Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Harry Targ

When the Soviet Union sent 85,000 of its troops to Afghanistan in late December, 1979, President Carter declared that the United States was forced to return to Cold War military preparedness. But, in fact, the Carter administration had been escalating military commitments and operations throughout 1979, months before the Soviet action.

In a brief televised address two weeks after the Soviet invasion, the President denounced it as “a deliberate effort by a powerful atheistic government to subjugate an independent Islamic people.” He said it threatened “both Iran and Pakistan” and was “a stepping-stone” for the Soviets possible control “over much of the world’s oil supplies.”

The President followed his brief condemnation with a lengthy State of the Union address to the American people on January 21, 1980. In it he announced some extraordinary changes in United States foreign policy that constituted a decisive return to Cold War with the Soviet Union.

The changes Carter initiated included the following: reduction of grain sales to the Soviet Union; curtailment of high technology trade with them; postponement of ratification of the SALT II arms control agreement; enlarging strategic forces; beefing up NATO forces; establishing a Caribbean Joint Task Force Headquarters; unleashing the CIA; installing a program of draft registration; and providing more military assistance to Pakistan, South Korea, and Thailand.

Perhaps the most important policy change was the establishment of a 100,000 person military “rapid deployment force” which could be instantly mobilized in crisis situations. And he proclaimed that the Persian Gulf was vital to U.S. security interests and would be protected; what became known as the Carter Doctrine.

All these announced changes were billed by administration spokespersons as a response to the duplicitous Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Ultimately, the Soviets wanted to invade Iran, secure Persian Gulf oil, secure warm water ports, and expand their Asian empire. The U.S., they said, had to respond to this expansion of the Cold War.

But a careful examination of the events of 1979 prior to the Soviet invasion suggests a different timeline and interpretation. In January, 1979, the Shah of Iran, the closest of U.S. allies, was toppled in a revolution. Carter aides initially had urged him to send troops to Teheran to save our Persian Gulf cop from ouster but the revolution came too fast to save the Shah.

After Iran, in the Caribbean and Central America revolutions occurred in tiny Grenada (March, 1979) and historically anti-Communist Nicaragua (July, 1979). There was a coup by military reformers in El Salvador (October, 1979). In early November, 1979, Iranian students took approximately 70 U.S. government representatives hostage.

The administration perceived itself as being threatened by the spread of hostile regimes and movements and the collapse of the vital ally in Iran was deemed the most critical to U.S. interests. As a result of all these crises, Carter began military rearmament, secured new bases, tried to undermine the changes occurring in Nicaragua and El Salvador, and allowed the Shah of Iran to enter the United States in October, 1979 for medical treatment.

Inside the Carter administration, foreign policy decision makers feared the collapse of U.S. power around the world. However, they felt the United States could not respond because of the so-called “Vietnam Syndrome.” That is, decision makers believed that most Americans opposed a return to militarism and interventionism.

Then, fortunately for the Carter team, the Soviet Union, fearful of the collapse of an allied regime in Kabul and increasingly seeing itself as encircled by China in the East and a beefed up NATO in the West, sent troops into Afghanistan. The Soviet Union fell into a trap set by the Carter Administration.

What was the nature of this trap? Well, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, in an interview given to the French newspaper, Le Nouvel Observateur in January, 1998, said that official CIA accounts which say the United States began to support rebels in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion were lies. In fact, he said, “…it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul.” The National Security advisor said he wrote the President “…that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.”

Brzezinski told Carter that the Soviets would probably intervene in Afghanistan if we funded rebels and that they, the Soviets, would then be buried in their own Vietnam. In retrospect, he said, the Soviet incursion led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and its “empire.” He suggested that the rise of Islamic fundamentalism was of minor concern compared to the threat of international communism.

Reflecting back thirty years, the following conclusions seem justified. First the United States returned to an aggressive Cold War policy not after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan but before it.

Second, President Carter announced a broad array of aggressive policies toward the Soviet Union after the Soviet invasion but these were in place or in the process of development before the Soviet moves of December, 1979.

