Monday, January 21, 2019

No, Our War in Somalia Didn’t Start in 1992

The Historical Context of Our Many Wars: Global Dominance is a Full-time Job

Unlike most news stories on America’s military interventions, Michael Phillips’ recent description of the U.S. role in Somalia’s foreign-fueled civil war (Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2019: The Other Endless War: Battling Somali Militants) provides crucial historical context. Unfortunately, even this effort stops short.

U.S. intervention in Somalia, in fact, did not start with President Bush’s humanitarian decision in 1992 to save Somali civilians by enforcing a cease-fire and distributing relief supplies. It actually started in 1980, when under strategic and electoral pressure President Jimmy Carter made a fateful decision to give military and economic aid to a number of East African and Persian Gulf dictators in return for military bases and cooperation for the U.S. “Rapid Deployment Force.”

In Somalia Siad Barre, a Marxist general who had come to power in a coup, used Carter’s and then President Ronald Reagan’s bases aid to prosecute a brutal civil war that ended with his overthrow by uncoordinated tribal clans in 1991. The resulting chaos and lack of central authority has prevailed now for nearly 30 years. The civil war under Barre resulted in the death of some 100,000 Somalis. The civil war since his overthrow has been even more deadly. About a million Somalis live in refugee camps in Kenya and elsewhere in the region, and two million are displaced within Somalia.

Carter’s short-term motivation was the need to react to Iran’s seizing of American hostages and the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. His decision, though, took place in the context of an American policy of selecting and sustaining cooperative regimes in the former colonial countries. The policy dates back to Franklin Roosevelt and the House of Saud after the discovery of oil in the 1930’s, and then to the Cold War competition for allies. 

Today it remains our policy, under the guise of a war to safeguard the United States from terrorism – something which it ironically stimulates itself, by making the United States a logical target. It’s high time we ended that policy and allied ourselves with the aspirations of the people of the Middle East, rather than continue to seek the military cooperation of their medieval rulers. That is the key lesson from our troubled history in Somalia.    

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Let's Talk About Not Talking

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(A professor is harassed right out of his job because he came to work on a day when white people were told to stay off the campus.)

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(Entire fields of inquiry are declared off limits.)

The Left’s trend toward limiting debate is a surprising and counter-productive development.  It’s especially damaging for those of us opposed to America’s wars and the general imperialism from which they continue to flow. 

This is sadly ironic.  It was liberals who in the 1950’s invented the general notion of challenging the “conventional wisdom.”  The marches and demonstrations of the civil rights movement were essentially symbolic debates about whites’ legally-sanctioned beliefs of black inferiority.  The Viet Nam anti-war movement’s “teach-ins” were designed to air and analyze competing views, not silence them.  The expectation was that in a debate, experts like former foreign aid official Bob Browne and Cornell Asianist George McT. Kahin would show how weak the government’s case was.  Administration officials or their supporters were always invited.  If none came, a chair would be placed on the stage with a sign on it reading “Reserved for the State Department.” 

In the 1960’s anti-imperialists were the dissidents to the conventional wisdom that America’s global role is benign, even heroic.  We play the same role today in reminding Americans that like the colonial empires, we use or threaten dominant military force to impose order on our terms, and for our benefit.  Open debate is the only way that our ideas can reach the broader audience that is bombarded daily with propaganda about our noble soldiers sacrificing their lives for our freedom and “to free the oppressed” (the motto of the Green Berets).  The very act of refusing to listen to or even allow the expression of views we oppose weakens our credibility and appeal.  It’s also just plain rude, stupid, and embarrassing.  

See Caleb Rossiter's entire article here.  A short piece from December 2018 analyzing a yard sign full of slogans is here.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Roiling our own Ethnic Debate, Trump and Carlson Miss the Mark on South Africa

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Who are these happy gentlemen?  Well, the guy is the middle is one of the highest-ranking U.S. national security officials, National Security Advisor John Bolton.  He is flanked by two officers of AfriForum,  a South African "white rights" group that is allied with a fringe party that descends from the old apartheid regime.

To Bolton's credit, he had no idea who these people were -- they asked him for a group photo when they happened to meet at a think-tank during their U.S. propaganda tour in the spring of 2018.

