Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Iraq War: a repost after 10 years of war

Harry Targ : Expanding the 'Iraq Syndrome'

Image from Democratic Underground.
Cooperation over conflict:
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."

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
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.

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


Harry Targ

A Progressive Agenda is a Requirement for Victory
In 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 Hardship
The 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.

Friday, March 16, 2018

In Memory of My Lai 50 Years Ago and Why the Massacre was not an aberration: A Repost

Beware of Official Histories of War: The Vietnam Case-Telling the Truth
Published on: March 21, 2015  on Portside

Originally Posted By Harry Targ, November 1, 2014 Diary of a Heartland Radical

Well, I’m not going to point any moral;
I’ll leave that for yourself
Maybe you’re still walking, you’re still talking
You’d like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We’re — waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Pete Seeger – “Waist Deep In The Big Muddy

Journalist Sheryl Gay Stolberg recently reported on the Pentagon’s development of public educational materials concerning the history of the Vietnam War. In addition to preparations for a 50th year commemoration of President Johnson’s escalation of the war in 1965, DOD has been posting a war “timeline” on their website. The project was initiated by Congress in 2008 and will cost some $15 million (“Paying Respects, Pentagon Revives Vietnam, and War Over Truth,” New York Times, October 9, 2014).
Perusing the timeline, a discerning reader would discover an oversimplified, distorted, and ahistorical narrative about the role of the United States in Vietnam. What is being presented as official history reduces the possibility that future generations of Americans will be able to learn from the mistakes of the past.

For starters, the narrative needs to develop eight elements of the United States/Vietnam story that are either missing from the timeline entirely or are grossly oversimplified.
First, it is critical to remember that the Indochinese peninsula, what became North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, was a colony of France from the 1850s until the Japanese occupation during the Second World War. After the war, the French sought to reestablish their Southeast Asian empire. They refused to negotiate with the Vietnamese, who demanded independence. What ensued was the bloody French/Indochinese War from 1946 until 1954. The French, defeated in 1954, were forced to withdraw. From 1950 until 1954, the United States funded 80 per cent of the French war effort while fighting in Korea, negotiating to construct a military alliance in Southeast Asia, and building an anti-communist network of states elsewhere in Asia.

Second, an agreement to end the French/Indochina War was achieved at the Geneva Conference of May, 1954. The Geneva Accords granted the three Indochinese states independence, required the withdrawal of all outside military forces from Vietnam, and temporarily divided Vietnam at the 17th parallel. Within two years there were to be all-Vietnamese elections to establish one government. Despite the fact that the United States did not sign the Geneva Accords, a statement was issued promising support for them if all parties acted as agreed. The United States, in violation of Geneva, created a new government in the South and picked an autocrat, Ngo Dinh Diem, to lead a new government there. Diem announced that the South would not participate in the expected elections. Thus, what was to be a temporary administrative division of Vietnam became permanent by fiat.

Third, it must be concluded that every president from World War II through Gerald Ford, engaged in policies to oppose the wishes of the Vietnam people. The United States played a central and negative role in Indochina; from supporting the French effort to reestablish its colony, to imposing the Diem family on South Vietnam, to covertly attacking targets in the North, to fighting in the South, and to massively bombing all across the peninsula in Laos and Cambodia as well as North and South Vietnam.
Fourth, United States military operations, which began with President Eisenhower sending 1,000 “advisors” to South Vietnam, expanded to 540,000 troops in combat operations by 1968. In addition, United States covert agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency, engaged in policies of assassinations, moving populations, and in other ways undermining South Vietnamese society. Intervention was economic and cultural as well as military as major United States corporations established projects in Saigon with wealthy South Vietnamese investors.

