Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Two performances: Israeli actors, Condi Rice

Two Arab Israeli actors and now dozens of Israeli actors have refused orders to perform in the “new cultural center” in an illegal settlement Ariel. In the spirit of Bertolt Brecht (one of the plays was the Caucasian Chalk Circle), this show will not go on. On the wider movement, Vardit Shalfi, a playwright, spoke eloquently:

“Ariel [named in 1978 for Ariel Sharon] is not a legitimate community, and as such, is against international law and international treaties that the State of Israel has signed. This means anyone performing there would be considered a criminal according to international law. The theater’s boards should inform their actors that there are apartheid roads for Jews only that lead into the settlement of Ariel. The moment we perform there, we are giving legitimization to this settlement’s existence.”

The two stories below from the New York Times Blog by Robert Mackey are inspiring (the Times is toying with being a decent paper on its blog, but such coverage of Israel, for the editors of the main pages, is still far away – see the strange burying of this story by Isabel Kershner yesterday here), Mackey shows strongly that the spirit of freedom lives still among a Jewish people currently led by reactionaries. [h/t Ilene Cohen]. See also the Guardian’s story below. Those fascists – I use the term technically for a group seeking extreme racist domination and exploitation - are trying to purge the universities of thought, dissent, discussion. A group modeled on the Hitler-Jugend, Im Tirtzu, along with the Institute for Zionist Studies, are stirring up these attacks. They are funded by the Hudson Institute, one of a network of reactionary or neocon “think tanks” in Washington, directed by a political Straussian Kenneth Weinstein - a student of Harvey Mansfield - and featuring Meyrav Wurmser - a reactionary Israeli whose husband David advised Cheney, Doug Feith who dummied up “information” on Iraq, I. Lewis Libby, Cheney’s special assistant who was sentenced for outing CIA specialist on Iraqi weapons Valerie Plame to punish her husband Joseph Wilson for exposing a lie about ostensible Iraqi procurement of yellowcake uranium from Niger and student of Wolfowitz at Yale, Seth Cropsey, son of Joseph Cropsey and Bush administration figure, Hillel Fradkin, Middle East “expert” and student of Allan Bloom, and Norman Podhoretz, promoter of World War IV against “Islamofascism” among others, and funded by the reactionary Max Singer. Singer previously engaged in the Iran-Contra affair and promoted the American aggression in Iraq. See here and here. There has long been a reactionary dialectic between authoritarians or fascists in Israel and authoritarians in Washington which is, sadly alive and massively self-destructive despite the travesty of the Iraq aggression.

In Israel, Im Tirtzu seeks to purge sociology and political science departments starting recently at Ben-Gurion University of any who notice facts – for instance, that Palestinians are human beings - about oppression in the occupied territories. They excoriate non-fascists as “post-Zionists.” (In 2006, the so-called Institute for Zionist Studies got the cowardly President of Tel Aviv University to scrutinize the syllabi of the sociology department). If this movement succeeds, there will no longer be any free discussion or assent to decisions in Israel.

The Knesset is even seriously discussing making it a crime to refuse an “order to act” (the exact wording: to boycott Israel or the settlements). It has discussed forcing Arab-Israelis to take a loyalty oath (it is not the parliament of a strong state that presumes itself honorable); now it wants only “citizens” who salute its commands even when they believe these – rightly! – to be immoral. These are not laws of a free people; they have, in theoretical terms, the semblance of laws but they violate the treatment of citizens as equally free which makes a decent system of law. Racism, including its harms to “privileged” citizens or theater companies or universities, is the enemy of law. In today’s international context, such “laws” are also self-destructive; to hear about them inspires revulsion against a government which could attempt to pass them. These are not the acts of a democratic government which inspires respect or has dignity.

The violence of what these disobedients are up against can be heard in the words of the settlers in the second article below and in some of the comments in the third. But a boycott I seem to recall is a nonviolent form of resistance. These fascist “parliamentarians” are not far-sighted. Those who condemn nonviolence would, left to their own devices as in the case of the American slave-owners who detested Quakers, conjure John Browns. Fortunately, much of the Palestinian movement has discovered the nonviolent force of King and Gandhi. Those who tried to bring food and medical supplies to Gaza on the Mavi Marmara stunningly revealed current Israeli oppression and military incompetence. The government attack on a relief ship in international waters by parachuting in soldiers with guns and murdering 9 people – suffering no casualties – speaks more enduringly about the project of occupation than any “pr” or “spin.” See here and here, Trying to control Israeli culture with criminal penalties (potential firing by the theater company is not enough) is the latest totalitarian – I don’t like the term, but it fits here – Knesset move. A culture of militarism inspires this kind of crude, violent and self-destructive act.

Thus, in refusing to perform in the settlements, these actors are showing the way. They join hands with the nonviolent resistors on the Mavi Marmara, with Swedish workers who will not unload goods from the settlements, with the citizens including Evergreen State students of Olympia, Washington who will not purchase these goods...These nonviolent protestors may help Israel to become a decent democracy, recognizing all citizens equally as Israelis (now for spurious eugenic reasons, it doesn’t), and making a reasonable settlement with Palestinians (either a decent two state-solution or if the expansion of “Greater Israel” has now gone too far, a democracy based on equal rights for each citizen). They realize democratic internationalism.

For a long time, some people may lose their way, wander in the desert. This past Friday my University and department gave an award to Condi Rice, currently an unrepentant war criminal, as a most distinguished alumna. Unless she recants, she is distinguished in torture and denial but little else. She is of course accomplished and charming. Sadly, rarely has a case of appearance and substance been so sharply at odds. The New York Times editorial “The Legacy of Torture” that same day here, named the hollowness of this “celebration.” Some judges are throwing out Guantanamo cases, because it is against the law to procure "evidence" by torture. As in the case of then 15 year old Omar Khadr whose father had been killed fighting the United States (the invaders), those subjected to torture do not tell the truth. They say what the torturer wants to hear. See here. In Khadr's case, such "evidence" is permitted because it is a military "tribunal." It is time for people here too to stand up for decency.

On the culture minister Limor Livnat's remark that illegality - conquest, holding people in a large open air concentration camp (Gaza), brutality and murder - does not override other rights of the occupiers - uncontroversial rights when they are citizens in their own country - and that the main issue is that any Israeli citizen has the supposed right to "consume culture anywhere" she likes, consider the case of Jewish musicians who once performed for officers at Auschwitz. Did Nazi officers really have a "right to consume culture anywhere" they liked? Would it not have been right to shut down Auschwitz, despite their objections? Or for the musicians to be able to refuse and survive (some refused and didn't)? Yes, every person, who has not or is not committing crimes, has the right to go see artistic performances ("consume culture" is an alienated expression). And no, in this case, the actors are completely in the right.

Just a note on the conflict in the play between two groups of people fighting over land. Brecht was an anti-racist. The post-1967 Israeli occupation is illegal and immoral. The settlers, subsidized by the Israeli government, have no just claim to the territory. That government needs to foster their resettlement in Israel.

New York Times Blog
August 26, 2010
Israeli Actors Boycott Theater in Settlement


Updated | Friday | 8:52 a.m. Two Israeli actors have announced that they will not travel with the country’s national theater company to perform in a new cultural center nearing completion in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

On Wednesday, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the center was nearing completion, after two decades of delay, with construction “going on by night, to allow the Muslim construction workers to fast during the Ramadan month.” A slate of eight plays, to be performed by four theater companies starting in November, was also announced.

Yousef Sweid, an Arab Israeli who is in the cast of “A Railway to Damascus,” one of the plays Israel’s national theater said it would take to the settlement from Tel Aviv, told Israeli television on Wednesday night that he was surprised to hear of the plan and would refuse to take part. According to Haaretz, he said:

"I would be glad to perform in settlements in several shows that have messages I’d like to deliver in many communities. But settlers and settlements are not something that entertains me, and I don’t want to entertain them."

On Thursday, Haaretz explained that another member of the company, Rami Heuberger, who is not in any of the plays currently scheduled to be performed in the center, said, “if I am asked, I believe I would have a problem with performing there.” Last year, Mr. Heuberger wrote in an open letter in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth in support of Samieh Jabbarin, an Arab Israeli actor who had been placed under house arrest after protesting against Israel’s Gaza offensive:

"Samieh and I are both Israeli citizens. If the State of Israel maintains that an action by a theater person democratically demonstrating against wrong doings turns him into a security risk and makes it necessary to lock him up at home for almost a year under surveillance, than I, too, should wear an electronic shackle. A different theater person, like myself, a non-Arab, would not have been treated this way for taking political action."

Noam Sheizaf, an Israeli journalist and blogger, suggested that there is some “irony” about the fact that one of the first plays announced for the new theater is “The Caucasian Chalk Circle,” Bertolt Brecht’s reworking of an ancient parable about the claims of two competing groups to the same
piece of land.

Brecht’s play, written near the end of the Second World War, begins with a prologue in which two groups of idealized Soviet peasants argue over which of them should be allowed to farm a valley recently liberated from the Nazis. One group of goat-herders presses the claim that “The valley has belonged to us for centuries,” while a second group, which moved there during the war and cultivates crops more suited to the land, lays out ambitious plans to grow fruit there.

After some debate, the prologue ends with general agreement that the newcomers, who will use the land better, should be allowed to live on it for the greater good, because, one of them says, “As the poet Mayakovsky said: ‘The home of the Soviet people shall also be the home of Reason!’”

The two groups then perform a version of the ancient parable of the chalk circle — itself very similar to a story about the wisdom of Solomon — which is about settling a dispute between two women over who is the real mother of a child: the one who gave birth to him but abandoned him, or another who fostered him but is not related by blood.

In Brecht’s version of the story, the child is placed in a circle drawn on the ground between the two women, and each is asked to take one of the boy’s arms and try to pull him out of the circle. The judge says that the true mother will have the strength to pull the child from the circle. When just one of the women refuses to pull — because she fears that the child will be torn in two — the judge announces that she is boy’s the real mother (despite not having given birth to him) because she cares the most for his well-being.

