Categories
Creative On The Road

from FOOTNOTE 1 — “Route 66: The American Road”

(News came two days ago that Martin Millner, along with George Maharis, one of the two stars of the legendary television series Route 66, has died, at 83. As a young boy, my own introduction to the adventure of road travel and the romance of the route came from the series and the experience of new places and people each week of Milner’s Tod and Maharis’s Buz. It seems the right time, then, to offer this excerpt of my “Route 66: The American Road,” originally published, along with the photography of Julia Dean, in the final issue of the also legendary, documentary journalism magazine DoubleTake, and republished now in the inaugural issue of Footnote: A Literary Journal of History.)

….

When the beaver were depleted, and there was too little left to trap, many of the mountain men who wished to continue to live outside of civilization hired on as guides for the new wagon trains leaving from Missouri for unsettled land. The trappers had found the way, and now, from St. Louis, St. Joseph, and Independence, not only individuals seeking fortune at gold strikes and elsewhere, but whole families seeking new lives were heading west. In the heyday of the Western wagon train, from 1840 to 1860, as many as 500,000 people migrated along the Oregon, California, and Santa Fe trails.

These trails became permanent routes west, but as coordinates on maps and rutted wagon-wheel trails, they were paths for the most intrepid— of which the United States has never had shortage—but not for the ordinary lone individual or family. Phenomena like the Pony Express, and the telegraph that spelled the short-lived Express’ demise, provided the first sense of coast-to-coast communication, but they were not a means of travel.

Only with the driving of that last, golden spike connecting the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads in 1869, had a means of transportation been established that enabled the free flow of people, without the daunting hardship and risk of wilderness travel, between the nation’s Eastern origins and its Western expansion. It had taken just short of 64 years from the date Lewis and Clark reached their destination across an uncharted wilderness until the completion of the first, fixed, permanent, regular, and safe means of transportation across it. Where once an overland journey would have taken months—it had taken Lewis and Clark twenty— or a journey by ship around Cape Horn weeks, on June 4, 1876, the Transcontinental Express traveled from New York City to San Francisco in 83 hours and 39 minutes.

Before and after the railroad, there was also the stagecoach, for some decades a regular fixture of western commerce and travel. But companies such as the Butterfield Overland Express Company were primarily government- and private -mail haulers and, like Wells Fargo, movers of bank funds. For the nine people crammed into a semi-weekly Celerity coach for the typical twenty-five day, bone-jarring, cold and snowy, or hot, sweaty, and smelly journey from Missouri to California, the fare was around $200, or about $4,000 in today’s money, more or less the price of a one-way ticket on the Concorde SST over its lifespan. If you could afford it, you took the stagecoach before the transcontinental line was completed, or because it went places the railroad didn’t, not to celebrate your individual freedom as an American to travel where you wished.

The railroad, on the other hand, moved thousands, hundreds of thousands—millions. Along with the Homestead Act of 1862, it completed the settlement of the West.

The Homestead Act offered free title to 160 acres—after five years, if you worked the land and improved it. In contrast, the railroads sold the land along their right-of-way, the land they had been granted by the federal government as an incentive to undertake the transcontinental enterprise. The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad lives on in the popular historical imagination as one of the great moments in the building of the American nation, and it is certainly that. An extraordinary technical feat and a permanent conquest of nature cannot be denied. But here again, as with every inroad to the West, that tension between the individual and the collective is visible.

An individual picks up from New York, or Philadelphia, or the Ohio River Valley, or even somewhere in Europe, and alone or with his family makes his way finally, by train, to Nebraska, Wyoming, California, or another state, to start afresh. The railroad is available for travel, however, because the government had its grander social and commercial goals, granted land—and its natural resources—to the enterprises commissioned to lay the track, and even subsidized the construction.

The railroad is there to be used because legislators succumbed to wholesale bribery from lobbyists in the form of cash and corporate bonds. It is there because the owners and operators of the Union Pacific Railroad established the shell company, Credit Mobilier—the Enron of its day, owned by the same majority shareholders as the Union Pacific—to which to award the construction contract and bill back the railroad, subsidized by the federal government (and risk-taking private investors), multiple times the actual cost of materials and labor.

Once the Transcontinental Railroad was established, the railroads also went into the business of luring settlers to migrate to the West. They offered reasonable prices for the land, good credit terms to enable purchase, showings of parcels, and even established European offices with representatives to attract additional emigration across the Atlantic. The settlers would populate the land the railroads traversed and help establish the railroad towns that would both service and feed off the railroad. Thus is the goal of a westward expansion fulfilled. Thus does the American mythos of individual initiative and self-determination run up against a contradiction. And that is how it remained for almost 60 more years.

But if our world is anything, it is a world of contradiction. However settlers may have arrived—by someone else’s wagon train, stage coach, or train, or by steamer from another part of the world—whatever corporate hucksterism or nationalistic boosterism had sold them an idea about the circumstances toward which they traveled that was not entirely in accordance with reality (disgruntled natives not entirely glad you’re coming, anyone?), they had made their own choices, determined their own wills, and endured hardships their neighbors would not undertake. They possessed the independence and strength to travel far from unhappy or unsatisfactory conditions that others less daringly abided, and they felt no less individual because they aimed to shape their destinies within a web of relation and influence they could not always see around them.

Perhaps that is why the lone cowboy on his horse, crossing the panhandle, passing among the mesas, a speck on a vast prairie beneath an enormous sky—what so few, in fact, ever were—became our resonant American myth. Nothing is ever how we portray it, but our symbols are what we feel, and we feel for a reason. The cowboy, as we see him, is singular and integrally himself within the natural world. His kindnesses are not mandated, but his own. His cooperation is given, not required. And if he’s of a mind, whenever he’s of a mind, he’ll go his own way. Just point his horse’s head like a compass, and move on.

Yet, how many could really live that dream?

Beginning November 11, 1926, anyone.

And with the affordability of Ford’s Model T—soon to be a fixture on the new Highway 66—the automobile was quickly developing into what it would not take very long to become, the singular and democratic mode of transportation of the 20th century and beyond. Route 66, the first transcontinental interstate highway, was created to serve it.

It is true that in the years before the opening of the route, there had developed the romance of train travel, and the train has its romancers still. Stand in so many small towns across America—a town, say, like Dwight, Illinois, through which Route 66 runs—and watch the train pass through, even now. Listen to its whistle. Hear it “moan mournfully,” as Thomas Wolfe’s Eugene Gant heard it. Far places, it says. Distant lives. The great, wide world. Teasing you with its call. Passing on. For so many who longed for experience, the train’s receding rumble, the lingering whisper of it gone, uttered the great paradox of the nation—that while one might live, it seemed, smack-dab in the middle of it all, one felt stranded so far from everything that was happening. To live in the middle, it turned out, was to reside at the edges. To move to the center meant to travel to the boundaries, because the boundary—the frontier—is where the “other” is, and the other is experience.

….

AJA


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Categories
The Political Animal

Arguments in Defense of the Iran Deal and Their Implications

There are many areas on which to focus one’s attention in the Iran deal. My own has been consistently drawn to the administration’s arguments in defense of the deal. Attended to, they are remarkably revealing in their implications about administration thinking, while not, in fact, actually being much remarked upon.

It is a tediously if necessarily repeated truism that negotiation requires compromise in positions about which the parties were previously uncompromising. Thus there will always be opportunity for absolutists not at the table to carp and condemn. Negotiators are charged with perfidy by those they represent only a little less often than battlefield turncoats. However, when the very subject of negotiation is a matter of life and death, and previously stated demands were presented as the conditions of life and death, against a foe more than hyperbolically and otherwise rhetorically malevolent, talking back concessions is a harder sell.

The administration has confidently affirmed without discomfort that the deal will protect the world from a nuclear Iran for somewhere between 10 and 15 years. As Leon Wieseltier wrote, “15 years is just a young person’s idea of a long time.” For many humanities Ph.D.s 10-15 years is about the time between that first seminar and the final granting of the degree. It is about three World Cups from now, the middle of a third presidential term after Obama leaves office, the start, looking backwards, of George W. Bush’s second term. Seem like a very long time?

Feels like a long time to junior; for mom and dad – where did the time go? For nations in geo-political historical time? Blink.

When the eyelid opens to see again, what does it see? Iran as a changed nation, no longer the active state sponsor of terrorism it remains today? If it is not changed, will an economic sanctions regime will be re-imposed, from scratch, all over again? Based upon what international will to challenge Iran to the ultimate end result that did not extend the length of the agreement this time around, when all was at last in place in an arrangement of pieces not likely to be duplicated?

Some other president will do what is necessary? What is that? Are we witnessing at the end of this long negotiation, unacknowledged, the most elaborately primed kick of the can down the road ever attempted?

The contention over a nuclear Iran has always been founded in the insistence that there be none, certainly not militarily, and this has always been the stance of President Obama. It is a position grounded only in a credible military threat. There was no such credible threat towards North Korea – a lot of bluster, but no brawn – and there is now a nuclear North Korea. The delicate balance for a leader so situated and genuinely open to, but not invested in, negotiations is how to extend the one open hand while withholding in the rear the other cocked fist. There is little doubt for other than the most uncritically devoted that Obama has not maintained this balance. For all of the drone-driven anti-terrorist mini wars he has maintained, his wise determination not to do “stupid stuff” abroad has also revealed what turned out to be the unwise bluster he would not, as in Syria, back up. It does not matter what the truth is, Obama came to be perceived by his critics and his enemies as fatally invested in the negotiations, offering just a lot of talk about “options” and “tables.”

Too often, when challenged about concessions in Geneva, the Obama-Kerry response essentially has been “you’re a fool to think you could have done better.” Sometimes that response is the knowledge of the negotiating table; other times, it is the revelation of a hand weakly played. Outside the room, we can only judge by the terms and general conditions.

When it became known that the terms of the IAEA investigations into the possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s program were contained in separates agreements between the IAEA and Iran, on which the U.S. was briefed, but to which it was not privy and has no access, Secretary Moniz told the Senate committee, ‘“These kinds of technical arrangements with the IAEA are as a matter of standard practice not released publicly or to other states.”

It is, said Moniz, a matter of ““customary confidentiality.”

Members of the committee were as startled by the explanation as Kerry, alongside Moniz, was stumbling in offering it. Is a negotiated nuclear containment agreement with an internationally aspirant, totalitarian theocratic state “standard practice” and a “customary” matter?

“This is the way the agency works with countries,” Moniz also said. “If countries choose to make the documents public, then the IAEA of course can do so.”

Which is it, then, that we are to understand?

That the U.S. did not demand as a condition of the agreement that Iran authorize the IAEA to make the documents, not public, but available to the P-5?

Or that the U.S. did make the demand, Iran rejected it, and the U.S. accepted that rejection?

Would Iran have scuttled the deal over the issue? Would it not have been telling had they been so willing?

There are multiple such puzzlements over life and death matters. There is the transformation of the “anytime, anywhere” inspections that Kerry now says he never heard of into a supposed “24” days that turn out to be many more, and the embarrassing confusions over it (see the update near the bottom).  Yet despite the array of problematic elements, the administration, which argued, then, for everyone to wait to see the agreement before challenging it, argues now that we must accept this deal or have war.

“If we walk away, we walk away alone,” Kerry said.

Our partners are not going to be with us. Instead, they will walk away from the tough multilateral sanctions that brought Iran to the table to begin with. Instead, we will have squandered the best chance we have to solve the problem through peaceful means.

As the administration constructed the context in which the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has been presented, the following might be argued now by Kerry about any less than satisfactory agreement:

If Congress rejects this, Iran goes back to its enrichment. The Ayatollah will not come back to the table … the sanctions regime completely falls apart.

We will have set ourselves back. I don’t know how I go out to another country if that happens and say: ‘Hey, you ought to negotiate with us,’ because they will say: ‘Well, you have 535 secretaries of state in the United States. We don’t know who we are negotiating with. Whatever deal we make always risks being overturned.

If this is so, we may ask, how has it come to be so?

But first, let us note that it was a determined, controversial course set by the White House not to treat an Iran deal as a treaty. The Senate has a constitutional, democratic role in the approval of treaties and it has nearly as long a history of rejecting them. The constitutional requirement of a two thirds vote tells us that the framers intended the treaty to require overwhelming support. It is not without precedent even for a potentially presidency-defining treaty to be rejected by the Senate. (See Woodrow Wilson and the Treaty of Versailles.) In this history, and in this constitutional requirement, the nation and its founders have anticipated the critique of “you have 535 secretaries of state in the United States. We don’t know who we are negotiating with. Whatever deal we make always risks being overturned.” We have still managed to negotiate treaties.

President Obama did not want to meet Woodrow Wilson’s fate. John Kerry was clear about the motivation in his testimony to congress. The choice to frame the Iran deal as an executive agreement rather than a treaty was not academic.

“I spent quite a few years trying to get treaties through the US Senate, and frankly, it’s become physically impossible,” Kerry said. “You can’t pass a treaty anymore.”

So the administration, first, constructed a process aimed at easing the prospects of approval over the opposition of congressional opponents, then argued that skeptics should hold their comments until the deal the process intended to achieve was reached, and now that is has been reached, argues that it was the only possible deal and that the only alternative to it – the consequence of rejecting the deal – is war. It is a kind of rhetorical blackmail. It is a blackmail that utilizes, too, as its key pressure point – that threat of war – the very details it has all along diminished and even mocked coming from Benjamin Netanyahu.

Time to Breakout

In September 2012 at the United Nations, with the aid of his ball bomb and fuse chart, and calling for the establishment of “red line,” Netanyahu famously claimed,

By next spring, at most by next summer at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage.

From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb. [Emphasis added]

Netanyahu was mocked for the cartoon diagram, but as usual, too, was derided, in the later words of the Guardian, for his “alarmist tone” as someone, “who has long presented the Iranian nuclear programme as an existential threat to Israel and a huge risk to world security.”

The Guardian would then, early this year, with a Wikileaks release, headline that “Leaked cables show Netanyahu’s Iran bomb claim contradicted by Mossad.” A closer reading of the cables told a different story, but that is not the point here. A few months later, the White House offered its own, visual jab at the Israeli prime minister by sending out a tweet that used the bomb graphic.

WH mocks BN

Note that the consequences of “Without the Deal” are bad, but unspecific. Now, however, at the White House’s Iran Deal website, while sparing us a repeat of that particular graphic (maybe with good reason), the White House claims the following:

As it stands today, Iran has a large stockpile of enriched uranium and nearly 20,000 centrifuges, enough to create 8 to 10 bombs. If Iran decided to rush to make a bomb without the deal in place, it would take them 2 to 3 months until they had enough weapon-ready uranium (or highly enriched uranium) to build their first nuclear weapon.

Putting it together, to clarify, in September 2012 Netanyahu projected as late as the summer of 2013 for the completion of medium enrichment, with perhaps a few months more before the development of sufficient enriched uranium for a bomb. As a reminder, the interim agreement between the P5-1 and Iran was reached in November 2013. That is a few months after the summer of that year. According to the interim agreement, all progress in Iran’s nuclear enrichment was halted for the period of negotiations toward a more lasting agreement. Now, at the conclusion of the current negotiations, the Obama administration is warning, in rather alarmist tones, that failure to accept the JCPOA will leave the world confronting the almost immediate threat of a nuclear Iran. The timelines match, with a “few months” wiggle room, and the administration is, in other words, setting a “red line,” in the agreement itself, by warning that the consequences of a failure to accept it could be war.

The only difference in this between Netanyahu then and Obama now are the terms of the agreement and the willingness to demonize the one and lionize the other.

Declares the President:

Instead of chest-beating that rejects the idea of even talking to our adversaries, which sometimes sounds good in sound bites but accomplishes nothing, we’re seeing that strong and principled diplomacy can give hope of actually resolving a problem peacefully. Instead of rushing into another conflict, I believe that sending our sons and daughters into harm’s way must always be a last resort, and that before we put their lives on the line we should exhaust every alternative. [Emphasis added]

This disappointing distortion is more characteristic of the President’s conservative political enemies than his own customary reasoned argumentation. We do see, of course, the usual-suspect neocon chest beaters, but there are also many others, open to talk, offering good, reasoned criticisms of the deal – as well as those alternatives that the President and the Secretary of State habitually assert are absent from the critiques, but which, rather, they simply do not wish to credit.

Far from fitting the stale, auto-rhetorical charge of “rushing” to war, American policy toward Iran has involved a multi-decade effort, over three presidencies constructively to engage the Iranian government. It has included a formal acknowledgement of the CIA role in the 1953 coup that overthrew Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and the easing of a previous regime of economic sanctions. It has also consisted of an earlier offer from the George W. Bush administration that Iran rejected.

The open hand of the Clinton administration was spurned. The more generous offer of the Bush administration, when Iran was not sufficiently hurting, was spurned. There is no doubt that the current sanctions drove Iran to negotiate. The matter now in dispute is how well the U.S. played its hand at the table. The trump card in that hand was always the prospect of American, or an American-Israeli, use of force. The ideal play of a trump lies in its effective force when not used, activated by the credible threat of use. That effective force is some product of a genuine willingness to use the trump and the opponent’s belief in such willingness. What have been the presiding conditions for that belief among the Iranians? What are they now?

The former Massachusetts senator also dismissed the idea that military strikes were a realistic way of containing Iran’s nuclear potential.

“Iran has already mastered the fuel cycle,” [Kerry] said. “They have mastered the ability to produce significant amounts of fissile material. You can’t bomb away that knowledge any more than you can sanction it away.”

The tone of the administration’s pitch to Congress appears to have shifted in recent weeks from actively selling the merits of the deal to stressing the lack of viable alternatives….

Imagine the conversations this kind of talk stimulates in the covert corridors of Tehran.

So desperate is the administration in defense of its deal that is actively undermining Israel’s international position and legitimizing Iranian arguments

Said Kerry of a potential Israeli strike, “Iran would then have a reason to say, ‘Well, this is why we need the bomb.’”

Rather than defend any Israeli preemptive act as a response to the constant threat of Iranian annihilation of Israel, Kerry has framed such an act as a justification for the development of an Iranian nuclear capability.

In light of this flaccid posture, continuing pro forma declarations that “all options remain on the table” are met now by Iranian leaders with disbelief:

Kerry and other US officials “have repeatedly admitted that these threats have no effect on the will of the people of Iran and that it will change the situation to their disadvantage,” Zarif claimed.

They are even met with derision:

“The US should know that it has no other option but respecting Iran and showing modesty towards the country and saying the right thing,” Rouhani told a crowd in the western Iranian city of Sanandij on Sunday.

….

“The table they are talking about has broken legs.”

There is even reason to believe that this administration is willing, in the end, to accept a nuclear Iraq. Argued Vice President Biden,

“Imagine stopping them now in the Gulf of Aden” — referring to Iran’s backing for the Houthi insurgency in Yemen — “and stopping them if they had a nuclear weapon,” Biden said. “As bad, as much of a threat as the Iranians are now to destabilizing the conventional force capability in the region, imagine what a threat would be if we had walked away from this tight deal.”

The U.S. has not stopped Iran in the Gulf of Aden. Now it acknowledges how further disarmed it would feel before a nuclear armed Iran. And Biden here predicates that nuclear Iran as the alternative to acceptance of the current Iran deal.

Given the arguments of government officials and of many supporters in general, it is not unreasonable to question, with Iran, as it was with North Korea in a far less combustible area of the world, whether the will is actually there to prevent a nuclear Iran.

That administration officials are swinging wildly in this fight is obvious. They are throwing whatever argumentative punches they think will land, including roundhouse swings that hit their friends and hooks they launch from the knees that end on their own noses. If, in the end, they do win this fight, and the deal passes, and Iran cheats, or develops its bomb in thirteen years, the best chance to play the trump without actually slamming it on the table will have been squandered.

AJA

Categories
The Political Animal

Ukraine and Legitimacy

UkraineIt is fascinating to witness with events in Ukraine an enduring controversy of history in the making. Controversies arise all the time, of course, but some are drawn in more dramatic relief than others, and one of those is Ukraine, 2013-14. Most Western exponents of liberal democracy, of both right and left – by no means all – are adamant that Ukraine represents one more natural social outburst of the desire for freedom and democracy, and a rejection of the democratically-styled authoritarianism that is just one form of corrupt oligarchism. One needn’t dissent from this view to find many of the forces for good in these events, as they zealously and uncritically perceive themselves, to have been inept and, in part, opportunistic and blind causes of their own effect.

The opportunism lay in grasping at the chance to wrest Ukraine free from Russia’s domination, and to do so with so little apparent forethought or preparation or principled consistency. Join that incoherent rationale for Western behavior, both before and after the overthrow of Yanukovych, to what should have been the predictable motivation for Putin to react as he has and you have the grounds for the Russian president’s own opportunistic case and action – and for the predictable defense of it on the Western far right and left.

In that last instance, Patrick L. Smith, at Salon, in “Propaganda, lies and the New York Times: Everything you really need to know about Ukraine” makes just the pro-Russian, anti-Western case the title promises. Like other Western-critic, Russia-rationalizers Smith goes heavy on rightist influence over the Ukrainian uprising.

