Turkey Fiddles While Kobani Burns

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on October 9, 2014 by playthell
kobane Burns
ISISL’S Scorched Earth Policy

 On the Anatomy of a Bloody Quagmire

As I write, President Obama is meeting with his military advisors to discuss US strategy in the war against ISISL, which is on the verge of capturing yet another city and annexing it into their newly formed Caliphate under the ruthless leadership of Caliph Ibrahim – a radical Muslim theologian who regards himself as a soldier of Allah.   It’s a sure bet that anyone with an affection for puzzles, make believe, and games of self-deception would be mightily entertained by the proceedings when Barack meets with his war counselors.

It is obvious to any candid observer well acquainted with the realities of the Sunni Jihad in Syria and Iraq, and the Caliphate they have established,  in an area that includes land from both countries which they intend to extend from Damascus to Baghdad, that the present American policy will not work.  In fact, it is more than fair to say that in the fight with ISISL the US is working at cross-purposes with itself.

There are so many contradictions among the various forces fighting in Iraq and Syria that as the bullets continue to fly, the conflict will increasingly resemble a circular firing squad!  For instance the coalition that could quickly and efficiently wipe out ISISL would include Iran, Turkey and the Kurds, led by US airpower and intelligence.  Since they are the ones directly menaced these countries should supply the main ground forces, with whatever number of American advisors they require on the ground.

But President Obama has repeatedly pledged not to put “American boots on the ground” in any of these countries.  Furthermore identifying an effective coalition is one thing, while being able to forge a working alliance is quite another.  The problem in the present instance is that there are longstanding grievances between the various parties who would make up the coalition, and the kind of wise statesmanship based on realpolitik that the situation demands is sadly lacking.

Alas, since the United States has taken an ironclad position that Iran is our mortal enemy, no alliance can be made with them.  Yet it is the US that has repeatedly launched aggressive actions against Iran, who has no history of aggression against the US, while Iran and the US both share a vital national interest in destroying ISISL.  It is all too clear that eschewing an alliance with Iran is a shortsighted view of diplomacy that may yet prove disastrous, for the paramount US objective in the region is the defeat of the ISISL Caliphate.  Yet as I write the Jihadist forces are advancing on every front.  They are literally at the Turkish border.  However the Turks are content to park their tanks on the hills above Kabone in a show of force while ISISL wreaks havoc below.  Pleas from the Kurds for the Turks to engage ISISL and prevent them from taking the city have thus far fallen on deaf ears. In fact Turkish President Erdogan has said on record that he considers the PKK, the Kurds’ major militia that the US is now arming, to be just as much a group of terrorists as ISISL   The US formerly shared that view.

 Turkish Tanks cover the Hills
Turkis Tanks on Hill above Kabone
All Show and No Go

As of Thursday morning the Turks have refused to engage ISISL Knowledgeable observers of events in the region believe that ISISL forces will soon occupy Kobane because American airstrikes are ineffective in preventing it.  This is largely due to the fact that ISISL forces are now mixed with the civilian populace, which limits the use of bombs lest the US end up killing more innocent people and winning more recruits for the Jihad.

However the hesitation of the Turks is largely due to the fact that they do not wish to see the Kurds armed with state of the art weapons, because the Turks have been engaged in a long standing fight against the creation of an independent Kurdistan.  It also explains why the Turks have blocked the Kurds from using Turkish territory as a thoroughfare to ferry men and materials needed for the fight against ISISL in Kobane, despite the swelling chorus calling for them to do more in the effort to defeat the Jihadists.  But the Turks reply that they see no need to get involved in “a fight between two terrorist groups.”

Furthermore, the US’s stated objective is defeating ISISL but the Turks are also interested in defeating the Assad regime in Syria, which is not part of the US Mission, although the Obama Administration is on record as opposing that regime.   However by opposing ISISL, al Qaeda, the al Nuesra Front and any other offshoots of the radical Sunni Islamists, the US is an objective ally of the Assad regime who also oppose these same forces.  Hence when we consider the main US plan of action which is to arm and train a ragtag force of military novices called “The Free Syrian Army,” whose paramount objective is to defeat the Assad regime, there is not much room for optimism.

Lest we forget, the US spent a decade training the Iraqi National Army and equipping them with top shelf American weaponry, but in their first real battle against ISISL four divisions fled like terrified school boys and left all of their weapons in the field!  Those weapons are now part of ISISL’s arsenal. The question begged by this recent history is: What makes American military planners believe the “Free Syrian Army” – which it is estimated will be ready to take the field in a year – shall fare any better against ISISL forces?   One does not need a crystal ball to see the future here: Any weapons the US supplies to the so-called “Free Syrian Army” are destined to end up in the hands of the Jihadists.

This will make ISISL forces even harder to defeat as they become firmly ensconced within the territory they have claimed for the caliphate; which means that those tasked with extracting them could end up on the job for a long time.  In testimony before the House Committee on Armed Services on July 29th 2014, Dr. Stephen Biddle, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University, argued that there was little hope for an Iraqi “government offensive able to regain control over ISIL-occupied areas in the old Sunni Triangle.   Even U.S. Army and Marine forces with massive air support found these areas difficult to control before 2008; this goal will remain beyond the Government of Iraq’s reach for a long time to come. “

Referring to the statistical data regarding civil wars like those in Iraq and Syria Dr. Biddle testified to the committee “Wars of this kind are rarely short. Of 128 civil wars fought between 1945 and 2004, only one-fourth ended within two years. Datasets vary slightly with war definitions and other details, but most put the median duration of such wars at 7-10 years, with an important minority of conflicts dragging on for a generation or more.”  Hence when critics of US policy aimed at “eradicating ISIL”  refer to it as a new  “thirty year war,” such as longtime conservative pundit and presidential advisor Pat Buchannan, they are not just engaging in anti-Obama hyperbole.

In view of these grim realities the US appears to be trapped in a quagmire from which there is no foreseeable road to victory, and no acceptable path of retreat.  It is as if the entire Middle East is a giant quicksand pit in which US forces – like our dreams for a peaceful, prosperous, stable and pro-American region –  are trapped and slowly sinking.  Alas, despite America’s air strikes Kobane burns from ISISL’s fire while our allies the Turks – who possess a formidable military arsenal of almost 4000 tanks and hundreds of aircraft – fiddle away on the hillsides and watch the action as two “terrorist” groups slaughter each other.  In fact the blase Turks wonder what all the American anxiety is about.  “The civilians have all fled Kobane,” said a spokesman for the Turkish government, “there is no tragedy here.”

 

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September 9, 2014

 

 

Senator Warren is Right: Investigate the Fed!

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on October 2, 2014 by playthell

Carmen Segarra

Carmen Segarra: She exposed Fed’s unsavory relationship with Financial Industry

Was the Fed’s Relationship with Goldman Sachs Criminal?

The revelations of a former Bank Regulator with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Carmen Segarra, provides a shocking insider’s view of the unhealthy relationship between the nation’s top financial institutions – the Wall Street crowd that wrecked the US economy and sparked a global recession – and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York which is tasked with regulating them.  Ms. Segarra, a highly qualified lawyer who holds degrees from Harvard, Cornell and Columbia universities, and has also studied international law at the Sorbonne in Paris, has not only spilled the beans about shady dealings between federal regulators and the mammoth Wall Street investment banking firm of Goldman Sachs, but has charged in court that she was fired for vigorously pursuing her duties.

Usually these kinds of shady dealings are inside stuff, the kind of secret palavers that never enter the public sphere; hence should a whistle blower go to the press it’s a “he says,”, “she says,” dispute.  Ms. Segarra realized this, and took steps to negate that problem by secretly recording the meetings she had with her superiors.  When she recognized what was happening, that bank regulators were still looking the other way at financial mis-dealings even after the great financial crash of the Bush years – she went to the Spy Store and purchased a miniature recording device that was easy to conceal and recorded 48 hours of meetings.

Ms. Segarra recognized that these kinds of massive organizations, whether government bureaucracies or private corporations, enjoy the services of powerful legal firms, while the whistle blower stands alone.  When one considers the fact that taking such a stand means that one’s career in the industry is over because no one wants to employ a squealer, and the whistle blower is left with what they can get from suing the employer for wrongful termination, a process that can take years – which is the situation in which Ms. Segarra now finds herself now – it takes a person of heroic character to step forward with allegations of wrong doing.

However Ms. Segarra’s actions flowed from her motives for becoming a bank regulator.  Whereas many of her colleagues viewed their position as a stepping stone to employment in the banking industry, Segarra took the job because she witnessed the financial devastation of her friends and family as a result of the Great Recession resulting from the Bush Administration’s policy of non-regulation of the financial industry.

After the passage of the Dodd-Frank Bill establishing a new regulatory regime on the nation’s financial institutions the FED hired a new group of regulators to vigorously enforce the new regulations.  Ms. Segarra took one of those jobs in the belief that she could use her expertise to help fix our broken banking system. “I actually studied business law and regulation in law school.” She tells us.  “I co-wrote a law review article on Y2K [the millennial computer bug], which ended up being published. As a result of that, my co-author and I were asked to work on setting up the Y2K legal and compliance program for a bank. I discovered early on that I enjoyed learning about a law and immediately applying it, much the same way that I enjoy learning and speaking a new language.” She speaks several languages by the way.

Ms. Segarra goes on to tell us “as a general practitioner, I have worked closely with a wide range of laws and regulations that apply across the banking and investment sectors, as opposed to just specializing in one particular type of law or regulation. As a bank examiner, you get to use that knowledge and those skills to evaluate what others have built, and, if and when necessary, point out ways to improve them.”  However she would soon discover that there were obstacles in her path as she tried to do her job, and what was worse those obstacles were placed there by her supervisors, the very managers who were supposed to assist her in carrying out her duties – which was to put procedures in place that would help prevent another financial meltdown that could imperil the world economy.

