Thursday, March 9, 2023

The Symptoms, the Disease and the Cause of America's Endless Wars

At any one time, the United States takes part in many wars, both directly, through combat operations by our armed forces and the CIA, and indirectly, by providing battlefield intelligence from our global satellite and electronic surveillance network, and by arming, training, and advising foreign armies. 

For example, under President Obama on one single day U.S. forces bombed six countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and Syria. And on the day I write this, in March 2023, we have our own forces fighting in Somalia and are assisting in wars in Ukraine, Syria, Niger, Mali, Yemen, Iraq, and Libya.    

We also arm and train military and covert forces in over 100 countries in return for their government's cooperation with our military and covert forces. 

These countries, of course, provide the pool from which the next wars will come: When asked in 1961 about Viet Nam, when it was just another post-colonial country where the United States was arming, training, funding, and advising a friendly regime, President Kennedy's top foreign policy confidant, his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, replied: "We've got 20 Viet Name a day to handle."

America's endless wars don't spring out of nowhere. They are merely the symptoms of a disease: American empire. 

Our empire is the latest in a succession, from the ancient Greek, Persian, and Roman leagues right through the 19th and 20th century European conquest of Africa and Asia and then the Nazi Reich and the Japanese "greater co-prosperity sphere" that tried to displace the European powers. When the European empires collapsed after failing to re-establish their colonial rule after World War II, America inherited their role of domination and protection of Western interests. We also inherited the essence of imperial logic, as stated in Thucydides' Melian Dialogue of 2,500 years ago: empires must meet every challenge with terrifying force, or lose their credibility.

And the disease of American empire just doesn't spring out of nowhere either. It too has to have a cause, a power that sustains it in a democratic country. And that power, that cause of empire, is American exceptionalism. Without a strong popular belief in, or at least acceptance of, America's right, indeed altruistic duty, to dominate other countries in the name of their and our "freedom," there would be no trillion dollar military and covert budget, no network of cooperative regimes, none of the hundreds of foreign bases, no global surveillance, and no military dominance -- "primacy," as the Pentagon calls it --  of the land, air, and sea battle spaces.

So when you ask why are we at war, the answer won't be found just in the historical details of one particular situation, but rather in the need of empires to respond to challenges, and in the general belief in American exceptionalism that sustains the American empire.  

If there is one thing I've learned in working to end U.S. wars for over 50 years -- from Viet Nam to Central America to the Long War for control of the Middle East and its Iraqi, Afghani, Libyan, Malian, and dozens of other component wars, it's that until America rejects exceptionalism and empire, voluntarily or more likely as a result of a disastrous reckoning, there will always be another war just around the corner.  

Friday, May 13, 2022

Stating the Obvious on Ukraine: America's Imperial Drive Made War Inevitable

Since the demise of the Soviet Union, Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute has been warning that expanding NATO to Russia's borders would harm American and European security. President George W. Bush's belligerent decision in 2008 to push NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia brought a clear Russian statement that this would be an unacceptable threat. And here we are in 2022, with Russia illegally invading and devastating a sovereign country based on phony intelligence claims, just like Bush did in Iraq in 2003. As the Kikuyu proverb goes, when the elephants (the American and Russian empires) fight, it is the grass (Ukraine) that suffers. 

Carpenter's piece explaining the background to Russia's invasion is brief and compelling. Read it here. 


Friday, April 16, 2021

The Climate Lie and Energy Imperialism

 The Climate Lie and Energy Imperialism


How to save the planet – and its people: Quick, send a copy of Marc Morano’s new book to a friend, before the illiberals ban it!


(A brief and laudatory review by AMEP director Caleb Stewart Rossiter of Green Fraud: Why the Green New Deal is Even Worse Than You Think, by Climate Depot impresario Marc Morano)


I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned “climate change” before on this anti-imperialist website. 


In large part that’s because we have bigger fish to fry. You know, like the pro-democracy demonstrators who are shot down, imprisoned, and tortured in the former colonial countries that make up America’s imperial network. 


From Uganda and Mali in Africa to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, we give our friendly dictators -- our bastards, as FDR called them – the weapons and covert help they need to stay in power. In return, these thugs provide the bases and cooperation our troops and spies need in what the Pentagon calls “the long war” for global domination. 


Environmental issues seem like small potatoes for Americans who believe that we should not be oppressing people who want to enjoy the very freedoms we demand for ourselves. Shouldn’t we be focusing on saving people, rather than trees?


Another reason why I haven’t discussed “climate change” on this website is that it’s just silly. The quasi-religious dogma that there is a fossil-fueled environmental crisis is a lie that is so brazen, so bald-faced, so illogical, and so easily disprovable that is hardly worth the words it takes to explain why. 


Throughout the 40 years that the Democratic Party and its Pravda press have been promoting this eco-religious narrative, the actual data (as opposed to the cooked computer models) have continued to show no statistically significant increases in dangerous weather variables like the rate of sea-level rise -- despite soaring emissions of the mild warming gas (and powerful tree and crop fertilizer) carbon dioxide, a non-toxic by-product of fossil fuels. 


As a statistics professor, I’ve taught students for decades how to assess studies that make wild predictions that never seem to come true. After the first dozen studies, it’s pretty boring and predictable stuff.


However, as Marc Morano makes clear in his readable and humorous -- but scientifically solidly-founded -- Green Fraud, it is clear now that the failure of the predicted climate crisis to emerge hasn’t stopped the Democratic Party from promoting the same solution in search of a problem that eco-fanatics were pushing long before they latched onto climate change: ban the fossil fuels that provide the affordable, reliable energy that has helped people in the developed countries become wealthy, healthy, and long-lived. Energy prices are going up and reliability is going down in America, for no good reason but obeisance to the narrative.


Morano also explains how the United States and the former colonial powers are successfully blocking poor countries from providing their people with what they need and want in the energy field. To be specific, the rich developed countries have written international trade and finance rules that keep Africa and Latin America from getting loans for energy infrastructure, and also impose “carbon taxes” on their exports. 


Then they blackmail the poor countries into compliance with the Green New Deal, which the World Health Organization estimates leads to hundreds of thousands of annual deaths from indoor air pollution, since the poor have to keep heating and cooking in their homes with wood and animal dung. And in Africa even more die, especially children, because of the demand for minerals to feed the subsidized electric cars and solar panels and batteries of the West. 


Sure sounds like imperialism to me. The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), the organization that sponsors Morano’s climate and energy website, Climate Depot, recently published a review of the ways that Africa is resisting such energy and climate madness.


  So what can we do? I suggest we start by each sending a copy of Morano’s new takedown of the Green New Deal to one of our friends. It doesn’t matter if they are illiberal, liberal, conservative, or politically at-large. 


What good would that do? It’ll make them laugh, no matter what their politics. And humor, Morano’s stock in trade, is so much more effective in engaging the average reader than citing ponderous studies. Morano has done the distilling of facts into humor for us, relying on the two decades he has spent in voracious reading and friendly debating. Like he says, he’s not a scientist, but he sure plays one on TV…extremely well! He’s a thoughtful, witty popularizer, with an elephant’s long memory for all the ridiculous claims (CO2-driven climate change causes wars, floods, wife-beating, crop failures, schizophrenia, etc.) that didn’t come true.  


* * *


For 30 years in and around Congress as a staffer and then a lobbyist, I mostly worked with Democrats, and even ran for Congress once, for that party. So why am I so enamored of an arch-Republican, who staffed both Senator James Inhofe and Rush Limbaugh and made his bones as the man who Swift-boated my anti-war hero, John Kerry?


Well, politics makes strange bedfellows, and anti-imperialist politics are like any other. In his encyclopedic work debunking climate alarm and energy madness, Marc Morano has discovered and highlighted a new form of imperialism that is every bit as damaging to the freedom, opportunity, health, and life expectancy of the formerly colonized countries as our backing of their friendly dictators. 


            Friend and foe alike acknowledge that Morano is the most potent force standing like Horatius on the bridge, protecting our future. Behind him are our sources of cheap energy, which drive our health, wealth, longevity, and personal freedom. Before him is the woke, elite mob baying for a Green New Deal. Every day, for nearly two decades now, Morano has played checkers and chess against the mob. By checkers I mean his short-term work of going on conservative media daily to affirm with brief quips, jokes, and facts to the audience in fly-over America that their skeptical instincts about experts and politicians who call our energy sources a threat to the planet’s survival are fundamentally on target. By chess I mean his long-term projects, like movies and books, that make the case in more detail but with no less humor and pith.


