Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fortress Europe and Its Trojan Horse

There is a popular saying in the US that what goes around comes around, meaning that your bad actions will boomerang back on you. I still remember John Gerassi’s 1963 book The Great Fear, that warned the North to ignore the South at its peril.  Western Europe was busy with its economic miracle then, giving little thought to the role played by present or former colonies, as these, one by one, gained independence through bloody struggle.

This happened because, following the Marshall Plan that helped Western Europe recover from the war, America continued to press upon its ‘allies’ its combined panoplies of mass culture and technology. ‘Drug Stores’ sprouted, followed by shopping malls, and I came upon pharmacies in Germany’s Black Forest with wall to wall carpeting and musak, at a time when Italians were roaring through hilltop villages on Vespas, soon to be followed by sports cars blaring rock music.

In 1992, following an eight-year war of independence (1954-62) Algeria, France’s largest African colony, was again plunged into  civil war when France intervened to prevent the Islamic Party from winning an election. Morocco and Tunisia followed a less rocky path to modernization after independence in 1955 and 1956 respectively, as nations across a vast African continent engaged in liberation from their English, French-or Portuguese speaking colonial masters.

In Asia, the Korean War (1950-53), largely an American affair, was closely followed by the War in Vietnam, which started as a French affair, but became a twenty-year American obsession, after France’s stinging defeat at Bien Bien Phu in 1954.  

Hitler’s Germany had no colonies , and following its second defeat in World War II, the country pursued its inevitable rise as Europe’s power-house, taking in thousands of Turkish guest workers. In France, Europe’s other major power, thousands of North African guest workers contributed to a much needed modernization. However, the simultaneous return to France of colonial settlers, known as ‘black foots’, mainly from Algeria, strengthened nationalists in a country with strong Communist and Socialist parties, ensuring rocky domestic politics. As it increa-singly Americanized its way of life, popular disapproval of US muscle continued, side-by-side with incidents such as the covert bombing of the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior, to protect France’s nuclear ‘independence’.

While the Third and Fourth worlds were emancipating themselves from colonial rule, Europeans never imagined that this would raise the clout of the world’s formerly colonized majority. Though walking the same streets as Muslim men and women, Western Europeans never saw them as potential major players.  As for Eastern Europeans, their rush to consume without borders left them happily indifferent to anything going on elsewhere. If they noticed growing Muslim populations among their Western neighbors, they noted, with no small satisfaction, that their isolation behind the Iron Curtain during the period of decolonization saved them from involvement with Muslims, a considerable consolation in light of several hundred years of Turkish occupation

Seemingly out of the blue, Europe has been brought up short by its frivolous blindness: the two-thirds of multi-colored humanity out there matter. The Trojan horse of terrorism is filled with Bashar al-Assad’s refugees, but the horse itself was built by Washington’s relentless pursuit of global hegemony. Mindlessly, a vassalized Europe acquiesced, not realizing it would pay, as a result of what the French call disparagingly, wanting to play in the upper school yard.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sliding into War

While most people focus on the how dramatic the Paris raids were, or how brave the Parisians in its aftermath, I keep wondering how different, if at all, the current situation is from the months or weeks before previous wars.  Or rather, how different the present may feel to us from the way the lead-up to World War II felt to the Germans or the Japanese.

Although there have been many wars since that time, I’m deliberately taking World War II as an example because what today may be leading up to would not be a localized Korean War, or a Vietnamese War, but World War III.  And I cannot help but come back again and again to this nagging thought that future generations will wonder how a relatively highly educated world polity could have let a war to end the planet happen.

One of the problems with anticipating the ‘next’ (or current) war is defining it.  For centuries, wars have been between countries.  Before that, they were between religions, and long before that, between tribes.  The war we appear to have already entered fits none of these categories neatly.  It is not a war ‘’of’ civilizations, but a war between several different kinds of cultures: between authoritarian and “freedom-loving” or licentious cultures, which partly overlaps social democracy versus unbridled capitalism, the Judeo-Christian world versus the Islamic world and the North versus the South.

