Sunday, March 31, 2024

The Problem of Good Intentions


The Problem of Good Intentions

Peter Schultz


                  Speculating on the meaning of Machiavelli’s assertion that failure invariably comes to humans who don’t “learn how to be able not to be good.” [The Prince]


                  What might Machiavelli have meant by this? What is it “not to be good?” And why is this something that needs to be learned?


                  It has often seemed to me that attributing good intentions to American politicians was a mistake, given that they so consistently chose policies that failed. I thought: Maybe they didn’t have good intentions. Maybe they had bad intentions, but intentions that would solidify their power and fortify the status quo. Could be.


                  But what if they did have good intentions and because they did, they invariably failed? That is, because they had good intentions, because they wanted to be and do good, they would choose and stick with policies that failed. Their good intentions, i.e., their inability “to learn how to be able not to be good” led to their failures.


                  Those having and being committed to good intentions, to being and doing good, are unlikely to “go with the flow,” i.e., to see when there is no flow. If you have good intentions, going with the flow will seem bad insofar as, when there is no flow, the best course of action requires relinquishing, abandoning your well-intentioned policies. And, so, in order to not give up your desire to do good, not to give up your good intentions, you press on -futilely – even in the face of obvious failure. For example, because George W. Bush was convinced that his intentions were good – defeating terrorism – he pressed on and on and on in Afghanistan and Iraq despite the fact that it was obvious his policies were futile. Bush couldn’t abandon his good intentions; he didn’t “learn to be able not to be good.” He had to be good, which was his downfall.


                  Isn’t it universally so that political life requires those engaged in it to have good intentions? Isn’t that how all politicians present and sell themselves? So, perhaps, the irony of political life is that what it requires – good intentions – is precisely what often or invariably leads to political failure. The road to hell – or political failure – is in fact paved with good intentions. Succeeding in political life is best achieved by not passionately embracing good intentions. Ironically, a sense of humor about politics proves to be worthwhile, even indispensable. And, again, ironically, the most serious human beings invariably make bad politicians. 



                  Here is President Obama illustrating that he too did not learn to be able not to be good: “Obama’s message – to Karzai, the Afghan cabinet, and American troops he addressed – was one of unwavering commitment: ‘The United States does not quit once it starts on something…. We keep at it. We persevere. And together with our partners, we will prevail. I am absolutely confident of that.’” [435] Of course, Obama wasn’t absolutely certain of that. Nor were his partners, for example, the head of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency. And, so, despite the obvious failures of US policies up that point, in order to do good, to persevere, to keep at it, the killings would go on and on and on, including of course the killings of American troopers, with no guarantee that the United States would succeed.  

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Bin Laden v. the United States


Bin Laden v. the United States

Peter Schultz


                  Bin Laden, in his war with the United States, should be awarded a TKO, a technical knockout victory insofar as he changed the United States in significant and not beneficial ways. And one reason he could do this was because the United States deemed itself to be the exceptional nation, that is, an exceptionally good nation that deserved to control the world. After 9/11, the United States became a fearful, militaristic, and surveilling nation to an unprecedented degree. Bin Laden, it would seem, understood that the claim to be an exceptional nation left the United States vulnerable to manipulation to a great degree.


                  Because it took itself to be an exceptionally good nation, the United States could not fathom why it had been attacked. In other words, it couldn’t and didn’t understand the attacks. As a result, its response wasn’t well thought out, as Bush’s GWOT proved not to be. Although or perhaps because it saw itself as exceptionally good, America’s response to the 9/11 attacks was ill-conceived. Instead of going after the perpetrators of the attacks, Bush et. al. declared, and Americans embraced, a global war on a phenomenon known as “terrorism.” This was – and is – a fool’s errand. And it guaranteed that the United States would become a garrison state where the military or the military-corporate-surveillance complex took over American politics. All in the name of proving America’s exceptional goodness, it would waste its wealth as it was drawn into conflicts throughout the globe. It would even be led to create what may be called a “global Murder Inc.,” which would prove to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, including children.


