Friday, May 10, 2019

Today America Has Become the Nightmare

Today America Has Become the Nightmare
Peter Schultz

            In reading L. Fletcher Prouty’s book, JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy, I read this quote from Arnold Toynbee, written in the NY Times in 1971, but still and maybe more relevant today.

“To most Europeans…America now looks like the most dangerous country in the world. Since America is unquestionably the most powerful country, the transformation of America’s image within the last thirty years is very frightening for Europeans. It is probably still more frightening for the great majority of the human race who are neither European nor North Americans, but are Latin Americans, Asians, and Africans. They, I imagine, feel even more insecure than we feel. They feel that, at any moment, America may intervene in their internal affairs, with the same appalling consequences as have followed from the American intervention in Southeast Asia.
            “For the world as a whole, the CIA has now become the bogey that communism has been for America. Wherever there is trouble, violence, suffering, tragedy, the rest of us are now quick to suspect the CIA had a hand in it. Our phobia about the CIA is, no doubt, as fantastically excessive as America’s phobia about world communism; but in this case, too, there is just enough convincing guidance to make the phobia genuine. In fact, the roles of America and Russia have been reversed in the world’s eyes. Today America has become the nightmare.” [pp. 230-31]

            Suffice it to say about Prouty’s book that it is concerned with arguing that John F. Kennedy was aware of these dangers and sought to corral the CIA and the US policies of waging limited war throughout the world. And as a result, Prouty argues, Kennedy was assassinated. Seems rather extreme to me but then so does how the US behaves today throughout the world.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Politics 101: Trump, the Democrats and Impeachment

Politics 101: Trump, the Democrats and Impeachment
Peter Schultz

Politics 101: Of course, Pelosi won't comment on impeachment because (a) the last thing the Democrats want to do is impeach and remove Trump from office but (b) they have to leave it out there as a distraction and incitement. It's just part of the 2020 presidential campaign and a way for the Dems to distract from their own flawed, oligarchic policies, policies that will be continued by whatever "centrist" the Dems nominate for president, perhaps with the help of their "superdelegates." The Dems no more want Trump impeached then the Republicans wanted Clinton removed prior to the 2000 presidential election because if they had done that Gore could have run as an incumbent president and even seek two full terms. And (c) listen as the talk about impeachment ramps up, becomes louder and louder, taking over the political arena. But Trump will not be impeached or removed. All of which Mueller's report was drafted to facilitate: "Well, he might have done something but then we don't know that he did or didn't but it wouldn’t matter anyway because he's president."

Monday, April 15, 2019

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been: Castro, Kennedy, and the Dance of Nations.

What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been
Peter Schultz

            Once it becomes apparent that the United States is an oligarchy, that is, governed by the wealthy few for their own benefit, it also becomes apparent that almost everything mainstream politicians do is geared to preserving the oligarchy’s power, their power. Consider for example American foreign policy and, specifically, US foreign policy toward Cuba after the Cuban revolution when Castro overthrew Batista and took control of the Cuban government.

            What did our oligarchs do? Well, to put it simply, they did everything to make Cuba look like our enemy. In this they had help from Castro, as he too was doing things to make the US look like Cuba’s enemy. It was like a choreographed dance the two nations were performing, a dance choreographed to ensure that the two nations acted like, became enemies.

            For example, on the US side, nothing was done to show support to those Cubans, the moderates in Cuba, who were happy Batista was gone but were not all that enamored of Castro. If the US had shown some support for the revolution, instead of treating it as a Communist plot supported by the USSR, these moderates would have been able to oppose Castro without seemingly undermining Cuba independence or the Cuban revolution, without seeming like traitors. However, once the US decided to punish Cuba for its revolution, these moderates were forced to support Castro because, otherwise, they would be acting like traitors to Cuban independence. Once the US decided to become Cuba’s enemy, then even Cubans opposed to Castro had to support him or risk being charged with treason to the revolution, to Cuba.

            Why did the US then make Cuba an enemy? The conventional wisdom is that this happened only when it was apparent that Castro was a communist. But even if he were, and it isn’t clear that he was, this does not explain why the US reacted as it did, why US policy intended to create a war like situation between the two nations. But this war like state benefitted the Eisenhower administration just as it benefitted Castro’s regime by making both seem strong, by making both seem properly concerned with “national defense.” Both Eisenhower and Castro were seen as protecting the “homeland” and, therefore, worthy of support by all who weren’t “traitors,” “capitalist dogs,” or “pinkos.”