Fifth, the Johnson and Nixon Administrations launched horrific bombing campaigns, hitting targets in the South and later the North. After an attack on a U.S. military base at Pleiku in South Vietnam during February, 1965, the Johnson Administration initiated Operation Rolling Thunder. This was a three-year non-stop bombing campaign with large areas of South Vietnam and parts of North Vietnam declared “free fire zones.” Between 1965 and 1971, 142 pounds of explosives per acre had been dropped on Vietnam equal to 584 pounds per person. One hundred eighteen pounds of explosives were detonated per second. The total magnitude of bombing equaled  450 Hiroshima-sized bombs. The rural landscape was destroyed, devastating key rural industries such as rubber and timber production, and disease and death spread. The bombing increased migration to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City).  Corruption, prostitution, and drug trafficking expanded in the over-populated city. By the end of 1967 more bombs had been unleashed on Vietnam than during the entire European phase of World War II.
Sixth, the Vietnamese and United States troops were victimized by massive amounts of Agent Orange released on people and the rural landscape; twenty-one million gallons of herbicides  between 1961 and 1971. One-quarter of South Vietnam had been sprayed to destroy crops. Thirty-six percent of rice-growing swamps were made unfit for cultivation by 1974 and 30,000 Vietnamese hamlets, five million villagers, were victims of direct spraying. Dioxin, a deadly element of Agent Orange produced by Monsanto and Dow Chemical, created a broad range of cancers, diabetes, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Genetic abnormalities still exist today as children are born with gruesome physical deformities and twenty-eight “hotspots” still exist in South and Central Vietnam that endanger local populations.

Seventh, the Vietnam policy was built on twenty-five years of lies. The Vietnamese who fought the Japanese occupation during World War II and sought a free Vietnam after the war were authentic nationalists, committed to establishing an independent country free of colonial control. Each president lied about their escalation of the United States role by claiming that the Vietnamese fighting the United States and the Saigon government were mere puppets of Chinese or Soviet communism. Eisenhower lied when he claimed that if Vietnam “fell,” the rest of the region would as well, the simplistic domino theory. Kennedy lied when he claimed that the Diem family running the South Vietnamese government, the police, the military and those who controlled the land constituted democratic tendencies in South East Asia. Johnson lied when he claimed that the North Vietnamese engaged in an unprovoked attack on U.S. naval vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin. And Richard Nixon lied when his advisor declared that “peace is at hand” just before the 1972 election. After that election Nixon launched the most massive lethal bombing campaign against targets all across North and South Vietnam, the so-called “Christmas bombing.”

Finally, contrary to media distortions, most anti-war activists regretted that young men and women were drafted to fight in an unjust and immoral war. The peace movement knew that most of those who fought in Vietnam, were drafted or enlisted because of their economic disadvantage and/or racism at home. American soldiers, like their Vietnamese comrades, were victims of a murderous war that cost millions killed and maimed.
There were no heroes and heroines during these troubled times but any accurate timeline must celebrate both the soldiers and the anti-war activists who sacrificed their privilege, their educational opportunities, even their citizenship to say “no” to war. The only way America can avoid becoming “waist deep in the big muddy” again and again is to clearly understand its history. That is what the official timeline is designed to resist. Without a clear understanding of the past “the big fool,” whoever he or she might be, will successfully convince the American people “to push on.”

For more of the history of the United States war in Vietnam and how that country has developed since the end of the war see Duncan McFarland, Paul Krehbiel, and Harry Targ editors, Vietnam, From National Liberation to 21st Century Socialism, Committees of Correspondence Education Fund, Changemaker Publications, 2013.
[Harry Targ teaches foreign policy, US/Latin American relations, international political economy, and topics on labor studies in a Department of Political Science and a program in Peace Studies at Purdue University. He is a co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS), former member of the Northwest Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO),and the Lafayette Area Peace Coalition (LAPC).]

Thursday, March 8, 2018


Harry Targ

Sometimes it is difficult to separate social movements and ideas from the individuals who participate in them. Such is the case in reference to Clint Fink, whose recent death leads to reflection on his connection to the development of Peace Studies over the last sixty years.

As Clint so well documented in monumental archival research, modern movements for, and education about, peace can be traced back at least to the early nineteenth century. With the end of the Napoleonic Wars, groups of people, often affiliated with religious denominations, took up the cause of trying to end forever the bloody wars that had spread across the European continent. While success was obviously limited, concerned theologians, scholars, and activists were able to construct networks of relationships to continue the peace-building process. Peace Societies were formed in the nineteenth century in the United States and a Peace Congress was held in the middle of the century in London.

