Posted on | February 20, 2014 | 8 Comments
Secretary of State John Kerry declared climate change “a threat to national security” and likened it to a “weapon of mass destruction, perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”
His declaration during a speech in Jakarta, Indonesia came on the heels of President Obama’s visit to drought-stricken California to deliver both aid and pointed remarks on the need to make climate change a political priority.
At least one senator—Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)—thinks Congress is getting closer to taking some action on carbon-limiting fees and regulations. But his is a “contrarian view” stoked by pending EPA regulations on coal-fired plants and, perhaps, the demonstrable link in other nations between the increasingly bad weather that people experience and their growing trepidation about a changing climate they may not fully understand.
Could droughts, heatwaves, superstorms and, for good measure, a polar vortex or two finally force a real change in U.S. policy?
Not if God’s Plan gets in the way.
That’s the dirty little secret sustaining the Holy Trinity of big oil, natural gas and “clean” coal. They preserve their grip on both U.S. policymaking and those swollen wads of taxpayer-amplified profits by greasing the palms of political roundheels who, more often than not, are elected by a political base built on the Evangelicals and various mega-churchgoers who dominate gerrymandered districts, act as gatekeepers in primary elections and protest loudly over Biblically-bereft school curricula.
The “protest loudly” part is important because Big Carbon and their coterie of concubines cannot endure without some reliable public acquiescence or, even more alarming, the mechanical recalcitrance of their political base, even in the face mounting evidence. That sort of recalcitrance in the face of evidence is contrary to the practice of science, but almost requisite for adherence to creationism, climate denialism or the idea that our destinies are made manifest by the will of the Almighty.
According to a 2011 Baylor University study, seventy-three percent of Americans believe that God has a plan for everyone. And the more strongly they believe in God’s Plan, the more likely they are to see government overreach in the affairs of Americans. As Christianity Today pointed out, this distaste for government’s role in human affairs “…diminishes as belief in God’s plan wanes.”
It’s a simple juxtaposition—God’s preset course for history trumps any scheme concocted by humans. And any human-centered efforts that deny the Almighty’s heavy hand in the writing of history are, at best, apocryphal and, at worst, heretical.
In the case of the environment and climate change, human impact on something as big as the whole of God’s creation is, in and of itself, a dubious proposition. This makes human-centered explanations of climate change or the sixth mass extinction not only incidental, but even self-aggrandizing. It also fosters a willingness to accept the otherwise unacceptable, and this willingness is predicated on one simple turn of phrase—it’s all part of God’s plan.
Climate is part of God’s Plan.
Extinction is part of God’s Plan.
In fact, the end of the world is part of God’s Plan.
And because it nullifies Genesis—the alpha that sets up Armageddon’s omega—the science of evolution remains the biggest challenge to the veracity of that plan. If evolution is right, then Genesis is wrong. If Genesis is wrong, then God is either a liar or superfluous. And if we are not created in God’s image or living out God’s script for our lives, then humans are not quite as special and unique as we’d like to think.
For that thirty-three percent of Americans who, according to the most recent Pew poll, refuse to accept anything but Genesis, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Without God’s Plan, humans alone have to shoulder the burden of responsibility for turning a once quite real Eden into sweltering Hell on earth.
That’s why almost a century after the sad circus of the Scopes “Monkey Trial” and over one and a half centuries after Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species was first published, the obvious fact of evolution remains a relentless, if completely mind-boggling, controversy for a group of devout Americans who inadvertently, subconsciously or intentionally abet the greed and avarice of Big Carbon.
Maybe it is just a coincidence that two primary fronts in the war on evolution are Texas and Louisiana. They just so happen to be two of America’s most oil-centric states and, therefore, most prolific producers of carbon. Both states are also steeped in fundamentalism. Texas may or may not be the shiny Buckle on America’s Bible Belt, but there is little doubt its political class is awash in oil dollars and its environment tainted by the toxic consequences of fracking. Louisiana is not only in the midst of a $60 billion oil, gas and refining boom, it’s also the home of duck-hunting Bible experts and it’s a national leader in vouchers that allow parents to steer their children away from perilous “humanism” and into “classrooms” featuring anything but the basics of science.
Not coincidentally, America’s kids are perennial laggards in math and science education and too many of America’s adults lack a general knowledge of basic scientific facts. This works hand in glove with Big Carbon’s use of the Big Tobacco playbook for dealing with troubling scientific evidence. When in doubt, create doubt—but call it “scientific” doubt.
