Dana E. Abizaid

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Monday 22 October 2018

The Triumph of Words Over Actions

https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/10/12/the-triumph-of-words-over-actions/

“We train young men to drop fire on people. But their commanders won’t allow them to write ‘f**k’ on their airplanes because it is obscene”

– Colonel Kurtz, Apocalypse Now!

When I was in graduate school in the mid-1990s, one of my professors threatened to “crucify” me on the next exam if I didn’t support my claims with evidence. Despite being a practicing Catholic, I took the professor’s comment in context. It was clear he meant that he would lower my grade drastically if I carelessly made unsupported arguments.

Twenty years later such a comment could lead to punitive measures, public shaming and humiliation in the pillory known as social media, and the obligatory apology that accompanies statements some Americans find “offensive”.

The old saying, “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” has died an unceremonious death in America. Over the past ten years the public seems more transfixed on words and the supposed moral transgressions they reveal than perpetual war, the militarization of the police, the increase in military spending , the dumbing down of education and the obesity epidemic, among other signs of American decline.

Last week’s suspension of University of Massachusetts football coach Mark Whipple for claiming one of his receivers was “raped” by an official’s call is yet another example of an “offensive” comment taken out of context. The coach’s penalty was a one game suspension and an act of public contrition noting, “I am deeply sorry for the word I used on Saturday to describe our play in the game.” Stories like these filter in and out of the news cycle and are quickly forgotten. But the steady procession of outrage they engender diverts the public’s attendance from vital issues like the perpetual war waged in its name and with its tax dollars.

One way to consider the Coach’s story is to compare his transgression to those committed by the US military and its allies over the last 17 years of continuous war. Merriam-Webster defines “rape” as forcible “unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse”, but also as “an outrageous violation” or “an act or instance of robbing or despoiling or carrying away a person by force”.

Interestingly, while the American public debates the sins of college professors and football coaches, those like our Saudi allies who actually crucify people and commit “outrageous violations” of countries do not elicit much criticism, let alone condemnation or forced apologies. In the US where words can lead to suspensions like Whipple’s and end careers, the police and military continue to use excessive violence to further state interests, masking their transgressions with well-oiled euphemism and rarely apologizing. Although there has been some criticism of police brutality it has been met with great indignation and inspired counter praise for law enforcement.

The military, of course, is beyond reproach, evidenced by Congress recently passing a $716 billion military budget for 2019. Furthermore, the Senate’s support of Brett Kavanaugh and recent bipartisan lionizing of John McCain should leave no doubt that those in government benefit greatly from the public being outraged by linguistic and moral transgressions but remaining monumentally silent in the face of perpetual war. Despite the emergence of “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” on our nation’s campuses and the incessant anger expressed on social media, it is business as usual in the war department.

In order for the US to wage perpetual war, it is essential that words be more important than actions. Even when our leaders earnestly set out to address war, the amount of fabrication and deception is astounding. For example, in a 2009 speech in Cairo President Obama made it a priority to convince Muslims and the American public that he sought “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition.” The Noble Peace Prize president’s actions, however, spoke louder. Obama’s expansion of US bombing from four to seven countries, including increased drone strikes targeting civilians and US citizens, plus poor foreign policy decisions that led to the rise of ISIS in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan reveal the true nature of his administration’s attitude toward Muslims. For all intents and purposes, Obama, like his predecessors, embraced Orwell’s mantra: war is peace.

One telling 2008 example from the Iraq war sheds light on the ten-year trajectory of the triumph of words over actions. In that case, a US soldier was sent home for using the Koran as target practice. Reuters reported that “such an act of desecration of the Muslim holy book could inflame anger against the U.S. military presence in Iraq, but an Iraqi community leader told Reuters an apology by senior American military commanders had helped calm tensions.” The apology was uttered by Major General Jeffrey Hammond who said, “I am a man of honor. I am a man of character. You have my word that this will never happen again.” The irony is thick when a government forces its military to apologize to the Iraqi people for shooting a book while that same military destroys hundreds of thousands of lives.

Americans were right to be appalled by the callous desecration of the Islamic Holy Book that was reported by numerous media outlets. On the other hand, they were often barred from learning about far more brutal and murderous actions committed in their name. Thus, it is not surprising that many might have actually believed General Hammond when he said, “I’m sorry.” But believing that an apology for shooting a book could wash away the destruction of hundreds of thousands of lives betrays little understanding of war and human nature.

