[News] War porn: The new safe sex

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Mar 29 12:29:59 EDT 2012

War porn: The new safe sex
By Pepe Escobar


(This is the much-abridged version of a 
conference at the XII Seminar of Political 
Solidarity at the University of Zaragoza, Spain, March 27, 2012.)

The early 21st century is addicted to war porn, a 
prime spectator sport consumed by global couch 
and digital potatoes. War porn took the limelight 
on the evening of September 11, 2001, when the 
George W Bush administration launched the "war on 
terror" - which was interpreted by many of its 
practitioners as a subtle legitimization of 
United States state terror against, predominantly, Muslims.

This was also a war OF terror - as in a 
manifestation of state terror pitting urban 
high-tech might against basically rural, low-tech 
cunning. The US did not exercise this monopoly; 
Beijing practiced it in Xinjiang, its far west, 
and Russia practiced it in Chechnya.

Like porn, war porn cannot exist without being 
based on a lie - a crude representation. But 
unlike porn, war porn is the real thing; unlike 
crude, cheap snuff movies, people in war porn actually die - in droves.

The lie to finish all lies at the center of this 
representation was definitely established with 
the leak of the 2005 Downing Street memo, in 
which the head of the British MI6 confirmed that 
the Bush administration wanted to take out Iraq's 
Saddam Hussein by linking Islamic terrorism with 
(non-existent) weapons of mass destruction (WMD). 
So, as the memo put it, "The intelligence and 
facts were being fixed around the policy."

In the end, George "you're either with us or 
against us" Bush did star in his own, 
larger-than-life snuff movie - that happened to 
double as the invasion and destruction of the eastern flank of the Arab nation.

The new Guernica
Iraq may indeed be seen as the Star Wars of war 
porn - an apotheosis of sequels. Take the 
(second) Fallujah offensive in late 2004. At the 
time I described it as the new Guernica. I also 
took the liberty of paraphrasing Jean-Paul 
Sartre, writing about the Algerian War; after 
Fallujah no two Americans shall meet without a 
corpse lying between them. To quote Coppola's 
Apocalypse Now, there were bodies, bodies everywhere.

The Francisco Franco in Fallujah was Iyad Allawi, 
the US-installed interim premier. It was Allawi 
who "asked" the Pentagon to bomb Fallujah. In 
Guernica - as in Fallujah - there was no 
distinction between civilians and guerrillas: it 
was the rule of "Viva la muerte!"

United States Marine Corps commanders said on the 
record that Fallujah was the house of Satan. 
Franco denied the massacre in Guernica and blamed 
the local population - just as Allawi and the 
Pentagon denied any civilian deaths and insisted "insurgents" were guilty.

Fallujah was reduced to rubble, at least 200,000 
residents became refugees, and thousands of 
civilians were killed, in order to "save it" 
(echoes of Vietnam). No one in Western corporate 
media had the guts to say that in fact Fallujah was the American Halabja.

Fifteen years before Fallujah, in Halabja, 
Washington was a very enthusiastic supplier of 
chemical weapons to Saddam, who used them to gas 
thousands of Kurds. The Central Intelligence 
Agency (CIA) at the time said it was not Saddam; 
it was Khomeinist Iran. Yet Saddam did it, and 
did it deliberately, just like the US in Fallujah.

Fallujah doctors identified swollen and yellowish 
corpses without any injuries, as well as "melted 
bodies" - victims of napalm, the cocktail of 
polystyrene and jet fuel. Residents who managed 
to escape told of bombing by "poisonous gases" 
and "weird bombs that smoke like a mushroom cloud 
... and then small pieces fall from the air with 
long tails of smoke behind them. The pieces of 
these strange bombs explode into large fires that 
burn the skin even when you throw water over them."

That's exactly what happens to people bombed with 
napalm or white phosphorus. The United Nations 
banned the bombing of civilians with napalm in 
1980. The US is the only country in the world still using napalm.

Fallujah also provided a mini-snuff movie hit; 
the summary execution of a wounded, defenseless 
Iraqi man inside a mosque by a US Marine. The 
execution, caught on tape, and watched by 
millions on YouTube, graphically spelled out the 
"special" rules of engagement. US Marine 
commanders at the time were telling their 
soldiers to "shoot everything that moves and 
everything that doesn't move"; to fire "two 
bullets in every body"; in case of seeing any 
military-aged men in the streets of Fallujah, to 
"drop 'em"; and to spray every home with 
machine-gun and tank fire before entering them.