Third, the United States began funding the various fundamentalist groups to fight against the secular and modernizing regime in Kabul before the Soviets sent troops. And that led subsequently, as the Center for Defense Information estimated, to the United States funneling $2 billion to rebel forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Fourth, the war on the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul destroyed efforts to modernize the tradition-bound country. Women, who had become active participants in public life and the economy in the 1980s lost control of their lives after the pro-Soviet regime collapsed. In general, an estimated one million Afghans died in the 1980s from war and repression and some five million fled the country.

We know about what happened after the troubled 1980s in Afghanistan. The Soviet troops withdrew. After a time, the secular regime in Kabul was ousted from power. Competing fundamentalist militias vied for control of the state. The Taliban consolidated their power by 1996. Then the United States launched its public war on Afghanistan in October, 2001. But, the record suggests, the United States initiated its war on the country as far back as July, 1979.

The pain and suffering of the peoples of Afghanistan have a long history before and since the United States intervened in their political lives in 1979. Many outside powers share responsibility for their plight. But today’s situation directly relates to the covert war the United States encouraged and funded from the summer of 1979.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Harry Targ

Turn, Turn, Turn
Words from Ecclesiastes, text adapted and music by Pete Seeger


To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time for every purpose, under Heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

(repeat chorus)

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

(repeat chorus)

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing

(repeat chorus)

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time to love, a time to hate
A time for peace, I swear it's not too late

We received a wonderful Chanukah present the other day, a children’s book called “Turn! Turn! Turn!” It is an illustrated adaptation by designer Wendy Anderson Halperin, of words from the Old Testament and music by Pete Seeger. This present rekindled for me emotions, as I am sure it does for others, as I remembered things past; youth, family, na├»ve images of peace and tranquility. There is poignancy for us now too as we move towards the holidays at the same time that we struggle over the range of issues that will shape the destiny of humankind: peace, saving the environment, jobs, and health care reform.

This season progressives are debating whether we have been betrayed by Barack Obama; who is the biggest scoundrel-Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson, Olympia Snowe; how to revitalize the peace movement; and whether to finally break with the Democrats.

But then “Turn, Turn, Turn” reminds us that “to everything there is a season.” The song suggests that the ebbs and flows of history are not bound by calendars, dates and times, and heroes and villains. A “season” is defined by its historic projects.

And these historic projects, the words suggest, include “a time to reap,” “a time to build,” “a time to break down,” “a time to cast away stones,” and “a time to gather stones together.”

Our projects, our seasons, entail defeats and victories, tears and laughter but the seasons go on and encompass “a time to love” and “a time to hate.” And in the end the song declares, “ I swear it's not too late.”

So if we are inspired by the song, as we were in the 1960s, we remember that the struggles for peace and justice are not about individuals, political parties, and calendar deadlines but about the continued commitments which we have made to create peace, save the planet, put people back to work, and provide secure health care for all.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Harry Targ

Last January Jonathan Clarke, co-author of America Alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the World Order, posed a question to readers of BBC News: “With the Bush Administration about to recede into history, a widely asked question is whether the neo-conservative philosophy that underpinned its major foreign policy decisions will likewise vanish from the scene.”

While Clarke tended to believe the answer to the question was “yes,” he did warn that pundits had predicted the end of neo-con influence when President Reagan left office as well.

Clarke then listed several key characteristics of neo-conservative foreign policy:

-viewing the world in terms of the forces of good and evil
-rejection of diplomacy as a tool of international relations
-readiness to use military force as a first tool to achieve global goals
-disdain and rejection of international organizations
-concentration on the Middle East and the Persian Gulf

Years earlier I had labeled the neo-conservative foreign policy advocates the “globalists.” They were committed to an unbridled use of force to transform the world in the political, military, and economic interests of the United States. The doctrine of preemption epitomized this approach to the world. In his National Security Strategy document of 2002, and elsewhere, President Bush asserted the right to engage in military action against nations and/or groups that the United States perceived as a threat. The days of deterrence were over. The United States was prepared to act first.

While globalists dominated United States foreign policy off and on for the last thirty years, they have been challenged by foreign policy influentials I have called the “pragmatists.” Even though both the globalists and pragmatists are driven by the needs of capitalist expansion, the pragmatists see the world as much more complex and demanding of a variety of approaches to other countries and peoples.

