such an aversion for the lie and such a disbelief in the truth. The dissonance must resolve itself. Either the artist will make his peace with the darkness or he will perceive the dawn.”

I like the cemetary of exhausted possibilities. We were just talking about the US left, were we not?  Put it next to Robert Browning’s lines  in “Bishop Blougram’s Apology”

“What’s the vague good o’ the world, for which you dare
With comfort to yourself blow millions up?
We neither of us see it! we do see
The blown-up millions–spatter of their brains
And writhing of their bowels and so forth,
In that bewildering entanglement
Of horrible eventualities
Past calculation to the end of time!”

Round out the funeral bouquet with this, from Adorno:

“The injunction to practise intellectual honesty usually amounts to sabotage of thought. The writer is urged to show explicitly all the steps that have led him to his conclusion, so enabling the reader to follow the process through and, where possible, – in the academic industry – to duplicate it. This demand not only invokes the liberal fiction of the universal communicability of each and every thought and so inhibits their objectively appropriate expression, but is also wrong in itself as a principle of representation. For the value of a thought is measured by its distance from the continuity of the familiar.”

From Minima Moralia? and as succinct a critique of the culture of the internet as one can find.

In our latest newsletter

Takashi Hirose outlines in persuasive detail how How Japan can prosper without nuclear power. Andrew Cockburn reviews Donald Rumsfeld’s mendacious memoir of his stint running the Pentagon and promoting the attack on Iraq, Known and Unknown. As Andrew emailed me when he sent the review along:

“The opening paragraphs tell us much of what Donald Rumsfeld thinks about himself, and what we need to know about him.  Referencing his title, he proudly cites the 300,000 internet citations of ‘known unknown,’ 250,000 of them linked to his name, thanks to his observation at a 2002 press conference that there ‘are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.’

“Given the deferential attitude evinced by contemporary press and public, there is little sign the remark generated any enlightened intuition, but it certainly left  reason aside.  What can ‘unknown unknowns’ mean other than simply  that there are things we don’t know?   Like similar exercises ? ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping’ — it carries intimations of profundity, and has been much acclaimed as such, not least by Rumsfeld himself, who introduces it here as ‘a larger point on the limits of human knowledge.’

Though sourcing a variant of the phrase ‘known unknowns’ to a former colleague, he leaves us with the belief that this is a unique Rumsfeld insight, though old Pentagon hands recall it circulating independently in xeroxed form as far back as the 1960s.”

Also in this edition of our newsletter Margot Patterson reports on a recent trip to Syria and the risks of a dreadful civil war.

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And once you have discharged this enjoyable mandate, I also urge you strongly to click over to our Books page, most particularly for our latest release, Jason Hribal’s truly extraordinary Fear of the Animal Planet ? introduced by Jeffrey St. Clair with the brilliant essay featured in this weekend’s website — and already hailed by Peter Linebaugh, Ingrid Newkirk (president and co-founder of PETA), and Susan Davis, the historian of Sea World, who writes that “Jason Hribal stacks up the evidence, and the conclusions are inescapable. Zoos, circuses and theme parks are the strategic hamlets of Americans’ long war against nature itself.”

Alexander Cockburn can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com

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Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.