The two greatest visions of a future dystopia were George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” The debate, between those who watched our descent towards corporate totalitarianism, was who was right. Would we be, as Orwell wrote, dominated by a repressive surveillance and security state that used crude and violent forms of control? Or would we be, as Huxley envisioned, entranced by entertainment and spectacle, captivated by technology and seduced by profligate consumption to embrace our own oppression? It turns out Orwell and Huxley were both right. Huxley saw the first stage of our enslavement. Orwell saw the second.
We have been gradually disempowered by a corporate state that, as Huxley foresaw, seduced and manipulated us through sensual gratification, cheap mass-produced goods, boundless credit, political theater and amusement. While we were entertained, the regulations that once kept predatory corporate power in check were dismantled, the laws that once protected us were rewritten and we were impoverished. Now that credit is drying up, good jobs for the working class are gone forever and mass-produced goods are unaffordable, we find ourselves transported from “Brave New World” to “1984.” The state, crippled by massive deficits, endless war and corporate malfeasance, is sliding toward bankruptcy. It is time for Big Brother to take over from Huxley’s feelies, the orgy-porgy and the centrifugal bumble-puppy. We are moving from a society where we are skillfully manipulated by lies and illusions to one where we are overtly controlled.
Orwell warned of a world where books were banned. Huxley warned of a world where no one wanted to read books. Orwell warned of a state of permanent war and fear. Huxley warned of a culture diverted by mindless pleasure. Orwell warned of a state where every conversation and thought was monitored and dissent was brutally punished. Huxley warned of a state where a population, preoccupied by trivia and gossip, no longer cared about truth or information. Orwell saw us frightened into submission. Huxley saw us seduced into submission. But Huxley, we are discovering, was merely the prelude to Orwell. Huxley understood the process by which we would be complicit in our own enslavement. Orwell understood the enslavement. Now that the corporate coup is over, we stand naked and defenseless. We are beginning to understand, as Karl Marx knew, that unfettered and unregulated capitalism is a brutal and revolutionary force that exploits human beings and the natural world until exhaustion or collapse.
“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake,” Orwell wrote in “1984.” “We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.”
The political philosopher Sheldon Wolin uses the term “inverted totalitarianism” in his book “Democracy Incorporated” to describe our political system. It is a term that would make sense to Huxley. In inverted totalitarianism, the sophisticated technologies of corporate control, intimidation and mass manipulation, which far surpass those employed by previous totalitarian states, are effectively masked by the glitter, noise and abundance of a consumer society. Political participation and civil liberties are gradually surrendered. The corporation state, hiding behind the smokescreen of the public relations industry, the entertainment industry and the tawdry materialism of a consumer society, devours us from the inside out. It owes no allegiance to us or the nation. It feasts upon our carcass.
The corporate state does not find its expression in a demagogue or charismatic leader. It is defined by the anonymity and facelessness of the corporation. Corporations, who hire attractive spokespeople like Barack Obama, control the uses of science, technology, education and mass communication. They control the messages in movies and television. And, as in “Brave New World,” they use these tools of communication to bolster tyranny. Our systems of mass communication, as Wolin writes, “block out, eliminate whatever might introduce qualification, ambiguity, or dialogue, anything that might weaken or complicate the holistic force of their creation, to its total impression.”
The result is a monochromatic system of information. Celebrity courtiers, masquerading as journalists, experts and specialists, identify our problems and patiently explain the parameters. All those who argue outside the imposed parameters are dismissed as irrelevant cranks, extremists or members of a radical left. Prescient social critics, from Ralph Nader to Noam Chomsky, are banished. Acceptable opinions have a range of A to B. The culture, under the tutelage of these corporate courtiers, becomes, as Huxley noted, a world of cheerful conformity, as well as an endless and finally fatal optimism. We busy ourselves buying products that promise to change our lives, make us more beautiful, confident or successful as we are steadily stripped of rights, money and influence. All messages we receive through these systems of communication, whether on the nightly news or talk shows like “Oprah,” promise a brighter, happier tomorrow. And this, as Wolin points out, is “the same ideology that invites corporate executives to exaggerate profits and conceal losses, but always with a sunny face.” We have been entranced, as Wolin writes, by “continuous technological advances” that “encourage elaborate fantasies of individual prowess, eternal youthfulness, beauty through surgery, actions measured in nanoseconds: a dream-laden culture of ever-expanding control and possibility, whose denizens are prone to fantasies because the vast majority have imagination but little scientific knowledge.”
