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Peace and War


Mapping Military Madness: 2015 Update

Once again this year, the clear winner, in not just women’s soccer and incarceration, but also in militarism, is the United States of America, sweeping nearly every category of military insanity with seemingly effortless ease. Find all of last year’s and this year’s maps here: bit.ly/mappingmilitarism

In the area of money spent on militarism, there was really no competition:

MMspending

Troops in Afghanistan have declined, but there remains no question which nation still has the most.

There are more major wars in the world now than a year ago, but only one nation is involved in some significant way in all of them.

When it comes to weapons sales to the rest of the world, the United States really shines. The other nations should probably be competing in a different league.

In nuclear weapons stockpiling, Russia makes an amazing showing, nudging out the U.S. for the lead, just like last year, even as both nations’ stockpiles have slightly diminished, and both nations have announced plans to build more. No other nation even makes it on the chart.

Among nations with other WMDs, such as chemical and biological weapons, the United States is right in there.

But it’s really in the reach of its military presence that the United States makes every other nation look like amateur killers. U.S. troops and weapons are everywhere. Check out the maps.

We’ve added a map showing the nations receiving the greatest number of U.S. and allies’ air strikes, and we’ve updated the count of drone murders in each country being regularly droned.

Further maps display which nations are taking steps to facilitate peace and prosperity. The United States’ ability to fail so stunningly in these categories while excelling in the others is the mark of a true champion war monger.

A picture is worth 1,000 words. Adjust the settings to make your own maps of militarism here.

The 51-Day Genocide

Max Blumenthal's latest book, The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza, tells a powerful story powerfully well. I can think of a few other terms that accurately characterize the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza in addition to "war," among them: occupation, murder-spree, and genocide. Each serves a different valuable purpose. Each is correct.

The images people bring to mind with the term "war," universally outdated, are grotesquely outdated in a case like this one. There is no pair of armies on a battlefield. There is no battlefield. There is no aim to conquer, dispossess, or rob. The people of Gaza are already pre-defeated, conquered, imprisoned, and under siege -- permanently overseen by military drones and remote-control machine-guns atop prison-camp walls. In dropping bombs on houses, the Israeli government is not trying to defeat another army on a battlefield, is not trying to gain possession of territory, is not trying to steal resources from a foreign power, and is not trying to hold off a foreign army's attempt to conquer Israel.

Yes, of course, Israel ultimately wants Gaza's land incorporated into Israel, but not with non-Jewish people living on it. (Eighty percent of Gaza's residents are refugees from Israel, families ethnically cleansed in 1947-1948.) Yes, of course, Israel wants the fossil fuels off the Gazan coast. But it already has them. No, the immediate goal of the Israeli war on Gaza last year, like the one two years before, and like the one four years before that, would perfectly fit a name like "The 51 Day Genocide." The purpose was to kill. The end was nothing other than the means.

In 2014, as in 2012 and 2008, Israel again attacked the people of Gaza, using weapons provided for free by the U.S. government, which could be counted on, even standing completely alone, to defend Israel's crimes at the United Nations. Practicing what's been called the Dahiya Doctrine, Israel's policy was one of collective punishment.

The stories in the U.S. media focused on Israelis' fears. The deaths of Gazans were explained as intentional sacrifices by a people with a "culture of martyrdom" who sometimes choose to die because it makes good video footage. After all, Israel was phoning people's houses and giving them 5-minute warnings before blowing them up. The fact that it was also blowing up shelters and hospitals they might flee to was glossed over or explained as somehow involving military targets.

But the Israeli media and internet were full of open advocacy by top Israeli officials of genocide. On August 1, 2014, the Deputy Speaker of Israel's Parliament posted on his Facebook page a plan for the complete elimination of the Gazan people using concentration camps, to take one of dozens of examples.

And the whole thing was kicked off when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lied that three murder victims might be still alive, falsely blamed their kidnapping on Hamas, and began raiding houses and mass-arresting Gazans. Once Israel and the United States had rejected out-of-hand quite reasonable ceasefire demands from Hamas, the war/genocide was on for 51 days -- with great popular support in Israel. Some 2,200 Gazan people were killed, over 10,000 injured, and 100,000 made homeless by a very one-sided war.

