• All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out.

  • I.F. Stone

dinsdag 23 mei 2017

Bas Heijne's Propaganda 16


Zaterdag 18 april 2015 publiceerde NRC Handelsblad Geert Mak’s ‘dankwoord’ die ‘de populairste geschiedenisleraar van het land’ uitsprak na de Gouden Ganzenveer in ontvangst te hebben genomen. Als strekking van zijn betoog had de eindredactie van de krant gekozen: ‘Wij, de elites van nu, missen noblesse oblige,’ de gebruikelijke zelfkastijding van mijn oude vriend zodra zijn gereformeerde achtergrond begint op te spelen. In een kort moment van eerlijkheid sprak hij over de ‘Fear of Falling’ van ‘de Nederlandse elites van vandaag,’ een angst die Mak zelf voortdurend dwingt over van alles en nog wat zijn mening te ventileren. Door ervaring wijs geworden, wees het orakel van Bartlehiem op de discrepantie tussen de ‘met de mond beleden principes en het comfort van een stilzwijgend conformisme,’ waarbij de kleinburger ‘[b]ijna altijd, uiteindelijk, voor het laatste [kiest]. Ja, elite corrumpeert.’ Het is één van de hardnekkigste fenomenen van het christendom om op gezette tijden publiekelijk de eigen zonden te belijden en vervolgens weer snel tot de orde van de dag over te gaan. Dat is ook de reden waarom Mak moeiteloos zichzelf een dag later kan tegenspreken, zoals ik meerdere malen heb proberen aan te tonen. Die tweeslachtigheid maakt het hem mogelijk met grote stelligheid te verkondigen dat:

[i]edere gemeenschap, ieder systeem, ook het onze, heeft, wil het op de lange termijn overleven, een morele tegencultuur nodig. Een cultuur die dwarsligt, die vragen stelt, die andere waarden in het zoeklicht zet. De Chicago-econoom Deirdre McCloskey spreekt in dit verband over Bourgeois Virtues als Wijsheid, Rechtvaardigheid, Gematigdheid en Moed. Een goed functionerende elite is daar voortdurend mee bezig.

De ‘Bourgeois elite’ mag dan wel over allerlei deugden beschikken, maar daar horen ‘Wijsheid, Rechtvaardigheid, Gematigdheid en Moed’ niet toe. Integendeel, juist het tegenovergestelde is kenmerkend voor de bourgeoisie, zoals de geschiedenis keer op keer laat zien. Even absurd is Geert Mak’s stelling dat de VS over een ‘vitale… democratie’ beschikt en na 1945 ‘decennialang als ordebewaker en politieagent’ van de wereld ‘fungeerde,’ zonder ook maar met één woord te verwijzen naar de vele miljoenen slachtoffers die de naoorlogse Amerikaanse buitenlandse politiek heeft veroorzaakt in regio’s als Zuid-Oost Azië, Latijns-Amerika en Afrika. Gekleurde slachtoffers van het Amerikaans expansionisme tellen niet mee in de ideologie van mijn witte mainstream-collega’s. Dit onderstreept nog eens hoe ‘een morele tegencultuur’ van doorslaggevend belang is, maar helaas zijn de Makkiaanse opiniemakers in de polder niet in staat en al helemaal niet bereid een dergelijke tegenmacht te vormen. En daarom moet Mak ook een beroep doen op wartaal over niet reëel bestaande ‘Bourgeois Virtues als Wijsheid, Rechtvaardigheid, Gematigdheid en Moed.’ Hoewel hij zichzelf graag presenteert als historicus, getuigt dit soort uitspraken van een fundamenteel gebrek aan historische kennis, aangezien de bourgeoisie de dragers waren, zijn, en blijven van het Stupide, Onrechtvaardige, Onverzadigbare en Laffe kapitalisme dat nu in neoliberale doodsdrift is uitgemond. Maar omdat de ‘politiek-literaire elite’ als een besloten vennootschap functioneert die tot doel heeft zichzelf in stand te houden, durft geen van de mainstream-media Mak’s praatjes eens door te lichten. Zonder gevaar van een weerwoord kan hij stellen: 

Ook Barleaus en de zijnen zochten al naar zo’n tegencultuur, ze beseften dat de middeleeuwse religieuze waarden waarin hun ouders en grootouders hadden geleefd steeds minder telden en dat daar iets anders voor in de plaats moest komen.

Dat geldt, vier eeuwen later, evenzogoed voor ons. Een goede elite erkent dat ze een elite is, en dat ‘noblesse oblige,’ in de breedste zin van het woord. Nog altijd. Kwaliteit, empathie en courage, ja, die hebben wij, als elite, in deze tijd nodig. Maar de grootste van deze drie is courage.

Maar ‘courage’ is een kardinale deugd waarover Geert Mak geenszins beschikt. Dat kan ook niet, hij moet met het oog op het produceren van bestsellers een zo groot mogelijk publiek zien te behagen. Zijn ijdelheid en onzekerheid dwingen hem permanent naar aandacht en bevestiging te zoeken. Op zich is dit geen probleem, het wordt pas gevaarlijk wanneer de door de mainstream-media gepropageerde hybris een hele natie infecteert. In de proloog van zijn boek Hubris. The Tragedy of War In The Twentieth Century (2015) herinnert de Britse auteur Sir Alistair Horne zijn lezers eraan dat de:

ancient Greeks defined hubris as the worst sin a leader, or a nation, could commit. It was the attitude of supreme arrogance, where mortals in their folly would set themselves up against the gods. Its consequences were invariably severe. The Greeks also had a word for what usually followed hubris. That was called peripeteia, meaning a dramatic reversal of fortune. In practice, it signified a falling from the grace of a great height to unimaginable depths. Disaster would often embrace not only the offender, but also his nearest and dearest, and all those responsible to him. 

Having written, over the course of fifty-odd years, numerous books and articles on warfare in its various shapes, some time ago I sat down to reflect on what might be the common features of warfare that stood out over the ages. One that emerged pre-eminently was hubris: wars over the ages have generally been won or lost through excessive hubris on one side or the other. In modern military parlance it might also be dubbed ‘overreach.’  

En in de epiloog van de 304 pagina’s tellende studie komt Horne tot de slotsom:

If hubris is part of the of the human condition — deep-seated, lingering, pervasive and potentially lethal — what can we do to avoid it? If it is not just our leaders who ignore history and their own experience, as these chapters have shown, we might conclude that we all have something to learn.

We can go back to where we started in the Prologue, with the ancient Greeks. For Aristotle, aerie (virtue or excellence) was something that falls between two extremes, between excess on the one hand and defect on the other. It is to be judged according to the circumstances — there is no advance prescription that tells us what to do. But we can be guided by recognizing the two extremes and looking for the mean (het midden. svh). Hubris is plainly always the extreme of excess, and by accepting that it lies in wait for us — whether we are a warlord or a simple citizen — we are better equipped to avoid it…

What we and our leaders need to understand is that the exuberance that follows victory all too easily leads to the wrong decision. Perhaps there are other clues that hubris is creeping up on us. As I have pointed out in these pages, a racist contempt for the enemy has often been a symptom indicating that a leader and even his people are in the grip of hubris — and heading for trouble. 

While completing this book, I reread that eloquent and wise writer Albert Camus. His novel The Plague (in 1947 verschenen. svh) describes a mythical pandemic which devastates the North African town of Oran, and which is generally accepted to be an allegory for war or fascism, or some other universal, unspecified evil. The plague is defeated, and Oran celebrates its victory with a firework display  witnessed by the novel’s hero Dr. Rieux. The novel concludes with this passage:

‘as he listened to the cries of joy arising from the town, Rieux remembered that such joy is always imperiled (in gevaar gebracht. svh). He knew what those jubilant cords did not know, but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms , cellars, trunks and bookshelves, and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane (ondergang. svh) and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.’ 

With the world facing ever more menacing dangers from ambitious leaders, from gangs of warlords and from terrorists, we should note — as the ancient Greeks did — the terrible penalties which befall those who release from Pandora’s box the dormant bacillus of hubris.

