Criticizing Ta Nehisi Coates

coates quote

Of our day, Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the most pre-eminent intellectuals, writing for the often horrid Atlantic magazine owned by Atlantic Media’s Howard Kurtz, a neocon guy who was “dead certain about the rightness” of the 2003 Iraq invasion. I’ve been in classes where professors have praised him as the best thing since sliced bread. Admittedly, I even skipped a class session because I didn’t want to read Coates’s Case for Reparations again without critically analyzing it. As Mariame Kaba, who uses the handle @prisonculture, declared on twitter recently about an article Coates wrote about Sanders “…When people bother to offer principled critique, it means there’s something they think is worth engaging. So smart supporters would take that seriously & interrogate the claims being made without becoming defensive.” This article does not criticize Kaba with her own words, which is for another day, but fulfills my promise and aims to start the criticism of Coates, which is currently lacking in public discourse .

Beginning the conversation

It is good to begin with a revealing short piece by Coates in the style magazine New York. The piece starts with a praise of the Washington City Paper for its reporting, saying it “was very confrontational and aggressive, and there’d be this mix of history and cultural criticism and first person and journalism.” He then goes on to claim he was mature, cared about his writing and his awareness of race, but also his professionalism:

“…I went in, and I tried to dress as best as I could. And that was not very dressy, but it was okay. I think I had a pair of nice pants, and I remember I had a leather jacket on — I didn’t have like a normal blazer, so I had a leather jacket on — and my little tie. There were no black people in the office. Like none. This is immediately the whitest place I had ever been in my life. Right away. So I get in and culturally, you know, it’s like a different world. I’m looking at these folks, and they’re not even professional, or corporate, like what you see in the movies or on TV. You know, these are like alternative white people, and I had no exposure to alternative white people, like none”

While this seems to show his class blindness, but shows “racial awareness,” the next part is even clearer. He writes that he didn’t think he could write a story about a part of Washington D.C., Ward 8, which he claimed had “a reputation as a really poor area of the city, but nestled within there was this neighborhood of Hillcrest that was very middle class, very working class, very nice” which couldn’t “get services.” What was his reason? “I didn’t think I was that type of person.” Yikes! This leads to a bunch of questions: What type of person was he then? A “bougie” person? Is he the same now but with a different mask on? He then goes on to imply that he is the person who “asks questions”:

“Someone else might be more curious than you, but the functionality of them being more curious than you is that they just asked more questions. That was a deep sort of lesson — that the winner is the person who keeps asking questions. That’s the winner.”

This attitude is not surprising for someone who was likely praised in a one page splash (which you can’t read from the picture) in the Japanese-owned British business publication, the Financial Times. This connects to a recent article about Coates in CounterPunch by Paul Street which a biting and appropriate criticism. The piece argues first and foremost that Coates focuses on race but ignores class. A number of selected quotes are important to mention here:

“I take Coates at his word when he claims not to crave elite class identity and to be more concerned with things, not status. At the same time, I think there’s something else worse to be than “bougie”: bourgeois. And what makes one bourgeois is one’s material and social class position and one’s mental and ideological framework, things that go beyond one’s fondness (or lack thereof) for fine goods and service and one’s quest (or lack thereof) for station. Among other things, a bourgeois world view denies the central importance of class oppression and the need for working class unity and struggle across racial and other lines. Seen this way, I sense that the word bourgeois applies fairly well to Ta-Nehisi Coates. The economic aspect is obvious. He’s moved his family to Paris, with help from a recent $625,000 no-strings-attached “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation. His book royalties are no doubt impressive. No, he’s not remotely as rich as world’s 80 wealthiest people…Still, the man is well off…More importantly and far more significantly for the purposes of this essay, why does Coates devalue the “the question [of] whether Lincoln truly meant government of the people?”…The problem here is Coates’ remarkably class-blind, overly identity-politicized bourgeois thinking and his related ignorance of the history of class relations and their centrality to the crucial problem that quite understandably concerns him: racial oppression…What’s all this “class stuff” got to do with the vital topic on which the award-winning writings of Ta-Nehisi Coates focus – racial oppression and racist violence in America? Quite a bit, to say the least…All through American history, moreover…the nation’s capitalist elites have played the Machiavellian game of racial divide and rule to keep the nation’s working class majority down…Coates demonstrates no concern for an essential point: the white working class majority has paid a terrible price for American racism. The wages of whiteness have been very low indeed. And that makes his reflections on contemporary U.S. racial oppression racism and what might be done about it miserably partial and inadequate. He does not see or, perhaps, care that reparations of a kind are due to most of the populace and will have to be pursed through democratic-socialist transformation…I am not sure how well Coates understands contemporary racism even on his own cynical and/or impoverished class-blind terms. Coates’ emphasis on the racial positive…of the disastrous…neoliberal Obama experience at the end of the day is related to his bourgeois position and bubble…not to mention the corporate media, including a regular literary pulpit at the conservative and neoliberal Atlantic. His bourgeois experience and mindset can’t help but bias him towards a positive judgement on the racial meaning of the Obama years.”

Not only does Street’s analysis spot-on but it is telling about Coates. It seems from his description that Coates is a privileged, “bougie” individual who ultimately has a bourgeois position in seclusion in France and defends the Obama administration but is not a petite bourgeoisie individual, unless his writing counts as “labor power,” and is not part of the bourgeoisie proper. Yet, but not analyzing class he is perpetrating bourgeois nationalism.

Coates misses the boat on Sanders

Coates recently wrote an article which supposedly criticizes moderate imperialist Bernie Sanders for rejecting reparations but actually accepts the idea Sanders is radical, which makes no sense to any sensible observer. He declares that Sanders, who calls for investment in rebuilding cities and making colleges and universities have free tuition, among other ideas, is ridiculous, saying this spectacle, as he calls it, “is only rivaled by the implausibility of Sanders posing as a pragmatist.” He then dismisses Sanders’s ideas as ridiculous ones that would never pass Congress, falling into the idea that there can ONLY be the “politics of the possible.” From here, Coates then says Sanders is “the candidate of partisanship and radicalism” not the “candidate of moderation and unification.” Additionally, he claims that “radicals expand the political imagination and, hopefully, prevent incrementalism from becoming a virtue” despite the fact that neither Sanders nor himself is NOT radical in the slightest. He goes on to claim that “Sanders’s radicalism has failed in the ancient fight against white supremacy” and almost if not, implies that Hillary Clinton has better approach, which is ridiculous. Coates then declares that what he calls the “class first” approach is wrong, “originating in the myth that racism and socialism are necessarily incompatible” and implying that raising the minimum wage and making college free are “socialist” proposals when they are NOT at all. In fact, even Obama at one point sorta proposed making community college free. Such ideas are NOT radical but are actually mainstream. Coates is basically saying that socialists don’t understand race which is just ridiculous and unfounded. Coates then goes on to complain that housing discrimination and affirmative action are not addressed in the ““racial justice” section of Sanders platform.” I’m not sure what Coates expects of a moderate imperialist who comes from one of the whitest states in America, which could be an example of what some have called a whitopia. So, no wonder he is horrible when it comes to policies supposedly for improving the state of the black community.

Coates then claims that Sanders is a “candidate who is not merely against reparations, but one who doesn’t actually understand the argument.” Oh and Hillary Clinton does? Come on. He goes on to say that “from 1619 until at least the late 1960s, American institutions, businesses, associations, and government…repeatedly plundered black communities,” which is accurate. However, class is STILL not mentioned. If this isn’t enough, Coates says that “Sanders should be directly confronted and asked why his political imagination is so active against plutocracy, but so limited against white supremacy” despite the fact they he was already confronted with by two black female protesters months ago who interrupted a rally in Seattle. Coates then goes on to claim that if “if not even an avowed socialist can be bothered to grapple with reparations…if this is the candidate of the radical left—then expect white supremacy in America to endure well beyond our lifetimes and lifetimes of our children.” He is not only wrong that Sanders is part of the radical left but he is not recognizing that underground/”hidden” racism exists in Western societies, like the United States, and that as long as there are active white supremacists, like the militia members in Oregon, then such white supremacy will continue as a part of society. He then claims that reparations is the only way to fight white supremacy:

“It is the indispensable tool against white supremacy. One cannot propose to plunder a people, incur a moral and monetary debt, propose to never pay it back, and then claim to be seriously engaging in the fight against white supremacy.”