Here's a taste of how Blumenthal describes what happened:

"The two Red Crescent volunteers told me they later found a man in Khuza'a with rigor mortis, holding both hands over his head in surrender, his body filled with bullets. Deeper in the town, they discovered an entire family so badly decomposed they had to be shoveled with a bulldozer into a mass grave. In a field on the other side of town, Awad and Alkusofi found a shell-shocked woman at least eighty years of age hiding in a chicken coop. She had taken shelter there for nine days during the siege, living off of nothing but chicken feed and rain water."

While every bombed school and hospital was explained with the assertion that Gazan fighters were hiding among "human shields," we meet Gazan people in Blumenthal's book who were literally held up as shields by Israeli soldiers who shot at Gazans from over their shoulders. People also had new nasty weapons tested on them, including Dense Inert Metal Explosives (DIME).

The people of Israel generally went along with this war (with many admirable exceptions), and later reelected its architects. Protests against the war were banned, and various lies (including those about the three murder victims that kicked it all off) were exposed in a matter of days or weeks. No matter, the point was to kill people, and people were killed. And no matter in Washington, either, which kept the weapons flowing, quite illegally.

Gaza launched some 4,000 rockets into Israel, to little apparent effect -- rockets whose total combined payload roughly equaled that of just 12 of the missiles Israel was sending into Gaza from its F-16s courtesy of the Land of the Free.

The "international community" gathered in Cairo on October 12, and diplomats "discussed the destruction of Gaza as though it were the result of a natural disaster -- as though the missiles that reduced the strip's border areas to rubble were meteors that descended from outer space." There was no way to discuss damage to both sides in a manner that would make Israel's actions seem legitimate, even by the standards of the "international community," so they discussed the one-sided damage as if nobody were responsible.

Is this where the United States is headed culturally and with its own wars? One reason to hope not is that opposing Israel's wars is one of the few places where U.S. youth are engaged in antiwar activism. Nonetheless, there is reason for concern. The U.S. has followed the Israeli model of domestic policing, of drone use, of assassination, and of propaganda, and the Israeli lead in relation to Iraq, Syria, and Iran. As the U.S. military moves more and more toward treating the world as Israel treats Gaza, the world's future comes more and more into doubt. And there's little to suggest that Americans will oppose actions by their own government simply because they've previously opposed those same actions by the government of Israel.

Iraqi Voices Are Screaming from Far Away

Iraqis were attempting the nonviolent overthrow of their dictator prior to his violent overthrow by the United States in 2003. When U.S. troops began to ease up on their liberating and democracy-spreading in 2008, and during the Arab Spring of 2011 and the years that followed, nonviolent Iraqi protest movements grew again, working for change, including the overthrow of their new Green Zone dictator. He would eventually step down, but not before imprisoning, torturing, and murdering activists -- with U.S. weapons, of course.

There have been and are Iraqi movements for women's rights, labor rights, to stop dam construction on the Tigris in Turkey, to throw the last U.S. troop out of the country, to free the government from Iranian influence, and to protect Iraqi oil from foreign corporate control. Central to much of the activism, however, has been a movement against the sectarianism that the U.S. occupation brought. Over here in the United States we don't hear much about that. How would it fit with the lie we're told over and over that Shi'a-Sunni fighting has been going on for centuries?

Ali Issa's new book, Against All Odds: Voices of Popular Struggle in Iraq, collects interviews he's done of key Iraqi activists, and public statements made by Iraqi activist movements, including a letter to the U.S. Occupy Movement and similar messages of global solidarity. The voices are hard to hear because we haven't been hearing them all these years, and because they don't fit with lies we've been told or even with overly simplistic truths we've been told.

Did you know that, at the time of the Occupy Movement in the United States, there was a larger, more active, nonviolent, inclusive, principled, revolutionary movement holding major demonstrations, protests, permanent sit-ins, and general strikes in Iraq -- planning actions on Facebook and by writing times and places on paper currency? Did you know there were sit-ins in front of every U.S. military base demanding that the occupiers leave?

When U.S. troops eventually and temporarily and incompletely departed Iraq, that was due, most Americans imagine, to President Barack Obama's peaceful ways. Other Americans, aware that Obama had long since broken his withdrawal campaign promise, had done everything possible to extend the occupation, had left behind thousands of State Department troops, and would be back in with the military as soon as possible, give credit to Chelsea Manning for having leaked the video and documents that persuaded Iraq to stick with the Bush-Maliki deadline. Few note the efforts of Iraqis on the ground who made the occupation untenable.

