Saturday, December 31, 2016


Harry Targ

Richard Cohen is one of the Washington Post columnists who is published in small town, conservative newspapers. His December 30, 2016 column which appeared in the Lafayette Journal and Courier entitled “Syria, a Stain on Obama’s Presidency,” lays out a critique from the foreign policy establishment of the president’s foreign policy. Cohen starkly argues that Obama’s Syria policy is second only in its disastrous consequences to “the day of infamy” when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Why? Because...“Turkey, Iran and Russia met in Moscow to settle matters in the Middle East. The United States wasn’t even asked to the meeting.”

Cohen complains about the fact that the United States never engaged in the Syrian civil war. As to Aleppo, “the preeminent power of the region did virtually nothing.” Cohen indicated that Obama could have installed a “no-fly zone,” “established safe zones for refugees,” and demanded that Russia and Iran get out of Syria. But, alas, “Obama did not care enough.”

And, in the end, for Cohen, the cool, sometimes tempered President Obama was too dispassionate about foreign policy. Part of the Clinton presidential defeat resulted from the fact that she had to defend an Obama administration “that was cold to the touch.” The President “waved a droopy flag. He did not want to make America great again. It was great enough for him already.” As to Syria, “he threw in the towel.”

And Cohen repeated the mantra often articulated by Post editorial writers and columnists: “Since the end of World War II, American leadership has been essential to maintain world peace. Whether we liked it or not, we were the world’s policeman. There was no other cop on the beat. Now that leadership is gone. So, increasingly, will be peace.”

Cohen is wrong in virtually everything he wrote in this column. First, for the brutalized people of Syria any ceasefire and resolution of their civil war should be applauded. If the agreement between Turkey, Russia, and Syria holds it would be an extraordinary change from the relentless violence Syrians have suffered, from multiple parties.

In addition, the United States has been involved in the civil war since it grew out of Arab Spring protests in Syria in 2011. Most of the weapons various rebel groups have used since violence escalated have been provided by the United States, Saudi Arabia, or other partners. The U.S. hope was that the Assad regime would fall in a fashion similar to the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya.

Further, as Robert Kennedy Jr. points out (“Why the Arabs Don’t Want Us in Syria,” Politico Magazine, February 22, 2016), the United States has been interfering in Syrian affairs since the 1940s. Instability in the whole region-the Persian Gulf and the Middle East-has resulted from United States imperial policies since the end of World War II. What Cohen calls “American leadership” has included the 1945 oil for arms deal with Saudi Arabia; the creation of the state of Israel; growing involvement in the internal affairs of Syria, Iran, and Lebanon; opposition to the Arab socialism of Egypt and Syria; the Eisenhower Doctrine declaring the U.S. right and responsibility to protect the region from communism; to wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain in the contemporary period. Contrary to Cohen, the United States has done more than any other country to destabilize the region and destroy peace.

In terms of the general character of United States foreign policy, President Obama’s biggest failure has been his wavering from the pragmatic path he proposed in 2008 campaign speeches. Candidate Obama articulated the view that diplomacy should be the first tool any administration uses in foreign affairs. Diplomacy involves bilateral and multilateral negotiations, using various institutional venues such as the United Nations, regional organizations, and international economic institutions. And the use of diplomacy is particularly important in relations with countries that are enemies or potential enemies. The United States needs to have channels of communications with those nations who may not share its values or interests.

In addition, the Obama election was greeted with elation all across the globe because he presented the view that the United States needs to respect other countries, cannot be the world’s policeman, and must not act unilaterally has had been done in Afghanistan, Iraq, and in numerous other countries since the last World War. Perhaps Obama’s greatest foreign policy achievements have involved diplomacy with Iran, Cuba, and even sometime cooperation with Russia. Early in his first term he attended a meeting of the G20 countries and seemed to endorse a greater international decision-making role for the countries of the Global South.

But President Obama was subjected to the pressures, the advice, and the sabotage of his pragmatic approach to the U.S. role in the world by a confluence of “humanitarian interventionists,” those who justify intervention on the grounds of promoting human rights, democratization, and markets. Richard Cohen and The Washington Post are exemplars of this perspective.

