Sunday, February 24, 2019
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
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:
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.
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
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."
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 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. Now, though, it took shape while the war
was still going on. And border paramilitarism began to pull in not
only soldiers who had returned from the war but the veterans of older
Notes:  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.  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.
 Or should we say, the war abroad dragged on even after most Americans
lost interest in or commitment to it?
Trump rolls out massive corporate-style campaign structure for 2020.
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,
'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.
The Trump administration is finalizing plans to strip funding from Planned
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.
US counterterrorism missions across the planet: "Now in 80 countries,
it couldn't be more global." See the
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
Inside the secretive US air campaign in Somalia: "Since Trump took
office, figuring out whom the US is killing and why has become nearly
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?
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.
Roger Stone's and Jerome Corsi's time in the barrel: "Why the mismatched
operatives matter to Trump -- and to the Mueller investigation."
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.
The House will vote Tuesday on blocking Trump's national emergency.