What throws a monkey-wrench into even these broad categories is the fact that, probably for the first time in history, a small group of humans have decided that war is an ideal way to make money, which also has the advantage of killing off large numbers of resource-consuming humans on a planet that will soon need life support itself.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Putin's Groupies Versus Stalin's

The barrage of anti-Putin rhetoric that fills the Western air-waves and written media would be almost useless to the powers that be without the demonizing of those who support him across the world.

Yesterday, a US representative on MSNBC inadvertently referred to ‘Russia’ as ‘The Soviet Union’. Whether it was deliberate or a slip of the tongue, the remark shows that anti-Russian propaganda piggybacks comfortably on decades of Anti-Soviet propaganda. But recognizing this only scratches the surface of a dangerous trend: the conflating of individuals who believe Putin is the main adult in the room with traitors, harking back to the days when the American Communist Party supported Joseph Stalin.

In the fifties, Nikita Khruschev denounced Stalin’s crimes in a celebrated speech.  More recently, the Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a monument to be built in Moscow commemorating Stalin’s victims - something the US has yet to do with respect to slavery. Yet Americans who defend Putin’s policies are viciously attacked, largely, I believe, because the American public has no notion of history.

The Russian Revolution was did not emerge full-blown from nothing. It followed decades of revolutionary and reformist campaigns against the Tsarist regime among Russian writers and other intellectuals. Based on the writings of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, among others, it posited that if the 99% were empowered instead of the 1%, the Russian people would be better off.

Reams were written to support this claim, but once power had been taken from the Tsar and handed to the ‘Soviets’ or peoples’ councils, the leaders of the revolution realized that the aristocrats and capitalists were not going to take their losses lying down. A five year civil war between ‘White Russia’ and the Communists (or ‘Reds’ ) ensued, backed by the West.
(This is not going to be a history of the Russian Revolution.  I’m merely setting the stage for the thesis of this article.)  Russia emerged from four years of war against Germany alongside the Allied Powers, and an additional five years of civil war to confront its first two challenges: the redistribution of land from large owners to poor, largely illiterate peasants, and the gigantic task of turning a vast, largely agrarian society into a modern, developed country.

American progressives realized that this was a tall order for any government, and were inclined to make allowances for the brutality with which Stalin ruled in the name of the revolution’s promise of equity.  However, temporary cooperation with ‘Uncle Joe’ against Hitler in no way changed Washington’s deep-seated hostility to the system Stalin managed, and almost as soon as the war was over, American progressives were hunted, fired and ostracized by the House un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Fast forward to today, when a growing number of Americans are literally in despair over their government’s behavior, whether vis a vis minorities at home or in foreign policy. While no discriminatory action has as yet been taken against them, they are justifiably cautious about voicing their opinion, bearing in mind the fate of government whistle-blowers such as Chelsea Manning, and the impossibility for Edward Snowden to return to his country of birth without risking a life sentence for treason. 

And yet, I see a very big difference between those who during the life of the Soviet Union were labelled  ‘fellow travelers’, (those who, while not members of the Communist Party, supported the Russian Revolution”), and those who today consider that Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy makes more sense than that of their own government.
Americans who supported the Soviet Union did so because they believed it was a good idea to put power in the hands of the 99%, and they hoped similar events would take place in the United States. (At that time, most Americans still worked a 40 hour week and there was no such thing as time off if you had a baby.) If the Soviet experiment was a failure would imply that the 1% would always be in power everywhere, a fate too awful to accept. Many progressives heard only the positive reports from that faraway land, or believed Stalin’s exactions must somehow be justified.

The situation with Vladimir Putin’s Russia is very different.  Twenty-four seven tv and internet news make a significant number of people around the world aware of the major events played out daily across the planet. Although Americans could be much better informed, they are increasingly aware that their government tends to shoot first and ask questions later.  And that it is official policy that no other country can be permitted to become as powerful as we are.

