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    The Good Fight: exhilarating entertainment and a grim warning of what the US could become

    Our writers nominate the TV series keeping them entertained during a time of COVID.

    Ever since The West Wing premiered in 1999, American television has loved series based on presidential politics. One could now spend months working through programs like Veep or Graves on streaming services. Rather like doctors and lawyers, politicians have become the basis for white collar TV series.

    During the daily dramas of last year’s Trump campaign, television needed to do more than offer realism; the earnest liberalism of The West Wing felt oddly outdated amidst the realities of COVID, Black Lives Matter and the 2020 elections. What was needed was a television version of magic realism, able to speak to the events of the day but in ways that went beyond the documentary.

    During the time of Trump, a different kind of political TV drama was required.
    David Maxwell/EPA

    There are few politicians in The Good Fight, but it remains the most interesting American political series of the past few years. A spin off from The Good Wife —which did have a politician as a central figure, it’s a legal drama set in an African-American law firm in Chicago headed by Liz (Audra McDonald) and Diane (Christine Baranski). That Diane is white, and married to a gun-loving Republican, becomes an on-going issue for the firm.

    The fifth series of The Good Fight begins with a survey of 2020, in which COVID — “that thing from China” — the murder of George Floyd and the elections take centre stage.

    Viewers of earlier episodes will recognise some of the main characters, although each series introduces new players. This one gives a starring role to Mandy Patinkin as the fake Judge Wackner.

    Increasingly, the drama plays out in his parallel court, which dispenses the sort of immediate and sensible justice that the corrupt and choked systems of Cook County, including Chicago, fail to do.

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    The idea of an unofficial court is already a television staple — Judge Judy Scheindlin’s move into reality television comes to mind — but here high mindedness develops into disillusion and ultimately disaster: watch the last episode to see how the series blends reality and fiction.

    I watched the most recent episodes of The Good Fight during the latest Melbourne lockdowns, curious whether the sense of outrage at Trump that fuelled so many of the previous series would diminish. But the divisions in the United States that became so marked in the past four years have not gone away, and the series reminds us that despite his rhetoric, Biden has failed to bring the country together.

    Solidifying faultlines

    If anything, the show suggests that the political and cultural faultlines are solidifying. Over the past two years the show has become oddly bizarre, rather as if the writers of The X Files have wandered into the studios of Robert and Michelle King, the writers and producers of both The Good Wife and The Good Fight.

    Their scripts take off from the news headlines and wander into fantasy, but fantasy that seems an acute harbinger of actual events.

    The Good Fight stands out for sheer inventiveness, a willingness to take chances that rarely exists in American television dramas. Diane seeks advice from the ghost of Ruth Bader Ginsberg; the firm’s investigator, Jay (Nyambi Nyambi) hears the voices of Frederick Douglas, Karl Marx and Christ.

    Jay (Nyambi Nyambi) hears the voices of Frederick Douglas, Karl Marx and Christ.

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    The show espouses unapologetically progressive politics, but it does so without becoming didactic and at times with remarkable humour (you will need to go back to earlier series to see its skewering of Trump).

    It is most challenging in the inclusion of sympathetic characters from the right, such as Diane’s husband (Gary Cole), who may or may not have been implicated in the riots at the Capitol, and the black Republican lawyer, Julius Cain (Michael Boatman), who is imprisoned after a false accusation of bribery, and then pardoned by Trump.

    The personal is political

    That the personal is the political is evident in Diane’s struggles, both with her right-wing husband and with her colleagues who increasingly question how an African-American law firm can have a white woman as one of their named partners.

    If I have an unease with the way the series has developed it is that too much of it revolves around Diane, possibly because Baranski along with Marissa Gold (Sarah Steele) is the only major character to have survived the transition from The Good Wife.

    I’ve now spent eight years of my life in the US, having first gone there as a callow graduate student when Lyndon Johnson was president. Like so many other Australians, I fell in love with the country, and my career has been largely shaped by it.

    Yet the more I’ve visited, the more foreign it becomes. The Good Fight is exhilarating entertainment and a grim warning of what the US could become. More

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    Texas voting law builds on long legacy of racism from GOP leaders

    Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a bill on Sept. 7, 2021, that reduces opportunities for people to vote, allows partisan poll watchers more access and creates steeper penalties for violating voting laws.

    The Republican governor argued that the legislation would “solidify trust and confidence in the outcome of our elections by making it easier to vote and harder to cheat.” Democratic opponents of the measure, however, said Republican legislators presented no evidence of widespread voter fraud during debate on the bill.

    Civil rights organizations immediately filed suit, calling the law unconstitutional because it is intended to restrict voting among minorities, who overwhelmingly support Democratic political candidates.

    Across the country, Republicans have turned to gerrymandering and voter suppression legislation such as closing polling stations in minority and low-income precincts, mandating discriminatory voter ID laws and purging millions from voter rolls. In addition, GOP politicians and right-wing commentators have demanded that educators quit teaching the facts of America’s racist history.

    For several decades, the GOP has depended on racism to keep white people in power and nonwhites on the outside.

    Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott shows off a signed voting restrictions law criticized for disproportionately limiting the rights of nonwhite people.
    AP Photo/LM Otero

    Lee Atwater and the strategy of racism

    In 1981, longtime GOP strategist Lee Atwater plainly declared that the Republican Party’s key strategy was racism. Atwater described how the GOP began to define itself as a white supremacist party in response to the civil rights movement. The Nation magazine later published the full audio recording of the interview.

    “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘N—–, n—–, n—–.’”, Atwater said, using the actual racial slur.

    “By 1968, you can’t say ‘n—–’ – that hurts, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, ‘forced busing,’ ‘states’ rights,’ and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract,” he continued.

    “Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is, Blacks get hurt worse than whites,” Atwater explained. “‘We want to cut this’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘N—–, n—–.’”

    An excerpt from Lee Atwater’s 1981 interview explaining racist Republican tactics.

    The GOP moves from overt racist words to coded words

    For much of the country’s history, the Republican Party was the party of Abraham Lincoln and racial equality, and the Democratic Party was the party of Jim Crow laws and white supremacy. The two parties switched positions during the civil rights movement when the Democrats abandoned their support for segregation and Republicans sought to appeal to segregationists.

    In the early 1960s, U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, a Republican, challenged the GOP’s more liberal politicians to redefine the Republican Party as what newspaper editor William Loeb called “the white man’s party.” Republican New York Gov. Nelson B. Rockefeller responded that if the GOP embraced Goldwater, an opponent of civil rights legislation, as its presidential candidate in 1964, then it would advance a “program based on racism and sectionalism.”

    Goldwater won the GOP’s nomination but lost the presidential election in a landslide to the Democratic incumbent, Lyndon Johnson. But even without winning the Oval Office, Goldwater and other like-minded conservative Republicans won the hearts and minds of pro-segregation Democrats, who were angry with Johnson for signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    The GOP, as Atwater pointed out, learned to use coded words to court these disillusioned Democrats who became Republicans in what would become known as the “great white switch” or Southern strategy.

    Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign included a speech supporting states’ rights near a place where three civil rights workers had been murdered in 1963.
    AP Photo/Jack Thornell

    States’ rights, welfare queens and Willie Horton

    Republican Richard Nixon won the 1968 presidential election in part by using references to states’ rights and “law and order,” rather than by making blatant appeals to white supremacy or racism. Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, noted that Nixon “emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the Blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognized this while not appearing to.”

    In 1980, former California Gov. Ronald Reagan, also a Republican, gave a presidential campaign speech at the Neshoba County Fair near Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers had been murdered in 1963.
    Reagan declared his own support for states’ rights. Gabrielle Bruney wrote in Esquire that “by touting himself as a states’ rights candidate near the site of one of the nation’s most famous hate crimes, Reagan offered voters a racism that was both obvious and unspoken.”

    As president, Reagan used coded rhetoric to connect race to crime, welfare and government spending. For instance, Bryce Covert wrote in The New Republic, Reagan frequently used distortion in his references to a single con artist named Linda Taylor, the so-called “welfare queen,” to argue that welfare was corrupt and Black people were too lazy to work.

    Atwater worked as a consultant for Reagan and then as campaign manager for Vice President George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 1988. Atwater approved a television ad blaming Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, the former governor of Massachusetts, for a furlough program in the state that released a Black first-degree murderer, Willie Horton, who then raped a white woman. Atwater famously claimed, “By the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’ running mate.” Bush won the election.

    In his election and reelection campaigns, Donald Trump used racist messages to attract support.
    Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

    Onward to Donald Trump

    The GOP’s hold on the South became complete in 2016 when Donald Trump won all the former Confederate states except Virginia.

    Trump became one of the GOP’s top contenders for the 2012 presidential nomination after questioning without evidence whether Black president Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. When Obama released his birth certificate, Trump’s candidacy fell apart.

    When Trump ran for president in 2016, he used racially divisive rhetoric, calling Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists, proposing a ban on all Muslims entering the U.S. and suggesting a judge should recuse himself from a case solely because of the judge’s Mexican heritage.

    His campaign used the slogan “Make America Great Again,” which had been widely criticized for being a dog whistle to white people who felt that minorities were encroaching on their country. Then, as president, he pandered to white supremacists by refusing to criticize them and by using coded words. He told Americans that there are “fine people on both sides” after a confrontation between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, 2017.

    When Trump ran for reelection in 2020, he renewed his birther claim by insinuating that Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, who is Black and Asian, “doesn’t meet the requirements” to run for vice president. When Trump lost the election, he challenged the accuracy of voting in precincts that were heavily minority.

    Now Republicans in Texas and around the nation are back to openly expressing their racism with no need for dog whistling or other forms of abstraction.

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    9/11 and the American Collective Unconscious

    A little more than a month ago, the most newsworthy controversy surrounding the imminent and highly symbolic 20th anniversary of 9/11 concerned the message by families of the victims that Joe Biden would not be welcome at the planned commemoration. They reproached the US president for failing to make good on last year’s campaign promise to declassify the documents they believe will reveal Saudi Arabia’s implication in the attacks.

    That was the story that grabbed headlines at the beginning of August. Hardly a week later, everything had changed. Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban and soon the 20-year war would be declared over.

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    Though few paid attention to the phenomenon, this also meant that the significance of a commemoration of the attacks, would be radically different. For 19 years, the commemoration served to reinforce the will and resolution of the nation to overcome the humiliation of the fallen twin towers and a damaged wing of the Pentagon.

    Redefining the Meaning of the Historical Trauma

    In the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, politicians quickly learned to exploit the date as a painful reminder of a tragedy that had unified an otherwise chaotically disputatious nation in shared horror and mourning. Ever since that fatal day, politicians have invoked it to reinforce the belief in American exceptionalism.

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    The nation is so exceptional in generously providing its people with what President George W. Bush called “our freedoms” — and which he identified as the target of the terrorists — that it was logical to suppose that evil people who didn’t possess those freedoms or were prevented from emigrating to the land of the free would do everything in their power to destroy those freedoms. To the degree that Americans are deeply thankful for possessing such an exceptional status, other ill-intentioned people will take exception to that exceptionality and in their unjustified jealousy will threaten to destroy it.

    On a less philosophical and far more pragmatic note, the remembrance of the 9/11 attacks has conveniently and consistently served to justify an ever-expanding military budget that no patriotic American, interested in preserving through the force of arms the nation’s exceptional status, should ever oppose. It went without saying, through the three previous presidencies, that the annual commemoration provided an obvious explanation of why the forever war in Afghanistan was lasting forever.

    The fall of Kabul on August 15, followed by the panicked retreat of all remaining Americans, caught everyone by surprise. It unexpectedly brought an official end to the war whose unforgettable beginning is traced back to that bright September day in 2001. Though no one has yet had the time to put it all in perspective, the debate in the media has shifted away from glossing the issues surrounding an ongoing war on terror to assessing the blame for its ignominious end. Some may have privately begun to wonder whether the theme being commemorated on this September 11 now concerns the martyrdom of its victims or the humiliation of the most powerful nation in the history of the world. The pace of events since mid-August has meant that the media have been largely silent on this quandary.

    So, What About Saudi Arabia?

    With the American retreat, the controversy around Biden’s unkept campaign promise concerning Saudi Arabia’s implication in 9/11 provisionally took a backseat to a much more consequent quarrel, one that will have an impact on next year’s midterm elections. Nearly every commentator has been eager to join the fray focusing on the assessment of the wisdom or folly of both Biden’s decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan and his seemingly improvised management of the final chaotic phase.

    Embed from Getty Images

    The human tragedy visible in the nightly news as throngs of people at Kabul airport desperately sought to flee the country easily eclipsed the genteel but politically significant showdown between a group of American citizens demanding the truth and a government committed to protecting the reputations of friends and allies, especially ones from oil-rich nations.

    The official excuse turns around the criterion that has become a magic formula: national security. But the relatives of victims are justified in wondering which nation’s security is being prioritized. They have a sneaking suspicion that some people in Washington have confused their own nation’s security with Saudi Arabia’s. Just as John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt not long ago revealed that plenty of people within the Beltway continue to confuse US foreign policy with Israel’s, the families may be justified in suspecting that Saudi Arabia’s interest in hiding the truth trumps American citizens’ right to know the truth.

