Sunday, February 24, 2019


Weekend Roundup

When I started this exercise, I reassured myself that I would just go through the motions, collecting a few notes that I may wish to refer back to after the 2020 election. While I've written very little on it, I've thought a lot more about my four-era synopsis of American history, and I'm more convinced than ever that the fourth -- the one that started in 1980 with Ronald Reagan -- ends definitively with Donald Trump in 2020. I doubt I'll ever manage to write that book, but it's coming together pretty clearly in my mind. I'll resist the temptation to explain how and why. But I will offer a couple of comments on how this affects the Democratic presidential field. For starters, it is very important that the Democrats nominate someone who is not closely tied to Reagan-era Democratic politics, which means the Clintons, Obama, and Joe Biden. Those politicians based their success on their ability to work with Reagan-era constraint and tropes, and those have become liabilities.

It's time for a break, which could mean an older candidate with clear history of resisting Clinton-Obama compromises (like Bernie Sanders) or a younger candidate who's simply less compromised. Second point is that Republicans have become so monolithically tied to Trump, while Trump has become so polarizing, that no amount of "moderation" is likely to gain votes in the "middle" of the electorate. On the other hand, these days "moderation" is likely to be seen as lack of principles and/or character. In this primary season I don't see any reason not to go with whichever Democrat who comes up with the best platform. Still, there is one trait I might prefer over a better platform, which is dedication to advancing the whole party, and not just one candidate or faction.

I don't intend to spend much time or space on candidates, but I did note Bernie Sanders' joining the race below, a piece on his foreign policy stance (which has more to do with the shortcomings of other Democrats), as well as a couple of policy initiatives from Elizabeth Warren -- who's been working hard to establish her edge there. I've been running into a lot of incoherent spite and resentment against Sanders, both before and since his announcement, often from otherwise principled leftists, especially directed against hypothetical "purists" who disdain other "progressives" as not good enough. I'm far enough to the left that no one's ever good enough, but you make do with what you can get. I sympathize with Steve M.'s tweet:

Everyone, pro and anti Bernie: Just grow the fuck up. He's in the race. Vote for him, don't vote for him, let the process play out, then fight like hell to enact whoever wins the nomination. STOP DOING 2016 BATTLE REENACTMENTS.

Of course, if Hillary throws her hat in, all bets are off.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias:

  • Jamelle Bouie: Sanders has an advantage, and it's not about economics: "He has put forward a foreign policy vision that pits democratic peoples everywhere against illiberalism at home and abroad." I wish he was better still -- Laura blew up about some comments he made the other day on Venezuela, but he's not as kneejerk reflexive as most Democrats, or as gullible when someone pitches a war as humanitarian -- but he's closer to having a framework for thinking about America's imperial posture than almost anyone with a chance to do something about it. By far the biggest risk Democrats are running is the chance they may (as Hillary was) be tarred as the war party.

  • Ted Galen Carpenter: How NATO pushed the US Into the Libya fiasco: I think this was pretty obvious at the time, although once the US intervened, as it did, the war quickly became something all sides could blame on America -- particularly as the US had a long history that had only grown more intense under Bush and Obama of absent-minded intervention in Islamic nations. Obama later said that he regretted not the intervention per se but not planning better for the aftermath -- an indication of lack of desire or interest, not that Bush's occupation of Iraq turned out any better. (Of course, the fiasco in Iraq was also excused as poorly planned, but no one doubted the interest and excitement of the Bremer period as Americans tried to refashion Iraq in the image of, well, Texas.) One point that could be better explained is that Europe (especially France and Italy) had long-standing commercial ties to Libya, which America's anti-Qaddafi tantrums (at once high-handed, capricious, arbitrary, and indifferent to consequences) had repeatedly undermined. After NATO fell in line behind the US in Afghanistan and (for the most part) Iraq, Europeans felt America owed them something, and that turned out to be Libya. That all these cases proved disappointing should prove that NATO itself was never the right vehicle for dealing with world or regional problems.

  • Ben Freeman: US foreign policy is for sale: "Washington think tanks receive millions of dollars from authoritarian governments to shape foreign policy in their favor." Not just authoritarian governments, although you could argue that the most obvious exception, Israel, qualifies. For that matter it seems likely that many other nations (democracies as well as dictatorships) are every bit as active in buying American foreign policy favors -- so much so that singling out the "authoritarians" is just a rhetorical ploy. Original link to TomDispatch. By the way, in the latter, Tom Engelhardt quotes from Stephen Walt's new book, The Hell of Good Intentions: America's Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of US Primacy:

    [T]he contemporary foreign policy community has been characterized less by competence and accountability and more by a set of pathologies that have undermined its ability to set realistic goals and pursue them effectively. To put it in the bluntest terms, instead of being a disciplined body of professionals constrained by a well-informed public and forced by necessity to set priorities and hold themselves accountable, today's foreign policy elite is a dysfunctional caste of privileged insiders who are frequently disdainful of alternative perspectives and insulated both professionally and personally from the consequences of the policies they promote.

