Saturday, April 14, 2018
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
WAIST DEEP IN THE BIG MUDDY, AGAIN!Harry Targ
In 2011 the grassroots revolts that spread all across the Middle East caught the traditional imperial powers in the region--the United States, Great Britain, and France-- by surprise. Even more so, the Middle East theocracies and dictatorships--Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar and others--were threatened by those young people, workers, unemployed, and women, who took to the streets motivated by the vision of another world. The United States watched the street protests hoping against hope that the authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt would weather the storm. The Obama administration did not move publicly to aid these regimes to crush the protest but withheld its endorsement of the grassroots democracy movement. The idea of popular revolt spread to places all across the globe including Madison, Wisconsin; Santiago, Chile; Athens, Greece; Madrid, Spain; and Quebec, Canada. The Occupy Movements in the United States expanded.
Globally, movements for a 21st century democratization seemed to be replicating 1968.
In this historic context, the imperial powers needed to transform the Middle East narrative from demands for jobs, worker rights, women’s rights, and democratization to the more traditional religious and ethnic conflict model of Middle East politics. The United States organized a United Nations/NATO coalition to intervene to encourage rebellion in Libya coupled with a game-changing air war against the Libyan military. The result was the overthrow of the government of Muammar Gaddafi and its replacement by a quarrelsome ungovernable regime rife with ethnic strife. The UN/NATO war on Libya was billed as the next phase of Arab Spring, while actually it imposed religious and ethnic conflict on a relatively stable but authoritarian regime.
The anger over the US encouragement and military intervention in the Libyan civil war was reflected in the killings by Libyan terrorists of CIA operatives in Benghazi, Libya in September, 2012. What intervention in Libya did was to destabilize that society and eliminate its former dictator who was opposed to the growing US military expansion in North Africa. Most important, it took off the front pages and the hearts and minds of youth, the poor, women, and trade unionists the hope of mass movements to bring about democratic change in the region.
US covert and military intervention has shifted now from Libya to Syria. Mobilization against the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship in Syria was applauded by the United States. As the protest escalated into civil war in that country with contestants including secular and religious groups fighting against Assad’s army, the United States, Sunni countries of the Arab League, and NATO countries escalated their support to the rebels. Another Libya-style UN/NATO military operation was thwarted by strong opposition from Russia and China and the threat of growing military support for the Syrian regime by Iran.
Part of the ongoing story of Syria is the following:
1.The United States launched its diplomatic involvement in the Syrian civil war by insisting that Bashar al-Assad must step down. This precluded any possibility of a diplomatic settlement of the civil war and the eventual dismantling of the Assad regime. Most important, the United States non-negotiable demand made diplomatic collaboration between the United States and Russia all but impossible.
2.Support for various rebel factions, diplomatic and presumably covert, has encouraged the escalation of opposition violence which was matched by state violence.
3.Rebel factions, ironically, have included groups with profiles that resemble the terrorists who were responsible for the 9/11 murders in the United States and terrorist attacks on various targets in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
4.Violence and political instability have begun to spread to Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, and have drawn Israel and Iran closer into regional war.
5.As the Syrian civil war has escalated it has become a “proxy” war between the United States and Russia and Sunni and Shia Muslims.
6.In the United States, the civil war in Syria has rekindled the war factions. These include the “neoconservatives” who were responsible for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Using 9/11 and lies about weapons of mass destruction the neoconservatives influenced the Bush administration to pursue their agenda to use United States power to transform the globe in its interests.
The neoconservatives, advocates of United States military intervention in Syria, are now joined by the “humanitarian interventionists” who in the Clinton Administration supported bombing campaigns in Iraq, Serbia, and Bosnia and live by the ideology that the United States must use its military power to promote human rights around the world.
It is important to note that recent polling data suggests that only a small percentage of the American people, about 20 percent, give any support to United States involvement in Syria. Most Americans are suffering from declining jobs, income, and social safety nets, and reject the war economy and militarism that has characterized the U.S. role in the world since 1945.
7.The escalation of the civil war, the growing military role of the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, NATO, Hezbollah from Lebanon, and Israel has led to nearly 100,000 Syrian deaths and more than a million refugees. As in most international wars, innocent people suffer and die as military decisions are made in government capitals.
