Monthly Archives: June 2014

The end of “The Great Divide”

The Great Divide has been a part of the NY Times on-line op-ed for some time. It has been devoted to the problem of US economic inequality and monitored by economist Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia. Today he contributed his last input and it will apparently not be continued. He devotes it to this question: “How did this ‘shining city on a hill’ become the advanced country with the greatest level of inequality?”

Words from Jon Stewart

You know what, I’m worried. I’m really worried about the Republicans. Their inability to wean themselves off of military intervention. They have a culture of defendency, if you will. And I believe it’s turned them all into warfare queens. And I think we need to cut them off for their own good.

Tell John Kerry It’s Too Late!

Here is William Pfaff’s latest on the farce in the middle east.

                                          June 25, 2014
Tell John Kerry It’s Too Late!
Paris – Secretary of State John Kerry thinks Iraq can be saved with a new prime minister to take the place of Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The new one would make friends with the alienated and hostile Sunni citizens that make up some 40 percent of the country’s population, who in the past dictatorially ruled it, and were forced out of power and precedence by the ascendant Shia majority. They can be convinced to forget all that, Mr. Kerry presumes. Those who are not already members of the ISIS army.
One must tell Mr. Kerry that it’s too late. (He’s the man who told us that he was going to fix up a two-state agreement between Israel and the Palestinians by next month.) Lots of other people in Washington have told the press about their equally unrealizable schemes for saving Iraq today: a new leadership, national reconciliation, appointment of Shia, Druze and Turkman officials, a new parliament, a new and well-trained army, a national campaign drafted by the best American public relations agencies to convince Iraqis to love one another and look at their future with optimism. Or they want another American invasion.
The exhortations in Washington that Barack Obama “do something” about the crises in the Middle East rest on the illusion that the United States already possesses the powers to which the Pentagon has aspired in its program to create a global system of regional commands that already cover Europe, the Americas, the Middle East and Central Asia, the Pacific, and now finishing off with “Africa Command” – all with the means to deploy American strategic ascendancy in every corner of the world.
Ready to be deployed to do what? Rescue the schoolgirls being kidnapped in Nigeria? Stamp out jihadism? Build a modern state for the separatist Touareg people of the Sahara? Recover the flood of modern weapons looted from Libya by tribal and jihadist groups after the U.S. joined France, Britain and Qatar in liberating Libya from Colonel Muammar Gaddafi? That was at the behest of the French “philosopher” and self-publicist Bernard Henri Levi, who convinced his pal Nicolas Sarkozy that the people of Benghazi were at risk of a “holocaust” in 2011 if France did not get NATO to save them. Americans are not the only people who formulate their foreign policy on what fools and fantasists think.
The U.S. Marines and the army’s Green Beret advisors are now deploying in Iraq to protect the anxious American officials, consultants, and mercenaries still in Baghdad’s Green Zone, and to counsel Iraq’s army – such of it as can be rounded up and sent back to the battle against the ISIS irregulars now controlling large parts of Iraq and Syria.
What are these American military advisers supposed to do? Iraq’s army has been disbanded, recreated, retrained, and rehearsed since soon after the American invasion of the country more than a decade ago (bringing Iraq, as George W. Bush explained before he retired, freedom and democracy). Officially, there are a quarter-million U.S.-trained ready troops today in the Iraqi army, and a half-million trained active reservists.
If this army cannot be convinced to defend its own country and religion, so as to block an invasion composed of an estimated seven to ten thousand highly-motivated volunteers making up the Sunni insurgency, there is nothing to be done. This is like Vietnam yesterday, and like Afghanistan tomorrow. If there is no real nation there – a vigorous and alive nation, or other civilization center — to which the majority of the population gives allegiance and loyalty — a highly-motivated insurgent movement is unlikely to be defeated, even at these odds.
Vice President Cheney told Americans that the Iraqis would greet our troops as liberators, once we invaded their country. Where’s that liberation spirit! Barack Obama could make one of his speeches to the Iraqis boosting the liberation spirit.
But that won’t work either. The Middle East now has been torn apart by American invasions and attacks, and careless ideas about how to remake other peoples’ lives according to our own ideas about how they should live and behave and believe. It’s been like the Huns passing through: millions are dead, cities in ruins, the Muslims at war with one another. Iraq and Syria, and probably Jordan, as they exist today, and possibly Lebanon, may never recover from this.
The Arabs will survive, and one day Palestine and ancient Syria and Mesopotamia will undoubtedly be reconstituted. Israel? It has existed as a modern state for little more than six decades, although it too existed in antiquity. Will modern Israel still exist at the end of this century? After all that has, and will, happen? I wonder what is the answer.

