Backtalk, August 4, 2004

Pledge Week

I just made a donation to and did so with a full heart, even though Justin really got my goat over his tribute to Ronald Reagan. Raimondo is one of the best writers I’ve read online and even though I don’t always agree with him, he’s a damn fine political commentator and dishes it out equally to both the left and the neocon right and most of the time he’s dead on!

Keep up the excellent work. …

~ Donna Volatile, Truchas, NM


I‘m addressing this message to everyone (both staff and Backtalk contributors, as well as Ralph Nader after his recent invention of the “Corporate Socialism” oxymoron) who use the word “Socialism” as a buzzword or bumper sticker for anything (usually anything they don’t like) and either don’t know the correct meaning of the term or choose to ignore it. For the sake of clarity and rational discussion, this has got to stop.

Socialism can be defined in several ways. The first is “an economic system with communal/ public ownership over the means of production, or a political movement advocating such a system.”

The second, more inclusive definition, is the following: “The term ‘Socialism’ refers to any political movement or idea which traces its roots back to the 19th century working class movement.”

These things are well understood in Europe and most of the world. But it seems that in America, the word “Socialism” is being thrown around as a fuzzy name for just about anything. This practice was begun by conservatives and other right-wingers, who started using “Socialism” as a term for “anything that’s not capitalism.” The neocons took the absurdity one step further, using it to mean “anything that’s not OUR PARTICULAR VERSION of capitalism.” And a large number of libertarians gave up all pretenses of reason and began to use “Socialism” as a simple buzzword for “anything we don’t like.”

Socialism is not synonymous with “big government.” Was King Louis XIV a “socialist”? Was Emperor Augustus a “socialist”? Perhaps the Pharaohs of Egypt were “socialists” too? In Russia, Czar Nicholas II ran a VERY big government (him being an absolute monarch and all), yet he was a conservative aristocrat, and the socialists were his mortal enemies. Furthermore, there are many branches of socialism which support a very LIMITED government; in fact, one branch (the anarchists) want to eliminate government completely. …

And finally, I’d like to make a suggestion to Ralph Nader (or rather to his supporters): When you don’t know how to call a new system, don’t resort to absurd oxymorons. “Corporate Socialism” makes about as much sense as “Capitalist Socialism,” and it’s not even a good way to describe the system we’re heading towards. Nader mentions that we seem to be abandoning capitalism, and I agree with him, but then he makes the idiotic leap in logic of assuming that anything non-capitalist must be some sort of “socialism.” I guess history isn’t his best subject. And keep in mind that there’s nothing working-class or egalitarian (i.e. socialist) about corporate hegemony and all-powerful CEO’s. A much more appropriate term would be “Corporate FEUDALISM,” to outline the rise of a new aristocracy. Or, as Benito Mussolini so eloquently put it:

“FASCISM should be more accurately called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power.”

And that is exactly what our future looks like. So don’t be afraid to use the F-word. But always remember to give it some thought before you throw around any loaded political term – “fascism,” “capitalism,” “socialism,” etc. all have well-defined meanings.

~ Tudor M.

US: ‘Terrorists’ Who Attack Iran are OK

Under the guise of anti-war slogans, you are practically supporting the brutal mullahs in Tehran. If you want to write about the Iranian main opposition, at least do your homework and do not spread misinformation and lies. Keep continuing attacking the Iranian Mojahedin. It will only discredit your site more than before.

~ George Grant, London

Tex replies:

My post is intended to point out the hypocrisy of the US Government, which claims to be fighting a “War on Terror” and even lists the MEK on their terrorist groups list, now extending protection to a terrorist group (by their own definition and designation) when it appears that the agenda of the terrorist group might advance their own agenda, which is to meddle in Iran’s affairs. I said nothing about the regime of the mullahs. As a libertarian I don’t believe the Iranians’ affairs are any business of the US government, and if you’ve read any of my posts you would see that I am a strict noninterventionist as well as opposed to states in all their forms, so to accuse me of “supporting” any regime is beyond ludicrous. Here’s a post by someone who understands my point and here’s another one, so I know it didn’t fly over everyone’s head.