The rules of engagement in Iraq were codified in 
a 182-page field manual distributed to each and 
every soldier and issued in October 2004 by the 
Pentagon. This counter-insurgency manual stressed 
five rules; "protect the population; establish 
local political institutions; reinforce local 
governments; eliminate insurgent capabilities; 
and exploit information from local sources."

Now back to reality. Fallujah's population was 
not protected: it was bombed out of the city and 
turned into a mass of thousands of refugees. 
Political institutions were already in place: the 
Fallujah Shura was running the city. No local 
government can possibly run a pile of rubble to 
be recovered by seething citizens, not to mention 
be "reinforced". "Insurgent capabilities" were 
not eliminated; the resistance dispersed around 
the 22 other cities out of control by the US 
occupation, and spread up north all the way to 
Mosul; and the Americans remained without 
intelligence "from local sources" because they 
antagonized every possible heart and mind.

Meanwhile, in the US, most of the population was 
already immune to war porn. When the Abu Ghraib 
scandal broke out in the spring of 2004, I was 
driving through Texas, exploring Bushland. 
Virtually everybody I spoke to either attributed 
the humiliation of Iraqi prisoners to "a few bad 
apples", or defended it on patriotic grounds ("we 
must teach a lesson to "terrorists").

I love a man in uniform
In thesis, there is an approved mechanism in the 
21st century to defend civilians from war porn. 
It's the R2P - "responsibility to protect" 
doctrine. This was an idea floated already in 
2001 - a few weeks after the war on terror was 
unleashed, in fact - by the Canadian government 
and a few foundations. The idea was that the 
concert of nations had a "moral duty" to deploy a 
humanitarian intervention in cases such as 
Halabja, not to mention the Khmer Rouge in 
Cambodia in the mid-1970s or the genocide in Rwanda in the mid-1990s.

In 2004, a panel at the UN codified the idea - 
crucially with the Security Council being able to 
authorize a "military intervention" only "as a 
last resort". Then, in 2005, the UN General 
Assembly endorsed a resolution supporting R2P, 
and in 2006 the UN Security Council passed 
resolution 1674 about "the protection of 
civilians in armed conflict"; they should be 
protected against "genocide, war crimes, ethnic 
cleansing and crimes against humanity".

Now fast-forward to the end of 2008, early 2009, 
when Israel - using American fighter jets to 
raise hell - unleashed a large-scale attack on 
the civilian population of the Gaza strip.

Look at the official US reaction; "Israel has 
obviously decided to protect herself and her 
people," said then-president Bush. The US 
Congress voted by a staggering 390-to-5 to 
recognize "Israel's right to defend itself 
against attacks from Gaza". The incoming Barack 
Obama administration was thunderously silent. 
Only future Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 
said, "We support Israel's right to self-defense."

At least 1,300 civilians - including scores of 
women and children - were killed by state terror 
in Gaza. Nobody invoked R2P. Nobody pointed to 
Israel's graphic failure in its "responsibility 
to protect" Palestinians. Nobody called for a 
"humanitarian intervention" targeting Israel.

The mere notion that a superpower - and other 
lesser powers - make their foreign policy 
decisions based on humanitarian grounds, such as 
protecting people under siege, is an absolute 
joke. So already at the time we learned how R2P 
was to be instrumentalized. It did not apply to 
the US in Iraq or Afghanistan. It did not apply 
to Israel in Palestine. It would eventually apply 
only to frame "rogue" rulers that are not "our 
bastards" - as in Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in 
2011. "Humanitarian" intervention, yes; but only to get rid of "the bad guys."

And the beauty of R2P was that it could be turned 
upside down anytime. Bush pleaded for the 
"liberation" of suffering Afghans - and 
especially burqa-clad Afghan women - from the 
"evil" Taliban, in fact configuring Afghanistan as a humanitarian intervention.

And when the bogus links between al-Qaeda and the 
non-existent WMDs were debunked, Washington began 
to justify the invasion, occupation and 
destruction of Iraq via ... R2P; "responsibility 
to protect" Iraqis from Saddam, and then to protect Iraqis from themselves.

The killer awoke before dawn
The most recent installment in serial episodes of 
war porn is the Kandahar massacre, when, 
according to the official Pentagon version (or 
cover up) an American army sergeant, a sniper and 
Iraqi war veteran - a highly trained assassin - 
shot 17 Afghan civilians, including nine women 
and four children, in two villages two miles 
apart, and burned some of their bodies.

