Saturday, October 05, 2013

THE ROVING EYE Why the lessons of Vietnam do matter By Pepe Escobar

Why the lessons of Vietnam do matter
By Pepe Escobar 

HANOI - Just as it took a few years for the Americans to lose the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese, it took them only a few weeks to lose the hearts and minds of the majority of Iraqis - which ultimately means losing the war, whatever the strategic final result. Topographic denials - this is the Mesopotamian desert, not the Indochinese jungle - don't work, nor do denials saying that the Iraqis are not as politicized as the Vietnamese were by communism. These totally miss the point: as happened in Vietnam, what is happening now in Iraq has everything to do with patriotism and nationalism. 

Former Iraqi vice premier Tariq Aziz used to say, before the US invasion, "Let our cities be our swamps and our buildings our jungles." Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, aka "Comical Ali", the unforgettable former minister of information, used to say Iraq would be "another Indochina". The guerrilla war strategy against what was considered an inevitable US invasion has been perfected in Iraq for years. And the master strategist was neither an Assyrian nor a Mesopotamian general, but the legendary Vo Nguyen Giap, the Vietnamese general who coordinated the victories against French colonialism and US meddling. 

Iraqi strategists - from army officials to Ba'ath Party officials - have always been thorough students of the Vietnam War, or American War, as it is referred to in Vietnam. In addition, the Iraqi urban population is very well educated and analyzes events with a deep historical sense - as well as the Vietnamese. Iraqis are not gullible to the point of believing the occupying power's boast of "nation building"- as they have not seen any tangible results since the "fall" of Baghdad on April 9. Since the beginning - the first huge popular demonstration departing from Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad on April 18 - the "liberation" of the Iraqi people by America has been viewed inside many sections of Iraq as a national liberation war, a "popular war" in the Giap sense against an imperialist aggressor. 

It's all there in Vo Nguyen Giap - Selected Writings, a collection spanning the years 1969-91 and published by Gioi Editions in Hanoi: the strategy and tactics of a war of national liberation and how a "popular war against the American aggression" was organized. The Ba'ath Party and the Republican Guards may have not implemented what they learned - as the top army commanders, after a campaign of preventive intimidation, were finally bought out by Pentagon cash and safe refuge (see The Baghdad deal, April 25). But basically the same strategy is now being implemented by the array of groups that constitute the Iraqi national resistance. 

The objective is always to harass, bog down and demoralize a hugely superior army. Veterans of the American War in Hanoi - who usually congregate every day around Hoam Kien Lake to talk about the past and the present - stress that it was all about national consciousness, patriotism and local traditions: according to Giap, "patriotism associated with the democratic spirit and love of socialism". In Iraq, the impetus is the same - with "love of Islam" substituting for "love of socialism". Iraqi patriotism and anti-imperialist sentiment is as strong as it was in Vietnam. 

Giap wrote that "conditions should be created to attack the enemy by all means appropriated", and urban revolutionary forces should be coordinated with the countryside: today this means attacks both in Baghdad and in the Sunni belt (already spreading towards the Shi'ite south). The next step of the Iraqi resistance would be, applying Giap, "to combine armed forces with political forces, armed insurrection with revolutionary war". This means a concerted strategy of the Sunni belt alongside Shi'ite groups, many of which have already switched from a "wait-and-see" attitude toward barely disguised hostility with the US proconsular regime. 

Giap is adamant: "The strategy of popular war is of a protracted war." The Iraqi resistance is following it to the hilt. The point is not that Saddam loyalists may be behind the attacks against the Americans: they are just one part of the equation. Giap wrote that the Americans and the puppet South Vietnamese government were supported by "a brutal repression and coercion machine, applying against our compatriots a fascist policy of barbarity". This is exactly how the resistance - and increasingly the whole Iraqi population - sees scared and even demoralized American soldiers shooting to kill innocent women, children and even the odd foreign cameraman. Against the "repression machine", Giap recommends "guerrilla and self-defense militias" in strategic zones - exactly the way that the Iraqi resistance has been acting. 

Iraq now is already like Vietnam after the 1968 Tet Offensive. The Americans could have left Vietnam any time - but this would have meant to lose face, in an Asian sense, and to admit defeat: ultimately, this is what happened when that last helicopter abandoned the US Embassy in Saigon in April 1975. Even if they had any intention of doing it, which they don't, the White House and the Pentagon - although they have declared victory - simply cannot leave Iraq. They know that as soon as the US leaves, a democratically elected, Shi'ite-dominated, anti-American Iraqi government will come into power - as an anti-American communist government took over Vietnam. If the US remains in Iraq for "years" - as the Pentagon would have it - there's only one question: how many body bags does it take for the US public to demand a withdrawal? 