This lack of understanding is due to the fact that too few politicians, journalists and citizens take notice as the US continues to wage and threaten war across the globe. To be fair, noticing the wars is apt to raise a citizen’s awareness of his or her role in perpetuating them. Perhaps that is why so many Americans opt to chastise individuals in the US for their words rather than take on the military-industrial-technological complex for its actions. After all, it is easier to criticize an individual football coach for metaphorically using the word “rape” than condemn an entire nation for tacitly supporting that action across several continents.

Lifting Russia Off Its Knees

https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/09/11/lifting-russia-off-its-knees/

“To lift Russia off its knees,” the student said.

We were standing in a corner of a lecture hall at Moscow State University where students had swarmed me after my first US History lecture in September 2002.

“What do you think about Putin?” one asked.

“What do you think about Chechnya?” asked another.

“Why are you here?” an 18-year-old kid with a skeptical look on his face inquired.

“Why are you?” I fired back. “Why are you studying History?”

And the answer: “To lift Russia off its knees.” His name was Vasily and he spoke with a clarity and passion I have rarely witnessed in students regarding the goal of their education.

I’ve thought about Vasily’s answer often in the ensuing 16 years, especially recently with anti-Russia hysteria filling newspapers and the airwaves across the US. Journalists and academics are revisiting the old fear of Slavic hordes overrunning Western Europe. This is a fear deeply rooted in the Western mind, as much the result of the 19th Century “Great Game” for dominance in Central and South Asia as a legacy of the Cold War.

The tone of this analysis is almost always alarming and negative. For example, The Atlantic, taking the opportunity to harshly criticize Russian involvement in the impending battle in Idlib, Syria, recently opined, “Carnage in Idlib, at this late stage of Syria’s war, would make a farce of Russia’s claims that Syria is stabilizing and that the time has come for large-scale, organized refugee return and reconstruction.” Even when Russia has made moves to secure its own borders, the Western press lets loose a paroxysm of irrationality like “Putin is moving missiles into Kaliningrad and destabilizing Europe!”, as if Kaliningrad is Cuba rather than part of the Russian Federation. In a classic exchange exposing baseless US fear, AP foreign correspondent Matt Lee baffled State Department Spokesman Scott Kirby regarding the movement of Russian troops to its western border by asking, “Is it not logical to look at this and say the reason that the Russian army is at NATO’s doorstep is because NATO has expanded rather than the Russians expanded? In other words, NATO has moved closer to Russia rather than Russia moving closer to NATO.”

Commentators, though knowledgeable of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Yeltsin embarrassment and the economic crises of the 1990s, haven’t stopped to thoroughly consider how those hardships might have shaped the Russian worldview. Instead, what we get in the US press is fear mongering and questionable claims that Putin manipulated the 2016 election. In addition, we are subjected to constant exasperation that Putin has the temerity to stand up to the West and that Russians have the nerve (or stupidity) to follow him. This analysis does not seek an understanding of Putin’s motives. Rather, it has the hallmarks of hollow and dangerous propaganda revealing a conscious neglect or, worse, thorough misunderstanding, of 20thcentury History.

As a child of the Reagan years and a US Peace Corps Volunteer tasked with bringing the trappings of civilization to the peoples of the former Soviet Union, I, too, harbored great mistrust and fear of Russia that stuck with me until my first lecture at Moscow State University. Thus, I started with a clear warning shot across the bow: “In this concise History of the US, we will begin to analyze the events that have made America the most militarily powerful nation in the world.” A hand immediately went up.

“The US is not the most militarily powerful nation in the world,” a young man named Victor said.

“Which is?” I asked.

“Russia,” he replied.

Putin recently echoed this sentiment when he said Russia had cruise missiles that could “reach anywhere in the world.” He continued, saying western countries “need to take account of a new reality and understand … this… is not a bluff.” Why do Russians make such statements? Why do they strive to challenge the US in Ukraine, Syria, and Western Europe?

The answers to these questions are based in History that few take seriously enough. For example, Putin’s 2005 claim that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century is perceived as a clear indicator of just how mentally unhinged he is. Who could possibly lament the dissolution of a totalitarian, evil empire? Well, it turns out, many could, including those in the former Soviet Central Asian state of Tajikistan who immediately experienced a devastating civil war from 1992-1997 that saw over 100,000 people killed and the 25 million Russians who woke up in December 1991 outside the borders of newly independent Russia. Having little knowledge of events like this or the Armenian-Azerbaijani War, Georgian Civil War, Chechen Wars, ethnic unrest in Kyrgyzstan, the rise of Islamic militancy in Uzbekistan, and the financial ruin of millions that accompanied Ruble demonetization in 1993, has led western journalists to naively decry Putin’s statement as some type of neo-Soviet imperialism.