Globalists are committed to acting unilaterally while pragmatists are multilateralists; that is they prefer to act in coalition with other nations. Pragmatists regard diplomacy as an important tool for relating to other nations, even when others are enemies.

Whereas globalists are militarists, pragmatists regard the use of the military as a last resort. And when pragmatists endorse the use of violence to achieve particular goals they choose subversion and small wars to big ones. Pragmatists regard international organizations as a site for diplomacy, coalition-building, and engaging in behaviors designed to communicate respect rather than distain for others. And finally, pragmatists usually embrace deterrence, rather than preemption, as their military doctrine.

Reflecting on Barack Obama’s first year in office we can see evidence of these two kinds of influences on his policymaking. Obama evidenced pragmatism in his performance at the first G20 meeting in London last spring. He engaged in public and private diplomacy and seemed to hear demands from the Global South about increasing its representation in the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. At the G20 meeting and elsewhere in his travels he admitted that the United States is responsible for some of the world’s problems.

Shortly after G20, Obama met with leaders of Western Hemisphere countries and was caught on camera shaking hands with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. In addition, he lifted some Bush era restrictions on the rights of Cuban Americans to travel to the island to visit relatives and increased the amount of money relatives could send to Cuba.

As to the Middle East and Persian Gulf, Obama demanded that the Israeli government halt construction of settlements in the occupied territories and began modest troop reductions from Iraq as part of a phased withdrawal. The President initiated some dialogue with the regime in Iran over the latter’s nuclear program.

In addition pragmatist Obama condemned the military coup in Honduras. And he canceled construction of a US missile shield in Eastern Europe.

However, the President has embraced a variety of policies that resemble those of his predecessors. He committed the United States to establishing seven US military bases in various parts of Colombia. This projected military presence has been coupled with strong words critical of the regime in Venezuela. Despite growing expectations, the Obama administration has not publicly demanded an end to the embargo of Cuba nor has his government acted to reverse the sentences of the Cuban 5. No significant action has been taken to insure that those who carried out the coup against President Zelaya step down. In fact, the administration has declared that it will respect the recently completed Honduran election.

The Obama administration seemed to reduce the pressure it originally applied to Israel about the occupied territories and ongoing violence against the Palestinian people. There still is a large US troop presence in Iraq. Defense Department budget requests continue to rise (despite a few publicized cases of contract cancellations for individual weapons systems).

Finally, President Obama last week announced a substantial increase of some 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan. He claimed that it was necessary to eliminate Al Queda from Afghanistan (even though there are less than 100 in the country) and keep the Taliban from power, even though the current Afghan regime is riddled with corruption and the eight-year war resembles the quagmire that was the Vietnam War.

While the political philosophy articulated or implied by President Obama is far from that of the neo-conservatives, these concrete policies that he has embraced do in fact resemble Reagan/Bush era policies. The language the current president uses to defend these policies do not have the apocalyptic and zealous quality that his predecessors utilized, but the consequences for targets of war and US military personnel are the same.

Perhaps the Obama foreign policy can best be described as a “hybrid globalist/pragmatist” approach. The first task of those committed to peace is to demand of the new president that he reverse, not shift toward, the policies of his predecessor.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Harry Targ

After a 1966 presentation by Dean Rusk before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Clifford Case of New Jersey commented about the Secretary of State that he could not have believed what he had just said about Vietnam. I thought of Case’s comments the other day after hearing that President Obama was going to announce the sending of 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan with a cost of $40 billion.

The President is a smart man. He knows that the demonic image of Al Qaeda as a world wide threat to the United States is about as accurate as the old story about the threat of international communism during the Cold War. He has to know that the Taliban and Al Qaeda have their own separate agendas. He has to understand that the Taliban have been motivated by two concerns: corrupt local government and foreign occupation of their country. Further, he has got to know that these foreign forces cannot subdue or defeat the Taliban in their own country because the population prefers them to the foreigners who are killing civilians and destroying what survives of their desperately poor country.

The President knows that his predecessor gained world wide condemnation for ignoring the traditional international relations tool of diplomacy. He has to see that countries in the region and those that share common cultures, languages, and religions are more likely to be able to defuse conflicts than the Christian superpower from North America.

