Monday, January 27, 2014
Mearsheimer, unhinged US aggressions and ethnic cleansing: letters from Rowley, Cooper, Kinsey and Dunn, part 2
In response to my essay on John Mearsheimer's "America Unhinged" here and to a note from Robin Hensel, Coleen Rowley, a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity and former FBI agent who tried to tell the willfully deaf Bush administration before 9/11 that some Saudis were learning to fly jet planes in Minnesota but with no interest in landing..., sent around to her lists the following comments:
“This is beyond excellent, the best summary I've seen since Chalmers Johnson's and I'm going to forward to some of my other groups! I'm on Prof. Gilbert's "democratic individuality" list too,--ever since Gilbert's stellar appearance in Sebastian Doggart's excellent "Condi to Neo-Condi" documentary,--but with my constant glut, I had somehow overlooked this one. Mearsheimer's stuff is generally also very good so it's interesting to see Gilbert's relatively small criticisms of Mearsheimer, mainly only that Mearsheimer failed to credit Obama with so far effective but extremely challenging efforts to avoid war on Iran. I agree! I'd go so far as to say, as someone who issued a petition for rescinding Obama's "peace prize," that if he (Obama) can avoid this next war being pushed by Netanyahu, the neo-cons and the neo-libs, the consensus of both parties, that still currently dominate Wash DC, he will 'grow into' his Nobel Peace Prize even though he didn't deserve it when they awarded it.
One tiny peccadillo on the part of Gilbert is that Assad is not directly responsible for killing the 100,000 Syrians. I think the total now of those killed in Syria is quite a bit higher than 100,000 but a sizable majority of the deaths are of Assad's own forces (unfortunately normal for a civil war).
Rowley then adds a further grim note on a "Law fare" symposium at the University of Minnesota law school last year (Jack Goldsmith, the not quite recovered war criminal, had some great moments withdrawing the torture memos under Bush - e Jane Mayer, The Dark Side and his own The Terror Presidency - but was, unfortunately, up to his neck in extraordinary rendition. His blog and organization Lawfare, has contempt for the Magna Carta and is comprised of would be or actual servants of tyrants and war criminals...)
"I forgot to mention that last year when the Univ of MN Law School held an all day "Warfare Symposium" featuring mostly neo-con "lawfare" types, proponents of drone warfare, etc, their keynote speaker used a powerpoint that listed "rule of law" as a "declining factor" in the ongoing and future wars. Pretty amazing for a speaker to tell law students that "rule of law" in in decline, especially given their tough job market, but they all (stupidly) clapped for him anyway. [this comment captures a new epoch, unless fought, in American life]. Will post on Tackling Torture and WAMM Ground all Drones FB pages.
Some years ago, debating neo-cons like Rob Corrie from the Federalist Society about Bush's torture on KBDI (ch. 12 in Denver), I learned that many lawyers, sadly including many law students, have no respect for the rule of law. One might imagine supposed high school math teachers who do not believe that 2 and 2 are 4...
In English, one might say of this statement about drones and the Joint Special Operations Command that avoiding murder of innocents is a "declining factor" in the American Presidency, although given genocide against indigenous Americans and Vietnam, for example, one should probably emphasize continuities...
War criminals, including advocates of on-going war crimes, need to be challenged and stopped. That the University of Minnesota "Law" School (in this respect, it forfeits the name) allowed such a thing is scary and says a great deal about American decadence. The inequality accompanying permanent stagnation/depression, the 1280 military bases abroad, the President's secret and unreviewed army, the JSOC, and the considered failure to prosecute torture by American officials are, among other things, the material underpinning of such fatuous criminality.
Rowley is rightly skeptical of Obama’s undeserved peace prize – one might even say, with “terror Tuesdays” and “disposition meetings” at the White House (Obama does not, to his credit, seek “plausible deniability,” but…), betrayed peace prize – but shares the view that if he continues, under great pressure, to steer away from war with Iran, he has done something which – for an American President, the head of the Empire and faced with constant militarist pressure, including from Israel - perhaps has earned it.