Gematigdheid was voor de Grieken uit de klassieke oudheid een leidend principe in het leven. De Tempel van Apollo in Delphi droeg de inscriptie ‘Meden Agan,’ Alles met Mate, ‘Niets in Excess.’ Maar de drijfveren van het neoliberale kapitalisme gaan van precies het tegenovergestelde uit. Het feit dat onverzadigbaarheid haaks staat op gematigdheid geldt niet alleen op het gebied van de consumptie, maar ook op die van de oorlogsvoering. Zo is de doctrine van de ‘Mutual Assured Destruction’ de culminatie van de onverzadigbare nietzscheaanse ‘wil tot macht.’ Hoe diep de doodsdrift is geïnternaliseerd in de westerse ideologie blijkt ondermeer uit het feit dat één man, de Amerikaanse president, kan beslissen of het moment is aangebroken om de mensheid uit te roeien. De Amerikaanse bestseller-auteur, winnaar van de Pulitzer Prize, Garry Wills, schreef in zijn Bomb Power. The Modern Presidency and the National Security State (2010) dat: 

[t]his book has a basic thesis, that the Bomb altered our subsequent history down to its deepest constitutional roots. It redefined the presidency, as in all respects America's 'Commander in Chief' (a term that took on a new and unconstitutional meaning in this period). It fostered an anxiety of continuing crisis, so that society was pervasively militarized. It redefined the government as a National Security State, with an apparatus of secrecy and executive control. It redefined Congress, as an executor of the of the executive. And it redefined the Supreme Court, as a follower of the follower of the executive. Only one part of the government had the supreme power, the Bomb, and all else must defer to it, for the good of the nation, for the good of the world, for the custody of the future, in a world of perpetual emergency superseding ordinary constitutional restrictions.

Eerder beschreef de Duitse filosoof Peter Sloterdijk in zijn Kritiek van de cynische rede (1983) de kernbom als volgt:

De atoombom is eigenlijk de Boeddha van het Westen, een perfecte, abstracte, soevereine apparatuur. Onbeweeglijk rust ze in haar atoomsilo, toppunt van werkelijkheid en toppunt van mogelijkheid. Ze is het summum van de kosmische energie en van het menselijk aandeel daarin, de topprestatie van de mens en zijn vernietigster, een triomf van technische rationaliteit en verheffing daarvan tot het paranoïde. Met de atoombom verlaten wij het gebied van de praktische rede, waar men doeleinden met gepaste middelen nastreeft. De bom is al lang geen middel tot een doel meer, want zij is het mateloze middel dat elk mogelijk doel te boven gaat. Juist omdat zij echter geen middel tot een doel kan zijn, moet zij veranderen in een medium voor de zelfbeleving. Ze is een antropologisch gebeuren, het toppunt van objectivering van de machtsgeest die aan het werk is achter de drift tot zelfbehoud. Als wij haar geconstrueerd hebben om onszelf te 'verdedigen,' dan heeft dat ons in werkelijkheid een onvoorstelbare weerloosheid opgeleverd. De bom is een voltooiing van de mens in zijn 'slechte' vorm. Slechter, intelligenter en defensiever kunnen wij niet meer worden.

In feite is de bom de enige Boeddha die ook door de westerse rede wordt begrepen. Eindeloos zijn haar rust en haar ironie. Haar maakt het niets uit hoe ze haar missie volbrengt, door zwijgend afwachten of als gloeiende wolk; voor haar maakt de aggregatietoestand geen verschil. Net als bij Boeddha is alles wat er te zeggen zou zijn, alleen al door haar bestaan gezegd. De bom is geen zier slechter dan de werkelijkheid, en geen haar destructiever dan wij. Ze vertegenwoordigt slechts onze ontplooiing, een materiële uitbeelding van ons wezen. Ze is reeds belichaamd als iets volmaakts, terwijl wij in onze relatie tot haar nog gespleten zijn. Tegenover een dergelijk apparaat zijn geen strategische overwegingen meer op hun plaats, maar men moet aandachtig luisteren. De bom eist van ons strijd noch berusting, maar zelfbeleving. Wij zijn zelf die bom. Zij is het volmaakte westerse 'subject.' Onze enorme bewapening maakt ons zo weerloos dat wij weer zwak worden, zo zwak dat wij verstandig worden, zo verstandig dat wij bang worden. De enige vraag die blijft is of wij de uitwendige weg kiezen, of de innerlijke — of het inzicht vanuit de bezinning zal komen, of uit de vuurgloed boven de aarde.


Wat hebben de Nederlandse mainstream-opiniemakers hier tegen in te brengen? Ik zal voor de overzichtelijkheid twee prominente woordvoerders citeren, van wie ik de beweringen al langere tijd volg. Te beginnen met Geert Mak. In zijn bestseller Reizen zonder John. Op zoek naar Amerika (2012) looft hij met grote stelligheid ‘het vitale karakter van de Amerikaanse democratie’ en stelt dat ‘[d]e Amerikaanse diplomaten tot de beste ter wereld [horen],’ en ‘het land beschikt over voortreffelijke informatiesystemen, het leger kent geen grenzen, de universiteiten en het State Department beschikken over briljante strategen en politieke analisten, het Amerikaanse bedrijfsleven opereert over de hele aardbol. Bovendien ‘waren [het] Amerikaanse presidenten,’ die, volgens Mak, ‘de aanzet gaven tot een hele reeks internationale instituten’ en zodoende ‘een begin van orde brachten in de mondiale politiek en economie.' Het propagandabeeld van de outsider Mak is de reden dat hij, volgens eigen zeggen, al sinds zijn jeugd een 'geheime liefde' voor ‘Amerika' koestert, zonder duidelijk te maken waarom zijn ‘liefde’ voor een gewelddadige, nucleaire grootmacht ‘geheim’ moest blijven. Lijnrecht tegenover Mak’s pathos staat de nuchtere visie van een Amerikaanse insider als de historicus Mike Lofgren, ‘a former Republican U.S. Congressional aide,’ die ‘retired in May 2011 after 28 years as a Congressional staff member,’ en die ‘his legislative career’ begon ‘as a military legislative assistant to then Republican House representative John Kasich in 1983. In 1994, he was a professional staff member of the Readiness Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.’ Van ‘1995 to 2004, he was budget analyst for national security on the majority staff of the House Budget Committee. From 2005 until his retirement in 2011, Lofgren was the chief analyst for military spending on the Senate Budget Committee.’

Februari 2014 beschreef Mike Lofgren het fenomeen ‘Deep State’ in de Verenigde Staten als volgt: 

There is the visible government situated around the Mall in Washington, and then there is another, more shadowy, more indefinable government that is not explained in Civics 101 or observable to tourists at the White House or the Capitol. The former is traditional Washington partisan politics: the tip of the iceberg that a public watching C-SPAN sees daily and which is theoretically controllable via elections. The subsurface part of the iceberg I shall call the Deep State, which operates according to its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power.

During the last five years, the news media has been flooded with pundits decrying the broken politics of Washington. The conventional wisdom has it that partisan gridlock and dysfunction have become the new normal. That is certainly the case, and I have been among the harshest critics of this development. But it is also imperative to acknowledge the limits of this critique as it applies to the American governmental system. On one level, the critique is self-evident: In the domain that the public can see, Congress is hopelessly deadlocked in the worst manner since the 1850s, the violently rancorous decade preceding the Civil War…

there is another government concealed behind the one that is visible at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country according to consistent patterns in season and out, connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose. My analysis of this phenomenon is not an exposé of a secret, conspiratorial cabal; the state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day. Nor can this other government be accurately termed an ‘establishment.’ All complex societies have an establishment, a social network committed to its own enrichment and perpetuation. In terms of its scope, financial resources and sheer global reach, the American hybrid state, the Deep State, is in a class by itself. That said, it is neither omniscient nor invincible. The institution is not so much sinister (although it has highly sinister aspects) as it is relentlessly well entrenched. Far from being invincible, its failures, such as those in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, are routine enough that it is only the Deep State’s protectiveness towards its higher-ranking personnel that allows them to escape the consequences of their frequent ineptitude. 

How did I come to write an analysis of the Deep State, and why am I equipped to write it? As a congressional staff member for 28 years specializing in national security and possessing a top secret security clearance, I was at least on the fringes of the world I am describing, if neither totally in it by virtue of full membership nor of it by psychological disposition. But, like virtually every employed person, I became, to some extent, assimilated into the culture of the institution I worked for, and only by slow degrees, starting before the invasion of Iraq, did I begin fundamentally to question the reasons of state that motivate the people who are, to quote George W. Bush, ‘the deciders.’ […]

The Deep State does not consist of the entire government. It is a hybrid of national security and law enforcement agencies: the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice Department. I also include the Department of the Treasury because of its jurisdiction over financial flows, its enforcement of international sanctions and its organic symbiosis with Wall Street. All these agencies are coordinated by the Executive Office of the President via the National Security Council. Certain key areas of the judiciary belong to the Deep State, such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose actions are mysterious even to most members of Congress. Also included are a handful of vital federal trial courts, such as the Eastern District of Virginia and the Southern District of Manhattan, where sensitive proceedings in national security cases are conducted. The final government component (and possibly last in precedence among the formal branches of government established by the Constitution) is a kind of rump Congress consisting of the congressional leadership and some (but not all) of the members of the defense and intelligence committees. The rest of Congress, normally so fractious and partisan, is mostly only intermittently aware of the Deep State and when required usually submits to a few well-chosen words from the State’s emissaries…

Washington is the most important node of the Deep State that has taken over America, but it is not the only one. Invisible threads of money and ambition connect the town to other nodes. One is Wall Street, which supplies the cash that keeps the political machine quiescent and operating as a diversionary marionette theater. Should the politicians forget their lines and threaten the status quo, Wall Street floods the town with cash and lawyers to help the hired hands remember their own best interests. The executives of the financial giants even have de facto criminal immunity. On March 6, 2013, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Eric Holder stated the following: ‘I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy.’ This, from the chief law enforcement officer of a justice system that has practically abolished the constitutional right to trial for poorer defendants charged with certain crimes. It is not too much to say that Wall Street may be the ultimate owner of the Deep State and its strategies, if for no other reason than that it has the money to reward government operatives with a second career that is lucrative beyond the dreams of avarice — certainly beyond the dreams of a salaried government employee. 