Fink’s research uncovered data on a profusion of lobbying and education mobilizations around peace that pressured for the emergence of new international organizations to address the issue. The Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907, leading to the construction of laws of war, were modest outcomes derived from the growing worldwide advocacy of alternatives to war. Of course, the establishment of the League of Nations after World War l and later the Kellogg-Briand Pact in 1928 outlawing war represented the most serious byproducts of the growing mobilization to reduce or end war. Much of what we know about two hundred years of grassroots anti-war activities comes from the meticulous scholarship of Clint Fink.

As a young student at Swarthmore College in the early 1950s when the threat of World War III  seemed real, Fink became motivated to commit his life to peace research, peace education, and peace activism. He began to gravitate toward an emerging interdisciplinary scholarly community that identified its task as building a new discipline of Peace Research. Fink pursued a Ph.D in Psychology at the University of Michigan and became an active participant in the late 1950s in that university’s new Center for the Study of Conflict Resolution. He became an editor of its new journal, The Journal of Conflict Resolution.

Although Fink was convinced that peace scholars could make a contribution to peace-building through their scientific expertise, he always asked questions about how that scholarship could be effectively translated into peace action. He became the conscience of peace research, raising concrete questions about linking scholarship, education, and activism in the 1972 special issue of JCR called “Peace Research in Transition: A Symposium” and his 1980 article in   Peace and Change, “Peace Education and the Peace Movement Since 1815.” In the latter article he summarized some of the research he had conducted concerning early peace education activities, not only to recover a usable past but to gain ideas about historic efforts to link theory and education to practice.

Since the 1980s Fink (and his partner Berenice Carroll) continued to do research focused on peace theory and peace action drawing connections between movements for peace and movements for justice (including justice for women, people of color, and workers). They both became chairs of COPRED (the Consortium on Peace Research, Education and Development--currently the Peace and Justice Studies Association) and were active participants in the International Peace Research Association. For a time they edited Peace and Change. In their most recent, and perhaps most significant scholarly work (2007), they edited and wrote an  introduction to Jane Addams’ classic essay, Newer Ideals of Peace.

In the extensive introduction Carroll and Fink link Addams’ theoretical and practical work to the core concepts of modern peace studies, addressing both direct and structural violence. They point out that Addams is a significant precursor to modern peace studies in that she theorizes and advocates for linking peace to social justice and scholarship to action. In a sense Fink’s earlier historical explorations were applied to this renewed recognition of Addams’ work as a guide for use in the twenty-first century.

Clint Fink was an exemplar of the Addams prescription, linking peace to social justice and theory to practice. Along with multiple writing contributions in the Champaign/Urbana community, Fink organized an editorial team to produce an alternative newspaper in the Greater Lafayette, Indiana community. Community Times, a monthly free distribution newspaper had a ten-year run. It produced news and commentaries on issues of war and peace, racism, sexism, the environment, and an occasional humor piece. Three thousand copies were distributed to about 20 commercial and campus locations. The newspaper reflected Clint’s meticulous editing of text and layout, with appropriate images and photos. And the polished news product was produced before the rise of the internet as a source of information and photo copy.

Finally, Clint as a theorist and practitioner, was a lover of music. One of his heroes was Paul Robeson who proclaimed in 1937 that the artist must take a stand against injustice and for the dispossessed. Fink loved singing Robeson’s classic song “Old Man River” with the defiant lyric that Robeson used instead of the defeatist language of the original lyric. Fink performed in plays, sang with feminist folk singer Kristin Lems, and used his love of music, drama, and poetry to advance the cause of economic and social justice and peace. As an aside, Fink took advantage of another cultural skill. He was a punster, who loved the four-line poems of his poetic mentor Ogden Nash.

