You can't teach an old lapdog new tricks. And Tony Blair was barking up the wrong tree yet again last week in his first major appearance since he skulked ingloriously away from office back in June. Blair seized the opportunity of a New York speech to trumpet the blood libel that Iran is now the embodiment of the entire "global ideology" of Islamic extremism, explicitly conflating the Tehran regime not only with al-Qaida but also with Nazi Germany.
One might almost suspect that the ex-parrot of Bushist mendacity on Iraq had dutifully calibrated his message to chime with the new chorus of unbridled Iran-bashing rolled out by the administration at the same time, beginning with President Bush's talk of "World War III" last Wednesday and culminating in Dick Cheney's libation to Ares on the last Lord's Day. Blair, as usual, was squeezed in between the two hulking Yanks, gilding their barbaric yawp with his crisp Oxonian tones.
Speaking at the annual Al Smith charity dinner -- safely distant from the mother country, where he has become a national embarrassment, never mentioned in polite society -- Blair eagerly trafficked in the ludicrous trope that views "Islamic extremism" as one huge, all-powerful, amorphous yet somehow monolithic mass, comprising -- as Mitt Romney once put it with blazing ignorance -- "Shi'a and Sunni ... Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood." In the minds of would-be he-men like Blair and Romney, this amalgamation of conflicting sects and completely disparate groups is a single, mighty Saracen sword aimed at the heart of Western civilization: a threat that must be stopped at all costs -- or, rather, at the cost of other people's blood and treasure.
Blair even went Romney one better in the dumb-and-dumber sweepstakes by stuffing this writhing mass of Islamic serpents into one big Persian basket. After wondering "if we're not in the 1920s or 1930s again" -- and of course invoking 9/11 over and over (an ancient rhetorical device known as guilianius affectus) -- Blair put Iran in the cross hairs as, well, the focus of evil in the modern world. Squeaking at the top of his pip, Blair declared: "This ideology now has a state, Iran, that is prepared to back and finance terror in the pursuit of destabilizing countries whose people wish to live in peace."
Think of that: We now have a state -- a concrete target -- where we can strike all of the strands of Islamic extremism at once, thereby quelling a dire and imminent threat to our very existence. How can we not attack it under such circumstances?
(Meanwhile, we'll let professor Juan Cole of the University of Reality handle the "stupid things" known as facts: "President Ahmadinejad, whose job is more or less ceremonial, is not the commander-in-chief of the Iranian armed forces. He has never advocated 'genocide,' and his expressed wish that the 'occupation regime over Jerusalem' (i.e., the Israeli government) eventually vanish has been mistranslated. As for the rest, the candidates simply assume that Iran has a nuclear weapons research program, which has not been proven. It certainly does not have a nuclear weapon at present, and the National Intelligence Estimate indicates that if it were trying to get one, it would take until at least 2016 -- and then only if the international environment were conducive to the needed high-tech imports. (Ahmadinejad, by the way, will not be in power in 2016.) Also, someone really needs to let the Republicans know that Iran is Shiite, meaning it abhors Sunni fundamentalists and rejects the caliphate.")
But Blair wasn't through wagging the Iran war dog. He went on to say that there was no point in trying to reason with this state-centered "global ideology" because it has already "made the choice" for relentless war on a global scale:
"There is a tendency even now, even in some of our own circles, to believe that they are as they are because we have provoked them and if we left them alone they would leave us alone. I fear this is mistaken. They have no intention of leaving us alone. They have made their choice and leave us with only one to make -- to be forced into retreat or to exhibit even greater determination and belief in standing up for our values than they do in standing up for theirs."
In other words, since "they" -- the dark evil ones now fully represented by the state of Iran -- have decided for war, then we -- oh-so-reluctantly, of course, more in sorrow than in anger -- must give it to them with both barrels. In any case, there is no question of ever "leaving them alone." How can we? They've got "our" oil! And the constant botheration of volatile lands is a prerequisite of the war-profiteering industry, which Blair, again aping his American masters, favored so lovingly during his headship of Her Majesty's Government.
Blair's insistence that "Islamic extremism" represents a world-conquering, civilization-ending threat is one of the most pernicious fallacies in the bucket of "terror war" tripe. But one can see why it attracts lightweights and dim bulbs such as Blair and Bush. It makes them seem important, world-historical figures struggling to save humanity from colossal enemies, like Churchill and Roosevelt come again. Obviously, this silly game of pretend is much more fun than what the reality of the "terrorist threat" actually called for: calm, efficient managers of a long, difficult, unglamorous law enforcement process aimed at a few criminal organizations. But instead, the Anglo-American tripe merchants have waged aggressive war, radicalized once-quiescent multitudes, gutted the liberties of their own peoples and transformed a few violent cranks into figures of global significance.
So when Blair says that Islam is ... but, really, what's the point of going on in this way, of treating Blair's arguments as if they had any intrinsic meaning at all, however misguided? The charges that Blair (and Bush and Dick Cheney) have laid out in recent days are not meant to be understood intellectually; they are designed to infect the listener and reader with certain emotions -- fear, anger, self-righteousness, loyalty to our protectors and obedience to their authority -- that will ease the accrual of power to the state and the advancement of otherwise unpalatable polices.