As her note indicates, I am an admirer of John Mearsheimer's outspokenness and decency under great attack. But it is obvious that some of his predictions and arguments in Tragedy of Great Power Politics have to be rethought in the light of his critique of unhinged American imperial policy following the end of the Cold War, and John opts rightly for the truth. In this, he follows Morgenthau on Vietnam. In Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? (ch. 2), I trace the contradictions in Morganthau’s argument between the confused but widely used Politics among Nations and the much more lucid speeches from teach-ins in Truth and Power. In the latter, he particularly comes to understand that there is specifically a national interest or common good (before, he is either vague on this or says "power is the domination of man over man [sic]") and that American aggression and what he names "a coherent system of irrationality” in the policy establishment violates it and needs to be fought.
Coleen Rowley is also a person who stands up for the truth.
She also corrects my emphasis on how many Syrians Assad has slaughtered. But my friend Hazem sent the following note which underlines Assad's barbarism. What the US has done in fostering violence in the Middle East, including urging its vast arms sales to all regimes except the Palestinians' Occupied "state" - as an antidote to Arab Spring (and Wisconsin and Occupy - the need for democratic revolt and internationalism from below is also glaring in the United States) is counterproductive. The wisdom of Mearsheimer's advice - stop being unhinged and trying to threaten or make war, take sides and dominate everywhere... - is especially visible here.
Great response to Mearsheimer. He's definitely come a long way from his own writings, like you say. I sometimes check Stephen Walt's blog, and he makes many similar arguments to Mearsheimer (at Foreign Policy).
Turse's article is terrifying. Thanks for sharing it.
I wish Obama's interest in Syria was truly humanitarian. Instead his bumbling has actually emboldened Assad, who is now pursuing a massive starvation campaign in the cities, assured that the US and the rest of the world can't even threaten to intervene in any meaningful sense."
Louis Cooper who writes wonderfully on foreign policy, criticizes some of John’s neo-realist formulations, for instance, about the striving for domination of regions by each great power, in Tragedy of Great Power Politics. He is absolutely right that trouble for the US about the Monroe Doctrine is a good thing, that the US needs to move away from its militarism, basing policies and aggressions ("interventions")in Latin America, and that John's "realism" was, especially in light of his new insights, misguided.
Louis also recommends a new article on basing (beyond Chalmers Johnson) in an American political science journal last year - see here. But the outstanding question here is how the US can have such bases – in everyone else’s face like drones or the operations of the JSOC and keep it secret from the American people. this is remarkably anti-democratic, including under Obama…
Though the authors acknowledge this point in Johnson, they then proceed not to comment on it. The gist of their argument is that basing, though of unequal benefit (serving mainly American elite interests), is also fragile. About this, they are right; attempted domineering through basing is, as John says, unhinged and one might emphasize its costs to a domestic common good as well as in militarism's corrupt influence on politics - a specific form of oligarchy - of the war complex. Part of the sense of Louis's word "antiseptic" is that the article whiffs on these crucial points...
Mearsheimer may object to the U.S.'s pursuit of 'global dominance,' but in his book The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (Norton, 2001; paperback ed., 2003), he argued that all great powers strive to be regional hegemons and that it makes strategic sense for them to do so, given what he claimed to be the structural imperatives of the 'anarchic' international system. He noted that, among the great powers, only the U.S. has so far succeeded in attaining regional hegemony. Therefore Mearsheimer, while he may want a hands-off U.S. policy with respect to Egypt and Syria, cannot want a hands-off U.S. policy in the western hemisphere nor object to the U.S. dominance of its region. If he writes articles criticizing, by implication or expressly, U.S. military or political influence in Latin America, I think he would be contradicting the theory that he advanced in Tragedy.