The decisive influence of ultra-right extremists, some openly committed to an ideology of violence, some whose political ancestors sided with the Nazis to oppose the Soviets, is a matter of record. Svoboda and Right Sector, the two most organized of these groups, now propose to rise into national politics. Right Sector’s leader, Dmytro Yarosh, intends to run for president. The New York Times just described him as “an expert with firebombs” during the street protest period.

These people are thugs by any other name.

This is just one reason, says Smith, that “[t]he more I scrutinize it, the more the American case on Ukraine is held together with spit and baling wire.” Of course, it is not just the “American” case, but that is another topic. So is Smith anymore consistent that the American government he criticizes?

Next Sunday Crimeans will vote in a referendum as to whether they wish to break with the rest of Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. The semi-autonomous region’s parliament has already voted to do so, and good enough that they put the thought to a popular vote.

But no. Self-determination was the guiding principle when demonstrators and pols with records as election losers pushed Yanukovych out and got done via a coup (I insist on the word) what they could not manage in polling booths. But it cannot apply in Crimea’s case. The Crimeans are illegitimate and have no right to such a vote.

“[G]ood enough that they put the thought to a popular vote”? So is Smith accepting events in Kiev as expressive, however extra-legal, of legitimate self-determination or not? Is he criticizing them or resorting to their example to justify the Crimean referendum? Both, we see, in a prime, if covert, example of the argumentative reversal. And somehow, in Smith’s own coup against reason, and his exposition of “everything you really need to know about Ukraine,” he does not tell us this:

The reaction to all this in Crimea does not appear to have been done democratically or by the book.

Armed men assumed to be Russian troops or pro-Russian militia stormed the Crimea Parliament building and locked it down. Anatoly Mogiliov, the president of Crimea, who is a member of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, was ordered out.

In a session not open to the public, the Crimea parliament allegedly appointed Sergei Askyonov as prime minister of Crimea. Askyonov is a member of a small, obscure political group called from the Russian Unity Party, which won too few votes in parliamentary elections in 2012 to win even one seat in Kiev.

Nor, to balance his reporting on “ultra-right extremists” in Ukraine, does Smith include this, about the new Crimean prime minister, in “everything”:

“He wasn’t a criminal big shot,” said Andriy Senchenko, now a member of Ukraine’s Batkivshchyna party, which was at the forefront of the Kiev protests that led last month to the downfall of pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych. Senchenko described Aksyonov as a “brigade leader” in a gang that was often involved in extortion rackets.

While Senchenko is not unbiased — his party opposes Aksyonov’s push for Crimea to become part of Russia — the editor of the region’s main pro-Russian newspaper, Crimean Truth, also accused Aksyonov of being in a criminal gang. Mikhail Bakharev made the allegations five years ago, when Aksyonov first emerged on Crimea’s political scene.

Well, so everybody in the pristine realm of national and international power politics will have dirty targets at which to aim a crooked figure. But at least everyone is consistent in principle in how they shape and against whom they direct their arguments, yes? Clearly, no. Among the many consequences of Western carelessness in Ukraine is the opportunity for the Putins and the Smiths to so muddy the waters over the issue of legitimacy.

Was the just completed Crimean referendum legitimate? Was the Ukrainian parliamentary vote to remove Yanukovych from office – compelled by the threat of the streets – legitimate? What constitutes governmental legitimacy? What warrants action to remove by extra-legal action a presiding government, previously recognized as legal? In whom rests the authority to carry out this extra-legal removal, to then assume the authority, on what basis, to govern? When is almost everyone’s liberating revolution a less romantic “mob-action” instead, in which the legitimacy of the complaint in uprising and of the forces rising up in substitution of those governing may be called into question? These are just a few of the questions in political philosophy that may apply, and generally speaking, in practical terms, the determinant of the answer is the existent ideological perspective of those making the judgment.

The ideological perspective on this issue of those adhering to liberal democracy, right and left, is likely best expressed by John Rawls, in Justice As Fairness, that

political power is legitimate only when it is exercised in accordance with a constitution (written or unwritten) the essentials of which all citizens, as reasonable and rational, can endorse in the light of their common human reason. This is the liberal principle of legitimacy.

Add to this some representation of Max Weber’s concept of legal-rational authority, “a set of rules and rule-bound institutions” where “creating and changing the rules are outside of the control of those who administer them,” and we probably have the nut shell of legal administrative procedure leading to democratic justice that most in the West would endorse.

One difficulty, however, is that such would describe what is legitimate, or a standard against which some government might fall short. But how far short may it fall before most of us would agree that legitimacy has been lost, so that some usurpation of authority may be attempted? And whence the legitimacy of the usurping forces?

We pretend when we argue about such crises as Ukraine and Crimea that there is some clear and settled standard by which to make these latter judgments, but there is not. Usurpations of power, by glorious and other revolutions, with the reactions against them, are always ad hoc affairs with makeshift and evolving ethical rationales. In 1969, 71 nations granted diplomatic recognition to the Republic of China on Taiwan, with only 48 recognizing the Peoples Republic of China on the mainland. By 2013, only 22 nations recognized the ROC, while recognition of the PRC had grown to 172. This evolution in the perception of the legitimacy of these two governments did not arise out of any objective improvement in the argument for the PRC over that of the ROC – unless, of course, material facts are considered to influence, along with morality, a political determination, which, of course, they are. The PRC holds, indeed, the mainland, is far larger, more populous, more militarily, and – most important of all – more economically powerful. “Legitimacy” bends beneath the wheel of material reality.

The 2008 declaration of independence of Kosovo is not recognized by Serbia or the Serbian administered North Kosovo. Because of Russian objection, Kosovo will not likely soon be granted a UN seat, yet it has received 110 recognitions as an independent state, and the International Court of Justice advisory opinion on Kosovo stated that Kosovo’s declaration did not violate international law. Kosovo’s government is and will be recognized as legitimate because, right or wrong, international bodies will have reached consensus on it legitimacy and no power strong enough will be acting to prevent the exercise of that government’s authority.

These are the realties that will develop over time in Ukraine and Crimea. It is important to note for the future, however, that the current uncertainty is not just the product of Russia’s role as bad actor, but also the strategic ineptitude of the West. Without attempting any objectively considered defense of the overthrow of Yanukovych within a coherent philosophic framework, the EU and US assert the legitimacy of the usurpation, truly, in the faith that their side and agents represent the substance of democratic justice, even if the procedure has to be made up as events proceed. Further discoveries of Yanukovych’s corruption, subsequent to his flight, are post hoc justifications, and Russia is Russia, and so illegitimate in its power plays on the face of them. Not surprisingly, as I argued before, Putin genuinely believes otherwise. Events, tactics, and countless opportunities to weaken in resolve will determine the real end.

The EU and US acted as if this would be a second go at the 2004-05 Orange Revolution, with another chance to get it right and get Russia and its Ukrainian stand-ins gone. But the course of the Orange Revolution was ultimately decided by a Ukrainian Supreme Court decision and new elections. There was no overthrow of a democratically-elected leader and Putin was not fully the power then that he is now. None of this seems to have been taken into account in anticipating the magnitude of what was occurring. The Western nations, so blinded by their sense of moral superiority, could not see that their advice and guidance of Ukrainian government opponents – rather disingenuously self-styled as just the innocent advocacy of democracy, even as it excused the threat of the streets – would be perceived by Putin as interference and aggression.

Because the West played geopolitics without a playbook – they are, don’t you know, so nineteenth century – numbered among the West’s failures thus far is the opening, from more than one direction, to challenge the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian government, which has become the rationale of all consequent Russian actions.

AJA

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The Revolution with No Name

delalibWhen it seemed to some at the end of the Cold War that we had also reached the end of history, more than ever, every act of rebellion and revolution seemed cause to celebrate an elevated human spirit. After a long winter of merely staving off an enemy’s further success, now freedom was rising with people uprising, and cheer was in the air. We got, relatively peaceful and colored (orange and rose), revolutions and “springs” that sprang of the hope – so richly did the sap of it rise in great municipal squares around the world – that all that is necessary to topple tyranny is for good people to yearn in multitudes together in city centers, suffer only small losses against brutish police while their uplifting cause is broadcast to the world via iPhone and tweeted the encouragement of the well-fed and meaning.

Hold, now, candles up to the night, under music, for the next inspiring Apple or Nike commercial.

Nothing could stop universal liberation now.

Except as it turned out, lots of the colors faded, and the springs were either false or soon broken, which many people, it seemed, failed to notice. More begin to now.

The course of revolutions was never swift and sure, glorious or quickly final. There were counter revolutions, restorations, and failed republics, great dictators along the way before decades might cast a shadow of the original dream. The promise of the French Revolution was not soon borne out: eighty one years passed between the storming of the Bastille and the final establishment of republican government never again to depart.  Three quarters of a century after the Russian Revolution waited the collapse of Soviet barbarity and then Yeltsin on a tank  just to deliver, so far, ninety-three years later, Vladimir Putin on horseback.

The American Revolution stands more and more exceptional, especially for those who make Exceptionalism the currency of their daily political barter and harangue, though not so exceptional that many of the same won’t pretend that all it requires is a freedom agenda and a perpetual footing for war to spring the world’s restive and aspiring masses, properly watered, into the same colorful bloom.

For many, after Iraq and Afghanistan and those departed springs, it could be Syria that has taken so much the bloom off that rose, though there was Iran in 2009 before it. The right’s interventionists predictably made the failure of that revolution Barack Obama’s failure, though never a credible case was made by never a soul that a president’s greater public encouragement of the “Green” revolution would have led to anything other than the same dismal end with many more dead in the street.

Somewhere now in the consciences of some, not in those of others, arises amidst the inspired freedom calls also the moderating memory – the recollection, in the moral vision of King, that while, he hopefully told us, the arc of history bends toward justice, it is in the first place long. What is it that we provoke with our policies and acts, our encouraging words and cheers, and how, most importantly of all, have we prepared not others, but only ourselves to face what it is that we invoke in the world?

What do we invoke in the world? American troops still in Iraq and not to leave Afghanistan even after thirteen years if some would have their way. The same people would have led the U.S. to enter – oh, let us not argue for the moment over just how – the Syrian civil war. They wanted us, too, to be “all Georgians now” in 2008, when Russia sent troops into South Ossetia and Abkhazia. And now there is Ukraine, hotter by the day, with Venezuela just a little on the back burner. North Korea, too, there is always the threat of North Korea, and if, likely, no negotiated settlement is reached with Iran over its nuclear program – just how many air campaigns, missile strikes, policing actions, proxy wars, full-fledged attacks, and all out wars do the impassioned eminences of American imperial militarism believe the United States can conduct at once or in just a decade or two, after a decade or two, without inflaming the world and putting the torch to America’s own democracy?

What is neither reasonably nor honorably, which is not to say  uncontested about Ukraine:

  • that Victor Yanukovych was the most corrupt of oligarchs and a malleable instrument of Russian imperial policy
  • that Russia’s invasion of Crimea is both illegal and unjustifiable.

Still, it is so that not many conclusions necessarily follow from these truths.

From the start there have been divisions over the identity and nature of those behind the anti- Yanukovych protests, with Timothy Snyder in The New York Review of Books and Steven Cohen in The Nation prominent opponents pitting freedom-loving liberals against the right wing nationalists the Russians want to cast as fascists. Snyder does not have to be wrong for Cohen to be partly right. Not all American revolutionaries were Tom Paine and Alexander Hamilton. Some retained their monarchical tastes. And do we not receive our very terminology of political right and left from the French Revolution? And did not the Bolsheviks out maneuver a host of competing and more moderate parties during the Russian Revolution? A revolution is never one thing.

Going back to the 2004 Orange Revolution, the evidence of Ukrainian liberal leaning toward the West is clear enough, particularly in the western Ukraine. The problem of Ukraine 2014, whatever the Russians say, is not who is behind the uprising, but what the West thought it was doing in Ukraine and what thought it gave to what the Russians would do when the West did it. The evidence is that what the Europeans and the U.S. thought they were doing was far too simple minded, and that barely a competent thought was given to what the Russians would do.

One does not have to be Henry Kissinger, characteristically unmindful of moral considerations, not to be James Kirchik, treating geopolitical fault lines as cause for a modern crusade on a high horse to the New Jerusalem. One need not be Kirchik to know which side acts more, in King’s words, to uplift human personality, or Kissinger to know when acts are better guided by the possible. The world is not remediated by zealotry.

The most telling words of anyone, by far, in these events were uttered by Vladimir Putin himself when he finally spoke to the public.

I think they sit there across the pond in the U.S., sometimes it seems … they feel like they’re in a lab and they’re running all sorts of experiments on the rats without understanding consequences of what they’re doing.

This striking observation reveals much. First, for the man who in the past year has emerged as the American right’s latest master strategist, the personal resentment – what should not guide the policy of master strategists – is palpable. Second, the words nonetheless confirm what many on the right have already charged – that Putin holds Obama in contempt. Third, Putin is right. The conclusion of amateurish fooling around in Ukraine, without “understanding consequences of what they’re doing,” is escaped only through partisan rationalization.

But a greater understanding of the mistakes here escapes both Putin and Obama’s home front critics. When all those EU diplo-  and technocrats were luring Ukraine toward membership, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, declaring the EU could get fucked, was picking and choosing who should govern Ukraine after a successful rebellion, it was not, clearly, just the Americans who were wearing lab coats. And it was not the Obama administration, but many of its current critics, before this administration, who have publicly desired all these years to bring the “defensive” lines of NATO right to the borders of Russia, about which the Russians were expected to think what – “Oh, we know, you’re the good guys, we shouldn’t worry”?

Steven Cohen has been infuriated by his own critics calling him a Putin apologist – and why should anyone so intimately connected to The Nation ever be considered tainted by anti-American apologetics – yet it is true that one can, without Cohen’s soft sell of Putin’s autocracy, understand matters from a Russian perspective. It is what fundamentally competent strategists do, and what is required to be done if one wants actually to accomplish a strategic goal and not simply posture about it before the alter of world-historical righteousness.

What stretch of imagination is required to recognize that Putin would not perceive Nuland’s and all the others’ lab set ups benignly? Nuland et al. may envision themselves as no more than traveling preachers tending to their flock’s greater yearning for nearness to democracy, but how much empathetic projection is needed to intuit that Putin, or any Russian leader, would likely see them as outside agitators firing up the flock, stirring up trouble in his own neighboring parish, about which, it just so happens, he cares a little and has an interest? How much geography and history must one know to recognize the significance of Ukraine to Russia? Or that Crimea, once, in 1954, in very different times, literally given to Ukraine for Soviet administrative and political purposes, would not now, seemingly pick-pocketed from Russia’s geopolitical hip, be simply given up with a shrug and a smile? “Oh, well, you win this time. Come back at ya with Mexico when I get a chance.”

Unsurprisingly, entreaties to true believers that they try reversing roles have been facilely dismissed. The U.S., they insist would hardly, in contrary circumstances, invade and annex part of Canada. The easy reply to that easy claim is that, no, obviously, the United States is not Russia. To whom other than rankest of crank extremists on either end of the political spectrum does that case need to be made? Less facile is to wonder just how obvious it is that the United States would not act similarly. American interventions in behalf of national interests are a twentieth century historical marker. Had the Canadian or Mexican governments been toppled during the Cold War by Marxist leaning street protests, how hard is it to conjure the frenzied calls, particularly from the right, for American action? In fact, the United States has maintained possession of Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba, occupied by treaty signed under the duress of colonial domination, even as the internationally recognized government of Cuba has for more than fifty years protested that continued foreign occupation. Once the American Civil War was over, the U.S. began covertly to supply arms to Juarez in Mexico, in opposition to the French-installed Emperor Maximilian. The 1823 Monroe Doctrine declared that European interference, not in a neighboring country, but anywhere in the Western Hemisphere would be considered “manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.”

None of this is to argue an equivalence between the United States and Russia. These commonalities alone create none such. Rather it is to hold out Russian interest in Ukraine as obvious and its response to events easy to have anticipated. That Putin would seek to regain Crimea, which had long been part of Russia. That he might opportunistically lie in wait for eastern Ukraine. That no election in May will invalidate the license Putin feels now even more strongly, as has the West all along as well, to work clandestinely to shape the future of whatever Ukraine will remain. Still, unprepared for the response so far, Western voices rail against it as a behavioral outlier.

When freedom agenda crusaders, particularly, rail so obviously about how good we are, and how bad is the autocrat of the day, they despoil statecraft with a simplistic Manichaeism. In this mode of thinking, Putin knows he is bad – chooses to be bad, like Satan in rebellion against God. He mentally spurns and is rejected by the goodness he recognizes and that in a better world would have been his. His opposition to “us” is thus a kind of private wound, a closely nurtured insufficiency that justifies itself in devilishness, while all the while he actually knows just how bad he is.

This is a misunderstanding of personality at its core.

While it is standard operating procedure to identify all of Putin’s lies, which, of course, are many, identifying Putin particularly with lying exhibits just that core misunderstanding. The autocrat is not fundamentally a liar, but a bullshitter.

Telling a lie is an act with a sharp focus. It is designed to insert a particular falsehood at a specific point in a set or system of beliefs, in order to avoid the consequences of having that point occupied by the truth. This requires a degree of craftsmanship, in which the teller of the lie submits to objective constraints imposed by what he takes to be the truth. The liar is inescapably concerned with truth-values. In order to invent a lie at all, he must think he knows what is true. And in order to invent an effective lie, he must design his falsehood under the guidance of that truth. On the other hand, a person who undertakes to bullshit his way through has much more freedom. His focus is panoramic rather than particular. He does not limit himself to inserting a certain falsehood at a specific point, and thus he is not constrained by the truths surrounding that point or intersecting it. He is prepared to fake the context as well, so far as need requires.

Regarding Ukraine, we see that Putin does more than simply lie, in the claim, for instance, that uniformed troops in Crimea without insignia are not Russian, which no one believes: greater, he fakes the context of Ukraine entirely. The authentic individual lie is meant to deceive, to be mistaken in the greater context for the truth. Bullshit, however, is intended to confuse, so that the truth disappears. This is what all autocrats intend, the vanishing of the truth beneath the panorama that is their vision of the world – the extension of their own egos. The truth that is manifest in history is that autocrats believe in what they are doing.

To strategize against the likes of Putin, then, one must work with that understanding, along with historical and geopolitical fundamentals. From that perspective, there is no question of the autocrat’s commitment to negotiations as a matter of preferred principle, some shared belief that talking together,  regardless of conflicting interests, is always preferable to conflict. The autocrat will employ – as Assad has done – Mao’s policy of fight, fight, talk, talk until one way or the other he gains as much as possible of what he wants. (And, yes, the date on that linked article about Iran is 2005, under the Bush administration, not 2014.)

Effective negotiations against the autocrat will have two characteristics. They will offer the autocrat a less costly, limited win more easily achieved than through other means, and they will deliver to democrats their own limited win that blocks any near-term further success by the autocrat through continued conflict or subterfuge. Absent that second characteristic, democrats will have been outmaneuvered, as the U.S. thus far has been outmaneuvered on Syria, where a failure even to come close to meeting the February 6 deadline for the removal of all chemical weapons has been allowed to pass with barely comment from the Obama administration, let alone action of any kind. At the same time, the administration had a vision of Syrian peace talks, but, astonishingly, apparently believing that Assad actually wanted to talk, rather than use the talks to delay, had no strategy for the talks whatever beyond the idea of them. And now there is the distraction of Ukraine.

Contrary to the belligerent harangues of American militarists, however, the West and the Obama administration have not been outmaneuvered because they – really, the U.S. – are not prepared to shake a militant fist at every trouble spot and throw punches often. They are adrift because they had no coherent strategy either to accomplish the kind of end they sought in Ukraine. Obama has a proper global vision for the twenty-first century – a U.S. that resorts to military action only rarely, in vital or self-defense, and no longer multiple times a decade in vestigial Cold War defense of imperial interests, no longer in bearing the burden of ill-conceived humanitarian interventions on behalf of everyone else,. There is, too, the belief that in time, centers of power and concern will shift to Asia. All this is good, but it is a partial geo-strategic position, not a plan for getting there. Not a plan, most of all, for how to act in long term consonance with a part of the nation’s vital self-definition: a great democracy standing unselfishly, yet with a mature understanding of historical development, in support of democracy for all nations.

One senses that Obama embraces such a national self-definition with very great, truly conservative reserve. Thus he has no regional and global strategy for playing this role, and was as unprepared as were the Europeans for the entirely foreseeable response of Putin, who quite reasonably, by his lights, took developments in Ukraine as aggressive meddling in his interests. The militarists will assert that they are advocating the aggressive resolve that won the Cold War. But for all the necessary military preparedness, Western success in the Cold War was ultimately a holding action in which one side outlasted the inner contradictions of the other. On a contrasting track, with the exception of Korea, nearly every coup, proxy war, or semi-proxy war the U.S. fought during the Cold War was just as ultimately a disaster, for the U.S., the third nation involved, or both.

It is probable that a long end game in Ukraine would have been no different with planning than it may be now: re-absorption of Crimea into Russia, with some or all of the remainder of Ukraine, amid continuing contention with Russia, aligned now toward the West. Adequately prepared, with continuing contention thus perhaps moderated, and with all the pro forma legal and diplomatic objections to the Russian annexation of Crimea, Ukraine might have been successfully framed as a win for democracy – because it would have been, as it still may be – rather than as a crisis.