    To appease the families of 9/11 victims and permit his unimpeded participation in the commemorations, Biden offered to release some of the classified documents. It was a clever move, since the new, less-redacted version will only become available well after the commemoration. This gesture seems to have accomplished its goal of preventing an embarrassing showdown at the commemoration ceremonies. But it certainly will not be enough to satisfy the demands of the families, who apparently remain focused on obtaining that staple of the US criminal justice system: “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

    Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, may have shown the way concerning the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Like MBS, the White House prefers finding a way to release some of the truth rather than the whole truth — just the amount that doesn’t violate national security or tarnish the reputations of any key people. Those two goals have increasingly become synonymous. If the people knew what actual political personalities were doing, the nation’s security might be endangered, as the people might begin to lose faith in a government that insists on retaining the essential power of deciding how the truth should be told.

    Embed from Getty Images

    Here is how the White House officially formulates the legal principle behind its commitment to unveiling a little more truth than is currently available. “Although the indiscriminate release of classified information could jeopardize the national security — including the United States Government’s efforts to protect against future acts of terrorism — information should not remain classified when the public interest in disclosure outweighs any damage to the national security that might reasonably be expected from disclosure.”

    The White House has thus formulated an innovative legal principle brilliantly designed to justify concealing enough of the naked truth to avoid offending public morals by revealing its stark nakedness. Legal scholars of the future may refer to it as the “indiscriminate release” principle. Its logical content is worth exploring. It plays on the auxiliary verbs “could” and “should.” “Could” is invoked in such a way as to suggest that, though it is possible, no reasonable person would take the risk of an “indiscriminate release of classified information.” Later in the same sentence, the auxiliary verb “should” serves to speculatively establish the moral character of the principle. It tells us what “should” be the case — that is, what is morally ideal — even if inevitably the final result will be quite different. This allows the White House to display its good intentions while preparing for an outcome that will surely disappoint.

    To justify its merely partial exposure of the truth, the White House offers another original moral concept when it promises the maximization of transparency. The full sentence reads: “It is therefore critical to ensure that the United States Government maximizes transparency.”

    There is of course an easy way to maximize transparency if that is truly the government’s intention. It can be done simply by revealing everything and hiding nothing within the limits of its physical capability. No one doubts that the government is physically capable of removing all the redactions. But the public should know by now that the value cited as overriding all others — national security — implicitly requires hiding a determined amount of the truth. In other words, it is framed as a trade-off between maximum transparency and minimum concealment. Biden has consistently compared himself to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Perhaps that trade-off between transparency and concealment is what historians will call Biden’s New Deal.

    But the White House’s reasoning is not yet complete. The document offers yet another guiding principle to explain why not everything will become visible. “Thus, information collected and generated in the United States Government’s investigation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks should now be disclosed,” it affirms, “except when the strongest possible reasons counsel otherwise.” Those reasons, the document tells us, will be defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation during its “declassification reviews.” This invocation of the “strongest possible reasons” appears to empower the FBI to define or at least apply not only what is “strongest,” but also what is “possible.” That constitutes a pretty broad power.

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    The document states very clearly what the government sees as the ultimate criterion for declassification: “Information may remain classified only if it still requires protection in the interest of the national security and disclosure of the information reasonably could be expected to result in damage to the national security. Information shall not remain classified if there is significant doubt about the need to maintain its classified status.” The families of the victims can simply hope that there will not be too much “significant doubt.” They might be forgiven for doubting that that will be the case.

    One September Morning vs. 20 Years of Subsequent Mornings

    Twenty years ago, a spectacular crime occurred on the East Coast of the United States that set off two decades of crimes, blunders and judgment errors that, now compounded by COVID-19 and aggravated climate change, have brought the world to a crisis point unique in human history.

    The Bush administration, in office for less than eight months at the time of the event, with no certain knowledge of who the perpetrator might have been, chose to classify the attack not as a crime, but as an act of war. When the facts eventually did become clearer after a moment of hesitation in which the administration attempted even to implicate Iraq, the crime became unambiguously attributable, not to a nation but to a politically motivated criminal organization: Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda that back then was operating out of Afghanistan, which was ruled by the Taliban.

    The administration’s choice of treating the attack as an act of war not only stands as a crime in itself, but, as history has shown, as the trigger for a series of even more shameless and far more destructive — if not quite as spectacular — crimes that would roll out for the next two decades and even gain momentum over time. Had the 9/11 attacks been treated as crimes rather than acts of war, the question of national security would have had less importance in the investigation. By going to war with Afghanistan, the Bush administration made it more difficult to investigate all the possible complicities. Could this partially explain its precipitation to start a war?

    Bin Laden, a Saudi, did not act alone. But he did not act in the name of a state either, which is the fundamental criterion for identifying an act of war. He acted within a state, in the territory of Afghanistan. Though his motive was political and the chosen targets were evocatively symbolic of political power, the act itself was in no way political. No more so, in any case, than the January 6 insurrection this year on Capitol Hill.

    Embed from Getty Images

    Though the facts are still being obscured and the text describing them remains redacted in the report of the 9/11 Commission, reading between the redacted lines reveals that bin Laden did have significant support from powerful personalities in Saudi Arabia, many of them with a direct connection to the government. This foreknowledge would seem to indicate complicity at some level of the state.

    On this 20th anniversary of a moment of horror, the families of the victims quite logically continue to suspect that if a state was involved that might eventually justify a declaration of war by Congress (as required by the US Constitution), the name of that state should not have been Afghanistan, but Saudi Arabia. It is equally clear that the Afghan government at the time was in no way directly complicit.

    When the new version of the 9/11 Commission’s report appears with its “maximum transparency,” meaning a bare minimum of redaction, the objections of the victims’ families will no longer be news, and the truth about the deeper complicities around 9/11 will most probably remain obscured. Other dramas, concerning the state of the COVID-19 pandemic, the increasingly obvious consequences of climate change and an upcoming midterm election will probably mean that next year’s 21st commemoration will be low-keyed and possibly considered unworthy of significant mention in the news.

    In 2021, the world has become a decidedly different place than it has been over the past two decades. The end of a forever war simply promises a host of new forever problems to emerge for increasingly unstable democracies to deal with.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Will the US Wake Up From Its Post-9/11 Nightmare?

    Looking back on it now, the 1990s were an age of innocence for America. The Cold War was over and our leaders promised us a “peace dividend.” There was no TSA — the Transportation Security Administration — to make us take off our shoes at airports (how many bombs have they found in those billions of shoes?). The government could not tap a US phone or read private emails without a warrant from a judge. And the national debt was only $5 trillion, compared with over $28 trillion today.

    We have been told that the criminal attacks of September 11, 2001, “changed everything.” But what really changed everything was the US government’s disastrous response to them. That response was not preordained or inevitable, but the result of decisions and choices made by politicians, bureaucrats and generals who fueled and exploited our fears, unleashed wars of reprehensible vengeance and built a secretive security state, all thinly disguised behind Orwellian myths of American greatness.  

    360° Context: How 9/11 and the War on Terror Shaped the World

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    Most Americans believe in democracy and many regard the United States as a democratic country. But the US response to 9/11 laid bare the extent to which American leaders are willing to manipulate the public into accepting illegal wars, torture, the Guantanamo gulag and sweeping civil rights abuses — activities that undermine the very meaning of democracy. 

