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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Why Donald? Why Bernie?

People on the left believe that systems are corrupt. People on the right tend to believe that the system (at least as they understand its design) is just fine, and it's individual people who are too corrupt or too weak to propel it towards its full greatness. Thus partisans of the right lean more toward a version of Thomas Carlyle's view that history is about great men (and now women, too), which elevates biography to the level of supreme importance, while partisans of the left care less about the outsider's life story than his criticism of power and how he will challenge it. These differing conceptions dictate how the candidates present themselves and even how they would govern, should one of them become president.” Michael Tomasky, Very Improbable Candidates, New York Review of Books, 11-05-15.

In his recent article, Michael Tomasky explores the questions challenging most of the mainstream political commentators: What explains the dramatic ascendancy of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in their respective primary campaigns? What accounts for poll numbers far exceeding rivals expected to cruise through the primary season?

For my part, I argue, as I have in the past, that both parties are so thoroughly owned by corporations and the wealthy that the chances of a real oppositional movement emerging from within the Democratic Party and through the two-party electoral process are slim-to-none. The chances of a renegade Republican emerging are somewhat greater, but still slight. A far more reliable indicator of primary prospects can be found in counting the campaign contributions and gauging the sentiments of the corporate-friendly party leaders. To steal a movie catch-phrase, the key is to follow the money. After all, the fuel for winning national political office is cash, and more and more decisively with every election cycle. Thus, victory is decided by those who have it. I stand by my projections: thoroughly corporate-friendly candidates will emerge in the end, as they have in the past.

In the case of Bernie Sanders, Tomasky would agree that Sanders’ chances are slim: “Then, on March 1, comes Super Tuesday, which consists mostly of southern states... Barring unusual circumstances, it's difficult to see how Sanders could amass the delegates needed to win the nomination.”

But what does stand behind the Sanders/Trump phenomena? What accounts for the unexpected success of Sanders’ economic populism and Trump's re-visioning of Know-Nothing philosophy?

Clearly longer term trends are at play. Opinion polls show that the public's sentiment that "things are going in the right direction" has been steadily and persistently trending downward since 1998. Similarly, approval rates for Congress have shown a dramatic decline since 2005. Not surprisingly, confidence in key economic institutions like banks has also collapsed.

More recently, a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll shows sharp shifts in political ideology within and a stark polarization between the political parties. At the high water of Reaganism (1990), only 39 per cent of Democrats described themselves as somewhat liberal or very liberal, with a strong majority falling into the former category. Some will remember that the word “liberal” became an epithet during that era of high-Reaganism.

Today (2015), 55% of Democrats see themselves as somewhat liberal or very liberal, with the split nearly 50/50 between the two categories. Clearly, liberalism-- whatever the word now means to respondents-- has regained currency within the Democratic Party.

Similarly, the percentage of self-described Republicans embracing the conservative label has risen from 48% to 61% in 25 years. As with the Democrats, the more staunch (in this case, very conservative) sentiment has grown more dramatically, increasing from 12% to 28% of Republicans since 1990.

These numbers go a long way toward showing an increasing divide between the two parties. But even more significantly, they show an increasing desire on the part of the rank-and-file to reshape the respective parties in a more ideological direction. Dissatisfaction with the direction of the country and its institutions has generated both a rightward (in the Republican Party) and leftward (in the Democratic Party) drift, a drift spawned by a distrust of the ideas and candidates offered by the parties' mainstreams.

Given that third parties have not yet stepped up to absorb this dissatisfaction (opinion polls strongly suggest that the electorate would welcome third parties), voters are expressing their unhappiness by supporting candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump (and other outliers).

For the Republican corporate puppet-masters, Trump presents a real problem. The unhinged insurgency represented by Trump threatens to derail, or at least move to a siding, the deeply embedded, core Republican agenda of unfettered markets, a shriveled public sector, no taxes, and corporate welfare. In its place, Trump offers rabid racism, nativism, and cultural war based on the foggy notion of a lost “America.” Republican leaders know this is a formula for defeat. They are struggling to snatch the nomination away and hand it to a reliable corporate Republican. Jeb Bush was their choice, though he has gained no traction despite an enormous war chest. I trust they'll figure it out.

