Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Mistakes of Andrew Bacevich

 

The Mistakes of Andrew Bacevich

Peter Schultz

 

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176790/tomgram%3A_andrew_bacevich%2C_the_madness_of_war%2C_american-style/#more

 

I am surprised at how mistaken Bacevich is; 

 

"Second, both turned out to be superfluous, undertaken in response to threats -- monolithic Communism and Iraqi weapons of mass destruction -- that were figments of fevered imaginations. In both cases, cynicism and moral cowardice played a role in paving the way toward war. Dissenting voices were ignored.

 

"Third, both conflicts proved to be costly distractions. Each devoured on a prodigious scale resources that might have been used so much more productively elsewhere. Each diverted attention from matters of far more immediate importance to Americans. Each, in other words, triggered a massive hemorrhage of bloodtreasure, and influence to no purpose whatsoever.

 

"Fourth, in each instance, political leaders in Washington and senior commanders in the field collaborated in committing grievous blunders. War is complicated. All wars see their share of mistakes and misjudgments. But those two featured a level of incompetence unmatched since Custer’s Last Stand.

 

"Fifth, thanks to that incompetence, both devolved into self-inflicted quagmires. In Washington, in Saigon, and in Baghdad’s “Green Zone,” baffled authorities watched as the control of events slipped from their grasp. Meanwhile, in the field, U.S. troops flailed about for years in futile pursuit of a satisfactory outcome.

 

"Sixth, on the home front, both conflicts left behind a poisonous legacy of unrest, rancor, and bitterness. Members of the Baby Boom generation (to which I belong) have chosen to enshrine Vietnam-era protest as high-minded and admirable. Many Americans then held and still hold a different opinion. As for the Iraq War, it contributed mightily to yawning political cleavages that appear unlikely to heal anytime soon."

 

Neither war was “superfluous” once you understand that both were undertaken for domestic political purposes, in order to maintain and fortify the domestic political order that, e.g., in the sixties was under attack by the New Left, Black Power, feminism, or more briefly, “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.” Or as McGovern was characterized: “Acid, Amnesty, and Abortion.” Using the Vietnam War in this way almost backfired but with the election of Nixon in 1968 the strategy proved to be successful. 

 

[But then because Nixon took himself too seriously, thinking he could remake US foreign policy by leaving Nam, dealing with the USSR, and opening up to China, he had to be dealt with by being forced to resign. And the ultimate result was, of course, the election of Reagan in 1980. Game over.] 

 

And the Iraq war was undertaken to underwrite, to secure as much as possible Papa Bush’s “new world order,” proclaimed by Bush after ejecting Saddam from Kuwait - after virtually inviting Saddam - another “move” disguised as a “mistake” - to invade! 

 

What Bacevich calls “grievous blunders” were not “mistakes" but "moves.” Destroying two or three nations and doing it as “mistakes” was at the very heart of the new world order. 

 

By characterizing these “moves” as “mistakes” Bacevich helps to hide what is actually going on. And so, of course, these wars were not “quagmires” into which the US had been dragged; as even Bacevich gets right: "First, Vietnam and Iraq were both avoidable: For the United States, they were wars of choice. No one pushed us. We dove in headfirst.” 

 

Exactly: “we dove in headfirst” in order to, in the 60s, not to defeat monolithic communism but to defeat domestic revolution - and succeeded to such a degree that Reagan’s election was and is proclaimed to be the “Reagan revolution.” 

 

[LBJ’s “Great Society” was created to serve the same purpose. As LBJ said of the Democratic Party after getting the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed: “We have lost the South for 50 years.” Which put differently would mean: “And  the South would rise again!” as it did with Nixon’s “Southern strategy.” That strategy was made possible by LBJ disguised as “liberal.” His Great Society and the Vietnam War were two sides of the same coin.] 

 

And we dove into Iraq headfirst in order to secure our “new world order,” an order characterized by “going to the dark side,” “renditions,” “enhanced interrogation techniques,” “preemptive war,” “the axis of evil,” Guantanamo,” “black sites,” and the “Patriot Act.” All of these became legitimate after 9/11 and after Shrub’s invasion, occupation, and destruction of Iraq. That the destruction of Iraq was the goal should be obvious insofar as that destruction continued into the occupation. That alleged “fiasco” was not a “mistake;” it was just another “move” by US imperialistic elites. 

 

As Tom Robbins wrote somewhere; “It is what it is. You are what you it. There are no mistakes.” Or as Kurt Vonnegut put it more concisely; “So it goes.” This truly is “No Country for Old Men.” 

 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Biden's Victory: White Nationalism Fortified

 

Biden’s Victory: White Nationalism Fortified

Peter Schultz

 

            Americans are a most interesting people. Apparently because they are currently concerned with white nationalism, they think that if they take down some statues of Confederate generals, change the names of some military installations named for Confederate generals, they will be dealing with the nation’s white nationalism, moderating or even eradicating its force, leading to a post-white nationalist era.