    Former Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz said in a speech in 2011 that “a democracy can only work if its people are being told the truth.” But America’s leaders exploited the public’s fears in the wake of 9/11 to justify wars that have killed and maimed millions of people who had nothing to do with those crimes. Ferencz compared this to the actions of the German leaders he prosecuted at Nuremberg, who also justified their invasions of other countries as “preemptive first strikes.” 

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    “You cannot run a country as Hitler did, feeding them a pack of lies to frighten them that they’re being threatened, so it’s justified to kill people you don’t even know,” Ferencz continued. “It’s not logical, it’s not decent, it’s not moral, and it’s not helpful. When an unmanned bomber from a secret American airfield fires rockets into a little Pakistani or Afghan village and thereby kills or maims unknown numbers of innocent people, what is the effect of that? Every victim will hate America forever and will be willing to die killing as many Americans as possible. Where there is no court of justice, wild vengeance is the alternative.” 

    “Insurgent Math”

    Even the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, talked about “insurgent math,” conjecturing that, for every innocent person killed, the US created 10 new enemies. Thus, the so-called global war on terror fueled a global explosion of terrorism and armed resistance that will not end unless and until the United States ends the state terrorism that provokes and fuels it. 

    By opportunistically exploiting 9/11 to attack countries that had nothing to do with it, like Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Syria and Yemen, the US vastly expanded the destructive strategy it used in the 1980s to destabilize Afghanistan, which spawned the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the first place. In Libya and Syria, only 10 years after 9/11, US leaders betrayed every American who lost a loved one on September 11 by recruiting and arming al-Qaeda-led militants to overthrow two of the most secular governments in the Middle East, plunging both countries into years of intractable violence and fueling radicalization throughout the region.

    The US response to 9/11 was corrupted by a toxic soup of revenge, imperialist ambitions, war profiteering, systematic brainwashing and sheer stupidity. Lincoln Chafee, the only Republican senator who voted against the war on Iraq, later wrote, “Helping a rogue president start an unnecessary war should be a career-ending lapse of judgment.”

    Embed from Getty Images

    But it wasn’t. Very few of the 263 Republicans or the 110 Democrats who voted in 2002 for the US to invade Iraq paid any political price for their complicity in international aggression, which the judges at Nuremberg explicitly called “the supreme international crime.” One of them now sits at the apex of power in the White House. 

    Failure in Afghanistan

    Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s withdrawal and implicit acceptance of the US defeat in Afghanistan could serve as an important step toward ending the violence and chaos their predecessors unleashed after the 9/11 attacks. But the current debate over next year’s military budget makes it clear that our deluded leaders are still dodging the obvious lessons of 20 years of war. 

    Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress with the wisdom and courage to vote against the war resolution in 2001, has introduced a bill to cut US military spending by almost half: $350 billion per year. With the miserable failure in Afghanistan, a war that will end up costing every US taxpayer $20,000, one would think that Representative Lee’s proposal would be eliciting tremendous support. But the White House, the Pentagon and the Armed Services Committees in the House and Senate are instead falling over each other to shovel even more money into the bottomless pit of the military budget.

    Politicians’ votes on questions of war, peace and military spending are the most reliable test of their commitment to progressive values and the well-being of their constituents. You cannot call yourself a progressive or a champion of working people if you vote to appropriate more money for weapons and war than for health care, education, green jobs and fighting poverty.

    These 20 years of war have revealed to Americans and the world that modern weapons and formidable military forces can only accomplish two things: kill and maim people and destroy homes, infrastructure and entire cities. American promises to rebuild bombed-out cities and “remake” countries it has destroyed have proved worthless, as President Biden has acknowledged. 

    Embed from Getty Images

    Both Iraq and Afghanistan are turning primarily to China for the help they need to start rebuilding and developing economically from the ruin and devastation left by the US and its allies. America destroys, China builds. The contrast could not be more stark or self-evident. No amount of Western propaganda can hide what the whole world can see. 

    But the different paths chosen by American and Chinese leaders are not predestined. Despite the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the US corporate media, the American public has always been wiser and more committed to cooperative diplomacy than their country’s political and executive class. It has been well-documented that many of the endless crises in US foreign policy could have been avoided if America’s leaders had just listened to the people.

    Weapons and More Weapons

    The perennial handicap that has dogged US diplomacy since World War II is precisely our investment in weapons and military forces, including nuclear weapons that threaten our very existence. It is trite but true to say that, “when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” 

    Other countries don’t have the option of deploying overwhelming military force to confront international problems, so they have had to be smarter and more nimble in their diplomacy and more prudent and selective in their more limited uses of military force. 

    The rote declarations of US leaders that “all options are on the table” are a euphemism for precisely the “threat or use of force” that the UN Charter explicitly prohibits, and they stymie the US development of expertise in nonviolent forms of conflict resolution. The bumbling and bombast of America’s leaders in international arenas stand in sharp contrast to the skillful diplomacy and clear language we often hear from top Russian, Chinese and Iranian diplomats, even when they are speaking in English, their second or third language.

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    By contrast, US leaders rely on threats, coups, sanctions and war to project power around the world. They promise Americans that these coercive methods will maintain US “leadership” or dominance indefinitely into the future, as if that is America’s rightful place in the world: sitting atop the globe like a cowboy on a bucking bronco. 

    A “new American century” and “Pax Americana” are Orwellian versions of Adolf Hitler’s “thousand-year Reich” but are no more realistic. No empire has lasted forever, and there is historical evidence that even the most successful empires have a lifespan of no more than 250 years, by which time their rulers have enjoyed so much wealth and power that decadence and decline inevitably set in. This describes the United States today.  

    America’s economic dominance is waning. Its once productive economy has been gutted and financialized, and most countries in the world now do more trade with China and/or the European Union than with the United States. Where America’s military once kicked open doors for American capital to “follow the flag” and open up new markets, today’s US war machine is just a bull in the global china shop, wielding purely destructive power.    

    Time to Get Serious

    But we are not condemned to passively follow the suicidal path of militarism and hostility. Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan could be a down payment on a transition to a more peaceful post-imperial economy — if the American public starts to actively demand peace, diplomacy and disarmament and find ways to make our voices heard. 

    First, we must get serious about demanding cuts in the Pentagon budget. None of our other problems will be solved as long as we keep allowing our leaders to flush the majority of federal discretionary spending down the same military toilet as the $2.26 trillion they wasted on the war in Afghanistan. We must oppose politicians who refuse to cut the Pentagon budget, regardless of which party they belong to and where they stand on other issues.