The Iraqi resistance's attacks are being conducted by small, mostly well-trained groups who generally manage to escape without losses. They follow classic Giap thought: to demoralize American soldiers and at the same time increase the already unbearable distress suffered by the population, thus nourishing resentment against the occupying power. Asia Times Online has learned of many former high-ranking army officials - now unemployed - who have been called to join the resistance: they answer that sooner or later they will "if the Americans continue to humiliate us". Others are financing small guerrilla groups to the tune of thousands of dollars. The reward for someone launching a rocket against an US fighting vehicle is about US$350 - enough for many to buy what is now the rage in Baghdad's at least partly free market: a color TV with satellite dish. 

In Vietnam, the resistance was organized by the Party. In Iraq, it is organized by the tribes. Tribal chiefs - practically all of them loyal to Saddam - are about to reach the deadline of the "grace period" that they conceded to the Americans. The resistance can count either on former Ba'ath Party and army officials, as well as on unemployed youngsters following the appeal of Sunni clerics, their own tribal chiefs and, more broadly, Arab patriotism. 

The resistance can potentially count on almost 600,000 individuals who have been demobilized by the American proconsular regime. With more than 20 years of war, virtually all the male population in Iraq has been militarized. More than 7 million weapons were distributed by Saddam Hussein's regime. Millions of rockets and mortars were abandoned when the regime collapsed. Organized armed struggle in Iraq - in the Giap sense - may still be in its infancy, but the results are increasingly devastating. The "popular war" is getting bolder: surface-to-air missiles launched against military transport planes; sabotage of the Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline. US Central Command admits there may be as many as 25 attacks a day. 

These Sunni Iraqi mujahideen - the counterparts of the Sunni Afghan mujahideen now fighting the anti-American jihad in Afghanistan - can count on the active complicity of the local population, just like in Vietnam. It's all becoming a "popular war" in the sense that people in any given neighborhood will know who organized an attack, but obviously they won't tell the invaders about it. But what about Saddam's tapes inciting a jihad against the Americans? Saddam is no Ho Chi Minh - a legitimate leader of a national-liberation struggle. There is not a lot of Saddam nostalgia in Iraq. And former army officials are not nostalgic either - or over-optimistic, for that matter, about the success of the guerrillas. They know that the Iraqi people once again will be the greatest victims - as the Americans are obsessed with their own, not the Iraqi people's, security. But these former officials are ready to join the resistance anyway. 

In 1995, on the 20th anniversary of the end of the American War, former US defense secretary Robert McNamara met the legendary Giap in Hanoi. The old warrior told him that the US had entered a war without knowing anything about Vietnam's complex history, culture and fighting spirit against a wave of foreign invasions. McNamara was forced to agree. The US emerged from Vietnam with nothing but humiliation. In Iraq, corporate Bushites at least expect to get away with the oil. And this is basically what young American soldiers are dying for: Executive Order No 13303, signed by George W Bush in late May. 

This states with respect to "all Iraqi petroleum and petroleum products, and interests therein", that "any attachment, judgment, decree, lien, execution, garnishment, or other judicial process is prohibited, and shall be deemed null and void". In other words, according to Jim Vallette of the Institute of Policy Studies in Washington, "Bush has in effect unilaterally declared Iraqi oil to be the unassailable province of US oil corporations." 

The Iraqi resistance is very much aware of Executive Order 13303 - and that's why it sabotaged, and will continue to sabotage, the crucial Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline. The more Iraqis have to wait for oil money to come flowing back and help the reconstruction of the country, the more the US-appointed interim government loses its already shaky credibility. The Iraqi population reads only one thing in all this: it has to buy motor fuel at inflated prices in the black market, and it has to come back to its living quarters and put up with only three hours of electricity a day. 

Giap also wrote that the resistance in Vietnam should "smash the Machiavellian design of US imperialism of making Vietnamese fight Vietnamese, of nourishing war by war". The Americans are making the same mistake in Iraq. The US went into Vietnam, among other factors, to stress its symbolic credibility and to show off its military technology: in Iraq, the theatrical demonstration was certainly powerful, but the symbolic credibility risks being reduced to ashes. In Vietnam, the US wanted to make a demonstration of how to smash revolutionary nationalist regimes in the still dismissively denominated Third World. It failed miserably. In Iraq, the US wanted to show off how to "correct" former client regimes who went astray. It is also failing miserably - as the conditions become ripe for a popular war ultimately leading to still another revolutionary nationalist regime. 