 

            One reason a lot of Americans think this way is because they have been taught that white nationalists are aberrations, that they exist outside of mainstream American politics in, for example, militias and organizations like the Klu Klux Klan. They fail to see or appreciate that white nationalism, or white supremacy is intertwined into the fabric of American society. They fail to see that their claims, so often made that they are taken for granted as justified, to lead the world toward democracy are claims that only make sense if one embraces ideas of the supremacy of US nationalism. America is, it is taken for granted, the exceptional nation, hence, its nationalism is exceptional, nothing like the nationalism found in other places like China, Russia, Venezuela, Iraq, or Vietnam.

 

            So, Americans embrace and are proud of their nationalism and, because black nationalism is unacceptable in the United States, this means that they embrace white nationalism and, therewith, white supremacy. When someone like Joe Biden, who throughout his career has embraced US nationalism – in the guise of the war on terror or the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan or policies leading to the mass incarceration - is elected president, the forces of white nationalism are fortified or reinforced. That the the diversity of his cabinet is merely decoration is revealed by the fact that one way to describe his selections is to say they are “non-white.” And this is basically what diversity in the US has come to mean: Incorporating “non-whites” into the ruling elites.

 

            Pulling down statues of Confederate generals or decorating the cabinet with non-whites actually does very little to offset the white nationalism that is deeply interwoven into our society and our politics. And this white nationalism will continue to infect our society until we realize that the issue is or should be nationalism. Trump may have been an aberration in some ways but his white nationalism wasn’t one of those ways. Rather, by revealing the power of white nationalism, Trump went to “the dark side.” But then it was white nationalism that allowed prior presidents like Bush and Obama to also go to “the dark side.”

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Cover-ups and American Politics

 

Cover-ups and American Politics

Peter Schultz

 

            “It’s not the crime; it’s the cover up that leads to real trouble.” This thought became quite popular during the scandal known as Watergate, when it was alleged that it was Nixon’s attempt to cover-up “a third-rate burglary” that led to his downfall. And while there is some truth to this argument it is, at best, incomplete because Nixon’s cover-up wasn’t the only one being undertaken.

 

            John Dean, who was probably the impetus for the break-ins at the DNC in the Watergate complex, ran his own cover-up and did so successfully, to the point that he emerged as an ethical young man functioning among a gang of thieves. Bob Woodward ran his own cover-up, using Deep Throat as an integral part of it, hiding his connection to the military spy ring that was spying on the Nixon administration. Al Haig also ran a cover-up, hiding his connections to said spy ring as well as hiding the role he played in getting Nixon to resign his presidency. Without these cover-ups, our elites would have been exposed as conniving, manipulative people who would do most anything to advance themselves while pretending to be patriots serving the country.

 

            This means: Cover-ups are not peripheral but essential to government and governing. Governments cannot successfully function without cover-ups. Why? Because human beings need to justify their behavior, their actions, to convince themselves they are “doing good,” and governments, to succeed, must do things that cannot be justified. Putting this another way: To succeed governments must do unjust, even evil things and must, therefore, cover-up their essential activities. Justice might emerge as a result of governmental actions but that justice rests on, was made possible by injustice. This the meaning of Machiavelli’s assertions that the way human beings actually live is so far from how they think they should live, that anyone who wishes to succeed had better “learn how not to be good.” This was, for Machiavelli, “the effectual truth,” which he knew of course wasn’t the whole truth. But it was the only truth that mattered – in this world.

 

            Now these thoughts were recognized once upon a time by those who argued that small governments, weak governments are safer because they are less capable of injustice than large, powerful, consolidated governments. If a large, powerful, consolidated government, say a national government, were to be created, its capacity and practice of injustice would be immense, even limitless. And, hence, such governments will to engage in cover-ups, e.g., like covering up savage war-making as eradicating evil in the world via a war on terror, or covering up mass annihilations as purifications of the human race. Large, powerful, consolidated governments need large, powerful myths to succeed.

 

            Of course these myths must be endorsed and perpetuated by those deemed “intelligent” or “wise” in any society; that is, by a society’s elites. And so, interestingly, these elites, having been deemed “wise” by their social status, are more susceptible to believing, propagating, and perpetuating these myths than the “unchosen” or the “uneducated,” the working class popularly speaking. Thus, those deemed highly intelligent – like those holding Harvard degrees – are more likely to be delusional than the members of the “lower” classes, which helps explain why our elites are restocked from our “best” institutions of “higher learning.” Being most invested in and in need of the system’s myths, the “upper classes” will seek their perpetuation and, therewith, the fortification of that system.

