Thursday, 2 July 2009

The Doctrine of "Change of Course" - A Case Study

Al Giordano continues to provide the interested reader with a wealth of sociological information about a certain segment of the US liberal community and the state of US imperial ideology. It turns out that the latter is in quite good health indeed, while the only thing still critical about the former, to paraphrase Volker Pispers, is its mental status.

Jewbonics has suggested that arguing with someone who holds his readers in such low regard that he will lie about the content of the page they have in front of them (see below) is a waste of time and energy. I understand his opinion, but I disagree. What we have in Al Giordano is a rather more vulgar and blatant version of the thought processes we regularly see dressed up with intellectual polish on the pages of The New Republic or the New York Times.

While he never makes it entirely explicit, the underlying premise of every one of Giordano’s attempts to deny that there are even reasons to suspect US involvement in the Honduran coup is what has been referred to, inter alia, by Noam Chomsky as the “doctrine of ‘change of course’”. The doctrine of “change of course” is essential to the survival of any ideology intended to serve power in that it gives official ideology the elasticity needed to deal with inconvenient facts.

When it becomes impossible to deny the cynicism and atrocities committed by or on behalf of one’s chosen state, the doctrine teaches that one must admit to past crimes (usually euphemised as “mistakes” or the like) while claiming that we need not concern ourselves with what those “mistakes” might tell us about present policy because the state has turned over a new leaf.

In Carter’s day, the self-proclaimed “Human Rights Administration” used its rhetorical (and sometimes not even that) commitment to human rights to declare even recent history irrelevant; this allowed the Human Rights Administration to provide decisive support to such dedicated human rights activists as Anastasio Somoza, Shah Reza Pahlevi, and Augusto Pinochet. Clinton rode into Washington on a similar line (with a little “Place Called Hope” mixed in), and proceeded to orchestrate a positive extravaganza of atrocities in East Timor, Colombia, Iraq, Turkey, and Yugoslavia.

Now, we have Barack “Hope and Change” Obama. One might think, against the historical background just reviewed, that scepticism would be warranted.

Not so, says Giordano, unless, of course, one happens to be a “dishonest” “woefully ignorant” “stupid dinosaur faux-leftist”. These creatures do not argue. They “screech” and have “guns blazing”, they do not propose, suspect, take nuanced positions, or admit to uncertainty. They “[insist] that [their view of the situation is] "THE TRUTH," and the ONLY POSSIBLE TRUTH.”

One might be forgiven for wondering if there isn’t the tiniest bit of projection going on here.
Returning to the real world, Giordano’s beliefs are based almost exclusively on the public statements of government officials, which he takes at face value, and which those who comment on his blog would also do well to take at face value if they don’t enjoy the online equivalent of having excrement thrown at them. I say "almost exclusively" because they are also based on interpreting the relationship between those statements and actual practice in the light most favourable to the Obama Administration.

Thus, the US equivocated for so long about the Honduran coup because Obama, as a former community organiser (see Adolph Reed’s articles from the 1990s on for an examination of that aspect of his career), wanted to let the rest of Latin America take the lead in order to avoid appearing to be a bully. The evidence he offers in support of this interpretation, apart from Obama’s time as a community organiser and his own alleged status as a community organiser, is nil. To interpret the delay any other way, according to Giordano, is “errant” (by which I assume he means “erroneous”), though, again, no argument is needed when defending the Obama Administration.

Indeed, he uses this difference of interpretation (my sceptical interpretation vs. his own credulous one) as an example of my factual claims being “pure fiction”. When the reputation of the Holy State is at stake, interpretation is elevated to the level of empirical fact.

Similarly, in order to avoid being “stupid dinosaur faux-leftists”, we must take at face value State Department statements that they are “still reviewing” whether to formally declare the Honduran coup a coup. Such a determination, as Giordano (accurately, to his credit) states, would render continued aid of any kind to Honduras a violation of federal law (to see how scrupulously federal foreign aid restrictions are followed, see, e.g., Indonesia, Colombia, Chile, Turkey, and the Contra mercenaries under Reagan).