King Solomon’s test is quite similar. He tells the women that he will simply cut the child in two and give half to each of them — prompting one woman (in that case, also the biological mother) to say that she prefers to give the child away than to see it killed.

Quite what all this might mean to the competing claims of Israeli settlers and Palestinians to the Israeli-occupied West Bank is not clear, but it seems likely that Brecht’s idea — that land should go to the people who will make the best use of it, rather than to the people who have the most long-lasting or deeply emotional connection to it — might not fit well with the national narratives of either group.

August 27, 2010,
Boycott of Theater in Israeli Settlement Grows


A cultural center under construction in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

Dozens of Israel theater professionals have signed a letter protesting plans, announced this week, for Israeli theater companies to perform in a new cultural center nearing completion in Ariel, a West Bank settlement named for the former general and prime minister Ariel Sharon.

As The Lede explained on Thursday, soon after a slate of performances was announced this week, two actors with Israel’s national theater company announced that they would refuse to work in the Israeli settlement.

On Friday, the Israeli newspaper Web site Ynet News reported that dozens of Israel’s leading actors, directors, composers and playwrights had signed a letter sent to the managers of four theater companies that agreed to stage plays in the settlement, in which they said:

"We wish to express our disgust with the theater’s board’s plans to perform in the new auditorium in Ariel. The actors among us hereby declare that we will refuse to perform in Ariel, as well as in any other settlement. We urge the boards to hold their activity within the sovereign borders of the State of Israel within the Green Line."

One of the most prominent signatories is Joshua Sobol, the celebrated Israeli author of the Holocaust drama “Ghetto.”

Vardit Shalfi, a dramaturg who who helped put the letter together, told Ynet:

"Ariel is not a legitimate community, and as such, is against international law and international treaties that the State of Israel has signed. This means anyone performing there would be considered a criminal according to international law. The theater’s boards should inform their actors that there are apartheid roads for Jews only that lead into the settlement of Ariel. The moment we perform there, we are giving legitimization to this settlement’s existence."

Ynet added that Israel’s national theater said that the question of whether it should perform in a settlement built on Palestinian land first occupied by Israel in 1967 “calls for an in-depth examination of all the issues it includes…. We are looking into the matter.” The newspaper also reported that an umbrella organization representing Israeli settlers on the West Bank denounced the calls for a boycott:

"Our response to the letter signed by a bunch of anti-Zionist leftists and refusniks will be very harsh. This vile letter, which speaks out against the best of the State’s sons who defend them while they are acting on stage, requires a direct, poignant and clear response from the theaters’ boards, and this is what we expect. We will announce our future steps in the coming days."

Noam Sheizaf, an Israeli journalist and blogger, commented, “This is a major development, especially since under the new boycott bill, which stands a good chance of becoming a law in one of the next Knesset sessions, any call to boycott Israel or the settlements could result in a fine of up to 30,000 shekels ($9,000), without proof of damages.”

As The Lede noted on Thursday, one of the first plays scheduled to be performed in the new cultural center in Ariel, Bertolt Brecht’s “Caucasian Chalk Circle,” deals explicitly with a dispute over which of two groups should have the right to live and work on a contested piece of land.

Monday, August 30, 2010 The Guardian/UK
Israeli Actors to Boycott New West Bank Theatre
60 actors, writers and directors argue that performing in occupied territories would legitimise illegal settlements

by Harriet Sherwood

Dozens of Israeli actors, playwrights and directors have signed a letter refusing to take part in productions by leading theatre companies at a new cultural centre in a West Bank settlement, prompting renewed debate over the legitimacy of artistic boycott.

More than 60 have joined the protest over plans by Israel's national theatre, the Habima, and other leading companies to stage performances in Ariel, a settlement 12 miles inside the West Bank. The letter, to Israel's culture minister, Limor Livnat, says the new centre for performing arts in Ariel, which is due to open in November after 20 years in construction, would "strengthen the settlement enterprise".

"We want to express our dismay with the intention of the theatres' managements to perform in the new auditorium in Ariel and hereby declare that we will refuse to perform in the city, as in any other settlement." Israel's theatre companies should "pursue their prolific activity inside the sovereign territory of the state of Israel within the boundaries of the Green Line".

Livnat said the boycott would cause divisions in Israeli society: "Culture is a bridge in society, and political disputes should be left outside cultural life and art. I call for the scheduled performances to be carried out as scheduled in Ariel and all over the country, as each citizen has the right to consume culture anywhere he chooses."

Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said the country was under attack by the international community - including economic, academic and cultural boycotts - and "the last thing we need at this time ... is a boycott from within".

The Habima, Cameri, Beit Lessin and Be'er Shiva theatre companies issued a joint defence of their plans, saying they "will perform in any place where there are theatre-loving Israelis, including the new cultural centre in Ariel. We respect the political views of our actors, but we'll make sure that the best of Israeli theatre will get to Ariel". The four companies, plus another two - the Khan and the Haifa - which have also agreed to stage productions in Ariel, all receive state funding.

Ron Nachman, the mayor of Ariel, said: "These actors get salaries from the government, which is sponsoring their theatres. You cannot take the money from the government and then decide your own policies. That is not integrity or honesty. If they disagree [with performing in Ariel], they should resign."

It was not clear how many of the signatories were listed for planned performances in Ariel. Yousef Swaid, who is appearing in A Railway To Damascus, a production scheduled to be staged in Ariel, told Channel 1 television: "Settlers and settlements are not something that entertain me, and I don't want to entertain them." Rami Heuberger, who is not listed, said: "As a stage actor, it is a very, very problematic issue, and I think that so long as settlements are a controversial issue that will be discussed in any negotiations [with the Palestinians], I should not be there."

Gideon Levy, a leading liberal Israeli commentator, backed the actors' stance. "Yes, there is a difference between legitimate, sovereign Israel and the areas of its occupation," he wrote in today's Haaretz, which first reported the story. ". "Yes, there is a moral difference between appearing here and appearing there in the heart of an illegal settlement ... built on a plot of stolen land, in a performance designed to help settlers pass their time pleasantly, while surrounded by people who have been deprived of all their rights."

The Yesha Council, which represents settlers, said the actors' letter had been signed by "army evaders and anti-Zionist leftwing activists".

The actors' letter follows the refusal of some international artists to perform in Israel because of its occupation of the Palestinian territories. Earlier this summer, Elvis Costello cancelled concerts in Israel, citing the "intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security". The Pixies, Gil Scott Heron, Santana and Klaxons have also withdrawn from performances.

Ariel, home to almost 20,000 people, was founded in 1978 deep in the West Bank. Israel wants it to remain on its side of any border resulting from peace negotiations with the Palestinians. All settlements on occupied territory are illegal under international law.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Going down: how Plato affirms Socrates, part 3

This is the final part of Going down: on a democratic interpretation of Plato, parts 1 and 2

When one understands for the first time that Plato is not simply the speaker Socrates, is hidden by the dialogues rather than disclosed in any obvious way, a distance between the two opens. From facts which survive about them, that distance deepens. Socrates went to his death to save philosophy in Athens; he founded civil disobedience. In contrast, Plato formed the academy, a secret place of instruction for would-be philosophers who often engaged with tyrants or kings, say Aristotle, though some, Demosthenes, fought for the democracy. Plato did not go down for the democracy, but sailed to Syracuse, for three years, to advise a tyrant, Dionysius the younger. Socrates’s daimon prevented him from engaging in political life though he did serve in the citizen army and on two occasions showed up, once to judge, once to be tried. Both times his life was at risk. After the trial, he was executed. No evidence exists that Socrates was tempted to counsel tyrants; Socrates's going home rather than obey the order of the Tyranny of the Thirty to arrest Leon of Salamis and bring him to be murdered could also, if the regime had not fallen soon after, have led to his own death. The leading tyrant, Critias, had been Socrates's student and interlocutor as had another, Charmides. In contrast, Plato was political, as he says in the Seventh Letter. From these facts, the inferences I pursued in Do philosophers counsel tyrants? here might follow. But as the last two essays indicate, these thoughts are but provisional. Elaborated by Platonists in practice, they lead, in our times, to Heidegger and Strauss. As a fierce critic of tyranny, Plato clashes with Heidegger and Strauss, both of whom were attracted to Nazis or fascists (Heidegger Hitler; Strauss to the Nazis in the 1930s, very likely Mussolini before, and to forging authoritarian executive power in the United States – see here). Perhaps Plato at last turns back toward Socrates. Perhaps, in certain circumstances, Plato sees the wisdom of going down for democracy against tyranny. This last essay, in this sequence, explores this possibility further.

Like Eva Brann, Will Altman emphasizes that the constitution of kallipolis ruled by a philosopher-king is one of the many in the bazaar of Athenian democracy in book 8 of the Republic. To consider how Demosthenes and Cicero might have thought about going down, to be a kingly soul, a leader not through compulsion, but to save the democracy, Will invokes line 557b.

“And also my friend democracy offers a convenient opportunity to choose from among a variety of constitutions.
How so?
Because it tolerates all kinds. Indeed, one could say that anyone who wanted to found a state – as we were just now doing – ought to visit a democracy and there select from a veritable bazaar of constitutions whatever pleases him best. After having made his choice, he could then set up his city.”

Note that the activity of the Republic as a whole, Socrates convincing Glaucon not to become a tyrant in the presence of the others, is the exact setting up – within a larger democracy and only within a democracy – of that philosophical city.* In a shadowy, opposed way, Heidegger’s lectures in Nazi Germany are to cultivate young servants of Hitler who may “go down” by sacrificing themselves on the Russian front as one of his best students did. But this is a bizarre parody of Socrates, Heidegger the servant of mass murderers, Socrates the man who refuses to go along. Though a powerful philosopher, Heidegger is, as a human being, a poseur. Artificial in his woodsy peasant garb, criminal in his repeated Hitler salutes and activism, Heidegger is morally and politically the opposite of Socrates.