He also wrote in Tragedy that territorial conquest ("conquering and controlling land") is "the supreme political objective in a world of territorial states" (p.86). A rather odd statement, given the contemporary rarity of traditional conquest and the fact, for example, that the network of U.S. military bases spanning the world rests not on traditional conquest but on agreements (however one-sided or whatever) with the host countries. (For a somewhat antiseptic but informed analysis of the U.S. basing network, see Cooley & Nexon's article in Perspectives on Politics, Dec. 2013. See here.)
Louis points to the very quality I admire in John. I would far rather that we all strive to get it right than maintain allegiance to errors at the expense is true, important, and professionally costly. Louis's emphasis here mistakenly hardwires John into a theoretical inconsistency rather than appreciating his current political stands and seeing the need to refine (or abjure) some of the theory.
I particularly like John’s stress on American isolation as permitting the continuation of the sheer craziness of its terror-inducing policies. But there is more danger here than John indicates; if there is major destruction in another American city, that would, very likely without protest from below, lead the elite to throw off the shell of the rule of law domestically (judging by the NSA’s practice of illegal spying on Americans, they are quite close to doing so; on how dangerous secret government is, check out Operation Northwoods, the Joint Chiefs of Staff's plan - a declassified document is signed by its Chairman, General Lyman Lemnitzer - to dress CIA up as Cuban soldiers, murder some people in an American city and use this to provoke a renewed attack on Cuba which JFK wisely rejected and which perhaps has something to do with his assassination – see here and here - as well as the Iran-Contra affair).
John is, by now, the most interesting contemporary American realist precisely because his commitment to the truth is strong (Steve Walt is also, as Hazem suggests, very good).
In Tragedy, 2001, ch. 7, as part of a description of U.S. regional expansion and "Manifest Destiny," John initiates, in international relations circles, a discussion of American ethnic cleansing. Instead of the usual realist caution (Kennan, originally a racist from the Midwest and not unenthusiastic about Hitler when he was ambassador, is hesitant ever to say much about American reaction, and Morganthau, a Jewish refugee from Nazism, had a fierce and rosy view of America until personal attacks by the Johnson administration moved him to speak more candidly), Mearsheimer skirts around and also begins to evoke the sheer U.S. government murderousness against indigenous people. (President Johnson had a Project Morganthau to discredit those who criticized the Vietnam War as a mistake as traitors. But Morgenthau came to see the War as part of a pattern, a coherent system of irrationality. Morganthau, however, failed to reevaluate his previous view of US domineering in Latin America in this light, see Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy, ch. 2).
Though Mearsheimer was then under the spell of a large, sometimes savvy and quite reactionary realism (the view that great powers/empires need regional domination and that only world domination is excessive; Carl Schmitt's view without the caveat...), it is clear from his writing – the repeated phrases about how it is “their land” that he is repelled by the aggression even as he tries to mainstrain restraint, cold-blooded realism and “value freedom.” Fortunately, what John really thinks about these issues – and fighting for more decent and sane policies in Israel and the US – has overcome, to some important extent, these earlier pseudoscientific nostrums.
"The consolidation process, which was sometimes brutal and bloody [inside expanding American borders] involved four major steps...displacing the Natives (sic) who controlled much of the land the US had originally acquired..." (p. 244)
These words are not apt. Indigenous people controlled the land, i.e. it was theirs for thousands of years. The US government attacked and displaced them from coast to coast. The so-called US acquisition was entirely by conquest, illegitimate (as illegitimate as Hitler's "acquisition" of Poland...), and immoral. Exemplifying projection onto others, the American elite propagated and lived by racist falsehoods about "savages" because their own genocide was so...blood-thirsty.
"As late as 1800, Native American tribes controlled huge chunks of territory in North America that the United States would have to conquer if it hoped to fulfill Manifest Destiny." (p. 245) Owned or possessed would be better than "controlled." Mearsheimer does refer to conquest here, but uses the term "Manifest Destiny' - this is what Hitler called Lebensraum (living space) in his aggressions to the East - as if this helps his argument (the attempted description is hardly value-free and the "values" are nefarious).