And also Obama could not withstand the equally powerful pressures of the neoconservatives who take the view that as the most powerful country militarily the United States should intervene everywhere to remake the world in its image. For the neocons, world affairs are ultimately about power. The neoconservatives populate Washington D.C. in think tanks and other institutions. Some were foreign policy advisers in the Bush administration and some hold positions of influence within the Obama administration.

Whether inspired by humanitarian interventionists or neoconservatives, the dark side of Obama’s foreign policy has been illustrated by expanding a military presence in Afghanistan, returning to Iraq, working with NATO to overthrow the regime in Libya, collaborating with Saudi Arabia to crush rebels in Bahrain and Yemen, dramatically increasing drone warfare on a multitude of “enemy” targets, participating in the destabilization of the government of Ukraine, launching a new cold war against Russia, pivoting U.S. military resources to Asia against China, and funding rebels in Syria.

In sum, the track record of President Obama has been tragically flawed not because he “threw in the towel” but because he did not adequately pursue the pragmatic foreign policy agenda he promised his supporters in 2008. Mike Lofgren, (The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, Penguin Books, 2015), writes about a “deep state,” a set of non-transparent institutions, think tanks, and long-time political influentials who determine most of United States foreign policy without any semblance of visibility to the public. As Andrew Bacevich once wrote, the role of the public is to be compliant and supportive of whatever foreign policy decisions are made by these less than transparent influentials.

Occasionally, the President and key spokespersons and publicists are called upon to explain ongoing foreign policies to the public and/or to criticize deviations from the direction of policy a President might initiate. The Washington Post and its pundits explain what the U.S. role in the world should be, “the world policeman,” and call into question any efforts, such as Obama’s pragmatism, when they deviate from what the wise men and women and the deep state institutions demand.

Finally, what Richard Cohen, and other humanitarian interventionists and their neoconservative colleagues, does not realize is that the United States is no longer the hegemonic power in the world. United States foreign policy is going to have to adjust to a multipolar world and a world mobilized for radical economic, as well as political change. The supporters of Obama’s foreign policy vision were inspired by an approach to international relations that while still based on big power muscle was at least tailored for a more complicated world. The alternative might be World War III.

It is unclear what the direction of U.S. foreign policy will be in a Trump administration but most signs point to greater militarism and interventionism. A first response from the peace movement might be to rearticulate the vision of a foreign policy pragmatism that was promised but not delivered by President Obama when he first ran for the presidency.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Turn, Turn, Turn

A Reposted Essay for the Season

Harry Targ : Season for Hope, Season for Struggle

‘I swear it’s not too late’
Turn! Turn! Turn!
By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / December 19, 2009

Turn, Turn, Turn (chorus)
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

(Words from Ecclesiastes; text adapted and music by Pete Seeger)
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, naïve 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.

Saturday, December 10, 2016


Harry Targ

 The Washington Post late Friday night published an explosive story that, in many ways, is classic American journalism of the worst sort: the key claims are based exclusively on the unverified assertions of anonymous officials, who in turn are disseminating their own claims about what the CIA purportedly believes, all based on evidence that remains completely secret. Glenn Greenwald, “Anonymous Leaks to the WashPost About the CIA’s Russia Beliefs Are No Substitute for Evidence,” The Intercept, 12/10/16.

The “liberal” cable news outlet MSNBC, print media, and social media went ballistic Friday night, December 9, over the release of a story in the “objective” Washington Post that the CIA had found a connection between Russian hackers, WikiLeaks, and the release of damaging stories about presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Rachel Maddow was positively breathless as she reported the Post story which in effect explains the Clinton loss as a result of Russian interference. Weaving a yarn of conspiracy, Maddow also implicated the leadership of the Republican Party in Congress for opposing any investigation of the CIA warning before the elections. The Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell questioned the credibility and partisanship of the CIA claims about a Putin/Trump collaboration. 

Maddow further linked the CIA claims that Russia used the distribution of hacked messages to embarrass candidate Hillary Clinton to Trump’s alleged close ties to Russia,  his investments in the Russian energy industry, and rumors that the next Secretary of State would be an Exxon/Mobil CEO, whose corporation has close ties to Russia. (She correctly pointed out that if Russia had sided with the Clinton candidacy, the Republicans would have been outraged). Maddow, the Post, and many social media outlets have suggested that all this adds up to a severe constitutional crisis. A foreign nation, Russia, had interfered with free elections in American democracy. She implied that the U.S. would never engage in such conduct overseas nor should it accept outside interference in the electoral process at home.