She first noticed the lack of diligence on the part of FED regulators when she witnessed the Examiner embedded in Goldman Sachs make a statement that suggested the investment banking house was too big to be subjected to certain regulations they were charged with enforcing.  Shocked by the comment she later questioned her manager about it and suggested that this was a situation she should look into.  Instead of getting the enthusiastic green light she expected, the manager told her “you didn’t hear that.”  A regulator from the FDIC, which insures the assets of depositors against bank failures up to $250.000, was also present in the room and she asked him if he had heard the comment and he assured her that he did.

Since she was lured to the bank examiner’s job by their mandate to investigate and monitor the practices of those very financial institutions deemed “too big to fail,” which the government had just spent hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars bailing out of the red in order to prevent the total collapse of the banking system, which would have ushered in a depression worse than the 1930’s, she was appalled by the attitude of the embedded regulator at Goldman Sachs and her supervisor.

Segarra was to discover that even after the passage of Dodd-Frank, which the disloyal Republican opposition who controlled the House of Representatives refused to fully fund, many of the same old practices that had permitted the kinds of shady financial dealings which led to the collapse was still going on.  She would also come to realize that this problem was fostered by the close relationship between the regulators and the institutions they were supposed to regulate.  The FED’s well-intentioned but misguided decision to embed regulators in the institutions they were watching over had resulted in overly friendly relations with the top executives of those institutions.  And this led to a bending of the rules.

The extent of this cozy relationship had already been described in an independent 2009 report written by David Bind, a Columbia University professor of finance who had previously been a banker. Professor Professor Bind led an investigation into systemic problems that contributed to the financial crash; his report concluded that the regulators had failed to do their job of vigorously policing Wall Street to prevent them from engaging in risky or illegal activities.

Instead they had fallen into a condition that he calls “Regulatory Capture,” which resulted the bank  “Examiners” treating the banks like “a watch dog who licks and intruder in the face and plays catch rather than bark at him.”  Since the report had attracted so little attention Ms. Segarra does not seem to have been aware of it.  But based on her experience the professor got in right.

The evidence Ms. Segarra has compiled on her secretly recorded tapes amount to a smoking gun with finger prints and DNA samples on the handle.   It’s irrefutable!   We hear her supervisors try and discourage her from following leads regarding wrong doing at Goldman Sachs – some of it blatant.  For example she uncovered an acquisition in which Goldman Sachs was advising both sides for millions of dollars in fees, and the firm also had a large ownership share in one of the companies, in which her supervisor had a personal stake of several hundred thousand dollars.   Carmen Segarra correctly flagged this as an egregious case of conflict of interests.

This led her to interrogate executives at Goldman Sachs about their conflict of interest policy and found that they had none.  She thought this was incredulous, an outrage for a company that was conducting deals all over the world amounting to billions of dollars.  How could a financial behemoth with global reach not have a clearly defined conflict of interest policy?  If ever there was a situation that cried out for an investigation this was it!

Yet when she reported her discovery to her supervisor she was met with a lukewarm response bordering on indifference.  She was told that this was her personal “perception” of the situation and the FED arrived at conclusions on important matters by “consensus.”  She thought this was a ridiculous line of argument when the evidence of conflict of interests and the absence of any policy to deal with it was overwhelming.   When she said as much she was told by her supervisor that she was considered “arrogant” by higher ups in the agency, and that if she wanted to advance in her career in the agency she should learn to become a team player.  At which point Segarra asked outright if she was in danger of being fire for trying to do a good job.  The supervisor sidestepped the question but made it clear that she was on the road to nowhere.  And we hear it all loud and clear on the tapes!  Ms. Segarra was eventually fired, and she is suing the New York Fed for unjustified termination.

Now that the tapes are being made public there is a growing outcry for an investigation of how the FED operates and their relationship with Goldman Sachs. The outrage is reflected even in that voice of the Wall Street establishment, The Wall Street Journal, which has denounced the preferential treatment given to certain gigantic Wall Street firms by both the FED and the federal courts.  Carmen Segarra has opened a gigantic can of worms and provided us an unfettered view of what’s going down on The Street, which allows us to see the anatomy of a system that continues to produce  financial crises that devastate the middle and working classes while the investor class continues to get richer.

It is even more important that the federal regulators do their jobs honestly and efficiently now than it was before the crash, because if a major banking institution fails now the government has less authority to bail them out.  And as we are told in a New York Times article of September 30th 2014, it was the fall of Lehman Brothers that set the forces in motion that led to the world-wide financial panic.  What is clear in retrospect as we learn from the Time’s extensive interviews with major players in the government who decided not to rescue Lehman Brothers – Ben Barnake, Federal Reserve Chairman, Tim Geithner, President of the New York FED bank, and Hank Paulson, Treasury Secretary – is that they had the authority to rescue Lehman and made a political decision not to.

Having already received scathing criticism from the left and the “free market” crowd on the right for employing the resources of the US Treasury to rescue Bear Sterns, a private investment firm, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae – two giant government backed mortgage companies, in 2008, when FED Chairman Ben Bernanke approached him about rescuing Lehman Brothers Paulson refused, telling him that he did not want to become known as “Mr. Bailout.”  However after the financial system crashed like falling  dominoes from forces set in motion by the fall of Lehman Brothers, Paulson did indeed become “Mr. Bailout.”  Hence it is frightening to learn from Ms. Segarra that it could all happen again because bank regulators are not doing their jobs.

That’s why we are blessed and highly favored to have an intrepid intellectual warrior and fearless defender of the working class and public interests such as Senator Elizabeth Warren, a former Harvard law professor – who is calling for a thorough investigation of the relationship between the FED, Goldman Sachs and other financial institutions.   It is one of the most important issues of our times and it should be thoroughly investigated.  Like Carmen Segarra, I too know honorable, law abiding people who were wiped out by the Bush Crash, including my sister Melba, a career educator and as fine a citizen as ever lived in America, whose life savings were ravaged!

Senator Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren

So I not only support Senator Warren’s call for a congressional investigation, I think she should chair it.  This would be a historical irony and poetic justice for those who torpedoed her chances of heading the regulatory agency she designed to regulate Wall Street bankers, now she’s baaaaack!  And she has returned in an even more powerful incarnation; at least as a government regulator the reactionary Republicans in Congress would have exercised some authority over her; but as the Senator from Massachusetts they have none!

We should also make this an election issue.  Let those who are opposed to an investigation into the dirty dealings of the avaricious plutocrats, and their unholy alliance with government shills, go on record with their opposition.  I believe their ranks will be thin!  Furthermore I think we should demand that President Obama appoint a special prosecutor under the auspices of a Department of Justice headed by a new Attorney General named Kamala Harris, the brilliant, beautiful, energetic Attorney General of California.

 

Kamala Harris

kamala-harris-45th-naacp-image-awards-01

Hopefully the next US Attorney General

She would be the ideal Attorney General to oversee such a historic investigation because along with Bo Biden, the Delaware AG, Ms. Harris has been a leading figure in investigating and prosecuting financial institutions whose wrong doing led to the Bush crash that caused so many Americans to lose their homes and life’s savings.  The lead investigator in this case would be Carmen Segarra and the Special Prosecutor would be former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer who was death on the Wall Street crowd when he was the New York AG.  Nobody knows those scoundrels better and he is a ruthless prosecutor.  This is my dream team….are you listening Chilly B?

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To Hear Carmen Segarra’s Secret Tapes Click on the link Below

http://youtu.be/9izXXWY3spA

Playthell G. Benjamin

New York, New York

October 1, 2014

Dead Men Walking!  

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , on September 28, 2014 by playthell

Arab supporters of US against ISIL- Dead Mem Walking

Arab Leaders Allied with the US in Fight against ISIL

 Secular Princes and Powers are marked men among the Jihadists

Much is being made of the fact that the leading Sunni Arab nations have joined a US led coalition formed to fight and destroy the ISIL Caliphate that has seized control of large portions of the territory of Iraq and Syria.  Under the leadership of Caliph Ibrahim – aka Abubakari al Baghdadi – they have instituted Sharia Law in the conquered territory, which is larger than Massachusetts and devised a system for raising revenues by selling oil and ancient treasures on the black market.

They are estimated to have a treasury of a two billion dollars, and are prepared to defend the boundaries of the Caliphate with state of the art American weaponry seized from a fleeing Iraqi army.  This is no hit and run affair that is typical of terrorist groups, the leaders of ISIL regard themselves as pioneers, holy warriors establishing a 21st century Caliphate based on Caliphates of the middle ages, when Islamic civilization was the marvel of the world.

Caliph Ibrahim may be a madman but he is no light-weight; he holds an undergraduate degree in history and a doctorate in Sharia Law.  He is also a poet.  Before the US invaded Iraq he was an Islamic scholar and Imam; after the invasion he became a part of the Sunni resistance movement and was captured by US forces.  He was released after four years of imprisonment and turned over to the Iraqi government, who later released him.  But during his incarceration he met seasoned al Qaeda militants and was tutored in the techniques of terror.    Thus by the time of his release he had become such a committed holy warrior an American Army officer remembers him smirking and saying :”See you guys in New York.”  I bet they wish they had capped him now!  As the leadership of al Qaeda in Iraq was devastated, al Baghdadi rose up the ranks and eventually became the most powerful commander of the Iraqi insurgency.

