War and the Return of Populism

Justin Raimondo – Anti-War.com October 17, 2011

What’s behind the recent upsurge in anti-Iranian war propaganda coming out of the Obama administration? This is the question Stephen Walt posed on his blog at ForeignPolicy.com:

“What’s the endgame here? What is the positive purpose to be gained from this new campaign? If there really is hard and reliable evidence of a serious Iranian plot to bomb buildings in the United States and to kill foreign emissaries on our soil, then that’s one thing. But if this turns out to be a much more ambiguous business – either a rogue Iranian operation, a false flag scheme, or a case of FBI entrapment – then what are we trying to accomplish by rolling out a seemingly well-orchestrated round of new accusations, especially when there’s little chance of getting the sort of ‘crippling sanctions’ that might actually alter Iran’s behavior? Are we just trying to divert attention from other issues (the economy, the ‘Arab Spring,’ the failed diplomacy on Israel-Palestine, etc.), or is this somehow linked to the 2012 campaign?”

He’s getting warmer. The Obama cult is drawing what sounds like its last breath on the American political scene, with the President’s reelection increasingly in doubt. Yet that doesn’t begin to explain why Obama is risking alienating his base with yet another overseas conflict that we can’t afford, and the American people don’t want. Nor does it explain why he is making unambiguous statements in support of a narrative that has been met with undisguised disdain by nearly every Iran expert with any credibility: almost no one believes the Quds force, the Iranian version of our “Special Forces,” would employ an alcoholic used car salesman to recruit a Mexican drug cartel to off the Saudi ambassador and commit terrorist acts in the US (and Argentina, an allegation that appears to have been thrown into the mix for good measure). No one, that is, but the President of the United States and the anonymous high government officials who have been spinning this absurd story behind the scenes.

The big question in everyone’s mind is: why now? Why choose this particular moment to concoct trumped-up charges of “terrorism” against Iran based on a probable case of FBI entrapment? The reason may be because the Iranians are finally coming to heel on the nuclear question. As Guardian diplomatic correspondent Julian Borger points out:

“There is a growing chorus of approval among US experts for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s offer of a new uranium deal. So far the enthusiasm has failed to catch on inside the Obama administration or among the rest of the six-nation group that handles nuclear negotiations with Iran. But that could change as the months go by and the Iranian government builds up its stockpile of low enriched and medium (20%) enriched uranium.

Ahmadinejad made this latest offer in the press, first with an interview with the Washington Post in mid-September, and then with the New York Times a week or so later. The essence of the deal, the Iranian president told the Times’ Nicholas Kristof, was: “If they give us the 20% enriched uranium this very week, we will cease the domestic enrichment of uranium of up to 20 percent this very week.”

As Borger goes on to explain, Ahmadinejad’s proposal is a reiteration of an earlier Iranian offer to ship its enriched uranium – all of it – to a neutral third party in exchange for a supply of fuel to the Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes. The earlier deal fell apart, due – it is said – to the vicissitudes of Iranian politics, and the unwillingness of the Americans to cooperate at the last minute. The Brazilians and the Turks tried to resurrect the idea in May of last year, but this, too, foundered on the rocks of American recalcitrance and Iranian vagueness. Now Ahmadinejad has raised the proposal again, this time declaring Iran would halt enrichment up to 20% – which has been a big sticking point in the past.

Up until recently, the administration was on the receiving end of a chorus of academic and diplomatic voices advising to take the Iranians up on their offer. Those voices, however, have now been drowned out by the gaggle of hysterics screaming for retaliation” against what even prominent liberal Democrats like Sen. Carl Levin are calling an “act of war” by Iran.

Walt is right to connect the “surge” in anti-Iranian warmongering to the advent of the presidential campaign season: faced with charges by neocon Republicans that the administration is going “soft” on Iran, the “national security Democrats” are busy burnishing their credentials as reliable instruments of the War Party. But there is more at work here than mere partisan considerations.

The American elites are on trial in the court of public opinion and the verdict is just about to come in. The world economic system based on central banking [.pdf] and floating fiat currencies is crumbling beneath their feet, and the return of populism on both sides of the political spectrum has them in fear of losing their grip on power for the first time since the 1930s. While American troops are occupying Afghanistan, the folks back home are occupying Wall Street. For the plutocrats and kleptocrats – otherwise known as the Republicans and the Democrats – the jig is up, and the day of judgement looms. The political class is close to panic: those peasants with pitchforks are getting awfully close to the castle. Worse, the Frankenstein monster they created is on the loose. Europe is a set of economic dominoes getting ready to fall, and it’s only a matter of time before the American domino goes down.

When that happens, the crash you hear will be the shaky edifice of governmental legitimacy collapsing in on itself, just as it did in the former Soviet Union. Remember that they, too, were embarked – just before their fall – on a campaign of imperial expansion. They were going to “liberate” Afghanistan, free Afghan women from the bride price and the veil, and build a socialist “republic” in Central Asia. Not long after this optimistic pronouncement, however, the downing of the Berlin Wall let the air out of the tires of Soviet tanks, which beat a hasty retreat back to the Workers Fatherland. Those same tanks moved through the streets of Moscow in the hardliner coup that tried to oust Gorbachev and derail the Soviet empire’s self-dissolution. They were defeated there, too.