* * *


Very few Americans actually try, let alone succeed, in learning the main concepts involved in the “climate change” debate. (I put that phrase in quotation marks to indicate that it has taken on a specific meaning of late. It refers not to natural changes in our global system of long-term weather, but rather to the summation of unverified, often unverifiable, and even disproven claims from a very, very large set of scientific and economic fields into a single narrative: the large-scale emissions of carbon dioxide that result of modern economic activity are destroying life on our planet.)


I should stress that anyone – me, Morano, even polymaths like physicist William Happer and former Greenpeace leader and ecologist Patrick Moore, or the anti-Moranos like Bill McKibben, Al Gore, and physicist Jim Hansen -- who brings some intelligence and logic to the debate is, of necessity, an amateur of some degree. 


That’s because climate change is really the science of everything, so nobody can claim an overall expertise in “climate science.” Atmospheric physics, ocean physics, agronomy, biology, mathematical modelling, geology, statistics, oceanographer, economist, engineer -- the list of specialties involved in each of hundreds of subfields of these fields, each requiring a lifetime of study, is literally endless. 


Morano not only masters the outlines of the various debates not only on the science, but also on the equally important economics and engineering issues relating to “renewables” – which he points out are anything but.


Enjoy this book! I did.


* * *



Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The UnDemocratic Party?


The UnDemocratic Party?

An Anti-Imperialist Considers this Bizarre Presidential Election, and the American Compact

In 2016, for the first time in my life, I didn’t vote for president. Oh, I did go to the polls like a good democrat and Democrat, just as I have every four years since I pulled the lever for George McGovern in 1972, to vote on the other offices. But I just couldn’t support either candidate for president. Right now, I’m one of the few remaining undecideds during this election campaign in a time of troubles that defies fiction – pandemic, mass protest, revolutionary violence with little state resistance, the capture of both major parties by their extremes, and even a president with coronavirus.

Voting is in my blood. Despite always living where the electoral votes are a foregone conclusion, from my parents’ example and exhortations I’ve always accepted the privilege, duty, and agonizing of voting as if the decision rested with me. My father, Clinton Rossiter, was a cheerleading historian of the American founding and an optimistic political scientist of the American present. My mother, Mary Ellen Rossiter, would spend the entire four years for each cycle pondering her vote. She would read and discuss, and then place her bets. In 2008 I had to treat her to a dream weekend of concerts and dinners in New York when Barack Obama came out of nowhere to knock off Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

(I confess my sin: even though I’ve held local office myself, I’ve never been interested in races below the federal level. When I show up at the polls, I’m usually clueless and disinterested about them. City Council? Town Supervisor? School Board? Statehouse? It just feels like these offices deal with First World problems that are constrained by federal choices.)

 My life and work have been devoted to ending the American empire that replaced the European ones after World War II as the enforcer of Western interests in the formerly-colonized world. Until this year I’ve always voted primarily on foreign policy grounds. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was too proven and dangerous an imperialist for me to support, and Donald Trump was, well, Donald Trump of Wrestlemania. As it turned out, Trump was actually far less warlike than Clinton. Although he never questions the alliances with dictators that sustain the American empire, his gut instinct against “endless wars” led him to turn down numerous misguided proposals by his generals and national security advisers.

Voting for Clinton, for me, would have been like someone in the Viet Nam anti-war movement voting for any of the three pro-war candidates in 1968, Humphrey, Nixon, or Wallace. Or like the (few) enfranchised Negroes in Birmingham, Alabama, voting for the “moderate” segregationist Albert Boutwell against the aggressive police commissioner Bull Connor in 1963. (Some Negroes in Birmingham did back Boutwell, which he believed gave him the victory. Called “just a dignified Bull Connor” by civil rights leader Fred Shuttlesworth, he immediately tossed Martin Luther King Jr. into the jail where he wrote his famed “Why We Can’t Wait” letter to whites like, well, Boutwell.)

            In my 12 elections, starting with George McGovern in 1972, 2016 was the fourth time I didn’t vote for the Democrat. So I’m still batting .667:

·       In 1980 I voted for Independent John Anderson, because Jimmy Carter had resolved his schizophrenic choices of moderate Cyrus Vance as Secretary of State and Cold Warrior Zbigniew Brzezinski as National Security Advisor in favor of the Zbig-boy. That led to a devastating war in the Ogaden in Ethiopia and a “Rapid Deployment Force” base agreement with the Somali dictator that has brought 40 years of chaos and suffering. Anderson took seven percent of the popular vote, but did not appear to affect the big Reagan victory.

·       In 1996 I voted for Republican Bob Dole, because Bill Clinton had abandoned our party, “triangulating” toward the Republicans after their 1994 capture of both House and Senate. Scared to confront a Pentagon that was actually begging for his leadership, Clinton became a full-time operative of the hawkish Democratic Leadership Council. The DLC had pushed war upon war on the developing countries as it tried to make up for our supposed global retreat after being beaten in Viet Nam. Dole was his own man, a combat veteran like Eisenhower with the same gimlet eye about both the military establishment and politicians who ignore the cost and unpredictability of war. He was unlikely to have his dog wagged, in the parlance of the day, into an excellent DLC lethal adventure.

·       In 2000 I voted for the Green, Ralph Nader. Nader was a non-interventionist whose platform called for ending U.S. support for dictators, which was the core of the Arms Trade Code of Conduct I had spent the 1990’s promoting. Gore was even worse than Clinton on neocolonial wars. He was a Dixiecrat in the Senate when I worked in Congress in the 1980’s and he constantly undercut our efforts to end Central American civil wars and block new Pentagon nuclear weapons programs.       

I breathed a sigh of relief when Joe Biden became the “presumptive nominee.” I’d donated to anti-imperialist Tulsi Gabbard, and later voted for her in our primary, but Joe is no Hillary-style, or even Barack-style, global warrior. In the parlance of a book I wrote on foreign policy called The Turkey and the Eagle (the stay-at-home Wild Turkey being Benjamin Franklin’s choice for our national symbol, instead of the wide-ranging, thieving Eagle), Biden has been a Soft Eagle, happy to have our empire but not willing to destroy countries in it to save them, as was said and done about villages and a country in Viet Nam.

I’d worked with Senator Biden in the 1990’s on the Code of Conduct legislation that would have banned arms sales to dictators, and as a congressional staffer I met with him in Pakistan in the 2000’s as part of an effort to find a way out of Afghanistan. From both temperament and experience, he was by far the most cautious of all the senior officials in the Obama administration about interventions and alliances, and their unintended consequences. My vote was pretty clear.

But then, this spring and summer, the craziness of the true Left that always bubbles on the fringe of the Democratic Party took it over, and I had to reconsider my presidential choice. I know that Left well, because it has been my home as an anti-imperialist for over 50 years. While I’ve appreciated the Left for its foreign policy, I’ve always feared it for its domestic policy, which is fundamentally Marxist and Leninist.

Marxist means, in this context, opposition to capitalism, one of the two key tenets of the American experiment. You can dress it up and call it Socialism, but the Left’s goal is still to control and make value judgments about people’s economic activity – Marx’s state control of “the means of production.”

Leninist means opposition to the other key American tenet, democracy. That’s a hard word to define, but what I mean by it here is respect for others and their opinions, and acceptance of the choices made in elections and then of the laws the chosen ones make within our constitutional framework. The Left’s program is truly one man, one vote, one time, as the European colonialists said to justify their opposition to African liberation – Lenin’s “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Since the day in 1969 when I came out of an anti-war planning meeting at the University of Chicago and faced a group of Weathermen and Women’s Liberation Movement activists screaming out Fidel Castro’s “Up Against the Wall,” I’ve known that if the Left ever took power, I’d be among the first they’d put there and execute. The irony was not lost on me when the Weathermen avoided prison for their 1970’s terrorist bombing campaign because the courts they would eliminate ruled that the government had violated the constitutional rights they would eliminate.

