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Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Central Task

The central task for anti-imperialists in the US is to determine and propagate the correct ideological, political, and organizational line around which to unite anti-imperialists and ultimately the masses. This ideological work includes clarifying the character of the movement, its motive forces, its targets, its main task, and its perspective.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Arundhati Roy, An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, 118pp., 2004
Review by DW
3 Jan 2005

This book of six recent essays and speeches by author Arundhati Roy is not in fact a guide to empire, though the essays do discuss today’s imperialism. Though such a guide would be welcome, the title is only secondly self-referential; in the text, the phrase is used to say that by favoring direct war and occupation over proxy war and neocolonialism, Bush has made the US Empire clear to all for what it is. (p. 39) In fact, contrary to being a guide to empire, Roy combines her insights and provocative turns of phrase with some fallacies that may serve to misguide the neophyte student of empire.

Strong Points

Roy is a people’s author. She supports the world’s peoples’ basic demands for food, water, shelter, and dignity. (p. 16)

Roy has her finger on the pulse of major world trends, and masterfully illuminates the links between globalization, war, class, race, poverty, and the charge of “terrorism.” For example, Roy writes, “According to the state, when victims refuse to be victims, they become terrorists and are dealt with as such…Poverty is a crime and protesting against further impoverishment is terrorism.” (p. 12 (and again on p. 86 and p. 111))

Though a pacifist, Roy echoes Lenin on key points. When she says “peace is war,” for instance, her point is essentially the same as Lenin’s when he said “imperialism means war.” (p. 15) When she says, “Democracy has become Empire’s euphemism for neo-liberal capitalism,” one imagines she understands why Lenin, before the days of neo-liberalism, spoke of “bourgeois democracy.” (p. 56) She asks “What is to Be Done?” and notes that Lenin posed the same question. (Though it should be noted that Lenin’s answers were more thorough and concrete than Roy’s). (p. 65)

Roy is better at exposing the problems than at illuminating solutions, but she gets points for trying to get beyond mere exposure, writing, “We need to urgently discuss strategies of resistance…and inflict real damage.” (p. 117)

Roy recognizes the limitations of some popular strategies for change. The book’s first essay, “Peace is War,” addresses the role of the media. (pp. 1-21) Using the analogy of “the buffalo and the bees,” she paints a picture of a lumbering old media persistently shadowed by a dynamic and critical new media. With this analogy, she shows the limitation of alternative media work as a primary strategy for change, since the alternative media is forever consigned to follow the lead of the mainstream media, even while the former pokes and prods at the latter. Breaking with social democratic dogma, she likewise acknowledges the limitations of the World Social Forum, Brazil’s Lula and PT, and South Africa’s Mandela and ANC. (pp. 90-91) And to her great credit, she recognizes NGOism as a recipe for depoliticization and dependency.

She is right in calling for people to build counter-power, but wrong if she thinks that that will suffice as a strategy. (pp. 117-118)


Roy promotes the notion of a “new imperialism,” “neo-imperialism,” or “new age of empire.” (e.g., pp. 82, 84) She fails to recognize (or at least to acknowledge) imperialism’s continuity from the 1890s to the present. For her, as with many bourgeois history textbooks, Old Imperialism seems to refer to the 1890s, implying a century-long absence of imperialism in the century between the Scramble for Africa and Gulf War II.

While she correctly criticizes a number of strategies for change as insufficient, the criticism also applies to many of her own proposals. For instance, she recommends a strategy of boycotting war profiteers without particularizing or interrogating her proposal. While some war profiteers like General Electric have consumer product lines that can be targeted, many do not. Contrary to capitalism’s democratic mythology, consumers do not rule. You can’t boycott Bechtel.

Restricted in her strategic vision by pacifist wishful thinking, she correctly recognizes that “we are at war,” (p. 94) but she dismisses armed struggle as an option. (p. 112) Instead of counterpoising change against the status quo, she sees the alternatives as “bloody change” or “beautiful change.” (p. 118)

In the end, the critical reader will sympathize but not completely agree with Roy when she says, “Hopefully, things will change. A little.” (p. 109)

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Pre-histories of 9/11

“Ahistorical - you think this shit just dropped right out of the sky
My analysis: it's time to harvest the crust from your eyes”
—Fugazi, “Bulldog Front,” 1988

The official story of 9/11/01 is a largely ahistorical conspiracy theory. It is a theory in the sense that it has not been proved (or disproved, though legitimate doubts have been cast). The official theory is one of conspiracy in the sense that it involves multiple players working in concert: 19 hijackers (20 if one includes Moussaoui) plus Osama Bin Laden and perhaps others as well. It is largely ahistorical in the sense that it holds both that the attacks came essentially out of nowhere and that “everything changed on 9/11,” explaining everything from Bush’s 2004 victory to Homeland Security to the current Iraq war.

