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Friday, December 21, 2018


I had intended this morning to write the second half of my post What Is To Be Done, but the events yesterday compel me to say something about them.  Perhaps this afternoon I can return to my two-part post.

I imagine many of you are having some version of the complex feelings I have experienced at the news of Trump’s abrupt decision to pull out of Syria, Mattis’ remarkable resignation, and the word that Trump also intends to pull most of our troops out of Afghanistan.  On the one hand, anything that weakens and damages Trump is welcome to me.  On the other hand, I am repelled by the virtually universal condemnation of his decisions by those who for decades have advanced an American imperialist policy, most particularly in the Middle East.

But what broad foreign policy do I think the United States ought to pursue?  Never mind for the moment whether there is any chance that it will be implemented.  What should be America’s relation to the rest of the world?  Here are three possibilities.  I do not know what I think, so I welcome discussion.

1.         America could maintain its enormous and enormously expensive military establishment and deploy it around the world in support of genuinely progressive regimes where they exist.  Support Mossadegh, rather than overthrowing him and installing the Shah.  Support the Sandanistas, not the Contras.  And so forth.  This would involve sending American troops into battle, and on occasion getting bogged down in endless local wars between factions no one of which is in any recognizable way progressive or truly socialist, or whatever .  In short, America could try to be a good empire rather than a bad empire.  Could this possibly happen without first a fundamental change in America’s economy, society, and politics?  Good question.

2.         America could dramatically reduce its military spending and the size of its military forces, forge close military alliances with Western European nations “like us,” and leave China to fill the void thus created [as it already is trying to do.]  Let us not fool ourselves.  If we retreat from our imperial stance, someone will take our place.  That is the reality of geopolitics.  Would the world be better off under Chinese hegemony than under American hegemony?  Interesting question.

3.         America could adopt what used to be called a Fortress America policy.  No entangling alliances, even with England or France, no foreign military bases, a dramatically reduced military budget, and a refusal to be drawn into foreign involvement even when refugees are being slaughtered, small countries are being invaded, ruthless dictatorships are being set up.  We protect our borders, threaten to rain destruction on anyone who seeks to breach them, and otherwise leave the rest of the world alone.  This is the Rand Paul proposal, as I understand it.  It is safe, it does not get Americans killed, and it is uncomplicated.  Do we wish to stand by as decent people are enslaved and slaughtered by vile dictators [like us, as some would say]?  Also a good question.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

I think you've constructed three straw men, none of which sound either attractive or fit anyone's actual view.

I suggest you start by reading Stephen Walt's suggestion for a foreign policy that is realist, restrained, and humane:

Anonymous said...

Walt's own solution is detailed here, with a co-author (Mearsheimer):

Tom Hickey said...

1. The so-called left is so blinded-sided by Trump derangement syndrome that most "leftists" have lost their minds and oppose everything that Trump does, even when it accords with their objectives. Adding to this is Bannon derangement syndrome by opposing any issue of national sovereignty based on opposing authoritarian nationalist populism, again regardless of whether it accords one's interests.

2. The so-called left cannot seem to distinguish between socialist internationalism based on worker solidarity and neoliberal globalization whose mission is multinational corporate totalitarianism.

3. The fundamental problem is "capitalism" broadly defined as culturally and institutionally favoring capital as a factor over labor (people) and land (the environment), based on capital formulation and accumulation being necessary for growth, which is good for everyone absolutely if not relatively because a rising tide lifts all boats (trickle down).

4. Progressives have failed to understand that a currency issuer that is sovereign in its currency in the sense of floating the exchange rate and not undertaking financial obligations in a currency it does not issue is able to self-fund itself by issuance, meaning that a such a government is always in the position of being able to put available real resources to use and also fund social welfare. The result is that progressive buy into the neoliberal version of capitalism that is prevalent because, in the words of Margaret Thatcher, "there is no alternative."

5. The chief power of America is soft power. America has been hemorrhaging soft power 9/11 owing to the pursuit of global hegemony in accordance with the Bush doctrine and the Wolfowitz doctrine that is resulting in spreading chaos and alienating the rest of the world. Ironically, this travesty is based on "spreading freedom, democracy and Western values." That facade has crumbled.

6. The strategic blindness on the part of the US and NATO leadership, along with almost total corporate media complacency, driven by an inordinate fear of Russia, driven by Russiagate and Russophobia, as well as the fear that China will overtake the US. Well, eventually China is going to overtake the US, just as a matter of numbers. So will India.

7. There is no longer a free press in the West, but a compromised press. It's no longer possible to distinguish "news" from government propaganda and intelligence services disinformation. The joke in Russia is that the present day press in Russia is like the press used to be in America, while the American press is like the press used to be under the USSR.

