Notes on Trump (by Arthur Dent)

“If there was a left, we would be in a good position to finally rid ourselves of the pseudo-left who can be shown to espouse essentially the same anti-globalist and isolationist ideas as Trump. But in order for there to be a left, we have to be able to present a coherent economic program that explains how to unleash the productive forces of a globalized world for the benefit of the majority who only work here rather than primarily for the owners”.

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Arthur Dent – Thursday 2017-01-19

Even if I had a deep understanding of US and world politics and economics I could not hope to figure out what’s happening at the moment. We are at an important turning point in multiple processes, many of them dependent on unknowable contingencies.

But here’s an outline of some aspects that mass media analysts don’t seem to get.

The big event was Trump beating the entire Republican establishment as a complete outsider in a hostile takeover. Most attention has been directed at the subsequent defeat of the Democrats and the wailing and gnashing of teeth from their celebrities and media. But the situation on the Republican side is far more interesting.

Instead of splitting they have jointly celebrated defeating the Democrats and appear to have successfully formed a united administration. Both sides are indeed glad to be rid of the Democrat administration and can work together for reduced taxes, less regulation and some other points of agreement. It is also quite traditional for Republicans to accept budget deficits as long as they are not funding a Democrat administration. But the fact remains, President Trump has no party in Congress. They despise him and are cooperating only because they fear him.

Trump’s focus is on building his own party. If he had lost the primaries he looked like running as a third party (which he tried to do decades ago). If he had won the primaries but lost the election he would still have been at war with the Republican establishment, who could reasonably be accused of having treacherously helped the Democrats to win by attacking their own candidate. Having won, without any help from most of the Republican establishment he is now in a much stronger position to actually take over their party. If he doesn’t, they will find a way to get rid of him.

All members of the House of Representatives and one third of Senators come up for election in two years, together with State legislatures and governors. The mid-term primaries start in a year. Trump’s campaign organization has databases with more than 10 million email addresses and 2 million donors. Trump’s campaign more than doubled the numbers voting in Republican primaries (many of them former Democrats). Usually only small numbers participate in mid-term primaries and they are mainly mobilized by actual party activists – especially cronies of the local incumbents.

If Trump can keep his base mobilized over the next two years he will end up with a large party in Congress (and in the States) whether or not the Democrats regain majorities.

The media and celebrities are still helping by denouncing him as a deplorable outsider. That’s exactly what he wants to keep his base mobilized. He won because so many people are utterly sick of politically correct plastic insiders.

As far as I can make out the media actually do not get this. It is plausible that when they gave him enormous amounts of free publicity in the primaries they were consciously intending to help him beat the other candidates so that the Republicans would nominate a grotesquely deplorable candidate who would lose the election. But they actually seem to think it really matters that he has become more unpopular since the election under their onslaught. His popularity among Republican voters is what matters for the primaries and he is not harmed at all by attacks from media and celebrities.

So here’s one possible sequence of events.

Congress approves a fairly large infrastructure stimulus program and deficit as well as funding construction of a secure southern border and improved healthcare. Republican defectors would be outnumbered by Democrat collaborators.

Together with tax cuts and deregulation this has the expected effect of increasing GDP growth and thus jobs and wages at least in the short term. If Trump actually launched trade wars that could produce the opposite effect, even in the short term. But he can start lots of trade disputes that build momentum against globalism without actually initiating a trade war.

So Trump will be seen as having delivered. Many of his opponents will be removed in the primaries.

Hispanic hostility and Democrat mobilization against Trump’s immigration program won’t have much impact on Republican primaries since few Hispanic voters would register as Republicans. But this issue could win seats for Democrats at the midterm elections.

Assuming the Democrats get their act together and stop carrying on the way they are at the moment, they should be able to mount a serious campaign to win back majorities in the House and Senate at the midterm elections. But to do so they would presumably go with Trump’s trade policies, denouncing him for having not gone far enough. After all Bernie Sanders was a serious challenger to Hilary Clinton with protectionist policies (and against open borders) and Clinton actually announced opposition to the TPP in response. Arguably he could have defeated Trump.

So the result in two years could be that the US has shifted from a two party system in which both parties support globalism to a two party system in which both parties oppose globalism. If there was a Democratic majority their obstruction could be blamed for any economic decline that set in after two years.

In three years or so Trump could announce that the border was now secure enough to offer a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants without risk of encouraging more. That could produce a significant hispanic vote for a President that had actually delivered rather than merely attempted comprehensive immigration reform.

A major world economic crisis could break out at any time. I would be surprised if it was postponed for another 8 years. So I would also be surprised if an authoritarian demagogue was not President of the USA when it does break out.

The collapse of the old parties and their plastic politicians extends far beyond the USA. Lots of people are being drawn into thinking about politics for the first time. Their first thoughts are abysmally stupid and make them vulnerable to demagogues spouting nationalism and nativism. But many will end up thinking more deeply now that they have begun thinking.

If there was a left, we would be in a good position to finally rid ourselves of the pseudo-left who can be shown to espouse essentially the same anti-globalist and isolationist ideas as Trump. But in order for there to be a left,we have to be able to present a coherent economic program that explains how to unleash the productive forces of a globalized world for the benefit of the majority who only work here rather than primarily for the owners.

Kissinger article on the Middle East and ‘scattered random notes’ by Arthur Dent (via Strangetimes)

This is Henry Kissinger’s take on the situation in the Middle East and Syria, followed by some critical ‘scattered random notes’ by Arthur Dent who says: “Whatever Kissinger’s ghost and its coauthors are actually blathering about, the path out of the Middle East Collapse clearly lies in the opposite direction to Westphalian states”. (Republished with permission from Strangetimes).

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A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse

With Russia in Syria, a geopolitical structure that lasted four decades is in shambles. The U.S. needs a new strategy and priorities.

By Henry A. Kissinger Oct. 16, 2015 7:18 p.m. ET

The debate about whether the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran regarding its nuclear program stabilized the Middle East’s strategic framework had barely begun when the region’s geopolitical framework collapsed. Russia’s unilateral military action in Syria is the latest symptom of the disintegration of the American role in stabilizing the Middle East order that emerged from the Arab-Israeli war of 1973.

In the aftermath of that conflict, Egypt abandoned its military ties with the Soviet Union and joined an American-backed negotiating process that produced peace treaties between Israel and Egypt, and Israel and Jordan, a United Nations-supervised disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria, which has been observed for over four decades (even by the parties of the Syrian civil war), and international support of Lebanon’s sovereign territorial integrity. Later, Saddam Hussein’s war to incorporate Kuwait into Iraq was defeated by an international coalition under U.S. leadership. American forces led the war against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States were our allies in all these efforts. The Russian military presence disappeared from the region.

That geopolitical pattern is now in shambles. Four states in the region have ceased to function as sovereign. Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq have become targets for nonstate movements seeking to impose their rule. Over large swaths in Iraq and Syria, an ideologically radical religious army has declared itself the Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL) as an unrelenting foe of established world order. It seeks to replace the international system’s multiplicity of states with a caliphate, a single Islamic empire governed by Shariah law.

ISIS’ claim has given the millennium-old split between the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam an apocalyptic dimension. The remaining Sunni states feel threatened by both the religious fervor of ISIS as well as by Shiite Iran, potentially the most powerful state in the region. Iran compounds its menace by presenting itself in a dual capacity. On one level, Iran acts as a legitimate Westphalian state conducting traditional diplomacy, even invoking the safeguards of the international system. At the same time, it organizes and guides nonstate actors seeking regional hegemony based on jihadist principles: Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria; Hamas in Gaza; the Houthis in Yemen.

Thus the Sunni Middle East risks engulfment by four concurrent sources: Shiite-governed Iran and its legacy of Persian imperialism; ideologically and religiously radical movements striving to overthrow prevalent political structures; conflicts within each state between ethnic and religious groups arbitrarily assembled after World War I into (now collapsing) states; and domestic pressures stemming from detrimental political, social and economic domestic policies.

The fate of Syria provides a vivid illustration: What started as a Sunni revolt against the Alawite (a Shiite offshoot) autocrat Bashar Assad fractured the state into its component religious and ethnic groups, with nonstate militias supporting each warring party, and outside powers pursuing their own strategic interests. Iran supports the Assad regime as the linchpin of an Iranian historic dominance stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean. The Gulf States insist on the overthrow of Mr. Assad to thwart Shiite Iranian designs, which they fear more than Islamic State. They seek the defeat of ISIS while avoiding an Iranian victory. This ambivalence has been deepened by the nuclear deal, which in the Sunni Middle East is widely interpreted as tacit American acquiescence in Iranian hegemony.

These conflicting trends, compounded by America’s retreat from the region, have enabled Russia to engage in military operations deep in the Middle East, a deployment unprecedented in Russian history. Russia’s principal concern is that the Assad regime’s collapse could reproduce the chaos of Libya, bring ISIS into power in Damascus, and turn all of Syria into a haven for terrorist operations, reaching into Muslim regions inside Russia’s southern border in the Caucasus and elsewhere.

On the surface, Russia’s intervention serves Iran’s policy of sustaining the Shiite element in Syria. In a deeper sense, Russia’s purposes do not require the indefinite continuation of Mr. Assad’s rule. It is a classic balance-of-power maneuver to divert the Sunni Muslim terrorist threat from Russia’s southern border region. It is a geopolitical, not an ideological, challenge and should be dealt with on that level. Whatever the motivation, Russian forces in the region—and their participation in combat operations—produce a challenge that American Middle East policy has not encountered in at least four decades.

American policy has sought to straddle the motivations of all parties and is therefore on the verge of losing the ability to shape events. The U.S. is now opposed to, or at odds in some way or another with, all parties in the region: with Egypt on human rights; with Saudi Arabia over Yemen; with each of the Syrian parties over different objectives. The U.S. proclaims the determination to remove Mr. Assad but has been unwilling to generate effective leverage—political or military—to achieve that aim. Nor has the U.S. put forward an alternative political structure to replace Mr. Assad should his departure somehow be realized.

Russia, Iran, ISIS and various terrorist organizations have moved into this vacuum: Russia and Iran to sustain Mr. Assad; Tehran to foster imperial and jihadist designs. The Sunni states of the Persian Gulf, Jordan and Egypt, faced with the absence of an alternative political structure, favor the American objective but fear the consequence of turning Syria into another Libya.

American policy on Iran has moved to the center of its Middle East policy. The administration has insisted that it will take a stand against jihadist and imperialist designs by Iran and that it will deal sternly with violations of the nuclear agreement. But it seems also passionately committed to the quest for bringing about a reversal of the hostile, aggressive dimension of Iranian policy through historic evolution bolstered by negotiation.

The prevailing U.S. policy toward Iran is often compared by its advocates to the Nixon administration’s opening to China, which contributed, despite some domestic opposition, to the ultimate transformation of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The comparison is not apt. The opening to China in 1971 was based on the mutual recognition by both parties that the prevention of Russian hegemony in Eurasia was in their common interest. And 42 Soviet divisions lining the Sino-Soviet border reinforced that conviction. No comparable strategic agreement exists between Washington and Tehran. On the contrary, in the immediate aftermath of the nuclear accord, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the U.S. as the “Great Satan” and rejected negotiations with America about nonnuclear matters. Completing his geopolitical diagnosis, Mr. Khamenei also predicted that Israel would no longer exist in 25 years.

Forty-five years ago, the expectations of China and the U.S. were symmetrical. The expectations underlying the nuclear agreement with Iran are not. Tehran will gain its principal objectives at the beginning of the implementation of the accord. America’s benefits reside in a promise of Iranian conduct over a period of time. The opening to China was based on an immediate and observable adjustment in Chinese policy, not on an expectation of a fundamental change in China’s domestic system. The optimistic hypothesis on Iran postulates that Tehran’s revolutionary fervor will dissipate as its economic and cultural interactions with the outside world increase.

