Sunday, September 1, 2013

Can We Avoid the "Herd Mentality" This Time Around? Can We Avoid Committing Rational Evil?

Hillary Mann Leverett, professor at American University, came out swinging with facts and intelligence this morning on Steve Kornacki's 'UP' show, that again- we have no business barging into Syria - which effects would arguably be even more catastrophic and dunning than those from barging into Iraq. And whether we're talking "limited strikes" for "two days" or not.

As Prof. Leverett observed, the current drumbeat is "strikingly similar to the lead up to the war in Iraq" and Prof. Leverett ought to know as she was in the Bush White House and also dealing with Congressional Democrats, and with members of the media. She goes on:

"The herd mentality which took over to buy into the Bush administration's narrative that Saddam had to have chemical weapons of mass destruction and was determined to use them, was something unquestioned. was not only a mistake, it was based on manufactured evidence. Here, no one is asking this basic question except our friends in Moscow: 'What if Assad didn't order this? What if this wasn't a Syrian troop chemical attack. What if this was perpetrated by al Qaeda affiliated oppositionists. The consequences here for going into Syria are even more grave than Iraq. Because if we go into Syria and the al Qaeda groups get away with mass chemical warfare- and that's what happened - and we think they're going to stop there - that's the definition of insanity."

But perhaps the country has been in the throes of national insanity since the 1991 Gulf War and ditching the so-called "Vietnam Syndrome"- which up until then had instilled forbearance in our leaders for taking precipitous military action. After that happened, we got "humanitarian" interventions in Somalia (with disastrous results - merely converting it into a rogue state) and Bosnia, which then led the Clinton cruise missile attack in Sudan - which actually struck a pharmaceutical factory and culminating in the lawless invasion of a sovereign state in Iraq. The latter technically no different from the Nazi  blitzkrieg invasion of Poland in 1939 - which also employed the ruse of Polish terror to justify it.

Maybe people need to read 'The Shock Doctrine' by Naomi Klein, or the essay by Henry Giroux, 'The Politics of Cruelty - America's Descent Into Madness' . The problem, of course, is if the political structure has descended into a putative madness, there will be only a few citizens with the insight to see it and the spine to point it out. This very probability makes the "herd mentality" referenced by Prof. Leverett an ongoing reality.

Anyway, back to the 'UP' program. Kornacki interrupted at one point to ask:

"What would be the evidence?" and adding, "John Kerry put a lot of evidence on the table."

To which Prof. Leverett responded: "Compared to Colin Powell, it's a joke!"

Prof. Leverett then pointed out that the Russians and Chinese didn't pull their people out but went to the last chemical weapons attack sites in March. What did they find? According to her:

"They did forensics on the ground themselves and found two striking things which have not been covered here in the press at home: One was that the rockets used to deliver those chemicals were home made rockets. Not military or industrially produced. The other thing they found is that the sarin was not military ordnance or industrially produced, it didn't include stabilizers. So maybe the Russians have a point."

Well, I would say that sane people have a point and anyone claiming not to be foolish would again have to ask: 'Cui bono?' WHO benefits? Would it be Assad, or al Qaeda oppositionists, just itching to get the U.S. involved to help them neuter Assad so they can take over. THEN we will have not a few thousand terrorists to confront, but likely hundreds of thousands. And I can just see the last remnants of our civil liberties crumbling before my eyes as the last vestiges of constitutional protections are gutted .....oh, in the name of "national security."

As Prof. Leverett concluded:

"The rest of the world does not believe what we're saying for good reason: we made it up before!"


"This gets back to the whole point in the set up (Kornacki's intro) that this is not peculiar to Bush, Clinton, or Obama. These decisions, taken with very little thought, including under Clinton-  to keep tens of thousands of troops in Iraq, and to continuously bomb Iraq, bomb Sudan and bomb other places- these are not clean interventions."

Indeed, any highly intelligent race of outside observers (say aliens from another world) would regard our actions as meeting even their definition of insanity. They'd ask why this particular enclave of humanity is so obsessed with fighting terrorism when it appears committed to creating more terrorists.

Hillary's final point was the one I made when blogging that the U.S. has no moral authority to unilaterally attack anyone:

"The United States has no authority to punish".

