THE ROVING EYE Staring at the abyss
By Pepe Escobar
TEJAKULA, north Bali - As far as precious little corners of paradise in
Southeast Asia go, one could hardly ask for more. An isolated octagonal house
with a beautiful garden, owned by a retired couple from California, facing a
volcanic rock beach to the north of the tropical island of Bali, with the only
locals being fishermen who at night set out on a junkuh - the elegant,
wooden predecessor of the catamaran - to scour the calm, warm waters for tuna
The night is mostly pitch black - courtesy of punctual power shortages from the
grid in distant Java. The sound is the usual, cacophonous tropical jungle
"silence" - deafened by the inevitable daily storm. There's not much to do
except sit at the seaside
bale, pinpoint the kerosene lamps identifying the junkuh, and stare at
the Bali sea.
But this being Bali, where everything is a matter of sekala and niskala,
soon I saw myself staring at the abyss.
Sekala is the fabulous, fascinating Balinese world of ritual, ceremony,
dance, drama and endless daily offerings to the spirit world. But the real
action is in niskala - the occult, the magic underlining it all. In Bali
definitely what you see is not what you get.
So while staring at the sea I was actually thinking about the late, great
Howard Zinn, American historian, author and activist who died on January 27
this year, and his take on this sorry world of non-stop war and infinite
injustice; Zinn asked how can we "stay socially engaged", committed to a
struggle for justice and truth, and still keep our sanity and not become
resigned or cynical, or turn into a vegetable, or totally burn out.
Did I miss much while staring at the Bali sea? Oh, the usual shop of horrors.
The ghost of Osama bin Laden released a new audio hit blasting the US for
global warming and inciting everyone to dump the US dollar (the ghost is right
on both counts). Pakistani Taliban supremo Hakeemullah Mehsud may or may not
have been blasted to bits by a US drone (who cares? His replacement is already
in business). US President Barack Obama's surge duly proceeds as a Kill
Bill-style killing spree on both sides of the AfPak border. The Central
Intelligence Agency swears al-Qaeda will try another hit inside the US within
the next six months. There was a corporate takeover of American democracy (so
why not "elect" US politicians by auction, once and for all?) and neo-cons are
now rehashing the mantra "Bomb, Bomb Iran" as the only way for Obama to save
So the moment I laid my eyes on the Internet, borrowing the satellite dish
signal of my neighbor Hans, a Dutch architect who wisely said bye-bye to
cranky, fearful, priced-out and reactionary Europe - the Bali sea instantly
vanished. It was not only a matter of niskala taking over sekala.
It was a matter of being sucked back into the realm of the hungry ghosts - and
all that's left in this case is the abyss, as in the Pentagon's "long war".
Ghosts in regalia
Last weekend, the Pentagon told the Obama administration to tell the whole of
US media that it was stepping up its war machine (from extra Patriot missile
batteries in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to Aegis-class
cruisers on permanent patrol) against possible missile attacks by Iran on those
helpless peons to democracy - the Arab Gulf petro-monarchies.
The operative word is "possible". Former president George W Bush's preventive
war ethos rules more than ever in Washington. It does not matter that the
possibility of Tehran launching a first strike on any US Arab ally is as high
as corporations not owning US democracy. And by the way, what happened to
missile defense in Eastern Europe, also supposed to protect it from those same
evil Tehran missiles?
So Pentagon logic now totally rules. The Pentagon assumes Iran will now prop up
its own defenses. Thus the Pentagon may claim that Iran is "threatening its
neighbors" - and deploy even more military might. It's the logic of an arms
race, which Tehran obviously cannot keep up with, that may give the Pentagon
the "defensive" excuse it's been waiting for, so one more war can be marketed
to the battered US populace.
Pentagon hawks, always oblivious to internal political subtleties of "The
Other" - the developing world enemy du jour - obviously ignore that for
the regime in Tehran the key existential threat now is the internal opposition
movement. The military dictatorship of the mullahtariat has better fish to fry
than to launch a missile at Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the tallest man-made
structure ever built.