 

            So this leads to what is perhaps the grandest myth, the greatest cover-up, viz., that it isn’t the delusional who govern us. Consider this: Despite fiasco after fiasco, we go on believing all is well or very soon will be, right after the next election, or after the next war, or after the next recession/depression. The promised land is just around corner and we will arrive if only we follow those who have been designated as our leaders. In a strange way, what is known as Machiavellian “realism” feeds into a most delusional “idealism.” And what is most needed is disillusionment. And over that horizon, philosophy, understood as the quest for inspiration, is visible along side a cynical or humorous view of government and politics. We need to see, really see, that our most notable politicians are merely stentorian baboons blocking our path to true fulfillment.

 

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The War Conspiracy

 

The War Conspiracy

Peter Schultz

 

            So, I am reading this book by Peter Dale Scott, The War Conspiracy: JFK, 9/11, and the Deep Politics of War.”  The title of chapter four is “Provoking China and the USSR: 1966-68.” As Dale summarizes: “The following chapter . . . represents my serious argument that elements of the US military plotted to frustrate peace talks land perhaps escalate the Vietnam War.” [p. 147]

 

            Robert McNamara, obviously aware of such concerns, had written in his memoirs that the US military were “dedicated, loyal servants . . . motivated by a deep and noble desire to serve their country.” However, as Dale points out “To sustain this non-conspiratorial view . . . McNamara had to ignore certain facts.” For example, he had to ignore that one Colonel Broughton covered up what he, the colonel, claimed was an accidental attack on a Soviet ship that was in a North Vietnamese harbor, including destroying the film of the attack recorded by the planes involved therein. As Dale points out, if the attack was in fact accidental, why did Broughton seen the need to destroy the evidence that would prove that. “If the attack was indeed accidental, then he [Broughton] unfortunately eliminated the best possible evidence for showing this.” [p. 153]

 

            Nonetheless, Dale does not now want to disparage the US military too much. As he puts it, despite the fact that “In its own eyes . . . the US military suffered not just a setback but a defeat in Vietnam,” “We should remember also that, through all the complexities of Watergate, the shock of defeat in Vietnam did not provoke the US military into a political retaliation. No general trod in the footsteps of MacArthur, and even MacArthur accepted his retirement with constitutional grace and dignity.” [p. 149]

 

            So, despite appearances or some troubling incidents, civilian supremacy still reigns in the United States. Or so Dale would like to believe. But what of the role the military played in the demise of Richard Nixon, if not of LBJ as well? That is, it was a military spy ring that was spying on Nixon that led to the creation of the Plumbers and other steps Nixon took to preserve the secrecy he thought necessary for successfully recognizing China, reaching strategic arms agreements with the Soviets, and ending the Vietnam War in a way that would redound to his credit and preserve some dignity in defeat for the United States. In fact, the scenario was such that references were made, sarcastically perhaps, to the movie Seven Days in May, a movie, liked much by JFK, that portrayed an attempted military coup in the United States. And there are reports that Robert Kennedy, during the Cuban missile crisis, told the Soviet ambassador that there was a possibility of the military taking control of the US government’s response to those missiles.

 

            Also, there is the question of what role General Alexander Haig played in Nixon’s demise. There is even a book entitled Haig’s Coup, where it is argued that Haig, with help from others who had connections to the Department of Defense, played a major role in ensuring that Nixon lost via resignation the presidency. The argument there is that Haig did this in order to protect himself from possible charges for the role he had played in the wiretapping of members of the National Security Council and several journalists, as well as protecting himself from revelations of the role he played as a source for Bob Woodward during Watergate. It would appear that the military did in fact engage in some “political retaliation” against those who were unwilling to do what they, the military, thought needed to be done, viz., rolling back communism in Asian and elsewhere.

 

            When seen in this light, LBJ, as Dale notes, appears in a quite different guise than he appeared to Dale, and other anti-war activists, while the Vietnam War was being waged. As Dale notes, it is plausible to see LBJ as attempting, however vainly or fitfully, to restrain the military in Vietnam in order to avoid starting a war with the Soviet Union or China. Insofar as this is accurate, then it is the case that LBJ’s decision not to seek re-election in 1968 needs to be reevaluated in order to see what role the military might or might not have played in that decision. One thing that can be pointed out: By resigning in order to work for peace in Vietnam, as he claimed he was doing, Johnson was making peace the goal toward which the government and its officials would be working.  And, so, even Richard Nixon ran as a peace candidate in 1968, promising “peace with honor” if he were elected. Insofar as this is correct, then it may be said that Johnson’s decision not to seek reelection was his way of short-circuiting the military’s desire to win the war.

 

            Would the military then seek to retaliate against Nixon and his attempts to change in significant ways the foreign policy of the United States, moving toward détente with the Soviets and toward recognition of China, while pronouncing the Nixon Doctrine which was geared to demilitarizing US foreign policy, ala’ leaving Vietnam without a victory? Even if the military did not adopt such an agenda, it must be said that where the US is today, where its military is today – beyond almost all reproach – indicates that, even without trying, the military has achieved a level of power that if not superior to at least rivals the power of civilians.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

"An Intelligence Failure of Historic Proportions"

 

“An Intelligence Failure of Historic Proportions”

Peter Schultz

 

            It was “an intelligence failure of historic proportions.” John Kiriakou, former CIA officer and author of The Convenient Terrorist.