A few days after my discussions with Vasily and Victor in History class, I noticed something scrawled on a restroom wall down the corridor from the lecture hall. In large letters it read: Yeltsin Prodal Clintony Dushy, or “Yeltsin sold Clinton his soul.” Although I read the western press assiduously to try to understand Russia and Russians in the 1990s, that graffiti taught me more than any book or article ever could have. Those in the West who benefitted from Yeltsin’s disastrous rule might find it hard to believe how disillusioned Russians became with “democracy”, “liberalism” and “western values” in the 1990s. Putin understands this well. His popularity and Russia’s resurgence on the world stage have little to do with the prospect of bringing the Soviet Union back or igniting a new Cold War. It is much more the result of Putin independently forging his own path forward.

Despite the temptation to blame all the West’s ills on Putin, the US government and media will need to devise realistic and rational strategies to effectively work with a Russia that Putin has lifted off its knees.

The West Ignores Afghanistan at Its Peril

https://truthout.org/articles/the-west-ignores-afghanistan-at-its-peril/

The 1990s were a time of hope for many, with the Western press selectively focused on events that complemented the US’s Cold War victory: the end of apartheid in South Africa, the Good Friday agreement in 1998 which ended 30 years of ethnic and sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland, and the famous handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn in 1993. One of the most popular books of the decade was Francis Fukayama’s The End of History, which touted the final victory of liberal free-market democracy.

But a tragedy was unfolding in Afghanistan that would have far-reaching consequences for the US and its liberal democratic allies in the early 21st century.

The Afghan Civil War, ignited by the 1979 Soviet invasion, tore the nation apart as seven different mujahideen groups slugged it out for control of Kabul, laying the city to waste by 1996 and paving the way for the Taliban’s ascension to power.

Starting with the Carter Doctrine — which stated that the US defend its national interests in the Persian Gulf, and would use military force, if necessary — the US provided the mujahideen with over $600 million in annual aid by 1987. In what some historians argue was the largest covert action in US history, the CIA channeled funds and training through Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, which opened training camps and Islamic religious schools for Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The Saudis, who found the holy war against godless communism in Afghanistan a convenient outlet for their own Islamic fundamentalists, matched US funds. The most famous Saudi “Afghan Arab” to join the jihad was Osama bin Laden. In 1988, bin Laden organized foreign mujahideen in Afghanistan into a terrorist organization called al-Qaeda, which would unleash a series of strikes on the West over the coming decades, including the September 11 attacks.

After the decade-long war in Afghanistan that left 1 million Afghans dead, by 1989, the US and its allies in Europe ignored the country. Much backslapping was going on in Western capitals with the defeat of the Soviet Union and Boris Yeltsin selling off his nation to the highest Western bidders. This — not the continuing of a civil war that tore Afghanistan apart — was the overriding story as the Berlin Wall fell and Eastern Bloc and former Soviet states adopted “economic shock therapy” that devastated local populations. Little discussed at the time or now was how Afghanistan was at the heart of the Soviet collapse and remains the origin of many of the West’s challenges with Islamic fundamentalism and the rise of anti-immigrant populism in Europe and the US.

Ignoring the Afghan Civil War now limits any thorough understanding of how that conflict has impacted the West. In its most basic form, the Afghan Civil War led to the rise of the Taliban in 1996. Although the Taliban is reviled today, it is often forgotten that some Clinton administration officials welcomed the movement as a force that could stabilize a country torn apart by war since 1979. A 1996 New York Times article stated, “The Taliban have found favor with some American officials, who see in their implacable hostility toward Iran an important counterweight in the region.”

By 1998, the Taliban took control of 90 percent of Afghanistan. The last holdout was the United Front, commanded by the Tajik Gen. Ahmad Shah Massoud, which held onto the Panjshir Valley in the north. Massoud’s United Front spokesman Haron Amin pleaded with Western governments for support. His pleas were ignored until September 11, 2001. Al-Qaeda assassins, believed to be acting on orders from Osama bin Laden, killed Massoud on September 9, 2001, and Navy Seals assassinated bin Laden in 2011.

Nevertheless, since 2001, the US and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies have been bogged down fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and have undertaken brutal campaigns in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Libya to “degrade and destroy” Islamic fundamentalists inspired by the Taliban’s Wahhabi Islam. Refugees from these wars continue to flood into Europe and bolster populist anti-immigration and anti-European Union policies.