While one could say that is rational, in the last lines of this article he inflates his ego to ridiculous proportions as any sensible person would realize:

“My hope was to talk to Sanders directly, before writing this article. I reached out repeatedly to his campaign over the past three days. The Sanders campaign did not respond.”

Not only is Coates acting like the Sanders campaign doesn’t care and is callous but he is showcasing his supposed self-importance, which doesn’t actually exist.

Then there was an article in the right-leaning The Week promoted by Rania Khalek as a “corrective” to Coates by Ryan Cooper, a correspondent who falsely claimed that Sanders was “pretty far to Clinton’s left,” promotes The Intercept (also see here), and was, and I quote, “a die-hard Obama partisan for a solid year [after the 2008 election]…[I] would have done whatever he asked[.]” That comment by Cooper doesn’t sound very democratic, it sounds pretty authoritarian. But that’s me.

Anyway, its important to talk about Cooper’s article. He writes that Coates, who he claimed is “perhaps the most famous and respected black writer in America” took Sanders to task for “failing to support reparations for slavery” but also claimed that it was a chance for Sanders to “clarify the deep reach of his brand of redistributive policy” and a chance “for Coates to reconsider his rather hasty dismissal of socialism itself.” These ideas presume once again that Sanders is radical when he is not and that Coates is receptive to socialism when he is clearly NOT. Cooper pointed out, as those such as Bruce Dixon of Black Agenda Report have noted, that Coates doesn’t actually define “what reparations would look like” and in his “case for reparations” article two years ago he “barely even gestured at how an actual reparations policy would be constructed,” with no clarifications since. Cooper then goes into different figures for reparations and claims that slavery is “a crime so vast that it would be impossible to provide restitution of similar magnitude without dismantling the entire country,” implying it is impossible and that others who were oppressed would get reparations. This seems a bit far-fetched considering that Japanese-Americans already received reparations for the racist crime of internment during World War II. Beyond this, Cooper says that it is a problem for Coates to use “Sanders as a stand-in for the radical left” since Sanders’s “favored policies are right in line with the Democratic Party’s progressive wing.” He also says that a “true program of democratic socialism…could unquestionably serve as a part of an ongoing positive force against racism” and would “ensure that black Americans are getting an equal cut of its current fruits,” which sounds like something that Sanders would say on the campaign trail. Cooper ends his article by saying that Sanders shouldn’t have “lightly brushed off reparations as a topic” but that his proposal was “far better than Coates gives it credit for” and that “race-neutral redistribution and welfare are by necessity anti-racist. Full democratic socialism would be even more promising.” While this sounds great, the fact is that Cooper doesn’t seem like much of a radical himself even if he self-identifies as such, like Sanders himself.

A much better article criticizing Coates is by Bruce Dixon in Black Agenda Report. He not only sarcastically says that Coates “lives in France, and earns his keep dispensing timely wisdom upon us all from across the water” but says that since his 2014 piece, “Coates is presumably qualified to speak on the subject.” But that’s not all. Dixon criticizes Coates for not mentioning Clinton’s anti-reparations views, “that the Green Party’s presidential candidate Jill Stein does endorse reparations,” and says Coates’s piece is hallow. He goes on to say that by Coates repeating “nonsense claims that that socialists can’t see white supremacy” will discourage blacks from interest in socialism. Dixon then helpfully says that Coates’s “weekly dose of disinformation” comes in three parts: “[1.] stay away from Bernie cause he ain’t for reparations…[2.] look out for those socialists too, cause they make a point of ignoring and denying the role of white supremacy…[3.] Bernie Sanders didn’t return my call to explain himself” which he says is “pretty lazy stuff” even for “conventional neoliberal wisdom.” Then Dixon has perhaps the best words of his piece, saying that not only is Sanders not a socialist but that Coates is totally wrong:

“In the real world, not the fantasies of Mr. Coates, Bernie Sanders is no kind of socialist. Socialists stand for the working class, the poor, the common man and woman regardless of nation and color. Bernie’s socialism stops at the water’s edge, as he endorses apartheid in Israel, the Pentagon budget and the global empire of hundreds US bases and vast military industries that eat half the nation’s wealth annually. This makes Bernie no friend of the poor anyplace outside the US and not so much the friend of the poor inside it either, really no kind of socialist at all. Bernie know this, and has rarely if ever called himself one in recent years. But he allows, even encourages us to call him that this year because socialism is popular, even though Ta Nehesi Coates thinks it should not be. As long as they keep paying Mr. Coates, we’ll be treated to more of his very conventional wisdom. Get read for it.”

Coates’s sad defense of himself and racial castes

In a recent article, Coates basically attacked those who criticized him on his article about reparations, but didn’t mention Black Agenda Report of course. He claims that he “did offer some details on the proposals which have been put forth by scholars over the years” and supported “John Conyers’s H.R. 40 bill, which proposed to study slavery and its legacy, and to determine whether reparations were feasible.” From here, Coates claimed that “this did not stop people from demanding specifics,” especially from those who don’t believe in it, that his case for reparations was centered on “actual living African Americans who’d been wronged, well within living memory,” and that a vast majority of white America “opposed reparations in all forms” in a 2014 poll. Coates then flouts his self-importance again, saying his article, “The Case For Reparations” meant to “counter” such ideas and that “curious” readers are willing to agree with him, apparently.

This isn’t all Coates writes. He criticizes Kevin Drum, a writer for Mother Jones, and declares that unlike Drum, who says that “problem with the bringing pirates to justice is the distribution system,” he believes that “the problem is piracy itself, and grand piracy always extends beyond the act of theft. It requires the construction of an elaborate architecture to either justify the theft, or to justify non-compensation for the theft.” Before going on, this indicates that Coates cares about the effects of racism, but not institutionalized racism which is a vital part of the American and global capitalist system. Coates then says that considering reparations has a “potential to expand the American political imagination” and claims that he wants people to imagine more, implying that socialism is just a wacko conception concocted by crazies:

“And in this sense the conversation ends right where it began: Liberals and radicals see no problem imagining a socialist presidency. They do not demand specific details of how single-payer health care, free public-college tuition, and the break-up of big banks would make it through a Republican Congress. They are not wrong. God bless them and their radical imagination. I mean it. I just want them to imagine more.”

Let me add here that I will not take a position for or against reparations. I need more information before deciding either way. However, it is important to point out Coates’s arguments in order to engender futrher discussion.

At this point, it is key to introduce a term proposed by social historian Peter Levy in his wonderful book about civil rights activities in Cambridge, Maryland during the 1960s and beyond, called Civil War on Race Street. This term is racial caste. Levy writes on page 11, in the first chapter, the following:

“[During the pre-Civil War period,] Cambridge developed into a racially caste-based society, with whites acquiring a sense of caste superiority over both enslaved and free blacks. I use the term caste rather than simply race because caste better captures the way in which individuals are born with a specific status in society, a status they inherit and cannot alter no matter their individual merits…[in the post-Civil War period]…caste did not disappear…[but] class distinctions became just as important in the life of the community. The term class is best understood as depicting socioeconomic relationships between distinct groups of people. Theoretically, one’s class, unlike one’s caste, can change, and the line between working class and middle class remained family permeable…[in the post-WWII period]…an assortment of forces…destabilized the community and paved a way for a challenging of traditional caste and class relations”

I mention this because the term racial caste can be used in the modern American context and can serve as a corrective to Coates’s purportedly “racially aware” but class-blind analysis of current racial relations. It is also important to challenge Coates’s idea and that perpetrated by too many: the black-white paradigm which presupposes that blacks and whites are the ONLY major races in America. In fact, the US Census declares that there are at least five races: (1) White; (2) Black; (3) American Indian and Alaska Native (overarching category); (4) Asian (overarching category); (5) Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander (overarching category). Then there’s Hispanic and Latino, ethnic group labels produced to benefit certain constituencies but hurt radical efforts of unification during the 1960s and 1970s, with millions under that category. At minimum, this could be expanded to include three other groups which are arguably races: Mexican (also called Chicano, bronze race, or Mexican-Americam), Puerto Rican, and Cuban.