 

Holy Warrior: Caliph Ibrahim of ISIL

 Abu-Bakr-al-Baghdadi-Al-Qaeda-Iraq-ISIS-400x330

 The Self-proclaimed “Leader of all Muslims”

 He has broken with the central command of Al Qaeda claiming they are too  passive and denounced HAMAS for seeking a cease fire with Israel, despite the shellacking they were taking.  Disgusted with what he precieves as the timidity of the Muslim world in the face of insult and injury from the western world and the transgressions of their Zionist agents, he went on to set up his own caliphate on territory that straddles Iraq and Syria.

The Islamic Caliphate of Iraq Syria and the Levant is governed by strict Sharia Law and practices from the  Islamic Caliphate of the 8th century’  Music is banned and all women are forced to wear veils – indeed they are flogged for “immodesty” and the mere suspicion of adultery, which could result in stoning if she is found guilty.  Thieves have their hands cut off, drinking or smoking are banned, and those who do not submit to Allah and their version of the Koran or profess a belief in Christianity, Judaism and even the Shiite version of Islam will be crucified.  ISIL has routinely destroyed many beautiful and ancient Shiite Mosques, which prompted the Leader of Iran to denounce them as godless barbarians promoting a fake version of Islam.

ISIL is the most vicious organization the Jihadi movement has produced thus far, being too radical even for al Qaeda!  Leaders throughout the Muslim world are terrified to death of them, and for good reason too. Caliph Ibrahim has declared himself the only true servant of Allah and ISIL is the only true Islamic society.  All the leaders of Muslim societies whether monarchs, military men or democratically elected representatives of the people are apostates who should be put to death.

Hence Ibrahim’s intention is to foster their overthrow and annex their countries into the Caliphate he is building.  And he teaches his followers that this objective is to be carried out by the same methods as those employed by the original Jihads that spread Islam after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century, which were characterized by invasions of many countries and mass slaughters of unbelievers.  Beheadings was a common punishment for those who refused to convert.

Hence those who argue that he is not practicing “real Islam” have a difficult argument to make because Caliph Omar insist that he has gone back to the foundational practices of Islam…and it is they who are the apostates.  As an Islamic scholar it will be hard to discredit him in the eyes of the zealots who are flocking to his ranks.  And in any case the Caliph is not inclined to settle this dispute in polite theological debate; rather he has denounced them as enemies of the faith.  And he has declared that terrorism is the proper method for Muslims to deal with the enemies of Islam; there is no shame in their bloody game. That’s why they video tape their beheadings and put them on the internet.  Their intention is to terrify all who would oppose them and judging by the way the well-equipped, American trained, Iraqi national army fled and left their weapons in the field when they encountered them it is safe to conclude that their strategy is working.

Since it is their avowed intention to put all of the present leaders of Muslim countries to the blade, preferably lopping off their heads in public executions, it is no wonder that they have flocked to Barack’s banner in his campaign against ISIL.   They are literally trying to keep from losing their heads.  But they are all as skittish as cats on a hot tin roof, because by joining forces with the number one enemy of the Muslim world – given the history of US policy in the region this is an easy case to make – they risk revolts in their own countries.  This fear causes them to adopt more and more repressive policies in an attempt to ferret out any trace of radical Islam in the populace, which in turn drives more youths to radicalism…it becomes a symbiotic relationship.  Hence they have joined the US led coalition as an act of self-preservation.

Ironically, some of these countries have contributed to the rise of radical Islam, especially Saudi Arabia with their Wahabbist version of of the faith.  Lest we forget, about half of the Jihadist who crashed the planes into the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon were Saudis.  It was Saudi Arabia that gave a home to members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood when Colonel Nasser turned on them in the early 1960’s, even commissioning Dr. Muhammad Guthb -the brother of Sayeed Guthb, father of the modern Jihad, who was hanged by Nasser in 1966 – to develop an Islamic Studies department at King Faisel University.  The ideas generated by the Muslim theologians in this program produced Osama bin Laden’s fanaticism and is a bedrock element of Caliph Ibrahim’s theology.

The fact that radical Islamist movements have received financial backing from rich Arabs residing in the countries that now make up the Arab contingent of the Obama coalition, testifies to the shaky ground on which these leaders stand.  They, even more than we, want to see the demise of ISIL and the Jihadist movement in general, because as long as the Jihadist are alive and well, the secular princes and powers that rule the Muslim world are dead men walking.  The problem for Caliph Ibrahim is that by declaring war on the entire world – following the logic of the Jihad based on his understanding of the mandate of the Koran which he believes reveals the will of God – he has made himself the target of a lot of big guns – even the Russians have announced that they are joining the coliltion.   Thus the Caliph has put himself squarely in the sights of laser guided bombs and computer programmed drones whose itchy fingered triggermen are anxious to get a shot at him….so he too is a dead man walking.

 

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

President Obama at the United Nations

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , on September 25, 2014 by playthell
68th Session Of The United Nations General Assembly Begins
Calling for the world to join the fight against ISIL

              

The Security Council Tackles the ISIL Menace

In an extraordinary session of the UN Security Council chaired by President Obama, the question of Islamic Jihadist terrorism – specifically the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant aka ISIL – and what to do about it was explored.  Due to the gravity and urgency of the matter, even governments that are not members of this omnipotent body were invited to participate in the deliberations if their countries   were menaced by Islamic Jihadists. After discussion and comment Resolution 2170 was passed by the Security Council.

The Resolution was drafted under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which authorizes “ACTION WITH RESPECT TO THREATS TO THE PEACE, BREACHES OF THE PEACE, AND ACTS OF AGGRESSION.“  The action that may be taken by UN member states is spelled out in articles 41 and 42 of the Charter which authorizes military action by “Land, Sea and Air.”   A document of nearly 5,000 words, the resolution is titled “Condemning Gross, Widespread Abuse of Human Rights by Extremist Groups in Iraq, Syria,” was passed by the Council and details a plan of action which addresses issues ranging from “Terrorism,” “Foreign Terrorist Fighters,” “Terrorist Financing,” and Sanctions against those who give financial support to the Jihadists, taking the unprecedented step of naming individuals in the text of the resolutions.

In an earlier speech before the UN general Assembly, President Obama declared “There can be no reasoning, no negotiation, with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.”  This declaration will no doubt be viewed as self-serving apologia by many observers around the world, since the US is already bombing Syria without requesting the consent of the Syrian government.  Indeed the Iranians and the Russians have already called these attacks a violation of international law.

This fact, coupled with the long history of the US unilateral intervention in the internal affairs of other nations – over a hundred times in the 20th century – often overthrowing legally constituted governments to impose its will such as in Iran and Iraq, must leave many delegations wondering who is the greater menace to their national security – the Jihadists or the US.  Unfazed by this reality, and convinced that the horrors of ISIL are such that the motion of history is on his side the President declared a no holds barred war on ISIL.

After some opening remarks stating the reason for the Security Council session, President Obama turned the microphone over to the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, who laid out the dimensions of the problem.   At this top level meeting attended by Heads of State and Foreign Ministers, the various delegates spoke, giving their analysis of the crisis spawned by Islamic terrorism.   It quickly became clear that there is a multiplicity of views on the phenomenon.  For instance, while the US president only wanted to talk about the evils of radical Islamic Jihadists, the role of Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people was a recurrent theme among the other delegates.

For instance Christina Fernandez, the President of Argentina, expressed scepticism about the US approach to fighting Islamic terrorism.  In an eloquent impassioned speech suffused with frustration and bewilderment, she pointed out that the American decision to arm the so-called “Free Syrian Army” is just old wine in new bottles.  She recounted similar American actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, each time with a certainty that such actions would solve the problem of Islamic terrorism, but in each instance the Jihadists come back stronger.  She pointed out that the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIL was born of such policies.

Christina Fernandez: President of Argentina

Argentinian President

Asking Penetrating Questions

President Fernandez also pointed out that we really don’t know who the forces are fighting against the Assad government, and to arm them with sophisticated weapons might well result in a replay of past blunders.  She also pointed out that the Israeli treatment of the Palestinian people was a major recruiting tool for the Jihadists, and expressed the view that military power alone would not defeat Jihadism; only addressing the underlying issues that feed the movement with new recruits can accomplish this.

The Russian Foreign Minister reiterated this theme, and called for a deep analysis of the problem that would address the root causes of Jihadist movements.  Among the factors he cited for the dramatic growth of ISIL is the policies Israel imposes on the Palestinians.   Herein lies the problem for President Obama, he cannot honestly discuss the role of Israeli policies in the radicalization of young Muslims everywhere who are then recruited into Jihadist movements like ISIL.  Hence when the President passionately opines that the opponents of radical Islam must win the hearts and minds of young people in the Arab world it comes across as just so much hypocritical mumbo jumbo.

Thus we are once again confronted with the age old paradox, one man’s “terrorist” is another man’s “Freedom fighter!” To the Palestinians and their supporters the Israeli’s are the most dangerous terrorists in the Middle East, and they are by far the oldest; having seized their land by armed force and subjected them to a reign of terror for 60 years!  Yet while the US blocks all criticism of Israel in the UN, it supplies the arms Israel used to kill Palestinians who are virtually defenseless.   They also witness the US slaughtering Muslims everywhere under the banner or fighting tyranny, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan.  When confronted with these facts by radical Arab youths, their elders have no convincing arguments.

Their radicalized children see them as spineless cowards who have surrendered in the face of western aggression in Muslim lands, which they regard as disgraceful and wish to regain the honor of the Islamic world.  That’s why young Muslims of all classes are flocking to join the global Jihad.  Now the US is leading the fight against the ISIL Caliphate, the first Sunni state based on Sharia Law with a territorial base larger than Great Britain, which once ruled much of the world.   Given this fact, I wouldn’t bet the farm on Obama’s chances of “winning the hearts and minds” of radical Arab Youths.