But Tucker Carlson of Fox News knew darn well who they were.  He invited one of them on to his program to spread their false claims about "white oppression" in South Africa -- which fit nicely with Carlson's narrative of white oppression here in America.

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Carlson's program led to President Trump's first tweet on Africa.  Virtually every word was false.  Please read Caleb Rossiter's full analysis: Trump and Carlson miss the Mark on South Africa

Thursday, August 23, 2018

One Cheer for the Google Rebellion Against Drone Assassination

Yes, enabling violence IS violence, but morality depends on purpose: in this case, Empire

   In April 2018 thousands of employees of the tech giant Google placed their careers in jeopardy by signing a public protest letter to their CEO.  Citing the company motto, “Don’t Be Evil,” the letter argued that “Google should not be in the business of war.”  It demanded that Google cancel a contract with the Pentagon to develop “Artificial Intelligence” (AI) computer programs that teach themselves to identify targets from drone footage.  The employees further asked that Google ban all future work on “warfare technology.” 

In June Google caved in, announcing that while it would fulfill its Pentagon AI contract, it would not seek to renew it.  It released a statement of AI principles, including seven “objectives” that are so broad and written so incomprehensibly in modern corporate mealy-mouth that they provide the dissidents no assurances.  There is a pledge in it that is a little easier to interpret, although it still contains enough loopholes to justify the original contract: Google will not “design or deploy AI” for weapons or other technologies that “cause injury,” and will not provide AI to aid “surveillance violating internationally accepted norms.”   

The statement also made it clear that Google would “continue to work with governments and the military in many other areas.”  It will compete for multi-billion dollar Pentagon contracts in “Cloud” service for data storage, which is at the core of effective military operations.  

And lest we forget in the flood of propaganda with which we are inundated -- about freedom, courage, sacrifice, global stability, protecting other nations, free trade, and humanitarian relief -- the primary goal of our trillion dollar military budget, as Defense Secretary James Mattis has properly said, is to make our armed forces “more lethal.”  One of my graduate assistants in a university statistics course, a Green Beret, put it this way when asked during a presentation on probability for artillery targeting why his charts showed overlapping circles: “because we want to kill them all.”  No matter the specifics of their work, this is what contractors for the Pentagon support.  

Let’s take a look at the issues raised by this entire incident, and see why the letter deserves one cheer now, and opens the way for another two cheers farther on down the road.

* * *

The letter by the Google dissidents calls out the disingenuous practice, so prevalent in American public life and particularly in the maintenance of our empire, of making a moral distinction between engaging in violent acts and participating in the infrastructure that enables them.  It recounts how Google tried to placate initial complaints by calling its work “non-offensive” and saying that it would not be used to “launch weapons.”  The employees’ response?  That any product for the military “could easily be used to assist in (its violent) tasks.”  The AI improvements, they noted, would “assist in surveillance – and potentially lethal outcomes…”

We see Google’s dodge, the claim that providing the infrastructure for violence in not itself violence, everywhere in our culture:

·       In June 2018 reality TV star Kim Kardashian West talked reality TV president Donald Trump into pardoning Alice Johnson, who for three years managed operations in the Memphis area for the Cali drug cartel.  Johnson had served 22 years of a life sentence.  Media reports uniformly adopted the language of Johnson’s supporters: she was a “first-time” offender convicted of the “non-violent” crimes of laundering money and moving product.  The American Civil Liberties Union hailed the decision because it could pave the way to ending the “senseless punishments” of tens of thousands of prisoners serving time for “non-violent” drug offenses.

·       Also in 2018 Harriet Clark, the daughter of the get-away driver on a Black Liberation Army robbery team that murdered two police officers and a Brink’s guard in 1981, argued that her mother should be paroled because she “did not kill anyone.”

·       In 2013 over a hundred governments signed an Arms Trade Treaty that committed them not to export particular weapons to a regime if they have “knowledge at the time” that those weapons “would be used” to attack civilians or commit other war crimes.  But they could export other weapons to the regime that would enable it to stay in power and continue engaging in these illegal acts.

·       When trying to win congressional approval of assistance to the rebel “contras” trying to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua in the 1980’s, the Reagan administration gained the necessary votes by agreeing to make the assistance “non-lethal aid” such as boots, uniforms, and radios, or even “humanitarian aid” such as food and medicine. 

