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Tongue of Flame: A Speech Presaging Endless War

by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 28 August 2008

As we noted here yesterday, Arthur Silber has written a powerful and profound series of articles on the Joe Biden VP nomination, and its deeper implications. He has now followed these up with a piece on Biden's disturbing -- not to say blood-curdling -- acceptance speech on Wednesday night. You should read Silber's latest piece in full, but I wanted to add a few comments of my own.

Joe Biden's acceptance speech was indeed a remarkable performance -- bellicose and delusional and deceitful by turns. If you closed your eyes, there were moments when you would have thought that you were back in the Cow Palace in 1964, listening to Barry Goldwater belching fire and threatening doom for all those who challenge America's uniquely exceptional special unquestionable morally superior dominance of the world.

Arthur Silber points us to some of the money shots in Biden's speech. And the porn allusion is entirely appropriate in this case. The speech, like the whole evening -- which was given over to the glorification of war and the triumphant militarization of American society -- was a lurid example of the pornography of power.

For example, listen to Goldwat -- oops, Biden -- thundering at the evil Rooskies:

Ladies and gentlemen, in recent years and in recent days, we've once again seen the consequences of the neglect -- of this neglect, with Russia challenging the very freedom of a new democratic country of Georgia. Barack and I will end that neglect. We will hold Russia accountable for its actions, and we will help the people of Georgia rebuild.

What will he and Barack do to hold the Russians "accountable"? And accountable for what? For acting precisely as the bipartisan foreign policy establishment of the United States has acted for decades: using military power to achieve political ends and "project dominance" to protect "national interests" as defined by the ruling clique? And in this case -- unlike, oh, say, the Americans in Iraq or Somalia or Panama or Lebanon or Vietnam, etc. -- the Russians were provoked into action when their soldiers (lawfully stationed in South Ossetia with UN sanction, just like the American troops at the enormous Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo) were assaulted and killed, along with numerous innocent civilians, in a sneak attack by Georgian forces armed and trained by Washington.

What would an American administration have done in such a case? It would have laid waste to Tbilisi, as was done in Baghdad, Fallujah, Belgrade. It would have occupied Georgia; it would have sent soldiers barging into houses to drag out the menfolk and terrorize the women and children; it would have constructed enormous prisons to hold tens of thousands of Georgians captive, without charges, for months and years on end; it would bring in secret agents of unnameable agencies and private contractors to conduct "strenuous interrogations;" it would drop 500-pound bombs on residential areas if some guy at a computer console in a hole in Nebraska operating a drone camera spotted a Georgian man carrying a weapon or even -- heaven forbid! -- firing a weapon at the people who invaded and occupied his country, destroyed his home and killed his kinsmen.

In other words, the reaction of any American administration to such a provocation (or as in the case of Iraq, Somalia, Lebanon, Panama, Vietnam, etc., to no provocation whatsoever) would make Russia's action in Georgia look like a game of beach volleyball. Yet big bad Joe Biden -- and his commander-in-chief, Barry Goldwa--sorry, Barack Obama -- are going to hold Russia "accountable" (in some conveniently unspecified way) for not acting as brutally as any American administration would have done in the same situation.

(Of course, when the same Russian leaders did conduct a brutal, savage war of destruction -- in Chechnya -- there was no talk whatsoever about "holding them accountable," or kicking Russia out of the G-8, or imposing sanctions. But the Kremlin, being weaker then -- before Bush's wars and rumors of war enriched Russia with oil price spikes -- was thought to be more obedient. Now Moscow is more recalcitrant. And it is the recalcitrance -- not the "military aggression" or the "Putin tyranny" -- that sticks in the Anglo-American craw. For more on the implications of the "new Cold War-ism" breaking out among the Anglo-American elite, see these excellent analyses in the Guardian, here and here, and these letters to the paper's editor here.)