American policy runs the risk of feeding suspicion rather than abating it. Its challenge is that two rigid and apocalyptic blocs are confronting each other: a Sunni bloc consisting of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States; and the Shiite bloc comprising Iran, the Shiite sector of Iraq with Baghdad as its capital, the Shiite south of Lebanon under Hezbollah control facing Israel, and the Houthi portion of Yemen, completing the encirclement of the Sunni world. In these circumstances, the traditional adage that the enemy of your enemy can be treated as your friend no longer applies. For in the contemporary Middle East, it is likely that the enemy of your enemy remains your enemy.

A great deal depends on how the parties interpret recent events. Can the disillusionment of some of our Sunni allies be mitigated? How will Iran’s leaders interpret the nuclear accord once implemented—as a near-escape from potential disaster counseling a more moderate course, returning Iran to an international order? Or as a victory in which they have achieved their essential aims against the opposition of the U.N. Security Council, having ignored American threats and, hence, as an incentive to continue Tehran’s dual approach as both a legitimate state and a nonstate movement challenging the international order?

Two-power systems are prone to confrontation, as was demonstrated in Europe in the run-up to World War I. Even with traditional weapons technology, to sustain a balance of power between two rigid blocs requires an extraordinary ability to assess the real and potential balance of forces, to understand the accumulation of nuances that might affect this balance, and to act decisively to restore it whenever it deviates from equilibrium—qualities not heretofore demanded of an America sheltered behind two great oceans.

But the current crisis is taking place in a world of nontraditional nuclear and cyber technology. As competing regional powers strive for comparable threshold capacity, the nonproliferation regime in the Middle East may crumble. If nuclear weapons become established, a catastrophic outcome is nearly inevitable. A strategy of pre-emption is inherent in the nuclear technology. The U.S. must be determined to prevent such an outcome and apply the principle of nonproliferation to all nuclear aspirants in the region.

Too much of our public debate deals with tactical expedients. What we need is a strategic concept and to establish priorities on the following principles:

So long as ISIS survives and remains in control of a geographically defined territory, it will compound all Middle East tensions. Threatening all sides and projecting its goals beyond the region, it freezes existing positions or tempts outside efforts to achieve imperial jihadist designs. The destruction of ISIS is more urgent than the overthrow of Bashar Assad, who has already lost over half of the area he once controlled. Making sure that this territory does not become a permanent terrorist haven must have precedence. The current inconclusive U.S. military effort risks serving as a recruitment vehicle for ISIS as having stood up to American might.
The U.S. has already acquiesced in a Russian military role. Painful as this is to the architects of the 1973 system, attention in the Middle East must remain focused on essentials. And there exist compatible objectives. In a choice among strategies, it is preferable for ISIS-held territory to be reconquered either by moderate Sunni forces or outside powers than by Iranian jihadist or imperial forces. For Russia, limiting its military role to the anti-ISIS campaign may avoid a return to Cold War conditions with the U.S.
The reconquered territories should be restored to the local Sunni rule that existed there before the disintegration of both Iraqi and Syrian sovereignty. The sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Egypt and Jordan, should play a principal role in that evolution. After the resolution of its constitutional crisis, Turkey could contribute creatively to such a process.
As the terrorist region is being dismantled and brought under nonradical political control, the future of the Syrian state should be dealt with concurrently. A federal structure could then be built between the Alawite and Sunni portions. If the Alawite regions become part of a Syrian federal system, a context will exist for the role of Mr. Assad, which reduces the risks of genocide or chaos leading to terrorist triumph.
The U.S. role in such a Middle East would be to implement the military assurances in the traditional Sunni states that the administration promised during the debate on the Iranian nuclear agreement, and which its critics have demanded.
In this context, Iran’s role can be critical. The U.S. should be prepared for a dialogue with an Iran returning to its role as a Westphalian state within its established borders.
The U.S. must decide for itself the role it will play in the 21st century; the Middle East will be our most immediate—and perhaps most severe—test. At question is not the strength of American arms but rather American resolve in understanding and mastering a new world.

Mr. Kissinger served as national-security adviser and secretary of state under Presidents Nixon and Ford.

http://www.wsj.com/article_email/a-path-out-of-the-middle-east-collapse-1445037513-lMyQjAxMTI1MjE2NzIxMDcwWj

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/wall-street-journal/us-needs-new-plan-for-middle-east/story-fnay3ubk-1227573426194

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Arthur
October 20, 2015 at 12:09 am
I can only manage scattered random notes at the moment.

1) Kissinger’s ghostwriters appear to be practically unintelligible. This seems to be the pattern more generally so it is hardly noticeable. Presumably the article is supposed to suggest “A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse”. So one ought to be able to figure out that what the proposed start and end points are from carefully reading the article.

2) As far as I can make out the starting point might be:

“For Russia, limiting its military role to the anti-ISIS campaign may avoid a return to Cold War conditions with the U.S.”

Plainly Russia isn’t doing that and the article does clearly state that “The U.S. has already acquiesced…” to what Russia IS doing. So how could this be a starting point for a path?

3) Again my best guess for the proposed route is:

“…it is preferable for ISIS-held territory to be reconquered either by moderate Sunni forces or outside powers than by Iranian jihadist or imperial forces…The reconquered territories should be restored to the local Sunni rule that existed there before the disintegration of both Iraqi and Syrian sovereignty. The sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Egypt and Jordan, should play a principal role in that evolution. After the resolution of its constitutional crisis, Turkey could contribute creatively to such a process.”

My guess at the proposed starting point appears naturally enough in the middle of this jumble and has been replaced with an ellipsis.

I am not sure which “imperial forces” the ghostwriters are talking about, but “preferable” surely refers to a goal rather than a route towards achieving it? “The sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula” presumably refers to Kissinger’s paymaster, the House of Saud who are elsewhere described as an American ally in the Iraq war which they in fact opposed, as did Kissinger and almost the entire US foreign policy establishment.

But what on earth is it proposed they should do, along this “route”? Somehow “evolve” an administration in “reconquered territory”. So are they expected to do the reconquering? At the moment the Russians are not attacking Daesh but are in fact attacking the Salafi forces the Saudis are arming and financing.

The route of this “path out” starts nowhere and returns there.

4) My best guess at the end point is:

“As the terrorist region is being dismantled and brought under nonradical political control, the future of the Syrian state should be dealt with concurrently. A federal structure could then be built between the Alawite and Sunni portions. If the Alawite regions become part of a Syrian federal system, a context will exist for the role of Mr. Assad, which reduces the risks of genocide or chaos leading to terrorist triumph.”

So Alawite “regions” still run by the regime that has displaced nearly half the population of Syria are supposed to somehow form a federal structure with the Sunnis they have been mass murdering?

5) How is this miracle to be achieved?

“The U.S. role in such a Middle East would be to implement the military assurances in the traditional Sunni states that the administration promised during the debate on the Iranian nuclear agreement, and which its critics have demanded.

In this context, Iran’s role can be critical. The U.S. should be prepared for a dialogue with an Iran returning to its role as a Westphalian state within its established borders.”

Presumably implementing military assurances without actual troops means something like periodically redrawing “red lines”!

A “Westphalian state” presumably refers to the agreements among continental European rulers between May and October 1688 based on the principle that the religion of the ruler was to dictate the religion of those ruled.

The British were not a party to it and instead invited a Dutch Protestant army to enforce the opposite principle that the religion of the people would dictate the religion of the realm.

Whatever Kissinger’s ghost and its coauthors are actually blathering about, the path out of the Middle East Collapse clearly lies in the opposite direction to Westphalian states.

The continent lagged behind the British by more than a century and it took two more world wars to thoroughly settle the issue, but the age of rulers is now over in Europe. Democratic revolution is the only path out of the Middle East Collapse.

In Britain that took more than four decades, just to get past the “Divine Right of Kings”, long before anything resembling actual democracy. That tumultuous period included periods of revolutionary military dictatorship, counter-revolutionary partial restoration and foreign invasion.

One thing about Syria is as absolutely clear as the Kissinger article isn’t. Foreign combat troops on the ground are necessary. They are needed to end, not “degrade” both Daesh and the Assad regime and to prevent mass murder of the Alawi and other minorities when the Assad regime is ended. The war will not be ended from the air, whether by America’s “coalition” or the Russians, with or without “conversations” with Iran.

If America won’t do it, Europe must.

It could take more than a year to build an expeditionary force with Syrian refugee volunteers led by British and French officers. But it could be done if necessary.

The fact that there is no sign or hint of that happening suggests that something quite different from what appears may in fact be going on.

One sentence in the article actually makes sense. It seems to come out of nowhere and lead nowhere, but here it is:

“In a deeper sense, Russia’s purposes do not require the indefinite continuation of Mr. Assad’s rule.”

One could add that neither Russia nor Iran nor anyone in the Assad regime have much reason to believe there is any remote possibility of continuation for even a few years, let alone indefinately. This much is as blindingly obvious as the fact that when Nixon and Kissinger resorted to the 1972 Christmas bombing of Hanoi they were faced with accepting defeat within weeks, not years. (So blindingly obvious that most people were blind to it until the Paris peace agreement a few weeks later and remained only dimly aware the US had been defeated until Saigon became Ho Chi Minh city and STILL thought the US might be trying to establish imperial rule over Iraq in 2003 despite that being three decades after its defeat in Vietnam).

What may well be required, not only for Russian purposes but also by others who could easily frustrate Russian purposes, is the retention of Bashir Assad as a figurehead presiding over a regime in Damascus from which the die-hards of the Assad regime who actually run the regime and its war on the Syrian people had been removed.

Even Turkey and Britain acting alone could easily have frustrated whatever Russian purposes might be by now by simply closing the Dardanelles and the Straits of Gibralter. This “curious case of the dog that did not bark” indicates it is not just the dithering Obama that is acquiescing in what they believe Russia is up to.

For my part I would rather they hurried things up by immediately closing the Mediterranean and announcing a No Fly Zone enforced by British, French and other forces based at and near Cyprus.

But one way or another it certainly is not going to be “the sovereign states of the Arabian peninsular” who end up ruling Syria. It will be the Syrian people.

As for Egypt and Jordan assisting the House of Saud in such an endeavour, Jordan is in fact supporting the southern front, while the Egyptian fascist military dictatorship has sealed its more rapid doom by coming out openly for its fellow fascists in the Assad regime, against the interests of its main sponsors, the House of Saud as well as further outraging its own people.

There are already enough Hezbollah, Russian and Iranian forces in Syria to “stabilize” the “legitimate government” led by “President Assad” against anyone who wants to keep fighting a lost war. There is also enough Russian jamming equipment deployed to make it difficult to bring any “destabilizing forces” back to Damascus in time to prevent any governmental changes there.

The southern front is not being bombed by the Russians and the Germans have offered peace keeping troops. Hezbollah has been given 75 tanks for its own palace guard. The stage is set for something to happen.

Russia back on the front line

Some “quick off the cuff notes” by Arthur Dent in response to The Australian’s Tom Switzer who wrote an article on 30 September titled ‘Russia back on the front line’. The notes were originally published at Strange Times. I’m running Arthur’s notes first, followed by Tom Switzer’s article.

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1. Vivid demonstration that realists live in a parallel universe with a different “reality”. Switzer is actually quite clear that he wants to go back to the old US policy of backing the autocracies and tyrants against their people to maintain the region as a backward swamp (originally for cheap oil and anti-communism then contention with Soviet imperialism and “security” – especally Israeli security in occupying more and more territory and then sheer inertia and blind stupidity of an entire generation of the foreign policy establishment who had devoted their careers to it and persisted with it long after the collapse of the Soviet empire, the end of cheap oil and the failure of the war for Greater Israel having made Israel a strategic albatross hanging around the US neck rather than a US base in the region (the only regional power that could not join the coalition liberating Kuwait from Baathist Iraq and who had to be told their planes would be shot down if they pretended to be part of it by sending any into coalition airspace).