This doubt reflex dominated a flaccid debate on Meet the Press between tenacious science educator Bill Nye and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), vice-chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Ms. Blackburn, a red-blooded social conservative from Tennessee’s 7th District, benefits from an almost Pavlovian voting pattern that has seen her and her GOP predecessor win anywhere from sixty-six to one-hundred percent of the vote over the last seven elections. In the last year, she’s raised $38,000 from the oil and gas industry and she scooped up over $93,000 for her 2012 campaign. She practically has a Minnie Pearl-style price-tag dangling off of her hat.
So, it made perfect sense that she dismissed the scientific consensus about climate change even as another polar blast was inundating the East Coast. The indefatigable Nye, fresh off his debate with creation science promoter Ken Ham, implored Blackburn to “…really look at the facts. You are our leader. We need you to change things, not deny what’s happening.”
But denial is her bread and butter. She, like so many others who use the specious specter of doubt to cloud complicated scientific issues, basically runs interference for the geologists, chemists, engineers and corporate captains who profit from the oil and gas industry, but should know better.
Science and religion can and do work together, even if not for the greater good. A brand new survey by Rice University found that nearly fifty percent of Evangelicals “…believe that science and religion can work together and support one another.”
Alas, they do.
This marriage of convenience works together to deny inconvenient truths about the real and lasting damage Americans are causing each and every day. It’s a match made in heaven, like God and mammon.Tweet
Posted on | February 13, 2014 | 2 Comments
This is big news, particularly after such a messy break-up over America’s infatuation with remaking the Middle East. That fixation on Iraq turned into an international affair when France spurned America’s proposition and then-President Jacques Chirac refused to get sucked into a morally and legally sticky ménage à trois with George W. Bush and Tony Blair.
Despite the infamous French appetite for such things, they didn’t join the aptly-named “Coalition of the Willing.” It seems that the French weren’t willing get screwed by America’s clumsy, juvenile power-play.
But hell hath no fury like an imperialist scorned.
In 2003, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice’s succinctly stated the administration’s policy towards the unwilling—”Punish France, ignore Germany, forgive Russia.” That petty policy quickly became a series of petty punishments. The U.S. “downgraded its participation” in a French air show. It excluded France—officially a NATO member—from some NATO military exercises. French scientists were barred from meetings on Galileo, the European satellite program, and the U.S. blocked selection of France’s leading nuclear institute as the site of a cutting-edge nuclear fusion experiment called the International Tokamak Experimental Reactor (ITER).
The coup de grâce, though, came from those patriot actors in Congress. If you really want to hurt the French, you gotta go after their food, right? So, on March 11, 2003, Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio and Rep. Walter B. Jones, Jr. of North Carolina drew a line in the menu. Upon their direction, both French Fries and French Toast were re-christened as “Freedom Fries” and “Freedom Toast.” And it became a national sensation, with hash jockeys, greasy spooners and burger flippers across the country marching lock-step toward a menu that better reflected their values.
This national outpouring of righteous indignation even reached into condom dispensers in truckstop bathrooms, where patriotic fornicators could purchase “Freedom Ticklers.” Seriously. Freedom Ticklers. The best part of “the “Ticklers-formerly-known as French” was that the package depicted the Statue of Liberty, which was made in France and given to America as a gift. It’s a little irony that was probably lost on the target audience.
But now that’s all in the past. Congress eventually put the French back into their fries and, according to a new Gallup poll, Americans have decided to pull out the Barry White records and kiss and make-up with the apple of Thomas Jefferson’s eye. Although Americans’ favorability toward France plummeted from 79% just after 9/11 to a staggering 34% in March of 2003, it has finally recovered to the historical norm established throughout the 1990s. It took 11 years to recover, but now 78% of Americans sing “Je t’aime” when asked what they think about the French.
To seal the deal, President Obama invited an actual French Socialist—President Hollande—over to the White House for fancy dinner, some drinks and little dancing and then…who knows?
The two leaders were moonstruck enough to plan a big date between NASA and the French National Center of Space Studies (CNES). America and France have decided to go to Mars together. Sure, some will see a nefarious subtext in a European Socialist and President Obama agreeing to go to the “Red Planet,” but this scientific cooperation should put to rest any a lingering resentment over the petty punishments ordered by the Bush Administration.