Coates praises Obama as a wonderous icon

There are a number of pieces in which Coates praised Obama, despite what some crusty defender, a supposed radical, claimed. I noted these in a number of tweets where I screencaped pieces of this nature (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). These pieces are not surprising when you consider that Coates is high level enough to be read by Obama, who seems to recognize his importance to the bourgeoisie.

The first article worth mentioning is a 2007 piece titled “Is Obama Black Enough?” In the piece, Coates almost seemed disappointed that Obama would not call for reparations but he also declared that “Obama is biracial, and has a direct connection with Africa. He is articulate, young and handsome,” implying his support. Beyond this, Coates said that Obama’s biracialness “opened a gap for others to question his authenticity as a black man” but that his “foreign ancestry could not prevent his wallet from morphing into a gun in the eyes of the police.” Coates then declared that “African-Americans meet other intelligent, articulate African-Americans all the time” who run for elections, and then declared strangely that “Obamania is rooted in the belief that 50 Cent, not Barack Obama, represents the real black America.” This also denies that the black community has a rich history and implies it is dominated by commercialism and/or is hallow. If that wasn’t enough, Coates implicitly defended Obama’s work as a “community organizer” in Chicago and that claimed that Obama was not only given”the escape valve of biraciality” but unnerves “many small-minded racists,” who he claims can be white or black. Before going further, this means he is saying, whether he wants to, that “reverse racism” is real and that racism isn’t a system of oppression. Anyway, the last line of the article is most telling: “Barack Obama’s real problem isn’t that he’s too white — it’s that he’s too black.” This observation is a bit odd but also goes along with the rest of the article by whitewashing Obama’s neoliberalism and/or the PR aspect of the Obama campaign itself.

Then, there’s a 2014 article titled “The Champion Barack Obama.” The article praises Obama as one of the best icons based off a profile in The New Yorker by David Remnick. What he wrote is revealing:

“I have tried to get my head around what he represents. Two years ago, I would have said that whatever America’s roots in white supremacy, the election of a black president is a real thing, worthy of celebration, a sign of actual progress. I would have pointed out that you should not expect a black head of state in any other Western country any time soon, and that this stands as singular accolade in the long American democratic tradition. Today, I’m less certain about national accolades. I’m not really sure that a writer—whose whole task is the attempt to see clearly—can afford such attachments.”

The fact that Coates is admitting he would have been more of an Obamabot only two years before, in 2012, is disturbing. Even considering my own experience, I was critical of Obama in a number of ways by then. I think it is important to make an admission here. I canvassed for Obama in Philadelphia with my liberal/progressive parents during the 2008 election and was optimistic about him despite my support of John Edwards about the “two Americas” (poor and rich). Let me say before someone jumps on me that, I was highly naive (and politically ignorant) about the particularities of politics and the capitalist system. Not anymore! As the years went by, my support of Obama slipped away as I became disillusioned. My criticism started early on, with critical articles even in 2010, it increased in 2011 with my anger at him for supporting an imperialist war in Libya after which I dedicated myself to opposing an future imperial interventions, and in 2012 the criticism hardened, even voting for a socialist for president that year. Then, while I’ve been in college, from 2012 to the present my radicalism and anger at Obama has increased to the point that I detest him. I refuse to be pulled into such a deception like the 2008 Obama campaign and want to serve as a person who counters anyone who tries to peddle such bullshit again. While I transformed from a naive liberal to a critical progressive and then an independent radical, Coates DID NOT do this.

Anyway, back to Coates’s piece. He claims that if you say that blacks are American then “America is, itself, a black country in a way that the other European countries are not,” however, this is a strange idea because America has NEVER been a black country but has actually been a multiracial one, a white-dominated one since its inception. Coates goes on to tell about some history here and there which he clearly cherypicked for his own purposes. If this isn’t enough, Coates claims that Obama and his family are an icon of goodness with his presidency was possible because of “the tradition of black politics”:

“In a literal sense, Barack Obama’s presidency was made possible by the tradition of black politics—he could not have won in 2008 without the proportional allocation that came out of Jesse Jackson’s campaign 20 years before…Barack Obama was not prophecy. Whatever had been laid before him, it takes gifted hands to operate, repeatedly, on a country scarred by white supremacy. The significance of the moment comes across, not simply in policy, by in the power of symbolism. I don’t expect, in my lifetime, to again see a black family with the sheer beauty of Obama’s on such a prominent stage….I don’t expect to see a black woman [Michelle Obama] exuding the kind of humanity you see here on such a prominent stage ever again….I don’t ever expect to see a black man of such agile intelligence as the current president put before the American public ever again.”

 

 

While many radical critics and sensible people were aware of Obama’s deceptions at this time, or even his imperialistic and neoliberal policy, Coates still claims that this symbolism is important, not understanding how it can be destructive. Coates then claims that Obama as a result of such symbolism “becomes a champion of black imagination, of black dreams and black possibilities” which is deeply scary if you believe. I even think that Cornel West would concur with my assessment of Coates. Coates then asks a number of goofy questions, one of which is “how does a black writer approach The Man when The Man is not just us, but the Champion of our ambitions?” and NEVER asserts that the color of someone’s skin, and perception of them due to their skin color, shouldn’t determine how much one criticizes them.

Coates continues on by acting like he is criticizing Obama for “addressing “personal responsibility” and then gives three examples to “prove” that W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and Malcolm X are “wrong.” For Malcolm X, he claims “he knew the game was rigged. He did not know how much.” This is just absurd and ridiculous. While one could criticize Malcolm X for his masculinism as scholars like Steve Estes have done, Coates doesn’t even attempt any real criticism other than a snide remark. Then, Coates claims that that “no black people boo when the president talks about personal responsibility. On the contrary, it’s often the highlight of his speeches on race” which IGNORES the criticisms on Black Agenda Report on this very issue! From here, Coates gives a personal story and defends Obama talking about personal responsibility:

“When Barack Obama steps into a room and attacks people for presumably using poverty or bigotry as an excuse to not parent, he is channeling a feeling deep in the heart of all black people, a frustration, a rage at ourselves for letting this happen, for allowing our community to descend into the basement of America, and dwell there seemingly forever.”

 

This contrasts starkly with what Glen Ford pointed out in a 2013 article on Black Agenda Report in words that still ring true today:

“To put it bluntly, the First Black President gave a very good standup impression of a racist white man…According to Obama, Black folks lost their way when “legitimate grievances against police brutality tipped into excuse-making for criminal behavior.”…But, like any cheapwhite politician, Obama spews a mouthful of bile and then moves on to the next rant. Obama bemoans that, at some unspecified point in the Black struggle the “transformative message of unity and brotherhood was drowned out by the language of recrimination.”…he must have been talking about Black militants of some sort. But he won’t say, preferring to leave his meaning to the audience’s imagination. Then Obama moved in for the big slap-down: “What had once been a call for equality of opportunity,” said Obama, “the chance for all Americans to work hard and get ahead, was too often framed as a mere desire for government support, as if we had no agency in our own liberation, as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child and the bigotry of others was reason to give up on yourself.” In that one, long sentence, Obama resurrects Ronald Reagan’s phantom armies of “Welfare Queens”; he appears to be taking a cheap swipe at calls for Black reparations…Obama puts the onus squarely on Blacks for destroying the promise of racial harmony…: “All of that history is how progress stalled. That’s how hope was diverted. It’s how our country remained divided.” That’s right: Obama blames Black people for messing up his America”

Coates goes back to praising Obama by saying that “there are many kinds of personal responsibility,” claiming that Obama should be responsible for giving Medcaid expansions to certain states under Obamacare (which was basically removed by the Supreme Court), “for the end of this era of mass incarceration” and destroying white supremacy despite the fact that the last two have NOT  happened. Coates then declares that Obama, the person who declared that American can kill and bomb who it wants in the world from time to time, is someone to be revered and is “rational”:

“And I struggle to get my head around all of this. There are moments when I hear the president speak and I am awed. No other resident of the White House, could have better explained to America what the George Zimmerman verdict meant. And I think history will remember that, and remember him for it. But I think history will also remember his unquestioning embrace of “twice as good” in a country that has always given black people, even under his watch, half as much.”

If any of his article is disgusting it would be this part. It just makes my stomach churn.

