Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Suspending Rationality

All but forgotten in the wake of Obama’s wonderful magical speech is the fact that the Palestinians are still living under the jack boot of Israeli domination. Their economy brought to a standstill by the constricting grip of the Israeli occupation the Palestinians live with a shortage of water, food, medicine, power, in other words all the basic necessities that we in the U.S. take for granted. To anyone paying attention it is quite clear that Israel is not interested in peace unless it is on their terms. In fact it seems even clearer that their goal is to drive the Palestinians completely out of Israel.

On the surface, the recent statements regarding the “natural growth” of Israeli settlements by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton sounds like a step in the right direction until one considers that Israel has in the last sixty years taken almost every square inch of Palestinian land already and that much of it is illegal by international law. There is almost a worldwide consensus that a two-state solution is the only way to bring about peace in that war-torn corner of the world. The only two nations that oppose this consensus are the U.S. and Israel. The U.S. is now fully involved in destabilizing different parts of the world through the ever broadening war in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as on other fronts in Somalia and Iraq. Considering the endless wars and occupations you have to ask just how serious Obama and Clinton are in their deep abiding concern for the Palestinians. In my opinion it is nothing but farcical posturing.

There is a confluence of forces at work driving the imperial wars. The industrial-military-scientific-congressional complex, the usage of war as a means for political gain such as Lyndon Johnson’s Tonkin Gulf incident, and then there is the issue of oil. Though there is some controversy over just how much oil is left anyone who believes that there is enough oil to last forever is sadly mistaken. Likely in the next few hundred years the battle for controlling oil sources will intensify as supplies dry up and emerging industrial nations clamor for more. There is also evidence that the recent brutally murderous attack against Gaza by Israel was driven by the fact that natural gas was found off the coast of Gaza and Israel now controls it even though it belongs to the Palestinians.

Compounding the confusion and misconceptions in all of this are the mainstream news media whose purpose is to make a profit like any other business. Guardians of the flame of truth they are not. The most popular opinion-mongers seem to be the most likely to get everything wrong as in the case of Tom Friedman. Yet people continue to take him seriously and the New York Times continues to employ him despite his dismal record of being wrong on almost every issue and topic.

Noam Chomsky touches on all these topics and more in a recent article which is absolutely worth reading.


Obama's "new initiative" is spelled out more fully by John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, now chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in an important speech at the Brookings Institute on March 9. (http://kerry.senate.gov/cfm/record.cfm?id=309250). In interpreting Kerry's words, we have to suspend normal rationality, and agree that the actual facts of history are completely irrelevant. What is important is not the contrived picture of past and present, but the plans outlined.

Kerry urges that we acknowledge that our honorable efforts to bring about a political settlement have failed, primarily because of the unwillingness of the Arab states to make peace. Furthermore, all of our efforts to "to give the Israelis a legitimate partner for peace" have foundered on Palestinian intransigence. Now, however, there is a welcome change. With the Arab Initiative of 2006, the Arab states have finally signaled their willingness to accept Israel's presence in the region. Even more promising is the "unprecedented willingness among moderate Arab nations to work with Israel" against our common enemy Iran. "Moderate" here is used in its technical meaning: "willing to conform to US demands," irrespective of the nature of the regime. "This re-alignment can help to lay the groundwork for progress towards peace," Kerry said, as we "re-conceptualize" the problem, focusing on the Iranian threat.

Kerry goes on to explain that there is also at last some hope that a "legitimate partner" can be found for our peace-loving Israeli ally: Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. How then do we proceed to support Israel's new legitimate Palestinian partner? "Most importantly, this means strengthening General [Keith] Dayton's efforts to train Palestinian security forces that can keep order and fight terror... Recent developments have been extremely encouraging: During the invasion of Gaza, Palestinian Security Forces largely succeeded in maintaining calm in the West Bank amidst widespread expectations of civil unrest. Obviously, more remains to be done, but we can help do it."

Routinely, Kerry describes the attack on Gaza as entirely right and just: by definition, since the US crucially participated in it. It doesn't matter, then, that the pretext lacks any credibility, under principles that we all accept -- with regard to others.

General Dayton's forces, armed and trained in Jordan with Israeli participation and supervision, are the soft side of population control. The tougher and more brutal forces are those trained by the CIA: General Intelligence and Preventive Security.

Kerry is right that we can do more to ensure that West Bank Palestinians are so effectively controlled that they cannot even protest the slaughter in Gaza -- let alone move towards meaningful self-determination. For this task, the US can draw on a long history of colonial practice, developed in exquisite detail during the US occupation of the Philippines after the murderous conquest a century ago, then widely applied elsewhere. This sophisticated refinement of traditional imperial practice has been highly successful in US dependencies, while also providing means of population control at home. These matters are spelled out in groundbreaking work by historian Alfred McCoy (Policing America's Empire, forthcoming). Kerry should be familiar with these techniques from his service in South Vietnam. Applying these measures to Palestine, collaborationist paramilitary forces can be employed to subdue the domestic population with the cooperation of privileged elites, granting the US and Israel free rein to carry forward Bush's "vision" and Olmert's Convergence-plus. Gaza can meanwhile be kept under a strangling siege as a prison and occasional shooting gallery.

“In interpreting Kerry's words, we have to suspend normal rationality, and agree that the actual facts of history are completely irrelevant.” This is true not just about Kerry but almost every politician and commentator as well. But go read the whole article.


At June 09, 2009 11:56 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

I've written this elsewhere, but it applies here too. A friend of mine once asked me if I thought we'd ever have peace in the middle east, and I told him I felt we would-- when they run out of oil or when the US is completely bankrupt, because either would cause the US to no longer foment discord in the region.