            Both regimes were then strengthened domestically by creating a war like state between the two nations. There was “political gold” in such a situation for the prevailing political classes in both nations. And US policy served Castro well by helping him secure his revolution. He became a national hero by facing down the “giant from the north.” And Eisenhower looked less like the grandfather golfer he seemed to be. And with an election approaching, Richard Nixon could look like the “cold warrior” he wanted to be. He would “take care” of Castro.

            This state of affairs led, first, to the Bay of Pigs invasion and, secondly, to the Cuban missile crisis, when the game almost got out of hand and went nuclear. It was never the intention of either the US or Castro to start a full scale or nuclear war between the US and the USSR as this would lead to the annihilation of millions of human beings. And then, of course, all that “political gold” that each side got as a result of the war like state between the two nations would be lost or would lose its value. The same could be said of any attempt by Castro to assassinate JFK, as some have charged. Castro needed Kennedy, as much as Kennedy needed Castro, to solidify their credentials as “leaders.” The same could be said of killing Castro, which helps explain why the attempts by the CIA to do so repeatedly failed and seemed so inept. To reap the “political gold” available the US needed Castro in power, just as Castro needed to ensure that the US remained Cuba’s enemy, while avoiding a full-scale war. A state of war without a full-scale war was best for both nations; that is, for protecting the regimes governing both nations, the oligarchs in the US and the communists in Cuba. US oligarchs and Cuban communists were, as intended, “indispensable enemies.”

            And after the assassination of JFK, LBJ saw that it was incumbent on him to derail any attempts to pin the blame on Castro, as that would have meant in all likelihood full-scale war with Cuba and then with the USSR. Hence, the need for the Warren Commission and for the fairy tale that Oswald acted alone and was not part of any conspiracy. Moreover, it had to be shown that the assassination itself was not the result of any conspiracy, especially one pointing to Castro and Cuba. And as a result the Warren Commission was an invitation to conspiracy theories because it was so ineptly concocted to reach the conclusion that Oswald acted alone.

            More generally, could it be that the Cold War itself was dramatized, choreographed to allow the oligarchs in the US and the communists in the USSR to reap that “political gold” the US and Castro reaped as a result of the war like state between the two nations? While a big topic, obviously, let it be said that with very few exceptions the US and the USSR – and China – never got close to full-scale war, those exceptions being the Korean War and the Cuban missile crisis. Otherwise, the dance of these indispensable enemies continued in ways that created a war like situation without creating full-scale, that is, nuclear war. And both US oligarchs and Soviet and Chinese communists benefitted.

            If so, that would be an interesting situation.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

What does Trump Mean?
Peter Schultz

What does Trump mean? What did JFK’s assassination mean?

They both meant/mean that the existing political order was/is unraveling, was/is coming apart at the seams, was/is disintegrating.

So all the king’s horses and all the king’s men tried to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Bush Pardons: Why He Threw the 1992 Election to Clinton

From America's Stolen Narrative: From Washington and Madison to Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes to Obama

"[Attorney James] Brosnahan[, who had been tapped by Iran-Contra special counsel Lawrence Walsh to be the lead prosecutor in the trial of former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, which had been scheduled to start January 5, 1993] said, 'It was all so transparent that I was disappointed that more people didn't pick up on the fact that all they were trying to do was obstruct the trial of Caspar Weinberger.  I'm talking about obstruction of justice.  The statute, I took it out of the book and made a Xerox copy out of it and stuck it up on my wall.  ...  [Walsh] was obstructed starting in '86 and [Bush's Christmas Eve '92] pardon was the final coup de grace.'

"According to Brosnahan, Bush's pardons were admired by some, ignored by many, and seen as a threat to our democratic form of government by a number, of which I am one.  ...  And that's the only way they could get rid of [Walsh].  They couldn't have a trial.  They couldn't allow witnesses to be asked where they were, what they heard.  They couldn't have Weinberger's notes out in public because it said that the President [Ronald Reagan] approved all of this'" (Parry 146-147).

"'The cross-examination of Caspar Weinberger was going to be an event,' Brosnahan told me.  'The thing about cross-examination in a trial is that there's no place to hide.  The political bullshit is over.  There's only the question where were you?  You're in charge of the missiles, what did you hear?  What did te President say?  What about this document?  What about your notes?  What about your testimony?'

