Friday, November 23, 2018

Road to Disaster: Part Two

Road To Disaster: Part Two
Peter Schultz

            As noted in an earlier posting, I am currently reading a book entitled The Road to Disaster: A New History of America’s Descent Into Vietnam, by Brian Van DeMark, which purports to use some recent scientific findings about decision-making in order to explain how decent, humane, and well-intentioned men, men of significant mental capacities could make such bad decisions as those which led the United States into the disaster that was Vietnam.

            Now early in the book, DeMark argues that John F. Kennedy and many of his administration were inexperienced with regard to how things worked in Washington and the American political system generally. In sum, they needed to be educated and DeMark argues that this education began with the Bay of Pigs invasion, another disaster of the Kennedy administration. DeMark argues that this “failure stemmed from inexperience and wishful thinking.” [8] So, assumptions were not examined, assumptions that were so “remarkably naïve, even preposterous “ that DeMark seems almost at a loss to explain why they were accepted by such intelligent men. And he turns to some academic research to try to make sense of these decisions.

            However, DeMark does not comment on the fact, which is pretty clear now, that the CIA and the Kennedy administration were at cross-purposes. That is, the CIA was trying to get Kennedy to embrace an invasion of Cuba with American troops and thought that, once the Bay of Pigs invasion began to fail, as they were sure it would, Kennedy would be forced to use American military power to ensure its success. And this would allow the CIA to accomplish what it wanted to accomplish, the overthrow of Castro and his Communist regime in Cuba.

            On the other hand, Kennedy had no desire and no intention of invading Cuba with American military power in order to overthrow Castro and his regime. So Kennedy went along with the CIA and its plans to invade Cuba even though he knew that such an invasion, which depended for success on the Cuban people rising up against Castro, would fail. This suited his purposes because Kennedy saw that this ‘failure” would make it possible for him to remove both Richard Bissell and Allen Dulles from the CIA, while also allowing him to move control of foreign policy into the White House for the most part. And, of course, Kennedy did both of these things in the aftermath of this “failure.”

            In other words, it is not necessary to seek answers from decision-making research for why what DeMark describes correctly as “naïve” and “preposterous” assumptions went unquestioned by otherwise intelligent and powerful men. These assumptions went unquestioned precisely because they served the purposes of both the CIA and Kennedy.  The CIA thought that these assumptions, even though they were naïve and preposterous, would force Kennedy to do what the CIA wanted done, authorize an American invasion of Cuba in order to overthrow the Castro regime. And Kennedy thought, correctly it turns out, that although these assumptions guaranteed the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, this would not be a bad thing because (a) there would be no American invasion of Cuba and (b) Kennedy could remove two of the most important members of “the old guard” in charge of foreign policy under Eisenhower, while (c) allowing him to gather more power to himself regarding foreign policy.

            And, generally speaking, when it appears that our politicians are making decisions based on assumptions that are, at best, controversial, it is worthwhile to ask whether or how these assumptions serve the purposes of these politicians. In the context of the Cold War, which is what DeMark is writing about, the widely embraced but controversial assumption that communism was a monolithic phenomenon devoted to conquering the world clearly served those who wanted to create a great nation able to impose its will on the world economically, politically, and militarily. Our politicians are more than willing to play the fool if it helps them secure their own power and purposes. And I imagine that DeMark’s history will provide many examples of those politicians and administrators making “bad decisions” based on assumptions that are naïve and even preposterous. The trick is to identify these purposes.

            Neither the purposes of the CIA nor of Kennedy in dealing with communist Cuba and Castro are hard to discern. The latter was committed to overthrowing Castro, thereby demonstrating its power, fortifying its status, and ensuring that it would continue to be intimately involved in America’s foreign policy. Kennedy, on the other hand, was seeking to establish a “New Frontier,” that is, a new way for America to be in the world, a way decidedly different than the world as seen by the Eisenhower administration and, perhaps, even earlier administrations. There was no room in this “New Frontier” for many of the policies and many of practitioners of the “old world” of Eisenhower, of the Dulles brothers, and of a CIA devoted to trying to control the world via covert activities such as overthrowing governments ala’ Iran and Guatemala.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Road to Disaster: A New History

Road To Disaster: A New History
Peter Schultz

            Last week I went to my local library to pick up a book and I stumbled upon another book entitled Road to Disaster: A New History of America’s Descent Into Vietnam, by Brian Van DeMark. So, even though I was skeptical that anything much new could be written about Vietnam, I checked it out and am glad I did.

            It is well-written and in the prologue DeMark clearly lays out his argument, viz., that “It [the history of America’s descent into Vietnam] is the more complex and sobering tale of well-intentioned individuals making bad decisions.” [xiv, italics in original] And he elaborates a bit more later in the prologue:

            “I wanted . . . to go beyond the powerful cliche’ of arrogant and ignorant men stumbling blindly into danger and disaster, to search for a deeper and more fundamental truth that explained their mistakes and failures in a way that took account of what I knew to be their essential decency and humanity.” [xxvii]

            Well, to save some time, let me just cut to the chase and ask: Can imperialists be “decent and humane?” Can they be “well-intentioned?” That is, is that allowed to them? Once you choose imperialistic policies, it could be that your attempts, your desire to be decent and humane are meaningless or irrelevant. That is, if you think that imperialism and decency and humanity can go together, you are, in all likelihood, delusional. Just consider in this regard not only Machiavelli’s politics but also that of Plato and Aristotle.