Similarly, because it thought of itself as exceptional, Americans couldn’t understand the attacks themselves, thinking of them as apocalyptic, e.g., speaking of New York City as “ground zero,” as if the attack there was like the US atomic attacks on Japan. But the New York attacks, while deadly, weren’t close to being apocalyptic, as 3000 deaths hardly constitute an apocalypse. And the fact was that al Qaeda didn’t even use WMDs; it used airplanes, civilian airplanes.


But as the response to the Boston marathon bombing illustrated, bin Laden had successfully undermined America’s sense of security to the point that any attack was seen as potentially apocalyptic. “Boston Strong?” Not so much as the city and its people locked down as if two individuals wielding a pressure cooker bomb constituted an existential threat. Cowering in a city-wide lockdown is hardly indicative of strength. The reaction to that bombing was more like the reaction to “Blackhawk down” than not. “Boston down” seems more accurate than “Boston strong.”


Bin Laden, via the 9/11 attacks as interpreted by America’s elites and embraced by its people, had successfully remade the United States. The exceptionally good proved to be the exceptionally vulnerable on the road to being exceptionally self-destructive. For example, presidents were reduced to being commanders in chief. So reduced, the office was subordinated to the military-corporate-surveilling complex like the one Eisenhower warned about.


That complex and its presidents even had a cartoonish character, e.g., when Bush, decked out in a flight suit, landed on an aircraft carrier positioned so it seemed at sea to announce, “Mission Accomplished,” when nothing of the sort had happened. Or when President Obama fired General McCrystal for an article published in, of all places, Rolling Stone. And the 2020 presidential election had its own cartoonish sheen, when two geriatric candidates vied either to “save democracy” or to “drain the swamp,” take your pick. Bin Laden’s success had helped turn America’s politics into comedy, so it wasn’t surprising that presidents were routinely mocked on Saturday Night Live or late-night talk shows. And now the comedic 2020 election is going to be replayed in 2024. As an old expression has it: “You can’t make up stuff like this.”


America’s alleged exceptionalism, its alleged exceptional goodness, didn’t protect it against bin Laden and his small band of followers. As Machiavelli pointed out, humans who don’t learn to be able not to be good will invariably fail. Patriotism or goodness isn’t enough. Intelligence, a sense of humor, and a sense of the irony of political life are indispensable for succeeding politically, because these characteristics teach that the task is navigating the political world, not ruling it.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

More Irony


More Irony

Peter Schultz


                  From Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty Wars:


                  “Johari Abdul Malik, who succeeded Awlaki as imam of Dar al Hijrah mosque in Virginia, was dumbfounded. He remembered Awlaki as a moderate and as a Muslim who bridged two worlds deftly. ‘To go from that individual to the person that is projecting these words from Yemen is a shock,’ he said. ‘I don’t think we read him wrong. I think something happened to him.’” [373-374]


                  Well, the same thing that happened to Awlaki happened to the Americans. Both moved from tolerance to death sentences, to the wish to kill, a movement fed by “genuine moral rectitude” on both sides. No one, on either side, was trying to “bridge [the] two worlds deftly.”


                  Now, that’s ironic.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Apocalypse Now: The World Is a Battlefield


Apocalypse Now: The World Is a Battlefield

Peter Schultz


                  I finally understand why Mark Twain, in his novel The Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, has Merlin the Magician outlast the Yankee. In brief, it is because Merlin has a better understanding of the human condition than the Yankee, who, like George Bush,, sees the world as a battlefield best dealt with via armaments.


                  Seeing the world as a battlefield was Bush’s fundamental mistake. If it were true, then power, especially great power like that possessed by the United States, would be sufficient. But time after time, such power isn’t sufficient for successfully waging the War on Terror.


                  “’I don’t think Brennan’s up to dealing with Saleh in terms of craftiness and wiles,’ Lang [said].” Because he viewed the world as a battlefield, Brennan lacked the craftiness and wiles needed to successfully deal with Saleh, the president of Yemen. Of course, Brennan was hardly alone in this regard. If you think power is sufficient, then you won’t think that craftiness and wiles are crucial in dealing with allies or enemies. When you meet obstacles, you will send in more troops, launch more drones, torture more people, assassinate more people. And, yet you will still be outsmarted.


                  Less powerful people are more likely to rely on craftiness and wiles because, out of necessity, they appreciate the world isn’t best navigated as if it were a battlefield.