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    Second, we must not let ourselves or our family members be recruited into the US war machine. Instead, we must challenge our leaders’ absurd claims that the imperial forces deployed across the world to threaten other countries are somehow, by some convoluted logic, defending America. As a translator paraphrased Voltaire, “Whoever can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”  

    Third, we must expose the ugly, destructive reality behind our country’s myths of “defending” US vital interests, humanitarian intervention, the war on terror and the latest absurdity, the ill-defined “rules-based order” — whose rules only apply to others but never to the United States. 

    Finally, we must oppose the corrupt power of the arms industry, including US weapons sales to the world’s most repressive regimes, and an unwinnable arms race that risks a potentially world-ending conflict with China and Russia. 

    Our only hope for the future is to abandon the futile quest for hegemony and instead commit to peace, cooperative diplomacy, international law and disarmament. After 20 years of war and militarism that has only left the world a more dangerous place and accelerated America’s decline, we must choose the path of peace.

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    Did 9/11 Change Everything?

    Twenty years ago, the United States sustained the first substantial attacks on the mainland since the War of 1812. It was a collective shock to all Americans who believed their country to be impregnable. The Cold War had produced the existential dread of a nuclear attack, but that always lurked in the realm of the maybe. On a day-to-day basis, Americans enjoyed the exceptional privilege of national security. No one would dare attack us for fear of massive retaliation. Little did we imagine that someone would attack us in order to precipitate massive retaliation.

    Osama bin Laden understood that American power was vulnerable when overextended. He knew that the greatest military power in the history of the world, deranged by a desire for vengeance, could be lured into taking a cakewalk into a quagmire. With the attacks on September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda turned ordinary American airplanes into weapons to attack American targets. In the larger sense, bin Laden used the entire American army to destroy the foundations of American empire.

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    The commentary on this 20th anniversary of 9/11 has been predictably shallow: how the attacks changed travel, fiction, the arts in general. Consider this week’s Washington Post magazine section in which 28 contributors reflect on the ways that the attacks changed the world.

    “The attack would alter the lives of U.S. troops and their families, and millions of people in Afghanistan and Iraq,” the editors write. “It would set the course of political parties and help to decide who would lead our country. In short, 9/11 changed the world in demonstrable, massive and heartbreaking ways. But the ripple effects altered our lives in subtle, often-overlooked ways as well.”

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    The subsequent entries on art, fashion, architecture, policing, journalism and so on attempt to describe these subtler effects. Yet it’s difficult to read this special issue without concluding that 9/11, in fact, didn’t change the world much at all.

    The demonization of American Muslims? That began long before the fateful day, cresting after the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The paranoid retrenchment in American architecture? US embassies were rebuilt not in response to 9/11, but the embassy bombings in Beirut in 1983-84 and Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

    The impact of 9/11 on the arts can be traced through a handful of works like Spike Lee’s “25th Hour” or the TV series “24” or Don DeLillo’s “Falling Man,” but it didn’t produce a new artistic movement like Dada in the wake of World War I or cli-fi in response to the climate crisis. Even the experience of flying hasn’t changed that much beyond beefed-up security measures. At this point, the introduction of personal in-flight entertainment systems has arguably altered the flying experience more profoundly.

    And isn’t the assertion that 9/11 changed everything exceptionally America-centric? Americans were deeply affected, as were the places invaded by US troops. But how much has life in Japan or Zimbabwe or Chile truly changed as a result of 9/11? Of course, Americans have always believed that, as the song goes, “we are the world.”

    More Than a Mistake

    In a more thoughtful Post consideration of 9/11, Carlos Lozado reviews many of the books that have come out in the last 20 years on what went wrong. In his summary, US policy proceeds like a cascade of falling dominos, each one a mistake that follows from the previous and sets into motion the next.

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    Successive administrations underestimated al-Qaeda and failed to see signs of preparation for the 9/11 attacks. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the Bush administration mistakenly followed the example of numerous empires in thinking that it could subdue Afghanistan and remake it in the image of the colonial overlord. It then compounded that error by invading Iraq in 2003 with the justification that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with al-Qaeda, was building up a nuclear program, or was otherwise part of an alliance of nations determined to take advantage of an America still reeling from the 9/11 attacks. Subsequent administrations made the mistake of doubling down in Afghanistan, expanding the war on terror to other battlefields and failing to end US operations at propitious moments like the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011.

    Lozado concludes by pointing out that Donald Trump is in many ways a product of the war on terror that followed 9/11. “Absent the war on terror, it is harder to imagine a presidential candidate decrying a sitting commander in chief as foreign, Muslim, illegitimate—and using that lie as a successful political platform,” he writes. “Absent the war on terror, it is harder to imagine a travel ban against people from Muslim-majority countries. Absent the war on terror, it is harder to imagine American protesters labeled terrorists, or a secretary of defense describing the nation’s urban streets as a ‘battle space’ to be dominated.”

    But to understand the rise of Trump, it’s necessary to see 9/11 and its aftermath as more than just the product of a series of errors of perception and judgment. Implicit in Lozado’s review is the notion that America somehow lost its way, that an otherwise robust intelligence community screwed the pooch, that some opportunistic politicians used the attacks to short-circuit democracy, public oversight and even military logic. But this assumes that the war on terror represents a substantial rift in the American fabric. The 9/11 attacks were a surprise. The response wasn’t.

    The United States had already launched a war against Iraq in 1991. It had already mistakenly identified Iran, Hamas and jihadist forces like al-Qaeda as enemies linked by their broad religious identity. It had built a worldwide arsenal of bases and kept up extraordinarily high levels of military spending to maintain full-spectrum dominance. Few American politicians questioned the necessity of this hegemony, though liberals tended to prefer that US allies shoulder some of the burden and neoconservatives favored a more aggressive effort to roll back the influence of Russia, China and other regional hegemons.

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    The “war on terror” effectively began in 1979 when the United States established its “state sponsors of terrorism” list. The Reagan administration used “counterterrorism” as an organizing principle of US foreign policy throughout the 1980s. In the post-Cold War era, the Clinton administration attempted to demonstrate its hawk credentials by launching counterterrorism strikes in Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

    What changed after 9/11 is that neoconservatives could push their regime-change agenda more successfully because the attacks had temporarily suppressed the Vietnam syndrome, a response to the negative consequences of extended overseas military engagements. Every liberal in Congress, except for the indomitable Barbara Lee, supported the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, as if they’d been born just the day before. That just happens to be one of those side-effects of empire listed in fine print on the label: periodic and profound amnesia.

    In this sense, Trump is not a product of the war on terror. His views on US foreign policy have ranged across the spectrum from jingoistic to non-interventionist. His attitude toward protesters was positively Nixonian. And his recourse to conspiracy theories derived from his legendary disregard for truth. Regardless of 9/11, Trump’s ego would have propelled him toward the White House.