"Brosnahan asked me, Do you understand why there was a pardon?' He then answered his own question, 'There was a pardon because an awful lot of people wanted this to go away'" (Parry 148).

"Walsh also understood how self-serving Bush's pardons had been because Bush was, in effect, ensuring that the scandal would not reach him.  The Iran-Contra pardons may have represented the first time in U.S. history when a sitting president used his extraordinary pardoning power to stop an unvestigation into which he was a potential defendant" (Parry 155).

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Lyndon and Bobby

Lyndon and Bobby
Peter Schultz

            In reading the book Mutual Contempt, I learned that, allegedly, RFK had a “Lyndon problem.” That is, Bobby Kennedy could not afford to be too critical of Johnson’s Vietnam policies without it costing him politically, that is, electorally. So Bobby compromised, didn’t express himself as candidly as he might have were he not a political actor or not seeking the presidency.  

            However, Bobby had another political problem, viz., his agreement with our “politics of credibility,” whereby the US had to be “involved” in the world and had to stay “involved” to prove its “credibility.” Once such a politics is accepted, then if that led to large-scale bombing in Vietnam or to large-scale troop infusions, then so be it. These things had to be done.

            Bobby did try to distinguish himself from Johnson, in a way summed up as follows: “We have erred . . . in regarding Vietnam as a purely military problem. . . . [p. 267] While this may be true, there is a greater “error” Bobby doesn’t mention, viz., the assumption that Vietnam was an American problem. And of course this error stems from the idea that America must be “involved” in the world almost everywhere. As Bobby put it: “My only concern is that we emerge from these crises [Vietnam and the Dominican Republic] in an honorable position to continue our leadership in the world at large.” [p. 268]

            Once you decide, as both Bobby and LBJ did, that America’s honor requires her “leadership in the world at large,” the only question is “how should the US be in Vietnam?” There other question, which our “involvement” in Vietnam should have raised, viz., “should the US be in Vietnam?” is ignored. And because Bobby did not raise this other, more important question, he was compelled to compromise with Johnson about how the US should be involved in Vietnam, as well as the Dominican Republic.

So RFK was not boxed in simply by LBJ and electoral politics; he was also boxed in by his own politics, a politics of “involvement,” or a politics of “credibility.” Without questioning such politics, which are essentially euphemisms for imperialism, Bobby was compelled to compromise with LBJ because he remained “committed” to the war in Vietnam, that is, to American imperialism. As Francis Fitzgerald has written, the US didn’t get caught in the quagmire of Vietnam; Vietnam got caught in the quagmire of American politics. Our politics of “credibility, “ of “honor,” of imperialism was the quagmire into which the Vietnamese stumbled in their pursuit of national unity.

And the “feud” between LBJ and RFK, as presented by the press, only served to obscure the more important issue, the issue of the character of American foreign policy in general. Their “feud” was essentially over the details of US imperialism, whether it should be “purely military” or both military and political. Whether one or the other, it would still be imperialism. And to get to the more important question it would be necessary to get beyond the politics of credibility, beyond our politics of imperialism.  


Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Politics of Credibility
Peter Schultz

            “Vietnam itself meant virtually nothing; it was a ‘little piss-ant country,’ [Lyndon] Johnson scoffed. What truly hung in the balance was American credibility in the larger war against Communist expansion….” [Mutual Contempt, p. 261, emphasis added]

            If Vietnam meant almost nothing and American credibility meant almost all, the sacrificing the lives of Americans and Vietnamese in large numbers makes perfect sense, even without a victory. In fact, to prove US “credibility,” to prove US constancy, reliability, the more Americans that are sacrificed, the better. “Look how credible we are – we are willing to sacrifice our youths, lots of them, for a country that in itself means almost nothing to us. We sacrifice our own to prove our credibility. You can trust us to sacrifice our own for almost nothing.”

            This is the result of a “politics of credibility,” a politics that not only LBJ embraced but many, many others as well. And this is why so many felt betrayed by their own government. They were being sacrificed for "a little piss-and country" that meant virtually nothing. 

What would be an alternative kind of politics? How about a “politics of justice?” Maybe it would be worth a try.