·       Similarly, the Reagan administration argued that cash and food assistance to the Government of El Salvador was not war-related and so should not be subject to human rights conditions that Congress had placed on military assistance.  El Salvador was using the aid to cover its entire non-military budget, freeing up its own funds to pay the salaries of its rapidly-expanding armed forces.  It also integrated the aid directly into its counter-insurgency campaigns in contested villages.

·       In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson was perplexed and angered when the Government of North Viet Nam rejected his offer to create a Mekong Valley Authority to provide electricity and raise living standards, as the Tennessee Valley Authority had in America during the Depression.  Johnson made the offer as the U.S. invasion of Viet Nam raged, and the enemy was already routinely attacking economic aid projects that were part of the U.S. counter-insurgency strategy.

·       In 2003 American University professors who opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq nonetheless took a contract during the Pentagon’s armed occupation to help manage Iraq’s schools.  In their perspective, refusing to assist the occupation would mean that the Iraqi people would be “denied the assistance they desperately require.”  

* * *

What these examples have in common is that violence is presented as a separate action rather than as the product of a system of actions.  U.S. law properly makes no distinction between the actions of the members of a group carrying out a criminal act: they’re all implicated in the crime.  Indeed, prosecutors often treat the “intellectual authors” of a crime as being more culpable than the worker-bees.  For example, they will typically reduce a hit-man’s sentence in exchange for testimony implicating the person who ordered the hit.  Nobody questioned that approach when it was used to convict Charles Manson for the murder of Sharon Tate and her friends.  In his Inferno, Dante properly punished crimes that required thought and deviousness in a lower, hence hotter circle of hell than crimes of passion and pure violence.

·       Think about the Cali Cartel, and how it murdered competitors and how its customers devastated the Memphis area with robberies to finance their habits during the three years that Alice Johnson ran marketing operations.  There was nothing non-violent about the gang she was helping, or indeed about any drug-dealing operation.

·       Similarly, Judy Clark took part in the planning and carrying out of an armed robbery, and so under felony murder laws of course was held responsible for the three murders.  This was not her first involvement with the BLA in armed robbery, and when she was arrested she had a gun under her seat and an ammunition clip in her pocketbook.  In contrast to her daughter’s argument, after many years Clark herself accepted responsibility for the loss of life.  Ironically for someone who was part of the Weatherman bombing campaign in the 1970’s, she has become a trainer for the “Puppies Behind Bars” that teaches police dogs to detect explosives!

·       The Arms Trade Treaty exempts from its ban weapons that keep dictators in power, from aircraft and tanks down to machine guns and pistols, as long as their use against civilians is simply threatened.  The pathetic prohibition only on specific items of weaponry that an exporter somehow knows in advance will be fired at civilians was all that survived of a robust initiative in the 1990’s, the Nobel Peace Laureates’ Arms Trade Code of Conduct.  That Code called for a ban on all arms exports to governments that had not been chosen by their people in fair and free elections, and so survived on a system of violence and threat. 

·       And as for the use of “non-lethal” means to back up a violent system of control, be it in Nicaragua, El Savador, Vietnam, or Iraq, this is a distinction without a difference.  The support system for aggression is part of the aggression, as Nazi civilian bureaucrats, media figures, and lawyers learned when they were condemned to hang after the Nuremberg trials. 

Mentioning Nuremberg brings us to the motivation for the Google letter: the natural human, moral need not to be complicit in something bad.  This is a laudable need, although it is inherently symbolic.  Somebody will buy the product you boycott; a dissident person or company will be replaced by another; divested stock -- be it in corporations operating in apartheid South Africa (a campaign I vigorously supported) or producing life-giving fossil fuels (a campaign I vigorously oppose) -- will be bought by somebody else.  And Science is like Stormy Daniels, beautiful but amoral.  Everything discovered about calculus, quantum physics, nuclear energy, probability, AI, or computer processing ends up being used in peace and war.

But symbolic campaigns, from Thoreau going to jail to protest the invasion of Mexico to draft resisters during the Viet Nam war, have been spurs to policy changes by bringing issues to a broader audience and putting pressure on leaders.  Without courageous people speaking out against the errors they see around them, we’d never see change.  Let’s hope that the Google employees are the first swell in a coming wave of opposition to collaboration with imperialism.

