Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Triple Cross: A Comment


Triple Cross: A Comment

Peter Schultz


            In his book, Triple Cross: How Bin Laden’s Master Spy Penetrated the CIA, the Green Berets, and the FBI, Peter Lance repeatedly points out how the FBI and the CIA failed to see Ali Mohamed for the al Qaeda spy he was. Throughout the 1990s and even earlier, there was evidence of Mohamed’s attachment to al Qaeda. In fact, in 1993, he revealed to an FBI agent that he was such a spy and yet the FBI and the CIA failed to follow up.


            It’s interesting, to say the least, that despite all of the examples of failures of these agencies, Lance never asks whether all of these “might have beens,” as he calls them, are the result not of intermittent failures but of fundamental flaws endemic to these bureaucracies. That is, is it possible that these agencies are fundamentally defective and not just capable of making “mistakes,” as are all human beings and human organizations?


            Bureaucracies are institutions created in order to control things. This is their primary function regardless of what they are “regulating.” Hence, the intel they gather is assessed through the lens of control. If intel is gathered that is deemed not to represent a threat, not to represent significant danger than it is not important or, at any rate, not important enough to invest a significant amount of time and money in. It is, in all likelihood, to be “filed away” in case it proves to be significant later.


            What does this mean? Among other things, it means that bureaucrats and bureaucracies lack or suppress imagination. Bureaucrats are, it might be said, invested in “the effectual truth,” to borrow a phrase from Machiavelli’s The Prince, and not the whole truth. The whole truth only emerges through the use of imagination. What is called “evidence” is only what is evident, so evidence always presents only a partial picture of what is going on or what went on. There may situations where such partial pictures are beneficial, e.g., in criminal trials where the important thing is to determine if someone committed a particular act.


            But in other situations such partial pictures are misleading, are even blinding, as it were. To put it bluntly, the effectual truth gets human beings to nuclear weapons; but it doesn’t and it can’t get human beings to thinking, after witnessing the use of such weapons, “Now, I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” The latter requires imagination, inspiration, even religious inspiration. And such imagination or inspiration is essential to understand the world that nuclear weapons have created, or what those armed with nuclear weapons are likely to become.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Failure in Vietnam and the Rise of "Reagan"


Failure in Vietnam and the Rise of “Reagan”

Peter Schultz


How did the failure of the US in the Vietnam War fuel the rise of Ronald Reagan and his kind of conservatism? That failure fueled Reagan’s rise to power because that failure wasn’t perceived as a failure of the underlying political paradigm. According to that paradigm, call it “political realism,” power in the form of advanced technology and managerial skills will enable the US to control the world, both at home and abroad. As Prouty has put it, the US created “a great machine” in the guise of the Department of Defense, the CIA, NSA, and DIA, armed with the most advanced weapons and entrusted it to people educated in our elite institutions to be its managers.


Insofar as the US failed in Vietnam but didn’t see that failure as attributable to our politics of realism, then Reagan – or any other politician, conservative or liberal – could claim that our national security state, our “great machine,” needed strengthening, not dismantling. Which is of course what has happened.


In a way, Reagan et. al. turned Eisenhower’s warning about “the military-industrial complex” on its head. For Reagan et. al., it wasn’t the complex that was dangerous; it was the incompleteness of the complex that was dangerous. For Reagan, the military-industrial complex was the key to US survival and hegemony, and should therefore be embraced, fortified, and extended as far as possible. Reagan’s “conservatism” and Eisenhower’s represent two very different kinds of political regimes, with Reagan’s being imperialistic and Ike’s being, at least dimly, republican. Reagan’s conservatism points toward endless wars, wars that need not be won to serve their purposes, while Eisenhower’s conservatism points toward “a crusade for peace.”


That both Kennedy and Nixon ran against Eisenhower in the 1960 presidential election illustrates just how “unrealistic” Eisenhower’s politics seemed then – and seem now.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Ramblings on Tom and Huck


Ramblings on Tom and Huck

Peter Schultz


            Tom Sawyer has a destination and is satisfied with it, viz., the American dream of wealth, a beautiful girl, and fame.


            Huck Finn has no destination that satisfies or fulfills him and so he “lights out for the territories” leaving the Widow Douglas and “sivilization” behind.


            What if it isn’t only the realities of civilization, its dark side, that the reticent [“ancient’] philosophers are hiding with their art of writing? What if they are hiding philosophy as well?


            Philosophy, although the source of the most complete happiness, exposes truths that don’t make us free, that don’t even make us better. There’s beauty in the pursuit of truth even though the truth itself isn’t beautiful. That pursuit is beautiful because it requires love/eros/passion and inspires by being creative or imaginative. Inspiration and creativity are human pleasures of the highest order.


