Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why Republicans always get stuff wrong and why Socialists usually get stuff right

In his youth, [Steve] Eisman had been a strident Republican.  He joined right-wing organizations, voted for Reagan twice, and even loved Robert Bork.  It wasn't until he got to Wall Street, oddly, that his politics drifted left.  He attributed his first baby steps back to the middle of the political spectrum to the end of the cold war.  "I wasn't as right-wing because there wasn't as much to be right-wing about."  By the time Household's CEO, Bill Aldinger, collected his $100 million, Eisman was on his way to becoming the financial market's first socialist.  "When you're a conservative Republican, you never think people are making money by riping other people off," he said.  HIs mind was now fully open to the possibility.  "I now realized there was an entire industry, called consumer finance, that basically existed to rip people off."

If any doubt remained about who won and who lost in the latest round, it was quickly dispelled. Israel launched the attack to restore Gaza’s fear of it. But after the ceasefire and its terms were announced, Palestinians flooded the streets of Gaza in a celebratory mood as if at a wedding party. In a CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour, Hamas’s Mishal cut the figure and exuded the confidence of a world leader. Meanwhile, at the Israeli press conference announcing the ceasefire, the ruling triumvirate—Netanyahu, Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman—resembled grade-schoolers called down to the Principal’s Office, counting the seconds until the humiliation was over.

November 29, 2012

Israel Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

What Really Happened in Gaza


The official storyline is that Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense on 14 November, 2012 because, in President Barack Obama’s words, it had “every right to defend itself.”

In this instance, Israel was allegedly defending itself against the 800 projectile attacks emanating from Gaza since January of this past year.

The facts, however, suggest otherwise.

From the start of the new year, one Israeli had been killed as a result of the Gazan attacks, while 78 Gazans had been killed by Israeli strikes. The ruling power in Gaza, Hamas, was mostly committed to preventing attacks. Indeed, Ahmed al-Jaabari, the Hamas leader whose assassination by Israel triggered the current round of fighting, was regarded by Israel as the chief enforcer of the periodic ceasefires, and was in the process of enforcing another such ceasefire just as he was liquidated.

Hamas occasionally turned a blind eye, or joined in to prevent an escalation, when Israeli provocations resulted in retaliatory strikes by Hamas’s more militant Islamist rivals. It recoiled at being cast as Israel’s collaborator in the image of the Palestinian Authority.

It has been speculated that Hamas was itching for a confrontation with Israel.

But this past year Hamas has been on a roll. Its ideological soulmate, the Muslim Brotherhood, ascended to power in Egypt. The emir of Qatar journeyed to Gaza carrying the promise of $400 million in aid, while Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was scheduled to visit Gaza soon thereafter. In the West Bank many Palestinians envied (rightly or wrongly) that Gazans fared better economically. Meanwhile, Gaza’s Islamic University even managed to pull off an academic conference attended by renowned linguist Noam Chomsky.

Hamas’s star was slowly but surely rising, at the expense of the hapless Palestinian Authority. The very last thing it needed at that moment was an inevitably destructive confrontation with Israel that could jeopardize these hard-won, steadily accreting gains.

On the other side, many cynical Israelis speculated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched the operation in order to boost his election prospects in January 2013.

As a general rule, however, Israeli leaders do not unleash major military operations for electoral gain where significant State interests are at stake. The fact that Defense Minister Ehud Barak dropped out of politics soon after the latest operation ended and his popular standing improved suggests that the forthcoming election was not a prime consideration for him.[1]

Why, then, did Israel attack?

In one sense, Israel was straightforward about its motive. It kept saying, credibly, that it wanted to restore its “deterrence capacity”—i.e., the Arab/Muslim world’s fear of it.

The real question, however, is the nature of the threat it wanted to deter.

The latest assault on Gaza unfolded in the broader context of successive Israeli foreign policy failures.

Netanyahu sought to rally the international community for an attack on Iran, but ended up looking the fool as he held up an Iranian nuclear device “smuggled” into the United Nations. Hezbollah boasted that a drone launched by it had penetrated Israeli airspace, and then reserved the right to enter Israeli air space at its whim. Now, its “terrorist” twin upstart in Gaza was gaining respectability as the Arab/Muslim world thumbed its collective nose at Israel on its doorstep.

The natives were getting restless. It was time to take out the big club again and remind the locals who was in charge.

“At the heart of Operation Pillar of Defense,” the respected Crisis Group observed, “lay an effort to demonstrate that Hamas’s newfound confidence was altogether premature and that, the Islamist awakening notwithstanding, changes in the Middle East would not change much at all.”

Still, Israel needed a suitable pretext. So, just as it knew that breaking the ceasefire in November 2008 by killing six Hamas militants would evoke a massive response, so it must have known that killing Jaabari would evoke a comparable response.

The actual Israeli assault, however, differed significantly from Operation Cast Lead (OCL) in 2008-9: it was qualitatively less murderous and destructive. Many commentators have therefrom inferred that Israel used more precise weapons this time and, concomitantly, that Israel had “learnt the lessons” from OCL on how to avoid civilian casualties.