Intervention defended

Last week, in an op-ed in the NY Times, David Brooks recommended an article in the New Republic by Robert Kagan as a justification for the US policy of world interventionism. Robert Kagan is one of the two neo-con sons of Donald Kagan, all of whom took part in the founding of the notorious Project for the American Century. He also nimbly made the transition from Bush adviser to policy adviser to Secy. of State Hillary Clinton.

Just the other day William Pfaff noted Kagan’s article and commented on it. Here it is:

June 11, 2014
Ideas That Produce Ruins by William Pfaff
Paris – The neo-conservative commentator, Robert Kagan, co-founder in 1997 of the Project for a New American Century, and after that institution crashed amidst the ruins of Iraq, founder of its 2009 successor, the Foreign Policy Initiative, is continuing his crusade for a new Reaganism – which he construes as American world domination. Now it is with a new book, The World America Made, summarized in a long article in the May 26 issue of the Washington journal, The New Republic, and received in that city with apparent enthusiasm..
His purpose has always been to put Reaganite foreign policy back on its feet — or what he and other conservatives (neo or otherwise) think Reaganist foreign policy really was, the “defeat” of Soviet Communism, achieved through “moral clarity” and outspending the Soviet Union in arms. Others might say that the USSR collapsed of its own internal contradictions, and because of Mikhail Gorbatchev’s moral leadership.
Today the Kagan crusade seeks the defeat of Vladimir Putin’s new Russia through besieging it with new NATO states and economic sanctions. This, of course, is Victoria Nuland’s (Mrs. Kagan’s) department. When not engaged in that effort – currently in difficulty – the Kagan recommendation is that the U.S. confront Chinese power, and other states that abuse human rights, “rogue” states, and Arab terrorists, sweeping all of them into a new American world order.
Mr. Kagan appropriately takes his argument from history, dating it from America’s exceptionalist origins, Woodrow Wilson, and the first world war (which like many Americans he seems to believe the United States won, with 16 months at war and 350 thousand casualties, as against France’s four years and 6 million casualties, plus the other Allies). He says the war drew the United States out of its preoccupation with its own affairs to the “internationalism” which he says was the true objective of President Wilson, as of his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt.
Although the Senate refused to accept League of Nations membership (because it would require member-governments to go to war on the vote of the League’s membership, which was constitutionally unacceptable to the Americans), Kagan says that the League was meant to be a vehicle for American power in shaping a “new world order,” a goal which Washington has never abandoned.
The second world war made it possible for this conception to be realized. The author quotes Franklin Roosevelt as saying that in the liberal world order peace would have to be kept by force, envisaging a million American troops occupying postwar Europe. The Joint Chiefs expected to establish military bases around the world, “in areas well removed from the U.S.,” so that any fighting “would take place abroad.” Kagan says that this commitment to intervention was “the real revolution in American foreign policy,” operating, as Dean Acheson said, “in a pattern of responsibility which is greater than our own interests.”
This was, of course, substantially what did happen following 1945. Thus the Marshall Plan, the Bretton Woods economic institutions, and the construction of West European political, economic and security institutions (the former by French initiatives – the Coal and Steel Community, leading towards the European Union — and the latter by the British-led West European Union, later absorbed into NATO), all supported by the United States. The story is well known to us all; then we stumbled into the cold war, which dominated the international scene thereafter.
At this point Kagan’s narrative loses the point he wishes to establish, the success of the postwar global order, built up following the Korean War and the deepening freeze of the cold war, and subverted by the Vietnam War and Cambodian invasion. He treats these events without critical analysis. At this late date surely it is clear that the American misinterpretation of post-colonial Asian nationalism, as a Communist threat which the West must fight, produced disaster for all concerned, postponing for a generation the development of those states and producing a domestic crisis in the United States whose effects are still with us.
Then came the American plunge into the Middle East, making a parallel error, this time seeking revenge against Iran’s revolution. This was accompanied by Israel’s determination to dominate the developed or developing Islamic states, and the willingness of the United States to sustain this deep and lasting error. The Gulf War and the decision, against all knowledgeable advice, to set up what was to be a permanent American airbase in Saudi Arabia inspired al-Qaeda.
Next came the invasion of Iraq (for faked reasons) and Afghanistan, to destructive effect on the United States, and to its Islamic opponents as well, setting off and sustaining a “war of civilization” whose side-effects continue to be ruinous to Iraq and Syria, to the region, and a threat to the West.
With this record, Mr. Kagan’s belief that the world is waiting for and will benefit from a benevolent American suzerainty beggars the imagination. Does no one ever look back at the ruins such ideas have already produced?