President Hollande returned the favor by publicly putting to bed his government’s concerns in the wake of the Snowden-NSA spying revelations. “Mutual trust has been restored,” said Hollande, and he reaffirmed his commitment to work together with the U.S. to fight terrorism. And this is where the United States and the French are really getting into bed together—increasingly cooperating around Africa to quell insurgencies, fight jihadists and counter militants.
When French President Sarkozy walked back into to NATO’s military command some 40 years after Charles de Gaulle walked away, it began a synchronization of French and American interests in Africa and the Middle East. The French joined in on the toppling of Libya. The Americans provided material support for French efforts in Mali. And France has charged hard on Iran’s nuclear program and the crisis in Syria, while Germany and even Britain took a far more measured approach to these issues and toward the region.
But the real focus of this renewed relationship is Africa. The U.S. has a “rapid reaction” force based in Spain and a brigade based in Germany solely concerned with Africa. Although there was some talk about folding AFRICOM—the Pentagon’s specific command for the continent—into another command structure, the increasing cooperation with France, U.S. training missions around Sub-Saharan Africa and continuing drone strikes in and around the Horn of Africa portend more U.S. involvement on the continent.
Although it doesn’t break through the American news bubble, there is a new scramble for Africa currently underway. China is investing heavily around the continent, hungry for raw materials, rare earth metals and, it seems likely, the increasing number of oil and gas reserves being discovered from North Africa on down to Uganda and Kenya.
Countering Chinese influence is easier when you’ve got an “in,” and the new bosom-buddy relationship between Obama and Hollande reflects the fact that France is a crucial player in Africa. In fact, French is an official language in 28 African countries. That’s a huge advantage, one that is not lost on American policymakers. American airlift support for French military involvement in the mess that is the Central African Republic reflects the tacit quid pro quo that usually leads two major powers to get into bed with each other.
Back at home, Americans can relax and enjoy their French fries without regret and without the bitter jingoism that choked off a natural alliance between two revolutionary nations. But the French had better beware, because—like any good roll in the hay—the relationship goes both ways. While the French is back in America’s fries, it turns out that the all-American hamburger is taking over menus in Paris. A report in Le Monde—in turn, cited by the Christian Science Monitor—delivered the bad news: “In 2000, only one of every nine sandwiches sold was a hamburger. Today it is one of every two.”
Oh là là, France! The menu changed while you were not looking. And if you are not careful, this new closeness with America’s “national interests” could end up screwing you in the end. If nothing else, Uncle Sam will be sure to wear a Freedom Tickler.Tweet
Posted on | February 6, 2014 | 2 Comments
Is it a group of committed jihadists previously led by Osama bin Laden? Or is it a “brand?”
Is the enemy just the so-called “core” al-Qaeda, or is it now an amorphous conglomerate of affiliates, franchisees and enthusiasts?
If “core al-Qaeda” is, as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper just said in his most recent congressional testimony, those “remnants” of the original ideological core still in Pakistan and Afghanistan, by what criteria are other groups not self-identifying as “al-Qaeda” then deemed as “designated al-Qaeda”
Considering the President’s State of the Union anti-terrorist to-do list of Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Mali, is al-Qaeda really “on the path to defeat?” Is it “resurgent?” Or is the to-do list just a broad wish list of militants and insurgents not really associated with “core” al-Qaeda?
And now that Osama bin Laden is long-since dead, is Ayman al-Zawahri truly running a massive network of evildoers? Or is he, as CNN’s Peter Bergen wrote in 2012, “a black hole of charisma” who will never fill the void left behind by Osama bin Laden?
Questions are manifold. Answers are, as ever, scarce.
The confusion about al-Qaeda’s role in Syria and Iraq—supposed fronts in the nearly thirteen year war on those responsible for 9/11—illustrates the extent to which an ill-defined al-Qaeda is the crucial element sustaining the War On Terror.
It has been both officially asserted and widely accepted that al-Qaeda is actively fighting to take control of both Syria and Iraq. Both print and television news media used alarming headlines to emphasize the persistent specter of al-Qaeda in Syria and to bemoan its takeover of two Iraqi cities—Fallujah and Ramadi.
But then came a poser. Zawahri seems to have distanced himself and his “core” version of al-Qaeda from the proceedings in Syria. The way two major news agencies handled the story tells as much about the problem of defining al-Qaeda as it does about al-Qaeda itself.