To avoid careening from one crisis to another, however, a clearer vision of future roles is required. The militarist American right will prefer a long continuation of the United States’ Cold War imperial leadership. That self-destructive vision needs to be dimmed. However, inadequately, Obama’s presidency came at the right time finally to begin to turn those lights out. More, though, is needed. Some clearer articulation of a more sharply defined strategy is required by a center-left neither committed to defining the American role via military action nor allergic to the legitimacy of it. A coherent expression of the international role of democracies in the twenty-first century must be formulated. An evangelizing freedom agenda is simply cold warriorism without the defensive rationale. It is a formula for endemic and destructive global conflict, which is an occurrence in nature sufficient to need no assist from the laboratory coats. Still, democratic nations cannot be expected in their intercourse with other nations not, by their very nature as democracies, to give expression to the character and promise of political freedom. They cannot be expected not to share their knowledge of this freedom and its rewards with those who seek it. But we must always understand what we are doing when we do so in any given context, with what chances of producing good rather than harm to those we hope to help, and to even more around them. We must consider how it advances a larger project, or retards it. We must consider the conflicting interests of others, and we must do it without the kind of righteous arrogance that produced during the Cold War, in Graham Greene’s words, a self-delusive American innocence of good intentions, in Vietnam, that was “like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.”

Essential to any new strategy will be a significantly elevated role for Europe and other democracies. Europe particularly has enjoyed a nearly free ride on the American people and their economy for over six decades. One strong expression of American leadership can be leadership to end that state of affairs and to bring mature democracies more fully into actively funding and engaging the defense of freedom. Another will be a recognition that the United Nations has run its course. It is exhausted as an instrument of assertive and effective action in support of the many supreme paper principles it has enunciated over its life. It is used by the worst tyrants in the world, through cynical manipulation of ideal expressions and exercise of institutional powers, to thwart actual amelioration and change in the world, such as what might have been possible in Syria without the veto power of Russia and China. It is time to start on the long course of superseding the United Nations with a new Global Union, in which the extent of a member nation’s institutional role is determined by a measure of its actual adherence to organizationally expressed principles of democratic practice and human and civil rights.

That would be a freedom agenda too, and the beginnings of a plan to help the many future Ukraines the world and history still has to offer.

AJA

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A Second Look: the End (of History, War, the Enlightenment, and Western Civilization) Or Not

My recent posts on Syria were argued against a more global backdrop: considerations of war and how it is entered into, with what achievable (or other) ends in mind, and, more specifically again, how the United States engages in it. In focus were questions of American empire and the nature of victory and whether it can be achieved. Syria, like all the Middle East, offering up so much tyranny, appealing to so much humanitarian feeling, calling on so many instincts toward real politique – and with the ever present wild card Joker of Israel in the deck – seems to roil all settled understanding of right and left in politics.

The following post from 2010, in response to an essay by Andrew Bacevich, addresses all these issues, with the addition of the always fundamental matter of definition: in addition to wonder about the effects of our (warring) actions, there is the question of how we define victory, a pivot around which we assess past and plan future policy. There are, too, the distinct elements of the quality of our analysis and the quality of our inferences from it. From July 30, 2010:

This Is the End (of History, War, the Enlightenment, and Western Civilization) Or Not

Andrew Bacevich is appropriately critical of the American impetus to hegemonic empire that grew out of its post World War Two ascendency and the commitment to communist containment. That was the subject of his 2008 The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. Essential to any continuing practicability of this American role, he argues in yesterday’s HuffPo was a belief in the possibility of definitive victory in war. His post is entitled “The End of (Military) History? The United States, Israel, and the Failure of the Western Way of War.” The ostensible reasoning behind the connection of Israel to the U.S.in this regard is the shared belief, still, in the possibility of military victories. The differences – American hegemony versus Israeli existential concern – make the connection more problematic, but the meaning of the making of connections, real and imagined, between the U.S. and Israel, while a continuing interest of this blog, is not the subject today.

Bacevich begins,

“In watching the flow of events over the past decade or so, it is hard to avoid the feeling that something very fundamental has happened in world history.”  This sentiment, introducing the essay that made Francis Fukuyama a household name, commands renewed attention today, albeit from a different perspective.

Developments during the 1980s, above all the winding down of the Cold War, had convinced Fukuyama that the “end of history” was at hand.  “The triumph of the West, of the Western idea,” he wrote in 1989, “is evident… in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism.”

Today the West no longer looks quite so triumphant.  Yet events during the first decade of the present century have delivered history to another endpoint of sorts.  Although Western liberalism may retain considerable appeal, the Western way of war has run its course.

Now, we want a critique that has correctly identified its problem to successfully analyze it, but the introduction is a curiously self-refuting start. Although the communist era ended, socialist critiques of Western capital domination continue in various forms, Islam has reemerged as a starkly countervailing force to the Western idea, and the liberal idea, in relation to the first two forces, is strikingly challenged by among some of its own product. Notice that Bacevich himself felt reason to write “Western liberalism may retain considerable appeal.” Fukuyama was clearly wrong. It is on this parallel foundation then that Bacevich wishes to rhetorically support the claim that the curiously attributed “Western way of war has run its course”?

Certainly, the Second World War left many with the idea that military conflicts, even grandly scaled wars, can be fought to definitive and just conclusions. I think Bacevich is right to attribute to this consequent overconfidence the American military misadventures in the post war period, but he seems, in his critique, similarly shortsighted as well as selective in his vision. There were in this period American military actions, however relatively small in scale, that achieved their clear aims: Panama, the Dominican Republic, the Gulf War – and one rightly hesitates to add Granada. And however emblematic of indeterminacy Korea has been for nearly sixty years, it did achieve its original aim.

More significantly, though, if one excludes World War Two, from what historical evidence does Bacevich draw his claim of a particular way of war and the running of its course, upon which to predicate an accurate vision of the future? He confines himself to the twentieth century.

All of this furious activity, whether undertaken by France or Great Britain, Russia or Germany, Japan or the United States, derived from a common belief in the plausibility of victory.

Victory may have been the common belief, but what was ever the historical justification for it? And how was and is victory defined? In total conquest? That surrenders were offered? An armistice signed? An immediate pressure released? An international tension long or forever resolved? Bacevich isn’t clear beyond suggesting the Second World War model.

Campaigns of terror – e.g. nineteenth century anarchist movements – are not new, though possible now on a scale that requires strategic consideration and developed doctrine, not dismissal in simplistic oppositions of war and peace. History is replete with successful guerilla wars, depending, of course, on how success is defined and the duration of the achieved goal – wars in which great powers were perpetually harassed by smaller or insurgent armies. Wars badly fought or that ended in apparent victories only to set up over decades or even centuries the conditions of future war – the Thirty Years War, the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, the Franco-Prussian war, almost the whole history of European warfare – are not a new development in war, only a departure from the dominant U.S. expectation. There is, too, if the subject is going to be explored meaningfully, no reason to limit the historical and developmental review to the West.

If the U.S. had withdrawn from Afghanistan after routing the Taliban, and if, rather than embarking on nation-building, it had pursued the kind of counter-terror strategy it will probably pursue after a now likely withdrawal without a nation built, could the U.S. have rightly claimed victory – not the end of all Islamic terror, but the thwarting of Al-Qaeda’s access to a national base? Had Saddam Hussein actually possessed WMD, they would have been found and destroyed, his regime toppled, as it was, and with a relatively quick withdrawal after, the purported goal of the war – a Victory – achieved. These are complex and to some degree hypothetical considerations, but my point is that there does not seem anything structural in the historical development of war that precludes the possibility of victory, as long as one does not define victory so far up that one makes it almost by definition unachievable.

Alter these factors, and the narrative of a stumbling, crumbling U.S. giant is not as easily written. Writes Bacevich,

Politically motivated violence will persist and may in specific instances even retain marginal utility.  Yet the prospect of Big Wars solving Big Problems is probably gone for good

This qualifier is significant. Is Afghanistan a big war? By what measure? Are Israel’s wars big wars? Is it accurate to say that Israel these days perceives itself as fighting to solve big problems, or does it fight to maintain a safe power balance in a developmental holding action?

Bacevich observes,

Nearly 20 years ago, a querulous Madeleine Albright demanded to know: “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”  Today, an altogether different question deserves our attention: What’s the point of constantly using our superb military if doing so doesn’t actually work?

It’s a neat antithesis, but weakly and unnecessarily argued. American leaders and commanders do not have the luxury to argumentatively pretend that the Taliban-supported Al-Qaeda base in Afghanistan could have been left to function. Israeli leaders lack a similar luxury to ignore the ideological and military threats of Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. That the expansive hegemonic reach of the U.S., an outgrowth of the Cold War, is now destructive of U.S. interests can be well argued. The claim does not require an overreaching corollary that is actually a bit suspect in its formation and application. It isn’t that humans have developmentally overcome their inclinations toward war – war has ceased, essentially, to work, and it has ceased to do so, when, according to Bacevich, only the United States and Israel, as he defines it, still engage in it.

Hmn.

AJA

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Syria, the Limits of Interventionism, and the International Order

Geschichte / Deutschland / 19. Jh. / Friedrich Wilhelm III.  / Regierungszeit / Vormärz / Wiener Kongreß 1814-15Noted in the comments to the previous post, “A Plague: Contesting Syria, in Context,” is the posting of a reply to it at his blog from my ever wry blogging compadre, Snoopy the Goon. Please do  read it here. Below is my response to, ahem, the Goon.

Dear Snoopy,

How do we go on after that John Lennon crack? I believe forgiveness is all. (Well, something, anyway.) And then there is your introduction. Okay.

I think there is not that much disagreement between us, some points needing just some clarification and refinement.

I note your eloquent and just paean to the “warriors of the cold war,” and what their sacrifice meant to those on the other side of the “curtain.” I agree, too, that the dollars of that war were well, if not all necessarily, spent, but the strategic purpose of my overview of the arms race was not to address the justness of the mission or overspending on it, rather the pattern of hyperbolic fear mongering often to be found in it. That purpose was a foundation to arguing that a variation on such heightened stirring of the passions toward war can be found in much commentary and journalism on Syria, including that compassionate solidarity journalism you reference.

I happily take your point that most Americans on the left and right are opposed to a Syrian intervention, however different the foundations for their feelings. My criticism, though, was of those on the far left who oppose it for thoroughly dishonorable reasons and those on the right – the “superpower imperialists” – who promote it so disingenuously.

Joined with superpower imperialists are those of the left not defined here by anti-imperialism, but internationalism, and a belief in humane interventionism – the “responsibility to protect.” I share this philosophical attachment and you echo its humane considerations. I claim, too, that this heightened attention to the lives of others, across national boundaries and cultures, is a product of already existent achievements in the “slow-developing international order” that challenges your credibility. But there is an irony in this.

I often call attention to the expanding web our affective associations woven by technology. It brings us, for instance, more completely and immediately, and with more vivid reality, news of the horrors of Syria. However, what informs your (and my own) skepticism of that international order is that other human abilities – the capacity, for instance, to act in concert and successfully against the horrors in Syria – have not advanced in conjunction with technology. Because our access to the reality of war is greater than ever before, that does not mean we have learned to end any and all wars whenever our best selves simply feel they cannot bear it anymore. We learn, we witness, we think we should act – our best selves cry out for our action – but we do not know in many cases, including Syria, I argue, how to act in ways that will not make matters generally worse.

When you say that you already perceive, awfully, that Assad has won, I respond, first, that by all appearances, whatever the ultimate varieties of outcome long down the road, what was Syria before will not be again. In that sense, Assad will certainly not have won. Beyond that, as I already argued, it was not previously American or Western policy militarily to overthrow Assad or any of the other tyrants who afflict the world; we need not have been made committed to that end by the outbreak of a civil war. To the degree that Obama’s earlier rhetoric seemed to make that commitment, it was an error of which his general critics regularly remind us and for which he should be criticized. Why, now, should he be criticized for failing to live up to a mistaken promise?

Round-the-clock cable news and Twitter cannot now by their mere existence have morally enjoined us to rush foolishly to intervene in all conflicts. You put it well about Iraq; I argue it to an nth degree about Syria, that

people who commanded the invasion, which was truly a work of inspiration and meticulous planning as far as military part of it was concerned, didn’t have a smidgen of an idea what to do with the hot potato, which was post-war Iraq. Still don’t, which sad fact costs so many lives and will continue to do so for a long time.

On the other hand, about the chemical weapons disarmament program in progress in Syria, the political rather than tactical nature of the response to this development is quite remarkable.

Unless one is already predisposed against Obama, which of course many are, or wishes, in part for that reason, to harp on one’s perception of the messy way the program came about, or harp on all of the things that the program is not, as would those promoters of intervention – who are bound to be profoundly disappointed by it – there is simply no downside to the program at all. Among the many previous fears attendant with the conflict (you can look it up) was the fear that chemical weapons, beyond their possible use by Assad, would fall into the hands of Islamist terror groups. Even if, unsurprisingly, and as is already suspected, Assad is trying to cheat, the volume of dangerous chemical weapons will have been dramatically reduced in a war torn region. Our knowledge of the presence and location of any smaller, still hidden stockpiles will have been enhanced, along with the capacity to strike and destroy or capture them whenever that decision might be made. All in all, the dangers those weapons pose – from Assad or Islamist warriors – will have been dramatically reduced from what it was. Other than providing a political stick with which to club Obama, the current disarmament program, had it been offered at any time outside of Obama’s threat of a military strike, would have been received by all as an opportunity to be grasped without doubt. Nothing changes that.

Finally, I assert again, withdrawal from an imperial expanse and posture in the world does not require the sacrifice of natural and sufficient economic, cultural, and political power or of necessary unilateral military power. These are an appropriate objective for one of the world’s great democracies already the most powerful nation in the world. However, the specific mission of the Cold War is not the same as a mission to ensure unchallengeable domination of the international sphere as a de facto, but by no means formally assented to, nation among nations. The political philosophy that the world shall henceforth be uni rather than multi-polar, and that it shall be so only by the dominating will and power of the existing unipolar power to keep it so, believing unwaveringly in its own justness and exceptionalism, is inherently undemocratic, even, ultimately, tyrannical in nature, if not in purpose. I do not believe the American people, unlike its militarists and supporters of an imperial presidency, would choose to purpose the future of their nation in this way. If they would, it would not be the nation they wish to think it.

The United Nations as an organization can serve as a convenient shorthand for two centuries of evolving Western and international order in various organizational and legal regimes. The deficiencies of that order are those of the humans creating it and can be likewise conveniently highlighted by such failures as the UNHRC or UNRWA. But however slow the progress, and tragic the continuing failures, I do not think many will make the argument that the world would be better were we to return to it to a time before the Congress of Vienna or the creation of the U.N.

It is slow and creeping, it is often inadequate, it is ready for mockery, but beyond a line on a map, a pistol shot in the face, and a drone strike from above, it is what we have.

AJA

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Edward Snowden and the Question of Authority (a Surveillance of Terms)

Edward Snowden received the Integrity Award from the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence this week, and WikiLeaks has posted several videos of the rarely-seen whistleblower during the event.

The Huffington Post

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As opinions about Edward Snowden have flown wildly back and forth, the vocabulary of public debate has suffered woefully. The sorry truth is that well beyond striving politicians, those who pretend to a journalist’s precision of detail or an analyst’s wise counsel in policy have no less the tendency than the politicians to throw words around like jalopies in a demolition derby. Last one still moving its lips wins.

Much of the debate over Snowden, supporting the leanings of whole ideologies, has resorted to the use of four terms: leaker, whistle blower, spy, and civil disobedience. There are variant terms, such as “traitor” and “illegal,” but those four words have formed the parameters of the debate. Find your point on the grid among the coordinates of those four terms, and your position on Edward Snowden is significantly revealed. Yet few people who have publically discussed Snowden’s act and sometimes used those words have troubled themselves to clarify for themselves and others what precisely they mean by the words and how the words relate to each other. Common slapdash efforts have tended to comfort the comfortably certain, and afflict those afflicted  with uncertainty, with the continuing sense that the matter is all one great subjective political confusion: you know, one person’s spy is another person’s whistleblower.

Shall we cry, “Not”? Let’s.

To begin, three of the terms are conceptually separable from the fourth, all of them not, truly, equal end points on a grid. Civil disobedience stands apart. To leak, to whistle blow, to spy are all categorically related, each a distinguishable, individuated subclass of the more general notion of leaking. If we think of that general notion as one of porous escape from an area of containment, then we manage to separate, to start, the various political actions and moral charges that later attach to types of leaking. We might also think of the concrete barrier of containment that inhibits leakage in the physical world, whatever its material form, as akin to authority in the world of human interaction, especially, here, of government. They are the ideal institutions and the operating protocols of government that seek to erect the authority which, put into practice and respected, establish the containment – the concealment of sensitive information – to prevent leakage.

To leak, in its specific use, is part of the vocabulary of the political classes. As the term is commonly used, people leak information as practical political acts. Sometimes, oddly, contradictorily, a leak is authorized. That is to say that someone who exercises authority over the keeping and containment of the information is the one who creates the leak – releases the information – in order to achieve, by subterfuge, some political effect.  We presume, generally, when we allege such an act, that it is performed, though outside of protocols, with the knowledge or tacit acquiescence of the very highest level of authority, the President or other top executive figure. Thus we see created a fissure in the wall of authoritative containment. To break the rules is to defy authority. Yet we probably most believe that presidents and other leaders must in the exercise of leadership have freedom of movement at the boundaries of action, in order to contend with the contingencies of the real world. Many people clearly, to offer an extreme instance, have made their peace with presidential authorization of torture at the height of the post 9/11 era. What contends in these cases is the authority of law and protocol with the authority of executive leadership. We all have some sense of how the two should balance or one should predominate, but the more marginal we imagine the infraction to be, the less clarity we are likely to have in the matter, and the less many of us will care about attempting to establish a wavy line of demarcation.

When we believe that the leaker is high in the chain of authority, but is acting without some belief in Presidential support, even knowingly against what the President would wish, then we approach the distinguishing boundary of the whistle blower, but we are still not at it. Just as with “authorized” leaks, the person who operates at a high level of government, but who acts surreptitiously to release information in some way counter to the desires of presidential or other executive administration is committing a practical political act. Such a person is not challenging the legitimacy or moral authority of the nation or its government. Such a person is not necessarily challenging the legality of a government policy or act, as the whistle blower tends to do. The “non-authorized” leaker does, however, seek to influence policy by force of public reaction to the leaked information. One might say that the non-authorized leaker accepts the system as it is, in its ideal and real-world constructions, and willingly works within it. Depending on one’s beliefs about an array of matters, one might think the acts of both kinds of leakers to be either dishonorable or the wily operation of the shrewd political player.

As good an example of the “non-authorized” leaker as can be offered, if current suspicions are confirmed as correct, would be  retired Gen. James E. Cartwright of the Marines. Cartwright, reportedly while in service a favorite of President Obama, served before his retirement as the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the second highest military position in the land. Yet according to multiple sources back in June, Cartwright is suspected of being the source of a leak to The New York Times revealing United States involvement in the Stuxnet cyber attack on Iran’s nuclear program computers. In response to these reports, according to National Public Radio, the general’s attorney released a statement using language strikingly relevant to matters in question in the Snowden debate.

General Jim Cartwright is an American hero who served his country with distinction for four decades. Any suggestion that he could have betrayed the country he loves is preposterous.

Whistle blowers will tend to be individuals of far lesser authority than Cartwright, often more functionary than authority, though in government and intelligence work the gradients between the two might seem infinitely to recede into the horizon. The young Edward Snowden may serve as a prime example of that perception. Whistle blowers, properly speaking, see an ideal or operational wrong and believe themselves to be functionally powerless to alter practice or policy in order to right the wrong. They do not have sufficient authority. They are not even, as Cartwright may have been, active participants in the shaping of policy or procedure who lost out in debate. They have no power to formulate, only to execute. As we imagine whistle blowers to be, they are people of conscience who, otherwise voiceless and powerless – thus whistle blower protection laws – blow the whistle on wrongdoing.

This is certainly how Edward Snowden and his supporters portray him. Even many people not fully supportive of Snowden perceive him as someone acting on conscience, however they might judge a range of his actions to be misguided. The individual acting on conscience may be motivated only by moral qualms, but just as likely, when it regards matters about which to blow the whistle, the moral compunction is attached to what is perceived to be illegality. That seems at best a muddy area in Snowden’s revelations. Certainly, many think the programs and procedures Snowden revealed, beginning with their secrecy, to run counter to a spirit of civil liberty and appropriate legal procedure. We find not secret FISA court orders, for instance, but undemocratic, secret interpretations of law. Few legal minds have argued that any of the NSA programs – authorized by legislation and clarified in scope by those court findings – are themselves illegal.

The question of illegality and the matter of how one blows the whistle – whether in report to superiors, along special protective avenues, or by going public directly through the media and thus bypassing protocols – all complicate evaluation of the whistle blower’s act. For many, Snowden and his outright supporters argue very credibly that the last course was the only one effectively open to him, as Daniel Ellsberg similarly felt about the Pentagon Papers.