            It really is quite simple. If you want to be decent, humane, well-intentioned, you must forego imperialism, that is, the desire to rule the world. To see the people who took the United States into Vietnam as decent and humane is to miss the forest for the trees. As General Giap once pointed out to Robert McNamara when they got together to discuss the war: “The war was a tragedy for the Americans because they were imperialists trying to impose their will on the Vietnamese people. It was not, however, a tragedy for the Vietnamese as they successfully defeated the imperialists.”

            Without a recognition that (a) imperialism is necessarily and always indecent and inhumane and (b) that American foreign policy was imperialistic, it is impossible to understand why American leaders made “bad decision,” indecent decisions, inhumane decisions, over and over and over again, until they were defeated. Other explanations may be interesting but they do not, they cannot get to the heart of the matter.

Recommended reading: George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant.” 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

American Politics: How It Works.....or Doesn't Work

American Politics: How It Works…..or Doesn’t Work
P. Schultz

Below are some of my postings to Facebook that I made during the “battle,” largely one-sided, over whether Nancy Pelosi will be the next Speaker of the House. Not surprisingly, she is overwhelmingly supported by the establishment Democrats, you know, those who gave us Hillary for president with such wonderful results! There are also links to a couple of the articles that I was responding to

As I read this, Pelosi will win as the establishment Democrats are for her. The result? No real challenges to the status quo or, therefore, to Trump. Wait for the arguments: “We must move forward.” “It’s time put the past behind us.” “The American people want us to govern.” And so, just as happened in 2006 when the Dems took over the Congress they merely continued the status quo. Which is basically what Obama did for 8 years, embracing Bush’s policies just as Michelle embraced Shrub recently: “Oh, I just love him to death.”

Surprise, surprise: more Democrats lining up for Pelosi, as well as preserving the status quo, which means of course not taking on Trump in any way that would upset the current alignment of forces. The Democrats, that is, the establishment Democrats, are doing and will do what they did in 2006.....nothing significant. Again, my prediction: Pelosi will be Speaker of the House and the Dems will find a way not to confront Trump is any significant way. "We must move forward, people. We just must!" Which means of course we must stand still, we must preserve the status quo.

Pelosi: Struggling to maintain her power and the status quo policies she has supported for years. Forget the "gender issue." Merely trotted out to keep Pelosi and the establishment Democrats in power in order to continue the policies that they have supported for years/decades - endless wars, growing socio-economic inequality, no single payer health insurance, mass incarceration. mass deportations of immigrants. And keep one thing in mind: Whatever threat Trump represents to the likes of Pelosi et. al,, the insurgents in the Democratic Party are a greater threat to their power and their policies. If you want to see changes, significant changes in our foreign and domestic policies, then you should want to see Pelosi, et. al., deposed. But, my prediction, this ain't gonna happen. Steny Hoyer has already been selected as House majority leader and he is establishment through and through. The "blue wave" becomes meaningless with these guys and gals in power.

You want confirmation that Pelosi is nothing but a status quo politician? Here it is, disguised as praise in the NY Times: "As the first woman to become speaker, Ms. Pelosi, of California, is a history-making figure in Washington. She held the gavel from 2007 to 2011 and is considered by both Democrats and Republicans to be the most effective speaker in modern times. Were it not for her political skill and keen strategic sense, they say, President George W. Bush could not have secured the bank bailout he needed to halt an economic free fall and President Barack Obama could not have passed the Affordable Care Act." So, this means Pelosi helped bail out Bush/Republican Party - and of course did nothing about his wars - and helped kill single payer health care. What a leader! What a stateswoman! How would we ever survive with Pelosi? Got me.

“Drama” over. Pelosi “wins” and real change loses. Same shit, different day! Just as I said: As much drama as whether Kavanaugh would be confirmed and how Susan Collins would vote. Once you understand that American politics is almost all smoke and mirrors, most of the “drama” disappears. But hey, we can still obsess about Trump, can’t we?

Some uncertainty in the media over whether Pelosi has "won" or not. But, note well, if she loses it will because of "a band of disgruntled Democrats, led mostly by men, standing against the sweep of nationally-known Pelosi allies." Oh my, oh my: don't want to be a "disgruntled man . . . standing against [the ] nationally-known," do we? Heaven forbid! But, WTF, count me in this group of disgruntled men. Pelosi represents no or little change. As one of her female critics argued: ""It isn't about her, it's about wanting new leadership," said [Abigail] Spanberger, a former CIA operative who defeated tea party Republican Rep. Dave Brat in suburban Richmond. "There isn't anything she could say, because the decision isn't about her."

