Who Lies? Who Dies?
Who pays? Who profits?
by Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2014 – Thomas Adcock
NEW YORK, near America
The tiresome ballet of war is a pas de deux in which opposing sides claim to uphold all that is moral and civilized. First comes the performers’ entrée. Next—the adagio, variations, and coda. Thus goes a deadly dance as old as dirt:
Enter the schemers, and their lies. Trumpets announce a parade of the very latest in military arts required to cull the combatant populations of their young men and women, and innocent children. Belligerents enact respective pas seuls before vast audiences brought to scarified lather by media; audiences duped into losing in blood and treasury as payment for patriotic spectacle. Finally, the scheming impresarios draw down the curtain on their grisly entertainment; backstage, golden tribute is distributed among the usual suspects.
Hear now the newest trumpets and drums, from Kiev and Moscow and Washington. Listen to the rising Shakespearean herald: “Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war.”
Since the close of World War II in 1945, we Americans have found ourselves suckered by that lusty herald, initially in the cause of what we decorously called the “Korean Conflict.” Soon thereafter came the quagmires of Vietnam and Iraq; we remain in the quagmire of Afghanistan, world headquarters of heroin commerce. During rare down times for the military-industrial complex, America’s titans of industry have engineered profitable adventures of dubious legality, and almost no element of righteousness, in too many countries to name in the space I am afforded here.
Currently in the Congress of the United States, a caucus of yahoos and jingoists urges aerial bombardment of Damascus and Teheran, à la the joint U.S.-British atrocity committed eleven years ago this month against the people of Iraq. Madly/proudly titled “Shock and Awe,” the blitzkrieg thrilled viewers of late-night American television news with visages of mushroom clouds, spark trails, and palls of black smoke over the hellish red skylines of Baghdad, Mogul, Tikrit, and Kirkuk.
According to official word from London and Washington, missiles were “carefully aimed,” so as to avoid civilian casualties. A number of civilians might beg to differ, if not for the fact of their untimely deaths.
Now comes Ukraine (?), and the familiar yips of barking dogs.
Every wartime script opens the same: with truth as the first casualty, a fact first realized, on papyrus, by the tragedian Aeschylus (525 B.C.-456 B.C.). Contextual history is unknown, or willfully ignored—or contorted by ignoramuses, cynics, and profiteers. And hypocrisy with a capital-H is always at the front lines—as most recently seen last Sunday, when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry found himself hip-deep in that particular Big Muddy.
When still in Congress, as a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, Mr. Kerry cast his vote for authorization of “Shock and Awe” in 2003. Shamefully did he stand foursquare for war against Iraq—on the basis of what civilians and non-politicians throughout the whole wide world correctly knew was a completely trumped up pretext. Yet in his televised scolding of President Vladimir Putin for deploying Russian troops to the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine—an invasion in which no one died; in which no rifle or pistol was fired, let alone missiles—Mr. Kerry said, with not the slightest traces of irony or self-awareness: “You just don’t, in the twenty-first century, behave in nineteenth-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.”
To be sure, a false pretext for Russian troops invading Crimea was very much needed by Mr. Putin, who twice earlier had himself waded into the Big Muddy of hypocrisy. (Thus did he claim that the Russophilic citizenry of Ukraine—especially in Crimea, site of a Russian naval operation—were under physical attack by neo-Nazis from Germany come to the aid of local anti-Semitic rioters in Kiev’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti).
- ¶ Item: In 1994, Mr. Putin and his counterpart heads of state from the U.S., Germany, and Britain agreed to an international treaty known as the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. In return for handing over its post-Soviet nuclear weapons for disposal, Mr. Putin and the other signatories pledged to “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.”
- ¶ Item Last year, Mr. Putin published an essay in the New York Times newspaper on September 11th (of all dates), excoriating America for threatening to attack Syria. “The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries…would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism,” wrote Mr. Putin, or some faceless scribe. “It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.”
