Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Obama's Virtues


Obama’s Virtues: His Political and Military Calculations

Peter Schultz


                  “Yemen and the United States, 2010: As thousands of US troops deployed and redeployed to Afghanistan, the covert campaign in undeclared battlefields was widening. US drone strikes were hitting Pakistan weekly, while JSOC forces were on the ground in Somalia and Yemen and pounding the latter with air strikes. All the while, al Qaeda affiliated in those countries were gaining strength. When I met with Hunter, who worked with the JSOC under Bush and continued to work in counterterrorism under the Obama administration, I asked him what changes had taken place from one administration to the next. He quickly shot back: ‘There’s no daylight. If anything, JSOC operations have intensified under this administration, there’s been a greater intensity in what their being asked to do, where they are being asked to do it and how they’re being asked to do it,’ he told me. ‘There are things transpiring now, around the globe, that would be unthinkable to the Bush administration, not just because of vocal opposition within the cabinet, or within the Pentagon, but because they would not have the ultimate support of the president. In this administration, the president has made a political and military calculation – and this is his prerogative – that it is best to let the Joint Special Operations Command run wild, like a mustang, in pursuit of the objectives that [Obama] has set.’”


From Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, Jeremy Scahill, p. 350.


When you see the world as a battlefield, as our presidents have consistently done, then all the world’s inhabitants, civilian as well as military, are fair game, so to speak. As one Yemeni said in the aftermath of the massacre at al Majalah, where fourteen women and twenty-one children were incinerated by US missiles: “If they kill innocent children and call them as Qaeda, then we are all al Qaeda. If children are terrorists, then we are all terrorists.”


Exactly. When you turn the world into a battlefield, all humans are potential enemies and massacres are inevitable. 

Friday, July 12, 2024

The Decline of McCarthyism?


The Decline of McCarthyism?

Peter Schultz


                  The last chapter in Athan Theoharis’s book The Seeds of Repression is entitled “The Decline of McCarthyism.” With the advent of the Eisenhower administration, the argument is that McCarthyism was undermined because, among other things, “the Eisenhower administration had set out to prove that negotiation – that McCarthyite bĂȘte noire – was neither inherently beneficial to the Soviets nor inherently harmful to American interests.” And, as a result, “By 1955, the public was coming to realize that one did not have to call for the annihilation of communism to be an anti-communist.” [190 & 191]


                  And Theoharis concludes his book as follows: “Eisenhower’s election and his subsequent foreign policy decisions reduced the effectiveness of McCarthyite charges and, dramatically, though unintentionally, revealed McCarthyism to be an irresponsible force in American politics. McCarthy’s former image of objectivity was thereby destroyed. Yet to the extent that absolute security and containment remained basic objectives of United States policy, post-1955 foreign policy debate remained narrowly circumscribed. In that sense, the tactics of Joseph McCarthy and his supporters of … charging leaders with being ‘soft on communism’ continued to be an essential part of national politics. The immediate and direct impact of McCarthyism might have been reduced, but even today it lingers on as a conservative force in American political life.” [192]


                  So, I would put it this way: the vicious circle of American politics was unbroken, even though it seemed a bit less vicious thanks to the Eisenhower administration and the destruction of Joseph McCarthy. It might even be speculated that the Eisenhower administration destroyed McCarthy personally in order to preserve a more respectable kind of “McCarthyism” or anti-communism. Eisenhower, et. al., could make “McCarthyism” respectable by attacking and defeating Joe McCarthy. And in doing so, the circular character of American politics was reinforced, thereby narrowly circumscribing United States foreign policy and any debate that arose around it. The basic objectives, as Theoharis noted, remained the same, absolute security and containment. Or as I would put it, the basic objective, US hegemony, remained the same and had acquired a cloak of respectability that it could not don so long as there was the spectacle presided over by Joe McCarthy. The empire needed some new clothes, as it were. But while the vicious circle of American politics might not have looked vicious, it led eventually to the war in Vietnam and its viciousness. The vicious circle of American politics remained unbroken, with results that should have been predictable.

Thursday, July 11, 2024




Peter Schultz


                  From Athan Theroharis’s Seeds of Repression: In the 1940s, “the Justice Department succeeded in making [the case] for stricter surveillance of federal employees and American communists. This concern over communist ‘espionage’ was fortified by fears … of communists in labor unions, racial incidents, and other radical activities … in 1945-46.” [125]


                  Question: which was more problematic, communism or labor strikes, racial incidents, or other radical activities? The latter were more problematic than the former because the latter threatened more directly the status quo. It is crucial to keep this distinction in mind if you are to understand the political because it points to the repression that is endemic to politics generally.