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Alas, as I have pointed out in a previous essay, President Obama’s actions does not match his rhetoric, he has promised to destroy the ISIL Caliphate while quickly assuring the American people – who have demanded that he “do something” to retaliate for the Americans who were beheaded on the internet by ISIL executioners while essentially saying “fuck you pussy!” to the American President and people – that there will be no American boots on the Ground.”  Instead Mr. Obama has restricted America’s military actions to air strikes, intelligence gathering and drones.  But no military expert that I have heard  – and I’ve heard aplenty – believes that ISIL can be destroyed with this strategy: degrade maybe….destroy, not too much.

Given the fact that Barack Obama, like Jimmy Carter, is real swift on the cap, a genuine intellectual, there is no way he does not see the limitations of his program.  If I can peep the flaws in his game plan based on the limited information I can glean from public sources, it’s a safe bet that given the multi-billion dollar world-wide intelligence services that produce the intelligence “product” he reads at the beginning of each day, Barack can see it too.  Yet we have no reliable ground forces, without which it is impossible to destroy ISIL.  When Hillary Clinton and John McCain first suggested that President Obama arm the so called “Free Syrian Army,” the President called the idea “a fantasy.”

Now he has done an about face and announced that the  US will arm and train the Free Syrian Army  as a “moderate Islamic” force to fight both the Jihadist In ISIL and the Al Nusra Front and the Assad government in Syria.  The projection is that 8000 of these summer soldiers will be ready to take the field and wage a war on three fronts against seasoned combat forces armed with state of the arts weapons and employing a scorched earth policy.   I put their chances of success as being less than the chances of a snowball in a pizza oven!  So what’s the real deal here, why is Barack selling woff tickets to the world?

After pondering this enigma I concluded that he must be taking a page from the political playbook of Franklin Delanor Roosevelt, whom he is known to admire.  After meeting with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and getting the low down on the Nazi’s, with whom the British were already at war, Roosevelt came away convinced that Hitler was a murderous mad man who must be stopped and the US had to enter the war to stop him.  However he was up for reelection and needed the vote of Irish Catholics to win.  But memories of their troubles under British rule were so fresh and bitter they would oppose any effort to save Britain, let alone go to war.

So Roosevelt lied to them in order to serve the greater goal of defeating the Nazi’s: He swore he would never send their sons to war in Europe….while all the time planning to do just that.  Since I believe Barack Obama is the most honest, humane and honorable man to ever occupy the Oval Office, a peacenik in his heart of hearts, it seemed to me that Barack had chosen a similar path and is prepared to send American ground troops if that’s what the defeat of ISIL requires.

However, University of Michigan Professor  Juan Cole, one of the world’s most thoughtful scholars on the Middle East and a careful student of American foreign policy in the region, suggests another scenario:

What if Obama is a sharper reader of the Middle East than his critics give him credit for? He knows ISIL is likely not going away, just as, after 13 years, the Taliban have not. US military action may even prolong the lifetime of these groups (that is one argument about Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) even as it keeps them from taking more territory.  Don’t listen to his expansive four-stage program or his retooled, stage-managed John Wayne rhetoric. Look at his metaphors. He is telling those who have ears to hear that he is pulling a Yemen in Iraq and Syria. He knows very well what that implies. It is a sort of desultory, staccato containment from the air with a variety of grassroots and governmental forces joining in. Yemen is widely regarded as a failure, but perhaps it is only not a success. And perhaps that is all Obama can realistically hope for.

Perhaps Dr. Cole’s analysis in the present war will prove as prescient as his predictions regarding the Bush Invasion of Iraq.  Whichever scenario proves to be true we are in yet another war in the Middle-East; this time with cheers and well wishes from around the world, as none of the delegates at the Security Council meeting opposed Resolution 2170.

 

Now They are the Targets

ISIS Mass Killings

We shall see how they fare under sustained fire

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September 25, 2014

Arming Syrian Rebels is Folly!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , on September 23, 2014 by playthell
Reagan_sitting_with_people_from_the_Afghanistan-Pakistan_region_in_February_1983
President Reagan with Afghan Leaders who organized the Taliban and Al Qaeda
 

An Open Letter to President Obama

Those who fail to learn History’s Lessons are bound to repeat its Mistakes, warned Harvard philosopher George Santayana.  Hence I beseech you Mr. President, before you carry out your decision to arm any faction among the various forces fighting to overthrow Syrian President Assad, in the hope that they will prove an effective fighting force against ISIL – Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – think again, and carefully consider the history of your predecessors who thought they could determine the course of events in that region by supplying weapons to one side in an armed conflict.

The belief that the US government can determine political outcomes in foreign nations by intervening in their internal affairs has clearly been a guiding principle of US Middle East policy, going back to President Eisenhower’s decision to overthrow Muhammad Mossedek, the democratically elected leader of Iran in 1953, by a CIA organized coup.  In place of this liberal, modern, western educated democrat, the US installed Shah Reza Pahlevi, who was a tyrannical modernizing autocrat – a development that energized the Islamist movement in Iran who despised his secularism, profligate life style and police stae methods of suppressing dissent.

Presidents of both parties have continued to entertain this illusion, despite the fact that Eisenhower’s coup led directly to the Islamic revolution in Iran – the world’s first and only thus far – and the emergence of the Islamic Republic that now causes your administration such anxiety.   Alas, if you are not careful the Israeli’s, who are viewed all over the region as US proxys, will attack Iran and we will inevitably be blamed for their aggressions.  And that would surely prove disastrous now that you will need the cooperation of Iran to defeat ISIL, which seems to have emerged from the ether and become the foremost threat to American interests in the Arab world.  As things stand defeating ISIL is a struggle that our finest military minds estimate will take years to accomplish;  some say a as long as a decade.

The misguided American intervention into the internal affairs of Iran in 1953 directly led the Islamic Revolution in 1979 – in which American diplomats were taken hostage as a bargaining chip to force the US government to return the Shah to Iran, where he could be put on trial for his myriad crimes against the Iranian people.  The seizure of American Foreign Service officers was a major factor in Jimmy Carter’s defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1981.  However before departing office President Carter began US intervention into the internal affairs of Afghanistan, by providing assistance to the Afghan Mujahedeen, a diverse coalition of Islamic zealots fighting against the pro-Russian backed government led by the People’s Democratic  Party of Afghanistan.

Although nobody in the US State Department or Central Intelligence Agency knew much about these rag tag insurgents and devoted servants of Allah, the mere fact that they were fervent anti-communist and willing to fight the Russians was enough for Ziebnew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Advisor who is a Polish immigrant with a visceral hatred for Russians fueled by age old conflicts between the Poles and Russians in Europe.   Brzezinski convinced President Carter to order the CIA to fund, arm and train the Mujahedeen.  Everyone at the time thought this grand covert action scheme a great plan that could determine the outcome of that historic struggle between Islam and Communism.  From the US point of view this seemed a great way of checking Russian advances in that region of the world without actually committing American troops.

It was this kind of flawed reasoning that led to the creation of the Taliban, Afgan Islamist who continue to oppose American objectives in Afghanistsn as I write, and Al Qaeda, whose members came from the ranks of the “Afghan Arabs,” that answered the call to Jihad against the godless Russian communists, and whose most famous leader was a deeply religious civil engineer and bulldozer operator from Saudi Arabia named Osama bin Laden.  Just as you are about to enter into a relationship with forces whose identity and loyalty are questionable due to a fear of ISIL, and your refusal to mend fences with Iran and work in partnership to defeat these anti-American Jihadists, making Americans everywhere the premiere target of ISIL’s global Jihad, President Carter, in an attempt to sanction Russia over their Afghanistan policy also made some decisions that proved to be injurious to Americans.

For instance he brought financial ruin to many American farmers when he abruptly cancelled a wheat deal with Russia, and he trashed the dreams and careers of many world class athletes by boycotting the 1980 Olympics.  He also discarded the lessons learned from Vietnam by reviving the Selective Service laws.  And finally, Jimmy Carter’s actions got Ronald Reagan elected, making him a one term President who left office in infamy.

In order to justify his assistance to the Afghan rebels President Carter had resorted to spouting hysterical hyperbole such as “The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is the greatest threat to peace since the Second World War.”  You have been given to similar fits of hyperbole in discussing both the Ukrainian crisis and ISIL.  The Ukrainian crisis could become the greatest threat to peace since WWII, but only if the American policy of encircling Russia with NATO bases and fomenting conflict with their neighbors – like you did in helping to overthrow an elected pro-Russian Ukrainian government in favor of a pro-western leader –i.e. one who is alingened with the interests of the EU and the USA – persists.  And now he is pressuring you to supply advanced weapons to assist the Ukranian government in a conflict with Russia, an idea that was vigorously applauded in his recent speech before the US Congress.  Indeed you are deepening that crisis while warning against its dangers…hence you are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy Mr. President.

Furthermore, your declaration of war on ISIL is inconsistent with the strategy you propose to fight it: “this is not and will not be America’s fight alone. After a decade of massive ground deployments, it is more effective to use our unique capabilities in support of partners on the ground so they can secure their own countries’ futures.”  The pressing question that is worrying many thoughtful Americans, including me, is who are these “partners on the ground?” that will “secure their own and other countries’ futures?”

The Iraqi forces that the US trained and supplied with billions of dollars’ worth of state of the art weaponry demonstrated that they would rather switch than fight once they were confronted by the fanatical legions of ISIL, who employ a scorched earth policy and take no prisoners.  They fled and left their weapons in the field for the Islamist to collect.  The Kurds are brave fighters but they are too poorly armed to prevail against ISIL, and if they are properly armed for this fight the problem becomes how are you going to get them to remain in a unitary state of Iraq that is ruled by an Arab dominated government – whether Sunni or Shia – once they have the means to establish an independent Kurdistan?   As the old adage goes: “You are sleeping in the same bed dreaming different dreams.”