In sum, Clint Fink lived through a time of war, racial violence, and virulent patriarchy. He played a significant role, through scholarship, education, and action, in the struggles against them, rigorously researching, educating, and acting to create a better world. We have lost a piece of history with Clint’s passing.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


Harry Targ
Originally Posted on July 15, 2013


I still find compelling the main points about modern imperialism articulated by Lenin in his famous essay on the subject. Reflecting on the transformations of capitalism from its early manufacturing days until the twentieth century he argued that economic concentration had replaced a multiplicity of semi-independent economic actors, manufacturing capital had merged with financial institutions creating a system of monopoly finance capital, and as a consequence the export of capital--what we would call today foreign investment, financial speculation, and the debt system--would replace the export of commodities as the dominant form of economic exchange on a global basis. During some periods capitalist states would divide up the world each extracting wealth of all kinds from its own sphere of influence and during other periods they would engage in competition and even war to pursue profits. Lenin could not foresee a time, from the mid-20th century until now, when resistance would come not only from competing and militarized capitalist states but from masses of people in colonized, neocolonial, and dependent societies.

The Cold War and Post-Cold War International Systems 

The latest phase of the system Lenin described was constructed at the end of World War II. The United States emerged from the war as the most powerful nation and used military, economic, political, and cultural tools to enshrine its dominance. This meant building a system to crush the emerging Socialist Bloc, controlling the drive toward independence of former colonies, and shaping the politics of lesser but significant capitalist states. To achieve these difficult goals, the United States began to construct a “permanent war economy.”

By the 1960s, the United States capacity to control the economic and military destiny of the world was severely challenged. The Tet Offensive of January, 1968 represented a metaphoric great divide as U.S. presumptions of hegemony were sorely challenged by a poor but passionate Vietnamese people’s army. From the late 1960s onward the U.S. was challenged not only on the battlefield but in the global economy. Rates of profit of U.S. corporations declined. Industrialization had led to overproduction. Working classes in the United States and other capitalist countries had gained more rights and privileges. Socialist countries were experiencing significant growth spurts. Countries of the Global South began to demand a New International Economic Order that regulated the way global capitalism worked. In addition, inter-capitalist rivalry grew. On top of all this the price of oil increased markedly.

The response of the global capitalist powers (the G7 countries) to the crisis of capitalism was a dramatic shift in the pursuit of profit from the production of goods and services to what became known as financialization, or financial speculation. The banks Lenin talked about became instrumental. With rising oil prices, oil rich countries awash in new profits, and banks swelling with petrodollars, nations were enticed and forced to borrow to pay for the oil that cost many times more than it had in the recent past. The global debt system was launched. When the United States freed the dollar from the gold standard, currencies themselves became a source of speculation. 

The debt system gave international financial institutions and banks the power to impose demands on countries that required loans. Thus, the IMF, the World Bank, regional international banks, and private institutions demanded that the world’s countries open their doors to foreign investors, cut their government programs, privatize their economies, and shift to exporting commodities to earn the cash to pay back the bankers. The era of neoliberalism was advanced by globalization, the scientific, technological, and cultural capacity to traverse the globe. No geographic space could maintain autonomy from global capitalism. So a Cold War that was launched by creating a permanent war economy was transformed by financialization, neoliberalism, and globalization. With the shift of work from higher wage capitalist centers to low wage peripheries, deindustrialization became a common feature of the economic landscape.

By the 21st century the system of neoliberal globalization was facilitated by new techniques of empire. Wars which traditionally had been fought between states were now fought within states. The United States established a military presence virtually all across the globe with an estimated 700 to 1,000 military installations in at least 40 countries. Major functions of the globalization of military operations had become privatized so massive U.S. corporations gained even more profits from war-making than they had during the days of the Cold War. The military—public and private—began to engage in assassinations and covert “humanitarian interventions.” And, aided by new technologies, the United States and other capitalist countries, using unmanned aerial vehicles or drones, could make war on enemies without “boots on the ground.” As we have learned, intelligence gathering, spying on people, has immeasurably advanced as well.

To put it succinctly, while imperialism remains generically as it has been throughout history today:

-Imperialism has become truly global.

-The military continues to be big business, sucking up at least half of the federal budget.

-The United States has developed the capacity to fight wars without soldiers on the ground.

-Empires, particularly the United States empire, kill with impunity.

-The connections between economic interest and militarism remain central.

-Ideologies defending 21st century military interventions vary from those neoconservatives who argue that the United States must use its power to maximize our global position to the humanitarian interventionists who claim that the United States acts in the world for good.


