debating a neocon
i was fully inspired today by Stan Goff of CounterPunch fame. below are his opening remarks for a debate against neocon Patrick Clawson, where he refuses to be baited by the dead horses, and instead unfolds the heart of the problem. these remarks are absolutely worth reading all the way through, but if you're short on time, read the last six paragraphs or so (his good news and bad news). enjoy.
I'm sure some of you have heard the story of the frog and the scorpion, but for those who haven't, I'll tell it again.
There was a frog about to swim across a river, when suddenly he was confronted with a scorpion in his path. The frog fell back in fright, but the scorpion was quick to reassure him, "I'm not going to sting you. I just have a favor to ask."
The frog, still startled but hoping the scorpion meant him no harm, said, "But you are a scorpion. What favor could you ask of me?"
The scorpion replied, "I just need a ride across the river. I can't swim, but you can. If I sting you and you die, how would I get across? Can't you please give me a ride?"
The frog thought for a moment, and in his relief that the scorpion had not stung him, he consented. The scorpion climbed on the frog's back, and off they went across the river. As the frog reached the riverbank and pulled himself out of the water, the scorpion stung him and stepped onto land.
The dying frog cried out to the scorpion, "You told me you wouldn't sting me."
The scorpion replied, "I can't help it. It's my nature," and walked away.
In most of the debates we have heard about the war in Iraq during the election campaign, debates that are now thankfully past, we heard the usual point/counterpoint about weapons of mass destruction, about who could more competently carry out the military occupation of Iraq, about who could convince what allies to help carry this burden, about what has or hasn't been done about Osama bin Laden, or about who was more competent to carry out the War on Terrorism.
I will depart from these formulae. I think these arguments are red herrings, that is, the fallacious method of introducing irrelevant topics to divert attention away from the real one.
I don't believe the war is the exclusive product of the delusional thinking of the islamophobic clique that surrounds our current presidential mediocrity, as many liberals suggest. I don't believe the war ever had anything at all to do with weapons of mass destruction. I don't believe the very people who call this a War on Terrorism believe it for one minute, and moreover I believe they know perfectly well that the term "war on terrorism" is oxymoronic inasmuch as one cannot prosecute a war against a tactic. I don't believe it is a war to steal anyone's oil, though it has everything to do with oil and more. The fact that half the people in the United States believed at some point that a shattered nation like Iraq constituted a threat to the United States does not compel me for a moment to refrain from pointing out that this is a proposition that was and is idiotic on its face and it is not at all unusual for half of a national population to believe something that is patently idiotic. I am not a conservative, and I am not a liberal, and I am not a politician, and I am not a pacifist, and I am not religious, so I am not in the least compelled or constrained to prop up the polemical foundations of any of the agendas that might be associated with these kinds of affiliations.
I believe that the war in Iraq is symptomatic of a much deeper global crisis, and that it foreshadows a period in which that crisis ˇ a crisis of global capitalism ˇ will manifest itself not only in war but in rapidly widening social destabilization, the further militarization of the world system, and simultaneous economic and environmental collapse.
Just in case there is a temptation to resort to red-baiting to avoid responding to the content of my arguments, let me save you the trouble. I am on record as a severe critic of capitalism as an inherently destructive system built on genocide and slavery, sustained by misogyny, racism, poverty, and war, and bound to undermine its own material basis through ecocide. I do not, however, believe as some leftists seem to, that a more sensible system will inevitably replace it. If progressives continue to whine and wring their hands instead of fighting back, we could very well end up with a century or so of anarchy and warlords in the context of a mass human die-off on a ruined and toxified planet.
Present-day imperialism is a real system, and it is currently directed by the American state. The war in Iraq was probably the inevitable action of this state in response to an impending and inexorable erosion of the very basis of American global power. The war in Iraq, while deeply morally repugnant, is not a failure of morality, but the action of a system that can't help it, because like the scorpion, it is that system's nature.
Republicans and Democrats can't tell you this. Pacifists and most true religious believers won't tell you this. Politicians, who will tell you only what you want to hear, won't tell you this. But I believe that it is irresponsible to delay telling the patient who will die of gangrene the unpleasant fact that the leg must be amputated.
