Barack Obama

Afterthoughts on the Iran Treaty

Apadana of Persepolis — in Persepolis, Iran. (Credit:  Wikimedia Commons)

Apadana of Persepolis — in Persepolis, Iran. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Is it not brave to be a King, Techelles?
Usumcasane and Theridamas,
Is it not passing brave to be a King,
And ride in triumph through Persepolis?

Christopher Marlowe, Tamburlaine

Now that the U.S. Congress cannot block the nuclear treaty between Iran, the United States and other world powers, one can exclaim along with Mark Twain, without fear of imperiling the agreement: “There are times when one would like to hang the whole human race, and finish the farce.” (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, chap. XXXI).

I have not read the agreement. One of the lessons to be learned from this recent process is that our politicians—and therefore we—do not need to read or know anything about anything before forming an opinion. Even before the agreement was drafted, 47 senators (all Republicans) wrote “an open letter to the leadership of Iran, warning them that any nuclear deal signed between Iran and U.S. President Barack Obama might not last beyond his presidency.” All we need now in these United States—if ever we needed anything else—is to consult God, and/or (the god) Money, not necessarily in that order, and our clear, firm opinion is given unto us. In that spirit, I offer the following maxims: (more…)

Tripping the Demonization Trap

“The Great Satan” by Brazilian cartoonist Latuff, 1 October 2003. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Does US Representative Seth Moulton slip or trip war culture’s demonization trap when he endorses the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran?

As mentioned in the preceding post, the congressman allows that the deal does not require the US to trust Iran and concedes that Iran is a determined enemy of the US and Israel that supports international terrorism and violates human rights. The basic premise of the case for rejecting the nuclear accord and its underlying Manichean mythos of good versus evil remains unremarked and unchallenged.

War culture remains rhetorically intact, whether one decides to support the nuclear accord on the congressman’s terms or reject it. The perseverance of war culture on this matter is reflected in the expression of public opinion. (more…)

An Unremarked Metaphor

Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, 10 April 2008. (Credit:  Seyedkhan / Wikimedia Commons)

Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, 10 April 2008. (Credit: Seyedkhan / Wikimedia Commons)

Opposition to the nuclear accord with Iran is yet another occasion for putting US war culture on display. And what we see—if we choose to look—is a rationale for militarism grounded in an unrecognized and unremarked metaphor. We see a culturally compelling, naturalized image of the devil with whom we should never make a deal. The logic of opposing a nuclear deal rests on (and rhetorically derives from) this demonological image as if it is terra firma. Remarking critically on the image is taboo.

This self-justifying image appears in a video of a wounded soldier released in August by a group called Veterans Against the Deal. “Rather than refute the administration’s talking points or rehearsing specific objections to the deal, this [moving and powerful] spot speaks to the very nature of the Iranian regime,“ writes Guy Benson, who is Townhall.com’s political editor. (more…)

One Nation Among Many

President Obama delivered remarks at American University on the significance of the Iran nuclear agreement and the consequences if Congress rejects it. August 5, 2015. (Courtesy:  whitehouse.gov)

President Obama delivered remarks at American University on the significance of the Iran nuclear agreement and the consequences if Congress rejects it. August 5, 2015. (Courtesy: whitehouse.gov)

Barack Obama’s capacious case for the nuclear accord with Iran (address at American University) contains an interesting treatment of the myth of exceptional America. “What separates us from the empires of old, what has made us exceptional,” the President declared, “is not the mere fact of our military might” but our advancement, since World War II, of an evolving system of international law “to prevent the spread of deadly weapons, to uphold peace and security, and promote human progress.”

It is unclear whether President Obama means the US in not an empire or that the American empire, unlike others, is a force for good. This point of ambiguity marks a tension between diplomacy and military force that persists throughout the speech. The President manages this tension in a way that makes the US more alike and interdependent with other nations than independent, distinct, above, or apart from them. In his words, “we live in a complicated world” where, despite our power, “we are one nation among many.” (more…)

Unmaking the Devil

Saddam Hussein and Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi during the Algiers agreement, 1975. (Credit:  Wikimedia Commons)

Saddam Hussein and Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi during the Algiers agreement, 1975. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Obama administration’s nuclear accord with Iran is drawing rhetorical fire. That’s not surprising. Conjuring the devil is a ritual that sustains the war state. It rehearses the narrative of good versus evil. Without the threat of evildoers, the country’s motivation to fight degrades over time.

Congressional war hawks and their neoconservative allies, observes James Carden, warn against being snookered by a despicable Iranian regime. Alluding to the Holocaust, Presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee insists that the deal would march the Israelis “to the door of the oven.” Senator Lindsey Graham adds that the religious views of Iran’s Supreme Leader compel him to destroy Israel and attack the US. Iran is the devil incarnate, Hitler de novo.

