Monday, February 26, 2007


Online at:

Will the U.S. Attack Iran?
By Thomas Riggins

There is a looming crisis with Iran being generated by the Bush administration and using the same methods of lying to the American people and juicing up intelligence reports by distorting the facts to fit in with preconceived ideas as was used to justify the invasion of Iraq. So, just what is going on?

Craig Unger (author of House of Bush, House of Saud) has attempted to answer this question in an article in the March 2007 issue of Vanity Fair: "From the Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Iraq." The following are some reflections, from a Marxist point of view, on Unger’s article.

Early in the article Unger tells us why Bush invaded Iraq. The war was, "Launched with the intention of shoring up Israeli security and replacing rogue regimes in the Middle East with friendly, pro-Western allies," and he adds, "the war in Iraq has turned that country into a terrorist training ground."

Unger is probably correct, in a sense, here. Support of Israeli designs in the Middle East may have been a big factor, but he left out OIL as a major motivating force. Most critics of the Bush agenda have pointed out that control of Iraq’s oil was at the top of the list of reasons which motivated Bush’s neocon advisors. The "rogue regime" justification is problematical since that term only means a country that doesn’t let the U.S. dictate its foreign and domestic policies for it, or at least play ball with the U.S. on the U.S.’s terms.

The article also says that "far from creating a secular democracy, the war has empowered Shiite fundamentalists aligned with Iran." It is interesting that the qualifying word "secular" was appended to "democracy." It appears that Bush wanted not just a democratic state but a secular one to boot. I am not so sure of Bush’s "secular" qualifications let alone his intentions. But at any rate, I think this is a misunderstanding.

Both Egypt and Pakistan are brutal dictatorships and they get along with the U.S. just fine, because they play ball. Saudi Arabia is the pits, yet a major friend. Saddam was also our buddy for years. I don’t think he ever figured out where he went wrong and ended up being a bad guy. Having all that (nationalized) oil could have been the reason. As for being an evil dictator and killing all sorts of people, that has never been a problem before with being an American ally and part of the free world.

Unger is dead right about the fact that the same sort of "disinformation operation" in which "Dubious information from known fabricators was hyped" that was used to justify the Iraq war is now being "orchestrated" against Iran. The chief "fabricators" being, in my opinion, Bush and Cheney. When Bush says that Iran is "providing material support for attacks on American troops" we have no reason whatsoever, based on his track record, to believe him. Ahmadinejad may be nuts, but he is not that nuts. He is not even as nuts as Bush for that matter.

An interesting part of the article details some of the Israeli influences in this developing crisis with Iran. Unger says that back in 1996 Benjamin Netanyahu (at the time the Prime Minister of Israel) hooked up with Richard Perle and a policy paper was soon spawned by the title "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm." its recommendations would have been commended by Ashurbanipal in dealing with his foes (depose them and take their land) so I don’t know how "new" the strategy really is.

Unger reports that the main themes of this policy paper (remove Saddam, abandon the "land for peace" blueprint for solving the Palestinian problem, and an Israeli attack on South Lebanon to remove Hezbollah) reads like a "playbook for U.S.-Israeli foreign policy during the Bush-Cheney era." The right wing in Israel has immense influence in the Bush administration so it is very worrisome when Unger quotes Netanyahu today and he appears to be even nuttier than Ahmadinejad is alleged to be.

Here is what Netanyahu is quoted as saying as recently as November '06 to CNN. "Iran is Germany, and its 1938." Also, "this Nazi regime that is in Iran ... wants to dominate the world, annihilate the Jews, but also annihilate America." The idea that Iran wants to rule the world and annihilate the United States, is right up there in the lunacy league with Ronald Reagan's fears about a possible Nicaraguan invasion of Texas. What's next, the Andorran threat to Europe?