Altman’s and my interpretation of Plato and Socrates thinking within democracy, however, invites a significant counter-argument (the river here against a democratic interpretation is fierce, hard to ford in the idiom of the Athenian Stranger). The passage Will cites, is on the surface, an aristocratic satire of democracy. “Socrates” (Plato was an aristocrat, literally son of Ariston, the best, as in 'the rule of the best,' aristocracy) and Glaucon (also son of Ariston, Plato's brother) ridicule this regime. “It is,” Socrates says attractively, “a many-coloured cloak, displaying all varieties of human character. As boys and women see beauty in diversity of colors, so also many would call this regime the most splendid.” (557c) But here the asses, taking liberties, bump up against one in the street. (563c) I have long pitted this anti-democratic favorite of Allan Bloom’s against the speech of the democratic laws in the Crito. I have emphasized that only the latter (or a further unstated argument to the same effect – see "Do philosophers counsel tyrants?") could have accompanied Socrates to his death. Put differently, Brann’s and Altman’s interpretation gets a hidden democratic meaning out of this elitist, semi-comic diatribe. Democracy permits philosophy and the foundation of the ideal kallipolis (the beautiful city, the city in speech) among Socrates and his students. Its excesses lead to tyranny (thus, the satire of permissiveness). It needs Platonic philosophers like Demosthenes and Cicero to fight this trend. That is a possible response on behalf of Altman’s argument to the setting of this brief invocation of the friendliness – not without tensions – of democracy to philosophy.

Since Socrates was murdered by Athens only after he had lived there 70 years and at a time when Athens was at a nadir having lost the long Peloponnesian war, perhaps this is a very strong point. Certainly the examples of Demosthenes and Cicero, added to King’s "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail," and Socrates seem a powerful tradition – one in which the magical Plato who “wrote Socrates” as the postmodernists say, is, in some obvious, not just Delphic way, a participant. Even at the least, we would not have the story of Socrates without Plato, and as Hilary and Carl Blinn suggest, we know Socrates mainly though Plato.

Will Altman rightly invoked to me that Plato wrote of Socrates in the democracy, being a participant in democratic life: “Plato kept the democratic Socrates alive in the context of democracy's heyday; that is the least often recognized but most obvious truth about the dialogues.” On the face of it, since Socrates lived out his life in the democracy, this would have been hard to avoid. But on second thought, Plato sometimes conjures characters such as the Athenian Stranger - simulacra of Socrates - in a different setting. And Socrates is profoundly a citizen, taking up his duties with regard to voting not to condemn military leaders accused of failing to pick up the dead in the sea during a battle in the Apology and a soldier. Perhaps his not giving a speech in an assembly except at his trial is Plato’s way of indicating the remaining discontent and distance from democracy. Except to defend the democracy as a soldier or a civil disobedient, Socrates was a questioner or arguer, a non-partisan, a philosopher among citizens. So Will’s point is, in fact, a good one. Demosthenes and Cicero might also have seen it.

What Plato set out to do was modeled by his own temptation to philosopher-tyranny. Seemingly turning away from Socrates who went down in the democracy, he forges an authoritarian city in speech of and perhaps for the philosopher. But turning decisively instead in the experiences recorded in Seventh Letter (though he may have thought something critical of philosophical-tyranny for a long time), Plato tested out his mainly aristocratic and ambitious students with the possibilities and misguided short-cut of “wise” tyranny. Note that many of his students and interlocutors were into tyranny - consider Glaucon and Adeimantus (his brothers), Callicles in the Gorgias, and Thrasymachus - and that Plato himself was invited by his relatives - Critias, Charmides - to join the Tyranny of the Thirty. Further, Plato chose the arduous journey to advise the tyrant of Syracuse. Xenophon, also a student of Socrates and a great writer, was no democrat.

Now Strauss launched a mantra against contextualism in political thought - "read the text," ignore the context - an irony because he meant only a contextualism independent of actually reading dialogues, and what he in fact recommended was a profound contextualism in the study of the action of the argument, who the characters were, how the dialogue presents them. Both within and outside the dialogues, Plato was profoundly engaged himself, along with his fellow students, relatives and aristocrats, with the project of a potentially wise tyranny. Perhaps this rather dark, anti-democratic context explains the particular and very complicated articulation of the dialogues to his contemporary and future students. Plato backs the reader in, after deep consideration of other alternatives, to going down for democracy. It is not one of the obvious readings, except that he so fiercely opposes ordinary tyrannies.

In the Republic, however, one just below the surface message is seemingly that the philosopher-tyrant must go down to reshape the city. This is the dark sense of compulsion in the lines cited above (Republic 557b) that no compulsion exists in a democracy, Heidegger’s (see the 1943 Essence of Truth, par. 13 and "Mirrors" here and here) and Strauss’s sense. The point is of course false (Pericles' led Athens by persuasion and compulsion to fight, inter alia). But for Heidegger and Strauss, the philosopher fishes for the rare souls that will become (advisors to) tyrants and reshape the city in an authoritarian direction. Even the great Al-Farabi – writing in a time when democracy did not seem an alternative - thought this about Plato in Athens and contemporaneously.

But the argument in the Laws and the Statesman on philosopher-tyranny are, in fact, not strong. They are advanced by Strangers who might easily be challenged by Plato’s contemporary and later students. The Eleatic Stranger makes the reasonable argument that rules are burdensome and unjust, do not apply to particular cases. That is a great point about a limitation of the rule of law, as I have often emphasized, one on behalf of separate procedures for sentencing which take into account the circumstances of a particular defendant. But it is not an argument in favor of a tyrant even in a small city. And it is certainly not an argument for Dick Cheney or a police state in a land of 300 million people with the greatest military power - to abuse and waste lives, destroying others and bringing itself down...This insight is perhaps slightly clearer – except to neocons – in retrospect, and takes no dazzling intellectual capacity to see.

Similarly, as Will is now taking up, Critias’s regimes in the Timeaus and Critias are defective authoritarian ones, run by the warrior-athletes, the guardians. There is no further development of the role of philosophers, seeing the just regime cast up as a divine idea, and when necessary, bringing it – more exactly, as aspect of it - down to earth to fight against tyranny. In the Republic, Socrates says: in other regimes, philosophers can live private lives but not in a regime created as a hive for them. There they will rule disinterestedly because they are not in politics out of hunger, not there to rule by murderous faction and have no institutional motivation to do so (no private property). But Socrates went up daily as Brann suggests and taught students, realizing the idea or pattern with them, within the actual democracy in Athens, and then at last, went down to the Piraeus (the underworld) and was tried and put to death. He accepted that death to save philosophy within the democracy. His life and death are a counterexample to the authoritarian thesis.

Demosthenes not only took the best of Socrates but perhaps of Plato as well. Still outside of the example of Socrates himself, Plato’s message is esoteric and difficult. One must see Plato as he appears, as dedicated to Socrates, rather than a Plato-king of kallipolis, the Athenian Stranger not as Plato imagining a resurrection of a more Platonic possible Socrates, prefiguring Jesus, a Socrates who chose reasonably to live, but rather as a betrayer of the way of Socrates who had, given who he was, gone to his death. One must see Plato not merely as journeying in hope to Dionysius in Syracuse – which he plainly did - but as mainly pointing to the failures of three attempts at philosopher-kingship (Dion) or philosopher-tyranny (Dionysius, Critias).

Still, the authoritarian Platos are all beguiling images. Socrates and Plato ascended, looked at regimes from the outside, and were not partisans in local conflicts, except to fight murderousness (tyranny). Some followers – notably, the subtle Aristotle who left to form his own academy** or Farabi or Heidegger or Strauss (who needed to make Socrates into Xenophon’s Socrates or an appendage to the image of Plato as counselor of philosopher-tyrants) all went off on or continued to take the wrong track. So perhaps did Alcibiades and Critias and Xenophon. They took Plato’s lead - or as contemporaries, went in a similar direction - on the philosopher-king and failed to see the message in the 7th Letter and elsewhere, that the philosopher-tyrant is at best a short-cut or bound to be a failure, and at worst a disaster (and Plato and Aristotle and Xenophon and Farabi could not have imagined 2400 or 800 years later fascism and Nazism). One should be decent as Plato was in Syracuse, and against tyranny, fierce for laws and democracy. Perhaps Socrates also experimented, less vividly or enduringly, with thoughts about such a leader, though that - given that he asked but did not answer, and did not write - we will never know.

For me, one terrific virtue of this thesis is that it saves the consistency of the Republic which following Strauss’s line of thought I had, sadly but it now appears mistakenly, given up. For I had suggested, as I noted from understanding Strauss’s hinting and seeing the feint in the Republic – the philosopher does not hide under a wall, but becomes the wise tyrant - that the deepest meaning of the Republic was self-refuting. The Republic is the greatest argument ever produced, psychologically as well as politically, against tyranny. Moreover, the subtle theme of the Republic had at first seemed to be: Glaucon, who is hungry for luxuries and the unjust life pursued with a beautiful cover, is taught by Socrates not to become a tyrant. Brann even suggests quite rightly that the unknownness of Glaucon (the “gleaming” or brilliant one) contrasts with the treacherous brilliance of Socrates's famous, if agonized and bewildered student Alcibiades in a way that may suggest what Socrates really taught.

