Illegality, Ignorance, and Imperialism

(and the Need for Revolution)

The Illegality of the U.S. War on Iraq

One overlooked lesson of the invasion and occupation of Iraq is that international law–even the most fundamental one embodied in Article 2 of the UN Charter prohibiting use of force in international relations–can be violated with impunity, without legal ramifications or sanctions. Even Henry Kissinger–that embodiment of vicious amorality and imperialist aggression–noted in 2002 that the planned invasion would upset the structure of international relations existing since the Treaty of Westphalia 1648. Never mind, it happened anyway.

The U.S.-led assault on Iraq, in a war based entirely on lies–about Iraq’s 9/11 complicity; mobile chemical weapons labs; al-Qaeda training camps; a nuclear weapons program that could produce “a mushroom cloud over New York”; aluminum tube imports to abet that mythical effort; Saddam-backed al-Qaeda Kurds in Iraq producing chemical weapons; Saddam’s maintenance of a missile fleet on 45-minute standby to attack British military bases in Cyprus, as well as Israel, Greece and Turkey; imports of uranium from Niger, a meeting in Baghdad between Saddam and Mohammad Atta, meetings between Iraqi officials with al-Qaeda in Prague and elsewhere, etc.–was obviously criminal.

The war based on lies obviously produced horrific results (half a million dead for no good reason, for example), sharpening international tensions. But it doesn’t matter, in this post-empiricism world, in which (the then George W. Bush aide Karl Rove opined to a journalist in 2004) “we’re an empire now, we create our own reality; and while you [rational, normal humans] are studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.”

“We’re history’s actors,” the Machiavellian political operative boasted. “And you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” And he was right, in the sense that forces of decency on the planet have been unable to thwart the actions of the empire in the fourteen years since. And no amount of study and analysis have deterred those actors from their chosen roles.

The so-called “international community” did not punish the U.S. and its “coalition of the willing” henchmen in 2003, even as hapless UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan somberly pronounced the war “illegal.” (Repeat: the Secretary-General of the United Nations, which had rejected the U.S. case for war, stated publicly that the war was “illegal.” Should have been end of story, were there some justice in this world.)

Nor did the American people successfully demand prosecution of such war criminals as George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, “Scooter” Libby, David Wurmser, Elliott Abrams, Adam Shulsky, John Bolton etc.

These moral monsters are all doing very nicely in their current careers, if somewhat constrained in their international travels due to the possibility of arrest in certain countries. One must imagine them getting together for the occasional reunion, remembering the good old days of Shock and Awe, sharing Geneva Accords jokes, toasting the fact that they all remain at large, and recently rejoicing together about the likelihood of a Hillary Clinton administration. (In truth, they’ve always liked her).

The Officially-Promoted Ignorance of the People about the Recent Past

Another overlooked lesson is that, despite heroic efforts by countless activists to educate the masses about the criminality of the Iraq war, and its disastrous human toll, the masses seem to have learned nearly nothing. (No, I take that back; I over-speak; I perhaps show bitterness that my own voice crying in the wilderness is so little heard.)

Of course there are millions in this sad country that do understand what’s been going on. But polls suggest that historical memories are short and confused. Suffice it to say that as recently as June 2015 CNN/ORC poll showed that 52% of Americans had a positive opinion of George W. Bush.

Remember him? (I have to ask this–just because some of my college students were just two years old when this happened.) “Dubya” Bush was the president who came to office in that rigged election in 2000 (the one decided when the Supreme Court stopped a recount of votes in Florida, after Bush had received a minority of the popular vote), He was a son of George H.W. Bush, a former president known for his war on Iraq in 1991, who’d been thrown out after one term for his handling of the economy. The second Bush installed a cabinet led by an incredibly powerful and super-secretive vice president named Dick Cheney consisting of big oil representatives, anti-science Christian conservatives and lots of neocons out to remake the whole Middle East on behalf of Israel. These were hand-picked by Cheney, who became the de facto leader of the country during the first four years of the Bush administration.

Bush was the president that used the tragedy of 9/11 (in which around 3000 died) to invade Afghanistan killing tens of thousands. U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban (who had nothing to do with 9/11, by the way) and installed a puppet named Hamid Karzai. (In fairness, Karzai became more independent over time.) But the central government in Kabul has remained weak, at the mercy of the warlords, and 15 years after the Taliban’s “fall” the group controls more of the country (about one-third) than at any time since 2002!

(George W. Bush stupidly conflated al-Qaeda–an international terror network bent on provoking a general Islam-western conflict, to realize some future vague aim of a reconstituted Caliphate, with the Taliban–a Pashtun-based Afghan-nationalist network of militants and clerics that combine traditional “Pashtunwali” hospitality to outsiders, such as bin Laden, and xenophobia. In deposing their rule and imposing a new regime, which after all these years remains fragmented, unstable, corrupt, with warlords-cum-governors continuing to administer provinces, Bush rejected a Taliban offer to turn bin Laden over to U.S. custody and insisted on regime change. He said the U.S. “would not distinguish” between al-Qaeda and the Taliban although he ought to have made a firm distinction. The Al-Qaeda foreigners were quickly driven from Afghanistan in 2001-2. The Taliban born of the Afghan soil and rooted in the anti-Soviet struggle of the 1980s remain, and make advances.