This narrative is not unfamiliar to us. What is less familiar is the idea that throughout history the forces of domination have been challenged by resistance, sometimes successfully, sometimes less so. It is important to note that the drive for U.S. hegemony, for example, has been affected by resistance. A recent articulation of this narrative appears in the writings of Vijay Prashad, who has described the efforts of the newly independent nations of the Global South to achieve political and economic sovereignty. Many of these efforts from the 1950s to the 1970s faltered at the steps of the debt system and neoliberal globalization. But the struggle has continued. In addition, there have been examples of people such as the Cubans and the Vietnamese who, with much pain and suffering, were able to achieve some measure of economic sovereignty and political independence.

21st century movements for change are varied and complicate the efforts of imperialism to achieve its goals. Resistance includes the following:

-Mercosur, a trade organization that includes Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Venezuela, Chile, and others waiting for admittance constitutes the third largest trading bloc in the world. 

-The development of collaborative relationships among powerful Global South nations. For example, representatives from the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) recently met to chart an independent agenda in global affairs.

-The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) consists of ten Latin American/Caribbean countries which are launching a program of economic integration and political cooperation.

-The Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) is a new grouping of some 33 Western Hemisphere nations, minus the United States and Canada, which will seek to expand regional collaboration.

-Individual nations, based on their historic resistance to imperialism, such as Cuba, Vietnam, Venezuela, and Bolivia, continue to inspire activists.

-The United Nations system, considerably weakened from the days of the Cold War, still engages in global mobilizations through its conferences, support for some progressive NGOs, and projects involving education, development, and peacekeeping. Affiliated organized such as the International Labor Organization pursue goals that are sometimes independent of imperial agendas.

-Global anti-capitalist mobilizations, such as the World Social Forum, have brought together thousands of activists largely from the Global South to discuss the problems faced by workers, women, indigenous people, environmental activists, and others.

-Perhaps most important at this time is the grassroots mobilizations of millions of people all across the globe demanding economic justice, worker rights, gender equality, environmental justice,  and peace. Such mobilizations, while stimulated by local issues, are defined as part of a global movement such as “From Tahrir Square to Madison, Wisconsin.” People worldwide, particularly the young, workers, and women are seeing the common dimensions of struggle against imperialism.

Where Do Left and Progressive Forces Fit?

First, we on the left need to “bring imperialism back in;” that is socialist organizations can through education revisit and revise the theory of imperialism so that it is more serviceable for 21st century socialist movements.

Second, progressives should link war/peace issues to environmental issues, to gender issues, to class issues, and race issues. As Martin Luther King declared in 1967: “I speak of the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam.”

Third, every socialist and progressive organization should challenge the permanent war economy. Andrew Bacevich pointed out that the framers of the permanent war economy in the 1940s believed that the role of the citizenry was to remain quiescent, pliant, and supportive of the decisions made by the foreign policy establishment. That assumption must be resisted.

Fourth, local and national work should link economic justice, environmental preservation, and peace. These issues are inextricably connected.

Finally, left and progressive groups should respond to specific imperial transgressions by:

-working to cut military budgets

-opposing drone warfare

-saying no to US military aid to Syrian rebels

-supporting the just demands of the Palestinian people

-challenging the construction of military bases in Asia

-demanding an end to subversion in Latin America

-insisting on the end of the Cuban blockade.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

On Democracy: A Repost

Harry Targ :
On democracy: ‘Can we talk?’ A Repost

The discussion of Russian interference in U.S. elections should raise questions about other, perhaps internal, forms of interference in a fully matured democratic process. This essay, written before the 2016 elections, reflects on the various impediments that are characteristic features of the electoral process in the United States. Given the realities of concentrated money, power, media access, and the instrumentalities of the government, there is much to talk about in reference to saving or advancing democracy in the U.S. before worrying about foreign interference in the electoral arena. ht

Posted on The Rag Blog October 21, 2014

The United States’ political system, we are told repeatedly, is the gold standard for the world.
By Harry Targ | The Rag Blog | October 21, 2014

Through her decades of entertaining on stage and screen, [Joan] Rivers developed numerous classic bits and catchphrases, but three small words stand above the rest: “Can we talk?” (Kelli Bender @kbendernyc, 09/04/2014, also at People.com)

I never liked comedienne Joan Rivers who died recently. But her famous one-line introduction to talk show interviewers and stand-up performances is a powerful reminder that certain subjects might be dangerous to discuss in polite company. Whether the United States’ political system is a democratic one is such a subject.