As for the words themselves, they are lies. Just as Bush lied about eliminating torture from his gulag (as the New York Times revealed this month; for more, see Glenn Greenwald here and this guy as well), Blair -- who lied for years about his government's role in abetting Bush's torture-and-kidnap schemes -- lied to the audience at the Al Smith dinner. As Anonymous Liberal amply demonstrated in these pages a couple of days ago, there is no logical consistency whatsoever to be found in the scattershot barrage of charges about Iran being fired by the Bush gang and their outriders ( e.g., Blair, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and the vast horde of armchair militarists baying for Persian blood in the right-wing echo chamber of blogs, mags and groupthink tanks).
All politicians lie, of course -- yes, Virginia, all of them -- so there's no big shock here. Mostly they lie to serve themselves (and their bounteous patrons). But they also lie because they believe that people can't handle the truth -- or, perhaps more accurately, that people would rather not hear the truth. They don't want to hear what Alan Greenspan revealed this month: the self-evident truth that the United States invaded Iraq in order to gain domination over its vast oil reserves. As Jim Holt put it in a recent article in the London Review of Books:
"Iraq has 115 billion barrels of known oil reserves. That is more than five times the total in the United States. And, because of its long isolation, it is the least explored of the world's oil-rich nations. A mere two thousand wells have been drilled across the entire country; in Texas alone there are a million. It has been estimated, by the Council on Foreign Relations, that Iraq may have a further 220 billion barrels of undiscovered oil; another study puts the figure at 300 billion. If these estimates are anywhere close to the mark, U.S. forces are now sitting on one quarter of the world's oil resources. The value of Iraqi oil, largely light crude with low production costs, would be of the order of $30 trillion at today's prices. For purposes of comparison, the projected total cost of the U.S. invasion/occupation is around $1 trillion."
Or as I put it in a post on Holt's article, the Bush gang is "now set to reap a windfall of up to $30 trillion that will maintain the American elite's whip-hand over the world for generations to come. And all it cost was a measly $1 trillion in taxpayer money, a few thousand pieces of lower-class cannon fodder from the U.S. military -- and the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Iraq: an excellent return on investment for Bush-Cheney Inc. and their cronies."
The war against Iran will be a further investment, securing not only the Iraqi acquisition but adding considerably to the dominated reserves. (And don't forget that war -- any war -- enriches another key constituency of the political class: the weapons and "military servicing" industries. Indeed, the military-industrial complex is now so predominant that war and threats of war are indispensable engines for economic growth. The whole system, as it is now constituted, would simply collapse if the militarist shark didn't keep moving and feeding.)
And the Bushists would say (if you were allowed to pierce the veil of their various, conflicting lies) that all of this is necessary -- all this death, all this ruin, all this rapine of foreign lands and hardening repression at home -- to keep Americans living high on the hog, devouring a vastly disproportionate share of the world's resources. This is not a very heroic notion, of course, especially for a people told every day of their lives that they are the most special, God-blessed human beings who ever walked the face of the earth. Far better to be lied to, and told that the terror war is a noble crusade for freedom for the oppressed and security for our children. (even if the Iraq part has been "mismanaged"; but we can fix that, and do the next one "right"). "We're doing all this for them," Dick Cheney might say, waving his hand at the window toward the rabble passing by below. "We're taking on the burden of this bloodshed and toil and lies because they want us to -- and they damn sure don't want to hear about it."
There is much truth in this, as far as it goes; but it hides an even deeper lie. For as we all know, more and more Americans are not living high on the hog. Their cities are crumbling, their public services and healthcare are diminishing (or being sold off to indifferent profit gougers), their jobs are being lost or left in constant peril; most of them are just one serious illness or accident or personal catastrophe away from lifelong penury. They are no longer reaping the benefits of the long, long march of militarism and empire that has found its culmination in the "war on terror." So where are those benefits going?
Here we come to the dark heart of the enterprise, the stinking truth that festers beneath the mountainous compost heap of lies: All of this death, ruin, rapine and repression is being carried out solely for the benefit of its perpetrators, and their cronies, and their fawning courtiers. It is being carried out to augment the power and privilege of a relatively small, deeply entrenched elite. The fact is, there is more than enough wealth in the United States, more than enough resources -- natural, intellectual, institutional, infrastructural -- to deal with the difficult changes that would be required to wean the nation off its insatiable addiction to oil and its corrosive dependence on war and produce sufficient prosperity in a transformed, more localized economy. The elite represented and embodied by Bush and Cheney (and courtiers like Blair) isn't seeking domination of the world's oil and armed hegemony over geopolitical affairs because there are no other choices to ensure the people's security and prosperity. Indeed, as the historical record of the past seven years has shown, the elite's policies have produced the opposite effect. No, they are pursuing these policies, waging these wars -- and fomenting new ones -- to gorge themselves and no one else.
Remember this truth -- try to catch the stench of it -- the next time one of these lying perps dresses up in a thousand-dollar suit to sell you a brand-new war.