 

            A quote from the book The Watchdogs Didn’t Bark, by John Duffy and Ray Nowosielski, regarding Bush and Tenet after Tenet had presented the CIA’s proposed plans for responding to the 9/11 attacks:

 

            “Did Bush have any anxiety about the leverage Tenet had over him, having laid out a series of warnings about Al Qaeda in the previous months, resulting in little offensive action from the leadership that received it? Bush didn’t need enemies. He needed friends.” [p. 107]

 

            It has been a question frequently raised after the 9/11 attacks why the CIA didn’t inform the FBI or the White House about the presence of two known terrorists in the United States until shortly before those attacks. The CIA claims either they did inform the FBI or they didn’t, but it’s a mystery why there is no evidence of such information being passed or why it wasn’t passed. One common speculation is that the agency was running an operation involving these terrorists and didn’t want that operation interfered with. But here now is another possibility: That CIA, by not revealing all it knew, could mislead the FBI and the White House as to the likelihood of such attacks while claiming they had warned others. Then, if and when the attacks occurred, the CIA would be in the driver’s seat, so to speak, as that organization that was on top of things, thereby guaranteeing that their plans regarding a response to the attacks would be adopted. Which is what happened on September 17th, after Tenet had presented the CIA’s proposals at Camp David to Bush and his cabinet on September 15th.

 

            If so, Kiriakou’s description of the lead up to 9/11 as “an intelligence failure of historic proportions” would be precisely the description the CIA was going for at that time. So, in the midst of what looks like a historic intelligence failure, the CIA comes out smelling like roses and has its way in the aftermath. As a result, the CIA’s document “Destroying International Terrorism” which was “a wish list accumulated from decades of CIA directors’ and employees’ wildest dreams” would become the heart and soul of the US’s response to 9/11. This would constitute “a striking [program] that was a substantive departure from all prior US policy.” [p. 102, 103-04] All restraints would be abandoned and, as a result, “illegality would become official American policy.” Further, according to Tenet, “in dozens of countries…, there was a need for a host of covert activities, from propaganda to killings….Tenet asserted that a terrorist assassination list should be developed and updated by his counterterrorist staff.”

 

            As Tenet himself said, in selling his proposals: “Nobody knew this target like we knew it. Others haven’t been paying attention to this for years as we had been doing. And nobody else had a coordinated plan for expanding out of Afghanistan to combat terrorism across the globe….” [p. 106] Of course, Tenet’s claim that no one else knew the enemy like the CIA did was true in part because the CIA kept others from knowing what the CIA knew. And for similar reasons, others hadn’t been paying attention as had the CIA.

 

            To call what preceded the 9/11 attacks “an intelligence failure of historic proportions” is both true and the perfect cover up of what the CIA had and had not been doing during that time. For a long time, many have said that CIA’s greatest cover up is selling itself as an intelligence-gathering agency. It seems that its cover up of its activities prior to 9/11 ranks up there with its cover up as an intelligence agency.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Cover Ups: Watergate and 9/11

 

Cover-Ups, Watergate and 9/11

Peter Schultz

 

            People talk about “the Watergate cover-up,” referring usually to the White House’s attempts to cover-up any involvement in the burglaries at the Watergate complex. It is taken for granted that this cover-up failed and, as a result, Richard Nixon resigned the presidency to avoid certain impeachment and conviction. Now, this is quite correct regarding Watergate but it is also quite limited because there were several cover-ups going on during the Watergate scandal and not all of them failed.

 

            For example, John Dean had his own cover-up, which was successful in hiding his role in initiating the Watergate burglaries as well as hiding his own obstructions of justice as he helped Nixon try to cover up the activities of his, Nixon’s, allies. E. Howard Hunt covered up his connections to the CIA, as did John McCord as well, both of these cover-ups were somewhat successful. Alexander Haig covered up his connections with Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, as well as his role in a military spy-ring that was spying on Nixon and Kissinger. According to more than one account, Haig also successfully covered up his role in getting Nixon out of the presidency, which has been referred to as “Haig’s Coup.” And, of course, Woodward and Bernstein used “Deep Throat” to cover up their source(s) and to lend credence to what often were fallacious news stories. Woodward also covered up his previous connections to Haig, when Woodward was a naval officer briefing Haig as a member of the National Security Council.

 

            So when it’s said after 9/11 that there was a cover-up, it behooves us to ask: Was there just one cover-up or several? Based on what happened during Watergate, we should expect to find multiple cover-ups. For example, it is clear that the CIA covered up its pre-attack actions and decisions. They did not inform the FBI that two of the eventual hijackers, who had clear ties to Al Qaeda, were in the United States legally and had been since 2000. This led one FBI agent, Ali Soufan, to say immediately after the attacks when he learned the CIA knew of these people: “They knew, they fucking knew!” Obviously, the agency did its best to cover up their actions.