I’m one of the half (49.3%) of New York City residents who say that some US government officials "knew in advance that attacks were planned on or around September 11, 2001, and that they consciously failed to act," and I wonder if this in fact understates the case. (1) I recognize that this, too, is a conspiracy theory. It is no more proven fact than the official conspiracy theory. But it is a theory supported by evidence. Some of this is best found by analyzing the events of the day itself. For instance, consider the failure of US military fighter jets to scramble in anything like a timely fashion. (2) Then there’s the unlikely juxtaposition of “black box” airplane cockpit voice recorders that cannot be recovered from the WTC site with the hijacker passport that was (3).

Then there’s the pre-history. Pre-histories, really.

Pre-history #1: larger trends

The US emerged from World War II as the dominant power in the world. Capitalism’s internal contradictions, along with the challenges posed by the socialist bloc and a rising tide of national liberation struggles ultimately led the post-war US economic boom to come to an end in 1973. In 1973, the US elite was suffering blows from the Vietnamese people and facing rebellion in both its military and its home population.
In this context, David Rockefeller and his close friend Zbigniew Brzezinski organized the Trilateral Commission (TLC) using Rockefeller money and a base of ruling class ideologues from Japan, Western Europe, and the US. This group pooled its intellectual resources to represent the likes of oil companies and large banks against the national liberation movements, for economic globalization, and against democracy. Regarding the latter, in 1976, the TLC issued a report that said, "The 1960’s witnessed a dramatic upsurge of democratic fervor in America…. The question necessarily arises, however, whether if a new threat to security should materialize in the future (as it inevitably will at some point), the government will possess the authority to command the resources as well as the sacrifices, which are necessary to meet that threat." The report concluded that there had developed "an excess of democracy," and it suggested "desirable limits to the extension of political democracy." (4)

Pre-history #2: geopolitics

The US elite has had a particular interest in dominating the oil-rich regions of the Middle East and Central Asia. This interest became more active after the 1989-1991 collapse of the Soviet bloc and the corresponding emergence of the US as the sole military superpower. With its powerful rival neutralized, the US elite, particularly the neoconservatives in its ranks, began laying plans for Iraq and Afghanistan. This has been exposed in great detail elsewhere. Suffice it to say that the US attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 were not principally reactions to the 9/11 attacks.

Pre-history #3: homeland clampdown

As the TLC had noted in 1976, the Vietnam War provoked a democratic upsurge against it at home, and such an "excess of democracy" interferes with the government’s ability to wage such wars of aggression. So with ruling class planning to reassert imperial control of the Middle East and Central Asia in particular came corresponding planning for government assertion of "desirable limits to the extension of political democracy" at home. In 1997, the first US government mention of "homeland defense" was made by the National Defense Panel, a Pentagon study group. (5)

In May 1998, President Clinton issued Presidential Decision Directive 62, entitled "Protection Against Unconventional Threats to the Homeland and Overseas." (6) In October 1998, Frank J. Cilufo of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) testified before the Congressional Committee on National Security, International Affairs, and Criminal Justice. Said Cilufo, "It may be worthwhile to create a new Commander-in-Chief (CINC) USA…responsible for all Department of Defense-related strategies and activities related to homeland defense issues…" In January 1999, CSIS issued a report called "Defending the Homeland." (7) That month, a New York Times editorial noted, "there have been discussions in the Pentagon, but no decision, about creating a new domestic military command to combat terrorism." (8)

In August 1999, the bipartisan Hart-Rudman Commission on National Security and the 20th Century, chartered in July 1998 by the US Secretary of Defense, issues a 25-year plan to address the slow decline of US dominance. Part of this plan is Homeland Defense, to be conducted by the National Guard. (9) In October 1999, President Clinton put Admiral Harold W. Gehman Jr., NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, in charge of "defending the homeland." In 2000, Congress studied the Homeland Security concept. In February 2001, the Hart-Rudman Commission called for the creation of a Homeland Security Agency. (9)

A June 2001 article said "Bush has instructed government offices to coordinate for homeland security and defense, and assigned Vice President Richard Cheney to head a group to draft a national terrorism-response plan by October 1 [2001]." The article also said that the Bush administration was considering forming an Office of Homeland Defense and that Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO) of the House Armed Services Committee was in favor of a National Homeland Security Agency. (10) Clearly the USA PATRIOT Act and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security were not mere reactions to the events of 9/11/01, but are better understood as the products of years of anti-democratic elite planning.

