Monday, February 29, 2016


Harry Targ

I think President Obama made the right decision at the time. And the Libyan people had a free election the first time since 1951.And you know what, they voted for moderates, they voted with the hope of democracy. Because of the Arab Spring, because of a lot of things, there was turmoil to follow.”(Hillary Clinton quoted in Conor Freidersdorf, ‘Hillary Defends Her Failed War in Libya,” The Atlantic, October 14, 2015,

Nearly three and a half years after Libyan rebels and a NATO air campaign overthrew Muammar al-Qaddafi, the cohesive political entity known as Libya doesn’t exist.” ( Frederic Wehrey quoted in Conor Friedersdorf)

Building an Empire

In a recent book by distinguished diplomatic historian Lloyd Gardner (“Three Kings: The Rise of an American Empire in the Middle East After World War II,” The New Press, 2009), the author describes the last day of the historic Yalta Conference just before the end of World War II in which the leaders of the allied powers met: President Franklin Roosevelt, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

The President informed his colleagues that he had to leave the next day to fly to Egypt. Stalin, according to Gardner, protested saying that there was still unfinished business to discuss (The Yalta Conference in February, 1945 was the last conference the three leaders held before the end of World War II in Europe. In it they were deciding on the shape of the post-war international system).

Gardner reports that FDR explained his surprising departure by saying that he had “three kings waiting for him in the Near East, including Ibn Saud.” Churchill correctly believed that the premature departure and visit to Egypt was part of a United States plan to, in Churchill’s words, develop “some deep laid plot to undermine the British Empire in these areas” (16). And Gardner goes on: “It did not take a suspicious mind to observe that World War II had provided the United States with economic and political weapons—starting with the prewar Lend Lease Act—for Uncle Sam to commence rearranging remnants of the old European empires into an American-styled world order” (17).

What is called the Middle East today for centuries had been the cross-roads of civilizations and the center of worldwide religions. From the thirteenth to the twentieth century much of the area was dominated by the Ottoman Empire, of which Turkey is the current survivor. That empire, weakened and destroyed during World War I, was replaced by the declining British and French empires. After the war Britain and France secured “mandates” to divide up and rule the countries formerly under the yoke of the Ottoman Empire. The Sykes-Picot agreement (a secret arrangement between these countries) divided up the region such that France would dominate Syria and Lebanon while Britain would control Palestine, Iraq, and Transjordan. The British already had influence over Egypt, Iran, and Aden (Yemen). Minor power Italy occupied Libya in 1911. The British also promised European Zionists that Palestine would become a homeland for Jewish people in the Balfour Declaration and Arab leaders that Arab peoples would have sovereign control of their own lands. The British influenced the rise of Gulf States and military/political forces in the region led to the emergence of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the 1930s. Central to the competition for empire was the discovery of massive reserves of oil in the region.

Roosevelt’s announcement that he was leaving Yalta early to visit Middle East dictators presaged a major thrust of United States foreign policy. The vision was not only to weaken the influence of the Soviet Union but to replace the declining European empires as the hegemonic world powers. To achieve that goal required control of oil and the Middle East and the Persian Gulf states had the world’s largest reserves of that natural resource.

Defending an Empire

To build the American empire after World War II the United States reached out to construct alliances with pliable Middle East elites, made deals with those who were modestly independent, or undermined, invaded, and overthrew regimes which represented a threat to US hegemony.

First, President Roosevelt constructed an informal alliance in perpetuity with Saudi Arabia whereby guarantees of military security, arms sales, and trade would be exchanged for Saudi oil and support during periods of instability in the region. 

Second, the United States overthrew the regime of the elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran because he had nationalized his country’s oil resource. In his place, a pliant autocrat, the Shah Mohammad Pahlavi was installed and seven United States oil companies gained control of forty percent of Iran’s oil. When the Iranian people overthrew the Shah in 1979, the United States tilted toward Iran’s hostile neighbor, Iraq. During the 1980s, the United States provided arms, including weapons of mass destruction, to Iraq, as an eight-year war ensued, leading to a million Iranian/Iraqi deaths.