The leftward pressure felt by the Democratic Party's bigwigs has been historically less of a problem. They have managed voter dissatisfaction by feigning left and driving right. They have endured primary insurgencies (Jackson, Dean, in recent years) knowing full well that the game was rigged by money and superdelegates (approaching 20% of those voting at the convention). They also mastered the tactic of embracing vague leftist postures in electoral campaigns, which are quickly discarded after victory (Obama). These tactics will likely serve them well with the Sanders insurgency.

Nonetheless, the Sanders campaign offers valuable and important lessons for the US left. Running almost exclusively on the issue of economic inequality, Sanders challenges the concept of “liberalism” fostered by the liberal media and Democratic Party elites. Over many years, “liberalism” has come to be associated with “social liberalism”: life-style issues, identity, and tolerance-- all worthy values, but more urgent to those enjoying economic security. “New Deal liberalism,” based on collective prosperity, economic equality, and community benefits, has largely been driven from the political landscape. Contemporary liberalism has been shaped into NPR (National Public Radio) liberalism, a liberalism that assiduously avoids any but the most innocuous critique of the capitalist system, but sincerely wants everyone to find happiness.

But Sanders has touched a popular nerve. He recognizes this as a Piketty-moment, with millions of people left on the outside looking in after the 2008-2009 economic collapse (and the continuing crisis). Millions are disgusted with the poverty and desperation of so many serving as a backdrop to the vulgarities of extreme wealth.

A Pew Social Trends poll shows this change dramatically: between 2009 and 2011-- a span of a mere 2 years-- 19% more respondents in the samples reported “strong” or “very strong” conflicts between the rich and poor. Fully two-thirds of respondents in 2011 reported “strong” or “very strong” conflict. As Pew's Rich Morin reports, “... the issue of class conflict has captured a growing share of the national consciousness.”

Surprisingly, a majority of Republicans share this view with nearly three-fourths of Democrats. Independents trail only slightly, with 68% reporting strong or greater perceived class conflict.

Not surprisingly, Blacks and Hispanics recognized the class conflict in great numbers before and after the twenty-first century Great Crash. Whites, however, showed the greatest jump in recognition of the class divide-- from 43% to 65%. Nearly one-in-four whites in the US were jarred by the effects of a capitalist crisis and its impact on them, their families, and their friends into seeing class antagonism where they never saw it before.

Of several potential “social conflicts in society,” the Pew study shows that the rich/poor divide is perceived as the most acute, well more than conflict between whites and Blacks.

This is the fertile soil for Sanders’ economic-equality campaign. This is the growing class divide fueling Sanders' candidacy.

Another Pew poll shows the willingness of US citizens to find solutions to the growing inequality by redistributing wealth. In a study of attitudes towards the US tax system, respondents placed their feeling that corporations and the wealthy fail to pay their fair share well ahead of their other tax concerns. When asked what bothers them “some” or “a lot” about the current tax system, fully 82% felt bothered that corporations were not paying their fair share and 79% felt the same way about the wealthy paying their fair share. Our friends and neighbors are unquestionably friendly towards taxing corporations and the rich, another chord that Sanders has struck.

It should be obvious from polling results and the Sanders campaign that US political and economic attitudes have shifted substantially in a direction that is potentially favorable to the left. But it should be just as obvious that this opportunity has been willfully squandered by the Democratic Party. In fact, apart from Sanders, the Democratic leadership has shown no interest-- apart from moral suasion and empty rhetoric-- in making the US a more egalitarian society, in taking sides in the class conflict.

On the other hand the independent left-- independent of the two parties-- has a great opportunity to embrace and develop the economic issues that Sanders has touched upon. Tomasky writes in the quote above of a left that “...believe[s] that systems are corrupt...”, that will criticize “power” and “challenge it.” Too much of our left has yet to recognize that the two-party system is among the corrupt systems. Too few of our comrades have drawn the conclusion that the two-party system is an oppressive “power” deserving of criticism and challenge... and not a democratic institution.

Regardless of the success or lasting impact of the Sanders candidacy, the US left must seize the opportunity offered by the rapidly shifting attitudes of the US people. Organizing and educating to focus mass dissatisfaction against oppressive systems and institutions-- especially capitalism-- is the next step.