Like with Abu Ghraib, there was the usual torrent 
of denials from the Pentagon - as in "this is not 
us" or "we don't do things these way"; not to 
mention a tsunami of stories in US corporate 
media humanizing the hero-turned-mass killer, as 
in "he's such a good guy, a family man". In 
contrast, not a single word about The Other - the 
Afghan victims. They are faceless; and nobody knows their names.

A - serious - Afghan enquiry established that 
some 20 soldiers may have been part of the 
massacre - as in My Lai in Vietnam; and that 
included the rape of two of the women. It does 
make sense. War porn is a lethal, group 
subculture - complete with targeted 
assassinations, revenge killings, desecration of 
bodies, harvesting of trophies (severed fingers 
or ears), burning of Korans and pissing on dead 
bodies. It's essentially a collective sport.

US "kill teams" have deliberately executed 
random, innocent Afghan civilians, mostly 
teenagers, for sport, planted weapons on their 
bodies, and then posed with their corpses as 
trophies. Not by accident they had been operating 
out of a base in the same area of the Kandahar massacre.

And we should not forget former top US commander 
in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, who 
in April 10, 2010, admitted, bluntly, "We've shot 
an amazing number of people" who were not a 
threat to the US or Western civilization.

The Pentagon spins and sells in Afghanistan what 
it sold in Iraq (and even way back in Vietnam for 
that matter); the idea that this is a 
"population-centric counter-insurgency" - or 
COIN, to "win hearts and minds", and part of a great nation building project.

This is a monumental lie. The Obama surge in 
Afghanistan - based on COIN - was a total 
failure. What replaced it was hardcore, covert, 
dark war, led by "kill teams" of Special Forces. 
That implies an inflation of air strikes and 
night raids. No to mention drone strikes, both in 
Afghanistan and in Pakistan's tribal areas, whose 
favorite targets seem to be Pashtun wedding parties.

Incidentally, the CIA claims that since May 2010, 
ultra-smart drones have killed more than 600 
"carefully selected" human targets - and, miraculously, not a single civilian.

Expect to see this war porn extravaganza 
celebrated in an orgy of upcoming, joint 
Pentagon-Hollywood blockbusters. In real life, 
this is spun by people such as John Nagl, who was 
on General David Petraeus' staff in Iraq and now 
runs the pro-Pentagon think-tank Center for New American Security.

The new stellar macho, macho men may be the 
commandos under the Joint Special Operations 
Command (JSOC). But this a Pentagon production, 
which has created, according to Nagl, an 
"industrial strength counter-terrorism killing machine".

Reality, though, is much more prosaic. COIN 
techniques, applied by McChrystal, relied on only 
three components; 24-hour surveillance by drones; 
monitoring of mobile phones; and pinpointing the 
physical location of the phones from their signals.

This implies that anyone in an area under a drone 
watch using a cell phone was branded as a 
"terrorist", or at least "terrorist sympathizer". 
And then the focus of the night raids in 
Afghanistan shifted from "high value targets" - 
high-level and mid-level al-Qaeda and Taliban - 
to anyone who was branded as helping the Taliban.

In May 2009, before McChrystal arrived, US 
Special Forces were carrying 20 raids a month. By 
November, they were 90 a month. By the spring of 
2010, they were 250 a month. When McChrystal was 
fired - because of a story in Rolling Stone (he 
was competing with Lady Gaga for the cover; Lady 
Gaga won) - and Obama replaced him with Petraeus 
in the summer of 2010, there were 600 a month. By 
April 2011, they were more than 1,000 a month.

So this is how it works. Don't even think of 
using a cell phone in Kandahar and other Afghan 
provinces. Otherwise, the "eyes in the sky" are 
going to get you. At the very least you will be 
sent to jail, along with thousands of other 
civilians branded as "terrorist sympathizers"; 
and intelligence analysts will use your data to 
compile their "kill/capture list" and catch even more civilians in their net.

As for the civilian "collateral damage" of the 
night raids, they were always presented by the 
Pentagon as "terrorists". Example; in a raid in 
Gardez on February 12, 2010, two men were killed; 
a local government prosecutor and an Afghan 
intelligence official, as well as three women 
(two of them pregnant). The killers told the 
US-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) 
command in Kabul that the two men were 
"terrorists" and the women had been found tied up 
and gagged. Then the actual target of the raid 
turned himself in for questioning a few days 
later, and was released without any charges.