The case is clear that increasing the United States military involvement in Syria has negative consequences for the Middle East, international relations, the inspiration of Arab Spring, American politics, and the people of Syria. The hope for a more just and peaceful future requires support for the resumption of the spirit and vision of the original Arab Spring that began in Tunisia and Egypt and spread all across the globe. Otherwise the United States will once again be “waist deep in the big muddy” as in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.www.heartlandradical.blogspot.com
Saturday, April 7, 2018
Alfred McCoy, In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power, Haymarket Books, 2017.
Rachel Bronson, Ph.D., President and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists wrote that “in 2017 we saw reckless language in the nuclear realm heat up already dangerous situations and re-learned that minimizing evidence-based assessments regarding climate and other global challenges does not lead to better public policies.”
In fact, the distinguished team of researchers affiliated with the Bulletin who regularly assess the danger of nuclear war declared that the probability of nuclear war has increased over the last year. Using their “doomsday clock” as a metaphor the dial was moved to two minutes to midnight; midnight signifying the onset of nuclear war. This warning moves the clock one minute closer to possible nuclear apocalypse than the prior several years. The scientists believe that the danger of nuclear destruction and devastating climate disaster is greater now than at any time since the early 1980s.
The context for this grim prediction is well-reflected in a new book by University of Wisconsin historian Alfred McCoy, In the Shadows of the American Century. The author reviews the rise of the American empire since the 1890s. He describes the twentieth century emergence of the US as the hegemonic power in the international system based upon economic superiority and overwhelming military power. He suggests, however, that this economic and military dominance is being challenged today. US relative economic power is declining. Participation in global wars has become a military quagmire. And global resistance to imperialism is spreading.
Perhaps the most critical challenge to the American empire, he suggests, is the rise of China, particularly as an economic successor to US control of the global political economy. He reviews data concerning Chinese domestic development indicating that the country has emerged as the second largest world economy. In addition, the Chinese have developed trade with every continent, invested broadly everywhere, and established an Asian financial and trading system that challenges the historic US presence in the region. Finally, China has expanded transportation, trade, investment, and corporate ties with Europe. In sum, the author makes a compelling case for the economic rise of China and the relative decline of the United States in the global economy. In economic terms the global system is changing from unipolarity to multipolarity.
In reference to the United States, McCoy draws a portrait of an empire in decline, particularly in terms of relative economic competitiveness. In response to this decline McCoy provides detailed information to suggest that the United States has embarked on a program to expand militarily programs around the globe and in outer space. This latest phase of militarism includes preparing for cyber space war, occupying space (in parallel ways in which the United States occupied land in the twentieth century), developing biometrics to identify potential enemies, and increasing drone warfare capabilities. These projects involve the creation of a whole panoply of weapons that exceed the imagination of science fiction. In sum, therefore, the new militarism is designed to forestall and overcome declining empire.
This book is a must read for the peace movement because it indicates the dangerous world in which we live and the increased probability of global destruction. It suggests the need for a two-pronged response to the United States empire in decline. First, peace activists must continue to oppose militarism in all its forms--spending, fighting, and non-transparent interventions across the globe.
Second, peace activists need to develop a public discourse that celebrates the emergence of a multi-polar world, a world in which more countries can participate in global policy-making. The alternative to an energized peace movement could be, as the atomic scientists warn, a nuclear apocalypse.
Sunday, March 25, 2018
I experienced the new youth movement following the Parkland massacre vicariously: through television, radio, and social media. I stayed at home Saturday March 24 periodically sampling the television accounts of the massive rallies all over the country and the world against guns, gun violence, and the gun manufacturers and their lobbyists who prey on the celebration of fear and violence. I even shed a tear when I saw one placard with the sign “teach your parents well.”
While I have had bursts of enthusiasm before when women marched for their rights, masses mobilized against war, and many stepped up to say no to police violence and mass incarceration, I was touched emotionally even more this time around. On reflection, I think, my optimism, my interest in being involved, and my sense of purpose has been energized by several features of this new movement.
First, this movement was not organized around “identities.” While the student organizers of the rally purposefully incorporated how people of color, women, and lower income students experience violence differently in their lives, the central focus was on the general issues of guns and gun violence. Individual youth organizers then spoke from their own experiences.
Second, the students, again consciously, avoided all sectarianisms. While there were clear messages about profit-making corporations, lobby groups, self-serving elected officials, and the uses to which elections were put, they did not explicitly address the role of capitalism and class, race, and gender. They made it clear that elections matter. They avoided the debate about whether people should support one or the other of the major political parties or build a third party. They had organized in 800 cities and towns to say “Enough is Enough” about gun violence, not to raise issues of theory and practice that often divide older activists.
