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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama Transcends Divisions of Race; Racism Inherent in Empire

Obama is the enigma because no one knows how race will impact the race. With a multi-racial family, McCain may be less tolerant of the race card, which Clinton is accused of using versus Obama. A long primary could well doom both candidates if enough is done to smear one other.

On Tuesday, Obama gave a speech on race relations to beat back criticism of comments his former preacher made that had been running in an "endless loop" in the media. Without defending his preacher's comments, Obama's speech made race an issue, not in the sense it can act as a divisive force but rather how overcoming differences in race can unite America.

The senator from Illinois is a very skilled speaker mostly due to his delivery. Obama delivers his speeches with the conviction of a minister, the candor of a community organizer, and the calculated effectiveness of a master politician. More specifically, Obama can charge up an audience to the point where they believe in what he says, not just because they identify with him (I talked about the politics of identity in my last post) but because they want to belong to a group that transcends differences in identity.

Obama's beauty is his multicultural identity--he is a mutt of sorts who struggled with identity issues as the product of a broken bi-racial marriage. Time spent in Indonesia and Hawaii no doubt made him multicultural, a perspective the total opposite of someone who very rarely left the US, nor was curious about how the people abroad saw him or his country, like our present President. Had George W. Bush spent more time abroad, as a simple civilian, the US might have retained far more of its international stature it can now claim as the result of its interventions.

I read that imperialism is inherently racist. People who believe that their nation has an obligation to be the world's policeman do believe in the inherent superiority of their countryman and their way of life. This missionary mindset appears to have motivated people like Jason Berg to go to Iraq when the situation just wasn't safe, or for businessmen to seek business deals in Iraq even as the security situation worsened. Many have been kidnapped. Security consultants were executed in Fallujah, kicking off a retaliatory bloodbath there. Several more kidnapped contractors just had their fingers sent to the authorities as proof of life.

Economics is one leg of the philosophy justifying imperialism. The locals simply don't know how to manage their affairs, so the ideology goes. During the colonial period, the European powers justified their interventions on the grounds that the poor heathen in their occupied regions needed the beneficence and magnificence of their rule, to prevent savagery and disorder associated with their "natural state" from preventing the advance of civilization globally. Of course, colonial powers took it upon themselves to liberate the colonized of their natural resources and exploit fully cheap labor rate in the occupied territory, allowing certain economic interests to make vast fortunes.

A similar argument could be presented that the US has launched a form of modern-day economic imperialism. It's no coincidence Iraq has the world's last great reserves of easily extracted oil. Seizing Iraq has allowed us to harvest their oil in payment for the costs of the occupation. (Neo-cons were the first to suggest that revenue from Iraqi oil sales would cover the cost of the war, a proposition which has never been viable.)

In Iraq we have an ongoing occupation justified on racist grounds. Iraqi lives simply aren't worth as much as those of the occupier. Yet the image of colonial infallibility marches on even in the dawn of the 21st century, convincing millions of Americans that even if victory is not yet here that it is only a matter of time until we emerge victorious. Nowhere in the invariably racist mindset of the would-be colonial occupiers does even the possibility of defeat arise. In their minds, they are the victorious conquerors and deserve the eternal gratitude of the liberated.

The French had their colonial empire shattered in the epic defeat of Dien Ben Phu in 1954. Their empire would not recover: the empire that spawned "Liberte, Fraternite and Egalite" couldn't even control its colony Algeria, just across the Mediterranean from Marseilles. The U.S. on the other hand would only have its colonial aspiration broaden at the end of World War II, which it exited as the world's unrivaled champion. Its that same perception of invincibility that makes our entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan that much riskier. The presumption that our military forces are unbeatable encourages a long war.

The absence of conventional victory signals in waging counter-insurgencies helps to perpetuate the false impression that victory awaits us down the road. Military experts might instruct the public to be patient, to suspend disbelief for an extended periods--we're told an average insurgency takes 10 years or more to quell-- but the common people are far more likely to demand results from their political representatives.