Zoltan Zigedy

Saturday, October 17, 2015

US Imperialism’s Failed Tactics

US imperialism and its allies learned a hard lesson from their unsuccessful adventure in Vietnam. Escalating US troop involvement to nearly half a million serving at the war’s peak, drawing on forced enlistment (conscription) to rotate nearly three million personnel serving throughout the war, and incurring over 200,000 casualties proved to be a politically destabilizing, consensus-challenging endeavor.
Military planners recognized that unless they were able to generate a broad consensus for war or guarantee a short, decisive duration, the draft risked a politically volatile backlash. Consequently, they opted for developing a volunteer army and a war-friendly culture to legitimize its use.
But they drew an even more important conclusion. Where imperialism fought a foe defending its homeland, the costs were usually far too great for the US public to tolerate. Certainly US engagement in the world-wide, anti-fascist war of 1939-1945 enjoyed unwavering popular support. But US forces never fought on Japanese soil and only briefly in a crippled Germany.
When engaged in supporting a rump regime in Korea, the US military achieved, at best, a stalemate. The same boots-on-the-ground approach in Vietnam collapsed before a people deeply resentful of US occupiers.
After Vietnam, imperialist war planners devised a tactic of relying more and more upon surrogates. Understanding that local populations furiously opposed foreign occupiers, the US sought to impose its objectives by creating and supporting mercenary forces who could claim, at least tenuously, to local status. From supporting UNITA or FNLA in Angola to creating, arming, and aiding the Contra movement in Nicaragua, the US preferred waging aggression with surrogate forces. An effective, massive propaganda effort “legitimized” the client armies as “freedom fighters.”
Probably the most successful use of the post-Vietnam tactic was in Afghanistan, where US covert services armed a reactionary tribal opposition to destabilize a secular, modern government and, as a result, gave a decisive, strong impetus to an emergent Islamic fundamentalist war against secularism of all kinds. The jihadist movement found its legs, its confidence as surrogates against an urban-based Afghanistan government supported by the Soviet Union, then a bulwark against US imperialism.
After the demise of the Soviet state, the US cautiously employed its “professionalized” and volunteer military in Iraq, Afghanistan, and once more in Iraq. Still, military planners hoped to quickly train a surrogate force and just as quickly evacuate US ground forces, leaving client states with militaries sufficiently armed and motivated to crush any domestic resistance to a US-friendly regime.
While the tactic held the promise of minimizing domestic resistance by using a compliant media to construct the false narrative of democratic change and humanitarian intervention and while the tactic hoped to generate tolerable US casualties and minimal material costs, resistance movements once again proved to be far more determined, and stability far more elusive, than the best minds of the military or covert services imagined.
Fourteen years in Afghanistan and twelve years of propping up a client state in Iraq, manufacturing a failed state in Libya, and sparking a devastating civil war in Syria are testament to a failed policy.
More importantly, the failure is part of a continuous, irreversible decline in US imperialism’s ability to impose its will in a world of stiffening anti-imperialist resistance and growing inter-imperialist rivalries.
Nothing underlines this new reality more than the latest events in Afghanistan and Syria.
Despite a massive concentration of weaponry, superior pay, and the best US training, the Afghan surrogate army suffered its worst defeat ever at the hands of the Taliban in the siege and occupation of Kunduz. All reports indicate that the Taliban forces were inferior in numbers and weapons and that the US-trained government forces had little stomach for the fight.
US officials have been obliged to announce a delay in the exit of troops from Afghanistan in the face of this defeat. President Obama has decided to pass on the Afghanistan quagmire to the next President, just as President Bush passed it on to him.
Russian engagement in Syria has inadvertently exposed the lies and failures of US actions in that country. Since the Obama administration began encouraging and assisting the overthrow of Syrian President Assad, the government and the lapdog media have claimed the existence of a democratic, moderate opposition. From late in 2011, US and UK military leaders began planning armed action against Assad. A surrogate army (the Free Syrian Army) was projected as an alternative to the fundamentalist jihadists seeking a feudal-theological state (Qatar and other Gulf states intervened, pretending no such distinctions). Weapons were diverted from Libya and CIA training began in earnest with a projected military force numbering in the tens of thousands.
After the ISIS threat emerged, the US and the other interventionists further pretended that its client fighting forces were equally engaged against ISIS and the many other groups fighting Assad who were designated “terrorist” by the West.

