Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Reflections in a fun house mirror

Tim Weinter writing in Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA turns the phrase "reflections in a fun house mirror" in describing what the CIA knew about Soviet intentions after Stalin's death. A lot of people went to a lot of time and effort pumping up the big Red threat. Here's two telling paragraphs from pages 73-74.

Stalin's death intensified American fears about Soviet intentions. The question for the CIA was whether Stalin's successors—whoever they might be—would launch a preemptive war. But the agency's speculations about the Soviets were reflections in a fun house mirror. Stalin never had a master plan for world domination, nor the means to pursue it. The man who eventually took control of the Soviet Union after his death, Nikita Khrushchev said, “Stalin never did anything to provoke a war with the United States. He knew his weakness.”

One of the fundamental failings of the Soviet state was that every facet of daily life was subordinated to national security. Stalin and his successors were pathological about their frontiers. Napoleon had invaded from Paris, and then Hitler from Berlin. Stalin's only coherent postwar foreign policy had been to turn Eastern Europe into an enormous human shield. While he devoted his energies to murdering his internal enemies, the Soviet people stood in endless lines waiting to buy a sack of potatoes. Americans were about to enjoy eight years of peace and prosperity under Eisenhower. But that peace came at the cost of a skyrocketing arms race, political witch hunts, and a permanent war economy.

Apparently (and perhaps not too surprisingly) there were some in the agency who had a clue. From page 112:

"Those of us who knew a little bit about Russia viewed it as backward Third World country that wanted to develop along the lines of the West," said the CIA's Tom Polgar, the Berlin base veteran. But that view was rejected at the highest levels in Washington. The White House and the Pentagon presumed that the Kremlin's intentions were identical to theirs: to destroy their enemy on the first day of World War III. Their mission was therefore to locate Soviet military capabilities and destroy them first. They had no faith that American spies could do that.

But American machines might.

The Killian report was the beginning of the triumph of technology and the eclipse of old-fashioned espionage at the CIA. "We obtain little significant information from classic covert operations inside Russia," the report told Eisenhower. "But we can use the ultimate in science and technology to improve our intelligence take." It urged Eisenhower to build spy planes and space satellites to soar over the Soviet Union and photograph its arsenals.


[I]n the end, the Pebntagon always set the requirements for reconnaissance: How many bombers did the Soviets have? How many nuclear missiles? How many tanks?

... the cold war mentality blocked the very idea of photographing any thing else.

"We didn't raise the fight questions," ... If the CIA had developed a bigger picture of life inside the Soviet Union it would have learned that the Soviets were putting little money into the resources that truly made a nation strong. They were a weak enemy. If the CIA's leader had been able to run effective intelligence operations inside the Soviet Union, they might have seen that Russians were unable to produce the necessities of life. The idea that the final battles of the cold war would be economic instead of military was beyond their imagination.

So all those years of grade school drills of what to do in the event of an atomic or nuclear bomb, crawl under your desk on your knees, put your hands over your head, all those years learning to fear the big Red menace, all the billions, trillions of dollars stockpiling enough nuclear weapons to wipe humanity off the planet many times over, the Star Wars missile shield defenses, the arms races, were to prepare to defend us against an enemy who never wished to attack us?

Shocked, I tells you. I'm shocked!!

Hype the threat. A certain madness must overtake us. And we project time and again upon the other the threat we are to them.

The musician Sting displayed a better understanding (I hope the Russians love their children too) than our politicians, military, and intelligence services. Fancy that.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Drifting along until overtaken by financial bankruptcy

More from Chalmers Johnson's NEMESIS:

The separation of powers that the Founders wrote into our Constitution as the main bulwark against dictatorship increasingly appears to be a dead letter, with the Congress no longer capable of asserting itself against presidential attempts to monopolize power. Corrupt and indifferent, the Congress, which the Founders believed would be the leading branch of government, is simply not up to the task of confronting a modern Julius Caesar. As former representative Bob Barr, a conservative from Georgia, concludes, "The American people are going to have to say, 'Enough of this business of justifying everything as necessary for the war on terror.' Either the Constitution and the laws of this country mean something, or they don't. It is truly frightening what is going on in this country."

If the legislative branch of our government is broken--and it is hard to imagine how it could repair itself, given the massive interests that feed off it--the judicial branch is hardly less limited today in terms of its ability to maintain the balance. Even the Supreme Court's most extraordinary power, its ability to nullify a law as unconstitutional, rests on precedent rather than constitutional stipulation, and lower courts, increasingly packed with right-wing judges, have little taste for going against the prevailing political winds ...


The evidence strongly suggests that the legislative and judicial branches, having become so servile in the presence of the imperial presidency, have largely lost the ability to respond in a principled and independent manner. Could the people themselves restore constitutional government? A grassroots movement to abolish the CIA, break the hold of the military-industrial complex, and establish public financing of elections may be theoretically conceivable but is unlikely given the conglomerate control of the mass media and the difficulties of mobilizing our large and indifferent population.


The likelihood is that the United States will maintain a facade of constitutional government and drift along until financial bankruptcy overtakes it. Of course, bankruptcy will not mean the literal end of the United States any more than it did for Germany in 1923, China in 1948, or Argentina in 2001-2. It might, in fact, open the way for an unexpected restoration of the American system, or for military rule, or simply for some new development we cannot yet imagine. Certainly, such a bankruptcy would mean a drastic lowering of our standard of living, a loss of control over international affairs, a process of adjusting to the rise of other powers, including China and India, and a further discrediting of the notion that the United States is somehow exceptionally compared to other nations. As Anatol Lieven, author of America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism, concludes, "U.S. global power, as presently conceived by the overwhelming majority of the U.S. establishment, is unsustainable. ... The empire can no longer raise enough taxes or soldiers, it is increasingly indebted, and key vassal states are no longer reliable. ... The result is that the empire can no longer pay for enough of the professional troops it needs to fulfill its self-assumed imperial tasks."