That is to say that the US has been providing military aid to Honduras, is continuing to do so, and is considering whether or not to issue a formal declaration that would require any further such aid to be covert.

This all is adduced as proof that the Obama Administration’s statement – reported yesterday by Democracy Now! – that it did not intend to discontinue military aid to Honduras is “a bold-faced [sic] lie”.

As to the issue of USAID funding to the pro-coup NGO Paz y Democracia, Giordano changes course a bit himself. Instead of providing any kind of source to “refute” this claim, he argues the burden of proof. Since in other cases he at least cites specific sources, it appears that in this case he has none to back up his insinuation that USAID funding abruptly ended on the day of Obama’s inauguration. He then proceeds to argue in the alternative, asserting that an organisation “can have received funds from USAID for one thing and then gone out there and supported a coup even if the US wasn't behind it.”

We then move out of the realm of interpretation and into that of pure nitpicking. I had pointed out that General Romeo Vásquez of Honduras was an “SOA graduate”. Now, the term “graduate” can be used with a number of meanings. One can speak, for example, of a “graduate of San Quentin”, meaning not that that notorious prison provided some kind of diploma, but that the person in question had been incarcerated there. It is true that I did not check to see whether Vásquez received a diploma from the School of the Americas, because it’s irrelevant. My point, rather obviously, was that Vásquez attended the notorious training camp for Latin American torturers and mass murderers. Giordano does not dispute this; indeed, he confirmed it.

“Some of Chavez's military that are loyal to him and overturned the 2002 [coup] were also trained at SOA,” Giordano continues, “Doesn't that make your head explode?” No, not really. That does not change the fact that Vásquez, who uncontroversially attended the School of the Americas, went on to do precisely what a good SOA grad - I'm sorry, former SOA attendee - does: overthrow a government that is showing too much independence and impinging upon US interests.

Once again, Giordano uses “logic” that could also be used to “prove” that the US was not in any way involved in the coup against Chilean president Salvador Allende, the only problem being that 24,000 declassified documents say otherwise. And once again, the issue is not one of fact, but one of interpretation. His quarrel is not with the fact that Vásquez attended the SOA, but with the idea of interpreting it in context. The hallmark of a “stupid dinosaur faux-leftist” would seem to be a willingness to doubt the most innocuous possible interpretation of any given fact.

The point here is not that Al Giordano is a crass apologist for the current administration who resorts to personal insults when short on evidence and argument. The Internet is certainly full of those. The point is that he is an excellent specimen of the sort of ideological acrobats that populate our mainstream press and journals of articulate opinion. His crassness puts in stark relief what is otherwise so subtle as to be virtually undetectable: the operative principle, at all times, is to irrebuttably presume the innocence and good faith of one’s Dear Leader/Party/Holy State, declaring all contrary current and historical facts irrelevant. Even the most damning facts must be interpreted in the most innocuous way possible. Contrary evidence is to be examined in a vacuum, as if each contrary fact were being advanced alone, rather than as one piece of an overall pattern. And, if all else fails, hurl invective and change the subject.

Exhibit A: Giordano’s “Refutation”

Elise - Your claims of "fact" are pure fiction.

To wit:
1. You claim: "the US dragged its heels on condemning the coup"

I've already explained why that's an errant interpretation, but even if it weren't, it offers zero evidence that the US was behind the coup.

2. You claim: "the US government intends to continue providing military aid to the Honduran army"

That's a bold-faced lie, Elise, and it makes you a dishonest blogger. Issue a correction if you want any credibility left. See today's Miami Herald: SouthCom Chills Ties with Honduran Military. [one wonders whether the chill, unlike previous similar cold fronts, will actually produce a notable change in temperature in Tegus] See also the multiple reports that State Department counsel "is still reviewing" whether to impose the legal classification of "coup," which would [note the operative word "would"] trigger not only the shut off of military aid, but of all other aid, too.

When [i.e. if] they do that, will you admit that your judgment has been clouded by what you want to believe? Or will you just move the goal posts to claim some other definition of what constitutes support for the coup.