But if Heidegger and Strauss are right, the deeper message for students is that a tyrant of a certain kind can become a philosopher-king who rules wisely but without laws, i.e. tyrannically. This is once again in the implied cycle of regimes in book 8 which, on the surface, is presented as mere but unlikely decline - in which tyranny of a certain kind and the philosopher-king appear to be joined. In addition, the Republic’s Socrates says, extremes are nearest one another (the philosopher, the tyrant), and only a tyrant is dissatisfied and unhappy enough to want to change. Still, the philosopher-tyrant is just gestured at, requiring a kind of cryptography. The brilliant argument in the Republic against tyranny – and even its slightly hidden. dramatic realization with Glaucon - thus deliberately refutes the un-argued hidden meaning. One has to see the tension between the argument and the hidden pointing, and reject, on reflection, the hidden pointing. Amusingly, on this interpretation, Plato turns out to be the opposite of Strauss and Heidegger on esoteric writing. Plato wanted his students to see the other possibility - many of them hungered after it initially - and reject it. Plato wanted them to respond, as philosophers, to argument, and not as aristocrats to cultivating seeming reasons for their initial prejudices. In this respect, Platonists who opt for philosopher-tyranny like Heidegger and Strauss are ideologues, not philosophers (Heidegger was, of course, very inventive philosophically though an ideologue, Strauss, a creative scholar, was not philosophical).

For Plato, philosopher-rule - except as leadership to defend the democracy - is false both by argument and experience (see the Seventh Letter). Demosthenes was thus better at argument and subtler than Strauss and Heidegger. For the experience in the Seventh Letter refutes all the attempts at philosopher-tyranny, including Plato’s kallipolis (Dion, remember, does not seek to become a tyrant but to institute laws; Plato supports him).

Thus, the subtle, self-refuting reading of the Republic that I was intrigued by grows out of Strauss’s scholarly hints (Strauss is a cryptographer and not a philosopher) and Heidegger’s. It was Plato’s test for his students (and Heidegger’s writing on the Republic, however clever, profoundly fails). Plato did do surface and hidden writing, including contradicting some arguments or leaving arguments provisional given the question asked or the seeming answer (see Meno on what virtue is and whether it can be taught) in order to get his students to challenge them, to think matters through, each, for herself. That is the point of Plato’s saying in the Seventh Letter, that he will never write about legislation, that one must wrestle with the arguments, to get to the conclusion that one must go down for laws and democracy. Otherwise, he could just have written: “Socrates, Socrates be like him” – something that might not have proven so influential among the smart and educated aristocratic boys, dreaming secretly of being tyrants in Athens. But there is not just one way Plato works with argument, just a simpleminded hidden pointing, as if a dog, a pointer, was riveted on a hidden rabbit. Strauss, in other words, is a rigid, one-trick pony. In contrast, in this case, amusingly, Plato meant one to understand actually that the hidden pointing was refuted by the surface argument. Philosophy or the truth was key, not the silly hopes of would-be tyrants such as Critias, Alcibiades. Aristotle (a complicated case), Heidegger and Strauss.

Still, the context drags Plato down compared to his teacher Socrates. More directness about the laws than the Seventh Letter permits might have been healthier. For Plato’s hiddenness in the dialogues- his aim to bend away from tyranny, after complicated intellectual wrestling, aristocratic students - would then not have contributed to darkness (Heidegger, Strauss, the ring of Gyges pursued).

Now the surface of Plato’s argument often seems beautiful, the argument leading to, unfolded in imagery, song, image and philosophy joining (Philebus, line 38e) but it is often anything but uncomplicated, in an obvious way self-contradictory. One has to think deeply about and unravel tensions inside and between the dialogues, and of course, consider the possibility that though much of this sort of thing is intentional on Plato’s part, Plato. like everyone else, makes errors. Another peculiarity of Strauss’s interpretations: he thinks great authors are always intentional in their mistakes, and spends a lot of time worrying about them, without ever thinking about whether he is making a coherent argument – he is often confused – as opposed to tracing dots of which he already, he thinks, has the pattern. He is himself preternaturally careful cryptographically and bizarrely stupid about conflicting arguments (thus, his failure ever to understand the idea of equal basic rights in a democracy as a political regime). To put it another way, Strauss does not judge others by himself, or see that his own confusions are quite ordinary even among the most stylish of writers, and that Plato sought to foster them, to make a potential philosopher, at length, work through the arguments. Still, the possibility of self-refutation I initially indicated - that the surface argument refutes the hidden pointing but Plato went with the incoherent, hidden pointing - is, once one has glimpsed it, undeniable in Plato’s writing. He wanted students to think about this pointing, even possibly shipwreck upon it.

Advising tyrants – even one man to achieve “all manner of good” as he says in the Seventh Letter - was a temptation for Plato himself, visible in his journey to Syracuse. One might also think, given the two paths, that he was perhaps neutral between them. I doubt this because I think his loyalty to Socrates is deep and in the end, wins out. It is why we have a sense of Socrates beyond Plato (and way beyond Xenophon or Aristophanes).

Still, it is easy enough to suppose that Plato’s and Dion’s plans to introduce laws in Syracuse, consulting with Dionysius (or on Dion’s own) are surface. For Plato says, once again, in the Seventh Letter: I will never write about legislation; you (my students) must be clever enough to figure it out for yourselves. And the possibilities of philosopher-tyranny lurk extensively at and beneath the Letter’s surface.

I was long saddened to recognize such an error in the Republic. Despite some surface contradictions – everyone pursues one job, artisans must not be citizens or philosophers (the city in speech excludes the actual Socrates?), but philosophers have two, for example – I had for a long time thought the work profoundly consistent (consistent with and in the depths). Reading Strauss on Xenophon’s Hiero or On Tyranny and having long taught the Republic, however, I immediately saw the latter’s hidden message, and was disturbed both by it and to discover that it made the Republic self-refuting. And the Seventh Letter seemed to reinforce this reading as Strauss delphically hints. So thanks especially to Eva Brann and Peter Minowitz as well as Will Altman for restoring the Republic, for me, in the deepest sense, as philosophy. And I was right that the argument refuted something, but it is not self-refuting for he means his subtlest students to reject the hidden pointing. Though it facilitates democratic activism against tyranny, it is also friendly to pursuing mostly a private or non-political life, the life of the soul (note in some cicumstances, that life is intensely political). It is of course not friendly to any reactionary or pro-tyranny interpretation (most Straussian ones). On this interpretation, it is indeed the work of a “divine man”; it is both profoundly decent and coherent.

To Plato, the rest of philosophy is often grandiosely attributed. I offer two comments (among many possible) on this error. First, the conception of democracy mocked in the Republic is freedom to do one’s own thing without compulsion (until tyranny ensues). This is a silly view. A democracy involves equal freedom for citizens (some are free in Hegel’s idiom). It is a political regime, not just a launching pad for individual fantasies (including Hitler’s or the Klan’s) or in a later idiom, starting from the ostensibly isolated, individually free in an imagined “state of nature” (say, Bob Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia).

In Athens, each citizen had the equal right to participate in the assemblies and on juries, and so long as they come to the public defense, to live eccentrically (we do not cast, Pericles says, “censorious looks” on one another, in Thucydides’ History – Hobbes translation). What Athenians did in uniting with the other cities to defeat the aggression of imperial Persia was admirable, though its expansionary decline and ignominious defeat in Syracuse are not. All modern democratic theory, Rousseau for example or Hegel, begins in this notion of equal freedom, generalizes and develops it. Rawls’ priority of the first principle of equal basic liberties (a fundamental point in contemporary political or democratic theory) extends this. Strauss himself, his friend Kojeve - a great Hegel scholar on the Phenomenology of Spirit who, however, paid no attention to the beginning of Philosophy of Right - the idea that a free will can realize itself only in a regime in which every person is (equally) free - and nearly all of Strauss's and/or Kojeve's followers such as Fukuyama have no understanding of the basis or justification of a modern democratic regime.

Second, although education in the Republic ultimately and mythically furthers realized individuals – philosophers over the age of 50 - it is not an argument in favor of individuality, even in education. I listened recently to a tape of Eva Brann discussing teaching at St. John’s. There teachers cycle though the curriculum, learning about and teaching courses in math or science, even though they started in political theory or history, and vice versa. There is something really attractive and commendable about this, pressing people to learn, converse and grow in a way that ordinary academic life does not. Brann clearly did. On the other hand, the common pressure may sometimes lead to less interesting eccentricity and discovery. But the students have a preset curriculum for four years, every student going through the same courses at the same time. Perhaps this is a realization of the Republic’s system of education: “thinking the same thoughts,” striving for a community of pleasure and pain, as it were. Reading the same books, each class member can talk about the same things or better, some may help others think about these things more deeply and learn themselves from the questions and arguments in the conversation. But this is a creature of the idea that one will set off philosophically, when one is 50 or so. It is an education to find followers rather than Platos, where the master, not the student, is of primary interest. It is thus the opposite of the idea that individuals flourish in education and life when each can take responsibility for her own education, when there is an interplay between mentor and students, but not that the mentor’s purposes or wisdom override the student’s own vision. Each thus finds her own path. What Brann spoke of is not an ideal of education for students that I find hopeful – though if students at St. Johns put up with it - one of my best students left St. John's after freshman year - it has the virtue, around here, of eccentric and deep exposure to significant works, and may work for some.

In conclusion, if Altman is right about a democracy, Plato has sketched a difficult path among clever aristocrats who detested democracy, one in which the dark side seems to have consumed many subtle interpreters rather than encouraged them to turn toward the light and go down to fight tyranny. And Plato certainly – through his own journeying for a test of philosopher-tyranny in Syracuse - left this door open. But what Altman’s essay shows (see here) is that it was useful to be somewhat esoteric about these matters in Athens to attract and convince ambitious and aristocratic young men, to make the shining Glaucon decent. Following Plato out curbs tyranny and fosters, as a police state threatens even now, a defense of democracy. Thus, a subtle or deep reading recommends a Socratic “altruism” – that the philosopher’s good and the citizen’s good are one and the same - and a better democratic regime (one that tolerates Socrates rather than puts him to death). As I noted here, what was good for Socrates – what was civil disobedience in a failing democracy – strengthened both philosophy and the moral potentials of democracy. I am very happy to explore this possibility.