There is every reason to believe that despite your upbeat attitude and rosy scenarios your decision will bear a far greater resemblance to debacles of the Carter, Reagan and Bush policies than the outcome you envision.  To tell the truth, I am surprised that you could be suckered into a fairytale scenario such as you have outlined.  The forces that you know are unreliable, such as the American trained and equipped Iraqi army, and the shadowy forces with whom you are now gambling America’s blood and treasure – i.e. The Free Syrian Army – remind me of the dogs my grandfather used to call “Sooners” when I was a boy.  He would watch them and say: “That dog will just as sooner shit inside as outside!”

The truth is that many of these people will as just as sooner turn their weapons over to the Jihadist forces – of which ISIL is only one faction – and fight against US interests as to fight ISIL in order to protect US interests.  Yet you prefer to indulge the illusion that this patchwork quilt of brigands, blaggards, scoundrels, thieves, charlatans and murderers, interspersed with doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, et al  summer soldiers who are untested in battle can defeat both the Assad government and ISIL.  Duh?  Both groups are focused on their objectives: the overthrow of the Assad government in Syria, and for many in their ranks all allegiance is based on expedience.  They are down with whoever can help promote their cause, and whenever US objectives differ from theirs they will privilege their own goals….this is not rocket science sir.

It is instructive to consider the Reagan debacle in Afghanistan, for which the US would eventually pay a dear price.  Ronald Reagan, who like George W. Bush years later, had only a foggy idea of what was going on in the world upon entering the Oval Office.  But like Bush he greatly expanded American intervention in the Muslim world.  Reagan adopted Carter’s policy of arming the Afghan Mujahedeen and dramatically expanding it, funneling 20 billion dollars into their coffers and supplying them with deadly Stinger Missiles.  It was these forces that evolved into the Taliban and Al Qaeda who, fifteen years after the end of Reagan’s tenure as President, launched the devastating Jihadist attack on the US on 9-11, after having failed in an attempt led by Ramzi Yousef to topple the giant World Trade Towers in a massive explosion ten years earlier on February 26, 1993.

And finally, the invasion of Iraq by George W. Bush with the announced objective of “regime change” in a sovereign nation on the other side of the world, that had committed no offense against the US, completely destabilized Iraq and unleashed social forces that has thrown the entire region into the chaos of war.  The Islamic Caliphate of ISIL was born out of this chaos and they are taking over entire regions of Syria and Iraq – and holding the territory – with state of the art American weaponry that they seized from their American backed enemies.

They are totally ruthless and contemptuous of the laws of man; adhering only to their interpretation of the call to Jihad and Sharia Law. They are calling upon Muslims everywhere to join the Jihad and defend the Sunni Caliphate they are trying to build in Syria and Iraq with hopes of extending it throughout the Muslim world. And Muslims all over the world, including the US, are responding to the call.

Just today they announced that killing infidels – those who refuse to convert to their version of Islam, and support Sharia law- is justified wherever and however they kill them.  Hence in the view of ISIL’s supreme leader, Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi – aka “Caliph Amir al Mu’minin, “Leader of the Faithful,”  a full blown Muslim fanatic who is convinced that  he is simply a servant doing the will of God, the Geneva Convention’s rules of war is irrelevant and burying opponents alive is no crime.  

ISIL Islamic Zealots!

ISIS Mass Killings

Committing Mass Murderin front of the Cameras

Now this murderous mess has fallen into your lap Mr. President.  And while there are no easy answers to these bewilderingly complex problems, based on all of the available evidence one thing is certain: any arms that you funnel into this region will end up in the hands of ISIL.   If defeating ISIL is as critical to American national security as you say it is – and I believe you are right in this assesment – the wise choice in this situation to insure a victory in the shortest amount of time is to form an alliance with Iran and fully arm the Kurds.

Notwithstanding the passionate pleas of the likes of John McCain – a wacky old guy who wants to wage war on three fronts Syria, Iran and ISIL – arming the so-called “Free Syrian Army,” most of whom have no combat experience, and history tells us that those arms will eventually end up in the hands of our enemies as in the past, is extreme Folly!

 

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September 22, 2014

Through A Lens Darkly

Posted in Film Criticism, Movie Reviews with tags , , on September 18, 2014 by playthell

Black Model for Lens Darkly

A Photo Featured in the Film

Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People

Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People – directed and narrated by the Afro-American photographer and filmaker Thomas Allen Harris, based on a screen play written in collaboration with scholar/playwright Paul Carter Harrison and Don Perry –  is a splendid example of the power of the documentary film as a teaching tool. As a method of teaching history to a mass audience it is unequalled, notwithstanding the arguements of some  who favor the feature film. Although it is no less a work of art than any feature film, it does not take license with the facts in the way a creative work of fiction does.

On the contrary,  this film handles historical facts with exquisite care,  employing narrators who are outstanding historians such as Dr. Nell Painter, Professor Emeritus of History at Princeton, and Dr. Robin G. Kelly, a Professor of History at Columbia, among others.  Some of the commentators, like Dr. Dawson and Dr. Deborah Willis are photographers as well as scholars.

Dr. Willis, an award winning photographer and scholar who heads the photography program at NYU, is a co-producer and guiding light behind this project, which is based on her 2002 book Reflections in Black.  The many black photographers who appear in the film constantly sing her praises like a Buddhist chant, and they assure us that without her efforts as scholar and champion of black photographers their work would be unknown and many of them would be doing something else.

The resulting film is a visually beautiful, intellectually stimulating, spiritually moving documentary that manages to capsulize our history through the images of Afro-American photographers and the stories of how they came to make these poignant portraits of Afro-American life.  It was a wonderful revelation!   It is no exaggeration to claim that if I learned important things about our history from this film after having studied the history of Black Americans for over half a century, and taught that history in the first degree granting Black Studies in the world, the WEB Dubois Department at the University Of Massachusetts at Amherst – see Dr. DuBois: Then and Now on this blog – it is a certainty that anyone else watching the film will be mightily instructed about the black experience in the USA.

The film places the rise of Afro-American photographers within the context of their times, which is to say the story is told from a historical perspective. And that accounts for its importance.  Among the amazing things we learn is that the art and science of photography – which would change the world and redefine the role of painters – was invented in Paris in 1839, and introduced into the USA by an Afro-American in New Orleans, who had the first known photographic studio in America.  At the time photographic images were made through a method called daguerreotypes, which differed from the film that would later become the preferred medium because it is a simpler more efficient method.

Another thing we learn is that the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass considered photographers to be a vital force in the struggle for the full freedom and dignity of Afro-Americans – and thus he became one of the most photographed men in 19th century America.  Douglass, whose prolific and well crafted prose offers seemingly endless quotes on the vicissitudes of life –  biographer Dr. Benjamin Quarles went through those voluminous writings with a fine tooth comb and said “I couldn’t find a bad line” – argued that in their quest to demonstrate their superiority whites always put forth the most attractive images of themselves…and so should black folks.

Pretty Fred
Frederick_Douglass_by_Samuel_J_Miller,_1847-52
The Best Dressed Man in America?

We have but to look at the photographs of Douglass to see that he practiced what he preached.  Standing 6’ 4” and weighing 250 pounds, Douglass was the size of a pro-football linebacker.  With a well-muscled frame forged over his anvil during his tenure as a blacksmith in his youth, and a full curly Afro coif, Frederick Douglass was one of the handsomest men in America.  And the brother ragged his ass off; he was always “clean as the board of health” as we used to say back in the day.  Check out the photograph above.

Watching this film I learned where the tradition of Black male elegance in America originated; a tradition I inherited from the men in my family, my mother’s exquisite taste, other men in the community who were sharp dressers or “sports” and famous entertainers and athletes like Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Mile Davis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, fashion plates all.  These were the men who set the standard of sartorial elegance for all males in America.

However I learned from viewing this film that the love of elegance among earlier generations of black men was no accident;it was a deliberate attempt to counteract the slave/Sambo image that white America projected of us in an unending campaign of psychological warfare to convince us that we were inferior to whites.  Alas, this conciousness has been lost on young black males who ushered in the fashion disaster of the Hip Hop era.

The film makes clear, in a way that I have never seen the point made, that all of the early champions of black America, those stalwart soldiers in the fight to uplift the race, understood the power of photography to assist them in their struggle.  In the 19th century, when the majority of Afro-Americans were slaves, both black male and female leaders understood this; but they also understood something else: elegance must be accompanied by intelligence.

Hence Frederick Douglass risked death in order to learn to read, and once he escaped slavery he devoured books like a piranha in a gold fish pond. And he systematically mastered the art of public speaking in order to better plead the case of America’s slaves, from whose ranks he arose.  Blessed with a sonorous bass/baritone voice – ala James Earl Jones and Paul Robeson – Douglass was the most spellbinding orator of his time, a golden age in American oratory.

However the Consciousness of the power of photography was no less apparent to Black women.  Historian Nell Painter, who wrote the definitive biography of the great abolitionist Sojourner Truth, who also rose up from slavery albeit in New York not the south, discusses the fact that Sojourner also understood the power of photography to define a people and was therefore very careful about the image she projected.  Sojourner was especially careful to project an image of strength, dignity and propriety.  Having been a slave, and as Dr. Painter reveals in her biography, the sexual plaything of both her master and mistress, it is easy to see why a dignified public image was of great importance to her.  Thus we see that the most widely circulated image of her embodies these values.