There is, however, an additional consideration involved in attempting to classify, in order to properly regard, however complexly, Edward Snowden’s actions. Back on June 25, the South China Morning Post reported,

For the first time, Snowden has admitted he sought a position at Booz Allen Hamilton so he could collect proof about the US National Security Agency’s secret surveillance programmes ahead of planned leaks to the media.

“My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked,” he told the Post on June 12. “That is why I accepted that position about three months ago.”

During a live global online chat last week, Snowden also stated he took pay cuts “in the course of pursuing specific work”. He said: “Booz was not the most I’ve been paid.”

….

Asked if he specifically went to Booz Allen Hamilton to gather evidence of surveillance, he replied: “Correct on Booz.”

Ellsberg, perhaps the most famous whistle blower in U.S. history and a supporter of Snowden, nonetheless serves as a marked contrast to Snowden in several ways. Ellsberg, working for the Rand Corporation after service at the Department of Defense, contributed to the study of the Vietnam War commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara that later became known as the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg was one of the few people who had access to the entire study. He was, on these terms, the classic whistle blower: a government or government-affiliated employee who becomes disillusioned by the mission in which he is a participant, but on which he is powerless to effect change. However, Ellsberg did not seek a job at the Rand Corporation with the specific purpose to obtain information to which he otherwise lacked access and then to leak it.

While Edward Snowden and supporters consider him a whistle blower, and he does in some respects fit the description, in others he does not. The United States government has, in fact, charged Snowden with espionage. Is that charge simply institutional vindictiveness, bureaucratic anger at the unauthorized disclosure of information, as Snowden and his Wikileaks and other supporters charge? There are the intricacies of law on which most people are not expert to comment, but there are definitions in the common language. Merriam Webster tells us that a spy is “one that spies; one who keeps secret watch on a person or thing to obtain information.” Wiktionary identifies espionage as the “act or process of learning secret information through clandestine means.” Whereas Daniel Ellsberg leaked information to which he had access as part of work in which he was already authorized to be engaged, Edward Snowden by his own admission sought employment with access to classified information purposefully in order to seek out that information, remove it, and publically disclose it without authorization.

More detailed encyclopedic and intelligence-service definitions of espionage accord with the fuller conception most people have of espionage commonly applying to corporate and nation-against-nation spying. There is no evidence of any such intent on Snowden’s part, nor is there any reason to suspect him of seeking personal gain. We tend also to think of spies as working for enemies, but that is not required. Friendly nations spy on one another all the time. Jonathan Pollard spied on the U.S. for Israel. The U.S., it just so happens Snowden has revealed, spies on its own European allies. Though Snowden seems to conceive of himself as a patriot, as General Cartwright’s lawyer reasonably casts him, and there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of that belief, he has, first, cast his lot with parties who present themselves quite antagonistically toward the U.S., and he has begun to make such comments himself.

As political contestants become more heatedly embroiled in deepening convolutions of motivation and act, and charge and counter charge about the motivations and acts of others, all may find idealized cause to elevate their own higher love of country or freedom above the cravenness of their adversary: nearly everyone is a patriot in his own mind, when he hasn’t spied for money or out of personal grievance. Sometimes, for some ballast against the upending waves of political agonism, we need to return to some existing standards: definitions, precedents, and law. Certainly, by some clear, existent standards, what Edward Snowden set out to engage in at Booz Allen, and against the U.S. government, regardless of his motivation, was espionage.

We have political leakers, we have whistle blowers of conscience, we have spies. Edward Snowden is not the first. There are arguments to be made for the second and third. Let us consider Snowden further on his own terms, as the whistle blower motivated by conscience.

The civil disobedient – what some have carelessly called Snowden – also acts from conscience, though it need not be against illegality. In some sense, civil disobedience based on conscience alone is even more admirable than exposing illegality, which is a great and perhaps even risky enough act itself. In a free and democratic society, we hope – but justice is always an uncertain destination – exposing illegality will receive its ideal and proper reward.  It is on the books. That a personal sense of justice will come commonly to prevail is a still riskier bet to make. When Martin Luther King, Jr. went to Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, it was not to oppose illegality. The injustice he went to fight was legal. He broke the law to oppose it. There are, he wrote,

two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

These high sounding words might be in practice quite capricious and self-serving, but for one highly salient fact – King wrote them from jail. They are found, after all, in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

King was not the first to espouse this standard. Wrote Henry David Thoreau in Civil Disobedience,

Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. The proper place today, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less despondent spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the State by her own act, as they have already put themselves out by their principles. It is there that the fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole, and the Indian come to plead the wrongs of his race should find them; on that separate but more free and honorable ground, where the State places those who are not with her, but against her.

For all Thoreau’s sense of the tyranny of the state qua state, neither he, then, nor we now need be foolish enough to confuse that tyranny with the greater human tyranny effected by the state. We know the systems and societies where such noble figures as Thoreau imagines, upholding their personal measure of justness in prison, may sink into dark holes of history never to emerge from those prisons free or living again. It is, then, easier to justify flight from the system whose wrong one exposes, whose law one breaks, if one can cast it in such dire terms as those. If one can acknowledge no determinative difference between the United States and North Korea or Russia or Iran, one can tell oneself and the world that no obligation is owed to the country and system of laws one challenges.

Like King in the American South, Mohandas Gandhi faced levels of discriminatory oppression from the British Rule of India far greater than the generic tyranny Thoreau faced in the United States. King respected the American system as Gandhi did not the British in India, yet Gandhi, through the concept of nonviolent civil disobedience he fashioned as Satyagraha, nonetheless submitted to British law. In 1922, Gandhi was tried for “bringing or attempting to excite disaffection towards His Majesty’s Government established by law in British India.”  He concluded his statement to the court with these words:

I am here, therefore, to invite and submit cheerfully to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is deliberate crime, and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen. The only course open to you, the Judge and the assessors, is either to resign your posts and thus dissociate yourselves from evil, if you feel that the law you are called upon to administer is an evil, and that in reality I am innocent, or to inflict on me the severest penalty, if you believe that the system and the law you are assisting to administer are good for the people of this country, and that my activity is, therefore, injurious to the common weal.

All three men, Thoreau, Gandhi, and King, staked their principles of civil disobedience in the ground marked off before them by Socrates. Like Edward Snowden, Socrates believed that truths were being withheld from the citizenry, in his case, of Athens. Socrates had endeavored throughout his life to shine the light of reality on the minds of all those with whom he conversed. Late in his life, it became the claim of the rulers of Athens that its citizens, like those of the United States, needed to be protected, in this case from Socrates himself, who was charged with “ refusing to acknowledge the gods recognized by the State and of introducing new and different gods” and with “corrupting the youth” of Athens.

Socrates did not flee his trial, but stood it. It was after he was unjustly convicted – and not before, in what might be deemed by some a convenient anticipation of injustice – that Socrates was urged by his friend Crito to flee. All necessary arrangements had been made by Crito for that flight to safety. In Plato’s dialogue called Crito, Socrates offers the many reasons why he believed it would be wrong for him to escape. He questions what commitment to justice he might rightly claim, and to a regulated system of laws aimed at establishing justice, were he to flee a judgment that might go against him. Argues Socrates, in the voice of the Law, personified as all whom it represents,

“Tell us, Socrates,” they say; “what are you

about? Are you going by an act of yours to overturn us — the

50b      laws and the whole State, as far as in you lies? Do you

imagine that a State can subsist and not be overthrown, in

which the decisions of law have no power, but are set aside

and overthrown by individuals?” What will be our answer,

Crito, to these and the like words? Anyone, and especially

a clever rhetorician, will have a good deal to urge about the

evil of setting aside the law which requires a sentence to be

carried out; and we might reply, “Yes; but the State has

50c      injured us and given an unjust sentence.” Suppose I say that?

Socrates defied what he thought unjust law, law that required he acknowledge the existence of gods in which he did not believe. But he accepted his punishment for that defiance and declared his respect for law itself. A foundation for that respect was laid in the argument Socrates made of implied consent.

                 But he who has experience of the manner in which we

order justice and administer the State, and still remains, has

entered into an implied contract that he will do as we

command him. And he who disobeys us is, as we maintain,

thrice wrong: first, because in disobeying us he is disobeying

his parents; secondly, because we are the authors of his

education; thirdly, because he has made an agreement with us

that he will duly obey our commands; and he neither obeys

them nor convinces us that our commands are wrong; and we

do not rudely impose them, but give him the alternative of

obeying or convincing us; that is what we offer, and he does

52a      neither.

Though he appears, in his defense of Snowden, no longer to recognize this standard today. Ellsberg did recognize if for himself.

I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision.

Of course, one may take a radically subversive or revolutionary stance, by which state institutions and the system of laws are challenged in their very legitimacy. Some of those who have become associated with Snowden – Julian Assange and Wikileaks, for instance – frequently make characterizations of the United States in this spirit, though they have yet to outright declare themselves subversive or revolutionary enemies of the state. Edward Snowden has made no such declaration, and if he did he would then reasonably lose any basis for complaint of his treatment by an avowed enemy. If, rather, he claims to be acting from conscience, morally committed to a higher enactment of the idea of America, then he has an existing standard of civil disobedience against which to measure himself and be measured by others. That standard is

Refusal to obey government demands or commands and nonresistance to consequent arrest and punishment. … Civil disobedience is a symbolic or ritualistic violation of the law, rather than a rejection of the system as a whole. The civil disobedient, finding legitimate avenues of change blocked or nonexistent, sees himself as obligated by a higher, extralegal principle to break some specific law. By submitting to punishment, the civil disobedient hopes to set a moral example that will provoke the majority or the government into effecting meaningful political, social, or economic change.

If Edward Snowden and those who encourage him in his present course think themselves able to marshal not just the impassioned recalcitrance of critics, but compelling arguments fit to contend with the ancient and continuing legacy before them, and the intellectual authority of that legacy, they should make them. For it is not only what they oppose for which they will be remembered, but also what they promote, and whatever clear, coherent, and compelling case they make, or do not make, for how to act rightly in the face of wrong.

AJA

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Masters of War

masters “Masters of War,” compellingly titled, fortuitously timed in its creation, ranks among Bob Dylan’s most jejune songs. The apparent good fortune of its historic timing emerged out of a natural uprising from circumstance. Given that circumstance, and the song’s generalized complaint, how, it almost seems, could the United States not have become fully drawn into a Vietnam War? The song’s lyrics are commonplace at best, its ideas simplistic, its attitude simple minded – much of what is spoken about war is. But the song did not arise out of nowhere, was not merely the febrile complaint of a barely post-adolescent artist. There are, however much more complexly than the song suggests, masters of war.

The masters of war want an American war in Syria. They do not, as Barack Obama does, want a punitive or preventive strike against Syria in response to Syria’s chemical weapons use, in order to uphold international prohibition. They mock such an action. They mock it in itself and they mock it because it is, or was, the plan of Barack Obama. They refuse, still, to acknowledge that Obama early on made the clear choice not in any way to enter the Syrian civil war, because he believed there was little the United States could do and that it would only replicate an error of war the country has made already too many times. But whatever Obama does, if it is not in accordance with the aggressive Bush-era “freedom agenda,” has been, is, and will be called by his usual foreign policy critics “feckless” and “dithering.” They mean weak and cowardly. That is the way masters of war speak when you do not give them what they want. What they want, this time, is an American war in Syria.

My last post, “Forgetfulness Is a Chemical Weapon,” attempted to limn the follies and even bad faith often to be found at far ends of the war question and now, particularly, a Syrian “war” question. I enclose “war” in those challenging marks because what I endorsed at the end of “Forgetfulness Is a Chemical Weapon” is, as President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have presented it, a limited military action with two aims. The first is to deter the Bashar al-Assad regime from further use of chemical weapons. The second, collaterally, is to degrade the regime’s ability to further use those weapons and even, perhaps, its prospects of prevailing in the civil war. That last outcome could hasten – appears the only thing that might hasten – a move toward a political settlement and thus the end of the current bloodletting. Every other idea at “intervention” seems likely only to increase the death toll and draw the United States into actual, protracted war.

To be clear, however, the second goal is subsidiary and opportunistic in light of the first. Without the chemical weapons use, there has been no policy to pursue that second goal.

We should always be concerned about the uncertain consequences of military action, even when we think ourselves compelled by moral imperative as much or more than by the calculus of security and interests. We should be more concerned then, as we may act too rashly, driven by the values that impel us and not with sufficient focus on the effects of our actions. The best intentions may have the worst consequences.

With those concerns as pretense and cover, the usual political elements fashioning themselves as “antiwar” have reflexively appeared. In their opposition, they organize not against war in most places in the world, but against any action by the U.S. or the West in armed conflict. They contort even the most moral of purposes, in support of even their own highest ideals, into perversions of imperial power to be opposed. After organizing not at all for two years to “stop” the Syrian civil war, now they gather in spiritual enclaves to “stop” a war that for them began only as the U.S. might become attached to it and will escape their attention whenever the U.S. might move on. One death by Western bombs is an imperial outrage, 100,000 by tyrants are not theorizable for politicking. These protesters of war cannot lose the moral authority they lost long ago.

Preening “antiwar” protesters are not a fixed political block, however. Their numbers can swell and recede as people are led by their understanding to see the world. Doesn’t that make them ripe for manipulation. Are not we all, always.

The masters of war seek now again to manipulate public opinion, just as they did as proponents of the Iraq War, in just the same ways.

The single most cited account of the situation in Syria over the past two weeks was an Op-Ed by Elizabeth O’Bagy in the Wall Street Journal. Titled “On the Front Lines of Syria’s Civil War,” the column sought to counter one of the greatest concerns regarding support for Syrian rebels – that they are constituted significantly of Islamist jihadists. O’Bagy, who has spent much time in Syria, informed us otherwise.

According to O’Bagy, jihadists like Jabhat al Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq are not at the front lines leading the fight against Assad, but busy consolidating territorial gains in the North of the country, where they hope to establish an Islamist state. It is unclear whether that detail is meant to reassure about intervention or provoke Americans to prevention.

O’Bagy characterizes the other rebel forces, collectively, as “moderates.” Never does she explain that descriptor. She does not, for instance, say what it is they moderate between:  jihadists and what the West would call “liberals”? She advises at the end that the “U.S. must make a choice. It can address the problem now, while there is still a large moderate force with some shared U.S. interests, or ….” O’Bagy concludes with her best description of the “moderates” as a “force with some shared U.S. interests.” What a curiously tepid and vague endorsement. Could it be because what counts among “moderates” are Salafists, who while not jihadists seeking a universal caliphate, do wish to create a state existing under Sharia law? You will have to ask O’Bagy, so let’s.

According to a O’Bagy, in a 2012 report for the Institute for the Study of War,

  • Moderate political Islam is not incompatible with democratic governance. However, ultraconservative Sunni Islamists, known as Salafists, envision a new world order modeled on early Islam that poses a significant threat to both democracy and the notion of statehood. Salafi-jihadists are those who commit to violent means to bring about the Salafi vision.

  • It is difficult to distinguish between moderate Islamists and Salafi-jihadists in the context of the Syrian civil war.

  • The vast majority of Syrians opposing the regime are local revolutionaries still fighting against autocracy; while they are not Islamists, in the sense that their political visions do not depend upon Islamic principles, they espouse varying degrees of personal religious fervor.

In this context, but absent the same clear, specific, but uncertain account, O’Bagy now advocates support by the U.S, including “a major bombing campaign by the U.S., sophisticated weaponry, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapon systems,” with the “ultimate goal of destroying Assad’s military capability while simultaneously empowering the moderate opposition.”

O’Bagy was identified in the August 30th op-ed as “a senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.”  A full week later, the Wall Street Journal was led to offer a correction beneath her article.

In addition to her role at the Institute for the Study of War, Ms. O’Bagy is affiliated with the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a nonprofit operating as a 501(c)(3) pending IRS approval that subcontracts with the U.S. and British governments to provide aid to the Syrian opposition.

Even in its correction the Journal was not completely forthcoming. O’Bagy is not merely “affiliated with” SETF; she is identified at its website as its political director. SETF is a Syrian-led organization, via its board of directors and advisors, dedicated to enlisting U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war. It has sponsored John McCain in his trips to Syria. Its executive director, Palestinian-born Mouaz Moustafa, has a LinkedIn profile that still identifies him also as the Executive Director at the Libyan Council of North America, where he played the same role advocating for American intervention in Libya.

Even the Institute for the Study of War holds nuggets of information to be uncovered. Its website lists at the highest level of management Dr. Kimberly Kagan as its president. Of course, the institute does have a board of directors, discoverable through Guidestar. It includes Bill Kristol and Elizabeth Cheney.

The deceptions and manipulations of the masters of war are broader even than these examples. The very framing of the issue to be clarified – whether the Syrian opposition is forbiddingly jihadist or “moderate” enough to comfort Americans in a military engagement – is a deception. The complexity of Syria, the reasons for the United States to avoid entanglement in its civil war, the reasons why President Obama has avoided it, are far greater than the one issue of who the opposition may truly be.

There is the role of Hezbollah and Assad’s possible fall back into Lebanon, further pulling that country into the mix. There are the sectarian divides of Syria, just as in Iraq, that will not disappear during a civil war and even once Assad may be ousted from power. There are the Kurds, angling across four nations – Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria – for a nation of their own. Now, in addition to Iraq, they have their foothold in Syria. There is an incipient reconciliation process afoot in Turkey between its government and Turkish Kurds that, given history, could collapse at any time, particularly under the effects on Turkey of emboldened Syrian Kurds on its border. Now, too, Turkey has come to think Syria’s jihadist Jabhat al Nusra a threat as well.  The possibilities for spiraling and expanding conflict are deep and many. Should they grow, the effects on more surrounding nations, like Jordan, with its currently quiescent Muslim Brotherhood, may grow.

The masters of war want to drag the United States into this. After Iraq and Afghanistan, following the toppling of the Taliban, with that record, they want more. They will tell us, too, that the failure of Afghanistan is that we did not commit well enough and long enough – Obama’s fault, of course. Think they will not say that about Syria, too – more, more, longer, longer – when all does not go as swimmingly as they suggest?

They scorned Obama for seeking only to stop Syria’s chemical weapons use – too little, too little, too little. They scorn him now that he pauses to pursue a diplomatic possibility of ensuring that end without a military strike. Now, suddenly, after two years of protracted civil war, if Obama does not launch a strike immediately (which is inadequate anyway), then he has thrown away all trust and respect and the future of the West. He has achieved so far, without launching a missile yet, Syrian admission of its chemical weapons program, Syria’s public acceptance of a proposal that they relinquish it, and Russia’s public agreement to the same principle. Who, a week ago, conceived that those accomplishments were even to be considered as a goal?

Are the masters of war happy? Do they credit these advances at all? Do they do anything but ridicule and degrade? No. They do not. They do only one thing.

Only one thing satisfies the masters of war.

AJA

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The Obama Doctrine

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There is one. It is not simple and direct like the Monroe, Truman, or Carter doctrines. For this reason, those who are Obama’s foes and those who have always underestimated him, or who fail to see the world as he does, can easily caricature the manifestations of it. The Obama doctrine is more complex, at a more complex – which is not to say more challenging – stage of international history. It is more like a practical philosophy than a doctrine, but because it is practical it does, like a doctrine, dictate forms of behavior by the United States, in response, at this stage in its development and in the context of its specific history,  to kinds of developments at this stage in world history.

The Obama doctrine is not simply an advocacy based on an ideal determination that the world has moved beyond the necessity of brutal conflict. It is not a simple, steely profession of the necessary willingness to engage in brutal conflict wherever the challenge of it is laid before the United States in opposition to its interests or ideals. The calculations are more complex than that. It is an intent to lead by shaping, as much as possible, the evolution of events rather than by serving as the first to rush to respond to events in the belief that a strong wind in one’s face is the sole and unchanging mark of leadership. It is a vision of world leadership founded in unchallengeable strength, both military and domestic social and economic strength, that is not imperial.

Barack Obama is the first post Cold War president possessed of a clear vision of the next phase of the American experience, and how the nation’s course and commitments must develop beyond the structures of the Cold War. For those who wish to believe the nation is already there, what he offers is too little, too beholden to the institutions of power. To those for whom the Cold War was not truly in any way historically particular, but just an ahistorical structure of power relations and conflict dynamics, any military reticence is treated as a calamitous drop of the baton. What’s more, Obama has served as president against probably the most obstructionist, narrow-visioned and narrow-minded congress any president has ever faced, assuming office, too, in the midst to two wars and the second greatest economic crisis of the past hundred years. Against a completely unsympathetic opposition party and with the support of a base that often refuses to acknowledge the crueler world Obama does clearly recognize, to have expected any transformative reordering of a half-century international alignment should have been beyond any expectation.  That he has accomplished anything beyond crisis management, domestically or internationally, is an astonishing achievement. Yet he has.

The speech Obama gave yesterday on counter-terror policy pleased many for the specific answers it provided. There are some who will never be satisfied for the reasons above. But for anyone who has understood what this president has been about internationally, who, for instance, paid attention to his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, there was barely a revelation.

From the Oslo lecture:

I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work, and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there’s nothing weak – nothing passive – nothing naïve – in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

I raise this point, I begin with this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world’s sole military superpower.