Report Omits Key Player – Foreign Policy

Dear Editor: I disagree with Ivan Eland that foreign policy was ignored by 911 commission. Although it didn’t go into these issues in great depth, the commission did recognize that what motivated bin Laden and the 911 attackers was American foreign policy including the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the Iraqi sanctions that killed more than a million people, US support for Israel and recent US backed wars against Muslims (page 49). The Commission stated that Osama bin Laden’s charges against the US “found a ready audience among millions of Arabs and Muslims angry at the United States because of issues ranging from Iraq to Palestine to America’s support for their countries’ repressive rulers” (p. 51).

The Commission says about Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the mastermind of the 911 plot, that his “animus toward the United States stemmed not from his experience there as a student, but rather his violent disagreement with US foreign policy favoring Israel” (p. 147). The commission also included a comment by one of the hijackers (Marwan al Shehhi) “How can you laugh when people are dying in Palestine?” (p. 162).

The commission reports that bin Laden wanted to launch the 911 attacks after Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in 2000 and then again in June or July 2001, when bin Laden “learned from the media that Sharon would be visiting the White House” (p. 250).

There are numerous other indications throughout the report that Arab and Muslim anger over U.S. foreign policy was a prime recruiting tool for al Qaeda and the motivation for the 911 and other terrorist attacks.

In the chapter, “What to do; A Global Strategy” the commission recognized “American foreign policy is part of the message. American’s policy choices have consequences. Right or wrong, it is a simply a fact that American policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and American actions in Iraq are dominant staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim world” (p. 376). Unfortunately, the commission goes on to conclude that what we need is better PR, not better foreign policy.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Commission attributed the motivation for the attacks to anger over US foreign policy instead of parroting Bush’s nonsense about hating our freedoms. Now it’s time for someone to take the next step and advocate a fair and just foreign policy, because Arabs and Muslims are not the only ones who are angry about our foreign policy. I am angry, too.

~ Jody Bong, San Diego, CA

Dear Jody: I don’t think we really disagree all that much. I didn’t say the commission never brought up US foreign policy, I said that it “avoided” the issue. This was deliberately (in my view) done by mentioning the issue in several spots in the huge report, but then having Thomas Kean make a statement at its release that blurred the issue. I listened to the news conference live and he very prominently said that the terrorists hate America and its policies. This deliberately conflated the “who we are” argument with the “what we’ve done argument.” This is what other interventionists in the foreign policy community always do. It is also a standard tactic in Washington when “disagreeable” facts have to be mentioned in the voluminous report that few people (including the press) read, but can be “spun” in a press conference that the press focuses on. To include Kean’s important comments, I used the term “investigation” rather than “report” in the body of the piece. Unfortunately, the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, which urged me to write the piece, changed my original title from “Will the 9/11 Commission’s Findings Make Us Safer?” to the current lackluster title, which includes the word “report.” In the newspaper op-ed culture, newspapers hardly ever edit the body of my pieces much but seem to feel that they have free rein with the titles. I could have changed the title back when I sent it to but I didn’t because I didn’t want the same piece to have two different titles in two places. It would be confusing.

In short, the 9/11 investigation didn’t emphasize or highlight (the key in any complex investigation leading to a voluminous report) the causes of the attack, although they may have mentioned them in passing (they couldn’t have avoided it and still have been credible). I think “avoided” is a proper word to describe how the investigation handled the foreign policy issue.

Also, as you mention, their recommendation was essentially to put “lipstick on a pig” by urging better PR to sell bad policies. The commission is essentially saying: Maybe if Arabs just understand our one-sided, anti-Arab policies, Arabs will ease off on the hatred.

This frequently happens when discussing these issues. Foreign policy establishment figures, in passing, acknowledge the foreign policy causes and then blur the issue (like Kean), reach the wrong recommendation (the commission) or simply fabricate the reasons why terrorists attack the US (George W. Bush).

So I am reluctant to give the commission’s investigation too much credit here. Their chief recommendation should have been to tone down US foreign policy, not to create a new national intelligence director.

I do appreciate your comments though. They are well thought out.

~ Ivan Eland

The Choice: Bush’s Empire or Kerry’s

I disagree with this part of the article: “Ninety years ago, a once-potent European empire embarked on a project of conquering the Balkans. On July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and started a chain reaction that became World War One.”