As with your claim #1, even if your claims in #2 were accurate (they're not, but I'll play along), it still would not prove US involvement in the coup itself [except, of course, for providing military aid to those who carried it out, which not even Giordano disputes].

3. You claim: "one of the major pro-coup political organisations, Paz y Democracia, receives USAID funds, as well as the fact that the Honduran army is armed and trained by the US and that General Vásquez is a graduate of the School of the Americas."

"Receives" (that's a present-tense verb, Elise USAID funds? Have you any proof of that? Or are did you really mean "received" (past tense). Have you any proof at all that the group received those funds since January 20, 2009? Cough it up, or admit that you're exaggerating and making shit up.

Regarding Vasquez, do your homework. He is not a "graduate" of SOA (SOA Watch will verify that for you), but, rather, he attended the school long ago when it was based in Panama, but he did not graduate it.

Your sloppiness when it comes to these facts only indicates that you haven't done any independent investigation at all. You take claims by others and if you agree with them you presume them to be "fact" when I've just demonstrated that they are not.

And, again, even if your claims were accurate - they're not, I repeat, but playing along with your silly game, I'll say it - neither of those "facts," even if they were true, proves US involvement with the coup [Note that I never claimed that they definitively proved that US involvement, merely that they give cause to suspect it]. Generals can be trained at SOA and then do things on their own. It happens a lot. Some of Chavez's military that are loyal to him and overturned the 2002 were also trained at SOA. Doesn't that make your head explode?

Likewise, a sleazy NGO (and I agree that one is bad news) can have received funds from USAID for one thing and then gone out there and supported a coup even if the US wasn't behind it.

Finally, you say I am "lashing out at anyone who thinks the question is worth asking." That's revisionist history of your posts here. You came in, guns blazing, insisting that it was "THE TRUTH," and the ONLY POSSIBLE TRUTH. Now you're backpedaling because your four "proofs" offered above are less firm than oatmeal [the textbook definition of projection].

Thank you again for proving my point [as with any delusional system, the doctrine of 'change of course' allows all facts, no matter how contrary, to be adduced as proof of whatever point happens to be useful to make]! Let's see if you've got the stuff to post this response onto your blog, too!

My response (suppressed by Giordano):

Finally, you say I am "lashing out at anyone who thinks the question is worth asking." That's revisionist history of your posts here. You came in, guns blazing, insisting that it was "THE TRUTH," and the ONLY POSSIBLE TRUTH. Now you're backpedaling because your four "proofs" offered above are less firm than oatmeal.(emphasis added)

First of all, I never insisted that it was "the TRUTH" that the US was behind the coup. I made it quite clear on more than one occasion that it is entirely possible that it is not. Your claim to the contrary is pure invention, as will be obvious to anyone who bothers to scroll up.

To provide just one quote:

"Does that mean that the US is definitely behind it? No, of course not. There are plenty of other possible explanations for the initial fencesitting (though I have yet to hear anyone propose one). But the suggestion that the Obama Administration, which has explicitly stated that it will continue providing military aid to the Honduran army, might be less than 100% candid, is certainly so absurd as to warrant personal attacks against anyone who raises the question." (emphasis added)

Your "refutation" of the fact that the US has been and currently is providing military aid to the Honduran army is a public statement by an official that the aid to Honduras is being "reviewed". The astute reader will not that that does not even amount to an ultimatum, let alone a statement that aid has been terminated. A similar stratagem was used to assuage public outcry against US material support of Indonesian atrocities in East Timor. Officials announced that aid had been suspended, but it later turned out that the Indonesian generals were completely unaware of the suspension because aid currently in the pipeline continued to flow.

How much weight to assign the claim by US officials that aid to Honduras is under review depends on one's personal judgment of the credibility of the officials and institutions in question. That, in turn, depends on one's view of the relevant historical context, which in the case of Central America shows a consistent line of policy priorities spanning an entire century.

You do not deny this history; instead, you declare it irrelevant, and deride those who would dare examine the wealth of historical context and draw conclusions from it. You have yet to provide any justification for your dismissal of the historical context apart from strident professions of faith in the words of politicians and ad hominem attacks on those who dare raise questions.