Here is Peter Minowitz’s letter on his discoveries reading Eva Brann’s The Music of the Republic:

“I recently received as a gift and then read Eva Brann's book, The Music of the Republic: Essays on Socrates' Conversations and Plato's Writings (Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2004). Brann, a legendary tutor at St. John's, made some powerful points about the Republic and the Timaeus. Having now reviewed your postings of 7/18/10 and 6/19/09, I'll sketch a critique. In the former posting, "On some wonders of Plato," you reference the earlier one (in connection with the Timaeus) to elaborate the claim that Plato was"the enemy of Athenian democracy" (by the way, wouldn't "an" be less tendentious than "the"?) and that Plato "did want kingship." The awesome ancient Athens, as presented in the Timaeus, did NOT include kings (24a-d)—although Atlantis included "a great and wondrous power of kings, which mastered the entire island" and much more (25a). Nor are kings (or philosophers) mentioned when Socrates summarizes the regime he'd described on the prior day (17c-19a). In your much longer discussion on 6/19/09, "Plato's Atlantis and the Subversion of
Athens" (http://democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2009/06/platos-atlantis-and-subversion-of.html), which you regularly cite, you say this in your second paragraph: "On a previous day, the dialogue recounts, Socrates has spoken of the ideal city IN THE REPUBLIC, the guardians without property, the women and children the property of all and none, the proto-eugenic breeding arrangements." You add that the Critias is "Plato's cousin and the leader of the Tyranny of the

ON CRITIAS: Drawing on a 1998 article by L. Lampert and C. Planeaux from the Review of Metaphysics, Peter Kalkavage (the translator of the fine Timaeus translation published by the Focus Classical Library) suggests that the dialogue was set in 421, not long before the Sicilian expedition (at CM - City and Man -p. 141, Strauss suggests parallels between the Atlantis-Athens war and the Sicilian expedition), in which case the Critias in Timaeus would be the GRANDFATHER of the infamous tyrant. I concede that Plato wants us to think about the tyrant Critias.***

ON THE CITIES OF SOCRATES: Focusing on the Republic, Brann argues that the philosopher-kings
'can certainly not be regarded as part of the constitution of that just city which must have been known generally as 'Socrates' city.' She suggests that Socrates and others had 'long
been talking' of this city, and emphasizes that Book II of Aristotle's Politics doesn't mention the P-kings**** the allusions in the Republic to Aristophanes, furthermore, suggest that the city of his "Congresswomen" was a parody of "Socrates' already notorious city" (see Republic 451c2 on "the female drama").***** When Socrates highlights the 'laughter and disrepute' that the third wave will provoke (473c8), he's suggesting both that he's familiar with such a reaction and that the P-kings will be the real news/scandal (Brann, p. 137).

ON THE CITY OF THE TIMAEUS: For Brann, the best evidence that the guardian city differs from the
P-king city is the account Socrates gives of "his city" in the Timaeus, where he "recapitulates the
constitution that he had presented to his friends in a discourse on the previous day." Here's the point most relevant for your postings, Alan: there's "no reason," says Brann, to conclude that the previous day's city was the Republic's. Socrates reports that conversation ("I went down to the Piraeus YESTERDAY. . . ") one day after the Bendideia festival, but the Timaeus is set during the festival of the Lesser Panathenaea, which occurs (also in the Piraeus [26e]) TWO MONTHS LATER (Brann, p. 138; Kalkavage, on 51n4, says it was "probably" the Greater Panathenaea festival, which took place every four years to celebrate Athena's birthday and featured a gown that depicted the battle between Gods and Giants [see my posts on Athena the snake-goddess here, here and here]. At Timaeus 21a, Critias says the interlocutors should "praise the goddess on her feast-day.” Brann also suggests that the dramatic year of Timaeus was earlier
than the Republic's. And although Timaeus 19a7 says that the account is complete, there are no P-kings, so the city resembles the communistic city dominated by the noble-puppy guardians. "We may infer that Socrates proposed this city on various occasions and that it was known as his city" (138) When Strauss discusses the Timaeus in his Thucydides essay, he does
characterize it as "the sequel to the Republic" (CM 140).

ON THE CITY OF THE PHILOSOPHER KINGS: This city, argues Brann, "comes into being while Glaucon and Socrates converse." Along the way, she makes these observations: Socrates is a brave and proven soldier who's older than 50, he's still spirited in defending philosophy, he lacks possessions, he lives with his friends 'as if all their goods were held in common,' he regards
all promising young men as his sons, he can ascend in thought above the city (though he's sometimes willing to undertake political tasks), and he strives to 'select and educate the best among the young for future rule' (Brann, 139-40). Hence, his last words about the possibility of the P-king city have an unpolitical thrust: in "heaven, . . . perhaps, a pattern is laid up for the man who wants to see and found a city within himself on the basis of what he sees. It doesn't make
any difference whether it is or will be somewhere. For he would mind the things of this city alone, and of no other" (592b, Bloom translation). Brann likewise stresses 557d, where Socrates famously says that a DEMOCRATIC regime is "probably necessary" for someone "who wishes to organize [Brann uses "construct"] a city, AS WE WERE JUST DOING" (Brann, 91; cf. 56, 146 [the latter two passages are well worth reading – AG]).

For the record, I'm not sure that Brann regards herself as a Straussian, and I certainly don't think she wrote her book to present a position in the Strauss Wars, to shed light on the neocons, etc [this thought would not have crossed my mind - AG]

Best wishes, --Peter

*One might speak of the Action and Argument of Plato's Republic, parallel to Strauss's core insight, though not his interpretations, in his last book, The Action and Argument of Plato's Laws.

** Aristotle conquered the world with Alexander who adopted the customs of the people he ruled. “Conquered” – slaughtered. Voices cry out - how would those who were conquered but lingered have felt?

*** The silent presence of Hermocrates, the great Syracusan leader for a common good who destroys the Athenians in the quarries, indicates this point. Strauss is right to see the connection. But I doubt that Plato's implication is the one he draws. The obvious point is that Syracuse crushed Athens, but a guardian-led state, a la Critias, would have been victorious. That is Strauss’s whole point in trying to correct Thucydides: Thucydides argues, he suggests, that if only the demos had not exiled Alcibiades and sent the weak commander Nicias who had argued against the expedition, Athens would have won. This is perhaps the silliest of all Strauss’s thoughts, one which would have ended any interest in Thucydides’ writing, making him not an analyst of the tragedy of democratic empires but a reactionary grasping at straws: if only LBJ had replaced Westmoreland during Vietnam, if only Bush and now Obama will just rely on the dangerous (to America) Petraeus…See here.

In contrast, I would suggest, Hermocrates is the decisive political leader in the last part of the History who mirrors Pericles in the first part. Plato understood this. Hermocrates was a far more important figure, politically, for the fate of Athens, than Critias. But Peter’s point that the Timaeus and Critias are deficient undercuts his citation of Strauss’s correct interpretation of this particular point (that there is a parallel to Athens v. Syracuse) but wildly mistaken overall interpretation of Thucydides History, this dialogue, and, for all Strauss’s subtlety of interpretation, Plato.

Peter reports that Kalkavage, a translator of the Timaeus, sets it temporally before the Athenian invasion of Syracuse. But the presence of Hermocrates, who says little, would then seem odd (perhaps he will make himself felt, the suggestion might be, once the battle occurs).

****That Assemblywomen is a parody of Socrates's egalitarianism toward women seems a brilliant inference to me. Aristophanes and Socrates were friends (see the Symposium) and could easily have been engaged in such a debate.

But Ecclesiazusae is, on the face of it, a democratic imagining where the women enact the laws (barring men as men in actuality barred them) and enacting that any crone can take any beautiful young boy (isn’t this just a parody of common homosexuality at the time?). In response, Socrates also jokes, in the Republic, with this play, to continue to induct women among the guardians (a progressive aspect) and yet to snicker at sexual grappling (an Aristophanic rejoinder to Ecclesiazusae and perhaps the Clouds; a covert attack on the leadership of women in earlier Crete - see here). But there is nothing democratic about kallipolis (Peter has suggested to me in a note on the last post on Plato that there are some democratic and jury-oriented remarks, but except for the education and participation of women and the absence of slaves - real enough egalitarian innovations - the “city in speech” is dismally authoitarian). The regime of the philosopher as king is, seemingly, a leading point in favor of a reactionary interpretation of Plato.

*****Brann neglects Aristotle’s main passage on the philosopher king and tyranny in book 5 and the passage on the rule of the outstanding man (book 3). See here including Strauss’s lecture notes at Chicago in 1967 which emphasize it. Aristotle was both Plato’s student (somewhat in revolt, not entirely given to accuracy) and as Strauss says, a very considered and sometimes deceptive writer.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Links to the KGNU show on Condi Rice and American torture

For the KGNU show I was on yesterday on Condi Rice, torture and executive power in the Bush and Obama administrations, copy the following link and paste it into safari. The audio will come up (the program begins 30 minutes into the audio; just move the cursor to find it):


You can also plug it in to real player or whatever audio program you use.

Alternately, go to KGNU.org. Hit listings for August 25, then for the entry at 8 o’clock – the morning magazine – hit the middle icon at the top right, on the screen that comes up, move the cursor as close to 8:30 as you can (the last two minute segment is Jim Hightower); the show runs from 8:30-9:25.

The two others interviewed, John Bambrick and Jeremy Kirk, are activists in Witness against Torture. They went to Bermuda to talk with Uighur former prisoners at Guantanamo. The Uighurs are an oppressed Mongolian minority in China who have rebelled against large scale Chinese settlements in their territories (last year, many protestors were slaughtered by the Chinese government). One of the largest contingents at Guantanamo, the last remaining one, is Uighur. Why we are holding innocents, who are oppressed by and dissidents in China, is a mystery only Condi Rice and Dick Cheney can explain.

These Uighurs had worked in Afghanistan in what was thought by the CIA to be a “terrorist camp.” They apparently had one day of training in shooting. Their aim was to return to China. They were arrested in Pakistan by the Pakistani authorities who undoubtedly got a good pay off – perhaps as Wikileaks reveals, they transferred the money to the Taliban in Afghanistan to kill American soldiers - for producing “live meat” for Guantanamo.