The telltale signs of overextended supply lines and war fatigue that emerge from imperial overexertion often go ignored until the empire collapses and can no longer sustain the cost of unending expansion. Troubling little inconsistencies in the patriotic narrative--like horrific tales of murder that emerged out of the recent Winter Soldier revelations--go largely unfollowed in the national media. Dien Ben Phu was hardly mentioned in French newspapers. The squandering of vast budget monies likewise goes unaddressed as the empire begins to fade. It was on the eve on 9/11, September 10th, 2001, that Rumsfeld announced that the Pentagon was missing $2.3 trillion. How much more has gone down the rat hole of imperial wars of conquest and control since then?

While logistical or financial problem may be inevitable, these are the symptoms of failure not really the cause of collapse. Instead, the empire suffers from an overabundance of ambition and a perception of invulnerability. Perhaps, its tentacles stretched, it just gets tired. More significantly, the occupied and occupier, exploited and exploiter, in the system of empire begin to realize that those who represent the colonial power are in no way better than those over whom they presume to rule. As the list of atrocities committed by the forces of empire grow, the occupied come to realize that the projection of imperial power is at its root flawed, and that no basis or premise for racial or cultural superiority could ever be made. As with the Biblical David, it wasn't Goliath's strength in battle that made him unbeatable, it was the widespread belief in Goliath's invincibility that made him so feared. It took a fearless David to turn Goliath's self-assuredness into overconfidence, and make it his greatest vulnerability.

While some empire might be ruled by fools and incompetence, it's not the inadequacy of leadership that dooms the enterprise either. Rather it is the people who simply go along, the Good Germans, who allow the fallacy of invincibility to continue, even as the cracks in the empire become visible to those who care to notice them. The little people, the average working folk who have little invested in the ongoing exercise of empire have little to gain (although they will most likely bear a large portion of its loss.) While impressions of victory might make the masses feel better, their lives will go on unchanged if the status quo produces nothing dramatically bad for them. It's only once the sacrifices have been made that most people in the aggressor nation will realize the consequences. In the US only a few have paid a direct price for the war, which makes the wars far more sustainable than if rationing or a draft were implemented.

It's the lawyers, businesspeople, and media figures that determine the scope of resistance to empire. Rather than confront the reality that US is not invincible--made clear in Vietnam--these people find it easier to nurture their nationalistic impulses, even at the price of reason and sanity. In the same way, German citizens were able to go about their lives even as bits of ashes wafted down from the sky above from nearby death camps. Denial is certainly much in demand as things deteriorate and the twin demons of invincibility and nationalism are revealed to be just as illusory as the empire they seek to bolster.

Emotionally, it's easier to believe in the myths of militarism and nationalism than it is to confront the shortcoming of those methodologies because accepting that one was tricked is far harder than accepting the consequences of defeat made inevitable by empire. Even as Russian soldiers poured by the thousands into Berlin at the end of World War II, many Germans probably couldn't accept the reality that they'd been defeated.

Smart people in particular are incapable of accepting the possibility they've been taken in by ultra-nationalism or militarism. More creatively inclined, they are better able to rationalize their emotional buy-in with the belief that somehow their country was not limited by the same factors that led all previous empires to collapse. The Third Reich would reign for a thousands years, and all that crap. Empires never do last, that's the logical conclusion but the emotional pill so many find hard to swallow.

Racism is a glue which bonds the people to their belief in the invincibility of their cause. People of one nation can assert their racist identity by suppressing that of the conquered, by establish an "us and them mentality" which reinforces the superiority complex which is at the heart of all imperialism or, for a more modern equivalent called hegemony, the drive to dominate other nations, just short of occupation.

Racism feeds the perception that we must do something, lest the poor uncivilized brutes that we conquer stray further from the principles of humanity and civility that make us, the enlightened, better than them. This crusading attitude imparts a sense of urgency, and bolsters the interventionist cause with the belief that what we do on their behalf is inherently good for them.