The Iraqi media has been shut down when it has covered protests. Journalists in Iraq have been beaten, arrested, or killed. The U.S. media, of course, behaves itself without much prodding.

When an Iraqi threw his shoes at President Bush the Lesser, American liberals giggled but made clear their opposition to shoe-throwing. Yet the fame the act created allowed the shoe-thrower and his brothers to build popular organizations. And future actions included throwing shoes at a U.S. helicopter that was apparently trying to intimidate a demonstration.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with opposing throwing shoes in most contexts. Certainly I do. But knowing that the shoe throwing helped to build what we always claim to want, nonviolent resistance to the empire, adds some perspective.

Iraqi activists have regularly been kidnapped/arrested, tortured, warned, threatened, and released. When Thurgham al-Zaidi, brother of shoe-thrower Muntadhar al-Zaidi, was picked up, tortured, and released, his brother Uday al-Zaidi posted on Facebook: "Thurgham has assured me that he is coming out to the protest this Friday along with his little son Haydar to say to Maliki, 'If you kill the big ones, the little ones are coming after you!'"

Mistreatment of a child? Or proper education, far superior to indoctrination into violence? We shouldn't rush to judgment. I'd guesstimate there have been perhaps 18 million U.S. Congressional hearings lamenting the failure of Iraqis to "step up" and help out in the killing of Iraqis. Among Iraqi activists there seems to have been a great deal of stepping up for a better purpose.

When a nonviolent movement against Assad in Syria still had hope, the "Youth of the Great Iraqi Revolution" wrote to "the Heroic Syrian Revolution" offering support, encouraging nonviolence, and warning against co-option. One has to set aside years of U.S. neocon propaganda for the violent overthrow of the Syrian government, in order to hear this support for what it was.

The letter also urges a "national" agenda. Some of us see nationalism as a root cause of the wars and sanctions and abuse that created the disaster that now exists in Iraq, Libya, and other liberated lands. But here "national" is apparently being used to mean non-divisive, non-sectarian.

We talk about the nations of Iraq and Syria as having been destroyed, just as we talk about various other peoples and states, back to the nations of the Native Americans, having been destroyed. And we're not wrong. But it can't sound right in the ears of living Native Americans. So, for Iraqis, talk of their "nation" also seems to be a way to talk about returning to normalcy or preparing for a future not torn apart by ethnicity and religious sectarianism.

"If not for the occupation," wrote the president of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, in 2011, "the people of Iraq would have ousted Saddam Hussein through the struggles of Tahrir Square. Nevertheless, U.S. troops empower and protect the new Saddamists of the so-called democracy who repress dissent with detainments and torture."

"With us or against us" idiocy doesn't work in observing Iraqi activism. Look at these four points in a statement made in June 2014 by Falah Alwan of the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unionists in Iraq:

"We reject U.S. intervention and protest President Obama's inappropriate speech in which  he expressed concern over oil and not over people. We also stand firmly against the brazen meddling of Iran.

"We stand against the intervention of Gulf regimes and their funding of armed groups, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

"We reject Nouri al-Maliki's sectarian and reactionary policies.

"We also reject armed terrorist gangs and militias' control of Mosul and other cities. We agree with and support the demands of people in these cities against discrimination and sectarianism."

But, wait, how can you oppose ISIS after you've already opposed U.S. intervention? One is the devil and the other the savior. You must choose . . . if, that is, you live thousands of miles away, own a television, and really -- let's be honest -- can't tell your ass from your elbow. The Iraqis in Issa's book understand the U.S. sanctions, invasion, occupation, and puppet government as having created ISIS. They've clearly had as much help from the U.S. government as they can stand. "I'm from the government and I'm hear to help" is supposed to be a terrifying threat, according to fans of Ronald Reagan who resent anyone trying to give them healthcare or an education. Why they think Iraqis and Libyans hear those U.S. words differently they don't explain -- and don't really have to.