The Taliban’s rise to power also had important repercussions for the newly independent states of former Soviet Central Asia. In 1998, two Uzbeks – Tahir Yuldashev and Juma Namangani – teamed up to create the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), whose stated goal was to violently replace Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s regime with an Islamic caliphate. From bases in Afghanistan, the IMU nearly forced its way to Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, in 1999 and 2000. This threat to regional stability was ignored by Western governments as the frenzy of self-congratulation of winning the Cold War and the potential riches of Central Asian oil and gas dominated discourse. Although Namangani was killed in a US airstrike in Afghanistan in 2001 and Yuldashev was killed by a US drone in Pakistan in 2009, Central Asian states – particularly Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan – still face the threat of extremism due to Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan, weak education and economic collapse.

With many of ISIS’s most radical members hailing from Central Asia, the Western press neglect the region at their peril. A brief look at recent high-profile attacks in Turkey, Europe and the US highlights this danger. For example, last year’s attacks in St. Petersburg, Stockholm and New York are believed to have been carried out by Central Asian fundamentalists. The Istanbul Raina Nightclub attack on New Year’s Eve 2017 was allegedly perpetrated by an Uzbek national, and two of the three suspects in the Ataturk Airport bombing in June 2016 were from Central Asia. Last year, the US military reportedly killed Abdurakhmon Uzbeki, a close associate of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. US officials claimed that Uzbeki “had helped plot a deadly attack on a nightclub in Istanbul on New Year’s Day” and that he “facilitated the movement of ISIS foreign terror fighters and funds.”

The Afghan Civil War, then, did not only play a significant role in the rise of the Taliban, the US’s war on terror, the plunging of the Middle East into sectarian conflict and Europe’s refugee crisis, but also the radicalization of young impoverished men in neighboring Central Asia. Thus, any serious discussion of events that led to September 11 and shaped Western politics today must include an understanding and analysis of the Afghan Civil War’s impact on Central Asia and the West.

Sadly, war-torn and forgotten Afghanistan appears to have become simply a US testing ground for weapons like the MOAB, the largest non-nuclear bomb in history. Moreover, the fact that during the 2016 US presidential debates Afghanistan was hardly mentioned speaks volumes about the West’s unwillingness to address the root of many of the problems it faces today.

A re-examination of the West’s neglect of the Afghan Civil War and dismantling of the country after September 11 could help restore stability to the first nation the US unleashed its war on terror against. On the other hand, continuing to ignore the causes of Afghanistan’s descent into chaos restricts full understanding of why September 11 happened and why the US has been in perpetual war ever since.

Monday 23 April 2018

Tackling the Roots of Uzbek Terror

Published in Terrorism Monitor, Jamestown Foundation

Uzbek nationals have carried out five major terrorist attacks across Europe and the United States since 2016, the most devastating of which occurred at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, in June 2016, and the city’s Raina Nightclub on New Year’s Eve 2017. The attacks, respectively, left 41 and 39 people dead. Further attacks in the Swedish capital of Stockholm, St Petersburg, Russia and New York killed a total of 28 people.

Uzbekistan is the most populous nation of the former Soviet states of Central Asia, and it borders Afghanistan, as well as the strategically important nations of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Although little reported in the Western media, it has proved to be fertile ground for Islamic radicals since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, due largely to a mixture of economic hardship and the harsh repression of religious and political dissent.

Resisting Repression

Uzbekistan’s long serving authoritarian leader Islam Karimov died in 2016. His death ended a 25-year reign during which, intent on thwarting the influence of radical Islam emanating from Afghanistan, Karimov turned the nation into a repressive police state. Karimov began a crackdown on Islam in 1994 that culminated in 2005 in the Andijan tragedy, which some sources estimate left as many as 1,000 people dead. 1 However, a recent report by Colonel Jeffery Hartman, the former U.S. defense attaché to Uzbekistan, indicates that this number was likely closer to 200. 2

Thousands of Uzbeks had gathered in Andijan’s Babur Square, demanding bread, jobs and greater access to education. The government claimed the gathering had been instigated by armed anti-government elements from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). According to witnesses, Uzbek security forces opened fire, indiscriminately killing women and children (Gazeta.ru, May 13, 2005). The Andijan tragedy remains highly controversial: the Uzbek government maintains it acted against terrorists, while witnesses say security forces repressed legitimate local voices calling for reform (Fergana.news, July 12, 2005).