The corridor between Manhattan and Washington is a well trodden highway for the personalities we have all gotten to know in the period since the massive deregulation of Wall Street: Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers, Henry Paulson, Timothy Geithner and many others. Not all the traffic involves persons connected with the purely financial operations of the government: In 2013, General David Petraeus joined KKR (formerly Kohlberg Kravis Roberts) of 9 West 57th Street, New York, a private equity firm with $62.3 billion in assets. KKR specializes in management buyouts and leveraged finance. General Petraeus’ expertise in these areas is unclear. His ability to peddle influence, however, is a known and valued commodity. Unlike Cincinnatus, the military commanders of the Deep State do not take up the plow once they lay down the sword. Petraeus also obtained a sinecure as a non-resident senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard. The Ivy League is, of course, the preferred bleaching tub and charm school of the American oligarchy…

The Deep State is the big story of our time. It is the red thread that runs through the war on terrorism, the financialization and deindustrialization of the American economy, the rise of a plutocratic social structure and political dysfunction. Washington is the headquarters of the Deep State, and its time in the sun as a rival to Rome, Constantinople or London may be term-limited by its overweening sense of self-importance and its habit, as Winwood Reade said of Rome, to ‘live upon its principal till ruin stared it in the face.’ ‘Living upon its principal,’ in this case, means that the Deep State has been extracting value from the American people in vampire-like fashion.

We are faced with two disagreeable implications. First, that the Deep State is so heavily entrenched, so well protected by surveillance, firepower, money and its ability to co-opt resistance that it is almost impervious to change. Second, that just as in so many previous empires, the Deep State is populated with those whose instinctive reaction to the failure of their policies is to double down on those very policies in the future. Iraq was a failure briefly camouflaged by the wholly propagandistic success of the so-called surge; this legerdemain allowed for the surge in Afghanistan, which equally came to naught. Undeterred by that failure, the functionaries of the Deep State plunged into Libya; the smoking rubble of the Benghazi consulate, rather than discouraging further misadventure, seemed merely to incite the itch to bomb Syria. Will the Deep State ride on the back of the American people from failure to failure until the country itself, despite its huge reserves of human and material capital, is slowly exhausted? The dusty road of empire is strewn with the bones of former great powers that exhausted themselves in like manner…

When the contradictions within a ruling ideology are pushed too far, factionalism appears and that ideology begins slowly to crumble. Corporate oligarchs such as the Koch brothers are no longer entirely happy with the faux-populist political front group they helped fund and groom. Silicon Valley, for all the Ayn Rand-like tendencies of its major players, its offshoring strategies and its further exacerbation of income inequality, is now lobbying Congress to restrain the NSA, a core component of the Deep State. Some tech firms are moving to encrypt their data. High tech corporations and governments alike seek dominance over people though collection of personal data, but the corporations are jumping ship now that adverse public reaction to the NSA scandals threatens their profits.
The outcome of all these developments is uncertain. The Deep State, based on the twin pillars of national security imperative and corporate hegemony, has until recently seemed unshakable and the latest events may only be a temporary perturbation in its trajectory. But history has a way of toppling the altars of the mighty. While the two great materialist and determinist ideologies of the twentieth century, Marxism and the Washington Consensus, successively decreed that the dictatorship of the proletariat and the dictatorship of the market were inevitable, the future is actually indeterminate. It may be that deep economic and social currents create the framework of history, but those currents can be channeled, eddied, or even reversed by circumstance, chance and human agency. We have only to reflect upon defunct glacial despotisms such as the USSR or East Germany to realize that nothing is forever.

Throughout history, state systems with outsized pretensions to power have reacted to their environments in two ways. The first strategy, reflecting the ossification of its ruling elites, consists of repeating that nothing is wrong, that the status quo reflects the nation’s unique good fortune in being favored by God and that those calling for change are merely subversive troublemakers. As the French ancien régime, the Romanov dynasty and the Habsburg emperors discovered, the strategy works splendidly for a while, particularly if one has a talent for dismissing unpleasant facts. The final results, however, are likely to be thoroughly disappointing.

The second strategy is one embraced to varying degrees and with differing goals, by figures of such contrasting personalities as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles de Gaulle and Deng Xiaoping. They were certainly not revolutionaries by temperament; if anything, their natures were conservative. But they understood that the political cultures in which they lived were fossilized and incapable of adapting to the times. In their drive to reform and modernize the political systems they inherited, their first obstacles to overcome were the outworn myths that encrusted the thinking of the elites of their time.

As the United States confronts its future after experiencing two failed wars, a precarious economy and $17 trillion (inmiddels, mei 2017, opgelopen tot 20 biljoen dollar. svh) in accumulated debt, the national punditry has split into two camps. The first, the declinists, sees a broken, dysfunctional political system incapable of reform and an economy soon to be overtaken by China. The second, the reformers, offers a profusion of nostrums to turn the nation around: public financing of elections to sever the artery of money between the corporate components of the Deep State and financially dependent elected officials, government “insourcing” to reverse the tide of outsourcing of government functions and the conflicts of interest that it creates, a tax policy that values human labor over financial manipulation and a trade policy that favors exporting manufactured goods over exporting investment capital.

All of that is necessary, but not sufficient. The Snowden revelations (the impact of which have been surprisingly strong), the derailed drive for military intervention in Syria and a fractious Congress, whose dysfunction has begun to be a serious inconvenience to the Deep State, show that there is now a deep but as yet inchoate hunger for change. What America lacks is a figure with the serene self-confidence to tell us that the twin idols of national security and corporate power are outworn dogmas that have nothing more to offer us. Thus disenthralled, the people themselves will unravel the Deep State with surprising speed. 

De beschrijving van de Amerikaanse insider Lofgren, die uit ervaring spreekt en van nabij de werking van de macht in Washington en op Wall Street kent, wijkt fundamenteel af van de naïeve voorstelling van zaken die ondermeer Geert Mak en Bas Heijne geven. Laatst genoemde spreekt van het ‘in alle opzichten superieure Amerika’ en van ‘de immer onkreukbare Barack Obama,’ wiens ‘wereldbeeld’ op ‘de idealen van de Verlichting’ was ‘gebaseerd.’ Welnu, hoe verlicht waren ‘de idealen’ van het ‘wereldbeeld’ van Barack Obama tijdens zijn achtjarige presidentschap? Laat ik slechts één verhelderend voorbeeld geven: onder zijn presidentschap begon de vernieuwing van het hele Amerikaanse nucleaire arsenaal, dat naar schatting meer dan één biljoen dollar (een miljoen keer een miljoen) gaat kosten. De Britse Guardian berichtte op dinsdag 10 november 2015 onder de kop ‘America's new, more “usable,” nuclear bomb in Europe,’ over de B61 ‘bomb,' waarvan '180 are stockpiled in Europe.' Deze kernbommen krijgen een 'upgrade' die 'will make it more “usable” in the eyes of some in the American military.

The $8 billion upgrade to the US B61 nuclear bomb has been widely condemned as an awful lot of money to spend on an obsolete weapon. As an old fashioned ‘dumb’ bomb it has no role in US or NATO nuclear doctrine, but the upgrade has gone ahead anyway, in large part as a result of lobbying by the nuclear weapons laboratories. 

In non-proliferation terms however the only thing worse than a useless bomb is a ‘usable’ bomb. Apart from the stratospheric price, the most controversial element of the B61 upgrade is the replacement of the existing rigid tail with one that has moving fins that will make the bomb smarter and allow it to be guided more accurately to a target. Furthermore, the yield can be adjusted before launch, according to the target…

Referring to the B61-12’s enhanced accuracy on a recent PBS Newshour television programme, the former head of US Strategic Command, General James Cartwright, made this striking remark:

‘If I can drive down the yield, drive down, therefore, the likelihood of fallout, etc, does that make it more usable in the eyes of some — some president or national security decision-making process? And the answer is, it likely could be more usable.’

