Friday, November 28, 2014

Syrian Fantasies, Pundit Fantasies

Syrian Fantasies, Pundit Fantasies
P. Schultz
November 28, 2014

            Below is a link to an article by Robert Parry entitled “Official Washington’s Syrian ‘Fantasy.’” In that piece, Parry argues that official Washington, including President Obama, are basing their policies in Syria on the fantasy that there are “moderate” opponents to the Assad regime who, if properly funded and supplied, would be able to defeat both the radical opponents of the Assad regime and that regime itself. As Parry points out, even such an observer as David Ignatius knows that these alleged “moderates” are hard to find, to say nothing of being able to defeat the radicals and the Assad regime.

            While I agree with Parry’s argument about the alleged “moderates” the current US strategy is based on, it seems to me that his take on all of this is also fantastic or “fantasy based.” First, Parry, like so many others, paints President Obama as reluctantly going along with what Parry labels the “neo-cnservative” strategy of seeking regime change in Syria, even if it means embracing the fantasy that there are alleged “moderates” worth supporting. To wit:

“Though Obama may be a closet “realist” who would favor such a compromise approach, he has consistently lacked the political courage or the geopolitical foresight to impose this kind of solution on the powers-that-be in Washington. Any suggestion of collaboration with Russia and Iran or acquiescence to continued rule by Assad would touch off a firestorm of outrage in Congress and the mainstream U.S. media.”

            Well, while Parry might be correct, it could be that Obama is not “a closet ‘realist’” at all; it could be that he is actually a “realist,” that is, in the mode of the neo-cons. In other words, it could be that Obama isn’t just going along, reluctantly, with the neo-con strategy but has embraced it because he agrees with it. And he agrees with it because he is, at bottom, a status quo president, looking to maintain and fortify the current ruling class.

            And this brings me to a second observation: From the perspective of the current ruling class, there is little that is fantastic about their policy toward Syria and those opposed to the Assad regime. The goal is to create regime change in Syria, and any and all means will be embraced to accomplish this. This change will undermine Iran’s power as well as the power of Russia, while also further securing Israel, who of course and very tellingly stays out of the alleged war against ISIS or Assad’s Syria. The fantasy of their being “moderates” we can support is, as Parry notes, for the public’s consumption, the current version of those WMDs that Saddam allegedly possessed.

            What strikes me is the question: How many times can the ruling class play this game before enough people catch on to make this game unplayable? My answer is: As often as they want to play it, until someone with power, with the status of a player steps up and calls a spade a spade. Will that happen? I don’t think so, at least not in the current “climate” as controlled by the ruling class. Even the picture of Obama, the one embraced even by Parry, as being reluctantly but consistently dragged along into a “realistic” – read “militaristic” – foreign policy serves to control the climate by making it seem that there is no alternative, at least no viable alternative to such a policy. And by making it seem that he is being dragged along, Obama and the ruling class maintain and fortify the status quo by making it appear as the only viable way to be politically.

            And the really troubling thing, at least for me, is that the ruling class actually believes this. They cannot conceive of another way of being politically and so have trapped themselves – and us - in a way that perpetuates war and terrorism. As an older movie title had it: There is “No Way Out.”

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Madness of Our Politicians

The Madness of Our Politicians: Excerpt from Bacevich’s Washington Rules
P. Schultz
November 23, 2014

Read the following and recognize that those waging war in Vietnam knew, early on, that we could not “win” and yet they went ahead anyway:

            “One point deserves particular attention here.  For Bundy and others in the administration, the urge to act grew out of considerations unrelated to the crisis of the moment or even to Vietnam as such. The formal report rendered by the Bundy mission let the cat out of the bag: ‘We cannot assert that a policy of sustained reprisal will succeed in changing the course of events in Vietnam,’ that report acknowledged. ‘What we can say is that even if it fails, the policy will be worth it.’ The very act of bombing the North would demonstrate American will, ‘damp[ing] down the charge that we did not do all that we could have done.’ Pain inflicted on the North Vietnamese would ‘set a higher price for the future upon all adventures of guerilla warfare,’ thereby increasing ‘our ability to deter such adventures.’ In effect, the United States needed to bomb North Vietnam to affirm claims to global primacy and quash any doubts about American will. Somehow, in faraway Southeast Asia, the continued tenability of the Washington consensus was at stake.” [p. 98, first emphasis added to Bacevich]

You must remember that the same logic applied to the sending of troops to Nam and to whatever death toll this involved. In fact, given this logic, the higher the death toll to American troopers, the better – because it would illustrate that the US was serious! Now if this is not madness, then I don’t know the meaning of the word.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Democrats Reward Losers: Really?