* * *

By reminding us that non-violent acts can support violent ones, the Google dissidents have done a public service.  So one cheer for them.  And the other two cheers?  One more will come when they move past the violence being done by the United States with drone attacks, and come to a judgment about its purpose: winning what the Pentagon calls “the long war” for control of the Middle East and North Africa. 

The primary flaw in the Google letter is that it too misunderstands the nature of violence.  Violence is not necessarily bad.  Sometimes it’s needed to achieve something good.  Sometimes John Lennon and Beatles-killer Yoko Ono’s apolitical song “Give Peace a Chance” just doesn’t get it done.  It took the U.S. Army, bayonets drawn, to integrate Southern schools and colleges.  Nelson Mandela had to turn to terrorism, as leader of the ANC’s Spear of the Nation, to fight the totalitarian apartheid government.  Even the two most famous American pacifists of the 20th century, Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King Jr., supported the military effort to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.  If we were facing those enemies, most of the Google signers would surely want to make their AI work as effective as possible in finding and bombing targets. 

After all, the nuclear scientists who flocked to Los Alamos to build nuclear weapons to deter German use didn’t give the morality of their work much thought until Germany fell.  Then the suicidal Japanese resistance on the outer island of Okinawa, where U.S. casualties were about one in five, made it obvious that the new weapons would be used to force Japanese surrender before a similarly costly invasion.  The horrific bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were in any event a continuation of the conventional bombing campaign that had killed far more Japanese civilians.  They may well have saved Japanese lives, let alone American, when compared to an invasion.  

So the next step for the Google dissidents, and for all of us opposed to the drone killings that started in earnest under President Obama and have continued apace under President Trump, is to make our opposition to the long war clear.  If we want to be protected from terrorism, which is the Pentagon’s justification for the long war, the best way is to leave the Middle East alone, and let it pick its own governments and sort out its own issues.  To do that, we have to renounce our right to the oil of the region, which is what has been behind our interference since the discovery of extractable oil there in the 1930’s.

The final cheer for the Googlers will be when they see that the long war itself is just the latest in the over-arching policy of empire that has been at the core of the American experience:

·       seizing land from East Coast Indian nations in the 17th century, and buying 400,000 slaves seized from Africa to improve the land,

·       shaking off the British constraints that held settlers behind the Appalachian Mountains in the late 18th century  (also known as the American Revolution),

·       seizing land and power from Mexico and Indian nations across the continent in the middle of the 19th century,

·       moving across the Pacific in the late 19th century to take Hawaii and the Philippines,

·       ruling Central and South America in the first half of the 20th century through “our bastards,” as President Franklin Roosevelt called the regimes we placed and maintained in power,

·       and finally, replacing the exhausted colonial overlords after World War II as the guarantor of Western military and economic domination by propping up a new set of cooperative regimes across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia – a role that continues today.

* * *

Monday, February 19, 2018

How Does It Feel? Election Interference Comes Home to Roost

Russia has polluted our elections, trying to suppress or increase the vote for particular candidates by planting false and inflammatory information in our media.  Another government stole our sacred right to choose our own leaders.  As Bob Dylan sang in Like a Rolling Stone, “how does it feel?” 

If it feels rotten, if you feel degraded, violated, and outraged, then remember what Malcolm X said about the “chickens coming home to roost” with the assassination of John Kennedy, whom he argued had accepted “a climate of hate” at home and “twiddled his thumbs” during the American assassination of our faltering ally, South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, just three weeks earlier. 

The chickens have similarly come home to roost with today’s Russian interference.  The disturbing truth for Americans is that our government has made a career out of influencing and indeed stealing elections using the Russians’ media tricks and more, like funding candidates, stuffing ballot boxes, and then arming the phony electoral victors.  The crime of interfering in other countries’ right to choose their own leaders has been at the core of U.S. foreign policy for the past 100 years, and continues today.  

To extend Martin Luther King’s 1967 remarks about the violence of urban riots versus the violence of the U.S. invasion of Viet Nam, “the greatest purveyor of (election interference) in the world today is my own government.”

