Thursday, January 15, 2009

Charles Fried, Mouthpiece for Assholes

Back in 1985 and 1986, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Ollie North and various others illegally and secretly sold over 2000 surface-to-surface missiles to the same Iranian Islamists who blew up our Marines in Beruit and used the loot from these sales to illegally fund the Contras, their pet right-wing terrorists in Nicaraugua. (They did so for a variety of reasons, but certainly part of the scheme's appeal was the chance to win release of some hostages in the midde-east, giving the administration a much-needed public relations boost for the mid-term elections, a sort of reverse reprise of the October Surprise that had helped Reagan win the office in the first place.)

Ron Reagan's Solicitor General at the time of Iran-Contra was Charles Fried, whom even Supreme Court conservatives thought besmirched his office with his partisanship. Fried was recently billed only as 'Harvard law professor' in the New York Times, though he has clearly been a lifelong mouthpiece for the Republican racist/sexist talking points, and advocate for the imperial powers of Republicans in the White House. In his recent New York Times Op-Ed he serves as defender of the Bush Syndicate, and in that capacity argues that there should be no accountability whatsoever for the war crimes committed by the Bushies. Now it seems to me that the both Fried and the Times were ethically obliged to reveal Fried's undoubtedly intimate involvement with Presidential lawbreaking before letting him pose as impartial legal scholar just happening to opine in the matter of Presidential lawbreaking. But in any case, his lack of detachment in the matter seems to have led him into some serious inanity and hypocrisy fior he comes up with real gem-quality nuggets of deeply impacted bullshit. In arguing that there should be no accountability whatsoever for the derelictions, crimes, and war crimes committed by the Bushies he says:

But should the high and mighty get off when ordinary people committing the same crimes would go to prison? The answer is that they are not the same crimes. Administration officials were not thieves lining their own pockets. Theirs were political crimes committed by persons whose jobs were to exercise the powers of government on our behalf. And the same is even truer of the lower-level officers who followed their orders.

Several things about this:

1. We may be absolutelty certain that Fried would not exonerate the Nazi picknoses who perpetrated crimes against humanity while 'just following orders'. But, to him, Nazis are an entirely different species from us (or at least from Republicans) and if you don't agree, then you're not worthy of speaking to him. Rather than defend the indefensible he makes like Dana Perino and mounts the Talk to the Hand Gambit; saying

If you cannot see the difference between Hitler and Dick Cheney, between Stalin and Donald Rumsfeld, between Mao and Alberto Gonzales, there may be no point in our talking.

To Fried, Nazi crimes were "were crimes against whole populations in wars of aggression." His distinction between these crimes and, for instance, those commited against Iraqis at Abu Graib, crimes explictly and admittedly authorized by Bush, Cheney and military officers of the highest rank, is truly wondrous :

...our leaders were defending their country and people — albeit with an insufficient sense of moral restraint — against a terrifying threat by ruthless attackers with no sense of moral restraint at all.

Now Fried seems unaware the tyrant's excesses are pretty much always (by the perpetrators) justified as necessary to the defense of the state and/or the volk. The claim is specious here, as usual, because as has been demonstrated again, and again, and again, the Iraqis did not attack, were not threatening to attack us, lacked the meaningful means to attack us, and in fact presented a much less credible threat to us than, say, the Wahabist regime of Saudi Arabia, bankrollers of Osama and yet our close ally. So our attack on Iraq was, in fact, a war of aggression against a whole population -- to whom we applied the practice of "shock and awe." One might even aptly say, that in making this war of political convenience our leaders showed "no sense of moral restraint at all." So perhaps this rationale is yet another instance of what some theorists call "mimesis", the sort of radical projection and mutual demonization that occasions total war, the tragic and indelible human tendency which ensures that, as Dag Hammerskold had it, "We win a total war at the cost of becoming the enemy."
More poetically perhaps: we project the evil in our hearts onto our enemies, and this licenses whatever evils are necessary to their annihilation. Thus, in the view of the world's Charles Frieds, we ourselves remain morally superior as long as we are even infinitesimally superior to the enemy's moral zero; just how we are to trust our judgment of our superiority in such an abyssal environment he does not say.

2. Nothing could be more emblematic of American infantilism, America's (Protect Us Daddy!) backsliding towards monarchy, than Fried's claimed distinction here between the crimes of the criminal and the crimes of the powerful: "The answer is that they are not the same crimes. Administration officials were not thieves lining their own pockets. " This is precisely the same rationale used to exonerate Fried's dearly-beloved fellow Reaganites for their Iran-Contra perjuries and treason: 'They weren't in it for the money, hence their hearts were pure.'

I'll put aside, for now, the notion that the crimes of Bush and Cheney (et al) had little to do with personal enrichment, perhaps in part because they are all already very rich in virtue of the influence-peddling, access-pimping, insider-trading, deal-fixing et cetera they've done for decades, with no accountability whatsoever for their ethical lapses and/or criminal acts -- put it aside except to note in passing that it would perhaps be something like justice if, emboldened by their prior impunity, these sociopaths finally went on to do things that actually resulted in some punishment. And perhaps it's best not to belabor the speculation that Bush and his fellow Republicans believed so implicitly in Kark Rove's Permanent Majority Unicorn that they simply went on a crime spree, assuming that there would always be an Ashcroft, Gonzales or Mukasey as Attorney General, someone who would only prosecute Democrats and black people.

Too many Americans seem to think that Lord Acton's maxim ("Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.") is some kind of quaint antique. It's as meaningless to them as Erasmus' "Speak of the Devil and he shall appear." They don't even seem to get Lincoln's more homespun, "If you want to test a man's character, give him power." Too many Americans, in their deep naivete about power, seem to buy Fried's unremunerated = blameless argument implicity. They truly think that money-grubbing is the strongest temptation there is, ignoring the siren call that power-grabbing has, and the atrocities it enjoys, or even, to the corrupt, consists in. To such, power is but the ability to do the utterly, universally forbidden with impunity.

Fried himself, still mired in ran-Contra thinking, still doesn't seem to recognize that not-for-the-money is the Royalist Defense, not even proof of good intentions (which themselves don't count for jackshit), rather, the last resort of those who don't have to do much of anything for money, hence they make their mission fucking with other peoples' lives. It provides meaning, structure and self-esteem to Princelings, Princesses, and Prigs like Fried. And it's one more reason why, as Diderot said, "Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest."

I'll conclude with, as they're fond of saying over at the American Conservative, a little "interesting counterfactual alternative": Suppose George W. Bush had actually been held accountable for the felonious insider trades he perpetrated at Harken Energy instead of having the affair whitewashed by the SEC becuase he was the President's son. Said felonies would almost certainly have prevented him from rising to the White House, and America might have been spared the almost bottomless harm and opprobium that have resulted from his administration.

If the Democrats heed Mr. Fried's assinine rationale and hold nobody accountable, it will be the biggest blunder since Neville Chamberlain's. We can only hope that Obama upholds his oath in this matter.


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