In remembrance of RFK’s assassination in 1968, we repost this article by Edward Curtin first published in 2018.
Early in 1968, Clyde Tolson, F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover’s deputy and bosom buddy, a key player in the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., expressed both the hope and intent of those making sure that there would never be another president by the name Kennedy, when he said about RFK that “I hope someone shoots and kills the son of a bitch.” Earlier, as reported by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in his new book, American Values: Lessons I Learned from My Family, the influential conservative Westbrook Pegler expressed this hope even more depravingly when he wished “that some white patriot of the Southern tier will spatter [Robert Kennedy’s] spoonful of brains in public premises before the snow flies.”
These sick men were not alone. Senator Robert Kennedy was a marked man. And he knew it. That he was nevertheless willing to stand up to the forces of hate and violence that were killing innocents at home and abroad is a testimony to his incredible courage and love of country. To honor such a man requires that we discover and speak the truth about those who killed him. The propaganda that he was killed by a crazed young Arab needs exposure.
When he was assassinated by a bullet to the back of his head on June 5, 1968, not by the accused patsy Sirhan Sirhan, who was standing in front of RFK, but by a conspiracy that clearly implicates U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies, not only did a precious and good man die, but so too did any chance for significant political change through the official political system, short of a miracle. We are still waiting for such a miracle.
Robert F. Kennedy’s death, following as it did the assassination by U.S. government forces of Dr. Martin Luther King two months earlier, marked an emphatic end to the sense of hope that marked the election to the presidency of his brother John in 1960. Henceforth, efforts to change the political system from within became moot; the coup d’état effected on November 22, 1963 with the CIA’s assassination of JFK was signed and sealed. RFK’s murder added the period to this sentence of rule by murderous deep state forces. And despite valiant efforts of dissent from outside the system since, the systemic war machine has rolled on and the economic stranglehold of the elites has tightened over the decades. An RFK presidency was this country’s last chance from within to save itself from the tyranny that has ensued.
We now live in a country that would be unrecognizable to anyone who died prior to 1968. All protest has become symbolic as the American Empire has expanded abroad through countless ongoing wars, coups and the undermining of foreign governments; civil liberties have been eviscerated; the wealthy elites, ably assisted by a corrupt political establishment, have made a mockery of economic justice; an endless war on terror and a national emergency engendered by the insider attacks of September 11, 2001 and enshrined in public consciousness with the planted emergency telephonic meme of 9/11 have been instituted to justify massive profits for the military-industrial complex; and a new and very dangerous Cold War with Russia has been resurrected to threaten the world with nuclear annihilation.
All this and more has vigorously been supported by every U.S. President since, Democrats as well as Republicans, with no exceptions, including the icons of the neo-liberals, Clinton and Obama, who have bombed and droned the world wide, smiling all the way. We live in very dark times indeed. If significant change ever comes to the United States, it will be a result of pressures from without, for the political system is rotten to the core, and almost without exception our political leaders are cowards and liars. This seems obviously true to me, though it pains me to admit it.
Fifty years have passed since RFK’s murder, and for those fifty years very few Americans have thought to question what is a conspicuous conspiracy. It is as though a painful exhaustion or a veil of denial set in in 1968, a year in which 536,000 plus American troops were waging war against the Vietnamese and the slaughter was horrendous. Body bags and slaughtered Vietnamese filled the TV screens. Chicago cops rioted and beat antiwar demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. American cities were exploding. Then the “peace candidate” Nixon, together with Kissinger, assumed the mantle of power only to increase the horror. War criminals ruled. It was a year when mere anarchy was loosed upon the world and the truth of Robert Kennedy’s assassination was lost in the storm. The manifest truth became latent, and there it has remained for most people all these years. All most people “know” is that RFK was assassinated by a crazy Arab guy. His name? Oh yeah, Sirhan Sirhan or something like that. It was so long ago and, anyway, it doesn’t matter anymore.But it does matter greatly.
The Trump administration is worried that Iraq is falling short on human rights obligations to detainees and is hampered by widespread corruption, according to a State Department assessment obtained by Foreign Policy, as the United States kicks off talks on Thursday that will help determine the future of the U.S. presence in the war-torn country.
As thousands of Islamic State prisoners sit in lengthy and sometimes undocumented pretrial detention that may pose constitutional questions, the Iraqi legal system is bogged down by an insufficient number of judges, overflowing facilities, and the use of bribes, a snapshot of Iraq’s corruption challenges that kicked off widespread anti-government protests last year.
Emma Sky: And that  national election was a very closely contested election. Iraqis of all persuasions and stripes went out to participate in that election. They'd become convinced that politics was the way forward, that they could achieve what they wanted through politics and not violence. To people who had previously been insurgents, people who'd not voted before turned out in large numbers to vote in that election. And during that election, the incumbent, Nouri al-Maliki, lost by 2 seats. And the bloc that won was a bloc called Iraqiya led by Ayad Allawi which campaigned on "NO" to sectarianism, really trying to move beyond this horrible sectarian fighting -- an Iraq for Iraqis and no sectarianism. And that message had attracted most of the Sunnis, a lot of the secular Shia and minority groups as well.