                  The Connecticut Yankee’s successes were due to craftiness and wiles, for example, when he pretended that he possessed magical powers by predicting a solar eclipse, thereby not only saving his life but also acquiring significant power. But it must be noted that the Yankee’s success depended on his good fortune that the eclipse was to happen when he needed it to. His power depended on fortune or chance.


                  This helps explain the appeal of covert operations, which may be made to resemble “magic.” In Tim O’Brien’s novel, In the Lake of the Woods, “the Sorcerer” realized he could make villages disappear by speaking a few words into his radio: “Poof, and in a cloud of white phosphorus, the village disappeared.” But the Sorcerer couldn’t make villages appear or re-appear. His “magic” was merely destructive, which is confirmed later when he makes his wife disappear. The “magic” of nation-building or of “relationship building” is non-existent or unavailable to the Sorcerer. He is the destroyer of worlds.


                  For Twain and O’Brien, modern “magic” is then ultimately destructive. It relies on armaments, on weapons, which is why Twain made the Connecticut Yankee an arms manufacturer in the United States. Combine that kind of “magic” with the conviction that the world is a battlefield, and the result will be destruction and death on an apocalyptic scale, like the wasteland created at the end of The Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Armaments, military power, whether nuclear or not, whether overt or covert, cannot create villages or nations. Such “magic” is merely destructive. And it is time perhaps to re-watch Coppola’s classic movie Apocalypse Now.

9/11: Neither Conspiracy nor Failure


9/11: Neither Conspiracy nor Failure

Peter Schultz


                  The attacks on 9/11 were the product of neither a conspiracy nor failures, in the sense that some government officials failed to do their jobs. Those officials didn’t fail as they all did their jobs and, yet, ironically perhaps, the attacks succeeded. Why?


                  First, the CIA did its job, in predicting the possibility of attacks. In fact, it did that job quite well, as its assessment was the bin Laden was determined to attack inside the United States.


                  So then, did the politicians, Bush, Cheney, et. al. fail? No, at least no more than gamblers “fail” when they don’t roll a seven, don’t draw to an inside straight, or pick the wrong horse to win. Outcomes can only be guessed at. While the present can be seen, the future cannot be because the present, however well assessed, remains mysterious.


                  But politicians neither see themselves as gamblers nor do they see politics as gambling. Politicians view themselves as “rulers,” as “governors,” as “the powerful.” They are in control, able to determine even the future. Ironically though, they are gamblers and, so, they get lucky every so often. And this points us to the question of “fortune,” and its place in human affairs. 9/11 reminds us or should remind us that fortune, not power, controls human affairs.


                  In fact, having great power blinds humans to fortune and its role in human affairs, and this blindness leads the powerful, even the most powerful, to losses, even catastrophic losses. Even or especially great power is a gamble, always and everywhere. Politics is a gamble, always and everywhere. And the powerful are more likely to lose and lose big insofar as they think they have conquered fortune. So, ironically, it was America’s great power, her “greatness” as some would say, that contributed to the success of the 9/11 attacks. Making America more powerful, as was done in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, will not, cannot correct the problem.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

The Way of the Knife


The Way of the Knife

Peter Schultz


                  So, I am reading this book, The Way of the Knife, by Mark Mazzetti, which is about “The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth.” In the course of the book, Mazzetti describes how the CIA had come to adopt the armed Predator, a drone, because it was thought to be “the ultimate weapon for a secret war. It was a tool that killed quietly, a weapon unbound by the normal rules of accountability in combat.” [99] And while there was some resistance to adopting this weapon, ultimately it was adopted and used. Which seemed even logical to me.


                  But then I found myself wondering how we humans seem so undisturbed by this weapon and have so little reluctance to embrace it. Why did the choice to embrace it seem so obvious? And I reasoned as follows.


                  There was a war on and so there was a need to kill our enemies, and of course to do so as efficiently and safely as possible. The choice was obvious because killing efficiently and safely is obviously good. So, killing is good and, thus, we should want to kill and, of course, we should want to kill efficiently and safely. So, we should embrace the most efficient, safest killing power available, including WMDs if available. That makes sense.