Ending on a good note

I could focus on two other articles by Coates, one on Bernie Sanders and another on Hillary Clinton. However I think I’ve written enough here worthy of analysis. I will say that some told me on the twitterverse that Obama reading Coates isn’t a surprise, that he has “echoed some awful anticom [anti-communist] agriprop,” and glad that someone was criticizing Coates. There are a number of points still worth noting. One of these is Coates’s relation with Daniel P. Moynihan. In a tweet from last fall referring to this articlehe declared that “Moynihan needs no rehab from me. Moynihan’s view won. It was Clinton’s view. it’s Obama’s view.” This relates with what RedKahina argued around the same time: “Coates is perfectly Zizekian, indeed a rearticulation of Moynihan, with “Obviously I’m not racist, but…” appended.”

In order to show how problematic this is, it is important to explain a little about Moynihan, then Assistant Secretary of Labor for Policy Planning and Research, and his 1965 report as noted in Estes’s book, I Am a Man!. In the book, Estes writes that President LBJ first included Moynihan’s arguments in a speech which was praised by civil rights leaders but later led to media controversy (pp. 107). In the report, Moynihan said the government had “a responsibility to provide equal result in jobs, housing, and education” which sounds good except that he emphasized a “crumbling” black family structure among the poor, focused on “systematic weakening of the position of the Negro male” in US society, and believed that black family breakdown was “the principal cause” of delinquency and urban violence in poor black communities, often called ghettoes (pp. 107-8). Additionally, the report had recommendations such as a welfare allowance for families with both parents present, full employment for black men if even some females have to be displaced, more opportunities for black males to serve in the armed forces, and “wider public dissemination of birth control materials” (pp. 108). While some of these proposals may seem attractive to readers, it is important to recognize that the report was a way to counter “obstacles to black manhood” in America, counter supposed “welfare dependency,” and accepted black male patriarchal domination of the family (pp. 108). Estes’s later comments make Moynihan’s report seem even worse. He points out that the report claimed that black men suffered more from racism “than black women,” and that strains on black families created “a tangle of pathology” with examples such as a matriarchal family structure (i.e. black women controlling the household) which he claimed was “so out of line with the rest of American society [that it] seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole” and imposes “crushing” burdens on black men and women (pp. 111-2). Moynihan also argued that a solution to black unemployment was more military recruitment, basically meaning he wanted more blacks, and other minorities, to die in service of the imperialist war machine (pp. 113, 124). As anyone of sense knows, the military should not be a job service for the poor and unfortunate. Still, even some, like Martin Luther King, Jr., endorsed the report, at least initially, saying almost laughably that black males existed in a patriarchal society but were “subordinate in a matriarchy” (pp. 119). I could go on and mention how people interpreted the report as a response to the Watts uprising when it wasn’t really intended that way and debates over other solutions to the condition of the black community. However, it is important to note that Moynihan believed that the answer to improving such a condition lay in “providing black men the economic foundation to exercise patriarchal power in their families and political power in society,” an argument which was seem as an effective “antipoverty policy” by the Johnson administration at the time (pp. 125, 128). All of these ideas matter because “Moynihan’s thesis about the importance of the family” gained a new life in “conservative circles” and was pushed by Republican leaders such as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, allowing them to attack and stereotype black people (pp. 129).

While Moynihan is not necessarily responsible for this shift, the report itself is important to mention considering Coates’s interest in him. This “interest” includes some mild criticism, claiming that Moynihan wasn’t blaming black people, and mocking conservatives who like him. In none of his tweets, which are noted here, does Coates challenge the patriarchal assumptions of Moynihan’s report. This was even the case in a September 2015 article on this topic in which he declared that Moynihan was subjected to “unfair” criticism but admitted that “Moynihan’s central idea—that the problems of families are key to ending the problems of poverty—dominates the national discourse today.” In addition, Coates claims that “mass incarceration is built on a long history of viewing black people as unequal in general, and criminal in the specific,” which is true but IGNORES its connection to capitalism or as a form of social control. To his credit, Coates does criticize Moynihan for going along with Nixon’s racist assumptions about blacks and criminality but then he claims that “I almost had the sense that Moynihan was trying to trick Nixon into embracing liberal policy…Moynihan used the rhetoric of black criminalization, even in arguing for government aid.” Coates then jumps over the quote, as mentioned earlier, about displacing “some females” and offers no analysis despite the fact that this shows an ingrained patriarchal mindset. In the last paragraph of his piece Coates has a weird aura of respect for Moynihan which is deeply disturbing and words about mass incarceration which are weird to say the least:

“…[After researching for the past year] I came away with tremendous respect for his intelligence, his foresight and his broad, ranging curiosity…The story of mass incarceration, of American racism, is not simply a story of evil racists. It is also the story of people trying to help. And it is also the story of these same people not fully understanding the ugly traditions alive in their own country. Black criminalization is such a tradition and when Moynihan employed it he was playing with fire. Others got burned.”

I personally don’t know how people who helped put in place mass incarceration, whether they realized it or not, can be considered “people trying to help” the black community. That doesn’t even make sense.

Then, there is a 2010 article which disgraced celebrity left personality Shaun King, even criticized by another personality, a neoliberal egoist named Deray, referenced in deleted tweet, which I responded to at the time:

shaunkingdeletedtweet

In this article, Coates argued against reparations but also went even further. What he said has some implications of denying transatlantic slavery’s connections to capitalism, noted in books like Eric Williams’s famed book, Capitalism and Slavery, and violating the Africa continent (which some have called “raping”) as a whole:

“…The most notable aspect of Gates original PBS piece…is a kind of crude black nationalism in reverse. The crude nationalist asserts that slavery was a white racist plot…Gates implicitly asserts that in trading slaves, Africans somehow violated a common, fraternal “African” spirit…The crude nationalist and Gates come out blaming different people, but both commit the fallacy of judging the sins of the past via the racial tribalism of today…The vocabulary of blame is key–instead of speciously blaming  white Americans for the crimes of their presumed ancestors, Gates speciously blames Africans…Presumably blame is key for Gates because he wants to discuss reparations. Why reparations is relevant right now, and why Obama should involve himself in a discussion on the subject, is never actually explained…To put it differently, I am not concerned about gender equality because I think I’m to blame thousands of years of sexism, I’m concerned about  gender equality because it matches my moral center. Blame is irrelevant…I don’t support reparations, I support all people grappling with all aspects of American history…One of the few things I know is this–Blame is useless to me. Blame is for the dead.”

Yikes! This is utterly vile by not only perpetrating stereotypes about Africa (“racial tribalism” for example) but also acting like one can only deal with issues in the present but NOT have a historical basis or blame people for them happening. It is horrible. There really isn’t much else I can say.

To close out, I’d like to say that Club de Cordeliers has a number of resources, which he shared with me (and are noted in this search), in which he criticizes Coates. There isn’t a whole lot there, but what is there is sizable and of importance. I can assure readers I will look at these articles that Cordeliers highlighted in a future piece. For now, I can say is that this article is beginning a needed critique of an intellectual who gets too much slack from people who should know better.