Our manufacturing base has been dismantled. Speculators and swindlers have looted the U.S. Treasury and stolen billions from small shareholders who had set aside money for retirement or college. Civil liberties, including habeas corpus and protection from warrantless wiretapping, have been taken away. Basic services, including public education and health care, have been handed over to the corporations to exploit for profit. The few who raise voices of dissent, who refuse to engage in the corporate happy talk, are derided by the corporate establishment as freaks.
Attitudes and temperament have been cleverly engineered by the corporate state, as with Huxley’s pliant characters in “Brave New World.” The book’s protagonist, Bernard Marx, turns in frustration to his girlfriend Lenina:
“Don’t you wish you were free, Lenina?” he asks.
“I don’t know what you mean. I am free, free to have the most wonderful time. Everybody’s happy nowadays.”
He laughed, “Yes, ‘Everybody’s happy nowadays.’ We have been giving the children that at five. But wouldn’t you like to be free to be happy in some other way, Lenina? In your own way, for example; not in everybody else’s way.”“I don’t know what you mean,” she repeated.
The façade is crumbling. And as more and more people realize that they have been used and robbed, we will move swiftly from Huxley’s “Brave New World” to Orwell’s “1984.” The public, at some point, will have to face some very unpleasant truths. The good-paying jobs are not coming back. The largest deficits in human history mean that we are trapped in a debt peonage system that will be used by the corporate state to eradicate the last vestiges of social protection for citizens, including Social Security. The state has devolved from a capitalist democracy to neo-feudalism. And when these truths become apparent, anger will replace the corporate-imposed cheerful conformity. The bleakness of our post-industrial pockets, where some 40 million Americans live in a state of poverty and tens of millions in a category called “near poverty,” coupled with the lack of credit to save families from foreclosures, bank repossessions and bankruptcy from medical bills, means that inverted totalitarianism will no longer work.
We increasingly live in Orwell’s Oceania, not Huxley’s The World State. Osama bin Laden plays the role assumed by Emmanuel Goldstein in “1984.” Goldstein, in the novel, is the public face of terror. His evil machinations and clandestine acts of violence dominate the nightly news. Goldstein’s image appears each day on Oceania’s television screens as part of the nation’s “Two Minutes of Hate” daily ritual. And without the intervention of the state, Goldstein, like bin Laden, will kill you. All excesses are justified in the titanic fight against evil personified.
The psychological torture of Pvt. Bradley Manning—who has now been imprisoned for seven months without being convicted of any crime—mirrors the breaking of the dissident Winston Smith at the end of “1984.” Manning is being held as a “maximum custody detainee” in the brig at Marine Corps Base Quantico, in Virginia. He spends 23 of every 24 hours alone. He is denied exercise. He cannot have a pillow or sheets for his bed. Army doctors have been plying him with antidepressants. The cruder forms of torture of the Gestapo have been replaced with refined Orwellian techniques, largely developed by government psychologists, to turn dissidents like Manning into vegetables. We break souls as well as bodies. It is more effective. Now we can all be taken to Orwell’s dreaded Room 101 to become compliant and harmless. These “special administrative measures” are regularly imposed on our dissidents, including Syed Fahad Hashmi, who was imprisoned under similar conditions for three years before going to trial. The techniques have psychologically maimed thousands of detainees in our black sites around the globe. They are the staple form of control in our maximum security prisons where the corporate state makes war on our most politically astute underclass—African-Americans. It all presages the shift from Huxley to Orwell.
“Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling,” Winston Smith’s torturer tells him in “1984.” “Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”
The noose is tightening. The era of amusement is being replaced by the era of repression. Tens of millions of citizens have had their e-mails and phone records turned over to the government. We are the most monitored and spied-on citizenry in human history. Many of us have our daily routine caught on dozens of security cameras. Our proclivities and habits are recorded on the Internet. Our profiles are electronically generated. Our bodies are patted down at airports and filmed by scanners. And public service announcements, car inspection stickers, and public transportation posters constantly urge us to report suspicious activity. The enemy is everywhere.
Those who do not comply with the dictates of the war on terror, a war which, as Orwell noted, is endless, are brutally silenced. The draconian security measures used to cripple protests at the G-20 gatherings in Pittsburgh and Toronto were wildly disproportionate for the level of street activity. But they sent a clear message—DO NOT TRY THIS. The FBI’s targeting of antiwar and Palestinian activists, which in late September saw agents raid homes in Minneapolis and Chicago, is a harbinger of what is to come for all who dare defy the state’s official Newspeak. The agents—our Thought Police—seized phones, computers, documents and other personal belongings. Subpoenas to appear before a grand jury have since been served on 26 people. The subpoenas cite federal law prohibiting “providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations.” Terror, even for those who have nothing to do with terror, becomes the blunt instrument used by Big Brother to protect us from ourselves.
“Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating?” Orwell wrote. “It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself.”
Reagan's secret legacy....
On this, the one-hundredth birthday of Ronald Reagan, the Reagan worshippers are coming out of the woodwork. It seems that the self-appointed leaders of the “Tempest in the Teapot” party (or whatever they call themselves), even Obama himself, are trying to ride Reagan’s fame to new political heights. That’s good, because Reagan had a serious weakness, his notoriety associated with his extremist beliefs, which we should all take time to remember today.
Ronald Reagan did something very bad to this country; he planted a poisonous seed that has now put forth fully ripened fruit, in our own era, fruit which makes the heart cold and intoxicates the minds, filling them with visions of untold wealth and power. Reagan imbibed deeply on his own poison, giving substance to his own hallucinatory visions, which he shared with his followers. It his delusional military and economic theories that are directly responsible for the dual crises that threaten the civilized world today. His nonsensical faith-based “supply-side economics” theory (which George Bush described as “voodoo economics”) set loose the dangerous speculative economics that have plagued us, giving credence to the “borrow our way to prosperity” theories that have imperiled the world economy.
His was a “faith-based” policy, in that it required a leap of blind faith in Reagan’s promises, that the investor class would reinvest the enormous profits Reagan was sending their way, back into the American economy. Instead, they pocketed the cash, sending much of it to offshore bank accounts, or into building new factories in “Third World” countries, instead of modernizing American production lines. In short, Reagan promised that if we basically trusted his plan his rich friends would turn the American economy around, after he basically handed them the keys to the national treasury.
Deregulation took the lid off. In effect, financial institutions were urged to adapt the same policies used by the CIA over the years to raise cash for covert operations. Risky investments were encouraged, any investments, so long as there was some form of cash flowing or other capital to be used as new collateral for new loans, to increase investment pools for new ventures. Reagan unleashed a massive pyramid scheme, to use as a weapon to economically bludgeon Russia and its allies. In the end, all of us have come to feel the hard end of the economic weapon.
His crazy ideas of hiring militants to fight our enemies for us (so that the American military and the CIA might disavow the contracts) have lived on, eventually coming back to bite us all on the ass, in today’s “war on terrorism.” The war in Afghanistan, then Iraq, soon in Pakistan as well, are all clean-up operations, trying to eliminate some of the same militant groups which we have created to fight for us in the past.
The “Reagan revolutionaries,” who came to be known as the “neocons,” were masters in the science of propaganda, having spent their academic years studying European fascism (under the pretense of finding preventive measures with which to defend against new fascism). The key to effective propaganda is the ability to say one thing publicly and mean the exact opposite of that thing, revealing the truth only to a select group of insiders. The “neoconservatives” successfully took over the “conservative movement by using this technique. Both groups used the same words and phrases, but the neocons group lied about their definitions, using those words instead, as code words, understandable only to the elite, who knew that when Reagan spoke of reining-in the multinational corporations, he really intended to empower them. When he spoke of deregulation and privatization as being keys to unlocking the American economy, the insiders knew that only the wealthy few would be deregulated and that privatization would not improve anyone’s lives, other than the American oligarchs who would be handed vast segments of federal programs to cannibalize for their own profits, just like Russia’s oligarchs.