Meanwhile in the real world, Iran actually sent something called "the grand bargain" to the Bush team back in 2003. Iran offered to (1) let the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) conduct more thorough inspections of its Atomic facilities (to bolster the claim that only peaceful atomic energy was being developed) (2) to team up with Egypt and other moderate regimes in the Near East to make peace with Israel (based on the 1967 borders), (3) to help turn Hezbollah into a regular political party in Lebanon rather than a militia, (4) to see to it that no weapons or "material aid" from "Iranian territory" would be sent to Hamas or Islamic Jihad in the occupied territories, and (5) "to apply 'pressure on these organizations to stop violent actions against civilians within borders of 1967.'"

This "grand bargain" could have been the beginning of not only of normalization of American-Iranian relations, but also a big boost towards the solving of the Palestinian conflict. The Bush administration totally blew off the Iranian proposal. It really looks like the Bushites want war and will do anything to justify starting one when everything could be solved peacefully through diplomacy.

Here is what David Albright, who was an inspector for the I.A.E.A., is quoted as saying about the charge that Iran is building nuclear weapons: "We should be very suspicious about what our leaders or the exile groups say about Iran's nuclear capacity. There's a drumbeat of allegations, but there's not a whole lot of solid information. It may be that Iran has not made the decision to build nuclear weapons."

By end of this month (February '07) the American forces will have been beefed up enough to make a major strike against Iran, not just its nuclear infrastructure, but its ports, airfields and any other infrastructure the U.S. chooses. We should have no doubts that leading forces in the administration have the will to launch such an immoral and illegal attack under the guise of lies and deceptions foisted off on the American people, and with the collusion of some major media outlets running the gamut from Fox News to the New York Times. If there are any forces within the administration, or Congress, that can deter the war hawks and the Great Decider remains to be seen.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor for Political Affairs and can be reached at

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Online at:

The Coming Fascist Surge
By Thomas Riggins

How often have we been told that when fascism comes to the USA it will be wrapped in the American flag and spouting patriotic slogans and speeches? I don't want to suggest that that day is near. If anything the center-left victory in the midterm elections shows that the American people are turning their backs on the the ultra-right and neoconservative extremists. These ultra-right forces are not, however, about to give up without a struggle and the left must not be lulled into thinking that fascist ideology has no chance to gain formidable support from elements in the ruling class.

The New York Post, for example, a paper subsidized by the ultra right, has on its front page for Saturday 2-17-07 a screaming headline for an opinion piece that has all the elements of classic fascist propaganda, familiar to anyone who has read Mein Kampf or the work of Dr. Goebbels. The headline reads "TREASON: Shameful D.C. vote aids our enemies"- by Ralph Peters. Inside the paper his full article appears under the title "Cowards give up on GIs-- & give in to evil." Ralph Peters is a retired militarist who worked in army intelligence (he is a retired Lt. Colonel) and whose pen is at the service of some of the most reactionary and undemocratic forces on the lunatic fringe of the right.

What are the basic characteristics of fascist propaganda that sets it apart from ordinary extreme conservatism. It has five basic characteristics. First, it is openly antidemocratic. It attacks institutions and traditions of parliamentary democracy. It belittles those who are the elected representatives of the people. Second, it supports a leadership principle, preferring loyalty to a specific individual rather than to constitutional government (however much lip service it may give to the latter). Third, it glorifies the military and war, thinking violence is the way to accomplish its goals. It fosters a cult of death (it is heroic to die for the fatherland). It thinks attacking other peoples and nations is just fine. Forth, it fosters racist attitudes and uses racist ideas to argue for its positions. Fifth, it has no regard for truth and uses lies and misrepresentation to bolster its positions.

Almost everyone of these five characteristics is on display in Peters article and The "Arbiter Zeitung" would have been proud to have such a writer on its staff. That a major (although a financially subsidized nonprofit) paper such as The New York Post is publishing articles that are openly fascist in tone is something that should be of concern to all democratically minded Americans progressives, liberals, and conservatives.

Lest you think I am being an alarmist and unfairly characterizing Peters' article, let me show how the five above characteristics of fascist propaganda are utilized by this NY Post columnist.