In fact, 99 percent of Israeli Air Force attacks during OCL hit targets accurately, while the goal of OCL was—in the words of the Goldstone Report, which was supported by scores of other human rights reports—to “punish, humiliate and terrorize” the Gazan civilian population.

If Israel’s latest rampage proved less lethal by comparison, it was because of unprecedented political constraints imposed on it:

- Turkey and Egypt made abundantly clear that they would not sit idly by if Israel launched a repeat performance of OCL. From early on, both drew a red line at an Israeli ground assault. Although now officially denied, it was reliably reported at the time that Obama, no doubt prodded by these key regional actors, counseled Israel not to invade.

- Israel had hanging over its head the Goldstone Report. It managed to elude, the first time around, prosecution at the International Criminal Court and the exercise by several countries of universal jurisdiction for its war crimes and crimes against humanity. But the second time it might not be so fortunate.

- Gaza was swarming with foreign reporters. Before OCL, Israel had sealed Gaza shut from the outside world with the cooperation of Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt. In the initial phase of the onslaught, Israel enjoyed a near-total monopoly on media coverage. But now, journalists could freely enter Gaza and credibly report Israeli atrocities in real-time.

On account of this trio of factors, Israel mostly targeted sites that could be deemed “legitimate.” True, some 70 Palestinian civilians were killed, but that could be chalked up to “collateral damage.”

The deaths and injuries of civilians during the Israeli assault, although far fewer than in previous rounds of the conflict, received in-depth and graphic news coverage. When Israel tested the limits of military legitimacy, trouble loomed. After it flattened civilian governmental structures in Gaza, the headline on the New York Times web site read, “Israel targets civilian buildings.” A few hours later it metamorphosed into “government buildings” (no doubt after a call from the Israeli consulate). Still, the writing was on the wall: Israeli conduct was being closely scrutinized by outsiders, so it had better tread carefully.

The salient exceptions came during the final ceasefire negotiations when Israel resorted to its standard terrorist tactics in order to extract the best possible terms, and also targeted journalists in the event that the negotiations collapsed and it would have to, after all, launch the murderous ground invasion.

The armed resistance Hamas put up during the eight-day Israeli assault was largely symbolic. Although Israel acclaimed the success of Iron Dome, it almost certainly did not save many and perhaps not any lives. During OCL some 800 projectiles and mortar shells landing in Israel killed three Israeli civilians, while during the recent Israeli assault some 1,400 projectiles and mortar shells landing in Israel killed four Israeli civilians.

It is unlikely that, in the main and allowing for the occasional exception, Hamas used much more technically advanced weapons in the latest round. Through its army of informers and hi-tech aerial surveillance Israel would have been privy to large quantities of sophisticated Hamas weapons and would have destroyed these stashes before or during the first day of the attack. It is also improbable that Netanyahu would have risked an attack just on the eve of an election if Hamas possessed weapons capable of inflicting significant civilian casualties. A handful of Hamas projectiles reached deeper inside Israel than before but these lacked explosives; an Israeli official derisively described them as “pipes, basically.”

If Israel ballyhooed Iron Dome, it was because its purported effectiveness was the only achievement to which Israel could point in the final reckoning.

The climax of Israel’s assault came when it was unable to break the spirit of the people of Gaza. On the one hand, it had exhausted all preplanned military targets and, on the other, it couldn’t target the civilian population. Hamas had successfully adapted Hezbollah’s strategy of continually firing its projectiles, the psychological upshot of which was that Israel couldn’t declare its deterrence capacity had been restored, and thereby forcing on it a ground invasion.

Israel could not launch such an invasion, however, without suffering significant combatant losses unless the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) blasted everyone and everything in and out of sight as it cleared a path into Gaza. But, because of the novel circumstances—the regional realignment after the Arab Spring, and Turkey under Erdogan; the threat of a “mega-Goldstone,” as a veteran Israeli commentator put it; the presence of a foreign press corps embedded not in the IDF but among the people of Gaza—Israel couldn’t launch an OCL-style ground invasion.

Israel was thus caught between a rock and a hard place. It couldn’t subdue Hamas without a ground invasion, but it couldn’t launch a ground invasion without incurring a politically unacceptable price in IDF casualties and global opprobrium.

It is possible to pinpoint the precise moment when the Israeli assault was over: Hamas leader Khalid Mishal’s taunt to Israel at a 19 November press conference, Go ahead, invade!

Netanyahu panicked. His bluff was called, and Israel stood exposed, naked, before the whole world. What happened next was a repeat of the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Unable to stop the Hezbollah rocket attacks but dreading the prospect of a ground invasion that meant tangling with the Party of God, Israel called in Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to negotiate a ceasefire. This time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was summoned to bail Israel out. Not even the 21 November bus bombing in Tel Aviv—which, ceasefire or no ceasefire, would normally have elicited massive Israeli retaliation—shook Netanyahu from his determination to end the operation immediately, before Hamas resumed its taunting.