Everything we Americans have learned since infancy suggests that the United States is a democracy. In fact, the United States political system, we are told repeatedly, is the gold standard for the world.

Distinguished data source Freedom House claims that freedom can only exist in democratic political systems. Democratic systems are those in which governments are accountable, the rule of law exists, and associations and speech are guaranteed to all. Polity IV, another data-based source of information about governments, has a more refined definition of democracy: there are procedures by which citizens can express their preferences about leaders and policies and there exist both constraints on executive power and guarantees of civil liberties. University of Iowa Political Science Professor William M. Reisinger prepared a chart summarizing the key components of democracy reflected in the writings of political philosophers (such as Aristotle), politicians (John C. Calhoun), skeptics (H. L. Mencken), and a variety of contemporary political scientists. He appends to his chart 25 quotations that illustrate variations in the understanding of the concept “democracy.” Reisinger identifies five emphases in most writings on the subject.

“1) it is a dangerous form of government; 2) it includes genuine competition for power; 3) it permits mass participation on a legally equal footing; 4) it provides civil and other liberties that restrict the sphere of state power within the society; or 5) it promotes widespread deliberation about how to make and enforce policy so as to promote the common good.” (William M. Reisinger, “Selected Definitions of Democracy,” uiowa.edu)

The United States does not meet broadly endorsed criteria for a democracy.

Reflecting on these five elements of democracy might lead to a more sober understanding of the United States’ political system than what most people learned in school (from kindergarten through graduate programs in political science). Particularly, looking at Reisinger’s last four features might suggest that the United States does not meet broadly endorsed criteria for a democracy.
Does the political system afford “genuine competition for power?” The answer is no for a variety of reasons. Campaigns for office from local through federal positions require enormous amounts of money. Supreme Court decisions have enshrined the right of the wealthy (often the one percent) to pour unlimited financial resources into elections. Koch Brothers affiliates have even invested in local school board elections to influence school curricula and give support to the privatization of education.

Funding of elections is reinforced by rules and regulations limiting political participation to two parties. Also states, from Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan to the South and Southwest, have imposed rulings making it harder for citizens to vote. Some voter suppression laws, sometimes overturned by courts because of their egregious violation of constitutional principles, have survived serious challenges (such as the Supreme Court decision to allow the Texas disenfranchisement of an estimated 600,000 minority voters) at least for the next election.
In the end money, institutionalized procedures, state laws, and judicial decisions have undermined the possibility of competition for political power.

Money, power, institutions, and media propaganda conspire to limit
political participation.

Everything that has been said above limits equal and mass participation in politics. Money, power, institutions, and media propaganda conspire to limit political participation and the entire weight of the political system works to impair workers, minorities, young people, and the elderly.
In the 1970s, Political Scientist Samuel Huntington wrote a paper for the then influential foreign policy organization, The Trilateral Commission, warning of the “danger of democracy.” The danger he identified all across the globe was the “excess of democracy.” In other words, in the 1970s, (and one would only surmise the condition is worse today) too much participation in politics would challenge the status quo and stability.

Reisinger pointed out that some definitions of democratic states (on his chart six of 25 entries) highlight “civil and other liberties that restrict the sphere of state power within the society.” There is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that in the United States local police have garnered vastly increased power to arrest, charge, kill, and incarcerate more citizens on a per capital basis than most countries in the world. The most overrepresented targets of the expanding police state are young, African/American males but the class character of the criminal justice system has been prevalent as well.
In addition federal government surveillance, criminal conduct by the National Security Agency, and long-standing practices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to undermine and crush dissent have been significant features of the historical landscape.

Fewer than 10 media conglomerates control most of the information consumed
by the citizenry.