Biden declares that Georgia has been "destroyed." This is not true. There has been damage and there have been deaths, and none of them are justified (on either side). But Georgia is not in ruins, like Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, the three main targets (so far) of the American "War on Terror" that Biden so ardently embraced in his speech.

Biden called for a billion dollars in aid to "rebuild" Georgia. All well and good -- if this aid is really to be used to help innocent people in Georgia who got caught in the crossfire between the idiotic and violent Mikhail Saakashvili and the calculating and violent Vladimir Putin. Of course, it would be a first if such a thing happened -- if most of the "aid" didn't turn out to be weapons for the local warlord and pork for various cronies back home -- but these are days of hope and change, so who knows?

But here's a curious thing. Later on in his speech Biden says that, in Iraq, he and Obama will "shift the responsibility to the Iraqis." The Georgians, who instigated a war they could not possibly win, must be given all assistance to "rebuild" their undestroyed country; but the Iraqis, whose country was invaded and destroyed in a flagrantly criminal action by a vastly superior power, have to "take responsibility" for the damned mess that got made over there in Mesopotamia.

A mess that Biden himself was instrumental in creating, as Stephen Zunes points out in great and damning detail. Here are some excerpts of his article, via Arthur Silber again:

[Biden] has been one [of] the leading congressional supporters of U.S. militarization of the Middle East and Eastern Europe, of strict economic sanctions against Cuba, and of Israeli occupation policies.

Most significantly, however, Biden, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the lead-up to the Iraq War during the latter half of 2002, was perhaps the single most important congressional backer of the Bush administration's decision to invade that oil-rich country...

It is difficult to overestimate the critical role Biden played in making the tragedy of the Iraq war possible. More than two months prior to the 2002 war resolution even being introduced, in what was widely interpreted as the first sign that Congress would endorse a U.S. invasion of Iraq, Biden declared on Aug. 4 that the United States was probably going to war. In his powerful position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he orchestrated a propaganda show designed to sell the war to skeptical colleagues and the American public by ensuring that dissenting voices would not get a fair hearing.

And, as Zunes and Silber note, Biden was calling for an invasion of Iraq years before "9/11 changed everything" -- just like the Cheney-Rumsfeld "Project for the New American Century" group, which openly yearned for a "new Pearl Harbor" to "catalyze" its agenda for the expansion of empire and further militarization of American society:

Rather than being a hapless victim of the Bush administration's lies and manipulation, Biden was calling for a U.S. invasion of Iraq and making false statements regarding Saddam Hussein's supposed possession of "weapons of mass destruction" years before President George W. Bush even came to office.

As far back as 1998, Biden was calling for a U.S. invasion of Iraq. Even though UN inspectors and the UN-led disarmament process led to the elimination of Iraq's WMD threat, Biden – in an effort to discredit the world body and make an excuse for war – insisted that UN inspectors could never be trusted to do the job. ...

Calling for military action on the scale of the Gulf War seven years earlier, he continued, "The only way we're going to get rid of Saddam Hussein is we're going to end up having to start it alone," telling the Marine veteran [and former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter] "it's going to require guys like you in uniform to be back on foot in the desert taking Saddam down."

When Ritter tried to make the case that President Bill Clinton's proposed large-scale bombing of Iraq could jeopardize the UN inspections process, Biden condescendingly replied that decisions on the use of military force were "beyond your pay grade." As Ritter predicted, when Clinton ordered UN inspectors out of Iraq in December of that year and followed up with a four-day bombing campaign known as Operation Desert Fox, Saddam was provided with an excuse to refuse to allow the inspectors to return. Biden then conveniently used Saddam's failure to allow them to return as an excuse for going to war four years later.