            So, the adventure [the pursuit] is more rewarding than the destination. Adventurers are closer to fulfillment than those who have “arrived,” those labelled “the successful.” Moreover, seeking and maintaining success requires foregoing the adventure(s), requires becoming or being “sivilized,” as Huck would put it. But, of course, a society of adventurers is unsustainable. Athens needed Crito even more than it needed Socrates, and Socrates knew it. Whatever else Socrates might be, he wasn’t a necessity. Whatever else “philosophy” might be, it isn’t a necessity.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

No Country for Old Men and Raleigh


No Country for Old Men and Raleigh

Peter Schultz


            In Cormac McCarthy’s novel, No Country for Old Men, just before Anton Chigurh kills Wells, puts a bullet in his head, he says to Wells: “If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?”


            Americans desperately want, even need to deny that the rule we followed has brought us to “Raleigh,” i.e., to mass murder involving family members as well as strangers, by mass murderers who are only fifteen years old. But we deny it all the time, claiming that events like the recent ones in Raleigh, N.C. are madness, aberrational behavior attributable to some kind of “brain sickness,” and not attributable to the rule we have followed. Modern psychology is a kind of knowledge that obscures the concepts of social or political responsibility and causality, thus making it useful in a corporatized, militarized, technologically sophisticated society that relies on cruelty, e.g., mass incarceration, in order to function and appear decent.  


            So, in a way, madness was invented or discovered in part because it served to obscure or disguise the cruelty of our civilization. And, of course, the invasive and pervasive spying on people, even or especially ordinary people – another result of the rule we have followed – is another way of controlling or minimizing the effects of this cruelty. But this all Sisyphean because the more violence that is created – and violence is “the rule we have been and are following” – the more surveillance and psychiatry we will need.

One Way of Reading Jane Austen


One Way of Reading Jane Austen

Peter Schultz


            One way of reading Jane Austen is to see her novels as illustrating the conflict between eros and will, between the erotic and the willful, between those seeking the beautiful and those seeking power, between the natural and the conventional. By and large, in Austen’s Britain, the willful often prevail, while the erotic often struggle.


            British willfulness is evident both domestically, where their erotic activities like marriage are treated as political or economic activities, as well as regarding foreign affairs where the Brits have created an empire in order to dominate the world. Moreover, the willful, like Willoughby, are allowed to damage the erotic, like Marianne, without suffering any social consequences and little more than a slightly troubled conscience, which is no doubt allayed by his wealth and social status. And it is Marianne who is deemed problematical, much more so than is Willoughby.


            A question for or about Austen: for Austen do the erotic win out? Or, insofar as they do win out, does their eroticism suffer damage? One could say that at least in Austen’s novels the erotic do win out, thereby elevating the erotic at the expense of the willful. Perhaps Austen hoped that this would, at least marginally, affect British society as well.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Fletcher Prouty, the CIA, and Modern Politics


Fletcher Prouty, the CIA, and Modern Politics

Peter Schultz


            At one point in his book, The Secret Team, Fletcher Prouty quotes the motto that adorns the entry way to the CIA building in Langley, Virginia, a motto drawn from the New Testament and chosen by Allen Dulles: “The Truth Shall Set You Free.” Of course, this is from the gospel of John and the words quoted were preceded by the words “You Shall Know the Truth and….” It is worthwhile to analyze this rather famous quotation from the gospel according to John.


            It is a rather nice thought, isn’t it? It implies that (1) the truth is accessible to us and (2) once accessed, the truth will set us free. And that’s rather nice. I mean, just think of how Oedipus might respond to these assertions. He learned the truth but it didn’t set him free. In fact, the truth he learned was that he had murdered his father and married his mother. Not so nice.


            More generally, it may be asked (1) what if the truth isn’t accessible to us and (2) even if it is accessible, what if it doesn’t make us free? What if, in truth, we are not free, if freedom is an illusion? In other words, the CIA, allegedly bottomed on what Prouty calls “realistic appraisals,” actually rests on naivete’ or an illusion.


            Prouty seems unaware of this possibility. For example, he argues that had JFK used the NSC properly – as Ike used it – he, JFK, would have gotten “more realistic appraisals” regarding the planned Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba. Here, Prouty uses the word “realistic” to mean “factual.” And in that sense, there is nothing controversial about Prouty’s argument. However, being realistic in a political sense rests on assumptions that are naïve’, challengeable, and not the result of an assessment of the facts.


            Being “realistic politically,” being a “realist,” means being powerful and using that power energetically, as Hamilton would put it. I use to ask early on in my presidency course, that students give me one word that describes what a president should be and, invariably, that word was “powerful.” The word was not intelligent, not imaginative, and certainly not caring, but powerful. For the students, who are good reflections of other Americans, they were just being realistic, as most of the rest of us would be as well if confronted with that question.