                  But a doubt arose in the form of a question, Is such killing virtuous? Is it courageous? Is it honorable? And if it isn’t, as seems likely, what happens to those humans who engage in it? That is, does it matter if human beings behave virtuously? Hmmm.


                  So, embracing armed Predators in order to assassinate people is the obvious, common-sense choice only if it doesn’t matter if we humans behave virtuously. This is why there is a nagging doubt about using armed drones to assassinate people – because we have a nagging suspicion that it genuinely matters if we humans live virtuously. Embracing armed drones, Predators, only makes perfect sense if we ignore the demands of virtue, if we have come to think that virtue may be dispensed with because there need not be untoward consequences.


                  And this nagging suspicion is accompanied by another one, viz., that progress isn’t the unalloyed good so many think it is, insofar as progress leads us to think that virtue is irrelevant. For example, courage may be replaced by modern, technologically sophisticated weapons, like drones or “smart bombs.” Technologically sophisticated warfare makes courage and honor seem quaint, old fashioned, even reactionary. And the quaint, the traditional, the reactionary, that is, the virtuous, might well be diagnosed as suffering from PTSD and in need of psychological adjustments. Because after all, it is the virtuous who often stand in the way of progress.



Friday, March 15, 2024

Irony and The Political


Irony and the Political

Peter Schultz


                  It seems to be a fact that the political and irony are closely related, even intertwined. Here are some examples.


                  “As late as 1981, when left-wing professor Marshall Berman finished writing All That Is Solid Melts into Air, he noticed how reticent corporate leaders were, seldom celebrating the intrinsic thrills and chills of capitalism. How ironic he wrote that in this modern time CEOs [were] obliged to appear to be reassuring antiradicals,” when, as Berman wrote, “Even as they frighten everyone with fantasies of proletarian rapacity and revenge, they themselves, through their inexhaustible dealing and developing, hurtle masses of men, materials and money up and down the earth and erode and explode the foundations of everyone’s lives as they go. Their secret – a secret they have managed to keep even from themselves – is that behind their facades, they are the most violently destructive ruling class in history.” [Evil Geniuses, 145]


                  “Such a colossal irony: after socialists and Communists in the 1930s and then the New Left in the 1960s had tried and failed to achieve a radical class-based reordering of the American political economy, the economic far right took its shot at doing that in the 1970s and succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest hope or fear.” [Evil Geniuses, 100]


                  “In all of this, financialization has done what people back in the 1950s and ‘60s and ‘70s worried and warned that Communists would do if they took over: centralize control of the economy, turn Americans into interchangeable cogs serving an inhumane system, and allow only a well-connected elite to live well. Extreme capitalism resembles Communism: yet another whopping irony.” [Evil Geniuses, 184]


                  Bill and Hillary Clinton protested that they were the victims of “a vast, right-wing conspiracy” of which they were parts! Now that’s ironic!



Tuesday, March 12, 2024

9/11: No Conspiracy Theories Needed


9/11: No Conspiracy Theories Needed

Peter Schultz


                  Just some facts.


-              The CIA was not set-up to stop attacks. It was set-up to attack or to facilitate attacks. Hence, their intelligence wasn’t “operationalized” to stop the 9/11 attacks because operationalization meant attacking. Identifying potential terrorists was the agents’ job if no attack was to occur.  


-              The FBI was set-up to catch criminals and arrest them so they could be tried and perhaps convicted in courts of law. It had and has legal responsibilities so “operationalizing” means creating “cases” that may be tried in courts. It was not set-up to stop attacks.


-              Sharing implies a “community” exists, but there was no “intelligence community” because there were only “intelligence bureaucracies.” Bureaucracies are not and do not strive to be parts of communities. Bureaucrats do not strive to be communal. That is not how they think or behave.


Add these facts up and it is possible to explain why the 9/11 attacks were not thwarted. No conspiracy theories needed. Which doesn’t’ mean that conspiratorial behavior didn’t occur.

Politics and 9/11


Politics and 9/11

Peter Schultz


                  It is most interesting how Americans think about the attacks of 9/11. Basically, they think of those attacks as this anonymous CIA official thinks of them: “The key to the whole game is to penetrate the organization [al Qaeda] and get inside the plot…. The question is, when, why, where, and how is it [the attack] going to happen.” In other words, avoiding an attack like 9/11 depended upon the discovery of al Qaeda’s secrets. And to do that, it was necessary to penetrate al Qaeda and get inside the plot.