Which of Reagan’s many delusional values should Americans really want to “reconnect with”? The “patriotism” reflected in his “crusade for democracy,” which turned-out to be a front for international destabilization and limited warfare operations. His National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has been behind every “colored revolution” in former Soviet space. The attempts by these funded groups to foment democratic revolutions in Iran, Tunisia and Egypt have manipulated growing discontent, to agitate the masses and initiate popular reactions against America’s favorite puppets, puppets which have been targeted by the NED revolutionaries for regime change. The conceit that motivates Obama’s minions to destabilize the Middle East and Africa, as well as Central Asia, to further American plans for world control is a threat to the entire world.
The events now unfolding across North Africa are another American psy-op gone public (SEE: Egypt protests: America’s secret backing for rebel leaders behind uprising ), just like the recent Kyrgyz uprisings and the previous Future Movement attempts to ignite an anti-Hezbollah civil war in Lebanon. Having failed in its previous attempts to takeover the former Soviet governments through the so-called “colored revolutions,” and in its attempts in former Soviet Georgia to ignite a war against Russia, the American “deep state” has returned to its scheme to use democratic revolution to force its will upon the world.
Reagan’s team peddled a synthetic version of “democratic-revolution,” creating popular revolutions against targeted regimes, that were really not really “of the people,” even though they were obviously “by the people.” The legions of government scientists and psychologists had finally figured-out how to magnify negative emotions and to manipulate behavior, through a combination of bribery, threats and appeals to false ideals, so that the people themselves could be turned into guided weapons, much like the psychology of a suicide bomber. Reagan’s “Project Democracy” was a form of low-level warfare, capable of “weaponizing” the masses and directing them at their own governments.
Everyday people by the hundreds of thousands have been deceived by sincere-sounding agitators into putting their lives at risk in the streets, unleashing their anger in reaction to provocation. A real revolution “of the People” does not have an already formed “unity government” waiting in the wings, while agitators steer the “people power” revolution in the streets.
Every national politician since Reagan, of either party, has supported the chain of lies that the Reagan years have strengthened this country. All news media since the very beginning have promoted this idea, maintaining the fiction that this country has not been in regression, both economically and militarily, ever since Reagan unleashed his revolution. The sad truth is, that this country will continue its deadly downhill slide until we all realize just how badly we have been lied to by all of our leaders and take our own actions to correct the course that they have set us upon. Until we bravely face the truth about the total lack of truth in all of our national leaders and stand-up to them all, America is doomed.
Until we break free from this dumbed-down alternative America that Reagan has locked us into, by actually overthrowing the system that keeps empowering the cut-throats and the liars, we will never know true American greatness. Until we face the truth about who we are and understand why most of the world now hates us as the “evil empire” (a complete reversal of roles from Reagan’s world), we will not understand or see the path to national salvation which still lies open before us. Until the day that we take the future away from people like Obama and Palin, and Bush and Reagan, and Clinton and Gore, Bush and Cheney, we will truly have no future. Until we face the facts about just how wrong our leaders have all been and see the intricate blanket of lies used to cover their crimes, we will be unable to do anything to save ourselves.
Sitting idly by, while the Obama government endangers the roots of civilization itself, squandering any remaining investment potential in a failing gambit to save the American system of organized robbery and government by extortion, is not an option. If Obama is going to continue Reagan’s quest to overthrow the world order, forcing global “regime change,” then we will have no other choice but to defeat him and disrupt the great plan. If revolution is America’s last remaining exportable product, then it must also be revolution here at home.