Each of these points can be elaborate with data and has been in the non-corporate media and on social media. The bipartisan establishment is characterizing this as either conspiracy theory or treasonous (Putin-bots).


Tom Hickey said...

All of these issues are traceable to "capitalism" as the driver, "capitalism" being broadly defined as above, and especially the neoliberal variety that has enlisted the power of the state and media, leading toward multinational corporate totalitarianism as the basis for a world order in which the Anglo-American Empire rules through "capitalism." It's not even necessary at this level to get into Marxian analysis of capitalism. It's obvious at the superficial level owing just to prioritization.

What is needed as an antidote is a balancing of the factors with the priority given to people, but in the context of a sustainable ecology. The alternative is existential threat and risk of an extinction event. No brainer, that.

This reorganization will likely not take place without a raising of the level of collective consciousness through the working of the historical dialectic over time. Revolutions require the wherewithal for sustainable reform is more or less in place. That doesn't seem to be the case at present. So this is likely to be a more gradual evolutionary process, which is also consistent with Marx's analysis that a mode of production has first to exhaust its potential before a new wave rises.

The "metaphysical" materials (as Bucky Fuller called them) for a new system are still developing. Human metaphysical materials like knowledge and empathy, dare I say love, are unlimited. But they need to be developed and drawn on. Presently, humanity is drawing on only a fraction of those materials that have already been developed. (See economist and general systems theorist Kenneth Boulding's work, for example.) At the same time, the emergence of the Information Age suggest that a transition may be taking place similar to the transition from the Agricultural Age (feudalism) to the Industrial Age (capitalism). The outlines are as yet vague and the emergent challenges seem to be as great as the emergent opportunities. The take-away is that technological innovation results in the opportunity for greater leisure. The challenge then is distributing it.

In the meanwhile, probably the best that can be done is to call the on the left to get back on track and show them means for doing this. The first matter of business is showing progressives that they are undermining their own cause by buying into neoliberalism, which is based on "sound finance," which was suitable to a degree under the gold standard (fixed exchange rate). Rather, given the monetary system since FDR went off the gold standard domestically and Nixon shut the gold window internationally.

Abba Lerner's functional finance is presently the suitable fiscal policy, coupled with federally funded social welfare and infrastructure development, and a federally funded job guarantee, e.g., as proposed by Stephanie Kelton, who was Bernie Sanders chief economic advisor. Unfortunately, Bernie did not listen to her and an opportunity was lost. The Democratic Party is pretty much useless as long as it continues to embrace PAYGO in order to appear fiscally responsible in contrast to the GOP that has no compunctions about increasing military spending while cutting taxes on the rich. Nor is taxing the rich to fund government the way to go either. The rich need to be taxed more (progressive taxation) in order to reduce their political clout, which is in proportion to wealth. Even Citibank admits that the US again a plutonomy.


Tom Hickey said...


The important thing thing for the left now is not to obsess on Trump and especially to avoid Trump derangement syndrome. It just increases the crazy. It leads down a blind ally, a tunnel with no cheese. It's also important not to get distracted by identity politics and intersectionality and lose sight of worker solidarity. It's also important not to let socialist "internationalism" distract from the useful aspects of national sovereignty that are still vital protecting workers, advancing social welfare, and promoting the general welfare and common good by fostering people's interests as fundamental to public purpose. Socialists internationalism must be distinguished from neoliberal globalization, which is a form of neo-imperialism and neocolonialism.

In other words, "keep your eyes on the ball."


s. wallerstein said...

The U.S. has done so much damage to other societies through its imperialism, always in the name of high-minded principles, principles that blind so many people to the real geopolitical and economic aims that in the name of sanity, the U.S. should take a vacation of, say, 10 years before intervening in other nations. During those 10 years the U.S. should close all its military bases and missile sites outside of the U.S. territory and bring all the troops home.

After those 10 years are over, the U.S. should use its military force outside its territory only when there is a multilateral coalition (it could be with the European democracies mentioned in alternative 2) which explicitly asks for U.S. collaboration. The U.S., given its criminal record and its tendency to invent lofty rationalizations for its crimes, a tendency seconded by all the mainstream media, liberal or conservative, should never take the initiative in military adventures abroad in the future.

Anonymous said...

Let's just try love, for a change.

Howie said...

This question breaks down to what is good for USA and what is good for the world.
Fortress America will fail, because everything is local in the new world, at least economically and we cannot avoid the world.
So I ask, is China just another behemoth Imperialist power, or is it ins some way progressive in your sense, or will it vouch for it's own brand of capitalism, albeit with a human face?
Though I can live with some watered down version of capitalism, it's your blog, so I'll humor you for the hell of it
Could there be a league of smaller or medium size progressive states that could forge some new coalition verging on a world order?
America can't hide in a fortress and will either have to do commerce and truck with this order or truly live as a lone wolf or outlaw nation,
For what it's worth that's my two bitcoin opinion

Anonymous said...

