We wrote here last week of Arthur Silber's telling insights into the misuses, abuses -- and ultimate uselessness -- of the "intelligence" reports produced by the security organs of powerful states....particularly the world's self-proclaimed "hyper-power" as it careens around the world in its obsessive-compulsive urge for domination. Silber's rule can be boiled down thusly: "Intelligence" is always -- always -- a political tool for the agenda of power, and it can never -- never -- be used to support an argument over policy. You can only argue and infer from the facts; if your case relies on "intelligence" – even if it seems temporarily favorable to your cause – then you are fighting on power's own turf, using power's own distorting terms, and making power's case, not yours. For once you accept that "intelligence" possesses some kind of objective truth when it seems to undercut some policy you abhor, what will you do when it suddenly changes and now supports that very policy? Again, Silber covers all this in eloquent detail, here and here.
This week gave us a glaring example of this principle in action. Scarcely had the pixels dried on Silber's posts when the New York Times came knocking with a story cobbled together from the usual anonymous "intelligence" sources to stoke the campaign of fearmongering over the "nuclear threat" from Iran.
The "intelligence" cited in the story is clearly aimed at undercutting the "intelligence" in the ballyhooed 2007 "National Intelligence Estimate" (NIE), in which America's security organs concluded that Iran did not have an active nuclear weapons program. As Silber notes, this report has been used incessantly by well-meaning dissidents who are rightly trying to head off the war of aggression against Iran that is the fervent – even wet – dream of America's powerful militarist factions. But as pointed out here years ago (again channeling Silber), that report was itself a trap for anti-war forces, because it also declared that Iran had been working actively on a nuclear weapon until 2003 – an assertion that flew in the face of all known facts and international inspection reports. To accept the claims of the NIE report as objective truth, you would also have to accept the warmongers' insistence that Iran was actively seeking a nuclear weapon, even though they may have temporarily put the program on hold. Again, you would be accepting the militarists' terms, and their deadly context: i.e., that Iran wants nukes, and must be stopped from getting them
In any case, the NYT story shows the "intelligence" worm turning to bite the citers of the NIE. The story cites a new report by unnamed staffers of the International Atomic Energy Agency which in turn cites unspecified, unconfirmed, tentative intelligence from unnamed sources that concludes – tentatively – that Iran might have re-started at least some parts of its nuclear weapons program (whose previous existence had, of course, never been proved). The money shot of the story is here:
A senior American official said last week that the United States was now re-evaluating its 2007 conclusions.
There you have it. "Intelligence" giveth, and "intelligence" taketh away. If the already flawed and falsified NIE report is now "re-evaluated," or replaced by a new, more scary report on the "imminent threat" from Iran, what then? Shall we simply accept the new report as the objective truth – as many of us did with the NIE paper – and bow to its conclusions and implications? Or shall we not see, once again, that "intelligence" is just a flag run up by power – or by various factions in the halls of power as they tussle for pre-eminence – to rally forces around its agenda?
The NYT piece on the leaked report by unnamed IAEA staffers was followed hard upon by yet another war-stoking story the next day. Where the first story sought to give aid and comfort to the hard-core warmongers, the second was aimed squarely at "moderates," those who still hope wanly that we can maybe, somehow, some way, inflict harsh punishments on the Persians for their uppitiness without actually bombing or invading them outright. (This, you understand, is the most "progressive" position on Iran allowed within the parameters of "serious" discussion in our political-media Establishment.) The headline says it all: "Black Market Shows Iran Can Adapt to Sanctions."
In fact, the headline is the point: it is the idea that is meant to lodge in readers' minds, something to lurk there, unconsciously, when considering the great "debates" on "what we should do about Iran." Whenever "moderates" try to damp down war fever with talk of more sanctions, there'll be a little flutter in the cellarage of the brain: "Say, sanctions don't really work, do they? Iran can just go around them. I'm sure I've read somewhere just how they do that."
Again, as with "intelligence," the goal is to seize the terms of the debate, to frame it so that it excludes all other alternatives but the one that suits power's agenda. Sanctions don't work, the story tells us. So what tools are left for leaders who must "do something" about Iran? (The idea of not doing something about Iran is, of course, inconceivable for imperial policymakers; the logic and telos of the militarist cult of domination impels them to slap down Iran one way or another until Tehran goes down on bended knee. And our cultists aren't concerned in the slightest if Iran has a brutally repressive government or is run by religious extremists (see Saudi Arabia); all they want is acquiescence, and access to the local loot.) The logic is clear: if you must meddle, and sanctions are ineffective, then that leaves only military action.
And to whom does the Times turn for "expert" opinion on the inefficacy of sanctions against Iran? The sole analyst quoted is Michael Jacobson, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy – a highly partisan extremist organization that was one of the chief instigators and incubators of the murderous war crime against Iraq, and one of the most enthusiastic cheerleaders for throttling Iran. There was of course not a single scrap of background or context regarding WINEP in the Times story. It was presented simply as an objective center for policy analysis. Whereas even the mildest, most moderate and milquetoasty "progressive" think-tank would invariably be described as "left-leaning," or identified as, say, "having opposed the Iraq War" or "a frequent critic of American foreign policy," etc.
But then again, those who advocate war in an imperial system based on war really need no further description; in such a system, the warmongers are thoroughly objective, mainstream, quite literally in the center of the prevailing worldview.
This week's one-two punch of pro-war propaganda from the Times is a classic squeeze play by the manipulators of "intelligence," designed to cut off all other options except the military one. We have seen a similar operation being carried out in recent days on the escalation in Afghanistan, with the high militarists – like General Stanley "Death Squads R Us" McChrystal and Pentagon holdover honcho Robert Gates – making showy public noises about the absolutely imperative need to throw more troops into the Central Asian cauldron. The clear intent is to ensure that Barack Obama remains faithful to the militarist faith he has so eagerly espoused, and doesn't start waving just because the war is unwinnable and the people don't want it.
This is life in a War State. And there can really be no serious argument that this is not what the United States has become: a structure and system of permanent war. Military action, military procurement, military bases, military needs, military dominance over diplomacy, budgets, "intelligence" and policy: these are the drivers of the modern American state. Beginning in the years just after World War II, the most powerful factions of the bipartisan American elite came to the conclusion that "an aggressive foreign policy based on military strength was the only real foundation of economic prosperity." (The quote is a description of Adolf Hitler's "doctrine of economic life" in the remarkable book by historian Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction.) "An aggressive foreign policy based on military strength" was also the only way to maintain the global hegemony American elites acquired at the end of the war – a position of power and privilege which, once gained, they felt was their divine birthright.
And although there is much that is irrational and atrociously inhumane in the practical application of such a system, the system itself has an iron logic: War makes us rich and powerful; thus we will make war.
In seeking to understand the actions and intentions of the American state in the modern world, it is important to keep this doctrine and its logic in mind.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on October 7, 2009.