    The surge of popular support that placed him in the Oval Office, on the other hand, can only be understood in the post-9/11 context. Cyberspace was full of all sorts of nonsense prior to 9/11 (remember the Y2K predictions?). But the attacks gave birth to a new variety of “truthers” who insisted, against all contrary evidence, that nefarious forces had constructed a self-serving reality. The attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon were “inside jobs.” The Newtown shootings had been staged by “crisis actors.” Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

    The shock of the United States being so dramatically and improbably attacked by a couple dozen foreigners was so great that some Americans, uncoupled from their bedrock assumptions about their own national security, were now willing to believe anything. Ultimately, they were even willing to believe someone who lied more consistently and more frequently than any other politician in US history.

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    Trump effectively promised to erase 9/11 from the American consciousness and rewind the clock back to the golden moment of unipolar US power. In offering such selective memory loss, Trump was a quintessentially imperial president.

    The Real Legacy of 9/11

    Even after the British formally began to withdraw from the empire business after World War II, they couldn’t help but continue to act as if the sun didn’t set on their domains. It was the British who masterminded the coup that deposed Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953. It was the British at the head of the invasion of Egypt in 1956 to recapture control of the Suez Canal. Between 1949 and 1970, Britain launched 34 military interventions in all.

    The UK apparently never received the memo that it was no longer a dominant military power. It’s hard for empires to retire gracefully. Just ask the French.

    The final US withdrawal from Afghanistan last month was in many ways a courageous and successful action by the Biden administration, though it’s hard to come to that conclusion by reading the media accounts. President Joe Biden made the difficult political decision to stick to the terms that his predecessor negotiated with the Taliban last year. Despite being caught by surprise by the Taliban’s rapid seizure of power over the summer, the administration was able to evacuate around 120,000 people, a number that virtually no one would have expected prior to the fall of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Sure, the administration should have been better prepared. Sure, it should have committed to evacuating more Afghans who fear for their lives under the Taliban. But it made the right move to finally end the US presence in Afghanistan.

    Biden has made clear that US counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan will continue, that the war on terror in the region is not over. Yet, US operations in the Middle East now have the feel of those British interventions in the twilight of empire. America is retreating, slowly but surely and sometimes under a protective hail of bullets. The Islamic State group and its various incarnations have become the problem of the Taliban — and the Syrian state, the Iraq state, the Libyan state (such that it is) and so on.

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    Meanwhile, the United States turns its attention toward China. But this is no Soviet Union. China is a powerhouse economy with a government that has skillfully used nationalism to bolster domestic support. With trade and investment, Beijing has recreated a Sinocentric tributary system in Asia. America really doesn’t have the capabilities to roll back Chinese influence in its own backyard.

    So that, in the end, is what 9/11 has changed. The impact on culture, on the daily lives of those not touched directly by the tragedies, has been minimal. The deeper changes — on perceptions of Muslims, on the war on terror — had been set in motion before the attacks happened.

    But America’s place in the world? In 2000, the United States was still riding high in the aftermath of the end of the Cold War. Today, despite the strains of MAGA that can be heard throughout America’s political culture, the United States has become one major power among many. It can’t dictate policy down the barrel of a gun. Economically it must reckon with China. In geopolitics, it has become the unreliable superpower.

    Even in our profound narcissism, Americans are slowly realizing, like the Brits so many years ago, that the imperial game is up.

    *[This article was originally published by FPIF.]

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    The Aftershocks of the Saudi and American Debacle in Afghanistan

    Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan have a complex relationship. Their ties date back to the 19th century when Afghanistan became the first Muslim country to recognize the second Saudi state of 1824 to 1891. In 1930, Ibn Saud recognized King Nadir Shah’s rule in Afghanistan, in 1932, the two countries signed their first friendship agreement, and in 1950, King Zahir Shah’s visit to Saudi Arabia was commemorated on a Saudi stamp.

    Ties over the following decades remained close. This was not so much because of Saudi geopolitical interests in Afghanistan, but rather how the country affected Saudi Arabia’s relations with Iran and Pakistan, a major rival and an important ally of the kingdom respectively.

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    The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 marked the summit of Saudi influence. In coordination with Pakistan and the United States, the Saudis famously supported the mujahideen and also assisted many Afghan refugees. Throughout the 1980s, the kingdom exercised direct interference over various Islamist groups in Afghanistan and many Saudis traveled there to fight the Soviets.

    After the Soviet Union departed in 1989 and throughout the subsequent civil war in Afghanistan, the Saudis continued their role of manipulating Afghan politicians and factions, using their petrodollars and religious influence on behalf of the US, with mixed results. In 1993, all of the Afghan mujahideen factions signed a peace agreement in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, but that failed to stop the conflict.

    Saudi Ties With the Taliban

    Following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, some commentators have encouraged the Saudis to try to play the religious card again. In June, Muslim scholars from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia signed a “declaration of peace” in Mecca, which Arab News described as a “historic, landmark event on the path toward reconciliation between warring factions.” But the Taliban rejected the move — which, in any event, had no impact on peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government — as a theatrical attempt to steal the diplomatic limelight from Qatar using Islamic mercenaries.

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    Saudi influence over the Taliban began with funding hardline religious schools, or madrassas, in Pakistan where the movement started. It effectively ended in 1996 when the Taliban first took over Afghanistan. At the end of the 1990s, Saudi citizens were officially barred from giving money to any charity that was not state-approved, which meant Saudi public funding for the Taliban was largely cut off, except for a few individuals acting without the explicit knowledge of the government. A 2013 research paper by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs stated that Saudi “fundraisers for the Taliban … are believed to extensively exploit networks and use old mechanisms dating back to the times of Saudi cooperation with mujahedeen and Taliban functionaries.”

    When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, Saudi Arabia was one of only three countries to officially recognize their government; Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates were the other two. This was not because the Saudis supported the Taliban regime, but rather because they were looking for a way to grease the wheels for an approach by Prince Turki al-Faisal, the head of Saudi intelligence, to persuade the Taliban to extradite Osama bin Laden, the Saudi leader of al-Qaeda.

    The Saudis calculated that by recognizing the Taliban government, they could win influence as they had done in the past with other factions and warlords. But in 1998, when Prince Turki traveled to Afghanistan with a delegation of Muslim figures, the former Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, turned him down.

    The Saudi View of the Taliban

    The House of Saud now faces a disconcerting moment over Afghanistan, not least because like the former Afghan government, the royal family depends on the US for protection against external enemies and internal threats.

    In a report by Wikistrat about the implications of the Taliban takeover on Saudi Arabia, Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a fellow for the Middle East at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, comments: “Questions are likely to be mounting in Riyadh about the sincerity and the reliability of US security guarantees which themselves have been a matter of considerable uncertainty since the September 2019 attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure.” He adds that the “sudden abandonment of Afghan partners, spelled out clinically and coldly in [Joe] Biden’s televised address, may resonate strongly among US regional partners for whom President [Barack] Obama’s perceived abandonment of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 set in motion a questioning of US motivations that then continued into the Trump era.”