Manifest Destiny was the factual goal, in the oppressor's own words, of imperial policy. But it was, morally speaking, horrific.
"The Natives" [John again misguidedly chooses this racist shortening] hardly stood a chance of stopping the United States from taking their lands."(p. 245) Suddenly, the moral reality breaks through; the United States, John says point-blank, "took their lands."
John tries to hide the force of this reality from himself and the reader by emphasizing the vast American and immigrant population, downplaying the number of indigenous people. This is, by the way, a standard American racist trope - perhaps recalling the metaphor of a large number of Germans spilling into the East, seeking Lebensraum, the Slavs fated to "pass away" - not just a neo-realist one.
"The Natives had a number of disadvantage but most important, they were greatly outnumbered by white Americans and their situation only grew worse with time. In 1800, for example, about 178,000 Natives lived within the borders of the United States which then extended to the Mississippi River. At the same time, the population of the United States was 5.3 million. Not surprisingly, the US army had little trouble crushing the Natives east of the Mississippi, taking their land, and pushing many of them west of the Mississippi in the first decades of the nineteenth century."(p. 245)
Here John repeats "taking their land" and refers to the army as "crushing" them and "pushing" them Westward, a brutal aggression, even though he chooses not to stare into it deeply. Think the Nazis and Poles or Jews and the significance of these words will come home...
"By 1850, when the present borders of the United States were largely in place, there were about 665,000 Native Americans living inside them, of whom roughly 486,000 lived west of the Mississippi River. At the same time, the population of the United Stats had grown to nearly 23.2 million by 1850. Not surprisingly, then, the small and somewhat inept U.S. army units are able to rout the Natives west of the Mississippi and take their land in the second half of the nineteenth century." (p. 245)
For the third time, John says "take their land." He emphasizes the comparative population and could have stressed the superior weaponry - Lincoln and Governor John Evans liked to bring indigenous leaders to see them fire off their big guns...- though there were heroic battles in which Sitting Bull and the Sioux took out Custer (as if the Warsaw Ghetto uprising had swept away Rommel or Himmler...). This is occupation or conquest even though John uses a "realist" assessment of potential power to avoid considering whether combinations of tribes could have checked rapacious American advance and won some less murderous and oppressive settlement from a somewhat divided elite (amplifying Red Cloud of the Oglala in the Powder River country - see here; there were voices in the elite and especially among American citizens for a more moderate settlement).
John also ignores the rapacity of American forces across the country. During the Civil War, Colonel Patrick Connor launched the winter massacre of the Shoshone at Bear River in what is now Idaho in January 1863 - see here - a policy applied over and over which wantonly slaughtered children, women and the elderly. Perhaps massacres were also "somewhat inept," though that is hardly the main point...
Ironically, the American military lives off this history to this day, displaying Geronimo's rifle and saddle in the Museums at West Point and Fort Sill, conjuring Iraq as "Indian Country," to the present - see here - and cloaking its history from itself with the (mis)use indigenous names and symbols, though of course Tomahawk Missiles and Apache helicopters, used by Israel against the indigenous Palestinians, are nakedly awful.
"Victory over the Natives was complete by 1900. They were living on [sic- they were forced onto] a handful of reservations [concentration camps, on the worst land, many died of disease and starvation; these are still often the poorest communities in the United States - see here) and their total population had shrunk to about 456,000 of whom 299,000 lived west of the Mississippi. By that time, the population of the United Stats had reached 76 million." (pp. 245-46)
John mentions that the population "had shrunk" and reports a drop of one-third. As it would have been appropriate to mention, this easily fits the United Nations' Convention against Genocide, the deliberate destruction of a people "in whole or in part." But John's figures on Native Americans, though offered with qualifications - "roughly," "about," are very likely an underestimate. His shying away, beyond "took their land," from morally and sometimes legally correct terms like aggression and ethnic cleansing and studying in more detail what the army did - John is a military officer with years of experience in Vietnam - is a mistake.