That's just the beginning. Targeted assassination 
- as practiced in Afghanistan - will be the 
Pentagon's tactic of choice in all future US wars.

Pass the condom, darling
Libya was a major war porn atrocity exhibition - 
complete with a nifty Roman touch of the defeated 
"barbarian" chief sodomized in the streets and 
then executed, straight on YouTube.

This, by the way, is exactly what Secretary of 
State Hillary Clinton, in a lightning visit to 
Tripoli, had announced less than 48 hours before 
the fact. Gaddafi should be "captured or killed". 
When she watched it in the screen of her 
BlackBerry she could only react with the semantic earthquake "Wow!"

 From the minute a UN resolution imposed a no-fly 
zone over Libya under the cover of R2P, it became 
a green card to regime change. Plan A was always 
to capture and kill Gaddafi - as in an 
Afghan-style targeted assassination. That was the 
Obama administration official policy. There was no plan B.

Obama said the death of Gaddafi meant, "the 
strength of American leadership across the 
world". That was as "We got him" (echoes of 
Saddam captured by the Bush administration) as one could possibly expect.

With an extra bonus. Even though Washington paid 
no less than 80% of the operating costs of those 
dimwits at NATO (roughly $2 billion), it was 
still pocket money. Anyway, it was still awkward 
to say, "We did it", because the White House 
always said this was not a war; it was a 
"kinetic" something. And they were not in charge.

Only the hopelessly naïve may have swallowed the 
propaganda of NATO's "humanitarian" 40,000-plus 
bombing which devastated Libya's infrastructure 
back to the Stone Age as a Shock and Awe in slow 
motion. This never had anything to do with R2P.

This was R2P as safe sex - and the "international 
community" was the condom. The "international 
community", as everyone knows, is composed of 
Washington, a few washed-up NATO members, and the 
democratic Persian Gulf powerhouses of Qatar and 
the United Arab Emirates (UAE), plus the House of 
Saud in the shade. The EU, which up to extra time 
was caressing the helm of Gaddafi's gowns, took 
no time to fall over themselves in editorials 
about the 42-year reign of a "buffoon".

As for the concept of international law, it was 
left lying in a drain as filthy as the one 
Gaddafi was holed up in. Saddam at least got a 
fake trial in a kangaroo court before meeting the 
executioner (he ended up on YouTube as well). 
Osama bin Laden was simply snuffed out, 
assassination-style, after a territorial invasion 
of Pakistan (no YouTube - so many don't believe 
it). Gaddafi went one up, snuffed out with a mix 
of air war and assassination. They are The Three Graceful Scalps of War Porn.

Sweet emotion
Syria is yet another declination of war porn 
narrative. If you can't R2P it, fake it.

And to think that all this was codified such a 
long time ago. Already in 1997, the US Army War 
College Quarterly was defining what they called 
"the future of warfare". They framed it as "the 
conflict between information masters and information victims".

They were sure "we are already masters of 
information warfare ... Hollywood is 'preparing 
the battlefield' ... Information destroys 
traditional jobs and traditional cultures; it 
seduces, betrays, yet remains invulnerable 
sophistication in handling it will enable us to 
outlast and outperform all hierarchical cultures 
... Societies that fear or otherwise cannot 
manage the flow of information simply will not be 
competitive. They might master the technological 
wherewithal to watch the videos, but we will be 
writing the scripts, producing them, and 
collecting the royalties. Our creativity is devastating."

Post-everything information warfare has nothing 
to do with geopolitics. Just like the proverbial 
Hollywood product, it is to be "spawned" out of 
raw emotions; "hatred, jealousy, and greed - emotions, rather than strategy".

In Syria this is exactly how Western corporate 
media has scripted the whole movie; the War 
College "information warfare" tactics in 
practice. The Syrian government never had much of 
a chance against those "writing the scripts, 
producing them, and collecting the royalties".

For example, the armed opposition, the so-called 
Free Syrian Army (a nasty cocktail of defectors, 
opportunists, jihadis and foreign mercenaries) 
brought Western journalists to Homs and then 
insisted to extract them, in extremely dangerous 
condition, and with people being killed, via 
Lebanon, rather than through the Red Crescent. 
They were nothing else than writing the script 
for a foreign-imposed "humanitarian corridor" to 
be opened to Homs. This was pure theater - or war 
porn packaged as a Hollywood drama.