Uzbekistan’s current leader, Shavkat Mirziyaev, has promised to address the repression of the past, stating that “it is necessary to reform the civil service institution, and introduce effective measures to combat corruption” (MoFA, December 22, 2017). Thus far, however, there has been little action to match the rhetoric, and the danger remains that young Uzbeks, faced with repression and instability, will seek alternatives and become radicalized. Over the past quarter-century, many Uzbeks have been driven into the arms of jihadist groups—first into domestic organizations like the formerly Taliban-aligned IMU and now increasingly into the arms of Islamic State (IS).

The IMU’s stated goal was to overthrow the Karimov regime and replace it with an Islamic caliphate. Its top military commander, Juma Namangani, honed his combat skills in the Soviet forces that invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s and in the civil war that broke out in Tajikistan in 1992. In 1998, he teamed up with the self-proclaimed preacher Tahir Yuldashev in the Fergana Valley to establish the IMU.

From bases in Afghanistan, the IMU made incursions into southern Kyrgyzstan and focused on reaching the Uzbek capital of Tashkent in 1999 and 2000. The late 1990s proved to be a high point for the group, however. Namangani was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan in 2001, and Yuldashev was killed in fighting along the Afghan-Pakistan border, where his group had taken refuge, in 2009 (Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, November 21, 2001; Fergana.news, September 9, 2009).

At the height of their power, Namangani and Yuldashev relied on IMU militants who were battle-tested soldiers from the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the Tajik Civil War and the Chechen wars. The IMU funded its activities through the drug trade, using smuggling routes in Central Asia that tapped into the Russian and European markets. The breakdown of stability in northern Afghanistan and the potential for a Dagestani insurgency in Russia’s southwest promise a return to this type of narco-terrorism in the region (The Moscow Times, February 27). The beneficiaries of this will likely be Uzbek fighters with IS in Syria, who appear set to take the place of IMU as the standard bearer of Uzbek militancy (Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, May 3, 2016).

Noah Tucker, editor of Registan.net, estimates there are 500-1,000 Uzbeks fighting for IS in Syria and Iraq. Most troubling is the presence of teenage boys fighting for IS, sometimes known as “Cubs of the Caliphate” (al-Jazeera, October 25, 2017). By some estimates, as many as 600 children serving in IS in the region, many conducting grizzly executions of prisoners. In a video released by IS on August 26, 2016, five young boys in military fatigues can be seen killing Kurdish fighters.

A Troubled Region

At the very least, high-profile attacks by Uzbek nationals in Europe and the United States, as well as the abuse of Central Asian children by IS in Syria and Iraq, should turn the international spotlight on the conditions that push Uzbeks into extremism. Weak education, corruption, economic hardship and the severe repression of Islam leave many Uzbeks susceptible to extremist rhetoric that promises meaning and freedom in the form of jihad.

IS recruitment strategies work remarkably well in Uzbekistan and the neighboring countries of Central Asia, which have, for many years, faced similar economic and religious challenges. In her 2003 Congressional testimony, Fiona Hill, now President Donald Trump’s National Security Council senior director for European and Russian affairs, stated that “repression and persecution exacerbate existing social and political problems, discredit regional governments domestically and internationally, and increase suspicion of official institutions among the population … It is not difficult to imagine that many moderate, non-religious dissidents would be driven to more extremist views by the intolerant policies of the Uzbek regime.” 3

Although it is likely the Uzbek security forces will continue to use repressive measures as they seek to tackle the jihadist threat, a more nuanced approach like that recommended by Fiona Hill in 2003 would likely have a greater chance of success. Absent such an approach, it is clear that Uzbeks and other Central Asians will continue to be radicalized at home and abroad, with dire consequences for the citizens of western capitals who understand little about this obscure but vital region.

NOTES

1 Uzbekistan. Class Dismissed: Discriminatory Expulsions of Muslim Students. Publication. Vol. 11. No. 12D, Human Rights Watch, 1998.

See: https://www.hrw.org/reports/1999/uzbekistan/uzbek-02.htm

2 Hartman, Jeffry W. The May 2005 Andijan Uprising: What We Know. Publication. Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, Johns Hopkins University-SAIS, 2016.

See: http://isdp.eu/content/uploads/2016/06/2016-Hartman-the-May-2005-Andijan-Uprising-What-We-Know.pdf

3 See Fiona Hill’s testimony the House Committee on International Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia (Brookings Institution, 23 July 2003).

Friday 23 February 2018

The Attack on Historical Perspective

Dana E. Abizaid February 23, 2018 Published in Counterpunch

The US media’s conflation of dissent with disloyalty regarding the supposed Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is the latest manifestation of the establishment’s attack on Historical perspective in order to “manufacture consent”. Attempts to explain the hypocrisy inherent in the US criticism of Russia are often labeled “whataboutism”. Consequently, vital lessons regarding the US role in manipulating elections from Guatemala to Iran to Russia itself are being sacrificed as those in the press corps who detest the democratically elected president self-righteously engage in dangerous “red baiting”.