2. In Switzer’s alternate universe, the problem in the Ukraine is “.. the widespread Western failure to recognise an old truth of geopolitics: that a great power fights tooth and nail to protect vital security interests in its near abroad”.

In our universe there is no such Western failure. No Western government is even allowing the Ukrainian government to buy weapons to defend itself against the Russian bullying because they understand with total clarity that they have no power to confront Russian bullying behaviour in that part of the world. The facts Switzer recites about that from lessons about geopolitics drummed into him more than half a century ago are totally obvious to every policy maker and ignored only by the usual shouters.

3. In Switzer’s alternative universe “Putin fears that if Bashar al­Assad’s regime falls, Russia’s presence in western Syria and its strategic military bases on the Mediterranean will be gone.” and “Russia’s navy and advanced anti­aircraft missile systems are based along the Mediterranean. It’s likely to deploy ground troops to the eastern coast.”

In fact Russia’s navy in the Meditarranean is about the size of the US army in the Ukraine. If the Russians were imbeciles attempting what Switzer imagines they are going to do in Syria and Obama was indeed as inept and vacillating as he has successfully convinced pretty well everybody he has always been then the British, French and Turks would have both vital national interests in their near abroad and the capability to act that would compel them to stop the nonsense immediately without waiting a day longer for Obama to stop dithering.

By now Turkey would have closed the Dardanelles (not of course as a hostile act towards that deeply respected partner and Mediterranean Great Power, the Tsar of all the Russias, but simply because they were too busy dealing with the problem of two million refugees having been driven out of Syria by the Assad regime to remember to keep it open).

A few hours sailing time later, the British would have announced that their are command mines laid at Gibraltar that are currently turned on but will be turned off at the approach of any ship that is known not to be assisting anyone forcing millions of Syrians to flee Syria to Europe. Naturally this too would not be a hostile act against anybody but merely a precaution against the possible arrival of the Daesh navy, just as the Russian air to air and surface to air missiles at Latakia are to protect them from the Daesh air force. Naturally the ships of a Meditarranean Great Power like Russia would not be subject to compulsory inspection and the mines would be respecfully turned off as they went about their entirely legitmate business and if any ships of any nation were accidentally sunk by a mine that had failed to remain turned off then Her Majesty’s Government would of course pay full compensation as required by international law etc etc.

All available British and French forces would move as rapidly as possible to the British sovereign base in Cyprus not as a hostile act against anybody but merely as friendly observers of the joint naval exercises that had been announced nearby by the navies of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. After those exercises were completed they would be happy to assist their partners the Russians in returning to Vladivostok via the Suez canal without any danger of becoming subject to inspection by any Arab Gulf states wanting to check whether they were helping any notorious Syrian war criminals to escape as Britain and France are rather in favour of any assistance their Russian partners might be willing to give to Syrian war criminals leaving Damascus right now and don’t really care where they end up as long as they don’t stay in Syria.

4. In Switzer’s alternate universe Putin “has sent tanks, warships, fighter jets and troops to bolster the regime, which has faced a troop shortage and loss of towns as it seeks to maintain Alawite rule over an overwhelming Sunni majority”. Pretty well everbody agrees with Switzer about that, perhaps because those who know better have no reason not to want everybody to think that at the moment.

For my part I’ll just end by saying that Switzer and others should remember what Kissinger said the word would go out about another Great Power:

“To be an enemy of America can be dangerous, but to be a friend is fatal”

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Tom Switzer’s piece from The Australian (30 September 2015):

Since Russia’s incursion into Ukraine 18 months ago, the West has indulged in the rhetoric of moral indignation, punished Moscow with economic sanctions and treated Vladimir Putin as a pariah in world affairs. “Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters,” President
Barack Obama declared in January. “That’s how America leads — not with bluster but with persistent, steady resolve.”

Somebody forgot to tell the Russian President. Putin’s address to the UN General Assembly this week, following his lightning military deployment to Syria, marks Russia’s resurgence on the global stage. The Russians, far from being marginalised in international relations, are playing a weak hand rather skilfully and are being allowed to do so because of considerable ineptitude and vacillation on the part of the Obama administration.

The upshot is that Washington will have to take the Kremlin far more seriously in the future. This is not just because Putin’s support for the embattled Assad regime will help degrade and destroy Islamic State jihadists in a four ­year civil war that has claimed nearly 250,000 lives and displaced more than nine million people. Rather, Russia’s intervention in Syria shows how rational Moscow’s concerns over Western policy in the Middle East are, and that the Obama administration had better start treating it like the great power it still is.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Moscow voluntarily jettisoned the Warsaw Pact and acquiesced in the expansion of NATO and the EU on to the frontiers of the former Soviet Union. But the limits of Russia’s post ­Cold War retreat have been evident since the Western ­backed coup against a pro-Russian ally in Kiev in February last year. Putin has played hardball to protect what Russia has deemed as its sphere of influence in the Baltics long before Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin appeared on the scene. And in the Middle East it is determined to protect what it perceives as its vital interests.

Putin fears that if Bashar al­Assad’s regime falls, Russia’s presence in western Syria and its strategic military bases on the Mediterranean will be gone. That is why he has sent tanks, warships, fighter jets and troops to bolster the regime, which has faced a troop shortage and loss of towns as it seeks to maintain Alawite rule over an overwhelming Sunni majority.

And by reaching an understanding with Syria as well as Iraq and Iran to share intelligence about Islamic State, Putin is positioning Russia again as a key player in the Middle East, and one that is
more willing than the West to defeat Sunni jihadists. In the process, he has exposed the shortcomings of the White House’s policy towards Syria.

Until recently, the prevailing wisdom held that the Assad regime — the nemesis of Sunni militants was on the verge of collapse, an outcome that Washington, London and Canberra had enthusiastically encouraged for much of the past four years. And although Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop now recognise that Assad must be part of any negotiated political
solution, the Obama administration continues to insist that any resolution of the conflict must lead to the exit of the dictator.

US Secretary of State John Kerry warns Russia’s continued support for Assad “risks exacerbating and extending the conflict” and will undermine “our shared goal of fighting extremism”. British Chancellor George Osborne goes so far as to say the West’s aim should to be to defeat both Assad and Islamic State. But given Washington’s futile attempts to destroy the Sunni jihadist network
during the past year, most seasoned observers of the Syrian crisis are entitled to think that such strategies are manifest madness.

The consequences of removing Assad would be dire. The regime would collapse and its Alawite army would crumble. Sunni jihadists such as Islamic State and al­Qa’ida’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al­Nusra, also known as al­Nusra Front, would exploit the security vacuum and dominate all of Syria. The ethnic minorities — the Alawites, Shi’ites and Syrian Christians — would be massacred. And there would be the flight of millions more refugees into Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

If we are to avoid these horrific outcomes, Russia will have to play a central and positive role. It has had significant influence in Damascus during the past half century; indeed, many Syrian
military officers have received training in Moscow. Russia’s navy and advanced anti­aircraft missile systems are based along the Mediterranean. It’s likely to deploy ground troops to the eastern coast. And Moscow has recognised that notwithstanding Assad’s brutal conduct, his regime is fighting the jihadists that Western leaders repeatedly say pose a grave and present danger to the world.

Obama says the US would work with any nation to end the fighting in Syria. But to engage Russia, the West needs to change its policy approach substantially. Alas, the prevailing Russophobia in
Washington and Brussels remains a serious obstacle in the path of reaching accommodation with Moscow.

The problem in Ukraine is not related to a revival of the Soviet empire, as some hyperventilating politicians and pundits argue. The problem is the widespread Western failure to recognise an old
truth of geopolitics: that a great power fights tooth and nail to protect vital security interests in its near abroad. Take Ukraine: it is a conduit for Russian exports to Europe and covers a huge terrain
that the French and Germans crossed to attack Russia in the 19th and 20th centuries. Most Crimeans are glad to be part of the country they called home from Catherine’s rule to that of Nikita Khrushchev.

From Moscow’s standpoint, the expansion of NATO and the EU into Russia’s traditional sphere of influence, taken together with efforts to promote democracy, is akin to Moscow expanding military alliances into Central America. Some may respond by saying that Ukraine, however ethnically and politically divided it remains, has every right to join the West. But did communist Cuba have a right to seek political and military ties with the Soviet Union in 1962? Not from Washington’s perspective. Does Taiwan have a right to seek nationhood? Not from Beijing’s perspective.

This is a shame, but it is the way the world works, and always has. Not only does Putin know it, he calculates that a weak, inept and cautious Obama administration won’t push the issue despite the dire threats and warnings from congress and the Pentagon.

And so it was inevitable that the Russians would push back in the Baltics, first to secure the Crimean peninsula, the traditional home of the Russian Black Sea fleet (which Russian intelligence feared would become a NATO base), then to destabilise Ukraine with the aim of persuading Kiev’s anti ­Russian regime to protect the minority rights of ethnic Russians and maintain its status as a buffer state.

As for Syria, the problem here is not the Russians — or even Iran’s Shia crescent of Damascus, Baghdad, Hezbollah and the Yemeni rebels. After all, they’re committed to fighting Sunni jihadists. The problem is that US ­British aligned Sunni states — Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arabs — have aided and abetted the Sunni rebellion that has morphed into Sunni jihadism.

Yet these reactionary regimes still have the temerity to call for Assad’s ouster. Following regime change, we’re told, a US­ led coalition of Arabs and Turks can create a peaceful and prosperous Syria.

Leave aside the fact Assad’s support stems not just from Moscow and Tehran but also from Syria’s military, political and business elites, including many urban Sunnis. Assad is a brutal tyrant. He
has used chemical weapons against his own people. And he has launched relentless barrel bombs in rebel areas. But he is more popular than ever in the one ­third of Syria his regime still controls
(which happens to be the major cities and the coastland). That is largely because many know his demise would lead to widespread ethnic cleansing.

The idea that Assad’s fall would lead to something approaching a peaceful transition of power is as delusional as the neo­conservative views about Iraq and Libya in 2003 and 2011 respectively. The
downfall of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, it was onfidently asserted, would lead to viable democratic states. If anything, both post­Saddam Iraq and post­Gaddafi Libya are failed
states that have attracted terrorists like flies to a dying animal.

As in the case of Iraq, Syria is an artificial state and an ethnically divided society created out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. In both nations the invasion and civil war, respectively, have unleashed centrifugal forces that are eroding political structures and borders that have prevailed since the end of World War I.

In Iraq, the 2003 invasion ended the nation’s sectarian imbalance between the minority Sunni and majority Shia communities. Ever since, the Shia have been more interested in seeking revenge against their former Sunni tormentors than in building a nation. The result: a Sunni insurgency that has morphed into a plethora of jihadist groups, including Islamic State.

In Syria, the Arab Spring in 2011 encouraged the Sunni majority to challenge and destroy the minority Alawite regime. The result: centrifugal forces that threaten the viability of Syria as we have known it for nearly a century.

As unfashionable as it is to acknowledge, partition is the likely outcome of the civil war. According to Joshua Landis, a veteran Syria observer and director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, many Syrians, and Alawites in particular, privately acknowledge that the prospect of outright military victory against the Sunni militants is highly unlikely and that it would be impossible to coexist with Sunni fanatics.

For Syria, partition would most likely mean an Alawite Shia state in the regime’s western heartland and a Sunni state to the southeast. Notwithstanding statements to the contrary, this is the emerging reality on the ground.

As long as the regime endures, it at least prevents Sunni jihadists from consolidating their hold over the whole nation and creating a strategic sanctuary along Syria’s coasts.

The moral and political problems posed by Syria’s civil war during the past four years have been real and extremely difficult ones. Assad heads a brutal regime that, according to The Washington Post, has killed about seven times as many people as Islamic State in the first six months of this year.

But the cold, hard reality is that if the US and its allies are serious about defeating the Sunni jihadists, and not merely determined to feel virtuous and moralistic, we will need to tone down our
anti­Russian bombast, restore a dialogue with Putin and recognise the madness of regime change in Damascus. And if that means accommodating Putin’s power play in the Middle East, so be it.