Pentagon No 2 Paul Wolfowitz's idea of a political and economic order in Iraq is similar to what the US wanted in South Vietnam - and similar to what the US forcing all over the Third World in the 1950s and 1960s. In Vietnam, the US may have had the power, and the control of a puppet government (South Vietnam's). But it absolutely failed to create a viable political, economic and ideological system capable of counteracting the Vietnamese revolution. This means that America's non-military defeat was even more crucial than its own military impasse. 

The same may be happening in Iraq. Wolfowitz and company are definitely not interested in democracy, because they know that in any free and fair democratic elections Iraq would switch towards a Shi'ite-dominated, probably Sharia-ruled, and certainly anti-American government. In Iraq - just as in Vietnam - the US has de facto installed a military system. This military system will be controlling - or euphemistically "overseeing" - the political structure, and more crucially, as Asia Times Online has already demonstrated (US and the changing face of Iraq, August 13), the new US-subsidized economic order. By all means, Iraq in Wolfowitz's project is supposed to become a US colony. 

In Vietnam the US was not capable of translating its awesome firepower into any sort of political appeal. Fine dialecticians, Hanoi veterans today tell us that by bombing Vietnam indiscriminately, the US provoked an almost unbearable economic and psychological trauma: the US could never win hearts and minds this way. And then they switch to Iraq, stressing that the Pentagon still has not learned a crucial lesson: it simply cannot barge into a complex society without causing tremendous social corrosions that ultimately lead to the collapse of any puppet regime. 

The Iraqi resistance should be underestimated by Washington at its own peril. It is learning fast, on the ground, the lessons of Vietnam - where the communists, in a protracted war, won against the ultimate war machine, Giap would say, because of three factors: decentralization, mass mobilization and mobile military tactics. Giap has articulated a set of political, organizational and technical maneuvers to counterbalance the awesome US war machine that can be applied by resistance forces everywhere in the world, and especially in Iraq. 

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Breaking American exceptionalism By Pepe Escobar Never underestimate American soft power.

Breaking American exceptionalism
By Pepe Escobar

Never underestimate American soft power.

What if the US government actually shut down to mourn the passing of Breaking Bad, arguably the most astonishing show in the history of television? It would be nothing short of poetic justice - as Breaking Bad is infinitely more pertinent for the American psyche than predictable cheap shots at Capitol Hill.

Walter White, aka Heisenberg, may have become the ultimate, larger than life hero of the Google/YouTube/Facebook era. In an arc of tragedy spanning five seasons, Breaking Bad essentially chronicled what it takes for a man to accept who he really is, while in the process ending up paying the unbearable price of
losing everything he holds dear and what is assumed to be his ultimate treasure; the love of his wife and son.

Along the way, Breaking Bad was also an entomologist study on American turbo-capitalism - with the 1% haves depicted as either cheats or gangsters and the almost-haves or have-nots barely surviving, as in public school teachers degraded to second-class citizen status.

Walter White was dying of cancer at the beginning of Breaking Bad, in 2008. Progressively, he gets rid of Mr Hyde - a placid chemistry teacher - for the benefit of Dr Jekyll - undisputed crystal meth kingpin Heinsenberg. It's not a Faustian pact. It's a descent into the dark night of his own soul. And in the end he even "wins", under his own terms, burning out with a beatific smile.

His secret is that it was never only about the transgressive high of producing the purest crystal meth. It was about the ultimate Outsider act, as in a Dostoevsky or Camus novel; a man confronting his fears, crossing the threshold, taking full control of his life, and finally facing the consequences, with no turning back.

And then, as in all things Breaking Bad, the music told a crucial part of the story. In this case, no less than the closing with Badfinger's My Baby Blue, the bleakest of love songs:
Guess I got what I deserve
Kept you waiting there, too long my love
All that time, without a word
Didn't know you'd think, that I'd forget, or I'd regret
The special love I have for you/
My baby blue
So - as Walter White finally admits, fittingly, in the last episode - he did it all, Sinatra's My Way, not for the sake of his family, but for him. And here we have the purest crystal meth as a reflection of this purest revelation in this purest of TV shows, blessed with unmatched writing (you can almost palpably feel the exhilaration in the writers' room), direction, sterling cast, outstanding cinematography quoting everything from Scarface to Taxi Drivervia The Godfather, meticulous character development and gobsmacking plot twists.

But then again, that spectral song My Baby Blue is not only about crystal meth - just like Tommy James and the Shondell's Crystal Blue Persuasion, used in a spectacular montage in season four.

It's about Jesse Pinkman, Walter White's repeatedly used and abused young business associate. It's as if it was written by Walt as a tribute to Jesse; Jesse is the "baby" always evoking Walt's "special love" in the form of usually spectacularly misfiring paternal feelings.