Third, Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, mistakenly believing the United States would support its action. Changing sides, President George Herbert Walker Bush, built a coalition to launch Gulf War I. The Iraqi military was forced from Kuwait, and subsequently a long economic embargo was imposed on Iraq followed by repeatedly bombing targets in that country. 

Fourth, the United States supported the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and by the late 1960s made the latter its number one military and economic aid recipient on a per capita basis. President Eisenhower in a 1957 speech labeled the Eisenhower Doctrine declared that the Middle East was vital to US national security. American policymakers opposed secular nationalism in Egypt and Syria, particularly Egyptian President Nasser’s attempt to form a United Arab Republic with Syria in 1958. The Carter Doctrine enunciated in 1980 just one year after the Iranian Revolution, proclaimed the Persian Gulf region another area of prime concern to US security. The United States continued to stand on the side of Israel in military conflicts with Palestinians, encouraging the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.  During the Reagan years, the United States tilted toward Iraq and in 1986 bombed targets in Libya with the clear intention of killing that country’s leader.

In sum, since President Roosevelt’s symbolic meeting with Middle Eastern leaders, the United States has engaged in a consistent foreign policy designed to replace the historic empires—Ottoman, British, and French—with its own; using diplomacy, economic ties, subversion, and force. 

Confronting an Empire in Decline

The construction of an empire in the Middle East has been confounded by multiple challenges over the years. The overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979 was one. Another was the periodic emergence of leaders in countries who based their popularity on appeals to nationalism; that is the rejection of control from old or new empires. Nasser in Egypt was an example as were Qaddafi in Libya and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. When leaders emerged who claimed to be supportive of building secular states, American policymakers sought to network with theocratic opponents, such as Osama bin Laden in the case of Afghanistan in the 1980s. To justify support from the American people, policies were explained by referring to the communist threat, the perils of national security, the threats against Israel, facilitating economic development, and building democracies in the region. The most dramatic grassroots opposition to dictatorship at home and empire abroad was the 2011 Arab Spring; encompassing popular protest from Tunisia, to Bahrain, to Egypt.  Arab Spring would be used one year later not to support the grassroots in the region but as a rationale for the US war on Libya.

In response to the mass murders committed at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, the George Walker Bush Administration launched a “war on terrorism.” This trope which would guide popular defense of US foreign policy ever since would justify aggression as a necessary response to claimed threats of foreign and domestic enemies. The Bush Administration invaded Afghanistan, and, based on lies, initiated the war on Iraq. With these two wars, stability in the region began to deconstruct. Although most United States troops were withdrawn after President Obama assumed office, interventions continued all around the region  using private armies, military aid, and increasing drone warfare. US military operations were carried out in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Syria and a military command structure called AFRICOM was established to send US troops into African countries. In each of these locations terrorists groups emerged and grew in response.
Then came the war on Libya, a war against the Qaddafi regime that was enthusiastically endorsed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The United States secured a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing using air power to protect dissenters opposed to the regime. The United States and its NATO allies used the authority of the United Nations resolution to launch a massive bombing campaign that destabilized Libya. The brutal bombing campaign facilitated the destruction of the regime. Qaddafi was captured and killed. In the aftermath of the US/NATO war on Libya competing political forces emerged destroying the social fabric of the country. As Frederic Wehrey suggests “the cohesive political entity known as Libya  doesn’t exist.”

And Now the 2016 Election

While Hillary Clinton offers her active support for the Libyan War as proof of her experience and wisdom in guiding foreign policy, the years since 2011 have shown just the opposite. A Libyan government no longer exists. Hundreds of thousands of Libyans and migrants from elsewhere have been forced to flee. Terrorist organizations, not there before 2011, have operations in that country, launching assaults across North Africa and the Persian Gulf, and the relative stability and wealth of the country have been destroyed. 

In addition, it has become clear that US policy toward Libya was not about “democracy,” what some call “humanitarian interventionism,” but forestalling Qaddafi’s efforts to build a new, vibrant, independent African Union that would oppose US troops on the continent  (AFRICOM), limit US corporate investments in natural resource extraction in the Sahel, and encourage growing Chinese commerce in Africa.

