Saturday, August 16, 2008

How The CIA Helped Make The “Obama Nation” Smear Book A Best-Seller

When Jerome Corsi’s newest distortion-and lie-packed smear book, Obama Nation, hit the best seller lists this week, Corsi and his Republican Party hack publisher can thank a precedent established by the CIA in the early 1950s.

Obama Nation owes its hit status to what The New York Times says are “bulk purchases” of the tome. In other words, right wing groups from the Republican National Committee to 501(C)(3) organisations to who-knows-which group of wingnuts bought boxes of Corsi’s deranged musings. What they do with the volumes is anyone’s guess: Hand them out to fellow travellers, distribute them to delegates in “welcome packages” at the Republican convention in St. Paul, or just stack the boxes in closets.

This is precisely how then-CIA director Allan Dulles made a national best seller out Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler’s sombre, brooding, anti-Communist fictional rant, in the early 1950s. The unintended consequence was to force millions of junior and senior high school students in the US to read the monstrosity.

How the CIA came to be a factor in the book publishing business in the America is a fascinating story, a historical footnote that shows Langley was interfering in domestic politics long before the Church Commission exposed Richard Nixon’s use of the agency to spy on anti-war activists during Viet Nam. In fact, the ploy traces its roots to the end of World War II.

When William “Wild Bill” Donaldson established and ran the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during the war, he worked closely with both Dulles and Koestler. Dr. Mark Levine, an English professor at the University of Toronto and noted Koestler scholar, has told me that after the war as Donaldson and Koestler shared a long boat ride home from Europe they talked about their belief that an OSS-like organisation should continue to play a role in intelligence gathering. By the time the ship docked in New York, they had conceived the structure, organization, duties and responsibilities of what would become the CIA. Donaldson presented Pres. Truman with his idea who sent a bill to Congress which quickly passed the measure into law. Dulles became its first director.

Spurred by the Soviet’s blockage of Berlin, by the late 1940s and extending into the Fifties the United States was gripped with Communist paranoia. The Red Menace everywhere: Politicians, statesmen, screenwriters and directors, maybe even grocery store bag boys all were suspected of being Commies or Communist “sympathizers” and countless Congressional committees obsessed on uprooting and exposing them.

In the middle of this national psychosis, Koestler – a long-time anti Communist who was imprisoned briefly by the French in 1941 – showed Donaldson a copy of Darkness at Noon, which he’d written in 1941. Wild Bill thought it ought to be one of those “must read” books and handed a copy on to Dulles, now ensconced as the CIA’s director. Dulles, no slouch himself in spotting the Reds In Every Bed, decided the best way to bring the 10-year old, inconsequential novel to America’s attention was to make it a best seller.

It was easy enough for Dulles to it pull off. With the CIA’s many secret operating funds, he sent agents fanning out across New York to order – it was barely in print in the States at the time – and buy up all of the copies of the book they could lay their hands on. The books were sent back to Dulles who ordered them stored in CIA vaults.

Because the CIA refused repeatedly over the years to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests about its role in making Darkness at Noon a cultural phenomenon in the 1950s, it’s not known whether Koestler’s books are still collecting dust in the Company’s storage bins a half-century later. The University of Toronto’s Dr. Levine believes they remain buried at Langley.

So read the best-seller listing this week of Obama Nation with scepticism. Its sudden prominence owes a debt of gratitude to the CIA, Bill Donaldson and Allan Dulles.

Iraq Escalation Called A "Failure"

This won't make John McCain or Joe Lieberman very happy and the folks over at the White House must be positively fuming.

Colin Kahl from the Centre for a New American Security told a press briefing this week that things are not nearly as rosy as John McCain is portraying them on the campaign stump or Bush is saying in the Rose Garden.

Kahl reports that US civilian and military officials in Baghdad are genuinely worried that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has become "over-confident" about his military capabilities, explaining his demands to the US over the proposed status of forces agreement on the rules governing US troops in Iraq. Al-Maliki appears to have won some internal battles in the Iraqi government in the past six months, so he now firmly controls the intelligence apparatus and has military operation centres under his authority throughout the country.

Even worse, Al-Maliki is not only refusing to incorporate the Sunni Arab Awakening Councils or "Sons of Iraq" into the Iraqi security forces, he seems to be planning to fight them. These are Sunni Arab militias, many former Salafi or nationalist guerrillas, who act as US mercenaries by fighting Qutbist vigilantes who call themselves “al-Qaeda in Iraq.”

Kahl said of the 103,000 Sunnis belonging to those militias, the Iraqi government had promised to take only about 16,000into the security forces. But in fact, it has approved only 600 applicants thus far, and most of these turned out to be Shi’a, not Sunni militiamen.

The Awakening Councils are the biggest threat Baghdad faces and that after Americans are drawn down in Iraqi, al-Malaki’s allies say it will be necessary to "take care of them.”

Bush is so mad at al-Malaki’s stance on US troop restrictions and his demand for a withdrawal timetable that he sharply warned al-Maliki that without a SOFA he would have to pull out US troops by Jan. 1, 2009. US troops operating in Iraq with no agreed legal framework would be constantly open to murder and other serious legal charges.

Muqtada al-Sadr is turning his Mahdi Army into a civilian social-work force under strong Iranian pressure. The Iranians seem to be convinced that the Mahdi Army was becoming a pretext for the US to stay in Iraq – understandable since the Bushies are blaming Iran for everything Muqtada did. In fact, Iran is mainly allied with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and his Badr corps paramilitary, which has become the backbone of al-Maliki's security forces; Iran thus has multiple reasons for trying to get rid of the Mahdi Army as a military force.

But there may be a third reason Iran pressured al-Sadr. Reports – rumours, mostly – keep circulating that there is a secret, informal agreement between Bush and Khamenei that if the Mahdi Army quietens down, the US will talk to Iran, refrain from bombing the nuclear facilities at Natanz and will forestall an Israeli attack, as well.

Kahl's information is another challenge to the propaganda that the Bush’s escalation "worked." Among the things that "worked" were Iran becoming even more influential in Iraq and al-Maliki getting hold of his own government.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports that Georgia and other allies with relatively large troop contingents in Iraq are leaving, making it difficult for the US to draw down its troops at the rate Petraeus originally envisioned for this year. US forces will likely have to step in to replace Georgian troops in Kut and British soldiers in Basra.

At the same time, the newspaper reports that the al-Anbar desert is still very dangerous and full of seedy operators including insurgents, thieves, highjackers and smugglers. This is one reason why a Marine was killed Thursday in al-Anbar. The mostly unreported return of violence in the big, dangerous province has delayed the planned turn-over of security duties to Iraqi security forces there by the US military.