Role of PPPs (Public Private Partnerships) in Transition ( by Arthur Dent)

Guest post by Arthur Dent via Bill Kerr blogspot .

The need that has not been acted on is investment having become generally paralysed by world economic crisis. Not just traditional infrastructure but all kinds of large scale fixed capital construction projects are needed. The essence of transition from capitalism under such a scenario is that it is partially public and partially private.

* * * *

PPP = Public Private Partnerships

A scenario for transition from capitalism with socialized investment following another Great Depression and its (im)plausibility is discussed elsewhere.

For present purposes those assumptions are as arbitrary as the selection of some hypothetical specific PPP infrastructure project to pitch to some hypothetical target audience.

The need that has not been acted on is investment having become generally paralysed by world economic crisis. Not just traditional infrastructure but all kinds of large scale fixed capital construction projects are needed.

The essence of transition from capitalism under such a scenario is that it is partially public and partially private.

PPPs would be used for all major fixed capital construction projects that are significant for planning resumption of economic growth and ending mass unemployment. Buildings and plant that were previously (not) being privately financed, by single enterprises or project finance, not just the closely related “utilities”. Public institutions would also initially be largely untransformed, so public procurement of a traditional public utility infrastructure facility by a public agency would be subsumed under PPP arrangements as just another private participant that happens to be a public agency.

Public financial and economic planning and management organizations would be involved either as sponsors or minor participants in many types of build, own and operate projects, often taking substantial financial positions in both debt and equity based on the expropriated funds they are now able to invest as well as making ordinary commercial PPP arrangements with private participants.

The relatively small amount of economic and management expertise fully supportive of transition available to an inexperienced government would be heavily focused on the preparation, procurement and contract management/implementation of PPPs. They would have to structure the contracts so the private participants use their know how to maximize the public benefit in their own commercial interests. This would be very difficult and error prone, but not as implausible as simultaneously taking over all existing large economic institutions without enough skills to actually manage them in the public interest.

The much wider role of PPPs requires much better resourced public institutions responsible for PPPs. The relatively small numbers of government decision makers with adequate skills must supervise and structure appropriate incentives to motivate, much larger number of employees and consultants recruited from the private sector for their know how, despite their lack of support for transition.

Currently known “best practices” for PPPs would be generally applicable. There is no point in listing them. But the assumption of quite different circumstances imply many new lessons could only be learned from experience with at least the following differences from the usual circumstances.

1. Much greater transparency and much less corruption would be imposed on both the public and private participants as part of the broader social changes involved in transition.

2. Greater flexibility for detailed renegotiations would be necessitated by the circumstances of economic crisis and the more dynamic situations arising from transition.

3. Political, foreign exchange and national macroeconomic risks (interest rates etc) would be exclusively borne by the public participants and corresponding contingent liabilities and hedging or insurance costs appear openly on the central balance sheets. The public institutions responsible for exchange rates and macroeconomic stability would be closely involved in understanding the financial flows and risks they are assuming and the prices they require for asuming those risks and any hedging arrangements they may be able to make separately. Both international and local private participants would not need to make separate judgments or their own hedging arrangements for particular projects but only apply the sovereign risk ratings assessed uniformly by their own trusted ratings agencies.

4. Land use and resource management public agencies would likewise manage and appropriately price the responsibilities for land acquisition, site and regulatory risks.

5. Design, operations, construction, completion and maintenance performance risks would be exclusively borne by the private parties directly responsible for each aspect with detailed incentives tailored to reward overperformance and penalize underperformance. They would be carefully separated according to the expected and actual costs and risks borne by the participants engaged in each aspect and related global, national and sectoral statistical indexes.

6. Allocation of upside and downside market risks for supply of inputs and sale of outputs would be significantly more complex since the expropriation of private wealth for public investment in PPPs was made necessary by lack of profitable investment outlets in the prevailing market conditions of economic crisis.

The aspect for which each private participant is responsible must be commercially viable to that participant at the low competitive rates of return prevailing under crisis conditions. But the overall project need only be value for money to the public participants based on accepting an even lower (or even negative) return on their investment in order to achieve planned economic growth and rapid recovery from mass unemployment.

Transition from Capitalism (by Arthur Dent)

Guest post by Arthur Dent via Bill Kerr blogspot.

Any transition from capitalism in advanced capitalist countries as a result of another Great Depression would involve:

Inexperienced left governments required to urgently get the economy moving again and end mass unemployment because previous governments, whether claiming to be left or right, had been unable to do so.

Some level of rapid expropriation of privately owned wealth that was immobilized by the crisis now made available for socialized investment in new fixed capital construction projects to get the economy moving again and absorb unemployment.

The day after a change in government would be similar to the day before. The same social relations based on money, wage labor and capital, the same social institutions such as globalized large corporations, and national and local large, medium and small enterprises and bureaucratic government departments and agencies, and the same economic paralysis.

* * * *

This article is a placeholder for an introduction to a series of articles on various aspects of economic policy to be advocated before, and implemented during, the early stages of, a transition from capitalism in advanced capitalist countries under various different possible scenarios.

I am nowhere near ready to write any such articles, even as tentative drafts, so I cannot write an actual introduction.

Meanwhile one of the courses I am studying to become able to write such tentative drafts is a MOOC on “Public Private Partnerships” by the World Bank.

This requires as a final project for the policy and procedures track, publication of a “digital artefact” plus a description of the target audience in one hundred words.

I have published as my “digital artefact” the eight hundred word article on “Role of PPPs in Transition” [which will be published later – c21styork):

The key requirement is:
“Topic: Identify an infrastructure need that could be developed as a PPP. This could be a project that is in process of development, one on a country’s PPP project lists, or a need that has not been acted on. Think about the key facts or ideas you wish to convey by answering the following questions:
What is the infrastructure problem that the PPP is trying to solve?
What services are to be provided and are these services affordable?
What are the reasons that the private sector would want to participate?
How should these risks be allocated? Consider the country context in judging the risks and who should take them.”

I have identified as a “need that has not been acted on” the general paralysis of investment resulting in prolonged mass unemployment in another Great Depression worse than the 1930s following a financial crisis worse than 2008.

Such a worse financial crisis than 2008 does not seem to be entirely implausible since the last one seems to have been merely postponed rather than resolved by the extraordinary measures taken. Nor does another Great Depression worse than the 1930s seem entirely implausible following such a worse financial crisis.

The need is for all the infrastructure required to resume economic growth, not just traditional infrastructure like existing public utilities. The problem that has to be solved is that there are no profitable outlets for private investment in crisis conditions so investment must be socialized rather than left up to private investors.

This would require some form of state capitalism either as a transition back to “normal” private capitalism or as a transition away from capitalism.

The absence of any significant left in advanced capitalist countries, at least in the english speaking ones I am familiar with, makes any transition away from capitalism seem completely implausible. But then the continued absence of any significant left under the conditions of prolonged mass unemployment and economic paralysis seems even more implausible.

There are already important changes in the political climate of countries like Greece, Spain and Iceland that could become precursors of something much bigger. These countries are peripheral rather than central to the advanced capitalist world, but they are part of it and they are already facing serious economic and political crisis situations.

So I am writing for the target audience described at the end of this introduction, in the conceivable scenario described below.

The services to be provided are not traditional public utilities but the ending of prolonged mass unemployment through resumption of economic growth.

These services are affordable because prolonged mass unemployment is not affordable and both labor and capital are cheap in depression conditions. What is missing is profitability, not affordability.

The private sector would not particularly want to participate, but would not have better options available. Corporations would still want whatever contracts are available at the best returns they can competitively get for the benefit of their shareholders, whether or not some of their shares that used to belong to wealthy private individuals now belong to public institutions. Board members and senior managers who no longer wanted to participate because their incentives had been expropriated would be replaced by board members and managers willing to work for the owners, old and new, under the incentives currently being offered.

But the social system would not yet have been changed and risks and incentives would still have to be allocated in the context of an advanced capitalist country in crisis that is merely beginning a transition from capitalism, not one that has completed such a transition. So many of the same principles would have to still apply and new ones could only be understood and evolved over time.

Scenario

Any transition from capitalism in advanced capitalist countries as a result of another Great Depression would involve:

Inexperienced left governments required to urgently get the economy moving again and end mass unemployment because previous governments, whether claiming to be left or right, had been unable to do so.

Some level of rapid expropriation of privately owned wealth that was immobilized by the crisis now made available for socialized investment in new fixed capital construction projects to get the economy moving again and absorb unemployment.

The day after a change in government would be similar to the day before. The same social relations based on money, wage labor and capital, the same social institutions such as globalized large corporations, and national and local large, medium and small enterprises and bureaucratic government departments and agencies, and the same economic paralysis.

To simplify things I further assume a “simple” scenario with:

Expropriation narrowly targeted to take all and only the excess wealth of the top 1% of nationals.

This results in substantial investment funds becoming available to governments starting transition but most of the capital in each such country would still be held privately and by foreigners.

The most important capitalist countries such as the USA, China, Japan, and Germany would not be the first to start making the transition. But international financial and investment flows as well as trade continues.

Many top layers of management in most social institutions would be quite hostile to transition but there are enough supporters capable of supervising or replacing them.

Some of these assumptions may not look very plausible. But advocating measures based on such a “simple” case, would place the responsibility for different policies firmly with those who might prevent the policies discussed for this scenario by resorting to the breakup of international financial investment and trade flows, and civil and international wars.

Target Audience

I am studying economics, finance and other subjects to understand how capitalism works and become able to propose economic policies for transition from capitalism in advanced capitalist countries. Currently there is no significant left movement in such countries, but I am drafting tentative ideas for a wider future audience of prospective government policy makers expected when a financial crisis like 2008 eventually becomes another Great Depression like the 1930s. They are not concerned with some specific PPP project. I am conveying one possible policy option for managing partially socialized and partially still private investment projects using PPPs.

Turn down the hype (by Arthur Dent, formerly Albert Langer)

the-end-isnt-near

 

Originally published as a guest post at Bill Kerr‘s blog by Arthur Dent on 21st May, 2015.

 

* * * * * *

According to the World Bank:

“By acting now, acting together and acting differently, we will be able to transition to a low emissions, climate resilient development path and hold warming below 2°C.”(1)

To help achieve this, a MOOC sponsored by the World Bank (Turn Down the Heat) requires students to produce “digital artefacts” with the aim “create a sense of urgency and a call to action for individuals, companies or countries to change behaviors associated with a warming planet”.

My call is for the World Bank to change its behaviour and “turn down the hype”.

It should be obvious that none of the measures advocated by the World Bank have had much impact on the planet warming, and there is no reason to expect that creating a sense of urgency in support of more of the same will have a better result.

The IPCC’s authoritative report on Mitigation of Climate Change(2) shows clearly that there is no realistic prospect of holding warming below 2°C.

The simple reality is that most emissions will result from the rapid industrialization of developing countries like India and China who cannot and will not switch from the cheapest energy sources available while they remain poor. No amount of hype will change that reality.

If the problem was as grave and urgent as claimed there would be no alternative but for developed nations who can afford the cost to switch from cheaper fossil fuels to more expensive nuclear power and also pay the costs of the entire world doing the same. But the World Bank does not advocate that, so it is difficult to believe it takes its own hype seriously.

Wind and solar power cannot solve the problem because they are intermittant. Power is also needed when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining. There is no technology on the horizon that could store energy cheaply enough to compete with the dispatchable power from fossil fuels, even if wind and solar power was free. Instead of pretending that wind and solar could do the job it is clearly necessary to act differently. Since there is no viable replacement for fossil fuels on the horizon that developing countries could afford, it is necessary to do something very different from what the World Bank advocates.