Here’s how the Associated Press headlined the story: “Al-Qaida breaks with Syria group in mounting feud.”
However, that was not the first version to appear on AP’s website. The original headline from AP was: “Al-Qaida breaks ties with group in Syria.” And that was the headline run by Yahoo!News, US News & World Report, the San Francisco Chronicle and a variety of outlets that use AP’s wire service. FOX News altered AP’s headline a bit: “Al Qaeda announces it’s breaking ties with militant group fighting in Syria,” and the Times of Israel followed suit by also adding a qualifier: “Al-Qaeda breaks ties with rebel group in Syria.”
This isn’t a simple difference in style. In this second headline, al-Qaeda “denies” a connection to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)—a group consistently identified as “al-Qaeda” by the U.S. news media. Other European outlets used both “denies” and “ISIL” in their versions, and Haaretz used the Reuters wire story and an even more precise headline: “Al-Qaida denies link to Syrian militant group ISIL.”
“Syrian militant group” is a far cry from al-Qaeda, which is how the ISIL is consistently referred to by the US government, members of Congress and much of the U.S. media. Make no mistake, it matters how these groups are characterized. Although decision-makers like to raise the all-inclusive threat posed by “The Terrorists,” there is a black and white distinction at the very center of who’s who in the wide world of terrorism.
That’s because the War On Terror depends upon the Authorization For Use Of Military Force (AUMF). Passed on Sept. 14, 2001 and signed by President Bush four days later, the AUMF authorized the President to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations, or persons.”
This is the authorization President Obama uses every time a drone kills “suspected militants” in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. Although 9/11 was officially the alpha and the omega of the AUMF, the expansive language of “designated al-Qaeda,” its affiliates and various linked groups provides an evergreen public relations cover story for the mostly-secret program of targeted killings. Mostly secret.
While relentless gumshoes at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism piece together the details of the killer drone program from numerous sources and tabulate the mounting death toll in spite of official silence, Team Obama happily leaks information when it suits their purposes. An unnamed official told the Washington Post that the killer drone program was being curtailed in Pakistan as a concession to the Pakistani government’s peace talks with the Taliban. The official did note that the U.S. reserves the right to kill “…senior al-Qaeda targets, if they become available, and move to thwart any direct, imminent threat to U.S. persons.”
But aren’t senior al-Qaeda targets who directly and imminently threaten U.S. persons the whole point of AUMF? Aren’t these the “core al-Qaeda” DNI Clapper defined in his testimony? Also, has the killer drone program been assassinating people who are not “core” evildoers? The anonymously-confirmed pseudo-hiatus implies that the U.S. has been killing insurgents engaged in a political battle with their government. In fact, former Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf stated exactly that after he returned to home to run for office, but then ended up on trial for treason.
This is the ultimate danger of this program—that the ever-expanding AUMF transforms the killer drone program into a de facto assassination tool used in quid pro quo agreements with governments, to shore up factional allies or to tip the balance of power in sovereign nations. It’s something that got the CIA into trouble back in the 1970s.
And it’s something made so much easier by the advent of drones and the secrecy surrounding the program. Ever since Dick Cheney hailed a taxi to the dark side, it’s been harder and harder to trust executive power operating under the cover of national security. Perjury by DNI Clapper about the NSA’s spying program makes it difficult to trust him on anything—including about the parameters and capabilities of al-Qaeda.
So, what is al-Qaeda? And what happened in Syria?
The AP characterized Zawahri’s statement as an “apparent” move “to reassert the terror network’s prominence in the jihad movement across the Middle East amid the mushrooming of extremist groups during the upheaval of the past three years.”
The Reuters story stated, “Al-Qaida‘s general command has said it has no links with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in an apparent attempt to assert authority over the Islamist militant groups involved in Syria‘s civil war.”
Apparent? To whom?
Reassert prominence? Or assert authority?
Are extremist groups really “mushrooming,” and do they, like “core al-Qaeda,” now fall under the AUMF?
What is the truth? How can we verify it? And without it, will the war ever really end?Tweet
Posted on | January 21, 2014 | No Comments
GMOs are not popular and Big Ag knows it.
That’s why the industry opened its wallet to defeat attempts to pass mandatory labeling of food containing genetically modified components in California ($46m) and in Washington ($22m). It is also why the Grocery Manufacturers Association recently launched a “pre-emptive strike” against labeling at the Federal level.