The idea of placing the US population under military command wasn’t limited to the realm of theory, by the way. As these unconstitutional ideas were kicking around, the US Army Delta Force, "operating under its cover name of Combat Applications Group (CAG), was in Seattle a week in advance" of the Nov. 29-Dec. 3, 1999 anti-WTO protests (the "battle of Seattle"). (11)

Pre-history #4: they’ve planned such things before

It’s within the realm of possibility that the events of 9/11/01 took place more or less along the lines of the official story. I’m not setting out to prove otherwise. But it’s notable that the power elite (or elements thereof) had the means, motive, and opportunity to allow, provoke, or stage these events. Also notable, for those who don’t believe such people are capable of such things, is the case of Operation Northwoods. This was a set of proposals delivered to President Kennedy by the military Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1962. The idea was to commit terrorist crimes against Americans staged in such a way that they would be blamed on the Cuban government and could be used to justify invading Cuba. (12) Kennedy nixed this particular set of proposals, but presidents since may be and may have been less self-restrained.

Pre-history #5: they wanted this

It’s also notable that multiple elite figures, with a certain amount (but not a lot) of subtlety (or plausible deniability), openly discussed the desirability of a dramatic event that could mobilize domestic support for aggressive foreign policy. This was a proposed solution to the problem discussed by the TLC in 1976: the restriction of US war powers by a domestic "excess of democracy" opposed to US wars of aggression. The way in which these various figures began echoing each other’s language—"Pearl Harbor"—suggests the emergence of an elite consensus, at least in certain quarters.

In 1997, some time after going from the TLC to being President Carter’s National Security Advisor (from which post he helped create Al Quaeda as an anti-Soviet force in Afghanistan), Brzezinski wrote The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, which contained the following gems:

"The attitude of the American public toward the external projection of
American power has been much more ambivalent. The public supported America's
engagement in World War II largely because of the shock effect of the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor." (pp 24-5)

"The most immediate task is to make certain that no state or combination of
states gains the capacity to expel the United States from Eurasia or even to
diminish significantly its decisive arbitration role." (p. 198)

"In the long run, global politics are bound to become increasingly uncongenial to the
concentration of hegemonic power in the hands of a single state. Hence, America
is not only the first, as well as the only, truly global superpower, but it is
also likely to be the very last." (p.209)

"Moreover, as America becomes an increasingly multi-cultural society, it
may find it more difficult to fashion a consensus on foreign policy issues,
except in the circumstance of a truly massive and widely perceived direct
external threat." (p. 211) (13)

The bipartisan Hart-Rudman Commission chimed in in August 1999, saying that should the "distinction between national security policy and domestic security policy" disappear, "if such threats become reality, or even if they merely become more apparent, Americans are likely to abandon their attitude of ‘supportive indifference’ [regarding US foreign policy]…. If the stakes rise in such a fashion, one thing is likely to become vividly clear: The American people will be ready to sacrifice blood and treasure, and come together to do so, if they believe that fundamental interests are imperiled." (14)

Notably it was not just the neoconservatives talking this way. But of course, the neoconservative Project for a New American Century (PNAC) echoed Brzezinski in September 2000, writing, "Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor." (15) PNAC members like Paul Wolfowitz were in the White House several months later.

Pre-history #6: shady characters

If various stripes of elite strategists wanted such a catalyzing event, it stands to reason that they would either consciously allow or perhaps even set into motion such an event. The transformation of Al Quaeda from Brzezinski’s CIA pawn in Afghanistan to US enemy #1 could be seen as something other than ironic. Especially when one notes that the US has been allied with Al Quaeda in certain conflicts, even after 9/11/01. (16) Then there’s the matter of the Pakistani intelligence chief who had $100,000 wired to terrorist ringleader Mohammed Atta and was in Washington meeting with US intelligence officials on 9/11. (17) Atta himself was an interesting character. We are told that his motivation was anti-Americanism and Islamic fundamentalist fanaticism. But he seemed to be engaged in a lifestyle quite inconsistent with this story, such as dating an American stripper. (18)

Pre-history #7: the Hollywood connection?