“Blue wave” you say? Not under Pelosi and most other Democrats. They would rather maintain their power than take on Trump and other Republicans. And that’s because, by and large, they agree with Trump’s politics. Hence, they can “find common ground” with him. Our political order: Corrupt from top to bottom, from left to right!

"Celebrities have weighed in as well, and prominent liberal activists have openly discussed fomenting primary challenges in the next campaign against the leaders of the anti-Pelosi opposition." Oh yes! This is what this "battle" is all about: Putting the Democratic insurgents in their place and maintaining the status quo. No wonder that millions of people are "politically apathetic." Most of them aren't apathetic. They just know the deck is stacked against them. The ruling class, the power elite, which includes Republicans, Democrats, and celebrities will tolerate no challenges to their rule, their power, and prestige. This is the Democratic version of what the Republicans were doing defending Kavanaugh.

“Go figure,” Navratilova tweeted. “A man loses and keeps his place, a woman wins and gets booted?!?” Oh, Martina: I guess you've forgotten that in 2010 the Democratic Party took massive losses in that midterm election and Pelosi kept her lead role for the Democrats. And I mean those losses were huge: "Approximately 82.5 million people voted.[3] The Democratic Party suffered massive defeats in many national and state level elections, with many seats switching to Republican Party control. Although the President's party usually loses congressional, statewide and local seats in midterm elections, the 2010 midterm election season featured some of the biggest losses since the Great Depression. The Republican Party gained 63 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, recapturing the majority, and making it the largest seat change since 1948 and the largest for any midterm election since the 1938 midterm elections." The establishment Democrats here remind me of the Republicans defending Kavanaugh. Learn some history, Martina, learn some history!

This is for anyone who still has faith that the Democratic Party’s establishment members are anything but status quo politicians not all that different than their Republican counterparts. The recently declared “blue wave” will probably change nothing so long as the likes of Schumer and Pelosi are the most powerful Democrats. And people wonder why Trump is president. Why are these Democrats still in power? Our political order is corrupt, from top to bottom and from left to right.


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Mid-Term Elections, 2018

The Mid-Term Elections, 2018
Peter Schultz

            This should be brief. What happened in the mid-terms? Absolutely nothing.  

            By which I mean, we live in a national security state that pervades our lives, allegedly for our own security, a state that cannot function without engaging in endless wars all over the globe, while spending humongous sums of money on weapons of war, and a state that must incarcerate huge numbers of its citizens, especially the ones who would have little to lose if they resisted, and a state that is based on racism, sexism, homophobia, and Islamophobia, in other words, based on an all-pervasive fear.

            And nothing that happened on Tuesday as a result of our mid-terms is going to change any of this.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Government v. Republic, II

Government v. Republic, II
Peter Schultz

            On the advent of what are called our “mid-term elections,” a reference of course to the fact that presidents are elected or re-elected every four years, I was suddenly reminded of another of the differences between what I have been calling “a government” and “a republic.” As I noted earlier, government relies not so much on consent as on force to maintain its legitimacy, as manifested by the presence and prevalence of bureaucratic power in any government, as well as the presence of a significant “military” establishment, which includes not only the regular armed forces like the army and navy but also police forces. Persons or officials who wear uniforms, carry weapons, and are authorized to use them even at times to kill people are, for all practical purposes, “military.” No government would “work” without such forces, whereas life as it existed in Mayberry required neither a real police force nor a real government. [To my recollection, there was never reference made to the government of Mayberry in the Andy Griffith show. And were such reference made, it would be, no doubt, to make fun of such an organization.]

            There is, moreover, another difference between a government and a republic, viz., the presence and frequency of elections. Governments, which seek efficiency and effectiveness rather than “re-presentation” of the people and their will, and elections are at odds. Governments want to “run,” as is said all the time, and elections are disruptive in this regard. Government in the day-to-day sense pretty much stops whenever elections come around. In fact, I had a one time friend who worked for the CIA as an analyst who told me that even the world pretty much stopped every four years as other nations waited to see who would be president of the United States. Also, as many have noticed, one theme in most elections is how badly the incumbents have been governing, a theme that does nothing to fortify the legitimacy of the incumbent government and governors.

            This is why, for me, frequent elections are not only necessary but beneficial, despite or even because of their effects on the government. And this is why those who opposed the Constitution in 1787 and 1788, the Anti-Federalists, thought that the elections provided for were not frequent enough, to say nothing of the fact that only one organization in the new Constitution would be elected directly by the people, viz., the House of Representatives. Frequent elections force government officials to repair to the popular will, as it were, to seek to legitimate their rule. Moreover, such elections disrupt government, which from a “republican’s” point of view is always useful. The Anti-Federalists knew that there was little more repressive than what we call these days “good government.” They were proponents not of good government but of popular government and such an arrangement requires frequent elections, at a minimum. This is a perspective that has been forgotten for some time in this nation as it is almost universally taken for granted that we want and should have is “good government.” As I noted earlier, my prejudices lie with the republicans.