And the consensus at the staff meetings at the leftist Institute for Policy Studies where I was a foreign policy fellow over a period of 23 years was just as Marxist and Leninist as Chicago, 1969. In 1991 the staff justified riots and looting in the Mount Pleasant and Adams-Morgan – “shopping” expeditions piggybacked onto protests over a black police officer defending herself from a knife-wielding Hispanic man – as righteous acts of liberation. In 2011 the offices reeked of the Occupy Wall Street crowd that had been free tenants during various shower-free protests. By 2014 I’d been fired for writing about the well-known reality that Africa needs fossil-fueled electricity to raise life expectancy.    

The Democratic Party for whom I ran for Congress in 1998 was the party of regulated capitalism, broad-based economic growth, opportunity for the working man and woman, tolerance of diverse opinion, freedom of speech, minority rights, voting rights, and the rule of law. But the party has kowtowed rather than challenged its “progressive” Left wing for too long, and now has been captured by it. As Scott Hibbard has written, the Republican Party similarly flirted with, and then was captured by, the religious Right in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Then it went even farther right to accommodate the Tea Party, well before Donald Trump’s rise to power.

The Democratic Party now promotes “Green” economic stagnation, censors dissenting speech from the public forum, and lets a mob decide policy with violence or threats. It practices identity politics that undercut the education policies and social narrative that could uplift people in high-poverty neighborhoods, and empowers the Marxist-Leninist leadership of Black Lives Matter to demonize and defund the police who protect them.

Putting Democrats in control of House, Senate, and Presidency is a hell of gamble on Joe Biden’s inclination as president to ignore the promises he has made to the Left as a candidate. Divided government feels a lot safer than united rule by today’s Democratic leaders. The Supreme Court will be conservative, of course, but it has shown itself recently to be more of a constitutional barrier to dubious executive orders arising from divided government than to laws emanating from a united one.

Just What Is on the Ballot?

Vice President Biden said in his acceptance speech that this November, “Character is on the ballot. Compassion is on the ballot. Decency, science, democracy. They are all on the ballot.” He is right.

Being the “Voice of the People, the leading formulator and expounder of public opinion,” my father wrote way back in 1957 in The American Presidency, is one of the “additional limbs grafted onto the original trunk” of constitutionally-defined presidential duties. While the president “acts as political leader for some, he serves as moral spokesman for all.” In this function, he is “the American people’s one authentic trumpet.”

Every American should want their president to display personally the values Biden says are on the ballot. They do define, as he continued, “Who we are as a nation. What we stand for. And, most importantly, who we want to be.” But when he says that, “the choice could not be clearer,” he runs up against the values now being displayed by our party. For me, the choice is now murky:

Energy policy: To keep the Bernie Sanders wing happy, Biden agreed to ban 80 percent of American energy, which would force reliance on expensive and unreliable wind and solar power. This “Green New Deal,” which would devastate our economy and health, is a kooky non-solution to a future problem that only exists in computer models that are “tuned” to create it.  

Emissions of carbon dioxide from the world’s fossil fueled-energy add between two and three parts per million to the atmosphere every year. At this rate it would take about 200 years for levels of this non-polluting plant and plankton food to double to eight percent of one percent of the atmosphere, adding about a degree Celsius of warming to the global average temperature. That’s the same amount that’s been added since 1900 (largely naturally, as the much-cited but rarely-read reports of the UN climate body quietly admit) with no statistically-significant increase in rates of extreme weather or sea-level rise.   

Even worse, through its little-known carbon colonialism, the Green New Deal will hamper efforts to reduce poverty around the world. Only a third of Africans have access to electricity, and as a result life expectancy is 15 years below the global average. For a variety of technical reasons, coal will remain a crucial part of Africa’s electrification. Under Biden, African governments will be denied U.S. and World Bank funding for even modern, pollution-eliminating coal-fired electricity plants, and have to pay punishing penalties on their exports to America when China builds them anyway, without pollution controls. Under Trump, they’ll have a fighting chance.

Freedom of Speech and the Cancel Culture: About 20 years ago, the Left stopped promoting debates and started pushing political correctness – essentially, censorship. This was a watershed in American history. Previously, the Left believed it could win an open debate, and so always invited opponents to, for example, Viet Nam War “teach-ins.” The duel narrative of climate catastrophe and easy “renewable” energy solutions provided the test case for this new approach. After a ten-year, well-organized campaign led to the acquiescence of the left-leaning media, skeptics of this fanciful narrative were transformed into “deniers” of realities as certain as the Holocaust.

Scientists, engineers, and economists who are skeptical about even the wildest of claims in this complex set of topics are now banned from the public forum because of threats to boycott advertisers in scholarly, general, and social media, and to block grants to universities and non-profit scientific and advocacy groups. Democrats in Congress have turned “climate” hearings into spectacles in which witnesses are harassed with slanderous speeches that never turn into a question they are allowed to answer. And they pressure social media and tech firms to ban dissenting views on climate science and energy economics from their platforms and the conferences they sponsor.  

The success of the great climate shout-down encouraged campus-disrupting protests on other trendy issues. Students pushed universities to promote identity policies and unbalanced codes on hate speech and sexual allegations that effectively criminalized differences of opinion and manners. Now, the cancel culture has seeped into society as a whole. Anybody outside the progressive consensus on any issue knows they can become a target, not just professionally and financially, but physically – whether at home, at a restaurant, or on the street in a MAGA cap.

For all of Trump’s tenure, the Democratic Party has adhered to the philosophy emblazoned on leftists’ lawn signs: RESIST. As a member of the last real American resistance, the draft resistance during the invasion of Viet Nam, and a veteran of necessary congressional compromises on other fundamental foreign policy disputes, I disagree wholeheartedly. Resistance, rather than compromise, is appropriate only when you reject the governing compact, when you are a rebel, like in an occupied or criminal country. As my father wrote in Parties and Politics in America in 1960:

No America without democracy, no democracy without politics, no politics without parties, no parties without compromise and moderation…All but the first of these are assumptions with which many Americans find it hard to live.

Mob Rule: Even more troubling is the Democratic Party’s acceptance of policy-making by mob. There have been violent assaults on property and police in many Democratic-run cities, and in only a few cases have there been arrests, bail to make them stick, and trials to force plea deals with actual punishment. So, the mob rages on, taking away power from elected officials and just tearing statues down themselves.

It’s one thing to be so ignorant of American history that you use your elected authority, as DC mayor Muriel Bowser recently proposed, to retitle a school named after Andrew Jackson. It’s quite another to take it upon yourself to throw ropes around his statue and try to tear it down, as the mob in Lafayette Park did in a Black Lives Matter protest.  

Yes, as was typical for presidents until the Civil War, Jackson was a slave-owner and an implementer of federal legislation to move Indian tribes west of the Mississippi as a flood of Americans poured onto Indian land, and their farming needs proved irreconcilable with Indian hunting needs. But he was a brilliant general in the Creek wars in Alabama in 1813 and 1814, and against the British in New Orleans in 1815. Even more heroically, in the 1832 “nullification” crisis he made secession-minded South Carolina back down, stating that “disunion, by armed force, is treason. Are you ready to incur the guilt?”

Knowing Jackson’s reputation as a duelist and his military preparations for the day secession was to take effect, South Carolina’s legislature chose discretion over valor. About the president’s threat to hang the first secessionist he could lay his hands on from the first tree he could find, one senator cautioned that, “When Jackson starts talking about hanging, they can begin to look out for ropes.” A Union-preserving president needs to be studied, not erased.

            Another troubling, if initially non-violent, form of mob rule over the rule of law is the Democrats’ National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Bills have passed in 16 states that commit their electoral votes to the winner not of the state vote but of the national vote – but only after states with a majority of electoral votes have signed on. This threat to amend the Constitution without meeting an amendment’s high bar of two-thirds of both Houses and three-fourths of state legislatures is likely to be found unconstitutional if ever tested, and certain to cause chaos if ever used. More importantly, it shows contempt for the rule of law like another cute Democratic Party evasion, the DC statehood bill that would gut the constitutional role of the federal district.

Identity politics and black youth: Affirmative action after intense group-based discrimination is an important short-term, but dangerous long-term, solution. For 55 years the United States has provided reparations to help African-Americans catch up from slavery and segregation. The reparations come in separate tranches for the higher and lower economic classes. The higher-income group gets preferential admission to colleges and professional jobs, and financing and contracts for businesses. The lower-income group gets the fruits of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty: Visiting Nurses in and after pregnancy, Head Start for early childhood support, federal funding for K-12 and college, food assistance, Medicaid, Medicare, and cash support.