We will need some breakthroughs in fundamental technology. Neither the regulatory nor the market pricing mechanisms advocated by the World Bank can achieve that. Massive investments in research and development and fundamental science are required. Contrary to the hype there is no “return” on that investment. As with all fundamental science, the results have to be made freely available to the countries that are too poor to pay for it. So the “free rider” problem ensures that no carbon pricing mechanism could motivate such investment. At present each developed country is hoping that somebody else will pay to develop the necessary technology. There is no “national” benefit in doing so. It is a global, not a national problem. The most ambitious national targets for R&D are about 3% of GDP for all purposes. These targets are not being met, despite the fact that new technology is the driving force for economic growth.

A global levy on developed countries that can afford it is required, to pay for the costs of a massive global R&D program that is not expected to produce any “return” on the investment, other than “merely” solving the problem of global warming.

That may require a significant expansion in the total scientific workforce and consequently a long lead time for education.

If it is not successful, then we will have to resort to some combination of geo-engineering, adaptation strategies and subsidizing nuclear power in all countries, at potentially vastly greater costs. But even if a massive global R&D program failed to produce clean energy competitive with fossil fuels, it would at least accelerate economic growth generally and enable the whole world to afford more expensive energy than fossil fuels more quickly.

“Modernization has liberated ever more people from lives of poverty and hard agricultural labor, women from chattel status, children and ethnic minorities from oppression, and societies from capricious and arbitrary governance. Greater resource productivity associated with modern socio-technological systems has allowed human societies to meet human needs with fewer resource inputs and less impact on the environment. More-productive economies are wealthier economies, capable of better meeting human needs while committing more of their economic surplus to non-economic amenities, including better human health, greater human freedom and opportunity, arts, culture, and the conservation of nature.”(3)

We need more modern technology, not medieval windmills.

(1) WDR 2010: Development and Climate Change
(2) Working Group 3
(3) An Ecomodernist Manifesto

Draining the Swamps: Correspondence with Chomsky (lead up to, and during, the Iraq War).

I have long believed in the importance of engagement with ideas and the exchange of ideas and analyses through debate. Our political culture has changed greatly since my early experiences with this process in the late 1960s. Today, it seems to me that too many people shun debate and are happy to be reinforced by group-think and their own sense of righteousness rather than be open to challenge. It really boils down to individuals stopping thinking and finding comfort in a kind of religious satisfaction.

It is telling, I think, as to who seeks debate, who is willing to be open to challenge and follow it through, and who is not. In the following email correspondence between Arthur Dent (formerly Albert Langer) and Noam Chomsky in 2002 and 2003, it is very clear as to who fits which category.

– C21styork

* * * *

In September 2002, Noam Chomsky wrote an article entitled ‘Drain The Swamps And There Will Be No More Mosquitoes’. Subsequently the article ‘Mayday – It’s the Festival of the Distressed’ was published, which argued that the US is indeed following a policy of draining the swamps. This view was presented to Chomsky who refused to give it any serious consideration.

This document contains:

1. First message to Noam Chomsky
2. Noam Chomsky’s reply .
3. Long explanation of why he thinks that Bush has adopted a policy very close to the one Chomsky proposed in  his article  Drain The Swamps  And There Will Be No More Mosquitoes (September 2002)
4. Noam Chomsky’s very short response.
5. Full text of Chomsky’s  article.
6. Full text of article May Day – it’s the festival of the distressed

**********************************************

First message to Chomsky:

Hi,

Some comments comparing your article on “Draining the Swamps” with  the
position George W Bush switched to more recently, are in an article I
published in “The Australian” (national serious mainstream broadsheet) today
(2003-05-01):

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/printpage/0,5942,6362012,00.html

(NB the above url no longer works. The article is included below (scroll down).  Alternatively you could open it in a separate window by right clicking here)

Apart from the courtesy notification, I was hoping you might be interested
in further discussion/debate.

Although you have clearly identified with the peace movement and, in my
view, adopted a very different position from your earlier article, it seems
to me that there is still a subtle difference between your analysis on Iraq
and many other articles I have seen on Znet.

Perhaps a debate could clarify the nature of those differences?

Finally, if you happen to know of any other “pro-war left” (as opposed to
pro-war liberal) web sites I would be grateful for any links.

Seeya


2. CHOMSKY’S RESPONSE

—–Original Message—–
From: Noam Chomsky [mailto:chomsky@MIT.EDU]
Sent: Sunday, May 04, 2003 12:12 AM
Subject: Re: Draining the swamp reply
Thanks for sending your article.  I’ve received 100s of letters in response to the article to which you refer, some of which misunderstood it, but nothing remotely like this.  I can only assume that you have not actually seen the article.  I’ll quote the relevant parts.

The quote from Harkabi is as follows:

Twenty years ago, the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Yehoshaphat Harkabi, also a leading Arabist, made a point that still holds true. “To offer an honourable solution to the Palestinians respecting their right to self-determination: that is the solution of the problem of terrorism,” he said. “When the swamp disappears, there will be no more mosquitoes.”

The reference to the campaign of hatred is as follows:

“The president is not the first to ask: “Why do they hate us?” In a staff discussion 44 years ago, President Eisenhower described “the campaign of hatred against us [in the Arab world], not by the governments but by the people”. His National Security Council outlined the basic reasons: the US supports corrupt and oppressive governments and is “opposing political or economic progress” because of its interest in controlling the oil resources of the region.  Post-September 11 surveys in the Arab world reveal that the same reasons hold today, compounded with resentment over specific policies. Strikingly, that is even true of privileged, western-oriented sectors in the region.”

The words you quote state — clearly and unambiguously — that the way to reduce the threat of terror is to change the policies that Eisenhower and his staff identified, and the subsequent policies that are identified.  That is, the US should stop supporting corrupt and oppressive government and blocking political and economic progress because of its interest in controlling Near East oil, and should stop its support for Israeli terror and integration of the occupied territories, and its murderous sanctions that are devastating the people of Iraq while strengthening Saddam Hussein.

I am sure you agree that the only relation between this and Bush’s policies is the relation of flat-out contradiction.

Once you look at the actual article to which you refer, I trust you will agree that a published retraction is in order.

I’m afraid I can’t answer your last question because of its assumptions, which are based on total misunderstanding.

Noam Chomsky


3. REPLY TO CHOMSKY:

Thanks for your prompt email response (May 4).
I had read your original article (“Drain the Swamps..”) before I wrote mine. My understanding when I read it agrees with the summary in your email quoted below. I agree that your article did “clearly and unambiguously” advocate that:
“…the way to reduce the threat of terror is to change the policies that Eisenhower and his staff identified, and the subsequent policies that are identified.  That is, the US should stop supporting corrupt and oppressive government and blocking political and economic progress because of its interest in controlling Near East oil, and should stop its support for Israeli terror and integration of the occupied territories, and its murderous sanctions that are devastating the people of Iraq while strengthening Saddam Hussein.”

If you believe readers of my article might gain some other impression of your views, you are welcome to include this email with the above acknowledgement in any request you make to ‘The Australian’ for a correction or clarification.
For my part I do not agree that a published retraction is in order as I do not believe my article would give any other impression. Further discussion/debate/clarification certainly is in order.
In my view the real disagreement between us is expressed by your statement:

“I am sure you agree that the only relation between this and Bush’s policies is the relation of flat-out contradiction.”
In fact I do not agree.
You must get a lot of email, and have reasonable defences against getting dragged into pointless disputes with random nutters. Before assuming I am one, I hope you will carefully consider the points below:

My position is that Bush has now switched to a policy very similar to the one you advocated both in your orginal article and as summarized by you above.  I  stated  this “clearly and unambiguously” in my article as follows:
“Stripped of the ‘God bless America’ stuff, the US President’s case now goes like this:
‘If we devote our resources to draining the swamps, addressing the roots of the “campaigns of hatred”, we can not only reduce the threats we face, but also live up to ideals that we profess and that are not beyond reach if we choose to take them seriously.’
Actually, those words are from Noam Chomsky two days before Bush’s UN speech on September 10, 2002.”

I made it clear that I was asserting that it was not a case of you endorsing Bush’s policy, but of Bush switching to a policy similar to yours, as follows:
“But if Bush had adopted Chomsky’s position so early, that would have prevented congressional authorisation. Such a position threatens to destabilise despotic, reactionary regimes everywhere. But those in the US foreign policy establishment have devoted their entire careers to supporting the most corrupt tyrannies in the Middle East, in the name of ‘stability’.”

The above also explicitly highlights that I am saying that traditional US policy has been to support the corrupt tyrannies and that Bush’s policy reverses direction. Clearly you are entitled to disagree as to whether Bush has changed direction.

But only Bush could claim to be misrepresented and ask for a retraction. You cannot ask for a retraction while reaffirming that you do in fact, as is well known, advocate a policy opposed to the traditional US foreign policy line of supporting corrupt tyrannies, as I implied above.
Again, I made it clear that despite what I believe should follow logically from your analysis, you in fact opposed the war:
For Chomsky, ‘draining the swamps’ apparently didn’t include killing people and blowing things up. Fortunately, Bush is made of sterner stuff.”
“Both Bush and Chomsky know the US cannot be secure from medievalist terrorist mosquitoes while the Middle East remains a swamp. But Bush also knows that modernity grows out of the barrel of a gun.”


I emphasized the depth of the switch I claimed had occurred in Bush’s policy as follows:

“That is a genuinely Left case for a revolutionary war of liberation, such as has occurred in Iraq. The pseudo-Left replies: ‘That’s illegal.'”
“Well, of course revolutionary war is illegal. Legal systems are created by revolutions, not revolutions by legal systems.”


Finally I highlighted my view that Bush’s new policy includes acceptance that the US “should stop its support for Israeli terror and integration of the occupied territories” as follows:
“The next logical step for the new policy is to establish a viable Palestinian state. Bush has put himself in a position where he can and must take that step. Naturally, he will not admit to the enormous strategic and policy retreat that such a step implies, so he has preceded it with enough triumphalist rhetoric to make even the Fox News team look queasy.”


Thus my position is that Bush’s actual policy now is the same as the policy you advocated in September last year – and which you summarized for me in your email. Namely Bush agrees that:
“the US should stop supporting corrupt and oppressive government and blocking political and economic progress because of its interest in controlling Near East oil, and should stop its support for Israeli terror and integration of the occupied territories, and its murderous sanctions that are devastating the people of Iraq while strengthening Saddam Hussein.”

Perhaps you find that view of Bush’s actual policy so bizarre that you cannot imagine I would be saying it?

Nevertheless, I am.

Of course I am not claiming that Bush admits that US policy was aimed at blocking political and economic progress because of US interest in controlling Near East oil, nor that he would endorse such terms as “Israeli terror” or “murderous sanctions”.
I am simply saying that Bush has changed policy, and done so for essentially the reasons you advocate. There should be nothing inconceivable about that. After all at one time US policy was to escalate the war in Vietnam until a US victory. Nixon changed that policy to withdrawing all troops and accepting defeat, but describing defeat as “peace with honour”. He did that by redefining the goal of the war as “return of all American Prisoners of War” and then rallying the American right to achieve that goal (which was won very simply by signing the peace agreement and withdrawing the troops).
I suggest something similar is going on now. Bush has redefined America’s goals in the middle east as being to promote democracy and has rallied the right by linking that to defeating terrorism. He doesn’t need to worry about the left because we’ve always been in favor of promoting democracy just as we were in favor of Vietnam defeating the US aggression.

He doesn’t need to worry about the pseudo-Left because they are just bizarre (the anti-war movement may have appeared to be a roaring flash flood that rose much faster and extended much wider than the Vietnam war movement but it was in fact also much more shallow and immediately turned into a puddle).

Even before September 11, Israeli goals were being redefined as an “end to Palestinian terrorism” rather than “Greater Israel”, as preparation for accepting defeat of the occupation and creation of a Palestinian state. That has now become mainstream. A victory against Palestinian terrorism can of course be achieved just as easily as the return of American POWs was achieved in Vietnam – by simply withdrawing from the occupied territories etc.
Instead of simply dismissing my view as inconceivable, you do need to consider and reply to it.