First, Peters describes the Congress of the U.S. as engaging in "treason." He writes, "Providing aid and comfort to the enemy in wartime is treason. Its not "just politics" its treason." This in reference to the anti-Bush surge vote. He also calls the Congress members "cowards" and says they give their "blessing" to the "slaughter" of innocents. Actually he means the House of Representatives, not the Congress, as the Senate did not pass a non-binding resolution against Bush's surge. He writes, the vote is "signaling our enemies that Congress wants them to win" and this "isn't 'supporting our troops'."

This is an all out attack on our representative democracy by the war hawks. The vote is a reflection of the will of the vast majority of the American people who want this senseless criminal war stopped and to attack the people's representatives for voting the people's will is to attack the American people themselves as being cowards and traitors. This is typical of the first condition of fascist propaganda as outlined above.

The second condition is implicitly met when you realize that if Congress is put out of the picture it only leaves Bush, as commander-in-chief, with any moral authority to prosecute the war. The Congress has "given in to evil." Bush's popularity is down to 24 percent in some polls (according to last Sunday's McLaughlin Group), so while the logic of Peter's article is that we should be supporting our leader, he doesn't mention Bush by name.

Third, Peters seems to glorify war and warriors. He writes thusly of attending a welcome home ball for some troops returning from the war. The ball was "complete with dress uniforms spangled with awards for bravery. Proud spouses sat beside their returned warriors." These are not just regular troops. They "bear the weight of the world on their shoulders" willingly without any complaints because, unlike the cowardly Congress, they know their "duty." I want to be clear that I am not trying to be disrespectful to these troops or to their experiences and their happy homecoming. I object to Peters using them to further his ultra right policies which, in truth, will expose these men and women to more unnecessary risk of death and destruction.

The first thing Peters saw when he entered the ballroom was the photographs of 34 troops who had been killed. "Soldiers honor their dead." Of course they do. And no one disrespects American soldiers or blames them for the folly of their officers and their commander-in-chief. But the simple truth is that those 34 troops who were killed, as all the other causalities in this illegal and criminal war, would still be alive if the Bush administration had not lied to the American people and to the troops about the reasons for this unjustified aggression against the Iraqi people. Lets bring all our troops home ASAP so they can all be reunited with their loved ones and live in peace.

What about the fourth condition: racism? In this particular article Peters does not express any racist attitudes. But in other articles he has. What is to be made of the following comments. Referring to the disastrous situation in Iraq, one of the reasons he gives is "The Arab genius for screwing things up." In another place he opines that it may be the case that "Arab societies can't support democracy as we know it."

Finally, an example of the fifth propaganda trait of fascism (disregard for the truth). Peters knows perfectly well that John Kerry's flat joke about being stupid and ending up in Iraq was made with reference to President Bush, not the troops, yet he writes in his article that our soldiers re-enlist even though they know they will be going back to war zones, "And no, Senator Kerry, its not because they're too stupid to get a 'real' job like yours or because they're 'mercenaries.'"

As the ultra right becomes more desperate at the prospects of regaining power in the coming years, we can expect to see a surge in emotional, irrational fascist type propaganda. We must expose it whenever we can.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor for Political Affairs magazine and can be reached at

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Marxism and Islamophobia
By Thomas Riggins

Last Thursday’s Arts section of The New York Times (2-8-07) has an interesting article about a rift within the world of book awards. This is admittedly an arcane world that most people are unaware of, yet it reflects the reality of the everyday world in which we all live.

This article, "In Books, A Clash of Europe and Islam" by Patricia Cohen, is about a controversy regarding nominations for the National Book Critics Circle award. The brouhaha in this relatively small world can tell us something about the larger world about us and, I maintain, can only be understood from a Marxist perspective.

The controversy is over one of the books nominated for the award, namely "While Europe Slept" by Bruce Bawer. Eliot Weinberger, one of the board members of the Circle, when he presented the list of nominations for the award, stated that Bawer’s book was an example of "racism as criticism."

Following that, the president of the Circle, John Freeman, announced that "I have never been more embarrassed by a choice than I have been with Bruce Bawer’s ‘While Europe Slept.’ Its hyperventilated rhetoric tips from actual critique into Islamophobia."

