Notebook 9 February 2017: Amerika and the World

20 February, 2008

Brzezinksi: . . . We have to face the fact that the global system as it now exists was shaped largely between 1945 and 1950 , when there were entirely different power realities. So the first order of business is to adjust existing global institutions to these new realities, which involves the rise of powers like China, India, Japan, with Indonesia on the horizon. Plus the reality that in the background are these volatile, restless, politically awakened masses that continue to put more and more pressure on the system and lead to the kind of threats Brent [Scowcroft] was just talking about: the possibility of diversified conflicts spurting all over the place the way sometimes a forest fire spreads and then leaps over boundaries because of winds.

In that kind of world the premium will have to be put on the effective political management of that complex reality. And that, I think is going to be very difficult for a mass democracy like America to effectively pursue, in part because our public is woefully uninformed about the implications of these new realities—kind of parochially ignorant. And out diplomacy nd leadership in recent years have not been inclined to engage in the kind of consensual assumption of responsibility that this new age requires. Look at the hesitations, the zig-zagging on climate control and the global environment. Or on the issues of poverty and inequality. I think we’re entering a period of in which complexity is going to be the biggest challenge.[1]

Scowcroft: I could easily just say amen. But again, this is part of who we are and from where we have arisen. For most of our history, we’v been secure behind two oceans, with weak neighbors on each side. Americans don’t have to learn foreign languages. They can travel as widely as most of them want and never leave the United States. So most Americans just want to be left alone. I don’t think they want to mess with the problems of the world.[2]

(Bold mine)

It’s one thing for the GOP and Trump White House pave the way to engage in conflict, secret and overt, we expect that. But when so-called “liberals” begin banging war drums as well, a vital counterweight needed to restrict administration adventurism overseas is, to me, much more dangerous than the war-mongers we know about.

Such is Mother Jones’ David Corn (I won’t bother with individual links):

  • The Mysterious Disappearance of the Biggest Scandal in Washington [ie: Russia]
  • This Senator Is Hell-Bent on Getting Out the Truth About Trump and Russia
  • GOP Senator Calls for Investigating What FBI Did About Russia-Trump Intelligence
  • Investigators on the Trump-Russia Beat Should Talk to This Man
  • The Spy Who Wrote the Trump-Russia Memos: It Was “Hair-Raising” Stuff
  • Russia Allegations Lead to Donald Trump’s Dumbest Tweet Ever
  • Jeff Sessions Channels Donald Trump on Russian Hacking
  • Democrats Turn Up Pressure on Republicans for Russian Hacking Investigation
  • At Russian Hacking Hearing, Most Republican Senators Express No Outrage
  • Here’s Another Trump Cabinet Pick With Close Financial Ties to Russians
  • Obama Orders a Review of Russian Meddling in the US Election—But How Much of It Will Be Public?
  • Democrats Intensify Push for Probe of Russian Meddling in 2016 Campaign
  • Senior Senate Democrat Calls for Congressional Probe of Russian Meddling in US Election
  • Senior House Democrat Calls for Congressional Probe of Russian Meddling in 2016 Election
  • The NSA Chief Says Russia Hacked the 2016 Election. Congress Must Investigate.
  • If You Want to Get Scared, Ask a Cybersecurity Expert About Election Night
  • Exclusive: A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump

MSNBC has also peddled this line. As well as, of course, John McCain, who, for reasons of his own, has seemingly never seen a war he didn’t want Americans to die in. So it really is no surprise that ordinary, miserably ill-informed democrats swallow it.

They remain so shell-shocked at Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump they take it as an article of faith that only some kind of underhanded skull-duggery can account for it. Comey, Putin, sexist white male privilege . . . whatever. They’re partly right, but not in the way they say, and it is telling they aren’t much looking at the real skull-duggery which we know did take place. Something else is going on with them. I’ll leave that up to democrats to sort out, however, this is extraordinarily reckless. I have to point out that I was a lifelong democrat myself (who left the party over Hillary’s misadventure in Libya) who is now a Socialist leaning toward Syndicalism minus the “revolutionary” and “anarchist” smears put upon what is really just a perfectly viable alternative to labor-capital relations, so the “right wing” assumption betrays just how defensive and thin skinned democrats are right now.