First, I’m not the only person on the left drawing similar conclusions about changes in US policy. It is also, less explicitly, part of the background to the collapse of the mass anti-war movement and the somewhat bizarre debates about whether it would be “irresponsible” to call for an immediate end to the occupation.

While you might be able to get away with simply brushing me off, the view of Bush’s policy that you seem to have just dismissed as inconceivable is going to keep coming up and will need to be debated eventually.

For example KADEK/PKK (the Kurdish Workers Party) has several thousand troops in Kurdistan, has been actively involved in armed struggle with the Turkish government and was originally opposed to the US attack on Iraq. Its May Day statement(same date as my article) included the following:

Middle East countries have been suffering from severe national and social problems but are now involved in a new process which started with the war on Iraq. Those severe problems are forcing the regimes to improve freedom and human rights. The prerequisites required for a solution are available now. The main characteristics of the new process are that the democratic unity issue involves both war and peaceful efforts. Although concrete results have not been achieved yet, as the Iraq case proves, if diplomatic and political methods, peaceful efforts, do not resolve the problem then the only option is war.”


Talking about peace, without offering a solution does not make any sense to people of the Middle East, who are suffering from severe problems. The collapse of the Iraqi regime will serve the interests of the society, and lead to social improvement.”


“The sovereign regimes in all Middle East countries have lost their capacities of solving the problems. In spite of colossally rich natural resources, making available opportunities to develop, those regimes could not solve the problems, but on the contrary have exacerbated them. This is the main reason for lack of developments in democracy, freedom, and human rights. The existing regimes reply to peoples’ demands for democracy, freedoms, and human rights by increasing pressures. Local people cannot benefit from their countries’ rich resources, but suffer from poverty, hunger and poor socio-economic living conditions. In spite of all this, the regimes refuse to change, do not reply the democratic change and transformation efforts and this will require their removal.”

[…]

“Whether the intervention in Iraq will succeed or not depends on the development of democracy, freedom, and human rights. The more improvements are achieved in these human values the more the US intervention in Iraq will succeed. Setting up the kind of regimes in continuity with the past will lead to chaos.”


“Therefore, the only option for the US should be to support democratic regimes. The wider dimension of the problem is the necessity of democratic change and transformation imposed upon the regimes within the region, which is the only option in order prevent war and conflict. Radical democratic reforms will prevent war.” […]



Note that KADEK/PKK is saying “The more improvements are achieved in these human values the more the US intervention in Iraq will succeed” – directly opposite to the line you have been taking. Of course they can be completely wrong, just as I can. But so can you be wrong and you certainly aren’t going to prove you are right just by saying “I am sure you agree”!
Next, note that your summary of your position is “clearly and unambiguously” advocated by former CIA Director James Woolsey, one of the leading proponents of the war in Iraq:
From his Washington Post article “Objective: Democracy“, Tuesday, November 27, 2001; Page A13:

[…] “This ought to be enough to make us call into question some of the European-generated ‘truths’ about another region, the Mideast, that have generally guided our conduct there for the past 80 years: that Arabs and Muslims have no aptitude for democracy, that we are well-advised to stay in bed with corrupt rulers — occasionally changing them if they seem to threaten, especially, our access to oil — and that the general rule should be: better the devil we know than the devil we don’t.”
“We have, on the whole, followed this European conceptual lead, and it has brought us Sept. 11, disdain and hatred. Only in Afghanistan, and in Iran, where we are perceived to be at odds with the repressive regime, do the demonstrating crowds chant ‘U-S-A.'”
“One of these days we’re going to get the picture. It has been the received wisdom at various times in the 20th century that Germans, Japanese, Koreans, Russians and Chinese would never be able to manage democracy. Yet from Berlin to Taipei, people seem to have figured out how to make it work. And no democracy threatens us, for the very good reason that, unlike dictators, democracies turn to war last, not first. And no democracy consciously harbors terrorists or encourages them to attack us.”
“The Mideast does present a special problem. Outside Israel and secular Turkey, the governments of the region comprise no democracies but rather vulnerable autocracies and pathological predators. Some of the autocracies have launched reforms and may evolve toward constitutional monarchies with parliaments and the rule of law — Jordan and Bahrain, for example — if a predator doesn’t get them first. Other autocracies, such as Saudi Arabia, seem mired in self-destructive behavior: spending vast sums to promote a whole set of domestic and foreign institutions, such as Saudi and Pakistani schools, that build hatred against both us and the modern world and that will, in time, undermine their own rule.”
“Many in the West see hatred and conclude that the people of the Muslim and Arab worlds are our enemies. They could not be more wrong. If we continue to follow the European paradigm — as, tragically, the first Bush administration did in the spring of 1991, when it failed to back the Iraqi resistance’s rebellion against Saddam — we will continue to be hated both by predator governments and by a vocal minority in the streets of the autocracies. Our only sound strategy is to take the side of the people against the predators and, albeit less urgently, the autocrats as well.”
http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A19477-2001Nov26?language=printer

Woolsey describes existing US policy as “staying in bed” with, or “tolerating” corrupt tyrannies rather than actively “supporting” them.

Also he bizarrely describes this policy, as “European” instead of using your presumably tongue in cheek phrase “live up to ideals that we profess”.

The policy recommendation as to how to reduce the threat of terrorist attacks from the Middle East is however, utterly clear and entirely the same as yours – “take the side of the people against (their oppressors, whether anti-US or pro-US regimes)”.

The only difference is that “take the side of the people” is rather stronger than “stop supporting” the oppressors”, and leads directly to support for a revolutionary war.
Incidentally, as well as describing US policy in terms of access to oil, Woolsey also describes the Baath regime as “fascist” in the same way that I do:
From JINSA Online, June 04, 2002.
The following interview with James Woolsey appeared on Insight Magaizine’s website on May 13, 2002.

Mr. Woolsey is a member of JINSA’s Board of Advisors and was Director of Central Intelligence from 1993 until 1995.

[…]

Insight: If the United States topples Saddam, what kind of regime will replace him?”

JW: That’s the right question for those folks in the U.S. government who might sponsor coups! But for those of us who want democracy to flourish in Iraq, there’s only one answer: whomever the Iraqi people choose. Mideast scholar Bernard Lewis is absolutely right – Iraq is one of the Arab states most suited to democracy. It has a well-educated populace and is far less tribally diverse or divisive than a number of other nations. Iraq also possesses great oil wealth. But, first, we need to de-Ba’ath the country as the U.S. and her allies de-Nazified Germany. Our role as Americans should be to assist the Iraqi nation in establishing new democratic institutions. Then, as good partners, we should stand back and let the Iraqi people decide who will rule their nation.

Insight: What is the Ba’ath Party?”

JW: It is a despotic organization modeled after the fascist regimes of Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. Essentially, Ba’athists are modern-day fascists. Indeed, among some circles in the Mideast, there is much admiration for German fascism of the 1930s.
Insight: How do you bring about regime change in the Mideast, yet avoid catastrophic upheaval?
JW: For the last 40 or 50 years we have tolerated Mideast tyrants because of the U.S. thirst for oil. Of the 22 Arab states in the region, not one is a democracy. The U.S. must rid the Mideast of its tyrants, beginning with the most horrible of predators, Saddam. As we stay the course in Afghanistan, eradicating the Taliban and al-Qaeda infrastructures, other autocrats in the region will realize the U.S. means business. In time, the region will progress toward democracy.

Insight: How do you dispel the notion that the West must coddle these regimes?”

JW: In 1945, a lot of people in the nation’s capital said Germany and Japan never would progress toward democracy. They also said nations like South Korea and even Russia would never become democracies. Yet these nations proved to be able to govern themselves. Spain, Portugal and Chile also were ruled by dictators. Today they are democracies. In 1914, there were not more than 10 democracies in the world; today there are more than 120.
The Mideast, however, remains a part of the world untouched by democracy, except for Israel and Turkey. The region systematically produces terrorists, weapons of mass destruction, autocrats and dictators.
Dictators start wars. They seek out external enemies. More often than not, they escalate conflict beyond their own borders to distract internal suspicions of the illegitimacy of their regimes. In the case of Iraq, Saddam invaded Iran in 1980, just one year after coming formally to power.
Democracies, on the other hand, use force as a last resort because they are responsive to the wishes of their citizens. If we make it clear that we are determined to bring democracy to this part of the world, it will encourage hundreds of millions of decent people in the Mideast. For us to win this war the entire face of the Mideast must change. But, first, all this hinges on our success in bringing down Saddam.
http://www.jinsa.org/articles/print.html/documentid/1494

Again, while it would be easy to wax sarcastic about the last paragraphs, and the role of the USA in escalating conflict beyond its borders, the fact remains that Woolsey has recognized the same policy imperatives that you pointed out and is simply presenting them in language that can appeal to fellow senior officials of US imperialism.
Would you agree that Woolsey is indeed seriously advocating a policy that “the US should stop supporting corrupt and oppressive government and blocking political and economic progress because of its interest in controlling Near East oil“?
If so, an assertion that Bush has also accepted this policy, and that it is actual rather than merely declaratory, should be considered seriously rather than merely dismissed as inconceivable.
The point is of course that nobody familiar with the Middle East could possibly reach any other conclusions, when studying the question of how to respond to September 11, even though they might have an interest in presenting those conclusions in a more apologetic way than you do.

It is difficult to imagine how any US imperialist policy making group reviewing US policy in the light of September 11 could possibly avoid advising that supporting Islamist terrorism hadn’t been such a good idea, supporting Baath fascism hadn’t been such a good idea, supporting the House of Saud isn’t a good idea, supporting “Greater Israel” isn’t a good idea and it’s way past time to drain the swamps.
As you noted in “Wars of Terror” on 30 April:

In serious scholarship, at least, it is recognized that “Unless the social, political, and economic conditions that spawned Al Qaeda and other associated groups are addressed, the United States and its allies in Western Europe and elsewhere will continue to be targeted by Islamist terrorists.” 13″

http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=11&ItemID=3543
Given that, why on earth should we assume the real, as opposed to the declared conclusions of US policy makers differ from those reached by serious scholarship?
(Incidentally, the copy at the above URL appears to be broken as it ends in mid-sentence. Please let me know when it is fixed. I noticed that almost every paragraph from “Draining the Swamps” is expanded in “Wars of Terror” and am curious to see what happened to the concluding paragraph I quoted in my article, in the light of recent shifts in US rhetoric.)
Finally, although Bush stuck rigidly to the “Saddam must disarm” line right up until the last minute, this has now taken a back seat to more or less open explanations of the new policy.

As mentioned in my article, Bush presents the new line with lots of “God bless America” rhetoric as a triumphant reaffirmation of American values rather than an admission of defeat and retreat. He is able to get away with that precisely because of the stand taken by the anti-war movement.

Instead of taking credit for having opposed the criminal and disasterous policy that brought “Sept. 11, disdain and hatred” long before Woolsey, you allow Bush to present the adoption of your views as a triumph for US imperialism!
Unlike Woolsey, Bush needs to present his declaratory policy less clearly and unambiguously than either Woolsey or your summary of it in your email to me.
Nevertheless, here’s an example (from February 26, 2003), to show that Bush is indeed saying things that sound very similar to the words I quoted from your article:
[…] A liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region, by bringing hope and progress into the lives of millions. America’s interests in security, and America’s belief in liberty, both lead in the same direction: to a free and peaceful Iraq. (Applause.)
[…]

There was a time when many said that the cultures of Japan and Germany were incapable of sustaining democratic values. Well, they were wrong. Some say the same of Iraq today. They are mistaken. (Applause.) The nation of Iraq — with its proud heritage, abundant resources and skilled and educated people — is fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom.
(Applause.)