Yes indeed, the President is a smart man. He knows that military spokespersons have always proposed exaggerated battle plans guaranteeing such favorable results as defeating indigenous enemies and strengthening friendly governments while enhancing the security of the United States. And most of all, Obama has to know what the Vietnam War did to the United States.

The Permanent War Economy

If he knows all these things why is the president going to expand U.S. military operations in Afghanistan? The answer to the question has its roots in the formation of the permanent war economy. The PWE was constructed during World War II as government, the corporate sector, and the military mobilized to defeat fascist armies in Europe and Asia. While others demobilized after the war (or were forced to do so), the United States launched a several trillion dollar program to build the largest war machine in world history.

As economist Ismael Hossein-zadeh reported, military spending has been the second largest item in the federal budget behind social security, which is really a self-financed fund. Quoting from William Hartung, U.S. military spending in 2008 was greater than the entire world combined and thirty times greater than all State Department operations. Military programs constituted over fifty percent of all discretionary spending.

Pollin and Garret-Peltier added that military spending rose from 3 percent to 4.3 percent of the GDP during the Bush years. In 2008, military spending in excess of $600 billion created approximately five million jobs, both military and defense industry related. As Seymour Melman documented years ago, military spending meant funding a huge bureaucracy, contracts for the defense industry, and sub-contracts for manufacturers that produce goods that find their way into weapons systems. Nowadays spending includes private armies, security forces, civilian contracted services for the military, homeland security programs, large grants to major research universities, and many more activities funded and related to military missions.

Of course, military spending is never justified in narrow institutional terms but rather in terms of grand projects and campaigns; fighting communism, combating terrorism, or checking drug smuggling. These campaigns are presented as almost timeless. For example, Tom Hayden has alerted us to the doctrine of the “long war” quoting a counter-insurgency strategist who in 2004 wrote that “there is a growing realization that the most likely conflicts of the next fifty years will be irregular warfare in an ‘Arc of Instability’ that encompasses much of the greater Middle East and parts of Africa and Central and South Asia.”

These campaigns are reinforced by the general proposition embedded in our political culture that there always has been war and there will always be war. Generals and media pundits from time to time comment on the need for this or that weapon system “for the next war.” The scourge of war will always be with us.

Threats to the Primacy of the Permanent War Economy

Debate about military missions today comes in the context of deep economic crisis and growing demands for scarce societal resources. Banks had to be bailed out. One in eight Americans are on food stamps. Health care needs to be reformed. Millions of people need jobs. Logic would suggest cutting back on military spending particularly since Pollin and Garrett-Peltier have shown once again that each billion in government expenditures in education would create almost three times more jobs than military spending. In fact, government investment in every civilian activity generates more jobs than investment in the military.

The newly released Economic Policy Institute “American Jobs Plan” includes a proposal for a $40 billion per year allocation of government funds to create one million public service jobs. The cost of this aspect of the EPI jobs program could be paid for with funds that will be going to expanding the war in Afghanistan instead.

So when we ask ourselves why military operations in Afghanistan will be expanded the answer seems clear. First, the military constitutes the largest organized, armed, and funded institution in American society. In today’s political economy it stands shoulder to shoulder with Wall Street as a source of almost unstoppable resistance to change. Second, military largesse trickles down throughout the society affecting manufacturing, scientific research, education, private armies, spy operations, and myriad other activities. Third, pentagon elites see the danger of this new administration reallocating spending to meet the needs of a crisis-ridden economy: health care, jobs, education, and transportation (it is interesting to note that Senators Lugar and Graham already have called for shelving health care reform until the battle in Afghanistan has been won). Finally, military institutional interests demanding increasing shares of government money use in their advocacy expanding wars playing upon the deeply embedded war-proneness of American culture.

What are the consequences of this analysis for peace? One conclusion is that grassroots activists must take on the permanent war economy. It has been an enduring feature of American foreign and domestic policy since the end of World War II. The wastefulness of military spending, the folly of claims made justifying each and every war, and the war culture must be challenged. In addition, peace and justice movements must show clearly that every dollar that is allocated for the military is a dollar that is not used to sustain life, create jobs, promote education, and provide for health care.