— Which reminds me: have I mentioned the wartime politics of strange bedfellows, or madness as causational aspect of war, or war’s capacity for opéra bouffe?
There was a time in America when it was practical and possible for a man of the Republican Party to ask his own side of the Congressional aisle to quell criticism of a Democratic Party president—namely, Harry S. Truman in 1947—when it came to dealings with other countries in matters of military or diplomatic import. So it was that Michigan’s Arthur H. Vandenberg (1884-1951), powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, admonished disrespectful carpers among his co-religionists in declaring, “We must stop partisan politics at the water’s edge.”
But Mr. Vandenberg’s party of ‘47 has gone the way of rotary telephones, poodle skirts, and the fox trot. The amalgamated Republican Tea Party of 2014 is a gun-toting confederation of bigots, bible crazies, flat-earthers, fetus wavers, vaginaphobes, and the puerile. So it is that a mild-mannered Democratic president, Barack Obama, is the focus of ceaseless and stupefying impugnment on the part of Teapublicans—those whose deity is Ronald Reagan, the late Hollywood actor who made his political bones from the 1950s through the ‘80s as the scourge of Russki reds.
Oddly, putative Reaganistas now praise President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin—a man with blood on his hands as a high-ranking agent of the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB) during the Soviet Union era, and who rose to political prominence in Russia Federation as director of the post-Soviet successor to the KGB, the Federal Security Service, known as the FSB. In 1999, Director Putin sent FSB paramilitary thugs into Chechnya to wreck violent havoc in a would-be breakaway republic; the dissident cause was supported in the U.S. by prominent Republicans. But while Mr. Putin now earns Republican Tea Party kudos for manly derring-do, Mr. Obama collects contempt.
Wartime politics of the moment provides the Republican Tea Party with fresh opportunity to heap yet more opprobrium on President Obama—principally via Fox Television, the party’s media arm. Suffering as they are from a psychosis diagnosed as ODS (Obama Derangement Syndrome), Teapublicans have accused the biracial president of sins large and small. Only two weeks ago, Mr. Obama was alleged to be a power-mad king. Since winning the presidency in 2008, Teapublicans have outed Mr. Obama as a secret homosexual Muslim dope fiend born in Kenya, dedicated to replacing the U.S. Constitution with Sharia law and eliminating white people, whose guns he aims to confiscate. Fox Television has been delighted to give a platform to all ODS howlers who apply.
Unsurprisingly, the Fox network is operated by Australian-American-British press baron Rupert Murdoch. Mr. Murdoch is frequently described as the second coming of Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945), minister of “public enlightenment and propaganda” during the darkest chapter of German nationhood.
“People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil,” chirped right-wing cutie pie Sarah Palin during her appearance last Sunday on Fox TV. The media curiosity from Alaska and Republican candidate for vice president of the United States in 2008 added, “They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.”
Rudolf Giuliani—the unlamented ex-mayor of New York City, and owner of a closetful of aluminum-colored suits—had this to say of Vlad the Invader, if not the impaler: “Putin decides what he wants to do, and he does it in half a day, right? He makes a decision, and he executes it—quickly. And then everybody reacts. That’s what you call a leader.”
(Actually, that’s what you call a two-year-old.)
And then there is Lindsey Graham. The South Carolina bachelor senator owns his very own Bushmaster Model XM15-E2S semiautomatic rifle, the same weapon employed by mass murderer Adam Lanza to blast away his sleeping mother’s face and neck one early morning in Connecticut in December 2012, after which he slaughtered twenty elementary school students and six of their teachers. Mr. Graham speaks fondly of this shared firepower, in a voice not often associated with the sort of machismo he evidently admires in Mr. Putin.
Mr. Graham took to television last weekend to blast Mr. Obama, whom he apparently regards as a hand-wringing sissy-man. The senator’s unsought advice for the president: “Well, number one, stop going on television and trying to threaten thugs and dictators. It is not your strong suit. Every time the president goes on national television and threatens Putin or anyone like Putin, everybody’s eyes roll, including mine. We have a weak and indecisive president that (sic) invites aggression. President Obama must do something!”