                  This is a good description of the behavior of the CIA in the run-up to 9/11 and it is fair to say that it succeeded to a significant degree. For example, al Qaeda’s meeting to plan 9/11 in Malaysia was known to the CIA and spied upon. Further, the presence in the United States of at least two of the eventual hijackers was known, as they lived with or near an FBI asset and a Saudi Arabian intelligence officer. Another potential hijacker was arrested in Minnesota, and yet another was denied entry into the United States. And yet, still, the attack succeeded. Why?


                  Because the intelligence game is not a game geared to stopping wars. In fact, the intelligence game is a game played to facilitate, expedite, and rationalize war. It is a game that serves war-making, as is illustrated by the origins of the OSS during WW II. It is also illustrated by the creation and growth of the CIA during the Cold War, which facilitated America’s capacity to wage that war and eventually, as legend has it, win it.


                  If the goal is to prevent war, then the game that needs to be played is the political game. Why? Because politics is or should be about negotiations. If al Qaeda had been understood politically, then the question would have been: What political adjustments can be made in order to avoid war? Of course, the United States and al Qaeda couldn’t play that political game because neither one was prepared to reassess their policies in order to avoid war. Both were willing to make war if the alternative was to change their policies in order to negotiate and compromise. Without political changes, war was inevitable.


                  So, there was no alternative but war. Neither al Qaeda nor the United States could see any other alternative given their established policies. It is then na├»ve to say, as most Americans do, that the 9/11 attacks were due to intelligence failures. To be sure, there were such failures. But the attacks happened because of political failures. Neither al Qaeda nor the United States could conceive or accept an alternative to war. They still can’t.  

Saturday, March 9, 2024

The West and Bin Laden


The West and Bin Laden

Peter Schultz


                  Gradually, as I have read about 9/11 and the War on Terror, a question arose for me that hadn’t arisen earlier: Why did the United States consider bin Laden, et. al., enemies, and enemies that had to be defeated? In other words, why weren’t there more examples of attempts at negotiations between “the West” and bin Laden, et. al.?


                  At first, the answer seems simple: it was because bin Laden had “declared war” on the United States because it had invaded the Holy Land, among other things. So, the United States and the West were just defending themselves against attacks from Islamic fundamentalists. But even if these fundamentalists thought of themselves as enemies, why not try to manage the situation via negotiations? It is possible, even with enemies, to negotiate differences and, thereby, avoid warfare. Of course, the reason given is that these fundamentalists wanted to destroy the United States, destroy “the West,” which made negotiations seeking coexistence impossible. So, it was the fundamentalists who forced war on the United States, and made negotiations futile.


                  But what if the situation isn’t as simple as that? That is, what if “the West” has an agenda and it’s an agenda that makes Islamic fundamentalists (1) enemies and (2) enemies that can only be dealt with aggressively or militarily? In other words, the West wants something or some things that can only be gotten by defeating, one way or another, Islamic fundamentalism. If so, then “the failure” to pursue a policy of negotiation with Islamists isn’t a failure at all; rather, it is the logical implication of the West’s agenda.


                  Strange as it seems, as interpreted in the West, the West doesn’t have an agenda or, if it does, it is an agenda that’s completely benign. It is an agenda that is non-threatening because it is simply an attempt to impose the most human, the most just, the most praiseworthy values on the world. The West’s agenda assumes, therefore, that there are such values and, consequently, also assumes that there are only one set of such values, that there is only one way of being as fully human as humans can be.


By implication, then, there are no fundamental choices available to human beings, that is, choices each of which represents a way of being as fully human as possible.  For example, the choice of living scientifically or of living religiously are not equally legitimate and desirable ways to live. Some say the way is scientifically, while others say the way is religiously. Or some say living “modernly” is the only fully human way to live, while others say living traditionally is the only fully human way to live.


The point being that if the West has an agenda which denies that there are different ways of living as humanly as possible, then the West might well aggressively pursue its agenda in order to impose its way of being human on the world. And those who reject that way, those who embrace another way of being fully human, have to be defeated. Hence, there can be little or no reason for negotiations as there is the right to live, and other ways should be rejected.