© Copyright 2014 by Tribune Content Agency.

Liberal Hawks

Frank rich has an interesting article in New York Magazine called “Iraq Everlasting: We are still stuck in 2003, and it isn’t (only) George W. Bush’s fault.” For those with short memories he recalls the strong liberal and progressive suppport Bush received in his rush ro invade Iraq.

Like many I was impressed that Barack Obama had NOT, in contrast to Hillary, supported the Iraq adventure and was thus disappointed when he chose to double down on Afghanistan. As I have said before I blame this on his leaning  on the Washington foreign policy establishment for advice.



Krugman has a good column in the NY Times today about the right wing opposition to climate-controlling government actions. There’s no need for comment from me on that. However he also says this  “the predictable right-wing cries of outrage over theEnvironmental Protection Agency’s proposed rules on carbon seem oddly muted and unfocused.”  I think the answer to that is that Obama’s opposition has better fish to fry.

The electorate is composed of three basic groups: strong conservatives, strong progressives, and “independents.”  The independents are not a uniform group. Some are moderates who try to choose carefully among the candidates and issues of both parties for the best solution to our problems. I think that it is particularly difficult today for them maintain this objectivity, given the nature of our current Republican Party., but they are willing to try.

But I believe a great many of the independents  don’t fit this mold. They are people who don’t think much about public affairs, who avoid thinking about big issues because they are not given much to thinking at all. Some are stupid, but not all; they just aren’t interested. There are enough of this type of people to swing elections, given the close  balance of our politics at this time. Listen to the interviews with voters before and after elections and you will find that many give reasons for their voting that have nothing to do with any reasonable qualifications of a candidate. They include whether the candidate is likeable, looks the role, has the right color skin or an approved religion, or his/her position on some single issue that has caught the voters attention.

The voter’s attention is most likely to be caught by a simple issue that doesn’t require any effort to get the facts and think through to a position. People like this are easily misled by lies, because their attention span is short. This is why so much of the political controversy seems to be preoccupied with so-called issues that, in the face of the problems facing this country, can only be characterized as trivial. Examples are, the dog  on the roof, Romney’s taxes, Benghazi, or Private Bergdahl.

The right wing is better at raising these kind of issues than the left. Face it, hey have dumb ideas but they are damned good politicians. They are also better at lying since they don’t hold back. (I read a lot of left stuff and they tend to make bold headlines that turn out to be mostly exaggeration.)

While the NY Times editorial today pleads for people to get the facts before deciding whether Pvt Bergdahl has been guilty of malfeasance, the right wing has made the decision already and one senator has even talked impeachment of the president. Why talk about EPA regulations when you have a juicy issue like this?

A senile moment?

Supreme Court Justice Scalia had an embarrassing moment recently. In a dissent he buttressed his case with a previous court decision that he said backed his dissent. Turns out it did the opposite. He should have known, especially as he was the author of that previous decision!

A senile moment? Maybe, but he’s only 78 and just a boy. Anyway, the court revised his dissent so the record shows it never happened. Is all this fuss overblown? I suppose so.