The Sanders campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination has been correctly based on opposition to the excessive consolidation of wealth and power in the United States. The issues comprising this agenda are vital to the health, well-being, and future of the American people. The future also is dependent upon the abandonment of the United States empire. The rise of the military/industrial complex and the tragic loss of life and treasure are inextricably tied to a foreign policy motivated by the vision of US global hegemony. 

There is a direct lineage between President Roosevelt’s early departure from the peace conference at Yalta to visit Middle East dictators and candidate Hillary Clinton’s prideful defense of the overthrow of the regime in Libya. The results of this historic drive for empire have been and continue to be growing anger in the region, terrorism, mass migrations, enormous human suffering, and a bloated commitment to military/spending and pro-war sentiment in the United States. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016


Harry Targ

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich, other noted conservatives such as Senator Jesse Helms, and the billionaire Koch Brothers, to raise money and to coordinate the creation of a counter-revolution in the American political system. Its vision was one of deregulation, privatization, weakening workers’ rights, and the facilitation of the unbridled accumulation of private wealth. The result of these policies would reverse positive government; the idea that for societies to function public energies, resources, and commitments are needed to create and maintain institutions to serve the people. 

ALEC established a network of prominent politicians at the national and state levels, created well-funded lobby groups,  supported “research” to justify reactionary public policies, and funneled money to conservative political candidates running for office virtually everywhere and at all levels of government. ALEC created “model” legislation to be introduced verbatim in legislative bodies everywhere on subjects including right-to-work, charter schools, and privatization of pensions. While politicians pay dues to join ALEC, over 98 percent of ALEC’s  budget comes from corporate contributions from such economic and political influentials as Exxon/Mobil, the Koch Brothers, the Coors family, and the Scaife family. 

ALEC claims to have 2,000 legislative members and over 300 corporate members. Corporations which have benefited legislatively from their affiliations with ALEC include but are not limited to Altria/Philip Morris USA, Humana, United Healthcare, Corrections Corporation of America, and Connections Academy.

One of ALEC’s prominent projects is the creation of the “State Policy Network,” a collection of think tanks in almost every state (funded up to $83 million) to generate research “findings” to justify the rightwing model legislation generated by ALEC. SPN studies have been disseminated on education, healthcare, workers’ rights, energy and the environment, taxes, government spending, and wages and income equality (Center For Media and Democracy, “Exposed: The State Policy Network,” November, 2013, p.6,

Of particular concern to workers are the ALEC model bills that have been introduced in states including:

-right-to-work legislation
-rules increasing the freedom of governments to hire non-union contractors
-reducing pensions for government employees
-repealing minimum wage laws
- eliminating prevailing wage laws for construction workers
-encouraging so-called “free trade” to outsource work
-privatizing public services
-gutting workers’ compensation

The Deep State

The role of ALEC, the Koch Brothers, and the largest multinational corporations and banks in America suggest that politics increasingly occurs at two levels. First, at the level of transparency we observe politics as “games,” largely about electoral contests, gossip and frivolous rhetoric. News junkies avidly consume this first level glued to the television or computer.

However, Mike Lofgren, a former Republican Congressional aide has introduced the idea of another level of politics, what he calls the “deep state.” Lofgren defines the “deep state” as  “… a hybrid association of elements of government and parts of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern in the United States without reference to the consent of the governed as expressed through the formal political process.”  (Mike Lofgren, “Anatomy of the ‘Deep State’: Hiding in Plain Sight,” Online University of the Left, February 23, 2014).   Others have referred in similar ways to invisible power structures that rule America (from C. W. Mills’ 1950s classic The Power Elite, Oxford University Press, 2000 to Robert Perrucci, Earl Wysong, and David Wright, The New Class Society: Goodbye American Dream?, Rowman and Littlefield, 2013).  

The distinction between politics as contests vs. the deep state suggest that the power to make critical decisions reside not in the superstructure of the political process; the place where competitive games are played for all to see, but in powerful institutions embedded in society that can make decisions without requiring popular approval. In domestic politics, the “deep state” apparatus such as ALEC and its network of organizational ties has initiated a resource-rich campaign--from the school board and city council to the state and nation--to destroy the links between government and the people. And the public face of the deep state includes the selective and manipulative character of experts, pundits, and major sources of news in the media. 