The terms of the final agreement marked a stunning defeat for Israel. It called for a mutual ceasefire, not one, as Israel demanded, unilaterally imposed on Hamas. It also included language that implied the siege of Gaza would be lifted. Notably, it did not include the condition that Hamas must cease its importation or production of weapons. The reason why is not hard to find. Under international law, peoples resisting foreign occupation have the right (or, as some international lawyers more cautiously phrase it, license) to use armed force. Egypt, which brokered the ceasefire, was not about to accept a stipulation that conceded Hamas’s legal right.[2]

Israel no doubt hoped that the U.S. would use its political leverage to extract better ceasefire terms from Egypt. But the Obama administration, placing American interests first and consequently wanting to bring the new Egypt under its wing, was not willing (assuming it could) to lord it over Egypt on Israel’s behalf.

If any doubt remained about who won and who lost in the latest round, it was quickly dispelled. Israel launched the attack to restore Gaza’s fear of it. But after the ceasefire and its terms were announced, Palestinians flooded the streets of Gaza in a celebratory mood as if at a wedding party. In a CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour, Hamas’s Mishal cut the figure and exuded the confidence of a world leader. Meanwhile, at the Israeli press conference announcing the ceasefire, the ruling triumvirate—Netanyahu, Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman—resembled grade-schoolers called down to the Principal’s Office, counting the seconds until the humiliation was over.

The ceasefire is likely to hold until and unless Israel can figure out how to militarily prevail given the new political environment. The days of Cast Lead are over, while a Pillar of Defense-type operation will not bear the fruits of victory.

It is unlikely, however, that Israel will fulfill the terms of the final agreement to lift the siege of Gaza. During deliberations on whether to accept the ceasefire, Barak had already cynically dismissed the fine print, saying “A day after the ceasefire, no one will remember what is written in that draft.”

It is equally improbable that Egypt will pressure the U.S. to enforce the ceasefire terms on Israel. The respective interests of the new Egypt and Hamas mostly diverge, not converge. Egypt desperately needs American subventions, and is currently negotiating a $5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, where Washington’s vote is decisive. The popularity of President Mohammed Morsi’s government will ultimately hinge on what it delivers to Egyptians, not Gazans.

In the meantime, U.S. political elites are lauding Morsi to high heaven, stroking his ego, and speculating on the “special relationship” he has cultivated with Obama. Those familiar with the psychological manipulations of the U.S. when it comes to Arab leaders—in particular, contemptibly mediocre ones such as Anwar Sadat—will not be surprised by the current U.S. romancing of Morsi.

It is also unlikely that Turkey will exert itself on Hamas’s behalf. Right now it is smarting from Obama’s rebuff of designating Egypt as prime interlocutor in brokering the ceasefire. Turkey was reportedly disqualified because it labeled Israel a “terrorist state” during the assault, whereas Egypt “only” accused Israel of “acts of aggression, murder and bloodletting.”

Still, aspiring to be the U.S.’s chief regional partner, and calculating that the road to Washington passes through Tel Aviv, Turkey has resumed negotiations with Israel to end the diplomatic impasse after Israel killed eight Turks aboard a humanitarian vessel headed for Gaza in 2010. On the other hand, its recent operation has brought home to Israel that alienating both its historic allies in the region, Egypt and Turkey, is not prudent policy, so a face-saving reconciliation between Ankara and Tel Aviv (the Turkish government is formally demanding an apology, monetary compensation, and an end to the Gaza siege) is probably in the offing.

The long and the short of it is that, even in the new era that has opened up, definite limits exist on how much regional support the Palestinians can realistically hope to garner.

It appears that many Palestinians have concluded from the resounding defeat inflicted on Israel that only armed resistance can and will end the Israeli occupation. In fact, however, Hamas’s armed resistance operated for the most part only at the level of perceptions—the projectiles heading towards Tel Aviv did unsettle the city’s residents—and it is unlikely that Palestinians can ever muster sufficient military might to compel an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

But Gaza’s steadfastness until the final hour of the Israeli assault did demonstrate the indomitable will of the people of Palestine. If this potential force can be harnessed in a campaign of mass civil resistance, and if the supporters of Palestinian rights worldwide do their job of mobilizing public opinion and changing government policy, then Israel can be forced to withdraw, and with fewer Palestinian lives lost than in an armed resistance.

This article benefited from many conversations with Palestinian political analyst Mouin Rabbani and from Jamie Stern-Weiner playing the devil’s advocate.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN is author of five books, including Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, Beyond Chutzpah and The Holocaust Industry, which have been translated into more than 40 foreign editions. He is the son of Holocaust survivors. This article is an edited extract of the views of Finkelstein given at This article first appeared on his website at


[1] It has also been speculated that the governing coalition had to do something to placate popular indignation at the Hamas attacks. But in fact, these attacks have barely registered on Israel’s political radar the past year, the focus being mostly on Iran and domestic issues.

[2] In a diplomatic side note to Netanyahu, Obama vaguely promised to “help Israel address its security needs, especially the issue of smuggling of weapons and explosives into Gaza.”

For his act of conscience, Manning has become the subject of harsh incarceration himself, as some U.S. pundits and even members of Congress have called for his execution as a traitor. At minimum, however, he has been made an example to anyone else tempted to tell hard truths. Many in Official Washington find nothing wrong with humiliating Manning with forced nudity and breaking down his psychiatric health through prolonged isolation. After all, they say, his release of classified information might have put the lives of some U.S. allies at risk (although there is no known evidence to support that concern).

