When I watched the first Presidential debate on Friday, in between bouts of infuriation, I tried to catch which "agreed upon lies" the two candidates accepted/promulgated.
One of my favorite sayings, attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, is "History is a series of agreed upon lies." If you tie it to the maxim about how history is written by the winners, you get a fuller understanding of the meaning of this. You also get why Napoleon, being a loser, would come to this realization.
The history books you got in school left out key bits of information about things like slavery, the destruction of Native Americans by white settlers and whole major issues like labor and its struggles. Some of these things were big lies, some were big issues that were somehow overlooked. Even those of us who know about the dirty stuff have been raised with these lies and internally mediate between what we really know and what everyone has been taught. So the best lies are the ones we feel compelled go along with. In the heat of a political campaign we will forgive and forget when our guy doesn't step up.
With me so far?
Recognizing how you react to these lies will tip you off as to when you're being lied to in future debates. What often happens is that we will get upset or angry that our candidate (this year, Obama) didn't counter something that the other guy (McCain) said, or didn't exploit or point out an obvious lie. In a debate these moments come so fast that the emotion comes and goes before we can process it. We're on to the next topic, or the next lie, before we can rationally deal with it. So usually our reaction is, "Why did he...?" or more likely "Why didn't he...?" Cumulatively, you begin to think that your guy is kind of a wimp.
We end up with a knot in our stomach. So let's untangle the knot.
The first "agreed upon lie" was about the bailout. Not that they agreed on specifics. They pretty much agreed not to talk about it. It's very possible that neither man knew all the details of the deal being hashed out as they debated, but aside from how much they'd cut from the budget (and that was pretty vague too) or what they'd cut (McCain = just about everything, Obama = not so much) there wasn't much real talk about how this crisis came about (like all that deregulatin'
). It was as if this huge thing just happened, like that Enron thingie just happened a few years ago.
Maybe we should give the two candidates a pass on the Wall Street bailout. After all, delicate negotiations were going on. Or something.
Lie #2 was the Iraq War. Okay, there were separation. McCain talked about how you have to stay in wars until you "win" so no one dies in vain and Obama talked about how he didn't want to go to war in the first place. Considering that the vast majority of Americans want out of Iraq you'd think that Obama could have exploited this topic a lot more.
The agreed upon lie was why there was a war against Iraq at all. Sometimes the politicians get dragged into knocking down the old excuses like Saddam's alleged connection to 9-11, Saddam's alleged connection to the anthrax attacks, Saddam's alleged nukes, Saddam's alleged missiles and drones (forgot about those, didn't you?), or just the general "Saddam was a bad man and wouldn't allow free elections" garbage. The real reason for the war? OIL. Oil and its control by the oil companies. Just imagine if Obama had said, "Look, everyone knows that this war was about Exxon and BP getting control of the oil in Iraq." Think about how his credibility would have gone through the roof. Even the dullest blade in the drawer would have slapped his forehead and said, "Of course!" And if Obama had followed up with, "And considering the cost of a gallon of gas now compared with what it was back in 2000 you can see that the interests of the oil companies and the American people aren't the same," there would be a united cheer rise up across the continent. Alternative energy would be just around the corner.
But Obama didn't. His opposition to the Iraq War was merely a judgment call: Iraq or Afghanistan. He was saying, "We can't afford both. We should have done Afghanistan because that's where bin Laden is/was." Forget the immorality of fighting a war in Iraq for the profits of corporations.
Which leads us to the lie of Afghanistan. That's the good war, right? If you go back and read the alternative press back during the 1990s there were stories about the proposed pipeline running from the oil-rich former "Stans" in Central Asia to the Indian Ocean. If you were a wacky conspiracy theorist you might think that after the negotiations between the Bush State Department and the Taliban broke down that 9-11 was staged in order to, among other things, invade Afghanistan and get the pipeline. But let's not go there
So we're in Afghanistan in order to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban. Remember, the Taliban never attacked us. And Osama and the al Qaeda people who were given the blame for 9-11 were almost all Saudi. The Taliban were willing to hand over bin Laden if the U.S. promised he'd be tried in a third country, so it wasn't like they were absolutely opposed to bin Laden's prosecution. Still, we're in Afghanistan six years after Osama left. What's this all about?
