Sunday, July 21, 2019


Harry Targ

On The Law of Hybrid Wars
Andrew Korybko, a Russian scholar/journalist, has written about a new concept, “hybrid wars,” with a long history in practice. The author refers to the Law of Hybrid War as “The grand objective behind every Hybrid War is to disrupt multipolar transnational connective projects through externally provoked identity conflicts (ethnic, religious, regional, political etc.) within a targeted transit state” (Andrew Korybko, “Hybrid Wars 1. The Law of Hybrid Warfare,” Oriental, 4/3.2016). His  concern was United States targeted efforts to undermine efforts by Russia to integrate with Eurasian states and the US desire to disrupt China’s “silk road” projects. It is clear that the concept refers also to efforts by imperial states, particularly the United States, to undermine any efforts by other countries to develop political and economic solidarity that might threaten regional or global hegemony. And Korybko added that ”Hybrid Wars are externally provoked asymmetrical conflicts predicated on sabotaging concrete geo-economic interests.”

The tactics of Hybrid War prioritize identifying strategic weaknesses in target states. These do not necessarily prioritize targeting roads, bridges, or power plants for destruction but rather economic, political, ethnic, or other vulnerabilities. Vulnerabilities may include ethnicity, religion, history, administrative boundaries, and socio-economic disparities. Using “soft power” the imperial state supports the introduction of seemingly neutral technologies or processes, such as the internet in the target country. New intrusions are supported by some Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) such as the Soros Foundation or the National Endowment for Democracy. NGOs claim to be motivated to facilitate political and economic development. As David Harvey has suggested NGO projects come with a frame of reference, a goal, and/or a conception of desirable economic or political paths the host country should take. From the Hybrid War perspective these intrusions are used to exacerbate the class, ethnic, and/or geopolitical tensions in the target state.
Most important for our analysis is the argument raised by Korybko that a critical precondition for imposing hybrid war (and a critical tool of it) is the pressure brought by “globally recognized” sanctions. Early in the process of imperial intrusion, victimized states experience increased costs for importing critical commodities, food, energy etc., constraints imposed on exports, and denial of loan requests from international financial institutions. As political instability increases, targeted states are forced to spend more on security, thus sucking resources away from domestic needs. Thus, the Law of Hybrid War involves an imperial state deciding that transnational projects constitute a threat to its rule and assessing historic vulnerabilities of targeted states. Then the imperialists institute policies of intrusion on target states through technology, expansion of an NGO presence, and organizing a global sanctions regime against the targeted state. From a Hybrid War perspective, the imperial power hopes for such an exacerbation of tensions so that regime change will occur without the introduction of foreign troops.

Hybrid Wars in Latin America

A team of researchers affiliated with Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, published an essay online called “Venezuela and Hybrid Wars in Latin America,” June, 2019. The summary conclusion they drew indicates that “The elements of the hybrid war include: economic and financial suffocation economic destabilization, media and diplomatic blockades, the promotion of violence inside the country—including assassinations—the generation of chaos with the attack on essential services (including the electricity grid), the pressure for an institutional fracture or a coup d’etat and, finally, the threat of an external military intervention” (44).

 What we learn from the concept of Hybrid War (which is not new) is that instead of launching gun boat diplomacy as a first tactic (as in the case of over 30 US military interventions in Latin America from 1898 until the 1930s), the United States, in order to overcome developing regional solidarity against hegemony, identifies vulnerabilities in the most significant states (Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua) and launches a multi-dimensional campaign of destabilization, with traditional military intervention as just a last resort. High on the list are economic sanctions, commercial blockades, networking with dissidents from the wealthy, promoting a dissident local media, generating a whole media narrative for consumption in the United States and Europe that challenges the legitimacy of the existing governments, and generates a discourse among intellectuals, “experts,” that justify Hybrid War strategies. The latter particularly are inserted into left and progressive conversations about US policy. A significant facilitator of these destabilizing strategies iinclude so-called Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) which often provide aid, promote education, advocate for specific economic development models, and promote religious agendas. At the level of culture the imagery of high mass consumption and how it is intimately connected to a neoliberal economic model undergirds the Hybrid War project. And again, if all else fails, militarism remains an option (and throughout the period of Hybrid War, war remains a threat).
Meanings of the Hybrid War Concept for the Peace Movement

We can deduce a variety of conclusions from the Law of Hybrid Wars.

First, twenty-first century imperialism is not solely or primarily about fighting wars.
Second, hegemonic powers, such as the United States, see coalitions of states as a threat to global dominance. This is true in Eurasia, the countries along the Silk Road, and in Latin America where a crippled Bolivarian Revolution survives.

Third, strategists do not primarily act impulsively. They see a threat, which includes transnational cooperation and resistance. Strategists then identify weak links in threatened coalitions. They formulate multi-dimensional, stage-by-stage responses. And these responses involve economics, culture, sowing seeds of division, promoting demonic narratives about target states, and at the same time they leave “all options on the table,” which means traditional military action.
Fourth, the Law of Hybrid War suggests that the peace movement must treat economic blockades, efforts to isolate target states in the international system, blatant lies about target nations as acts of war.

Fifth, the peace movement needs to be wary of false narratives and NGOs that are presented as philanthropic.
Finally, it behooves the peace movement to be cognizant of twenty-first century methods of imperialism; fashioning strategies that clearly and compellingly identify and combat economic sanctions, false narratives, and institutions that seem to be philanthropic as acts of war.

This analysis resonates currently with daily news accounts involving Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Iran and, while more complicated, Russia and China.


Friday, July 12, 2019

"All they will call you will be deportees."

THE CENTRAL AMERICAN REFUGEES ARE 21ST CENTURY DESCENDANTS OF IMPERIALISM (reposted from The Rag Blog July 19, 2014 and again on March 30, 2017)

Harry Targ

Woody Guthrie wrote his famous song “Deportees” in 1948 decrying that “All they will call you will be ‘deportees.’” And “they chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.”  He wrote at a time when the US political economy depended upon temporary immigrant labor.

Since the 1940s particularly, the globalization of the economy, increased violence and repression within countries (largely involving United States interference),  growing income and wealth inequality and poverty, and the rise of repressive regimes everywhere,  emigration has increased. Some estimates indicate that 37 million people left their home countries (some 45 countries) between 2010 and 2015 for humanitarian reasons.

One of the ironies of world history is that capital in the form of investments, trade, the purchase of natural resources, the globalization of production, and military interventions have been common and necessary features of capitalism since its emergence in the sixteenth century. But, paradoxically, and except for the global slave trade, the movement of people has been illegal. The idea of national sovereignty is mostly used to justify branding some human migrants as “illegal.” If capital is and has been legal, the movement of people should be legal as well. It makes no sense, nor is it humane, to brand any human beings as “deportees.”