November 29, 2012

Kangaroos Missing

The Humiliation of Bradley Manning


It is a bitter irony that Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, whose conscience compelled him to leak evidence about the U.S. military brass ignoring evidence of torture in Iraq, was himself the victim of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment while other military officers privately took note but did nothing.

That was one of the revelations at Manning’s pre-trial hearing at Ft. Meade, Maryland, on Tuesday, as Manning’s defense counsel David Coombs used e-mail exchanges to show Marine officers grousing that the Marines had been left holding the bag on Manning’s detention at their base in Quantico, Virginia, though he was an Army soldier.

At Quantico, Manning, who is accused of giving hundreds of thousands of pages of classified material to WikiLeaks, was subjected to harsh treatment. He was locked in a 6-foot-by-8-foot cell for 23 hours a day and was kept naked for long periods. His incarceration led the UN Rapporteur for Torture to complain that Manning was being subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

According to the e-mail evidence, the controversy over the rough handling of Manning prompted Quantico commander, Marine Col. Daniel Choike, to complain bitterly that not one Army officer was in the chain of blame. Choike’s lament prompted an e-mail reply from his commander, Lt. Gen. George Flynn, offering assurances that Choike and Quantico would not be left “holding the bag.”

However, concerns about possible repercussions from softening up Manning did little to ease the conditions that Manning faced. His Marine captors seemed eager to give him the business and make him an example to any other prospective whistleblowers. Only after a sustained public outcry was Manning transferred to the Army prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Though his treatment was less harsh there, Manning still has faced 2 ½ years of incarceration without trial and could face up to life imprisonment after a court martial into his act of conscience, i.e. releasing extensive evidence of wrongdoing by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan and questionable foreign policies carried out by the U.S. State Department.

The release of the documents led to hundreds of news stories, including some that revealed the willful inaction of U.S. military brass when informed of torture inflicted on Iraqi prisoners held by the U.S.-backed Iraqi military.

Manning’s Conscience

As a young intelligence analyst in Iraq, Pvt. Manning grew disgusted with evidence passing through his computer terminal revealing the secretive dark side of the U.S. military occupation, including this pattern of high-level disinterest in Iraqi-on-Iraqi torture, which resulted from a directive known as Frago 242, guidelines from senior Pentagon officials not to interfere with abusive treatment of Iraqi government detainees.

As the UK Guardian reported in 2010 based on the leaked documents, Frago 242 was a “fragmentary order” summarizing a complex requirement, in this case, one issued in June 2004 ordering American troops not to investigate torture violations unless they involved members of the occupying coalition led by the United States.

When alleged abuse was inflicted by Iraqis on Iraqis, “only an initial report will be made … No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ,” the Guardian reported, adding: “Frago 242 appears to have been issued as part of the wider political effort to pass the management of security from the coalition to Iraqi hands. In effect, it means that the [Iraqi] regime has been forced to change its political constitution but allowed to retain its use of torture.”

Some cases of torture were flagrant, according to the disregarded “initial” reports. For instance, the Guardian cited a log report of “a man who was detained by Iraqi soldiers in an underground bunker [and] reported that he had been subjected to the notoriously painful strappado position: with his hands tied behind his back, he was suspended from the ceiling by his wrists.

“The soldiers had then whipped him with plastic piping and used electric drills on him. The log records that the man was treated by US medics; the paperwork was sent through the necessary channels; but yet again, no investigation was required. …

“Hundreds of the leaked war logs reflect the fertile imagination of the torturer faced with the entirely helpless victim – bound, gagged, blindfolded and isolated – who is whipped by men in uniforms using wire cables, metal rods, rubber hoses, wooden stakes, TV antennae, plastic water pipes, engine fan belts or chains.

“At the torturer’s whim, the logs reveal, the victim can be hung by his wrists or by his ankles; knotted up in stress positions; sexually molested or raped; tormented with hot peppers, cigarettes, acid, pliers or boiling water – and always with little fear of retribution since, far more often than not, if the Iraqi official is assaulting an Iraqi civilian, no further investigation will be required.

“Most of the victims are young men, but there are also logs which record serious and sexual assaults on women; on young people, including a boy of 16 who was hung from the ceiling and beaten; the old and vulnerable, including a disabled man whose damaged leg was deliberately attacked. The logs identify perpetrators from every corner of the Iraqi security apparatus – soldiers, police officers, prison guards, border enforcement patrols.

“There is no question of the coalition forces not knowing that their Iraqi comrades are doing this: the leaked war logs are the internal records of those forces. There is no question of the allegations all being false. Some clearly are, but most are supported by medical evidence and some involve incidents that were witnessed directly by coalition forces.”

Possessing such evidence – and knowing that the U.S. high command was systematically ignoring these and other crimes – Manning was driven by a sense of morality to get the evidence to the American people and to the world.

Punishing Morality

For his act of conscience, Manning has become the subject of harsh incarceration himself, as some U.S. pundits and even members of Congress have called for his execution as a traitor. At minimum, however, he has been made an example to anyone else tempted to tell hard truths.

