Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pirates and emperors

NPR is repeating today that the Indian Navy has claimed victory in a reported “sea battle” with Somali pirates and even sank one of the pirates’ “mother ships.” A US Naval College professor interviewed this morning told Robert Siegel that piracy had now become a major threat to the world’s energy resources!

Presumably the professor was referring specifically to sea piracy – he didn’t mention the big corporate land pirates – and in fact the interview never brought up any pirates other than Somali ones. They discussed some Saudi tankers recently seized or threatened by the former Somali fishermen. Again, the context was decidedly not the right of the inhabitants to control or benefit from the resources of their lands – we’re against that, aren’t we? – but the threat to rich (white) people’s profits derived from said resources.

Here’s a more informed take (thanks to my friend Bob Naiman):,0,6155016.story

Reminds me of a story that Noam Chomsky attributes to St. Augustine. Alexander ‘the Great’ it seems once captured a rather mouthy pirate. Alexander: Who are you to molest the seas? Pirate: Who are you to molest the whole world? I have one ship, and you call me a pirate. You have a whole navy, and they call you emperor.

Not that India is the biggest emperor in the picture these days – that would be us. India has been in the news a lot lately, as have Somali pirates. India even landed a probe on the moon earlier this month. The pirates haven’t managed any moon shots yet, as far as we know.

But the Horn of Africa is one of those regions where Washington thinkers and oil company executives like to play Risk. After all, the Persian Gulf is right there. (You didn’t think all that Black Hawk stuff in Mogadishu was really about humanitarian concerns, did you?) And ever since the implosion of the USSR, India has been a lot more amenable to US scheming. A lot more. The rise of the Hindu Nationalists probably hasn’t hurt, either. The Indian government has had its own conflicts with Islamic populations at home and abroad for many years, complete with suicide bombings and military deployments, even a nuclear arms race with Pakistan. According to international opinion polls after the World Trade Center attacks, India was the only country that ranked higher than the US in saying “war is the answer.”

Who knows? It’s always hard to predict what new schemes will erupt from the fevered brains in Washington’s closed door sessions. But given the way clusters of stories like this so frequently precede ‘humanitarian interventions’ (as well as the other kind), such attention is always reason for concern.

Government officials can plant or encourage such attention , and so do think tanks and influence hopefuls like the Council on Foreign Policy and the notorious Neocon Richard Perle (before he was in, then out). These guys always have plans, like the ones Bush & Co. reached for in Fall 2001, and they know how to prime the public to accept them – or at least, how to prime the media to understand them. It’s a subtler form of PR, available only to the big boys with enough pull in the press pool.

Stories of German soldiers tossing babies up and catching them on bayonets in the leadup to World War I are classic examples, of course, with precedents dating back centuries. The fake incubator story, in which Kuwaiti babies were supposedly left to die in an Iraqi-occupied hospital (ca. 1991), and of course the infamous “weapons of mass destruction,” are just the recent most familiar. Somewhat more neglected examples include the Taliban destruction of ancient Buddhist statues: disgusting, but would we have cared before they started giving us trouble about the pipeline we wanted to build through their country and a spinoff of our CIA-trained mujahadeen set up shop in their backyard? And what about Kosovo? Hook, line and sinker.

Manuel Noriega got a lot of media attention once, between gigs as CIA ally and US jailbird, just before his former patron state announced that he had declared war on the US (he hadn’t, although the major US media went along with the gag) and illegally invaded and occupied Panama. The Canal Zone, on the eve of returning to Panamanian control about 100 years after the US had snatched it, was occupied any way. The poorest, blackest neighborhoods in Panama City were just bombed to smithereens. Most of the country was ignored. The drug traffic identified with Noriega continued of course after US soldiers chased him down and shipped him off to a US prison. (If they can do that, can’t Spain or somebody round up Bush and Cheney? Please?)

Noriega had naturally been very little in the news during his days on the CIA payroll. When his predecessor’s plane mysteriously went down in the mountains and Noriega stepped onto the presidential balcony, everything was fine. It was when he got the idea that he might have graduated from US bag man to independent Latin American leader – that he might even could refuse to use the Panamanian National Guard to bolster another US proxy, the Nicaraguan contras – that he stepped in it, and deep.

All of sudden, he was a dictator who had come to power under suspicious circumstances. (We had no idea!) And that idiot Carter had agreed to let Our Canal revert to these savages? A crazy “Pineapple Head” like Noriega could interfere with US ‘interests’, like, when we seriously need to cream some foreigners and our ships can’t get through Our Canal (that *we* built, duh!), or when a shipload of Christmas presents needs to get through to the West Coast... Oh, and he’s “involved” in th einternational drug trade, like Castro and everybody else we hate (the Taliban will be, later).

But the straw that broke the camel’s back: Panamanian police had the nerve to pull over a US Army vehicle, just because a few of the soldiers were drinking and firing their weapons into the air around Panama City – and one of the dirty guards Panamanian, obviously a pawn of Noriega and probably “involved” in the international drug trade (our babies!) himself, even forgot his station and *insulted* the wife of an American officer! Bomb them! Smash them! Obliterate them! Raze the place to the ground!

It was really just icing on the cake when Old Pineapple Head, using the specious excuse of US military buildup and behavior in and around his country, together with US diplomatic and media sabre-rattling, complained that the US was already effectively in a state of war with Panama There! You see? He declared war on us! Cha-a-arge!

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