Kevin Sylvester: People who felt they'd been shut out during Maliki's regime basically -- or his governance.
Emma Sky: Yes, people that felt, you know, that they wanted to be part of the country called Iraq not -- they wanted to be this, they wanted Iraq to be the focus and not sect or ethnicity to be the focus. And Maliki refused to accept the results. He just said, "It is not right." He wanted a recount. He tried to use de-Ba'athification to eliminate or disqualify some Iraqiya members and take away the votes that they had gained. And he just sat in his seat and sat in his seat. And it became a real sort of internal disagreement within the US system about what to do? So my boss, Gen [Ray] Odierno, was adamant that the US should uphold the Constitutional process, protect the political process, allow the winning group to have first go at trying to form the government for thirty days. And he didn't think Allawi would be able to do it with himself as prime minister but he thought if you start the process they could reach agreement between Allawi and Maliki or a third candidate might appear who could become the new prime minister. So that was his recommendation.
Kevin Sylvester: Well he even calls [US Vice President Joe] Biden -- Biden seems to suggest that that's what the administration will support and then they do a complete switch around. What happened?
Emma Sky: Well the ambassador at the time was a guy who hadn't got experience of the region, he was new in Iraq and didn't really want to be there. He didn't have the same feel for the country as the general who'd been there for year after year after year.
Kevin Sylvester: Chris Hill.
Emma Sky: And he had, for him, you know 'Iraq needs a Shia strongman. Maliki's our man. Maliki's our friend. Maliki will give us a follow on security agreement to keep troops in country.' So it looks as if Biden's listening to these two recommendations and that at the end Biden went along with the Ambassador's recommendation. And the problem -- well a number of problems -- but nobody wanted Maliki. People were very fearful that he was becoming a dictator, that he was sectarian, that he was divisive. And the elites had tried to remove him through votes of no confidence in previous years and the US had stepped in each time and said, "Look, this is not the time, do it through a national election." So they had a national election, Maliki lost and they were really convinced they'd be able to get rid of him. So when Biden made clear that the US position was to keep Maliki as prime minister, this caused a huge upset with Iraqiya. They began to fear that America was plotting with Iran in secret agreement. So they moved further and further and further away from being able to reach a compromise with Maliki. And no matter how much pressure the Americans put on Iraqiya, they weren't going to agree to Maliki as prime minister and provided this opening to Iran because Iran's influence was way low at this stage because America -- America was credited with ending the civil war through the 'surge.' But Iran sensed an opportunity and the Iranians pressured Moqtada al-Sadr -- and they pressured him and pressured him. And he hated Maliki but they put so much pressure on to agree to a second Maliki term and the price for that was all American troops out of the country by the end of 2011. So during this period, Americans got outplayed by Iran and Maliki moved very much over to the Iranian camp because they'd guaranteed his second term.
Kevin Sylvester: Should-should the Obama administration been paying more attention? Should they have -- You know, you talk about Chris Hill, the ambassador you mentioned, seemed more -- at one point, you describe him being more interested in putting green lawn turf down on the Embassy in order to play la crosse or something. This is a guy you definitely paint as not having his head in Iraq. How much of what has happened since then is at the fault of the Obama administration? Hillary Clinton who put Chris Hill in place? [For the record, Barack Obama nominated Chris Hill for the post -- and the Senate confirmed it -- not Hillary.] How much of what happens -- has happened since -- is at their feet?
Emma Sky: Well, you know, I think they have to take some responsibility for this because of this mistake made in 2010. And Hillary Clinton wasn't very much involved in Iraq. She did appoint the ambassador but she wasn't involved in Iraq because President Obama had designated Biden to be his point-man on Iraq and Biden really didn't have the instinct for Iraq. He very much believed in ancient hatreds, it's in your blood, you just grow up hating each other and you think if there was anybody who would have actually understood Iraq it would have been Obama himself. You know, he understands identity more than many people. He understands multiple identities and how identities can change. He understands the potential of people to change. So he's got quite a different world view from somebody like Joe Biden who's always, you know, "My grandfather was Irish and hated the British. That's how things are." So it is unfortunate that when the American public had enough of this war, they wanted to end the war. For me, it wasn't so much about the troops leaving, it was the politics -- the poisonous politics. And keeping Maliki in power when his poisonous politics were already evident was, for me, the huge mistake the Obama administration made. Because what Maliki did in his second term was to go after his rivals. He was determined he was never going to lose an election again. So he accused leading Sunni politicians of terrorism and pushed them out of the political process. He reneged on his promises that he'd made to the tribal leaders who had fought against al Qaeda in Iraq during the surge. [She's referring to Sahwa, also known as Sons of Iraq and Daughters of Iraq and as Awakenings.] He didn't pay them. He subverted the judiciary. And just ended up causing these mass Sunni protests that created the environment that the Islamic State could rear its ugly head and say, "Hey!" And sadly -- and tragically, many Sunnis thought, "Maybe the Islamic State is better than Maliki." And you've got to be pretty bad for people to think the Islamic State's better.
Emma Sky is the author of THE UNRAVELING: HIGH HOPES AND MISSED OPPORTUNITIES IN IRAQ.