Throughout Latin America, U.S. money, fake news, and coups kept the people Franklin Roosevelt called “our bastards” in power throughout the 20th century.  There is probably not a single country in Latin America where the United States did not covertly pollute an election.  For example, when a looming right-wing electoral victory threatened U.S. Congressional support for the brutal but pro-U.S. military in the civil war in El Salvador in 1984, the United States stole the election for moderate figurehead Napoleon Duarte.  The brutal war, in which Duarte had little control over the slaughter by the Army, continued another five years and another 50,000 dead before Congress, disgusted with yet another massacre of church leaders, cut off the Army.  This led rapidly to a peaceful resolution of the ten-year conflict.  Guatemala 1954, Chile 1970, Nicaragua1990…CIA-planted fake news and CIA-spurred demonstrations destabilized elected democracies.     

In Africa, the CIA spread fake news to legitimate outlets when opponents of our favorite dictator Joseph Mobutu invaded Shaba province in 1978.  Mobutu was a brutal, corrupt dictator, but he gave the CIA free hand in staging military interventions in other African countries.  But who wouldn’t support President Carter flying in U.S.-armed Moroccan paratroopers when the rebels were forcing white women to dance naked on tables in Kolwezi bars before raping and shooting them?   Oh, sorry, that was fake news, planted in respected European media and picked up in American media.

Even the war in Viet Nam, in which the U.S. insistence on choosing the government of Viet Nam resulted in three million deaths over 30 years, came from our intervention in an election – in France!  

Few Americans know that we shipped French troops back to Viet Nam in 1945 to seize the country back from the Vietnamese liberation army after Japan withdrew, and even fewer know that we did it not because of any concern about Viet Nam, but because of an election in France.   Our ally Charles De Gaulle feared losing the December election to the Communist Party, which was pro-colonialism.  He convinced Harry Truman that without the resumption of colonial rule in Viet Nam, the Communists would win in France.  Since the United States was fixing elections in Italy to keep Communists out of power it was no great stretch to start a war in Viet Nam to keep Communists out of power in France.

All this begs the question, how should we respond to this attack on our country?  How about making a pledge not to back non-democratic “friends” who help us with our military, covert, and economic projects, and thereby letting other countries have the right we feel so keenly cheated of right now, the right to choose their own government.  That would mean the end of military and covert assistance to Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Afghanistan, Iraq, and scores of other governments.  In short, it means the end of what the Pentagon calls the Long War for control of the Muslim world, from West Africa to East Asia.  How does that feel?

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Nil to Hill: Are Anti-Imperialists Right to Risk a Trump Presidency?

by Caleb S. Rossiter*

There are certain, rare moments in the history of American presidential elections when the paradigms of the traditional parties just don’t adapt to a shift in public opinion on a key value fast enough.  For example, in 1856 and 1968 the “lesser of two evils” argument became unacceptable to a significant number of voters. 

In 1856 many voters abandoned the vaguely anti-slavery Whigs for the new, fiercely anti-slavery Republican party, splitting the opposition to the pro-slavery Democrats.  In 1968, anti-war activists decided to “Dump the Hump” because Democrat Hubert Humphrey would not endorse withdrawal from Viet Nam.  The short-term result in both cases was victory for the decidedly greater of two evils.  The long-term result, though, was a new or reformed party based on a principle that eventually brought progress to our country, and even the world. 

The election of 2016 appears to be shaping up as such a moment for Americans who reject the neo-imperial role we have played since taking on the mantle of the collapsing European powers in the aftermath of World War II.  That is because more and more voters are seeing that what the Pentagon calls the Long War -- America’s permanent war for control of the Muslim world -- has spiraled out of control since it became the core of our foreign policy after the end of the Cold War in 1991.   

Under the first George Bush and Bill Clinton the Long War led us to continue our Cold War program of backing dozens of what Franklin Roosevelt once called “our bastards” -- nasty Middle Eastern and North African regimes who cooperate with our expeditionary military forces, spies, and businesses.  Then, when Al-Qaeda brought the war home to us on 9/11, the second George Bush invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq.  Fifteen years later, or three times the length of our victory in World War II, Barack Obama is still bombing six countries, sometimes in a single day: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. 

Not only has the permanent war devastated the people of the Middle East and North Africa, but it has also damaged, rather than strengthened, our security and personal freedom and that of our European allies.  Until we accept that we must stop enforcing our choice of regimes on other countries, our daily fare will continue to be terrorism at home, flows of refugees, global instability and slower economic growth abroad, and the waste of our tax dollars and the lives and skills of our young adults on unwinnable military missions.  