Still, John introduces the subject, against the profound amnesia of American realism. of the American government rapacity. This is a central facet of realism (one Mearsheimer has always been very concerned with) and one worth probing further. For the lack of humility about its genocidal history is linked in the American government and military, including its neocon\liberal "humanitarian" security entourage. to the great trust in force which is the hallmark, until Obama on Iran, of what the US does. Invading and killing nonwhite people from Vietnam to Iraq, it's also just "Indian country..."
Now the prejudice about American exceptionalism or idealism – America has often been exceptional in genocide as slavery, segregation, and the New Jim Crow, see here, and ethnic cleansing toward indigenous people illustrate. John here and elsewhere seeks to puncture establishment puffed-upness and propaganda (that neocons like William Kristol – a campaigner for aggression in Iraq and torture - affect “American benevolence,” perhaps in some twisted sense, to believe it, his not too arcane "Straussianism" notwithstanding, and are welcomed in the security establishment and the commercial media, however often wrong and criminal they have been, is but the latest incarnation of this illness). So John’s argument is designed, pointing to a grim truth, to break though forgetfulness (what I also call Founding Myths) about genocide.
Academics need to catch up with the realities of Amrican ethnic cleansing and speak with more humility abut foreign policy. Now nearly all international relations specialists, save for a few humanitarian interventionists, opposed the aggression in Iraq, and John has taken a leading role in speaking out against the unhingedness of American policy. Discussion and debate about the nature and history of American "regional" domination can dispel the hubris of present and particularly future policy makers (the students who will join the security establishment shortly are now in training...), and help move America to both more sane policies and a gradual shift of the war complex, including most bases abroad, to more life-sustaining pursuits.
Bob Kinsey wrote a letter suggesting, among many good points, that it will be hard to acquaint the American public with the truth which is complex. In one sense, this is right. But in a more important snse, that ordinary Americans have increasingly caught on to the sheer craziness of American warmaking, it is, fortunately, false.
The revulsion against Obama’s plan to fire missiles into Syria was overwhelming. That element in the Taa Party around Ron (and to a lesser extent, Rand) Paul sees American wars and use of drones as dangerous and counterproductive and resists the NSA's huge spying apparatus ("democracy" is when the government controls\surveils the people is their motto). The Pauls' supporters have fused their sick racist revulsion against Obama with decent concerns for liberty and fears about war; whether these genii can go back in the bottle to support the McCains and Romneys or even a Rand Paul Presidential run (Rand suddenly is open to new sanctions on Iran to disrupt negotiations, i.e. war, see here) is questionable, even though what they say about domestic policy is cruel, fanatic and self-defeating. They join with many people who combine justified revulsion at American foreign policy with far more decent domestic views.
So there is an increasingly widespread openness to hearing anti-imperial argument. It is militarism, the continuing role of the elite in propagating blatant falsehoods and war, which is the main obstacle, not the openness of ordinary people to hear. But if the elite is unhinged enough to have lost Mearsheimer and if Coleen Rowley spends her days organizing against war and many other intelligence professionals for sanity (h/t Ray McGovern, former Presidential daily briefer) speak out and demonstrate, we, long time campaigners against unjust wars from below, should really take heart. This is but an elaboration of Coleen's point that Mearsheimer and I largely agree about the link between militarism, destructive and self-destructive wars, and authoritarianism.
