The chattering classes are all, well, a-chatter with the cosmic significance of the switcheroo by the aptly named Arlen Specter from the Republican faction of the imperial court to the Democratic faction. The late-life conversion of this greasy, cadaverous bagman apparently heralds not only a filibuster-proof majority for the Democrats (once they are joined by that guy who used to be on Saturday Night Live), but also the potential death of the entire Republican Party! Who knew that little old Arlen -- who has been obediently toting Establishment water since he devised the "single bullet theory" for the Warren Commission (one of the first great instances of "magical realism" in modern fiction) -- was such a linchpin of the American political system?
The reaction to Specter's turning of his blood-spattered coat (or rather, his re-turning, as he began his political life as a Democrat) has been marked by the total amnesia that is the chronic affliction of our dozy, cozy media mandarins. The idea that Specter will vote in lockstep with the Democratic leadership's wishes, thus providing a "filibuster-proof" majority, is, of course, ludicrous, and flies in the face not only of Specter's own extensive (and deeply conservative) legislative record, but also the record of the current Democratic Party in the Senate. They can't even get "real" Democrats to vote their way on every issue. (Nor should we want them to; mindless factional conformity is hardly something to aspire to -- although our media analysts seem to think it's the cat's meow.)
As for Specter's bolting presaging the death of the GOP, what can one say? This is a level of political analysis worthy of a 12-year-old who just started watching CNN for the first time a few months ago. Backed by the nation's wealthy elite and most powerful corporations, in control of statehouses and city halls across the land, buttressed by lavishly funded think tanks, political operations and a vast network of partisan media outlets -- and supported by tens of millions of ordinary citizens -- the Republican Party is not going to "die" or wither away anytime soon. Any more than the Democratic Party "died" after the much-larger wipeout it suffered in the Reagan landslide of 1984, or the so-called "Republican Revolution" of 1994. If the Republican Party didn't "die" in 1964 or1944, when it was thrust much farther to the margins than it is now, it is not about to expire or even become irrelevant in the imperial politics of our day.
Anyway, wasn't it just a few years ago we were talking about a "permanent realignment" of American politics to the Right, under the unbreakable, unshakeable strategies of the great helmsman, Karl Rove? Such "permanent realignments" generally have a short shelf-life. But it seems our progressive triumphalists are just as giddily oblivious of history as their Bushist predecessors.
And where does the idea that a high-ranking politician switching sides sounds the death knell of a party come from? Have our savvy analysts never heard of, say, Phil Gramm? Ben Nighthorse Campbell? Richard Shelby? Or even the man who was wounded with John Kennedy by Specter's "magic bullet," John Connally? All of these prominent Democrats sidled over to the Republican trough -- but the Democratic Party hardly died because of it.
But all of the childish chatter about a meaningless move by a washed-up pol trying to save his electoral skin is just a diversion from a much deadlier reality. For even as the Obama Administration was celebrating this "icing on the cake" of its "historic first 100 days," it was also launching a disastrous new initiative in its ever-expanding Terror War operation in Afghanistan.
As the New York Times reports, the Progressive Commander is about to pour thousands of troops into Afghanistan's heavily populated opium-growing regions, using a military sledgehammer to destroy the only source of income for large portions of the poverty-wracked nation.
This is criminal folly on a monumental scale, worthy in every respect of Obama's "continuity" with Bush's military policies (and personnel). The result will inevitably be an even larger number of civilian casualties than are now being harvested on a regular basis in the "good war," with an even more embittered -- and more poverty-stricken -- population.
The idea behind the new push -- which will involve some 20,000 soldiers, operating in many cases in areas that few if any Western forces have seen -- is "to cut off the Taliban's main source of money," the Pentagon tells the New York Times. But opium is also the "main source of money" for millions of ordinary Afghan farmers -- not to mention the warlords and druglords whom the United States enthroned on high after invading the country in 2001. And one can only assume that one of the great protectors and promoters and profiteers of the international drug trade over the course of the past half-century -- the American security services, led by the CIA -- are also taking a cut in that shadowland world where criminal gangs and covert operators mix and mingle.