Many in Official Washington find nothing wrong with humiliating Manning with forced nudity and breaking down his psychiatric health through prolonged isolation. After all, they say, his release of classified information might have put the lives of some U.S. allies at risk (although there is no known evidence to support that concern).

There also are legal constraints upon the United States dishing out particularly nasty treatment to Pvt. Manning. Cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners is expressly banned by the UN Convention Against Torture, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 and ratified by the Senate in 1994.

And there are no exceptions for “wartime” whistleblowers like Manning. Here’s what the Convention says: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture” and “an order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture” (Art. 2 (2-3)).”

Personally, when I attended the Tuesday proceeding, I dreaded sitting through another “pre-trial hearing,” having been bored stiff at earlier sessions. But it was a welcome surprise to witness first-hand proof that military courts can still hold orderly proceedings bereft (on Tuesday, at least) of “command influence.”

Most illuminating at Tuesday’s hearing was the central fact that the virtually indestructible nature of e-mail facilitates the kind of documentary evidence that lawyers lust after – whether they be attorneys, FBI investigators or just plain folks fed up with lies and faux history.

To the Marine Corps’ credit, I suppose, there was no evidence at the hearing that anyone had tried to expunge the e-mail correspondence revealing the fears about being left “holding the bag” on the harsh treatment of Manning.

E-Mail vs. Petraeus

So the availability of e-mail is the major new reality playing out in several major ways. As we have seen, former Gen. David Petraeus is a notable recent victim of the truth that can turn up in e-mail.

I used to call him “Petraeus ex Machina” for the faux-success of the celebrated “surge” in Iraq, which cost almost 1,000 additional U.S. troops dead (and many more Iraqis) to buy a “decent interval” for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to get out of town without a clear-cut military defeat hung around their necks.

As it turned out, “Petraeus ex Machina,” after a little more than a year as CIA director, was undone in a sex scandal exposed by the modern “machine” of e-mail.

More to the point, the torrent of e-mail and the “Collateral Murder” video that Manning now acknowledges giving to WikiLeaks as a matter of conscience were, of course, highly illuminating to students of real history. And the e-mails (and State Department cables) also were rather unflattering regarding the aims of U.S. policy and military actions around the globe.

So how did the White House, the State Department and military brass respond? There was a strongly felt need to make an object lesson of Bradley Manning to show what happens to people whose conscience prompts them to expose deceit and serious wrongdoing, especially through official documents that can’t be denied or spun.

In Manning’s case, he was delivered to the Marines, famous for their hard-headed determination to follow orders and to get the job done. So, his jailers took Manning’s clothes away and made him stand naked, supposedly out of concern that otherwise he might be “a risk to himself.” To further “protect” him, he was kept in a 23-hour lockdown in a tiny cell.

The treatment of Manning at Quantico was too much for State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley, a 26-year Air Force veteran and former colonel. Crowley was of the old school on the treatment of prisoners; his father, a B-17 pilot spent two years in a German POW camp.

On March 10, 2011, Crowley went public, telling an audience that Manning was being “mistreated” by the Defense Department; Crowley branded Manning’s treatment “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”

Three days later, Crowley resigned with this parting shot: “The exercise of power in today’s challenging times and relentless media environment must be prudent and consistent with our laws and values.”

At Ft. Meade, the pre-trial hearings are continuing, including testimony about how the advice of health professionals regarding Manning was disregarded by the Marine officers and his jailers at Quantico. Later this week, Manning himself is expected to take the stand.

Again, the fair and orderly manner in which Tuesday’s hearing was conducted was a reassuring sign that not everyone is prepared to cave before “command influence.” The judge, Col. Denise Lind, upon whom all depends, listened attentively and asked several good questions at the end.

Let’s hope the kangaroos can be kept at bay.

Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer in the early 60s, and then served for 27 years as a CIA analyst. He also serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

To refer to the United States today as the world's "sole superpower" makes about as much sense as General Motors bragging that it's the world's No.1 car company: Nostalgia ill-befits an enterprise beset with competitors breathing down its neck. ... A new global order is rapidly emerging. In that order, the United States will no doubt remain a very important player. Yet alongside the United States will be several others: China pre-eminently among them, but with Russia, India, Turkey, Japan, South Korea and Brazil also demanding to be reckoned with. (Whether Europe, currently wallowing in disarray, can muster the will and wallet to play in this company qualifies as an unknown.)

The end of America's 'sole superpower' era has arrived

Andrew J. Bacevich, Special to the Los Angeles Times

Friday, August 19, 2011

Chief among the problems facing the United States today is this: too many obligations piled high without the wherewithal to meet them. Among those obligations are the varied and sundry commitments implied by the phrase "American global leadership." If ever there were an opportune moment for reassessing the assumptions embedded in that phrase, it's now.

With too few Americans taking notice, history has entered a new era. The "unipolar moment" created by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 has passed. To refer to the United States today as the world's "sole superpower" makes about as much sense as General Motors bragging that it's the world's No.1 car company: Nostalgia ill-befits an enterprise beset with competitors breathing down its neck. Similarly, to call President Barack Obama the "most powerful man in the world" is akin to curtsying before Elizabeth II as "Queen of Great Britain, Ireland and British Dominions beyond the Seas": Although a nice title, it confers little by way of actual authority.