There are two visions or ideologies that are propelling this country into the future, one of these visions promotes the idea that all of our counterfeit government leaders are instead, great men, with Ronald Reagan being venerated as perhaps among the greatest of all men. This political vision, or ideology, which has been carefully crafted by psychological warfare experts for our entertainment and control, glorifies what America has done to the world over the past thirty years, under the guise of sowing the seeds of Democracy and protecting them. This Reagan-worshipping cult of personality is content with Reagan’s original plan for a two-tiered America (kept in power by endless military adventurism), divided very unequally between a small, powerful, ruling elite and their mercenary force of bureaucratic technocrats, and the rest of us.
Then there is America’s alternative vision, one shared by a rapidly growing grass-roots movement, which focuses upon America’s secret military history. This vision, shared by much of the rest of the human race considers America’s string of “limited wars” to be a series of war crimes, military acts of aggression, which are more accurately defined as terrorism than as legitimate military action, since all of the mercenary forces hired or tricked into fighting for us have been “non-military combatants” (thugs, criminals and jihadists). In reality, America’s secret wars were dishonorable adventurism that real patriots or a heroic warrior class would not be associated with.
America’s alternative news services exist to post reports about America’s secret news, reports on countless little wars of aggression, that have been waged upon both friends and foes alike. Until America produces a generation of American leaders who are both willing to take-on the real debate about the American deep state at the state or national level and run on an anti-war-crime platform, then nothing will get better.
Reagan was not a “noble warrior,” riding on a white horse, come to save America. Nay, he was the slayer of America, riding a pale horse, come to finish-off what previous Empire-builders had started. Despite Reagan’s politically charged rhetoric, we know that the Empire he seduced us into helping him build was not American at all, except for a few of the multinational corporations with home offices in New York.
Reagan’s revolution was a counterfeit revolution, taking America in a direction the Founding Fathers never intended. History has been hijacked by an international cartel, intent upon creating a Fascist global government, subservient to the dictates of the cartel. Reagan and all those who come after him have merely been puppets of that international cartel. The sooner we all face that fact the sooner we begin a real resistance movement here in our homeland. Honoring Reagan or the forces he has set into motion is a disservice to the past.
The political crisis sweeping the Middle East is another part of Ronald Reagan’s dark legacy that is shattering into chaos even as the United States prepares to lavishly celebrate his 100th birthday.
Upon taking office in 1981, Reagan turned the United States onto a new course, away from Jimmy Carter’s intensive Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and toward tolerance of the Likud strategy of expanding settlements on the West Bank and lashing out at Israel’s enemies in Lebanon and the Occupied Territories.
This Reagan-Likud cooperation also affected politics and media inside the United States. In the early 1980s, with Reagan’s assistance and blessings, a group of articulate operatives known as neoconservatives emerged as a powerful political/media force. Their dual role was to buttress U.S. support for the security interests of Israel and to rebuild a consensus around the U.S. global agenda, which had been shattered by the Vietnam War.
The neocons – through their work inside the Reagan administration and in key parts of the U.S. news media, such as The New Republic and the Washington Post’s opinion section – became, in essence, the arbiters of Washington’s conventional wisdom, setting the parameters of acceptable debate.
Even before the days of Fox News, their voices were prominent on the TV talk shows, the likes of Charles Krauthammer, Fred Barnes and William Kristol, or as publishers of influential opinion journals, such as Martin Peretz, Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz.
As the Reagan era advanced in the 1980s, journalists and politicians who showed skepticism about U.S. foreign policy — the sort of attitude that had been common in the 1970s — were dismissed as “blame America firsters,” a phrase coined by Reagan’s UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick.
Skeptics who continued to insist on challenging the Reagan/neocon propaganda saw their careers damaged or destroyed.
More malleable journalists ensured their status in the well-paying world of Washington media by bending to the prevailing winds. Many politicians did the same, recognizing the trouble they could get into by crossing Reagan’s team and its ideological heirs.
Reagan’s Middle East policy shifts — and the influence of the neocons — created space for Israel’s Likudniks to pay lip service to granting Palestinians a homeland while systematically encroaching onto more and more Palestinian land, a process that Likud called “changing the facts on the ground.” The expanding settlements essentially killed chances for a viable Palestinian state.