 

            Moreover, the NSA covered up its pre-attack actions as well, actions that included scrapping a program – Thin Thread – that would have stood an excellent chance of identifying potential terrorists and stopping the attacks. And, of course, it’s also clear that the Bush White House covered up their pre-attack indifference and disinterest in the possibility that the US was about to be attacked. Further, by drawing to retaliation and prevention, the Bush administration shifted the focus away from accountability, from determining and assigning blame. After resisting such accountability for as long as it could, the Bush administration agreed to a commission to “investigate,” disguising this part of its cover-up as an “investigation.” From its outset, the commission announced that it wasn’t interested in accountability, that is, with determining who or which agencies had failed. Obviously, this was part of the White House cover-up.

 

            But an even more interesting question is: What was being covered up? That is, was the cover up following the 9/11 attacks covering up failure or success? The most common view is that the cover-ups were hiding failure(s). That is, one common view, widely shared, is that the CIA and the Saudis were conducting a covert operation of one kind or another, perhaps an operation to penetrate Al Qaeda. But this operation got away from them or the Al Qaeda members being “run” double-crossed the CIA and the Saudis, with disastrous results.

 

            But it is also possible – although horrifying to contemplate perhaps – that what was being covered up was a success. That is, the joint CIA/Saudi operation did what its creators wanted it to do, viz., change American politics in radical ways by creating “a Pearl Harbor” kind of event. This event would allow for the unleashing of forces that had been leashed to a degree thought dangerous by more than a few powerful people and/or organizations embedded among US elites. Just as George H.W. Bush’s Iraq war was said to have cured “the Vietnam syndrome” infecting the US, so too 9/11 and its aftermath may be said to have brought about “the new world order” Papa Bush had promised but could not deliver, while his son could. In George Bush’s version of Christianity, it is recognized that it’s the son who redeems the world of sin, not the father. And Bush told his minister that he was seeking the presidency because God told him that “something was going to happen” that he, Bush, was called upon to deal with. On 9/11, “something” did happen and, as a result, as Thomas Paine said (without any religious overtones) we could “begin the world anew.”

 

            Such an event, however, was best, most prudently covered over as a failure because to see it as a success was too horrifying for the multitudes to comprehend. Besides, even as a failure, that event could be used to make the existing world over, to eradicate evil, as Bush liked to say. Even as failure, 9/11 could be used as an opportunity, even seen as a gift, as that event revealed the error of our ways, our previous ways. We had, for example, previously refused to go to “the dark side,” but now we knew better. We should, even must embrace evil to defeat evil.

 

            Regardless of whether it was covering over success or failure, however, the 9/11 cover up worked, just as several of the cover-ups that occurred during the Watergate scandal worked. As a result of the success of some of these cover ups, political careers were protected, even enhanced, both in the case of Watergate and of 9/11. And, more importantly,  it is fair to say that as a result of these cover-ups, the character of American politics was changed in significant, even radical ways.

Monday, November 16, 2020

"It Is What It Is": The Politics of Despair

 

“It Is What It Is”: The Politics of Despair

Peter Schultz

 

            Often, certain phrases are filled with more meaning that we recognize. One such phrase is “It is what it is,’ which is often said when someone is confronting a political phenomenon, like corruption, that seems to be inevitable, even perhaps “natural.” “Such and such a politician is corrupt,” someone says. And then someone else, speaking as a realist, says: “It is what it is,’ which is usually and usually intended as conversation stopper, like “Life isn’t fair” or “So it goes.”

 

            Mark Leibovich has written an interesting, enlightening book about Washington D.C. entitled This Town: Two Parties and A Funeral. In it, he posits that our two parties specialize in “organizing discontent.” That is, our elites play on our discontent, organizing it so as to maintain and enhance their power and authority. The sources of the discontent are not addressed or not addressed adequately while  our reigning elites continue in power.

 

Leibovich writes about the use of phrase “It is what it is” as something of a cop-out, used by Washingtonians – politicians, lobbyists, journalists, the military, “the formers” - when they are confronted with their own peccadillos, their vanity, even their greed – or as they might euphemistically put it, “their skill at acquiring wealth and power.” This is enlightening – and seems all-too-true – but Leibovich’s description of what our elites do, “organizing discontent,” doesn’t quite reach deeply enough into the roots of the Washingtonians’ psyches.  

 

            It is not enough to say that our elites “organize discontent” because, in fact, they create, deliberately and with malice-aforethought, discontent. They also may be said to aim at creating not just discontent but also at creating despair. And they do this in order to maintain and fortify their power and authority.