It has, in every instance, been you who seeks to shut down any discussion of the subject with insults and personal attacks that range on the bizarre. Indeed, if one eliminates the blatant self-promotion and gratuitous insults from your comments here, they would barely fill a single page.

Your blind spot for any evidence that might suggest that Obama's policies in Latin America are consistent with those of virtually every other president over the past 100 years brings to mind a quote one of your fans posted:

"The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it." - Flannery O'Connor

The fact that you blatantly misrepresent what I have said on the very page on which it is posted shows just how much contempt you have for your regular readers. One only hopes that they will prove themselves unworthy of it.


Miles said...

Sorry Elise, but I disagree. I'm with Al on this one. I guess that makes me an imperialist liberal stooge in cahoots with the New York Times?

Maybe in the future you should get some other news sources besides Noam Chomsky, DemocracyNow! and Zmag...after all, if I only got my news from Fox, the National Review, the John Birch Society and Ann Coulter, maybe I would be a bit biased towards the extreme right? Maybe a little bit? A tad bit?

Sadly, both the extremes of the Right and the Left really do love the same thing in the end, and that's their ability to love the sound of their own voice, believing it's the only truth. The world, however, is many, many shades of gray.

Élise Hendrick said...

Before you go questioning the sanity of anyone who is critical of the quality of reporting found in the Times, you might want to look at something Giordano himself wrote on the subject:

Summary: NY Times reporter Simon Romero (whose byline has appeared on at least one NYT story on the Honduran coup) claimed that Hugo Chávez had suffered a "stinging defeat" in the last election, only to admit at the very end of the piece that Chávez had won 17 of 22 states, encompassing 2/3 of the population.

It is, however, worth noting that the NYT reported on Monday that the US was aware of the coup in advance:

My own view is that any news source is particularly useful (mine include the Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Der Spiegel, Der Stern, Die tageszeitung, Le Monde & Le Monde Diplomatique, Punto Final, the English edition of Haaretz, The Nation, ZMag, and International Socialist Review, as well as primary source documents, which I prefer if I can get my hands on them).

Ultimately, what's more important than a source is how one reads it. The key is to read any source critically.

Thank you for your condescension, though. It is nice to know that there are always people pioneering ways to examine the issues besides actually giving them some thought.

corvad said...

George Ciccariello-Maher's Counterpunch critique of Giordano is sympathetic and sophisticated, suggesting that a refusal to countenance US involvement as a probability given historical contexts is problematic. However, the following statement gives me the heebie jeebies:

"We need to draw on our historical understanding, on our grasp of the forces in play, and insistently create our own facts and truths. Otherwise, we’ll always be one step behind the enemy, and unwittingly attacking our comrades."

Giordano isn't perfect, but he's right to question whether we should presume US responsibility absent anything other than circumstantial evidence (SOA attendance by the coup leaders, most notably).

SOA stuff aside, what can explain why the Obama Administration has been dragging its feet? It may be a coincidence that an incipient Good Neighbor redux emerges at the worst possible time, but then again, this regime is isolated, that US intervention could this time be put on the back burner while multilateral negotiations work it out, and one would think that Micheletti et al would have noticed and backed down. But they haven't, and aren't ...seems like a real test for the OAS.

Either way I'm unconvinced, given the evidence at hand even with the historical context that this is an Obama Administration-supported coup.

Élise Hendrick said...

The problem is that Giordano isn't "questioning" anyone's "presumption" of US involvement in the coup - he is attacking anyone who questions his (irrebuttable) presumption that the US is NOT involved in the coup. To claim that he is "questioning" is to attribute to what is nothing more than a collection of personal insults an intellectual level that it doesn't have.

The FDR "Good Neighbour" policy is a useful analogy. It was mostly a change in rhetoric that didn't prevent the US government supporting brutal, reactionary forces that happened to serve US commercial interests.

Currently, the US is the only country not to cut off relations with Honduras, despite being responsible for 70% of Honduras' foreign trade and 100% of military aid to the Honduran army. The US is also the only country to stop short of demanding - in the words of the UN General Assembly, amongst others - Zelaya's "immediate and unconditional return" as president.