    Although "good intentions" often fail, Walt is being overly generous in accepting them at face value. Up to WWII, US foreign policy was almost exclusively dictated by private interests -- mostly traders and financiers, with an auxiliary of missionaries. WWII convinced American leaders that they had a calling to lead and manage the world, so they came up with a great myth of "good intentions," although those were soon shattered as they embraced slogans like "better dead than red."

  • Greg Grandin: How the failure of our foreign wars fueled nativist fanaticism: "For nearly two centuries, US politicians have channeled extremism outward. But the frontier is gone, the empire is faltering, and the chickens are coming home to roost." Adapted from Grandin's new book, The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border in the Mind of America.

    Had the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq not gone so wrong, perhaps George W. Bush might have been able to contain the growing racism within his party's rank and file[1] by channeling it into his Middle East crusade, the way Ronald Reagan broke up the most militant nativist vigilantes in the 1980s by focusing their attention on Central America. For nearly two centuries, from Andrew Jackson forward, the country's political leaders enjoyed the benefit of being able to throw its restless and angry citizens -- of the kind who had begun mustering on the border in the year before 9/11 -- outward, into campaigns against Mexicans, Native Americans, Filipinos, and Nicaraguans, among other enemies.

    But the occupations did go wrong. Bush and his neoconservative advisers had launched what has now become the most costly war in the nation's history, on the heels of pushing through one of the largest tax cuts in the nation's history. They were following the precedent set by Reagan, who in the 1980s slashed taxes even as he increased the military budget until deficits went sky-high. Yet the news coming in from Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere began to suggest that Bush had created an epic disaster. Politicians and policy intellectuals began to debate what is and isn't torture and to insist that, whatever "enhanced interrogation" was, the United States had a right to do it. Photographs from Abu Ghraib prison showing US personnel cheerfully taunting and torturing Iraqis circulated widely, followed by reports of other forms of cruelty inflicted on prisoners by US troops. Many people were coming to realize that the war was not just illegal in its conception but deceptive in its justification, immoral in its execution, and corrupt in its administration.

    Every president from Reagan onward has raised the ethical stakes, insisting that what they called "internationalism" -- be it murderous wars in impoverished Third World countries or corporate trade treaties -- was a moral necessity. But the disillusionment generated by Bush's war on terrorism, the velocity with which events revealed the whole operation to be a sham, was extraordinary -- as was the dissonance. The war, especially that portion of it allegedly intended to bring democracy to Iraq, was said to mark a new era of national purpose. And yet a coordinated campaign of deceit, carried out with the complicity of reporters working for the country's most respected news sources, had to be waged to ensure public support. The toppling of Saddam Hussein was predicted to be a "cakewalk," and US soldiers, according to Vice President Dick Cheney, would "be greeted as liberators." But Cheney still insisted that he needed to put in place a global network of secret torture sites in order to win the War on Terror.

    As thousands died and billions went missing, the vanities behind not just the war but the entire post-Cold War expansionist project came to a crashing end. . . .

    War revanchism usually takes place after conflicts end -- the Ku Klux Klan after World War I, for example, or the radicalization of white supremacism after Vietnam.[2] Now, though, it took shape while the war was still going on.[3] And border paramilitarism began to pull in not only soldiers who had returned from the war but the veterans of older conflicts.

    Notes: [1] Of course, "channeling" racism wasn't something Bush II worried about, after Nixon, Reagan, and Bush I had built their winning presidential campaigns by cultivating it. It was by then part of the Republican brand. [2] What about the Red Scares following both World Wars? Even wars that were definitely won seem to have left a hunger for more, starting with the search for scapegoats. [3] Or should we say, the war abroad dragged on even after most Americans lost interest in or commitment to it?

  • Alex Isenstadt: Trump rolls out massive corporate-style campaign structure for 2020.

  • Sarah Kliff: Elizabeth Warren's universal child care plan, extended: More evidence that Warren is running away from the pack in producing serious thinking about and proposals for policy. For another, see: German Lopez: Elizabeth Warren's ambitious plan to fight the opioid epidemic, explained.