 

            How does this work? First, if our prevailing elites can cultivate despair in the rest of us, then the possibility of genuine change or reform looks chimerical, looks radical, looks like pie-in-the-sky dreaming. After all, “it is what it is” and “it” cannot be otherwise. And this mindset would apply to even relatively minor reforms, which can be made to look like significant changes when viewed through the realist lens of “It is what it is.” Hence, the very common phenomenon of some people being labeled “socialists” when in fact no genuine socialist would agree with that characterization.

 

            Second, cultivating despair is well-served by what may be called “a politics of failure.” That is, those who accept the status quo may promise and even initiate significant changes, while knowing that when these initiatives fail – which the very same elites may facilitate – the status quo will be fortified or re-legitimated. Declaring a war on drugs or on poverty, for example, is one way to reinforce the status quo insofar as these wars are likely to be lost or never won. And those in power aren’t actually concerned with winning these wars because either way, won or never won, they win. Moreover, “endless” wars, which are actually “winless wars,” also reinforce the legitimacy of the status quo and the power and authority of the prevailing elites, which helps explain why such wars are fought over and over. “It is what it is.”

 

            And this helps to explain why even long-tenured politicians may say over and over that “Washington is broken” without undermining their own power and authority. Because “it is what it is,” electing other politicians to replace the current ones won’t or can’t change the situation. And, of course, as everyone knows, “better the devil you know than the one you don’t know.” The system is broken, everyone agrees, but “it is what it is.”

 

            Third, embracing “a politics of hope” is another way to cultivate a politics of despair insofar as that hope is not sustainable, as illustrated by the presidencies of Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama. To embrace “the audacity of hope” is a set up on the road to a politics of despair. Hope followed by repeated failures leads to hopelessness, that is, to political despair. As a result, people turn away from politics because they view politics as futile: “It is what it is.” Reigning elites will even go to some lengths to convince people of the futility of politics by embracing hope while reconciling themselves to failure. “It is what it is.”

Saturday, November 7, 2020

The US Political Order: Authoritarian?

The US Political Order: Authoritarian?

Peter Schultz

 

            Here are some quotes from Robert Parry’s Secrecy and Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, which raise an interesting question about the recently concluded 2020 elections and the Trump presidency.

 

            “Add the fear and the sense of victimization from the 9/11 attacks and a new political model suddenly lay open as a possibility for the United States. It would be a post-modern authoritarian system that would rely less on traditional repression of political opposition than on a sophisticated media to intimidate and marginalize dissidents.

            “The new system would be the sum of the parts gradually arising out the ruins of Watergate…. this new system would rely on ridicule to make those who get in the way objects of derision, outcasts who very names draw eye-rolling chuckles and knee-slapping guffaws. Think of Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore…’ [p. 359]

 

            The question is this: What in the “evolution” and then the defeat of the Trump presidency conflicts with what Parry describes as “a post-modern authoritarian system that…. [relies]…. on a sophisticated media to intimidate and marginalize dissidents?”

 

            Of course, just to be clear: To raise this question, it is not necessary to defend Trump or his presidency. It can be admitted that Trump and his presidency were indefensible. However, assessing Trump and assessing the political order as it now functions are two very different assessments. It could be that as bad as the Trump presidency was the American political order as described by Parry is just as bad, or even worse insofar as it is an order that not only trashes the likes of Trump but also trashes other dissidents. And if you need illustrations of such activity, just recall the names Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, while also recalling Obama’s attack on whistleblowers.  

 

 


Thursday, November 5, 2020

2020 Election: The Game Is Over; TheTable Is Set

 

2020 Election: The Game Is Over, The Table Is Set

Peter Schultz

 

            The presidential election has been decided even all the votes have not been counted. Trump is out, as the numbers remaining aren’t in his favor. His lawsuits in different states will, I predict, go nowhere. The Republican mainstream has not and will not support his charges of electoral fraud. Even if he were to take a case to the Supreme Court, he would lose. It’s one thing for the Supremes to award the presidency to George Bush; it’s another thing entirely for the Supremes to award the presidency to Donald Trump. Trump’s “credentials,” such as they are, work against him, as does his behavior or misbehavior as president. On the other hand, George Bush’s “credentials” worked for him in 2000. He had been governor of Texas and, after all, he was the grandson of Prescott Bush and the son of George Herbert Walker Bush. This lineage counts for a lot in the District of Columbia and with its reigning elites. Just ask Jimmy Carter or Richard Nixon.

 

            And, as it stands now, the table is set for a return to “normalcy.” Given the closeness of the presidential election, the Democrats can and will argue that now is not the time for what they consider “radical” or even “leftish” measures. Such measures, it will be argued, could prove costly in four years when the next presidential election will occur. There will be no “pushing Biden to the left.” In fact, what is called the Democratic left will be forced to move to the right, to protect the party’s flank. Moreover, if as seems likely the Republicans hold their majority in the Senate, then the Democrats will argue that, even if they wanted to move to “the left,” they wouldn’t be able to get such measures past the Senate.

