Thursday, February 20, 2014


Harry Targ

Sixty years ago, in March, 1954, National Security Document 5412 was distributed to President Eisenhower’s National Security Council by the Central Intelligence Agency recommending the adoption of a program of covert operations so that:

“U.S. Government responsibility for them is not evident and if uncovered the U.S. government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them. Specifically, such operations shall include…propaganda; political action; economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition; escape and evasion and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states or groups including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas and refugee liberation groups, support of indigenous and anti-communist elements; and deception plans and operations.” (Blanche Wiesen Cook, The Declassified Eisenhower; A Divided Legacy, Doubleday, New York, 1981).

A decade later Operation Plan 34A, a secret plan to pressure the North Vietnamese to lean on their comrades in the South to stop fighting the U.S. regime in South Vietnam, was discussed and adopted by the Lyndon Johnson administration. If that failed, it was hoped, the Indochinese peninsula would be so destabilized that the United States could justify a massive escalation of military involvement in South Vietnam.

Upon the death of President Kennedy, incumbent foreign policy advisers warned the new President, Lyndon Johnson, that the Saigon regime in South Vietnam was near collapse. A decade of repression including targeted killings of Vietnamese nationalists living below the 17th parallel (the once “temporary” dividing line between North and South Vietnam) was carried out by the odious regime of Ngo Dinh Diem. A destabilizing military coup in South Vietnam leading to the assassination of Diem and some of his extended family was carried out just three weeks before Kennedy himself was killed. 

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, supported by the Secretary of State Dean Rusk, military adviser Maxwell Taylor, and others, reported to the new President that the post-coup regime was unable to consolidate its power. The guerrilla movement in the South was growing and protest against the dictatorship in Saigon by the Buddhist community had increased. The short-term fix without U.S. intervention would be a neutral government in the South to be followed by a Communist one. 

While all agreed that victory by the rebels in the South, supported by Ho Chi Minh’s forces in the North, would be devastating for the struggle against international communism, the new President faced a dilemma. He wanted to run for president in 1964 and his likely opponent would be the Cold War hawk, Senator Barry Goldwater from Arizona. The American people, Johnson surmised, would not want to vote for a presidential candidate who had initiated significant military escalation in Southeast Asia. The dilemma as LBJ saw it was how to avoid “losing” South Vietnam while being able to run as the “peace” candidate for President in 1964 against the dangerous hawk Goldwater.

Defense intellectuals recommended Operation Plan 34A which was adopted in early February, 1964. The United States would provide training and resources for South Vietnamese troops to engage in covert sabotage against targets in North Vietnam. It was hoped that Commando raids north of the 17th parallel would convince the North Vietnamese to pressure their allies in the South to stop their war against the odious Saigon government.

In support of sabotage in the North, two naval vessels, the Maddox and C. Turner Joy, would be moved to the coastal waters of North Vietnam just above the 17th parallel with equipment to monitor the movement of North Vietnamese troops in the North as well as provide information about desirable targets of sabotage. In addition, the United States launched secret air strikes against targets in neighboring Laos to cut off any flow of supplies from North to South Vietnamese rebels.

Meanwhile, as the Operation 34A mission was carried out, the Joint Chiefs of Staff developed secret plans to escalate the war in Vietnam, if the opportunity to do so arose. Candidate Lyndon Johnson ran for President as the “peace candidate” while figuratively carrying in his pocket a resolution, which would become the nearly unanimously endorsed Congressional resolution (the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution) that would authorize the President to act as needed if threats to U.S. and South Vietnamese security were challenged. With reported attacks on the two spy ships in August, 1964, Congress gave the President the authority he needed to escalate the war in Vietnam. Of course, the American people did not know that the United States had engaged in covert war against the North Vietnamese for six months before the claimed attacks on U.S. naval vessels in North Vietnamese coastal waters in August, 1964.
In short, from that first meeting of the new President Johnson in December, 1963, with the foreign policy team held over from the Kennedy administration until the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in August, 1964, the Johnson administration had been supporting secret military operations in South Vietnam and against the North, and at the same time was planning broader U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war.

The connections seem clear between covert interventions in European and Latin American politics from the end of World War II to the formal articulation of such policies in NSC 5412 to Operation Plan 34A ten years later. They called for the use of whatever means were available to intervene and destabilize regimes and movements opposed to U.S. policy while always maintaining “plausible deniability” of any U.S. role in covert operations. The American people have been the last to learn about covert operations carried out by their government in countries all across the globe.

As the peace movement reflects on U.S. policy towards Chile, Jamaica, Cuba, and Angola in the 1970s;  Afghanistan, Central America, and Southern Africa in the 1980s; Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in the 1990s; and countries in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, East Asia, and Latin America in the new century, it should always be vigilant as the United States government, prominent politicians, and media pundits advocate for future interventions in places like Syria, the Ukraine, and Venezuela. 

Even though presidents have proclaimed commitments to foreign policy techniques of diplomacy, the use of economic rewards and punishments, and have advocated for very limited military operations such as the use of drones rather than “boots on the ground,” the tradition of covert operations remains a significant part of United States behavior in the world. The peace movement needs to examine the extent to which such covert operations undergird the United States role in Syria, Venezuela, and the Ukraine today.

