They’ve Only Just Begun…

by , February 24, 2005

“They’ve only just begun,

To kill.

White lace and Abu Ghraib,

A kiss for luck and we’re on our waaaaaay…”

With apologies to the shade of Karen Carpenter, the lyrics of her famous song – with a few creative tweaks here and there – pretty much sum up the triumphalist feeling on the other side of the barricades, where the War Party is gathering. It’s a new day, for them, the dawning of the age of Ares, in which the widely loathed war god looms larger than Zeus, overshadows Christ, and aims his arrows at the birthplace of the latter. The much-anticipated “transformation” of the Middle East, augured by the invasion and conquest of Iraq, was supposed to usher in a new era of “democracy.” The peoples of the region were supposed to recognize that they have nothing to lose, after all, but their chains: they were going to rise up, and, in doing so, uplift themselves into modernity.

Except it isn’t turning out that way.

Instead of creating a civil society that is recognizably either democratic or liberal in the classical sense, the Iraqis are in the process of setting up another “Islamic republic” along the lines of the Iranian model. Not that the mullahs will rule directly: we are currently being sold on the various fine distinctions between the strict Khomeinist doctrine of clerical hegemony and the less formalized but no less effective version peddled by the Western interpreters of the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Shi’ite pope who wields the real power in Iraq. We are told that the ayatollah and his minions in the newly elected government are “pluralists,” religious but committed to creating a secular society, but that is just for Western consumption. Among the Iraqis themselves, the triumph of the Sistani slate in the recent elections can mean only one thing.

A year ago, when Sistani was resisting the U.S. occupation authority’s plan to impose a “caucus” system in which only handpicked Iraqis would be allowed to vote, he called his followers out into the streets to demand direct elections, and as they gathered in the southern city of Basra they chanted:

No, no to America! Yes, yes to al-Sistani!”

Now that Sistani’s mobs have swept the Iraqi elections, they are in downtown Baghdad, chanting:

A crown, [a] crown for the head of Sayyid Ali al-Sistani!”

I can’t help but laugh as I read the latest “scoop” touted by a Newsweek press release in which the sudden discovery that we have handed Iraq over to the Iranians is hailed as some sort of revelation: “Guess who’s trying to infiltrate Iraq?” No, Michael Isikoff doesn’t mean these guys. He means the Iraqi opposition groups long sheltered, funded, armed, and trained by Tehran, and unleashed on their prostrate neighbor in the wake of the American victory, such as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Da’wa party.

But to anyone who was reading Antiwar.com in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, this development is hardly startling: we predicted it here, here, here, and hereyears ago. I have often toyed with the idea of writing a column consisting entirely of quotes from this space chosen for their predictive success, and if I ever do, this nugget from my column of April 14, 2003 will surely figure prominently:

“As the phony ‘liberation’ of Iraq takes place against a backdrop of frenzied looting and clueless gloating, any doubt as to the real provenance of this war should be erased for good. This was and is a proxy war waged on behalf of Israeli interests, and Washington’s next target – clearly, Syria – ought to make that obvious to even the densest of the pro-war conservatives and the ‘war for oil’ crowd.”

Two years later, the rest of the world seems to be catching up to Antiwar.com, as the Bushies bash Bashar al-Assad – and the world media indicts the Syrian regime for the murder of Lebanese businessman-politician Rafik Hariri, without, as Bob Novak put it, “a scintilla of evidence.” Good old Bob – he’s standing up for truth and skepticism in the face of a propaganda campaign meant to overwhelm logical inconsistencies and common sense, just as he did in the prelude to war with Iraq, and he really made my Saturday when he said, on CNN’s Capital Gang this past weekend,

“There is absolutely not a scintilla, not a shred of evidence to connect Syria with the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister. None. Zero. Nobody even claims there is. Why are we pulling back – why is the United States pulling back the ambassador from Damascus? They say to get the troops out. Well, the – did the troops cause this assassination? On the contrary. Probably, they’ve been a stabilizing force in Lebanon. The – you haven’t had the – the Christian and the Muslim militias going head on since you’ve had Syrian troops.

“But it’s part of the Israeli agenda to get the Syrian troops out of Lebanon. Should they be out of Lebanon? Absolutely, they should be out. Is it high on our priority list? No! And this – I just see issue after issue in the Middle East where the United States eventually is playing the Israeli game and adhering to the Israeli agenda.”

Margaret Carlson was first out of the gate with the clever retort that “Bob is the only one” who doubts the official U.S. government line, and Kate O’Beirne drove home the point by claiming – also without evidence – that the Syrians are aiding and abetting the Iraqi insurgency. Dripping disdain for this neocon boilerplate, Novak averred:

“I don’t think – I don’t think it has been validated or proven that the Syrians are fueling the insurgency in Iraq.”

CARLSON: “Well, you’re one of the few people who doesn’t think that Syria was involved in this assassination.”

NOVAK: “Oh, what proof is there of that? There’s none! Zero! Zero proof.”

Novak, being a conservative, has the charmingly old-fashioned idea that you need real evidence – and not just emotional hysterics and blind incitement – before condemning a nation and openly threatening them with regime change.