The only solution to the permanent war is to renounce American exceptionalism and stop backing repressive regimes from Bahrain to Uganda, from Morocco to Saudi Arabia, in return for their support for our military and covert operations and corporate interests.  However, this policy of declaring victory and bringing our troops and spies home and letting our businesses fend for themselves on the world stage is one that Hillary Clinton, solidly fixed within our imperial paradigm, cannot abide.  As a result, many anti-imperialists feel they must say “Nil to Hill,” even though that risks putting Donald Trump in the White House. 
* * *

Precedents: 1856 and 1968

The election of 1856 offers a dramatic example of a shift in opinion that overthrew an existing major party.  The refusal by Whig leaders to reject slavery drove many in their party to leave in 1854 and form a new party, the Republicans.  The pro-slavery Democrats won the presidency in 1856 because the old Whig vote was split between the American Party, which ran former Whig president Millard Fillmore, and the Republicans, who ran anti-slavery explorer John Fremont.  By 1860, though, the Republicans were able to vote in a liberator, Abraham Lincoln.  As a result, American lurched in the needed direction of offering black Americans at least a chance at achieving their human rights. 

In 1968 anti-war activists in the Democratic Party refused to support Vice President Hubert Humphrey, because he endorsed President Lyndon Johnson’s policy of fighting on in Viet Nam until the nationalists negotiated a settlement that would leave part of the country under a Western-backed government.  Johnson tried to sweeten the pot for Humphrey by pausing the bombing of North Viet Nam, but that step was, of course, tied to the failed policy of forcing the nationalists to negotiate something they could not accept – a divided country.

Anti-imperialist activists outside the Democratic Party, such as the Mobilization Against the War and the Students for a Democratic Society, had even more reason to “Dump the Hump.”  They opposed not just the invasion and slaughter in Viet Nam, but also the neo-imperial role the United States had played since President Truman made the fateful decision in 1945 -- perhaps one President Roosevelt might have opposed, had he lived -- to take up the mantle of the epic crime of colonialism from the weakened Europeans.  Truman sent the recently-freed French back to re-enslave Indochina, the Dutch back to re-enslave Indonesia, and the British back to re-enslave Burma and Malaya.  

When these blatant bids for re-colonization failed, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson funded throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America a neo-imperial network of “friendly” dictators allied with the United States and helpful to its military and commercial projects.  They even backed the last imperial power, Portugal, in its brutal war to retain its three African colonies, in order to maintain access to Portugal’s NATO air bases.  The claimed reason for maintaining the American network was to forestall advances by the Soviet Union, but when that country dissolved in 1991, the network lived on, as it does today.

Attorney General Robert Kennedy said when asked by a colleague about a crisis in the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese Army in 1961: “Viet Nam?  We’ve got 20 Viet Nams a day to handle.”  Anti-Humphrey protestors chanted “the whole world’s watching” on live television during the Democratic convention in 1968 as Chicago’s police attacked them, and what many of them wanted the whole world to see was that the problem was not just one of Bobby’s many wars, but the neo-imperialist paradigm that required them.  To them, to recall a famous distinction from that era, Viet Nam was not the “mistake” that Cold War liberals called it, but rather an unavoidable consequence of the neo-imperial paradigm.   

The logic of the anti-Humphrey effort was obvious: no self-respecting anti-war movement can vote for the warrior.  It may well have led to Nixon’s election -- although that result was less clear than in 1856, since the 1968 election was complicated by segregationist Democrat and self-appointed spokesman for the little man George Wallace, who won the Confederacy’s electoral votes and 12 percent of the popular vote, and harmed both major candidates in different ways in different states. 

The pay-off to “Dump the Hump” came four years later, when the Democratic Party became an anti-war party and nominated George McGovern.  While McGovern lost, his affirmation of the Viet Nam Syndrome created a norm that helped constrain direct military intervention by Ford, Carter, and Reagan.  Hundreds of thousands of civilians died in Zaire, Somalia, Angola, Afghanistan, El Salvador, and Guatemala and a dozen other U.S.-backed conflicts from 1975 to 1988, but the toll would have been in the millions had our political calculus permitted the direct combat role we played in Viet Nam.