But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions – not just treaties and declarations – that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest – because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another – that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier’s courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause, to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.

So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly inreconcilable truths – that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly. Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. “Let us focus,” he said, “on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions.” A gradual evolution of human institutions.

From the speech at the  National Defense University:

 So America is at a crossroads.  We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us.  We have to be mindful of James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”  Neither I, nor any President, can promise the total defeat of terror.  We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society.  But what we can do — what we must do — is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend.  And to define that strategy, we have to make decisions based not on fear, but on hard-earned wisdom.  That begins with understanding the current threat that we face.

….

America’s actions are legal.  We were attacked on 9/11.  Within a week, Congress overwhelmingly authorized the use of force.  Under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces.  We are at war with an organization that right now would kill as many Americans as they could if we did not stop them first.  So this is a just war — a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense.

And yet, as our fight enters a new phase, America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion.  To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance.  For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power — or risk abusing it.

But as Commander-in-Chief, I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives.  To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties — not just in our cities at home and our facilities abroad, but also in the very places like Sana’a and Kabul and Mogadishu where terrorists seek a foothold.  Remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes.  So doing nothing is not an option.

Where foreign governments cannot or will not effectively stop terrorism in their territory, the primary alternative to targeted lethal action would be the use of conventional military options.  As I’ve already said, even small special operations carry enormous risks.  Conventional airpower or missiles are far less precise than drones, and are likely to cause more civilian casualties and more local outrage.  And invasions of these territories lead us to be viewed as occupying armies, unleash a torrent of unintended consequences, are difficult to contain, result in large numbers of civilian casualties and ultimately empower those who thrive on violent conflict.

So it is false to assert that putting boots on the ground is less likely to result in civilian deaths or less likely to create enemies in the Muslim world.  The results would be more U.S. deaths, more Black Hawks down, more confrontations with local populations, and an inevitable mission creep in support of such raids that could easily escalate into new wars.

Yes, the conflict with al Qaeda, like all armed conflict, invites tragedy.  But by narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life.

Our efforts must be measured against the history of putting American troops in distant lands among hostile populations.  In Vietnam, hundreds of thousands of civilians died in a war where the boundaries of battle were blurred.  In Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the extraordinary courage and discipline of our troops, thousands of civilians have been killed.  So neither conventional military action nor waiting for attacks to occur offers moral safe harbor, and neither does a sole reliance on law enforcement in territories that have no functioning police or security services — and indeed, have no functioning law.

….

I believe, however, that the use of force must be seen as part of a larger discussion we need to have about a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy — because for all the focus on the use of force, force alone cannot make us safe.  We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root; and in the absence of a strategy that reduces the wellspring of extremism, a perpetual war — through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments — will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways.

So the next element of our strategy involves addressing the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism — from North Africa to South Asia.  As we’ve learned this past decade, this is a vast and complex undertaking.  We must be humble in our expectation that we can quickly resolve deep-rooted problems like poverty and sectarian hatred.  Moreover, no two countries are alike, and some will undergo chaotic change before things get better.  But our security and our values demand that we make the effort.

….

Our victory against terrorism won’t be measured in a surrender ceremony at a battleship, or a statue being pulled to the ground.  Victory will be measured in parents taking their kids to school; immigrants coming to our shores; fans taking in a ballgame; a veteran starting a business; a bustling city street; a citizen shouting her concerns at a President.

This is not a simple doctrine, but read with care, it is a strong and coherent one. More, it is an actual vision, while most of Obama’s critics, on the right and the left, are wearing 3-D glasses.

AJA

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The Political Animal

Drones and the Human Agency of War

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This commentary previously appeared in the Algemeiner on May 17, 2013.

Joshua Foust has written at Foreign Policy a misleadingly essay titled  “A Liberal Case for Drones.” I think there is such a case, but this it not it and a case for drones is not even truly the subject of the piece. The actual subject is raised very early by Foust’s question, “Could autonomous drones actually better safeguard human rights?” Not drones, but autonomous drones and their relation to human rights protections in war is the the actual subject of Foust’s considerations.  Why the title misleads you will have to ask Foust and Foreign Policy. That is not my interest here. Neither is the debate in the comments to Foust’s essay about whether there truly are or are likely to be any time soon autonomous drones. My interest is in Foust’s arguments and how they mistake the human problem of war.

Foust tells us that Human Rights Watch

argues that autonomous weapons take humanity out of conflict, creating a future of immoral killing and increased hardship to civilians. HRW calls for a categorical ban on all development of lethal autonomy in robotics. HRW is also spearheading a new global campaign to forbid the development of lethal autonomy.

To narrow the focus still more, then, the issue is lethally autonomous drones. (Or weapons of any kind; the focus on drones here is purely topical.)

“Offensive systems, which actively seek out targets to kill,” Foust quotes Armin Krishnan, a political scientist at the University of Texas at El Paso, “are a different moral category.”

Foust then makes the major both practical and moral focus of his essay the relative accuracy and reliability of human versus automated agency in offensive military strikes and killing. He acknowledges moral concerns – not with drones, per se, but with lethal autonomy – but he mistakes them.

Noel Sharkey, a high-profile critic of drones and a professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield, argued forcefully that machines cannot “distinguish between civilians and combatants,” apply the Geneva Conventions, or determine proportionate use of force.

It is a curious complaint: A human being did not distinguish between civilians and combatants, apply the Geneva Convention, or determine an appropriate use of force during the infamous 2007 “Collateral Murder” incident in Iraq, when American helicopter pilots mistook a Reuters camera crew for insurgents and fired on them and a civilian van that came to offer medical assistance.

Humans get tired, they miss important information, or they just have a bad day. Without machines making any decisions to fire weapons, humans are shooting missiles into crowds of people they cannot identify in so-called signature strikes.

Thus, for Foust, the morality of lethal autonomy in weapons systems is tied essentially to accuracy and reliability.

“If a drones system is sophisticated enough, it could be less emotional, more selective, and able to provide force in a way that achieves a tactical objective with the least harm,” Liles says. “A lethal autonomous robot can aim better, target better, select better, and in general be a better asset with the linked ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] packages it can run.”

In other words, a lethal autonomous drone could actually result in fewer casualties and less harm to civilians.

Implied by all Foust argues is that human moral advancement in the conduct of war – a problematic, though nonetheless genuine notion acknowledged by just war, among other, theories – is exemplified by diminished numbers of casualties, especially civilian and what would amount to more effective winning. This is a seductively appealing argument on the face of it. If we must sometimes fight wars (well, really, we must admit, it is far more often than sometimes) let us at least do it by killing as few people as possible, certainly as few women and children, in the classic formulation, and as few innocent civilians.

These are certainly goals to pursue, and the militarizes of liberal democracies do most of the time pursue them. But I do not think this goal is the essence of human moral advancement in war. First, effectiveness in winning war has never been a problem. Since wars began, whenever exactly that was – two clans fighting over a cave and a fire? – most of the time one side has managed some kind of victory. Warring groups have always been effective at winning.

On the score of diminished civilian casualties, whatever increased human concern with laws of war, through the mid twentieth century it can hardly be argued that humanity had achieved any form of advancement. More effectively lethal weapons produced, in fact, more killing, and more civilian death, on a scale previously unimaginable. Since the the second half of the twentieth century a pronounced characteristic of war, in the lethality of weaponry, has been that of profound technological disparity between warring parties. This has been so in all of the conflicts of the United States, of Israel over the past more than thirty years, of the Soviet Union and of Russia in Chechnya, for example. This has produced markedly lower comparative casualties on one side (not always a clear winner, as in the U.S. in Vietnam or Israel in Lebanon in 2006), though sometimes still comparatively massive casualties, even mostly civilian, as in Vietnam and the Iraq War, on the other. This disparity may be a happy development for the side with low numbers – not necessarily a winner, and not by any inherent necessity deserving of the benefit – but it cannot easily be argued that such a development is an advancement in the protection of human rights in war.

Foust touches on the heart of the matter only at the very end.

The issue of blame is the trickiest one in the autonomy debate. Rather than throwing one’s hands in the air and demanding a ban, as rights groups have done, why not simply point blame at those who employ them? If an autonomous Reaper fires at a group of civilians, then the blame should start with the policymaker who ordered it deployed and end with the programmer who encoded the rules of engagement.

This is far too facile in its moral acknowledgement and in its practical recognitions. In the latter regard, the very first product of technological autonomy will be a flight from responsibility-blame. A coder programming an autonomous offensive weapon according to approved selection criteria, under guidance of established military procedure and national law would be and should be no easy target for the assignment of moral responsibility. Such a chain of abstracted and decontextualized decisions is the very scenario of plausible deniability of responsible agency all around.

Responsible agency, the assumption of moral agency – not mere assignment of blame – is the heart of the matter. While earlier approaching the point, Foust misses it.

[T]he concern seems rooted in a moral objection to the use of machines per se: that when a machine uses force, it is somehow more horrible, less legitimate, and less ethical than when a human uses force. It isn’t a complaint fully grounded in how machines, computers, and robots actually function.

This is, indeed, essential to the more general debate over the use of drones; in the current consideration, though, the matter is not machines using force (really being used for), but machines using force autonomously. Autonomous weaponry removes the human moral agency of killing in war, could remove it, ultimately, from war altogether. Yet if anything can redeem the essential human crime of war, enact justice in the waging of it, it is precisely the complementary human moral agency of it.

Yes, if we must wage war, kill as few people as possible; yes, if we must, kill as few innocents as possible (on both sides). But it is, as Human Rights Watch and others assert, human beings who must take on the burden of that responsibility even if they might exercise it less perfectly than machines. War is the greatest crime against life we commit. It destroys the humanity of the dead and diminishes it of the living who wage and survive it. To reduce the numbers killed by passing off the complete task of killing to machines will not redeem a greater store of our humanity in a just cause, but instead sacrifice the remainder of the humanity we sought to save. To wage war and remain fully, tragically human, we must keep our own fingers poised, we must sight, however remotely, the people we have accepted as our enemies, and we must, with full recognition of what we do, accepting ourselves the burden of what we do, choose to pull the trigger ourselves. Automating war to greater perfection will not protect our human rights; it would diminish our human being. The crime of war is human. The morality in it can only be human too.

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Culture Clash

Inaugurations and Occasional Poetry

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How shall we receive Richard Blanco’s poem for the occasion of President Obama’s second inauguration? Occasional poems – poems written in honor of an occasion – may be as old as poetry itself. They have a great tradition, but quite arguably that tradition has significantly diminished. Why? One easily distinguished difference in the origination of occasional poems is whether the writing sprang from the poet’s own desire to dedicate some verse or, instead, the poet was commissioned to write the poem. The latter instance is burdened with expectation, with the occasion’s history and perhaps solemn or majestic moment, and with the simple public knowledge of the commission. There have been only five Presidential inaugural poems, and only one is recalled as being of distinction. The others have been generally declared as failures. This can only add, perhaps, to poets’ wishing to avoid the weight of the challenge, whatever the honor.

Annie Finch tells us,

Ever since Wordsworth accepted the British poet laureate appointment only on condition that he wouldn’t have to write occasional poems, even poets laureate (with the exception of Andrew Motion) are generally not interested in writing occasional poetry.

Carol Rumens captures the dilemma.

The celebratory public poem is an extinct genre in our sceptical postmodern times, and probably ought to stay that way. It presents the writer with insurmountable challenges in form, tone and content. How do you praise your nation wisely – with honesty and caution? How do you root that public voice in the personal and private spaces where thoughts grow? How do you write a mass-market poem?

Richard Blanco’s new inauguration poem, “One Today”, composed to usher in Barack Obama‘s second term, is a valiant but not always convincing attempt to square the circles.

What does the poet writing for the general public, reciting poetry aloud for a general public – the public in whose honor in the experiment of republican democracy the poem has been written – face? From Travis Nichols, at Harriet:

The woman next to me asked her partner, “Who’s this guy?” as the poet filled the Jumbotron. Partner shrugged and made a “whatev” face. Blanco began and our aurally firehosed ears took a second to adjust. The sound system muddied the words, but the cadence was clear, and some echoed back to us almost as if they were spoken right next to us. The stoic Hilary woman nodded along. At the mention of “Mississippi” a man next to me waved his fag and whooped. Another pocket of whoops erupted at “buenos días,” but collectively around me shoulders began to slump as the poem progressed. A pod of undergrads, seemingly inoculated to poetry’s charms by classroom exposure, sighed and rolled their eyes. A young man draped in a rainbow flag stuck out his jaw and made a “get on with it” hand gesture to his friends who snapped his photo.

The poet wishes to write good poetry. The poet wishes to see into the moment. The poet wishes to be meaningfully received by a wide audience. And the poet seeks to do it in, initially, for the occasion, a public reading, with all the challenges that presents to the satisfactory reception of poetry. Another view of the circle to be squared.

A review of the five inaugural poems (links to all at the bottom of this page), reveals that they have all made the identical attempt. Each has attempted to express the majestic multiplicity of America, the historic promise and the challenge of uniting its states, the grandeur of the land and the future. Each, to varying degrees of success, has made precisely the same attempt. Look at the titles:

“The Gift Outright”

On the Pulse of Morning

“Of History and Hope”

Praise Song for the Day

“One Day”

The sense and size of the occasion looms before them all. In “On the Pulse of Morning”,” Maya Angelou takes us all the way back to

the mastodon,
The dinosaur, who left dried tokens
Of their sojourn here

to her closing and redemptive

History, despite its wrenching pain
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

This is all in the title alone of Miller Williams’ “Of History and Hope,” embraced by his opening

We have memorized America

and his ending invocation of our children:

If we can truly remember, they will not forget.

Elizabeth Alexander, in “Praise Song for the Day,” conjures the massive commonality and variety of our days.

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

So sets out Richard Blanco, Monday, in “One Day.”

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day

And as on inaugurals before, the call to hope, from Alexander:

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

From Blanco:

and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together.

Four attempts only so far, remarkably similar, to limn the magnitude of what its citizens see in the United States of America, in its ideals and in its achievements measured against its failures. Only four – what are the chances some work already of great achievement would have been composed? Rumens offers a very balanced estimation of Blanco’s success, summing,

It might seem that the biggest problem with writing a public poem is that crude simplifications are forced on a reluctant poet. Blanco, it seems, is able to write in this “genre” with more natural conviction than most. A shorter poem, and above all one with a tighter form, might have helped maintain a consistently high verbal pressure, with no sacrifice of accessibility.

I agree that Blanco performed his task with “more natural conviction,” and one wonders at how serendipitously (but it was in the ingredients of his selection) Blanco’s poetry mirrored the foundational new America appeal – progressive unity in diversity – in the President’s speech. But Rumens conjectures that a “shorter poem, and above all one with a tighter form, might have helped maintain a consistently high verbal pressure, with no sacrifice of accessibility,” and I have been ignoring Frost, who, in “The Gift Outright” seems to have accomplished just this shorter, tighter poem with higher verbal pressure and no sacrifice of accessibility.

We need to recall that Frost in 1961, at age 87, was a monument of American poetry, a “philosopher-poet” of a stature approached by none of his successors, even the most famous of them, Angelou, who did not begin to follow his precedent for another thirty-one years. We need to recall something else. “The Gift Outright” was not written for the occasion of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. The poem was two decades old, a favorite of Kennedy’s that the President-elect requested were Frost not to choose to write a new, occasional poem.

Frost did write a new poem, “Dedication,” which he chose at the last minute not to read when he spoke because he could not clearly see the text in the glare of the sun. Instead, he recited “The Gift Outright” from memory. “Dedication” offers in the first half of a long ramble what became the usual attempt to sum the history of the nation, and in commonplace and prosaic rhyming couplets and triplets delivers what may be the worst poem Robert Frost ever wrote. In contrast, the compact “The Gift Outright” provides the deceptively simple and direct language of all of Frost’s poetry. Yet it is difficult to imagine the nonreader of poetry standing in the crowd responding much differently from the shruggers and yawners in the crowd for Blanco. While “The land was our before we were the land’s” is utterly simple and direct in vocabulary and syntax, it actually takes more than the instant of auditory reception at a reading to grasp properly as an idea. Just as typical of Frost, we find that the irony of “The Gift Outright” is that the land was anything but a gift outright, or that it isn’t even the land that was the gift.

Nobody got that standing in the January cold.

A great poem about the nation, but not written for the occasion, and that likely down below the portico did not rise to the occasion.

It is not a charge to be envied.

AJA

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Indian Country

Forty-Five Thousand, Nine Hundred and Fifty Six Days (or Thereabouts)

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Many top stories are receiving their usual high levels of attention, from the structural taxation reforms bandied about in the face of the “fiscal cliff” that is really a graded driveway to Israel and Gaza. What receives no attention? The usual, including from among the far left advocates of “peace and justice” who pretend to be concerned with matters of indigeneity in Israel-Palestine. Indigenous America is at the heart neither of au currant left ideological interests nor the challenge to Western liberal democracy, so other than lending a terminological veneer to attacks on Israel, you will find no Code Pink or BDS for it, no section of The Daily Beast specially edited by a former editor of the New Republic devoted to changing the conversation about Native America. But consider…

This blog began in December 2008, nine months after I published “Aboriginal Sin” in Tikkun. A general survey of the nature of the conquest of Indigenous Peoples, focused mostly on the United States, the inciting story of the article was that of the Individual Indian Money Trust Fund lawsuit first brought by Elouise Cobell against the Department of the Interior in 1996. That story now concludes.

On February 8, 1887, the Dawes General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Severalty Act,was passed into law in the United States. The law’s purported intent was to help fully integrate American Indians into the general culture. Accordingly, it broke up tribal lands and  provided for the distribution of Indian reservation land among individual tribesmen, with any excess remainder from the equal allotments to be made available for public sale to non-Indians. In addition, many poor American Indians,  unacculturated to farming, unfamiliar with agricultural practices, accepted offers for their land. By the termination of the allotment policy in 1934, of the 132 million acres in the possession of Native Tribes in 1887 – already greatly reduced, through treaty and the abrogation of treaties, from the lands once home to Native America – 90 million had been transferred to white ownership.

Reservation life and European encroachment now preventing militarily conquered and ethnically cleansed Indians from living successfully as they had, and in return for the transfer of land for white settlement, the U.S. government, promised to provide health, education, and economic development to the Tribes and their people. The government took into trust relationship the remaining 56 million acres, of which 10 million were for individual Indians, in the Individual Indian Money (IIM) Trust Funds, and 46 million for tribes, in the Tribal Trust Funds. The U.S. government was to use its expertise and the power of collective leases to negotiate and manage the proceeds of  oil and other mineral leases and grazing rights.

On June 10, 1996, Elouise Cobell a Blackfoot Indian who the next year was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, filed as the lead plaintiff in a suit against the U.S. Department of Interior alleging historical mismanagement (misappropriation) of the IIM funds of as much as $176 billion. The suit dragged on for 13 years in the face of Bureau of Indian Affairs obstruction that included even the destruction of documents.

On December 8, 2009, Cobell accepted a settlement on behalf of as many as 500 thousand allottees: after so many years, and in the face of the poverty and death through aging of so many class members of the suit, Cobell thought the Obama administration offer – very far from what she and others believed was owed – was the best they would ever receive.

The offer was $3.4 billion.

Cobell died of cancer on October 16, 2011 at the age of 65.

The settlement still has not been disbursed.

After delays in congressional approval of the settlement led by Senator John Barosso of Wyoming, four American Indians decided to file their own suits objecting to the terms of the settlement. According to Dennis Gingold, Lead Counsel, who assumed responsibility for communications after Cobell’s death, the court found one case to consist of

 “blatantly mischaracterized” arguments that are “without merit” and [that] otherwise “ignore the history of this hard-fought litigation and enormous obstacles to producing an historical accounting.”

Nonetheless, all four litigants appealed. Why, in the face of such rejection? Gingold would not speculate, but he noted of the law firm whose counsel was representing one plaintiff that it

is the same firm that filed an amicus brief in the Court of Appeals on behalf of Competitive Enterprise Institute (“Institute”) in support of Craven’s meritless arguments.  The Institute is a tax-exempt organization and Wikipedia reports that it is funded by ExxonMobil Corporation, Texaco, Inc., Coca Cola Company, CSX Corporation, FMC Corporation, and others.  The Institute says that it is “dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government.”

 Now, earlier this month, came news from Gingold that after one appeal was dismissed, the three remaing plaintiffs have dropped their appeals ” in return for Class Counsel’s agreement to pay their attorney’s fees and expenses out of attorneys’ fees we expect to receive.” Wrote Gingold on November 7,

This will greatly increase the likelihood that we can begin to disburse settlement funds to [class members] before Christmas and before winter ….  Most importantly, we also wanted to finalize the settlement before more Class Members die without realizing any measure of justice. Sadly, it is estimated that 12,000 class members have died since the settlement’s record date of September 30, 2009. As you know, the year and one half delay caused by the appeals prevented Elouise from seeing the results of her extraordinary efforts. In addition, each month that finality has been delayed has cost class members at least $300,000 out of their recovery.