Indiana Politics

Perhaps the starkest fact to note in reference to the growing economic insecurity in the state of Indiana over time is that in 1970 forty percent of Hoosier workers were in unions. Today only 11 percent of Indiana workers are in trade unions. The most recent legislative defeats Indiana workers have suffered include passage of a right- to-work law and repeal of the state version of prevailing wage. The Daniels/Pence administrations have used charter schools and vouchers to destroy teachers unions. (In addition, in his first day in office in January, 2004, newly elected Governor Mitch Daniels signed an executive order disallowing state employees the right to form unions). 

In 2005 the Indiana state government (legislature and governor) passed the first and most extreme voter identification law. Michael Macdonald a University of Florida political scientist estimated that requiring voter IDs reduces voter participation by 4-5 percent, hitting the poor and elderly the hardest. In addition, Indiana law ends voter registration in the state one month before election day (the polar opposite of same-day registration). And, polls close at 6 p.m. election day, among the earliest closing times in the country. Finally, requests for absentee ballots require written excuses. 

Republican control of the executive and both legislative branches since 2010 led to redistricting which further empowered Republicans and weakened not only Democrats but the young and old and the African American community. As to the state legislature, in 2014 of 125 state legislative seats up for election, 69 were uncontested. Most shockingly, 2014 Indiana voter turnout was 28 percent, the lowest state turnout in the country.

Traditionally when Democrats were in the Governor’s mansion and/or controlled a branch of the legislature, they too tended to support neoliberal economic policies, but less draconian, and had been more moderate on social policy questions. In recent years, in part as a result of support from ALEC, the two most recent governors and the state legislature have become Republican and most of the draconian ALEC legislative agenda has been passed.

With ALEC money, some active Tea Party organizations, the growth of rightwing Republican power, and centrist Democrats, Indiana government has initiated some of the most regressive policies in the country in reference to voting rights, education, taxing, and deregulation. And the political economy of Indiana has increased the suffering of the vast majority of working families in the state including the worsening of access to health care, education, the environment, transportation, and physical infrastructure.

ALEC money, influence, and control have played a significant role in shifting state policy in a reactionary direction, weakening public institutions, redistributing wealth and income to the very few, increasingly marginalizing people of color, and threatening the foundations of democratic institutions. And perhaps most threatening for the state’s future is the fact that transparency is being subverted by the emergence of the “deep state.”

For further information see “ALEC Exposed” at

Sunday, February 21, 2016


Harry Targ

Perhaps the most useful definition of “ideology” is one that refers to a body of interconnected ideas or a system of thought about how the world works. These ideas often explain the meaning of life, how and why society is organized the way it is, and also how it ought to be organized. However, ideas do not come from the ether. They come from class position and concrete interests, background, social status, and education by family, schools, peer groups, and popular culture. (Diary of a Heartland Radical, “The Three Ideologies in American Life,” September 20, 2015).

Ideologies are ways of explaining reality. They may not be presented in a systematic or mathematical or rigorous way but the careful listener can discern  their underlying messages. And, of course, the messenger has a point of view that usually comes from his or her economic or political position. At base, ideologies are reflections of the interests of those who articulate them and believe in them. All this is becoming more important to understand and process during the 2016 election season.

One ideological pole is committed to what the world knows as the “neoliberal” ideology. It promotes a twenty-first century capitalist agenda. It supports financial speculation and privileges wealth and entrenched political power. To maintain profits austerity policies in neoliberalism’s name are imposed on working classes. War and preparation for war are necessitated by the resistance to the globalization of these policies. The application of this ideology domestically and internationally requires compliant support from the vast majority of workers, women, and minorities. And critical to it, the neoliberal ideology presents itself as what it is not. It is not a perspective that represents the interests of the 99 percent. And to justify its perpetuation its supporters say what former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used to proclaim; “there is no alternative.”