And to see how the system of imperialism has worked in Latin America to create “deportees” we can revisit recent United States/Central American history.

A Military Coup in Honduras

Sunday, June 28, 2009 the Honduran military carried out a Coup ousting duly elected President Manuel Zelaya from power. Almost immediately leaders of Western Hemisphere nations condemned the actions taken in Tegucigalpa, the capital city. For example, former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Lula) asserted that the days of military coups as a mechanism of the transfer of power were over in Latin America.

President Obama said on the following day that "it would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition rather than democratic elections…. The region has made enormous progress over the last 20 years in establishing democratic traditions in Central America and Latin America. We don't want to go back to a dark past."

On June 30, the United Nations General Assembly passed by acclamation a non-binding resolution condemning the military action and demanding that Zelaya be returned to office. Political opposites from former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, to Barack Obama took the same position on the events in Honduras, although Chavez articulated the view that the United States had a role in the Coup.

The New York Times reported on the Coup and the mass mobilizations in Honduras protesting it. The story did editorialize by pointing out that Zelaya, who was elected in 2006, was closely allied with Hugo Chavez and had linked Honduras to the Chavez led “leftist alliance, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas.” The Times further reported that there were large scale protests in the capital of Honduras in support of the Coup. And they claimed that Zelaya would have had no world significance if it were not for the Coup which made him famous.

Subsequent to the worldwide condemnations, including from the Obama administration, two elections were held ignoring the Coup, one later in 2009 and another in 2013. In other words, former President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted was never allowed to return to office.

Journalist John Perry wrote three years after the Coup that Honduras had distinguished itself by its escalating violence. “…the murder rate is four times that of Mexico and it has become the world’s most dangerous country for journalists with 23 having been assassinated over the last three years.” Perry pointed out that in the Northeast of the country big landowners struggled against small farmers who sought to keep control of their land and the area has become a transit point for drug smuggling (John Perry, “Honduras--Three Years After the Coup,” June 27, 2012.) 

The Relevance of Central American History for Today

The horrific migrations of the young and their families from the Central American war zones in 2014 (and earlier) are explained by media and politicians as caused by the quest of migrants for an improved standard of living to be found in the United States, or flight from homegrown drug gangs, or loose talk from President Obama about asylum for refugees, or failures of the Congress to pass meaningful immigration reform legislation. These common narratives ignore the history of United States imperialism in the Western Hemisphere and particularly the grotesque U.S. inspired violence against the Central American peoples launched by the Reagan administration in the 1980s. Also, they do not address the economic devastation in the region caused by neo-liberal economic policies imposed by the debt and trade systems. Any serious discussion of the current refugee crisis of thousands of young people fleeing poverty and violence should include the following:

First, the Western Hemisphere has experienced hundreds of years of shifting external interference, mass murder and economic exploitation of natural resources, agricultural lands, cheap labor, and sweat shop workers. The Spanish, the British, and the United States figured most prominently in this unhappy story, referred to by Eduardo Galeano as “five centuries of the pillage of a continent.”

Second, twentieth century Central America was dramatically shaped by over thirty U.S. military incursions and occupations in Central America and the Caribbean between 1898 and the 1930s. For example, U.S. troops were sent to Honduras in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, and 1924-25.

Third, economic ruling classes in the Hemisphere and their foreign partners increasingly were forced to rely on strong military forces to crush domestic opposition to elite rule and devastating poverty and exploitation. Particularly in Central America, the military as an institution became a material force, sometimes independent of the economic ruling class. From the early 1930s until the end of World War II military dictatorships ruled each of the five Central American countries. Later, in the height of the Cold War in the 1970s, 2/3 of the land mass and population of Latin America was ruled by brutal military dictatorship: Argentina, Brazil, and Chile being the most prominent.

Fourth, in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan brought the struggle against “international communism” to Central America. He launched and supported brutal wars against the Salvadoran and Nicaraguan people and looked the other way as the Guatemalan generals engaged in genocide against the majority indigenous population of that country. An estimated 400,000 Central America peoples died in these U.S. supported wars.

Honduras, before 1980, was a country with less violent military rule and only received modest amounts of U.S. military aid. However, as a result of Reagan’s wars in Central America, Honduras became the military base for U.S. operations in the region; training the contra rebels fighting against the Nicaraguan government and providing training and military support operations for Salvadoran troops fighting against FMLN rebels. Honduras received more military aid from the United States in the mid-1980s, than it did during the prior thirty years. Thousands of U.S. troops, numerous air strips, and field exercises for summer National Guard troops made Honduras a U.S. armed camp.

Fifth, parallel to the war on communism in the Western Hemisphere, the Reagan administration forced on the countries of the region the neo-liberal economic policies of downsizing government, deregulation, privatization, free trade, and shifts to export-oriented production. In the 1980s, the economic consequences of these policies were referred to by Latin American scholars as “the lost decade.”

While the economies of Central American countries have improved since the 1980s, they remain poor and dependent. Honduras is the poorest of the five countries in the region. In 2003 its per capita Gross Domestic Product was $803 (the regional figure was $1,405). A little over 9 percent of its earnings came from overseas remittances. Honduran debt constituted 66 percent of total GDP. And life expectancy was 66 years.

This brief review of some of the Latin American experience was part of the story of the 2009 coup, the escalation of domestic violence that ensued in the country since then, and the refugee crisis today. The histories of Guatemala and El Salvador have been similar. Even though elections in El Salvador brought former guerrilla members to power, U.S. and domestic elite opposition to radical reforms in that country have stifled the fundamental changes needed to transform the lives of the people there.

The Refugees as Victims of Imperialism

In general, we first should remember that whenever the interests of foreign investors (particularly from the United States), domestic ruling classes and/or military elites were threatened by international political forces and/or domestic mobilization of workers and peasants, the military moved in to reverse the forces of history.

Second, the United States has played a direct role in such interventions and has provided military assistance and training for military officers of all Latin American militaries ever since the end of World War II. (The training facility used to be called The School of the Americas and now is officially The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation).

Third, military interventionism and covert operations have been paralleled by economic intervention through the debt system, foreign investment, trade agreements, and quotas and embargoes of goods from Latin American countries.

Fourth, the winds of change that were initiated in the 1960s in the region were first stifled and isolated, then spread in the 1980s and beyond. Most recently, countries as varied as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, and Venezuela have begun to step in a new direction; away from the neo-liberal economic model, away from deference to traditional great powers, and in resistance to the United States. (Honduras had begun to move in this direction as well before the Coup).