The world has a clear interest in the spread of democratic values, because stable and free nations do not breed the ideologies of murder. They encourage the peaceful pursuit of a better life. And there are hopeful signs of a desire for freedom in the Middle East. Arab intellectuals have called on Arab governments to address the “freedom gap” so their peoples can fully share in the progress of our times. Leaders in the region speak of a new Arab charter that champions internal reform, greater politics participation, economic openness, and free trade. And from Morocco to Bahrain and beyond, nations are taking genuine steps toward politics reform. A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region. (Applause.)
It is presumptuous and insulting to suggest that a whole region of the world — or the one-fifth of humanity that is Muslim — is somehow untouched by the most basic aspirations of life. Human cultures can be vastly different. Yet the human heart desires the same good things, everywhere on Earth. In our desire to be safe from brutal and bullying oppression, human beings are the same. In our desire to care for our children and give them a better life, we are the same. For these fundamental reasons, freedom and democracy will always and everywhere have greater appeal than the slogans of hatred and the tactics of terror. (Applause.)
[…]
http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/02/iraq/20030226-11.html
Clearly Bush is deliberately linking the question of US security from terrorist attack (mosquitoes) to the question of liberating people from corrupt tyrannies (draining the swamps).

That is exactly the theme of the paragraph I quoted from your article. The context is support for a war that you oppose. But what is there in the words that Bush uses to make the case for linking US security from terrorist attack with freedom and democracy in the Middle East, that you would disagree with?
Of course the fact that Bush is making a (declaratory) “case” that includes quotes like the one above does not establish what his actual policy is.

Nevertheless, given such quotes it is necessary to seriously consider the question and argue the issue rather than simply dismiss it. Certainly raising expectations in this way is not going to be helpful to any US project for imposing a puppet dictatorship in Iraq.
In the summary of your views that I quoted above from your last email, you mentioned 3 policies that would have to be changed “in order to reduce the threat of terror”. These were the policies of:

1.    ”supporting corrupt and oppressive government and blocking political and economic progress because of the US interest in controlling Near East oil.”
2.    “supporting Israeli terror and integration of the occupied territories.”
3.    “maintaining murderous sanctions that are devastating the people of Iraq while strengthening Saddam Hussein.”

I will look at each of these separately:

1. ”supporting corrupt and oppressive government and blocking political and economic progress because of the US interest in controlling Near East oil.”

That has certainly been actual US policy in the past (though of course never “declaratory policy”). If there has been a change, the onus is clearly on those saying so to demonstrate it. I have attempted to demonstrate above the plausability of such a shift and the adoption of a declaratory policy that would correspond to it.
It’s too early to conclusively demonstrate to what extent actual policy has changed. However nothing that has happened so far either in Iraq itself or in its neighbours Saudi Arabia and Turkey has conformed to the expectations of people in the anti-war movement claiming there would be no shift towards democracy.

Already political parties such as the Iraqi Communist Party are free to setup offices and publish newspapers in Baghdad when they cannot do that elsewhere and pictures of (anti-US) demonstrations are being beamed into other capitals where the people know they do not have the same freedom to protest.
The governments of neighbouring regimes are clearly petrified. Bush and Blair have done nothing to reassure them by talking about Saddam wasting oil revenues on “palaces” and by allowing the Shia to very openly celebrate. Likewise democratic forces have been heartened.

Even people opposed to the war (as is still almost obligatory throughout the region) are able to point to the impotence of the current regimes in the face of US intervention as grounds for modernizing and democratizing.

2. “supporting Israeli terror and integration of the occupied territories.”

Again, that has clearly been US policy in the past and the onus is on me to demonstrate that actual US policy has changed, which I will attempt below.
Moreover Bush has gone out of his way to express unconditional declaratory support for Sharon’s stepped up Israeli terror against the Palestinians and has been very ostentatious about doing nothing to declare policies that hinder integration of the occupied territories. Declaratory policy in this case has been fairly close to actual policy (with the usual euphemisms instead of “Israeli terror”, and very minimal purely cosmetic reservations concerning the details of integration of the occupied territories).
First however, would you agree that your quote from Yehoshaphat Harkabi demonstrates that a former head of Israeli military intelligence advocates stopping “Israeli terror and integration of the occupied territories”?
If so, an assertion that Bush has also accepted this policy, and that it is actual rather than merely declaratory, should again be considered seriously rather than merely dismissed as inconceivable.
According to your article:

“One way for the US to lessen Israeli-Palestinian tensions would be to stop refusing to join the long-standing international consensus that calls for recognition of the right of all states in the region to live in peace and security, including a Palestinian state in the currently occupied territories (perhaps with minor and mutual border adjustments).”

Well, now the road map has been oficially released:

A settlement, negotiated between the parties, will result in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors. The settlement will resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and end the occupation that began in 1967, based on the foundations of the Madrid Conference, the principle of land for peace, UNSCRs 242, 338 and 1397, agreements previously reached by the parties, and the initiative of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah — endorsed by the Beirut Arab League Summit — calling for acceptance of Israel as a neighbor living in peace and security, in the context of a comprehensive settlement.”
http://usinfo.state.gov/regional/nea/summit/text2003/0430roadmap.htm

As well as the Palestine National Authority, this “road map” for ending the occupation of the territories that were occupied in 1967 has been endorsed by the Arab League, the UN, the EU and Russia. If that is not joining “the long-standing international consensus” what would be? Only Israel is complaining.

If Bush intends to persist with the previous policy, his recent moves to commit himself personally to major efforts for the achievement of a viable Palestinian state within a set time frame will be extremely damaging for him.
If on the other hand he intends to adopt your proposal, his reputation as a hard-line supporter of Israeli state terrorism against the Palestinians will make it much easier for him to do so. (“Only Nixon could go to Peking“).
Anyone attempting to defeat the Zionist lobby in the USA needs a plan and Bush’s plan for outflanking them seems like a good one.

Solidarity with the Palestinians is not expressed by endorsing defeatist propaganda that the Israeli position has been strengthened by the US occupation of Iraq. On the contrary we should be emphasizing that the Palestinian right of return is critical to the achievement of US goals in the Middle East as without it, even the establishment of a Palestinian state will not avoid an ongoing festering sense of grievance like that in Northern Ireland, which will continue to be exploited by terrorists.

3.“maintaining murderous sanctions that are devastating the people of Iraq while strengthening Saddam Hussein.”

Once again, sanctions have clearly been US policy in the past and the effect of those sanctions has clearly been murderous and devastating for the people of Iraq while strengthening Saddam.
It seems obvious that US policy is now opposed to continued sanctions, so I will not discuss this third element further.
However it is worth commenting on some aspects of how the US carried out and presented that change in policy, for the light it sheds on how I suggest the US has carried out and presented the changes I claim have been made policy on the other two elements.
It seems unlikely that the intended effect of the US sanctions policy was to strengthen Saddam. The US has sincerely and genuinely wanted to get rid of Saddam, at least since shortly after the immediate aftermath of the Kuwait war, even though they did not wish to get rid of the Baath regime (presided over by some other, more manageable dictator) until much later. The intended effect of the sanctions was to weaken Saddam, not to strengthen him.
Given that a policy had an actual effect opposite to the intention, the question must have arisen as to how to change that policy without damaging other US imperialist interests.
It seems reasonable to suppose that a serious problem for US policy makers must have been that simply dropping the sanctions would have been widely perceived as a defeat for US imperialism.
More specifically it would have been presented by both Saddam and Osama bin Laden as a victory for them. Any US policy maker would have had to propose some measure to counteract the impact of that.
By carrying out the dropping of sanctions as a simple consequence of the occupation of Iraq and destruction of Saddam’s regime, the US has certainly avoided any perception that abandoning sanctions was a victory for either Saddam Hussain or Osama bin Laden or indeed that it involved any defeat for US imperialism whatever.
Nevertheless, the long term impact of that on the roots of the ‘campaigns of hatred’ is the same. The US is no longer perceived as continuing murderous sanctions that are devastating the people of Iraq. Therefore the cumulative effect of campaigns about that (for example from supporters of Osama bin Laden), will cease growing, even though there will be short term damage to US interests from hostility to the deaths and devastation caused by the war.

Likewise the US has now announced that it will meet two other demands exploited by Osama bin Laden – withdrawal from Saudi Arabia and reducing the oppression of Palestinians – without any risk of Islamist victory celebrations.
My position is that in a similar way as with the other 2 policies, US policy makers have been looking for, and have adopted, a method of carrying out and presenting a reversal of previous policy that is intended to avoid any perception of a defeat for US imperialism (and that both the war in Iraq and the position adopted by the anti-war movement has been central to enabling them to get away with that).
In your Guardian interview of February 4, 2003 you were asked:
Matthew Tempest: Will the propaganda rebound if democracy is not established in Iraq after ‘liberation’?”

You replied:

NC: You’re right to call it propaganda. If this is a war aim, why don’t they say so? Why are they lying to the rest of the world? What is the point of having the UN inspectors? According to this propaganda, everything we are saying in public is pure farce – we don’t care about the weapons of mass destruction, we don’t care about disarmament, we have another goal in mind, which we’re not telling you, and that is, all of a sudden, we’re going to bring democracy by war. Well, if that’s the goal, let’s stop lying about it and put an end to the whole farce of inspections and everything else and just say now we’re on a crusade to bring democracies to countries that are suffering under miserable leadership. Actually that is a traditional crusade, that’s what lies behind the horrors of colonial wars and their modern equivalents, and we have a very long rich record to show just how that worked out. It’s not something new in history.”
http://www.zmag.org/content/Activism/chomsky_antiwar.cfm

Well, Bush pretty much took you up on that proposal too!

My suggestion is that in February you treated your question “why don’t they say so?” as rhetorical with an assumed answer that they would say they were on a crusade for democracy instead of maintaining the inspections farce if that was actually the case. Now that they have abandoned the farce and are speaking openly of the crusade, one must conclude that your assumed answer to the rhetorical question was wrong.

You should have treated it as a non-rhetorical question and thought about what the reason for them not saying so at the time might actually have been. In fact there were good reasons why it was not in their interests to say so then, just as you have mentioned that the US has a policy of sometimes attempting to appear less rational and more vindictive than it is.
Instead of developing the idea about “colonial wars”, which would at least be consistent with continued reactionary opposition, you advanced several demonstrably wrong reasons why the US could not promote democracy in Iraq:
“The chances that they will allow anything approximating real democracy are pretty slight. There’s major problems in the way of that – problems that motivated Bush No 1 to oppose the rebellions in 1991 that could have overthrown Saddam Hussein. After all, he could have been overthrown then if the US had not authorised Saddam to crush the rebellions.”

“One major problem is that roughly 60% of the population is Shi’ite. If there’s any form of democratic government, they’re going to have a say, in fact a majority say, in what the government is. Well they are not pro-Iranian but the chances are that a Shi’ite majority would join the rest of the region in trying to improve relations with Iran and reduce the levels of tension generally in the region by re-integrating Iran within it. There have been moves in that direction among the Arab states and Shi’ite majority in Iraq is likely to do that. That’s the last thing the US wants. Iran is its next target.”
“It doesn’t want improved relations. Furthermore if the Shi’ite majority gets for the first time a real voice in the government, the Kurdish minority will want something similar. And they will want a realisation of their quite just demands for a degree of autonomy in the northern regions. Well Turkey is not going to tolerate that. Turkey already has thousands of troops in Northern Iraq basically to prevent any such development. If there’ s a  move towards Kirkuk, which they regard as their capital city, Turkey will move to block it, the US will surely back them, just as the United States has strongly supported Turkey in its massive atrocities against the Kurds in the 1990s in the south-eastern regions. What you’re going to be left with is either a military dictatorship with some kind of democratic façade, like maybe a parliament that votes while the military runs it behind the scenes – it’s not unfamiliar – or else putting power back into the hands of something like the Sunni minority which has been running it in the past.
“Nobody can predict any of this. What happens when you start a war is unknown. The CIA can’t predict it, Rumsfeld can’t predict it, nobody can. It could be anywhere over this range. That’s why sane people refrain from the use of violence unless there are overwhelming reasons to undertake it – the dangers are simply far too great. However it’s striking that neither Bush nor Blair present anything like this as their war aim. Have they gone to the security council and said let’s have a resolution for the use of force to bring democracy to Iraq? Of course not. Because they know they’d be laughed at.
Essentially you were insisting that the policies of the Bush Senior administration would prevail, despite the change in US perceptions since September 11, 2001. Not much of the above has stood the test of time – except for your tacit admission that you cannot predict what is happening.