A second ideological pole has two variants. In the short run either of these may be more a danger to humankind than neoliberalism. The first variant is the “virtues of wealth” ideology. Wealth, however it is secured, is its own justification. The wealthy are virtuous. The wealthy are wise. And the wealthy therefore are ordained to rule. Since most workers, most people of color, most women are poor, by definition they are unworthy of respect as human beings. And masses of people the “virtues of wealth” ideology suggests, can trust the brash rugged individualist super-wealthy individual to rule because he does not represent traditional institutionalized economic or political power. The wealthy few are like deities to be revered and obeyed. And to be clear, this view is profoundly anti-human and justifies unlimited violence at home and abroad on the basis of what the virtuous leader decides is necessary.

A second variant of this ideological pole, the “fundamentalist” ideology, rationalizes opposition to government in theological terms. The only way to rescue humanity, this ideology suggests, is to follow a particular god embedded in some kind of supernatural fundamentalism; a fundamentalism that regards opponents as monsters. While its current promoters portray the social order in terms of existent evil only to be saved by religious good, their political positions would continue to reward wealth and power at the expense of the vast majority and would lead to enormous violence against people everywhere, who are seen as infidels. Whether the leaders derive their legitimacy from their wealth or their special piety, it is their task to lead and the peoples’ to follow.

A third ideological pole, “building 21st century socialism,” is based upon the proposition that all social institutions, including government, should serve the people, all the people. It is based upon the sanctity of human life and the belief that it is through society that each and every individual can achieve her/his potential. Concretely this means real economic justice, democracy, fairness in the law, and peace. The issues embedded in  the 21st century socialist vision involve education, health care, environmental sustainability, jobs, adequate income, and the development of programs to attack racism, sexism, homophobia, and all forms of discrimination. This third ideological pole asserts, as the World Social Forum proclaimed a long time ago, that “another world is possible.” 

From the vantage point of the radically different character of these ideologies, the 2016 election becomes very important. In the long run given the growing danger of violence to nature and people, building 21st century socialism offers the only possibility for building a just and environmentally sustainable world.

It is important to note that the continuation of or defeat of any of these will not be determined by the election of any one person. Victories and defeats are more about the power of political movements and the magnitude of electoral victories or defeats in the service of these movements. But there is no question that the momentum that emerges from the election battles of 2016 matters.

For those on the Left, the only real option for the survival of humankind is 21st century socialism. And the achievement of it will require a long term struggle for the consciousness of the people.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


Reposted as part of a discussion of the role of the United States in the world 

Harry Targ

Political upheaval in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia is reshaping migration trends in Europe. The number of illegal border-crossing detections in the EU started to surge in 2011, as thousands of Tunisians started to arrive at the Italian island of Lampedusa following the onset of the Arab Spring. Sub-Saharan Africans who had previously migrated to Libya followed in 2011–2012, fleeing unrest in the post-Qaddafi era. The most recent surge in detections along the EU's maritime borders has been attributed to the growing numbers of Syrian, Afghan, and Eritrean migrants and refugees. Jeanne Park, “Europe’s Migration Crisis,” CFR Backgrounder,  September 23, 2015,

The Council on Foreign Relations Backgrounder recognizes the massive crisis of migration brought on by upheavals all across the Global South. It identifies the massive migrations from Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and the Horn of Africa. But, interestingly enough the title suggests that the focus of concern is not as much about the pain and suffering of the people forced to migrate as the problem migration presents to the countries of the European Union.

A dispassionate analysis of the causes of this twenty-first century wave of migration should inevitably lead to what may be referred to as “horrific moments in United States foreign policy.” These horrific moments, since the late 1940s, are central to understanding the pain and suffering of millions of people around the world. Horrific refers to human tragedies of such magnitude that they leave millions killed, injured, displaced, or unable to sustain life because of forces external to their ideas and actions. Moments refers to key policy decisions that reasonable persons can view as instrumental to the development of these human tragedies. United States foreign policy suggests that the United States has made policy decisions that have been inextricably connected to the human tragedies of the last sixty years.