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Imperialism besets Iran

kingquote

You’ve probably heard of the capture of ten US sailors and their two navy boats by Iranian authorities. This post aims to tie this to the reality of the existing United States empire and its subsequent imperialism. What is presented here is only part of the picture, but challenges not only the bourgeois media but Celebrity Left figures like Greenwald who claim they hold a higher Truth.™

What the bourgeois media and others have to say

The bourgeois media in the United States assuredly did not approve of the capture of US military personnel by the Iranians and likely scowled at it from their ivory towers of “wisdom.” Jim Michaels of the crappy USA Today claimed that it there was a mechanical failure that caused the boat to drift into Iranian waters, relying on military sources as a basis. The article also quoted CENTCOM (Central Command), a force founded on maintaining US imperialism in the Mideast, which admitted that the crew was not “physically harmed during their detainment” even as they wanted to ask the crew about the possibility of “interrogation by Iranian personnel.” Not surprisingly Iranians were portrayed as brutes first conveyed by showing ONE IMAGE of the captured Marines in a video and implying to the reader they were about to be executed even though this was not the case. The article also declared that “one of the crew is shown apologizing for straying into Iranian waters but it is not clear whether the statement was coerced or how the video was edited…The Americans were escorted “at gunpoint” to a port facility on Iran’s Farsi Island.” Later the article noted that despite “more than three hours after losing communication with the boats, the U.S. Navy cruiser USS Anzio heard from the Iranians that the American sailors were in Iranian custody and were “safe and healthy,” noting a CENTCOM statement which claimed that “two SIM cards from handheld satellite phones” were removed. The article also quoted Obama’s address to the nation about this saying that “we worked directly with the Iranian government and secured the release of our sailors in less than 24 hours,” with the exact time being 15 hours. Eyder Peralta of NPR basically repeated this narrative, as did Fox News and Reuters which claimed the foreign sailors had been captured in the past by Iranian authorities. One article in CBS News followed this same narrative as well along with CNNThe Atlantic and The New Republic acted like (see here and here) their pieces had “new” information that other news sources didn’t, but they towed the same line as well. A number of pieces in bourgeois media relied on New York Times article which claimed that Iranian authorities had seized GPS equipment so that it would prove that U.S. ships were trespassing, and claimed in the title that the sailors were seized “amid claims of spying” despite the fact the article itself and no other sources show this to be the reality. These faulty conclusions were also shown in a Times editorial as well.

Other media weren’t much better. The dependably pro-military Navy Times declared that

“the sailors seem to have mistakenly entered Iranian waters aboard their top-of-the-line riverine assault boats…a refueling rendezvous gone awry is the likely explanation…Top officials say they’re still piecing together what led up to the confrontation at sea…Iranian officials searched for advanced technology and sensitive communications…some of the crew members were exhausted and anxious after their detention but none were harmed.”

The British publication, The Independent was not much better as it quoted numerous anonymous US officials, and was short with few details just like this article in an Arab publication. Some deluded individuals may think that people like Glenn Greenwald would come, riding on his white steed as Juice Rap News laughably portrayed him some time ago, but that is not the case. As I noted on twitter, his article reads like a Washington Post column, not even using the words empire or imperialist which is almost as bad as this article by Justin Raimondo in the supposedly antiwar but actually libertarian-leaning publication, antiwar.com. The article says that the US military is spewing bullshit in its story, asks “what in heck were those two boats doing in Iranian waters” and says that this “isn’t an accident…[but] was a military incursion” and claimed that “Iranians who are riven with factions and conflicting lines of authority: the American empire is overseen by a vast national security bureaucracy.” If I’m missing something here, I’d like to know, because this is what I got from my reading of the article. That may sound nice, but its this part that assumes that “we” implies everyone and is almost childish in tone, unnecessarily sexualizing the situation:

“There’s no denying we were caught by the Iranians with our pants down. The only question is – how were we trying to f—k them over?”

Back to Greenwald, who claims he is revealing a hidden truth and/or challenging the U.S. media. He wrote an article which quotes CBS News, Bloomberg News, Reuters, AP, New York Times, The Daily Beast, LA Times, along with Pierre’s pet publication, The Intercept.  He does claim that the US media is lying, saying that “there are multiple reasons to suspect otherwise” and notes the video taken by Iran, despite what I wrongly said on twitter, which shows a US sailor who said on state TV that they made a mistake, but only mentions it in passing, saying “one of the sailors in the video taken by Iran claimed they were “having engine issues”” and doesn’t elaborate. Greenwald then continues to advance his High and Mighty™ viewpoint of the U.S. media in an article which also quotes The Guardian, his own publication (even linking to @tinyrevolution, another Intercept writer), CNN, Middle East Eye, a UN maritime treaty, and Slate. He then claims that “no matter how many times the U.S. government issues patently false statements about its military actions, those statements are entitled to unquestioning, uncritical treatment as Truth the next time a similar incident occurs.” A good way for those who are critical of the Celebrity Left to challenge Greenwald would be to challenge him on this as he sticks with a “unquestioning, uncritical” approach which is enough analysis to make progressives salivate and want more, but is not a necessary and radical analysis.

Looking at Iran’s state media

Due to these shortcomings it is best to look at Iranian state media. To start with there is a short video (as shown here and here) which shows equipment from one of the ships, that the 10 marines captured eating a good meal, and seeming to be treated well. This video begins to disprove the idea that Iran is a “brute” that is “aggressive” toward the United States, when in reality the opposite is true as the U.S. is the real imperial bully. Other articles noted statements from Iranian and U.S. military authorities saying that the US crew of ten marines, 9 men and one woman, were released after there was proof their entry was unintentional (see herehere, here, and here). A number of other articles quoted a IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) Rear Admiral, Ali Fadavi, as saying that the US marines were dealt with respectfully, which the White House and the IRGC in general confirmed, saying the crew was healthy and well-situated. Beyond the confirmation by the Pentagon and IGRC that two US navy boats were taken into Iran’s custody (see here, here, here, and here), Lieutenant Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Brigadier General Hossein Salami was quoted as saying that

“The marines were crying when they were being captured, but they later felt better after the IRGC forces treated them with kindness. The Americans humbly admitted our might and power, and we freed the marines after being assured that they had entered the Iranian waters unintentionally and we even returned their weapons.”

That article also noted that

“each of the two US Navy boats that were 3 nautical miles deep into the Iranian waters when they were captured by the IRGC Navy’s second naval zone were equipped with three 50mm caliber machine guns and other light and semi-heavy weapons. IRGC officials said the coordinates recorded on the GPS devices taken from the 10 US marines confirmed their trespassing as well.”

While I could look at other articles in Iranian state media about a US apology, there’s one video, which the Navy Times predictably called a “propaganda video,” that is revealing. In the video, which is actually an interview with someone from PressTV and isn’t an interrogation or propaganda persay, an unnamed US captain apologizes for going into US waters saying “that was our mistake, admitting that they penetrated Iranian territorial waters, and saying that “it was a misunderstanding, we did not mean to go into Iranian territorial water.” In the interview the captain also says that they were captured by an Iranian petrol boat when they were “having engine issues” and tried to talk to them until “more boats came out and took us in.” Interestingly, the captain says that “the Iranian behavior was fantastic…we thank you very much for your hospitality and your assistance,” and that they had “no problems” when in Iran. In the interview, the captain also says that their departure was from Kuwait and destination was Bahrain. You won’t see a description like this in the bourgeois media because this same video was cut short by CNN as an “exclusive” despite the availability of the FULL VIDEO, which distorts what the captain said, making it harder to recognize what happened.

Before going on and putting this into a broader context, it is important to look at some other state media articles. I’m not talking about what the Pentagon has to say, Kerry thanking Iran for releasing the 10 marines (also noted here), and GOP being unhappy that the marines captured were released. The IRGC, which globalsecurity.org describes as security for the revolutionary regime and “considered the military vanguard of Iran” and the elite Council for Foreign Relations (CFR) describes as an institution founded after the 1979 revolution which was “charged with defending the Islamic Republic against internal and external threats,” predictably had a number of things to say about this incident. One commander, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Major General Hassan, said that the incident showed how vulnerable the US is in front of “powerful” Iranian forces, connecting to an earlier article saying that the Iranian navy has a good amount of strength and is capable enough to save lives on the high seas. Another commander, Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi declared that the foreign minister of Iran, Mohammad Javad Zarif, took a strong position on the incident by calling for “US officials to apologize for the issue” but also said that while there could be a harmless crossing of the Persian Gulf, “US presence has never been harmless.” Fadavi was also quoted as saying that while the crew, that was detained for a short time, didn’t resist much at all, but that “a US aircraft started doing provocative behavior for 40 minutes.” He said this was, the article summarized, an “indication of the US unfaithfulness to regional tranquility” and he predictably argued that the IRGC restored such tranquility. Other IRGC members conveyed the seriousness of the situation. Rear Admiral Fadavi said that they were ready to strike the USS Truman Aircraft carrier for any hostile movies, a craft as noted earlier, which, in his description, “showed unprofessional moves for 40 minutes after the detention of the trespassers.” The article continued by noting that eventually after communicating an announcement that

“they came to realize the IRGC Navy has the first and the last word in here. The US and France’s aircraft carriers were within our range and if they had continued their unprofessional moves, they would have been afflicted with such a catastrophe that they had never experienced all throughout the history. They could have been shot, and if they were, they would have been destroyed…In the end they and their diplomats acknowledged their wrong action and undertook not to repeat such mistakes.”