So, roughly forty-five thousand, nine hundred and fifty six days, 125 years, since the Dawes Act fully legalized the process of expropriating and economically exploiting Native lands, 189 years since the Supreme Court decision of Johnson v. M’Intosh made it the law of the land – standing until this day – to accept the Papally-endorsed European Doctrine of Discovery, the religiously and racially superior right of ownership by conquest, 335 years since the oldest Indian reservation in the United States, the Pamunkey Indian Reservaton, was established in the colony of Virginia, 520 years after after Columbus first arrived in the Western Hemisphere, Native Americans will only now begin to receive some very small amount of the value in economic terms of what was taken from them.

Those are the Individual Indian Money Trust Funds.

The Tribal Trust Fund litigation is still outstanding.

History is not history. It is in the soil and the streets we walk on, the grazing lands, the oil derricks, the run down homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the drunken bodies in White Clay, Nebraska, just across the state line from Pine Ridge, where the modern versions of the opportunistic frontier trading post still sell alcohol to forlorn and forgotten Indians. It is in the dollars in a vault, on a ledger, unaccounted for – in 2012, still unpaid.

Forty-five thousand, nine hundred and fifty seven days.

AJA

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Israel The Political Animal

Glenn Greenwald criticizes Bibi AND Obama’s “policies” of intentionally killing innocent Muslims

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Cross posted from Cif Watch by its managing editor, Adam Levick.

Every person has their own definition of terrorism.” –Glenn Greenwald.

Glenn Greenwald makes characteristically hysterical claims about Israel and the US in his latest ‘Comment is Free’ piece titled Obama’s kill list policy compels US support for Israeli attacks on Gaza‘:

Here are the most egregious examples:

1. He claims that “overwhelming Israeli force slaughters innocent Palestinians, including children”.

There’s nothing new here in Greenwald’s use of the most unserious hyperbole to impute the most violent and malevolent motives to Israel. Greenwald ignores the fact that Israel uses unprecedented restraint in targeting only Hamas leaders and terror targets, which would explain that the death toll in two days of fierce fighting is 19 Palestinians and 3 Israelis.

2. According to Greenwald, Israeli attacks on Palestinians “are preceded (and followed) by far more limited rocket attacks into Israel which kill a much smaller number, rocket attacks which are triggered by various forms of Israeli provocations.”

It’s unclear which Israeli provocations Greenwald is referring to, but Hamas’s main grievance against Israel, per the words of their leaders and their very founding charter (which, evidently Greenwald hasn’t bothered to read), has been the Jewish state’s stubborn desire to exist.

3. Greenwald claims that”most US media outlets are petrified of straying too far from pro-Israel orthodoxies….US criticism of Israel is impossible for all the usual domestic political reasons.”

I’ve documented numerous examples of Greenwald advancing the most bigoted rhetoric about US Jews’ supposed control of the US government and media, and this latest charge is nothing new.  Indeed it is relatively mild compared to his previous smears, such as his warning about the “absolute”, “suffocating” “Israel-centric stranglehold on American policy” by the Jewish lobby.

4. Greenwald writes: “Provocations from the Israelis were geared toward disrupting an imminent peace deal with Hamas.”

Greenwald is referring to a temporary truce  – which was being brokered in the days following an attack (with an anti-tank missile) which injured four Israelis – motivated by Hamas’s concern regarding the damage IDF attacks was inflicting on their military capacity. More broadly, however, it takes either extreme naiveté, a considerable degree of hostility towards Israel, or a cynical indifference to historical reality to make the serious argument that Hamas is, or could ever be, a peace seeking movement.

5.  Greenwald argues that the Obama administration “supported the Israeli“ attack on Hamas terror chief Ahmed Jabari, as it represented the model of “extra-judicial assassination[s] – accompanied by the wanton killing of whatever civilians happen to be near the target, often including children – which is a staple of the Obama presidency.” ”Obama…could not possibly condemn Israeli actions in Gaza without indicting himself…Extra-judicial assassinations, once roundly condemned by US officials, are now a symbol of the Obama presidency”.  ”There is now a virtually complete convergence between US and Israeli aggression”

This later paragraph is where the convergence between Greenwald’s anti-Americanism and his anti-Zionism is most clear.

Greenwald is defined by his opposition to the policy of killing Islamist terrorists (who are planning terror attacks against American civilians) in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, but his commentary also suggests that President Obama is an enthusiastic supporter of killing innocent civilians in these regions.  According to Greenwald, Obama is muted in his response to Israel’s violent acts because he lacks the moral authority to issue a credible condemnation.

To understand the extent of Greenwald’s obsession with “Obama’s” drone war, it would be helpful to review a piece he wrote before joining ‘Comment is Free’, published at Salon.com, titled “US again bombs mourners”.

If you find that title a bit overblown, or something out of PressTV, you need to also read the strap line.

The Obama policy of attacking rescuers and grieving rituals continues this weekend in Pakistan

Just the work of an editor, you think?

No.

Here are some quotes from Greenwald’s essay on June 4, 2012.

“In February, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism documented that after the U.S. kills people with drones in Pakistan, it then targets for death those who show up at the scene to rescue the survivors and retrieve the bodies, as well as those who gather to mourn the dead at funerals.” [emphasis added]

“On Sunday, June 3, the US targeted mourners gathered to grieve those killed in the first strike.”

Killing family members of bombing targets is nothing new for this President.”

“The US is a country which targets rescuers, funeral attendees, and people gathered to mourn.”

“That tactic continues under President Obama, although it is now expanded to include the targeting of grieving rituals.”

However, the main source Greenwald provided to back up his claim is the discredited “Bureau of Investigative Journalism” (BIJ), the organization which fed the BBC information pertaining to the Newsnight story falsely alleging “a senior Thatcher-era Tory” was a paedophile.

Moreover, the specific link Greenwald cites as proof that the US  targets innocent civilians in Muslim countries – rescuers, funeral attendees, and people gathered to mourn – does not back up his claim at all.

The link to a nearly 2500 word BIJ report (which cited a more detailed BIJ report) on the drone war in Pakistan includes a claim in the headline that the CIA “targets rescuers and funerals” but failed to support  the dramatic claim in the subsequent story.

Typical are passages like this:

“A team of local researchers…found credible, independently sourced evidence of civilians killed in ten of the reported attacks on rescuers.”

But, there was this one passages which claimed intent:

“More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners.”

However, there was nothing in piece, nor the longer report, which even attempts to corroborate the claim (largely anecdotal evidence by unidentified Pakistanis) that the strikes against innocent civilians represented deliberate US policy.  Further, not considered by either BIJ or Greenwald is the possibility that the “mourners” weren’t actually mourners at all, but, rather, additional terrorists.

Most telling in the BIJ report was this passage:

“Often when the US attacks militants in Pakistan, the Taliban seals off the site and retrieves the dead. But an examination of thousands of credible reports relating to CIA drone strikes also shows frequent references to civilian rescuers.” [emphasis added]

It is unclear to whom these “credible reports” are attributed, but their admission would suggest that it is difficult, at best, for US drones to distinguish between Taliban terrorists and those unaffiliated with the murderous terror group.

The assertion by BIJ that there is a CIA “policy” of killing innocent mourners and rescuers is not supported by the reports cited. Greenwald’s even more unhinged claim that President Obama’s “policy” is to kill such innocent rescuers, funeral attendees, and people gathered to mourn” is not supported by the facts, and parrots the most unserious anti-American propaganda repeated by extremists on the ground in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Greenwald’s June post at Salon.com contained a hideous smear of the US President, suggesting that Obama personally is an advocate of killing innocent Muslims.

Interestingly, a New York Times report on February 5th, ‘U.S. Drone Strikes Are Said to Target Rescuers“, citing the same BIJ report, interestingly, was much more sober, and included the following:

“American officials have questioned the accuracy of such claims [that innocent civilians are targeted], asserting that accounts might be concocted by militants or falsely confirmed by residents who fear retaliation.”

“…most other studies of drone strikes have relied on sketchy and often contradictory news reports from Pakistan.”

“A senior American counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, questioned the report’s findings, saying “targeting decisions are the product of intensive intelligence collection and observation.” The official added: “One must wonder why an effort that has so carefully gone after terrorists who plot to kill civilians has been subjected to so much misinformation.” [emphasis added]

Indeed.

Greenwald seems to really believe the most unserious, hateful anti-American propaganda – what you’d typically find in PressTV or Arab media outlets – about American and Israeli villainy.

In fact, in a Sept. 14 CiF piece, Greenwald summed it up clearly:

 ”…the US and Israel have continuously brought extreme amounts of violence to the Muslim world, routinely killing their innocent men, women and children.”

Finally, there’s this quote from Greenwald’s Salon.com post referenced above:

“If a Hollywood film featured a villainous King ordering lethal attacks on rescuers, funerals and mourners — those medically attending to or grieving his initial victims — any decent audience member would, by design, seethe with contempt for such an inhumane tyrant. But this is the standard policy and practice under President Obama and it continues through today.”

In Glenn Greenwald’s world, Hamas, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremists – reactionary, racist, antisemitic, misogynist and extremely homophobic political forces – seem to get a moral pass, but democratic Israel stands accused of slaughtering innocent Palestinians and Barack Obama is an inhumane and villainous figure who murders Muslim children.

The convergence of anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism is truly a work of art.  For Greenwald, and his leftist followers, it is a given that Islamist terrorists are feared by the West not because they threaten the democratic world, but because of racism against Muslims.

For Greenwald, as with Guardian Associate Editor Seumas Milne and other Guardian Left commentators, Israel and the U.S. are the greatest imperialists threats to world peace, and so the reflexive anti-Zionist stance they take simply represents a logical extension of  their broader anti-imperialist, post-colonialist politics.

Finally, supporters of Obama should pay close attention to Greenwald, as the leftist ideology which his views on Israel and the US inspire  represent crude, ugly caricatures of the President which often go far beyond even those of the far right.

Glenn Greenwald would never, ever falsely “accuse” Obama of being a Muslim as some of his right wing opponents shamefully do.

Greenwald’s demonization of the President, however, is much worse, advancing the hysterical charge that he personally orders (or at least approves policies sanctioning) the murdering of innocent Muslims throughout the world.

The anti-Zionist, antisemitic and anti-American rhetoric advanced by Greenwald represents a classic example of Guardian Left ideology.

Those within the mainstream American Left who don’t succumb to the false moral equivalence between Islamist terrorists and Western democracies, and who don’t buy into the defamatory suggestion that Obama is engaged in a war against Islam, should begin to view him as, at the very least, a crank – a shrill and vitriolic anti-Obama extremist.

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Indian Country Israel The Political Animal

Writing Paradise

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I learned at an early adult age, with only minor but memorable pain, not to hero-worship. When we lionize people, we tend to forget the natural inclination of the lion to consume the person. I prefer admiration. Admiration works from the muck up. While hero worship sets up the faithful for a fall, admiration begins in the recognition of human failings and appreciates a person’s achievement in rising above them. Fewer disappointments that way, more genuine appreciation of the distinction in the ascent.

I was asked the other day, after tweeting of his death, about my thoughts on Russell Means. Not that I have any special standing to speak about him. Very soon after, I was informed of what I had not known, not having bothered to read the schedule – that Russell Means was on the schedule to speak at the coincidentally named and meretricious Russell Tribunal, and prevented from appearing only, near his end, by the cancer that killed him.

Russell Means was a controversial figure even among the Native peoples he championed, but that is almost a commonplace. Strong people who play leading roles in resistance movements usually are controversial. There is not a palliative manner in which to challenge oppressive power and seek to overthrow a structure of domination. One can hardly come closer to such an ideal – if that it be – than Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., and look how they were reviled by those they opposed and by some who contended with them for influence. See how they were dealt with in the end.

Means, from what I know, came up bad. It was a rough life, a poor one. Some of the violence of his life in the 1970s was as much an outburst of rage and wild destructive frustration as it was a plan of resistance. But in the 1970s, Russell Means was one of the people who stuffed in the face of a smug, amnesiac America a defining truth of its origins that it still does not acknowledge. One can argue that the conquest of Indigenous America, with its long falling action in diminishment and despair, only ended, at last, in the 1970s, with the rise of the American Indian Movement. There are those who say that all of Indigenous rights movements of the Americas – stronger, actually, in some countries than they are in the U.S. – have their origin in the rebirth of pride marked by the American Indian Movement that Russell Means helped lead. That the achievement of Evo Morales, the indigenous Aymara President of Bolivia has its origin in the American Indian Movement that Russell Means helped lead.

For the rest of his life, whatever directions Means took, including his Hollywood career, he never acquiesced in his mind to the brute reality.

The brute reality is that while the victims of prejudice and discrimination may ultimately be relieved of those afflictions, and the descendents of slaves live free themselves of enslavement, American Indians and all the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas will not be unconquered. They are not another minority in any kind of melting pot, but a conquered people compelled to live within a conquering culture that ignores and disregards them, refusing even to recognize the nature of the act it committed against them. (As one neat symbol, consider the head of Metacomet, displayed on a stake at the Plymouth Colony for two decades after the colonial victory in King Philip’s War.)

None among us who is not Indigenous can know the interior landscape of the wisdom it takes not to live a life in blind fury. If I imagine myself a Native American, I can imagine myself Russell Means.

As it turns out, because the well of ideological depravity is as deep as the field of human barbarity is wide, the abuse of Indigenous Peoples comes from every direction. Whereas once reactionary national and religious institutions pretended to seek for Indigenous Peoples their civilization and salvation, now it is left, international pretenders to peace and justice who claim to champion their liberation. Once again Indigenous Peoples are used and abused, if only, this time, conceptually.

It makes only superficial but surely apparent and satisfying sense to connect the historical conquest and the current disempowerment of Indigenous Peoples to the general postcolonial critique of imperial power. And what do the activists of any political movement wish for but a handy Rosetta stone of historical understanding to share with the people? But using power and its imbalances as the homogenizing agent that substitutes for specific historical and political analysis renders thought as unchallenging and pleasing at one end of the political spectrum as does a mantra like American Exceptionalism at the other. Yet for an indigenous person steeped in the overwhelming history of the West’s annihilation of Native cultures, the inclination to disambiguate any particular power imbalance in the world must be very slight indeed.

So there it is. The Dutch, French, German, and English in Africa. The Spanish and Portuguese in Central and South America. The English, French, and Spanish in North America. The French (and Japanese, while we’re at it) in Southeast Asia. Jews in Judea. All the same.

If I had ever met Russell Means, I would have wished to talk with him – as I do so many Native leaders, as I will on the Omaha reservation next month – about all in his life and career that challenges human imagination and compassion. I might, too, have asked him about Sioux warfare against the Pawnee and encroachment on Pawnee land, how the Pawnee were powerless against the much larger and more aggressive tribe. I might have mentioned how after the Ponca Indians were ethnically cleansed and removed from the Nebraska territory to Oklahoma, in order to open the way for white settlement, some Ponca made their way by foot back to Nebraska; how when they arrived ill and starving, the Omaha Indians welcomed them on their own land in Nebraska and supported the Ponca in their request to return home.

I might have reminded Means of what he always reminded others, how the Black Hills of South Dakota were taken from the Sioux by the United States in violation of the Fort Laramie treaties of 1851 and 1868. I might have asked him how many years the Sioux might remain exiled from that land, those sacred hills – more than 140 years now, but even one thousand, two thousand – before he would claim they had lost their indigenous, historic, moral right to return.

I cannot ask him that now. And on the record of his life is included now, too, his intent to speak before a miscreant panel of the hateful and slanderous who rhetorically style themselves champions of the “indigenous” (Palestinians) only for the purpose of wielding that concept as a club against Israel and Jews.

How, then, to feel?

A couple of weeks ago, I suffered briefly through a foolish, facile attack by a Jewish voice on President Obama. The writer employed the trope of T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” against Obama, and concluded by declaring his stance with Eliot against Obama. I reminded the writer of Eliot’s anti-Semitism and of the occasion when the English Jewish poet Emanuel Litvinoff, upbraided Eliot in verse in the master’s presence, before an admiring crowd. Litvinoff, as I, as any reader of English poetry, was an admirer of Eliot.

Eliot’s friend Ezra Pound, “Il miglior fabbro,” was more famously anti-Semitic, with greater pronouncement. Any student of Modernism is an admirer of Pound. Yet even at the end of his worst travails, before his long silence unto death, when Pound condemned the anti-Semitism of his fascist support, he dismissed it, still inadequately reflective, as a “suburban prejudice,” reducing to an aesthetic error, in bohemian condescension, what is a great moral failing.

Still, the cover photo on my Facebook page is this.

The currents of the very aged Pound locked in a gaze with the statue of his long-dead peer James Joyce – a man contemptuous of political engagement and passion – those are currents of thought that will invite me to swim for a very long time.

On the home page of an online literature course I teach I have placed this photo of Pound.

The great poet standing in his library, literary and exotic, with his forebears – see Joseph Conrad? – gazing over him. It sets a tone for the students, richer for them in memory years from now when they may know more than presently. What they also know not now is any reason why I superimposed over the photo Pound’s “Notes for Canto CXX,” the last addition to the great craftsman’s lifelong, impossible poetic project.

I have tried to write Paradise

Do not move
      Let the wind speak
        that is paradise.

Let the Gods forgive what I
        have made
Let those I love try to forgive
        what I have made.

AJA

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The Political Animal

Amnesty’s Arrogance

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For those whose vision is not obscured by their own committed advocacy, the map of how Amnesty International lost its way over the past decade and more is there to be read. From irreproachable defender of human rights to clearly ideological activist on behalf of one vision of political development, an organization now easily impeached, the loss to human rights advocacy is profound. Once it was obvious that nearly only tyrants challenged an Amnesty International report. When a free nation did, it was an embarrassment for that democracy in the eyes of nearly all, its rationalized misbehavior an otherwise indisputable black mark drawn by an organization with an unassailable reputation. Now, those always unsympathetic to Amnesty’s work can point to its own clear biases in dismissing the NGO’s judgments. How much easier, for instance, to seek an accounting of a United States torture and war prisoner abuse regime in the immediate post 9/1 years were AI not chargeable as anti-American in its advocacy.

I won’t retread here well-known paths. The road AI has traveled is on the record, and I’ve written about it multiple times before. The markers are both subtle and as obvious as broken tree limbs. The former kind shows up in a sentence like this, from the introduction to Amnesty’s 2012 report.

At the heart of many of these conflicts were economic development policies that left many, particularly those living in poverty and marginalized communities, at increased risk of abuse. [Emphasis added]

The kinds of “economic development policies” to which this sentence refers – would those be “neoliberal” economic development policies; I think they would be – are certainly arguable and grounds for a debate on economic development policy as a basis for social development. That these policies are also highly arguable as a focus of attention for a human rights organization is now beyond AI’s institutional ability to recognize.

What kind of marker represents the more obvious variety? How is this?

Amnesty International Calls on Sweden to Assure Julian Assange Won’t be Extradited to the United States

(Washington, D.C.) — Amnesty International calls on the Swedish authorities to issue assurances to the United Kingdom and to Julian Assange that if he leaves Ecuador’s London embassy and agrees to go to Sweden to face sexual assault claims, he will not be extradited to the United States in connection with Wikileaks.

Now Amnesty International is the philosopher king of the free and unfree worlds, the NGO Solomon seeking to divide the mother of judicial possession from the grasping arms of selfish enmity. How wise AI must be to take itself for a vision of justice made politically flesh and infallible.

Amnesty International believes that the forced transfer of Julian Assange to the United States in the present circumstances would expose him to a real risk of serious human rights violations, possibly including violation of his right to freedom of expression and the risk that he may be held in detention in conditions which violate the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

No, that is not a paragraph about the Soviet Union in 1966. Yes, the “forced transfer” distortion is a conscious, prejudicial substitute for legal “extradition.” Is it now the postion of Amnesty International that the United States is illegitimately governed, its legal system not merely to be questioned, but opposed, with the organization advocating that other nations forswear action in accordance with legal treaties of cooperation with the U.S.?

Arrogance is always striking, regardless of the repetition, but AI’s defensive advocacy of Julian Assange and Wikileaks is neither new nor surprising. The introduction to its 2011 report began,

The year 2010 may well be remembered as a watershed year when activists and journalists used new technology to speak truth to power.

Later it added,

This year Wikileaks, a website dedicated to posting documents received from a wide variety of sources, began publishing the first of hundreds of thousands of documents which were allegedly downloaded by a 22-year-old US Army intelligence analyst….

Wikileaks created an easily accessible dumping ground for whistleblowers around the world and showed the power of this platform by disseminating and publishing classified and confidential government documents. Early on, Amnesty International recognized Wikileaks’ contribution to human rights activism when Wikileaks posted information related to violations in Kenya in 2009. [Emphasis added]

The intellectual dishonesty of an organization with so exalted a sense of its own rightness should give one pause: imagine it as a nation-state and you might imagine it little different from any other in its process of blind self-justification. “Downloaded” is an awfully innocuous term. It masks the notions of theft and espionage and violation of national security, particularly as engaged in by a member of the military. “Whistleblowers” are cool; “spies” not necessarily so much, and what Amnesty elides in every presentation on the subject I have read is the nature of the relationship between Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, which is precisely the area in which the legitimate consideration by the United States of criminally prosecuting Assange is to be found. Here is AI in a published Q & A on Wikileaks.