Five such horrific moments in United States foreign policy need to be recognized for their consequences for humankind. First, in 1950 the United States embarked on global military operations in response to conflicts on the Korean peninsula. Korean political life was in disarray after World War II and the United States and the former Soviet Union stepped into the fray to “temporarily” occupy the North and South. But the growing conflict between Koreans was not started by the two powers but was the result of internal political struggle among the Korean people. The point here is that after North Korean troops invaded South Korea, the United States, officially supported by the then pro-US United Nations, launched a large-scale military response. And, in violation of the UN resolution, the United States took the war to the North. 

The end result of the expanded Korean War was that it set the precedent for United States sending troops anywhere in the world. The war justified dramatic increases in military spending. And it made military spending a permanent fixture of US economic and political life. Most importantly, it destroyed the Korean peninsula, particularly the economic infrastructure in the North; led to millions of Koreans killed, wounded, and displaced; and 37,000 US soldiers killed. The Korean War was the first instance of many in which the United States and the Soviet Union would be fighting the Cold War in the Global South.

Second, the Korean War established the principle that the US would engage in major wars elsewhere as circumstances were seen as necessary. The next war was in Vietnam. The war began in 1950 and the “moment” continued until 1975.  The long agonizing experience involved repeating decisions escalating war: from funding the French colonial overseers of Vietnam; to creating and training a new government in South Vietnam; to sending thousands of specially trained counter-insurgency fighters; to transferring over 500,000 US soldiers to Vietnam; to massive bombing; the dropping of napalm; the killing of 3-4 million Vietnamese people; and unleashing genocidal violence in neighboring Cambodia.

Third, following multiple military and covert operations, the Reagan Administration embarked on a war against Central American peoples leading to about 200,000 deaths, injuries, and thousands set afoot seeking economic and military survival through desperate migrations to the north. Nicaragua was targeted for attack because the President’s neoconservative policy advisors regarded that country as a surrogate of the dreaded Soviet Union. US money and military advisors were allotted to help a dictatorship try to defeat a peasant guerrilla movement in El Salvador. The United States funded Guatemalan militarists who were engaging in a genocidal policy against the indigenous people of that country. Honduras was armed and became the military base for the wars of Central America. 

In the twenty-first century the Bush administration waged war against Afghanistan and Iraq.  The Taliban, who came to power in the 1990s after a long civil war in Afghanistan which began in 1979, created relative stability but were alleged to be partners to the crimes of 9/11. President Bush ordered the Afghanistan government to release Osama Bin Laden to US authorities or face war. When they refused the US attacked that country and thus created permanent instability. The war on Afghanistan is now America’s longest war. And Afghanistan is poorer, more devastated, and less stable than in October, 2001, when the war started.

The lies about why the United States had to make war on Iraq are common knowledge. Even if morality and international law are not brought to the analysis, everything the United States did and is still doing in Iraq has been wrong. After nearly a decade of war, The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) emerged with powerful military force and some popular support and is challenging the Iraqi government, the Kurds, the Turkish government, the Syrian government, and any other outside forces.If the regional instability brought on by the Afghan and Iraq wars were not enough, the Obama administration, with NATO collaboration, led a massive bombing assault that destroyed the relatively stable Libyan regime setting in motion, internal violence, instability, and emigration.

Several lessons can be drawn from these “horrific moments in United States foreign policy.” The pursuit of United States hegemony has generated violence all across the globe. This violence has destabilized stable political regimes, led to mass slaughter of the peoples of these countries, created opposition forces which now are targeting American citizens and institutions in the affected areas. In addition, the United States and other arms merchants have increased the flow of armaments to Asia, the Persian Gulf the Middle East, and Latin America. The overwhelming casualties of war since the end of World War II have been citizens of the Global South, people of color. In addition, these horrific moments have cost Americans billions of dollars and probably almost one million deaths and injuries sustained by United States soldiers. 

Finally, referring to the migration problem that the Council of Foreign Relations Backgrounder referred to above, much of it is due to the horrific moments in United States foreign policy. The Korean and Vietnam Wars legitimized war strategies and military interventionism to achieve US global goals. These strategies continued in Central America, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya creating a worldwide and desperate population of people fleeing war, ethnic hatreds, and poverty.
These are some of the historic foreign policy realities that must be addressed during the 2016 election season.