[The book cited is Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud that Defined a Decade, by Jeff Shesol]

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Stagnant Politics and Trump

Stagnant Politics and Trump
Peter Schultz

            The US political system is stagnant – it is, as Trump called it, “a swamp” – and “we the people” are seeking change, even significant change. The signs are everywhere, from the White House where Trump is president, to the Congress where a Muslim black woman from, of all places, Minnesota and another woman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, from the Bronx, are serving, while such people being in office would have been inconceivable not so many years ago. Throw in Bernie Sanders and his challenge to establishment faction of the Democratic Party and it seems pretty clear that our established political order is stagnant and has lost its legitimacy.

            Just as interesting, that some of these people won electoral victories illustrates that the only way out of our “swamp,” our stagnant political order, is electorally. The kind of change that is necessary and desirable can only come about by way of elections, not by way of institutional adjustments, so to speak. And this is why the movement to impeach Trump, for example, or moves to institutionally silence and disempower Omar or Ocasio-Cortez, should be resisted. Such moves would not, could not create the changes needed to overturn our stagnant political order. Impeach Trump or indict him and force him from office via resignation and the status quo powers, those who are invested in our stagnant political order, our “swamp,” will have their power reinforced, perhaps even extended. Resisting the impeachment of Trump then should be embraced, not for Trump’s sake, but for our own and the health of our political order.

Friday, February 15, 2019

How the System Works

How the System Works
Peter Schultz

            Below is a link to an article in the Washington Post entitled “Congress approves budget plan to advert shutdown; Trump to sign it and seek wall money elsewhere.” These actions by both parties in the Congress and the President illustrate fairly well how our political system works and why it works that way. That is, both parties are winners, as is the president, which is why the system works as it does. The only losers are a goodly portion of the American people. But, no matter about that, because it looks like both parties and the president are taking care of business, which they are: Their business.

            The Democrats are winners because they have, apparently, stymied Trump’s desire to have the Congress appropriate money to build his wall. The Republicans are winners because McConnell looks as if he got Trump to sign the legislation and avoid another government shutdown. And Trump is a winner because now he will help avoid another shutdown, declare a national emergency, and demonstrate that he is a president not afraid to use his powers to accomplish his goals even in the face of congressional opposition.

            The budget contains billions of dollars for what is called “the defense budget,” although it is difficult to say that what our military is doing these days is “defense.” But no matter: Any monies spent by the Department of Defense must be for “defense,” right? Of course. Our label for that department was more honest when it was called, as it was for a long, long time, the Department of War. But no longer. And very few even bat an eye.

            The Homeland Security Department will receive even more money for its activities, including of course spying on the American people, while ICE will go unchecked in its ability to detain as many undocumented immigrants as it desires to detain. All attempts to limit ICE and its power were defeated, so its “weaponization” will continue, leading to more abductions of children and deportations of even long term residents in the US.

            So, as noted above, the power brokers, the Democrats, the Republicans, and the President win, while a good many Americans will lose. But if you haven’t noticed before, this is pretty much how the system has been operating for some time now. The few, usually the wealthy few, prosper while the rest of us do not. And this won’t change as long as the system rewards the few for their machinations.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Joan Dideon: Worth Reading

Joan Dideon: Worth Reading
Peter Schultz

Here are some quotes and reflections of Joan Dideon’s book, Political Fictions.

“Washington, as rendered by Woodward, is basically solid, a diorama of decent intentions in which wise if misunderstood and occasionally misled stewards will reliably prevail. It’s military chiefs [are] pictured as Colin Powell was in The Commanders, thinking on the eve of battle exclusively of their troops, the ‘kids,’ the ‘teenagers’, a human story....Its opposing leaders will be pictured, as President Clinton and Senator Dole are in The Choice, finding common ground on the importance of mothers: the ultimate human story.” Joan Dideon, Political Fictions, p. 213.

And of course the reaction to the recent death of “Poppy Bush” and all the accolades bestowed upon him confirm that it isn’t only Woodward who takes this view of Washington. “the ultimate human story”: Just like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