Third, the students had a direct, immediate issue-oriented agenda; that is the regulation of the ownership, sale, and use of firearms in society. Although spokespersons from Parkland and elsewhere beautifully grounded their advocacy in broader systemic, structural arguments about why they are mobilizing, they presented a modest but significant set of policy goals that they wished to achieve.
Fourth, the young people who organized the marches and rallies presented a practical plan to achieve their immediate goals. They urged those who were old enough to vote, to do so in the 2018 elections. Those who were going to become of voting age, they proposed, should register to vote. And all young people should encourage others to register and vote.
Fifth, all young people were urged to participate in the electoral arena. Activists called on youth to establish litmus tests for each candidate from local to national office on gun issues. And, where possible, participants in rallies were urged to run for office. And young people were advised to reject the argument that “you are just a kid….you don’t have the experience or knowledge to hold public office.”
Sixth, all the emerging youth spokespersons from Parkland, Chicago, Los Angeles, and elsewhere made it clear that they were not leaders in the traditional sense but facilitators of an organically charged mass movement. All students from Parkland who were interviewed indicated that they were not speaking for and about themselves. They saw themselves as part of a generation that is demanding the right to be free of the threat of being a target of violent death.
Seventh, spokespersons for this mass mobilization promise that “this is just the beginning.” One gets the sense from the passion, the collective solidarity, the proposed plan of action, and the specific goals articulated all across the country that a new movement has been born. This movement might transform itself from its singular commitment to controlling gun violence to a broad-based social movement for justice and democracy.
These “generation Zers” will continue to build from their extraordinary uprising. For now they have set themselves and the nation on a new path that should give us hope and direction. By their actions so far, they have begun to “Teach Your Parents Well.”
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Harry Targ : Expanding the 'Iraq Syndrome'
|Image from Democratic Underground.|
We need to expand the 'Iraq Syndrome'
As we reflect on the 10-year anniversary of the launching of the Iraq War, the madmen inside the beltway are talking about increasing U.S. military involvement abroad.By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / March 20, 2013
In a November/December 2005 Foreign Affairs article, "The Iraq Syndrome," I argued that there would likely be growing skepticism about the notions that "the United States should take unilateral military action to correct situations or overthrow regimes it considers reprehensible but that present no immediate threat to it, that it can and should forcibly bring democracy to other nations not now so blessed, that it has the duty to rid the world of evil, that having by far the largest defense budget in the world is necessary and broadly beneficial, that international cooperation is of only very limited value, and that Europeans and other well-meaning foreigners are naive and decadent wimps."David Halberstam reported in his important book,The Best and the Brightest, that President Roosevelt directed his State Department to develop a position on what United States foreign policy toward Indochina should be after the World War in Asia was ended. Two choices were possible in 1945: support the Vietnamese national liberation movement that bore the brunt of struggle against Japanese occupation of Indochina or support the French plan to reoccupy the Indochinese states of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
Most radically, I went on to suggest that the United States might “become more inclined to seek international cooperation, sometimes even showing signs of humility.”
-- John Mueller, “The Iraq Syndrome Revisited,” Foreign Affairs , March 28, 2011
As the Cold War escalated the United States rejected Ho Chi Minh’s plea for support for independence and began funding the French in their effort to reestablish colonialism in Indochina. When the French were defeated by the Viet Minh forces in 1954, the United States stepped in and fought a murderous war until the collapse of the U.S. South Vietnamese puppet regime in 1975.
Paralleling the struggle for power in Indochina, competing political forces emerged on the Korean Peninsula after the World War. With the Soviet Union and China supporting the North Koreans and the United States supporting a regime created by it in the South, a shooting war, a civil war, between Koreans ensued in 1950 and continued until an armistice was established in 1953. That armistice, not peace, continues to this day as a war of words and periodic provocations.
Political scientist John Mueller analyzed polling data concerning the support for U.S. military action in Korea and Vietnam, discovering that in both wars there was a steady and parallel decline in support for them. Working class Americans were the most opposed to both wars at every data point. Why? Because working class men and women were most likely to be drafted to fight and their loved ones the most likely to suffer the pain of soldiers coming home dead, scarred, or disabled.
Polling data from the period since the onset of the Iraq war followed the pattern Mueller found in reference to Korea and Vietnam. In all three cases levels of support for U.S. war-making declined as the length of the wars increased and casualties rose. The American people typically gave the presidents some flexibility when the wars started and the rally-round-the-flag phenomenon prevailed. But then resistance grew.
