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Cinematic Warfare Heats Up

From Pyongyang comes the announcement that DPRK Pictures is soon scheduled to release its new film, The Teleprompter, a slapstick comedy, raunchy by Asian standards, of the assassination of US president Barack Obama, using a nuclear-tipped golf ball smuggled into his bag (the caddie a double agent trained by CIA but hopelessly in love with Kim Jong-un from his picture appearing in NYT and WP) set to go off on his next golfing holiday. The suspense is relieved with comedic detours into such familiar scenes as a Tuesday night meeting of NSC members, in rapt attention to Obama and Brennan’s weekly selection of candidates for drone assassination from the hit list, Obama’s practicing salutes in front of a full-length mirror in preparation for his deplaning Air Force One, late-night telephone conversations with Cheney, McCain, and other ideological soul mates on how to engender and maximize support for intervention on a global scale, as well as directorial lessons on how to appear contemplative after his mind has snapped steel-shut on policies promoting War and Wall Street. Like its rival at the box office, Sony Pictures’ The Interview, the film has been cast as a purposeful vehicle in the Cold War, in its case, however, largely in response to the other rather than in its own right initiatory. Only kidding, except that Obama has used The Interview as a cause célèbre, deliberately drawing out the lines of confrontation as part of a global geopolitical strategy taking North Korea as a perhaps secondary entering wedge which complements his main thrust, the Pacific-first “pivot” and Trans-Pacific Partnership for containing-isolating-neutralizing China as a world power. For the Obama administration, Ukraine in the West is the functional analogue of North Korea in the East, a way to pressure Russia into submission to US hegemonic aspirations and prevent at all costs a Sino-Russian rapprochement leading to a multi-polar power universe.

***

Let’s look at the US retaliatory springboard, almost as though the film had been conceived as a source of entrapment, followed by an anticipated cyberwarfare attack easily pinned on North Korea even though its origins remain unknown. Obama’s timing was impeccable: his accusatory barrage sealing the conflict came almost immediately. One need not become involved in conspiracy theory here, the point being: no evidence has been forthcoming on his and USG’s charges implicating North Korea. In simplest terms, we see here a RUSH TO JUDGMENT wholly unwarranted, and at the same time consistent with a history of US deceitful actions culminating in war, from the Tonkin Gulf Resolution to the claims of Saddam’s possessing WMD, to the staging of the coup in Ukraine. Very convenient: preplanning for intervention, then swiftly executing before charges are validated when, as with respect to Vietnam, Iraq, and Russia, it is both necessary to save face and too late to withdraw. Obama’s peremptory announcement will go down in manuals of statecraft as the sure way to start wars.

Even NYT reporters David Sanger and Michael Schmidt (I say “even,” because Sanger is often cast as an administration spokesman), in their article, “More Sanctions on North Korea After Sony Case,” (Jan. 3), appear doubtful about the official line. They write, “The Obama administration doubled down on Friday [Jan. 2] on its allegation that North Korea’s leadership was behind the hacking of Sony Pictures, announcing new, if largely symbolic, economic sanctions against 10 senior North Korean officials and the intelligence agency it said was the source of ‘many of North Korea’s major cyberoperations.’ The actions were based on an executive order President Obama signed on vacation in Hawaii, as part of what he had promised would be a ‘proportional response’ against the country.”

Already uncertainty is voiced: “But in briefings for reporters, officials said they could not establish that any of the 10 officials had been directly involved in the destruction of much of the studio’s computing infrastructure.” Somewhat like picking hostages at random and putting them against the wall, not exactly what one expects from one trained in constitutional law. (Nor for that matter are many of Obama’s other actions, from drone assassination to use of the Espionage Act to silence whistleblowers to giving NSA the go-ahead on massive surveillance.) “Proportional response” is a glib phrase covering a wide swath of questionable territory. Of the 10, they report, “most seemed linked to the North’s missile and weapons sales,” two in Iran, and five, “representatives in Syria, Russia, China and Namibia.” But more, “The administration has said there would be a covert element of its response as well.” If civil liberties is not Obama’s forte, neither is government transparency. On oh so coincidental cyberwarfare against North Korea, Sanger-Schmidt are skeptical: “Officials sidestepped questions about whether the United States was involved in bringing down North Korea’s Internet connectivity to the outside world over the past two weeks.” Then we mount the see-saw, one said, the other said, yet at least the critics are not ignored.

“Perhaps the most noticeable element of the announcement,” they observe, “was the administration’s effort to push back on the growing chorus of doubters about the evidence that the attack on Sony was North Korean in origin.” This push back would not be necessary if the government presented its case; instead, it employs—befitting the National Security State—the doctrine of preserving state secrets, in other words, obfuscation, eyes-only triumphalism, Trust Us as your leaders. Obama had on December 19 said flat out, “’North Korea engaged in this attack,’” and Sanger-Schmidt in partial extenuation write that “several cybersecurity firms,” though registering doubt, attributed Obama’s statement to his having “been misled by American intelligence agencies that were too eager to blame a longtime adversary and allowed themselves to be duped by ingenious hackers skilled at hiding their tracks.” Whether the firms offered this explanation or the reporters had given Obama a free pass is a moot point. They continue, The critics “do not have a consistent explanation of who might have been culpable,” e.g., “corporate insiders or an angry former employee,” which Sony’s CEO denies, or “outside hacking groups,” but the interesting point is that, for the government, the discussion is shrouded in secrecy, i.e., stonewalling: “Both the F.B.I. and Mr. Obama’s aides used the sanctions announcement to argue that the critics of the administration’s decision to attribute the attack to North Korea have no access to classified evidence that led the intelligence agencies, and Mr. Obama, to their conclusion.”