                  Conventionally thinking, engaging in repression to defeat communism is not problematic insofar as communism threatens freedom and, so, once communism is defeated, then freedom is saved. But insofar as the political is innately repressive, then feeding that tendency when combating communism is problematic because such policies reinforce, fortify the repressive character of government as it deals with labor strikes, racial incidents, and other allegedly radical activities. So, even in the face of communist threats, the character of the political, especially its repressive character, needs to be recognized. The political is not repressive only in its communistic manifestation. The political is innately repressive. And defeating communism or Islamofascism or racism will not change that fact. Thinking and acting as if defeating communism or Islamofascism ultimately leads to a viciously circular politics.


                  Again, from Theoharis’s Seeds of Repression: “The outbreak of the Korean War put an end to White House efforts to restrain the zeal of the Justice Department. Not only did Korea raise popular fears of a third world war, but it also sharpened popular anxieties about subversion.”


                  Clearly, from this description, popular fears and popular anxieties preceded the Korean War. Hence, they are “raised” and “sharpened” by the war. So, internal security was threatened by more than communism, as reflected by a Justice Department press release in July, 1950, calling for “full public cooperation with the FBI.”


                  “The forces … most anxious to weaken our internal security are not always easy to identify…. They [include] cleverly camouflaged movements, such as peace groups and civil rights organizations…. It is important to learn to know the enemies of the American way of life.” [141-42]


                  But what makes “the American way of life” “vulnerable to its enemies?” Why are those who oppose that way of life able to subvert it? Why are they able to “cleverly camouflage” themselves and their subversions? Do they have satanic powers or is there something fragile, ephemeral even in the American way of life?


                  As questions like these are pursued, pretty soon a picture emerges of human societies that are arenas characterized by endless conflict, including conflicts between fundamentally opposed parties, e.g., the God-fearing and the god-less. No wonder that people are fearful and anxious. They should be as life is seen as essentially a war of all against all. If it had not been the Korean War, some other event would have raised popular fears and sharpened popular anxieties, especially because the world is thought to be populated by clever enemies who are difficult to know and even harder to oppose and defeat. And, so, once again, the vicious circularity of American politics is visible. And that viciousness has more to do with America’s most cherished political beliefs and much less to do with fears of communism, Islamofascism, or racism than is conventionally assumed.

Monday, July 8, 2024

Summing Things Up


Summing Things Up

Peter Schultz


                  There are a couple of ways of summing things up.


                  Our elites can’t rectify our problems or solve them because they don’t realize the problems are the results or our most cherished fundamental beliefs. Until that is realized, our elites will just “spin their wheels” or whirl around in vicious circles, with no way out.


                  Or: Our problems can’t be solved politically because it is not recognized that it is politics that lies at the roots of our problems. The political is always and everywhere problematic, including even healthy political orders such as great, long-established empires or public spirited, participatory republics. Plato’s Republic is riddled with problems it cannot solve, and Aristotle’s best regime is also riddled with problems it cannot solve. To think there is a final, ideal political alternative is one of our most cherished beliefs. 


                  This is the implication of Randolph Bourne’s assertion that “War is the health of the state.” In other words, for a state to be healthy, it is should be warlike, which if, of course, problematic. As problematic as is war. So, what kind of health does politics promise?


                  What is one of humanity’s most cherished beliefs if it isn’t that politics is capable of ameliorating or redeeming the human condition? But isn’t it clear that politics, e.g., in the form of nation states or Greek city states, is the source of our troubles? What if the people in Belfast or Dublin didn’t think of themselves as Brits or as Irish? What if they thought of themselves as fellow journeyers on an adventure to enjoy the beauty of the world, or just as lovers, rather than as political beings seeking to be good Brits or good Irish? Seems to me that would make for great improvements in the human condition.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

The Crisis in Central America


Th Crisis in Central America

Peter Schultz


                  The following sentence is from the book, Everyone Who Is Gone Is Here: The United States, Central America, the Making of a Crisis,” by Jonathan Blitzer: “… in … 2018, the deterrent effects of [Trump’s policy of] zero tolerance were moot where people were starving.” [379]


                  People were starving in Guatemala because climate changes had undermined the agriculture that had been relied upon in Guatemala to keep people alive. “The changing climate was wiping out the region’s crops…. Farmers were abandoning their land.” [377]


                  So, obsessing about Trump’s policies, or Obama’s or Biden’s, obscures what was happening and why. People were starving due to climate changes. Treating the situation politically, i.e., as if it could be changed via one policy or another is futile because addressing the situation as an “immigration problem,” as if it could be solved by building a wall – or not, does not address the real problem, changing climates. Thereby, affirming the political merely creates vicious political circles characterized by charges and counter charges of betrayal, racism, criminality, or un-Americanness, with no way out of the crisis. Moreover, not surprisingly, the solutions offered by different administrations do not vary all that much:


                  “Obama entered the White House vowing to protect the undocumented and restrain ICE, but deportations increased steadily during his first two years in office. An average of a thousand immigrants were being removed every day, a large share of them the very people the president promised to spare….” [290]


                  There you have it: Evidence of the vicious circles that characterize American politics, due to the affirmation of the political, the belief that politics in one form or another can and will ameliorate the human condition. As the crisis in Central America reveals, our problems are not political and, so, they cannot be solved by laws, by walls, by bureaucracies like ICE, by presidents, or by the military. Solving our problems requires rethinking what we take to be reality, seeing the world as it is and not as we wish it to be. And that means, necessarily, rethinking those principles Americans hold most dear. In brief, it requires being “anti-American.” Moral or political virtue needs to be trumped by intellectual virtue, as even Socrates knew so long ago.


