'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

London 7.7.2005: Questions, Questions, The Power of Nightmares Revisited 

[This post is by guest blogger Richard Estes. Richard lives in Northern California, and co-hosts a radio program, with an emphasis upon peace, civil rights, labor and environmental issues, on KDVS 90.3 FM in Davis, CA.]

Last week, I reviewed The Power of Nightmares from both a political and artistic perspective. Now, the commentary of Adam Curtis, the producer, linked in that review, has the ring of prophecy:

The Power of Nightmares . . . does not say that the Islamist terrorist threat is an illusion. The West does face a deadly threat from groups and individuals inspired by dangerous ideas--the horrific attacks on America and the bombings in Madrid and Bali make this only too clear. But the film also argues that the true nature of this threat has been completely misunderstood by governments, security services, and the international media. It has been distorted and exaggerated to create a vision of a unique threat unlike anything we have faced that justifies extreme countermeasures. This fantasy, which has trapped our leaders and our media, prevents us from comprehending and dealing with the dangers we face. The film tells not only how it was created but also why, and in whose interest.

Indeed, Cui Bono? Curtis inspires this question in regard to the perpetuation of the mythologies associated with the "war on terror", but we must also ask it in regard to the motivation for these attacks and our governments’ responses to them. Since last Thursday, there have been several columns, originating primarily in the UK, and not the US, of course, stating the obvious: that the attacks were launched in response to the invasions and ongoing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Columnists ranging from Faisal Bodi to Robert Fisk to Paul Craig Roberts have engaged in this essential endeavor. One group, the Secret Organization of al-Qaida in Europe, has already taken responsibility for the attacks with a statement to this effect. Bodi put it most bluntly, "Blair has put us in the firing line", while Fisk asked rhetorically, "If we are fighting an insurgency in Iraq, why are we surprised when insurgency comes to us?"

Predictably, Tariq Ali rightly emphasized the role of perpetual occupation in Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel as the drive wheel for Islamic terror. Davey D., on his Hard Knock Radio program on KPFA, had some very interesting interviews with asian and black Londoners. Definitely not what you get on Prime Time Live with Diane Sawyer.

Still, we must persist in asking the question, Cui Bono?, as we look to the events that motivated the attackers. In response to 9/11, Bush said that he invaded Afghanistan to displace the Taliban, eradicate al-Qaida and democratize the country, and, yet, to this day, many high ranking al-Qaida operatives, including Bin Laden himself and Mullah Omar, remain at large. One of the most revealing aspects of Nightmares is the extent to which it examines whether Afghanistan, especially episodes like the combat at Tora Bora, constitutes a kind of "phony war" reminiscent of the western front in Europe in 1939-1940.

Ted Rall strongly believes that the planning for the war in Afghanistan predates 9/11, prompted by a policy to construct an oil pipeline through the country that would enable the US to access Central Asian oil and natural gas without traversing Iran. Afghanistan can readily be seen as a piece in a larger puzzle, whereby US military bases, already spread throughout the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, some of whom possess significant reserves of untapped oil and natural gas, enable the US to achieve broad geopolitical goals, such as control over the development of the Russian and Chinese economies.

As for the war on Iraq, Bush and Blair again struck based upon false pretenses, but, by now, we know that "all of the above" is the correct answer to Curtis’ question. Permanent military bases, control over the oil supply, use of the Iraqi economy as leverage to pressure the entire region to open itself to investment upon neoliberal terms, enhancement of the hegemonic position of the US and Israel, the looting of US and Iraqi public sector funds for a kleptocracy associated with private contractors, all are valid to varying degrees, with squabbling leftists responsible for ascribing the correct percentages. Interestingly, such an interpretation of Iraq and Afghanistan is, as noted noted in my original review, somewhat at odds with Curtis’ view of the "war on terror" because he sees the transformative power of ideas as the centerpiece. For Curtis’ response to the criticism that he has ignored economic and geopolitical dimensions, see his thoughtful answer to the sixth question in this interview.

Currently, there is a fear that the UK, and perhaps even the US, will soon experience more attacks. This is undoubtedly a frightening prospect, but we should also be worried about something even more disturbing, if the number of killed and injured are the sole consideration, the prospect that Bush and Blair will seek to exploit public anger over the London attacks, as they did with 9/11, to justify invading and occupying another country outside the sphere of US influence, inflicting substantial numbers of casualties in the process. By looking around the world, and asking Cui Bono?, we may soon discover the answer to a related question, Who’s Next?

As we do so, we should avoid a serious error. The fact that most people would consider the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan abject failures, regardless of motivation, does not mean that the interests behind these conflicts do. Like real estate speculators, they may have a much longer time frame by which to measure success and failure, and the fact that Iraq and Afghanistan are ungovernable today in 2005 does not mean that they cannot accomplish their goals at some future date, say 2012 or 2015. Hence, current conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan should not be perceived as a restraint against possible impending actions elsewhere. Instead, we need to make our voices heard loudly that the dead and injured in London shall not be exploited like those in the World Trade Center.

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