And of course "the Taliban" is not a single, monolithic entity, but is instead a propaganda tag applied to a shifting conglomeration of various armed groups of various stripes whose various agendas often clash with one another. If a particular criminal gang or sectarian militia decides to cooperate or collude with the Anglo-American occupiers at some point, for a certain period, they are no longer "Taliban," but "Concerned Local Citizens." Likewise, anyone who resists the foreign military presence in their country -- for whatever reason -- is automatically "Taliban," and thus marked for death.
Thus any opium farmer who reaches for his ancient Lee-Enfield when he sees a squad of foreign troops stomping through his crops will not be regarded as, say, a hardy patriot defending hearth and home -- "freedom fighters" as Ronald Reagan used to call these same poppy-growers when they were resisting the Soviet military presence in their country. No, they will be "terrorists," a dagger aimed at the very heart of Homeland.
Don't believe that? Think it's an exaggeration? Here's the Times:
The presence of poppy and opium here has injected a huge measure of uncertainly into the war. Under NATO rules of engagement, American or other forces are prohibited from attacking targets or people related only to narcotics production. Those people are not considered combatants.
But American and other forces are allowed to attack drug smugglers or facilities that are assisting the Taliban. In an interview, General Nicholson said that opium production and the Taliban are so often intertwined that the rules do not usually inhibit American operations.
“We often come across a compound that has opium and I.E.D. materials side by side, and opium and explosive materials and weapons,” General Nicholson said, referring to improvised explosive devices. “It’s very common — more common than not.”
All you have to do is say "Taliban," and any attack (and any death) in the opium regions will be justified. Of course, if really pushed, you can always find some handy "I.E.D materials" lying around: nails, maybe, or pipe, or shovels -- the kind of thing that some American troops in Iraq carried with them on patrol to plant on anyone they killed along the way.
Thus once again, as I've noted many times before (going back to December 2001), the "War on Terror" morphs into the "War on Drugs" -- both of them gigantic engines of corruption, destruction, death and draconian power. The latest offensive will find American forces allying with one local group of gangsters or another, who will use the money and weapons of the big foreign kahuna to muscle out their enemies (in other words, a replica in miniature of the Afghan conflict as a whole).
Of course, the decriminalization of drugs would immediately gut the vast, over-inflated profits of the international drug racket, and bring the trade in these commodities down to a more natural, controllable (and taxable) level. It would not stop the common human propensity to use -- and yes, abuse -- mood-altering substances, but this would then be a public health (and private psychological) problem, not a massive, never-ending military war, waged largely against the poor -- and against the civil liberties of us all.
But the folly of Obama's New Opium War does not end there. Buried in the NY Times story is this little strategic note:
Many of the new American soldiers will fan out along southern Afghanistan’s largely unguarded 550-mile-long border with Pakistan. Among them will be soldiers deployed in the Stryker, a relatively quick, nimble armored vehicle that can roam across the vast areas that span the frontier.
In other words, the United States is about to deploy thousands of mobile troops -- backed to the hilt with heavy artillery and airpower -- along a vast stretch of the Pakistan border, where, as the New York Times tells us, they will be involved in "months of heavy fighting" against an enemy that Obama and the Pentagon continually tell us is directed, supplied and succored from...Pakistan.
How long will it take this heavy fighting to spill across that invisible border, which already being penetrated on a regular basis by U.S. drone missile attacks? If you think the Pakistan Taliban is aroused now (although of course the "existential danger" they pose has been exaggerated, deliberately, by the Administration), what will happen when American troops move in deadly force across the border -- in "hot pursuit" of Taliban forces, or perhaps to wipe out Taliban bases?
But of course, this seems to be the ultimate aim of our Terror Warriors: the expansion of the war into Pakistan. Indeed, they have long been talking openly of the "Af-Pak front," yoking both countries into one theater of war. Yet every deadly strike in Pakistan, every bit of meddling in that sovereign nation's internal affairs only radicalizes more and more Pakistanis, heaps more hatred on the United States, engenders more resistance to American policies, destabilizes what is overwhelmingly a peaceful and non-violent society in Pakistan -- and absolutely guarantees the continuation of murderous conflict on every side.
Yes, the Specter spectacle is good fun for all the savvy chatterers flitting around the imperial Potomac throne -- but back in the real world, where operations of real power take place, the tides of blood and suffering keep rising.
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This story was published on April 29, 2009.