More importantly, the federal and then state governments promoted a societal recognition of the justice of equal treatment and equal opportunity, and a societal stigma against overt discrimination. These are now the norm in American society. However, there continues to be a difference of opinion about the very dispute that split the civil rights movement in the 1960’s. Martin Luther King’s goal of American integration, which held that people should be seen primarily as individuals, is still facing off with his black critics’ goal of Black Power separatism, which held that people should be seen primarily as members of ethnic groups.

The eventual resolution of this dispute is central to the progress of Americans whose lineage goes back to slavery. And it is mostly a dispute arising from slavery, not blackness. For all the challenges they may face, black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean are already among the highest-achieving groups in America.

 The repairing of our social order has brought some progress, particularly in strengthening the middle class, and some regression, particularly in crime and schools. The cause of the nihilistic, work and success-averse “post-traumatic slave syndrome” that I observed among my students when I taught in segregated high-poverty high schools recently was identified by sociologist and NACCP founder W. E. B. DuBois over 100 years ago, and affirmed by African-American writers and leaders ever since. PTSS arises from the historical burden of the alienation and resistance that came from three centuries of brutal, degrading violence, the great betrayal of America’s founding principles that was meted out or accepted by every white person in America.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, Newton posited, and it is just as true in oppression as in physics. We are seeing that reality today, in the Black Lives Matter movement. “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost all of the time,” said James Baldwin in 1961. Whether it’s rage or outrage, despair or sadness, the outpouring of broad-based black protest to recent police killings is a reminder that the pendulum is still swinging back. Each of the killings is a complex stew of circumstances and justifications, but the imagery is instinctively unmistakable to black America. President Lincoln hoped that the “mystic chords of memory” would bind white Americans together to eschew civil war, but in this case they will necessarily, for generations, drive us apart.

A black fragility to any insult to person or life that is conceivably based on race is not just commendable, unavoidable historical loyalty, but also a barrier to group progress. I come to this conclusion not from theory, but from being exposed to its reality as a teacher. Identity politics reinforces victimhood, the belief that your legal troubles or your lack of success in various situations and endeavors are pre-ordained, and due to the actions of others rather than yourself. Focusing on identity rather than opportunity can be self-defeating.

This point was made by Booker T. Washington in his 1900’s debates with DuBois on whether Negro advancement would come more from economics or politics. More recently it was made by Coleman Hughes in his duel of testimonies in 2019 with Ta-Nehesi Coates on reparations to black Americans for slavery.

When he and his party swept the first democratic election in South Africa in 1994, Nelson Mandela cautioned his jubilant African countrymen, who had suffered an equally brutal heritage but had their strong national (tribal) identity to see them through: “You are not free. You are free to be free.” Opportunity was theirs, he was saying, not guaranteed success. This is the opposite of the message that the Left has been delivering to black youth for years, in anti-bias and anti-racism broadsides.

Mandela, by the way, immediately dumped the Marxist platform of the African National Congress. He preserved capitalism and the wealth it had generated for whites under apartheid, and was at pains to keep white South Africans in the country, with their capital and their modern work and investment ethics. He advocated, unpopularly with many African and Coloured citizens, for whites to be accepted whole-heartedly as South Africans, and not be seen as criminals because of past political evils.

As Martin Luther King said, “hate is too great a burden to bear,” particularly for a people who would have to bear it on their way to freedom. The initiator of King’s Montgomery bus boycott, Alabama State English professor Jo Ann Robinson, said it well: “Hate does more harm to the hater than to the hated.” And she lived that belief, in her firm but patient dignity and religiously-rooted activism. Shakespeare warns us that: “To mourn a mischief that is past and gone is the next way to draw new mischief on.” And he offers a remedy: “The robbed that smiles steals something from the thief. He robs himself that spends a bootless grief.”

The health “black tax” of PTSS is real, showing up in anxiety-induced heart disease and infant mortality rates that far exceed those expected from economic differences. But it is currently a self-imposed tax. The success of black immigrants proves that. Coming from all-black cultures, with the usual mix of achievers and sloths, they haven’t grown up thinking of themselves as “black” versus the normative, historically-oppressive white. They seize America’s incredible opportunities, compared to those in their lands of origin, without reservation.

Focusing on parentage rather than personal achievement is a racialist throwback. It cries out for someone to do something for you. The focus should be on what you can control: your efforts. Telling young black Americans that the solution does not lie in their own actions has tragic consequences.

In the schools where I taught there was a constant undertone of blaming every disappointment on racism rather than one’s own work ethic. Humorously, one girl shouted down a boy who got his paper back with a poor grade and accused me of picking on him because he was black: “Fool, we all black, and we didn’t get an F! You just never come to class.” The entire class, including the boy, cracked up.

Consider this recent claim by track star Keturah Orji, which is foundational to the narrative that every decision made about a black person by a person in authority is based on race, and not the general rules for all. In an interview in Track and Field News (“The Bible of the Sport”), she said: “The first time I actually felt systemic racism was when I was suspended my senior year (for refusing to leave her coach’s office when another teacher told her she couldn’t stay there unsupervised)….I realized this is actually that people didn’t hear us because of our skin…She claimed (their interaction) was intimidation, harassment, bullying, and I’m 5’ 5”, there’s nothing scary about me.”’ Being black and short, in this approach, means a free pass from the rules and any truculence in following them.

Of course race is always present in America. In retrospective interviews about the integrated Stax record label in 1960’s Memphis, all the white staff and musicians say literally the same line: “We never saw color.” All the blacks wince when they hear this, and say, no, you had to see color in that time. Even integrationists should see color, and appreciate the different challenges people face. However, color shouldn’t determine decisions. When running non-governmental groups I followed pro football’s “Rooney Rule” of diverse hiring pools, not necessarily diverse outcomes. The Democratic Party, in contrast, is backing a referendum in November to reverse California’s ban on affirmative action, and again allow ethnicity to play a role in admission to elite state universities.

The public school establishment, essentially a Democratic Party apparatus, has replaced a national narrative of opportunity with a national narrative of victimhood. If the system is rigged against you, and everybody in it is a white supremacist, there’s little point in trying -- especially when they keep passing you anyway.

A training flyer over the Xerox machine in the teachers’ lounge at one of my schools identified teachers’ racist lack of belief in our black students as the reason they don’t succeed. Segregating the poorest, most challenged families into their own schools? Passing students from first grade up who don’t attend or do the work? Nah – it’s the racist teachers who don’t believe in them that keep them from gaining the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in college. A conservative is a liberal who had to sit through anti-bias training. At least you don’t have to any more in the federal government. “I ended it because it’s racist,” explained President Trump. He’s right.

The New York Times’ ahistorical “1619” project, which dates America’s founding not in 1776, but in the year the first slaves arrived in Virginia, is a logical consequence of the Democratic Party’s surrender to racialism. Like Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, 1619 criticizes American history for being celebratory and exaggerated and loose with the facts. True enough, but then it doubles down on these faults. As in most of its political reporting these days, the Times has become a tendentious propaganda arm of the Democratic Party.

Historical fact contradicts 1619’s whoppers, like the claim that the Revolution was caused by British attempts to end slavery: “Conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact that one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.” No, British moves to free slaves of rebels, not Tories, for military purposes only came after the revolt, which had been brewing for years because of British control of taxes and Appalachian lands. Other claims are discussed here by a group of historians.

The entire 1619 project is framed under this banner: “Our democracy’s ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.” This takes a complex historical issue and twists it into a simple rhetorical fact. You could just as well say that the ideals were true, and in need of perfecting in practice, something that Americans of many ethnicities have promoted.

The project director, Nikole Hannah-Jones, who felt degraded by her father flying the American flag and believes that, “No matter how hard he worked, he never got ahead,” has now admitted that 1619 “never intended to be a history.” Rather, she says, it is an “argument…to control the national narrative…the nation’s shared memory of itself.” The New York Times even took down from its project website its original claim that 1619, and not 1776, was the true founding date of America, and edited its founding statement to be less categorical, without noting these corrections. I hope all this keeps 1619 from being presented without countervailing perspectives in schools.

Historical memory is a crucial part of life. I run a website focused on how America presents its empire to itself, and I wrote a book on the Viet Nam war largely to counter our thundering silence about its meaning. I applaud Langston Hughes’ explanation that “America never was America for me,” and Obama preacher James Wright’s exhortation, “Not God bless, America; God damn America…for treating her citizens as less than human.” These explain the reality of black life, the reality of PTSS, that we all need to understand.