Saturday, July 6, 2024

The Impossible as the Inevitable


The Impossible as the Inevitable

Peter Schultz


                  “Affirming the political” means, quite simply, embracing the impossible while thinking of it as the inevitable.


                  The following is from Seeds of Repression: Harry Truman and the Origins of McCarthyism, by Athan Theoharis:


                  “The … rhetoric of post war foreign policy begat a popular obsession for achieving a total victory over communism ….  The failure to do so would directly threaten American liberties and … subvert … American moral leadership in the world. Accordingly, the Truman administration’s foreign policy [was] judged in terms of effectiveness in meeting the threat of communism. Since post war rhetoric also popularized the theme of American omnipotence, it [was] believed that an American victory was inevitable – inevitable, that is, so long as the country possessed the necessary will and resolve. The Soviet threat per se was not considered major; Soviet gains were thought merely the result of administration errors or inaction.” [98]


                  The results of United States’ post war policies may be summarized as follows: An intensification of the Cold War and an intensification of domestic politics revolving around charges and counter charges of betrayal and subversion.


                  In other words, affirming the political creates and intensifies political warfare, creating vicious political circles both at home and abroad. And this warfare occurs, ironically, despite a broad-based consensus about ends – total victory over communism – and means – vast military power, surveillance programs, covert and limited war, loyalty oaths, and “going to dark side” via torture and assassination. Thus, as US policies failed as they did in China or Korea, the “McCarthyites” charged the Truman administration with selling out to communism while betraying traditional American values; while Truman, et. al., indicted the McCarthyites with subverting civil liberties and civility generally.  And, so, vicious circles of such charges and counter charges were created which fed political warfare without avoiding political failures, like “losing China” or Cuba.


                  Consider, for example, that neither the Truman administration nor the McCarthyites came up with loyalty programs that worked. Truman’s policies were so broad that they punished both the loyal and the disloyal, hopelessly confusing the two. And the McCarthyites’ policies suffered from the same defects and for the same reason: The goal was to wipe out disloyalty completely. That goal, like the goal of total victory over communism, was unachievable but was seen as inevitably successful “so long as the country possessed the necessary will and resolve.” So, of course, as the policies failed, as they had to do, charges and counter charges of betrayal and subversion, communist inspired or not, became common and were popularly embraced. There was no alternative rhetoric or political discourse.  


                  And political failure was the result both at home and abroad. Abroad, the Cold War as seen by both Truman, et. al., and the McCarthyites served to fortify communism, e.g., in the Soviet Union and China, by creating the image of these nations as allegedly so powerful that they represented the end of history as “the final tyrannies.” Or, as Ronald Reagan put it, these were “evil empires;” that is, nations possessing satanic like powers that could undermine Western civilization. So, just as Bush’s Global War on Terrorism fortified Islamic terrorism, so too did the Cold War fortify communism. Ironic but true.  


                  And domestically the Cold War facilitated the rise of McCarthyism, as well as facilitating the creation of what is called “the imperial presidency,” and the fortification of the national security state grounded on institutions like the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA. In other words, the Cold War did not effectively protect American democracy as it was intended to do. It might even be said that the Cold War helped to subvert that democracy insofar as a national security, surveillance state seems anything but democratic.


                  Affirming the political, it might be said, leads to political failure because it embraces the impossible as the inevitable, leading to political extremism. And political extremism in the defense of liberty, democracy, or civilization, whether a Western or an Islamic civilization, is a fool’s errand.




Friday, July 5, 2024

Poltics and Vicious Circles


Politics and Vicious Circles

Peter Schultz


                  One question not asked frequently enough is: What is it possible to do politically? Humans are political animals. They are pointed toward the polis, the political, the assumption being that the polis/ the political is the key to ameliorating, improving, or even perfecting the human condition. Hence, it seems only natural when humans are led to affirm the political, instinctively as it were.


