Thursday, July 09, 2009

"Crisis and Hope: Theirs and Ours" part2

Transcribed by Scott Senn

"Crisis and Hope: Theirs and Ours" part2

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After World War II, Americans were told that their taxes were going to support defense against monsters about to overcome us; that's why it was under a Pentagon cover. So, for example, in the mid-'60s, when LBJ warned that there are only 150 million of us and that there are 3 billion of them, and if might makes right, they're going to "sweep over" us and "take what we have", so we have to stop them in Vietnam [("Remarks to American and Korean Servicemen at Camp Stanley", 1 Nov 1966, )]. And if that sounds familiar, it's because it is. For those who are concerned to understand the realities of the whole Cold War system of controlling the public, there's a very obvious moment to inspect carefully: that's just twenty years ago, at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall and what followed later. Now the celebration of the 20th anniversary (this November) – it's already begun with ample coverage, and it's surely going to increase as the date approaches. But the very revealing policy-implications of what followed have been ignored, as in the past, and probably this coming November, except on Democracy Now ! What happened after the Berlin Wall fell? Well, the Bush I administration reacted immediately: it issued a new National Security Strategy and a budget proposal which laid out what our new course will be after the collapse of what the Kennedy called the "monolithic and ruthless conspiracy" to conquer the world, Reagan's "evil empire". It was gone. And now that it was gone, the whole framework of propaganda collapsed. So what was the response of the planners in the Bush administration? Very straightforward: in brief, everything will go on exactly as before, but with new pretexts. So we still need [the] same huge military system, but for a new reason: literally because of the "technological sophistication of Third World" powers [(National Security Strategy of the United States, March 1990)]. (Nobody laughed!) We have to maintain what they called "the Defense Industrial Base"; it's a standard euphemism for high-tech industry: the system whereby the public pays the costs and takes the risks and, you know, high-tech industry gets the profits. We also, they said, have to maintain intervention forces, directed mostly at the Middle East. And then comes this interesting phrase: ...directed at the Middle East, where the "threats to [our] interests" that required military intervention "could not be laid at the Kremlin's door". In other words: "Sorry, folks, we've been lying to you for fifty years; but now the clouds have lifted, so you can see, if you choose to." And few chose to.

Actually, the fate of NATO is very instructive and highly pertinent right now. Prior to Gorbachev, NATO's announced purposed was to deter a Russian invasion of Europe. That was often a little hard to take seriously, for example, in 1945. In May 1945, Winston Churchill ordered war plans to be drawn up for what they called Operation Unthinkable; it was aimed at (quote) "the elimination of Russia". The plans, which were declassified ten years ago, (I'll quote it) called for "a surprise attack" by "hundreds of thousands of British and American troops, [joined] by 100,000 rearmed German soldiers", while "the RAF" – the British air force – "would attack Soviet cities from bases in Northern Europe" [(Richard Aldrich, The Hidden Hand)]. And pretty soon nuclear weapons were added to the mix. All of this was declassified ten years ago.

The official stand also wasn't very easy to take about ten years later, when Khrushchev took over in Russia. And he very soon proposed a very sharp mutual reduction in offensive military weaponry. He understood very well that the much weaker Soviet economy couldn't possibly sustain an arms race with the Untied States and still hope to develop. Well, when the US dismissed the offer, as it did, he carried out the reduction unilaterally. And Kennedy did react to that: he reacted with a very sharp increase in military spending, which the Russian military later tried to match. That's tanking the economy, as Khrushchev had anticipated. Actually, that was the crucial moment in the Soviet collapse; the economy stagnated since then.

Well, whatever one thinks of the defensive pretext for NATO, it at least had some credibility. But what happens when the Soviet Union is gone and the pretext disappears? Well, it got more extreme. Gorbachev made an astonishing concession: he permitted a unified Germany to join a hostile military alliance run by the global superpower. (That is astonishing, in the light of history. Germany alone had practically destroyed Russia twice in the century.) Now there was a quid pro quo. This is Bush #1 and James Baker. It had been thought up until a couple of months ago that Bush and Baker promised not to expand NATO to the eastern European, former Soviet satellites. But there was the first careful study of the original documents – just came out by Mark Kramer, a Cold War historian [("The Myth of a No-NATO-Enlargement Pledge to Russia", )]. He believes that he's refuting charges of US duplicity; but in fact what he shows is that it's much more cynical than what had been assumed. It turns out that Bush and Baker promised Gorbachev that NATO wouldn't even fully extend to East Germany. I'll quote them: they told Gorbachev, "... no NATO forces would ever be deployed on the territory of the former [German] GDR [or East Germany]." "... NATO's jurisdiction or forces would not move eastward." They also assured Gorbachev that "...NATO would be transforming itself into a more political organization...." Well, there's no need to comment on that promise; but what follows tells a lot more about the Cold War and its aftermath. Right after that, Clinton came into office, and one of the first things he did was to begin the expansion of NATO to the east, in violation – radical violation of the commitment. The process accelerated, with Bush's general aggressive militarism. These are a severe security threat to Russia. It naturally reacted by developing more offensive military capacity. All of this is a serious threat to human survival.