In reality, the US “freedom fighters” were virtually non-existent or collaborating enthusiastically with the jihadists. Their sole target was Assad.
The Obama government has conceded that of thousands vetted by the CIA program only a few hundred remain on the war front. Most have shared their weapons with or joined the jihadists or left Syria with the thousands of immigrants. The half-billion-dollar program is a disaster, with the US administration pledging to pass the remaining weapons and resources on to existing fighting groups in Syria.
The spectrum of the Western media reports that, especially since the Russian intervention, there is extensive cooperation, coordination, and joint action between all elements of the Syrian anti-Assad forces—so much for the ruse of an independent force in opposition to fundamentalism.
As the Wall Street Journal reports: “…the Homs Legion of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army… together with the Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham and Nusra Front [Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate] has formed joint command in Northern Homs.” The Washington Post has identified a similar unholy alliance of jihadist and “moderates” that was crafted into a Nusra-led Army of Conquest. Only the most gullible continue to believe that there is a significant difference between Western-backed “freedom fighters” and their jihadist allies.
Western liberals can make believe that US involvement in Syria is for some greater good, but the facts speak clearly. As with Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, tens of thousands are dead, infrastructure is devastated, and the social fabric is irreparably torn simply because imperialist powers seek more compliant, more subservient states. The facts expose the lie that the US and NATO seek the values of democracy, freedom, or the other values that prove so persuasive to those apologizing for self-interested regime change.
Anti-imperialists can draw a small consolation from these tragic, morally repellent aggressions: the US tactics have failed to achieve their goal of creating global fealty to US interests.