As Muslims and Arabs, they were subjected to neocon fanstasies (see Raphael Patai, The Arab Mind). Perhaps lucky, there were spared worse forms of American torture – women dancing around undressed, throwing fake menstrual blood on the prisoners at Abu Ghraib (is this really what female “intelligence” agents should be doing?). These Uighurs have religious prohibitions concerning privacy. But they were under camera while taking showers and while sitting on the toilet. Any of us would find this filming humiliating. Perhaps it is not even necessary to put oneself in John Rawls’ original position – what it is to think morally is to put yourself in another’s shoes, see things from the point of view of the least advantaged - and ask how you would feel if you were kidnapped halfway across the world by a “great” military power and subjected to such treatment. The Uighurs requested sheets to put between themselves and the camera. The American soldiers, under orders from the Bush administration denied them.

In Uighur lives, family and having children is central. One man who loved his wife and son sent word to her from Guantanamo that she should remarry, because he was gone. 7 years in Guantanamo. He is now on Bermuda, a second prison as he characterized it (the people are nicer), surrounded by the sea. He has no passport. She has remarried. There are few Uighurs and a small Muslim community. Interestingly, these Uighurs would like to move to the US - to Washington where there is a Uighur community and they would have a reasonable likelihood of marrying among Uighurs and having a family. Even imprisonment, humiliation and destruction of families does not lead them to hate the United States. Apparently, these Uighurs have the wisdom of Nelson Mandela.

That they were only treated this horribly is a sign that the US knew they didn’t now anything. They were innocent. When Bush-Cheney and Rice destroyed all legal procedures, they prevented release by a normal process.

In contrast, John and Jeremy spoke of how the Uighur men are human beings, funny, and moving in their sorrows. If America is not the ultra-white mob at Ground Zero, attacking a black carpenter who “looked Muslimish,” stirred on by Newt Gingrich whose ideal for America is to be governed by the despotic practices of Saudi Arabia, and the neocon ideologue Frank Gaffney, we should be able to treat such people decently or at least according to the law, not throw them away.

Now according to the Pentagon, 100 prisoners have been murdered in Pentagon custody in America's secret prisons overseas. This weekend there was a protest in Denver over the murder in prison of the homeless minister Marvin Booker. But a tidal wave of anti-Arab racism washes over the crimes that American jailers ordered by the Bush administration have committed.

Omar Khadr, arrested when he was 15 on the field of battle in Afghanistan, tortured for 7 years at Guantanamo (probably much more extensively than the Uighurs John and Jeremy talked with), has now been brought to a military tribunal by Obama, the teacher who forgets constitutional law. Obama has headed off the worst forms of torture; he has tried to free the Uighurs and close Guantanamo (to his great credit); he was the hope – a black man elected in the country of slavery and segregation, a decent man in contrast to Cheney and Bush - of the world. Thus a Norwegian committee awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize just for being elected. But Cheney bent the stick very far to the Right, far from the rule of law. It is unclear that Obama can bend it back. The remaining Uighurs in Guantanamo and this military “trial” are all part of the continuing corruption, even under Obama, of the American regime. He has now made himself the accomplice to the torturers, preventing any legal proceeding to consider the guilt of any of them. The reason for this is that by evidence already in the public record, Condi Rice and the rest of the Bush administration, with the possible exception of Colin Powell, are very likely guilty of war crimes by American and international law (see the Convention against Torture, signed by Ronald Reagan in 1986 and ratified by Congress in 1994, and Article 6, section 2 of the Constitution, the "Supremacy Clause" which makes treaties signed by the United States the highest law of the land). If there are legal proceedings…

Friday night in Denver at the Marriott, there will be a celebration of Condi Rice. Mayor Hickenlooper will be there, the economic elite of the area, the leaders of the University of Denver, Ed Greene the weatherman from ch. 4, and other dignitaries and celebrities. Ordinarily, the dinner celebrates distinguished politicians, say the President of Mexico or of Poland, who give interesting speeches. With good luck, it once featured George Soros in 2004, who gave a rousing speech, saying he had smelled the stench of fascism growing up in Eastern Europe and he could smell it again in the Bush administration. For this one moment of truth, the School compensated by inviting Wayne Murdy, head of Newmont Mining for a distinguished humanitarian award. Any googling of Newmont reveals depradations against people and the environment on 5 continents…

Sadly Condi is held up now as a model for our School, as what our students, if they are preternaturally determined and lucky, might become. Condi was once a charming person and has gone farther than any other student in the realms of power. But she has a defective moral compass. She chaired the principals meeting in the basement of the White House that planned out what torture techniques, in what combination and for what duration, should be used on “high value” Al-Qaida detainees. At the end of the meeting, she told George Tenet to “go for it” about waterboarding.

Now Condi once intervened in the case of Khalid El-Masri, a German of Turkish origin, kidnapped and sent to be tortured in Egypt. Discovering he was innocent, she apparently ordered Tenet to release him, though without identification or money, in Albania (El-Masri thought he was taken to be killed). I am afraid that her intervention in this case is the best thing I can say for her, though I sometimes like to imagine that she could do a great public service for America and renounce torture.

As I pointed out on the show, Charles Graner learned as a jailer in the United States to put panties on the heads of black prisoners, something he later did at Abu Ghraib. As John Bambrick pointed out, Chicago cop Jon Burge learned in the army in Vietnam to torture prisoners and did so to some 200 in Chicago. There is a dialectic between violations of international law abroad and atrocities at home.

Like the Obama administration and the failure to appoint an independent counsel or review panel, the dinner Friday night will include no questions about torture. Food will be catered. Wine will flow. Words will be spoken. Money will be raised for student scholarships.

I and perhaps some others on the faculty will not attend.

But I wonder if there will be any mirrors…

Monday, August 23, 2010

Wednesday morning 8:35-9:30 AM I will be on KGNU on Condi Rice, torture and executive power in the Bush and Obama administrations

On Wednesday morning KGNU FM 88.5, AM 1390 at 8:35-9:30 AM, Joel Edelstein has invited me to be a guest on a show on Condi Rice and executive power in the Bush and Obama administrations. Also in the conversation will be John Bambrick and Jeremy Kirk who interviewed several prisoners from Guantanamo after their release in Bermuda. So there will be a lot of depth to Rice’s and the Bush administration’s role as war criminals. By preventing any hearings and shielding such criminals, Obama has sadly cemented torture as the likely American way from here on out (consider a Palin or Romney presidency…). Yet Condi has a chance, at the Friday Korbel dinner at the University of Denver or later, to step up historically in saying that these were crimes and a monstrous and self-destructive error that must never be repeated– see here. Sadly, it does not seem, for the Democrats as well as the Republicans that torture is an error but rather the kind of thing a (declining) authoritarian and imperial power does. The honoring of Condi as she is, is tragically part of the slow death of the rule of law and democracy in the United States. See here and here.

For my debate with Republican State Senator Shawn Mitchell on whether Condi is a war criminal, see here, and for my “A Performer Lost in her Performance” here.

In response to a question from readers, Condi is my former student and I did not organize any protest against her coming. She is no longer, as it were, in the act of torture.

That she can no longer travel abroad for fear of arrest – the most recent Secretary of State – is comment enough.

That she cannot speak of this issue except, waving her finger at a Stanford undergraduate questioner, to assert that the President told her it is legal – Bush has now announced that he water-boarded prisoners and is proud of it – also says quite a lot.

That Obama permits no inquiry, because I am sad to say, enough facts have surfaced...

Her silence and that of her likely Friday entourage on this issue is mutual pretence. She will put up a brave front against shadows. One might weep for America and my school.

The show is in the Eastern time zone 10-35-11:30, Central 9:35, Pacific 7:35. The program can be streamed at KGNU.org. I will post the tape on the web as soon as it is available.

Josef Korbel and George Shepherd: Notes on the Powerful

My friend and colleague George Shepherd had a long friendship with Josef Korbel. See my post on "Josef Korbel, Stalin and the Defense of Czech Democracy at Munich" here, In response to my recent post on "Condi Rice: 'let’s pretend'" here and the invitation of Condi to speak at the Korbel dinner next Saturday, George wrote to others:

“Alan's observations are well put. I knew Joe Korbel well and I agree he would have been appalled at this invitation. I do not think it will benefit the reputation of the School and will damage it to be the first* to legitimize the acts of the past Administration. I think we need to call out all of the Bush Administration on this as the book has not been closed on these Crimes Against Humanity. George"

Now even Joe Korbel had a hard time with his new relationship as an exile with the United States which had adopted him. He used to tell me that it was very important in the world – and it is – to have places of exile. He was, unsurprisingly, grateful to America. When he became the first Dean of the Graduate School of International Studies, he felt threatened by protest against the Vietnam War at the School's opening ceremony featuring a speech by Secretary of State Dean Rusk; Joe threatened faculty members who called for boycotting - a nonviolent kind of protest - the speech (he initially made it a “command performance”) as the following story by Don Will, once a graduate student at GSIS, now Associate Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at Wilkinson College, relates:

“Despite George's friendship with and admiration of Korbel, their relations were not always amicable. When GSIS opened its new building, Cherrington Hall, in 1966, Korbel invited Secretary of State Dean Rusk to give the opening address. Along with George Croft of the History Department, George and several students announced their intention of boycotting the occasion in protest over the expansion of the Vietnam War. Korbel was furious and threatened to fire George. Protected somewhat by his status as a tenured professor, George pressed on and got Korbel to agree that the critics could have a discussion of Vietnam with Rusk in exchange for calling off a more overt protest. In this brief but telling exchange, Rusk revealed himself as convinced that the Christian God sanctioned the war, which was made necessary by communist expansion and the domino theory. George countered that we were ‘engaged in an unjust war against the right of self-determination of a former colonial people.’ He also emphasized the widening gap between China and the Soviets, which undercut the supposition of a communist monolith. Rusk was intractable and deemed George ‘a poorly informed young man, as many are who do not have access to our intelligence briefings.’ This ‘arrogance of power’ displayed by the ‘best and the brightest’ led to an expansion of the war and the commission of many atrocities, culminating in the deaths of over 2 million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans. Korbel himself, later became disillusioned with the war, describing himself as a ‘victim of the 1968 Tet Offensive,’ when he came to realize that it was Ho Chi Minh, not the successive South Vietnamese regimes and Americans who had truly won the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Vietnamese masses.” - "Paradigm of a Scholar/Activist: Reflections on the Life of George Shepherd, Jr." by Donald Will, paper presented at the International Studies Association, March 10, 2000.