Iraq is a different world, one the U.S. government would have to work to understand if it ever attempted to understand it. The same goes for U.S. activists. In Against All Odds, I read calls for "retaliation" framed as calls for peace and democracy. I read Iraqi protesters wanting to make clear that their protests are not all about oil, but principally about dignity and freedom. It's funny, but I think some of the U.S. war's backers claimed the war wasn't all about oil for the similar reason that it was about global domination, power, "credibility." Nobody wants to be accused of greed or materialism; everyone wants to be standing on principle, whether that principle is human rights or a sociopathic power grab.

But, as Issa's book makes clear, the war and the "surge" and its aftermath have been very much about oil. The "benchmark" of a "hydrocarbon law" in Iraq was Bush's top priority, year after year, and it never passed because of public pressure and because of ethnic divisions. Dividing people, it turns out, may be a better way to kill them off than to steal their oil.

We also read about oil workers taking pride in controlling their own industry, despite its being -- you know -- an industry that is destroying the earth's climate. Of course, we may all die from war before the climate gets us, especially if we fail to even begin to understand the death and misery our wars inflict. I read this line in Against All Odds:

"My brother was one of those taken in by the U.S. occupation."

Yeah, I thought, and my neighbor, and lots of Fox and CNN viewers. Many people fell for the lies.

Then I read the next sentence and began to grasp what "taken in" meant:

"They took him around 2008, and they interrogated him for an entire week, repeating one question over and over: Are you Sunni or Shi'a? . . . And he would say 'I am Iraqi.'"

I'm also struck by the struggles recounted by advocates for women's rights. They see a long multi-generational struggle and great suffering ahead. And yet we hear very little from Washington about the need to help them. When it comes to dropping bombs, women's rights always seems to appear as a great concern. Yet when women are organizing efforts to obtain rights, and to resist the radical removal of their rights by the post-liberation government: nothing but silence.

Talk Nation Radio: Andre Vltchek on Exposing Lies of the Empire

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-andre-vltchek-on-exposing-lies-of-the-empire

Andre Vltchek is a writer, reporter, playwright, photographer, and filmmaker. He has reported from around the world. His latest book, which he discusses, is Exposing Lies of the Empire. His website is http://andrevltchek.weebly.com

Total run time: 29:00

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Resistance in Honduras Alive and Jumping

June 28 will mark 6 years since the U.S.-backed military coup in Honduras took the people's government away from them. Thousands of people are still in the streets every week demanding that the wrongful president step down.

"Whoever's not jumping supports the coup!" is the shout as a sea of people leaps repeatedly into the air. The makers of an amazing new film called Resistencia: The Fight for the Aguan Valley, will be allowing anyone to view it online for free for two weeks. I recommend you do so.

Honduras has not simply turned into the worst home of violent crime. And the people have not simply fled to the U.S. border (much compassion they'd receive there!) -- No, thousands and thousands of people in this little nation have taken back their land, occupied it, created communities, and built a future, with or without the coup.

President Manuel Zelaya had said he would help. Oligarchs had seized land, or bought land and then devalued the currency. Miguel Facussé took over palm oil plantations, evicted people from their land, got richer than rich, and allowed cocaine flights from Colombia to land on his plantations with U.S. knowledge.

The U.S. for years had been funding, training, and arming soldiers for the oligarchs of Honduras. The leaders of the 2009 coup that overthrew Zelaya had all trained at the School of the Americas in the United States. The U.S. assisted in the coup and in recognition of the coup government. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were part of and are part of this ongoing crime, and U.S. military supply shipments to Honduras are at record levels now as the military has merged with the police and turned its weaponry against the people.

The coup was followed by phony elections. The people knew to look elsewhere for answers. They looked to themselves. In the Aguan Valley in the north, thousands of families took over thousands of hectares by squatting, building, and farming. And they created communities of such camaraderie that they found themselves saying thanks for the coup.

They faced, and still face, regular attacks by killers on motorcycles, but they have nowhere else to go, and they have made the most of it, creating self-sustaining centers of life in the countryside, replacing palm oil monoculture with farming that cares for the land. The dead in the film are of such a different type from the dead in Hollywood movies, that I wonder if people can really see these dead. I hope so. There is never any police investigation, never any charges brought. The people have lost a lawyer and a journalist as well as numerous of their own; the oligarchs have lost a few guards.

The people have also organized local and national assemblies. The men have learned to include women in positions of power. This popular resistance movement always backed the return of Zelaya, who finally negotiated his return to Honduras in 2011. He returned to a people demanding more democratic participation. He joined their movement and encouraged them to participate in the 2013 elections that they had determined to boycott.