The article also quoted Fadavi as saying almost triumphantly:

“the US and its Navy rest assured that they won’t be the winner of any battle with Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz as destruction and sinking of their warships will be the end result of any such war. But in those 40 minutes, the Americans were clearly under intense psychological pressure and they did not act like a professional and responsible force.”

Such statements are not a surprise considering imperialist bullying behavior of the United States in the Middle East and beyond.

There were other statements from IRGC commanders that are worth noting. Another article, which was an earlier version of the article previously noted, quoted Fadavi as saying: “had the US continued its unprofessional deeds after the detention of its 10 marines by the IRGC, all its warships could have gone sinking.” Based on Islamic guidelines, as the article summarized, “the Iranian military should not mistreat the captives, he said the US marines who were detained earlier this week were even privileged to watch the European Cup football tournament.” Another commander, Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Hassan Firoozabadi, even challenged Iran war halks in the US Congress:

“those US congressmen who plot a new problem for Iran each day are apparently fed with incorrect information and take their actions with closed eyes and away from the realities and, thus, harm the American nation. I hope that the incident in the North of the Persian Gulf that will likely be not the last by the US troops gives a lesson to those in the US congress that rock the boat.”

Another article quoted Fadavi as saying that

“the territorial waters of every country are those waters that the presence of foreign vessels should take place with the prior information and permission of that country…Mr. Zarif has adopted a strong and firm stance and told Kerry that they have been in Iran’s territorial water and they should apologize.”

The same article also quoted IRGC Spokesperson General Ramezan Sharif as saying that

“Iran never jokes with anyone about its national interests and won’t show any ignorance either…our behavior will be based on Islamic kindness. If investigations show that there hasn’t been any purposeful action, they will be treated differently, but if the information taken through interrogations reveal that their trespassing has been done for intelligence work and irrelevant jobs, officials will definitely take the necessary actions.”

Another article quoted Fadavi as going even further than Firoozabadi, saying that if anyone wanted war with Iran they would be committing suicide. Yeah, neocons, like those who want an armed intervention in North Korea, and Hillary Killary Clinton, get this message which Fadavi said at a naval ceremony in the Iranian city of Bandar Abbas:

“Today, if any country thinks of military confrontation against the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is either looking for a way to commit suicide and being annihilated or it has become mad and drunken and has developed dementia.”

I could explain in more detail other statements by those associated with the IRGC (see here and here), but readers are open to read those on their own. It is worthy to note that the Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran Seyed Abbas Araqchi declared that

“this shows Iran’s internal power as we powerfully seized the military vessel of the world’s big military power and then freed its personnel powerfully after ensuring of their unintentional entry into our territorial waters. This is a sign of our might.”

Whether you agree with them or not, the Iranians are justified in feeling this way about their action. Then there’s the Secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council, Mohsen Rezayee, who said that “the US pilot [of the boat] shouldn’t have made the move and Mr. Zarif [Iran’s foreign minister] needed to certainly lodge a complaint with the Americans since if they embark on such a provocative move again, it can lead to a confrontation.” On that I agree, they should file a complaint and call out the U.S. military on this action, though I’m not sure it is enough. In another article, this same Secretary argued that “if the Americans really believed that Iran is a terrorist state, [they] would they lie down and rest so calmly and relaxed while they were in IRGC’s custody,” putting to rest US allegations about Iran’s behavior. Two other articles in Iranian state media. The first of these noted the following statement from Iranian national legislature, called the Islamic Consultative Assembly, Iranian Parliament or Iranian Majlis, praising the actions of the IRGC navy as showing enemies that Iran is serious about defending its “national security and interests”:

“Seizure of the US warships and capture of the US marines for illegal and unallowed voyage through the Islamic Republic of Iran’s territorial waters and then releasing them after their apology [was a valuable action]”

Another article quoted a senior MP (member of Parliament), the Chairperson of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, Alaeddin Boroujerdi. In the article, Boroujerdi said the following:

“The divine Islamic establishment and the great Iranian nation’s national honor and might were displayed again by the IRGC Navy’s wise and mighty measure. The measure by the IRGC Navy forces in the Persian Gulf showed that safeguarding security of this sensitive region is in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s hands and even the US cannot ignore the rules of this game.”

What actually happened in this incident?

Earlier in this article I mentioned an articles by Raimando and Greenwald which claimed to offer alternative approaches to what happened but actually based their articles mostly if not completely on bourgeois media accounts. There were also some on twitter who said the incident was either: a Gulf of Tolkin-like situation intended to provoke war, which the Japanese rejected prior to WWII; just plain weird; was a “big” incident which resulted in some US Navy members being mad at the US government for its response; and was a “delicate diplomatic situation,” a term which downplays what happened. But this doesn’t really help clarify the incident itself.

One line in a recent article in the Washington Post about the incident claimed, which Raimondo blindly quoted without further analysis or fact-checking, that the two vessels captured are “known as riverine command boats, are agile and often carry Special Operations forces into smaller bodies of water.” An article the Post linked to describes the vessels, Riverine command boats, also called RCBs, as “actually Swedish CB-90s and are a type of fast attack craft” which raises further questions. The article also notes the following which puts more of the incident into question:

RCB’s can carry contingents of infantry and special operation forces and are often crewed by sailors in Riverine squadrons, known by some as River Rats. The riverine force came of age in the Vietnam War in what was then known as the Brown Water Navy. In the 1960s and early 1970s boats such as Patrol Boat, River (from ‘Apocalypse Now’ fame) and Swift Boats were the River Rats vessels of choice.

The Wikipedia article on these RCBs notes the following, making them seem like they are attack boats used for military assault:

“[this boat] is a class of fast military assault craft originally developed for the Swedish Navy by Dockstavarvet…The CB90 is an exceptionally fast and agile boat that can execute extremely sharp turns at high speed, decelerate from top speed to a full stop in 2.5 boat lengths, and adjust both its pitch and roll angle while under way. Its light weight, shallow draught, and twin water jets allow it to operate at speeds of up to 40 knots (74 km/h) in shallow coastal waters…In July 2007 The United States Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) specified the CB90 for testing as its Riverine Command Boat. Safeboat International of Port Orchard, Washington, was given a US$2.8 million contract to produce one prototype.”

From there one is brought to a 2007 article in the  pro-military Navy Times which notes the following about these boats:

“…the CB90, a Swedish-designed shallow-water vessel that’s fast, lethal and flexible enough to be an ambulance or a fast-attack craft. The Navy has decided to buy two of the boats, now known in certain Navy circles as the Riverine Command Boat, for use by the newest incarnation of the brown-water navy, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command’s riverine group…The RCB is designed for maximum adaptability. It has an airy, aircraft-style cockpit with two operator seats and a middle jump seat that swings into and out of place. It has a head just below the cockpit divided by a passageway that leads to a bow ramp, so troops can be put ashore quickly. The bow and hull are heavily reinforced so operators can run the boat up on a rocky stretch of beach to disembark riders without worry, Wood said. “There are not many environments it can’t pull into and away from,” he said. “That’s one of the things the Navy found desirable, that it’s capable and proven.”…While the Navy declined to offer details on how or where the RCB will operate in the near future, a Navy official at the Pentagon said in a written statement that the boats are intended for use in the command role…The ship has cabin space that can be configured to carry more than 20 troops or serve as a floating command post with extra communication gear…The Navy replaced bolt-on Humvee armor with a lighter material, wired up electrical power supply at the gun mounts and improved the optics and communication equipment…The new RCB has stirred up a lot of interest in the Navy, Wood said — both from the new conventional riverine force, the naval special warfare community and surface warfare operators.”

In order to complete the picture it is important to look at Iranian state media once again. The first of these articles asked what what would happen if there were Iranian boats in US waters. Here’s some selected quotes:

“As soon as the news was out, US media condemned Iran’s interception of the US naval boats that infringed its waters as an “aggression”…The Riverine Command Boat (RCB) is a watercraft designed to patrol rivers and other shallow water, fully equipped with GPS systems, radars, sensors and weaponry. Their speed and small size makes them useful for patrolling busy waterways such as the Persian Gulf and protecting larger navy ships…The US anti-Iranian fever was flowing through social media as soon as the news was out…The 10 sailors on the boats did not report the navigational error to their superiors before they were taken by the Iranians…The question in fact should not be about how Iran dealt with the situation. The question should rather be: if the scenario was exactly the reverse, and it was Iranian boats that had “mistakenly” drifted into US waters what would have happened?”