Zunes and Silber also bring out one other point that bears repeating, over and over: Biden has been a champion of dismembering Iraq, chopping the country up in a forced partition that even the Bush Administration found too extreme. Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote here about one of the "partition" plans that so-called "liberals" like Biden have been bandying about:

While Bush pursues ethnic cleansing by stealth in Iraq -- or rather, pursues it quite openly, but just doesn't call it ethnic cleansing -- the Democrats and their outriders, the "liberal hawks" (or "humanitarian interventionists" or "Wilsonian idealists" or whatever tag they're wearing these days) are championing the policy in the public sphere. The idea of a three-way split of Iraq between Sunnis, Shias and Kurds has long been mooted in some quarters -- Joe Biden and "liberal" intellectuals like Leslie Gelb and Peter Galbraith were early enthusiasts -- and it is now gaining force within the foreign policy "clerisy"... Firedoglake points us to the incisive commentaries of Reidar Visser, "an actual expert on the regional aspects of Iraq and its history," who has lately been debunking the deeply ignorant and murderously arrogant "partition" proposals of Galbraith and others.

Visser takes aim at one of the most hideous of these proposals: "The Case for Soft Partition in Iraq," by respected "scholars" Michael O'Hanlon and Edward Joseph:

...using cool academic language, the authors review the nuts and bolts of relocating somewhere between 2 and 5 million Iraqis in order to create new ethnic federal entities. Snippets from this part of the report probably speak best for themselves: “we advocate where possible dividing major cities along natural boundaries” (p. 16); “on the actual day of the relocation operation, Iraqi and US-led coalition forces would deploy in sufficient numbers to look for snipers, cover the flanks of the civilian convoys, inspect suspicious vehicles for explosives and conduct similar tasks” (p. 17); and finally, on p. 24, “this [internal border] control system would place some burdens on Iraq’s internal trade and other aspects of its economy. It would complicate the efforts of individuals to cross from one region to another to visit family and friends. For the most part these burdens would be bearable. For individuals or businesses that need to make frequent crossings across Iraq’s new internal borders, or those willing to pay for the privilege, an EZ pass system [sic] might be developed to expedite movements for those with important and regular business to conduct.”

"On the actual day of the relocation operation...." Try to imagine such a day, when millions of Iraqis are uprooted and forced to move to other areas, all under guard by "Iraqi and US-led coalition forces." Actually it's not that hard to imagine, for we have seen it before: in faded photographs and newsreel footage and films like "The Sorrow and the Pity," "Shoah," and "Schindler's List." Less familiar in the popular imagination but perhaps even more apposite are the "relocations" of ethnic populations carried out by Josef Stalin, when whole peoples, such as the Chechens, were uprooted and transported by force to other regions. Or we could of course look closer to home, at the "Trail of Tears," the deadly removal of the Cherokee from their homelands to concentration camps in Oklahoma.

These kinds of scenes are precisely what the clean-limbed O'Hanlon and his partner envisage for Iraq, followed by a life ensnared by checkpoints and passes and internal border controls. It may sound harsh, brutal and inhuman, but not to worry: "For the most part these burdens would be bearable."

I have a suggestion for Mr. O'Hanlon [and Joe Biden]. I propose that he subject himself to such a regimen, then come back and tell just us how "bearable" it is. He doesn't even have to move five million Iraqis under armed guard to participate in this experiment: he can go to Palestine right now, where the people already live under his kind of "soft partition." Let him try it on for himself, just for a few months -- not the lifelong sentence he proposes for the Iraqis. We can even give him an "EZ Pass" to expedite any "important business" he needs to do.

This is what we've come to -- or perhaps, harking back to the Trail of Tears, this is where we came in. Ignorant, arrogant, cowardly elites proposing -- and in Bush's case, inflicting -- vast human suffering on innocent people, driving them from their homes, terrorizing them, killing them.

All of this is OK with Joe Biden. As noted, he was one of the earliest advocates of partition. But in the end, it doesn't matter: partition the Iraqis, abandon them, occupy them openly -- or covertly occupy them with "non-permanent" permanent bases for "residual forces" and "training brigades" and "counterrorism response" and "force protection," which is the current Obama plan -- who the hell cares? We've killed a million of their sons and daughters and mothers and fathers, but now it's time to go strut around in Georgia, it's time to bring more heat to Afghanistan and nuclear-armed, politically unstable Pakistan, "the real central front in the war on terror," as Biden proclaimed on Wednesday. The Iraqis are trash, pure trash; let them "take responsibility" -- while we do whatever the hell we want to do, or don't want to do, with their country.