During the meeting in the city at which the decision to participate in the election was made, the police in Aguan burned and bulldozed 90 houses, plus churches, and schools. The tears and the eloquence of the people affected must be watched; I cannot tell them to you.

You should watch the scenes of the people meeting with their ousted president, Zelaya, the rightful president of Honduras, and then watch the scene of President Obama meeting with his usurper in the White House. As Facussé threatens to evict everyone from their land, we see a U.S. State Department official meet with some of the campesinos. They tell him that they are offered land at 14% interest, while the World Bank offers it to the big corporations for 1%. He replies that his only area of work is human rights. So they tell him they have been gassed, imprisoned, tortured, and shot. He replies that he just wants to talk about peace. Or maybe he said "piece" of the action, I don't know.

The people see the United States as working on behalf of Dole, formerly the Standard Fruit Company, the same people for whom the U.S. military has been overthrowing governments since that of Hawaii in 1893. Is there any good reason anyone should ever buy Dole products?

The struggle, and the movie, goes on -- filmed over a period of years. Leaders are forced into exile after murder attempts. The burned and bulldozed buildings are rebuilt. And the November 2013 elections arrive, and are blatantly stolen. Zelaya's wife runs on the people's platform against the "law and order" candidate of the military. Observers from the EU and the OAS declare the election legitimate, but individual members of those commissions denounce that conclusion as corrupt and fraudulent. Students lead the protests, and the protests continue to grow.

And the people in the country go right on taking back more of their land and reclaiming it as a source of life rather than death. These people need no aid. They need simply to be allowed to live. All immigrants should be welcomed everywhere by everyone, with no hesitation. Obama should immediately cease deporting children back to a nation he's helped to ruin. But I think most people would be shocked by how little immigration there would be in the world if the corporations and the killers stopped migrating, and people were allowed to live peacefully and equally in the place they love: their land.

Audio: Converting Our War Economy

Monday morning  at 7-8AM  tune in (KPFK 90.7 fm) or log on: http://archive.kpfk.org/index.php?shokey=ctd

Lila Garrett’s  CONNECT THE DOTS.  Guests include:
Commentary: Converting our war economy

David Swanson, Nobel Prize Nominee. Author of WAR IS A LIE, (worldbeyondwar.org) on Congress’refusal to vote on war with Iraq.  Leaves it entirely up to Obama.  And House rolls over on pro-corporate Fast Track & sends it back to Senate. Sen. Diane Feinstein is swing vote. She’s for Fast Track and TPP.  Call her Monday.  Tell her to vote NO.    Also Swanson on a thriving country with no military….Costa Rica.  And much more….

Former Exec. Dir. of Pacifica, Grace Aron on the upcoming election at KPFK.   You must join  KPFK by July 14th to vote or run for the Board.  Grace will fill in the details. 

Lila Garrett (Host of CONNECT THE DOTS)
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Each show is online for three months.

Public Didn't See Last Two World Wars Coming Either

Books about how World War I started, and to a lesser degree how World War II started, have tended in recent years to explain that these wars didn’t actually come as a surprise, because top government officials saw them coming for years. But these revised histories admit that the general public was pretty much clueless and shocked.

The fact is that anyone in the know or diligently seeking out the facts could see, in rough outline, the danger of World War I or World War II coming years ahead, just as one can see the threats of environmental collapse and World War III approaching now. But the general public lacked a decent understanding prior to the first two world wars and lacks it now on the looming dangers created by environmental destruction and aggressive flirtation with World War III.

What led to the first two world wars and allowed numerous wise observers to warn of them years ahead, even to warn of World War II immediately upon completion of the treaty that ended World War I? A number of factors ought to be obvious but are generally overlooked:

  1. Acceptance of war, leading to steady preparation for it.
  2. A major arms race, making instruments of death in fact our leading industry, with hope placed in a balance or domination of powers of war, rather than an overcoming of war.
  3. The momentum created for war by massive investment in highly profitable (and status and career advancing) weaponry and other military expenditures.
  4. Fear in each nation of the war intentions of the others, driven by propaganda that encourages fear and discourages understanding of the other sides.
  5. The belief produced by the above factors that war, unlike the tango, only takes one. On the basis of that belief, each side must prepare for war as self-protection from another war-maker, but doing so is not believed to be a choice or an action of any kind; rather, it is a law of physics, an inevitable occurrence, something to be observed and chattered about like the weather.
  6. The consequent, though seemingly mad, willingness by those in power to risk potentially apocalyptic war rather than to pursue survival without war.