 

            The “beauty” of the outcomes of what was to many “the most important election in their lifetimes” is that, for all important purposes, the nation is back to where it was prior to Trump’s election in 2016. One may even say that Trump’s presidency and his defeat in this election has served to fortify those political forces that were struggling to maintain their legitimacy after Obama’s bland and utterly forgettable presidency and after Bush’s post 9-11’s fiascos, meaning the invasion and occupation of Iraq, torture, Guantanamo, and the economic collapse of 2008. So if this has been the most important election in our lifetimes, it should not be said that that is the case because its outcomes put the nation on the road to a different and healthier politics.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Founders' Gamble

 

The Founders Gamble

Peter Schultz

 

Actually, Barr is wrong. The “Founders” didn’t gamble that virtue would prevail over the passions. They gambled that virtue wasn’t necessary or even desirable in their newly created “republic.” [Madison referred to religion as a source of tyranny in a letter to Jefferson and alluded to that in the Federalist Papers.] This was noticed at the time by the Anti-Federalists and commented on over and over. For example, if you read some of the Anti-Federalists descriptions of what life would be like in what we call the District of Columbia, they will sound remarkably like what life is like there now. 

 

The “Founders'” project was to regulate the passions by setting them in opposition each other, or as Madison said in Federalist #51, self-interest must be set against self-interest because the only alternative was like relying on “angels” to  govern. And of course that was a fantasy.

 

As Herbert J. Storing said in class once: He wouldn’t teach the Federalist Papers in high school because there was little there besides a reliance on self-interest, that is, passion. He also wrote [In “What the Anti-Federalists Were For”] that the Federalists had the “stronger” argument than the Anti-Federalists and, of course, the stronger and strongest arguments are such because they appeal to the passions, not to reason.

 

We seem to be harvesting the results of the “Founders” gamble. 

 

https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/oct/13/william-barr-founders-gambled-virtue-prevailing-ov/

 

 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Trump's Defeat Will Be Meaningless

 

Trump’s Defeat Will Be Meaningless

Peter Schultz

 

            If you’re concerned with changing US politics, given the political consensus that exists in the US now, voting against Trump is as meaningless as voting for Biden, and vice versa. Either outcome, Biden’s or Trump’s election, will produce no real change in US politics. So defeating Trump will be meaningless because no basis has been laid to an alternative politics in the US.

 

            At least Ronald Reagan pretended to offer an alternative politics to that which preceded him but Biden neither intends nor wants to make such an offer. Biden’s choice by the Democrats was a huge neon sign announcing that they neither wanted nor intended any significant change from the politics that has prevailed since the election of Reagan in 1980. What may be called “the Reagan restoration” will be restored once more, as it was in 1992 and in 2008. Just as Trump’s defeat is meaningless, so too will Biden’s victory be meaningless. Despite all the hoopla, despite all the bitterness between the rivals, despite all the calls to “save American democracy,” this election is, in fact, meaningless.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Just Another Sucker: A Conversation

 

Just Another Sucker: A Conversation

Peter Schultz

 

            When I happened to mention that I had served in the Army, the young man said: “Thank you for your service.”

 

            I said: “Oh, don’t thank me. I was just another sucker going off to fight a war that made the rich richer and the nation worse off.”

 

            He said: “Oh, so you’re a Trump supporter.”

 

            I said: “Never!”

 

            He said; “Why not?”

 

            I said: “Because Trump is just another old rich guy telling poorer young people to go fight in wars that will make Trump and other rich people richer.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Academics and US Politics

 

Academics and US Politics

Peter Schultz

 

            This will be one of my shortest posts ever. Years ago, while in graduate school, I had a friend, an older chap, of British heritage, who was about as smart about political stuff as anyone I had met or have ever met since. He said to me once: “You know, Pete, these Straussians are so delusional. They think that eventually when they get to Washington, because they have read the classics and studied political philosophy, they will be running things. They don’t know that the politicians in D.C. will use them and they will be little more than shills for the ruling class.”

 

            Well, it took awhile but this seems to have happened. That is, some of those who think of themselves as politically astute because they have studied political philosophy have been co-opted. Some of these people have studied Leo Strauss; some of them have studied Eric Voeglin. But all of them have become shills for the likes of Joe Biden! Amazing.

Endless War Isn't War

 

Endless War Isn’t War

Peter Schultz

 

            In reading Robert Parry’s Secrecy and Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty From Watergate to Iraq, I came across the following sentence: “Following a global ‘lesser evil’ strategy, the United States….found justification in allying with fascists to defeat the Soviet Union….” The thought in that sentence seems utterly non-controversial. But then another thought popped into my head: “But the purpose of the Cold War wasn’t ‘to defeat the Soviet Union.’” Rather, it was about embedding, enhancing, and extending US power throughout the world. That war was about establishing the US’s imperial regime.