Most importantly, these countries, and other countries from the Global South in Asia and Africa, have been constructing new economic and political institutions that might transform an international economic and political system based on 500 years of North Atlantic rule. The fact that 192 countries in the United Nations condemned the Honduran Coup in 2009 suggested that this battle has gone beyond the simplistic New York Times frame that the Honduran battle was merely about competing special interests.

President Obama evidenced a sense of the history of U.S. imperialism in the Western Hemisphere and the role that regional domestic economic and military elites played in Central American countries when he criticized the 2009 coup in Honduras. However, his subsequent support of those who carried out the Coup and who refused to allow the ousted President to return, signaled that he would be returning to the traditional U.S. approach to the region. And the traditional United States policy supporting the consolidation of foreign investments and domestic wealth in Central America and  profit derived from the drug wars is connected to the  pain and suffering of Central American peoples.

Of course, a serious effort to address the refugee problem today would have to include a U.S. shift to support popular forces in the region, rejection of draconian neo-liberal policies, regional  allocation of economic assistance to stimulate grassroots economic institutions with people producing for domestic consumption, and radical disarmament of Central American militaries, police, and drug gangs. It would be a tall order but a worthy one for solidarity activists in the United States and the rest of the Hemisphere to support.

Finally, in the short-term, progressives should demand that the children entering the United States be treated as refugees and provided safety and security. 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

"If There is No Struggle There is No Progress"

This essay was written in 2014. The portrait of rising “neo-fascism” and growing resistance are still relevant in 2019. On this July 4th the forces of reaction have become even more clear, state violence at home and abroad continue, centrist politicians resist change more than they support it, and the crises of poverty, war, racism and the climate continue. But as the commentary noted five years ago the seeds of growing resistance were being planted. They seem to be growing.

Harry Targ
On Contradictions

Political philosophers influenced by the writings of Marx and Engels emphasize the connections among all social processes, the opposing characteristics embedded in them, and how social dynamics are intrinsically conflictive leading to new and different futures. For most activists this means that politics and history are complicated. Before drawing premature conclusions about what is going on and what to do about it, thoughtful reflection on the multiple dimensions of causes and effects and effects and causes are needed. No more is this so than in coming to grips with the political “time of day” in which we live.

The Advance of Reaction
On the one hand, recent events underscore the rise of what can reasonably be called “neo-fascism,” advances in the construction of a police state, a desperate and renewed commitment to U.S. imperialism, escalated assaults--economic, political, police--on African Americans, Latinos, women, workers, and immigrants, and gluttonous increases in corporate and banking profits while gaps in wealth, income, and political power widen.

The November, 2014 election brought Republican control of the U.S. Senate (53-44 so far) and the House of Representatives (243-178), and both houses of 29 state legislatures compared to 11 Democratic-dominated state legislatures. In total Republicans hold majorities in 68 of 98 state legislative bodies.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) will be holding a planning meeting in Washington the first week of December to map out an agenda for the newly victorious Republicans at all levels of government. High on their agenda will be legislation blocking increases in minimum wages, expanding so-called right-to-work laws, limiting access to Medicaid, restricting global taxes on tobacco, creating more free trade agreements, and increasing the privatization of schools. Of course the Republican wave brings with it more climate change deniers, war hawks, and anti-choice activists, tinged with biblical visions of public policy.

The crisis over the police murder of young Mike Brown has highlighted the racial and class character of the criminal justice system in the United States. Various data sources have uncovered the egregious racism in the criminal justice system from arrests, access to legal counsel, trials, convictions, sentencing, and incarceration. For example, white policemen were 21 times more likely to shoot a Black man than a white man between 2007 and 2012. At least two black men were killed by white policemen each week during these years, killing at least 500. (This was double the number of lynchings occurring during a five year period before anti-lynching laws were introduced in Congress in the 1920s). Michelle Alexander estimates that there are more African Americans in jail in 2010 than were enslaved in 1850). Furthermore, while African Americans constitute 13 percent of drug users they constitute 46 percent of drug convictions (Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, “Organizing Fergusons,” Jacobin, November 26, 2014,
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was fired on November 24 in the midst of United States foreign policy “crises” from the struggle against ISIS to the Syrian civil war, negotiations with Iran over nuclear development, escalation of U.S. troop activity in Afghanistan, and continuing public campaigns from the neo-conservative wing of the foreign policy establishment to send troops and in other ways expand military operations around the globe.

Pundits offered competing interpretations of the meaning of the firing from incompetence to policy disputes with Obama or his national security staff. Probably Hagel had some disputes with National Security Advisor Susan Rice who usually sides with the interventionist wing of the foreign policy elite. Irrespective of the reasons for the firing, the long-term impacts of securing a new Secretary of Defense nomination and Senate approval, and in the context of the Republican Congressional victories, will be a renewed debate about escalating U.S. military interventionism in the Middle East, South Asia, and even the Western Hemisphere. Obama’s sometimes “realist” foreign policy will be further challenged.   
President Obama in a prime time address on November 20, 2014 announced that he was using his executive authority to grant temporary amnesty to approximately five million undocumented immigrants, mostly parents of children who are United States citizens by birth. Despite the fact that the Obama administration has deported more undocumented immigrants than any other president, his announced executive order brought outcries from Republican leaders, threatening lawsuits, impeachment, and various legislative actions when the new Congress assumes power in January. Ironically, although the president’s action does not constitute comprehensive immigration reform the groundswell of support, particularly from the Latino community, was enormous suggesting that if the announcement was made before the fall election several losing Democratic Senatorial candidates might have been victorious.

Finally, and as always below the radar screen, the economy has been doing well for the one percent. For example, Thomas L. Hungerford (“Is Corporate America Going to the Poorhouse?” The Economic Policy Institute Blog, October 8, 2014, pointed out that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $30 million supporting mostly Republicans. Even so, Hungerford presents data indicating that while corporate profits have fluctuated between 1946 and 2013, they reached a peak in 2013. “In 2013, the before-tax profit share was 21 percent, which is the highest level since the mid-1960s. Interestingly, the 2013 after-tax profit share is at a post-World War II high of 15 percent! It would appear that corporate America has been doing rather well under President Obama and the current corporate tax system.”
Growing Resistance

Even though the data is not in and resistance and revolt may or may not have lasting effects, the contradictions generated by capitalism, the police state, and imperialism are stark. In the electoral arena voters who went to the polls elected rightwing extremists and voted on various referenda to raise wages and to legalize marijuana. Most sitting Congresspersons were reelected, including members of the Progressive and Black Caucuses. A few candidates, such as Senator Al Franken campaigned as populists. And in selected communities, get out the vote campaigns led to turnouts exceeding the 2010 figures. Rev. Barber made it clear that the Moral Mondays: Moving Forward Together movement is not primarily about an election or elections in general, but used the elections to articulate a moral agenda that is as relevant in the streets as the ballot box.
John Nichols pointed out (“An Inconvenient Political Truth: That St. Louis Prosecutor is a Democrat,” The Nation, November 26, 2014, that the St. Louis County Prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, who rigged the Grand Jury to absolve policeman Darren Wilson of his killing of unarmed Michael Brown is a Democrat. “Across America, counties elect top law-enforcement officials as state’s attorneys, district attorneys and prosecuting attorneys. Hundreds of them are Democrats.” Nichols says that many of these are progressive, others are not. Less visible elected office holders need to be properly vetted, not taking party label as sufficient indicator of candidate commitments to justice.

