The genius of an oeuvre is measured by the breadth of its message – Avatar as not “just another war movie”

by Kim Bizzarri

Following last night’s choice of the Oscars’ jury to award Katherine Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker with the Best Picture prize, the debate has since then moved to the pubs and the ether. It appears to be primarily concerned with whether Bigelow’s portrait of “the” war does justice to the genre and whether, with time, Avatar will come to be recognised as more deserving of the aspired title. The debate however is having the effect of reducing Cameron’s gargantuan critique of modernity to “just another war movie”, adding to the already popular dismissal of the film, by the intellectual left, as a western guilt-fantasy. 

Lets start by considering the assumption that Avatar is “just another war movie”.  

If indeed we accept that Cameron’s intention was to provide us with a science-fictional portrait of war, then we must also conclude that von Trier’s Dogville is nothing more than an aesthetically minimalist representation of the Great Depression. Just as von Trier exploits the Great Depression as a historical backdrop against which he develops a provocative portrayal of human nature, so does Cameron in the use he makes of military intervention in Avatar.  

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Why is Democracy Now shielding “war for oil” against reality?

In its headlines for December 14, Democracy Now followed the report on Blair’s confession about his committment to regime change in Iraq regardless of the absence of WMDs, with this:

Iraq Signs Oil Deals with 10 Foreign Companies

Blair’s comments come just as Iraq has signed a series of major oil deals. A two-day auction ended Saturday with ten foreign companies winning access to Iraq’s massive reserves. The oil giant Royal Dutch Shell won the rights to the Manjoon oilfield near Basra, one of the world’s largest. The US-based Exxon Mobil and Occidental Petroleum also submitted winning bids.

The wording is careful: it appears to suggest a connection between what Blair said and the Iraqi oil contracts. The war in other words was for oil. That is a remrkable conclusion to draw from news about an auction in which US companies were the big losers (hence DN’s careful choice of the words ‘foreign companies’). Unless Democracy Now is suggesting that the US waged a war for Russia, Norway and China — biggest winners in the auction — it is not clear why it continues to insist on the discredited “war for oil” argument? Why is it so difficult to admit who actually conceived the war?

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Michael Mann on the Incoherent Empire

I am reading Michael Mann’s The Sources of Social Power at the moment, and I find many of his ideas, and his sociological approach to world history most stimulating. I think his IEMP Model — society as a series of overlapping and intersecting power networks with a focus on the logistics of Ideological, Economic, Military and Political power — is by far the best approach to the study of social power. However, I was underwhelmed by his own (in my view defective) application of the theory in his Incoherent Empire. This interview is old, but his observations on history and society remain relevant nevertheless. (thanks Dave)

UC Berkeley’s Harry Kreisler welcomes UCLA sociologist Michael Mann for a conversation on how comparative historical sociology can help in our understanding of U.S. foreign policy. Series: “Conversations with History”

Pakistan creates its own enemy

Funeral for the eight civilians killed in the Pakistani military's failed attempt to assassinate militant leader Mangal Bagh Afridi (EPA)

The is a version of my Le Monde Diplomatique article updated for the Arabic, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, and Portuguese editions. It is also on Counterpunch, December 4-6, 2009 (It also appears in the February 2010 issue of the Japanese monthly Sekai)

On the day I arrived in Peshawar mid-September, the evening stillness was broken by nine loud explosions, each preceded by the sucking sound of a projectile as it arced into Hayatabad, the suburban sprawl west of the city. Their target was a Frontier Constabulary post guarding the fence that separates the city from the tribal region of Khyber.

When I lived here seven years ago, Hayatabad hosted many Afghan refugees; those with fewer resources lived in the slums of Kacha Garhi, along the Jamrud Road to the Khyber Pass. Many established businesses here and dominated commerce and transportation in parts of the city. Some would temporarily migrate to Afghanistan in summer where it was cooler. But Peshawar was a sanctuary, as Afghanistan was perpetually at war. Now the remaining Afghans are leaving because Afghanistan feels safer. There are checkpoints all over the city, many kidnappings, and during my visit, there were at least three suicide bombings and four rocket attacks, many of them targeting Hayatabad.