World War I was preceded by wars in North Africa and South-Eastern Europe. Weapons spending and war planning soared. Efforts to preserve the peace were launched. Then Austria-Hungary was handed an excuse for attacking Serbia, and certain Germans saw an excuse for attacking Belgium and France, and certain Brits saw an opportunity for fighting Germany, and so forth, and the slaughter was on. It could have been prevented, but the policies of decades made it likely, regardless of the immediate trigger. The public had very little idea.

World War II followed decades of the first war’s victors causing the German people to suffer economically while building up bitter resentment, of another unprecedented arms race, of Western investment in Nazis as preferable to leftists, and of training up Japan as a junior partner in empire but turning against it when it went too far. The Nazi treatment of Jews was knowable and protested. The U.S. military’s aggression toward Japan was knowable and protested. The U.S. government drew up a list of actions that could provoke a Japanese attack, including an embargo on oil, and took each of those actions.

Much of the public never saw either world war coming. Much of the U.S. public believed the U.S. would stay out of the wars once they had begun. And U.S. voters twice elected presidents who were planning to enter world wars but campaigning on promises not to.

David Fromkin’s book on the beginning of World War I, Europe’s Last Summer, draws just the wrong conclusions. “It was no accident that Europe went to war at that time,” he writes. “It was the result of premeditated decisions by two governments. [He means Austria and Germany.] Once those two countries had invaded their neighbors, there was no way for the neighbors to keep the peace. That was true in World War II; at Pearl Harbor, Japan made the war-or-peace decision not merely for itself, but for the unwilling United States as well, by launching its attack. Nor had America any more choice in Europe in 1941; Hitler’s Germany declared war on the United States, to which America was obliged to respond.”

Fromkin is giving an accurate description of a war of rich on poor. When the United States attacks Iraq or Syria or Pakistan or Yemen or Somalia or Afghanistan or Libya or Panama or Vietnam, etc., etc., no cooperation is required from the poor nation that is bombed or invaded. There is war because the Pentagon says so, although the form that resistance takes is completely open to choice. But had the nations that Fromkin grants innocence in World Wars One and Two spent the previous decades disarming and practicing respectful diplomacy, aid, cooperation, peacemaking, and establishment of the rule of law, there could not have been the rich-on-rich wars that constitute the worst short-time-period events in human history and have been avoided since 1945. Fromkin traces, as most authors do, Germany’s WWI aggression to its fear of its neighbors. What if those neighbors had been unfearable?

Perhaps they would have been attacked anyway. Iraq and Libya disarmed, in terms of so-called WMDs, and the U.S. attacked them.

Or perhaps they would have been left alone. Most nations that do not threaten their neighbors are not threatened in return.

In any case, there would have been no world wars killing tens of millions of people if there hadn’t been willing partners on both sides. Any war there was would have been one-sided. Any nonviolent resistance would likewise have experienced one-sided suffering. But most of the death and destruction would not have happened.

The United States has pulled out of the anti-ballistic missile treaty and expanded NATO to a dozen new nations, moving right up to the border of Russia. It’s placed troops and weapons on the Russian border. It’s organized a coup in Ukraine and installed a Ukrainian government full of neo-Nazis. It’s lied to its people about Russian invasions and Russian attacks on airplanes. It’s fantasized about its missile-defense system allowing it to attack Russia, or China for that matter, without counter-attack. It’s proposed to put more nukes in Europe aimed at Russia. It’s built bases around the edges of China. It’s trying to militarize Japan again. It’s imposed sanctions on Russia. It’s threatened, mocked, ridiculed, and demonized Russia and its president — and North Korea for good measure. Informed observers warn of the heightened risk of nuclear Armageddon. And most people in the United States haven’t a clue.