Reagan’s approach, in effect, turned the Middle East into a political pressure cooker with the Arab “street” steaming over the humiliations of the Palestinians and furious over the timidity of bought-off Arab leaders.
As the pressure built – with occasional outbursts of Muslim outrage, including acts of terrorism – Washington’s desire for “stability” required ever more repression. The Reagan administration stepped up security assistance to the region’s dictators.
Leading to Invasion
The cumulative effect of Reagan’s tough-guy legacy – and the neocons’ climb to the top of Washington’s opinion hierarchy – paved the way for George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq with remarkably little resistance from the U.S. media/political elite.
The Iraq invasion represented the fulfillment of the idea that American force could bring into line Muslim governments that resisted U.S. dictates or that threatened Israel.
In the heady days after Saddam Hussein was knocked from power, the neocons joked about whether to turn next to Syria or Iran. The thinking went that once those nation-state targets were neutralized Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestine’s Hamas would have no choice but to beg for peace on whatever terms Israel deigned to offer.
However, events didn’t work out quite the way the neocons had diagrammed. After the initial victory in Iraq, the war went badly. The dreams of imposing pro-U.S./pro-Israeli regimes in Syria and Iran had to be deferred. Indeed, the U.S. ouster of Sunni leader Saddam Hussein in Iraq ended up increasing the relative power of Shiite-ruled Iran.
Closer to Israel, Hezbollah and Hamas – rather than pleading for mercy – grew stronger, while pro-U.S. dictators in places like Egypt, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Jordan grew more unpopular. Many Egyptians sharply criticized President Hosni Mubarak for standing aside while Israel’s military pummeled Gaza in a brutal campaign in late 2008 and early 2009.
Meanwhile, the global financial collapse that marked the end of Bush’s Reagan-redux presidency added more steam to the Middle East pressure cooker, which was getting ready to blow. The only question was when.
The explosion started with a popular uprising in Tunisia, where the longtime dictator Ben Ali resigned and fled into exile. The popular revolt soon spread to Egypt, the most populous Arab country.
There, massive street demonstrations forced Mubarak to agree not to seek reelection, though protesters have kept up their demands that he leave immediately. Monarchies in Jordan and Saudi Arabia were shaken, too.
So, even as a lavish celebration is readied for Reagan’s 100th birthday — including a special act of homage to the late president at the Super Bowl — the Middle East is becoming just the latest part of his legacy to come undone.
The region now appears to be careening toward potentially bloody upheavals and possibly future war, especially if Israel with its high-tech weapons (and nuclear arsenal) fears its survival is threatened.
A Different Narrative
Things could have been very different if Reagan had not succeeded in wresting the White House from Jimmy Carter in 1980.
Carter was pushing a starkly different approach to the region, pressuring Israel to surrender Arab lands conquered in 1967 in exchange for peace agreements with its neighbors.
In 1978, Carter secured the first step in this peace process, the Camp David Accords in which Israel’s Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin agreed to return the Sinai to Egypt in a peace deal.
However, Begin was furious, feeling that Carter had bullied him into accepting the arrangement. Beyond that resentment, Begin feared that Carter would use his second term to push Israel into accepting a Palestinian state on West Bank lands that Likud considered part of Israel’s divinely granted territory.
Former Mossad and Foreign Ministry official David Kimche described Begin’s fury in the 1991 book, The Last Option.
Kimche wrote that Israeli officials had gotten wind of “collusion” between Carter and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat “to force Israel to abandon her refusal to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
Kimche continued, “This plan – prepared behind Israel’s back and without her knowledge – must rank as a unique attempt in United States’s diplomatic history of short-changing a friend and ally by deceit and manipulation.”
However, Begin recognized that the scheme required Carter winning a second term in 1980 when, Kimche wrote, “he would be free to compel Israel to accept a settlement of the Palestinian problem on his and Egyptian terms, without having to fear the backlash of the American Jewish lobby.”
In his 1992 memoir, Profits of War, Ari Ben-Menashe, an Israeli military intelligence officer who worked with Likud, agreed that Begin and other Likud leaders held Carter in contempt.