The problem is Western public opinion is now 
hostage to this brand of information warfare. 
Forget about even the possibility of peaceful 
negotiations among adult parties. What's left is 
a binary good guys versus bad guys plot, where 
the Big Bad Guy must be destroyed at all costs 
(and on top of it his wife is a snob bitch who loves shopping!)

Only the terminally naïve may believe that 
jihadis - including Libya's NATO rebels - 
financed by the Gulf Counter-revolution Club, 
also know as Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are a 
bunch of democratic reformists burning with good 
intentions. Even Human Rights Watch was finally 
forced to acknowledge that these armed 
"activists" were responsible for "kidnapping, 
detention, and torture", after receiving reports 
of "executions by armed opposition groups of 
security force members and civilians".

What this (soft and hard) war porn narrative 
veils, in the end, is the real Syrian tragedy; 
the impossibility for the much-lauded "Syrian 
people" to get rid of all these crooks - the 
Assad system, the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled 
Syrian National Council, and the mercenary-infested Free Syrian Army.

Listen to the sound of chaos
This - very partial - catalogue of sorrows 
inevitably brings us to the current supreme war 
porn blockbuster - the Iran psychodrama.

2012 is the new 2002; Iran is the new Iraq; and 
whatever the highway, to evoke the neo-con motto, 
real men go to Tehran via Damascus, or real men go to Tehran non-stop.

Perhaps only underwater in the Arctic we would be 
able to escape the cacophonous cortege of 
American right-wingers - and their respective 
European poodles - salivating for blood and 
deploying the usual festival of fallacies like 
"Iran wants to wipe Israel off the map", 
"diplomacy has run its course", "the sanctions 
are too late", or "Iran is within a year, six 
months, a week, a day, or a minute of assembling 
a bomb". Of course these dogs of war would never 
bother to follow what the International Atomic 
Energy Agency is actually doing, not to mention 
the National Intelligence Estimates released by 
the 17 US intelligence agencies.

Because they, to a great extent, are "writing the 
scripts, producing them, and collecting the 
royalties" in terms of corporate media, they can 
get away with an astonishingly toxic fusion of 
arrogance and ignorance - about the Middle East, 
about Persian culture, about Asian integration, 
about the nuclear issue, about the oil industry, 
about the global economy, about "the Rest" as compared to "the West".

Just like with Iraq in 2002, Iran is always 
dehumanized. The relentless, totally hysterical, 
fear-inducing "narrative" of "should we bomb now 
or should we bomb later" is always about oh so 
very smart bunker buster bombs and precision 
missiles that will accomplish an ultra clean 
large-scale devastation job without producing a 
single "collateral damage". Just like safe sex.

And even when the voice of the establishment 
itself - the New York Times - admits that neither 
US nor Israeli intelligence believe Iran has 
decided to build a bomb (a 5-year-old could reach 
the same conclusion), the hysteria remains inter-galactic.

Meanwhile, while it gets ready - "all options are 
on the table", Obama himself keeps repeating - 
for yet another war in what it used to call "arc 
of instability", the Pentagon also found time to 
repackage war porn. It took only a 60-second 
video now on YouTube, titled Toward the Sound of 
Chaos, released only a few days after the 
Kandahar massacre. Just look at its key target 
audience: the very large market of poor, 
unemployed and politically very naïve young Americans.

Let's listen to the mini-movie voice over: "Where 
chaos looms, the Few emerge. Marines move toward 
the sounds of tyranny, injustice and despair - 
with the courage and resolve to silence them. By 
ending conflict, instilling order and helping 
those who can't help themselves, Marines face down the threats of our time."

Maybe, in this Orwellian universe, we should ask 
the dead Afghans urinated upon by US Marines, or 
the thousands of dead in Fallujah, to write a 
movie review. Well, dead men don't write. Maybe 
we could think about the day NATO enforces a 
no-fly one over Saudi Arabia to protect the 
Shi'ites in the eastern province, while Pentagon 
drones launch a carpet of Hellfire missiles over 
those thousands of arrogant, medieval, corrupt 
House of Saud princes. No, it's not going to happen.

Over a decade after the beginning of the war on 
terror, this is what the world is coming to; a 
lazy, virtually worldwide audience, jaded, dazed 
and distracted from distraction by distraction, 
helplessly hooked on the shabby atrocity exhibition of war porn.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How 
the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid 
War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a 
snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His most 
recent book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at pepeasia at yahoo.com

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