In an August 2017 Washington Post piece, Philip Bump defines “whataboutism” as “a cheap rhetorical tactic that relies on drawing false or sketchy comparisons between two things which may not actually be all that comparable.” “Whataboutism’s” roots are usually ascribed to Soviet leaders and disparagingly linked to Trump. Merriam-Webster states: “The tactic was developed by the Soviet Union, but is seeing more attention as it is frequently used by the Trump administration.”

Although “whataboutism” is often used to mask or justify a nation’s actions, current use of the term is further deteriorating the value of using History as a guide to the present. All History students know that George Santayana famously quipped, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” However, since History is influenced by political, economic, ethnic and religious particulars present in any country at any one time it is more likely that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme” as Mark Twain famously noted.

Currently, “whataboutism” is being scurrilously used to stymie important Historical discussion regarding US interference in foreign elections. The importance of this Historical perspective is not in justifying or excusing alleged Russian actions but in providing a rational way to understand the present that considers scale and impact. For example, a journalist referring to the 1953 US-British coup in Tehran to topple the democratically elected Mohammad Mossadegh is not necessarily cheaply justifying Russian interference in the 2016 election. He or she simply may be providing perspective to help citizens understand that US and British interference led to the catastrophic Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the current nuclear tinged tension between the Islamic Republic and the US. That some in the US mainstream believe 13 Russians’ alleged meddling in the US election is comparable to this or worse, Pearl Harbor, betrays a poor reading of History.

Rather than serving Russia or the Trump administration, Historical perspective is vital in combatting reactionary claims made by the likes of MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace, who recently distanced US meddling from its nefarious Russian counterpart’s by stating, “Sometimes it’s standing up for the Iranian dissidents who are being hung from cranes for being gay. I mean, America’s role in supporting democracies is stated US policy.” Maybe. But it is also, in the Iranian example, designed to place the despot Reza Pahlavi on the Peacock Throne for 25 repressive years. By squashing this discussion, journalists are engaging in the Soviet measures they claim to be resisting. In the same segment Wallace cited a tweet by former US Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, criticizing Fox News’ Sean Hannity: “Didn’t know he was talking about American alleged interference in other countries’ elections as an excuse for Russia violating our sovereignty. That’s exactly the whataboutism argument Putin’s tv channels make. Exactly.”

Hannity’s and Putin’s aims in citing Historical examples may in fact be to manipulate the present. But painting all attempts to understand the present through the past as cheap and exploitative is dangerous and counterproductive to the free expression needed to maintain a robust marketplace of ideas. Moreover, it marks those making such hypocritical statements little better than the dad in the 1986 Beastie Boys classic “Fight for Your Right to Party”: Ya paps got ya’ smoking man he says “No Way”. That hypocrite smokes two packs a day.

The American record in ignoring the past and silencing attempts at gaining greater Historical perspective have been decimating. By ignoring the French experience in Vietnam, the US got bogged down in an unwinnable war of national liberation. More recently, the US press ignored the Soviet (and British) experience in Afghanistan, opting instead to rush to support a violent and impossible adventure to unite diverse Afghan tribes under a corrupt Pashtun government. The Iraq debacle speaks for itself. Little cultural, Historical or religious understanding of Shia, Sunni and Kurdish Muslims gave rise to the extremist groups that have turned the Middle East into a Hobbesian jungle. Every step of the way the media backed government actions and cast wicked judgment on those asking uncomfortable questions or trying to draw essential Historical parallels.

To retain the self-righteous moral high ground, the US media needs to engage in an unprecedented level of Orwellian “doublethink” that allows for statements like Wallace’s above that “America’s role in supporting democracies is stated US policy” to stand side by side with stories about US support for Saudi bombing of Yemen or direct US bombing of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Libya and Somalia. Presently, even questioning which democracies Wallace is talking about might get one labeled a Putin stooge. But, for sure, we know she isn’t referring to Saudi Arabia or Egypt or even the beloved, though perhaps fascist, Ukrainian patriots resisting “Putin.” Moreover, in Syria the US population is led to believe its tax dollars are being used to support “moderate” rebels. A thinking person is tempted to make a connection between US support for the most barbarous of jihadist holy warriors in Afghanistan in the 1980s and maybe, just maybe, conclude that the US still supports such elements in Syria. But that type of Historical perspective is simply cast off as “whataboutism”.