Global capitalism runs on fossil energy, but the United States does not have to take oil from anyone. Every oil producing nation, including Iraq, has been perfectly willing to sell oil to the United States. It is cheaper to buy oil that it is to steal it with military action. The issue of oil is an issue not of production but of increasing demand between competitors in a period when we have nearly reached the peak of production output.
Global demand now is at 79.5 million barrels of oil a day. The International Energy Agency and the Department of Energy predict global demand of 115 mbd by 2020, but that is based on demand rising at 1-1.25% per year. In fact, demand is rising at twice that rate. Yet industry experts who are not spinning figures to reassure stockholders tell us that with massive improvements in infrastructure and perfect political stability, the highest output achievable is around 85 mbd. This year, China passed Japan as the world's second largest importer of crude oil.
If anyone believes that Dick Cheney's energy task force, on which Dr. Clawson served, did not review these figures as part of their long-term strategic energy assessment and how it related to the continued possibilities for the accumulation of capital, I have a mountaintop retreat to sell you in Miami.
So the question of oil is not a question of taking it. It's the question of the mathematics of it when global capitalist competition continues to trend toward 100 mbd by the end of the decade, when there's not adequate flow pressure to meet that demand. Someone gets cut. And someone decides who gets cut. Establishing permanent military bases in the very region where over half the remaining easily accessible reserves exist goes a long way toward putting the power that controls those bases in the driver's seat. As a friend of mine once said, "Oil is not a normal commodity. No other commodity has five US Navy battle groups patrolling the sea lanes to secure it."
Iraq's pre-invasion production was around 2.5 mbd, but even with heroic effort to restore it, production has not risen above 1.8 mbd today ˇ a net loss of 700,000 barrels a day ˇ and the US military effort alone is calculated to have an energetic cost of 350,000 barrels a day.
This is not business math. This is geopolitical and military math. What is being sought is a new foundation, a military one, upon which to base US global supremacy as the current one is beginning to crumble. And reliance on direct military violence to achieve one's national aims is not a sign of strength, but a sign of weakness ˇ a sign that there is a fundamental failure of hegemony. Hegemony is not direct control, but internalization of control by those who are dominated.
In 1968, Richard Nixon inherited the hair-raising collapse of the US Treasury's gold pool and the un-winnable occupation of Vietnam that had caused it. Within the next four years, Nixon would abandon fixed currency exchange rates and the gold standard, then allow a 20% devaluation of the dollar that wiped out billions of dollars in US debts to Western Europe and Japan. Since oil payments were denominated in dollars, the consequent jump in the price of oil was a harsh blow for Europe, Japan, Africa, and Latin America.
The US, on the other hand, owned the dollar printing press, and it was able to recycle the crisis, via petrodollars, through these regions. US puppet governments in Iran and Saudi Arabia helped underwrite this system with their ability to swing oil production.
This game of economic chicken by Nixon set the stage for a new method to assure US supremacy, since the post World War II industrial boom had run aground on the rocks of the Marshall Plan nations' export capacity and on Vietnam.
The currency speculation that this abandonment of the gold standard and fixed exchange rates stimulated led inevitably to currency crises in weaker nations, whereupon the Reagan administration in response to the Mexican currency crisis of 1982 gave the US its first crack at loan-sharking through the International Monetary Fund, in which it held controlling plurality and exclusive veto power. This loan-sharking is called "structural adjustment," and it not only bleeds 70 different nations white with an un-payable external debt, paid in dollars by the way, these loans are contingent on allowing US investors to penetrate national economies to take over key economic sectors. This system is now referred to as neoliberalism but I just call it debt-leverage imperialism. [I later found out that Dr. Clawson once worked for the IMF.]
It is augmented by a Treasury Bill standard by which the US is able to force its key capitalist competitors ˇ who have the lion's share of their central bank reserve currencies in dollar-denominated T-Bills, loans to the United States that they know and the US knows it can never pay back ˇ to continue to accept the dollar at its over-printed, overvalued current levels out of fear that they will wipe out the value of their own central banks.