The plan is to lobby Congress into setting a national labeling standard that would supersede labeling laws passed at the state or local level. If adopted, that labeling “requirement” will be every corporate captain’s favorite type of regulation—it will be a voluntary requirement!
Even without a “voluntary requirement” in place, the folks at General Mills realized the perception of GMOs is negative enough to warrant the elimination of genetically modified ingredients from one of America’s most iconic brand identities—Cheerios. It may just be a gimmick. Or it may be a test run to see if the “GMO-free” label generates a sales spike. Or it may be an admission of the real and dire image problems GMOs have with the public.
Is there any doubt General Mills did its due diligence—with copious test marketing and numerous focus groups—before modifying their flagship Cheerios brand?
No, Big Ag and Big Food know they have a big problem. But voluntary labeling is just the most visible part of a long-term strategy for shoving their food agenda down Americans’ throats. Another tactic involves using the specter of “terrorism” as a weapon against a growing army of activists. And a new front in the war on so-called “environmental terrorism” is, oddly enough, a Federal Court in Honolulu, Hawai‘i.
According to a lawsuit filed on January 10, 2014, three of biotech’s biggest players—Syngenta, Pioneer-DuPont and Dow Chemical’s Agrigenetics, Inc—claim an anti-GMO law passed by the County of Kaua‘i exposes them and their operations to “risks of corporate espionage, vandalism and environmental terrorism.”
The law in question—Ordinance 960—forces farmers to disclose information about the use of pesticides and genetically modified seeds and crops. This requirement is not voluntary. Not coincidentally, the three companies filing suit qualify as “farmers” under the ordinance since they lease a total of 11,500 acres on the island. Its remote location makes Kaua‘i, like the other Hawai‘ian islands, a perfect laboratory for testing new and exciting seeds, pesticides, herbicides and “poison-ready” crops. But people don’t like to be lab rats. Perhaps that is why there has been so much resistance to Big Ag in paradise, particularly on the Big Island.
Last December, Hawai‘i County Mayor Billy Kenoi signed a nearly-complete ban on all new genetically altered crops on the island. That’s a big “No!” to Syngenta, Dow, DuPont and Monsanto. And this resistance is spreading around the island chain. More directly, this backlash at the state and local level is exactly the sort of direct democracy Big Ag and Big Food both want to forestall at the federal level with their voluntary labeling ploy.
As the casino-like haggling over the Farm Bill illustrates each and every year, they’ve got the lobbyists and the bankrolls to make a whole-lotta hay in Gucci Gulch. But even more troubling than run-of-the-mill palm greasing is how anti-terrorism laws have turned state, local and federal law enforcement into a de facto corporate security force deployed on an ad hoc basis against environmental activists and protesters. As the lawsuit in Hawai‘i shows, the industry is well aware of the implications of labeling—in this case, the importance of labeling their opponents as agents of environmental terrorism.
But it isn’t limited to just “terrorism.” Sometimes it’s about stopping a “terrorism hoax.”
As independent journalist Will Potter reported in Vice, two anti-tar sands activists were recently arrested at the headquarters of Devon Energy in Oklahoma City. Devon Energy led the way on fracking and its CEO sits on the board of TransCanada—the prime mover behind the KeystoneXL pipeline. The two “radicals” unfurled a Hunger Games-themed protest banner in the building’s atrium, and some of the glitter they’d used fell to the floor. Of course, police were on the scene immediately and, because 9/11 changed everything, they decided to cordon-off the glitter and investigate it as a possible “biochemical assault.”
Much to the surprise of no one, it turned out that the glitter was, in fact, glitter. But the fear and loathing caused by the glitter was, according to charges filed, tantamount to terrorism and, therefore, a terrorism hoax—which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in jail.
What isn’t a hoax is the terrifying “chemical assault” on the environment and ground-water by fracking chemicals and by tar sands production. The irony of this juxtaposition is almost comical. The fracking industry doesn’t have to disclose information about the poisonous chemical cocktails it injects into the drinking water of millions. And federal authorities recently stopped investigating chemical assaults in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming. Nor will police cordon-off the toxic waste from tar sands piling up along the Detroit River. But they did arrest two activists protesting in accordance with their First Amendment rights. Or so those protesters thought.
In case you missed it, the ability of corporations to use “anti-terrorism” to shield their unsavory practices has been rooted in law since Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act in 2006. It’s primary target was, and still is, activists who engage in protests, civil disobedience and undercover activities that expose another of Big Ag’s public relations disasters—factory farming.