In general, it is not a good thing to see the words ‘nuclear bomb’ and ‘usable’ anywhere near each other. Yet they seem to share space in the minds of some of America’s military leaders, as Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, points out.’

Cartwright’s confirmation follows General Norton Schwartz, the former U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, who in 2014 assessed that the increased accuracy would have implications for how the military thinks about using the B61. ‘Without a doubt. Improved accuracy and lower yield is a desired military capability. Without a question,’ he said.

The great thing about nuclear weapons was that their use was supposed to be unthinkable and they were therefore a deterrent to contemplation of a new world war. Once they become ‘thinkable’ we are in a different, and much more dangerous, universe.

It is a universe in which former vice president Dick Cheney has apparently lived for some time. The new biography of George H. W. Bush has served as a reminder that in the run-up to the first Gulf War, Cheney commissioned a Pentagon study to find out how many tactical nuclear weapons it would take to kill a division of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard. The answer was apparently 17.

In his own memoir, Colin Powell, then chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recalled being ordered by Cheney to carry out the assessment against Powell’s own better judgment. As related in Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of US Nuclear Weapons since 1940, edited by Stephen Schwartz:

‘While planning strategy prior to the Gulf, Powell told Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, 

“Let’s not even think about nukes. You know we’re not going to let that genie loose.” Cheney replied, “of course not. But take a look to be thorough.” Powell did and discovered that to “do serious damage to just one armored division dispersed in the desert would require a considerable number of small tactical nuclear weapons. I showed this analysis to Cheney and then had it destroyed.”' 

That assessment may have been trashed, but the spirit behind it clearly lives on in the US military mindset and on the right of the US political spectrum - a disturbing and volatile mix.


Logischerwijs gaat de politieke en militaire leiding van de Russische Federatie niet lijdzaam afwachten tot een Amerikaanse president in overleg met de militaire top een nucleair conflict begint. Zeker niet nu er openlijk in de VS wordt gesproken over 'new aerial bombs' waardoor 

putting them into service may considerably lower the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. Instead of being a means of deterrence, such weapons are potentially becoming battlefield weapons, as was the case during the Cold War.

It is not by chance that in November 2014 former commander of the U.S. strategic command General James Cartwright said that as a result of modernization the B-61 bombs can become ‘more usable.’

De ‘betere inzetbaarheid’ van nucleaire wapens door de NAVO leidt onvermijdelijk tot een nog grotere bedreiging voor de overleving van de mens, en zeker de Europeaan, nu zowel de Atlantische politieke elite als de commerciële mainstream-media opnieuw de Russische Federatie tot vijand hebben bestempeld, en onder president Obama ‘breaking Russia has become an objective,’ aldus de goed geïnformeerde Henry Kissinger. Eén van de redenen waarom de elite in Washington en op Wall Street een gecoördineerde actie tegen president Trump voeren is simpelweg omdat hij zaken wil doen met Rusland in plaats van een desastreuze oorlog te beginnen. Kissinger heeft in rationeel opzicht gelijk wanneer hij benadrukt dat ‘the long-range purpose should be to integrate it.’ In een dichtbevolkte, geglobaliseerde wereld is het dodelijke waanzin om Rusland uiteen te laten vallen. Typerend voor de gigantische corruptie van de mainstream-media is dat Kissinger’s waarschuwing door de overgrote meerderheid van de ‘vrije pers’ werd verzwegen. De westerse doodsdrift is opnieuw collectief geworden. Omdat zowel burgers als militairen de consequenties van de heersende irrationaliteit, of beter nog, de 'rationality without reason,' mentaal niet kunnen verwerken, verdwijnt de realiteit achter Orwelliaans taalgebruik. Zo constateerde de Amerikaanse fotograaf Paul Shambroom in zijn fotoboek Face to Face with the Bomb. Nuclear Reality after the Cold War (2003)

Military people used terminology that seems a denial of the real function of the hardware. Words such as ‘bomb’ and ‘warhead’ are rarely used. Instead, the air force uses the acronym ‘RV’ (for ‘Reentry Vehicle’). The navy, perhaps just to be different, uses ‘RB’ (for ‘Reentry Body’). I was sharply corrected the first time I referred to the MX missile and told that the official name is ‘Peacekeeper.’ Bombs are ‘gravity weapons.’ Warheads are jokingly referred to as ‘physics packages.’ Anything nuclear is ‘non-conventional.’

Het openingscitaat in zijn fotoboek is van de toenmalige 'Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld' die tijdens zijn 'testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee' op 17 juli 2002 verklaarde:

Some have asks why, in the post-Cold War world, we need to maintain as many as 1,700-2,200 operationally deployed warheads. The end of the Soviet threat does not mean we no longer need nuclear weapons. To the contrary, the U.S. nuclear arsenal remains an important part of our deterrence strategy, and helps us to dissuade the emergence of potential or would-be peer competitors, by underscoring the futility of trying to reach parity with us.

Het 'nucleaire arsenaal' dient 'potentiële' mededingers af te schrikken om te pogen gelijkwaardig te worden aan de VS. Washington en Wall Street dulden geen 'concurrenten,' omdat de 'exceptionalistische' macht dan gedwongen is tegenspraak te accepteren. De wereld, inclusief  Mak’s  Europese Unie van 'Geen Jorwert zonder Brussel,' dient de Amerikaanse politieke en economische elite met een kadaverdiscipline te gehoorzamen. Als dit niet goedschiks gaat dan gaat het kwaadschiks, met als uiterste consequentie: de nucleaire holocaust. In deze werkelijkheid leeft iedere wereldbewoner dag in dag uit. Het rationalisme is in ultieme irrationaliteit ontspoort; de VS chanteert ons en zichzelf met de massale vernietiging. Zij drukt de loop van het wapen tegen het eigen hoofd. Nu de trekker gespannen is, kan de tijd in een fractie van een seconde voorgoed worden gestopt. De doodsdrift zal er altijd wel zijn geweest, al was het maar om de pijn van het bestaan voorgoed te kunnen ontvluchten, maar vandaag de dag zijn ‘we’ in staat de hele mensheid in onze zelfmoord mee te slepen. 'We live with the knowledge that we have the means to eradicate our own species,' stelt Paul Shambroom in de proloog. 'Strategic weapons are weapons targeted at an opponent's nuclear weapons, command centers, or civilian populations,' terwijl algemeen bekend is dat volgens het internationaal recht burgers absoluut nooit als doelwit van militairen mogen dienen. De westerse burger accepteert de dreiging stilzwijgend, want

[i]t's natural to want, to need NOT to believe that hardware for our extinction exists, is made of real nuts and bolts, and is kept at the ready by living, breathing, human beings.

De mens wordt nu gedwongen in een virtuele realiteit te geloven, een verzonnen werkelijkheid om te voorkomen dat de waanzin het laatste restje zingeving vernietigt. De collectieve gekte is reëler geworden dan het gezond verstand. De mensheid wordt van alle kanten bedreigd. De Amerikaanse intellectueel Eugene Jarecki, regisseur van de 'Award-Winning Film Why We Fight' (2008) schreef in verband hiermee:

Traditional military threats have been in many ways overshadowed today by nontraditional ones: climate change, infectious diseases, overpopulation, resource scarcity, non state terror, and international economic disorder. These and other sources of international instability are of increasing concern on an ever more interconnected planet, requiring radical solutions and unprecedented levels of international coordination. Yet efforts at reform to date have been too confined by outmoded Cold War thinking.

Nu '[w]ij zelf die bom' zijn en het kernwapen 'het volmaakte westerse ''subject'' [is],' moet duidelijk zijn hoe absurd bijvoorbeeld Geert Mak's bewering is dat 

De kracht van onze westerse samenleving onze democratie [is], onze variatie in ideeën, onze tolerantie, onze openheid tegenover andere culturen.

Een cultuur die bewust en onbewust bereid is collectief zelfmoord te plegen, en de rest van de mensheid in die waanzin mee te slepen kan natuurlijk nooit een ware ‘democratie’ vormen, laat staan dat die 'democratie' een manifestatie is van ‘onze variatie in ideeën, onze tolerantie, onze openheid tegenover andere culturen.’ De Amerikaanse ‘democratie,' waarover Mak en Heijne vol lof zijn, is al een halve eeuw geleden door het ontstaan van de National Security State in de VS, ten onder gegaan, zoals talloze Amerikaanse intellectuelen, onder wie Garry Wills, gedocumenteerd hebben aangetoond. 