This continually growing glut of fiat dollars created the conditions for the precarious Asian meltdown of 1998, for the dotcom bust of 2000, and for the real estate bubble that will burst next. US private and public debts are at record levels, and if ˇ or should I say when ˇ there is a deflationary crisis around a falling dollar, the US middle class will sink to the bottom like the Titanic.
At the same time, the external debts of underdeveloped countries imposed upon them by IMF loan-sharking are creating increasing anger and unrest around the world that is already translating into political upheavals.
Just as the post World War II US-dominated global architecture began to crumble toward the end of the Vietnam invasion, the neoliberalism that underwrote the bacchanalia of the 90's is reaching its endgame. This is the deeper reason that something has to be done, and what we are witnessing right now is the particular neocon version of how that global architecture will be rebuilt ˇ by dint of arms actually ˇ and it's faltering badly in Southwest Asia, where its ignorant and racist Orientalism, its overwhelming hubris, and its devotion to and trust of the Apartheid state of Israel, have led it into a deep and increasingly hostile labyrinth.
The region is now a hot cauldron of competing and contradictory interests: the aspirations of Kurdistan opposed to the interests of Iran, Syria, Turkey, and the thug Allawi; the continuing expansionary aims of the settler state of Israel tied irrevocably to the aims of the US who desperately needs some street cred in a region where US prestige is the lowest in living history; the connections being forged between Iran, Russia, and China; the internal destabilization of Pakistan by its alliance with the United States; the refusal of the Iraqi resistance to conform to the US script; and the potential destabilization of the Saudi regime, the ultimate goal of bin Laden all along, where living standards have gone into steep decline, aquifers are being depleted to squeeze out more oil, and where the masses become more restive each day.
None of us can predict exactly how and when this pot will boil over, only that it will.
So in closing, I have good news and I have bad news.
The good news is that the results of this election may not have been as terrible as thought by those who allowed their revulsion to George W. Bush and his coterie to cloud their view of the larger global conjuncture. But the reality is that this crew is proving much more likely to run the locomotive of imperialism off the tracks than their Hamiltonian realist counterparts.
The specific crisis in Iraq is not the crisis of military defeat, which is not, at any rate, ultimately determined by tactical outcomes, but by political outcomes.
The US crisis in Iraq is that one goal of that occupation was to demonstrate a fictional US military invincibility, to shock and awe the world. The crisis is not simply the very real tactical crisis that we can smell emanating from the podium of every Pollyanna briefing from Rumsfeld's War Department. The deeper crisis is that the shock-and-awe bluff is being successfully called, and the rest of the world is now alive to the fact that the great power bleeds.
So we see now, for example, the continental drift of Latin America, from the Chavista popular democracy in Venezuela, to the current Haitian intifada, to the popular rebellions in Bolivia and Ecuador, to the recent election of a leftist government in Uruguay a development that is accelerated by the fact that the US state has gotten itself bogged down in a swamp of military and political contradictions in Southwest Asia. The collapse of imperialism was going to be difficult in any case, but I have to say that it is a good thing in the larger scheme of things, and we should welcome it. That's the good news.
The bad news is that we have not reconstituted a vital, militant left that is clear on its responsibility to seek political power in this country yet. And I'm not talking about Howard Dean, folks. Anyone who considers the Democratic Party as a left party needs to pull their face away from that bottle of spot remover. We need to refound the left in this country that has a fighting spirit and that does not limit its activities to the fetish of elections ˇ andone that can forge a program that does not shy away from the difficult but necessary work of incorporating not just class, but gender, oppressed nationality, and environmental justice into that program.
That's the bad news, but that can be corrected, starting now, and starting with the sisters and brothers right here in this room. We cannot afford the luxury of crying about an election. We are in a struggle for the soul of our own society, a struggle against black-shirted reaction on every front, and there can be no rest, no retreat, no compromise, and no surrender. We cannot back down in the face of either their patriot-baiting or their Patriot Act. As Irish revolutionary James Connolly said, "The great only appear great because we are on our knees. Stand up."