The Enlightenment did not and does not posit there are fundamentally different but equally valid ways of being as fully human as is possible. As such, the Enlightenment embraced an agenda that should be universalized. Those who are, out of ignorance, unenlightened are to be educated, while those who know but reject enlightenment – the apostates – should have it imposed on them, as aggressively as is necessary, “Hearts and minds” are to be “won” whether by persuasion or by imposition or some combination of persuasion and imposition. Which is a pretty good description of the crux of what is now called “counterinsurgency,’ winning hearts and minds by persuasion and imposition.


So, the West isn’t properly understood as merely defending itself against its “enemies.” The West, insofar as it is devoted to enlightenment as the way to live, has created these “enemies.” Perhaps those “enemies” would prefer not to be seen as enemies, would prefer to just be left free to embrace their un-enlightened ways of being human. After all, being enlightened is only one way of trying to be as fully human as possible. And, as some contend, while praiseworthy, it may not even be as praiseworthy as some other ways of being human.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Peter Dale Scott: Conspiracies the Problem?


Peter Dale Scott: Conspiracies the Problem?

Peter Schultz


                  Are conspiracies the problem? According to Peter Dale Scott, the answer is “Yes,” because they operate outside constitutional processes clandestinely or secretly and, therefore, are not legitimate. Scott labels such politics “deep politics,” implying that if deep politics could be controlled or eliminated, all would be well. Without deep politics, JFK would not have been assassinated and Nixon would not have been deposed via Watergate.


                  So, to reformulate the original question: Is deep politics the problem? Or is conspiratorial politics the problem? Scott’s answer is “Yes” to both questions. But perhaps he is wrong, and wrong in a way that obscures the character of the political.


                  Taking the second question first, do all conspiracies produce unhealthy political results? Certainly not. JFK engaged in conspiratorial politics to keep the United States from Americanizing the war in Vietnam. That is, he acted deviously to accomplish his goal, which was to pull the United States out of Vietnam via a negotiated settlement. But he did not let this be known accept to a few advisers when he stated that he would end US involvement in Vietnam after he was re-elected in 1964. Until then, he was willing to conspire to hide his real intentions.


                  LBJ and J. Edgar Hoover also conspired after Kennedy’s assassination by deciding between them that Lee Harvey Oswald would be deemed responsible for Kennedy’s death as a lone, crazed assassin. That is, they conspired to squelch any rumors of there being a conspiracy behind Kennedy’s death, and LBJ and Hoover were prepared to validate this story with the actions of what came to be called “the Warren Commission.” Why did LBJ and Hoover so conspire? In order to avoid the possibility of a war with Cuba and the USSR, a war some in the government wanted to happen and were even willing and apparently trying to facilitate.


                  Deep politics, or conspiratorial politics may then, and often do, serve good purposes. Conspirators, even deep conspirators, are not always, or even generally, “bad guys” seeking goals that are not in the national interest. And, so, to think of conspiratorial politics as “deep politics,” i.e., as a suspicious, illegitimate, and corrupt kind of politics, is misleading. Conspiratorial politics, even as deep politics, is just politics. At times, such conspiracies serve the national interest but at other times not so much.  


                  It is not the conspiratorial character of political actions that determine their worth. Rather, the goals sought are what determine the worth of political actions, whether such actions are conspiratorial or constitutional. “Deep politics” is just politics by another name. Similarly, a “deep state” may exist in the United States, as Scott and others argue, but even if it does, its existence doesn’t change the nation’s politics. Subterranean politics, even when involving an assassination, is just politics.


                  So, when conspiracy theorists assert that, say, the 9/11 attacks were facilitated by conspirators “inside” the United States government, the appropriate response should be, “Yes, that’s a possibility.” After all, some respectable and powerful people did say before 9/11 that Americans needed to experience a “Pearl Harbor-type event” to wake them up to the need to aggressively confront the dangers created by Islamofascists like bin Laden and al Qaeda. Of course, the evidence that such conspiratorial behavior occurred is, at best, weak. But given the character of the political, such behavior shouldn’t be dismissed out-of-hand or as delusional. After all, it seems quite certain now, after the disclosures of the past sixty-plus years, that JFK’s assassination involved a conspiracy.