The other article raises questions about what happened during the incident itself. Sadly is broadly relies on Glenn Greenwald’s supposed “better analysis.” Still, here’s some quotes from that article:

“On Thursday, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that the sailors “obviously had misnavigated.” At the same time, mechanical failure was ruled out as a reason for the incident. This means that the boats were not in distress when they sailed near Farsi Island, which houses a naval base of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. This also means that Iran was within its right when it detained the soldiers, Sputnik reported…the US sailors….were most likely familiar with the route, since they often traveled between Bahrain and Kuwait. After all, the US Fifth Fleet is headquartered in Bahrain. Second, not a single sailor on the vessels reported the error to their superiors…Yet, many US media accounts of what transpired presented the incident as a hostile act committed by Iran…One could only imagine front page headlines if the US and Iran switched places and those were Iranian boats that had inadvertently drifted into US territorial waters.”

While it seems clear from Iranian state media sources that US warships engaged in provocations that could have escalated conflict if the IRGC hadn’t used their forces and messaging wisely, whatever actually happened in up to the reader. Hopefully the articles in this section help readers think more about what was the actual trajectory of events.

The broader picture of US imperialism

In order to fully understand the incident it is better to take a step back and look at US imperialism as a whole. According to the most recent Base Structure report, the US had 951 bases worldwide, outside the US itself, where there are many more bases. This calculation comes from 110 US bases in territories, plus those 576 overseas, those not in the US, 42 Army National Guard sites and 223 bases in “other sites” outside the US which don’t meet other criteria for being bases. There may be even more than than this since what is considered a “base” by the report must be a military site, which must be “must be larger than 10 acres AND have a Plant Replacement Value (PRV) greater than $10 million” if it is within the US, and if the site is in a foreign country “it must be larger than 10 acres OR have a PRV greater than $10 million to be shown as a separate entry.” From this I came up with two different charts showing where the most US bases are located:

which-country-us-troops

which-country-us-troops-2

The last chart is most relevant here, as it shows that in Bahrain alone, the United States has ten military bases. This is key because, if one uses the major naval base in Bahrain which claims on their website to cover 152 acres and is “home” to over 7,000 “military personnel and DOD Civilian employees,”  then Farsi Island, with land on the small island mostly restricted to a IRGC base, is only over 90 miles away as calculated using this site. A recent AP article noted that Farsi Island was “in the middle of the [Persian] Gulf and home to an Iranian military facility.” Old Times articles from the 1980s say that the island is “where the Iranians have a base,” apparently serving as “a base for Iranian high-speed naval launches used to attack gulf shipping” as one article alleged. The L.A. Times at one point even noted without criticism that Western officials believed that “Farsi Island…was used as a base by Iran to carry out attacks on Gulf shipping and to lay mines in the area.” Another article claimed that some of the dolphins were used as US military weapons to scout for supposed Iranian frogmen who would, in their minds, sabotage barges used as floating bases, ” were taken near Bahrain and “near Iran’s Farsi Island” in order to apparently “protect them from sabotage.” If the US military couldn’t get any more wacko, this is a sign you were wrong. Anyway, also of note here is the expansive reach of the US empire just in buildings alone, with the US Army controlling over 250,000 buildings!

buildings-us-military

Moving on, there are a number of maps showing US bases around Iran at this current time, which sorta update a map created by Al Jazeera years ago. They are as follows:

Iran-map civilian personnel
Civilian personnel in bases around Iran
Iran-map US forces around
Number of US troops surrounding Iran
Iran-map drone bases
Drone bases around Iran
Iran-map us bases
US military bases around Iran

These maps alone, not even including their position in terms of black gold (also see here), make it clear why Iran would be in a defensive posture to US imperial and military aggression. The same could be said about a fear of being bombed, considering that Micah Zenko of the CFR in a blogpost admitted the following: “…last year, the United States dropped an estimated total of 23,144 bombs in six countries [Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia]. Of these, 22,110 were dropped in Iraq and Syria.” However, this seems to be more minimized now than in the past.

Still there is the looming power of US imperialism as Obama declared in his recent State of the Union, really State of the Empire, in which he claimed that China and Russia look to the US, suspiciously promoted before it was spoken by the Vox folks. In his militaristic, nationalistic, and imperialist speech as some on twitter recognized (see here, here, here, and here), and which I chronicled in a set of tweets (see here, here, and here). However, in order to make it easier for the reader, sections of the speech are quoted below, and bolded for emphasis, so it is evident the imperialist bullcrap he is saying:

“…The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close. We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined. Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world. No nation dares to attack us or our allies because they know that’s the path to ruin…when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead — they call us…the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality. It’s up to us to help remake that system. And that means we have to set priorities. Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks…We just need to call them [ISIS] what they are — killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed…We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately weakens us…Fortunately, there’s a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power. It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight…American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world — except when we kill terrorists; or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling. Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right… that kind of leadership depends on the power of our example.”

Still, this isn’t the full picture.

A fuller picture of Iran’s situation

Iranian state media fills out a bit more of this picture. One article declares the US and EU ended economic warfare against Iran, noting that the Iran nuclear deal, officially called JCPOA, with the lifting of UN sanctions “related to Iran’s nuclear program.” This article also said that

“Iran never negotiated out of fear and never feared to negotiate…Iran has now joined the club of nuclear countries and the warmongers can do nothing about it…It is not necessary to wait for positive signals from media outlets to find out more about the world community’s position towards this latest development. The global economy is in turmoil and they need Iran’s lucrative market and trade…Despite the political theatre of “distrust,” Europe has equally come to terms with the fact that Iran has gone nuclear, which means the Congress’s anti-Iran rhetoric is superficial. Otherwise, Western companies and investors would have never come to Tehran to ink deals in business and trade…Iran has every right to master civilian nuclear technology and that many in the West are more than happy to distance themselves from the warmongers on the Capitol Hill and Israel…Iran knew the value of the cards in its hand and knew where it was going.”

This article connected to others which said that Iran is willing to work with the IAEA, that Iranian banks are reconnecting to SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication), foreign assets will be unfrozen, and a conversation between Iran’s presient and the Afghan’s president. Other articles touted Iran as a place for Italian companies to thrive in a post-sanctions world and that an ex-German Chancellor is leading a business delegation to Iran. Most interesting of all was the Deputy Trade Promotion Organization Chief for Commercial Aids Mohammad-Reza Modudi telling a business conference that Iran is not only was one of the largest closed economies which hasn’t joined the WTO but that:

“We were hosting a huge wave of foreign economic delegations visiting Iran in the hope to establish economic ties with Iran. Over the past two years, though, the Iranophobia campaign was diminished to the verge of extinction. In export field, we need to work to set brands which has somehow developed inside Iran, but yet to develop abroad. The advancements achieved in the world are indebted to sound competitions, not supportive policies of the governments.”

To me, this indicates that people such as Modudi are fine with Western companies coming in to build and improve Iran but that they do not want those companies to be a mode of regime change. Hence, they don’t want another Operation Ajax or Western regime change program, likely led by the CIA, in Iran. However, there is something else here. Modudi wants Iran to develop its own brands to compete with Western brands in a capitalist marketplace. This is because Modudi, is what one could call a pro-Western moderate, like the president of Iran, Hassan Rouhini, who is about to visit Western Europe soon. These people are content that Iran is buying Airbus planes and opening itself more to Western investment. However, such pro-Western moderates clash with hardliners such as leading religious clerics and the Iranian military enshrined in the IRGC. A recent Christian Science Monitor article said that Iran’s course ahead “depends on the results of an internal struggle raging within the Iranian elite over whether the supreme leader…Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, should continue to hold [his]…political powers and be respected as the instrument of God in secular matters.” The article, which clearly took the side of the pro-Western moderates, also argued that “this debate over clerical rule is also central to Iran’s economic recovery…The power of religion lies in its spiritual attraction to individuals, not its authority over the state.” Such hardliners are opposed to increased Western influence and investment in Iran, wanting to continue the domestic effects of the Islamic/Iranian Revolution of 1979 but seem to have made some level of peace with the Iran nuclear deal. That is because such hardliners while they take an arguably anti-imperialist stand, they are part of a country that is neither communist, socialist, or truly radical. Iran after 1979 became anti-imperialist, especially toward the US, which some would characterize as “anti-Western,” but also religiously conservative and not socially progressive like Cuba after 1959 or Venezuela after 1999.