In zijn vuistdikke bestseller Reizen zonder John (2012), waarin hij 'op zoek naar Amerika' claimde te zijn, realiseerde Geert Mak zich niet dat de kernwapenarsenaal 'redefined' de Amerikaanse Grondwet, en dat de VS de afgelopen halve eeuw is getransformeerd in een 'society pervasively militarized,' een ontwikkeling waar niemand minder dan president Eisenhower al in 1961 tijdens zijn afscheidsrede nadrukkelijk voor waarschuwde. De VS heeft geen militair-industrieel complex, maar is een militair-industrieel complex. De gescheiden staatsmachten zijn daardoor niet meer gescheiden, alles staat er in het teken van grootscheeps georganiseerd geweld, hedendaags zowel als toekomstig, zoals eveneens de alom gerespecteerde Democratische senator, ambassadeur en socioloog Daniel Patrick Moynihan stelde in zijn boek Secrecy: The American Experience (1998). Daarin concludeerde hij dat de 'American society in peacetime began to experience wartime regulation.' Dit is de hier uitbundig geprezen mainstream-opiniemakers Mak, Heijne en de rest van de Hollandse ‘politiek-literaire elite’ volledig ontgaan. Zij allen herhalen de overleefde mythes over democratie en mensenrechten, en blijven tegelijkertijd propaganda maken voor een niet bestaand systeem. Nederland is in dit opzicht uniek. Bij gebrek aan een kritische intelligentsia kon het corrupte poldermodel tot ultieme waarheid uitgeroepen. Daarentegen zien we in cultuurlanden dat grote denkers  tot de mainstream-media weten door te dringen. Zo publiceerde de alles behalve radicale Huffington Post op 31 augustus 2014 een essay van de kritische Amerikaanse geleerde Noam Chomsky over de VS als National Security State, getiteld 'Whose Security? How Washington Protects Itself and the Corporate Sector.' Chomsky is niet de eerste de beste, zo liet The Huffington Post de lezers weten. Maar juist vanwege zijn kritische houding is het ondenkbaar dat de visie van Chomsky, wiens boeken aanzienlijke oplagen bereiken en in vele talen zijn verschenen, uitgebreid en met zekere regelmaat in de Nederlandse mainstream-media verschijnt. Alle voor de kleinburgerlijke elite 'dissidente' informatie wordt hier ogenblikkelijk gemarginaliseerd dan wel domweg verzwegen. Het is niet verbazingwekkend dat Geert Mak in zijn Reizen zonder John (2012) Noam Chomsky 573 pagina's lang negeert, en dat Mak geen enkel boek van hem gelezen heeft. De Amerikaanse auteur Wendell Berry zette in The Unsettling of America (1996) uiteen hoe het kleurloze midden het grote gevaar vormt, omdat het mentaal niet in staat is zich aan te passen aan een radicaal veranderende situatie. Sterker nog:

Like many another orthodoxy, it would rather die than change, and may change only by dying. This determination is enforced both from within and from without.

Verandering is onmogelijk zolang de rechtzinnige in een religie of een ideologie de macht blijft steunen. Alleen iemand wiens verbeeldingskracht niet door een of andere doctrine is vernietigd, kan vrij handelen. Wendell Berry geeft het volgende voorbeeld:

The pattern of orthodoxy in religion, because it is well known, gives us a useful paradigm. The encrusted religious structure is not changed by its institutional dependents – they are part of the crust. It is changed by one who goes alone to the wilderness, where he fasts and prays, and returns with cleansed vision. In going alone, he goes independent of institutions, forswearing (afzweren. svh) orthodoxy ('right opinion'). In going to the wilderness he goes to the margin, where he is surrounded by the possibilities — by no means all good — that orthodoxy has excluded. By fasting he disengages his thoughts from the immediate issues of livelihood; his willing hunger takes his mind off the payroll, so to speak. And by praying he acknowledges ignorance; the orthodox presume to know, whereas the marginal person is trying to find out. He returns to the community, not necessarily with new truth, but with a new vision of the truth; he sees it more whole than before.

Het belang van het doorbreken van de consensus kan nooit overschat worden. Mainstream-opiniemakers zijn niet in staat een nieuwe visie te bieden, daarvoor zijn ze teveel onderdeel van het verziekte systeem, zoals tevens blijkt uit de talloze prijzen waarmee de gevestigde orde haar spreekbuizen overlaadt. Elke prijs is als het ware een brevet van eigen onvermogen. De enigen die daadwerkelijk een alternatief kunnen aandragen zijn de kritische gemarginaliseerden. Daarom opnieuw Chomsky:

There is a 'received standard version,' common to academic scholarship, government pronouncements, and public discourse. It holds that the prime commitment of governments is to ensure security, and that the primary concern of the U.S. and its allies since 1945 was the Russian threat.

There are a number of ways to evaluate the doctrine. One obvious question to ask is: What happened when the Russian threat disappeared in 1989? Answer: everything continued much as before.

The U.S. immediately invaded Panama, killing probably thousands of people and installing a client regime. This was routine practice in U.S.-dominated domains — but in this case not quite as routine. For first time, a major foreign policy act was not justified by an alleged Russian threat. 

Instead, a series of fraudulent pretexts for the invasion were concocted that collapse instantly on examination. The media chimed in (meedoen. svh) enthusiastically, lauding the magnificent achievement of defeating Panama, unconcerned that the pretexts were ludicrous, that the act itself was a radical violation of international law, and that it was bitterly condemned elsewhere, most harshly in Latin America.  Also ignored was the U.S. veto of a unanimous Security Council resolution condemning crimes by U.S. troops during the invasion, with Britain alone abstaining. All routine. And all forgotten (which is also routine).

The administration of George H.W. Bush issued a new national security policy and defense budget in reaction to the collapse of the global enemy. It was pretty much the same as before, although with new pretexts. It was, it turned out, necessary to maintain a military establishment almost as great as the rest of the world combined and far more advanced in technological sophistication — but not for defense against the now-nonexistent Soviet Union. Rather, the excuse now was the growing 'technological sophistication' of Third World powers. Disciplined intellectuals understood that it would have been improper to collapse in ridicule, so they maintained a proper silence.

The U.S., the new programs insisted, must maintain its 'defense industrial base.' The phrase is a euphemism, referring to high-tech industry generally, which relies heavily on extensive state intervention for research and development, often under Pentagon cover, in what economists continue to call the U.S. 'free-market economy.'

One of the most interesting provisions of the new plans had to do with the Middle East. There, it was declared, Washington must maintain intervention forces targeting a crucial region where the major problems 'could not have been laid at the Kremlin’s door.' Contrary to 50 years of deceit, it was quietly conceded that the main concern was not the Russians, but rather what is called 'radical nationalism,' meaning independent nationalism not under U.S. control.

All of this has evident bearing on the standard version, but it passed unnoticed — or perhaps, therefore it passed unnoticed.

Other important events took place immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, ending the Cold War.  One was in El Salvador, the leading recipient of U.S. military aid — apart from Israel-Egypt, a separate category — and with one of the worst human rights records anywhere. That is a familiar and very close correlation. 

The Salvadoran high command ordered the Atlacatl Brigade to invade the Jesuit University and murder six leading Latin American intellectuals, all Jesuit priests, including the rector, Fr. Ignacio Ellacuría, and any witnesses, meaning their housekeeper and her daughter. The Brigade had just returned from advanced counterinsurgency training at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and had already left a bloody trail of thousands of the usual victims in the course of the U.S.-run state terror campaign in El Salvador, one part of a broader terror and torture campaign throughout the region.  All routine.  Ignored and virtually forgotten in the United States and by its allies, again routine.  But it tells us a lot about the factors that drive policy, if we care to look at the real world.

Another important event took place in Europe.  Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to allow the unification of Germany and its membership in NATO, a hostile military alliance.  In the light of recent history, this was a most astonishing concession.  There was a quid pro quo.  President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker agreed that NATO would not expand ‘one inch to the East,’ meaning into East Germany. Instantly, they expanded NATO to East Germany. 

Gorbachev was naturally outraged, but when he complained, he was instructed by Washington that this had only been a verbal promise, a gentleman’s agreement, hence without force. If he was naïve enough to accept the word of American leaders, it was his problem.

All of this, too, was routine, as was the silent acceptance and approval of the expansion of NATO in the U.S. and the West generally. President Bill Clinton then expanded NATO further, right up to Russia’s borders. Today, the world faces a serious crisis that is in no small measure a result of these policies.

Another source of evidence is the declassified historical record. It contains revealing accounts of the actual motives of state policy. The story is rich and complex, but a few persistent themes play a dominant role. One was articulated clearly at a western hemispheric conference called by the U.S. in Mexico in February 1945 where Washington imposed 'An Economic Charter of the Americas' designed to eliminate economic nationalism 'in all its forms.' There was one unspoken condition. Economic nationalism would be fine for the U.S. whose economy relies heavily on massive state intervention.

The elimination of economic nationalism for others stood in sharp conflict with the Latin American stand of that moment, which State Department officials described as 'the philosophy of the New Nationalism [that] embraces policies designed to bring about a broader distribution of wealth and to raise the standard of living of the masses.' As U.S. policy analysts added, 'Latin Americans are convinced that the first beneficiaries of the development of a country's resources should be the people of that country.'