Robin D. G. Kelley appropriately describes the longstanding tradition of police brutality as akin to a “low-intensity war between the state and Black people.” He describes in painful detail the long history of police violence and white vigilantism against African Americans and the ideological justifications for their actions. Kelley reports that revolt against this war has begun first in Ferguson where young organizers have created “Hands Up United, Lost Voices, Organization for Black Struggle, Don’t Shoot Coalition, Millennial Activists United” and other groups. Mobilizations have spread to Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Indianapolis, and other cities and towns across America. Paralleled by traditional and older civil rights organizations, this potential mass movement is stimulated by energetic, angry young people, Black and white.
In the midst of the election season, police violence, calls for expanded U.S military adventures overseas, mobilizations of historic magnitudes have occurred. The People’s Climate March in New York City drew 400,000 participants among them activists concentrating on the environment, peace, anti-racism, and worker rights. Increasingly movement activists see the inextricable connection between their issues and saving the natural environment.

Also fast food workers have been protesting low wages and long hours. Others have been organizing economic boycotts such as against Black Friday, demanding better working conditions. Health care workers are mobilizing about wages and the right to organize and teachers are actively opposing charter schools, school vouchers, and the selling off of higher education to corporate interests.
The Moral Mondays movement has begun the reconceptualization of the politics of resistance by appropriating the idea of fusion politics which first appeared during Reconstruction after the civil war. Then, former slaves and poor whites built coalitions to gain power in state legislatures and to write truly democratic state constitutions. Rev. William Barber and the movement that was initiated in North Carolina in 2006 emphasizes the interconnectedness of all the problems that impede social and economic justice much as was done by Blacks and whites in the 1860s. Today, he says the only antidote to huge corporate power, whether the extremist wing reflected in the Koch Brothers and ALEC or the Clinton Wall Streeters, is the coming together of masses of people--Black, white, workers, straight, gay, faith-based or no faith-- and their organizations to fight the right and propose a moral agenda based upon constitutional and ethical principles. Moral Mondays is expanding throughout the South, the Midwest, and the Southwest.

Finally, pockets of youth militancy drawn to visions of 21st century socialism have sprouted up in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Jackson, Mississippi, and elsewhere. Young people are making long-term commitments to study, organization building, and the construction of political power as reflected in modest electoral victories at local, state, and national levels.  

All these mobilizations are grounded in local circumstances, U.S. history, and global mobilizations rising up against neoliberal globalization. Cross-national networks of activists are increasingly sharing their insights and sense of solidarity that just might lead to a global resistance consciousness in the future.
It remains unclear what the outcome of the contradiction between reaction and resistance will bring in the months and years ahead. But Frederick Douglass was correct when he said:

“If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will (“If there is No Struggle, there is No Progress,” August 3, 1857, at

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Struggle Against the War System Must Continue


Some of us watched a powerful film last night called “Shadow World.” While it did not provide us with an outlook and understanding we did not already share, it demonstrated graphically the enormous power of multinational military corporations, the financial hold these corporations have on virtually every country in the Global North and Global South, the deeply embedded idea most cultures share of “the inevitability of war” and the evils of “human nature,” and the profoundly negative consequences the war system have had on literally billions of people in terms of death, destruction, and every day pain and suffering.

The article linked above does a very good job of analyzing the military/industrial complex today and how US preparedness for war and national security bears no relationship to twenty-first century reality. While the tasks are daunting, it is clear that the peace movement, at the local level, even more than nationally, must insist that all politicians say “no” to military spending. This vision (and program) must guide work for all presidential and other candidates for state and national office as well. The connections between the war system and virtually every other human problem must be made clear again and again. And, the peace movement must be cognizant of the fact that a war system that has been under construction since the end of the nineteenth century (or even earlier as the Europeans conquered the lands already occupied and slave owners disciplined peoples from Africa) will not be abolished overnight. But Another World is Possible.

Thursday, June 20, 2019


Harry Targ

“Trustee Malcolm DeKryger compared time at Purdue to an eye of a hurricane, where students were focused on the rigors of getting a degree.

‘There’s a lot stuff going on in our country and our civics going around us,’ DeKryger said. ‘But when you’re in the eye, it’s pretty quiet. … I guess that’s why I personally agree with that idea that we’ve got to make sure there is that touchpoint out there, so when you do go out into the world, you’re prepared.’”  (quoted in Dave Bangert, “Purdue Trustees, Mitch Daniels Reiterate Call for Civics Test Get A Diploma,” Lafayette Journal and Courier, June 18, 2019.

No one can dispute the value of education about the nation, the world, and the issues that have and will affect peoples lives in the short-and long-term future. Schools and universities, of course, have historically been primary venues for disseminating such information. However, most often politicians have preferred narratives about themselves and others that they wish to inculcate in the young. A more desirable form of information and analysis is one that is diverse, sensitive to ones own past and present, and shows respect to narratives and experiences of other peoples and nations. This kind of “civics” education is a complicated and not achieved by learning isolated facts.
President Mitch Daniels, Purdue University, in the spring, 2019, proposed that the university require that each graduating senior at the university demonstrate a knowledge of what he called “civics.” The members of the Board of Trustees recently endorsed the idea and implicitly castigated faculty for not moving expeditiously to establish a civics certification process for graduating seniors. But faculty have questioned the need for such a certification, what civics education is, and how to provide for it. Specifically, they asked whether claims about civics ignorance at Purdue and elsewhere were true. They also asked whether taking a short-answer test really demonstrated knowledge of the United States government, its constitution, and the political process. Some faculty argued that such a need could only be satisfied by at least one course, perhaps in Political Science or History, that would provide a richer knowledge, raise competing understandings of the development of the United States government, and would allow for serious discussions of the strengths and weaknesses of the American political experience. A ten or twenty item short answer test, they argued, would not reflect the more subtle and sophisticated needs of civics education.