If what is said is true it reveals that reactionary and racist views are now openly being embraced by many in so called intellectually enlightened elite. After all, the 24 board members of the Book Critics Circle no doubt consider it slanderous to suggest that they could be tainted with racist or ethnic insensibility.

Here, for example, is the reaction of J. Peder Zane of "The News & Observer" published in Raleigh, N.C., and member of the committee that selected the book. It "was not a contentious selection," he said. He was also very putout with Mr. Weinberger’s comments. "He was not only completely unfair to Bruce Bawer [we shall see about that] he’s also saying that those of us who put the book on the finalist list are racist or to stupid to know we’re racist." I think we will see that the latter is the case but then the former characterization would also follow.

So what are Mr. Bawer’s views? He calls himself a "liberal" cultural critic but his views are anything but liberal, and he is much in vogue with the ultraconservative National Review types as well as the ethno-nationalist "intellectuals" in Europe where he lives. He is an American but lives in Norway.

Bawer's views are highly critical of radical, fundamentalist Islam, but there seems to be some blurring of the distinction between Islam as a religion in general and those who are fundamentalists. There is also a spill over involving immigrants to Europe from Islamic countries. Bawer rejects the characterization of "racism" because he says he is actually criticizing religious views. This is a red herring as he also attacks people who are ethnically distinct from Europeans (many in the Muslim community), advocates mass deportations, and appears sympathetic to neo-Nazi fringe political parties.

Here is what he says about his critics: "One of the most disgraceful developments of our time is that many Western authors and intellectuals who pride themselves on being liberals have effectively aligned themselves with an outrageously illiberal movement that rejects equal rights for women, that believes that gays and Jews should be executed, that supports the coldblooded murder of one's own children in the name of honor, etc., etc."

Here the distinction between radical extremist Islam and Islam in general is blurred. Liberal intellectuals defend the civil rights of immigrants, including Islamic immigrants, and the freedom of religious practice within the confines of the civil law. Liberal intellectuals do not support radical Islamists and none of the practices Bawer mentioned in his quote are practices any educated person, Western intellectual or otherwise, would condone.

Marxists see religious beliefs as an alienated reflection of the social environment in which people live. What appear to be backward beliefs caused by religion are really caused by backward social and economic conditions. Blaming these beliefs on religion per se is simply a way of ignoring the real causes and avoiding having to deal with social and economic relations resulting from human exploitation and class differentiations under feudalism and capitalism.

The extreme religious practices we find unacceptable in some sections of immigrant communities usually disappear as immigrants integrate into the host community. Progressives want to encourage such integration while ethno-nationalists such as Bawer want to prevent it, and thus actually reinforce the practices that they say they condemn.

Let me quote, from the Times' article, Imam Fatith Alev of the Islamic-Christian Study Center in Copenhagen. He says, "I think there is of course a legitimate concern with regard to the differences of culture. The real problem is that the ones who ought to know better, who are well educated and well informed on the diversity of culture" are using these problems for their own purposes.

Rushy Rashid, a Muslim author who grew up in Denmark where she lives, said, according to the Times, the real problem is not between Islamic and European values so much as it is a difference between the generations within the immigrant groups. She says, "the clash between the first, the second and third generations is huge. If you can digest that kind of a clash, then you can overcome and integrate into the society you are living in."

Bawer has his own solution to the "immigrant question." He tells us his views are unfairly attacked by people who call him names "instead of trying to respond to irrefutable facts and arguments." If Mr. Bawer's arguments are indeed "irrefutable" what would be the point of trying to respond to them? People who believe their opinions and arguments are "irrefutable" are manifesting that very same fundamentalist mentality they claim to be opposing.

Here is Bawer's solution. "European officials," he writes, "have a clear route out of this nightmare. They have armies. They have police. They have prisons. They're in a position to deport planeloads of people everyday. They could start rescuing Europe tomorrow."

Clearly, when you are calling out the army and advocating deportation of planeloads of people daily, there is more to it than a crackdown on violent militant Islamists. This looks like a call to a general assault on Muslim immigrants in general.