Bingo! We are not the cops of the world, nor do we possess the unique moral authority given our own acts and complicity in past dastardly deeds as I noted three blogs ago.  Besides, if we set this up as a precedent what other "villains" will we be prepared to take out given we are already reaching a $16.7 trillion debt limit next month?

In my new book (Beyond Atheism, Beyond God) in the section Practical Reason and Human Evil  in the final chapter, I note that one of the canards circulated about human evil is that it’s irrational. If the person only knew better, or reasoned properly, he’d arrive at the generic good, and we'd all be better off.  I cited philosopher John Kekes who disposes of this myth quite forcefully (The Roots of Evil, p. 156.)  

As Kekes observes, abundant historical examples disclose that people often robustly justify their actions on the basis of a good perceived in their minds, but which in retrospect turns out to be evil. Therefore it’s not the lack of reason or rationality that infuses their actions but instead the false beliefs that supported the reasoning!

As examples of rational evil  one can cite all supposedly "rational justifications" for aggressive national policy, including military occupations of sovereign states, targeted military attacks, and the implementation of economic evil such as austerity policies- which harm millions.

A case in point for the first is George W. Bush’s “war on terror”, begun after 9/11. Launched after that horrific event nearly twelve years ago, it had been driven with all the best intentions to find and kill all those responsible for the deed that left nearly 3,000 dead in the World Trade Center. But in the aftermath what did we actually see? Well, an invasion of a sovereign state (Iraq) that had nothing to do with 9/11, and which left nearly 600,000 Iraqis dead according to World Health Organization statistics. Added to that, the widespread use of the most debasing torture methods (used by the CIA) to extract information including on bin Laden’s hiding place. The combined American occupations, unpaid for in additional taxes, left the U.S. with nearly $4 trillion in deficits that have now come back to haunt us. These have the nation facing the specter of even more draconian cuts to the most vulnerable citizens under the specious rubric of “sequestration."

Bush and his minions truly believed they were doing good at the time they demanded congress vote on The Iraq War Resolution in 2002, never mind what we later discovered[1]. Bush’s aggressive foreign policies also exposed unsavory aspects about the U.S. as a nation.  For example, one willing to violate Nuremberg Article VI to actually launch a pre-emptive war by invasion as the Nazis did when they invaded Poland. The rich humor of it all is that at the time the Bushies actually compared Saddam to Hitler! Never mind that Saddam was the one being pounded by the most devastating shock and awe attack since the Blitzkrieg launched by Hitler on Poland in 1939.

But this sort of human evil had been strenuously reasoned and formally justified by Bushie Neocons like Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney! In addition, the U.S. corporate media acted as a willing accomplice, fully complicit in spreading the hysteria that led to the Iraq invasion on March 15, 2003.  Hence each and every one of these actors, agents share blame in manifesting human evil, including the devastating costs exacted on Iraqi civilians.

Far from malignant human evil emerging without rationality or reason, it instead erupted as if from multiple cancerous cells becoming malignant. We the citizens also played along by being cowed, afraid to speak out lest we be deemed unpatriotic or even terrorist sympathizers.  Many of us also allowed ourselves to be too uninformed, even ignorant of the issues, thereby allowing ourselves to be played. Susan Jacoby, for example, references “two thirds of us can’t find Iraq on a map and many members of Congress don’t know a Shiite from a Sunni[2]  In a nutshell, too many Americans have “become too lazy to learn what we need to know to make sound public decisions."

This is tragic, because if Americans can’t or won’t exercise their minds to think critically, especially concerning our national history and consequences of our actions, then we stand to be led into more reckless wars. This is why Obama's rhetoric that this proposed strike will be "limited" is bollocks. What if, after his "2- day" strike,  another nerve gas attack happens a month later and kills more than 1,429? What then? Obviously, having gone in once under this 'humanitarian" pretext, Obama will have to go in again... and again.....and again! There will be no end especially as he has no intentions of actually removing Assad (which itself would be as reckless as what we did with Saddam).

Enough "red lines". Remember one thing and one only: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions".
Hackneyed, but as true as ever. Let us have no more rational evil expedited with the best intentions! Under Obama, or anyone else.
 See also:

1] We now know an Iraqi (codename ‘curveball’) made the whole WMD baloney up in order to trigger regime change to replace Saddam, oblivious to the human costs.
2] Jacoby, op. cit., 310.


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