Access? Transparency? Even the spokesman remains anonymous: “’We remain very confident in the attribution,’ a senior administration official who has been at the center of the Sony case told reporters in a briefing that, under guidelines set by the White House, barred the use of the briefer’s name.” If, as the reporters note, “the administration is clearly stung by the comparisons” to Bush’s “reliance on faulty intelligence assessments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 American-led invasion of the country,” still, officials have a ready reply, “continu[ing] to insist that they cannot explain the basis of the president’s declaration without revealing some of the most sensitive sources and technologies at their disposal.” Talking tough against an adversary, based on a foundation contradicting the tenets of a democratic society. Still worse, Obama’s declaration of sanctions is purposely made to be open-ended, leaving cyberwarfare behind and targeting anyone or anything found displeasing about North Korea—this of course after having already put in place a rigorous sanctions regime for decades.

Hence, why stop with the Pyongyang Ten (apologies to the Hollywood Ten, the odor of McCarthyism still strong) because we haven’t yet heard from Treasury: “In another sign of how Mr. Obama was seeking to punish individual leaders, the executive order he signed gives the Treasury Department broad authority to name anyone in the country’s leadership believed to be involved in illicit activity, and to take action against the Workers’ Party, which has complete control of North Korea’s politics.” Surreptitious, the widened scope for sanctions no longer geared to the alleged offense, as though Obama’s under-the-covers-wet-dream about regime change, to which, as now with Cuba, but in every way, he appears to be obsessed. Treasury Secretary Lew, maybe more interventionist-oriented than Geithner, himself too busy placating the banks, is emerging as a financial John Brennan. Lew’s statement “suggested that the sanctions were intended not only to punish North Korea for the hacking of Sony… but also to warn the country not to try anything like it again.”

Overkill is the name of the game. Lew is a fascinating study, his gift for generalizing economic warfare is perfect for that side of Obama’s hegemonic/counterrevolutionary offensive, complementing the military side: “’Today’s actions are driven by our commitment to hold North Korea accountable for its destructive and destabilizing conduct. Even as the F.B.I. continues its investigation into the cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment, these steps underscore that we will employ a broad set of tools to defend U.S. businesses and citizens, and to respond to attempts to undermine our values or threaten the national security of the United States.’” Maybe to live up to that billing, undermining our values, threatening our national security, North Korea should put into production The Teleprompter, the clash of two worlds via movie projectors! We have already so trivialized international politics by our insatiable appetite for market penetration, militarization of foreign policy, global ideological saturation, that why not go the one step further, world conflagration over a miniscule thing like a movie? Obama seems ready.

The writers’ sense, if not that outcome, at least the problematic nature of open-ended sanctions: “Beyond the initial sanctions, the power of the president’s order might come from its breadth and ITS USE IN THE FUTURE [my caps.]. One senior official said the order would allow the Treasury to impose sanctions on any person who is an official of the North Korean government or of the Worker’s Party or anyone judged ‘controlled by the North Korean government’ or acting on its behalf.” For a nation that has hacked into Iran’s nuclear facilities, yet demands US business is on sacred ground, hypocrisy is the least charge coming to one’s mind.

My New York Times Comment on the article, same date, follows:

Obama is an apt pupil. No coincidence Brennan is his closest adviser. This exercise in PUBLIC DIPLOMACY goes back to Reagan, Casey, the CIA and the Office of Public Diplomacy: to manipulate the media, Congress, and the American public. Casey to Brennan to a willing Obama, not misled by his intelligence agencies but exercising leadership, as much as his predecessors, in keeping alive, indeed thriving on, a New Cold War.

Pathetic how USG officials must remain anonymous in their briefings–a condition acceptable to NYT and a supine press–as they spread propaganda (the function of public diplomacy) about a North Korea attack on Sony. Even more outrageous, Obama pleads state-secrets when asked to come up with proof of NK involvement: his despising of government transparency should by now be well known, as well his extremism in US foreign policy, a president who will go down in history for armed drone assassinations.

This carefully orchestrated campaign (its antecedents in the Reagan Iran-Contra affair) still has not presented evidence, and smacks of a new offensive: add NK to the Obama administrations studied confrontation, practically looking for war, with Russia and China. At the very least, NK fits well with Obama’s Pacific-first strategy, coupled with TPP, to contain and isolate China.
Obama’s closeness to the CIA, its ideology, covert operations, pathological ethnocentrism, is clearly evidenced by his quick (Dec. 19) charge of NK responsibility. Evidence?

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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