I believe that school children should know George Washington’s slave-owning record before they cut out shapes of cherry trees on his birthday, and that Veterans’ Day celebrations should include a discussion of the wars they fought, and whether they were fought for freedom and protection of our citizens, as incessantly claimed, or for imperial expansion. But the facts have to be accurate. So far, my party hasn’t shown the temerity to make that the case.

The Revolutionary Agenda of Black Lives Matter: There are two parts to the narrative promoted by the trio of self-described “trained Marxists” who created and lead Black Lives Matter. Eric Mann, an unrepentant survivor of the 1970’s terrorist group, the Weathermen, who also fixated on “the pigs” and even tried to murder them, was BLM leader Patrisse Cullors’ “mentor.”

The first part of the BLM narrative is that a fundamentally racist country is the key barrier to black progress. The second part is that black people suffer more than other ethnic groups from wanton police violence and prejudiced legal punishment.

The first claim, as discussed above, is an arguable conclusion, and is based on a politicized and sometimes dubious chain of assumptions. The second claim is a blatant falsehood that is promoted as part of the BLM leadership’s revolutionary agenda. BLM has not formally announced, as the Weathermen did, that they are seeking to overthrow our method of government in favor of a communist dictatorship, but once the police are “defunded” and the prisons are emptied, it will obviously be a lot easier to seize power.

A higher share of blacks than whites are killed by police. While African-Americans are 12 percent of the country, they account for a quarter of the 1,000 annual police killings. However, detailed analysis of police shootings show “no racial differences” in the use of deadly force against suspects. How can this be? Of course, the key is, how does one become such a suspect? Mostly by threatening police with a weapon.

 As has probably been the case since DuBois worried about this “vast problem” in 1899, blacks commit far more crimes per-capita than other ethnic groups, and so find themselves in armed confrontations with police more often, per-capita. But once in an armed confrontation with police, they are no more at risk of being shot.

Black parents famously have “the talk” with their children about not resisting arrest, but anybody who has spent time with poor black youth knows the “attitude” that displaces “the talk,” and leads to dangerous escalation in interactions with police. After centuries of having to accept violent degradation, African-Americans are now programmed not to back down when told what to do by a cop. They are as culturally incapable of backing down as the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert was when he wrote about the communists who collaborated with the Soviet Union: “Do not forgive – truly it is not in your power to forgive in the name of those betrayed at dawn.” And police simply don’t back down, to anybody, of any color.

Breonna Taylor was killed in Louisville by police as they returned fire at her boyfriend. When the grand jury declined to charge them for her death, her lawyer said that the decision endorsed the “genocide of persons of color by white police officers.” LeBron James, the star of the trendily politically-correct National Basketball Association, Tweeted: “The most DISRESPECTED person on earth is THE BLACK WOMAN!”

About 7,500 black Americans are killed each year, half of all homicides. Only three percent are killed by police, while 90 percent are killed by other black Americans. Because armed victims account for between 92 to 99 percent of police shootings (depending on the definition of armed, such as toy guns that the police believed were real), between 99.7 and 99.9 percent of blacks killed are NOT killed by police facing unarmed people. If there is a genocide, if there is a world-leading disrespect, it’s coming from someone other than the police.

In their push to defund police and release prisoners, the BLM leaders are abetted by Democrats, including, ironically, the son and adopted son of four murderous Weathermen, the newly-elected district attorney of San Francisco. An agent of the “progressive” movement in judicial reform, Chesa Boudin ended cash bail and promises to arrest ICE agents rather than let them seize criminals who are in the country illegally.

Claims of a “new Jim Crow” regime that puts black people in prison for political reasons are false. For a variety of complex and still unproven reasons, rates of violent crime tripled from 1960 to 1980. As a result, prison populations doubled, and then crime rates returned to their former level. African-Americans committed crimes at a higher rate than other ethnic groups, and so were imprisoned at higher rates.

The Election and the Future of America

I agreed with Ronald Reagan on only one thing when I worked in Congress in the 1980’s: in this country’s politics, we must be opponents, and not enemies. It’s getting harder to hold onto that belief. The recent craziness has revealed that a broad swath of the Left considers the rules of democracy passé, and supports censorship and cancelling the opinions, and indeed the livelihoods, of others. They’ve made it clear that they think opponents are enemies.

Seeing other Americans as aliens, representing an alien loyalty, is a recipe for civil war and totalitarianism. Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg wisely said: “You can’t love a country if you hate half of the people in it.” Well, I don’t hate my compatriots who want to silence rather than debate me, but it’s becoming increasingly hard not to see them as enemies of our form of government, in both letter and spirit. However, I still believe in accepting and respecting the results of elections, and the laws that those elected then pass.

I wanted this election to be about the end to endless wars versus the beginnings of new ones. But it’s about something even more fundamental now: our approach to each other. I don’t know which party’s candidate I’ll support in November -- actually October, when, COVID-fearful as I am, I'll send my mail-in ballot. But I do know that the election won’t resolve anything.

As in Africa, to reverse Clausewitz, politics has become an extension of war by other means. The Left will become a harder Left, the Right will become a harder Right, and the concentration of like-minded voters by choice and design will mean that Congress will have far less moderates in the middle than our share of the population deserves. But, pace Yeats, the centre can still hold in our widening gyre. We have to.

* * *

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Arms Sales to Dictators: The Strategic Glue of U.S. Domination

­Arms Sales to Dictators: The Strategic Glue of U.S. Domination

New York Times story touches parts of the Trump elephant, but misses the empire in the room

Do you recall the parable from India of the six blind men and the elephant? Each man touched a different part of an elephant, and so each concluded something different about its nature (it’s a wall, a snake, a rope, a spear...). The lesson is that one has to put together all the parts before knowing the whole.

The New York Times recently published a wonderful “touching the elephant” news story on arms sales to the formerly colonized countries under presidents Obama and Trump. The article gives us a rare glimpse into the “how” of this multi-billion dollar business, but this focus on the commercial side of things ignores the all-important “why.” Using another elephant metaphor, you might say the Times, like most mainstream commentators on U.S. foreign policy, misses the empire in the room.

Explaining arms sales without an understanding of the imperial necessity that drives them calls to mind a dismissive reaction in 1961 by Attorney General Robert Kennedy. He’d been asked about U.S. policy in South Viet Nam, which was then just another post-colonial country in our global network of friendly regimes propped up with arms, cash, “military advisers,” and spies. RFK replied: “We’ve got 20 Viet Nams a day to handle!” He could never have guessed that we would shortly kill two million people to preserve what the Pentagon Papers called the “credibility” of our implied threat to “handle” the rest of them the same way if need be.  

So, the Times has published a fascinating article, but one that places undue emphasis on distinctions that are fundamentally without a difference in the context of the U.S. strategy of domination of the global battle space through alliances with cooperative regimes. These distinctions include civilian versus military casualties, offensive versus defensive weapons, Trump versus Obama, and the State Department’s interests versus those of the rest of the national security bureaucracy.

Titled Why Bombs Made in America Have Been Killing Civilians in Yemen, the Times story shows us, from the perspectives of a few of the corporate and government players, the ins and outs of the approval of sales of bombs to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen’s civil war. It reads like a true-life version of a novel I recently published, Arms Deals: A Mar’Shae McGurk Thriller about “Shopping to Get Yours.”

Here's the timeline:

·       Despite Saudi Arabia invading Yemen in March 2015 and causing substantial civilian casualties with air attacks from the very first day, the Obama administration, under a policy of “defensive” support for Saudi Arabia, approved a Raytheon sale to the Kingdom of 120,000 bombs for $3 billion. Deliveries of the bombs continued for a year and a half until Obama suspended them in December 2016, his last month in office, in response to a particularly deadly and well-reported attack on civilians in the capital city of Sana’a in October.

·       Soon after his inauguration in January 2017, Trump lifted the suspension of bomb deliveries. However, in June 2017, Republican Senator Bob Corker, the chair of the Foreign Relations committee, put a “hold” on future ‘pre-notifications” of proposed sales of “lethal military equipment” to Saudi Arabia and a number of other Gulf countries. The hold included a $2 billion contract for more Raytheon bombs, but it was not related to the war in Yemen. It was intended to end the Gulf states’ pressure campaign against Qatar because of stories published by Qatari-based al-Jazeera and alleged Qatari support for terrorism. While the campaign against Qatar continues today, that hold was lifted in February 2018.