Now is our time to stand up.
on a lighter note,
i am currenlty in the midst of compiling a ton of new frames i've gleaned from various comments pages (dailykos, etc). some of the gems include:
credit card conservatives
borrow and spend
cheap talk conservative
bush conservative (i.e. authoritarian, separate his brand from others).
cut and gut conservatives (vs. tax and spend)
and a post worth repeating:
- "We care for you" reads as condescending & elitist. It should read "take care of each other."
- "safety net" implies that those we are reaching out to are weak. It should read "risk management."
- stop talking about "blame" in the Party and stress "accountability."
- Calling Bush incompetant sounds like name-calling. He has "failed to execute."
- Bush did not mislead us into war. He "deceived America and her allies."
"What's the difference between Vietnam and Iraq?" "Bush had a plan to get out of Vietnam."
while i have not had a look at it yet, i have heard that applied memetics for disillusioned dems is well worth reading.
other links i've noted of late:
american progress action
i assume this blog is just for me now, since i failed to post for several months. if there are any of you still out there, thanks for checking back - i will be working through a lot of ideas on the blog in the near future. hope you enjoy.
Letter to the Red States
Written by a woman in New York. Think it echoes what most of us in New
York think and feel about the state of our country. After the letter
was published, the woman started receiving death threats.
Letter To The Red States
Sorry, I try not to deluge people with my ramblings. But I had to write
this and, having written it, had to send it. Even though I don't know
anyone I can send it to (without alienating my Republican in-laws, who
are the only "middle country" people I know.)
I am writing this letter to the people in the red states in the middle
of the country -- the people who voted for George W. Bush. I am writing
this letter because I don't think we know each other.
So I'll make an introduction. I am a New Yorker who voted for John
Kerry. I used to live in California, and if I still lived there, I
would vote for Kerry. I used to live in Washington, DC, and if I still lived
there, I would vote for Kerry. Kerry won in all three of those regions.
Maybe you want to know more about me. Or maybe not; maybe you think you
know me already. You think I am some anti-American anarchist because I
dislike George W. Bush. You think that I am immoral and anti-family,
because I support women's reproductive freedom and gay rights. You
think that I am dangerous, and even evil, because I do not abide by your
Maybe you are content to think that, to write me off as a "liberal" --
the dreaded "L" word -- and rejoice that your candidate has triumphed
over evil, immoral, anti-American, anti-family people like me. But
maybe you are still curious. So here goes: this is who I am.
I am a New Yorker. I was here, in my apartment downtown, on September
11th. I watched the Towers burn from the roof of my building. I went
inside so that I couldn't see them when they fell. I had friends who
were inside. I have a friend who still has nightmares about watching
people jump and fall from the Towers. He will never be the same. How
many people like him do you know? People that can't sit in a restaurant
without plotting an escape route, in case it blows up?
I am a worker. I work across the street from the Citigroup Center,
which the government told us is a "target" of terrorism. Later, we found out
they were relaying very old information, but it was already too late.
They had given me bad dreams again. The subway stop near my office was
crowded with bomb-sniffing dogs, policemen in heavy protective gear,
soldiers. Now, every time I enter or exit my office, all of my
possessions are X-rayed to make sure I don't have any weapons. How
often are you stopped by a soldier with a bomb-sniffing dog outside your
I am a neighbor. I have a neighbor who is a 9/11 widow. She has two
children. My husband does odd jobs for her now, like building
bookshelves. Things her husband should do. He uses her husband's tools,
and the two little girls tell him, "Those are our daddy's tools." How
many 9/11 widows and orphans do you know? How often do you fill in for
their dead loved ones?
I am a taxpayer. I worked my butt off to get where I did, and so did my
parents. My parents saved and borrowed and sent me to college. I worked
my way through graduate school. I won a full tuition scholarship to law
school. All for the privilege of working 2,600 hours last year. That
works out to a 50 hour week, every week, without any vacation days at
all. I get to work by 9 am and rarely leave before 9 pm. I eat dinner
at my office much more often than I eat dinner at home. My husband and I
paid over $70,000 in federal income tax last year. At some point in the
future, we will have to pay much more -- once this country faces its
deficit and the impossible burden of Social Security. In fact, the
areas of the country that supported Kerry -- New York, California, Illinois,
Massachusetts -- they are the financial centers of the nation. They are
the tax base of this country. How much did you pay, Kansas? How much
did you contribute to this government you support, Alabama? How much of
this war in Iraq did you pay for?