Senator Dan Coats summarizes much of the critique that follows from the basic premise that they are evil and we are good. In a guest column published by various Indiana newspapers, the Senator says the more he reads through the text of the Iran deal, the more his concern grows. Why? Because “the deal will not permanently stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions” and “the negotiators conceded [far too much] in order to reach an agreement with a regime that calls America its enemy, brazenly violates U.N resolutions, sponsors terrorism, threatens Israel’s existence and is responsible for more than 1,000 American military deaths since Sept. 11, 2001.” (more…)

Say What?

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of the Australian Parliament in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra on November 17, 2011. (Credit:  Pete Souza / Wikimedia Commons)

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of the Australian Parliament in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra on November 17, 2011. (Credit: Pete Souza / Wikimedia Commons)

Speaking to the Australian Parliament on November 17, 2011, as his administration declared its intention to pivot to Asia, President Obama expressed his commitment to peace. We “partner to keep peace,” he said. We seek a world in which “disagreements are resolved peacefully,” he insisted. “As we plan and budget for the future, we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region.  We will preserve our unique ability to project power and deter threats to peace,” he concluded.

Say what?

What does the President mean by peace? Budgeting for war equals a commitment to peace?

In a word, yes. (more…)

Cultural Contagion

The Triumph of Death, or The 3 Fates. Flemish tapestry (probably Brussels, ca. 1510-1520). (Credit:  Victoria and Albert Museum, London.)

The Triumph of Death, or The 3 Fates. Flemish tapestry (probably Brussels, ca. 1510-1520). (Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.)

It is difficult to see beyond the reality of war. It is easy to believe that war is natural, destined, inescapable—a matter of fate. There is some question of whether in Greek mythology even Zeus could command the three Moirai, or fates, that spun the thread of life (Clotho), determined our lot in life (Lachesis), and chose the manner of our death (Atropos). The Moirai personified a harsh reality, an uncompromising truth, a grim inevitability.

That ancient cosmology is an example of what evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene) called a “meme”—a self-perpetuating cultural belief, symbol, or practice that persists through ritual regardless of the harm it does. Another such meme “that can infect any society,” observes John Horgan, is “militarism—the culture of war” (The End of War, p. 102). (more…)

Return of the Evildoers

Former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush, 7 November 2012. (Credit: The World Affairs Council)

Former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush, 7 November 2012. (Credit: The World Affairs Council)

Barack Obama generally avoids the use of the term “evildoers.” That is the language of his predecessor, Bush-the-warmonger. One can make too much of the differences between the two presidents on matters of foreign policy. Both are leaders of the war state and, accordingly, conversant with the demonology of US war culture, which can be more or less nuanced. Early signs are that Jeb Bush prefers his brother’s bluntness.

Jeb’s anticipated run for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination has occasioned the return of the language of evildoers (Ed O’Keefe, “The World According to Jeb Bush,” Washington Post, April 16, 2015). The term distances him from Obama’s foreign policy, which is a policy of “retrenchment,” according to the younger brother of George. (more…)

Blind Hostility

Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, 10 April 2008. (Credit:  Seyedkhan / Wikimedia Commons)

Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, 10 April 2008. (Credit: Seyedkhan / Wikimedia Commons)

The perception of war’s necessity derives from (or at least corresponds to) a narrow view of the adversary. Enemies are imagined in caricature as the embodiment of evil. The crude image is an easy projection of a people’s collective anxieties.

A predisposition toward diplomacy and peacemaking requires a broader construction. It is more difficult to reflect on an adversary’s humanity than to react to a frightful caricature. The primitive impulse favors fighting over negotiating.

The debate between President Obama and his critics over how to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb is illustrative. (more…)

Orwell’s Oracle (1)

George Orwell. (Credit:  Wiggy! / Wikimedia Commons)

George Orwell. (Credit: Wiggy! / Wikimedia Commons)

Erich Fromm warned us that 1984 (1949) is not just a description of Stalinist barbarism, but that Orwell means us, too, in his dystopian novel.

In this and succeeding posts with the same title we will conduct periodic “State of the Dystopia” examinations in which we will review how many of Orwell’s prophecies (and in what way) have come true. In our time Orwell has become, if not a holy prophet like Jeremiah, at least a political prophet of say, the secular prophet Nostradamus. We study Orwell’s writings the way faithful Christians pore over the Book of Revelation to keep track of the oncoming of the Apocalypse.

To begin with the simplest, and most resounding of Orwell’s prophetic utterances: the building of the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue) in Oceania (see map below) was “an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, three hundred meters into the air.” On its white face, “in elegant lettering,” was carved the three slogans of the Party:

WAR IS PEACE

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH (more…)