There were hints of a rejection of the imperial paradigm in 2000, when some progressive voters refused to back Al Gore, despite agreeing that he was clearly the lesser of two evils.  These voters objected to his foreign policy record as a Democratic Leadership Council “Dixie” who had sabotaged efforts to block the MX missile and end civil wars in Central America, and were part of the six percent of voters who backed Green Party anti-interventionist Ralph Nader, and may well have elected George W. Bush.  

The left-leaning Nation magazine recognized Nader’s foreign policy appeal, but asked its readers not to respond to it if they lived in swing states.  The Nation’s advice was practical, since many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would still be alive if it had been followed.  Al Gore would certainly have attacked Afghanistan but probably not prosecuted the illogical war in Iraq.
* * *

Rodham Clinton, the Unacceptable Imperialist

Now in 2016 the electorate faces a choice between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald Trump.  There are two credible minor party candidates, the Libertarians’ Gary Johnson, a fiscally conservative and socially liberal former Republican governor of New Mexico, and the Greens’ Jill Stein, a retired doctor with an admirable record of fighting toxic emissions (and a dubious one of hysteria over a non-toxic one, carbon dioxide).  

Running mate William Weld, also a thoughtful former Republican governor, will raise Johnson’s total vote.  Stein’s running mate, Ajamu Baraka, is a lively and trenchant critic of racial and class power , but he will probably reduce her total vote with his bizarre conspiracy theories.  No matter: neither minor party can win, or even become power brokers for their policies, because they will not be able to take electoral votes in any state and throw the election into the House of Representatives.

By refusing to back Clinton, anti-imperialists will be responsible for electing Trump.  On foreign policy, there is probably little added danger of doing so, even in the short term.  Trump is an unknown, an unguided missile with little understanding, interest, or theme in international affairs.  Clinton, though, is a proven imperialist with a dangerous, LBJ-style political bent for showing that her party can be as tough as Republicans.  She is a guarantee that the Long War will continue, leaving us trapped in a cycle of military support for repressive regimes that makes us the target for the terrorism of their radical Islamist opponents, leading to even more war and additional reaction from the Caliphate. 

On a few important domestic policies, such as judicial choices and affirmative action, the potential domestic consequences of a Trump presidency to many Americans, particularly poor people and people of color, horrify most anti-imperialists. That, though, may be the price of progress, as it was in 1856 and 1968.  

Sometimes the big issue requires temporary losses on the smaller ones, and the biggest issue of all is not what America can do for its own people, but what it is doing to people in other countries as the enforcer of a network of repression and war (Pace, JFK’s speechwriters).  America’s major parties need to adjust at some point to the reality that a sizeable share of the electorate simply won’t support empire.  2016 may prove to be that time.
* * *

* Former congressional staffer Caleb S. Rossiter is the director of the American Exceptionalism Media Project and the author of “The Chimes of Freedom Flashing: A Personal History of the Viet Nam Anti-War Movement and the 1960’s” (1996) and “The Turkey and the Eagle: The Struggle for America’s Global Role” (2011).

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Want to "Fight Terrorism?"