As long as 70% of its foreign trade and all of its military aid remain intact, Honduras is not isolated. The case of Haiti in the 1990s shows that a coup can succeed with "only" US support.

How seriously should we take the remarks that military aid to Honduras is "under review"? About as seriously as the Honduran army, which is clearly not worried about the result of this "review".

Giordano doesn't "question" any of this. He doesn't engage it at all.

Richard said...

today, Giordano, and one of his apparent allies, Jeff Simpson, trash Ciccariello-Maher's article, which, I thought, on the whole was quite good, without any substantive engagement whatsoever, Simpson, out of a detailed piece, singled out a quotation of Negroponte, as if it discredited the whole work, while Giordano described it as "political masturbation" by an academic "unwilling to do the heavy lifting" required to support social movements

the moderator there declined to post my polite response encouraging Giordano to engage the substance of the piece, and the fact that his personal attack made no sense (after all, aren't engaged efforts of analysis of evolving political and social situations a necessary component of supporting social movements?)

Giordano has always had a bit of Christopher Hitchens in his makeup, which is not always a bad thing as it is here, sad to see it become so prominent as a consequence of his love affair with Obama

--Richard Estes

Élise Hendrick said...

Giordano does seem to love referring to "masturbation". He at one point described my suspicions that US government officials might not be entirely truthful at all times as "ideological masturbation".

Self-criticism and constant re-evaluation are definitely important to the development and vitality of social movements, if one actually cares about them, and wishes to see them achieve their goals.

If, on the other hand, one's fondest wish with regard to Honduras is to absolve oneself of any moral responsibility, there's no better thing to convince oneself of than "Obama's got it under control. It's just a matter of time now", and vomit vitriol at anyone who disturbs one's comfortable sense of self-righteousness.

Hitchens isn't a bad analogy, thinking about it. He, too, is a conceited blowhard who jumped onto the jingoistic bandwagon the minute it became lucrative.

That's not to say that I am in principle opposed to blowhards. The struggle for social justice shouldn't be shackled by country club norms of decorum.

I'm not even opposed to insults. I think the logical corrolary to Noam Chomsky's statement over 20 years ago that some utterances are so far out of the realm of permissible thought that they can only be understood as "Fuck you", is that there are certain utterances to which the only adequate and appropriate response is "Fuck you". Sometimes, there's nothing more needed than to call an asshole an asshole.

My problem is with people who, like Rush Limbaugh or David Horowitz (or our friend Al Giordano), use insults and browbeating as a cheap substitute for actual analysis, hoping to browbeat sceptical minds into submission.

jewbonics said...

Frankly, Hitchens's politics may be more abhorrent than Giordano's, but Giordano's personality/public persona...forget it. The guy is a graceless shit. It's a stunning comment on our culture's collective literacy that this man writes for a living.

Richard: Giordano moderates his own commentary. He has been known to censor comments. Another Chomskyism worth keeping in mind: that anarchism for some reason has historically attracted authoritarian personality-types.

Furthermore, this stuff has been going on for some time lately. The commentary on Iran is simply disinformation. I tried to discuss the bank bailout there, and was told that Obama's plan was excellent because "nationalization wasn't feasible," followed by a dressing-down of Doug Henwood. Giordano's blog was listed on the front-page of the NYTimes yesterday as a part of its blog roundup.

Richard said...

you might find this interesting, my post about getting enmeshed in the Narco News Zone because I said nice things about George Ciccariello-Maher:


it seems like half the commenters there are reporters affiliated with "The Narcosphere"

nerfherder said...

Hello, I found this blog recently after reading your comments on narconews (the ones that prompted this post.) I happen to agree with you wholeheartedly and have been wondering for some time (since summer 2008, in fact) what the heck has happened to Al Giordano. He always had an overactive ego but I never thought I'd see him kissing the President's ass, no matter who the President might be.

Anyway, it appears that Al is starting to reverse his position (no doubt prompted by by the trail of slime that Lanny Davis has brought to this crime scene) and is now demanding that Obama do something more.