While I’m not suffering under the delusion that violence is Russia’s only or wisest or most strategic response, neither am I urging Russia to turn the other cheek. Having been saddled with a U.S. identity when I’d prefer a local or global one, it’s not my place to tell Russia what to do (could I improve on Tolstoy?). But I can tell the U.S. public to wake up and put a stop to this madness before it kills us all. World War III is not inevitable, but it is clearly headed our way if we don’t change course. And changing course would give us our best shot at avoiding environmental disaster as well.

The Coup

The Coup: 1953, the CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations deals with such an engaging topic that even this new book can't really make it boring, hard as it seems to try. When asked what historical figure I would most like to bring back to life and have a talk with I tend to think of Mossadeq, the complex, Gandhian, elected leader, denounced as both Hitler and a communist (as would become part of the standard procedure) and overthrown in an early CIA coup (1953) -- a coup that encouraged dozens more around the globe and led straight to the Iranian revolution and to today's Iranian distrust of the United States. I'm more inclined to believe that current Iranian distrust of the U.S. government is well-merited than blaming it on a long-ago coup implies, but the coup lies at the root of Iranian and worldwide skepticism about generous U.S. intentions.

It's also an interesting fact, supported by this case, that some of the best government actions, taken by any government around the world, have occurred just prior to various U.S.-backed violent coups -- and I include in that category the U.S. New Deal, followed by the unsuccessful Wall Street coup attempt rejected by Smedley Butler. Mossadegh had just done, among other things, these: Slashed the military budget 15%, launched an investigation into weapons deals, retired 135 senior officers, caused the military and police to report to the government rather than to the monarch, slashed stipends to the royal family, restricted the Shah's access to foreign diplomats, transferred the royal estates to the state, and drafted bills to give women the vote and protect the press and the independence of the Supreme Court and taxing extreme wealth by 2% and giving workers healthcare and upping peasants' share of the harvest by 15%. Facing an oil embargo, he cut state salaries, eliminated chauffeured cars for high officials, and restricted luxury imports. All of that was in addition, of course, to the cause of the coup: his insistence on nationalizing the oil from which a British company, and Britain, had been profiting enormously.

The bulk of the book is actually the lead-up to the coup, and much of the emphasis is on proving other historians wrong in their interpretations. Supposedly, historians tend to blame Mossadeq for intransigence, as well as to blame the U.S. action on its Cold War ideology. The author, Ervand Abrahamian, on the contrary, blames the British and Americans, and explains why this was centrally a question of who would control the oil lying underneath Iran. My reaction to that was the same as yours might be: No kidding!

So, reading this book is a bit like reading criticism of the corporate news after you've avoided the corporate news. It's good to see such outrageous lunacy debunked, but on the other hand you were getting along just fine not knowing it existed. Reading Richard Rorty, who gets an odd mention on the last page of the book, is somewhat similar -- it's great to see a fine critique of the stupid things philosophers think, but not knowing they thought them wasn't really so unpleasant either. Still, in all of these case, what you don't know can hurt you. What a group of bad historians thinks about the history of U.S.-Iranian relations can inform current diplomacy (or lack thereof) in ways that are easier to spot if you know exactly what these people have deluded themselves with.

Abrahamian does document numerous historians who believe the British were reasonable and ready to compromise, whereas -- as the author shows -- that actually describes Mossadeq, while the British were unwilling to do any such thing. His inclusion of Stephen Kinzer in the list of historians getting it wrong is probably the most stretched, however. I don't think Kinzer actually believes that Mossadeq was to blame. In fact, I think Kinzer not only blames the United States and Britain, but he also openly admits that what they did was a really bad thing (in contrast to Abrahamian's emotion-free recounting).

Abrahamian gives extreme importance to the economic motivation, as opposed to racism for example. But of course the two work together, and Abrahamian documents both of them. If Iranians looked like white Americans, the acceptability of stealing their oil would be less clear in all minds, then and now.

The 1953 coup became a model. The arming and training of the local military, the bribing of local officials, the use and abuse of the United Nations, the propaganda against the target, the stirring up of confusion and chaos, the kidnapping and deportation, the misinformation campaigns. Abrahamian points out that even U.S. diplomats in Iran at the time didn't know the U.S. role in the coup. The same is almost certainly true today about Honduras or Ukraine. Most Americans have no idea why Cuba fears an open internet. Just foreign backwardness and stupidity, we're supposed to think. No there's an ideology that both fueled the ongoing age of the CIA / USAID / NED coup and has been reinforced by its criminal adventures.