Obama's National Security Advisor James Jones – he has a still more expansive conception: he calls for expanding NATO further to the east and the south, becoming in effect a US-run global intervention force, as it is today in Afghanistan. The Secretary General of NATO, Dutch officer, de Hoop Scheffer – he informed a NATO meeting that "NATO troops have to guard pipelines that transport oil and gas that is directed for the West", and more generally NATO has to protect sea routes used by tankers and other "crucial infrastructure" of the global energy system. All of that just opens up a new phase of Western imperial domination. Actually, the polite term for it is "bringing stability and peace". That's what's happening now.

In "AfPak" – Afghanistan-Pakistan – as the region is now called, Obama is building enormous new embassies and other facilities, on the model of the "city within a city" in Baghdad. These are like no embassies anywhere in the world. And they are signs of an intention to be there for a long time. Right now in Iraq, something interesting is happening. Obama's pressing the Iraqi government not to permit the referendum that's required by the Status of Forces Agreement. That's an agreement that was forced down the throats of the Bush administration, which had to formally renounce its primary war aims in the face of massive Iraqi resistance. Washington's current objection to the referendum was explained two days ago by New York Times correspondent Alissa Rubin [("Iraq Moves Ahead With Vote on U.S. Security Pact", 9 June 2009)]: Obama fears that the Iraqi population might reject the provision that delays US troop withdrawal to 2012; they might insist on immediate departure of US forces. [An] Iraqi analysis in London.- head of the Iraqi Foundation for Democracy and Development in London (it's quite pro-Western) – He explained: "This is an election year for Iraq; no one wants to appear that he is appeasing the Americans. Anti-Americanism is popular now in Iraq", as indeed it's been throughout – facts that are familiar to anyone who's read the Western-run polls, including Pentagon-run polls. Well, the current US-efforts to prevent the legally required referendum are extremely revealing; sometimes they're called "democracy promotion". Well, while Obama is signaling pretty clearly his intention to establish a firm and large-scale presence in the region, he's also, as you know, sharply escalating the AfPak war, following Petraeus' strategy to drive the Taliban into Pakistan, with potentially awful results for this extremely dangerous and unstable state, which is facing insurrections throughout its territory. These are the most extreme in the tribal areas, which cross the AfPak border. It's an artificial line imposed by the British, called the "Durand Line"; and the same people live on both sides of it: Pashtun tribes; and they've never accepted it; and in fact, the Afghanistan government never accepted it either, as long as it was independent. Well, that's where most of the fighting is going on. One of the leading specialists on the region – Selig Harrison – he recently wrote [("Pakistan's Ethnic Fault Line", Washington Post, 11 May 2009)] that the outcome of Washington's current policies (Obama's policies) might well be what he calls an "Islamic Pashtunistan" (Pashtun-based, separate, kind of quasi-state). The Pakistani ambassador had warned that if the Pashtun and Taliban nationalism merge, "we've had it, and we're on the verge of that." The prospects become still more ominous with the escalation of drone attacks that embitter the population with their huge civilian toll, and more recently (just a couple of days ago in fact) with the unprecedented authority that has just been granted to General Stanley McCrystal. He's taking charge. He's a kind of a wild-eyed Special Forces assassin. He's been put in charge of heading the operations. Petraeus' own counterinsurgency advisor in Iraq, General David Kilcullen – [correction:] Colonel, I think – He describes the Obama-Petraeus-McCrystal policy as a fundamental "strategic error" which may lead to "the collapse of Pakistan"; he says, it's a calamity that would "dwarf" all other current issues, given the country's size, strategic location, and nuclear stockpile [("Death From Above, Outrage Down Below", New York Times, 16 May 2009; "A Conversation With David Kilcullen", Washington Post, 22 March 2009)].

It's also not too encouraging that Pakistan and India are now rapidly expanding their nuclear arsenals. Pakistan's nuclear arsenals were developed with Reagan's crucial aid. And India's nuclear weapons programs just got a major shot in the arm with the recent US-India nuclear agreement; it's also a sharp blow to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. [The] two countries have twice come close to nuclear war over Kashmir, and they're also engaged in kind of a proxy war in Afghanistan. These developments pose a very serious threat to world peace, even to human survival. Well, [there's] a lot to say about this crisis, but no time here.

Coming back home: whether the deceit here about the monstrous enemy was sincere or not (in Johnson's case, it might well have been sincere), suppose that (say) fifty years ago Americans had been given a choice of directing their tax money to development of information technology so that their grandchildren could have iPods and the internet, or else putting the same funds into developing a livable and sustainable socio-economic order. Well, they might very well have made the latter choice; but they had no choice. That's standard. There's a striking gap between public opinion and public policy on a host of major issues, domestic and foreign. And, at least in my judgment, public opinion is often a lot more sane. It also tends to be fairly consistent over time, which is pretty astonishing, because public concerns and aspirations, if they're even mentioned, are marginalized and ridiculed. That's one very significant feature of the yawning democratic deficit, as we call it in other countries. That's the failure of formal democratic institutions to function properly, and that's no trivial matter. Arundhati Roy has a book, soon to come out, in which she asks whether the evolution of formal democracy in India and the United States (in fact, not only there) (in her words) "might turn out to be the end game of the human race" [(Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy)]. And that's not an idle question.