Legend has it that Hitler refused any mention of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia after Operation Barbarossa began on 22 June 1941. The current attempt by the US mainstream media to crush discussion of similarly useful Historical connections echoes that short-sighted approach and promises great disasters. The ghost of McCarthy is alive and well as the media report that those who dare make unsavory Historical connections do not understand that the US simply has other’s best interests in mind. That said, discussing past US actions in comparative perspective might help sharpen one’s understanding of another’s best interest. But that would require long thought and open discussion and debate.

Instead, in a clear blow to Enlightenment ideals, many in the media have decided to rely on baseless rhetoric and label those who ask questions Russian agents.

The Attack on Historical Perspective

The US media’s conflation of dissent with disloyalty regarding the supposed Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is the latest manifestation of the establishment’s attack on Historical perspective in order to “manufacture consent”. Attempts to explain the hypocrisy inherent in the US criticism of Russia are often labeled “whataboutism”. Consequently, vital lessons regarding the US role in manipulating elections from Guatemala to Iran to Russia itself are being sacrificed as those in the press corps who detest the democratically elected president self-righteously engage in dangerous “red baiting”.

In an August 2017 Washington Post piece, Philip Bump defines “whataboutism” as “a cheap rhetorical tactic that relies on drawing false or sketchy comparisons between two things which may not actually be all that comparable.” “Whataboutism’s” roots are usually ascribed to Soviet leaders and disparagingly linked to Trump. Merriam-Webster states: “The tactic was developed by the Soviet Union, but is seeing more attention as it is frequently used by the Trump administration.”

Although “whataboutism” is often used to mask or justify a nation’s actions, current use of the term is further deteriorating the value of using History as a guide to the present. All History students know that George Santayana famously quipped, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” However, since History is influenced by political, economic, ethnic and religious particulars present in any country at any one time it is more likely that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme” as Mark Twain famously noted.

Currently, “whataboutism” is being scurrilously used to stymie important Historical discussion regarding US interference in foreign elections. The importance of this Historical perspective is not in justifying or excusing alleged Russian actions but in providing a rational way to understand the present that considers scale and impact. For example, a journalist referring to the 1953 US-British coup in Tehran to topple the democratically elected Mohammad Mossadegh is not necessarily cheaply justifying Russian interference in the 2016 election. He or she simply may be providing perspective to help citizens understand that US and British interference led to the catastrophic Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the current nuclear tinged tension between the Islamic Republic and the US. That some in the US mainstream believe 13 Russians’ alleged meddling in the US election is comparable to this or worse, Pearl Harbor, betrays a poor reading of History.

Rather than serving Russia or the Trump administration, Historical perspective is vital in combatting reactionary claims made by the likes of MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace, who recently distanced US meddling from its nefarious Russian counterpart’s by stating, “Sometimes it’s standing up for the Iranian dissidents who are being hung from cranes for being gay. I mean, America’s role in supporting democracies is stated US policy.” Maybe. But it is also, in the Iranian example, designed to place the despot Reza Pahlavi on the Peacock Throne for 25 repressive years. By squashing this discussion, journalists are engaging in the Soviet measures they claim to be resisting. In the same segment Wallace cited a tweet by former US Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, criticizing Fox News’ Sean Hannity: “Didn’t know he was talking about American alleged interference in other countries’ elections as an excuse for Russia violating our sovereignty. That’s exactly the whataboutism argument Putin’s tv channels make. Exactly.”

Hannity’s and Putin’s aims in citing Historical examples may in fact be to manipulate the present. But painting all attempts to understand the present through the past as cheap and exploitative is dangerous and counterproductive to the free expression needed to maintain a robust marketplace of ideas. Moreover, it marks those making such hypocritical statements little better than the dad in the 1986 Beastie Boys classic “Fight for Your Right to Party”: Ya paps got ya’ smoking man he says “No Way”. That hypocrite smokes two packs a day.

The American record in ignoring the past and silencing attempts at gaining greater Historical perspective have been decimating. By ignoring the French experience in Vietnam, the US got bogged down in an unwinnable war of national liberation. More recently, the US press ignored the Soviet (and British) experience in Afghanistan, opting instead to rush to support a violent and impossible adventure to unite diverse Afghan tribes under a corrupt Pashtun government. The Iraq debacle speaks for itself. Little cultural, Historical or religious understanding of Shia, Sunni and Kurdish Muslims gave rise to the extremist groups that have turned the Middle East into a Hobbesian jungle. Every step of the way the media backed government actions and cast wicked judgment on those asking uncomfortable questions or trying to draw essential Historical parallels.