The signing of that bill into law opened the door to a host of “Ag-Gag” laws at the state level. These are, in fact, anti-whistleblower laws designed to keep shocking pictures of abused and infirm animals from disrupting the revenue stream flowing out of Big Ag’s industrialized food-chain. We are not talking about Earth First blowing up loggers to protect spotted owls. We are talking about people doing the sort of thankless investigative work that, in a bygone era, made Upton Sinclair a household name and inspired passage of regulations meant to ensure a level of safety in the food people eat.
A century later, the hard work of muckrakers is being undone. New rules allow poultry “processing” plants to self-regulate while Big Ag hides behind specious laws that taint whistleblowers as terrorists. Ag-Gag laws and the claims of Big Biotech in Kaua‘i echo an FBI document classifying the surreptitious videotaping of animal abuse by factory farmers as “terrorism” and, by extension, the activists and whistleblowers who do it as “terrorists.”
The problem for Big Ag and Big Food is that these videos work. People are outraged once they see what happens to their dinner before it gets to their plates. In 2011, Activists at Mercy for Animals produced footage of horrific abuse of chickens at Sparboe Egg Farms and it wasn’t long before McDonald’s and Target dropped the callous egg supplier.
It worked when Upton Sinclair published The Jungle a century ago, and it works today when activists and whistleblowers expose the seamier side of big business. In this corporate age, image matters more than ever. And images that affect how consumers regard corporations affect the bottom line, and the bottom line affects every decision corporations make. They know that labels are important—whether it be “GMO” or “terrorist.”Tweet
Posted on | January 15, 2014 | 4 Comments
Americans don’t know much about geography.
In 2006, three years into the bloody War on Iraq, 63% of Americans aged 18-24 couldn’t find the “target-rich” nation on a map.
To be fair, only half could find New York State on a map, so it is unsurprising that, in spite of its then-dominance of the news cycle, they couldn’t locate the principal fixation of American foreign policy on a map that still brims with U.S. military bases and deployments.
It’s been nearly eight years since that geography test and just over two years since President Obama declared an all-too-Pyrrhic victory as some of the last remaining troops returned home. In March of 2012, just a few months after Obama opined about Americans leaving with “their heads held high,” the President’s current Deputy National Security Adviser, Antony J. Blinken, proclaimed at the Center for American Progress that “Iraq today is less violent, more democratic and more prosperous” than “at any time in recent history.”
Armed with this rosy view of “recent” history, Blinken doubled-down on Iraq’s bright future in July of 2012 when he wrote with a sunny, Reaganesque optimism that it was “Morning in Mesopotamia!” And that was it. For all intents and purposes, Iraq disappeared from the map as soon as America walked away from the furies it had capriciously and illegally unleashed on the Iraqi people.
Like geography, America doesn’t do accountability.
But now Iraq is back in the headlines and, as with every day since the 2003 invasion, there is a great deal of mourning in Mesopotamia. And, as with every day since the snipe hunt for WMDs could no longer be justified, the story of Iraq remains cloaked in denial about America’s responsibilities to sovereign nation that was invaded under false pretenses, its government toppled, its infrastructure obliterated and its people killed in numbers that still haven’t been accurately tabulated.
The names are familiar—Fallujah, Ramadi and Anbar Province. And so is the unwillingness of the political, military and foreign policy establishments to deal directly with the fact that serious crimes have been committed and nothing has been done to reconcile the U.S. with Iraq—no formal apology has been made, no decision-makers held to account nor any reparations paid to the Iraqi people.
This fundamental denial flows right through the middle of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Although the War on Iraq is widely and quite cavalierly regarded as a “strategic blunder” in the United States, the view around the world and in the region is quite different. After the Shock and Awe, world opinion shifted almost immediately against the United States. More importantly, the Pew Global Attitudes Research Project found in 2012—the same year as “Morning in Mesopotamia”—that the median favorability rating for the U.S. among key nations in the region was 21%. China came in at 45%. The survey didn’t include the nations most affected by the war—Iraq, Iran and Syria. And that median number reflects to some extent Israel’s 83% favorable view of the U.S. The next highest was Lebanon at 47%.