In other words: Bush’s decision for regime change in Afghanistan–supposedly as a response to the 9/11 attacks remotely “directed” by a Saudi man in Afghanistan–was not so much a rational response to the attacks but the seizure of an opportunity to gain control of a large Central Asian Country. Let us not mention for the time being Afghanistan’s position as host for a gas pipeline from the Caspian Sea to the Indian Ocean, or what former President Hamid Karzai estimated as $ 30 trillion in mineral deposits. The point is, Bush did not embark on a “war of necessity.” He triggered an ongoing disaster in Afghanistan. Does it not seem strange that after so many years of training the Afghan Army (180,000) costing so many billions to fight maybe 20,000 Talibs, the U.S. military remains entrenched in Afghanistan, unable to rely on natives to suppress their own crazies who in any case at this point are no threat to the U.S.? It’s not like the Taliban is threatening to attack U.S. soil.)

Worse–for those of you who don’t remember clearly–Bush followed up Afghanistan with the Iraq War, based–to repeat, because you can never ever repeat it enough–entirely on lies.

Yet (since the topic is ignorance) a January 2015 poll showed 40% of Americans and 51% of Republicans actually believe weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. Does that not depress you? If not, what is wrong with you?

Tens of millions of people actively warring against reality live in a dream world induced by viewing their favorite cable network. The problem of ignorance is as terrifying as the problem of bombing, when one leads to the other.

Tired Old Russophobia in the Service of U.S. Imperialism

The people have in general been successfully seduced into a neo-Cold War mentality. Even young people mercifully born after the Cold War are victimized by the lingering Russophobia of that period. It is ingrained in popular culture. (Notice how it figures routinely in Saturday Night Live sketches, for example. Why do you keep doing that babushka character, Kate McKinnon? Don’t you realize how many people you’re insulting?)

The people have been persuaded that Russia is an aggressive power, which has invaded Georgia and Ukraine in an effort to revive the Soviet Union–that “existential threat” to the U.S. throughout the Cold War. They’ve been persuaded to embrace a contra-reality; the State Department (rather like Donald Trump responding to criticism) responds to exposure of its crimes with ferocious counter-attacks.

Russia points out that the U.S. sabotaged the peace process in Syria last month by bombing 62 Syrian soldiers; the U.S. responds indignantly, changing the subject, claiming Russia’s support for the Syrian Arab Army is the basic problem. It suspends talks with Russia on the Syrian problem and warns of the possibility of unilateral actions to bring down Assad. (As the exceptional and indispensable Nation; the last, best hope of mankind; the shining city on the hill, etc., the U.S. has rights transcending normal mundane rights that allow it to smash states at will without any need for apology or even half-persuasive explanation.)

Or the U.S. finances a fascist-fueled regime change in Ukraine in February 2014, toppling a democratically elected president, provoking a secessionist movement in the east and the Russian annexation of Crimea (whose people in fact overwhelming welcomed that re-incorporation), and tells the world that what’s happened is a popular uprising deposing a corrupt Russia-backed dictator, causing peeved Putin to “invade” Ukraine. Notice how the mainstream media never for a moment entertains the possibility that the armed opposition in Ukraine’s Donbass region reflects genuine local feelings and isn’t (and needn’t be) generated by Moscow. They virtually deny agency to the Russian-speakers who constitute the opposition to a regime whose first move was to derecognize the Russian language for official purposes. They fail to mention how the February coup threatened the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, a crucial component in the Russian navy which unlike the U.S. has precious few naval bases anywhere, with the prospects of expulsion and a NATO takeover of Sevastopol.

The Hillary campaign leans heavily on a curious post-Soviet form of red-baiting, even condemning people for merely granting interviews (with Larry King!) to RT Television, the state-funded Russian news channel that I personally find at least as credible as CNN or MSNBC, usually more so. But now Trump’s VP choice, Mike Pence, has jumped on board the Russophobe bandwagon as well, trashing Putin as “small and bullying” in his “debate” with Tim Kaine, and implicitly endorsing Hillary’s no-fly zone. Yes, the entire U.S. political class appeals to a mentality rooted in terrifying ignorance.

If Obama, enjoying his 55% favorable numbers, were to order a general assault on the Syrian state forces tomorrow, “to protect the people of Aleppo from further genocide” or whatever, most people would be unenthusiastic, dubious, and worried. Some especially confused people might be angry, asking why “we” are helping “those people” rather than making America great again, and why we don’t just “take their oil” to make everything better. There would be mass demos, of course. But asininity rules, because it’s been so long cultivated as part of our culture.

Asininity Rules

That’s harsh, you say. But were this not the case, why would this country of 310 million be presented (by its 1% who decide most things) with two options for next oppressor: Hillary who continues to maintain that the destruction of Libya was a good, happy thing; or Donald, who opportunistically inveighs against unpopular past foreign policy (as it seems politically opportune) but generally appears asinine about the world when thinking on his feet. And why does the leading third-party candidate–most kindly received by the monopoly press–keep playing to their script, answering questions about his knowledge of the world that continuously humiliate him, exposing his abject ignorance?

