American Politics “Disappeared”
There is an interesting passage in a book entitled Revolutionaries of the Right: Anticommunist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare in the Cold War, by Kyle Burke. To wit:
“Thus, the Iran-Contra investigations and prosecutions failed to punish, or even hold accountable, many of the operative’s key players But they failed another way….[because] their overwhelming focus on the Reagan administration’s role in Iran-Contra….obscured the world of anticommunist internationalism that surrounded it” Hence, “the congressional leaders were unable to see the [anticommunist] activism as part of a movement that went back to the 1950s. Without that context, they attributed conservatives’ private anticommunist initiatives to the malfeasance of the Reagan administration….’[p. 199, emphasis added]
It is important to note what Burke is writing about here, viz., that what he calls the “context” of the Iran-Contra scandal is nothing less than the politics that the Reagan administration and many others embraced, a politics of anticommunism that had been embraced by US elites at least since the 1950s. This kind of politics disappears in the midst of the Iran-Contra investigations because they focused on, obsessed over Reagan’s “malfeasances.” And once the politics of anticommunism that was embraced by Reagan disappears, it cannot be challenged or assessed. Then the issue to be addressed is not, “What are the alternatives to a politics of anticommunism?” but rather, “How can we correct Reagan’s malfeasances and ensure that they don’t happen again?”
Of course this wasn’t the only time the politics of US elites was “disappeared.” It also happened after 9/11 when the commission that was appointed to investigate the 9/11 attacks focused on how the government had failed to detect these attacks before they happened. Once again, the focus was on the malfeasances of the government and not on the politics that surrounded these attacks. Once again, the issue was how to correct such malfeasances and ensure that they did not happen again, not on whether there were political alternatives that might have changed the political environment that contributed to the attacks.
Returning to Burke’s arguments on the anticommunist internationalism that controlled US politics from 1950s until the demise of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, he wrote “That although the anticommunist international died, the impulses that animated its paramilitary campaigns in the Cold War persisted.” [p. 206] I am tempted to say, of course those impulses persisted because they weren’t simply about the Cold War. The Cold War was just the occasion for elites to embrace, to rely on a kind of politics that preceded in time the Cold War itself. Let me call this kind of politics the politics of realism, which, of course, may be traced back to the founding fathers and even further back to Locke, Hobbes, and Machiavelli. Because “the impulses” Burke writes about arise from these sources, they did persist after the demise of the Soviet Union and, when another occasion arose where they seemed to be useful, that is, after 9/11, they were embraced once again. Despite Vice President Cheney’s attempt to make it seem so, “going to the dark side” was nothing new to US elites. They had been going to the dark side since at least the 1950s.
What Burke helped me to see is that when disasters or scandals happen, ala’ Iran-Contra or 9/11, the investigations that are undertaken are conducted so as to make the most important issues, the political issues, disappear. It is the politics that our elites embrace that establish the environment in which government operates, in which bureaucrats try to govern, in which politicians try to operate successfully. In the face of repeated disasters and scandals, it might be useful to challenge and assess the politics our elites practice.