·       However, Corker’s top Democratic counterpart on the Foreign Relations committee, Senator Bob Menendez, quickly placed a new hold on future sales of bombs to Saudi Arabia because of civilian casualties in Yemen. These sales also included the $2 billion Raytheon follow-on contract. Menendez’s hold was strengthened by congressional reaction to the Saudi government’s murder of journalist and regime critic Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018.

·       Menendez’s hold was finally overturned by the rare decision in May 2019 by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to approve the Saudi sale and other delayed Gulf sales under an emergency provision of the arms export act. This provision gives Congress 30 days to enact a law blocking the sale, and Congress did pass such a law. However, the Senate failed to overturn President Trump’s veto. Neither chamber addressed the issue in a must-have appropriation bill to set up a more credible confrontation with the president, so the arms continued to flow.

Of course, this being the Times, much of its story is opinion masquerading as news. In “these troubled times,” which apparently started November 9, 2016, the left-leaning traditional and social media are part of “the resistance” to President Trump and his policies. Their news stories present harsh opinions on Trump’s escapades as fact and “fact-checking.”  

Opinion as news at the Times goes back at least as far as the 2002 buildup to the invasion of Iraq, with reporter Judith Miller’s phony case for “weapons of mass destruction” being just the tip of the iceberg that killed hundreds of times more people than were lost on the Titanic. And it’s long been egregious in the Times’ elimination of critiques in its flood of articles supporting the speculative narrative of dangerous, human-caused “climate change.”

But lately the Times has gone way off the rails to promote all manner of politically-correct narratives as fact. The enforced closing of the climate change debate -- first on campuses dominated by activist professors who were, as Joseph Ellis argues, “not merely unscholarly, but anti-scholarly,” and then in the Times and other left-leaning media -- was in many ways the dry run for today’s pervasive “cancel culture.”

Consider the Times’ tendentious, race-focused 1619 Project, which started with a novel, false, and actually really loopy claim, given the well-documented political thought of the American Revolution, that “one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.” Slavery was indeed the price of union, in 1776, 1787, and even 1860, in Abraham Lincoln’s campaign platform. However, there was no threat to American slavery from Britain until well after the Revolutionary consensus had been adopted and open combat had begun. 

So, it’s not unexpected that the Times would create a narrative about Saudi sales to please its rebellious staff and regular readers, which is that Trump pushes arms sales for their economic benefits “with little regard for how the weapons are used,” and not for reasons of “diplomacy” and with concern for human rights, as President Obama did. But that narrative is deeply misleading.

Starting with the demise of President Carter’s policies of reducing sales to human right abusers and telling State Department officials in a “leprosy” memo not to assist or even interact with American companies trying to sell weapons, all presidents have pushed arms sales for the jobs and profits they deliver to military contractors -- and hence the votes they deliver to both parties. It’s telling that the demise actually occurred during Carter’s presidency, well before President Reagan’s Secretary of State Alexander Haig formally revoked the policies.

I know this all too well from my 20 years of trying and failing, in Congress as a staffer and around Congress as a lobbyist, to ban arms transfers to dictators. In 1992, for example, candidate Bill Clinton and President Bush competed to be the first to override the opposition of both the State and Defense Departments and sell advanced fighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia. Since then, every president has talked about limiting the economic waste, human rights abuses, and regional tensions that come with arms sales to repressive regimes in the Middle East, but then has gone ahead and set records in real dollar terms for arms sales there, and globally.

President Obama made a visit to Saudi Arabia early in his presidency, just like Trump, and made the same hard push for the Saudis to waste their money on American weapons, not Britain’s or Russia’s. All that’s really different about Trump on arms sales is that he dispenses with the sweet talk.

It’s important to note that arms sales actually add little to overall American employment and profit, but add a lot to the particular jobs and profits of the union and the owners at the particular exporting corporation. How can that be? Why wouldn’t an arms sale help the American economy as a whole?

First, the sales are effectively subsidized by the taxpayer, who could have spent the subsidy elsewhere or just let it hum through the domestic economy. This is true even when the sale is not funded by U.S. foreign aid, because the Pentagon paid to create the arms-makers’ production lines for its own purchases, so it is solely the companies who profit from the additional foreign sales. In addition, the sales stimulate demand by regional competitors who use U.S. foreign aid to try to keep up. For example, Israel’s aid-funded purchases counter the military challenges from Saudi and Emirati cash sales. Even the Pentagon gets in on this scam, asking for a next generation of weapons to be able to defeat those we just exported.

Arms sales also provide a rationale for more U.S. military deployments in a region, because the threat level and instability have increased. By aiding dictators, the sales often lead to civil war and economic disaster, reducing American export opportunities. Finally, and most fundamentally, by the reality of “additionality,” our economy would have received export demand as an indirect result of any purchase by the country that instead bought our weapons.

As economist Bill Hartung explained in a letter to the Times about its article and Trump’s 25-times exaggerated claim of half a million jobs from Saudi sales, the arms jobs from a sale simply displace other jobs in other categories of our economy in which the Saudis would have spent their money. And even if the Saudis had spent the money on arms from France, water treatment plants from Australia, or movies from Bollywood, a good share of the increased purchasing power in the global economy would have led to follow-on purchases in the world’s biggest economy – ours.

That’s the beauty of additionality when your economy is central to the world economy, and your currency is held as a reserve and used as an instrument throughout the world! You don’t have to worry about particular sales – unless you have something else on your mind than overall employment and profit. And U.S. policy does have something else on its mind: holding together the empire.

Arms sales are the glue for our system of domination of the former colonial countries. These countries had hoped they were done with foreign control after their independence movements succeeded in the decades after World War II. Looking at the map of U.S. military deployments today, you can tell that their hopes were dashed. We are the new empire, and we use arms sales to bind our friendly dictators to it.

* * *

Perhaps it’s not really the Times’ fault that the article misses the elephant in the room here, our empire. By telling an inside story, and telling it well, the Times pretty much has to stick to the issues that the insiders tackle. Still, it would have been nice if there had been an attempt to get commentary from analysts who could place the tale in the context of our foreign policy.

Of course, that sounds like I wish the Times had called me to comment on behalf of my anti-imperial American Exceptionalism Media Project, which of course I would have loved. But there are any number of thinkers and think-tanks out there who could have done the job. There’s Ted Galen Carpenter at the libertarian, anti-interventionist Cato Institute, John Feffer and Phyllis Bennis at the left-leaning, anti-interventionist Institute for Policy Studies, and Andrew Bacevich and Steven Wertheim at the Soros-Koch funded anti-imperial Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. And academia is surprisingly replete with scholars whose anti-imperial analysis is a historical conclusion, rather than an advocacy of change. Any of them could have helped the Times see that the primary reason for U.S. arms sales differs from the largely commercial reasons of our badly outdistanced competitors, Russia, France, China, and Britain.

That reason is empire, for which perhaps the Times intended “diplomacy” to be polite shorthand. Only France, and only in its formerly formal but still effective West African colonial empire, acts like us in this regard.  

When a country uses U.S. arms it is bound logistically to our network of air, land, sea, space, and covert forces, and to our intelligence and communications agencies. U.S. military strategy has achieved domination in all battle spaces, in all corners of the world. For that, it needs forward basing, logistical and intelligence support, and cooperation that is both rapid and sustained. It takes a village of allies to allow us to bestride the globe in our “fly every day, fight by tonight” state of readiness.

Intelligence pours in and individual relationships are cemented as our forces and agents interact constantly with other countries’ personnel on training, equipping, spying, and joint exercises. Purchasers come to be regarded, and regard themselves, as our allies, despite the lack of treaties approved by the Senate or formal Status of Forces agreements reported to Congress.

By missing the context of empire, the Times goes down four blind alleys. First, it cites many officials bemoaning civilian casualties from Saudi air raids. Second, it makes distinctions between types of weapons. Third, it focuses on differences between the Obama and Trump administrations in motivation and in operation. Fourth, it complains that the State Department and its human rights concerns have been marginalized under Trump. Let’s take these in order.