Sojourner Truth
Sojourner_truth_c1870
A Portrait of Rectitude and Strength

In the aftermath of slavery, which was ended only after a bloody Civil war that tore the nation apart, Afro-Americans experienced a brief period when they were permitted to participate in the American democratic process as voting citizens.  However the die-hard racists in the south immediately began a covert struggle to take away the vote and severely limit the new found Freedom of Afro-Americans.  A major part of their strategy was to prove that Afro-Americans were sub-human and therefore unfit to live as free citizens in American society.

The film brilliantly shows how one of the most effective strategies in this reactionary program was to obliterate the heroic images of black men who fought for and won their freedom by defeating the southern slave masters as soldiers in the Union army.  In their place they substituted racist images, which were already well established in the blackface minstrel show where white men “blacked up” to perform degrading parodies of black life and character.

 Armed Black Liberators
       Black Union Soldiers        
A Dangerous Image White Supremacists
 Typical Images of Afro-Americans at turn of 20th Century
Racist Icons III
These images gave support to white racist ideology
 All black people were Fair Game

Racist Iconography II

Even Black Children

While black men were the main target of racist defamation, black women and children were also considered fair game.  The film shows how the proliferation of these images reached its apogee in the wildly popular D.W. Griffith movie “The Birth of a Nation.”   This movie falsified the role of black legislators during the Reconstruction period in the South following the Civil War – a monstrous lie that Dr. WEB DuBois corrected in his magesterial study Black Reconstruction a couple of decades later – glorified the Ku Klux Klan and justified the lynching of black men at a time when such public crucifixions were occurring at the rate of one every two and a half days.

In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that D.W. Griffith used the cinema to promote mass murder against the Afro-American  minority group here in America three deacades before Lenni Feifensthal produced Triumph of the Will, a film that glorified Hitler and the Nazi’s , inciting the Holocaust against European Jews.  I would not be surprised if she learned her tecnique from Griffith, just as Hitler copied his master race theories from the racist tome “The Passing of the Great Race,” published in 1917 by the American Eugenicist Madison Grant, who served as President of the New York Zoological Society.

This is not a matter of conjecture, as historian have uncovered a letter from Hitler in the papers of Grant, in which Der Fuhrer exclaimed: “Your book is my Bible!”  One need onlr read the racist theories in Mein Kempt and compare them to the arguments in The Passing of the Great Race to see the origins Hitlers Master Race pseudoscience.  Had the writers of this otherwise excellent script explored this bit of America’s racial history it would have greatly strenghtened the narrative.  The violent racist reactions to The Birth of a Natiom prompted Booker T. Washington to launch a photography project to counteract it.  As the founder of Tuskegee Institute, a college in the “Black Belt” of rural Alabama, and the most powerful black man in America, Washington was in a unique position to launch this effort.

Washington was famous for his successful cultivation of powerful white industrialists, and the president of the Kodak camera company was on his Board of Directors.  The Kodak Company provided Tuskegee with a state of the art photography lab, and Washington hired a master black photographer to head it.  The result was a treasure trove of elegant images of black Americans that provided a powerful counterstatement to the racist images emanating from white America, many of which accompanied advertisements for products produced by major corporations.  Like Frederick Douglass, Washington used the camera lens to carefully construct his own image.  Hence we see him depicted in photographs as a thoughtful man of dignity and power.

The “Wizard” of Tuskegee
Booker T. at tuskegee_office
A Man of Knowledge and Power
The Master of Tuskegee
Booker T. On Horseback
Looking Heroic atop his Stallion
Dr. George Washington Carver
George_Washington_Carver
World Renowned Tuskegee Scientist
Booker T and Teddy Roosevelt
cover
From slave shack to the White House

Booker T. Washington, was one of the great geniuses in the art of what has become known as “public relations” and he used the photograph to maximum advantage,  as the pictures above aptly demonstrate.  They were quite instrumental in his becoming one of the best known men of his time.  Although he and the leading intellectual of black America, the Harvard and Berlin educated WEB DuBois had many ideological differences, they both agreed on the importance of photography in advancing the race.

Hence Dubois also understood the importance of the image he projected, and every picture we see of him he was dressed to the nines, with his trademark cane, spats, vest, felt or straw hat, and exquisitely trimmed Van Dyke beard.  The two most influential leaders of Black America at the turn of the 20th century held such faith in the power of photography to shape the perception of their people by the wider world that both of them mounted a photographic exhibit at the Paris Exposition of 1900 showing the amazing progress of Afro-American in the 35 years since the end of slavery in the US.

A Young Dr. DuBois in Paris 

 Dubois at the Paris Exhibition in 1900

Representin at the Exposition in 1900

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The Photographs in the American Negro exhibition concentrated on the well to do in their elegant attire and beautiful homes.  It also showed black businesses and professionals – the class of successful strivers that three years later Dr. DuBois would call the “Talented Tenth,”  in his classic work The Souls of Black Folk.  It was impressive enough to win a prize.  The film shows how the tradition of employing photography to counter the racist imagery of white America carried over into the twentieth century as black photographers developed all over the country, and it tells us to take the time to search through our family albums to observe this rich visual record of our people.

The producers  select photographs by known and unknown photographers and the narrator instructs us to examine their poses, which is visual evidence of what they thought of themselves.  What we see is not a defeated people, but a people filled with pride and self-confidence, without the slightest doubt that they were lookin good.  It is evidence that Albert Murray, not Malcolm X was right; Malcolm preached that the white man had convinced us to hate ourselves.  Mr. Murray said that was nonsense in his book “The Omni-Americans;”   he said that all one need do is to look at the elegance with which we decorated ourselves and our unequalled grace on the dance floor to see that we recognized our beauty despite the “fakelore of white supremacy.”  The evidence for his argument is in these photographs.

During the 2oth century some black photographers moved to the front ranks of American photographers and became artist.  First among these, the Dean of black American photographers, was James Van der Zee.  Living and workng in Harlem during the 1920’s he witnessed the emergence of the “New Negro” and the Harlem Renissance” and he captured it as no other visual artist managed to do.  In fact he was inspired by what was happening around him and his work has inspired generations of black photographers ever since.  We hear their testimony in the film.

In Van der Zee’s photos we see the full range of Afro-American life in the nation’s largest and most important city; the strenght and dignity of Afro-American orginazations and leaders, as well as the elegance and beauty of our style – especially of Afro-American women.  The portraits that Ellington – a trained visual artist – would later paint in compositions like “Satin Doll,” “Black and Tan Fantasy,”  and “Black Brown and Biege Suite” was first captured through the lens of James Van der Zee.

 An Elegant Harlem Lady

 Black lady II - Vanderzee

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 A Well Appointed Harlem Home
 Black Home in Harlem, James-VanDerZee---Interior-of-Home

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Harlem_couple_wearing_raccoon_coats_with_a_cadillac_taken_on_west_125th_street

 Stylish Harlem Couple in Racoon Coats

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While Duke Ellington began his artistic career as a visual artist and metamorphosed into a great musician, James Van der Zee began as a violinist and evolved into a great photographer.  This accounts for the visual nature of Ellington’s music and the lyrical nature of Van der Zee’s photographs.  Like the social and  political leaders of the race, Van der Zee was well aware of the value of his work as a photographer to the elevation of the race.  He once remarked that his major inspiration for becoming a photographer was to preserve the elegance and beauty of the black people he saw all around him for future generations to see.  One has only to peruse his ouevre to witness the fruition of his vision.  He took great care to record the rituals and rhythms of Afro-American life during a great cultural flowering when brilliant, talented black people from all over the world gathered in Harlem.  Every element of Afro-American society was influenced by the zietgiest of the “New Negro.”

Portraits of the Black Family

James VanDerZee - A wedding

 

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James-Van-Der-Zee. - wedding party

Bride, Groom and Wedding Party

A Pampered Harlem Child

Black Chils - Vanderzee

 

Nationalist Leader Marcus Garvey on Parade

James Van der Zee Marcus Garvey

Garvey Commissioned Van der Zee to Photograph his movement

While Duke Ellington began his artistic career as a visual artist and metamorphosed into a great musician, James Van der Zee began as a violinist and evolved into a great photographer.  This accounts for the visual nature of Ellington’s music and the lyrical nature of Van der Zee’s photographs.  A Printer by trade, Marcus Garvey, leader of one of the greatest mass organizations in US history – The Universal Negro Improvement Association – was fully aware as Frederick Douglass and other leaders before him of the power of a good photograph.  Hence he hired the best to make them.

Of the contemporary photographers who pay tribute to James Van der Zee in the film and acknowledge is Anthony Barboza, whom some critics of photography consider to the heir to Vanderzee’s legacy as the preeminent Afro-American photographer and a great American original, a grandmaster of the art.  In the film Barboza talks about how he sought Van der Zee out as a young man, when the old master was already in his eighties and studied with him and displays a photograph of them together.  Barboza’s ouevre is wide ranging in it’s concerns and he has won many awards for his photography.

Anthony Barboza’s “Black Dreams”

Anthony Barboza VI

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 Anthony Barboza V

A work of exquisite beauty and imagination

Harlem Series

Anthony-barboza-from-his-great-harlem-series

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This film celebrates so many important photographers it is beyond the scope of this review to comment on them all.  However among twentieth century masters Gordon Parks and Roy Decavara deserve mention. The personal story and artistic influence of Gordon Parks – a twentieth century version of the Renissiance Man – is the stuff of legend, which is why there is a major prize presented in his name.  Although his storied career included much coveted and glamourous assignments like photographing fashion shows in Paris for a prestiegeous national magazine, Parks often said that the camera was his choice of weapon in the struggle for justice and human dignity.  His images of the poverty stricken and oppressed move the conscience of people around the world.

