Tomgram: Michael Schwartz, Twenty-First-Century Colonialism in Iraq

July 10, 2009

July 9, 2009
Tomgram: Michael Schwartz, Twenty-First-Century Colonialism in Iraq

One of the earliest metaphors President George W. Bush and some of his top officials wielded in their post-invasion salad days in Iraq involved bicycles. The question was: Should we take the “training wheels” off the Iraqi bike (of democracy)? Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for example, commented smugly on the way getting Iraq “straightened out” was like teaching your kid to ride a bike:

“They’re learning, and you’re running down the street holding on to the back of the seat. You know that if you take your hand off they could fall, so you take a finger off and then two fingers, and pretty soon you’re just barely touching it. You can’t know when you’re running down the street how many steps you’re going to have to take. We can’t know that, but we’re off to a good start.”

That image (about as patronizingly colonial as they come) of the little pedaling Iraqi child with an American parent running close behind, was abandoned when around the first corner, as it turned out, was an insurgent with an rocket-propelled grenade. Many years and many disasters later, though, Americans, whether in the Obama administration, the Washington punditocracy, or the media are still almost incapable of being patronizing when it comes to Iraq. Take a typical recent piece of “news analysis” in the New York Times by a perfectly sharp journalist, Alissa J. Rubin. It was headlined in print “America’s New Role in Iraq Prompts a Search for Means of Influence” and focused, in part, on Vice President Joe Biden’s recent trip there supposedly to “assuage” Iraqi feelings that they are being “moved to the bottom shelf.”

Rubin writes (and this sort of thing has been written countless times before) that the Americans are now in search of a “new tone” for their dealings in that country. (In the Bush years, this was often called — in another strange imperial metaphor — “putting an Iraqi face” on things.) “They have,” she comments, “a reputation for being heavy-handed, for telling Iraqis what to do rather than asking what they want.” But of course, as the piece makes clear, whatever his tone, Biden arrived in Iraq to tell Iraqis what they should do — or as she puts it, to try to “solve” the “troubles… that stymied three previous ambassadors and President George W. Bush”: continuing sectarian animosities, the passage of an Iraqi oil law, and the Kurdish problem.

These, it seems, are still our burden and we really can’t imagine it any other way. As the Iraqis quoted in Rubin’s piece make clear, the dominant role played by the U.S. is resented by the occupied — especially the elite — who have contempt for the occupiers, even if they find it hard to imagine life without them.

I mention this only because the tone of American writing and thought on Iraq has always been tinged with what Michael Schwartz, TomDispatch regular and author of a superb study, War Without End: The Iraq War in Context, says is a deeper colonial urge, one that unfortunately may not be fading, even as discussion of a U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq grows. (Catch a TomDispatch audio interview with Schwartz by clicking here.) Tom

Colonizing Iraq
The Obama Doctrine?
By Michael Schwartz

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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Tomgram: Nick Turse, Closing Down Main Street

March 7, 2009

February 22, 2009
Tomgram: Nick Turse, Closing Down Main Street

[Note for TomDispatch readers: Last week, I asked you to consider writing friends, colleagues, relatives — whomever — to urge them to go to the “sign up” window at the upper right of TD’s main screen, put in their email addresses, and receive the mailing that offers notification whenever a new post goes up. (Word of mouth is, of course, still the major kind of publicity this site can afford.) A number of you did so and TD got a nice stream of new subscribers. So, many thanks indeed! If some of you meant to do this but didn’t quite get around to it, now’s as perfect a time as any. Lots of good posts coming up, so please pass the word! By the way, let me offer special thanks to those of you who, unbidden, used the site contribution button (“Resist empire. Support TomDispatch”) and sent in contributions. Your generosity allows the site to offer younger writers like Dahr Jamail and Nick Turse a few extra $$$s for all their hard work. It matters. Tom]

As I read an early version of today’s third (but by no means last) piece in Nick Turse’s Tough Times series, I couldn’t help thinking about an old line that, by my childhood in the 1950s, had become a kind of national folk wisdom: “As General Motors goes, so goes the nation.” (Indeed, as befit the rise of the U.S. as an imperial power, “nation” was sometimes replaced with “world.”) Of course, in those days, if you were the head of General Motors, it wasn’t so unreasonable to imagine that you controlled the fate of the nation and the planet. Not only were you atop a global powerhouse of a company, but you might still be going places.

After all, in 1953, Charles Wilson, GM’s president, did become President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s secretary of defense. Asked in his Senate confirmation hearings whether he would have a problem making governmental decisions that might not be in the interest of GM, he famously replied that he found it hard to imagine a conflict of interest “because for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.” (Soon, that would be simplified to: “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”)

Only a few years after Wilson stepped down, a new President, John F. Kennedy, asked Ford’s president, Robert S. McNamara, to step into the very same post. At that moment, it seemed true indeed that, as Big Auto went, so went the world. Of course, that was before McNamara and his “whiz kids” got us deep into, but not out of, the Vietnam War. Now, that’s so much ancient history — though today, you might imagine a new version of the old adage, based on Bush and Obama administration staffing decisions at the Treasury Department: What’s good for Goldman Sachs is good for the country.