Civilian casualties: The bombing of civilians in Yemen, whether caused by insouciance, purpose, or collateral reality, is not at the core of the humanitarian crisis there. The war itself is the crisis. Attacks by air and ground forces always extract a direct cost in lives and property. However, it is the indirect impact of war on the economy and hence family income and public infrastructure that is the real killer. Especially in developing countries where services and survival are already close to the edge, lives are lost in the millions every decade to war’s inevitable disease, malnutrition, and medical meltdown.   

Senator Menendez’s 2018 “hold” on Saudi sales wasn’t, as the Times claims, an “attempt to stop the arms feeding the Yemen war.” It was only a reaction to bad targeting: “I don’t have an ideological problem” with arms sales to Saudi, he says in the article, but only with uses that “violate international norms” and hit civilians.

Differentiating between types of weapons: The Saudis asked President Obama to approve the invasion of Yemen a few hours before it began in March 2015. He did, but the Times reports that he decided to offer “primarily defensive support,” based on the need to help Saudi fend off missile attacks from Yemen. Of course, in war such an offensive-defensive distinction is impossible. Sales of U.S. arms and training and even bomb sales continued until civilian casualties in Sana’a in October led to the December 2016 suspension of bomb deliveries. U.S. military and intelligence cooperation in targeting, battlefield information, and aerial refueling continued throughout Obama’s term.   

Considering some weapons as “offensive” as opposed to “defensive” is reminiscent of the Reagan administration’s efforts, often successful, to encourage war-weary Members of Congress to provide the Nicaraguan contras “humanitarian” aid like food and uniforms and “non-lethal” aid like medical supplies and communications gear. There is no such thing as humanitarian and non-lethal aid to a killing machine. An army fights on its stomach and sends in attack orders on field telephones.

Non-governmental backers of the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which came into force in 2014, made the same sort of mistake by agreeing to limit it to blocking only particular weapons that had been misused. The proposed Nobel Peace Laureates Arms Trade Code of Conduct from the 1990’s had the right idea: to support democracy and stop human rights abuses you need to cut off ALL weapons and military support to dictators and repressive regimes, not just the bombs they drop or the bullets they fire. They can get those anywhere if you’ve already sold them the infrastructure to use it.

If the civilian toll in Sana’a was so horrific, why did Obama feel the need to maintain overall aid and support for Saudi Arabia’s military forces? Because the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have had an alliance since 1945, when it was cemented with a DC-3 aircraft given to founding King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, complete with pilots and crew, and a flock of sheep given to President Roosevelt. They give us and the West access to oil and provide military, diplomatic, and intelligence cooperation. We provide their military infrastructure and sustain their continued rule.

Delaying deliveries of a few new bombs was a symbolic rather than concrete effort to reduce the civilian toll. It was not even a policy decision to push for an end to the war itself, let alone a threat to undo the underlying imperial bargain. The continuation of the U.S.-Saudi bargain, repeated daily in the scores of developing countries that make up our imperial support system, was a given.

Obama vs. Trump: The Times ardently looks for differences between the Obama and Trump administrations, particularly in their working relations with arms exporters. It should have looked for similarities instead, particularly the similar imperative they inherited to preserve the empire. Obama backed the war to maintain our strategic relationship with the Saudi monarchy and to keep it actively supporting negotiations for the Iran nuclear deal. Trump kept on backing Saudi Arabia for the first reason alone.  

The Times argues, without evidence, that Trump’s reversal of Obama’s suspension of bomb deliveries and support for more sales helped “prolong” the war. But the Obama suspension was not even intended to end the war, but rather to make sure it was conducted properly, against military targets.

Then the Times makes much of what it calls a “statement of regret” by 30 former Obama officials, including UN ambassador Samantha Power and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who now call for a suspension of U.S. support for the war. Note that this is not the same as what would really be required to move Saudi Arabia to settlement, a threat to end U.S. military relations.

First of all, there is not one word of regret in the statement. Instead, it is a flat-out justification for the Obama decision, which it calls a policy of “conditional support” designed to “gain leverage” with the Saudis to reduce civilian casualties and spur a diplomatic settlement. The statement contrasts this noble policy – which is nonsensical to its core – with a “blank check” Trump policy of “unconditional support” for a Saudi victory.   

One of the signers, NSC staffer Andrew Miller, told the Times that “the war had gone in a direction we had not anticipated.” Oh, really? Like in Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, and Syria, all of which Obama once bombed or drone-attacked, along with Yemen, in a single day? What direction should you expect when you back a party to a civil war? After a career at the State Department sending weapons to Middle East dictators, Miller now “promotes Middle East democracy” at the Carnegie Institute.

Another signer is Steve Pomper, who wants us to know that he and his fellow NSC staffers were “serious, humane people.” He told the Times that: “People make miscalculations all the time. But it was striking to me as I reflected on my time in the Obama administration that it wasn’t just that we embarked on this escapade -- it’s that we didn’t pull ourselves out of it.”

This notion that helping an ally when it goes to war is a “miscalculation” recalls the claim by many officials that the Viet Nam war was a “mistake.” But Obama backing and then continuing to back our ally Saudi Arabia at war, like President Johnson backing and continuing to back our ally South Viet Nam, was no miscalculation or mistake – it was an inevitable result of the network of imperial bargains that constitute our foreign policy in developing countries.

Pomper now writes about Obama’s “atrocity prevention” program at the Holocuast Museum and chairs the International Crisis Group. He made a few other telling comments to the Times. The Saudi arms sales, he says, were “like flypaper in trapping the U.S. in Yemen.” But flypaper glues both ways. Arms sales also glue our allies to our empire’s need for bases and support.

At the NSC Pomper worked on what appear to be unsuccessful attempts to train Saudi pilots into not hitting civilians, but he admits that there was a larger issue at play here: “We were in Yemen. We shouldn’t have been there.” Really? Having an empire means you have to back your imperial allies. To paraphrase Bobby Kennedy, we’ve got 20 Yemens a day to handle. They come with the territory for an empire.

Pomper’s work on training is part of a decades-old imperial sleight of hand, under all administrations, in which bureaucrats try to convince human rights activists, despite massacre after massacre and coup after coup, that U.S. military training improves not just military performance but attitudes and behaviors about human rights and democracy. But this entire debate is a dodge.

The strategic purpose of the program is not found in performance or behavior, but in the creation of a network to gather intelligence and increase cooperation in future crises. The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency keeps careful track of where the trainees and their U.S. military contacts and their postings, so that they can connect with each other quickly when U.S. forces need inside information, access to intelligence, and help with operations.  

Another signer was Susan Rice’s top deputy at the NSC. Ben Rhodes told the Times that the Saudi invasion “happened so quickly” with no time for Obama’s usual “very rigorous process.” But the decision to back Saudi Arabia could have been changed any time during the year and a half between the invasion and the suspension of a tiny component of assistance.

Rhodes said that backing the Saudi invasion was like “getting in a car with a drunk driver.” Solipsistically, Rhodes seems not to have considered that perhaps the entire framework of our arms sales to developing countries makes us, and not the recipients, the drunk driver, unable to stop doing what she knows is dangerous to human health and well-being.

 Rhodes is an English major who became a speechwriter, first for the 9/11 commission and later for candidate Obama. Incredibly he rose to became the number two White House official for national security and be named by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the top 100 global thinkers. Only in America, land of opportunity. Among Rhodes’ finest global thoughts is surely this mystifying one in the Times, about policy in Yemen: “Looking back, I wonder what we might have done differently, particularly if we’d somehow known that Obama was going to be succeeded by a President Trump.”

On the commercial side, the Times is particularly shocked, shocked that Raytheon has great access to executive branch officials under Trump. But like all of us on all sides of policy, Raytheon should be able to exercise its First Amendment right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Access doesn’t guarantee anything more than a hearing, and government officials benefit from hearing divergent, even admittedly self-interested views.

And officials do hear such views, all the time, not just from lobbyists, the media, and angry citizens, but from their allies in Congress. And not just on every sale with local jobs at stake but on every issue in every permutation under the sun. I’ve met with staff at State, Defense, Treasury, AID, the NSC, and the White House under many administrations to advocate such things as a ban on arms to dictators, an end to U.S. support for military forces and wars from Central America to Africa and the Middle East, a ban on anti-personnel landmines, a requirement for self-destructing fuses on cluster bombs, an end to World Bank loans to governments whose armies won’t let civilian authorities audit their budgets, and more recently, some sanity on blocking electricity projects in Africa over an always projected but never occurring climate crisis. Sometimes it made no immediate difference, sometimes it did, but it’s how DC works.   