Back in the U.S., a reliably myopic and co-dependent media encourages denial among Americans. Since CNN “quietly” shuttered its Baghdad bureau last year, news from the steadily decaying country has been hard to come by, even as Iraq suffered a daily onslaught of bombings and attacks that made 2013 its deadliest year since 2007. Perhaps to its credit, CNN was the last TV news operation standing, but its departure completed a full retreat by the American news media that began, perhaps coincidentally, shortly after Obama won the White House.
After taking office, Obama dismissed the idea of accountability for the second Bush Administration or, by extension, for those within his own party who—like pre-emptive 2016 front-runner Hillary Clinton—aided and abetted its grand schemes in Congress. To wit, he quickly declared that he wanted his administration to “look forward, as opposed to looking backwards.”
“Don’t look back” is big hit with incoming administrations. It’s the careful karaoke and sanguine sidestep we get instead of truth and consequences. Bill Clinton sang the song as he entered the White House. His administration let a long-forgotten scandal called “Iraq-gate” just fade away and operatives in the first Bush Administration skated by without so much as a slapped wrist for the illegal arming of…wait for it…Saddam Hussein.
Funny how all roads lead to Iraq. Less funny is how often the scene of the crime involves the usual suspects.
Enter al-Qaeda. Well, not quite. Although the news media shouts alarming headlines stating that “al-Qaeda” has taken Fallujah and Ramadi, a closer read reveals that ”al-Qaeda” is actually “The Islamic State in Iraq and The Levant,” which is an “al-Qaeda linked” group (whatever that means). The editors at Time prefer to call it an “al-Qaeda franchise.”
Franchise? Like the terms “linked” and “affiliate,” it’s a handy bit of branding without discernable proof of a direct connection to the notorious al-Qaeda of Osama bin Laden. Is there an actual headquarters somewhere issuing franchisees a license to kill in the name of Allah? Can’t anyone with a Twitter account or a black flag claim the moniker of al-Qaeda? And didn’t the United States kick open the door to a regional civil war in the first place?
Perhaps the willingness of insurgents around the region to adopt the name “al-Qaeda” is more of a reflection of, and reaction to, America’s ham-fisted military policies than it is proof of a “resurgence” of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda. But those nuances are lost on a media that prefers to focus on the pain and anguish of U.S. military veterans who, as the USA Today reported, “feel the sting” of losing Fallujah and Ramadi to al-Qaeda. Little attention, if any, is paid to the repeatedly stung Iraqis who’ve had to live through America’s grand adventure, enduring the sectarian hell it unleashed and the unrelenting chemical and radiological fallout that poisons their landscape and their bodies.
Rather than focus on the plight of an erroneously targeted people who were killed in vain, mainstream American media looks in vain for a salve to dull the lingering pain of those sent into a maelstrom the media itself helped to create in the first place.
Now the U.S. government is sending rockets and drones to assist Iraq in the fight against franchisees and door-to-door jihadists. Without irony, the U.S. Congress bloviates about putting conditions on military aid to an “untrustworthy” Iraqi government and it postures over sending Apache helicopters. But the U.S. will not send an apology or the one thing that could possibly make a difference—reparations. Yes, reparations. Like other wrongful wars, the War on Iraq demands a full accounting. Based on precedents set during wars in the 20th Century—like the reparations for Iraq’s illegal invasion of Kuwait—tens of billions of dollars are due the Iraq people for “death, injury, loss of or damage to property, commercial claims and claims for environmental damage.”
It’s really no different than someone who was wrongfully convicted of a crime, spent years in prison and then had the conviction vacated after being cleared by DNA evidence. Although it happens with an uncomfortable regularity, it is a reminder that it’s never to late for justice to be served. Usually, the aggrieved party is awarded a substantial amount—money he or she can use as they see fit in attempt to rebuild a life that was destroyed in error.
Isn’t that the story of Iraq?
Of course, that narrative doesn’t work for “recent” historians like Antony Blinken. Echoing George W. Bush, Blinken proposed that “the wisdom of going to war in Iraq” will be debated for years and that it is best to leave it to historians. Luckily for Blinken and the foreign policy establishment he represents, Americans know as much about history as they do about geography.
And, as the Benghazi debacle showed, Americans still don’t know much about geography. In May of 2013, only 58% of those polled could place Benghazi in Libya—the site of yet another festering sectarian conflict unleashed by U.S. policy. But when it comes to coping with the truth and consequences of America’s globe-trotting militarism, they can find denial all over the map of the Middle East. And, as the saying goes, it isn’t just a river in Egypt.Tweet « go back — keep looking »