 

            Once I saw this I began to make sense of other phenomena that didn’t seem to make much sense. For example, “victory” in Vietnam was not crucial and, hence, was not determinative of US actions there. The war itself was enough to demonstrate and, thus, enhance US superiority. Even a defeat there could not make much of a dent in that perceived superiority. Similarly, “victory” in Nicaragua or Cuba was not crucial and, hence, not determinative of US actions in those nations. It is the projection of US power that matters because that confirms US superiority. And, of course, anything that threatens that image of US superiority must be taken on, whatever the outcome. US policies that lead to death, destruction, and dislocation are self-justifying as demonstrations of US superiority. That is, they need not be justified by their effectiveness. And, so, despite their acknowledged ineffectiveness, they continue, e.g., in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria.

 

            This points to a crucial difference between, say, WWII and what’s called the “Cold War” or the “War on Terror.” Victory was crucial to WWII, whereas in the Cold War or the War on Terror it is irrelevant, or so marginally important as to be irrelevant. Further, the use of propaganda during WWII and during the Cold War or the War on Terror is also different. Propaganda during WWII was used to help win that war and so, once the war was won, the propaganda could and would end. Not so with the Cold War or the War on Terror: Such propaganda is unending because it is used to perpetuate a regime, a political order, the imperial political order the US has created post-WWII. And because all political orders are, necessarily, unstable and tenuous, such propaganda will continue as long as the imperial political order it serves exists. “Public diplomacy” as a way of manipulating public opinion will be embraced by our elites in both parties, continually.

 

            Preserving US imperialism means preserving the power and authority of those who control that political order, those elites in both parties who have risen to power by virtue of their service to that political order. Hence, admission to those elites needs be denied to those who question US imperialism. No critique of that imperialism is permissible, at least not within its elites. Those who question that imperialism are, logically, subversives and must be dealt with.

 

            Which is to say: Endless war is not war. Rather, it is just a kind of politics, the kind of politics that serves to perpetuate and fortify imperialism. Endless war is merely imperial politics dressed up to look like war. All the flag waving, all the patriotic displays, all the calls for sacrifice are merely tricks that our imperial elites are using to fortify their own power and the political order they serve. Being “unpatriotic,” e.g., by taking a knee during the national anthem or refusing to stand for it, isn’t being unpatriotic. It’s merely dissenting from a kind of politics and political order that never fails to be inhuman.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Oligarchic Politics Redux: Carter and Trump

Oligarchic Politics Redux: Carter and Trump

Peter Schultz

 

            Our oligarchy, when shaken in its legitimacy, behaves in a fairly predictable manner. Consider the examples of Jimmy Carter and Donald Trump.

 

            When these men were elected, Carter in 1976 and Trump in 2016, the oligarchy was being challenged in ways that required a response in order for our oligarchic elites to regain their legitimacy. In 1976, the oligarchy turned to or accepted Jimmy Carter, while in 2016, it turned to or accepted Donald Trump for redemption. Both of these men were suited for their roles because both could be made to appear – perhaps because they actually were – dangerously incompetent. Both could be charged with bringing the US to “the eve of destruction,” as it were. They made it easy for the pros of covert action who are spread throughout the Washington establishment to undermine their presidencies. Moreover, the mainstream media could be counted on the serve these pros and their political agenda.

 

            And if Biden defeats Trump, as seems all-too-plausible to think will happen, then it may be said that both of the failed presidencies of these “redeemers” of the oligarchy will be followed by the election an old white guy of the “golly gee” variety, the kind of guys, who looking back in wonder of “the good old days,” could be easily blamed when things go awry, as they did during what was dubbed “the Iran-Contra scandal.” What “crisis” or “scandal” will afflict a Biden presidency? It’s impossible to know but what we can know is that if and when one does come, Biden’s defenders will trot out what might be called “the Reagan defense,” incompetence wrapped up in a veil that hints at mental dismiss.

 

            But it is good to keep in mind that Reagan’s presidency was defined by much more than the Iran-Contra scandal or that that scandal was a reflection of an imperialism that relied on and, thereby, led to the creation of Islamic fundamentalist extremists, as well as relying on drug-dealing, right wing insurrectionists throughout Latin America. These aspects of the Reagan presidency have been forgotten because the Democrats, during the Clinton presidency, refused to pursue the sometimes-criminal conspiracies of the Reagan years, some of which were under the control of George H.W. Bush. And, of course, the Bush pardons at the end of his presidency served to end any investigation into these matters. It is even plausible to argue that Bush threw the 1992 presidential election to Clinton, with Ross Perot’s help of course, in order to end any such investigations. Whether Bush did that or not, the results were to his, Bush’s, liking.

 

            Insofar as we can expect something like another Reagan presidency from Biden, we should be troubled at his prospects. For those thinking Biden can be pushed to “the left,” I would say: Forget that. A resurgent US imperialism is much more likely. It will be an interesting situation.