Very interesting. I am re-reading Joan Didion’s “Political Fictions” about, among other things, the impeachment of Bill Clinton and was surprised how much of it could be said about Trump. Then it was taken for granted by the Washington establishment that what was needed was a “moral and spiritual regeneration” of the nation. And this was to be accomplished by bringing down a president, viz., Bill Clinton, who allegedly represented the worst traits of the Sixties. In Didion’s words: “What we now know occurred was . . . a covert effort to advance a particular agenda by bringing down a president. We know this covert effort culminated in a kind of sting operation that reliably creates a crime where a crime may or may not have existed otherwise.” This involved “first of all, a sense of a ‘movement,’ an uncharted sodality that was dedicated to ‘remoralization,’ (William Kristol’s word) of the nation....” [p. 274] And there was also “the shared conviction of urgency, of mission, of an end so critical to the fate of the republic, as to sweep away possible reservations about means.” [p. 275] “‘For the model of cultural collapse to,work,’ Andrew Sullivan observed . . . “‘Clinton must represent its nadir.’” [p. 278] As David Broder, a Washington insider, said: “He came in here and he trashed the place, and it’s not his place.” [p. 287] And of course, if this campaign to get Clinton was the forerunner of a project that has been launched against Trump, it is little wonder that Bill Kristol,, is so comfortably in the anti-Trump camp. Now Trump and not Clinton represents the degradation of the American republic and points to the necessity for a “moral and spiritual regeneration” in the United States. But this regeneration need not touch much of our “politics as usual,” with a few exceptions but none of which come close to touching the current arrangement of forces within American society. Doing away with Trump has nothing to do with resetting our socio-economic arrangements. And, perhaps, the longed for moral and spiritual regeneration of the nation has nothing to do with realigning those socio-economic forces. In fact, that regeneration will solidify, not undermine, those forces. And, unlike the case with Clinton, the American people are more malleable with regard to Trump’s failings than they were with regard to Clinton’s, which were viewed by the American people as having little to do with his capacity to govern. Trump’s dalliances are no more important to the people than were Clinton’s. But if it can be shown that his dalliances were with Russia and not just with women, then the people will not let him slide as they did Clinton. And then the “moral and spiritual regeneration“ of the United States can begin once Trump has been deposed. This is perhaps, however, not a prospect we should look forward to insofar as it will mean less individual freedom along with a fortified politics of the status quo, e.g., a fortified imperialism. Is it possible then to hope that the establishment’s campaign against Trump fails, not for Trump’s sake but for ours? Seems almost surreal, doesn’t it?

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Rage Against the Broken Machine

Rage Against the Broken Machine
Peter Schultz

            At times when I ponder why I feel such anger toward our politics, really strange thoughts emerge, so strange that they are probably untrue. They might even be delusions. What follows is one such “delusion.”

            In reading Jane Mayer’s excellent book, Dark Money, every so often there is a passage about President Obama and how he dealt with the Republicans, many of whom were the recipients of Koch or other right wing money and, hence, part of the “radical right” that that money helped to create. In one instance, “President Obama reluctantly consented to many of the Republicans’ demands, including the enlarged exemptions from the estate tax. He campaigned against the Bush tax cuts for those earning over $250,000 a year, but in December 2010 . . . he tried to convince his disappointed followers that this was the best deal they were likely to get. . . .” [291]

            And then again: After Paul Ryan had proposed a budget that would gut the government’s commitment to those in need while offering the wealthy tax cuts worth $2.4 trillion, “President Obama now proposed $4 trillion in spending cuts over twelve years, not all that far from the $4.4 trillion that Ryan had proposed.” [295]

            Now in my delusionary state, it occurred to me that Obama did not mind, in fact, he wanted to lose these battles over taxes and spending cuts to the Republicans. I’ll repeat that: Obama wanted to lose his battles with the Republicans over tax cuts for the wealthy and spending cuts to the tune of $6.2 trillion.

            There, I said it. And I know this sounds delusional and cuts against all we are taught about Democrats and Republicans fighting battles over policy that each party wants to win. It’s just like what we are taught and take for granted about our two parties and elections or about our government and the wars it chooses to fight. The goal, the only goal, is winning, winning policy battles, winning elections, and winning wars. To suggest anything else is sheer madness, sheer delusion. And so when Mayer tells us that Obama “reluctantly” agreed to Republican demands, we believe her even though she offers no evidence for this characterization. It just seems like common sense to us, as it no doubt did to Mayer herself. Obama wanted to win because all politicians want to win all the time. That is just common sense.

            But what if…? That is, what if Mayer isn’t right? And what if politicians don’t always want to win? What if at times they want to lose, lose policy battles, lose elections, even want to lose wars? Why would they want to lose? This makes no sense to us at all. I must be delusional.