Democrats Reward Losers: Really?
P. Schultz
November 19, 2014

            Below is a link to an article in the NY Times reporting that the Democrats have re-elected their leaders in the House of Representatives, including the unanimous election of Nancy Pelosi, as House minority leader. The article speculates that the Dems do not hold these people responsible for their losses. However, another possible explanation, one not incompatible with the first one, is that these “losses” are not all that important to the Democrats, at least not to the establishment Democrats because they help to fortify the status quo and, therewith, the power and privileges of these “kingpins.” Preserving the status quo requires as little change as possible, especially these days when public anger and disgust at our politicians is quite evident and intense. To assuage this anger and disgust without being turned out of office and without enacting significant changes that would undermine the prevailing alignment of political forces in the nation would seem to be the goal of those holding significant power now.

            In pursuit of such an agenda, it would be useful to create or embrace what are said to be divisive issues or to embrace some issues in a divisive way – say, the issue of immigration reform – so as to reinforce the idea that change, significant change is not possible. Or perhaps the issue of the Affordable Care Act could be kept alive, say by a forthcoming Supreme Court case, thereby keeping the focus on an issue already dealt with rather than on issues that might be dealt with anew.

            In any case, the result desired by the “leaders” of both parties is as little real change as they can get away with given the public’s all-too-justified anger and disgust. From this perspective, our political system is not “broken” at all; rather, it is functioning in pretty much the way its controllers want it to function.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War

Excerpts from Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, by James Risen
P. Schultz
November 16, 2014

            “In fact, endless American wars have been good for business for Amman [Jordan] and many of the Middle East’s other newly gleaming cities. Money from taxpayers in Wichita and Denver and Phoenix gets routed through the Pentagon and CIA and then ends up here, or in Baghdad or Dubai, or Doha or Kabul or Beirut, in the hands of contractors, subcontractors, their local business partners, local sheikhs, local Mukhabarat officers, local oil smugglers, local drug dealers – money that funds construction and real estate speculation in a few choice luxury districts, buildings that go up thanks to the sweat of imported Filipino and Bangladeshi workers kept on the job by their Saudi and Emirati bosses who confiscate their passports. In Wichita, Denver, and Phoenix, meanwhile, McDonald’s is hiring.” [p.124]

            One of the beneficiaries is a Palestinian named Nazem Houchaimi, who was “an asset of a secret intelligence program for the U.S. Special Operations Command.” Nazem knew about “moving money.” And he had profited greatly from his work for the U.S. He had profited so well that he was building “his new weekend estate,” which among other things would have “in-ground lighting, automatic sprinklers, a swimming pool, and a patio,” a house that “could be in Scottsdale [AZ].” [p. 125]

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Another "Failure?"

Another “Failure?”
P. Schultz
November 15, 2014

            Below is a link sent to me by a friend to an article on Libya and the results of the West’s “successful” overthrow of Gaddafi as the ruling tyrant of that nation. It led me, once again, to think about the fact that what are labeled “failures” are, quite often, not “failures” at all or are deliberate failures. And you would think that with so many of these “failures” happening that others would also begin to wonder, “Was that really a ‘failure,” that is, an outcome that was not intended?

            As one reads about the history and course of the Vietnam War, for example, it is impossible not to wonder, “Why?” That is, why did American politicians decide to follow the French into Vietnam and then to undertake, after the French left in defeat, their own war in that country? It wasn’t, as is so often said, a case of the arrogance of ignorance, as tempting as that explanation is to accept. There were more than enough people, even people with power, arguing that such a war was bound to end badly. Moreover, there was enough “data” about to convince almost anyone that this was or would be the case. So then, “Why?”