Although Vladimir Putin’s speeches are not published in extenso -  any more than Obama’s - Americans do get a glimpse of his behavior on the world stage. And gradually, as for many other people around the world, it is becoming painfully clear to them that this foreign leader makes a lot more sense than their own. People around the world who have come to support Putin do not do so because they are being fed Russian propaganda, as those who supported Joseph Stalin were. They are infinitely more able to judge the Russian president for themselves than anyone was able judge Stalin, either inside or outside of the Soviet Union.

Thus, the big difference between Putin’s groupies and Stalin’s is that the former have the wherewithal to think for themselves, while the latter did not, and hence could only rely on the Party line. If they come together, it is because they recognize each other across time and space, not because they are members of a monolithic group. Those who support Putin’s approach to international affairs do so because they can see that it makes sense. Seventy years after the founding of the UN, the Russian president wants the world to abide by its charter, in letter and in spirit, while Washington has for decades disparaged both.

President Obama’s assurances that we go to war to protect civilians from their evil governments are as specious as George Bush’s assertions that we went to war to bring democracy to the world.  Now the dance over what to do about ISIS contrasts so vividly with US assertions of strength that Americans don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Unquestioning patriots condemn their government for being unable to beat the other side: thoughtful Americans condemn it for not hearing the other side. Slowly, they are coming to the conclusion that the aims of the 1% are so nefarious that no amount of common sense thinking about right and wrong would change official American behavior.  How could they not look to Putin, who takes every opportunity to insist, even when he feels compelled to act, that differences between nations must be sorted out through negotiation, not war?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Obama's Choice

The rambling answers of American congressmen to questions about what Obama should do about ISIS strongly suggest that what America is faced with is not really Obama’s choice, but a Hobson’s choice.  According to Wikipedia:

“A Hobson's choice is a so-called  free choice in which only one option is actually offered. Since a person may refuse to take that option, the choice is therefore really between taking the option or not. In other words,"take it or leave it." The phrase is said to originate with Thomas Hobson (1544–1631), a livery stable owner in Cambridge, England, who offered customers the choice of either taking the horse in his stall nearest the door or taking none at all. “

I could have quoted only the definition, leaving out the origin, but one is as pertinent as the other.  With its array of attacks in the capital of an allied country, ISIS is basically telling the President of the most powerful country on earth “either you make a deal with us, or you too, will perish”.  Obama clearly knows that, even though people like McCain, who think in the same linear, dualistic terms espoused by the terrorists, want us to atom bomb them back to seventh century Arabia.

Echoing what appeared to be a broad congressional consensus, last night on MSNBC, Senator Jack Reid claimed that it’s more urgent than ever for Assad to resign, because he is the reason for the ISIS attacks.  Reid neglected to say that ISIS hates Assad because he is, and has consistently been, a secular leader, under whom a multi-religious people lived peacefully until the US decided this was not acceptable, especially with up-coming oil pipelines in play.

No American politician can admit that it is not our democracy that ISIS rejects, but our way of life.  None pointed out that the most brutal attack came during a concert by a rock band, while others targeted restaurants serving alcohol and a sports stadium. (The rationale for that target is not clear, unless it was the presence of the French President, the suicide bombers having failed to gain entrance to the stadium.) 

As long as Western politicians continue to affirm that radical Islamists are targeting democracy, instead of admitting that they reject our lifestyle, they will be forced, as in Hobson’s choice, to take ‘the horse closest to the stable door’, waging war instead of instituting a dialogue about the place of morality in the city.  Christianity and Islam spent the entire Middle Ages warring against each other for territorial supremacy. Today the Islamists’ narrowly focused jihad against ‘the other’ is about behavior: the West’s commitment to consumption as a way of life, in which freedom of choice is a value, inevitably leads to a social environment in which anything goes.

Do I think people who drink alcohol or listen to rock music should be assassinated?  Of course not, but few Westerners have taken the trouble to find out what Islam is about. ‘Submission’ to God’s commands is about treating each other with dignity equity and respect, and this really doesn’t jive with the sight of women wrestlers on TV.