Add it all up and the picture of a woefully ignorant electorate led by the same kind of fire-power freaks who mired America in Vietnam puts us on a path toward some kind of ill-conceived war, while lacking a principled, informed and rational opposition party to keep the war mongers in check. What we absolutely don’t need is open the door any wider for more Amerikan jingo nationalism. The GOP wants an apocalyptic confrontation with Islam and democrats point the finger at Russia. Apparently, John McCain wants both. So we have to know with absolute precision how the world stands. Call this as honest a partial global threat assessment as I can muster. Mine is a historical argument here, and fortunately, we don’t have to look back very far at all.

Libya: The Turning Point in World Affairs

On the whole, I’d have trusted President Obama’s instinct on foreign policy. I think, up until Libya, he handled the Arab Spring exactly right: it’s their show to get right or to screw up. However, even he misinterprets the nature of his worst mistake. The aftermath of Gadhafi’s fall isn’t the problem, that Gadhafi fell at all most definitely is. Yes. Gadhafi remaining in power is preferable to this (Benghazi after Operation Dignity):

For the record, Assad’s fate should be of no concern to Americans either. Regional stability should be our sole concern and I see no other alternative leader in Syria who would be any better than Assad.

What I think should have happened? The road from Tripoli to Benghazi should have been cut by coalition forces, probably but not necessarily, near both Tripoli and Benghazi in order to separate combatants. After which negotiators from the UN could have gone in to talk both sides down and begin the process of reaching some kind of political solution. In other words, instead of using R2P as a pretext, they should have abided by its precepts—one of which is that regime change should only be the last resort of intervention. We know from the emails which the State Department released that regime change was the intent all along. Bear in mind that Libya: Thoughts on Post-Qadhafi Assistance and Governance (only one of many emails wondering what to do about Libya after Gadhafi’s death) is dated over two weeks prior 17 March 2011, when s/res/1973 (2011) was adopted.

Getting China and Russia to abstain on resolution 1973 was apparently a diplomatic coup, but in retrospect, I believe Beijing and Moscow regarded it both as a test of Obama’s control over fellow NATO members (recall Eisenhower and the 1956 Suez Crisis) and as an opportunity to nullify future Western complaint about aggressive cross-border initiatives of their own. Whatever the motives, and the two I mention above are not mutually exclusive, we know how events turned out. In fact, any lay observer, like myself, who bothered to pay the least bit of attention could see the die was cast as early as 30 March 2011. I was livid at the time and by June I was no longer a democrat.

Nor will I ever be again. That people can so blindly support one of the prime architects of America’s worst foreign policy blunder since the AUMF of 2003 is a group I cannot associate myself with.

So. How did Obama’s (and especially Hillary’s) adventure work out?

In short, we now live in a world on the brink of a new and unnecessary Cold War emerging out of a global order which now compels small, weak states to arm themselves with nuclear arsenals in order to give any Great Power pause before overrunning the former at whim. All while domestic political situations everywhere are seized more and more by unrest and turbulence caused by the thawing of frozen conflicts unmasked first by the end of the Cold War and then by the broken promise of the Washington Consensus world view. That’s not the half of it. The history, both as far as you care to look as well as the most recent developments in South Sudan, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, etc. uniformly points out that chances of regime change through either violent insurrection and/or “humanitarian” intervention working out well is vanishingly small. Add to this the fact that oppressive right wing, ultra-nationalist belligerent regimes are remarkably adept at coming out of periods of domestic political unrest on top.

If you don’t feel the world’s situation right now is a bad as I describe it here, you’re either not looking and/or you’re being dishonest. Again, ignorance and dishonesty are not mutually exclusive, in fact, they are defining Amerikan traits..

Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft are absolutely right. Americans are a provincial people ignorant of the world but unfortunately, this ignorance is coupled to perhaps the only (for now) military capable of projecting force anywhere in the world and prey to being swayed by likewise uninformed political leaders who are either unscrupulous enough to kill Americans in their pursuit of gains in domestic politics and overseas corporate agendas


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as well as Democratic Party officials and pundits too lazy to formulate a cogent foreign policy of their own (leaving the field open to be dominated by neoconservatives in both parties) and simply too craven to mount an effective opposition to disastrous military adventures on the simple principle that choosing to kill people without knowing the reason is, at the very least, criminally negligent.

We have a new administration elected on the premise that unilateral American aggression to make Amerikans feel better is worthwhile in itself. Incomprehensible, given our recent history, but true nonetheless. What we don’t need now are hysterics, and heaven forbid another major terrorist attack from a Muslim group takes place on American soil during the Trump administration. Were one to take place, my advice would be: do nothing. At least until calm reflection on our aims, exit strategy, definition of winning, consideration of costs in all senses—human, treasure and in the international realm can be given space and time to take place.

Formulating a cogent foreign policy isn’t all that difficult, either. Refer to international law. It’s all there, waiting to be recognized.

Pay No Attention To that Man In Front of the Curtain!

Leaving aside the Trump administration, who have reportedly been reckless enough already to murder an 8 year old girl for the sole purpose of projecting the appearance of Amerikan strength and resolve, the so-called “reasonable” public figures either advocating projecting military force (McCain et al) or enabling a future sea-change in US foreign policy (David Corn, Hillary Clinton et al) purely for reasons of domestic political gain, should step back, ASAP.

John McCain and David Corn pursue different aims, but both, I’m sure, do so both out of ignorance as well as one kind of salf-aggrandizement or another, ignoring realities on the ground and consequences. We can safely take their ignorance as a given. The latter I can dispose of quickly. Corn is livid that democrats failed, against all expectations, to sweep Hillary Clinton into the White House, especially against such an execrable opponent as President Pussy Grabber. With lives possibly at stake, with Washington budget considerations definitely hanging in the balance, Corn’s obsession is irrational. I would submit that Russia is a minuscule distortion of our national debate compared to the out-sized influence of the wealthy and their lobbyists. Of which we hear not a word, these days, from David Corn. McCain’s obsession is similarly divorced from reality. America’s status in the world and capacity to influence events overseas in a good way has lately proved elusive to demonstrate. Rather the reverse, in fact. Considering our direct efforts in Iraq and our indirect role in Syria, disastrous for all concerned:


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While I in no way counsel not keeping a very close eye on Russia and China (that’s just prudent), particularly on the ongoing situations brewing off the Chinese coastline, Russia’s concerns are easily comprehended. Moscow’s aggressions have, thus far, been consigned to those states bordering: Georgia, Crimea/Ukraine, Chechnya, etc. What they term their near abroad. In one way, we ought to welcome Russia’s moves here: they are as worried about failed states spawned by unrest becoming havens for terrorist groups as we claim to be. After all, they have their own 9/11 seared into their national consciousness. In fact, they have more than one.

As noted above Europen civilization has two main pillars, which are broadly associated with western and eastern Christianity. As a civilization, Europe extends from it’s geographical core all the way to North and South America to the west and to Siberia and to the Russian Pacific coast to the east. It also covers Australia, New Zealand and Israel. This huge area of a “global Europe” includes a multitude of cultures, but a single civilization, built on the common heritage of Christianity and Judaism and the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome.

Russia as a whole belongs to this European civilization, although like Latin America, it is off-center. The geographical border between Europe and Asia, which runs along the Ural Mountains is absolutely irrelevant as a barrier to civilization. Russia, in fact, is easternmost Europe, not east of Europe. There is no point in drawing any kind of border along the Urals: Russia’s provinces along the Pacific coast are the extension of Eastern Europe, not of East Asia.[3]