That, of course, will not do. Washington understands that the 'first beneficiaries' should be U.S. investors, while Latin America fulfills its service function.  It should not, as both the Truman and Eisenhower administrations would make clear, undergo 'excessive industrial development' that might infringe on U.S. interests. Thus Brazil could produce low-quality steel that U.S. corporations did not want to bother with, but it would be 'excessive,' were it to compete with U.S. firms.


Similar concerns resonate throughout the post-World War II period. The global system that was to be dominated by the U.S. was threatened by what internal documents call 'radical and nationalistic regimes' that respond to popular pressures for independent development.  That was the concern that motivated the overthrow of the parliamentary governments of Iran and Guatemala in 1953 and 1954, as well as numerous others. In the case of Iran, a major concern was the potential impact of Iranian independence on Egypt, then in turmoil over British colonial practice.  In Guatemala, apart from the crime of the new democracy in empowering the peasant majority and infringing on possessions of the United Fruit Company —- already offensive enough — Washington’s concern was labor unrest and popular mobilization in neighboring U.S.-backed dictatorships.

In both cases the consequences reach to the present.  Literally not a day has passed since 1953 when the U.S. has not been torturing the people of Iran.  Guatemala remains one of the world’s worst horror chambers. To this day, Mayans are fleeing from the effects of near-genocidal government military campaigns in the highlands backed by President Ronald Reagan and his top officials. As the country director of Oxfam, a Guatemalan doctor, reported recently,

'There is a dramatic deterioration of the political, social, and economic context.  Attacks against Human Rights defenders have increased 300% during the last year.  There is a clear evidence of a very well organized strategy by the private sector and Army. Both have captured the government in order to keep the status quo and to impose the extraction economic model, pushing away dramatically indigenous peoples from their own land, due to the mining industry, African Palm and sugar cane plantations.  In addition the social movement defending their land and rights has been criminalized, many leaders are in jail, and many others have been killed.'

Nothing is known about this in the United States and the very obvious cause of it remains suppressed.

In the 1950s, President Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles explained quite clearly the dilemma that the U.S. faced.  They complained that the Communists had an unfair advantage.  They were able to “appeal directly to the masses” and 'get control of mass movements, something we have no capacity to duplicate.  The poor people are the ones they appeal to and they have always wanted to plunder the rich.'

That causes problems. The U.S. somehow finds it difficult to appeal to the poor with its doctrine that the rich should plunder the poor.

A clear illustration of the general pattern was Cuba, when it finally gained independence in 1959.  Within months, military attacks on the island began. Shortly after, the Eisenhower administration made a secret decision to overthrow the government. John F. Kennedy then became president. He intended to devote more attention to Latin America and so, on taking office, he created a study group to develop policies headed by the historian Arthur Schlesinger, who summarized its conclusions for the incoming president.

As Schlesinger explained, threatening in an independent Cuba was 'the Castro idea of taking matters into one's own hands.' It was an idea that unfortunately appealed to the mass of the population in Latin America where 'the distribution of land and other forms of national wealth greatly favors the propertied classes, and the poor and underprivileged, stimulated by the example of the Cuban revolution, are now demanding opportunities for a decent living.' Again, Washington’s usual dilemma.

As the CIA explained, 'The extensive influence of "Castroism" is not a function of Cuban power... Castro’s shadow looms large because social and economic conditions throughout Latin America invite opposition to ruling authority and encourage agitation for radical change,' for which his Cuba provides a model.  Kennedy feared that Russian aid might make Cuba a 'showcase' for development, giving the Soviets the upper hand throughout Latin America.

The State Department Policy Planning Council warned that 'the primary danger we face in Castro is... in the impact the very existence of his regime has upon the leftist movement in many Latin American countries… The simple fact is that Castro represents a successful defiance of the U.S., a negation of our whole hemispheric policy of almost a century and a half' — that is, since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, when the U.S. declared its intention of dominating the hemisphere.

The immediate goal at the time was to conquer Cuba, but that could not be achieved because of the power of the British enemy. Still, that grand strategist John Quincy Adams, the intellectual father of the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny, informed his colleagues that over time Cuba would fall into our hands by 'the laws of political gravitation,' as an apple falls from the tree. In brief, U.S. power would increase and Britain’s would decline.

In 1898, Adams’s prognosis was realized. The U.S. invaded Cuba in the guise of liberating it. In fact, it prevented the island’s liberation from Spain and turned it into a 'virtual colony' to quote historians Ernest May and Philip Zelikow. Cuba remained so until January 1959, when it gained independence. Since that time it has been subjected to major U.S. terrorist wars, primarily during the Kennedy years, and economic strangulation.  Not because of the Russians.

The pretense all along was that we were defending ourselves from the Russian threat -- an absurd explanation that generally went unchallenged. A simple test of the thesis is what happened when any conceivable Russian threat disappeared. U.S. policy toward Cuba became even harsher, spearheaded by liberal Democrats, including Bill Clinton, who outflanked Bush from the right in the 1992 election. On the face of it, these events should have considerable bearing on the validity of the doctrinal framework for discussion of foreign policy and the factors that drive it. Once again, however, the impact was slight.


To borrow Henry Kissinger’s terminology, independent nationalism is a 'virus' that might 'spread contagion.' Kissinger was referring to Salvador Allende’s Chile.  The virus was the idea that there might be a parliamentary path towards some kind of socialist democracy.  The way to deal with such a threat is to destroy the virus and to inoculate those who might be infected, typically by imposing murderous national security states. That was achieved in the case of Chile, but it is important to recognize that the thinking holds worldwide. 

It was, for example, the reasoning behind the decision to oppose Vietnamese nationalism in the early 1950s and support France’s effort to reconquer its former colony. It was feared that independent Vietnamese nationalism might be a virus that would spread contagion to the surrounding regions, including resource-rich Indonesia.  That might even have led Japan — called the ‘superdomino’ by Asia scholar John Dower — to become the industrial and commercial center of an independent new order of the kind imperial Japan had so recently fought to establish.  That, in turn, would have meant that the U.S. had lost the Pacific war, not an option to be considered in 1950.  The remedy was clear — and largely achieved. Vietnam was virtually destroyed and ringed by military dictatorships that kept the 'virus' from spreading contagion.

In retrospect, Kennedy-Johnson National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy reflected that Washington should have ended the Vietnam War in 1965, when the Suharto dictatorship was installed in Indonesia, with enormous massacres that the CIA compared to the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. These were, however, greeted with unconstrained euphoria in the U.S. and the West generally because the 'staggering bloodbath,' as the press cheerfully described it, ended any threat of contagion and opened Indonesia’s rich resources to western exploitation. After that, the war to destroy Vietnam was superfluous (overbodig. svh), as Bundy recognized in retrospect.

The same was true in Latin America in the same years: one virus after another was viciously attacked and either destroyed or weakened to the point of bare survival. From the early 1960s, a plague of repression was imposed on the continent that had no precedent in the violent history of the hemisphere, extending to Central America in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan, a matter that there should be no need to review.

Much the same was true in the Middle East.  The unique U.S. relations with Israel were established in their current form in 1967, when Israel delivered a smashing blow to Egypt, the center of secular Arab nationalism. By doing so, it protected U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, then engaged in military conflict with Egypt in Yemen. Saudi Arabia, of course, is the most extreme radical fundamentalist Islamic state, and also a missionary state, expending huge sums to establish its Wahhabi-Salafi doctrines beyond its borders. It is worth remembering that the U.S., like England before it, has tended to support radical fundamentalist Islam in opposition to secular nationalism, which has usually been perceived as posing more of a threat of independence and contagion.

There is much more to say, but the historical record demonstrates very clearly that the standard doctrine has little merit. Security in the normal sense is not a prominent factor in policy formation.

To repeat, in the normal sense.  But in evaluating the standard doctrine we have to ask what is actually meant by 'security': security for whom?

One answer is: security for state power.  There are many illustrations.  Take a current one.  In May, the U.S. agreed to support a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes in Syria, but with a proviso: there could be no inquiry into possible war crimes by Israel.  Or by Washington, though it was really unnecessary to add that last condition. The U.S. is uniquely self-immunized from the international legal system. In fact, there is even congressional legislation authorizing the president to use armed force to 'rescue' any American brought to the Hague for trial — the 'Netherlands Invasion Act,' as it is sometimes called in Europe.  That once again illustrates the importance of protecting the security of state power.

But protecting it from whom? There is, in fact, a strong case to be made that a prime concern of government is the security of state power from the population.  As those who have spent time rummaging through archives should be aware, government secrecy is rarely motivated by a genuine for security, but it definitely does serve to keep the population in the dark.  And for good reasons, which were lucidly explained by the prominent liberal scholar and government adviser Samuel Huntington, the professor of the science of government at Harvard University.  In his words: 'The architects of power in the United States must create a force that can be felt but not seen. Power remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate.'