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The Neocon Party

Neil Clark has an article in The First Post warning of the neoconservative orientation of the inevitable Cameron led Tory government.  The piece repeats similar arguments made by the author in the Guardian back in 2005.  In my opinion Clark tends to overstate the neocon influence in the Conservative Party and exaggerate the divergence between the neocons and the more conventional right-wing Tories.  After all, none of Cameron’s neocon friends have foreign policy related front bench posts, whilst those that do – William Hague and Liam Fox – are pro-war Atlanticists but not really neocons in the strict sense.  Still it is worth reminding ourselves that the Henry Jackson Society neocons are as potentially dangerous as they are actually nauseating.  Here is Clark’s article in full:

David Cameron
David Cameron
The Iraq war is widely discredited. George W Bush and Tony Blair are both out of office. Barack Obama has talked of a “new beginning” in his country’s relationship with the Islamic world. Surely it’s game over for the neocons, the small group of hardline hawks commonly held responsible for the US-led attack on Iraq in 2003?

Don’t bet on it. If, as bookmakers believe, an overall majority for the Conservatives in the next election is a racing certainty, then the proponents of ‘Shock and Awe’ will once again be back in the corridors of power in Britain.

To understand why the neocons would be in such a strong position if David Cameron does make it to Number 10, we need to go back to the autumn of 2005, the time of the last Conservative party leadership election.

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The winds of change?


Two bits of very good news emerge today.

First, following on the publication of Dennis Ross’ new book on how to use negotiations to launch a war against Iran, Haaretz is reporting that Ross is being relieved of his duties as Obama’s point man on Iran.  It is as if this current Obama administration will not offer all the support possible to warmongers to kill as much Muslims as possible!  Poor Ross must be pining for the good days of American foreign policy, where lust for war against Muslims seemed like a precondition for joining any foreign policy team.

Second, the American people, it seems, have had enough with the incestuous relationship of their government with the regime of Tel Aviv.  In a few months, the percentage of Americans who say the US should support Israel has dropped from 71% to 44%.  The Israel Project (a propaganda outfit that makes AIPAC look reasoned) conducted the poll, though it refuses to publish its results officially. Could it be the mass murder in Gaza? The apartheid in the West Bank? Or could it be the rhetoric of Bibi and his fascist buddies? Or was it, perhaps, the Israeli ministerial calls for regime change in America?

Not all is well in America’s Zionistan.  Are these two bits of news a turning point in the American-Israeli relationship? We’ll have to wait and see.

Talking to Iran will make it “easier to sell” war on Iran, says man responsible for talking to Iran

Dennis Ross

As Iranians go to the polls to repudiate (it seems) some of the most pernicious aspects of Ahmadinejad’s rule, America’s Iran point man continues to make Ahmadinejad look like a reasonable peacenik.

The newly released book by Dennis Ross, President Obama’s special adviser on Iran, reads like a how-to manual for launching a war on Iran, marketing the war successfully, and making sure the Iranians cop all the blame for it.  Ross will have none of Bush’s incompetent warmongering on flimsy pretenses of democracy and WMD’s; when Ross launches his illegal war on Iran, it will be stage-managed to within an inch of its life.

“Tougher policies – either militarily or meaningful containment – will be easier to sell internationally and domestically if we have diplomatically tried to resolve our differences with Iran in a serious and credible fashion,” writes Ross.

Note that there is no way to read this sentence but to see that the goal is to attack Iran.  America trying to diplomatically resolve its differences with Iran is not a goal in itself; it is merely a means to more easily sell war and sanctions.

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Chalmers Johnson – Blowback

chalmers_johnsonBlowback is a 2004 lecture by Chalmers Johnson on the US Empire.  Drawing comparisons with Rome, Johnson describes the end of the Republic through imperialism and militarism.

Blowback (57:00): MP3

The core of Johnson speech is on American militarism but discussing Iraq he explains the influence of the neocons as the main reason for war (although perhaps also overstating the case of oil politics too).

There is ample evidence that within this group [the Neoconservatives], and I’m not in any sense trying to be anti-israeli because I’m in fact quite alarmed by the dangers Israel is in today, but that many of these people have very close ties to the right-wing of the likud party, I mean close ties to Benjamin Netanyahu of which they have written papers for him, they’re personal associates of his, and things of this sort, and much of what they stand for does reflect the particular views of the sharonistas, if you will, that it serves their interests to destroy Iraq even if it has not particularly served ours.

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