It’s hard to ascertain motive, but I’m guessing here that Moscow wants a seat at the adult table of European affairs, and I can hardly blame them. Russia’s status, as a border province, as it were, of European civilization’s core with the special problems associated with facing “the external threat” (societal stability) should be given due consideration. Certainly, I see no fundamental reason why this shouldn’t be so. As for Russian corruption, the West has no room to criticize anyone on these grounds. After all, our habit of legalizing corrupt practices doesn’t, by any means, make them any less corrupt. Thus far, I see no Russian military adventure which I cannot explain by Moscow’s determination to maintain stable regimes along it’s borders, and I take it as wrote that Putin and Lavrov are fully aware of the implications of failing to do so. Just look at the geography of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, at how what began on the periphery spiraled inward directly to the steps of Moscow’s White House from the Solidarity strikes in Poland in 1988 to Christmas, 1991 when Gorbachev declared that the Soviet Union had “ceased to exist” and resigned his office. Thus far, I see no moves out of Moscow inconsistent with maintaining stability, if not peace.

Which doesn’t mean some in Russia, the Third Rome crowd, don’t cherish dreams of global hegemony, but I will give Putin and Lavrov enough credit to know the world is more a headache to rule than it’s worth. And they have enough problems as it is. I could be wrong about both of them, in which case, by all means, go for it—carefully. Russia still holds a nuclear arsenal. At any rate, neither McCain nor Corn are being particularly rational here and the times demand they be pushed back on. I still hope, beyond any real reason to be hopeful, the current situation can be reversed. I feel absolutely certain that American leadership will not drive any such initiative, no matter who sits in the Oval Office or controls Congress.

John McCain and David Corn are ample illustrations that Americans—of any political stripe—are unequipped to do so.

[1]Brzezinski, Zbigniew, Brent Scowcroft, and David Ignatius. America and the world: conversations on the future of American foreign policy. New York: Basic , 2008. Print.

[2]Ibid.

[3]Trenin, Dmitri, Getting Russia Right. New York, The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2007. Print.

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Notebook, 27 January 2015: SYRIZA’s Next Moves

For a long time, I haven’t focused on unfolding election results like I zeroed in on last Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Greece. SYRIZA’s significant not because it a leftist government, after all, socialists have ruled in Greece for a long time, but SYRIZA has posted the first anti-establishment party I can ever recall posting a win. If the definition of radical is anyone who demands structural change in the political economy, then SYRIZA qualifies. (Radical is frequently (mis)used as a synonym for militant, and most Americans haven’t grasped the difference, even though they have been electing right-wing radicals since 1980.)
Continue reading “Notebook, 27 January 2015: SYRIZA’s Next Moves”

Notebook, 11 September 2014: “I’m sorry, I’m gonna interrupt you right now.”

Without indulging overmuch the impulse either to go all tribal and join hands in yet another warm and fuzzy celebration of Amerikan Patriotism or go the other way and exclaim that America Had It Coming! (both of which are valid points of view―and if you don’t like hearing that, feel free to leave right now), here’s my 9/11 remembrance.

At the time, my workday frequently stretched from late morning, through the swing shift right into the graveyard shift in the wee hours of the morning, so I was still at home getting ready to leave for work and as usual, watching CNBC’s Squawk Box, hosted by Mark Haines at the time. The CNBC studios which, if I recall correctly (I don’t bother with CNBC anymore), are located in Fort Lee, New Jersey, right across the Hudson River from Manhattan. CNBC used to broadcast video of the New York City skyline regularly, especially as they cut to, or returned from, commercial breaks, if I recall correctly, so I believe they were the first to break the news..They didn’t quite realize that it was an attack until the second plane hit the south tower, though Joe Kernan was skeptical from the start that an airplane would have flown into the building accidentally under what were ideal flying conditions Much as I hate to grant him credit on anything, he was right.

Mark Haines led the coverage, along with David Faber and Kernan, Faber had just reported that Lehman had upgraded Goldman Sachs (with a hefty measure of “meh”) though apparently he had been working the phones trying to find out and report what was happening. Kernan, was going on and on about some guy’s haircut (now there’s some news you can trade on).

When they were ready to go, Haines had been in the midst of an interview with Oakmark Select Fund’s Bill Nygren.