He wrote that in 1981, when the Cold War was again heating up, and he explained further that 'you may have to sell [intervention or other military action] in such a way as to create the misimpression that it is the Soviet Union that you are fighting. That is what the United States has been doing ever since the Truman Doctrine.'

These simple truths are rarely acknowledged, but they provide insight into state power and policy, with reverberations to the present moment.

State power has to be protected from its domestic enemy; in sharp contrast, the population is not secure from state power. A striking current illustration is the radical attack on the Constitution by the Obama administration’s massive surveillance program. It is, of course, justified by ‘national security.’ That is routine for virtually all actions of all states and so carries little information. 

When the NSA’s surveillance program was exposed by Edward Snowden’s revelations, high officials claimed that it had prevented 54 terrorist acts. On inquiry, that was whittled down to a dozen. A high-level government panel then discovered that there was actually only one case: someone had sent $8,500 to Somalia. That was the total yield of the huge assault on the Constitution and, of course, on others throughout the world.

Britain’s attitude is interesting. In 2007, the British government called on Washington’s colossal spy agency 'to analyze and retain any British citizens’ mobile phone and fax numbers, emails, and IP addresses swept up by its dragnet,' the Guardian reported. That is a useful indication of the relative significance, in government eyes, of the privacy of its own citizens and of Washington’s demands.

Another concern is security for private power.  One current illustration is the huge trade agreements now being negotiated, the Trans-Pacific and Trans-Atlantic pacts. These are being negotiated in secret — but not completely in secret. They are not secret from the hundreds of corporate lawyers who are drawing up the detailed provisions.  It is not hard to guess what the results will be, and the few leaks about them suggest that the expectations are accurate. Like NAFTA and other such pacts, these are not free trade agreements.  In fact, they are not even trade agreements, but primarily investor rights agreements.

Again, secrecy is critically important to protect the primary domestic constituency of the governments involved, the corporate sector.

There are other examples too numerous to mention, facts that are well-established and would be taught in elementary schools in free societies.

There is, in other words, ample evidence that securing state power from the domestic population and securing concentrated private power are driving forces in policy formation. Of course, it is not quite that simple. There are interesting cases, some quite current, where these commitments conflict, but consider this a good first approximation and radically opposed to the received standard doctrine.


Let us turn to another question: What about the security of the population? It is easy to demonstrate that this is a marginal concern of policy planners. Take two prominent current examples, global warming and nuclear weapons. As any literate person is doubtless aware, these are dire threats to the security of the population.  Turning to state policy, we find that it is committed to accelerating each of those threats -- in the interests of the primary concerns, protection of state power and of the concentrated private power that largely determines state policy.

Consider global warming.  There is now much exuberance in the United States about '100 years of energy independence' as we become 'the Saudi Arabia of the next century' -- perhaps the final century of human civilization if current policies persist. 

That illustrates very clearly the nature of the concern for security, certainly not for the population. It also illustrates the moral calculus of contemporary Anglo-American state capitalism: the fate of our grandchildren counts as nothing when compared with the imperative of higher profits tomorrow.

These conclusions are fortified by a closer look at the propaganda system.  There is a huge public relations campaign in the U.S., organized quite openly by Big Energy and the business world, to try to convince the public that global warming is either unreal or not a result of human activity.  And it has had some impact. The U.S. ranks lower than other countries in public concern about global warming and the results are stratified: among Republicans, the party more fully dedicated to the interests of wealth and corporate power, it ranks far lower than the global norm.

The current issue of the premier journal of media criticism, the Columbia Journalism Review, has an interesting article on this subject, attributing this outcome to the media doctrine of 'fair and balanced.' In other words, if a journal publishes an opinion piece reflecting the conclusions of 97% of scientists, it must also run a counter-piece expressing the viewpoint of the energy corporations.

That indeed is what happens, but there certainly is no ‘fair and balanced’ doctrine. Thus, if a journal runs an opinion piece denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin for the criminal act of taking over the Crimea, it surely does not have to run a piece pointing out that, while the act is indeed criminal, Russia has a far stronger case today than the U.S. did more than a century ago in taking over southeastern Cuba, including the country’s major port — and rejecting the Cuban demand since independence to have it returned.  And the same is true of many other cases. The actual media doctrine is 'fair and balanced' when the concerns of concentrated private power are involved, but surely not elsewhere.

On the issue of nuclear weapons, the record is similarly interesting — and frightening.  It reveals very clearly that, from the earliest days, the security of the population was a non-issue, and remains so. There is no time here to run through the shocking record, but there is little doubt that it strongly supports the lament of General Lee Butler, the last commander of the Strategic Air Command, which was armed with nuclear weapons.  In his words, we have so far survived the nuclear age 'by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.' And we can hardly count on continued divine intervention as policymakers play roulette with the fate of the species in pursuit of the driving factors in policy formation.

As we are all surely aware, we now face the most ominous decisions in human history.  There are many problems that must be addressed, but two are overwhelming in their significance: environmental destruction and nuclear war. For the first time in history, we face the possibility of destroying the prospects for decent existence — and not in the distant future. For this reason alone, it is imperative to sweep away the ideological clouds and face honestly and realistically the question of how policy decisions are made, and what we can do to alter them before it is too late.

Geen van bovenstaande feiten kan door Geert Mak en Bas Heijne worden weerlegd, hetgeen dan ook de voornaamste reden is dat zij muisstil blijven over de nucleaire waanzin. En wat betreft de ecologische rampen die het gevolg zijn van de onverzadigbare consumptiecultuur, ook die verhullen zij zodra ze weer eens het neoliberale marktdenken aanprijzen, zoals Geert Mak deed in zijn betoog ‘Geen Jorwert zonder Brussel,’ en Bas Heijne doet zodra hij vol lof is over het ‘in alle opzichten superieure Amerika.’ De feiten die Chomsky in 2014 aandroeg, én de context waarin hij die feiten plaatst, willen zij bewust niet weten, omdat ze niet passen in de hoopvolle en commercieel goed verkopende boodschap over het ‘vredestichtende Westen,’ onder aanvoering van zijn altruïstische 'ordebewaker en politieagent van de wereld.’ Voor het verspreiden van deze makkelijk te weerleggen leugens ontving Mak in maart 2015 de Comenius-prijs. De gezeten burgerij ziet Mak's optreden als ‘inzet voor activiteiten op het gebied van educatie, zingeving en samenleving.’ Twee jaar later ontving Bas Heijne van het establishment de P.C. Hooftprijs, omdat hij naar het oordeel van de jury ‘de hedendaagse cultuur op een geëngageerde manier’ volgt en zijn ‘werk een vernieuwende impuls [geeft] aan wat literatuur in maatschappelijke zin betekenen kan.’ Die ‘maatschappelijke’ zingeving is in werkelijkheid ordinaire propaganda voor een banale, materialistische cultuur die alles dat in haar weg staat vermorzeld. Maar de Nederlandse mainstream-media zijn niet bij machte en zeker niet bereid om de eigen cultuur te doorgronden. Bovendien beschikt de polder niet over een kosmopolitische intelligentsia die beseft dat de geopolitiek belangen van Washington en Wall Street de dagelijkse werkelijkheid dicteert. Hier meent Bas Heijne dat Obama ‘de immer onkreukbare’ president was, wiens ‘wereldbeeld’ gebaseerd is ‘op de idealen van de Verlichting.’ De onwetendheid van de polderpers heeft tot nu toe als resultaat gehad dat zij de opkomst van Pim Fortuyn niet voorzag, en dus het almaar groeiende ressentiment tegen de neoliberale elite, die volgens haar woordvoerder Geert Mak ‘noblesse oblige’ mist. Daarnaast vroeg zondag 13 november 2016 de Vlaamse hoofdredacteur Peter Vandermeersch van Neerlands zelfbenoemde ‘kwaliteitskrant’ NRC Handelsblad zich verbaast af:

Waarom zagen wij media Trumps overwinning niet aankomen? Om maar meteen met de deur in huis te vallen: ook op de redactie van NRC waren we in de nacht van dinsdag op woensdag verrast, en velen van ons zelfs geschrokken en geschokt. Samen met zowat alle Amerikaanse media hadden we de verkiezingsoverwinning van Donald Trump niet zien aankomen. Op Amerikaanse media regent het nu mea culpa’s. Sterker nog. Ik had een déjà vu-gevoel, want ook bij de Brexit en het Oekraïne-referendum geloofden velen op de redactie van deze krant dat de bevolking wel een ‘verstandige’ stem zou uitbrengen.