As we said here yesterday: listen to what Biden and Obama are actually saying. I consider myself a fairly skeptical person, especially about politicians and their promises of "change" and "hope," but even I have been taken aback by how openly brutal and bloodthirsty the Obama campaign has become. I thought they would make much more hay of the "anti-war" stance, but they threw that aside long ago, and have now put one of the chief enablers of the war on the national ticket. It turns out that Obama is not "anti-war" (even as a cynical, vote-getting posture); he and Biden and the Democratic establishment -- and vast tracts of the "liberal" blogosphere as well -- are simply "other-war."

Iraq was the wrong war, you see, the wrong application of deadly, murderous force for dubious ends that have nothing to do with the well-being and security and pressing concerns of ordinary American citizens. But they heartily approve such applications elsewhere, and hope to see more of them.

* * *

I must admit that these days I'm feeling much as I did in the weeks and months after 9/11, when it seemed the whole nation had gone mad -- and deaf as well, simply not hearing the crimes and atrocities and immoral, dishonorable actions that were being planned and promised in their names. For example, what in God's name did people think Dick Cheney was talking about when he announced on national television -- on Sept. 16, 2001, just five days after the attacks -- that "we will also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will"? Or when George W. Bush declared on Aug. 7, 2002: "There's no telling how many wars it will take to secure freedom in the homeland." Or in the long, slow build-up to the act of aggression against Iraq, when the most transparent lies were told -- easily debunkable by the most ordinary person with an internet connection or the slightest acquaintance with recent history, as I used to demonstrate week after week in the Moscow Times -- much less by savvy "foreign policy experts" like Joe Biden?

To speak out against all this -- to simply point to plain facts and the obvious implications of what national leaders were actually saying, to take the very traditional and indeed conservative position that America should not wage aggressive war and should obey its own laws -- was in those days like shouting into a hurricane. Nobody listened, nobody cared, and any nay-sayer was denounced as a crank or a fool or a traitor, whose dangerous carping would give aid and comfort to the enemy, and help the bad guys win. Strange days indeed.

And here we are again. Joe Biden stood on a stage before the world Wednesday night and, echoing Barack Obama's own positions, clearly promised more hell on earth for us all. Yet his speech was greeted rapturously across almost all of the liberal commentariat, and treated respectfully, as a serious and completely legitimate policy statement, even by those politically opposed to Biden and his boss.

But if you point to the plain facts and obvious implications of what the leaders of the Democratic ticket are saying -- i.e., "There's no telling how many wars it will take to secure freedom in the homeland" -- you will be accused of "helping John McCain into the White House." You will be denounced for trying to derail "our last hope for change, however imperfect it may be."

But it is not the critics of the openly stated positions taken by Obama and Biden who are "derailing our last hope for change." It is these powerful men in the pursuit of more power who are betraying those hopes by embracing the corruption and violence of domination, belligerence, greed, militarism, and imperial expansion. I'm not forcing them to do it. I don't want them to do it. But should we not tell the truth as we see it?

UPDATE: Jon Schwarz dissects a veritable library of lies from Joe Biden about the run-up to the Gulf War. In an interview with Tim Russert in 2007 -- 2007, mind you -- Biden regurgitates almost every falsehood peddled by Cheney and Bush in justifying the act of aggression against Iraq: a war crime in which Biden, as noted above, played a vital role.

photo of Chris FloydChris Floyd has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years, working in the United States, Great Britain and Russia for various newspapers, magazines, the U.S. government and Oxford University. Floyd co-founded the blog Empire Burlesque, and is also chief editor of Atlantic Free Press. He can be reached at

This column is republished here with the permission of the author.

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This story was published on August 28, 2008.