The Times acknowledges that Raytheon’s CEO was able to have a conversation with Susan Rice to ask her to reverse the suspension of bomb deliveries. She just said no – although that was easy, since the decision was only Obama’s for a month. Trump just said yes, as would eventually have happened with any president when an American company has produced an item, on promise of payment, with the approval of the U.S. government, and now can’t get paid.  

The Times reveals that Raytheon hired former State Department officials as lobbyists, which the Project on Government Oversight told the Times is “legalized corruption” because the lobbyists are “being hired for who they know.” But why is hiring experts with the ability to talk knowledgeably and credibly to staff and Members of Congress corrupt? We all, human rights groups and arms sellers, hire people with connections to push our proposals. Who got corrupted? As I show in my arms novel, corruption occurs when lobbyists arrange contingent donations, and there is no evidence of that in the Times story.  

Trump approved a new arms sales policy guidance that has the purpose of “economic security” in it, which the Times says is a first. It may be a first in print, but it certainly is not the first time that administrations considered economics as part of arms sales decisions. Raytheon merged with United Technologies. These are huge corporations surviving on Pentagon spending. Congress and the administration have tremendous political and economic incentives to keep them bustling. Arms sales have long helped bring unit prices down for the Pentagon, and let the Pentagon off the hook to keep the production lines open itself when its own buy slows or ends.

Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro, the bȇte noire of the story for his work “to bring to heel a bunch of career bureaucrats” who were slow-walking sales that the president had approved, told the Times: “I don’t advocate for companies. I advocate for the president and workers and for our men and women in uniform.” That is all well and good, but he, like all the Obama staff, are also advocating for the imperial network that supports our men and women in uniform as they implement our strategy of dominating the global battle space.

Of course, the Times story delightfully proves that arms corporations like Raytheon strain credulity when they say they don’t try to make policy, but only follow it. I haven’t heard that one since a memorial policy event in 2006 for Cornell professor Arch Dotson, from one his arms-dealing former students. I reminded him that Bruce Jackson, the vice president of Lockheed-Martin, which wanted to and did then sell fighter planes to Poland, served as the co-chair of the Committee to Expand NATO in the 1990s, alongside Democratic power lawyer Greg Craig.

Weakening the State Department: Finally, the Times presents aggrieved officials arguing that both the State Department as a whole and its bureau that monitors countries’ records on democracy and human rights were not as closely consulted on arms sales as in previous administrations. This is a strange complaint, coming from the cabinet department that must rule on all arms sales.

In this case, Secretary Rex Tillerson worked with Senator Corker to hold up new Saudi sales for seven months in an attempt to force the Kingdom to end its pressure on Qatar. Trump backed Saudi Arabia in the dispute, and Tillerson finally accepted the president’s repeated, explicit order to move on. Only then did he meet with Corker to ask him to lift the hold. The Times reports that Raytheon devoted itself to overturning the hold, but it sure took a long time against the powerful State Department bureaucracy.

State Department officials “worried that a White House trade advisor with no foreign policy role was expediting arms sales with profound diplomatic consequences.” Navarro’s response was that he just “accelerated” the pace of approval. The Times said that this prodding “diminished” the stature of the State Department, as did White House son-in-law Jared Kushner’s failure to invite a State Department official to a planning session on potential sales to discuss during Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia. But in every administration, every arms deal has multiple players with differing agendas. Companies don’t just sit back and hope for the best when a billion-dollar deal enters the approval pipeline. They look for staff in various departments and agencies who agree with sales, and then ask them to check in to see what is taking so long at the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

Some in the State Department’s monitoring bureau for human rights felt that “the administration did not seem concerned about human rights issues.” But what is the “concern” that was demonstrated in previous administrations? As I learned in 1983 when writing Human Rights: The Carter Record, the Reagan Reaction with Anne-Marie Smith for the Center for International Policy, at the end of the day of internal debate and public posturing, arms sales are almost always approved.   

The monitoring bureau was called Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs when it was founded because of post-Watergate concerns about our links to despots and because of a reform law that barred arming human rights abusers…except when it didn’t. Despite being led by stellar human rights advocates, the bureau has never, under either Democratic or Republican administrations, been a player when it comes to arms and training for big buyers. From the start, everybody understood the bromide that “human rights is for little countries that don’t matter, not big countries that do.”

President Carter’s appointee, civil rights icon Patt Derian, was marginalized along with Roberta Cohen and her other deputies by imperial hawks like Richard Holbrooke at State’s East Asia bureau and Zbigniew Brzezinski at the National Security Council. Under President Clinton the bureau was renamed Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and was led by international human rights experts John Shattuck and then Harold Koh. They and NSC democracy czar Mort Halperin made powerful arguments that were brushed aside every crunch-time.

President Obama went a step further, and actually appointed two leaders of human rights groups, Michael Posner of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights and Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch. They played what long-time human rights activist Holly Burkhalter calls “the common scold” as well as any of their predecessors, but to no avail. Despite their lovely speeches, Obama, like all previous administrations, set records for arms sales to dictators.   

Malinowski, now in the House, criticized Trump’s arms sales in the Times story, saying that “people look to us” to stand for more than “our naked self-interest.” He is clearly not listening to the people I know in the developing world, who tend to see us an obvious empire pursuing our obvious military self-interests as we, for example, kept arming and training the Bahraini police after they shot down pro-democracy demonstrators in 2011. We read that Trump’s policies were “met with alarm” in the bureau, but I hope that such policies of previous presidents were as well. The imperial bargain requires arms sales, and there is almost always a military necessity, a will that finds a way to frustrate the promotion of democracy and human rights.  

As an example of reduced concern for human rights, the Times reported that the bureau was not in on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s emergency decision to provide arms to Saudi Arabia. This makes sense, though. The U.S. government has had 45 years to bar sales to Saudi Arabia on human rights grounds, and has always chosen not to. What role would the bureau play in the decision? There is no longer a Christopher committee, which deputy secretary Warren Christopher used under Carter to force the various national security bureaucracies to at least listen to the case for human rights conditionality.

In addition, it is hard to compare the bureau’s exclusion to what previous administrations did, since those emergency authorities had only been used three times before. Assuming that Pompeo kept his circle small because he wanted to control leaks that could have derailed the decision as it was being planned, this Times story full of unnamed bureau sources shows he made the right call.

A pairing of incidents during Steven Pomper’s tenure at the NSC reveals the necessary contradictions of prompting human rights under an empire. To defeat the Lord’s Resistance Army, liberal Democrats in Congress in 2010 pushed for aid to train and equip the Ugandan Army that maintains the corrupt and repressive Museveni regime. In 2014 Pomper approved helicopter lift for the Ugandan troops, but at the same time also moved a Pentagon regional Air Chiefs meeting out of Uganda because of the passage of an anti-gay criminal code. This mixed message was received as, well, mixed up: six years later in Uganda Museveni still rules as a dictator backed by his Army, the LRA is still abducting children, and it’s still a life sentence for “serial” gayness.

While presenting Trump as egregious in his commercial focus, the Times allows that human rights were also trumped because other presidents “sometimes show a willingness to achieve narrow goals by arming rough regimes.” Please! There is nothing narrow about empire. It's as big as the globe, and it dominates, indeed guarantees, all the inevitably positive decisions about arms sales to dictators. By missing the reality of our empire, the Times of necessity misses the core reason for the Saudi arms sales.

In this the Times is like the protesters who today are pressing elected governments to take down historical statues – and the vandals trying just to do it undemocratically. They think of evil systems as occurring in the mists of time, but we’ve got one going on right here, right now. I’d rather we were tearing down not statues of the past, but statutes of the present that permit arms sales to dictators.

Empires always portray themselves as humanitarian, and they easily find court historians who agree. John Bolton’s new book about the Trump White House reveals more about his myopia than about Trump’s. Bolton explaining how the world benefits from America’s global military dominance sounds just like a British minister in 1890 (and historian Niall Ferguson in 2002) explaining why British rule in Africa and India was not a brutal grab of resources, but rather a mutually beneficial mission of Livingstone’s three C’s -- commerce, Christianity, and civilization. Empire is evil, make no mistake. Just ask those who live under it, and under Trump, like under Obama, like under any president back to FDR, face a U.S.-armed and trained military force when they push for democracy and human rights.

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