I'm in the Empire business
Walt/Heisenberg is a scientist. His scientific genius was appropriated by unscrupulous partners in the past, who enriched themselves in a tech company. As Heisenberg, finally the scientific/mechanical genius comes to full fruition - from a wheelchair bomb to a raid based on magnets and even a remix of the 1963 Great Train Robbery in the UK, not to mention the perfectly cooked meth.

Here'sone the writers' take on cooking Breaking Bad. Yet that does not explain why Walter White touched such a nerve and became a larger-than-life global pop phenomenon from Albuquerque to Abu Dhabi.

A classic underdog narrative explains only part of the story. In the slow burn of five seasons, what was crystallized was Walter White as Everyman fighting The Establishment - which included everyone from demented criminals (a Mexico drug cartel, brain-dead neo-nazis) to vulture lawyers ("Better Call Saul"), cheating former associates and, last but not least, the US government (via the Drug Enforcement Agency).

Nihilism - of a sub-Nietzschean variety - also explains only part of the story. One can feel the joy of the Breaking Bad writers tomahawking the Judeo-Christian concept of guilt. But this has nothing to do with a world without a moral code.

One glance at James Frazer's The Golden Bough is enough to perceive how Walter White, in his mind, does hark back to family-based tribal society. So is he essentially rejecting the Enlightenment?

We're getting closer when we see Breaking Bad as a meditation on the myth of the American Dream - and its extrapolation as American exceptionalism. As Walter White admits to Jesse, he's deep into "the Empire business". In real life, Walter White might have been a mastermind of the Orwellian-Panopticon complex.

So with My Baby Blue ringin' in my head, I ended up finding my answer in a book I always take with me while on the road in America: D H Lawrence's Studies in Classic American Literature. Not by accident Lawrence was a deep lover of New Mexico - where Breaking Bad's geopolitics is played out. And Walter White is indeed there, as Lawrence dissects James Fenimore Cooper'sThe Deerslayer. (Here's a digital version of the essay.)

Walter White, once again, embodies "the myth of the essential white America. All the other stuff, the love, the democracy, the floundering into lust, is a sort of by-play. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted."

When Walter White turns into Heisenberg he morphs into Deerslayer:
A man who turns his back on white society. A man who keeps his moral integrity hard and intact. An isolate, almost selfless, stoic, enduring man, who lives by death, by killing, but who is pure white.

This is the very intrinsic - most American. He is at the core of all the other flux and fluff. And when this man breaks from his static isolation, and makes a new move, then look out, something will be happening.
The genius of the Breaking Bad writers' room - with creator Vince Gilligan at the core - was to depict Walter White's descent into the maelstrom as primeval, intrinsically "most American". No wonder Gilligan defined Breaking Bad essentially as "a western". Clint Eastwood was fond of saying that the western and jazz were the only true American art forms (well, he forgot film noir and blues, rock'n roll, soul and funk, but we get the drift).

So call this warped western a masterful depiction of American exceptionalism. And mirror it with the soft pull of a dying, lone superpower which is still capable of turning the whole planet into junkies, addicted to the cinematically sumptuous spectacle of its own demise.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The World Needs Peace – But Not a Pax Americana By Cynthia McKinney

The World Needs Peace – But Not a Pax Americana

By Cynthia McKinney

Brussels - September 25, 2013

“The war machine of the United States, Israel, and NATO will continue to roll until we stop it.  The Bolivarian Alliance countries of Latin America are showing us the way – that we can achieve democracy and self-determination and liberation with ballots instead of bullets.”
The World Needs Peace – But Not a Pax Americana
by Cynthia McKinney

Former Georgia congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who last week completed a peace mission to Syria along with former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark and others, made the following remarks to the IBON IBON Conference on Democracy, Self-Determination and Liberation of Peoples. The conference was held at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium.

Thank you for the invitation to be with you today.

This conference is about Democracy, Self-Determination, and popular liberation.

As a representative of the United States people’s movement for justice and peace, I want to start by acknowledging some facts about the practice, as I know it, of one form of “democracy.”

How can any country that refuses to accept responsibility for its past of Continental or global expansion obtained through genocide of indigenous people be democratic?

How can any country that reaches the zenith of economic might by stealing Africans and transporting them around the world in a network of human trafficking that constitutes to this day an unrepaired crime against humanity be considered democratic?

How can any country that continues the global pillage and theft of human and mineral resources for the benefit of a few people--even at the expense of its own people--ever be considered democratic?