In true Al fashion he takes the position that he has been right all along, is right now, and will continue to be right, although he does allow for the semi-cryptic statement that he might have to "eat his words." Of course he doesn't really explain that. The reappearance of Tom W., the shameless Clinton apologist extraordinaire, only increases the scent of sulfur in the air, as Hugo Chavez might say.

Now there is late-breaking news that Evo has flat-out accused the US of engineering the coup. Incredible, but at the same not surprising, especially considering Morales' history of gutsy moves.

Al is gonna have a lot of 'esplainin' to do, as he might say.

Élise Hendrick said...

Hi, nerfherder. I haven't been back to narconews since my last comment - the one pointing out how thin (and in some cases just plain nonexistent) Giordano's "refutation" was and noting that he totally misrepresented what I was saying - was suppressed. It's the one that ends with the remark on Giordano's contempt for his readers.

To me, it seems like the question of US involvement in the run-up to the coup has been resolved as well as it possibly can be without some more FOIA requests by Eva Golinger or someone else. Some people may cling to the idea that the US government (i.e. Obama, in their eyes) didn't do it, and I do doubt that it was their idea originally. Most likely, things were already moving in this direction before Obama's inauguration, and his administration saw no reason to change direction.

I must confess that I hadn't actually followed Giordano's writings prior to 28 June, when I was trying to find anything I could in Spanish or English concerning what was going on in Honduras. Even though I did quite a bit of reading on the coup in Venezuela, I do not recall once happening upon Giordano's name on the subject. Accordingly, I can't really speak to Giordano's own ideological development

I think the reason for this obsessive need to find reasonable (or other) doubt about the involvement of the US government in the Honduran coup is more or less what I sketched out: a lot of people were so invested in the idea that Obama was something New and Different that they tuned out all else. I can't count how many people I talked to during the campaign who said they liked Obama because of policy positions that he mot only did not espouse, but explicitly rejected.

And now that Obama is in office, the same people don't want to admit that they fell for an award-winning ad campaign that brought a pretty standard DC politician into the White House, so they fiercely defend every bit of doubt about his policies as possible.

nerfherder said...

Hi Elise! Good to hear your response.

Well, I am far from an expert on these matters (either Honduras or Al Giordano) but I have noticed a few things that I feel compelled to mention.

Al has been a community organizer since the 80s, when he worked on nuclear plant opposition with Abbie Hoffman. His history is murky, but he turned up in the late 90s to work with the Zapatistas. He founded Narconews (really a fantastic resource) in 2000 and won a major lawsuit against the NY Times in 2002 (I think). He provided a lot of info around the Venezuelan coup attempt and supported Chavez. In the beginning of 2008 he started a new blog, "The Field" about the presidential race. He gained a lot of followers and threw in his support for Obama in the spring (even though it was there all along). He had a very intense rivalry with the Clinton camp (including Tom W.) which led to him being booted from his host site, back to Narconews.

The point of all this is that he was not only a leftist, he was a radical leftist in every sense of the word. How he got from there to a fanatical support of Obama is somewhat of a mystery. Surely the fact that Al is a community organizer was a major factor. In this it is instructive to see how badly people can be deceived, and deceive themselves.

Al simply picked a horse and went all in. He defends everything Obama does up to the point of absurdity. Al did not say a word about the massacre in Gaza 6 months ago, because Obama said nothing either, until the last few days before inauguration. Never mind that Subcommander Marcos decried the assault-- Al was locked in.

What we are seeing now is the end stages of this corruption. Al's beat is Latin America, not the Middle East, so now he cannot avoid the obvious. Al denied the US's complicity in the coup even when Narconews' own reporters made it obvious. Al thought he could get a job out of supporting Obama... then he thought he could keep his good reputation by defending Obama... doesn't look likely now. The reappearance of Lanny Davis, and Clinton toadie Tom W. are symbols of the still-present corruption of the pseudo-liberal Dems that brought Obama to power. And where Al goes, so goes much of what passes for the left in the US.

I notice at this late hour that nothing has been said at his site about Evo Morales' denunciation.

How predictable, how sad. Like usual, the people of Latin America pay the price for the gringos' idiocy.