This may also explain his sympathetic defense of the Sweden Democrats in an opinion piece he wrote for the December 8, 2006 New York Sun. This article, "While Sweden Slept" is an incontinent attack on Swedish Social Democracy. The Sweden Democrats he champions in this article are a small radical right-wing party of ethno-nationalists. It grew out of the racist "Keep Sweden Swedish" movement of the 1980s. Their basic ideology is of the ein Volk, ein Reich variety. One of their own leaders resigned saying the party was infested with neo-Nazis, racists and holocaust deniers. The party is opposed to immigration and if it ever got into power would no doubt take Bawer's views on how to "rescue Europe" (or at least Sweden) seriously.

Zane, of the The News and Observer, and others who voted to nominate Bawer for the Book Critics Circle award, might want to reconsider the implication they are not aware of their own racism.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


The Iraq Syndrome and the Future of the U.S.
By Thomas Riggins

In last Thursday's New York Times (2-1-07), David Books, one of the Times' house reactionaries, wrote an article trying to show that there will be no Iraq Syndrome as there had been a Vietnam Syndrome ("The Iraq Syndrome, R.I.P."). Analyzing this article will allow us to separate fact from fiction in the conservative view of the U.S. and the world, as well as point to the possible future direction of U.S. policy – if the current nascent center-left coalition in Washington can hold and be moved more to the left by the people's movements.

For Brooks, the main feature of the Vietnam syndrome was that it made Americans "suspicious of power politics and hesitant about projecting American might around the world." He thinks the syndrome only lasted five years – the time between the U.S. defeat by the Vietnamese people's national liberation struggle and the election of Ronald Reagan.

Brooks leaves out one of the major, if not the major, factor of the Vietnam syndrome, which was fear of getting involved in a major land war and the attempted occupation of someone else's country, especially in culturally unfamiliar terrain, and more especially in Asia. If Korea had failed to educate the ruling class, Vietnam should have done the job. It did, but, alas, newer, brasher ruling class ideologues (Brooks is one of them) never learned the painful lessons of the past. The Vietnam syndrome actually came to an end after 25 years or so with the invasion of Iraq.

Brooks thinks it lasted only five years, but in truth the syndrome kept Reagan in his place as well as Bush, Sr. The mighty U.S. during this 25-year period worked up the courage to invade Granada and "defeat" its 500-person army. This was Reagan's greatest military feat. He cut and ran from Lebanon at the first sign of serious trouble, and was content with making a bombing raid on Libya, killing civilians including Col. Gaddafi's infant daughter, and used a terrorist proxy "army," which he funded with drug money and illegal weapons deals with Iran (Iran-Contra) to destabilize the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

Bush, Sr., managed to knock over Panama (whose military numbered about the size of the NYPD force stationed in Brooklyn), and he regained little Kuwait (but had the good sense to refrain from invading Iraq proper). Clinton got out of Somalia as fast as he went in when the bullets started flying, and used NATO and airpower to pulverize the peoples of the Balkans – but wisely kept U.S. ground troops away. It was the Vietnam syndrome that kept the world's largest imperial power restricted to such miniscule military adventures for so long. It was not until the clueless Bush, Jr., came to power and was manipulated by the neoconservative ultraright crypto-fascists, that the lessons of Vietnam were finally forgotten.

Brooks seems completely oblivious to this history. Actually, his reactionary blinders prevent him from seeing it. He has a vague awareness of the current reality. He admits the American people are "disillusioned" with Iraq, and that many here and abroad think that after our Iraq experience "America will turn inward again" (i.e., become more concerned with solving our domestic problems instead of playing world policeman). Many, he says, predict "an end to American hegemony."

It doesn't occur to him that an end to US hegemony would be a good thing not only for us but for the rest of the world as well. A multipolar and multilateral world in which all peoples can participate in influencing the future of our planet, whose very ability to sustain life as we know it is increasingly in question, through a reformed and strengthened United Nations, would not only be more peaceful but would obviously be more just as well.

So what does Brooks think about ending American hegemony. "Forget about it," he writes. He says the current debate about the war in Iraq is "about how to proceed" with it, not about "retracting American power and influence" in the world. Brooks has not been paying attention. The debate is about how to get out of Iraq and how to convince Bush to give up on a lost cause.