In 1914, Serbia was the one that started actions against A-H, by sponsoring the assassination of A-H’s archduke.

~ Piero N.

Nebojsa Malic replies:

We can disagree on this, but I honestly believe the facts indicate otherwise. The assassination was sponsored by a secret organization, known as “Black Hand” or “Unification or Death.” It was by no means an official representative of the Serbian government. Serbia had just fought two wars – one against the Turks, another against Bulgaria – and had to deal with dreadful casualties, economic fallout and newly absorbed territories. It was in no shape to start a war. Austria-Hungary, on the other hand, itched for war since at least 1908, and eagerly seized upon the opportunity the Archduke’s death offered. I won’t go as far as to suggest that the Viennese court actually wanted the Archduke dead, but the timing of the visit and lax security suggest someone was either asleep on the job, or didn’t much care if something untoward happened.

The humiliating ultimatum Austria-Hungary sent Serbia in July 1914 was actually accepted by Belgrade almost in entirety. Serbia could not accept allowing Austrian police to freely investigate and arrest its citizens, which was enough for Vienna to reject the response and declare war anyway. Again, everything points to the conclusion that Austria was just waiting for the opportunity to invade Serbia, not the other way around. I don’t agree with the mainstream historians – or the Treaty of Versailles assertion – that Germany was chiefly responsible for the war. Every power in Europe wanted a conflict, and they all embraced it eagerly. After the demonization of the 1990s, it is easy to blame “the Serbs” for starting the war, and overlook Austria-Hungary’s responsibility. But the fact remains that Vienna did not have to go to war; Serbia was bending over backwards to avoid it. The Austrian “punitive expedition” was, to borrow a phrase, a war of choice – and that choice affected European civilization forever.

Do We Want A War Criminal As President?

I look forward to reading Justin Raimondo’s column every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I find to be an invaluable resource for countering the pro-war misinformation that taints other outlets. I truly appreciate the fact that Raimondo’s columns always challenge conventional wisdom, are exquisitely sourced, and display a level of acrid wit and nonconformist intellectual honesty unmatched by few pundits.

Having said that, I don’t always agree with Raimondo and sometimes take great exception to what he has to say. His column of July 26 is one of those. In particular, he links to an mp3 of John Kerry supposedly admitting to “war crimes” in Vietnam. The problem is that Raimondo, like the most of the rest of the media, quotes Kerry incompletely, missing the point of his remarks entirely.

The mp3 quotes Kerry thusly:

“I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed in that I took part in shootings in free-fire zones. I conducted harassment and interdiction fire. I used 50-caliber machine guns which we were granted and ordered to use, which were our only weapon against people. I took part in search-and-destroy missions, in the burning of villages. All of this is contrary to the laws of warfare. All of this is contrary to the Geneva Conventions…”

But the key second part of that last sentence is cut off – here’s the full sentence (these quotes can be found here): “All of this is contrary to the Geneva Conventions and all of this ordered as a matter of written established policy by the government of the United States from the top down.”

And then the rest that always gets left out in discussion of these particular remarks of Kerry’s: “And I believe that the men who designed these, the men who designed the free-fire zone, the men who ordered us, the men who signed off the air raid strike areas, I think these men, by the letter of the law, the same letter of the law that tried Lieutenant Calley, are war criminals.”

Raimondo’s column mischaracterizes what Kerry said about himself when Raimondo says “listen here as he [Kerry] confesses to what he himself describes as ‘war crimes’.” Did Raimondo even listen to the clip? Kerry never once utters the phrase “war crimes” or “war criminal” in reference to himself or anyone else – in that particular clip. As you can see, he does eventually get around to accusing people like Johnson, Nixon, and McNamara of being war criminals – but not by name.

Now Kerry did refer to committing “atrocities,” but that is not what Raimondo says he said. Are “atrocities” the same thing as “war crimes”? Maybe so or maybe not, but either way, that’s not what Kerry said in the mp3 Raimondo linked to. And it’s not in the mp3 because it’s not what Kerry said back in 1971.

The point is that Kerry was explaining out how the Vietnam War itself was a crime which forced all who took part in it to be criminals because of the rules of engagement put in place by our government. And he had the intellectual and moral honesty to acknowledge his own role in those events. …

~ Clinton Kirby

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