Now on the streets of Baghdad, or Kandahar, the state of the society is far less important than the perception back home that what we did was right. Rather than confront the possibility that our presence might actually be forestalling the installation of an orderly, progressive regime we exert our own right to end the intervention, thus prolonging whatever misery our presence might be causing. So severe an impact could our troops be making on the pan-Arab transnational psyche that we could see future terrorist leaders like Osama bin Laden rise from the ashes. So daamaging could our presence be that we might unwittingly deliver the occupied nation to the hands of our enemies, countries like Iran that ostensibly pose a far greater danger to us than Iraq. Spreading the Islamic revolution to Iraq would produce the opposite outcome from what we wanted. We went into Iraq to save it from radical fundamentalism. Instead we gift-wrapped it for Iran.

Strong advocates of the intervention no doubt struggle with coming to grips with the magnitude of our failure. Some can't grasp the reality that we cannot emerge from Iraq as victors--so much so that time becomes their ally. 'Wait and see,' they claim. They grasp even the smallest of statistical improvements as evidence that our intervention has succeeded. Never confronted is the truth that our troops wouldn't be needed in Iraq if not for the inability of our supposedly invincible war machine to achieve victory conditions, which suspiciously have never been defined.

Had Bush and the war supporters actually defined victory conditions, they'd be setting themselves up to lose. The unwillingness to set the terms of victory raises the hypothesis that the Iraq intervention was set up to be a war from which the US could not extricate itself. As huge sums continue to pour into war charities favored by the politicians of the current regime, the American people (or more accurately their children) are left with the mounting bills.

Even as proponents of the ongoing occupation claim success after success, they despise even the possibility of a conclusion to the conflict. Rather than represent a moment of victory, our departure from Iraq in any form represents defeat to these champions of military force. Odd it is how military force must be used indefinitely to be considered effective. Perhaps it is the lack of a victory moment atop some battleship deck in Tokyo harbor that these militarists can't accept. Or perhaps it's the reality that the US can't decisively defeat a insurgency that blends into a population that these people find so hard to grasp, as was the case during Vietnam. Go on, the logic goes, to total unconditional victory. Anything less would be defeat.

Unfortunately, there've been virtually no examples of ending an popular insurgency through military force. Greece and Malaysia were relatively brief Communist insurgencies which only had marginal support from the people. Al Qaeda in Iraq has been largely unloved by Sunnis; the Kurds and Shia will have nothing to do with them. The US practice of hiring former Sunni insurgents has relied mostly on direct cash payment rather than military force. So far, direct payment have created a largely anti-al Qaeda organization called the Awakening.

The Sunni story has largely been suppressed in the MSM due at least in part to the inherent contradiction of arming both sides in Iraq. The cost-effectiveness of the approach flies in the face of military doctrines that encourage domination through the direct force of arms. The media routinely discounts the value of soft-power, so underplaying the story supports the myth of military force effectiveness when some entirely different approach is called for. Arguably the use of military aid is a hard power practice but in the case of Iraq direct payments could be seen as a far softer and judicious use of American power.

The rejection of the tools of soft power--diplomacy, cultural influence, educational links, etc.--in favor of expositions of hard power is an indicator that imperialistic attitudes dominate our foreign policy. Imperialism goes hand in hand with militarism and nationalism as these ideologies reinforce one another, particularly on the Right.

Unabashedly, Bush's model of imperialism touts the expedients of unilateral military action over the more graceful forms of affecting change beyond our borders. With that policy comes its consequences--high costs and questionable benefits as the occupation drags on.

It's too bad the neo-cons' vision couldn't have been committed to a shorter duration--an area where the Israel factor comes into play. Had the US cleaned up Iraq after Saddam, declared victory and gone home, there wouldn't be the massive blowback. So high is public resentment against the Iraq war that the GOP was destroyed in the last election cycle and will have to deal with blowback from Iraq in the next. Some have even suggested that the Democratic leadership has resisted minimally the Iraq occupation in order to capitalize on resistance to the war. The results of the war so far would seem to have poisoned whatever credibility neo-cons might have left, which resides chiefly in the media field. As the war drags on causing unfavorable consequences to the politicians who supported it, the folly of the mistake remains contested only in the domestic Corporate Media.