Note that Josef Korbel overcame his anger and did deal with the protest creatively, negotiating and organizing a debate (exactly the right thing, as Dean, to do) in which the truth - today visible to anyone - could be spoken. A deeply thoughtful man, Korbel took in evidence and did the right thing even more deeply as he later said, perhaps sheepishly, of his change on the War - another kind of "victim of the 1968 Tet offensive.”**

Don’s report of Rusk’s position is interesting. He, of course, had knowledge “only available in the government” and the blessing of ”the Christian God” – who must have damned those 2 million Vietnamese Buddhists and Catholics...In reality, even Rusk knew the War was going terribly. At the time, as the Errol Morris’ documentary “The Fog of War” reveals, Lyndon Johnson was saying on a taped phone call to his friend Senator Richard Russell that the US was losing but he couldn’t get out. Johnson didn’t want to be known as the President who lost a war, to be red-baited by the Republicans. He would sacrifice nearly 60,000 American lives and an enormous number of Vietnamese to feckless American politics. Note that this foreign policy was governed primarily by fear of domestic elections. See my "The Sorcerer's Apprentice: 'For LBJ, the domino theory really was a matter of domestic politics'" here. Contrary to neo-realism as a theory of international politics which mistakenly abstracts war utterly, as an ostensibly separate level of analysis from domestic politics, this interplay with and negative impact of foreign policy on democracy at home is a theme of my book Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? See also my comments on John Mearsheimer’s forceful stands on Afghanistan and on Israel’s brutality and self-destructiveness here.

I guess that Rusk’s pompous religiosity – "it is God’s will, I know more than you, even though I can’t share with you any of it, let alone something convincing" - was what they all said the time. In the sphere of power, one can be a ninny and a war criminal* and widely “respected.” Unlike President Johnson who may not have been frank even with his cabinet, perhaps some of the secretaries believed in the emperor’s new clothes. For as a senior at Harvard, I debated McGeorge Bundy – one of six on a panel (see the poem Sanders Theater here). Bundy was a cousin of the poet Robert Lowell whom I much admired. But I had read the French histories of Indochina. They had not succeeded even with our military aid (the US had paid 80% of the French military budget at the time of Dienbienphu, and there was no reason, once one knew something about the struggle there, to think that an American imperialism would or, morally speaking, should prevail). I had also lived in Karachi, Pakistan, where my father advised the planning commission. I knew that the US sold weapons to the dictator; that the Americans were only diplomats, businessmen and military advisors mainly from the South, usually with little knowledge or sympathy for the vast number of impoverished West Pakistanis and Bengalis (my father told me of the East that having a Harvard Advisory Group to the government of Ayub Khan was, in this respect, like having such a group to Governor Wallace of Alabama). I later traveled back to college through Bangkok where the great round red Coca Cola signs overshadowed sacred places. For many of us who lived abroad outside of Europe (and later joined Students for a Democratic Society), what it meant that the US belligerently took the wrong side in Vietnam against the decent words of FDR about an end to French colonialism when the Vietminh was our ally against Japanese fascism, was plain to the naked eye.

Bundy assured us, when we met in private before the debate , that he knew things not available to the rest of us – “I am privy to esoteric information” he said. “Of course, today, I can only speak exoterically.” These were fancy words by a former Harvard dean and Boston brahmin. They were empty. No one in the State Department at the time knew Vietnamese; as former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara discovered in the 1990s – see the “Fog of War” – he believed ignorantly that the Vietnamese were pawns of the Chinese Communists, ignoring as Pham van Dong in amazement and anger informed him, 1000 years of conflict and Vietnamese resistance.

I was nervous (fortunately I got help from Larry Robinson, a graduate student in sociology who had taken Barrington Moore’s course – covering what would become Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy – with me). But most of the questions were timid, half-hearted, deferential. When I asked how the US expected to defeat a successful peasant revolution against France by trying to restore the landlords, the audience of 800 burst into applause. Bundy’s answer, a denial that there had been such a revolution against US-aided French colonialism, rang false.

It is sad that Democrats in power seem to be as full of hubris, as ready to believe fairy tales, as Republican authoritarians. Even Barack Obama, whom Andrew Bacevich – see here – and I both liked, has moved further and further, breathing the fumes of the war complex, down the path of a losing war and embracing elite American torturers. To go into the establishment, except for those who rebel like Daniel Ellsberg, seems to be a sure path to fantasy, and as the most powerful nation by far militarily, war crimes. It requires looking down on others or at best biting one’s tongue, and waging, repeating and extending horrific aggressions, murdering innocents with drones (100 at a wedding party in Yemen, for example), and torturing or protecting torturers. Ellsberg looks better and better in retrospect. Others who seemed so powerful like Secretary of State Rusk are lucky if deservedly forgotten. But what a wreckage they left behind…

*perhaps an early international studies school. The Berkeley law school which employs John Yoo, Georgetown which employs Douglas Feith, the University of Virginia which invited Yoo, and others have all striven for the distinction George mentions...

**At what sadly turned out to be a last celebration for Joe Korbel, at the end of my second year at the School of International Studies, Dean Bob Good invited Kurt Waldheim, Secretary-General of the United Nations. His speech was of an alienated banality which made me cringe, the split in the man’s personality between what he seemed and whatever he was, all too evident. Listening to it, one felt unclean (Joe and I shared some sarcastic and puzzled reflections afterwards). Later, it turned out that the Viennese Waldheim had been in his youth a major war criminal with the Nazis, what Korbel had fought with every fiber of his being. Korbel had chosen to found a school of international studies. That this speaker was picked to honor him was sad. The betrayal of Korbel, in inviting Waldheim, was unintentional - Waldheim was the head of the UN after all and not yet publicly seen for what he was. But it was, nonetheless, a special kind of betrayal even in the world of pretense that is high level government affairs and diplomacy.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Andrew Bacevich: COIN, the military-industrial complex and where we are now

Several nights ago, I talked with Andrew Bacevich, whose work, as a soldier, a conservative and a scholar, on the broad corruption of American foreign policy since World War II, is a major contribution to understanding the emergence and intractability of imperial oligarchy and the abridgment or frailty of democracy in the United States. His new book, Washington Rules, gives an especially vivid account of how he came –he says quite slowly, but very deeply - to question the imperial pieties that are official Washington. Washington Rules also strikingly traces the David Petraeus/military elite/Frederick Kagan* recycling of the losing strategy in Vietnam, counterinsurgency. Andrew names this "Counterfeiting COIN." In the homage of Congress and the corporate media, Petraeus is ostensibly much more sophisticated than unmentioned and perhaps unthought of McGeorge Bundy or General Westmoreland. See here. But Iraq unravels as I write. See here and here.

Bacevich also sees this as hubris arising from the credo of global domination of American policy. We alone have 800 or so military bases on our own (the French have 5) as he and Chalmers Johnson have emphasized; only the US government thinks of intervening everywhere through military aid, training, troops, bribes, and the like. I would use the term genocidal in Vietnam and debased attempt at colonial conquest and occupation now. Andrew asked me – part jokingly - not to darken his perspective. Since I come from long experience in large anti-war movements, I – perhaps sometimes thoughtlessly – do not take darkness as crushing but as a reason to act against the odds (Andrew doesn't either, but he has never been part of an anti-war movement. He did see the huge and enormously diverse demonstration – 1 1/2 million people - in New York on Feb. 16, 2003. 500,000 were in barricaded off areas of 10,000 at the United Nations plaza itself, another million packed like sardines and shoved away by the police over the next 30 blocks). He thus does not fully see the efficacy and potential of such movements. But his books name, as well as it can be named, the sheer tragic destructiveness and counter-productiveness of American national security “strategy.”

For every poor young American, one might say, must dream in high school of being cycled through a base in Krgyzstan (most of us can’t spell Krgyzstan, let alone point it out on a map) to be blown up or crippled or get ptsd in the mind-numbing danger of Iraq (for the remaining 50,000 “non-fighting” soldier-occupiers) or Afghanistan. Must dream of ending up on the street, becoming one of the homeless of the next 50 years…

Didn’t George Washington warn us about European entanglements, let alone unending Middle Eastern ones?

One should not underestimate the creativity of movements from below. Who would have thought that there could be, at the outset, a huge anti-Vietnam war or civil rights movement? Who would have thought that 25 years would elapse before the elite could figure a way - the end of the draft, a divided and half privatized army - to evade "the Vietnam syndrome"? The elite will not even consider a draft because they all recognize that ordinary citizens are peace oriented - wouldn't want their sons and daughters fighting half away around the world, to end even like the truly admirable Pat Tillman - and would not put up with imperial wars. Public opinion increasingly opposes even a war which affects, life and death, perhaps the families and friends of 1% of the population.

Who would have thought that the greatest international and American movement against aggression in Iraq before a war was launched in world history would appear? I tend to think that against the odds, we can still accomplish a lot.

Yes, we could not stop Iraq, and many activists were deeply disheartened. Yet “Shock and Awe” in the recommendation of Wade and Ullman in a memo on the Pentagon website, called for making of Baghdad “a Nagasaki.” We have just passed the anniversary of that horror, a day of mourning in Japan and internationally. For the first time, the Obama administration sent representatives. US militarism has never looked at or regretted the carnage it has caused – a major reason that the elite, mindlessly, in its own foolish consensus, goes on and on, “the indispensable nation,” relying even as Obama tries to scale back, on belligerences.