“Begin loathed Carter for the peace agreement forced upon him at Camp David,” Ben-Menashe wrote. “As Begin saw it, the agreement took away Sinai from Israel, did not create a comprehensive peace, and left the Palestinian issue hanging on Israel’s back.”
So, in order to buy time for Israel to move more Jewish settlers into the West Bank, Begin felt Carter’s reelection had to be prevented. A different president also presumably would give Israel a freer hand to deal with problems on its northern border with Lebanon.
The evidence is now clear that Begin found that new partnership with Ronald Reagan and his foreign policy team. Begin would do what he could to help Reagan defeat Carter in 1980, finally sliencing Carter’s incessant nagging.
Though Carter may not have understood his predicament, his position was even more precarious because he had made other powerful enemies, including the CIA’s “Old Boys” network. His CIA director, Stansfield Turner, had reined in their operations and cashiered some of their leaders, the likes of Ted Shackley who left the operations directorate and went to work for the campaign of former CIA Director George H.W. Bush.
In the Republican primaries, Bush competed with Reagan for the nomination but ultimately accepted the second spot on the GOP ticket, bringing along Shackley and a host of other disgruntled CIA veterans who were itching for payback against Jimmy Carter.
Carter’s human rights lectures also had riled America’s right-wing and anti-communist allies, especially after the brutal Shah of Iran was driven from power by a popular uprising in late 1978 only to get replaced by the similarly brutal Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Carter was viewed as a bumbling do-gooder who needed to be shown the door for the good of the Western world. Reagan, a former B-movie actor, may not have been the optimal replacement, but he was surrounded by Republican national security experts, including Bush, who knew their way around the global chessboard.
‘CIA Within the CIA’
In 1990, looking back on those events, legendary CIA officer Miles Copeland told me that “the CIA within the CIA” – the inner-most circle of powerful intelligence figures who felt they understood best the strategic needs of the United States – believed Carter and his naïve faith in American democratic ideals represented a grave threat to the nation.
“Carter really believed in all the principles that we talk about in the West,” Copeland said, shaking his mane of white hair. “As smart as Carter is, he did believe in Mom, apple pie and the corner drug store. And those things that are good in America are good everywhere else. …
“Carter, I say, was not a stupid man,” Copeland said, adding that Carter had an even worse flaw: “He was a principled man.”
The anti-Carter sentiments of “the CIA within the CIA” and Begin’s Likudniks appeared to stem from their genuine beliefs that they needed to protect what they regarded as vital interests of their respective countries. The CIA Old Boys thought they understood the true strategic needs of the United States – and Likud believed fervently in a “Greater Israel.”
Both groups saw Carter as a dangerous threat.
But the lingering mystery of Campaign 1980 is whether these two groups followed their strongly held feelings into a secret operation in league with Republicans to prevent Carter from gaining the release of 52 U.S. hostages then held in Iran and thus torpedoing his reelection hopes.
Carter’s inability to resolve that hostage crisis did set the stage for Reagan’s landslide victory in November 1980 as American voters reacted to the long-running hostage humiliation by turning to a candidate they believed would be a tougher player vis-à-vis America’s enemies.
Reagan’s macho image was reinforced when the Iranians released the hostages immediately after he was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 1981, ending the 444-day standoff.
The coincidence of timing, which Reagan’s supporters cited as proof that foreign enemies feared the new president, gave momentum to Reagan’s larger agenda, including sweeping tax cuts tilted toward the wealthy, reduced government regulation of corporations, and renewed reliance on fossil fuels. (Carter’s solar panels were removed from the White House roof.)
Reagan’s victory also was great news for CIA cold-warriors who were rewarded with the choice of World War II spymaster (and dedicated cold-warrior) William Casey to be CIA director.
Casey then purged CIA analysts who were detecting a declining Soviet Union that desired détente. He replaced them with people like the young and ambitious Robert Gates, who agreed that the Soviets were on the march and that the United States needed a massive military expansion to counter them.