Some faculty were puzzled by why, in the context of the existence of a set of university core requirements already in existence, this idea of a civics certification emerged. One possible source of the idea of some kind of civics education can be seen in a January 2016 report published by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), an organization founded by the State Policy Network, which is tied to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Charles and David Koch Foundation. The report called “A Crisis in Civic Education,” describes a survey it sponsored in 2015 that demonstrates that college graduates and the public in general lack knowledge of “our free institutions of government.” It listed examples of some basic facts about government and history that respondents failed to answer correctly. These included a lack of understanding of how the constitution could be amended, which institution has the power to declare war, and who was “the father of the constitution.”
Perhaps ACTA’s underlying concern was suggested by a quote in the preface of the document attributed to Louise Mirrer, President of the New York Historical Society, who received an ACTA award in 2014 “for Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education.” She said that in the contemporary world of conflicts between religious, ethnic and racial groups, Americans need to be reminded of US history “…especially as that history  conveys our nation’s stunning successful recipe,  based on the documents of our founding, for an inclusive and tolerant society.” (Apparently she forgot the limitations on the rights of Blacks, women and those without property to vote in “the documents of our founding.”)   In addition, the report takes aim at community service programs, which it asserts “…give students little insight into how our system of government works and what roles they must fill as citizens of a democratic republic.”

It is clear, therefore, that what the ACTA report (and one could reasonably assume what has motivated the recommendation of President Daniels, himself an award recipient from ACTA) and the Purdue Board of Trustees regards as civics education is a narrative that celebrates the American experience. These sources presume that specific facts about the Constitution and the Founding Fathers and basic truisms about the United States as a “melting pot” constitute civics education. Although civics education is surely a desirable goal of education at every level, K through college, it requires moving beyond memorizing basic facts to more subtle examinations about the American experience, including exposing students to debates about how and why that experience has unfolded in the way that it has. For example, a real civics education might address questions such as:
-What is democracy? Is it just about voting or does it also include the distribution of society’s resources?
-What is power? Who has power in the United States political system? How did they get it? Is the distribution of power and influence in the United States democratic?
-How are people elected to public office? What kind of resources do they need to run for public office? What kind of people are likely to be elected to public office such as relating to their class, race , gender, nationality, and occupations?
-How do policies get introduced, discussed, debated, and passed? Who influences the policymaking process? What role do powerful interest groups play in the policy process?
-What role do political parties play in the electoral and policy process?
-In the United States have there been population groups who have not been the beneficiaries of the political system? Who are they? Why have they not enjoyed the benefits of the political system? What is gerrymandering?

To answer these questions requires that students take a course or more that addresses these issues, perhaps in Departments of Political Science and/or History. For sure, if students lack civics literacy (and that is an empirical question) it cannot be achieved by answers to a series of short answer questions but thorough study, recognizing that answers to the questions are complicated with differing possible answers. And addressing these questions in multiple ways would constitute a real civics education.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Foreign Policy Lies Lead to War: Is Iran Next? (a repost)

By Harry Targ

On August 2, 1964, North Vietnamese armed motor boats attacked two U.S. naval vessels off the coast of North Vietnam. The administration of Lyndon Johnson defined the attacks as an unprovoked act of North Vietnamese aggression.

Two days later it was announced that another attack on U.S. ships in international waters had occurred and the U.S. responded with air attacks on North Vietnamese targets. President Johnson then took a resolution he had already prepared to the Congress of the United States. The so-called Gulf of Tonkin resolution declared that the Congress authorizes the president to do what he deemed necessary to defend U.S. national security in Southeast Asia. Only two Senators voted "no." Over the next three years the U.S. sent 500,000 troops to Vietnam to carry out a massive air and ground war in both the South and North of the country.

Within a year of the so-called Gulf of Tonkin incidents, evidence began to appear indicating that the August 2 attack was provoked. The two U.S. naval vessels were in North Vietnamese coastal waters orchestrating acts of sabotage in the Northern part of Vietnam. More serious, evidence pointed to the inescapable conclusion that the second attack on August 4 never occurred.

President Johnson's lies to the American people about the Gulf of Tonkin contributed to the devastating decisions to escalate a U.S. war in Vietnam that cost 57,000 U.S. troop deaths and upwards of three million Vietnamese deaths.

Forty years later, George W. Bush and his key aides put together a package of lies about Iraq- imports of uranium from Niger, purchases of aluminum rods which supposedly could be used for constructing nuclear weapons, development of biological and chemical weapons, and connections between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden.

As the Vietnamese and Iraqi cases show, foreign policies built on lies can lead to imperial wars, huge expenditures on the military, economic crises at home, and military casualties abroad.

The American people must insist that their leaders tell the truth about the U.S. role in the world. 

Harry Targ has taught  U.S. foreign policy and international relations at Purdue University. He is the author or co-author of books and articles on these subjects. He is a member of the National Executive Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.

Sunday, June 2, 2019


Harry Targ

The multiracial working class in alliance with trade unions, women, African Americans, Latinos and other people of color, youth, and progressive sectors of business now form the promising components of the progressive majority. The profound challenge before the working class and its allies is to organize this majority into a coherent force capable of responding to the various issues it confronts. (“Goals and Principles,” Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, adopted at its 6th National Convention, July, 2009,