Saturday, February 1, 2014


By Carl Davidson and Harry Targ

Progressive America Rising

In the lead-up to President Obama’s speech Chris Hayes, MSNBC host, presented a segment on the national mobilization of low wage workers in 2013. He described courageous work stoppages by fast food workers, campaigns by public employees, particularly health care and home care workers, and how seemingly isolated pockets of protest spread like wild fire across the nation.

This, Hayes suggested, stimulated progressive groups, selected Congresspersons, and visible pundits such as Robert Reich and Paul Krugman to reemphasize the economic crisis the American working class is facing, particularly youth, people of color, women, and older workers. Hayes suggested that we are on the verge of a new mass movement and that Obama would capture the spirit of this movement in his State of the Union address.

President Obama took the podium a little after 9 pm Eastern Standard Time and presented a State of the Union address that referred to income inequality, the need for immigration reform, creating jobs by renovating the transportation infrastructure, and reducing greenhouse case emissions to forestall climate change.

Specific resolutions and demands were articulated. He did announce that he would use his executive authority to require that the minimum wage of companies with government contracts be raised to $10.10 an hour. He urged Congress, states, and municipalities to follow and raise their minimum wages as well.

He recommended the creation of a new program that would allow workers who do not have pensions to invest in a government created pension fund, similar to 401Ks.

He praised growing government business partnerships and collaboration with colleges and universities to extend job training, make college more affordable, and create a 21st century work force that he claimed could fill the jobs that are not being filled now. 

Finally, while vowing to continue national security policies (including in not so many words a ‘war on terrorism’), he announced he was committed to bringing almost all troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. He promised to support certain sectors of the Syrian opposition and remain ready for military action but was committed to negotiations now with Iran, Syrian factions and Israelis and Palestinians to end their bitter conflicts. He declared, however, that he would veto any Congressional bill that came across his desk that called for increased sanctions against Iran, now during the difficult negotiation process with that country. He pointed out in perhaps his most significant statement, that the Obama administration would lead the United States away from “a permanent war footing.”

In addition, in list-like fashion he called for equal pay for equal work, full and unfettered access of all to vote, the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and increased attention to veterans benefits.
His most sustained applause came after he introduced a marine sergeant who had served ten assignments in Afghanistan and was partially disabled as a result of stepping on a land mine in his last assignment. 

As Chris Hayes pointed out, there was a clear contradiction between the horrific circumstances surrounding the physical devastation the Marine experienced and the applause it engendered from the assembled Congress people versus the tepid applause the President received after declaring his opposition to staying on a war footing.

The Marine lost a limb, was half blind, could barely speak, and suffered visible cosmetic damage to his body, Hayes argued, precisely because the United States is on a permanent war footing that most politicians support.

In total, the speech reflected the fact that Obama is “back in the game,” but things still aren’t looking good for most of us. The president tilted back to the center-left a bit, and reminded his base why many gave him a vote over McCain and Romney. As suggested above, Obama vowed to veto the effort of the current bipartisan 60-member ‘war party’, backed by AIPAC, to sabotage negotiations with Iran in favor of military confrontation there straightaway. He also declared that the Afghan war would be ended this year, with one caveat of a residual training and anti-al-Quaeda strike force possibly remaining. But all the rest of foreign policy matters were well within the bounds of Empire-as-usual.

On the domestic front, his policies represented just modest Neo-Keynesian responses to capitalism’s crisis, while rejecting the do-nothing GOP neoliberalism of the right. To break the deadlock imposed by the GOP House, he vowed to go around Congress with executive action where possible–raising the minimum hourly wage of all workers under federal contracts to $10.10, adjusted energy policies, new retirement bonds from the US Treasury, and so on.

None of these could pack enough clout, however, to do what clearly needs to be done, a massive public works and full employment program in the form of a Green New Deal, defense and expansion of Social Security and the safety net, and powerful employment and training opportunities for the inner cities. There were a few good ideas about connecting community colleges with job markets, but he still clung to a muddled educational policy favoring charter schools and limiting the ability of teachers to do their jobs well. He made powerful rhetorical appeals for women’s rights, with an eye to the GOP’s ‘war on women’ weak spot, but had little to say about the need for a stronger union movement to raise wages and improve conditions across the board. Instead, he just appealed to the bosses to ‘do better.’  He was silent on curbing finance capital.

Chris Mathews, another MSNBC pundit, characterized the speech as a “center/left speech” designed to appeal to the “center/right.” In this sense, the President was not speaking to the masses of working people, shown in the Hayes vignette on workers in protest, who have begun mobilizing to demand increased wages, the right to form unions, health and safety at the workplace, health care for all, and a real jobs agenda that would not continue the downward spiral of the environment.

The job of progressives remains: helping to give voice to those who have hit the streets; demanding that our politicians join them, not the rightwing and Wall Street factions. We in CCDS need to continue our struggles and work with others to raise the minimum wage and extend jobless benefits.
And, ultimately those of us on the left need to more loudly offer an alternative to the Neo-Keynesian policies articulated in the State of the Union with a compelling message that “another world is possible.”

(Carl Davidson is a co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS). Harry Targ is a Professor of Political Science and is a member of the National Executive Committee of CCDS. The views expressed in the article reflect the authors’ assessments and do not represent CCDS or any other organizations).