Casey also embraced old-time CIA swashbuckling in Third World countries and took pleasure in misleading or berating members of Congress when they insisted on the CIA oversight that had been forced on President Gerald Ford and had been accepted by President Carter. To Casey, CIA oversight became a game of hide-and-seek.
Time for Expansion
As for Israel, Begin was pleased to find the Reagan administration far less demanding about peace deals with the Arabs, giving Israel time to expand its West Bank settlements.
Reagan and his team also acquiesced to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, a drive north that expelled the Palestine Liberation Organization but also led to the slaughters at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. Israel’s Lebanon invasion eventually drew U.S. troops into the Lebanese civil war, with 241 getting killed by a suicide bombing on Oct. 23, 1983.
Behind the scenes, Reagan also gave a green light to Israeli weapons shipments to Iran (which was fighting a war with Israel’s greater enemy, Iraq). The weapons sales helped Israel rebuild its network of contacts inside Iran while creating large profits which helped finance West Bank settlements.
In another significant move, Reagan credentialed a new generation of pro-Israeli American ideologues known as the neocons. That paid big dividends for Israel as these bright operatives fought for Likud’s interests both inside the U.S. government and through their opinion-leading roles in the major American news media.
In other words, if the disgruntled CIA Old Boys and the determined Likudniks did participate in the so-called October Surprise scheme to sabotage Carter’s Iran-hostage negotiations and thus seal his doom, they surely got much of what they wanted.
Yet, while motive is an important element in solving a mystery, it does not constitute proof by itself. What must be examined is whether there is evidence that the motive was acted upon, whether Begin’s government and disaffected CIA officers covertly assisted the Reagan campaign in contacting Iranian officials to thwart Carter’s hostage negotiations.
This evidence is strong though perhaps not ironclad. A well-supported narrative does exist describing how the October Surprise scheme may have occurred with the help of CIA personnel, Begin’s government, some right-wing intelligence figures in Europe, and a handful of other powerbrokers in the United States. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “CIA/Likud Sinking of Jimmy Carter” or Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
It’s also clear that Reagan – after becoming president – did nothing to retaliate against Iran for the hostage-taking and instead rewarded Khomeini’s regime by secretly approving Israeli arms shipments to Iran. That hidden reality became apparent to some U.S. government officials after one of Israel’s supply planes crashed just inside Soviet territory on July 18, 1981.
In a PBS interview nearly a decade later, Nicholas Veliotes, Reagan’s assistant secretary of state for the Middle East, said he looked into the incident by talking to top administration officials who insisted that the State Department issue misleading guidance to the press.
“It was clear to me after my conversations with people on high that indeed we had agreed that the Israelis could transship to Iran some American-origin military equipment,” Veliotes said.
In checking out the Israeli flight, Veliotes came to believe that the Reagan camp’s dealings with Iran dated back to before the 1980 election.
“It seems to have started in earnest in the period probably prior to the election of 1980, as the Israelis had identified who would become the new players in the national security area in the Reagan administration,” Veliotes said. “And I understand some contacts were made at that time.”
If the October Surprise narrative is true, then Reagan’s Iran-Contra arms deals in 1984-86 would have been essentially a sequel, not a stand-alone story, with Iran getting more weapons in exchange for its help in freeing other American hostages then held in Lebanon.
Yet, whatever one thinks of the October Surprise story – whether you believe that the Republicans sabotaged President Carter or not – there can be little doubt that the shattering events of that period propelled the Middle East down a course that changed the region’s history – and has today left the world at another dangerous crossroads.
A three-decade epoch was begun with the neocons and the Reaganites emerging as the dominant forces in Washington; with stepped-up security protecting autocratic Arab leaders from the angry “street”; with Shiite-ruled Iran supplying militant Muslim organizations to undercut the mostly Sunni autocrats and to pressure Israel; and with Likud and its vision of a Greater Israel guaranteeing little sustainable progress toward a Palestinian state.
It was an epoch that Ronald Reagan and his foreign policy team helped launched in 1980-81; it was an epoch that Jimmy Carter’s second term might have prevented; and it is an epoch that may be collapsing into violence and disorder now.