Asininity is pervasive, not because people are stupid, but because it’s publicly supported, subsidized. One of Kerry’s nameless subordinates, or one of Jay Carter’s, texts Andrea Mitchell or Christiane Amanpour or Richard Engel laying down the talking points. The media reports that “officials confirm” this or that about Russia. No mind that six months later investigative journalists explode the disinformation, or at least cast doubt on what were depicted as “slam-dunk” truths; the goal has already been achieved (by the eternally immune), the damage done. And the liars responsible bask in the understanding that they will never, ever, face consequences.

The corporate media is, at it were, infected by members of the most discredited political dynasties–with names like Brzezinski, Cuomo, Scarborough, Bush, and Amanpour–less “journalists” than political operatives whose commonly held system of political values includes knee-jerk, unthinking Russophobia.

That media that unfortunately mediates many minds effectively is mind-bogglingly illogical by its very nature. Its monitors determine the limits. And so an anchor brimming over with moral indignation will inveigh against Russia hackers “influencing U.S. elections” without mentioning that U.S. NGOs backed by the two political parties spend billions influencing foreign elections; that the U.S. State Department boasted the U.S. $ 5 billion to influence Ukrainian politics up to the February 2014 coup; and that the NSA monitors of everybody’s personal emails from the Pope to Angela Merkel to EU trade negotiators?

Or covering a Russian military drill on Russian territory next to the Baltics the talking head will depict it as threatening to Latvia or Lithuania, not bothering to mention the massive drills preceding it in Poland. The relentless expansion of the anti-Russian NATO alliance, from 16 at the end of the Cold War when Washington promised Moscow the alliance would not expand, to 28 members some now bordering Russia itself, is seldom noticed and never questioned. When Trump, loose cannon that he is, raised the question of NATO’s continued relevance and expenses, the Democrats were all over him for departing from a “staple” of the post-war world–something that must never be questioned by a sober-minded person. Instead we are asked to believe that Putin wants to reestablish the Soviet Union and that Russia is the number one existential threat to the United States.

That is, again, asinine. It does not correspond to objective reality. But as Chris Cuomo can tell you, you can get people to believe it.

Thus the imperialism of our times entails gross illegality allowed by mass ignorance. But how to educate the masses, brainwashed as they are by the corporate media in league with the State Department, to seriously, methodically oppose that imperialism? Or, to rephrase, how do we overthrow the system itself?

If I weren’t afraid of being placed on a no-fly list or worse, I would frankly–reasoning logically (just as you can)–opine that nothing less than a revolution will overthrow this rotten, rigged system, always so slickly (and usually, effectively) packaged by its media, but in essence so blood-sucking, so murderous.

It’s so crying out for upheaval–violent, one might suppose, given the national religion of gun violence and the very dim prospect that those who are the problem will ever yield power peacefully. When mass demonstrations against police murder result in the deployment of militarized police, imagine what will befall future crowds seeking to storm the citadels of power in Washington D.C. and elsewhere.

The system is so exposed, in this magical moment, as the two clowns take the stage to show the world the collective consciousness of the U.S. bourgeoisie, distilled into these two small minds that while dissimilar in many respects agree on the basics: capitalism is good, pay for play is normal, militarism is good, the military must be further strengthened, and (recall the common mantra of the two conventions) USA! USA! USA! USA!

If you don’t know what the latter means, it means ignorance, illegality, and imperialism.

The Morning after the Asinine Debate

While I self-medicated throughout to ease the pain, such that the memory was vague this morning, the morning talk shows caused me to revisit last night’s highlights. These included Hillary’s reiteration–yes, even after the Russians have installed their new missile defense systems in Syria which some thought would rule the option out–of her desire to declare a “no-fly zone” over Syria; more Russophobia and Putin-baiting; more crude opportunistic positing of a Putin-Trump bromance. And Trump’s noteworthy but unelaborated disagreement with his running mate on the Syrian issue.

With her coalition of the ignorant, criminal and militaristic–as “deplorable,” surely, as anything in the opposing camp–Clinton will surely win the election. It’s already been rigged (by the mistreatment of Sanders by the DNC, which denied him the nomination; and by DNC-aligned NBC’s conscious effort to give Trump ridiculous amounts of free air time to energize his campaign from its very inception, allowing him to drive out his many Republican competitors and become–as an unwinnable buffoon–Hillary’s dream opponent).

It shouldn’t require any email leak revealed by Wikileaks, Russia or extraterrestrials to “sow doubts” among people in this country (as concerned commentators in and out of government are doing) “about the legitimacy of our democratic system.” The facts speak for themselves. How many DNC top staffers aside from the hideous Debbie Wasserman Schulz had to step down when someone (Russia, Hillary wants us to think) revealed that the party leaders were so upset with Bernie’s popularity that they thought about using both his Jewishness and his lack of apparent religious belief to damage him in the south?

The whole Democratic primary process was in fact illegitimate, and the Republican one no better. The whole thing is a farce, and the deeply unpopular new U.S. president should at the earliest possible time experience what regime change feels like.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Gary.