American power and influence is already in decline, and the debate about that is between those who want to halt the decline by trying to use force and violence and threats vis a vis other countries and those who want to use the UN and diplomacy to work with others to solve mutual problems and misunderstandings.

In an oblique reference to the massive defeat of the war-mongering Republicans in 2006, Brooks remarks that the Democrats "campaigned for Congress in 2006 by promising to increase the size of the military." Everyone understands that the American people voted the Democrats into office to put a stop to this insane and immoral war, not to build up the military.

Brooks tells us to look at the emerging "leaders" in both parties, but he mentions only McCain and Giuliani on the one hand, and Clinton and Edwards on the other. Brooks apparently considers them hawks and cites their positions to support his view that "This is not a country looking to avoid entangling alliances. This is not a country renouncing the threat of force." He thinks this shows that, "The Iraq syndrome is over before it even had a chance to begin."

The truth is that the Iraq syndrome is still in its embryonic stage, and Brooks' attempt to abort it will not succeed. As Bush continues to escalate his private, but publicly-funded war, and the nation further polarizes over the coming months as the situation on the ground in Iraq becomes so chaotic the US will be forced to abandon its dream of Middle Eastern hegemony, there will be major shifts in the political positions of the so called hawks. I don't know about the Republicans, but if Clinton and others don't shift to stands more acceptable to the antiwar movement their campaigns will ultimately tank. Two years is a long time, and by 2008 none of the four politicians mentioned by Brooks as "major American leaders" may be singing the same tune as today, or even still be in the race if they do so.

Brooks' complete misunderstanding of the America he lives in is further evidenced by his statements that:

1. "The U.S. has no material need to reconsider its dominant role in the world." This is because our military has "no serious rivals" and the economy is "humming along nicely." This is a ruling-class elite view. The cost of the military alone is borne by millions of working class Americans who lack health care, decent housing, good schools, and decent pay because of the money diverted to the military and tax breaks for big business and the wealthy. Bush's new federal budget proposal slashes social programs to fund the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan to the tune of $100 billion a year, or about $10,000 for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. For the vast majority of the American people we have every reason and material need "to reconsider" the U.S. trying to maintain its dominant role by other than diplomatic means and good example. There is more to a "humming" economy than corporate profits. ExxonMobil made its greatest profits last year, but they are also poisoning the atmosphere and gouging us at the pumps, and salivating after the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.

2. "The U.S. has no cultural need to retrench." Unlike Vietnam, Brooks says, the Iraq war has not led to a "generalized loss of faith in the American system or in American goodness." What piffle is this? The ruling class has created a culture based on violence, war, voter fraud and election tampering, corporate profiteering, environmental destruction, and contempt for working people at home and other nations and peoples abroad. The "American system" is in disarray and deeply in need of renovation and renewal to preserve democratic rule and the Bill of Rights.

"American goodness" is a fantasy in which only the ultra right believes. Any "goodness" that currently exists is found in the working people and their allies who want to end the immoral and criminal domination of the country by monopoly capital, the military-industrial complex, neocon politicians, and their media mouthpieces such as Brooks.

3. "There hasn't even been a broad political shift in favor of the doves." Brooks says this because he considers "the most important war critics" to be Jack Murtha, Chuck Hagel, and Jim Webb who "are military types." The ultra-right just doesn't get it. The most important war critics are the American people.

Brooks ends with a paean to the make-believe America of his dreams, an America that exists to spread "freedom" wherever it has gone in the past or will go in the future, and that has as its mission to be "the vanguard of progress."

He confidently predicts the future, a future it is up to us to prevent. He says the next president and the future congress will
expand the military, entrench the U.S. in the Middle East, promote our "nation building capacity" (even though we cannot even rebuild New Orleans) and continue "our long expansionist story." His prediction might come true if we fail to organize and unite the center-left forces, the real majority, to fight for peace and the vision that a different world is possible.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and
can be reached at [Originally from PA on-line]