Protest Movements in the United States
            In addition to anecdotal evidence, aggregate data confirms the continuation and expansion of activist groups and protest activities all across the face of the globe. For example in the United States, Mark Solomon in an important essay “Whither the Socialist Left? Thinking the ‘Unthinkable’” (March 6, 2013,  discusses the long history of socialism in the United States, the brutal repression against it, damaging sectarian battles on the left, the miniscule size of socialist organizations today and yet paradoxically the growing sympathy for the idea of socialism among Americans, particularly young people. He calls for “the convergence of socialist organizations committed to non-sectarian democratic struggle, engagement with mass movements, and open debate in search of effective responses to present crises and to projecting a socialist future.”  The Solomon article does not conceptualize “left unity” and “building the progressive majority” as separate and distinct projects but as fundamentally interconnected. For him, and many others, the role of the left in the labor movement and other mass movements gave shape, direction, and theoretical cohesion to the battles that won worker rights in the 1930s.
            Solomon’s call has stimulated debate among activists around the idea of “left unity.” The appeal for left unity is made more powerful by socialism’s appeal, the current global crises of capitalism, rising mobilizations around the world, and living experiments with small-scale socialism such as the construction of a variety of workers’ cooperatives.
            Effective campaigns around “left unity” in recent years have prioritized “revolutionary education,” drawing upon the tools of the internet to construct an accessible body of theory and debate about strategy and tactics that could solidify left forces and move the progressive majority into a socialist direction. The emerging Online University of the Left (OUL), an electronic source for classical and modern theoretical literature about Marxism, contemporary debates about strategy and tactics, videos, reading lists, and course syllabi, constitute one example of left unity. The OUL serves as one of many resources for study groups, formal coursework, and discussions among socialists and progressives. Those who advocate for “left unity” or left “convergence” celebrate these many developments, from workers cooperatives to popular education, as they advocate for the construction of a unified socialist left.
            A second manifestation of political activism, the Occupy Movement, first surfacing in the media in September, 2011, initiated and renewed traditions of organized and spontaneous mass movements around issues that affect peoples’ immediate lives such as housing foreclosure, debt, jobs, wages, the environment, and the negative role of money in U.S. politics. Perhaps the four most significant contributions of the Occupy Movement have been:
            1.Introducing grassroots processes of decision-making.
            2.Conceptualizing modern battles for social and economic justice as between the one percent (the holders of most wealth and power in society) versus the 99 percent (weak, economically marginalized, and dispossessed, including the “precariat”).
            3.Insisting that struggles for radical change be spontaneous, often eschewing traditional political processes.
            4.Linking struggles locally, nationally, and globally.
            During the height of its visibility some 500 cities and towns experienced Occupy mobilizations around social justice issues. While less frequent, Occupy campaigns still exist, particularly in cities where larger progressive communities reside. Calls for left unity correctly ground their claims in a long and rich history of organized struggle while “occupiers” and other activists today have been inspired by the bottom-up and spontaneous uprisings of 2011 (both international and within the United States).
            A third, and not opposed, approach to political change at this time has been labeled “building a progressive majority.” This approach assumes that large segments of the U.S. population agree on a variety of issues. Some are activists in electoral politics, others in trade unions, and more in single issue groups. In addition, many who share common views of worker rights, the environment, health care, undue influence of money in politics, immigrant rights etc. are not active politically. The progressive majority perspective argues that the project for the short-term is to mobilize the millions of people who share common views on the need for significant if not fundamental change in economics and politics.
            Often organizers conceptualize the progressive majority as the broad mass of people who share views on politics and economics that are ‘centrist” or “left.” Consequently, over the long run, “left” participants see their task as three-fold. First, they must work on the issues that concern majorities of those at the local and national level. Second, they struggle to convince their political associates that the problems most people face have common causes (particularly capitalism). Third, “left” participants see the need to link issues so that class, race, gender, and the environment, for example, are understood as part of the common problem that people face.
            A 2005-2007 data set called “Start” ( showed that there were some “500 leading organizations in the United States working for progressive change on a national level.” START divided these 500 organizations into twelve categories based on their main activities. These included progressive electoral, peace and foreign policy, economic justice, civil liberties, health advocacy, labor, women’s and environmental organizations.  Of course, their membership, geographic presence, financial resources, and strategic and tactical vision varied widely. And, many of the variety of progressive organizations at the national level were reproduced at the local and state levels as well.
            In sum, when looking at contemporary social change in the United States at least three tendencies have been articulated: left unity, the Occupy Movement, and building a progressive majority. Each highlights its own priorities as to vision, strategy, tactics, and political contexts. In addition, the relative appeal of each may be affected by age, class, gender, race, and issue prioritization as well. However, these approaches need not be seen as contradictory. Rather the activism borne of each approach may parallel the others. (the discussion of the three tendencies of activism appeared in Harry Targ, “The Fusion Politics Response to 21st Century Imperialism From Arab Spring to Moral Mondays,”, and was presented at the “Moving Beyond Capitalism” Conference, Center for Global Justice, San Miguelde Allende Mexico, July 29-August 5, 2014).

Building the Progressive Majority in 2016
          The statement above from CCDS was published in 2009 and the description of the three political tendencies in the United States was presented in 2014. Since then, the Moral Mondays Movement in North Carolina captured national attention and stimulated a growing campaign around Reverend William Barber’s narrative of United States history referring to the “three reconstructions”  and the articulation of his theory of “fusion politics.”
          The egregious police violence against African Americans, particularly young men and women of color, has sparked a vibrant Black Lives Matter campaign that has caused a renewed interest in understanding the functions the police serve, the role of white supremacy, rightwing populism, and Michelle Alexander’s “New Jim Crow” in America.
         Militant workers in growing sectors of the economy are rising up. Fast food workers are organizing around the “Fight for 15.” Health and home care, and other service sector workers are demanding the right to have their unions recognized. And teachers, transportation workers, and state employees have hit the streets and legislative assemblies to demand worker rights.
        The peace movement has begun to resuscitate itself challenging a new cold war with Russia, boots on the ground and drones in the air to fight ISIS, and the unbridled growth of the military/industrial complex.
         Finally, environmentalists have made a convincing case that the connection between neoliberal global capitalism and environmental catastrophe “changes everything.”
        The three tendencies presented above—left unity, the Occupy Movement,  and building a progressive majority—continue to be reflected in different kinds of organizing around the country based on the issues, levels of organization, predominant ideological manifestations, local political cultures, and the composition of movements in different places based upon class, race, gender, sexual identity, religious affiliation and issue orientation. And all these tendencies are worthy of attention and support, particularly in the 21st century “time of chaos.”
        But a new campaign (potentially a movement) has emerged since the summer, 2015. Bernie Sanders, an aging left-oriented Senator from Vermont began his long uphill march to secure the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency. A sixties activist on civil rights and peace, a populist mayor of Burlington, Vermont, a Congressman and Senator from that state, Sanders, since his early days of political activism,  has articulated an anti-Wall Street, anti-finance capital mantra that has its roots in various progressive currents in United States history, These include the populist campaigns of the 1890s,  the militant workers struggles of the  Wobblies during the Progressive era, the popular electoral campaigns of five-time Socialist Party candidate for President, Eugene V. Debs from 1900 to 1920; the industrial union movement of  the 1930s which built the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and support for the New Deal legislation that provided some measure of economic security to many workers; to the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s and beyond.
        Sanders has proceeded to excoriate finance capital and to link the enormous accumulation of wealth and income at one pole of American society and the maintenance and growth of the misery of the masses on the other. He has advanced his narrative by linking class, to race, to gender issues, and has begun to incorporate the apocalyptic possibilities of a future without addressing climate change. In a word, he has articulated a program that the CCDS program defined as the vision of “the progressive majority.”
        The vision of a progressive majority is one that emphasizes the systematic articulation of the causes of human misery and what needs to be done to overcome them and the belief that the vision already exists among the majority of the American people. So far, the popularity of the Sanders campaign, the particular enthusiasm it is generating at the grassroots, including from youth, labor, feminist, anti-racist, and environmental organizations, and the demographics reflected in the Iowa caucus turnout and polling data, suggest that activists from the three tendencies identified above should direct their energies to supporting the Sanders presidential run. Most importantly, the Sanders campaign has inspired the possibility of building a long-standing progressive movement that will survive and grow until the November, 2016 election and beyond.

