CHAFF By William Bowles

4 May 2004

Chaff is the stuff they toss out of helicopter gunships and other aerial killing machines to try and fool ground-to-air missiles and other assorted bits of materiél that gets fired up-up-and-away at them. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but if you toss out enough of the stuff, the odds of surviving are increased.

The same might be said of the chaff that’s been tossed out of the various offices of ‘experts’ up and down the country about the photographs of British troops ‘allegedly’ (according to the pundits) torturing Iraqi detainees.

I’ve mulled over this for the past couple of days as to why these ‘convenient’ images surfaced so soon after the obviously genuine images of US military getting their rocks off and just like the Gilligan/Kelly ‘chaff’ tossed out of the windows of the BBC and the MoD, it’s clear that it acts to divert attention from the real issues raised about the way the colonised get treated and what it reveals about the ‘western way of life’. Above all, it serves to obscure the real reasons for the invasion and occupation.

What gave the game away was the ‘rumour’ that emerged almost immediately after the photos were released that they had been fabricated by ‘military intelligence’ and the fact that the media never asked the question as to where this allegation came from and why, and why the ‘rumour’ surfaced so quickly after the images were published.

After all, if they were manufactured by military intelligence, one surely has to ask the question why the rumour was put about in the first place? Yet not a single media outlet asked this question. Instead, having been ‘chaffed’, they followed the trail of chaff that led directly to various and sundry military characters (mostly of the retired variety) who passed learned comments about the way squaddies were meant to tie their shoelaces, or the kinds of gun shown in the photos and so on so forth, that didn’t stand the test of scrutiny. All highly ‘convenient’ of course, and redolent of a ‘plant’ from the intelligence agencies.

Another pointer to the suspicious nature of the sources of the British photos is the fact that unlike the usual ‘denials’ and ‘no comments’ from government spokespeople, the Blair machine was quick to denounce such behaviour before any of the allegations had been subjected to verification. We can safely assume therefore, that some kind of ‘revelation’ will emerge from bowels of the establishment that proves some kind of ‘conspiracy’ to undermine the efforts of the ‘coalition’ to bring peace and democracy to Iraq.

So while everybody gets all worked up about whether or not the allegations are true, the real issues get buried under mounds of discarded chaff.

To broaden the metaphor, it might be said that the entire imperial enterprise is comprised of enormous gobs of chaff, from the mythological WMD through to the international ‘conspiracy’ to overthrow western ‘democracy’ and turn us all into righteous Muslims. Rationality flies out of the window along with all the chaff.

Consider for example, the basic premise that Al Qu-eda’s objective is to replace Western ‘democracy’ with a ‘fundamentalist Islamic state’, itself a complete fabrication but aside from this, what are the odds of such a thing happening? I think the reader can compute the odds without any help from yours truly, especially in the UK where virtually nobody goes to a church of any denomination (if you discount shopping malls).

The most important lesson to learn from the disinformation campaign is the fact that the revelations of the horrific treatment meted out to Iraqis, Afghanis and other assorted nationalities from the poorer parts of the world, is that this kind of treatment, far from being the exception, is the norm and that it reveals once again, the dual standard being applied by these so-called civilised nations.

For months now, accusations of mistreatment have been surfacing but have largely been ignored by the mainstream media and relegated to one-off stories that disappear as soon as they have been reported. The MoD has been ‘investigating’ such allegations for months without coming to a single conclusion let alone a prosecution.

That the focus of the media and state has been the ‘damage’ it does to the imperium’s mission reveals just what a serious setback the ‘revelations’ actually have been. And in another revealing facet of the Western mindset, the media inform us that,

“It would be hard to devise a set of images better calculated to undermine the American mission in Iraq [and] generate outrage in the Arab and Muslim world” – Chicago Tribune (04/05/04)

But no mention of the outrage is should generate in Western populations! There’s none so blind as those who refuse to look.