Zoltan Zigedy

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Cesspool of Hypocrisy

If there were a hypocrisy meter, the Obama administration surely would have achieved unprecedented numbers in recent weeks. With the Putin government announcing and swiftly executing military action in Syria, the US government and its NATO allies went apoplectic, accusing the Russians of destabilizing the Middle East, increasing the threat of terrorism, adding to homelessness, and risking the widening of the war. Of course any sane observer knows that the US has already destabilized the Middle East, fomented terrorism, brought on mass homelessness, and dramatically widened the war, while causing hundreds of thousands of casualties.
The Obama administration and its hyper-patriotic opposition within the ruling class are most indignant because Syria, Iraq, Iran, and the Russian Federation have signed a mutual assistance accord that mounts a real anti-extremist front in the wars raging in Syria and Iraq. Irony of ironies, US meddling in the Middle East has brought two former intransigent enemies-- Iran and Iraq-- together. To the shock of US Geo-political schemers, a client state-- Iraq-- dares to defy its sponsor-- the US-- in forging this agreement. Iran and Russia, both squeezed extortionately by the vise of US/EU sanctions, have defied the school yard bullies to support the Syrian government.
Responding to recent Russian bombings of targets in Syria, Obama denounced the Russian moves as a “recipe for disaster.” No one in the administration has explained how Syria-- or Iraq, Libya, Yemen, or Afghanistan-- could be a bigger disaster.
Obama has accused the Russians of not discriminating between ISIS (ISIL) and the other opponents of the Assad government. He maintains that the Russians are supporting Assad rather than the anti-ISIS effort. At the same time, the US government concedes that the CIA has armed its own surrogates with sophisticated anti-tank weapons (TOW missiles) only useful against Assad's tanks and not ISIS. Hypocrisy!
While Obama maintains a fictitious difference between good and bad elements within the “opposition” and an expressed abhorrence of the violence, the opposition has achieved a “rare” unity in refusing to even attend meetings to discuss negotiations organized by the United Nations, according to the Associated Press. The AP story (Russia Launches New Wave of Air Raids in Syria, Targets IS Posts, Albert Aji and Jim Heintz, 10-04-15) goes on to acknowledge that the Syrian Opposition Coalition statement “was signed by the Salafist-jihadist Ahrar al-Sham as well as some of the rebel units that have received training and weapons from the United States and its allies.” Just how this motley united front of accused “terrorist” organizations and supposed moderates will offer a better life to Syrians after Assad has never been explained by the US government. Skeptics would, with justification, fear a repeat of the Libyan tragedy.
Equipped with the short memory and stunted imagination typical of US journalists, few have reflected upon the telling origins of the Syrian civil war. Of course the official account requires a massive dose of gullibility. It spins a tale of dedicated democrats who, foiled by the Assad government in their peaceful demonstrations, take up arms in a matter of months, even weeks, in 2011. No one in the media questions how this amorphous mass of private citizens is shaped up, armed, and led, in such a short span, against a sophisticated modern military and government security forces. Despite the miraculous appearance of arms from the late Muammar Gaddafi's destabilized Libya, despite the appearance of foreign fighters, US journalists found no cause to look for the hidden hands.
Instead, journalists continue to churn out copy that carefully follows the US/NATO line on all Middle Eastern matters. Consider the aptly named Liz Sly who slyly pumps out dispatches through the Washington Post that resemble rewrites of State Department releases. As with her equally discredited colleagues Judith Miller and Brian Williams, there seems to be no journalistic sins that warrant her consignment to journalistic hell. Sly infamously disseminated the fabricated story “Gay Girl in Damascus”:
On June 7, 2011 she wrote 'Gay Girl in Damascus' Blogger Detained, a news article that merged claims from a blog post with what appeared to be independently gathered facts in a way that suggested that youthful, attractive Syrian-American, Amina Arraf, was grabbed off the street along with 10,000 other Damascus citizens by the evil Assad forces. On June 8, the Washington Post retracted the story and on June 10, a 40-year-old US citizen confessed that the person, the story, and the blog were a hoax that he concocted. (ZZ's blog)
Of course perpetrating a hoax has not stopped Sly from advancing her career. On October 1, 2015, Sly (along with Andrew Roth) wrote from Beirut a story appearing in the Washington Post:
The expanding Russian involvement in Syria threatened to further complicate efforts to secure a negotiated settlement to the 4-year-old war at a time when the influx of refugees into Europe and the endurance of the Islamic State is focusing world attention on the unrelenting bloodshed in Syria.
Negotiated settlement? The “rebels” steadfastly refuse to even discuss a UN-sponsored meeting about negotiations as reported by the Associated Press. How does Russian involvement threaten something that only exists in the mind of Liz Sly?
As for refugees, Sly had previously written a fantastic, tortured story of how refugees in Lebanon voting absentee and en masse for Assad were actually coerced from afar by the nefarious Assad. This wild disparagement of Syrian refugees' sentiments for Assad reveals profoundly Sly's lack of understanding of the roots of the conflict and her determination to view the refugee crisis through the lens of State Department policy goals and not compassion.
Following the lead of US policy makers, Sly and her colleague denounce the Russian bombing targets:
Some of the towns struck are strongholds of a recently formed coalition, Jaish al-Fateh, or Army of Conquest, that includes the Syrian al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra alongside an assortment of Islamist and moderate factions. Among them was a mosque in the northern Idlib town of Jisr al-Shugour, whose capture by the rebel coalition in April underscored the growing threat to the regime.
But notice how she concedes that Russian planes target a coalition-- a diverse ideological “assortment”-- of combatants, a concession that al-Qaida cooperates with the so-called moderates. Surely this acknowledges that the anti-Assad movement is a snake pit of opportunists. And the Russians are to be faulted for not asking for a show of hands within the Army of Conquest?
In light of the recent criminal bombing of a hospital in Afghanistan, a murderous act that NO journalist in the West can lay at the US's doorstep without preceding the fact with a host of mealy-mouthed “alleged,” “suspected,” or “charged” disclaimers, isn't it hypocritical that Sly so easily and assuredly blames the Russians for blowing up a mosque?
Roy Gutman at McClatchy (10-3-15) reports that the Kurds, the only reliable fighters against ISIS, support the Russian effort in Syria: “'We want Russia to provide us air support as well as weapons in our fight against the ISIL militants,' a YPG commander, Sipan Hemo, was quoted as telling the Russian Sputnik news portal. 'We can organize an effective cooperation with Russia on the issue'... Some analysts speculated that the YPG was interested in Russian support because Moscow was unlikely to respond to Turkey's worries that the Kurds' success would fuel a push for independence among its own Kurdish minority.”
Similarly, Iraq's Shiite militia welcome the Russian engagement. The Washington Post reports (10-05-15): “...Iraq's most powerful Iranian-backed Shiite militias said Monday they would welcome Russian airstrikes on IS in the country and accused the U.S. of failing to act decisively against the hardline group.”
As they have in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and so many other countries, US and NATO meddling in Syria has unleashed destructive forces further destabilizing the Middle East.
Sadly, the forthcoming US Presidential elections promise no respite from this cesspool of hypocrisy. All the Republican candidates separate themselves from the administration by advocating more military intervention.
Hilary Clinton, similarly, appeals to the war mongers by advocating a no-fly zone over Syria-- an act that would strengthen ISIS and the Islamists by weakening Assad.
And Bernie Sanders evades the issue.
Zoltan Zigedy