Afghanistan is the war that Obama wants to pursue.
Which leads us to the next agreed upon lie: Georgia. The boundaries of the universe of choice presented by the two candidates is McCain's "Cold War Two because of those blood-thirsty Ruskies" versus Obama's more measured "We can't trust them because of this but we must talk to them". Both positions allow for a new anti-Russian military buildup.
When Georgia seceded from the old Soviet Union back in the early nineties both Abkhazia and South Ossetia wanted to remain with Russia. The populations were ethnically more Russian and there was some bad history with the Georgians. The reason why South Ossetia and Abkhazia were connected to Georgia in the first place was because in the 1920s Josef Stalin, who was an ethnic Georgian, put those two little provinces under Georgia's jurisdiction as part of a bureaucratic reorganization of the USSR. In fact, while "the West" didn't recognize their independence (compare to the West's embrace of those freedom-seeking Albanians in Kosovo), they functioned as independent from Georgia.
Mikhail Saakashvili was trained in the U.S. with a fellowship from the State Department's (read: CIA's) "Support For Freedom Act". He was our man in Tbilisi. He undermined Shevardnaze, and once "Misha" became President there Georgia began an incredibly large military buildup at the U.S.'s expense. One estimate put Georgia's military budget as expanding by forty-four times the pre-Saakashvili level. U.S. and Israeli trainers were there, training
What were they training for except to attack South Ossetia (with maybe Abkhazia thrown in later)? All of the initial reports put the Georgians going into South Ossetia and shelling civilian targets. The results were utterly predictable. The Russians counterattacked and pursued the Georgians across the border where they destroyed or dismantled and hauled off the billions of dollars' worth of American armaments.
So what was the point of the Bush Administration building up Georgia for an ass-whipping?
Putin has volunteered that it was to aid one of the Presidential candidates (that one being McCain). And it's true that when the sabers rattle people tend to vote Republican.
But there are two more reasons. The Cold War paid enormous benefits to the military-industrial complex. You could say that the Cold War was invented for the military-industrial complex. Or you could say that the military-industrial complex invented the Cold War. However you parse it, the war in Georgia gives an excuse to pour more billions down the Star Wars missile defense rat hole. (Check Chalmers Johnson and Tom Engelhardt
; it's already begun.) It gives an excuse to not only rebuild and replace all the weapons that Georgia just lost, but also supply weapons to all those little republics from Estonia to Alaska. More aircraft carriers. More jet planes. More uniforms, more boots. Plus permanent war situations give excuses for more domestic surveillance and other repressive, anti-democratic laws and actions. Ratchet up the tension at home, the people are more ready for more war, more prepared to be herded this way or that.
The third reason for the Georgia war was referred to by McCain. He claimed that the oil pipeline running across Georgia was in jeopardy because of Russian aggression. The Russians could have easily blown up that pipeline. They scrupulously didn't. Still, as long as Americans perceive the Georgian pipeline from "the Stans" is in jeopardy then we are more easily convinced that maybe we should make another pipeline. Like, say, across Afghanistan.
There were other agreed upon lies. Every time a politician starts wringing his or her hands over the grave threat that Iran's halted nuclear program poses to Israel no one mentions the one hundred or three nuclear weapons that have been churned out of Dimora over the last several decades. Israel's nuclear arsenal is big enough to make every major city from Tangiers to Tashkent glow and bounce several times over. But you get the idea. That somewhat major fact is omitted from any discussion.
There are certainly enough legitimate differences between the two candidates and their parties that any clear-thinking person with the best interests of the vast majority of Americans would support Obama.
It's where the candidates agree to not challenge certain lies, though, that give you a real view to the lay of the land, and the identity of those who ultimately rule this country. Anyone out there think they see the outline of our real rulers?