Beginning at 4:10, here’s how I found out:

Needless to say, I was very late to work that day, though it was certainly a day (like the Kennedy assassination) where I still recall exactly where I was when I heard the news. In that vein, when I finally did get to work, I remember Dan’s, my immediate supervisor, words when I entered: “it fell,” as I walked in the door. I knew exactly what he meant. Shortly afterwards, I ran out to the nearest Staples to see if I could get ahold of a radio in order to keep up with breaking developments. The last one they had, a Sony clock radio, is sitting on my desk as I type this, a personal historical artifact, and yes, I fully realize how lucky I am that this clock is the only physical consequence of my 9/11 experience. I was two degrees of separation away.

Of the 8,276 injuries and fatalities from terror attacks on US soil in the period from 1970 to 2011, 2,977 of these (just the fatalities) resulted from the attacks in New York City, Shanksville, Pennsylvania and Washington DC that day. In revenge,,however, America has directly and indirectly killed about one million people. The carnage continues to this day, 13 years later.

Notebook, 7 August 2014: Crossroads

As I write this, negotiators from Israel and Hamas are in Cairo wrestling with yet another set of issues resulting from the colonialist view that treating weaker peoples however you like is OK―as long as you can get away with it. However, today Hamas in Gaza is out in force marching in support of their negotiators and their demands, while Netanyahu lines up US support to avoid being hauled before the ICC on war crimes charges. In the meantime, the negative fallout from Israel’s latest war on Palestinians continues to spread. Predictably, Operation Protective Edge looks to possibly be an even bigger political disaster for Israel than Cast Lead, though Israel may not care.
Continue reading “Notebook, 7 August 2014: Crossroads”

Notebook, 3 February 2014: Bleeding

Bleeding: Consistently losing chips through bad play, possibly resulting from tilt (Emotional upset, mental confusion, or frustration in which a player adopts a less than optimal strategy, usually resulting in poor play and poor performance).

When a player is consistently losing chips, they are “bleeding chips.”

Wikipedia Glossary of Poker Terms

And as one Tweep replied, “I can only say No s–t Sherlock
Continue reading “Notebook, 3 February 2014: Bleeding”

Notebook, 8 January 2014: Review of Goliath, by Max Blumenthal

Before Blake Hounshell left Foreign Policy Magazine for Politico, he once tweeted something to the effect that he was wondering then if the entire body of “academic” foreign policy literature was best avoided. (I, who spent many hours immersed in it – they’re a stuffy, verbose lot – told him he wasn’t missing much.) The treatment of policy by elites in the US, from Fareed Zakaria (and almost uniformly throughout all the US press) through the corps of lobbyists over at The Council of Foreign Relations (and the rest of American officialdom), suffers from a sterile abstraction. Much needed, Max Blumenthal’s Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel is a glorious thumb-in-the-eye to all that. He covers a lot of territory here, almost all of it from the ground in Palestine. What he finds there isn’t a pretty sight to behold. Insulated by the shallowness of “balanced” press treatments of the Middle East, ordinary Americans can live out their entire lives unaware of what the street wisdom in East Jerusalem, Nablus and Ramallah (or, for that matter, in Cairo, Benghazi, Tehran, Kabul or Baghdad) has to teach us. Blumenthal hit the pavements of Israel and the occupied West Bank to tell it.
Continue reading “Notebook, 8 January 2014: Review of Goliath, by Max Blumenthal”

Notebook, 29 August 2013: Parliament on Syria

Watching the British Parliament debate British involvement in a US-led bombing campaign in Syria as a response to gas attacks, I’m hearing slippery slope and pie-in-the-sky arguments in favor, but the opposition is less articulate. Their arguments roughly break down thus:

  • The conflicting demands of international law, a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention vs breaking international law by intervening in the internal affairs of a sovereign state, the latter needs to be given the greatest consideration.
  • No conclusive evidence of a gas attack has been, as yet, been presented.
  • There’s no real plan. “Sending a message” seems to be enough justification for conservatives, but what exactly does that accomplish?

It is also apparent that neocon baggage and what amounts to a criminal record as long as your arm in the tawdry abuse of humanitarian intervention by the West, even while both sides are skeptical of the credibility argument.

What’s not being mentioned is how the West sat back after episodes like when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons on Kurds in northern Iraq.

We intend to remain seized of the matter.