I've brought up on the past the overarching influence that David Wurmser's Clean Break has had in formulating neo-con policy in the Middle East. Clean Break has the expressed goal of eliminating Saddam's regime, which would clearly explain the initial intervention. An absence of brevity to the occupation could in theory be explained by Clean Break's intent to destabilize Syria and Iran, who are Israel's chief enemies in the region. By stretching the occupation of Iraq forward, Israel pushes the military balance of power to its side. Should the Americans go home, Israel's enemies might be able to join together in opposing her military actions, especially in Gaza, which has suffered greatly as the Peace Process remains abandoned.

The Bush administration has shamefully and willfully ignored whatever benefits soft power might bring. Diplomatic efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian effort go unfulfilled quite intentionally. The US has done little to restrain the reckless use of hard power by the Israelis to consolidate its annexation and Bandu-ization of the West Bank, called a system of apartheid when used in South Africa.

Israel's influence over US foreign policy is undeniable. The bigger issue is just how much control the "tail" exerts on the "dog", and the extent to which the next President holds sympathies to Israel's Right wing and its over-reliance on military force.

Even now, McCain visits the country. He'd in the past alluded to a 100-year war in Iraq, a position he just recently revised to have been in reference to the war in Afghanistan, instead of Iraq.

I'd talked in my last post about how Presidential candidates should stay out of the foreign policy arena. Specifically, Hillary and Obama had both outdone each other trying to explain how other nations should reacct to the early March flare up between Ecuador and Colombia. I'd cited this article by Robert Naiman. In looking back I came across this reference:
Raul Reyes, the top leader in the FARC who was killed, led negotiations that resulted in the FARC releasing six political hostages to Venezuela, including four a week ago. This is a pattern for the Bush-backed Colombian government — to meet the “threat” of successful diplomacy with military escalation. The Colombian government, with vigorous U.S. support, is taking actions whose probable consequence is to reduce the likelihood that FARC hostages will be released — including three American captives.

The idea of tracking rebels down through telephone calls executed in the course of releasing hostages is wicked indeed. The Colombians apparently lacked the means to trace the call, so it's likely US military intelligence used satellite transmissions to pinpoint the strike for the Colombian military, which occurred just across its border with Ecuador. Future efforts to release hostages are likely to go unattempted. The fact the hostages were released to Venezuela also suggests that the hostages might represent a political embarrassment if they continue to be released to Chavez, archenemy of Bush and his Colombian friends.

Just as the US turned away from negotiations time and time again, the extraterritorial strike by the Colombians suggests that Washington is willing to do anything to protect the interests of our regional client states, including even if necessary action illegal under international law. As long as the US can forestall resolution of conflicts, it can help the militarist constituencies in those countries maintain their edge militarily. Pentagon contractors and defense companies, a strong lobbying presence in the Bush administration, can continue to supply clients like Israel with weapons to fight their never-ending wars. The political price and consequences of eliciting ongoing warfare are of secondary concern, as is the long-term blowback of creating an increasingly unpopular and unsustainable empire.

Using military force makes peaceful resolution of conflict far less likely. The ongoing use of military force eliminates other policy options. Naturally, the pro-militarist Right in nations like Columbia and Israel is eager to use force, in part to stroke their natural constituencies who revel in the use of force. It's with these regimes that an alliance based on hard power has been created which could even transcend changes in American political administrations.

The US is seeking to fashion a Status of Forces agreement with Iraq which would maintain an inclination towards hard power as the primary means to maintain relations. US military authority would define the context of our nation's relationship to Iraq at the expense of more effective, non-militarized policy options. The agreement binds the US to defend the Shia-dominated regime in Iraq from all enemies, foreign and domestic. More or less open-ended, the agreement would usher in decades of expensive commitments to Iraq which will ultimately evolve around the a status quo based on the continued projection of US military power. The agreement also avoids ratification by the Senate, as is required by any treaty.

In short, the Bush approach to foreign policy is completely oriented around the use of military force. It present a subversion of our foreign policy that transcends accountability in the political sphere, an inherently anti-democratic subversion.



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