So far Rumsfeld’s predictions have held up quite well. But after only 3 months your own speculations have proved completely irrelevant. I suggest that your acknowledged inability to make accurate predictions and your demonstrated inability to even make relevant speculations is not because there is nothing predictable about current events but because we are in a new situation and your assumptions based on an analysis of the previous situation no longer reflect reality.

Once it becomes clear to you that the US actually is introducing (bourgeois) democracy in Iraq, you can of course simply abandon your arguments about why that would be inconceivable and just shift to opposing the “imposition” of democracy as being a colonialist “crusade”.
But you have demonstrated an ability to analyse new situations in the past and should not be afraid to do so now.
Regards,
PS Your concluding paragraph was:

“I’m afraid I can’t answer your last question because of its assumptions, which are based on total misunderstanding.”
I am not sure what this was referring to.
My last paragraph was an implicit question as follows:

“Finally, if you happen to know of any other ‘pro-war left’ (as opposed to pro-war liberal) web sites I would be grateful for any links.”
Your concluding paragraph does not seem to be responsive unless perhaps you thought I was under the bizarre impression that Znet is a “pro-war left” web site.
I was of course referring to the web site URL given in my article, and mentioned in my final PPS, following the article text, as being “pro-war left” – http://www.lastsuperpower.net.
If you don’t know of any others. Please say so.
Alternatively, perhaps more likely, you were referring to the assumptions in an earlier paragraph that was followed by a question as to whether debate might clarify the nature of “a subtle difference” I had perceived to exist between your analysis and other Znet articles.
At any rate I accept that your response rejects my suggestion that there might be some difference between your previous and current positions or between your current position and that of other Znet contributors. Note that I did not make that suggestion in my published article but only directly to you.


4. CHOMSKY’S RESPONSE:

Original Message—–
From: Noam Chomsky [mailto:chomsky@MIT.EDU]
Sent: Friday, May 09, 2003 11:54 PM
Subject: RE: Draining the swamp reply

I’m rather surprised that you see no need for public retraction of the extreme falsification in your article, particularly where it is so transparent.  But to be frank, that’s no concern of mine.

I won’t discuss the fallacies in your message.  I’m sure we both have better things to do than to enter into discussion where we do not even share the most elementary assumptions about fact and logic.

Noam Chomsky


5. CHOMSKY’S ARTICLE:

Drain The Swamp And There Will Be No More Mosquitoes

by Noam Chomsky; September 10, 2002

September 11 shocked many Americans into an awareness that they had better pay much closer attention to what the US government does in the world and how it is perceived. Many issues have been opened for discussion that were not on the agenda before. That’s all to the good.
It is also the merest sanity, if we hope to reduce the likelihood of future atrocities. It may be comforting to pretend that our enemies “hate our freedoms,” as President Bush stated, but it is hardly wise to ignore the real world, which conveys different lessons.
The president is not the first to ask: “Why do they hate us?” In a staff discussion 44 years ago, President Eisenhower described “the campaign of hatred against us [in the Arab world], not by the governments but by the people”. His National Security Council outlined the basic reasons: the US supports corrupt and oppressive governments and is “opposing political or economic progress” because of its interest in controlling the oil resources of the region.
Post-September 11 surveys in the Arab world reveal that the same reasons hold today, compounded with resentment over specific policies. Strikingly, that is even true of privileged, western-oriented sectors in the region.
To cite just one recent example: in the August 1 issue of Far Eastern Economic Review, the internationally recognised regional specialist Ahmed Rashid writes that in Pakistan “there is growing anger that US support is allowing [Musharraf’s] military regime to delay the promise of democracy”.
Today we do ourselves few favours by choosing to believe that “they hate us” and “hate our freedoms”. On the contrary, these are attitudes of people who like Americans and admire much about the US, including its freedoms. What they hate is official policies that deny them the freedoms to which they too aspire.
For such reasons, the post-September 11 rantings of Osama bin Laden – for example, about US support for corrupt and brutal regimes, or about the US “invasion” of Saudi Arabia – have a certain resonance, even among those who despise and fear him. From resentment, anger and frustration, terrorist bands hope to draw support and recruits.
We should also be aware that much of the world regards Washington as a terrorist regime. In recent years, the US has taken or backed actions in Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama, Sudan and Turkey, to name a few, that meet official US definitions of “terrorism” – that is, when Americans apply the term to enemies.
In the most sober establishment journal, Foreign Affairs, Samuel Huntington wrote in 1999: “While the US regularly denounces various countries as ‘rogue states,’ in the eyes of many countries it is becoming the rogue superpower … the single greatest external threat to their societies.”
Such perceptions are not changed by the fact that, on September 11, for the first time, a western country was subjected on home soil to a horrendous terrorist attack of a kind all too familiar to victims of western power. The attack goes far beyond what’s sometimes called the “retail terror” of the IRA, FLN or Red Brigades.
The September 11 terrorism elicited harsh condemnation throughout the world and an outpouring of sympathy for the innocent victims. But with qualifications.
An international Gallup poll in late September found little support for “a military attack” by the US in Afghanistan. In Latin America, the region with the most experience of US intervention, support ranged from 2% in Mexico to 16% in Panama.
The current “campaign of hatred” in the Arab world is, of course, also fuelled by US policies toward Israel-Palestine and Iraq. The US has provided the crucial support for Israel’s harsh military occupation, now in its 35th year.
One way for the US to lessen Israeli-Palestinian tensions would be to stop refusing to join the long-standing international consensus that calls for recognition of the right of all states in the region to live in peace and security, including a Palestinian state in the currently occupied territories (perhaps with minor and mutual border adjustments).
In Iraq, a decade of harsh sanctions under US pressure has strengthened Saddam Hussein while leading to the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis – perhaps more people “than have been slain by all so-called weapons of mass destruction throughout history”, military analysts John and Karl Mueller wrote in Foreign Affairs in 1999.
Washington’s present justifications to attack Iraq have far less credibility than when President Bush Sr was welcoming Saddam as an ally and a trading partner after he had committed his worst brutalities – as in Halabja, where Iraq attacked Kurds with poison gas in 1988. At the time, the murderer Saddam was more dangerous than he is today.
As for a US attack against Iraq, no one, including Donald Rumsfeld, can realistically guess the possible costs and consequences. Radical Islamist extremists surely hope that an attack on Iraq will kill many people and destroy much of the country, providing recruits for terrorist actions.
They presumably also welcome the “Bush doctrine” that proclaims the right of attack against potential threats, which are virtually limitless. The president has announced: “There’s no telling how many wars it will take to secure freedom in the homeland.” That’s true.
Threats are everywhere, even at home. The prescription for endless war poses a far greater danger to Americans than perceived enemies do, for reasons the terrorist organisations understand very well.
Twenty years ago, the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Yehoshaphat Harkabi, also a leading Arabist, made a point that still holds true. “To offer an honourable solution to the Palestinians respecting their right to self-determination: that is the solution of the problem of terrorism,” he said. “When the swamp disappears, there will be no more mosquitoes.”
At the time, Israel enjoyed the virtual immunity from retaliation within the occupied territories that lasted until very recently. But Harkabi’s warning was apt, and the lesson applies more generally.
Well before September 11 it was understood that with modern technology, the rich and powerful will lose their near monopoly of the means of violence and can expect to suffer atrocities on home soil.
If we insist on creating more swamps, there will be more mosquitoes, with awesome capacity for destruction.
If we devote our resources to draining the swamps, addressing the roots of the “campaigns of hatred”, we can not only reduce the threats we face but also live up to ideals that we profess and that are not beyond reach if we choose to take them seriously.


6. May Day article

May Day – it’s the festival of the distressed

THE Left tide that rose worldwide in the 1960s subsided in the ’70s, just as
the previous tides from the ’30s and ’40s subsided in the ’50s.

There was no significant Left upsurge in the ’80s or ’90s, partly because
reactionary forces were already on the retreat, with the liberation of
southern Africa, East Timor and Eastern Europe, the creation of the
Palestinian Authority and the shift from military to parliamentary rule
throughout Latin America, the Philippines and Indonesia.

When the left tide is rising, May Day provides an opportunity to sum up past
victories and preview the revolutionary “festival of the oppressed” to come.
When the tide is low or dropping, as now, Mayday is just the international
distress call – a cry for help.

For more than two decades, the genuine Left has been swamped by a
pseudo-Left whose hostility to capitalism is reactionary rather than
progressive. The pseudo-Left opposes modernity, development, globalisation,
technology and progress.

It embraces obscurantism, relativism, romanticism and even nature worship.
At May Day rallies, the pseudo-Left whines about how things aren’t what they
used to be.

The real Left has been marginalised, debating neither the neo-cons nor the
pseudo-Left, simply because there has been no audience for that debate.
Incoherent nonsense from complete imbeciles is published as “Left” comment
in newspapers just so right-wing commentators can pretend they have
something intelligent to say. In fact “Left” is used as a euphemism for
“pessimistic”, “unimaginative” and just plain “dull”.

But now there is an audience. The war in Iraq has woken people everywhere –
and the pseudo-Left has really blown its chance.

Millions who marched in mid February stopped marching two months later, as
soon as the argument shifted towards democratising and liberating the Iraqi
people. Those millions still agree that George W. Bush is an arrogant bully,
but they no longer believe the peacemongers have got it right. People want
to figure out what is going on and are joining the debate at websites such
as http://www.lastsuperpower.net.

For months, the argument was about weapons of mass destruction and the role
of the UN. If the demands of the US, and the UN, had been fully met, Saddam
Hussein could have lived happily, and the Iraqi people miserably, for ever
after.

But look at what happened next! Suddenly we were hearing a different song.
Bush has been making the argument not for disarming Iraq but for liberating
Iraq.

Stripped of the “God bless America” stuff, the US President’s case now goes
like this:

“If we devote our resources to draining the swamps, addressing the roots of
the ‘campaigns of hatred’, we can not only reduce the threats we face, but
also live up to ideals that we profess and that are not beyond reach if we
choose to take them seriously.”

Actually, those words are from Noam Chomsky two days before Bush’s UN speech
on September 10, 2002.

But if Bush had adopted Chomsky’s position so early, that would have pre
vented congressional authorisation. Such a position threatens to destabilise
despotic, reactionary regimes everywhere. But those in the US foreign policy
establishment have devoted their entire careers to supporting the most
corrupt tyrannies in the Middle East, in the name of “stability”.

For Chomsky, “draining the swamps” apparently didn’t include killing people
and blowing things up. Fortunately, Bush is made of sterner stuff.

Both Bush and Chomsky know the US cannot be secure from medievalist
terrorist mosquitoes while the Middle East remains a swamp. But Bush also
knows that modernity grows out of the barrel of a gun.

That is a genuinely Left case for a revolutionary war of liberation, such as
has occurred in Iraq. The pseudo-Left replies: “That’s illegal.”

Well, of course revolutionary war is illegal. Legal systems are created by
revolutions, not revolutions by legal systems.

The next logical step for the new policy is to establish a viable
Palestinian state. Bush has put himself in a position where he can and must
take that step. Naturally, he will not admit to the enormous strategic and
policy retreat that such a step implies, so he has preceded it with enough
triumphalist rhetoric to make even the Fox News team look queasy.

The revival of the Left in the ’60s only began once it was widely noticed
that the remnants of the previous movement were reactionaries obstructing
progress. After it tried so hard to preserve fascism in Iraq, even after
Bush Jr had wisely given up on Bush Sr’s policy of keeping the Iraqi
dictator in power, can anyone deny the pseudo-Left is reactionary?

End —