It should be recalled that the American republic was founded on the principle that there should be a democracy deficit. James Madison, the main framer of the Constitutional order – His view was that power should be in the hands of "the wealth of the nation", the more responsible set of men who have sympathy for property owners and their rights [(Rufus King's Notes of the Constitutional Convention of 1787; Records of the Federal Convention of 1787)]. And Madison sought to construct a system of government that would (in his words) "protect the minority of the opulent from the majority" [(Records of the Federal Convention of 1787)]. That's why the Constitutional system that he framed did not have coequal branches: the executive was supposed to be an administrator, and the legislature was supposed to be dominant, but not the House of Representatives, rather the Senate, where power was vested and protected from the public in many ways; that's where "the wealth of the nation" would be concentrated. This is not overlooked by historians. Gordon Wood, for example, summarizes the thoughts of the Founders, saying that "[t]he Constitution was intrinsically an aristocratic document designed to check the democratic tendencies of the period", delivering power to a "better sort of people" and excluding "those who are not rich, well-born, or prominent from exercising political power" [(Creation of the American Republic)]. Well, all through American history there's been a constant struggle over this constrained version of democracy, and popular struggles have won a great many rights. Nevertheless, concentrated power and privilege clings to the Madisonian conception. It changes form as circumstances change.

By World War II, there was a significant change: Business leaders and elite intellectuals recognized that the public had won enough rights so that they can't be controlled by force; so it would be necessary to do something else: namely, to turn to control of attitudes and opinions. These were the days when the huge public relations industry emerged, in the freest countries in the world: Britain and the United States, where the problem was most severe. The public relations industry was devoted to what Walter Lippmann approvingly called a "new art" in "the practice of democracy": "the manufacture of consent" [(Public Opinion)]; it's called "the engineering of consent", in the phrase of his contemporary Edward Bernays, one of the founders of the PR industry. Both Lippmann and Bernays had taken part in Woodrow Wilson's state propaganda agency; "Committee on Public Information" was its Orwellian term. It was created kind of to try to drive a pacifist population to jingoist fanaticism and hatred of all things German. And it succeeded, brilliantly in fact. And it was hoped that the same techniques could insure that what are called "the intelligent minorities" would rule and that the general public, who Lippmann called "ignorant and meddlesome outsiders", would serve their function as spectators, not participants. These are all very highly respected progressive essays on democracy by a man who was the leading public intellectual of the 20th century and was a Wilson/Roosevelt/Kennedy progressive, as Bernays was. And they capture the thinking of progressive opinion. So President Wilson – he held an elite of gentlemen with "elevated ideals" must be empowered to preserve "stability and righteousness": essentially the prospective of the Founding Fathers. In more recent years, the gentlemen are transmuted into the technocratic elite and the "action intellectuals" of Camelot, Straussian neocons, other configurations. But, throughout, one or another variant of the doctrine prevails. (The quote from Samuel Huntington that you heard is an example.)

And, on a more hopeful note, popular struggle continues to clip its wings, quite impressively in the wake of 1960s activism, which had quite a substantial effect on civilizing the society and raised the prospects for further progress to a much higher plane. It's one of the reasons why it's called the "time of troubles" and bitterly denounced: too much of a civilizing effect.

Well, what the West sees as "the crisis" – namely, the financial crisis – that'll presumably be patched up somehow or other, but leaving the institutions that created it pretty much in place. A couple of days ago, the Treasury Department, as you read, permitted early TARP repayments, which actually reduce capacity. I mean, it was touted as "giving money back to the public"; in fact, as was pointed out right away, it reduces the capacity of the banks to lend, although it does allow them to pour money into the pockets of the few who matter. And the mood on Wall Street was captured by two Bank of New York employees who "predicted that their lives – and pay – would improve even if the broader economy did not" [("10 Large Banks Allowed to Exit U.S. Aid Program", New York Times, 9 June 2009)]. That's paraphrasing Adam Smith's observation that the architects of policy protect their own interests, no matter how grievous the effect on others. And they are the architects of policy: Obama made sure to staff his economic advisors from that sector, which has been pointed out too: the former chief economist of the IMF Samuel Johnson pointed out [("The Quiet Coup", The Atlantic, May 2009)] that the Obama administration is just in the pocket of Wall Street. As he put it, "Throughout the crisis, the government has taken extreme care not to upset the interests of the financial institutions, or to question the basic outlines of the system that got us here", and " elite business interests" who "played a central role in creating the crisis...with the implicit backing of the government" – they are still there, and " they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the [set] of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive." He says, "The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them" – which is no surprise, considering who constitutes and who backs the government.



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