The Americans stood watching this process unfold in utter disbelief: indeed, leading neocons, who had made lucrative careers out of their militant anti-Communism, attacked Ronald Reagan and Bush the First for letting themselves be fooled by the commie Masters of Deceit, who – they claimed – were just playing dead in order to lash out when our guard came down. Our own CIA, and the “intelligence community” in general, hadn’t a clue about the Soviet implosion until it was nearly over. After decades and billions of dollars invested in a worldwide governmental effort to contain and eventually “roll back” the seemingly impressive Soviet colossus, in the end the Americans were mere bystanders who stood around watching as the whole thing came tumbling down.

How could they have missed it? Blindness to one’s own shortcomings is a supremely human trait, one our elites have cultivated to a ridiculous extreme. Ordinary people – you and I – tend to overlook their own prejudices and the ways in which they obscure what is really going on. The collision of our conceits with reality, however, soon forces a correction, and brings us down to earth – or else we pay the financial and psychic costs of our misconceptions. Yet our elites are increasingly insulated from paying the price of misperception. The two-party system, restrictive election laws, the influence of big money and foreign lobbyists on the electoral process – all these factors have created an insular and increasingly unreflective political class. Blinded by hubris, incapable of self-criticism, and immunized against populist sentiment, these twenty-first century Bourbons have learned nothing that will cause them to change course.

What they have learned from history is how their predecessors managed to stay on top in an existential crisis such as the one we are facing today. Confronted with economic collapse and the failure of his “New Deal” policies to lift the nation out of its downward spiral, Franklin Delano Roosevelt turned his energies toward dragging a reluctant America down the path to another worldwide conflagration. War hysteria was a useful tonic to lift the nation’s spirits, and rationing masked the effects of the downturn by equalizing scarcity. The wartime “emergency” paved the way for the New Dealers to complete their takeover of the US economy – and shut down their critics, especially on the “isolationist” right.

War with Iran would solve many of the present administration’s problems, in the short term: the rise in the price of oil could then be blamed on the Iranians, along with the entire economic mess. That such a conflict would trigger a new and far more dangerous financial crisis would be obfuscated in a cloud of war propaganda. War would divert attention away from the real cause our domestic economic problems by creating a new scapegoat – besides Bank of America and their fellow crony capitalists at Solyndra – for the peasants to impale on their pitchforks.

War, in short, is the ultimate government bailout, which our political class hopes and prays will save their political asses. I can hear the Dear Leader now, as he explains how war must “unite” all Americans, and this new “unity” will be echoed on both sides of the political spectrum, as media outlets from Fox News to MSNBC urge us to “become one” and smite the Iranian foe. With the ever-present Israel lobby out in force to maintain the party line, and rein in any dissenters, politicians of the left as well as the right will march to war in lockstep. Every crisis is an opportunity, as one of Obama’s sleazier former top lieutenants put it, and in this instance you can bet our rulers intend to utilize the latest manufactured “crisis” in US-Iranian relations to perpetuate their incompetent and vulgar reign.

Gorbachev sought to co-opt the anti-Soviet revolutionaries by initiating a campaign of glasnost, and ushering in the era of perestroika. It didn’t work: indeed, it may have hastened the demise of the Leninist project. Our own rulers, however, are much cleverer than that, or so they seem to believe: they think they can latch on to and capture the populist movements that are rising on the left and the right. The Republicans are doing their best to co-opt and tame the so-called tea party movement, and the President himself is actively courting the Wall Street occupiers. By stamping these movements with partisan labels, the two parties hope to de-radicalize and derail them in the process of using them – and keep them divided along out-dated “left/right” lines, so that they never realize how closely their complaints complement each other. For their anger – and anger is the chief motivating factor in politics – is directed at a single foe: the elites who have reigned over the American empire since the end of World War II.

Piling up debt while enriching themselves, oblivious to the certain doom awaiting them as the age of profligacy comes to an abrupt end, our decadent elites in government, the corporate world, and the media-academic-industrial complex long ago surrendered whatever legitimacy they once enjoyed. What’s more, they know it: they know the day of judgement is upon them, and they are mobilizing to meet the challenge in the same way their predecessors have. A war, at this moment in time, would amount to the equivalent of the TARP program for American politicians: it would bail them out of a world of trouble. Which means: war with Iran is a near certainty. The only question is when.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

The alcoholic used car salesman who is supposed to have been behind the alleged Iranian plot to commit terrorist acts in Washington, D.C., is said to have “confessed” the details of the whole improbable scheme, and cooperated with federal agents in making recorded calls to Iran. Now we learn that Mansour Arbabsiar, the 56-year-old Iranian-American and former kebab vendor, is pleading not guilty to the charges. This, I believe, is the prelude to the real story coming out, which is that the whole thing was a set up, a phony plot created by an ambitious DEA agent and his superiors, who hoped to curry favor at the Obama White House by inventing a convenient pretext to crack down on Iran – and divert attention away from the scandal over “Operation Fast and Furious,” the DEA-FBI-Justice Department program to ship sophisticated arms to Mexican drug cartels.

If the plot was a set up, the question arises: who set Arbabsiar up? I have a feeling it wasn’t just an over-ambitious DEA agent, who, all by himself, decided to pull off a high profile coup. Nor was it his equally vainglorious and self-interested superiors, although they no doubt played an important role in pursuing the Arbabsiar case. However, over on the other side of the Atlantic, where the war drums are also beating, it seems the instigators have been outed….

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