Finally, Reisinger has found some references in discussions of democracy to “deliberation” on public policy to “promote the common good.” Fewer than 10 media conglomerates control most of the information consumed by the citizenry and think tanks generating “expert” analyses are bought and paid for by corporations, government agencies, billionaires, and political parties.
Two recent stories have been ignored in the mainstream media. First, the German government has decided to provide free college education to all its citizens (thus eliminating crippling student debt). This is a policy that should warrant discussion. Second, Cuba has transported a delegation of 160 Cuban health care professionals to Sierra Leone and expects to provide another 260 for Liberia. The first delegation was sent before President Obama announced a U.S. program of medical aid to West Africa.

It could be that if Americans were aware of the special training received by medical personnel in Cuba, particularly in Third World settings, they might suggest that United States and Cuban collaboration would increase the effectiveness of ending the threat of a spreading Ebola epidemic in Africa. These are just two policies worthy of conversation in the United States. (To its credit The New York Times, on its opinion page on October 20, 2014, published an editorial entitled “Cuba’s Impressive Role on Ebola.”)

In sum, the Joan Rivers one-liner is critical now. We need to talk about the reality that the United States is not a democracy. And as a few commentators have pointed out, democracy is dangerous. It is dangerous because the people will be able to participate in the decisions that affect their lives; class, race, and gender will not exclude participation in politics; and the whole reason for democratic institutions is to “promote the common good.” As Pennock put it the ideal democracy is one characterized by:
“Government by the people, where liberty, equality and fraternity are secured to the greatest possible degree and in which human capacities are developed to the utmost, by means including free and full discussion of common problems and interests.” (J. Roland Pennock, Democratic Political Theory, Princeton Press, 1979, 7)

To be clear, the United States is not a democracy. Progressives who believe it is fool themselves at the peril of the country. BUT, rather than disengagement, they should struggle all the harder “inside and outside” conventional political processes to achieve it. And struggles for equality, justice, and a sustainable environment are also struggles for democracy.
[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. ]

Thursday, February 15, 2018


Monday, June 12, 2017


Harry Targ

As you've heard, Purdue President Mitch Daniels has announced plans to create a new, Purdue-affiliated
institution to address the needs of adult learners. To
do this, Purdue will acquire Kaplan University, which
has extensive experience in online learning.

I’d like to ask for your input as we think about how to
develop the name and identity of this new institution.
(An e-mail from the Senior Vice Provost for Teaching
and Learning sent to the faculty on June 9, 2017,
requesting completion of a survey by June 13, 2017).

Recent History

On Thursday, April 27, 2017,  President Mitch Daniels, Purdue University, announced to the university community a dramatic new program that he and the Board of Trustees had been fashioning in secret for months. Purdue University, a self-proclaimed world class university, would be acquiring Kaplan University, one of several controversial for-profit on-line universities that have emerged over the last twenty years.

The campus community was stunned by the announcement which it learned about through a hastily called special meeting Daniels assembled with selected faculty and an e-mail announcement to the faculty.  One week later, Daniels defended the secret deal before a special meeting of the University Senate. He criticized those who had written about complaints and lawsuits by former Kaplan students who paid enormous tuitions and upon graduation were not able to secure the jobs Kaplan advertising had claimed they would obtain. He also proclaimed that the Purdue/Kaplan connection would serve the millions of non-traditional students in the United States who now would be able to get on-line college degrees.

Among the concerns registered by Purdue faculty were whether professors would have input on educational policy matters concerning degrees granted by the new Purdue/Kaplan partnership. Faculty raised questions regarding the academic integrity of entire degrees offered on-line. Many more questions involved staffing, tenure and promotion, admissions, state expenditures, and the bypassing of the state’s technical and community colleges, and regional campuses. Virtually no answers were given to these questions and the administration has proceeded to seek official approval from a politically-appointed state higher education oversight board. Meanwhile President Daniels claimed that the Purdue/Kaplan venture will cost Purdue nothing, no tax dollars would be used, and the collaboration might bring in profits from the online venture.