Throughout the period from the end of the Vietnam War until the 1990s, each presidential administration was faced with what foreign policy elites called “the Vietnam Syndrome.” This was a pejorative term these elites used to scornfully describe what they correctly believed would be the resistance to foreign military interventions that they periodically wished to initiate.
President Reagan wanted to invade El Salvador to save its dictatorship and to overthrow the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. He would have preferred to send troops to Angola to defend the anti-communist forces of Jonas Savimbi of UNITA.
To overcome the resistance to launching what could become another Vietnam quagmire, policymakers had to engage in “low intensity conflict,” covert operations that would minimize what the American people could learn about what their government was doing and who it was supporting. Reagan did expand globally and sent troops to tiny Granada, but even Reagan’s globalism, militarism, and interventionism were somewhat constrained by the fear of public outrage.
President George Herbert Walker Bush launched a six-month campaign to convince the American people that military action was needed to force Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. Despite a weak endorsement of such action by the Congress, the American people supported Gulf War I because casualties were small and the war lasted only a month. During a press conference announcing the Gulf War’s end in February 1991, Bush proclaimed that “at last we licked the Vietnam Syndrome.”
Clinton knew better. He limited direct U.S. military action to supporting NATO bombing in the former Yugoslavia in 1995, bombed targets in Iraq in so-called “no-fly zones in 1998,” bombed Serbia in a defense of Kosovo in 1999, and used economic embargoes to weaken so-called “rogue states” throughout his eight years in office.
It was President George Walker Bush who launched long and devastating wars in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. The Bush administration used the sorrow and anger of the American people after the 9/11 terrorist acts to lie, deceive, aggress, and qualitatively increase the development of a warfare state.
As Mueller has suggested, an “Iraq Syndrome” had surfaced by 2005 as the lies about that war became public, the war costs were headed toward trillions of dollars in expenditures, and troop deaths and disabilities escalated. And of course an historically repressive society, Iraq, was so destroyed that U.S. troops left it in shambles with hundreds of thousands dead, disabled, and in abject poverty.
As we reflect on the 10-year anniversary of the launching of the Iraq War in March 2003, the madmen inside the beltway are talking about increasing U.S. military involvement in Syria, not “taking any options off the table” in Iran, and threatening North Korea.
Meanwhile the United States is beefing up its military presence in the Pacific to “challenge” rising Chinese power, establishing AFRICOM to respond to “terrorism” on the African continent, and speaking with scorn about the leadership in Latin America of recently deceased Hugo Chavez.
The American people must escalate commitment to its “syndromes,” demanding in no uncertain terms an end to United States militarism. Mueller’s call for a U.S. foreign policy that emphasizes cooperation over conflict motivated by humility over arrogance is the least the country can do to begin the process of repairing the damage it has done to global society.
[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University and is a member of the National Executive Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. He lives in West Lafayette, Indiana, and blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical. Read more of Harry Targ's articles on The Rag Blog.]
The Rag Blog
THE FUTURE OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY (AND ELECTORAL POLITICS) MAY BE DETERMINED BY THE PATH IT TAKES IN 2018
A Progressive Agenda is a Requirement for VictoryIn a March 16 essay by Robert Borosage (“Opening a New Way for Democrats to Run and Win,” Our Future.Org) the author assessed the significance of the election victory of Democratic candidate Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania’s special election in House District 18.
Borosage reported on the competing interpretations of the surprising Lamb victory in a Congressional District that carried for Presidential candidate Donald Trump by twenty points in 2016. Mainstream spokespersons for both political parties argued that Lamb won because of growing criticisms of Trump’s presidency and because he campaigned on the issues like a Republican.For House Speaker Paul Ryan, the message to Republicans was not to worry because successful Democrats see the handwriting on the wall and embrace the Republican agenda. For him, political discourse and advocacy in the country is moving in a conservative direction.
More troubling for progressives, many Congressional leaders in the Democratic Party (and many CNN/MSNBC pundits) argued that Democratic success in District 18, and presumably in the 2018 election season will come to those candidates who “fit their districts.” Borosage claims this interpretation is really a rationalization for Democrats to shift from the left to the center because it is assumed most voters are centrist.In Lamb’s case, the candidate criticized the legislative leadership of Nancy Pelosi, personally opposed abortion, and supported gun-ownership. But, Borosage suggested, Lamb campaigned for universal health care and opposition to the tax cuts, and cuts in social security. He supported a woman’s right to control her own body and gun regulation. He fully embraced worker rights and unions.