 Want to “fight terrorism?”  Then listen to historian Kai Bird and leave the Middle East alone!
The United States sustains dictators and kills with drones – of course we’ve become a target.
·         One of Virginia’s most popular specialty license plates reads Fight Terrorism, with an outline of the Pentagon and the numbers 9/11/01 stamped above the phrase. 
·         West Point has a Combating Terrorism Center.  
·         The State Department has a collection of offices operating under the heading FightingTerrorism
·         And the Pentagon has a special medal for troops taking part in the Global War onTerrorismOminously, some of the eligible deployments for the medal read “TBD” (to be determined) on the ending date, including the current wars in Syria and Iraq against the Islamic State (Operation “Inherent Resolve”) and in Afghanistan against the Taliban (Operations “Freedom’s Sentinel”). 
As a matter of fact, our government claims that most of the trillion dollars in taxes we pay each year to carry out U.S. foreign, military, surveillance, police, and covert policies is used to protect American civilians from attacks by Islamist militants.  Clearly, our politicians want to protect us from terrorism – and well they should.  The only problem is that their war on terrorism is making things more dangerous for us. 
The way that “fighting terrorism” leads to more, not less, terrorism against Americans is brilliantly explained in a recent guest editorial in The Nation magazine by historian Kai Bird, entitled “The Case for Disengagement in the Middle East.” 
In the Arab world, we have historically aligned ourselves with generals and kings and narrow-minded sectarian tribal leaders.  In Israel, we have become the ultimate enablers of Likudites devoted to colonization….Our most recent military intervention—an aerial bombing campaign against this so-called caliphate—may serve only to incite further Salafist terrorism against American targets.  It also threatens to drag the Obama administration—and the United States—into yet another interminable Middle Eastern war.
Bird has earned the right to a serious consideration of his analysis.  For 30 years he was immersed in the archives of the Cold War, publishing three biographies of major U.S. policy figures.  He won the Pulitzer Prize for his book on Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who led the atomic bomb project during War II but was then denied a security clearance in the 1950’s because he questioned the need for the more 100-times more powerful hydrogen bomb. 
Bird has written two books in recent years on U.S. policy in the Middle East.  The first, Crossing Mandelbaum Gate (2010), used personal memories and policy reviews to describe the deterioration in the already deadly Israeli-Palestinian relations he saw as a young son of U.S. diplomat in the 1950’s.  In 2014 he published The Good Spy, a biography of Robert Ames, the CIA’s top Middle East analyst, who was killed in the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Lebanon in 1983.  Bird concluded that for all Ames’ creative wheeling and dealing with Arab actors and all the CIA’s spying and spending, they added nothing to American security or the stability of the Middle East.  That is because the core of U.S. policy remains a dangerous alliance with regimes that alienate not just the militants, but the Arab “street” as a whole.
How our Empire Spurs Terrorism
Since 9/11 our elected officials seem to be willing to do anything to keep us safe from more terrorist attacks.  Anything, that is, except challenge the policy that causes the attacks: U.S. domination of the Middle East through military and covert aid to the “friendly” dictators who provide our corporations with oil and investment opportunities.  Spying on, invading, and occupying countries, renting military and covert bases with cash and weapons that dictators then use to put down popular dissent, drone-killings -- all of this makes us more, not less, of a target for Islamist militants who oppose Western control of the Middle East and North Africa.
As a result of their failure to acknowledge the inconvenient roots of anti-American terrorism, our politicians have established a vicious circle that virtually guarantees more attacks.  The United States backs dictators because they let us place our armed forces at air, ground, and naval bases so we can attack the Islamists with jets, missiles, and drones, and place our covert agents in their intelligence centers so we can track possible terror attacks.  But these acts strengthen the very regimes the Islamists want to overthrow, so the Islamists then attack us for backing the regimes.  And the cycle of violence starts again.
Americans rarely hear a discussion of the illogic of this policy.  In 2007 presidential candidate Ron Paul explained during a Republican primary debate that Islamists attack us not, as Presidents Bush and Obama like to claim, “because of our freedoms,” but because of the freedom we take in dominating their countries by choosing and backing dictators.  When another candidate, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, attacked Paul for his scandalous views that denigrated our heroes, the major media briefly covered this difference of opinion on the roots of 9/11. 
Not since then has there been a mainstream discussion of the relationship between empire and terrorism.  Perhaps in some upcoming Republican primary debates this year we will see Paul’s son Rand, the libertarian senator from Kentucky, start the discussion again with Lindsay Graham, the senator from South Carolina who pushes for deeper involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts.  Bird clearly wants to jump-start the discussion.  His Nation piece offers a way out that is sure to spark controversy: just leave the Middle East alone:
Disengagement should now be our policy with both Israel and the Arab world. We Americans should urge our government to end all arms sales to any Arab nation ruled by a general, dictator or king. We need to isolate and diplomatically contain any Arab regime that has demonstrably killed unarmed protesters, as in Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. We should also close our military installations in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar.  Such a dramatic, categorical and evenhanded withdrawal of American arms and treasure would deal a bracing shock to the region’s ruling elites. But it would be a good and decent thing for all concerned.
Bird ends his piece by noting that 33 years ago he published a similar plea in the same magazine.  In that piece he acknowledged that the U.S. policy of dominating the Middle East was just a regional example of a global policy.  Now, as then, he wants us to answer a question posed by historian William Appleman Williams: “What happens if we simply say no to empire as a way of life?”

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