Not only does politics “make strange bedfellows,” as the old expression has it, but politics also leads decent people to do indecent things. More than occasionally, that indecency involves killing, the kind of killing that is called “patriotic.”

Monday, March 4, 2024

Peter Dale Scott: Conspiracy Politics


Peter Dale Scott: Conspiracy Politics

Peter Schultz


                  For Peter Dale Scott, the question is: “To what extent has our visible political establishment become one regulated by forces operating outside the constitutional process, rather than through it?”


                  Scott offers this question to offset the more common view that external forces, foreign forces such as Cubans or communists – like Lee Harvey Oswald – assassinated JFK. For Scott, the assassins are insiders, although they are operating as constitutional outsiders. These assassins could be some in the CIA, the military, or some in organized criminal groups, or some combination thereof. Such a possibility may then be said to engage in extra-ordinary politics or what Scott labels “deep politics.” Ordinary politics occurs through constitutional processes, the implication being that ordinary politics are constitutional politics and, hence, aren’t conspiratorial.


                  But this seems a bit of a stretch insofar as ordinary politics, constitutional politics is often conspiratorial, and taken as legitimately so. Consider the charge that Nixon and his campaign conspired to thwart LBJ’s attempt to get peace negotiations started immediately before the 1968 presidential election. LBJ had evidence that this had happened and confronted Nixon with that evidence. Nixon, of course, denied the charges and promised that he would stop it were it to occur. This implies that conspiratorial politics is thought to be illegitimate and, hence, is practiced as “deep politics.” But LBJ’s actions were not viewed, even by Nixon, as illegitimate even though he was trying to control the outcome of the election by surreptitious means, by pretending to want peace negotiations when his real motive, his secret motive, his conspiratorial motive was to throw the election to Humphrey. So, in fact, both LBJ and Nixon were being conspiratorial, practicing conspiratorial politics.


                  So, conspiratorial politics may be practiced through constitutional processes and are considered legitimate. No one doubts, for example, the legitimacy of “dirty tricks” during campaigns no matter how much they may be criticized as unfair. That is, no one doubts the legitimacy of acting conspiratorially in order to win an election. That is one reason it happens so often. In fact, our elections are defined by, inundated with such conspiracies, and very few politicians have hesitated running conspiratorial campaigns in order to win elections.


                  What’s the point? Simply that Scott’s concept of “deep politics” makes it appear that American politics consists of apocalyptic battles between visible, constitutional forces – the “good guys” – and invisible, secret, or “deep” forces – the “bad guys.” Conspiratorial forces practice “deep politics,” whereas constitutional politicians practice visible politics, i.e., legitimate politics. And so, according to Scott, when one of America’s “recurring suspicious political crises” occurs, it is necessary to dig deep in order to expose the conspirators and their conspiracies.


                  But insofar as conspiracies are considered legitimate and occur regularly, there is no need to recur the idea of “deep politics” to explain political events. Conspiracies do not indicate the existence of “deep politics,” ala’ Scott. As they often are indications of ordinary politics, there is no need to treat them as mysterious or even suspicious. As General Giap said to Robert McNamara when they came together, with others, to discover how the tragedy of the Vietnam war happened, no discovery was necessary. As Giap said, the war occurred because of American imperialism. Without that imperialism and the conspiracies it gave rise to, there would have been no war. And, similarly, once you entertain the possibility that conspiracies are to politics what sex is to lust, then the assassination of JFK becomes much less mysterious. He was deemed by some to be a threat to the national security of the United States and, hence, had to be dealt with one way or another. His enemies could not take the chance he would be defeated for re-election in 1964, after which he would be free – or freer – to take on the nation’s Cold War mentality and its blind anti-communism, as well as the military-industrial complex along with the CIA.


                  Watergate and Nixon’s demise might be explained in the same way as Nixon, after his landslide victory in 1972, had promised he would go all out for change in his second term. And Nixon made his removal easier than it should have been, as he recognized himself in his farewell remarks when he said that hating your enemies was self-destructive. He knew what had happened because he had been so conspiratorial himself. He knew he had been done in by constitutionally legitimate but none the less conspiratorial politics.