A new global order is rapidly emerging. In that order, the United States will no doubt remain a very important player. Yet alongside the United States will be several others: China pre-eminently among them, but with Russia, India, Turkey, Japan, South Korea and Brazil also demanding to be reckoned with. (Whether Europe, currently wallowing in disarray, can muster the will and wallet to play in this company qualifies as an unknown.)

Nothing Washington can do will prevent this geopolitical transformation. Politicians may insist that the United States still stands apart — always and forever a "triple-A nation" — but their declarations will have as much effect as King Canute ordering the waves to stop. Indeed, to indulge further in the fiction of American omnipotence — persisting in our penchant for fighting distant wars of dubious purpose, for example — will accelerate the process, with relative decline becoming absolute decline. For Americans, husbanding power rather than squandering it is the order of the day.

That said, there is much that the United States can and ought to do to ensure that this emerging multipolar world ends up being more or less stable, and more or less decent, and therefore more or less congenial to the well-being of the American people. Multipolarity implies complications.

A little more than a century ago, mismanagement by the last multipolar order produced a world war, followed by the Depression and then another world war worse than the first. Avoiding a repetition of those serial catastrophes defines the overarching strategic imperative of our age.

In that regard, spending hundreds of billions vainly attempting to pacify Afghanistan is unlikely to help much.

Far more useful (if hardly less challenging) might be the following:

• Negotiating "boundaries" — constraints, for example, on the use of force — that will limit great power prerogatives (including our own) in the 21st century.

• Establishing norms governing the competition for increasingly scarce natural resources.

• Reducing armaments and curbing the international arms trade, thereby restricting the availability of the hardware that sustains wars once they begin.

• Focusing increased diplomatic attention on trouble spots that threaten to put great powers on a collision course, among them Taiwan, Kashmir, Korea's 38th parallel and, of course, the Palestinian territories.

Sadly, little evidence exists to suggest that anyone in Washington possesses the creative imagination to take on such tasks. Crisis response — managing ongoing wars and reacting to the twists and turns of the Arab Spring, for example — absorbs the energy and attention of the Obama administration. Meanwhile, shoveling money into the maw of the military-industrial complex seems the top Republican priority. As with fiscal issues, so too with statecraft: Washington has become an intellectual dead zone.

Yet here's the kicker: Were Washington to succeed in midwifing this new order, one result would be to reduce the burdens that the United States has shouldered since 1941 — far past the point of diminishing returns. Although the positive effects might not be felt immediately, the benefits over time could be very large indeed. Lighter burdens (fewer wars and reduced Pentagon spending) could go far toward helping us put our own house in order, the one point that just about everyone, in Washington and across the country, now agrees is essential.

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University.

Obama is doing his best to hide what he's up to, but there is simply no way to get $4 trillion in cuts - almost $1 trillion already agreed to and another $3 trillion in his current proposal - without deep spending cuts that even a majority of conservative Republicans oppose. "Most Americans have a simple response to the notion of 'reforming' these popular programs: Cut military budgets and raise taxes on upper income groups".

Published on Tuesday, November 27, 2012
by Al Jazeera

A Grand Bargain is a Grand Betrayal:
The Forgotten, Lonely World of Facts

That the United States is center-right and
Obama must needs compromise
on slashing the welfare state is a myth

by Paul Rosenberg

"Facts are stupid things," Ronald Reagan once said, hilariously misquoting Founding Father John Adams, your typical elitist Enlightenment intellectual, who actually said, "Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." But in the contest between the real world of John Adams and the fantasy world bequeathed to us by Ronald Reagan, stupid and stubborn are on both on the side of the latter... and the latter is winning, hands down, as can be seen in President Obama's pursuit of a so-called "grand bargain" that would cut far more in spending than it would raise in taxes. In the Reaganite fantasy world of Washington DC, Obama represents the left. In the real world? Well, take a look for yourself.

A bipartisan plan to fix the economy by balanced deficit reduction is a good solution for a fact-free world (AP)There is a political party in the United States whose presidential candidate got over 60 million votes, and whose members - according to the General Social Survey - overwhelmingly think we're spending too little on Social Security, rather than spending too much, by a lopsided margin of 52-12. The party, of course, is the Republican Party.

There is as an ideological label claimed by over 100 million Americans, who collectively think we're spending too little on "improving and protecting the nation's health", rather than spending too much, by a 2-1 margin: 48-24. The labelled ideology, of course, is conservative.

Combine the two categories and the two spending questions, and you find that a 51.4 percent of conservative Republicans think we're spending too little on either Social Security, health care or both. Only 28.7 percent think we're spending too much, and just 7.3 percent think we're spending too much on both.

That's 7.3 percent of conservative Republicans in support of the position taken by leaders of both political parties - Republicans, who want to slash the welfare state drastically while making permanent tax cuts for the rich, and Democrats, led by President Obama, who wants a more "balanced" approach, with $2.50 cut from spending for every $1 added in taxes. Other Democrats, particularly in Congress, are trying to push back against Obama, without letting their slips show, and Obama is doing his best to hide what he's up to, but there is simply no way to get $4 trillion in cuts - almost $1 trillion already agreed to and another $3 trillion in his current proposal - without deep spending cuts that even a majority of conservative Republicans oppose.