But that kind of thinking is a relic of America’s republican past, when free men and women judged the actions of their government with a critically discerning eye. The imperial era has a different way of looking at these things: truth emanates not from reality, but from power – which is the only reality. The Empire is so powerful that it creates its own reality, and this crazed belief permeates Imperial America, especially among the elites.

Last year, Ron Suskind opened his widely noted piece on the religious and ideological fixations of the Bush administration for the New York Times Magazine with this anecdote:

“In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend – but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re 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 . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’”

The media is increasingly infected with this fatal hubris, taking its cues – and very often its paychecks – from the government. Even the liberal Ms. Carlson, hardly a neocon, is quaffing their Kool-Aid on the Syrian question.

Speaking of neocon Kool-Aid, Michael Young, a Reason magazine contributing editor and Slate.com’s resident Lebanon expert, writes:

“Antiwar’s Justin Raimondo has taken Tim Cavanaugh and me to task for our views on the Hariri assassination. Fair enough, but he does quote me in a way where clarification is in order.”

Not exactly. I cited Cavanaugh’s excellent piece, which appeared in Reason, in support of my thesis that Syria was not necessarily the culprit: Cavanaugh is sensibly skeptical of the rush to judgment and specifically differentiates his own position from Young’s – which is perhaps why the latter didn’t provide a link to it. (Is he counting on the old libertarian saw that nobody really reads Reason? Yeah, well I always read Cavanaugh, whose pieces shine like diamonds on a dung heap.)

Young’s comments underscore the paucity of the Bush-neocon line that Syria killed Hariri: he manages to cite not a single iota of evidence, and instead reports hearsay, the politicized proclamations of self-interested Lebanese politicians, and the assertion that it wasn’t a suicide bombing, as originally characterized by the Lebanese government, but was instead a bomb planted under the road. He doesn’t tell us where this assertion comes from; however, MSNBC cites one Hisham Jaber, a retired brigadier general and former professor at the Lebanese Military and Staff Command College, as saying:

“The bomb was placed underground, especially (since) the crater was so huge. Even a car with 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of TNT wouldn’t create such a crater.”

Aside from reaching such a high rank in the Lebanese military, Mr. Jaber has some other very interesting items on his curriculum vitae:

“1976 – Information officers courses at the American Defense Information School at Difnos, Indiana, USA. 6 months intensive courses (‘A’ grade).

“1979 Public Relations and Broadcasting officers courses at the American Defense School at Difnos, Indiana, USA. 6 months intensive courses (‘A’ grade).

“1979 Intensive courses in Psychological War at Fort Bragg Military base, N.C., USA. 4 months intensive courses (‘A’ grade). 1981-1982 Upper studies in Command and Staff at the Command and Staff college, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, USA. Excellent results (‘A’ grade).”

Jaber needs to go back to school and update his skills a little: as an exercise in psychological warfare, his performance in the Hariri affair merits a C-minus, at best.

The Lebanese government is rightly resisting efforts to turn the investigation over to the U.S. and the UN, bringing in experts from a neutral country, Switzerland, to dig out the facts. But the Lebanese opposition could care less about facts: they have already set up an entire Web site devoted to proving an elaborate conspiracy theory that the blast was engineered from under the street. One key canon of the blame-Syria crowd is that, in spite of electronic devices installed in Hariri’s retinue meant to jam radio frequencies and stop the bomb from detonating, the assassins supposedly had counterdevices installed in nearby cars:

“Jaber said that although Hariri’s motorcade had equipment to jam electronic transmissions, the device could have been circumvented by a wire-triggered bomb or a counterdevice placed in a nearby vehicle.”

So much for Occam’s Razor. Such old-fashioned concepts as logic, evidence, and objective reality are thrown out the window by the ideologues of Empire.

Tellingly, Young didn’t wait for any evidence: the “bomb underneath the road” theory hadn’t even been floated before he went on television accusing Syria – and, worse than that, strongly implying that, since everyone believed Syria did it, it didn’t make any difference who really killed Hariri. Said Young:

“Certainly, the mood is very clearly that Syria did this. Syria will be blamed for it no matter who did it. They’ll be even more isolated internationally than they already are.”

Who cares who really did it? If it is useful for the U.S. government – and Israel, and the Lebanese opposition – to hold the government of Syria responsible, then such details are the concern only of the “reality-based community,” which naively insists on an archaic devotion to facts.

We are in for a long buildup to direct intervention in Lebanon, and Syria, as the Lebanese elections loom: any defeat for the opposition will immediately provoke charges of fraud, as in the Ukraine, and this time the military option is going to be a real possibility. Every official and quasi-official government agency and paid administration propagandist will be dishing out stories of Syria’s crimes, both real and imagined, and the Lebanese elections will be examined under a microscope for any hint of deviation from the predetermined “fair” outcome. Millions will be pumped into funding “pro-democracy” groups, supposedly unbiased polls will project the “winners” before a single vote is cast, and the war propaganda machine will rev up to full volume, as both liberals of the Carlson type and neocons bray in unison for war and “democracy.”

It’s all so predictable, and boring, that I can’t even write about it for another minute, except to say: They’ve only just begun…

Read more by Justin Raimondo