The story is flawed from so many perspectives it is difficult to disentangle the real threats to American society.

First, the United States has been interfering in elections all across the globe at least since the onset of the Cold War. The same CIA that is the hero in this story created Christian Democratic parties in Europe shortly after World War Two to challenge the popularity of Communist parties across the continent. It was instrumental in creating and supporting virulently anti-Communist trade unions in Europe and Latin America. And it funded the development of a panoply of anti-Communist scholarly networks inspired by the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Some of the most revered scholars, writers, artists, were knowingly or unknowingly compromised by the CIA political agenda.

In recent times, anti-Communist and erratic Russia President Boris Yeltsin received aid and campaign advice from the Clinton Administration during the Russian leader’s 1996 run for reelection. Yeltsin was being challenged by candidates from Russian nationalist and Communist parties. The victory of either would have slowed or reversed the so-called “shock therapy” conversions from a state-directed to a neoliberal economy introduced by a compliant Yeltsin.

Of course, interference in the politics of other countries has been an unfortunate staple of United States foreign policy throughout the world, particularly in Latin America: Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and most recently, Honduras and Venezuela. These patterns of interference have not been merely gossipy stories leaked to the media but the funneling of money, sabotage, training and support of coup plotters, and other direct, physical forms of intervention.

In addition, inside the Beltway an influential group of foreign policy elites have been pressuring the Obama Administration to expand efforts to push back Russia, including undermining Vladimir Putin’s rule (Putin is no different a political dictator and supporter of crony capitalism than the earlier U.S. favorite Boris Yeltsin).* The United States and its NATO allies, violating promises from the 1990s, have been placing troops and bases in Poland and the Baltic states. The United States played a significant role in the campaign that led to the ouster of the elected leader of Ukraine (a plot organized by a neoconservative State Department ally of Hillary Clinton). In short, leading foreign policymakers have been lobbying for a New Cold War. And, the “liberal media” stereotype of an aging, macho, shirtless, dictator provides a superb visual image of the enemy. And to the contrary, candidate Trump hinted at the possibility of reducing tensions between the United States and Russia.

Further, the aforementioned media have assumed but not demonstrated in any way that the alleged Russian hacking and the use of WikiLeaks (an opponent believed inside the Beltway to be almost as nefarious as Putin) to publicize compromising e-mails determined the outcome of the elections. This is in juxtaposition to the electronic libraries of published articles seeking to explain the election outcomes. Many election analyses have correctly highlighted factors shaping the election including such variables as class, race, region, anti-immigrant sentiments, voter suppression, and campaign tactics.  “Fake News” (as opposed to the usual mainstream media distortions) is the latest variable added to the list of explanations. It is the case that the allegations of Russian hacking uncovered by the CIA months ago and resurfacing now is the Washington Post, MSNBC, USA Today, CNN version of “Fake News.”

What makes all this so serious is that lying has become the standard practice in discourse about politics in the U.S. political system. The rightwing, from the Reagan period to the present, has developed a mantra of a “post-factual world,” one that rejects the four hundred year enlightenment idea that facts exist. Now media institutions, for most part “centrists” in their political orientation, have increasingly mirrored this rightwing practice. They generate their own fake news stories.

The problem is that more Americans, from all demographics and ideologies, are losing confidence in most sources of information. They are becoming cynical about a corrupt political system and increasingly find themselves powerless in a world of economic marginalization, racism, sexism, and homophobia. They increasingly live in a world of ecological devastation: the air, the water, the climate are all threatened.

We desperately need a new politics: authentic, honest, rigorous, and one that speaks from and to the vast majority of humankind which has become victims, not agents of their own destiny, in part because they cannot access the truth.

*Stephen Cohen, “CNN Gets Schooled by Stephen Cohen on DNC Hack,Trump-Putin Links (Video),” Russia Insider, August 1, 2016.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Harry Targ

White Supremacy on Campus

Purdue University students rallied and marched to the theme of “Love Trumps Hate” one week after the presidential election. Participants in the rally evidenced their concern for the rising environment of hate and racism brought on by the rhetoric of the recently concluded presidential campaign. Appeals were made to the Purdue President to speak out forcefully against threats to communities of color, immigrants, various ethnic groups, and the gay/lesbian community on campus.