A 2019 Postscript: Resistance Grows

        Since the November, 2016 election masses of people have been mobilizing in a variety of ways against the threatened agenda of the newly elected president. The women’s marches and rallies of January 21, 2017 and International Women’s Day on March 8 were historic in size and global reach. There have been huge mobilizations to reduce the use of fossil fuels and prevent climate disaster, to support immigrant rights, and to provide basic health care. Many of these manifestations of outrage and fear have occurred as planned events but also there have been numerous spontaneous acts at Congressional town hall meetings and even in airports challenging Trump directives to refuse people entry into the United States.       A multiplicity of groups have formed or increased in size since January: former Bernie Sanders supporters; anti-racists campaigns; those calling for sanctuary cities and defending the human rights of immigrants; progressive Democratic organizations; and women’s mobilizations. Traditional left organizations, such as the Democratic Socialists of America, benefiting from the Sanders campaign, tripled in size. And organizations such as The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood have reported large increases in financial contributions. The mobilization of millions of people has bolstered the spirits of progressives everywhere. They feel that at this point in history a new progressivism is about to be born. But the story is made complicated by the nature of the opposition to Trumpism.

Oppositions to Trumpism: Neoliberal and Progressive
        However, on almost a daily basis stories have appeared in the mainstream media about Trump’s incompetence and irrational and ill-informed statements. Most importantly, allegations of the connection between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian spying, have dominated the news. As a result, the neoliberal globalist Democrats, activists in the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton and leaders of the Democratic Party, have consciously embraced the Trump/Russia connection as the real reason why their candidate lost the election. By implication, they deny that there was anything perceived negatively about mainstream Democratic Party policies on trade, health care, mass incarceration, bank regulation, jobs and wages, and other neoliberal approaches to policy in the years when Democrats were in the White House. Clearly, Hillary Clinton was identified with this neoliberal agenda. But understanding the election outcome through the lens of Russiagate is a recipe for disaster.
     The dilemma for progressives is that opposition to Trumpism and all it stands for has been and must be a key component of reigniting a progressive majority. But if it does not address the fundamental failures of the neoliberal agenda, including challenging neoliberal globalization, the current stage of capitalism, Trump’s grassroots support will continue. Working people who ordinarily would vote for more liberal candidates for public office need to believe that future candidates are prepared to address the issues, often economic, that concern them.
    Therefore, the fundamental project for progressives today includes mobilizing against Trumpism while articulating an alternative political and economic analysis of the current state of capitalist development. In concrete terms, this approach means challenging the legitimacy of the Trump administration and its allies in Congress while articulating the perspective that mainstream Democrats, the neoliberal globalists, are part of the problem, not the solution.
      This alternative analysis requires a bold challenge inside the electoral arena and in the streets that calls for radical reforms: single-payer health care; cutting the military-budget; creating government programs to put people to work on living wage jobs in infrastructure, social services, and public education; addressing climate change: and fiscal and regulatory policies that reduce the grotesque inequality of wealth and income which has increased since the 1980s.
      The tasks are challenging but another world is possible.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

"Trust in Government" matters

Harry Targ

In my foreign policy class I talk about one measure, “trust in government,” based on public opinion data from 1964 to 1976 and beyond. In 1964 when LBJ won a massive election victory, public trust in government reached abut 85 percent. By 1976, after Vietnam and Watergate, it had declined to less than forty percent. Trust increased a bit during the Reagan period and declined during the Clinton years. This article surveys data indicating that trust in government has reached an all-time low.

While there is more to political change than “mass consciousness,” a radical decline in respect for or pride in government may be a predictor of and stimulus for radical change of one sort or another. It may be assumed that people went out in the streets in Eastern Europe in 1989, and later gave little support for maintaining the former Soviet Union, because of declining legitimacy of government.

What this means is we on the left need to confront declining trust in government both in systematically articulating why this distrust is justified and at the same time presenting a credible alternative to the present. If we do not confront this danger and opportunity creatively, the alternative may not be an humane democratic socialism but rather a cruel fascism.

Sunday, May 26, 2019


Harry Targ

“My efforts to contribute to the aspirations of the working class began with writing novels about hospital workers….(In)the majority of stories that were published in books or aired in movies or on television, the heroes were doctors  or psychiatrists....The service workers who maintained the institution and provided most of the services were either absent from the plot, window dressing or foils for the professional classes.” (Tim Sheard, “Insurgent Publishing for the Resistance,” Hard Ball Press,
I’ll be ever’where-wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat. I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there…An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build-why, I’ll be there. (John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, Penguin edition, 1992, 419).

I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good…Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling. I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood…(Woody Guthrie, “Woody Sez,”

There is a long and rich tradition of storytelling and singing songs that reflect the reality of working people’s lives. The better ones inform and inspire people to action. And whole publishers have tried to bring these stories and songs to a mass audience. International Publishers, West End Press, the Feminist Press and others, particularly in the last third of the twentieth century, have struggled to keep this tradition alive. In the musical world, People’s Songs, Broadside, and Sing Out represent efforts to communicate working class music to newer audiences. But with the rising cultural hegemony of films, cable television, electronic songs and stories, and the mass-marketing of electronically downloadable fiction and non-fiction, the viability of outlets for working class culture has been made more difficult at a time when we need Steinbecks and Guthries more than ever.
In 2001, Tim Sheard published his first mystery novel about hospital shop steward, Lenny Moss, This Won’t Hurt a Bit.  Sheard then established Hard Ball Press, which published seven more Lenny Moss novels. Hard Ball press has expanded its offerings, including a new mystery by activist Bill Fletcher which addresses race in New England, numerous children’s books, and an engaging biography of Herbert and Joan March, organizers of the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA-CIO) in Chicago.

A shop steward and hospital custodian, Lenny Moss, returns in Tim Sheard’s latest mystery novel, One Foot in the Grave.  In this latest encounter, Moss assists hospital workers to solve the attempted murder of a popular staff doctor. The adventure reads like a classic well-timed narrative about an attempted murder and the almost desperate efforts to save the intended victim.

This gripping mystery story is overlaid with a rich description of work life in the James Madison Hospital. Hospital administrators are motivated not by serving the ill or providing a rich and constructive work environment for the custodial workers, nurses, laboratory technicians, or doctors, but by profit. The novel describes “speed-up” on the job, including nurses and doctors assigned greater numbers of patients, and extended hours of overtime rather than hiring adequate staff. The worsening conditions of work are made more complicated by a virulent Zika epidemic that has hit the city of Philadelphia. Additional patients are added to an already overloaded hospital. Hospital workers are forced to treat patients contaminated by the spreading epidemic. Some pregnant nurses, who are devoted to their jobs, are being forced to treat Zika patients even though scientists believe exposure to patients infected with this new highly contagious strain could cause birth defects.
It is in the context of worker exploitation, threats of firings, exposure to disease, and a voiceless and demeaned work force, that Lenny Moss steps up to encourage the organization of a staff union for the nurses. Organizing is complicated by gaps between nurses who see themselves as professionals without shared interest with custodial workers despite the clear reality, recognized by the custodials, that greater strength would be achieved by unity among all hospital workers.

