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Friday, March 23, 2018


I am very frightened by the appointment of John Bolton as National Security Advisor.  Trump may have seen him on Fox News, but he is no mere cable news commentator.  There is a real danger now that the United States will launch preemptive attacks against Iran or North Korea or both.  These will be described as limited surgical strikes carrying no threat of a ground war, but that is an illusion that will rapidly be undone by facts on the ground.  Trump is described simultaneously as giddy with the realization that he can do the job of being President all by himself without the irritation of advisors telling him “No!” and also panicked by the tightening noose of the Mueller investigation.  Bizarre thought it may appear, it may be that what agitates him the most is the danger of being exposed by three women as an inadequate lover.

All of us, myself most of all, have been putting our hopes on the November midterm elections, but things may blow up long before the intervening seven months have passed.  There is absolutely no reason to think that Congressional Republicans will place constraints on Trump, and I am very fearful that if we are in a new war, along with the old ones, when the elections come around, voters may rally behind the Administration.

It is very difficult at such a moment to think through a theoretical lecture on the theories of Karl Marx.


s. wallerstein said...

I don't think that they're going to attack Iran or North Korea. The U.S. hasn't attacked anyone who can fight back since Viet Nam and then they did it because they were unaware that the Vietnamese would fight back.

However, much attention should be paid to the U.S. covert and at times not so covert campaign against Venezuela. The government of Maduro has made a lot of mistakes and Maduro is no saint, but there is no doubt that the U.S. has been trying to destroy a legitimately elected leftwing government which has carried out important social reforms benefiting the poorest sectors of the Venezuelan population. Much of the campaign against Venezuela has been endorsed by the "liberal" media, including the NY Times, but Trump has stepped up the pressure against the Maduro government.

David Zimmerman said...

Professor Wolff notes that the terrifying John Bolton advocates that the US launch a "preemptive" nuclear strike on North Korea. Since philosophers are "distinguishing" creatures [something Quine, I think, noted], it is worth observing that there is an important distinction between a "preemptive" and a "preventive" military action. The former is a response to a highly probable imminent threat from a perceived foe; the latter a response to a possible but not immanent threat. Conventional morality of war theory has it that preemptive strikes are sometimes morally justified, but that it is considerably harder to justify preventive strikes. [See, e.g. Michael Walzer on this distinction.]
On this understanding of the distinction, If Bolton were urging a merely [!] preemptive nuclear strike against North Korea, that would be bad enough, but hardly as bad as what he is actually urging, viz. a preventive strike. I say this, because on no sensible assessment of Kim's intentions is he contemplating an imminent nuclear strike against anyone. That day may come, but it is not here yet. So, The terrifying Bolton is actually urging something far worse than a preemptive strike. However he might describe his proposal, we should not follow him into such obfuscation: He is proposing a preventive strike.

Ed Barreras said...

This news took a while to sink in. But late last night I had something of a panic attack. I tried to count the intervening steps between this development and nuclear bombs raining down on major cities (including ones here in the US, needless to say). I panicked when I realized that what I came up with could be counted on one finger. Bolton’s entry into the inner circle means that war with North Korea is now likely, and therefore, so too is it likely that massive population centers will be decimated and millions of people killed, within the next few weeks or months. I realize that’s alarmist in the extreme. But am I missing something? Who or what is going to swoop in and save us?

I just tuned into cable and am amazed at how the talking heads, despite their “concerned faces, seem to be keeping up the chipper demeanor. It’s as if people are still in denial about what an absolute, unbridled madman we’re dealing with. And I’d wager that, too, there’s probably a good deal of denialism about even the *idea* of nuclear war. Hiroshima and Nagasaki happened so long ago; surely they same hell couldn’t be repeated in Brooklyn or Santa Monica. As for me I’m keeping my duffle bag packed.

I hesitate to recommend the latest column from Andrew Sullivan, who paints a chilling picture by way of reminding us of Plato’s analysis of how a tyrant seizes power. First is a period of relative calm, when all the tyrant does is give away stuff. Then there’s the purge of anyone brave enough to stand up to him. Then, of course, there’s the drumming up of war to position the tyrant as a strong leader and consolidate his support among the public. Read it if you can stomach it.

Jerry Fresia said...

Indeed, it is interesting how the arrival of Bolton as NSA to Trump induces fear and a near sense of panic in ways that Gaza and Yemen and Syria, garden variety nightmares and humanitarian calamities for which we bear some responsibility, never really do.

Carl said...

Please note that the Republican majority is in power not just for the 7.5 months until the election but for the 9.3 months until the next Congress takes office.

LFC said...

One should be alarmed but perhaps not necessarily alarmist, to venture a distinction that I'm not sure a dictionary wd support, but whatever. Point is that Bolton is an ideologue, but I tend to think he will not advise any kind of first strike on North Korea. What he has said on Fox News is not nec. what he will tell Trump in private.

The Korean peninsula is, in effect, a tinderbox in the context of which any preventive/'surgical'/whatever strike wd represent an extremely dangerous match. Even Bolton prob. understands that. The immediate danger is war on the peninsula, not a N Korean missile reaching the U.S. (which it may or may not yet even have the actual capacity to do; it's not altogether clear as I understand it).

No one knows what's going to happen, but nuclear weapons over the years have had a remarkable capacity to concentrate the minds of all concerned on the side of relative caution. In the later Cold War, the close calls, I'm thinking of the Able Archer incident in particular, were rooted in misperceptions that almost got out of hand, not intentions. Don't forget that Trump and Kim Jong Un are still supposed to have a one-on-one meeting. If it comes off, it prob. will be useful, even if all they do is utter some platitudes and get photographed shaking hands.

The appointment of Bolton may push N Korea further in the direction of diplomatic feelers. They may read his public statements and think 'this guy is over-the-top, we'd better try to calm the situation.' Kim Jong Un's presumptive main goal is to remain alive and in power, Trump's to remain alive and win re-election. They got off on hurling insults ('fire and fury', 'repulsive [or whatever the adjective was] dotard'), but they likely understand that a military conflict on the peninsula would not be good for either of them politically, or likely conduce to their long-term political survival.

Ed Barreras said...

Jerry Fresia,

I have always spoken out against those calamities in Iraq, Gaza, etc. But when I hear that North Korea can deliver a nuclear payload to where I and my loved ones live, and I see that we are on a path in which the likelihood of that scenario is significantly above zero, then yes, I do panic a little. I have not yet reached the state of Zen in which the instinct for base self-preservation is overcome.

Anonymous said...

Bad news indeed. Why must that evil grifter in chief raid the graveyard of the Bush administration to fill his cabinet? Is there nothing to look forward to? Bolton was involved in the Cambridge Analytica scandal too. I left Facebook only days before the news broke. A departure somewhat lacking in ceremony. On the blindingly bright side, with gamma ray radiation for good measure, I won't have to repay my student loan.

Jerry Fresia said...

Ed Barreras:

I agree with you. Bolton frightens me simply because he's mentally disturbed in ways that amplifies Trump's mental illness. But my fear is not that North Korea will harm the US. I don't believe they can; much as was the case with the Soviet Union, the capability of weapon systems of states the US declares as official enemies are always wildly exaggerated. (Certainly NK capabilities have been, according to numerous studies.) Remember how the Sandinistas were a threat to the security of the US?

My fear/panic is that hundreds of thousands of innocent people on the peninsula will be slaughtered and that the US will nuke NK. If anyone in the US is to be nuked when and if things really slide south, I don't think it will be by NK.