Two weeks later, on Wednesday, November 30, members of the Purdue community discovered several flyers posted around campus exhorting students to defend white America from minorities and immigrants. The source, a white supremacist group called American Vanguard, claimed credit for posting flyers at several universities across the country. According to the Lafayette Journal and Courier, (Thursday, December 1, 2016) the website of the hate group declares the following in a manifesto titled TOTAL WAR: “We fight for a White America, but this can never happen unless we win the hearts and minds of our fellow White youth. We want to be at the forefront of the reawakening of White racial consciousness. In order to do this we must be willing to fight.”

Concerned members of the Purdue university community have been mobilizing support to urge the administration and faculty to make strong, pointed denunciations of these flyers and the seeming drift toward more racist incidents, including threats of violence against people of color. Many believe that the racist, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, sexist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic sentiments that figured so prominently during the election campaign have reignited  white supremacy that is deeply embedded in U.S. history.

The Institute for Global Security and Defense Initiatives

During the same week the racist flyers were posted, Purdue University announced the establishment of a new research institute on campus: the Institute for Global Security and Defense Initiatives. The announcement of this research arm of the campus came as part of a two-day conference bringing together military officials, CEOs of corporations with huge military contracts, and selected faculty some of whom supported new war-related research dollars coming to campus  programs. According to the Purdue Exponent (Friday, December 2, 2016), the new institute will bring together under one roof research that involves “nanotechnology, social and behavioral sciences, big data analytics and simulations to produce solutions to issues facing national security and defense.”

Purdue President Mitch Daniels in his announcement of the Institute’s establishment said: “We live in a dangerous world in which we must continuously invent more, discover more, and innovate more than those who oppose us, and be able to deliver those technologies quickly into the hands of the people who use them to protect the rest of us.” The new interim director of the Institute echoed the concern for what he called “solving security issues.”

Purdue University this year has received $50 million in advanced defense research projects  (including a multi-million dollar research contract with Rolls Royce to produce “next generation aircraft propulsion systems”). The hope is that by centralizing all defense-related research, the university will make itself more attractive to corporations, the Defense Department, and the new Trump administration, the collaboration that former President Dwight Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex.”

There are several unexamined premises embedded in these huge collaborations between the defense establishment, the corporate sector, and the university. First, President Daniels recently reiterated his belief that the number one economic problem the U.S. economy faces is the federal debt. Military spending has accounted for at least half of all federal expenditures since World War Two, what international relations scholar Andrew Bacevich has called “the permanent war economy.”

Second, the long-term planning for war is based upon the proposition that war-making and preparation for war are perpetual needs of the federal government: not just basic security but ever more advanced investment of dollars in technological advances, more arms, and more soldiers, and public and private contract warriors. The dominant narrative of world affairs, perpetuated by many scholars, defense intellectuals, and pundits, most of whom have a stake in the war system, is that war is inevitable. Little research emphasis is placed on war prevention, conflict-resolution, or working with other nations and international organizations to reduce tensions and violence in the world.

Third, increased military research and development,  new rounds of armaments, and the further globalization of the U.S. military will inadvertently accelerate the drift toward ecological disaster (a concern reflected in other research spaces at Purdue University). This is so particularly because the military is a major consumer of fossil fuels today.

Fourth, and relevant to the rise of racism and white supremacy on campuses across the country is the new defense agenda, illustrated by the Purdue Institute for Global Security and Defense. The overwhelming victims of death, destruction, and forced migration around the world today are people of color. Historically, during the height of the colonial era, three-quarters of humankind was ruled by a small minority of Europeans and North Americans. U.S. politicians of both political parties since the rise of the United States to global power after World War Two have articulated the view that it is “the indispensable nation” in world affairs. The ideological justification for the United States spending more on the military than most of the other nations of the world combined is the premise that it, as one country, has the obligation to decide on the security of the globe.

The movements initiated by students on campuses to resist hate and racism are vitally important. Today these movements constitute the main defense against the resurgence of a new round of white supremacy.

In addition, in the long run it is important for social movements to see the connections between white supremacy at home and the belief in American exceptionalism abroad. They are comfortable ideological bed-fellows. They reinforce each other. They justify each other. And they have to be opposed together if we are ever to have a secure, multi-cultural world, where social and economic justice prevails.