            That we think of being realistic as being powerful and using that power energetically explains a lot about American politics and its blind spots. For example, anti-communism, which Prouty argues was behind more than one CIA mistaken analysis, is just one manifestation of this realist mindset. That mindset is built around enemies, potential and actual, and so much so that, as Prouty notices, realists at times create enemies, even deadly enemies. So not only were Communists seen as deadly enemies but so too are crime, drugs, viruses, poverty, and even some Muslims. And, of course, it follows that in confronting such enemies realism requires that we prepare for war, whether cold, hot, or domestic. Realistic politics is ultimately an armed or militaristic politics that embraces secrecy both to assess and to oppose covertly our enemies. And the highest officer in the land is designated “the commander in chief,” and certainly not “the caretaker in chief.”


            Prouty shares this realistic view of politics. For example, in his assessment of the Bay of Pigs invasion, he asserts that it would have succeeded if US power had been properly applied. And he seems to imply he would have been alright with that invasion if it had been successful. But because of his realism, he fails to ask: If it had worked, would that have benefitted the United States, Cuba, or the world? You see, because they embrace power as the indispensable political virtue, realists like Prouty assume that the answer to this question was “Yes.” Whereas JFK’s answer to this question was, apparently, “No.”


            Why no? Because JFK was not naïve’ enough to think that every successful application or exercise of power would benefit human beings or improves the human condition. But this naivete’ lies at or near the core of modern politics – and perhaps at or near the core of all politics. Think about it. We tend to think that every successful manifestation of our power – powerful governments, cities, weapons, armies, prisons, asylums, even vaccines – benefits us and improves the human condition. There is a wonderful documentary film entitled “Divided Highways,” which is about the creation of the interstate highway system in the United States, the largest public works project ever undertaken by human beings anywhere. And what makes the film intriguing is how it illustrates that the creation of this highway system, despite the power it reflects and creates, is or should be controversial. Could it be that the United States would be better off without this powerful highway system? It’s a legitimate question, only it isn’t for realists. Realists naively think that exercising power is the crux of ameliorating the human condition. They think that this is the truth and that this truth will set us free.


            So, and here is a thought Prouty does not and probably cannot wrap his head around: JFK wanted to the Bay of Pigs invasion to fail and because he wanted it to fail he sabotaged it by withholding crucial applications of force in the form of bombers taking out Castro’s air force completely. In other words, JFK acted as if he thought that a successful invasion, which would result in the overthrow of the Castro regime, would not be beneficial to the United States, to Cuba, or to the world. Why can’t Prouty – and others – wrap their heads around this possibility? Because being realists, embracing realistic politics, Prouty and others cannot conceive of the possibility that the successful application of power would not be beneficial.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Reflections of Moral and Political Virtue


Reflections on Moral and Political Virtue

Peter Schultz


            I am reading the book The Yankee and Cowboy War, which is about American politics and particularly the connection between Dallas – that is, assassination of JFK – and Watergate – the coup that displaced Nixon. And in the course of my reading, I began to think about Aristotle and his teaching on moral and political virtue.


            Aristotle makes is clear that moral virtue is trumped by political virtue insofar as cities are defined by their respective political virtues, whether those virtues be democratic, oligarchic, or monarchical. That is, cities or political order are controlled, guided not by moral virtues but by political virtues, which of course vary from place to place. Democrats practice democratic virtues and oligarchs practice oligarchic virtues. It is the political virtues that rule.


            Now, in discussing the assassination of JFK, Carl Oglesby, author of The Yankee and Cowboy War discusses Chief Justice Earl Warren who was, of course, the chairman of the Warren Commission which was authorized to investigate the murder President Kennedy. Given the obvious shortcomings of the that Commission’s investigation, shortcomings that Warren must have noticed, Oglesby wonders about Warren’s situation, about the possibility that Warren was willing to cover-up certain aspects of the Kennedy assassination, even though Oglesby accepts that Warren was a man of “strong integrity.”


As Oglesby puts it, even or especially a man of strong integrity, like Chief Justice Warren, could have faced a conflict in which his integrity would be challenged were it to become evident that the investigation, if honestly carried out, would reveal the corrupt character, even the murderous or criminal character of the American political order. As Oglesby put it: “What if your strong integrity…is confronted with a choice…, a problem mere integrity might not know how to solve?” That is, what if the choice is between the truth (and the subsequent subversion of the established political order) and covering up a murder? Or to put that differently: What if your choice was between a potential revolution and covering up an assassination?


            What does “a patriot of unimpeachable integrity do” when his patriotism and integrity clash? Isn’t it likely, to say the least, that patriotism, political virtue, will prevail? And if political virtue countenances or justifies such corruption, how is it virtue? And, finally, if political virtue countenances such a cover-up, it would also countenance or justify the murder itself. It seems that neither moral nor political virtue are sufficient to render the human condition humane or just. Even “a patriot of unimpeachable integrity” like Chief Justice Warren will countenance injustice.