To retain the self-righteous moral high ground, the US media needs to engage in an unprecedented level of Orwellian “doublethink” that allows for statements like Wallace’s above that “America’s role in supporting democracies is stated US policy” to stand side by side with stories about US support for Saudi bombing of Yemen or direct US bombing of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Libya and Somalia. Presently, even questioning which democracies Wallace is talking about might get one labeled a Putin stooge. But, for sure, we know she isn’t referring to Saudi Arabia or Egypt or even the beloved, though perhaps fascist, Ukrainian patriots resisting “Putin.” Moreover, in Syria the US population is led to believe its tax dollars are being used to support “moderate” rebels. A thinking person is tempted to make a connection between US support for the most barbarous of jihadist holy warriors in Afghanistan in the 1980s and maybe, just maybe, conclude that the US still supports such elements in Syria. But that type of Historical perspective is simply cast off as “whataboutism”.

Legend has it that Hitler refused any mention of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia after Operation Barbarossa began on 22 June 1941. The current attempt by the US mainstream media to crush discussion of similarly useful Historical connections echoes that short-sighted approach and promises great disasters. The ghost of McCarthy is alive and well as the media report that those who dare make unsavory Historical connections do not understand that the US simply has other’s best interests in mind. That said, discussing past US actions in comparative perspective might help sharpen one’s understanding of another’s best interest. But that would require long thought and open discussion and debate.

Instead, in a clear blow to Enlightenment ideals, many in the media have decided to rely on baseless rhetoric and label those who ask questions Russian agents.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Dana E. Abizaid

Understanding Russia's "Zapad" Military Exercises  (September 25, 2017)
The Stable State Of Nursultan Nazarbayev's Kazakhstan  (February 17, 2017)
Iran: Challenging Three American “Truths”  (February 12, 2017)
Are We as Innocent as We Think?  (February 9, 2017)
Why ISIS Recruits from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan  (January 16, 2017)

The Istanbul I Know  (December 28, 2016)
The Danger Is Inherent in the System  (December 16, 2016)
US vs. Russia in Syria: A Battle to Control the Truth  (October 31, 2016)
Language as a Weapon: How Western Journalists Portray Russian Policy  (August 3, 2016)
US Survey Reveals Public Support for Nuclear Strikes  (June 5, 2016)

Wall Street Journal slimes Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore  (April 17, 2016)
in-Justice in Michigan  (March 5, 2016)
Embracing a "creepy" Putin  (February 10, 2016)
Invoking Hitler  (January 17, 2016)
Our George Orwell/Noam Chomsky Paradox  (January 2, 2016)

The Distorting of History: What Donald Trump and ISIS Have in Common  (December 18, 2015)
A Better America  (December 10, 2015)
Provoking Russia  (November 25, 2015)
The Facts of US Bombing “Mistakes”  (November 8, 2015)
Why Obama Should Stand Up to the Saudis  (October 28, 2015)

The Drone Apologists  (May 11, 2015)
Gallipoli Run  (April 24, 2015)
Speak From the Heart:  In Russian, Kazakh, Uzbek, and Turkish  (Spring 2015)
Russia's Rational National Interest  (April 23, 2014)
Media’s General Ignorance Regarding Post-Soviet Affairs and Geography (April 26, 2013)

Immoral Soldier or Immoral Society? (November 20, 2012)
On Targeted Assassinations, What About Due Process? (October 4, 2011)
Kazakhstan Is Safe From Islamist Revolution (July 6, 2011)
Uzbekistan's Forgotten Uprising (March 22, 2011)
Challenging three American ‘truths’ (March 7, 2011)

What Does ‘Victory’ In Marjah Mean? (February 17, 2010)
Journalists In Central Asia Struggle In 'Atmosphere Of Hopelessness And Fear' (January 2010)
Is Kazakhstan Fit To Chair The OSCE? (October 21, 2009)
Tajik Dance Initiative (2009)
A Pilgrimage in Prague (2009)

The Promise for a Better America (May 2008)
Toll on U.S. Marines in Iraq: 'dead checking' (September 16, 2007)
The Myth of the Innocent American (November 2, 2006)
Not Everyone Wants What We're Offering (October 23, 2006)
A Little Humility Goes a Long Way (2006)

Teaching Thoreau in China
(2005)
Trip to Mongolian-Russia Border Yields Strange Sights, Sounds & Yearnings (October 20, 2004)
Democratic Process Needs a Jolt of Democracy (August 2, 2004)
US Democracy Has Problems, Too (December 18, 2003)
Western Terrorism (April 13, 2003)