It is right and fitting that we are here in the seat of European power, where the crimes against the people of Congo and the murder of their first elected leader were sanctioned.  And its continued grandeur is obtained through the outright theft by a few in the name of the many of that country’s and that Continent’s diamonds, gold, gems, coltan, timber, fauna, and its best and brightest brain power.  Private and national fortunes continue to be made from this legacy where, in practice, nothing precious on this planet is exempt from full exploitation.

The life and murder of Patrice Lumumba should be a ringing example – a symbol – of the kind of democracy that is meant when people who have no history of respecting democracy for others mouth even the very word.  While Lumumba’s life was snuffed short, those complicit in his murder lived long ignominious lives, never called to justice.

And instead of atoning for the past by adopting a new way of living, a new way of being that respects human and earth dignity and improves the lot of others, the national splendor, that we see around us, right here in Europe and extending to their cousins across the Pond, built on crimes against humanity, genocide, murder, and theft become temples of worship for all of humankind.

But we must not forget.  We must never forget.  And we must not allow them to forget.
So, when they come to us with their platitudes about democracy—even when they do not practice it at home – yet want to export it to the rest of the world through the barrel of a gun, why should we believe them?

By their very actions, they do not provide models of leadership for us that instill confidence in them.

We must question everything we are told by them.

They come to us with their platitudes about democracy—even when they do not practice it at home – yet want to export it to the rest of the world through the barrel of a gun.”

In September 2001, we were on the verge of winning a huge cultural struggle:  to change the global culture from exploitation by a few to respect for the dignity of the many peoples of the world.  I was there.  I saw people from all over the world come together in celebration of each other and our common struggle for dignity and justice and freedom.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was but merely a set of words until we tasted the right of self-determination established therein.  And that’s what Durban was all about:  extending the right of self-determination to everyone on the planet. 

On September 8, 2001 we celebrated a milestone.  Despite all of the odds against us, we succeeded in having a successful Conference.  The world of people of color was there—and I was there, too.  I was a Member of Congress then and had fought the pro-Israel Lobby in the United States to have U.S. representation in Durban, so that we could talk about us with us.  I presented facts about U.S. repression of the Black struggle for self-determination and liberation to Mary Robinson, then United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  And despite the boycott threat, everyone in attendance was happy to see the United States there and accounted for.

On September 10, 2001 while we celebrated a fantastic result in Durban, over 100,000 shares of American Airlines stock was bought and earlier in the month, United Airlines stock had been traded.  Now, we all saw what happened on September 11, 2001.  The new social and cultural order that was about to take off in celebration of humanity came crashing down with New York City’s Twin Towers.  And a world of war, death, and destruction has been unleashed against the very people who celebrated victory at Durban.

The war machine of the United States, Israel, and NATO will continue to roll until we stop it.  The Bolivarian Alliance countries of Latin America are showing us the way.  That we can achieve democracy and self-determination and liberation with ballots instead of bullets.  Just this week, Bolivia’s President Evo Morales announced that Bolivia was going to file a lawsuit against the United States for its aggressions against Bolivia and Venezuela.  Brazil’s President postponed a state visit after learning that her phones have been wiretapped by the United States. 

In Latin America, freedom and justice and dignity are rising; and we, especially those of us in the United States, must support them.

And Asia is rising.  84% of the world’s population are saying no more domination in our own lands.  Asians increasingly recognize that they no longer need to be subservient to “the West” which seeks to dominate by its use of weapons of war.  The “pivot to Asia” masks the geopolitical strategy of continued world domination by the 16% who now rule at the expense of our rights—including our most precious right of life without wars of aggression against us.

Finally, as an African American who is a child of the Civil Rights Movement, let me say categorically that the U.S. President betrays the legacy of the leaders of slave rebellions and of the Black struggle to be free with every U.S. bomb dropped, every veteran maimed, every child killed that he authorizes around the world.  The time for peace is now.

And I will close with this, the words of our late assassinated President, John F. Kennedy, who just months before he was murdered said:

“What kind of peace do we seek?  Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war.  Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave.  I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children—not merely peace for Americans, but peace for all men and women—not merely peace in our time, but peace for all time.”

Yes, it is true.  We in the United States once had a President who spoke of peace and mutuality and respect.  He was killed by snipers’ bullets just months later.

Let me add here that I just returned from Syria, going there with a U.S. delegation led by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark.  The effort is real to turn Syria into a Libya.  And then, after Syria, the drums of war will beat against Iran; and then after Iran?
They won’t stop until we stop them.

We know the path that we must take.  For if a President who wanted to take the path of peace could be killed in public like that, just imagine what they will do to us.

I am pleased to be a part of this important Conference.

Stay strong, my brothers and sisters and know that there is a community of Americans who are with you!

Thank you!

Cynthia McKinney