Now in contrast to Bush, one of Obama’s important and decent concerns is to do something, however limited, to prevent nuclear war, including heading off a planned new cycle of nuclear weapons. Hence, he sent the representatives to Hiroshima. But Americans – whose country is the only one to have used these weapons – need to take in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That the Pentagon put up and honored a proposal to make Baghdad a "Nagasaki" now appears nakedly – morally speaking – for what it was.

The great international anti-war movement which made the Bush administration lies stand out even in the ordinarily client UN security council and removed legitimacy of any sort from that aggression, resulted in a far lower level – still horrifying – of initial murder of civilians. Rumsfeld bragged that the US had launched 3000 missiles and 3/4 had hit their targets. For the sake of argument, let us imagine that 2250 did hit their targets. What about the other 750? How many civilian lives were “not of interest” to the imperial Pentagon – the US doesn’t keep statistics of the supposedly lesser beings whom the Pentagon murders. And as for the strikes that hit "their targets," we have learned how accurate US “intelligence,” not even speaking the local languages, relying on informers who have interests in being remunerated, not in providing accurate information, is (Osama, I seem to remember, is still on the loose “in his cave” somewhere in the “tribal areas” of Pakistan “on dialysis”).

But many anti-war people were exhausted by a yearlong overtime effort and shattered morally and psychologically that such a corrupt war – one whose lies were excessive even compared to the ordinary “justifications” of American wars and were believed by no one but the corporate media - could have been waged. Many then went into the Democratic Party to try to elect an anti-war candidate – the feckless, although of course compared to Bush and Cheney decent Kerry. Later, it seemed we succeeded with Obama who, as Andrew pointed out, could have initially, in that great burst of enthusiasm in Grant Park and at his inauguration, a moment of enormous and unrepeatable moral credibility at home and internationally, something to steer the ship away from the destructiveness of the military-industrial complex. But Obama didn’t. He is now increasingly, as in Afghanistan – consider the new Petraeus campaign – the prisoner of it.

Only a radical movement from below – unfortunately a very difficult proposition – and not a savior within the establishment, can do it. Only such a movement made the savior in the first place and could challenge him to do better. Now the hopes in Obama – quite justified in the sense that he is an unusual person and politician (see his Dreams from my Father) – reveal, in their frustration that even a mass movement to shift from the horrors of Bush-Cheney, cannot simply through installing a new President – one who will preside over, become a creature of the war complex – hope to turn away the power of that complex. About wars, not so much “change we can believe in” has occurred. Now Obama is much better than other elite alternatives and gives us some time to organize from below (though he is harder – I will just speak for myself as someone who has long fought against racism and learned deeply from the civil rights movement – to organize against. But only determined democratic movements from below of ordinary people will put spine in the decent and comparatively non-self-destructive elements in the elite.

Every semester, Andrew teaches his students Eisenhower’s speech on the military-industrial complex. That speech is remarkable for its identification of the newness of the war economy which had not existed before World War II, before Korea, and already, entered every cranny of social and political life. As "Ike" put it:

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.”

In the Limits of Power and America Rules, Andrew has traced the shaping of American national security policy for 60 years by a goal of global dominance, of bases and projections of force everywhere. He has questioned rightly whether the US imperially had a need to shape regimes everywhere, corruptly intervene, as Eisenhower did, though covert action to overthrow elected leaders like Arbenz in Guatemala (1953) and Mossadegh in Iran (1954), and the like. Perhaps the United States needs to arm itself only (me, with the caveat of supporting multilateral or international forces) or mainly (Andrew) to defend ourselves in case of attack, a very different, less militarized sort of regime. One may recall here the words of Martin Luther King in his 1967 "A Time to Break Silence" on militarism, repression/racism and materialism. King aptly named, then and now, “my government – the most violent government in the world.” See here and here.

As Andrew pointed out to me, Eisenhower also worries in this speech about the corruption of academia, a corruption later multiplied by the CIA and the Rand corporation (a secret and thus phony “university” in which “researchers” are employed by and for the Pentagon).** Eisenhower cleverly speaks of the substitution of such funding for intellectual curiosity, a form of alienation remarkably visible in the mainstream of political “science.” See my "Powerful Pacifists" here and "Political 'Science' and American Aggressions" here.

I went home and read the speech and will use it in classes this year. As a fierce critic of the Vietnam War, Hans Morganthau named the academic-political complex conjoined with the military industrial complex (see Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, ch 2). He moves toward what I have named the war complex – the military-industrial-political-think tank-academic-corporate media complex – which more strikingly now pursues debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, fires drone missiles from CIA headquarters in Langley to kill civilians wantonly in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan, and launches a drumbeat for Israel or the US bombing Iran. Obama still fortunately seems to be trying to head off this last, potentially near fatal mistake in terms of medium run “blowback” for most Americans, most Israelis and much of the rest of the world. America shipwrecked on Iraq and the financial crisis – what will an increasingly world war, full of further nasty surprises, in the Middle East, one endangered by nuclear weapons (Israel) and amplified by the fact that the US cannot send more forces (it has released some from Iraq for Afghanistan, but few poor teenagers, even in a depression, want to sign up) - lead to?

Resistance from below has enormous difficulties. Still, Americans as as Glenn Greenwald points out, are 62 per cent opposed to the Afghanistan war. See here. Greenwald emphasizes the irony: those who crusade against Park 51/the Cordoba Center are disgracing what is honorable in America, its shining conviction for freedom of religion – and using a majority opinion (some 68% in polls foolishly oppose the building of the center led by a Sufi imam who wants to heal relations between religions and detests the fanatics) to attack admirable American liberties. But if they believed in democracy (were not authoritarians), he suggests they would really be concerned to get America out of Afghanistan which some 62% of the population now opposes.

This is the time of withdrawal of combat troops in Iraq. It should be one of immense significance - Keith Olbermann and MSNBC did hours on it three nights ago – Rachel Maddow was in Iraq to watch and interview. Obama might say he is working toward ending these wars, keeping his promises. He has now brought out 100,000 troops (and perhaps a comparable number of mercenaries, though that is secret). Yet Obama did not even make a statement (he will later this month). Here we see the paradoxes of being a “war president,” who presides over the war complex and the slippery David Petraeus and his campaign to stay in Afghanistan, one that it will be hard for Obama to resist (despite the horrors of escalations and drones, Obama may even deserve some credit for trying – halfheartedly - to get some troops out of Afghanistan by 2011, particularly if he sticks to it).

Americans really should really be concerned to get the remaining 100,000 forces, 50,000 regular troops, 50,000-75,000 Xe/Blackwater corporation and other mercenaries out of Iraq.

The current Republican party (and Harry Reid and many other truckling Democrats) oppose basic liberties such as freedom of conscience and habeas corpus – see the pass Obama and co. have given on war crimes here. This elite coalition also ignores anti-war sentiment in the sphere where, if this were a genuine democracy and not a militaristic oligarchy, it ought to hold sway. This is not unusual, but a pattern (one that might be studied in a serious political science). A majority was against the Vietnam War in 1968; the US finally withdrew in defeat only in 1975.

About Afghanistan, the disjunction between the war complex and ordinary people could not be clearer. In a moral idiom, that is a difference between imperial authoritarianism or tyranny and a common good (see my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, chs. 1-2; Democratic Individuality, ch. 1). Those of us who respect democracy from below, the democracy of ordinary citizens who have not breathed the fumes of power nor entered the charmed circle of extolling the emperor’s new clothes, should take heart.

Here is part iv of Eisenhower’s speech:

“A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.

In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.
Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system -- ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.”

*"To celebrate (Petraeus's) genius was to bask in his reflected glory. Military analysts Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan could scarcely contain themselves. 'Great commanders often come in pairs,'" they announced, " Eisenhower and Patton, grant and Sherman, Napoleon and Davout, Marlborough and Eugene, Caesar and Labienus. Generals David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno can now be added to the list.'...This was myth-making of a high order. Just as Americans had once pointed to Andrew Jackson's victory in the Battle of New Orleans.as proof that the United States had defeated Great Britain in the already concluded war of 1812, so now many came to see the surge as proof that US forces led by the redoubtable Petraeus with his gift for counterinsurgency had emerged victorious in Iraq." Bacevich, America Rules, p 205.

Kagan was also featured in the New York Times puff piece on Petraeus's campaign on the talk shows last weekend to extend the US fighting in Afghanistan. In the run-up to the Iraq War, I debated his father Donald Kagan, a friend and colleague of Allan Bloom, and reactionary classicist. Donald's view is that an empire - he has no interest in democracy or rights - must crush its enemies before they become strong. So immediately after World War I, a million soldiers lost, he imagined Britain invading Germany to get an incipient Hitler. He does not notice that Weimar was a democracy...He also spoke of the Treaty at the end of the first Gulf War as "Versailles 1991." To say that this is mad perhaps does not quite reach what the case is. His other son, Robert, lied with Bill Kristol about Iraq steadily in the run up to that War, and together, they were two - along with Gary Schmitt, of the three principals of the Project for a New American Century. Neocons, as advisors to Petraeus, are not far from power.

** Consider Hans Morganthau’s essay on the “pseudo-totalitarianism” of the CIA in the National Student Association (it secretly suborned the Presidents of the NSA), in Truth and Power, and Gilbert, Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, ch 2.

The conversation turned to Albert Wohlstetter, the former Trotskyist mathematician whose work on “fail-safe” – that missiles in flight must be resignaled to proceed to the target – was very likely decisive in heading off (so far) unintended nuclear war. Nonetheless, Wolfowitz, Fukuyama and Perle were decisively mentored in their particularly brand of imperial reaction primarily by Wohlstetter (along, for the first two, to a lesser extent, by Bloom and Strauss).