The imperialist games are played by the USA, Russia, China, etc... Maybe there was a time humanitarian ideals and notions of democracy could justifiably show the need for such policies but not anymore. Unfortunately, Russia does not have a need to push for a grand imperialist policy. They really just want to annoy the US.

Russia has effectively demonstrated the American elites never cared about humanitarian issues or democracy, they just wanted to make $$$ or be in positions of power to trade upon for future favors,

My concern extends to my own safety in this country. Further provocations by Russia to intensify civil strife will not bring about positive solutions. It is exhausting and builds further division and tension.

Now Trump is thinking about firing the Federal Reserve Chairman... He is effectively proposing the need for greater democratic control of the Federal Reserve. Will he be allowed to navigate those waters? Would this topic ever have been discussed in the past? I would hope such matters be brought up organically due to a need and not because Russia recommends Trump agitate the elites with the matter...

The Syria matter has always been about European routes for natural gas/oil pipelines. Russia wants to control all routes in order to have some say on European matters. The US is looking for alternative solutions to alleviate the political tension... It has already started with the yellow vest riots.

Nicaragua and Venezuela are in a bad situation. The leftist elites are basically stealing for themselves. These are not true leftists or people interested in good governance. They are deliberately sabotaging civic institutions to prevent any checks and balances. If you understand Spanish, they basically say the same things as Trump, just in Spanish. The US sits idle not out of want. It would just be easier to intervene in total chaos and force these governments to privatize all enterprises/natural resources. Better to undo all the rules that prevented US corporations from outright owning the oil fields than save Venezuela and contend with restrictive covenants on foreign investment.

The tit for tat game is not good for anyone. The need to see each superpower crumble will cause disasters. (already in Syria)

What solutions exist? Better educate the populace on civic matters, history, in critical thinking... The exact things no consumer society should learn.

The war among superpowers is a war among elites. This will end with the blood of peasants fighting for empty causes.

This plus better tools to manipulate the populace and the use of surveillance on the general population is BAD!

On neoliberalism... I don't think it is bad. I think we are at the genesis of a new technological revolution. The WTO, GATT, and increasing number of interlocking international organizations are chipping away at sovereignty to bring about clusters of new governance. Sure it benefits corporations and financial institutions but they can be used to effectively dissolve the antiquated notion of nations. The future demands open markets, open borders, free movement of peoples in order to benefit capitalism. Just like the modernizing principles of governance used by the tsars were taken over by the communists, the organizational prowess of these new entities can be usurped for other purposes. New frameworks of governance will allow for continental and hemispheric scale. Sure these organizations suck and screw over labor but imagine if labor only had to contend with 1 framework of governance to impose changes vs allowing arbitrage across nations...

anonymous too said...

Well, it would take too long and too much space to respond to a celebrant of neoliberalism who seems to be not at all concerned with the correlated hollowing out of democracy.

However, though I'm no Realist, I thought I'd give a reference to Stephen Walt's thoughts on the matter of the moment since the opening Anonymous referenced him:

Jerry Brown said...

Like Tom Hickey says, I probably have 'Trump derangement syndrome'. The ironic thing is that while I support some of the Trump announcements that seem to have led to Mattis resigning, I am very worried about Mattis leaving the government. I don't think it is deranged to consider Trump as the real 'mad dog' of the two of them- even if I approve of a few of Trump's policies and disapprove of most of what Mattis seems to want. Its mostly about possible worst case scenarios with Trump.

But I agree with everything else Tom Hickey said especially about Abba Lerner, Stephanie Kelton, and a federal job guarantee. All of which relate to Professor Wolff's awaited continuation of the 'What is to be Done' post.

Postkey said...

"The Syria matter has always been about European routes for natural gas/oil pipelines. Russia wants to control all routes in order to have some say on European matters."


“You can’t understand the conflict without talking about natural gas
By Maj. Rob Taylor
Much of the media coverage suggests that the conflict in Syria is a civil war, in which the Alawite (Shia) Bashar al Assad regime is defending itself (and committing atrocities) against Sunni rebel factions (who are also committing atrocities). The real explanation is simpler: it is about money.
In 2009, Qatar proposed to run a natural gas pipeline through Syria and Turkey to Europe. Instead, Assad forged a pact with Iraq and Iran to run a pipeline eastward, allowing those Shia-dominated countries access to the European natural gas market while denying access to Sunni Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The latter states, it appears, are now attempting to remove Assad so they can control Syria and run their own pipeline through Turkey.”

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