                  Harry Truman, et. al., during the Cold War, affirmed the political, arguing that by way of overwhelming military power and a policy of containment, the United States would be able to ameliorate the human condition by defeating communism and establishing an American-inspired worldwide peace. And, yet, when acting the Truman administration and other Cold Warriors found their actions limited, e.g., by the threat of World War III which would, of course, be a nuclear war. So, Truman, et. al., had to compromise, improvise, act prudently. And, as a result, Truman’s actions were easily made to look like “appeasement”, or the result of internal subversion caused by communists in the US government or by communist sympathizers. By affirming the political, by thinking and saying that the United States could defeat communism and bring about world peace, Truman, et. al., created a vicious circle of apocalyptic rhetoric and compromising, improvising, appeasing actions.


                  It was easy, therefore, for the “McCarthyites” to attack Truman and the Democrats on grounds of betrayal and selling out because the “McCarthyites” did not need to formulate an alternative to Truman’s Cold War policies. In other words, Truman’s affirmation of the Cold War and its politics allowed the McCarthyites to play the role of realists, of patriotic realists who would actually win the Cold War. In brief, Truman facilitated McCarthyism.


                  Because Americans were not offered any alternative to the Cold War, US elites were caught in a vicious circle with no way out. In order to avoid or negate charges of betrayal and selling out, of appeasement, US elites had to become ever more belligerent and war-like, ala’ the Korean War, the Vietnam War, anti-Cuban terrorism, and a super-heated arms race.


                  The same phenomenon followed the 9/11 attacks when Bush, et. al., launched the Global War on Terror. By doing so, Bush facilitated the rise of Donald Trump who, like the McCarthyites of Truman’s day, did not need to formulate an alternative course of action to Bush’s GWOT. As the outcome of the GWOT floundered, it was easy for Trump to accuse both the mainstream Republicans and the mainstream Democrats of betrayal, gross incompetence, or the rejection of traditional American values, values that had once “made America great.” Only by embracing those values, Trump argued, could America regain the greatness it once had and defeat its enemies worldwide. In brief, Bush and Obama, mainstream Republicans and Democrats facilitated the rise of Trump. They, like Truman, created a vicious circle and all Trump had to do was dance around it. There was no way out.  

Monday, July 1, 2024

National Security Politics v. Law Enforcement Politics


National Security Politics v. Law Enforcement Politics

Peter Schultz


                  A politics of national security is decidedly different than what may be called law enforcement politics, two concepts employed, e.g., by the FBI over the course of its history.


                  Originally, the FBI was to be a law enforcement agency, that is, an organization that would seek out perpetrators who broke US laws, in order to indict, try, and convict them for their offenses. For example, the FBI was empowered to seek out those who transported stolen vehicles across state lines (the Stolen Vehicle Act), or those who transported women across state lines for immoral purposes (the Mann or White Slave Trade Act).


                  Eventually, though, the FBI became a surveillance agency, especially after WW I and Russian Revolution when the Communists rose to power in Russia. That is, the FBI undertook to surveil for purposes of identifying communists and other alleged extremists, not because they had broken any laws and not in order to convict them of crimes, but in order to know who they were and to disrupt their activities or to destroy their organizations, if possible. These groups were seen as threats to national security, whether they engaged in criminal behavior or not. This surveillance function eventually displaced, for the most part, the FBI’s law enforcement function, and was used by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI to surveil congresspersons, presidents, Supreme Court Justices, journalists, lawyers, educators, and even clergy. No one could escape Hoover’s surveillance regime.  


                  But this is no small change and has rather important political implications. Surveillance of alleged extremists for purposes of disruption and/or social ostracism is distinctly different than a law enforcement approach insofar as the latter seeks to justify its actions in courts of law. In an important sense, justice is the goal of law enforcement, whereas with regard to surveillance, when divorced from law enforcement, security, not justice, is the goal. So, a surveillance regime is not constrained by the need to be just because the goal is to deter or destroy, not to convict. Seeking justice constrains power, whereas seeking security liberates power. More power does not mean more justice, while more power does mean more security.   


                  More security but less justice. So, surveillance regimes go together very well with targeted killings and especially with “signature strikes.”  Because the goal is national security, not justice, due process is irrelevant in such regimes. Similarly, in surveillance regimes social ostracism or character assassination works well and, again, because the goal isn’t justice, due process is irrelevant. In fact, given that the goal is national security, it is only reasonable or prudent to err on the side of exaggerating potential threats to national security rather than worrying about accurately estimating such threats. If the results are unjust, write them off as “collateral damage” and move on to the next killing. Moreover, dissident opinions or thoughts, even, are sufficient to recommend exposing the “disloyal” insofar as disloyalty threatens national security. “Signature strikes,” that is, assassinations or killings based on impersonal characteristics like location, age, and gender, where the person or persons to be killed are not identified or identifiable, reveal how irrelevant justice is in a surveillance or national security regime. Such a regime is, in principle, totalitarian, has nothing to do with justice, and everything to do with power. That presidents Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden proudly authorized such strikes is revealing of how little justice means to American elites. National security has trumped their sense of justice, while bringing death and destruction worldwide.