I am a liberal. The funny part is, liberals have this reputation for
living in Never-Neverland, being idealists, not being sensible. But let
me tell you how I see the world: I see America as one nation in a world
of nations. Therefore, I think we should try to get along with other
nations. I see that gay people exist. Therefore, I think they should be
allowed to exist, and be treated the same as other people. I see ways
in which women are not allowed to control their own bodies. Therefore, I
think we should give women more control over their bodies. I see that
people have awful diseases. Therefore, I think we should enable
scientists to try to cure them. I see that we have a Constitution.
Therefore, I think it should be upheld. I see that there were no
weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Therefore, I think that Iraq was not an
imminent danger to me. It seems so pragmatic to me. How do you see the
world? Do you really think voting against gay marriage will keep people
from being gay? Would you really prefer that people continue to die
from Parkinson's disease? Do you really not care about the Constitutional
rights of political detainees? Would you really have supported the war
if you knew the truth, or would you have wanted to spend more of our
money on health care, job training, terrorism preparedness?
I am an American. I have an American flag flying outside my home. I
love my home more than anything. I love that I grew up right outside New
York City. I first went to the Statue of Liberty with my 5th grade class,
and my mom and dad took me to the Empire State Building when I was 8. I
love taking the subway to Yankee Stadium. I loved living in Washington DC
and going on dates to the Lincoln Memorial. It is because I love this
country so much that I argue with my political opponents as much I do.
I am not safe. I never feel safe. My in-laws live in a small town in
Ohio, and that town has received more federal funding, per capita, for
terrorism preparedness than New York City has. I take subways and buses
every day. I work in a skyscraper across the street from a "target." I
have emergency supplies and a spare pair of sneakers in my desk, in
case somethng happens while I'm at work. Do you? How many times a month do
you worry that your subway is going to blow up? When you hear sirens on
the street, do you run to the window to make sure everything is okay?
When you hear an airplane, do you flinch? Do you dread beautiful,
blue-skied September days? I don't know a single New Yorker who doesn't
spend the month of September on tip-toes, superstitiously praying for
rain so we don't have to relive that beautiful, blue-skied day.
I am lonely. I feel that we, as a nation, have alienated all our
friends and further provoked our enemies. I feel unprotected. Most of all I
feel alienated from my fellow citizens, because I don't understand what you
are thinking. You voted for a man who started a war in Iraq for no
reason, against the wishes of the entire world. You voted for a man
whose lack of foresight and inability to plan has led to massive
insurgencies in Iraq, where weapons are disappearing into the hands of
terrorists. You voted for a man who let Osama Bin Laden escape into the
hills of Afghanistan so that he could start that war in Iraq. You voted
for a man who doesn't want to let people love who they want to love;
doesn't want to let doctors cure their patients; doesn't want to let
women rule their destinies. I don't understand why you voted for this
man. For me, it is not enough that he is personable; it is not enough
that he seems like one of the guys. Why did you vote for him? Why did
you elect a man that lied to us in order to convince us to go to war?
(Ten years ago you were incensed when our president lied about his sex
life; you thought it was an impeachable offense.) Why did you elect a
leader who thinks that strength cannot include diplomacy or
international cooperaton? Why did you elect a man who did nothing
except run away and hide on September 11?
Most of all, I am terrified. I mean daily, I am afraid that I will not
survive this. I am afraid that I will lose my husband, that I will
never have children, that I will never grow old and watch the sunset in a
backyard of my own. I am afraid that my career -- which should end with
a triumphant and good-natured roast at a retirement party in 2035 --
will be cut short by an attack on me and my colleagues, as we sit
sending emails and making phone calls one ordinary afternoon. Is your
life at stake? Are you terrified?
I don't think you are. I don't think you realize what you have done.
And if anything happens to me or the people I love, I blame you. I wanted
you to know that.