Sometimes the images exposed the ironies of injustices by the way he juxtaposed symbols, a classic example of this is his photograph “American Gothic” which was featured in this film.  A parody of the famous 1930 painting by Grant Wood, a European educated American Artist, Parks substituted a real black cleaning woman in a Washington office building in place of the dour white couple – Grant’s sister and her dentist – standing in front of a typical wooden house in Iowa with European gothic style windows.  By switching the images Park’s symbolism transformed a rather pedestrian painting into a powerful statement about race, gender and class in the world’s most powerful nation.

 Grant Wood’s American Gothic

 Grant Woods American Gothic

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 Gordon Parks’ American Gothic

a kGordon-Parks,-American-Gothic,-Ella-Watson,-Washington,-DC,-1942_640

 The Iconoclastic Image as Powerful Social Commentary

 Of all the photographers and works discussed in this documentary, none was more roundly praised as a personal influence than Roy Decavara’s book of photos The Sweet Fly Paper of Life.  A khalidescopic  view of Afro-American life in Harlem, with a text by Langston Hughes, Harlem’s Poet Laurate, it was unlike anything publicly available in one volume.  Born and raised in this uptown Manhattan village by a single mother, Decavara began his artistic career as a clasically trained painter. However while taking photographs to use as models for making prints he fell in love with photography and became a master of the art.  However his decision to abandon painting was not totally an asthetic one, it was also prompted by the blatant racism of the world of “fine art.”  He is quoted in his New York Times Obituary as remarking: “A black painter, to be an artist, had to join the white world or not function — had to accept the values of white culture.”

Decavara was the first black photographer to win a Guggenheim Fellowship, and in his 1952 application he wrote: “I do not want a documentary or sociological statement,”  instead he sought to produce “a creative expression, the kind of penetrating insight and understanding of Negroes which I believe only a Negro photographer can interpret.”  This was bold talk to a cluless group of white paternalists and cultural chauvanists who controlled the purse strings he need to finance his project.  Yet he won them over.  In 1982, he clarified his mission succinctly in a New York Times interview: “One of the things that got to me, was that I felt that black people were not being portrayed in a serious and in an artistic way.”

By the time Decavara was painting his portraits of Harlem life in the 1950’s, long after the “Renissance” had receded into history, Harlem was a very different community.  And his photographs reflect it. Furthermore, his was not a mission of social uplift  that had inspired Van der Zee and other early photographers.  Perhaps the Chief Curator of Photography at New York’s world renowned Museum of Modern Art, Peter Galassi, summed up the meaning of Decavara’s achievement.  After organizing a retrospective show of Decavara’s ouevre, compiled over 60 years, Galassi, said of his work: ” “He was looking at everyday life in Harlem from the inside, not as a sociological or political vehicle. No photographer black or white before him had really shown ordinary domestic life so perceptively and tenderly, so persuasively.”

Roy Decavara’s Sweet Fly Paper of Life 

Decavara - The Sweet Flypaper of Life IV

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Decavara - Sweet Flypaper of Life

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Decavara - Soul Trane

Soultrane

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One of the contemporary photographers who enthusiastically tell us that the work of Roy Decavara was was a great inspiration to him is Frank Stewart, the official photographer for Jazz at Lincoln Center, and for my money the finest photographer of Jazz musicians in the world.  Decavara’s photographs of Jazz musicians were much celebrated, thus one could view Frank Stewart’s work is the extension of that tradition….one of Decavara’s artistic spawn.  The photograph below is case in point.

Deminuendo  in Blue

DSC_0077

 Terrance Blanchard

Diane Reeves and the Boys

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 Of all the issues raised in this film, none were more compelling than the discussions of gender and sexual orientation.  After all, this documentary is about how black subjects are presented in photographic imagery; thus it should surprise no one that these issues should arise.  The discussion of gender addressed not only the representation of black female beauty in relation to European standards and taste, but the absence of representations of gay Afro-Americans.

The most enlightening revelation regarding the depiction of gay subjects was the discussion of how black family albums have been carefully censored to omit gay members.  This was especially true of out members such as cross dressers, and some of these censored pictures are revealed in the film.  It was clear that the narrator is gay, like his mentor Marlon Riggs -who made the seminal film on black gay life “Tongues Untied” – and thus he was reclaiming these forgotten family members as a validation of his own identity and legacy.

There was much discussion of the role of black women photographers, who have been even more invisible than black men.  This discussion was facilitated by the critical role of Deborah Willis in the production of this film. Her comments along with those of Jeanie Moutoussamy Ashe and especially Carrie Mae Weems raised questions about their struggle to find black female role models in the field of photography when they started out, and the challenge of dealing with the dominance of white standards of femininity and beauty.

One can see this concern clearly displayed in the photographic images of Carrie Mae Weems, a versatile artist who works in several mediums including audio, fabric, video installations and digital imagery.  She is a well-trained artist who studied at the California Institute of the Arts, U Cal San Diego and the University of California at Berkley.  Her views on representations of the black image in visual arts are among the most interesting in the film.  She defines her mission as an artist thusly: “My responsibility as an artist is to work, to sing for my supper, to make art, beautiful and powerful, that adds and reveals, to beautify the mess of a messy world.”

Ms. Weems has won many honors, including a MacArthur “Genius” Award and has been artist-in-residence or visiting professor at Harvard and Wellesley among others.   And she often appears as a subject in her own  photographs, often posing before mirrors with no evidence of a camera, a marvelous illusion that confounds the viewer.  The two images below, Not Monet’s Type and The Healer are compelling examples.

“Not Monet’s Type”

 

Carrie Mae Weems_not-manets-type_panel-3

 The words and image speaks volumes

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The Healer

Carrie Weems_The_Healer

 From the Series “Dreaming in Cuba”

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 Mother and Daughter

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 Passing on the ancient ritual of self decoration

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 All Americans should see this brilliant and highly important film for themselves, especially black people.   Indeed the black photographers who commented in this documentary repeatedly wondered out loud about how differently many Afro-Americans would view themselves if they had been nurtured on the images provided by black photographers, rather than the degrading images they saw.  Indeed, at the opening of this film the great Afro-American novelist and essayist James Baldwin – a highly intelligent, deeply sensitive and insightful man – is heard remarking about how every black child in America in his time constantly searched for images of themselves in which they could take pride. It was an excellent preface for the film, because it succinctly defined the issue that black photographers addressed.

Alas, the white critics who dominate the pages of the major journals of opinion, such as that snide pompous airhead Dennis Harvey, a San Francisco based critic who wrote a simple-minded review for Variety, may well miss this point.  Among the pearls of wisdom this prissy wag offers up in his banal mutterings about this masterpiece is the following bit of pompous, embarrassingly ignorant, prattle: “Activist leaders like Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois (who curated an exhibit of photographed African-American life at a Parisian World’s Fair) stressed the importance of a dignified personal presentation, even if that meant copying the demeanor and dress of the white bourgeoisie.”

It is hard to conjure a more asinine statement from someone who is regarded as a serious commentator on cultural affairs.  They dressed in the high fashion of the times, for the very good reasons that I have discussed earlier.  In his snide know-it-all hip white boy condescension he exposes the fact that he was not really paying attention to the narration, furthermore he understands so little about the imperatives of historical place – and even less about the history of the period – he engages in what historians call “presentism.”

One wonders how Harvey thought they should have dressed; perhaps like Hip Hop heads, or lefty San Francisco bohemian frumps like him?  This is a man who would greatly benefit from Mark Twain’s admonition: Tis far better to be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt!   Despite the silly and superficial comments of culturally deprived white critic like Harvey, this film, by and measure, is a tour de force and a rare priceless cultural treasure.  It is no surprise that it won the African Movie Academy Award for Best Diaspora Documentary….Bravo!

 

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 Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September, 17 2014

Is Obama Drifting Toward War with Russia?  

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags , , on September 4, 2014 by playthell

Ukraninians provoke Russia

The Ukrainians are trying their best to get America Militarily Involved

 On Provoking the Russian Bear in his Lair

Today President Obama delivered an address on American policy in Eastern Europe as expressed through aims of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – an American led diplomatic dinosaur that should have died out with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Warsaw Pact in the last decade of the 20th century. And he made much of the fact that he was the first American President to speak in Estonia.  Since the raison d’etre for NATO, which is a military alliance of capitalist states formed in the post-World War II period, sixty years ago, was to contain the expansion of Russian communism, when the Russian communist Party died NATO should have died with it.

Instead, under US leadership NATO expanded into Eastern Europe and incorporated former members of the Warsaw pact, setting up military bases in what were former Russian Republics.  It was an incredible act of self-righteous arrogance that the wisest American analyst of Russian affairs such as George F. Kennan, Jack Matlock and Stephen Cohen warned would prove to be dangerous folly.  The motion of history now testifies to the prophetic character of their analysis.

The growing crisis in Eastern Europe – whose epicenter is in the Ukraine, a former Republic of Soviet Russia – is at its root a conflict between American Exceptionalism and Russian Nationalism.  Although the American government and mainstream media is engaged in a Herculean effort to define this crisis as a struggle between a beleaguered Ukrainian people fighting for freedom and democracy against the aggression of a Russian autocracy led by Vladimir Putin, the quintessential Russian Autocrat who wishes to enslave them by reincorporating them into Russia.

In this scenario Putin is the heir to a long line of Russian autocrats and dictators that harkens back to the Czars and the Communist Party, while the US led NATO alliance is the champion of freedom and democracy.  From this perspective the growing antagonism between Russia and the “western democracies” led by the US can be reduced to a morality play between good and evil.  And that is precisely how this conflict is being portrayed by the most influential opinion makers in the US.