            Well, for me, part of the answer to this question deals with what might be called “the quagmire of US politics.” No, not the “quagmire of Vietnam;” the quagmire of US politics. People tend to forget that the 60s were a time of political upheaval or, more precisely, of attempts at political upheaval. That is, the reigning political order, the “regime,” was beginning to be attacked, by blacks, by hippies, by college students/boomers, by what was labeled “the drug culture,” by the “sexual revolution,” to name just some of the forces then arising. So, the “establishment,” the political class – which comprises both Republican and Democratic power brokers – took a stand and it took that stand in Vietnam, among other places. [Chicago was another place the political class took a stand, thank you very much, Mayor Daley. And, of course, there was also Kent State and Jackson State.]

            But also a failure in Vietnam, especially a costly failure there, one that followed a good deal of bloodshed, including of course a good deal of American blood being shed, would send a message, viz.: “The Communists are dangerous, even existential, enemies. Look at what they did in Vietnam, the murders, the tortures, and the bloodshed. We in the “West” must be always on our guard, always vigilant, always armed to the teeth. So let us not hear anything about dismantling ‘the military-industrial complex’ we, the ruling class, built following World War II. Such talk is naïve and even perhaps treasonous. Vietnam, even or especially our ‘failure’ there proves it! There are no viable alternatives to our way of doing politics and to try other ways would disrespect all those brave young people who died in the rice paddies of Vietnam.”

            So, not only failure but a costly failure served the purposes of ruling class, a result helped along by some of those who were dissenting. I mean the ruling class would have probably paid Jane Fonda’s travel expenses to go to “North” Vietnam given all the mileage they could reap from her adventure there.  What more evidence was needed to illustrate the “treasonous” character of those dissenting from the war? What more evidence of the character of the dissenters was needed than the “riots” they perpetrated in Chicago? Kent State and Jackson State? Yes, they were unfortunate events but then not all that surprising given the treasonous character of those dissenting. And, of course, such events only underlined how endangered our political system was at that time. More bloodshed to illustrate the seriousness of the situation.

            I could go on. For example, LBJ’s decision not seek re-election in order, allegedly, to “work for peace.” Note well: A president, a man with the best of intentions, driven from office by those dissenters; a president voluntarily giving up power to work for peace it meant so much to him, while the “long haired creeps” were in the streets of Chicago “rioting.” Another “failure” that was hardly a “failure.”

            So, when it is asked, as it is in the attached article, “As the country spun into chaos, violence, militia rule and anarchy as a direct result of the NATO intervention, they exhibited no interest whatsoever in doing anything to arrest or reverse that collapse. What happened to their deeply felt humanitarianism? Where did it go?” the answer is: They did not do anything “to arrest or reverse that collapse” because that collapse was the goal all along. That “failure” was not a failure at all or, if it were, it was one that served and serves the powers that be, that undergirds the ruling class and its power. Oh, Machiavelli would be proud, not surprised but proud.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Mid-Terms: Giving the Game Away

Mid-Terms: Giving the Game Away
P. Schultz
November 5, 2014

[Author’s note: I wrote the following before I saw and read the article in the New York Times cited below.]

            The 2014 mid-term elections give “the game” away. What is “the game?’ Preserving the status quo. What gives that game away? That the Democrats, along with the Republicans, rejected “Obama.” In fact, even Obama has gone along with rejecting “Obama!”

            The lesson for the many, for the people, who are pissed off: Only one kind of politics can succeed in the United States, viz., a politics of the status quo, and certainly not a politics of change. The “Obama” message, “Yes, we can,” which meant, “Yes, we can change!” has been rejected by all, and even by Obama himself.

            The new message is: “Oh no, we can’t!” Can’t what? Can’t change. Change has been co-opted by “cooperation.” And if one measure of a successful political order is a capacity for change, then it must be said that the US political order is a failed political order, as confirmed by these mid-term elections.

            Prediction or warning: Prepare for a Hillary v. Jeb election in 2016. A Clinton versus a Bush, yet again! Talk about an inability to change. The end.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Some Anti-Federalist Thoughts

Some Anti-Federalist Thoughts
P. Schultz
November 2, 2014

            Although it isn’t often that I devote some space to the Anti-Federalists, I will do so this evening, as I am reading a book entitled A Revolution In Favor of Government by Max Edling. It is a pretty good book but has some shortcomings when it comes to its presentation of the Anti-Federalists.

            On the good side, Edling reproduces this poem, from the South Carolina Gazette, published I suspect some time in the 1790s or so.