In any case, if Wilson’s statement seems like history, the old GM line doesn’t. As General Motors goes, so goes America. How sadly true. We know just how GM is going these days — down the tubes; and, as Nick Turse indicates in his latest post, so go the towns and small cities not only in the vicinity of the Big Three’s collapse, but countrywide. Tom

Tough Times in Troubled Towns
America’s Municipal Meltdowns
By Nick Turse

When Barack Obama traveled to Elkhart, Indiana, to push his $800 billion economic recovery package two weeks ago, he made the former “RV capital of the world” a poster-child for the current economic crisis. Over the last year, as the British paper The Independent reported, “Practically the entire [recreational vehicle] industry has disappeared,” leaving thousands of RV workers in Elkhart and the surrounding area out of work. As Daily Show host Jon Stewart summed the situation up: “Imagine your main industry combines the slowdown of the auto market with the plunging values in the housing sector.” Unfortunately, the pain in Elkhart is no joke, and it only grew worse recently when local manufacturers Keystone RV Co. and Jayco Inc. announced more than 500 additional job cuts.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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Tomgram: Transition Mania

December 11, 2008

December 7, 2008
Tomgram: Transition Mania

[Note to TomDispatch readers: Here we are nearing the end of the year. Just a reminder: If you’re getting ready for a little pre-2009 giving in tough times, why not hit the “Resist Empire. Support TomDispatch” button to the right of the site’s main screen and consider bulking up TD a little. Every dollar is appreciated.

And while you’re at it, if you’re in the mood for holiday book gifts, another way to support the site and its authors is to check out the list of TomDispatch-inspired books to the left of the main screen (scroll down). They range from this year’s The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire, a best-of collection that will help make sense of this moment, to Michael Schwartz’s superb just-published War Without End, which capatures the hell Bush & Co. drove Iraq (and the U.S.) into, Nick Turse’s The Complex, a groundbreaking book on how our daily lives have been militarized, and — for a dash of pure hope — Rebecca Solnit’s classic volume, Hope in the Dark. Or if you want to know a little more about American triumphalism and how it crashed and burned twice in a matter of decades, check out my own recently updated The End of Victory Culture. Tom]

The Imperial Transition
44, The Prequel
By Tom Engelhardt

Did you know that the IBM Center for the Business of Government hosts a “Presidential Transition” blog; that the Council on Foreign Relations has its own “Transition Blog: The New Administration”; and that the American University School of Communication has a “Transition Tracker” website? The National Journal offers its online readers a comprehensive “Lost in Transition” site to help them “navigate the presidential handover,” including a “short list,” offering not only the president-elect’s key recent appointments, but also a series of not-so-short lists of those still believed to be in contention for as-yet-unfilled jobs. Think of all this as Entertainment Weekly married to People Magazine for post-election political junkies.

Newsweek features “powering up” (“blogging the transition”); the policy-wonk website Politico.com offers Politico 44 (“a living diary of the Obama presidency”); and Public Citizen has “Becoming 44,” with the usual lists of appointees, possible appointees, but — for the junkie who wants everything — “bundler transition team members” and “lobbyist and bundler appointees” as well. (For those who want to know, for instance, White House Social Secretary-designate Desiree Roberts bundled at least $200,000 for the Obama campaign.)

The New York Times has gone whole hog at “The New Team” section of its website, where there are scads of little bios of appointees, as well as prospective appointees — including what each individual will “bring to the job,” how each is “linked to Mr. Obama,” and what negatives each carries as “baggage.” Think of it as a scorecard for transition junkies. The Washington Post, whose official beat is, of course, Washington D.C. über alles, has its “44: The Obama Presidency, A Transition to Power,” where, in case you’re planning to make a night of it on January 20th, you can keep up to date on that seasonal must-subject, the upcoming inaugural balls. And not to be outdone, the transitioning Obama transition crew has its own mega-transition site, Change.gov.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


America Pays the Piper

September 24, 2008

To understand how the United States got itself into today’s bailout mess, one has to look back three decades to the rise of Ronald Reagan, the neocons and the anti-regulators, writes Robert Parry.

After a 28-year binge of drunken optimism and blind nationalism – often punctuated by chants of “USA, USA!” and “We’re No. 1!” – Americans are waking up with a painful hangover, facing a grim “morning in America,” not the happy vision that Ronald Reagan famously sold them on.”

For the full story, go to Consortiumnews.com .


The Smirking Chimp: Visualize the Dow at 6,000

July 26, 2008

“The banking system is broke, busted, penniless; and yet the Fed and the G-7 allow this comedy to persist like nothing is wrong. When will the American people wake up?” Asks Mike Whitney in this post.   When indeed?

Pay attention to this excerpt:

It’s funny; while Bush was hosting his faux-press conference, live-footage was appearing on other media of fully-armed LA policemen being dispatched to the various Indymac locations. Their task was to remind the gathering of elderly “blue-hair” women and middle-aged white guys in Tommy Bahama T-shirts that any public display of outrage would be swiftly met with Rodney King-style justice. Hmmm. So now withdrawing one’s savings from the bank is not only riskier; it’s tantamount to committing a felony. My, how America has changed.

* Read this post by Mike Whitney in its entirety on the Smirking Chimp here.

Read more of Mike Whitney’s posts on his blog.

Read more news and commentary on The Smirking Chimp.