Would prosecution of Julian Assange for releasing US government documents be a violation of the right to freedom of expression?

The US government has indicated since July 2010 that it is conducting a legal investigation into the actions of Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange for distributing secret documents.  A range of US political figures have called for a criminal prosecution of Assange.

According to Amnesty International, criminal proceedings aimed at punishing a private person for communicating evidence about human rights violations can never be justified. The same is true with respect to information on a wide range of other matters of public interest. [Emphasis added]

Notice that the focus here is on Assange’s releasing the documents and not on the process of acquiring them. What, also, if it is not only evidence of human rights violations that is released, but if this information is contained in what is really a much larger dump of legitimately classified and national security information? And what is the nature of this “information on a wide range of other matters of public interest” the illegal transmission of which AI justifies, on what legal basis?

Is it legitimate for governments to seek to keep their diplomatic discussions and negotiations confidential when they perceive it to be in their national interest?

Governments can of course in general seek to keep their communications confidential by using technical means or by imposing duties on their employees; it is not, however, legitimate for governments to invoke broad concepts of national security or national interest in justification of concealing evidence of human rights abuses.

Also, once information comes into the hands of private individuals, states cannot rely on sweeping claims of national interest to justify coercive measures aimed at preventing further public disclosure or discussion of the information. [Emphasis added]

“Comes into the hands of.”

Is Amnesty International concerned about the potential for harm to individuals as a result of the leaked information?

Amnesty International has consistently called on Wikileaks to make every possible effort to ensure that individuals are not put at increased risk of violence or other human rights abuses as a result of, for instance, being identifiable as sources in the documents.

However, risks of this kind are not the same as the risk of public embarrassment or calls for accountability that public officials could face if documents expose their involvement in human rights abuses or other forms of misconduct. [Emphasis added]

This last is very curious. The first sentence seems to warn against the possibility of individuals coming to “harm” – “increased risk of violence or other human rights” – as a consequence of unauthorized national security document releases. Let’s be clear, which AI is not, that what we mean by using such language in this context is death, and you would think, given the nature of an organization like Amnesty, and its hallowed history, that it would hold no higher goal than to work against such death. In that consideration “every possible effort” is pusillanimous, even deceptive, diplomatese. As it might be uttered by the nations committing the violations AI opposes, it means, “We tried, but in the end, other things were more important.” So the assurance-of-principles messaging is already muddled.

But the second, “however” sentence is totally incoherent. Given that the first sentence predicates the importance of protecting life (or, at any rate, making “every possible effort”), a “however” contrast would naturally introduce an exception to that paramount concern:

risks of this kind are not the same as the risk of public embarrassment or calls for accountability.

Well, I’m confused. “Not the same” how, exactly? Are they greater risks? Lesser? Of more importance? Diminished importance, in the greater scheme of things? Given the preceding statement, the however contrast should logically be telling us diminished – the potential harm to individuals is of diminished importance when weighed against the greater goal of “calls for accountability that public officials could face if documents expose their involvement in human rights abuses or other forms of misconduct.”

But Amnesty International, the defender of human rights, of, in the good old days, individual human rights – every individual’s – cannot possibly mean that?

Can it?

AJA

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The Political Animal

The Other God That Failed

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English: Caricature of Soviet leader Leonid Br...
English: Caricature of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev wearing a dark suit and two medals. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, nothing so far can match, or is likely to, the epic-historical failure of twentieth century Marxism. The cost of that failure, if not actually beyond measure, surely transcends any measure the mind can really grasp. Other failures, however, cannot be denied just because they do not reach a comparable magnitude. Dionysus was not Zeus, but he held sway enough.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, like Brezhnev after the debacle is done, seek the presidency and its supporting role in the geriatric decrepitude of a conservative idea that over thirty years of sway over American society has proven an abject failure.

“You’re as young as you feel,” they cry, with forced smiles as the flesh droops all around them.

The period of greatest economic growth during those three decades – before the last four post-deluge years – were under the only eight years of Democratic administration, and even Bill Clinton cooperated with the Reaganite deregulatory regime that led to the 2008 Great Recession and failed to halt stagnated middle class income and declining wealth. But like every party apparatchik in a communist cubicle, American conservatives insist their idea is the holy grail, while they drive the lives of ordinary Americans further towards hopeless subsistence and necessary persistence.

In California, the saga of budgetary dysfunction has many plot lines, but here is one. At the start of 2008, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled a budget that sought to address a $14 billion dollar deficit. Thirteen months later, after 2008 came down upon us all, that deficit had atomically mushroomed to $40 billion dollars. Today, the world of finance capital is already long recovered from the near disaster that it and its American conservative enablers brought down upon us all. The wealthy are doing fine, even better than ever. But middle class homes are still under water and IRA’s and personal wealth for the vast majority of Americans are decimated. Nonetheless, according to the likes of William J. Bennett and the governing hatchet men like Scott Walker who enact the latest five-year ideological plan, the fault, dear booboisie, lies not in our bankers, but in our working suckers. Now that the party of the moneyed class has tanked the economy, and with it the tax revenue streams of every state in the Union, but recovered itself, let’s blame state and local budget crises on public pensions out of control.

Meanwhile, reports the Los Angeles Times, for the young,

California’s community college system, the nation’s largest, has suffered about $809 million in state funding cuts since 2008. It faces another $338-million hit midyear if voters reject a tax measure on the November ballot supported by Gov. Jerry Brown.

….

“There is no question that the system is shrinking in terms of the number of students we’re serving but not shrinking in terms of demand,” Chancellor Jack Scott said in an interview Tuesday. “The real problem is we don’t have the financial resources to offer the courses that we could fill. In the long run, it’s going to be hurtful to the economy. These are the individuals who are going to make up the future workforce of California.”

These students also tend to be among the neediest: They typically require remedial classes, financial aid, tutoring and counseling. And many are juggling school with jobs.

Yet 70% of colleges in the survey report having reduced hours for such support services, and 87% have reduced staff. In addition, 82% said they planned to offer no winter session this year.

….

The colleges predicted a grim year if further cuts are required in January. Administrators said they would need to further reduce class offerings, lay off full-time faculty, postpone building and classroom maintenance, and borrow to manage cash-flow needs.

Already, budget cuts have had a deep effect. Overall enrollment dropped about 17%, from about 2.9 million in the 2008-09 academic year to 2.4 million in 2011-12, and officials have estimated a further decline this year. The number of class sections decreased 24% from 522,727 in 2008-09 to 399,540 in 2011-12.

The colleges say they are being forced to cut into vital services that for many students can mean the difference between success and failure.

And for older Americans, according to the Huffington Post, especially poorer people:

In 2010, 8.3 million Americans over 60 faced the threat of hunger — up 78 percent from a decade earlier, according to a 2012 report. The proportion of the seniors affected has grown to one in seven in 2010 from one in nine in 2005 — even as the hunger risk for the population as a whole declined slightly, the report found.

The rise in food insecurity is being seen primarily among Americans earning less than $30,000 –- or one to two times the poverty level –- as well as people between the ages of 60 and 69, said Craig Gundersen of the University of Illinois, who co-authored the report with James Ziliak of the University of Kentucky.

….

The growth in food insecurity tracks a larger trend in poverty: While the official poverty rate among seniors 65 and older was 9 percent in 2010, a broader poverty measure released by the Census Bureau last year puts the rate at nearly 16 percent –- or roughly one in six seniors.

Many of these Americans are new to poverty, said Sudipto Banerjee, research associate with the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington, D.C. He analyzed trends in poverty among people over 50 from 2001 to 2009 and found 6 percent of people age 75 to 84 fell into poverty for the first time in 2009, compared to 3.3 percent in 2005.

The biggest jump in poverty rates was among people 50 to 64 in the period studied, but poverty levels are highest for people 85 and older, Banerjee noted, citing medical expenses as the most significant factor. “In all the other categories –- housing, entertainment, food, clothing –- spending goes down with age,” he said. “But medical expenses are higher, and for these people, it takes about one-fifth of their budget.”

About 70 percent of citizens living below the poverty line have experienced an acute health condition such as cancer, lung disease, heart problems or stroke -– compared to 48 percent of people who are not in poverty, Banerjee added.

….

In terms of demographic trends, senior poverty is most acute among Latino and African-American seniors. In 2009, the poverty rate was 29 percent for Hispanics and about 25 percent for blacks -– more than three times higher than the rate for whites, at around 8 percent, according to Banerjee. Single women are also vulnerable: One in five women over 65 lived in poverty in 2009.

Wahlstrom is one of those women. Her monthly income includes $900 a month in Social Security, $200 from a small annuity and $140 in food stamps. “It’s cutting it close, but it’s still enough,” she said.

Roughly 45 million Americans received assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — commonly referred to as food stamps — in 2011, with an average monthly benefit of $133.85. Recipients typically must earn no more than 130 percent of the federal poverty line — for people over 65, that’s $13,375 annually for a single person and $16,877 for a couple.

After four years of a Romney-Ryan administration, we might get lucky enough to skip Andropov and go right to Chernenko. Then the job would really be done.

AJA

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Indian Country

Thomas Jefferson, Architect of Deception

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I head in a few days to Columbus, Nebraska for an NEH workshop on the Legacies and Landmarks of the Plains Native Americans. One of the books I’m reading in preparation is I Am a Man”: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice, by Joe Starita. Standing Bear was a Ponca Indian chief whose efforts to return his son for burial to Ponca territory in Nebraska, after the U.S. had forcefully removed the tribe to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma, gave rise to the landmark US District Court case Standing Bear v. Crook (1879). In the court’s decision, for the first time,  American Indians were delcared to be “persons within the meaning of the law.” Starita’s prose is fine and evocative, and his story researched to a revelatory degree.

Because the Ponca were encountered by Lewis and Clark and their land included in the Louisiana Purchase, Starita offers foreshadowing background in the attitudes and policies of Thomas Jefferson. The whole Native American story is one of uncanny realities emerging frightfully out of the foreshadows. For instance, there is no American president rightfully more reviled in Native America than Andrew Jackson, for his brutal campaigns against the Southeastern tribes and as signer and enactor of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Starita tells us that Jackson was enacting a policy conceived before him, by a man once again revealed to be a complex of contradictions.

For much of his life, Jefferson’s views on the country’s native inhabitants had swung back and forth, vacillating between soft, sentimental stereotypes and a hard-edged pragmatism.

In Jefferson’s instructions to the leaders of the great expedition,

He had made it a point that Lewis and Clark, among their multitude of duties, were to return with linguistic records of each tribe they visited. And in his writings, Jefferson offered a more resolute defense of the nation’s native people than all but a few of his contemporaries.

….

[O]n June 20, 1803, his formal instructions to Captain Lewis conveyed many of the same sentiments. “In all your intercourse with the natives,” he wrote, “treat them in the most friendly & conciliatory manner which their own conduct will admit; allay all jealousies as to the object of your journey, satisfy them of its innocence, make them acquainted with the position, extent, character, peaceable & commercial dispositions of the U.S…. If a few of their influential chiefs, within practicable distance, wish to visit us, arrange such a visit with them … If any of them should wish to have some of their young people brought up with us, & taught such arts as may be useful to them, we will receive, instruct, and take care of them.”

In his good will toward the Indian, Jefferson, even when insightful about earlier errors, still to be repeated, was a condescending patron from the civilized world.

In public remarks to his citizens, he had articulated those views clearly: “Now reduced within limits too narrow for the hunter’s state, humanity enjoins us to teach them agriculture and the domestic arts, to encourage them to that industry which alone can enable them to maintain their place in existences and to prepare them in time for that state of society which to bodily comforts adds the improvement of the mind and morals.”

In writing, he laid out, step by step, how such a transformation might occur:

The plan of civilizing the Indians is undoubtedly a great improvement on the ancient and totally ineffectual one of beginning with religious missionaries. Our experience has shown that this must be the last step of the process. The following is what has been successful: 1st to raise cattle, etc., and thereby acquire a knowledge of the value of property; 2d, arithmetic, to calculate that value; 3d, writing, to keep accounts, and here they begin to enclose farms, and the men labor, the women spin and weave; 4th to read Aesop’s Fables and Robinson Crusoe are their first delight.

Eventually, however, a sharp split developed between Jefferson’s public and private views on the matter. Within the private confines of the White House, where romantic push evolved into pragmatic shove, he came to see the native people as an entrenched impediment in civilization’s path—one that would have to be removed, ruthlessly if necessary, for Jeffersonian Democracy to prosper.

On February 27, 1803, two months before the Louisiana Purchase, more than a year before the Corps of Discovery left St. Louis, Jefferson wrote a long, detailed letter to William Henry Harrison, governor of the Indiana Territory….

and

“this letter being unofficial, and private, I may with safety give you a more extensive view of our policy respecting the Indians.”

….

Then, in specific detail, Jefferson went on to tell the governor how to purge the eastern United States, one by one, of every remaining Indian tribe. Once they’re lured onto a small piece of land “they will perceive how useless to them are their extensive forests,” and want to give them up in exchange for government assistance to sustain their farms and families. High-pressure trading posts near Indian encampments, he said, would create debt to help leverage their lands. The government will “be glad to see the good and influential individuals among them run in debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands.” Gradually, Jefferson wrote, American settlements will squeeze natives out and they will “either incorporate with us as citizens of the United States or remove beyond the [Mississippi].” Resistance would be futile. “Should any tribe be fool-hardy enough to take up the hatchet at any time, the seizing the whole country of that tribe and driving them across the Missisipi [sic], as the only condition of peace, would be an example to others, and a furtherance of our final consolidation.”

And this is precisely the manner over the next century by which the indigenous population of the Southeastern United States, the Ohio River Valley, and the Indian Territory was seduced, ensnared, corrupted, betrayed and made war upon by that civilized culture for which the reading of “Aesop’s Fables and Robinson Crusoe are their first delight,” having itself already achieved “that state of society which to bodily comforts adds the improvement of the mind and morals.”

AJA

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The Political Animal

United We Fall

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The question is who we are to each other. It’s at the beginning and end of every political argument, regardless of whether anyone raises it. Are we lone figures passing on a cold tundra, or do we pause to stand, and even stay, in fellowship? And what will break it? Every other consideration is secondary.

Derek Thompson at the Atlantic, who often delivers brief economic insights with surprising graphs, the other day offered this one by way of Michael Cembalest of JP Morgan. Cembalest is not an optimist regarding the European Union, and this graphs presents just another reason for it.

What Thompson says is this:

The euro zone has Greece. The United States has Mississippi. Or Missouri.

The difference between the U.S. and Europe is that when the Greek economy “pulls a Mississippi” (or perhaps I should say, when Mississippi “pulls a Greece”), the EU and the U.S. have 180-degree opposite reactions. Over here, we calmly write checks to Mississippi in the form of Medicaid and unemployment insurance, no questions asked. Europe has no comparable “Peripheraid” for its weak peripheral states. Instead, it has chaos.

….

When you hear commentators say, “the euro zone must begin to transition toward a fiscal union,” what they are saying, in human-speak, is that the Europe needs to be more like the United States, with balanced budget laws for its individual members and seamless fiscal transfers from the rich countries to the poor, to protect the indigent, old, and sick, no matter where they reside.

The Germans call this sort of thing “a permanent bailout.” We just call it “Missouri.”

There is much to be considered another time about the whole historically accidental nature of states, as in “The United –,”, but for now I will make a different observation. What Thompson neologizes above as Peripheraid – fiscal transfers from more prosperous states to the less, as more is paid to the federal government in taxes than is received in federal aid – would fit comfortably under the rubric of from each according to its ability, to each according to its need.

Just in case Ma and Pa Tea Party didn’t have enough to keep them up at night. Jethro is reaching for the shotgun.

How curious is it, too, that the U.S. “donor” states in the graphic example above – California, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York – are states in which political support for the nature of this kind of economic, and other, relationship is likely to be highest, whereas the recipient states – Missouri, Tennessee, Kansas – are among those more likely to reject the philosophy upon which they happen to be benefiting, without, so far, a march on the local federal building and the burning of Obama in effigy.

The European Union, in contrast, envisioned itself, fundamentally, as a union in prosperity. How far its multi-state economic alliance imagined itself, beyond a business joint venture of nations, to be a fellowship of peoples is being tested. If the understanding is the former – and there is little reason to think most Europeans feel a greater commitment to each other than that – then it is easy, regardless of economic theory and sense, to understand the Germans, or any other nation, taking the position with Greece that it has.

“You overspent. Your were profligate. We’ll bail you out. But you’ll do it on our terms, and on terms that don’t put us at risk too.”

On what basis do the Finns and Germans feel any differently than that towards the Greeks and the Irish?

On what basis do Americans toward each other?

AJA

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The Political Animal

From the People Who Brought You Richard Nixon & George W. Bush

Who has a shorter memory than the perpetual loser? Over and over the perpetual loser performs the same self-defeating act. Again and again, the loser fails, and failing, finds cause for failure in the inadequacy of others. Charlie Brown runs, as he has run countless times before, for the football Lucy holds to the ground, and which she withdraws yet again, at the ultimate instant, just before Charlie’s flailing kick. Upending himself, he falls to the ground, and cries out in despair, “How long, O Lord.”

Lucy, analyzing Charlie’s unknowing allusion to scripture, offers the final verdict.

“All your life, Charlie Brown. All your life.”

And you thought Peanuts was all sweetness and Christmas specials.

If you are a self-described liberal or progressive anticipating the 2012 presidential election, then you need to beware. For Lucy is coming and she brings her football with her. The same Puritopians who helped elect Richard Nixon president and who practically gave the 2000 election away to George W. Bush, now want to persuade you that the reelection of Barak Obama is not a momentous and meaningful prospect.

Here is Glenn Greenwald, one of the more popular voices of Puritopia (and neither liberal nor progressive anyway) sounding the meme:

Watch the Soros video yourselves. Apparently for the lawyer Greenwald, nuance is like the exculpatory evidence that refutes appearance and shows the defendant innocent. If a mainstream journalist distorted events like this, Glenn Greenwald, blogger, would burn his ass. But who made George Soros the arbiter, and that isn’t even the point.

In 1968 white segregationist George Wallace ran as a third party candidate against Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Republican Richard Nixon, declaring that there wasn’t “a dime’s worth of difference” between the Democratic and Republican parties. The meme may have been that of a racist Southern governor, but the belief was adopted by that era’s version of the Puritopian – the most extreme elements of the antiwar left, who refused to forgive Humphrey for his loyal service to Lyndon Johnson and thus withheld from him their support. In September 1968 Humphrey was 18 points behind Nixon in the polls. He made moves to mollify his Democratic critics, and by just before the election, he was only 2 points behind. He lost the popular vote by a mere 500,000 votes. Significantly, while Nixon won 86% of the registered Republican vote, Humphrey won only 74% of registered Democrats. Democratic division before and after the ’68 convention caused many McCarthy, Kennedy, and McGovern supporters to withhold their votes from Humphrey.

It is so recent, we need not review the events of 2000 and the direct link between the candidacy of Ralph Nader and the loss of Al Gore to George W. Bush, after Nader conducted his campaign on the claim that the two major party candidates were “Tweedledee and Tweedledum.” First, then, consider, in just the broadest terms, how different would be the history of the contemporary United States had Hubert Humphrey gained the presidency in 1968 rather than Nixon. Watergate and the following twenty-four year Democratic exile from shaping the national direction are the broadest strokes. Here, in contrast, is a detail, a dot, that broadens to a wide swath across the canvass: in 1972, Nixon appointed William Rehnquist to the Supreme Court. Rehnquist served for thirty-three years, nineteen of them as the third-longest serving Chief Justice in history.

Rehnquist was still on the court in 2000 and was part of the Republican-appointed Supreme Court majority that gave the 2000 election victory to Bush over Gore. One Puritopian deliverance of the presidency to the GOP played a role thirty-two years later in another.

Imagine, again, in just the broadest terms, the changed history of the United States had Gore rightfully gained the presidency. Almost certainly, there would have been no Iraq War. There would have been no Bush tax cuts. These are the two largest contributors to the national debt. Observe Bush’s appointments to the Supreme Court – young men likely to serve as long as Rehnquist.

From 1968 until Obama’s election in 2008, Republicans held the presidency for 28 out of 40 years. Had Humphrey and Gore been president, the numbers would have been reversed. When we speak, as all on the left do these days, of the thirty-year decline in middle-class financial security, earning power, and wealth, and the obscene increases in riches and plutocratic power among the wealthiest Americans, this is a democratic decline concurrent with the rise of American conservatism and its access to presidential power.

When the Puritopians speak of no difference between the parties, they are like interplanetary probes scanning an alien planet. They cannot see the trees for the forest. Because the two parties both espouse capitalism and run candidates subject to the same human foibles and who play by the same corrupting rules they are given as brokers of power, Puritopians want to pull the ball away. They obscure in their every resentful, rageful blast against the system the individuals who would have jobs under democratic governance, with union protection, and growing earnings, enabled to love and marry and serve as they choose, living under the protection of law and agency enforcement that would uphold their rights in difference, and work to protect their water and their food.