Tevens realiseerden de mainstream-media zich niet dat de illegal inval in Irak het Midden-Oosten uit zijn voegen zou tillen, en de opkomst van onder andere ISIS zou bespoedigen. Wat mijn betweterige collega’s van de commerciële massamedia ook niet voorzagen was dat zowel Afghanistan en Irak, als Libië en Syrië door de gewelddadige westerse interventies in totale chaos zouden eindigen, als soevereine staten uiteen zouden vallen en zouden veranderen in een hobbesiaanse wereld van elkaar bestrijdende etnische en religieuze bendes. Op dit moment begrijpen mijn mainstream-collega's eveneens niet dat wanneer Henry Kissinger waarschuwt voor de Amerikaanse neoconservatieve beleidsbepalers in Washington, voor wie ‘breaking Russia has become an objective,’ een dergelijke levensgevaarlijke politiek het terrorisme in Europa volledig onbeheersbaar zal maken. De Brits-Indiase filosoof Pankaj Mishra zette donderdag 8 december 2016 in The Guardian uiteen dat de

Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman admitted on the night of Trump’s victory that ‘people like me — and probably like most readers of the New York Times — truly didn’t understand the country we live in.’ Since the twin shocks of Brexit and the US election, we have argued ineffectually about their causes, while watching aghast (verbouwereert. svh) as the new representatives of the downtrodden and the ‘left-behind’ — Trump and Nigel Farage, posing in a gold-plated lift — strut across a bewilderingly expanded theatre of political absurdism.

But we cannot understand this crisis because our dominant intellectual concepts and categories seem unable to process an explosion of uncontrolled forces… 

The largely Anglo-American intellectual assumptions forged by the cold war and its jubilant aftermath are an unreliable guide to today’s chaos — and so we must turn to the ideas of an earlier era of volatility. It is a moment for thinkers such as Sigmund Freud, who warned in 1915 that the ‘primitive, savage and evil impulses of mankind have not vanished in any individual,’ but are simply waiting for the opportunity to show themselves again. Certainly, the current conflagration has brought to the surface what Friedrich Nietzsche called ‘ressentiment’ — ‘a whole tremulous realm of subterranean revenge, inexhaustible and insatiable in outbursts.’
        
By contrast, the fundamental premise of our existing intellectual frameworks is the assumption that humans are essentially rational and motivated by the pursuit of their own interests; that they principally act to maximize personal happiness, rather than on the basis of fear, envy or resentment…

We can now see, all too clearly, a widening abyss of race, class and education in Britain and the US. But as explanations proliferate, how it might be bridged is more unclear than ever. Well-worn pairs of rhetorical opposites, often corresponding to the bitter divisions in our societies, have once again been put to work: progressive versus reactionary, open versus closed, liberalism versus fascism, rational versus irrational. But as a polarized intellectual industry plays catch-up with fast-moving events that it completely failed to anticipate, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that our search for rational political explanations for the current disorder is doomed. All of the opponents of the new ‘irrationalism’ — whether left, centre, or right — are united by the presumption that individuals are rational actors, motivated by material self-interest, enraged when their desires are thwarted, and, therefore, likely to be appeased by their fulfillment.

This notion of human motivation deepened during the Enlightenment, whose leading thinkers, despising tradition and religion, sought to replace them with the human capacity to rationally identify individual and collective interests. The dream of the late 18th century, to rebuild the world along secular and rational lines, was further elaborated in the 19th century by the utilitarian theorists of the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people — and this notion of progress was embraced by socialists and capitalists alike.

After the collapse of the socialist alternative in 1989, this utopian vision took the form of a global market economy dedicated to endless growth and consumption — to which there would be no alternative. According to this worldview, the dominance of which is now nearly absolute, the human norm is Homo economicus, a calculating subject whose natural desires and instincts are shaped by their ultimate motivation: to pursue happiness and avoid pain.

This simple view always neglected many factors ever-present in human lives: the fear, for instance, of losing honor, dignity and status, the distrust of change, the appeal of stability and familiarity. There was no place in it for more complex drives: vanity, fear of appearing vulnerable, the need to save face. Obsessed with material progress, the hyper-rationalists ignored the lure of resentment for the left-behind, and the tenacious pleasures of victimhood…

Fear, anxiety and a sense of humiliation were the principal motive of Germany’s expansionist policy in the early 20th century — and it is impossible to understand the current upsurge of anti-western sentiment in China, Russia and India without acknowledging the role played by humiliation.

Yet a mechanistic and materialist way of conceiving human actions has become entrenched, in part because economics has become the predominant means of understanding the world. A view that took shape in the 19th century — that there is ‘no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest’ — has become orthodoxy once again in an intellectual climate that views the market as the ideal form of human interaction and venerates technological progress and the growth of GDP. All of this is part of the rigid contemporary belief that what counts is only what can be counted and that what cannot be counted — subjective emotions — therefore does not.

Our current disregard of non-economic motivations is even more surprising when we learn that less than a century ago, the Enlightenment’s ‘narrow rational programme’ for individual happiness had already become ‘the butt of ridicule and contempt’ — as the Austrian modernist writer Robert Musil observed in 1922. Indeed, the pioneering works of sociology and psychology as well as modernist art and literature of the early 20th century were defined in part by their insistence that there is more to human beings than rational egoism, competition and acquisition, more to society than a contract between logically calculating and autonomous individuals, and more to politics than impersonal technocrats devising hyper-rational schemes of progress with the help of polls, surveys, statistics, mathematical models and technology.

Writing in the 1860s, during the high noon of 19th-century liberalism, Fyodor Dostoevsky was one of the first modern thinkers to air the suspicion, now troubling us again, that rational thinking does not decisively influence human behaviour. He pitted his Underground Man – the quintessential loser dreaming of revenge against society’s winners – against the idea of rational egoism, or material self-interest, then popular in Russia among eager readers of John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham. Dostoevsky’s protagonist obsessively assaults the shared rationalist assumptions of both capitalists and socialists: that human beings are logically calculating animals, driven by perceived incentives:

'Oh, tell me who was it first announced, who was it first proclaimed, that man only does nasty things because he does not know his own interests; and that if he were enlightened, if his eyes were opened to his real normal interests, man would at once cease to do nasty things, would at once become good and noble because, being enlightened and understanding his real advantage, he would see his own advantage in the good and nothing else?'

Dostoevsky defined a style of thought that was later elaborated by Nietzsche, Freud, Max Weber and others – who mounted a full-blown intellectual revolt against the oppressive certainties of rationalist ideologies, whether left, right or centre. This is an intellectual revolution that is barely remembered today – but it erupted at an emotional and political moment that would seem eerily familiar to us: a period of uneven and disruptive economic growth, distrust of politicians, fear of change, and anxiety about rootless cosmopolitans, aliens and immigrants.

This was an era when the disaffected masses — recoiling (terugdeinzend. svh) from the 19th century’s prolonged experiment in laissez-faire economic rationalism — had begun to fall for radical alternatives, in the form of blood-and-soil nationalism and anarchist terrorism. This anti-liberal political uprising forced many of those we now regard as central figures of 20th-century intellectual life to question their fundamental notions of human behavior, and to discard the positivist nostrums that had taken root in the previous century.

By the late 1850s, Charles Darwin had already shattered the notion that human beings could control how they develop — let alone build a rational society. Novelists, sociologists and psychologists examining the turbulent mass societies of the late 19th century concluded that human actions could not be reduced to single causes, whether religious and ideological faith, or the rationality of self-interest.

Freud, who lived in turn-of-the-century Vienna while demagogues were scapegoating Jews and liberals for the mass suffering inflicted by industrial capitalism, came to see the rational intellect as ‘a feeble and dependent thing, a plaything and tool of our impulses and emotions.’ ‘One gets the impression,’ Freud wrote in The Future of an Illusion (1927) ‘that culture is something imposed on a reluctant majority by a minority that managed to gain possession of the instruments of power and coercion.’ Long before the 20th century’s explosions of demagoguery, Max Weber, as he observed Germany’s hectic industrialization, presciently speculated that individuals, unmoored (losgeslagen. svh) by socioeconomic turmoil and alienated by bureaucratic rationalization, could become vulnerable to a despotic leader.

Dit alles ontgaat de polderpers. Toen Bas Heijne, na in 2015 van zijn Vooruitgangsgeloof gevallen te zijn, Pankaj Mishra interviewde, kwam hij tenslotte niet verder dan de opmerking: ‘Tegenwoordig lijkt er, zowel op links als op rechts, een neiging te bestaan het hele Verlichtingsdenken ongeldig te verklaren.’ Daarmee demonstreerde Heijne -- die in Nederland doorgaat voor een ‘powerduider pur sang’ -- niets maar dan ook niets van Mishra’s zorgvuldig opgebouwde betoog te hebben begrepen. Daarover volgende keer meer.



Bas Heijne met P.C. Hooft.



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