Borosage points out that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), contrary to the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), supports the Paul Ryan/CNN/MSNBC interpretation of the possibilities of Democratic success. They prefer candidates who are mirror images (minus overt racism and sexism) of their Republican opponents. They accept the old shibboleth of party politics that the independents who are centrists control the outcome of elections. The DCCC also supports candidates who can raise money from wealthy liberals.Borosage correctly pointed out that the DCCC model is a recipe for failure. And this is largely because, as data-based reports underscore, large sectors of the potential electorate, working people, are concerned about their economic futures. For Borosage the CPC People’s Budget, which supports “major reinvestments in our country through infrastructure, education, and wage growth to increase opportunity for all” can address the needs of the vast majority of those who live in the United States. And candidates’ support of a progressive agenda will not only affect the choices voters make but their likelihood to turn out to vote as well.
Studies of Financial HardshipThe economic circumstances of large percentages of Americans have been reflected in a variety of surveys. Take for example surveys conducted by United Way agencies in 13 states (two more underway) called “ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) Study of Financial Hardship.” ALICE began as a pilot study in New Jersey in 2009 and by 2016 examined household income in 15 states with 40 percent of the population of the United States.
In one state, Indiana, for example, an Association of United Ways issued a 250 page report called the “Study of Financial Hardship.” The study, paralleled at that time (2014) similar studies in five other states. It was prepared by the ALICE research team at Rutgers University. It introduced the core idea, Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed or (ALICE). ALICE refers to households with incomes that are above the poverty rate but below “the basic cost of living.” The startling Indiana data revealed that:-more than a third of Hoosier households could not afford adequate housing, food, health care, child care, and transportation.
-specifically, 14 percent of households were below the poverty line and 22 percent above poverty but below the threshold out of ALICE, earning enough to provide for the basic cost of living.-912,947 households (of Indiana’s 2.5 million households) were either within the ALICE status or below the poverty line.
-68 percent of all jobs in the state paid less than $20 an hour (75 percent of these paid less than $15 dollars an hour).Those Indiana men, women, and children who come from the 36 percent of households who earned less, at, or slightly above the poverty line probably have a negative view of their futures. It is reasonable to assume that for them tax breaks for the rich and the austerity policies for the poor are not viewed positively.
More recently (2017), ALICE reported on results from 13 states (including 711 counties) for which data was available (since the report was issued projects were initiated in Ohio and Virginia). ALICE reported that “…across the United States-in cities, suburbs, and rural communities alike-American families struggle to afford the basic necessities of life.…at least 31 percent of households in each state cannot afford the bare minimum to live and work in the modern economy. In some states, the proportion is as high as 44 percent.”For ALICE a “household survival budget” is “a basic budget that includes the cost of housing, child care, food, transportation, and health care.” ALICE household measures include the percentage of households living in poverty in each state plus those households that exist somewhere between poverty and living on a household survival budget.
The United Way studies make it clear that those living below a household survival budget (categorized as ALICE), are “young and old, single and married, with and without children, and is every race and ethnicity. Many hold jobs, pay taxes, and provide services that are vital to the local economy. They are child care providers, retail salespeople, customer service representatives, health care aides, and laborers and movers. And some are underemployed, unemployed, disabled, or retired.”The executive summary of the ALICE Report suggests four fundamental reasons why households live below the household survival budget. These include low wage jobs, in 12 of 13 states, one-half the work force earns less than $20 an hour. In addition, the cost of living, adjusted for local differences, makes it difficult to provide for households. Further, in every state studied, majorities of households lack savings to help them maintain their living expenses during periods of unemployment. Finally, what, the report called “economic challenges” include increased threats to household survival budgets such as affordable housing near places of work.
Given these factors, in 13 states studied from 2009 until 2016, the percentage of households living below the ALICE threshold increased from 4 percent (Washington) to 40 percent (Maryland). In each state the cost of a livable budget increased and many families faced reduced income because of unemployment, fewer hours worked, or newer jobs with less pay.Therefore, the Indiana story was being replicated everywhere. Household threats to economic survival continued to grow. In this context any candidate for local, state, or national office who does not address in a convincing way pathways to overcoming the profound economic crisis that millions of people face, while the rich get richer, is likely to fail. This is particularly the case for any political party that claims to represent the vast majority of the population. In addition, many potential voters will not show up on election day if they perceive the available candidates are representing Wall Street interests and not their own.