Yet, as the Guardian reports, Obama's grassroots campaign organization is being kept alive after the campaign, and pushing this far right agenda is their first emailed call to action. "It's now clear that ordinary citizens will also be subjected to a full bore messaging campaign to persuade them that they should regard this counterproductive sacrifice as good for them," notes leading econoblogger Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism. She also notes, correctly, that "most Americans have a simple response to the notion of 'reforming' these popular programs: Cut military budgets and raise taxes on upper income groups".

Something we can all agree on

The figures cited above come from the General Social Survey of 2010. The GSS is the gold standard of public opinion research in the United States. Social scientists reference it more often than any other data source except for the US Census. The GSS has been asking these same questions since the 1970s, with similar ones added to its list over time. The responses to those questions reveal a much broader truth - the American people like the various different functions of the welfare state, regardless of their political ideology or affiliation. They like spending on highways, roads and bridges, mass transportation, education, child care, urban problems, alternative energy, you name it.

For example, in 2010, if we combine six questions - adding education, mass transit, highways and bridges, and urban problems to Social Security and health care - then the percentage of conservative Republicans saying we spend too much on all of them drops to a minuscule 0.4 percent, while two-thirds (66.5 percent) say we are spending too little on at least one of them. They may philosophically subscribe to the idea of shrinking government, but pragmatically they know what works and they want more of it, not less. Americans are famously described as being pragmatic, rather than ideological, and in this respect, at least, that political cliche is absolutely right.

Indeed, 2010 was only remarkable as a year in which anti-welfare state hysteria had been whipped up to a fever pitch. If one looked instead at the combined surveys for 2006, 2008 and 2010, then two-thirds of conservative Republicans (66.6 percent) thought we were spending too little on one or both of health care and Social Security, compared to just under one in seven (14 percent) who thought we were spending too much on at least one. A mere 5.1 percent thought we were spending too much on both.

In the world of stubborn and stupid, America is a center-right nation, and it really does make no sense that Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney. He's trying to compromise with the Republicans because he has to: Their insistence on slashing the welfare state represents the overwhelming consensus of American political opinion, regardless of the last election's results. But in the forgotten, lonely world of facts, none of that is true.

The need for a restatement

While GSS data since 1973 repeatedly confirms this pattern of welfare state support even from self-identified conservatives, the pattern was actually first described and discussed in the 1967 book The Political Beliefs of Americans by Lloyd Free and Hadley Cantril, two towering pioneers of public opinion research. Their book was based on surveys conducted in 1964, almost a full decade before the GSS data begins. The disjunction between what they called "operational" liberalism and ideological conservatism was one of the dominant themes of their book (they identified ideological conservatism by agreement with a set of five questions about government interference versus individual initiative). In the final section of the final chapter of the book, titled, "The Need for a Restatement of American Ideology", they wrote:

"The paradox of a large majority of Americans qualifying as operational liberals while at the same time a majority hold to a conservative ideology has been repeatedly emphasized in this study. We have described this state of affairs as mildly schizoid, with people believing in one set of principles abstractly while acting according to another set of principles in their political behavior. But the principles according to which the majority of Americans actually behave politically have not yet been adequately formulated in modern terms...

"There is little doubt that the time has come for a restatement of American ideology to bring it in line with what the great majority of people want and approve. Such a statement, with the right symbols incorporated, would focus people's wants, hopes, and beliefs, and provide a guide and platform to enable the American people to implement their political desires in a more intelligent, direct, and consistent manner."

This, of course, never took place. Two major political figures who might have helped foster such a restatement - Dr Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert F Kennedy - were assassinated the next year. Philosopher John Rawls' Theory of Justice actually embodied that restatement in a brilliantly simple abstract metaphor, the veil of ignorance, but his ideas never found the sort of symbolic amplification that Free and Cantril rightly recognized as crucial.

Instead, American politics took a much darker turn, one led by the indulgence of racist animosity, whose influence only became more deeply embedded over time, even as its initial expression was formally abandoned, and condemned. This turn can even be seen implicitly there in Free and Cantril's data. It's not just the case that Americans as a whole are schizoid - operationally liberal (65 percent according to their data) while ideologically conservative (50 percent). It's particularly true of a crucial subset: 23 percent of the population is both operationally liberal and ideologically conservative. And here's the kicker: The proportion of people fitting this description was double that in the five Southern states that Barry Goldwater carried in 1964 - the only states in the nation he carried aside from his home state of Arizona.

What this clearly implied, we can now see with hindsight, is that this population could be tipped either way, and was particularly vulnerable by tipping on the issue of race. Even though Goldwater himself abhorred making racist appeals, activists and even party organizations working for him had no such qualms, and the states he carried reflected that. Indeed, we can even see this today in GSS data, by looking at differences within the broad spectrum of support for government spending.