Remember how you felt, if you were around, the night Richard Nixon won, and every day of his presidency. Remember the fallen hopes of December 2000, and the years that justified their fall. Listen to these GOP candidates when they speak. Imagine the country you will face on November 6 of this year if one of them wins. Try to persuade yourself it will be no different from the country you wake up to tomorrow, or the one that Barak Obama will continue to try to develop as of that post-election day, especially with a Democratic congress. Do you think the GOP and Tea Parties and conservatives hate him so much because he is no different from them? They know. How can you not? And who is it who tries to persuade you to diminish the circumstances of your own life out of rage against an imperfect world and system that can never deliver to you all you wish it could?

Has this belief that there is no difference between the parties gained the results its adherents hoped for before? In 1968? In 2000? Is the country better for it? Did we smash the system, start all over, make it all better? Or did we only hand power to those who made it worse?

If you wish for some kind of revolution, that dismantling of the system and believe in starting all over, then I can say nothing to you.

Do you think some third party candidate will win in November? Who? Really? Come on.

Do you think, well, we didn’t make it happen in 2000, or with Nader 04 and 08, but we’ll make it happen one day, we’ll get it done? Well, then, my friend, you believe in the hard work of slow change, and sometimes faster, and the gradual betterment of a human and imperfect world. Instead, then, of believing all your effort the invisible, wondrous cause of an outcome, someday, of successive defeats, and all the dispiriting losses that follow from them, why not work along the way to feel that change a little bit each day, even though there will always be so much more to do?

It is a far better thing to be disappointed in your president, if that’s how you feel, than to despise everything he stands for. You can work with the former. With the latter you can only talk idly again about leaving the country. Or, worse, you can do it – after just handing it over.

If Obama loses in November, Glenn Greenwald will still be writing for Salon (probably, or if not, some other publication). He’ll still be shuttling between the U.S. and Brazil. He’ll get to rage against another perfidious president and the same old rot – but, really, you know, rather worse.

And you, progressive, liberal, mon semblable, mon frère – what will be the prospects of your life on the day New Gingrich or Mitt Romney takes office? How will fare the poor, the uninsured, the working man and woman, the retired, the immigrant, the gay, the different, our environment? How better will we manage the American role in the world? Will you really feel no different?

How many times do we have to do this? How many times do we have to play this game? Because I’m telling you, Glenn Greenwald is kneeling with his ball in his hands. He’s whispering, “I’ll hold the football, and you come running up and kick it.” And he’s smiling.

AJA

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Israel

Existential Threats and Slanted Arguments

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UPDATED BELOW

There are breeds of argument that always startle me for their smug, tendentious presumption.

Here is one, frequently made, this time by Robert Wright, that rests the continued –  literally – existence of a nation on the parsing of translations and the assurances of theocratic tyrannies. (I assure you, said Mr. Hitler, after the Sudetenland – shaking hands, and with smiles all around – I’m done.)

Actually, the Iranians aren’t a nation whose leaders have set themselves that “strategic goal [of eliminating Israel].” They are a nation with a crackpot president who (a) isn’t the country’s supreme leader and doesn’t have the power to order an attack on Israel; (b) did say “the occupying regime must be wiped off the map” (or “vanish from the page of time”–the translation is disputed); but (c) later said he was referring to eliminating the Zionist form of government, not the people living under it; and (d) said the way to achieve this was to give Palestinians the vote–and that if they opted for a two-state solution rather than a single non-Zionist state, that would be fine, too; (e) also said that Iran would never initiate military hostilities with Israel.

One can just imagine any Israeli prime minister, with the missiles completing their brief trajectory, crying out at the pending annihilation of the Jewish nation, reconstituted again after two thousand years, “But he used the passive voice!”

And they promised, too.

You can read here a chronology – far lengthier than Wright’s consideration – of the anti-Semitic and genocidal pronouncements of Iran’s “crackpot president.”

This is followed by that other popular argument of presumption, the disbelieving assertion of an antagonist’s unwillingness to act in a morally and sensibly proscribed manner.

Could [Ehud] Barak really think that, even if Iranian leaders had said they would launch a first strike, they’d actually do such a thing? To believe that, you would have to believe that the Iranian regime is literally suicidal, since Israel’s nuclear retaliatory capacity is very robust (not to mention the fact that the event wouldn’t exactly go unnoticed by America). Does Barak really believe the Iranian leadership is crazy?

We know, of course, from history –  even recent history – that governments, regimes, and leaders never make cataclysmic strategic mistakes. It isn’t as if countries have in the past ever attempted to conquer half the known world, killing tens of millions along the way, including their own citizens, setting out to wipe off the map entire groups of people, only to have their efforts backfire with disastrous consequence. Why that would be crazy!

Says Wright,

Barak isn’t as alarmist as some. He concedes in the Times Magazine piece that “Iran has other reasons for developing nuclear bombs, apart from its desire to destroy Israel.” For example: “An Iranian bomb would ensure the survival of the current regime, which otherwise would not make it to its 40th anniversary in light of the admiration that the young generation in Iran has displayed for the West.” Got that? Two of the reasons the Iranian regime wants the bomb are (1) to launch an attack that would be literally suicidal; and (2) to ensure its survival. (No wonder Israelis think the Iranians are crazy!)

It is not as if- or maybe it is  – Wright himself is among those people who have argued that while the U.S. set out to diminish the presence of Islamist terrorists in the world by going to war in Afghanistan, it actually increased their numbers. Nations may, according to Wright himself, follow courses of action that are contradictory to their aims and seeming best interests.

But in the case of Israel, Wright simplifies what the nature of the Iranian threat is to Israel.

Here is a less extreme and simplistic scenario, from Jeffrey Goldberg.

Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanese proxy, launches a cross-border attack into Israel, or kills a sizable number of Israeli civilians with conventional rockets. Israel responds by invading southern Lebanon, and promises, as it has in the past, to destroy Hezbollah. Iran, coming to the defense of its proxy, warns Israel to cease hostilities, and leaves open the question of what it will do if Israel refuses to heed its demand.

Dennis Ross, who until recently served as President Barack Obama’s Iran point man on the National Security Council, notes Hezbollah’s political importance to Tehran. “The only place to which the Iranian government successfully exported the revolution is to Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Ross told me. “If it looks as if the Israelis are going to destroy Hezbollah, you can see Iran threatening Israel, and they begin to change the readiness of their forces. This could set in motion a chain of events that would be like ‘Guns of August’ on steroids.” Imagine that Israel detects a mobilization of Iran’s rocket force or the sudden movement of mobile missile launchers. Does Israel assume the Iranians are bluffing, or that they are not? And would Israel have time to figure this out? Or imagine the opposite: Might Iran, which will have no second-strike capability for many years — that is, no reserve of nuclear weapons to respond with in an exchange — feel compelled to attack Israel first, knowing that it has no second chance?

Wright closes with video of Trita Parsi, in which Parsi,

who just published a book called A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran

reshapes Israeli existential concerns, as focused on a loss of “maneuverability,” –  power, essentially; the power of Israel to protect itself, existentially – as a result of which it would be unable to “invade Lebanon or bomb Syria.” So as Wright selectively and presumptuously presents the case, not only are Israeli concerns about the Iranian nuclear threat outlandish on their face, but they are false and manipulative. Nothing manipulative at all on Wright’s part in citing as his authority the president of the National Iranian American Council, who has long made the case, against all evidence, of Iran’s willingness to engage.

Wright is developing a habit of these less than straightforward appeals, in closing, to authority. In a recent post on the “Israel-Firster” slanders, in which he took what is by this point a predictable position attacking those who rightfully object to the term, Wright in all pretense of ingenuousness offered this:

Is it anti-Semitic, or even anti-Israel, to call the Israeli occupation a moral abomination? I’m not Jewish, so I always feel awkward weighing in on the question of what constitutes anti-Semitism. Instead I turned to someone who is not only Jewish, but is also an Israeli who served in the occupied territory as a lieutenant and is still in the Israeli army reserve.

Now, of course, the issue is not whether one is anti-Semitic because of how one feels about the Israeli presence on the West Bank; it is whether the expression “Israel-Firster” is anti-Semitic in pedigree and aspersion. So Wright has distorted the issue. He also offered not the testimony of, at least, some wise man of Israeli or Jewish culture, but of the co-director of Breaking the Silence, a group guaranteed, in the honest gentile’s search – he only wants to know – to return to him the opinion he already holds. And so it does.

In the case of Parsi, here is what Sohrab Ahmari has to say:

Predictably, Israel and American Jews with an interest in U.S. policy are subjected to the harshest criticism. Israel’s perception of the Iranian threat, Mr. Parsi says, has long “resembled prophesy more than reality,” impelling the Jewish state to frame its conflict with Iran’s clerical regime “as one between the sole democracy in the Middle East and a theocracy that hated everything the West stood for.” Mr. Parsi rejects that perception.

….

Quick to ascribe irrationality and bad faith to opponents of engagement, Mr. Parsi is charitable when it comes to examining the motivations of the Iranian side. But he must frequently sift the obviously belligerent content of the theocrats’ statements to find signs of goodwill—signs invisible to unsophisticated “hawks” and “elements on the right” in the U.S.

Ahmari closes,

Mr. Obama’s engagement policy failed not because of Israeli connivance or because the administration did not try hard enough. The policy failed because the Iranian regime, when confronted by its own people or by outsiders, has only one way of responding: with a truncheon.

In the contention between the United States and Iran, Parsi is not a champion of U.S. interests or intentions. And he is the person Robert Wright offers as support for his own unsympathetic view of Israel’s much more dire concerns.

All just for the record.

UPDATE

I’m blogging on the fly while we travel and neglected to make the following point. Wright has just begun accepting comments on his Atlantic blog, as has Jeffrey Goldberg. As is the case with any blog that is antagonistic to Israel’s position vis a vis the Palestinians, Wright’s is drawing the comments of anti-Semites. It will ever be so. Blog hosts may rightly disavow responsibility for the opinions of their commenters, and even adopt the broadest view of moderating (deleting) controversial expressions. However, I would never permit a clearly racist or hateful comment to go unchallenged on this blog. Wright is engaging his commenters. Why has he not rebuked the commenters below, who have gained many more likes since I made these captures?

AJA

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The Political Animal

The Libertarian Delusion

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One of the signatures of the fallen human state is how precipitously and flat seemingly reasonable people can land on their cogitative rears. Accordingly, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on ourselves. You watch me, friend. I’ll be checking you.

For now, we have Ron Paul. In addition to certain strains of the disaffected young, neo-Nazi white supremacists, homosexual-hating pastors, Andrew Sullivan, and Glenn Greenwald, we Tuesday got Robert Wright at the Atlantic in a post titled – honestly – “The Greatness of Ron Paul.” Wright likes Paul’s ideas on foreign policy, and it is one of the characteristics of falling in like with a libertarian idea that all sound judgment and reasoning depart on the wings of one’s unfettered liberty.

It’s certainly true that Paul’s hawkish critics are using his weirder ideas and checkered past to try and make non-interventionism synonymous with creepiness. But, whatever their success, Paul is making one contribution to the foreign policy debate that could have enduring value.

Let’s note immediately that it is this rather measured endorsement that nonetheless merits for Wright the “greatness” in his title. Imagine if Paul actually became president and achieved something. There would be nowhere left to go but godhead. But notice how quickly Wright moves beyond “weirder ideas and checkered past.” I don’t need to fully itemize that past here, from John Birch Society speeches to the representative conspiracy-mongering. Yet Wright easily elides all this for love of Paul’s ideas on foreign disengagement.

Paul routinely performs a simple thought experiment: He tries to imagine how the world looks to people other than Americans.

This is such a radical departure from the prevailing American mindset that some of Paul’s critics see it as more evidence of his weirdness. A video montage meant to discredit him shows him taking the perspective of Iran. After observing that Israel and America and China have nukes, he asks about Iranians, “Why wouldn’t it be natural that they’d want a weapon? Internationally they’d be given more respect.”

Can somebody explain to me why this is such a crazy conjecture about Iranian motivation? Wouldn’t it be reasonable for Iranian leaders, having seen what happened to nukeless Saddam Hussein and nukeless Muammar Qaddafi, to conclude that maybe having a nuclear weapon would get them more respectful treatment?

No one who knows anything about foreign policy, or negotiations for that matter, needs to be told that framing circumstances and disputes from the perspective of one’s adversary is basic work for the professional policy, state department, and strategic analyst. It is how a nation best develops its own strategies and tactics, how it seeks opportunities for resolution – though, with exceptions, candidates running for president, especially pro forma GOP hawks, are none of these kinds of people. However, seeing matters through the eyes of the adversary does not mean agreeing with how the adversary thinks and thus legitimizing, for instance, Iranian strategic desires simply because one can, as a “thought experiment” conceive them as the Iranians might. Unless one is the kind of relativist more often these days found on the far left, all strategic ambitions are not equal simply because nations have them and can mutually understand them. Does Ron Paul – does Robert Wright – think the Iranian theocratic tyranny the moral equal of the world’s liberal democracies? If yes, then there is no basis on which to feel justified in opposing any ambition Iran might have, or North Korea, or the Soviet Union when it still had strategic ambitions. If no….

This is another variation of “one nation’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter” – more of the same reasoning that led the dregs of the anti-imperial left, in opposition to the Iraq War, actually to champion the Iraqi insurgency. This is, far from the moral achievement Wright conjures, the complete loss of critical and moral faculties.

Wright, like others, is taken with Paul’s wish to end the imperial breadth of U.S. military forces and interests around the world – but like all libertarian ideas it is absolutist and crude: simply withdraw, from everywhere, quickly, with no discrimination among regions, circumstances, interests, consequences. From the imperial aftermath of the Cold War, retreat reactively to an eighteenth century injunction to “avoid foreign entanglements.” This is not a guiding principle by which to lead a nation in the twenty-first century. It is standoffishness masquerading as political philosophy, a crank’s tantrum as national policy. Let’s just all leave each other the fuck alone.

Absolutist ideas, crude analysis, simplistic solutions – what Paul represents in all his considerations. Elsewhere at the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has made himself something of an expert student of the Civil War, presents the following video from 2007 of Paul discussing the war on Meet the Press.

The magnitude of the historical errors and misconceptions Paul peddles in a mere minute four is staggering. All but one of the states of the Confederacy had seceded before Lincoln took office, and the Confederacy was declared a mere seven days after. Lincoln, in fact, made a proposal of compensated emancipation to the Border States and Delaware, a slave-holding state that remained in the Union. None were willing to accept it. The comparison to Great Britain is a mockery of historical analysis. Great Britain’s slaves were held in overseas colonies – an abstract moral challenge to be met from afar – not within the nation and yearly corroding the mutual moral regard and civil ties of English men and women. Paul says of the aftermath of the war that it

lingered for a hundred years, I mean the hatred and all that existed.

Does Paul believe that the hatred for black Americans – the disenfranchisement, the discrimination, the beatings and lynchings – that followed the Civil War was caused by the Civil War? And why is Paul even discussing the Civil War? Do we know what ideas Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney entertain about the Civil War? In just over a minute, Paul provides that answer too, that Lincoln didn’t care about freeing the slaves (yes, Paul is one of those, too), but

he did this just to enhance (sic) and get rid of the original intent of the Republic.

In fact, Ron Paul does believe that the first policies instituted to wrest the American republic from its “original intent” and the people began with Lincoln and the Civil War, and that there is a lineage of subsequent proto and quasi-socialist progressive policy intended to “nationalize everything.”

I mentioned the other day, in “Ron Paul and Cranky Libertarianism,” that the second prong in libertarian philosophy, after opposition to centralized government, are its corollary conspiratorial perceptions, the manner in which its adherents close-read history and the world and come to see figures in the carpet. Among those public figures most prominently praising Paul these days (but not, mind you, in typical litigator’s casuistry, endorsing him) is crypto-libertarian Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald is not himself explicitly a peddler of conspiracy theories, but he argues in a manner that appeals to the conspiratorially minded: he broadly labels those with whom he variously disagrees and hyperbolically reviles them for what he insinuates is their common purpose against true American interests. Just the other day, in a rabid twitter exchange with many among the growing numbers he has repelled with his ugliness, of which this is a small abstract, Greenwald endorsed an ally’s demonization of Obama supporters as people who would defend the president even if he “raped a nun.” Rather than accede to the flurry of objections to such a “metaphor,” Greenwald doubled down. Beyond correctly rejecting the metaphor label, he declined to defend the claim as merely an extreme illustration offered for effect and chose, instead, to advance the claim as literally true.

The tenor, then, of Ron Paul and libertarian support wavers between gurgling discontent and ideas elementarily conceived. For more of the latter, Greenwald recently recommended, terming it “brilliant,” a shoddy essay by Matt Stoller that praises Paul for his

opposition to war, the Federal government, and the Federal Reserve.

The essence of the essay by the former “senior policy advisor” to ex Rep. Alan Grayson is to retail the libertarian gold-standard of American conspiracy constructs – the concerted effort from Lincoln through Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt (Teddy is bypassed) to

centralize[ ] authority in the Federal government.

and develop

state control over finance and mass mobilization of social resources for warfare.

Of course, if one were to defend the sine qua non minimum libertarian belief in central government responsibility – to provide for the common defense – it would be difficult to conceive it without “state control over finance and mass mobilization of social resources for warfare”: unless, that is, the Pauls, Greewalds, and Stollers imagine, rather, the corporate boards and CEOs dukes and lords agreeing to tithe their rents and harvests in return for another Magna Carta, and their employees in their militia motley then hoisting muskets in the “campus” quads.

In arguing that libertarianism is some kind of unanswerable challenge to liberalism, Stoller tells us that

what connects all three of these Presidents is one thing – big ass wars, and specifically, war financing.

And while modern day Republicans like to pretend that Abraham Lincoln has anything but remotely to do with them, we know his true lineage, and Stoller clarifies the point anyway:

a long tradition of antiwar Democratic Presidents who took America to war.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, young again and without his Viagra, we have here Bob Dole speaking of “Democrat wars.” While focusing on the monetary threads in the carpet that look like the Virgin Mary crying, Stoller, like Dole at his most good-Republican-cloth-coat basic, ahistorically ignores the causes of war. But we already know that Paul thinks Lincoln only fought the Civil War not to preserve the union and reject slavery, but to nationalize monetary policy. And Stoller, attempting to shoehorn the crank of Paul’s mad libertarian monetary notions into a threadbare line of argument, offers this hodge podge on FDR:

And finally, we come to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s Fed is a bit more complex, because he did centralize monetary authority using wartime emergency powers, but he did so in peacetime. FDR abrogated gold clause contracts, seized the domestic supply of gold, and devalued the currency. He constrained banks with aggressive regulation and seizures of insolvent banks, saving depositors with the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. He also used the RFC to set up much of what we know today as the Federal government, including early versions of disaster relief, small business lending, massive bridge and railroad building, the FHA, Fannie Mae, and state and local aid. Eventually, the government used this mechanism to finance college and housing for veterans with the GI Bill. Since veterans were much of the population right after World War II, effectively this was the first ever near-national safety net. FDR also fused the liberal and union establishments with the corporate world, creating the hybrid “military-industrial” complex that is with us to this day (see Alan Brinkley’s “End of Reform” for a good treatment of this process).

Later, this New Deal financing apparatus was used to finance the munitions industry and America’s role in World War II. At one point, the RFC owned eight war material producing subsidiaries, including the synthetic rubber industry. Importantly, FDR had the Fed working for him. The Fed kept interest rates pegged at an interest rate set by Treasury, and used reserve requirements to manage inflation. This led to a dramatic drop in inequality, and unemployment sank to 1% during World War II. In 1951, the Fed, buttressed by what Tom Ferguson calls “conservative Keynesian” corporate leaders, broke free of this arrangement, under the Treasury-Fed Accord, leading to the postwar monetary order. That accord is where the vaunted “Federal Reserve Independence” came from.

Give this man a chalkboard, a sweater, and some spectacles, and we need miss Glen Beck no longer.

The point is supposed to be that centralized government provides both the social contract that liberals love (of which Stoller provides what should be an inspiring brief account) and funds and organizes the wars it hates, and that this is Paul’s unanswered challenge to the coherence of liberal philosophy. It just may be that – if you are Katrina vanden Heuvel and your position on war can be reduced to you are “opposed” to it, in which case you think it “good” Ron Paul is on the political scene. But in offering a construct in which modern liberalism is defined internationally only by opposition to the Vietnam War, and all uses of American military might since, Stoller simplifies liberalism, reducing it only to its most disempowering strain over the past four decades.

Further, Stoller, like all those on the left who entertain what are misconceived as the ideas of Ron Paul, mistakes him profoundly. He and others conceive Paul, in his wishing to end the post World War Two American imperium, to be a voice of enlightened international relations. He is, on the contrary, a reactionary isolationist for whom any primitive considerations of the world scene are a byproduct of the most reductive social conceptions – conceptions that would destroy every element of the enlightened American society in which liberals believe. If one is above all stirred by conspiratorial imaginings or driven by bilious incontinence at all concentrations or exercises of power, one may find in Paul a representative. But for any liberal to think Ron Paul a subject of serious consideration is an inclination of utter foolishness, a political delusion in which the thinker has lost in disgruntlement all understanding of what liberalism is.

AJA

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