“The British armies could not here prevail,
Yet British politics shall turn the scale;
In five short years of Freedom weary grown
We quit our plain republics for a throne;
Congress  and President full proof shall bring,
A mere disguise for Parliament and King.”

            Edling also gets some of the Anti-Federalist thinking, to wit: “…the world was locked in a conflict between power and liberty. Only two actors were cast in this drama: the rulers, who were the agents of power, and the ruled, who were the agents of liberty. Power was regarded as by nature expansive and aggressive, with an inherent tendency to encroach on liberty. … The people had to keep up a constant watch on the actions of their rulers. This was so much more important, as power made inroads on popular liberty only gradually, at an almost imperceptible pace, rather than by bold and open actions.” [Pp. 40-41]

            This is all correct, as far as it goes. And it leads Edling to emphasize that these thoughts led the Anti-Federalists to oppose the newly drafted constitution because it created a potentially powerful government that would be far away and beyond the control of the people.

            But what Edling, like others, misses is that the Anti-Federalists were not just partisans of a certain kind of government but they were also partisans of a certain kind of society, what we could call “a middle class society.” And for the Anti-Federalists, a middle class society was not only one where most people were middle class but where most aspired to be middle class. Of course, no one wants to be poor; but also the Anti-Federalists saw problems with a society in which people would aspire to be upper class, in their language, “aristocrats.” In other words, far less than the Federalists, the Anti-Federalists were leery of “the ambitious,” those few who, in Hamilton’s words, “love fame, the ruling passion of the noblest minds.” In fact, the Anti-Federalists may be characterized as desiring to create governments which would not be appealing to “the ambitious” because their governments, being simple and of sharply limited power[s], would not provide the kind of stage “the ambitious” needed to satisfy their desires for fame and even immortality.

            It is in this light that the Anti-Federalists’ case for simple, local, and limited governments should be understood. It is a part of their desire to create or preserve the kind of society, a middle class society, they thought best. Even the conflict between the few and the many should be understood in this way, with the Anti-Federalists being opposed not to any elite but only to those elites, again in their jargon, “the aristocrats,” distinguished by “ambition,” especially great ambition. An Anti-Federalist elite would be "local" rather than national, it might be said, so long as it is remembered that the issue is dealing with ambition.

            A federal political arrangement, as “federal” was understood in 1787, was a political arrangement composed of small stages, so to speak, where small dramas would be played out. A national political arrangement would be composed of one big stage, where large dramas – or what look like large dramas – would be played out. In the latter, those who are most ambitious would pursue a national reputation, and would not be satisfied with a “local” reputation because it would not satisfy their love of fame. In the latter, those without national reputations would be, as it were, non-existent or invisible.

            To “work” well, a national political arrangement would need characters with national reputations and such characters would have to be “produced” in one way or another. And if securing such a reputation could be done by manipulating public opinion, or if they could be bought, then it would come to pass that such persons would be less substantial than their reputations implied.  Great powers would be given to people whose substance, whose character was suspect. This is, in part, what lay behind the Anti-Federalist rhetoric that seems so “negative” to us today. As Edling put it: “the Anti-Federalist argument was characterized by ‘extreme negativity.’” [Edling, p. 31]

            A federalist scheme does not need such characters given that it is a scheme that creates simple, local, and limited governments, or small stages whose “actors” would play and be expected to play small roles in small dramas. And while such a scheme does not hold the promise of excitement promised by a national scheme, it might just be a scheme that is within the capacities of most human beings. I can, of course, think of worse things.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Anti-Federalists' Prescience

The Anti-Federalists’ Prescience
P. Schultz
November 1, 2014

These quotes came to me from a friend. They are worth recalling every so often.

[1] Anti-Federalist Papers: Cato #5: "In my last number I endeavored to prove...[t]hat we would be governed by favorites and flatterers, or that a dangerous council would be collected from the great officers of state, -- that the ten miles square, if the remarks of one of the wisest men, drawn from the experience of mankind, may be credited, would be the asylum of the base, idle, avaricious and ambitious, and that the court would possess a language and manners different from yours" (

“Wherever they looked in the new Constitution the Anti-Federalists saw threats to civic virtue.  The federal city provided for would breed monarchical institutions and courtly habits, with their oppressive tendencies and with the effect 'above all [of] the perpetual ridicule of virtue’[1] (Storing, What the Anti-Federalists Were For, p. 20).