And even more importantly, is what it reveals about the vulnerable nature of the imperium’s campaign. After all, exposés of systematic torture by the US and the UK are not exactly new, what is new is that the ‘revelations’ are now coming from elements of the establishment media, who are clearly very nervous about the deteriorating situation in Iraq but especially in Palestine/Israel.

Taken together with the statement from the 52 former British diplomats and the latest statement from 54 American diplomats saying pretty much the same thing, it is clear that the main thrust of opposition from within the establishment focuses on the Palestine/Israel disaster, that is an even greater threat to Western interests in the region than the Iraq fiasco.

What we see then is an imperium in total disarray, pursuing a disastrous dead-end of a foreign policy that with every passing day becomes ever more difficult to defend let alone carry through.

But one has to ask the question, what went wrong? Is it purely down to the messianic and arrogant nature of Bush and the ‘neo-cons’ or does it reveal a far more fundamental miscalculation following the defeat of the ‘Evil Empire’?

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and the imperium’s reliance on technology as an alleged solution to political/economic issues is not new, as any investigation of imperial adventures of the past reveals. But I contend that an even more fundamental process is at work that comes down to the crisis of capital, surplus capital desperate to find an outlet – that is, markets to invest in – that has created its own, perhaps final contradictions.

The question is, are those who develop the economic strategies of the leading capitalist nations aware of this and for this we need to look not to the mass media and the inevitable ‘boosting’ that capitalism gets in the mass media, but to the inner workings of large scale investors, mostly institutional pension funds, insurance companies and banks. And of course, fearing a panic in the investment markets, they are loathe to make their fears public knowledge.

Yet there are indicators, the main one being attitudes toward China that when one looks at the long term objectives, especially of the US, the strategic thrust of US expansion is aimed clearly at ‘containing’ China. Yet even here, the ‘logic’ of capitalism has created a double bind, for on the one hand, in order to maintain profits, it has increasingly exported production to low wage areas, most notably China, that in turn has led to China becoming inexorably, the US’s main capitalist competitor. And critically, as Japan did in the 1960s and 70s, China is possessed of the latest technologies of production, production that when combined with pitiful wages and working conditions, outperforms the US hands down.

So as the US de-industrialises and relies more and more on its lock on the marketing and distribution of production (euphemistically known as globalisation) facilitated through its monopoly of the global currency, the dollar and its control of truly globalised financial markets, it has fewer and fewer options. Indeed, there are only two options currently open to it. One, to engage in serious state-sponsored capital investment projects aka Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ or the ‘traditional solution’, generalised war, always a sure bet to swallow up vast chunks of surplus capital (and labour) and kickstart a moribund capitalist economy.

One of the problems is the lock the arms industry has on the US economy that has been compounded by the convergence of technology (the digital revolution) and the increasing concentration of ownership that has seen key sectors of the economy fuse together into giant conglomerates. Add to this the concentration of investment into the hands of a few giant institutions – pension funds, banks and insurance – and we see that unless there is a major shift in economic policies, the major capitalist economies are locked in a deadly embrace with the armaments/IT sector from which there is no escape.

What is revealing about this process (and sadly lacking from most left analysis) is that this is not a new departure, it has been described by both Marx/Engels and later Lenin and others in minute detail, what is different is the scale of the problem that now confronts us that affects the entire planet. The interconnectedness produced by global production and distribution has made the entire enterprise extremely vulnerable to even small perturbations and made changes difficult to undertake on a purely national level.

You could say that capitalism’s greed has hoisted it by its own petard, leaving it few options other than those forced upon it by a progressive alternative, an alternative that obviously needs the active support of the populace but one that is unfortunately missing.

All the more reason, when one puts the crisis into its proper context, for the reemergence of a revitalised left, one that can present a realistic alternative to the current headlong flight into oblivion. Would such an alternative gain the support of a significant sector, say 20-30%? We won’t know until we try, will we?

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