For the longest time I've wondered about the real attitudes ordinary Americans have about US foreign policy in the middle east. I wonder, for example, how many Americans are aware that Israel has nukes, and if awareness of this correlates with less willingness to see pre-emptive military action against Iran as justifiable.

How many people sincerely believe that we were attacked on 9/11 because "they hate us for our freedoms"? The US media is an incredibly well-oiled hermetic machine that works overtime to dispel the "ordinary rationality" that Chomsky talks about, but inevitably cracks spring forth periodically.

Mostly, as far as I can see, these are due to the exceptional brutality of the IDF in the summer 2006 assault on Lebanon and the similar attack on Gaza at Christmastime 2008.

Additionally there are the semantic similarities. Americans hear, over and over again, about "collateral damage", and recognize they've heard both Israeli and US politicians talking about civilian deaths at the hands of the putative good guys that way.

Some just dismiss these cognitive cracks and go back to watching House or Lost or whatever is trendy on TV this month, but others remember how many lies were told to sell the Iraq war and associate "collateral damage" with those lies. The lies about how Pat Tillman was killed probably enter into this mix as well.

At June 10, 2009 5:48 AM, Blogger Charles F. Oxtrot said...

The extent of the media machine's polish and slickness was revealed in the comment thread regarding Chris Floyd's most recent essay. See the comments from Tony C regarding Uri Avnery's essay on Obama's recent speech to Arab and Muslim people. Avnery's position when Bush was POTUS was that the USA was responsible for problems in the ME. Now that Obama's president, Avnery has changed his tune and declared Obama a new peace broker. Of course, close analysis shows no change other than rhetorical style, and a likelihood that if any change arises it will be more of the same only ramped up, this Tony character believes strongly (or says he does, at least) that Avnery is serious and is worth considering.

Oily talk gulls most people. When the slimy speech is repeated endlessly by the media machine, and pundits like Chris Matthews glow with false pride at the "accomplishments" of the Mighty Obamessiah, the delusion becomes a new reality for these Obamanauts. Their reality need not touch facts or logical exposition.

Like the neocons that the Obamanauts loved to hate under Bush, Obamanauts now "create their own reality."

Why follow facts, why use logical reasoning, when you can just make up a scenario and believe it's the truth?

At June 10, 2009 6:56 AM, Blogger Bob In Pacifica said...

I try to see history comparatively. How does the organization of power of the early towns of the Fertile Crescent have to parallels with how real power exists in, say, today's United States? How did a town crier function as a source of news compared with, say, MSNBC? What was the purpose of religion in the Germanic societies in Gaul versus religion as a function of society today?

The same stew of religion, fear, bad information, etc., that encouraged people to stay in line and keep pulling those huge stones to make the pyramids functions today. We may not be literally pulling a stone for someone else's greater glory (although the parallels to recent Madoff-like pyramid schemes could be made), but the work of hundreds of millions of people have allowed the murderous continuation of the oil wars, for example. A few bucks from each of our paychecks, we don't see the tenuous connection when we punch the clock at the job or fill up our gas tanks, and the most dreadful things can be done with a little bit of everyone's tug at the rope.

When our great forefathers wrote "all men are created equal" all men weren't created equal. And they used the term literally. All women were left out of the schematics. Okay, maybe those forefathers were a little hypocritical, they had to have time to iron out the kinks of this democracy thing. But how much closer to equal are all men and women now? Certainly not by wealth in these here United States. As despicable as American slavery was, the separation of wealth between the richest and poorest is now far greater. While there are no slaveowners to beat the unruly slave to death, there are intermediaries who can do the equivalent more efficiently and who easily divert the attention and hostility of the rest of us slaves. Whole groups of our society are routinely devalued as a function of our government (while being promised administrative equality). The stratification that existed at the founding of America has been enhanced. That makes our Constitution and all those founding documents bullshit. And, as some have surely noticed, that's the way they've been treated lately. But that's the way they've been treated historically.

I would go so far as to say that every country, every constitution, every governing body, is in some way enforcing how all men aren't equal, how (going back to those ancient little settlements in the Fertile Crescent) the guy who controlled the keys to the granary along with his pals with the spears were always more equal than the farmers growing the grain.

As far as the media in America today, I think it is merely a continuation of what media has always been, how it always has functioned. Judith Miller is the rule, not the exception. There was an excellent little book by Christopher Simpson called THE SCIENCE OF COERCION, which covers the growth of corporate media after WWII along with the government, the intelligence industry, the propaganda industry, etc. To know that the people publishing Life Magazine had long-time connections with high-ranking State Department or CIA officials, and that they worked hand in hand to promote the zeitgeist of the time, was both fascinating and discouraging. But really, what's the difference between how MSNBC today or the town crier who a few hundred years ago was shouting out the king's version of the news?

Eventually rationality bumps into the corrupt nature of the overlords (who are in some way justifying the existing inequality). There are various strategies to sell this inequality to the hoi polloi. Maybe it's because "the other" is dangerous, or inferior to our own commoners. Or maybe the inequality is explained by the fact that it just takes time to make all men equal, and if you put a little more shoulder into pushing that stone this pyramid which in actuality represents the equality of man will eventually get built.

At June 10, 2009 7:39 AM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Good gosh Bob! Who knew you were not only a Pacifican but a Hegelian!

At June 10, 2009 12:56 PM, Blogger Bob In Pacifica said...

Please, Jonathan. I am already having enough trouble trying to reconcile that I am a supinator.

At June 10, 2009 1:59 PM, Blogger Charles F. Oxtrot said...

A supinator? Egads, man! How do your feet stand it?

I'm a pronator myself, King of the Fallen Arches!

At June 10, 2009 2:18 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

Hey, what is this? The comments are better than my post!


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