If, for example, we consider two different spending questions which bear on dealing with the problem of global warming - support for spending on the environment and for developing alternative energy (a new question just added in 2010) - we find a difference between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, but the difference is entirely within the realm of overwhelming support. Democrats say we're spending too little versus too much on both by 57.8 percent to 0.3 percent - a factor of almost 200-to-1 - while Republicans agree by "only" 29.8 percent to 6.6 percent - a factor of more than 4-to-1. For liberals, its more than 80-to-1 (65.2 percent to 0.8 percent), while for conservatives its better than 5-to-1 (29.6 percent to 5.7 percent). So the differences are stark - but they're all in the realm of overwhelming support for more spending. It's like comparing a rabid football fan to another rabid football fan with season tickets for his extended family.

When we look at spending on poor people and blacks, however, the picture is starkly different. Liberals once again say we're spending too little rather than too much on both by an overwhelming margin, 25-to-1 (39.8 percent to 1.6 percent), but Republicans are evenly split (10.5 percent to 10.4 percent). For liberals the ratio is roughly 20-to-1 (35.3 percent to 1.8 percent), while for conservatives it's 3-to-2 (15.6 percent to 10.0 percent). But when you combine the categories, that's when the depth of the difference really stands out. For liberal Democrats, the ratio is 200-to-1 (40.8 percent to 0.2 percent), while for conservative Republicans it's more than 2-to-1 in the other direction (6.4 percent to 13.8 percent). In short, the one way to get conservative Republicans to be operationally conservative is to talk about poor people and blacks - in 19th century terms "the undeserving poor". And yes, since you asked, they really do still think that way. If you want to know where Mitt Romney's talk of the 47 percent came from, you need look no farther than this.

Just the facts

But America rejected Romney's vision, didn't they? As the last few million votes are still being totaled, his percentage of the vote has dwindled down... to 47 percent, ironically. And yet, Obama's reasoning, even his "progressive" argument to his base is articulated within a conservative framework, one that highlights the deficit as the focus of hysterical concern, even when it tries to sound sensible and sober. Thus, the email call to his volunteers mentioned above said that Obama was "working with leaders of both parties in Washington to reduce the deficit in a balanced way so we can lay the foundation for long-term middle-class job growth and prevent your taxes from going up".

The idea of a bipartisan plan to grow the economy by balanced deficit reduction is understandably quite popular. It ranks right up there with the pizza-beer-and-ice-cream-heart-healthy-weight-loss-diet plan: The perfect solution for a fact-free world. But, as a recent letter from 350 economists points out, "[T]oo many in Washington are fixated on cutting public spending to balance the budget, not on how to put people back to work and get our economy going", but "there is no theory of economics that explains how we can deflate our way to recovery". To the contrary, as they pointed out, the opposite is true: "As Great Britain, Ireland, Spain and Greece have shown, inflicting austerity on a weak economy leads to deeper recession, rising unemployment and increasing misery."

But it's not just this popular proposal is a fantasy. It's also not really that popular if you ask folks about specifics. Which is just what Democracy Corps and Campaign for America's Future did with an election eve poll. In particular, they asked about all the major components of the Simpson-Bowles Plan, the informal background for Obama's "balanced deficit reduction plan". Every single component they asked about was deemed unacceptable by landslide majorities.

•"Capping Medicare payments, forcing seniors to pay more" was rejected 79-18.

•"Requiring deep cuts in domestic programs without protecting programs for infants, poor children, schools and college aid" was rejected 75-21

•"Cutting discretionary spending, like education, child nutrition, worker training, and disease control" was rejected 72-25.

•"Not raising taxes on the rich" was rejected 68-28.

•"Continuing to tax investors' income at lower rates than workers' pay" was rejected 63-26.

•"Reducing Social Security benefits over time by having them rise more slowly than the cost of living" was rejected 62-31.

Turning to the subject of preserving Medicare:

•"Capping Medicare payments, forcing seniors to pay more" was rejected 79-18.

•But - taking a very different approach, "Save Medicare costs by negotiating lower drug prices from drug companies" was supported 89-8.

Robert L Borosage warned in a cover story for the Nation magazine, which cites some of these same strong views opposing what the fantasy rhetoric hides. "The grand bargain not only offers the wrong answer; it poses the wrong question," Borosage writes. The right question, of course, is what to do about the stranglehold of wealth and income inequality that has developed over the past 30+ years, and how to secure the future of the 99 percent that have been left behind. "The call for shared sacrifice makes no sense," Borosage argues, "given that in recent decades, the rewards have not been shared."

A truly progressive vision, stubbornly rooted in the world of facts would focus like a laser beam on the right question. This is what FDR's New Deal was all about at bottom - rebuilding the nation's prosperity from the bottom up. The economic soundness of his approach can be seen in the decades of broadly shared prosperity that followed in his wake. The political soundness can be seen in the polling data cited above - particularly the measures of conservative support. Those are the stubborn facts that President Obama ought to be attending to. And leave the stubborn fantasies behind. It's time he set aside his love affair with Ronald Reagan. John Adams is waiting in the wings.

© 2012 Al Jazeera

Paul Rosenberg was a frontpage blogger for and is now Senior Editor for Random Lengths News, an alternative bi-weekly in the Los Angeles Harbor Area, where he specializes in labor, community and environmental justice issues.