All of this, the murder mystery, the analysis of the hospital as a workplace, the struggles between labor and capital, the emergence of a crisis imposed by the epidemic provide a rich reading experience: entertainment, education, inspiration, and empathy for the hospital workers. The Lenny Moss series, and virtually all the Hard Ball Press offerings, suggest that characters like Lenny Moss, are modern day working class heroes such as Tom Joad, who will be wherever working people are suffering and in struggle, or Woody Guthrie, who hates a song or a story that puts people down and makes them think they are no good.
Reading the latest Lenny Moss novel, really all of them, will entertain, educate, and inspire.

Friday, May 24, 2019


Harry Targ

(In the Trump era, with foreign policy advisors such as John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, appeals to diplomacy rather than war remain critical for the peace movement. A repost -August 7, 2015-from the days of United States/Iranian diplomacy).

Not every conflict was averted, but the world avoided nuclear catastrophe, and we created the time and the space to win the Cold War without firing a shot at the Soviets.
Now, when I ran for president eight years ago as a candidate who had opposed the decision to go to war in Iraq, I said that America didn’t just have to end that war. We had to end the mindset that got us there in the first place. It was a mindset characterized by a preference for military action over diplomacy, a mindset that put a premium on unilateral U.S. action over the painstaking work of building international consensus, a mindset that exaggerated threats beyond what the intelligence supported. (Barack Obama, “Full text: Obama gives a speech about the Iran nuclear deal,” The Washington Post, August 5, 2015).

The peace movement has often been faced with a dilemma. Should it channel its energies in opposition to imperialism, including economic expansion and covert operations, or should it mobilize against war, or both. The problem was reflected in President Obama’s August 5, 2015 speech defending the anti-nuclear proliferation agreement with Iran.  On the one hand he defended diplomacy as the first tool of a nation’s foreign policy and on the other hand his defense included the argument that through diplomacy the United States “won” the Cold War, and thereby defeated a bloc of states that opposed capitalist expansion. The implication of his argument was that pursuing imperialism remained basic to United States foreign policy but achieving it through peace was better than through war.

The speech was presented at American University 52 years after President Kennedy called for peaceful competition with the former Soviet Union. In June, 1963, nine months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, which nearly led to nuclear war, and weeks after Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s call for “peaceful coexistence,” President Kennedy responded by urging the use of diplomacy rather than war in the ongoing conflict with the Soviet Union. 

A small but growing number of scholars and activists at that time had begun to articulate the view that the threat of nuclear war, growing U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia, and repeated covert interventions in Guatemala, Iran, Cuba, and the Congo, had to do with U.S. imperialism. The dilemma for the peace movement in 1963 then as it is in 2015 is how to respond to United States imperialism at the same time as supporting the use of diplomacy to forestall wars.

In the context of political discourse in 2015, dominated by “neoconservative” and “humanitarian interventionist” factions of the foreign policy elite, the danger of war always exists. Therefore, any foreign policy initiative that reduces the possibility of war and arguments about its necessity must be supported. The agreement with Iran supported by virtually every country except Israel constitutes an effort to satisfy the interests of Iran and the international community and without the shedding of blood and creating the danger of escalation to global war. 

Neoconservatives, celebrants of war, have had a long and growing presence in the machinery of United States foreign policy. James Forrestal, the first Secretary of Defense in the Truman Administration, was a leading advocate for developing a militaristic response to the Soviet Union in the years after World War II. As historian Andrew Bacevich pointed out, Forrestal was one of the Truman administrators who sought to create a “permanent war economy.” He was, in Bacevich’s terms, a founding member of the post-World War II “semi-warriors.”

Subsequent to the initiation of the imperial response to the “Soviet threat”-the Marshall Plan, NATO, wars in Korea and Vietnam, the arms race-other semi-warriors continued the crusade. These included the Dulles brothers (John and Allen), Air Force General Curtis LeMay, and prominent Kennedy advisors including McGeorge Bundy and Walter Rostow, architect of the “noncommunist path to development,” in Vietnam.

Key semi-warriors of our own day, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Elliott Abrams, Robert Kagan, and others who formed the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) in the 1990s, gained their first experience in the administrations of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. The PNAC view of how the United States should participate in world affairs is to use military superiority to achieve foreign policy goals. The key failure of Clinton foreign policy, they claimed, was his refusal to use force to transform the world. For starters, he should have overthrown Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

The neoconservative policy recommendations prevailed during the eight years of the George Walker Bush administration. International organizations were belittled, allies were ignored, arms control agreements with Russia were rescinded and discourse on the future prioritized planning for the next war. And concretely the United States launched long, bloody, immoral wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Humanitarian interventionists, more liberals than conservatives, argued that the United States should use force, but more selectively, to achieve various goals. These goals included interventions that allegedly defended the quest for human rights. Advocates of humanitarian interventionism argued that the United States must use all means available, military and diplomatic, to maximize interests and values. And force need not be the first or only instrument of policy. 

But in the end the humanitarian interventionists encouraged bombing Serbia, intervening in a civil war in Libya, funding rebels perpetuating war in Syria, expanding military training and a U.S. presence in Africa, and funding opposition elements against the government in Venezuela. In addition, with advice from humanitarian interventionists, the United States increased the use of drones to target enemies of U.S. interests in East Asia, the Persian Gulf, and the Middle East.

Neoconservatives and humanitarian interventionists (and in earlier times anti-communists) have led the charge for war-making in the United States since World War II. Between the end of the war and the 1990s, 10 million people died in wars in which the United States had a presence. Hundreds of thousands of young men and women serving in the armed forces of the United States have died or been permanently scarred by U.S. wars. And the physical landscape of Southeast Asia, the Persian Gulf, Central America, and the Middle East has been devastated by war. And in the United States, foreign policy elites, politicians, and think tank experts still advocate violence to address international problems. 

Therefore, in the context of a huge arms industry and global economic and political interests, any presidential initiative that uses diplomacy rather than force, declares its opposition to unilateral action, and challenges the war mindset deserves the support of the peace movement. Given the long and painful United States war system, the battle to secure the agreement between the P5 plus 1 nuclear agreement with Iran is worthy of support.