The "Vietnam syndrome" lasted 30 years (pretty much the entire career of Dick Cheney, one of calculating insanity - he is very smart, very domineering and very crazy - was devoted to conquering Iraq and then Iran, and he has fallen short, the tide going out, leaving a desperate monster decaying on a desolate beach…
If the mass resistance to Obama on Syria is an emblem, American darkness is abating…
Bob also emphasizes Japanese peace boats, fighting against the leader’s celebrating of war criminals. In a country which is spewing nuclear poison into the sea and has made itself partly unlivable, it is perhaps not surprising that the Prime Minister wants to stir false patriotism and war criminality as a diversion (a thesis of Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?). Again, this is not a public program for a politician which will necessarily have a long life. Too many people are obviously hurt by this. See the resistance of Mr. Yoshizawa who has raised cattle on his farm in the midst of an otherwise forbidden area near Fukushima here.
"Wow Alan-- but how do you even get such a complex, in depth view of it all in front of the American People so they can re-frame their understanding of what is going on, what must stop and where we must be headed instead?
I am reminded of the Chinese adage [about the US government] that 'the longer you fight your enemy the more like him you become' --and of a statement that framed post WWII foreign and military policy (or at least echoed the masked macro thinking of the military-security establishment of the NSA) from George Kennan--that the US (at 6% of the worlds population) consumed (in 1947) 50% of the world's wealth and that the goal should be to keep it that way in the future. Isn't this what NSA/CIA/State really means and always has when it talks about US national interests? (Vision Statement of the US Space Command--"to dominate the military aspects of space to defend our national interests and investments worldwide). Perhaps its even what TR meant with his Great White Fleet circumnavigation [Teddy Roosevelt was a grotesque "Anglo-Saxon" racist - see here] and his pressure to enter WWI?
I just heard Amy Goodman's interview with the Japanese sponsored Peace Boat leaders who are concerned that public education in Japan increasingly does not deal with the Rape of Nanking, Japan's military imperialism (copied of course from Western actions in the Pacific), and thus gives political space to those who want to repeal Article 9 of their constitution. Visits to the Shinto shrine of the fallen war criminals are framed for this unenlightened citizenry in the vague ungrounded patriotism that fills the vacuum. Just so does our American education and Foxy "news" system ignore Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and all of the above either out of ignorance or intentional motives to glorify the invisible hand and and our phony belief in "the rule of law". Take a look at American History Text books of the last 70 years-- mostly all BS with a few notable exceptions like Zinn and some good efforts in the late 1960's [there are many better writings by historians than this suggests, though text books, Zinn's aside, are often dreadful, least common denominator, avoid the truth and hence, "controversy," puff-pieces].
I see that Jeremiah Wright has attempted to get back into the fray at least with regard to a realistic understanding the vast chasm between Obama and Dr. King. [Wright commented acidly "While speaking at a breakfast co-hosted by the CTU - Chicago Teachers Union - to commemorate Dr. King’s birthday...that while MLK proclaimed “I have a dream,” Obama says, “I have a drone.” Wright went on to say that, “Every Tuesday morning, there’s a kill list that the president decides who they’re going to kill this week.” see here]. What a wonderful sound bite about Arnie the Educator and his "hook shot "qualification to be Secretary of Education.
I have collected a lot of information on whether other powers have military bases abroad by asking questions to students, some of whom are military people and very knowledgeable. What I said about Russia and France with their five bases abroad is pretty close: about England, however, I was off. My friend John Dunn sent the following apt question/correction:
Can it really be right that Britain has bases in Goa of all places, which wasn't ever part of British India, as far as I know and is unmistakably part of the Republic of India now.
On the BBC, they list British troops in the Falklands, Diego Garcia, Ascension Island, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Germany (a hangover of World War II and the Cold War) - see here not counting Afghanistan (part of Nato forces) and now hopefully withdrawn forces from Iraq (part of the "coalition of the willing"). Their own troops, not under joint UN, NATO or American command, mostly are in former British colonies, with the exception of Germany. But shades of Empire persist; the British military website lists eighty countries, including Canada and Brunei, with sometimes one soldier stationed in them...They puff out their chests: the Empire is still 1/16 of its progeny's...See here.