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    Neil Quilliam, a Middle East analyst at Chatham House, continues in the same Wikistrat report: “The Taliban leadership will likely begin a campaign to challenge the legitimacy of the Al Saud and appeal directly to the Saudi population to challenge the ruling family’s authority.” He adds that the “nature of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is a cause for concern in Saudi Arabia. President Biden’s speech about the withdrawal, wherein he noted that remaining in Afghanistan no longer constitutes a vital interest, has also sent shockwaves through the Saudi leadership.”

    The Taliban may turn on Saudi Arabia in the media war. Transnational jihadist groups like al-Qaeda could also threaten the Saudis from Afghanistan again. But as Sami Hamdi explained in the Arab Digest podcast, there are reasons why Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman might benefit from the situation in Afghanistan in terms of finding a renewed utility toward the US. A foreign diplomat in Riyadh, quoted by Reuters, predicted that the kingdom will take a pragmatic approach. “The Saudis have a historical relationship with Afghanistan and will eventually have to accept the Taliban [again] … They have no other option,” he said.

    In 2019, Jalaluddin Shinwari, the former Taliban deputy minister of justice, told the New York Times: “What [we] are saying to Americans is this: You have accepted Saudi Arabia, and we won’t do more than their basic code — retribution for murder, chop off the hand for robbing. If you have accepted Saudi, what’s wrong with us being another? The rest will be your priorities: aid, friendship, economic relations.”

    The US Would Never Pull Out of Saudi Arabia

    The Taliban can dream of a relationship with the US akin to that which the Saudis enjoy. Yet that relationship is completely different from whatever ties the US has with Afghanistan. The United States would never pull out of Saudi Arabia the way it did from Afghanistan, not only because of hydrocarbons — although with the Middle East still providing around 31% of world oil production and 16% of global natural gas supply, this remains an important factor. Nor is American support just about Israel’s security — although the US and its Western allies certainly wish to ensure this, and they are ready to work with any Arab regime, particularly Saudi Arabia, that is ready to officially recognize Israel on US terms.

    The main reason the US can never pull out of Saudi Arabia is because of the unthinkable consequences of losing Saudi control of the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina to al-Qaeda or another jihadist movement. That is why US support for the Saudis remains solid despite misgivings on both sides.

    *[This article was originally published by Arab Digest, a partner organization of Fair Observer.]

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    Tony Blair’s Stand-Up Number

    Is there any reason to pay attention to what Tony Blair, the British prime minister between 1997 and 2007, has to say after the Afghan debacle? The former member of the comedy duo, composed of George W. Bush (the inarticulate gaffer) and Blair (the sanctimonious moralizer), that performed prominently on the world stage in the first decade of this century, no longer has any serious connection to political power. Still, Blair manages to make occasional appearances in the news cycle, thanks principally to the inertia that so relentlessly drives the media’s choices.

    Now that the war the Bush and Blair team enthusiastically launched in 2001 has been officially lost, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) was curious to hear what the former leader might have to say. Would Blair offer some insider perspective on an episode of history now judged to have been a vainglorious attempt to punish a spectacular criminal act by mounting a military campaign that turned out to be more spectacular, equally criminal, much more costly and far more self-destructive of the civilization that was presumably defending itself? Would he apologize for his own mistakes? Would he coldly analyze the political and ideological sources of those mistakes?

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    Blair did admit that “maybe my generation of leaders were naive in thinking countries could be remade.” That was neither a confession nor an apology, especially as he immediately followed up by implicitly critiquing President Joe Biden’s precipitated withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, adding that “maybe the remaking needed to last longer.” He then used the now obligatory example of the plight of Afghan women to assert that “we mustn’t forget … that our values are still those which free people choose.”

    Instead of confessing and clarifying, the monologue he delivered resembled a self-parody of the reasoning that drove his error-ridden decision-making in 2001. “Islamism,” he proclaimed, “both the ideology and the violence, is a first order security threat… COVID-19 has taught us about deadly pathogens. Bio-terror possibilities may seem like the realm of science fiction, but we would be wise now to prepare for their potential use by non-state actors.” In short, once again, we need to be afraid, very afraid.

    Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:

    Potential use:

    A term used by politicians to describe an unlikely event that usefully inspires fear in the public’s mind to justify aggressive efforts labeled “defense,” but which objectively appear to take the form of offensive assault against other nations and peoples

    Contextual Note

    In such moments, Blair can appear as if he is vying to become a stand-up comedian, a kind of one-man Monty Python, satirizing his nation’s historical institutions. Unfortunately, despite Blair’s notoriety, they are not in the same league. The Flying Circus boys came together initially as irreverent university wits, who targeted post-colonial British culture and the pompous establishment’s status quo. As the former living symbol of that pompous establishment, Blair’s comic ambition is fraught with insurmountable obstacles. Even when his discourse manages to sound as surreally unhinged as that of any of the characters invented by the Python, Blair will never break free from his former identity as the real-life representative of the establishment’s fake wisdom and pseudo-sanity.

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    In the later years of his reign as the young and glamorous prime minister, even before the devastating findings of the Chilcot report on the UK’s involvement in the Iraq War, many politically aware Brits were already tempted to change the spelling of his name from Blair to Bliar, to highlight his habit of solemnly lying his way into disastrous wars, alongside his buddy, President Bush. Together, those two men led an enterprise that some observers assess as a complex and long-enduring war crime.

    That both of those men should still be welcomed on the world stage, treated as sages and counted on to deliver wise commentary on current events should shock only those who are unaware of how today’s media works. It systematically honors those who have been the boldest in committing crimes, so long as such crimes are committed in the name of national security. That rationale has become so fundamental and so obsessively inculcated by those who exercise any form of political or economic power that committing extreme violence in the name of “national security” will always be lauded in the media as proof of a politician’s courage to go beyond the call of duty. 

    Historical Note

    Tony Blair’s comedy appears to be based on a simple premise. His onstage character assumes the stance of taking seriously the startling idea formulated in 1989 by Francis Fukuyama, as the Cold War was ending. According to the young political scientist, a golden age governed by the principles of Western liberalism was dawning. Fukuyama claimed that “we are witnessing… the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

    Fukuyama himself eventually abandoned that thesis or at least corrected our understanding of what he meant by it. Blair thinks we can return to 1992, a year in which the book, “The End of History and the Last Man” was published and the Soviet Union only existed in the past tense. In his secular preaching, Blair maintains the faith in the triumph of liberal values. “Recovering confidence in our values and in their universal application,” he affirmed, “is a necessary part of ensuring we stand up for them and are prepared to defend them.”

    Blair’s forward-looking aims at new battlegrounds. “Britain should work more closely with European countries on how best to develop capacity to tackle the threat in areas such as Africa’s Sahel region,” he said. This stands as a scintillating demonstration of how the neocolonialist mind works. It seeks a region of interest and then invents the threat. 