The whole thing still qualifies as a tragicomedy when added to the fact that
the Pentagon was forced to admit its attempt to shoot down a mimicked Iran
ballistic missile miserably failed, courtesy of a "rogue" Raytheon radar.
To top it all, tragicomedy finally melts into farce as US Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton "warns" China that it must support more sanctions against Iran
- as if Beijing would agree to what amounts to an act of war against one of its
key energy partners, especially after the Obama-approved US$6.4 billion arms
sale to US client Taiwan, which includes 60 Black Hawk helicopters, Patriot
missiles and advanced Harpoon missiles that can be used against land or ship
targets, all of them obviously mainland Chinese.
The US Senate also approved a bill that would punish companies for exporting
gasoline to Iran or helping Iran to expand its oil refining capability - by the
way, this is another act of war. All these moves obviously have to be seen
within the "grand chessboard" (copyright Dr Zbigniew Brzezinski, former US
national security advisor ) of the New Great Game in Eurasia and the
irreversible decline of the American empire/ascension of China. The Beijing
collective leadership is not exactly quaking in their Ferragamos.
What does it take for Washington elites to realize that mini-acts of war simply
won't intimidate a military dictatorship of the mullahtariat, which is now
fighting internally for its own survival? President Mahmud Ahmadinejad himself
- for all his outbursts - has been wily enough to defuse the whole nuclear
issue, saying on Iranian state TV the country would have "no problem" to send
its low-enriched uranium abroad at 3.5% for further enrichment at 20% and
taking it back four or five months later, as dictated by the United Nations.
This voids any possible rationale for an attack on Iran by the US, Israel, or
both. But it does not mean the attack won't happen.
The Islamic regime's short-term strategy is to lump all internal opponents as
lackeys of the US and Israel and at the same time beef up its already
considerable prestige in the Arab street as well as around the Muslim world as
resisters to American imperialism. Meanwhile, in the US, the Israel lobby,
industrial-military hawks, the Republican right and corporate media will keep
up relentless pressure on Obama to "act". The abyss scenario for 2010 reads
like a crescendo series of Washington ultimatums against an already cornered
military dictatorship of the mullahtariat. There can only be one terrible
outcome; Tehran surrenders, or the dogs of war will be unleashed.
Barry does Indonesia
And all this is still part of a larger - warring - picture. This week, Pentagon
supremo Robert Gates released two new key documents - the Quadrennial Defense
Review (QDR in Pentagon-speak), and the Pentagon's 2011 defense budget
proposal, at a staggering $708.2 billion (plus a request for $3 billion to help
pay for the AfPak war).
The QDR (one year in redaction, full support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) may
have, at least in theory, finished off with Bush's pre-emptive war doctrine.
But still it paints a Hieronymus Bosch-like picture of Hobbesian hell -
including everything from suicide bombers attacking inside the US to waves of
attacks against the worldwide US empire of bases, biological terrorist attacks
and even Taiwan being attacked by - what else? - Chinese missiles.
The new arsenal of weapons Gates needs was immaculately described by a top
Pentagon civilian strategist as "a broad portfolio of military capabilities
with maximum versatility across the widest possible spectrum of conflict".
Problem is, all those masses of supremely equipped American soldiers will still
have no ground intelligence and won't be able to speak a single "hello" in a
foreign language. So much for conquering the hearts and minds of the
The hungry ghosts are having a ball. Early this week, the US launched Cobra
Gold - its mega-military exercise in the Pacific in cooperation with allies
Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Indonesia. The Pentagon,
industrial-military and political elites, and their courtiers in the American
corporate media would rather crave then abandon the mindset of a "long war" for
Obama will come to Indonesia next month to relive his "Little Barry" 1967-1971
Jakarta years and practice his Bahasa Indonesia vocabulary. It might do him
some good to skip Java for a while and go Balinese. Maybe staring at the sea
will make him see niskala - and prevent him from being permanently
engulfed by the realm of the hungry ghosts.