  • Natasha Korecki: 'Sustain and ongoing' disinformation assault targets Dem presidential candidates: "A coordinated barrage of social media attacks suggests the involvement of foreign state actors." I bet not just those scary foreign state names but PACs and slush funds all over the world, any outfit with a cross to bear or an interest to push.

  • Anna North: The Trump administration is finalizing plans to strip funding from Planned Parenthood.

  • John Pilger: The war on Venezuela is built on lies. Also related: Timothy M Gill: Why is the Venezuelan government rejecting US food supplies?

    We can surely debate the cruelty of Maduro's domestic policies and his inability and unwillingness to seriously combat the economic crisis, perhaps in an effort to benefit his cronies. Yet, Maduro is not incorrect about the U.S.'s disingenuous behavior.

    At the same time that the U.S. is portraying itself as a literary protagonist with its supplies situated on the Colombia-Venezuela border, its policies are intensifying hardships for Venezuelan citizens. If it truly wanted to help Venezuelans, it could work through international and multilateral institutions to send aid to Venezuela, push for dialogue, and take some options off the table, namely military intervention.

    Above all, the U.S. is currently damaging the Venezuelan economy with its sanctions, and its supplies on the border will do very little to solve the crisis writ large. If sanctions haven't felled governments in Iran or Syria, to name just two examples, it doesn't seem likely that they will fall the Maduro government any time soon. They'll only perpetuate suffering and ultimately generate acrimony towards the country.

    The US has put this kind of pressure on nations before, imposing huge popular hardships as punishment for the government's failure to surrender to American interests. Crippling sanctions failed to break North Korea and Cuba. Iraq held out until the US invaded, then resisted until American troops withdrew. Syria descended into a brutal civil war. The US is on a path of goading Maduro into becoming the sort of brutal dictator that Assad became. One might cite Nicaragua as the exception, where the Sandinista regime relinquished power to US cronies, for what little good it did them.

  • Aaron Rupar:

  • Stephanie Savell: US counterterrorism missions across the planet: "Now in 80 countries, it couldn't be more global." See the map.

  • Tim Shorrock: Why are Democrats trying to torpedo the Korea peace talks? That's a good question. You'd think that Democrats would realize by now that the conflicts created and exacerbated by America's global military posture undermine both our own security and any prospects for achieving any of their domestic political goals.

    "Democrats should support diplomacy, and remember the most important president in this process is Moon Jae-in, not Donald Trump," Martin said. "Moon's persistent leadership toward reconciliation and diplomacy with North Korea represents the fervent desire of the Korean and Korean-American people for peace. Members of Congress from both parties should understand that and support it, skepticism about Trump and Kim notwithstanding."

  • Amanda Sperber: Inside the secretive US air campaign in Somalia: "Since Trump took office, figuring out whom the US is killing and why has become nearly impossible."

  • Emily Stewart:

  • Matt Taibbi:

    • Thomas Friedman is right: Pie doesn't grow on trees. Taibbi is the reigning champ of parsing Friedman's blabber, but instead of translating his pie metaphors into English, Taibbi is so overwhelmed by the moment he just transcribes them into page-straddling German nouns. The Friedman piece in question: Is America becoming a four-party state? I would start by sketching this out as a 2x2 chart, labeling the vertical columns Republicans and Democrats. The top row for leaders of both parties who think that all you need is growth (which mostly means pandering to big business); the bottom row for the resentful masses who feel they haven't been getting their fair share of all that growth. I imagine this less as four squares than as a capital-A. The top row is narrowed, the partisan differences marginal, while the bottom row diverges as to who to blame. Friedman pines for the good old days when all elites of both parties had to do was compete with each other to better serve the rich, when no one on either side stooped to pandering to the masses.

    • Bernie enters the 2020 race with defiant anti-Trump rhetoric.

    • Does Washington know the difference between dissent and disinformation?

  • Margaret Talbot: Revisiting the American Nazi supporters of "A Night at the Garden": A seven-minute documentary film nominated for an Oscar, based on a 1939 pro-Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden, and its relevance today.

  • Jeffrey Toobin: Roger Stone's and Jerome Corsi's time in the barrel: "Why the mismatched operatives matter to Trump -- and to the Mueller investigation."

  • Alex Ward:

  • Sean Wilentz: Presumed Guilty: A book review of Ken Starr: Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation, a reminder of the days when so-called Independent Investigators really knew how to run a witch hunt. Perhaps the new piece of information here is the extreme contempt that Starr and his minions, including Brett Kavanaugh, held for Hillary Clinton.

  • Li Zhou: The House will vote Tuesday on blocking Trump's national emergency.