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Saturday, October 12, 2019


I have become accustomed to daily, even hourly, breaking news but it is the weekend, and for some reason Congress does not hold hearings on Saturday, so I thought I would try to get some perspective on the subject of impeachment by engaging in a thought experiment.

Suppose that some serious leftwing presidential candidate were to run for the nomination and win the presidency on a radical platform whose principal foreign policy plank was a rejection of the seventy year-long imperial project whose implementation has been the foundation of every president, Democratic and Republican, since Roosevelt.  There have been right-wing politicians like Rand Paul who have advanced something akin to such a rejection but the point of view has not, to my recollection, played a significant role in progressive leftwing electoral politics.  Certainly neither Sanders nor Warren has said anything like this.

Suppose this person was a serious, thoughtful, knowledgeable person who understood quite well how difficult the implementation of such a radical policy reorientation would be, how many solemn treaties would have to be abrogated, how many overseas military bases would have to be closed, how fundamentally the American defense establishment would have to be reconfigured and also, of course, reduced in size.

Suppose also that this person recognized that in the world as it is, the retreat of the United States from an international Imperial stance would open the way for China and other states to occupy the policy space abandoned.  The new president might, for example, believe that in the world as it is now economic power, properly deployed, is superior to military power.  [That seems to lie at the base of China’s current national policy, at least to some extent.]

What would be the consequences in this country were the new president openly, and after wide consultation, attempt to implement the dramatic policy reorientation on which he or she had run and been elected?

I think the answer is obvious.  There would be revulsion, charges of betrayal, accusations of treason, sober, serious principled opposition from the bureaucracy, the media, the corporate elites, and much of academia.  And very quickly, there would be calls for impeachment.

Needless to say, nothing remotely like this can be attributed to Trump.  This is not a thought experiment about him.  It is an effort to think hypothetically about the limits of policy change in modern American politics.  I think the policy reorientation I am talking about might in practice be impossible even for a President with a clear and sizable electoral mandate.


TheDudeDiogenes said...

"I think the policy reorientation I am talking about might in practice be impossible even for a President with a clear and sizable electoral mandate." No doubt this is true, and, thus why Bernie rightly (to my mind, at least), keeps his focus on domestic policies.

howard said...

My friend who admires your son's chess game, to whom I read this post, thinks you could've said the same thing in fewer words: you want a democratic Pat Robertson, who is a demagogue and was an isolationist.
When he told me his opinion and told him to reply on your blog with a comment, he authorized me to relay to you his comment.
My friend's name is Jeff and he is a librarian and he went to Bronx Science

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Cool. When did he go to Bronx Science?

howard b said...

The late seventies

Jerry Fresia said...

"There would be revulsion, charges of betrayal, accusations of treason, sober, serious principled opposition from the bureaucracy, the media, the corporate elites, and much of academia. "

"What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war." JFK June 10 1963

The American University speech, titled "A Strategy of Peace", was a commencement address delivered by United States President John F. Kennedy at the American University in Washington, D.C., on Monday, June 10, 1963.[1] Delivered at the height of his rhetorical powers and widely considered one of his most powerful speeches,[2] Kennedy not only outlined a plan to curb nuclear arms, but also "laid out a hopeful, yet realistic route for world peace at a time when the U.S. and Soviet Union faced the potential for an escalating nuclear arms race."[3] In the speech, Kennedy announced his agreement to negotiations "toward early agreement on a comprehensive test ban treaty" (which resulted in the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty) and also announced, for the purpose of showing "good faith and solemn convictions", his decision to unilaterally suspend all U.S. atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons as long as all other nations would do the same. Noteworthy are his comments that the United States was seeking a goal of "complete disarmament" of nuclear weapons and his vow that America "will never start a war". The speech was unusual in

Paul said...

You're actually wrong--or at least, somewhat misled--about Bernie. You're especially wrong to conflate his stance on American militarism and imperialism with Warren's. Warren has been completely status quo on American militarism and imperialism her whole career, consistently supporting absurd military budgets and defense contractors. Sanders, by contrast, has often (if not consistently or radically enough) supported workers movements abroad and criticized American human rights abuses and support for authoritarian clients. He's by far the most radical on ending support for Israel and Saudi Arabia. He's discussed drastically reducing the military budget. And he's made addressing foreign policy issues a pretty big part of this campaign--no doubt you haven't heard about it because it gets zero coverage on MSNBC and the like. But the Intercept has run stories about it (I think). And you can see a transcript of a big speech he gave on foreign policy a couple years ago here:

Anonymous said...

I agree that such a candidate on the left would be smeared with the vilest insults.

The closest Dem candidate to this ideal is Tulsi Gabbard, who merely campaigns on ending the Forever Wars.

Here is the New York Times, falsely suggesting just yesterday that she is allied with neo-Nazis:

s. wallerstein said...

Any U.S. president who tries to carry out radical reforms in foreign and domestic policy is going to face lots of problems. He or she will meet opposition in the rightwing media and in the liberal media, from the Paul Krugmans and the Nicholas Kristoffs. The stock market will go down and there's be capital flight. Even if there is a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, the liberal corporate Democrats will try to sabotage his or her program of government. Then there's the Supreme Court which will declare many of the reforms to be unconstitutional. Rightwing militia will form and arm themselves to "defend American values," etc. I don't know why someone with a heart condition like Bernie wants to bring on these troubles for himself, but I admire his persistence and courage.

A good example of what might occur is the second government of Michelle Bachelet in Chile (2014-2018). In her campaign Bachelet promised to carry out genuine social democratic reforms and carried the run-off with 62% of the vote. She had a majority in both houses of Congress. From day one the media, most of it controlled by rightwing economic groups, attacked her, from two angles: 1. the reforms were dangerously radical and 2. even though reforms might be necessary, they should be carried out slowly and prudently, not in the radical way Bachelet supposedly wanted to do it. Then they discovered a Hunter Biden type scandal that had to do with Bachelet's daughter-in-law and to a certain extent with her son. They never let up about that. Her congressional majority proved to be fragile since many congresspeople who supported her on election day in order to get elected themselves, given her popularity, began to vote against her as the campaign against her reforms intensified. Big business began to invest less in the economy and job creation slowed. After a while public opinion turned against her and never a strong person, she basically gave up, refused to give interviews and according to gossip, began to drink heavily and to take medication. After finishing her term, Bachelet was named UN human rights commissioner, a job that suits her more than trying to carry out reforms in the face of opposition. I wish her well.

At the end of Bachelet's term in the next presidential election voters elected a rightwing billionaire by a large margin, which says something about how precarious public opinion is. Chile, which had swung to the left in 2013 electing Bachelet, in 2017 swung to the right electing Sebastian PiƱera.

Jay said...

It is interesting to see the extent to which Tulsi Gabbard is smeared for her staunch anti-interventionist policy ideas by, more often than not, leftwing media; despite being leftwing herself.

In my mind she is the foreign policy puzzle piece to Bernie's campaign and would make for a good running mate. There's definite overlap between their policies, both foreign and domestic, but it seems to me that Bernie's domestic polices are more radically progressive than Tulsi's and Tulsi's foreign policies are more radically progressive than Bernie's.

Neither seem like a candidate the DNC are enthusiastic about getting behind.

Danny said...

I can understand development in Africa as an 'imperial project', but all this business of America and the imperial project isn't seeming particularly sober to me. Maybe also it wouldn't be sober to speak of the belief in America as a "city on the hill," a light to the nations -- but at least people do speak of it.

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