            Consider this though: President Obama lost those policy battles with the Republicans but he still got re-elected in 2012. He and the Democrats lost the 2010 congressional elections big time but Obama still won the presidency again in 2012. Could it be that those losses actually helped Obama and the Democrats win the presidency in 2012? That is, could it be that Obama and the Democrats were well-served by losing those policy battles to the Republicans, that he and they knew they would be well-served, and thus he and they wanted to lose – and this even though he and they knew that the country would not be well-served by those Republican successes?

            And here is the nub of my “mad-ness”: That our politicians don’t act, as we assume they do, for the well being of the country. This is, it seems to me, the greatest myth of all, that our politicians are always well intentioned, always intend first and foremost to do what is best for the country, even though they might make mistakes at times or misconceive what’s best for the nation.

            Put this assumption aside and it is easy to entertain the idea that politicians don’t always want to win policy battles, elections, or even wars. Like most other human beings, politicians want success and its trappings, money, fame, and power. And if being successful requires losing at times, they will lose and lose quite contentedly.

            With regard to Obama and his losses, those losses, by emphasizing the Republican threats, would make Obama more appealing to much of his base insofar as he could – and did – present his decisions as “necessary losses.” “That’s the best deal available” he could and did claim. Plus, Obama himself then appears as the best possible option in the 2012 election. In fact, he could and did present himself as indispensable to the cause of holding off the Republicans – even while he was giving in to them. Obama lost the battles but he deserves praise. In losing, Obama stature was enhanced. And few bother to wonder about what happens to well being of the nation when the Democrats capitulate to the Republicans, insofar as such behavior implies that the Republican agenda is legitimate and so need not be defeated. Accommodation is the key. But to what? Success or the well-being of the nation? To success.

            So, in reality, both parties win, enhance their stature, while the nation loses. And this is an arrangement that neither party wants to or has any interest in changing. The Democrats go on capitulating to the Republicans, can go on losing even while protecting or even enhancing their status, their legitimacy, their authority. And the Republicans advance their agenda, thereby enhancing their legitimacy and their authority. Both parties are successful while the nation suffers, while political dissatisfaction grows, while our government is seen increasingly as incompetent, even as corrupt. This explains both why “Washington is broken,” as is said so frequently, and why very few in Washington actually want to “fix it.” Neither party has any interest in fixing what is broken so no fix is forthcoming.

            This may all be delusional, but it is certainly plausible. And if you doubt its plausibility, just ask yourself why our “broken” system isn’t ever fixed.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Policy Making: Madness Disguised

Policy Making: Madness Disguised
Peter Schultz

            In an excellent biography of Robert Strange McNamara entitled Promise and Power there occurs the following assessment of McNamara by one of his contemporaries at a time when McNamara seemed to some to be on the verge of mental breakdown as the Vietnam War was degenerating into mindless and ineffective killing and McNamara knew it.

            “Everything he believed in was being knocked on its ass in Vietnam. Here was a guy who really believed that the truth is what you got out of the machine when you asked for it. You know, what would we do about x? – here comes the answer, the organizational truth.” [p. 426]

            Now this is an excellent characterization of Robert McNamara and how he thought, both in and out of the political arena. But it seems fair to say that it is also a pretty good description of how a good many, even most Americans have come to think politically. We ask: What are our problems? Then we ask: What are the solutions to those problems? The implication being that solving political problems is a lot like or exactly like solving math problems. All we need do is to find the right formula and we will be able to solve our problems.

            Hence, in Vietnam, those in charge looked for the formula, the right mixture of, say, search and destroy missions, Vietnamization, pacification, assassinations, and bombing that would lead to victory. And of course people like Robert McNamara looked like the most likely source of what would be the successful solution to the problem of Vietnam. After all, he had worked apparent wonders at the Ford Motor Company before he became the secretary of defense for Kennedy. But it didn’t work out that way and the longer McNamara dealt with Vietnam, the worse the situation seemed to become. That is, more and more civilians were killed, more and more American and Vietnamese soldiers were killed, and yet the war went on and on and on until, finally, the United States pulled out after having obtained, as the official line had it, “peace with honor.” Of course, it got neither peace nor honor. All it got was the return of is prisoners of war, while the Vietnamese once again united their country against the wishes of a powerful enemy seeking to subjugate them.

            So what are we to make of this? If policy making does not work, if it leads more often to failure than success, what are we to replace it with? And that framework has so consumed our thinking about politics that it is difficult to think of alternatives. But let me try anyway.