However this is a self-serving and dangerous misinterpretation of the realities in the growing Eastern European imbroglio.   The fact is that we have a clash of interests between power blocs over spheres of influence in which the US refuses to recognize the legitimate national security interests of Russia.  No objective reading of the facts in the Eastern European crisis can fail to admit this reality.  The fundamental problem arises from the fact that the US defines its national interests as global – which is also why US relations with China are growing more antagonistic as I write.  Hence there is nowhere on earth that is off limits for the projection of American power, whether “soft” or “hard” power i.e. cultural and commercial or military.   This attitude was called “The Arrogance of Power” by the late US Senator William J. Fulbright, who published a book under that title during the Cold War.

This arrogance is informed by the ideology of American Exceptionalism, a counterfeit myth that all America politicians, corporate sponsored pundits and think tank supported intellectuals are expected to endorse without question.  It is a way of viewing the world that is reminiscent of the classical Chinese view i.e. “We are the center of the world and all else is the barbarian fringes.”  This view led the Chinese to build a wall around themselves in the belief that there was nothing of value they could learn from other peoples and cultures.

However this attitude has had the opposite effect on America’s leaders, who feel that they must remake the world in our image and anyone who refuses to go along with their program is the evil enemy.  This belief led the US government to overthrow the democratically elected governk on Iraq inment of Iran in 1953, the Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba in 1961, the invasion of Vietnam in the 1960’s and the attack on Iraq 2003.  In classical China belief in Chinese Exceptionalism led to its leaders losing touch with what was actually happening with the rest of the world and this resulted in its conquest by Europe.  Alas, the bogus belief in American Exceptionalism propels America’s misguided actions in Eastern Europe and could result in our destruction.

One has only to contemplate the meaning of President Obama’s statements in Estonia – another former Soviet Russian Republic – just his morning to clealy recognize this possibility.  Looking years older than when he first took office six years ago – no doubt from the many intractable crises that weigh on him around the world that he is expected to solve – the President spoke with characteristic eloquence on American solidarity with the Baltic states in a speech suffused with syrupy sentimentalism designed to tug at the heartstrings of his audience. Yet despite his moving oratory, it could prove to be a swan song for humanity.

Speaking on the Independence of the Baltic States after the collapse of the Soviet Union President Obama declared:

You reclaimed your countries. And in your new constitution you declared the independence and sovereignty of Estonia are timeless and inalienable. But the people of the Baltic nations also knew that freedom needs a foundation of security. So you reached out to join the NATO alliance. And we were proud to welcome you as new allies so that those words of your constitution, your timeless independence, will always be guaranteed by the strongest military alliance the world has ever known.”

This was a direct challenge to Russia.  But since Russia has expressed no designs on Estonia, it was an unecissary provocation, and one that would have enraged Americans if Putin made a similar speech in Mexico.  This is the kind of speech one can make in the muslim Mid-East, or South America, where the leading regional powers are Iran is Brazil.  But it borders on madness when made on the doorsteps of Russia, a nuclear superpower that can obliterate the US in a half hour.  What could Barack have been thinking, maybe he drank too much vodka at the meeting with Baltic leaders that have joined NATO, when he met with them earlier in the day.

After rhapsodizing about the virtues of unfettered capitalism – conveniently forgetting the havoc it has wreaked in Eastern Europe with the rise of the oligarchs, or the fact that wealth and the class privilege it brings has virtually frozen socio/economic mobility it the US to the extent that the disparity in wealth among New Yorkers is greater than that in Guatemala – the President” declared:

“And we’re stronger because we stand together. This year we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the ‘Baltics in NATO. A decade ago, skeptics wondered whether your countries were up to the task. And today they need only look at our training exercises where our troops grow even stronger together, shoulder-to-shoulder. They can look at Afghanistan where our forces have sacrificed together to keep us safe and where in just three months the largest operation in NATO history will come to an end, as planned.”

I could hardly believe what I was hearing; did he really refer to Afghanistan as a model for success for Eastern Europe?  This is sheer nonsense!  The real lesson of Afghanistan is that after a decade of pouring American blood and treasure into that military quagmire the Taliban – which an earlier American intervention had created – remains a clear and present danger.  What the US has done – and wisely so – is to declare victory and cut out, despite the actual conditions on the ground.  Perhaps that’s why he went overboard assuring the leaders of the Baltic States that things will be different in Eastern Europe.

During the long Soviet occupation, the great Estonian poet Marie Under wrote a poem in which she cried to the world, “Who’ll come to help? Right here, at present, now!” And I say to the people of Estonia and the people of the Baltics, today we are bound by our treaty alliance. We have a solemn duty to each other. Article 5 is crystal clear. An attack on one is an attack on all. So if, in such a moment, you ever ask again, who’ll come to help, you’ll know the answer: the NATO alliance, including the armed forces of the United States of America, right here, present, now. (Applause.)  We’ll be here for Estonia. We will be here for Latvia. We will be here for Lithuania. You lost your independence once before. With NATO, you will never lose it again.”

Apparently not content with vague threats against the Russians President Obama got specific, down to the nitty gritty.

“The new initiative I proposed in Warsaw this spring includes several elements, and we’re working with Congress to get it done. Here in the Baltics, it would mean positioning more American equipment, so it’s ready if needed. It would mean more training and exercises between our militaries. And it would mean more U.S. forces, including American boots on the ground, continuously rotating through Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania.”

Alas, a close reading and content analysis of President Obama’s speech reveals that much of it sounds like it could have been written by the neo-con cabal of policy wonks from the Project for a New American Century that advised George Bush to invade Iraq.  It is a world view that combines a fundamental belief in American Exceptionalism i.e. only the US has the vision and moral gravitas to lead the world, and the military might to impose that vision.

There was a lot of talk about the sanctity of “freedom” and “democracy” accompanied by a very selective reading of history and present realities, glossing over the fact that many in these Baltic nations willingly collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, while the Russian Communist were our allies in that great struggle against German fascism. While praising the collaborators he never mentioned that it was the Russians who paid a greater price in blood than any nation in the world, with 20 million dead and that Russian arms played a greater role in the defeat of the Nazis than any other country.  And even worse was the falsification of the facts surrounding the events that led to the present crisis in the Ukraine.

The whole world heard the hacked conversation of the American Ambassador to the Ukraine on the phone with the US State Department’s Undersecretary for European affairs plotting the overthrow of the democratically elected president of the Ukraine.  The response of the Obama Administration to this embarrassing tape was to denounce the Russians for hacking the phone call….even as the US National Security Agency was hacking into the cell phone of Andrea Merkle, the German Chancellor.

Furthermore, the American Senator John McCain was photographed marching with neo-Nazis in Keiv while calling for the overthrow of a democratically elected Ukrainian government because their president chose a closer economic relationship with Russia rather than joining the European Union, with the closer ties to NATO that such a relationship required.  Why would ethnic Russians want to remain part of a nation that expressed such hatred for Russia?  This is what sparked the present crisis, not “Russian aggression.”

Hence Barack was engaged in an exercise of political propaganda not an objective recounting of history; the former is an attempt to rearrange facts about the past in order to justify policies in the present, while the latter is concerned with an unbiased reading of the evidence in order to uncover the truth about the past so that we can avoid making the same mistakes in the future.  They are very different enterprises and are guaranteed to deliver dramatically different results.

The failure of President Obama to admit that the real roots of the present conflict with Russia is the aggressive American led expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe until this anti-Russian military alliance is now at their door steps, will not help find a path to peaceful relations with Russia.  Indeed, it could lead to thermo-nuclear war if NATO makes any attempt to admit the Ukraine into this military alliance.

Yet this is the course of action that Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham and other verbose Republican hawks are calling for.  Hence despite the fact that Barack did indeed sound like “the brown face of American imperialism” he emphatically reiterated his position that there is no military solution to the Ukrainian crisis.  This makes him the clearly the lesser evil.  One has only to imagine the state of the world if John McCain had been President for the last six years…or if Mitt Romney were president as I write, in order to envision how lucky we are to have Barack Obama in the Oval office at this dangerous juncture in history.  Compared to these pretenders Barack’s foreign policy choices looks like Solomonic wisdom.

Thus I continue to disagree with the leftist ideologues like Glen Ford and moral absolutists like Cornel West that there is no significant difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, or John McCain and Barack Obama, the kind of misguided thinking that ignores political reality and led to them helping  elect George Bush over Al Gore.  This nation and the world is still suffering from that disaster but the left has never assumed responsibility for their role in bringing it about.  What the ideologues and moral absolutist refuse to accept is that in real politics, as opposed to rhetorical exercises, one takes the best deal one can get, and in a participatory democracy a people will get the kind of government they deserve.  Hence we are in the mess we are in because of the deeply flawed people Americans have elected to lead them over the years.

I continue to believe that the low level of much of American political leadership, and thus the crux of our problem, is due to the ignorance and apathy of the American electorate.  The ideologues don’t want to face this fact, so they continue to spin fantasies about the “revolutionary masses.”  They refuse to admit that as a politician Barack has to get elected and his party has to win a majority of seats in Congress in order to get anything done on behalf of the American people.  Thus what Abraham Lincoln said at the end of the Civil War is also true of Barack: “Clearly I have not controlled events…but events have controlled me.”

President Obama is bowing to public sentiment in taking a tougher stand against the Russians, although the public has no idea of the danger involved; he must appear to answer the constant Republican charges that he is weak and feckless in the face of the strong and decisive Putin.  That this is foolishness is quite beside the point it is irrelevant in political terms.  Thus he is pushed into a tough guy role with the Russians that in his head and heart he knows this dangerous folly….and appears prepared to shoot craps with the fate of the earth for the sake of domestic politics because the Russian bear will fight if NATO continues to threaten the security of his lair.

Where we are Headed

Atomic Bomb Explosion III

If we push the Russians too far!

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Playthell G. Benjamin
 Harlem, New York
September 4, 2014
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