    Why is Blair singling out the Sahel? The answer should be obvious. It is the logic used by 19th-century European colonialist powers, who opportunistically looked for occasions to exploit the weakness of their rivals to dominate a particular part of the world. France is currently retreating from its futile engagement in the Sahel, an area it dominated to a large extent as a colonial power and in which it has been active as a neocolonial defender in the “global war on terror.”

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    Blair’s plan reads like a comic book version of traditional British imperialism. “We need some boots on the ground,” he said. “Naturally our preference is for the boots to be local, but that will not always be possible.” Let the natives die as we secure our rule. It is already laughable to suggest that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit Britain might “work more closely with European countries” on its relations with the African continent.

    Blair is obviously thinking of a tandem with France, whose citizens have lost all patience with their nation’s inept military operation across the Sahel region. He imagines France and Britain together renewing the glory formerly achieved by the US-UK duo in the Middle East. Together they will ensure that the “remaking” lasts longer. France’s Jupiterian president, Emmanuel Macron, humiliated by the current pressure to withdraw troops, would clearly welcome the chance of participating in such an alliance, even if the French people are reticent.

    For Blair, it isn’t about power and money, though he is clearly attracted to both, especially the latter, which he has shown a talent for accumulating. No, it’s about universal values, Blair’s own singularly enlightened values. That’s a language dear to the president of the French Republic, a nation that has tirelessly sought to exercise its “mission civilisatrice” across the globe for the last three centuries. Blair, the stand-up comedian, will “stand up for” those values and be “prepared to defend them.”

    “Be prepared” is the Boy Scouts’ motto. In the final act of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” the young prince of Denmark declared to his friend Horatio that “the readiness is all.” Unlike Blair, however, Hamlet wasn’t interested in magnifying real or imaginary threats to his well-being. Instead, he was affirming a certain equanimity and trust in his own capacities. No need to invest in his training before what turned out to be a rigged fencing match. Hamlet refused to let fear be his guide.

    From the beginning of Shakespeare’s play, Denmark was in a state of war, feverishly building its armaments to defend itself from a “hot and full” Norwegian prince, Fortinbras. But it was Denmark’s own criminal king who brought the country down, leaving bodies strewn across the stage just as the young Fortinbras is about to arrive, survey the damage and take control of the state.

    *[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]

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    The War on Terror Was Never Turkey’s Fight

    Do you know where you were on August 14, 2001? Perhaps not, since it isn’t a defining day in world history in quite the same way as September 11, 2001, or 9/11, as it’s become known. Yet in the Turkish political landscape, August 14, 2001, can now be seen as something of a watershed moment.

    It was on this day that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) was founded. One of its founding members was a man named Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It was the latest in a long list of parties catering to a religiously devout and socially conservative constituency in Turkey. All the previous ones had been banned.

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    What makes August 14, 2001, so significant is the simple fact that the AKP was never banned. Despite the party’s daring to tread on secularist principles that few others had dared, this time, the country, with strong European Union support, had no appetite for military-backed bans.

    Turkey Says No

    Just as September 11 didn’t really come out of a clear blue sky for anyone observing the tide of Islamist militancy, so too the success of the AKP in Turkey did not come unannounced. It was a long time in the making, but its assumption of power, so soon after 9/11, has been defining for the country.

    By 2003, when George W. Bush’s war on terror was swinging into action in Iraq, the AKP took control of Turkey‘s government. Despite repeated attempts to shutter the party and even a failed 2016 coup, the AKP remains in power. As perhaps the most successful Islamist party in the Middle East, its relationship to both the events of 9/11 and the ensuing war on terror has always been a strained one. The Turkey of the 20th century would have been an unquestioning supporter of US policy. The new Turkey was not.

    Embed from Getty Images

    I was in Turkey on 9/11 and I saw the immediate reaction of ordinary people to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In the hours after the towers fell, there were wild, yet in retrospect on-the-mark rumors that the US was about to bomb Afghanistan. The mood among ordinary Turks was not one of support.

    Visceral anger and anti-American sentiment were clearly palpable. While not outright cheering al-Qaeda, it was obvious that most people wouldn’t take the US side in a fight. This mood was reflected when Washington eventually went to war with Iraq and hoped to use the airbase at Incirlik in southeastern Turkey.

    The parliamentary vote that vetoed the use of the base for flights into Iraq was a pivotal one. It was the first strong sign of demonstrable national action in reflection of a national mood. In the post-Cold War world, Turkey’s Islamist government was ready to plow its own furrow.

    Who Defines Terrorism?

    The years that have followed have seen an ambiguous and often highly contorted relationship with the war on terror. Sometimes, Turkey has used the anti-terrorism concept to its own ends, as have many other US allies. At other times, it has turned a blind eye to activity that surely fell under the banner of terrorism.

    The Arab Spring of 2010 offered Islamists across the Middle East their big moment. Secular autocrats, long propped up by the West, tottered. Turkey’s Islamist government was one of the most vocal and active in attempting to ride this wave that they hoped would bring Islamist governments to a swathe of countries.

    Initially, the signs were good. The Muslim Brotherhood won the first free and fair elections in Egypt. Meanwhile, in neighboring Syria, the long-suppressed Islamist movement threatened to overwhelm the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad. For a time, Turkey became a beacon of hope and a model for how the rest of the Middle East might evolve.

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    Turkish flags were being waved by demonstrators in Syria, and President Erdogan became the most popular leader in the region, loved by people far beyond his own nation. Then the Egyptian coup destroyed the Brotherhood, and Russia and Iran stepped in to save Assad’s regime in Syria. The mood soured for Turkey.

    In an attempt to rescue something in the Syrian conflict and in response to the collapse of domestic peace talks between the government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, Turkey’s border became a very porous route for jihadists entering into Syria. In time, these jihadists named themselves the Islamic State and declared a caliphate. This audacious move severely upped the stakes on al-Qaeda’s attempts of 2001, with an even more brutal brand of terrorism. Turkey’s ambiguous attitude to these developments was hardly a war on terror.

    Yet by this stage, the concept behind the war on terror had become so nebulous and the AKP’s relations to the US so strained by Washington’s support for the Kurds in Syria, that it was a case of realpolitik all the way. To any accusation of soft-handedness toward terrorists, Turkey pointed to US attitudes vis-à-vis Kurdish militants.

    Embed from Getty Images

    President Erdogan has, over time, began to carve a space for himself as an anti-Western champion, a leader of some kind of latter-day non-aligned movement, a spokesman for Muslim rights worldwide. This political and cultural position has made Turkey’s place in a liberal, democratic world order highly questionable.

    What seems clear in retrospect is that both 9/11 and the subsequent war on terror were never Turkey’s fights. Due to the longstanding Turkish alliance with the US and NATO, these have been constantly recurring themes in Turkish politics. But the events that have been so central to US policymaking for the past two decades have generally been used to advance Ankara’s own strategic goals in light of the assumption of power and entrenched hegemony of the Islamist movement in Turkey’s contemporary politics.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More