The gap between the moderates and the hardliners is likely to be exploited, with an example being the US empire slapping more sanctions upon Iran which were linked to Iran’s ballistic missile program according to multiple sources (see here and here). The British news source and bourgeois media outlet, the BBC, declared that

“…the new sanctions prevent 11 entities and individuals linked to the missile programme from using the US banking system…They  [the sanctions] were triggered by Iran conducting a precision-guided ballistic missile test capable of delivering a nuclear warhead last October, [supposedly] violating a United Nations ban…[Obama] said differences with Iran remained, and the US would “remain steadfast in opposing Iran’s destabilising behaviour elsewhere” – such as its missile tests.”

The article noted that Rouhani welcomed the nuclear deal along with “many governments, the UN and EU” but criticized by some US Republicans and Israel as allowing Iran to “spread terror.” The article noted the effects of these sanctions is huge:

“The economic sanctions being lifted now were imposed progressively by the US, EU and UN in response to Iran’s nuclear programme[.] The EU is lifting restrictions on trade, shipping and insurance in full[.] The US is suspending, not terminating, its nuclear-related sanctions…The UN is lifting sanctions related to defence and nuclear technology sales, as well as an asset freeze on key individuals and companies…Non-nuclear US economic sanctions remain in place…Nearly $100bn (£70bn) of Iranian assets are being unlocked…Share prices in Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s largest stock market, fell more than 6% following the lifting of sanctions…Iran has always maintained its nuclear programme is peaceful, but opponents of the deal say it does not do enough to ensure the country cannot develop a nuclear bomb.”

The supposedly independent paper, which largely takes a pro-US military bent, since it operates within the military, Stars & Stripes, reprinted an AP article that claimed that “U.N. experts said in a report in December that the missile test in October violated sanctions banning Iran from launches capable of delivering nuclear weapons. A U.S. Treasury official [named Adam J. Szubin as noted in another article] says Iran’s ballistic missile program poses “a significant threat to regional and global security.”” Then there was an article in Telesur which noted the following

“The United States imposed new sanctions against companies and individuals connected to Iran’s ballistic missile program just hours after four U.S. citizens had left Iran after being freed from jail in a prisoner swap deal between the two countries…According to the U.S. Treasury Department, 11 companies and individuals were blacklisted for supplying Iran with material and funds for its ballistic program. The United Arab Emirates-based Mabrooka Trading, and its owner Hossein Pournaghshband, were placed on the U.S. blacklist for helping Iran produce carbon fiber for the missile program…Iran unveiled a secret missile program in October when it conducted its first ballistic missile test…Iran says a United Nations Security Council resolution, approved in July, would only ban missiles specifically designed to carry nuclear warheads so it would not affect its military program as Tehran does not pursue nuclear weapons…The new sanctions also came a day after the nuclear deal between Tehran and six world leaders went into effect Saturday, effectively lifting decades-long economic sanctions against Iran in return for Tehran’s commitment to a civilian nuclear program…the U.S. State Department also announced it had agreed to release $400 million and $1.3 billion in interest for Iranian funds that had been frozen by Washington since 1979.”

Still, likely the best article on this did not come from a tweet saying that Obama stayed harsh on Iran but an Iranian state media source. This article quoted Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan, arguably as slamming the new sanctions slapped on Iran and saying that work would continue on “missile advancements”:

“Attempts to impose new sanctions under the pretext of irrelevant excuses show the United States’ continued hostile policies and hatred towards the Iranian nation and its useless attempts to weaken Iran’s defense power, which are not helpful to regional security, stability and tranquility. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s missile industries are fully home-made and reliant on knowledge, expertise and infrastructures of the defense industry, and imposing sanctions against people and companies don’t affect the trend of its development and strengthening”

The article also quoted a statement by the Iranian foreign ministry which declared that:

“As explicitly stated before, the Islamic Republic of Iran will respond to such propaganda and harassing measures with pursuing its legal missile program more seriously and enhancing its national defense and security capabilities. Iran’s missile program has not been designed for carrying nuclear weapons at all and therefore, it doesn’t violate any international rule”

These statements show that Iranian hardliners and likely Iranian moderates [1] as well are not happy about these new sanctions and will have none of it. Still, the Iranians were willing to make a prisoner swap, which Obama praised, which resulted in 28 Iranians having charges dropped or being released under this swap deal. It is possible that two of the Americans released were CIA agents since their pictures were NOT shown on national television. [2] Not surprisingly, Borzou Daragahi, a “correspondent” of the anti-Russian and pro-US joke of a media outlet, which classifies as part of the bourgeois media, BuzzFeed had a field day over this. Basically, Daragahi acted like Iran’s government was the bad, evil oppressor and that the Westerners were “innocent victims.” Yeah right.

Despite the new US sanctions other countries are opening their doors while some like Saudi Arabia (see here and here) are closing them. Such countries include Japan which is ready to lift its sanctions, in lieu of Iran dismantling a “large section of its nuclear program” and take advantage of the “new” opportunity of an “untapped” market:

“The government will swiftly lift Japan’s sanctions on Iran based on a new U.N. Security Council resolution, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said. The Japanese government “welcomes” Iran’s compliance with a final deal…Kishida said [that] “Japan will further strengthen the historically friendly relationship with Iran. Japan will actively cooperate for the steady implementation of the final agreement (on the nuclear issue).” To support the deal’s implementation, the government will send nuclear energy experts to Iran, officials said…Japanese sanctions on Iran include a halt in investment in the energy field. Japanese companies expect removing the punitive measures will boost economic relations with Iran, which is rich in oil, natural gas and other natural resources and has a market of 78 million people…After scrapping the sanctions, probably this week, the government will conclude a formal investment pact with Iran, to help Japanese firms expand into not only oil but other market segments expected to attract economic reconstruction demand, such as the auto, high-speed rail and aircraft sectors, sources said. The government was also to dispatch a team to Iran as early as Monday to explore business opportunities there, the sources said.”

Closing remarks

I could focus on a ridiculous poll posed by a writer for a tabloid, the New York Times‘s scare editorial, the status of the world’s nuclear materials, a rabid neocon complaining about Iran, or the bombing of a supposed “ISIS bank.” I could even enhance my criticism of Glenn Greenwald whose trolls swamped me after I criticized his self-congratulatory tweet. I will add here that Greenwald nastily replied to me by declaring “is publishing exposés on chemical giants & prison diaries from a victim of US Penal State a violation of Twitter-radicalism?” to which I criticized by saying The Intercept was not that adversarial, causing a back-and-forth conversation to ensue with some of his mindless supporters. [3]

But there is something more important. And I’m not talking about three supposed military contractors captured in Iraq, the effects of imperialism living on from unexploded bombs in Germany from WWII, cheap oil and the United States, or that half of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck. Instead I’m talking about the US empire, an empire that engaged in numerous bloody occupations over the years, and an empire that defines the modern meaning of imperialism in this day and age.

It seems that Iran has a choice: either it bows to increased Western pressure/influence, which assuredly would come in the form of Western imperialism, as pro-Western moderates want or it resists Western influence as the hardliners want. Some may say that this is a false dichotomy and that there are two other choices, that one could support a non-Western backed people’s revolution in Iran to change the class society and/or non-interventionism by Western states in Iran. Whatever the outcome, it is clear that Iran will get integrated into the capitalist system more now that it has in the past. What happens next depends on this clash between differing Iranian elites, Western pressure, pressure from non-Western states, the people in Iran itself, and beyond.

Notes

[1] See the following tweets by Rouhini as proof of this:

[2] Maybe I’m reading into this too much, but I think this could be the case. Some also slammed Fox News for this, but I think that’s letting CNN and MSNBC off the book (referring to this tweet)

[3] For these tweets, see conversation threads starting here and here.