            Once upon a time, it was thought that there were certain fundamental political questions such as what is justice? What is the most appropriate end of politics? Is it liberty, prosperity, security, or national greatness? Or more recently, have we created a military-industrial complex, as President Eisenhower argued? How should ambition and the ambitious be dealt with? How can we prevent an oligarchy from forming and controlling our politics and society? What is a just war?

            The fact that we don’t spend much time considering such questions does not mean that they aren’t important or relevant. One cannot help but suspect that it was the pursuit of national greatness that led to the fiasco in Vietnam, the one in Iraq, and the continuing one in Afghanistan. Perhaps if we questioned whether we should pursue national greatness, our politics would not be as messed up as it is. Has the pursuit of national greatness led to the creation of that military-industrial complex Ike warned us about? Did the failure to ask, seriously ask whether the Vietnam War was a just war contribute to its outcome? For if it weren’t just, then eventually that fact would make itself known, thereby contributing to the opposition that arose the longer the war went on and that many say caused US defeat in that war. Humans have a difficult time participating in injustice, especially when the injustice involves large scale killing, torture, and oppression.

            In other words, we ignore some political questions at our own peril. Ambition and the ambitious must be dealt with by any political order, as should be crystal clear these days with Donald Trump as president, if it wasn’t already clear when LBJ, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, or George W. Bush was president. Ambition may be, as Alexander Hamilton wrote, “the ruling passion of the noblest minds” – or not! And the cost of ignoring certain political questions should be clear as we stumble from one failed military engagement, one fruitless war to another. To treat war-making as McNamara did in Vietnam and as our politicians have done in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, as a problem to be solved by the correct formula, without considering the status of war-making as a political activity or phenomenon, is to invite failure after failure. And all the glorification of our military will do nothing to avoid these failures. If not one soldier fighting in Vietnam had been dishonored – as some surely were – that war would still have been unjust and, hence, unsustainable. For that was what led to that war’s loss of legitimacy, that it was unjust, that it was inhumane, that it was a fool’s errand.

            Robert McNamara’s biography is a good one to study because he was so eminently American. That he finished his stint in the Defense Department near a mental breakdown should be taken as a sign that how he did politics, which is largely how most Americans think of doing politics, is a form of or leads to madness.

Going to the Dark Side and Other Lies

Going to the Dark Side and Other Lies
Peter Schultz

            I am currently rereading Jane Mayer’s excellent book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals, the title of which is a reference to Dick Cheney’s assertion after 9/11 that it would now be necessary for the United States to go to the dark side in combatting our terrorist enemies.

            But this idea of “going to the dark side” is a lie because it suggests that Cheney/Bush, et. al., are going to a place, out of necessity, that is part of the traditional American political order. That is, the implication is that this “side,” although rarely visited, is a part of the traditional governmental arrangements in the United States. But this is a lie. Cheney/Bush, et. al., are not going to a part of our traditional governmental arrangements but are building what they hope will be an entirely new and very different set of governmental arrangements. And this is supported by Mayer’s observation that Dick Cheney has been working on this agenda for some years, even decades now, as evidenced by the minority report he wrote for the Iran-Contra investigation, as well as Cheney’s long-standing concern with what is called “Continuation of Government” or “COG.”

            The same lie is being told when Cheney/Bush, et. al., imply that their actions instituting what Mayer calls the “New Paradigm” are being undertaken out of necessity. Rather, these actions are for these people desirable rather than necessary. And the difference is important for understanding what is going on. For clarity’s sake, think of our traditional governmental arrangements as a garment. The argument from necessity suggests that what is going on is that something additional is being added to the existing garment, that something being made necessary by events like 9/11. But the argument from desirability suggests that what is going on is the creation of a wholly new garment. The latter of course raises or should raise all kinds of questions, such as whether the new garment is a republican or a royalist/monarchical one. But, as Mayer points out, these are the kind of questions that never got raised in the aftermath of 9/11 and that the Cheney/Bush regime did not want raised. And because they did not want them raised, they pretended that they were concerned with the constitutional bona fides of their proposals. But their constitutional arguments are merely meant to disguise what is in fact a radically different kind of government than the one created in 1787.

            Mayer is correct then to argue that the war on terror constitutes “a war on American ideals.” But care should be taken here as well because that war, the one on terror, is just the convenient excuse that is being used to try to create a new political order, one that is quite unlike the order created by the constitution of 1787. So, if the war on terror were to end, it would be naïve to think that the attempts to sabotage our traditional governmental arrangements would also end. They would not.