If elite powerbrokers were in fact setting events into motion to justify aggression abroad and repression at home, then it stands to reason that they might want to do some extra propaganda work to make sure the events are interpreted according to their script and not any other.
The June 18, 2001 article "Preparing for the next Pearl Harbor attack" looks somewhat suspicious in this context. (5) Especially since the magazine it appeared in is Insight on the News, owned by the CIA-linked cult of Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

And perhaps it was only a coincidence that the movie Pearl Harbor came out on May 25, 2001, only a few months before 9/11. But for those of us inclined to believe otherwise, the fact that Jerry Bruckheimer produced it gives added weight to our suspicions. Bruckheimer, a first-generation Republican, says Todd Garner of Disney suggested the idea for the Pearl Harbor movie in 1999. Bruckheimer produced at least one good movie, Enemy of the State, which illustrates the intrusive surveillance capabilities of the US government. But he’s also responsible for at least seven foul films completed with the participation and approval of the US Department of Defense. One of these is Pearl Harbor itself. The others are Top Gun (1986), Crimson Tide (1995), The Rock (1996), Armageddon (1998), Black Hawk Down (2001), and Bad Company (2002). In February 2003, he produced ABC’s Profiles from the Front Line, fawning embedded war coverage referred to as "militainment" by the London Guardian. (19)

The corporate press was likely to follow the Bush administration’s lead in referring to the 9/11/01 attacks as "the new Pearl Harbor" anyway, but the film’s recent run helped ensure that the phrase would have greater resonance, especially among the youth. All the better to get Americans "ready to sacrifice blood and treasure."


1. Zogby poll, Aug. 30, 2004, "Poll: 50% of NYC Says U.S. Govt Knew," http://www.911truth.org/article.php?story=20040830120349841
2. Mark R. Elsis, Lovearth.net, September 9, 2002, "911 Timeline: The Most Comprehensive Minute By Minute Timeline On 911," http://www.911timeline.net/ ; Illarion Bykov and Jared Israel, Nov. 14-17, 2001, "Guilty For 9-11: Bush, Rumsfeld, Myers, Part 1," http://emperors-clothes.com/indict/indict-1.htm
3. Sam Yousef, Sep. 21, 2001, "Strange Case Of The Black Box And The Indestructible Passport", http://www.ilaam.net/Sept11/BlackBox.html
4. Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, 1995 edition, pp. 546-549.
5. J. Michael Waller, Jun. 18, 2001, "Preparing for the next Pearl harbor attack," Insight on the News (insightmag.com)
6. www.ojp.usdoj.gov/odp/docs/pdd62.htm
7. www.csis.org
8. editorial, Jan. 23, 1999, New York Times
9. www.nssg.gov
10. Waller, op. cit.
11. Dec. 23, 1999, Seattle Weekly
12. http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/20010430/
13. Quotes pulled by http://www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/zbig.html
14. http://web.archive.org/web/20031205071209/www.nssg.gov/NWR_A.pdf Page 130 of document, which is p. 135 of the .pdf.
15. Rebuilding America’s Defenses, http://newamericancentury.org/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf
16. various articles by Michel Chossudovsky, http://globalresearch.ca/
17. http://globalresearch.ca/articles/CHO111A.html
18. Daniel Hopsicker, http://www.madcowprod.com/
19. May 22, 2002, "That’s Militainment," London Guardian

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Snoopy come home

Is there a fine line between indifference and paranoia? Between melodrama and ennui? Am I wrong to worry about a friend who’s been out of touch for 25 hours? Or am I wrong not to panic? Some friends I don’t talk to for weeks, months, even years at a time. No worries. But this one has a death wish, a self-destructive side always threatening to have the last say. Wild mood swings, exacerbated by if not caused by bipolar disorder in a bottle, a leaf, a pipe, a joint, another $100 up the nose or in the lungs and into the bloodstream. A recklessness that’s so far proven a remarkable resilience: How did he get away from that situation and live to tell the tale? So, cat, is this life number eight or number nine?

Sunday, March 30, 2003

The case for cellphones

Usually when I speak of cellphones, I'm talking about brain cancer or how they can serve as a human tracking device for the likes of John Ashcroft and John Poindexter. I still recommend doing without. But I see that convenience is not the only upside. Cellphone technology can be used to spot the US military's stealth bombers. Cool.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Geneva Convention yes, Rumsfeld no

Unbelievable, watching Rumsfeld scolding Iraq's regime with reference to the Geneva Convention while he oversees the torture of US-held POWs in Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.

Another good chant

This one from the RCYB:

"RISE UP with the people of the world!
This war is not in our name!"

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