The dramatic developments at Purdue University highlight a number of issues that bear upon the mission and purpose of Purdue, a land grant university. The state chapter of The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) expressed many of the concerns faculty and others raised about the new arrangement with Kaplan:
The Indiana Conference of the AAUP objects strenuously to the recently announced Purdue/Kaplan deal, on the following grounds:

1. No faculty input was sought before this decision was made.
2. No assessment of the impact on the academic quality of Purdue was made.
3. No transparency was demonstrated in this process.
4. Faculty governance at what will become the “New University” is practically non-existent.
5. Non-profit institutions serve the public good; for-profit private institutions serve corporate interests. The two should not mix.
The AAUP maintains that: "institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition."

Defining the New University: Soliciting Faculty Input After the Decision Was Made
In the midst of lingering questions about the connections between Purdue and Kaplan Universities and growing skepticism about the impending relationship, articles have appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education and elsewhere about Kaplan’s failure to meet the needs of and promises to students. And with an almost total lack of transparency by the Daniels Administration, the faculty is now being asked to identify the special characteristics Purdue can offer this new, as yet ill-defined entity.

A memo was sent to faculty asking their input, not on the arrangement as it has been announced but how to characterize this entity that has never been clearly defined. A three-day window of opportunity to respond was given, again with little or no clarity on what the new academic venture is likely to be. The survey was sent by e-mail to faculty on June 9 (when most faculty were not on campus because of the summer break) with a title, “Purdue Stakeholders Survey, Trade Secret Information, Advisory and Deliberative.”

The survey had eleven questions. The first three asked about the respondent’s location in the university system, her/his college, and length of employment at the university. The substantive input solicited of “stakeholders” began with the fourth question: provide a series of phrases the respondent feels address the value a Purdue/Kaplan education will have for adult learners. Question five asked the respondent to identify a key word from a list of eight that represents the most important task of the new university; such as developing leadership skills, lifetime learning, good citizenship, or access to knowledge.
The questionnaire then briefly asked for the respondent’s degree of support for the new venture including whether the announced arrangement is consistent with Purdue’s land-grant mission and how the connection with the land grant mission can be achieved. The questionnaire asked if the time was right for this venture and what opportunities does Purdue provide for achieving the mission as it was described. It ended with a question about which goals should be uppermost in Purdue’s Kaplan partnership.

The criticisms that have been raised throughout the university community and around the state and nation, have never been addressed. In fact, the specific questionnaire, allowing little room for evaluation of the plan (two questions) presents the Purdue/Kaplan arrangement as already completed. What remains utterly bizarre is that the “stakeholders” questionnaire makes it clear that the Purdue/Kaplan arrangement is a “done deal” but the stakeholders now are being asked what the new university should do, what should be criteria for success, and how it should be “branded” in upcoming public relations announcements.
The only laudable part of the mysterious public discussion of the Purdue venture with an on-line for-profit university with a questionable past is the declaration by the university president that Purdue wants to serve non-traditional students; workers, parents, low-income wage earners, and older persons who want feasible access to education. However, a public discussion of the multiplicity of ways such a goal could be achieved has never taken place. Indiana has branch campuses of its two flag-ship universities; a technical college system; community colleges; existing on-campus and off-campus educational programs, credit and non-credit, in agricultural extension and labor studies. And various colleges and departments at Purdue University offer varying online educational experiences. None of this has been discussed by faculty, students, alums, state legislators, or other citizens of the state of Indiana. (In fact, the Indiana state legislature inserted a provision in an unrelated bill that precludes citizens from inquiring about deliberations concerning Purdue and Kaplan Universities. In other words, while all other public institutions in the state are subject to public scrutiny, the Purdue/Kaplan agreement is not).

In addition, there has been no discussion of the efficacy of on-line education; the appropriate mix of computer-based and on-site education and what subjects would lend themselves to various pedagogies. And since the arrangement was announced there has been no public discussion of whether non-traditional students have access to computers and the internet.
Finally, there has been no discussion of whether the land grant mission of public universities can be fulfilled by for-profit universities. Traditionally public universities have been assigned the task of educating the citizenry for the public good. The survey of “stakeholders” is designed to illicit information about “branding,” or how to sell the Purdue/Kaplan deal to a potentially interested public. That is not about the public good.