Congressman Mike Rogers, the Teapublican chairman of a misnomer called the House Intelligence Committee—and a man who knows from metaphors—offered a penetrating analysis of tensions in Ukraine: “I think Putin is playin’ chess, and I think we’re playin’ marbles. It’s not even close. Putin’s runnin’ rings around us.”
On the evening of October 7, 2008, Senator John McCain debated his rival for the presidency in that year’s election, then Senator Barack Obama. Mr. McCain—the Republican candidate who chose Sarah Palin as his campaign running mate; ergo, the American best suited to take over the White House in the event of presidential death or incapacitation—chided Mr. Obama for his tough talk about how he, as president, would take dramatic action to seek out and kill al-Qaeda terrorist Osama bin Laden, even if that meant a super-secret commando mission into Pakistan. (All of which happened, as has been reported—although numerous Teapublican conspiracists take exception to the record.)
With reference to Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican president from 1901 to 1909, Mr. McCain said, “My hero is a guy named Teddy Roosevelt, who used to say, ‘Walk softly, but carry a big stick.’ Senator Obama likes to talk loudly. In fact, he said he wants to announce that he’s going to attack Pakistan. Remarkable.”
It seems now, however, that President Obama has heeded Mr. McCain’s counsel of 2008. Indeed, Mr. Obama, commander in chief of a multitude of enormous sticks, is not loud in these days of tension in Ukraine. It seems as well that Mr. McCain has changed his tune, perhaps in light of the Republican Tea Party having discovered the word “feckless,” parroted throughout the past week by Mr. Obama’s critics—the very ones who believed a few days earlier that the American president was an iron-fisted tyrant.
Of Mr. Obama’s failure to instantaneously counter Russia’s invasion of Crimea by shocking and awing Moscow in the dark of morning, Mr. McCain said, “This blatant act on the part of Vladimir Putin…cannot stand. Why do we care? Because this is the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in America’s strength anymore.”
As you are reading this, Mr. Kerry and his pal (and fellow francophone) Sergei Lavrov, foreign minister of the Russian Federation, are somewhere in Paris, no doubt enjoying fine cuisine whilst hashing out differences between their respective bosses. In this business, Messrs. Kerry and Lavrov are no doubt lobbied by the usual suspects—corporatists with their lawyers and bankers in tow, all of them drooling over the prospects of fresh billions in oil and natural gas consignments once this Russo-Ukrainian dust-up is settled.
As Naomi Klein advises in her spot-on book of 2007, “The Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Crisis Capitalism,” one man’s chaos is another man’s profit. Or else it is all madness—which in itself is a chaos, out of which clever suspects might surely emerge in finding fortune.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian community here in New York absorbs the news reports from Crimea—and Kiev, and Moscow, and Washington. They read newspapers the same as they did back home in the bad old Soviet days: they shrug their shoulders while taking note of what Kremlin rulers would have them believe. Ukrainians have their own beliefs, including a friend of mine who prefers to be identified here as Josef Z.
Mr. Z is an exquisitely educated man of late middle age who fled his home city of Kiev decades ago. He made his way to New York, and to the Ukrainian National Home on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The home offers help for a man who speaks only Ukrainian and Russian faced with the task of navigating a strange new land with strange new languages. Convenient to the home is the comfort of an aromatic establishment called Pierogi & Deli, the longtime unofficial social club for Ukrainian émigrés.
My friend never grasped an English vocabulary sufficient to advance himself in a profession learned abroad—pharmacy. He is a barber, my barber, and a sophisticated consumer of the news. I asked for his thoughts on the Crimean situation.
“I never believed Putin he could be so stupid,” said Mr. Z. “He’s playing with fire, Putin.”
What of all the other stakeholders in the uproar?
“They’re all lying,” said Mr. Z. “Believe me, they telling lies.”
— Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag