Where is this going, someone tell me?

by John Holbo on July 18, 2015

The neocons have been wailing and gnashing teeth over the abysmal awfulness of the Iran deal. Meanwhile, everyone else says it’s good or, at worst, better than the alternatives. I am a creature of irony so it is hard for me to discuss the situation rationally. I would like to mock the neocons but what is the irony? Dog chases car. Dog catches car. What’s a dog to do? Bite it! So this is dog-bites-car. That’s just neocon nature.

But here’s something a bit ironic, so I’ll pass it on. The most eloquent, pithy assessment I have read on the subject is from Pat Buchanan, gaming out GOP rejection:

And if Congress refuses to honor the agreement, but Iran complies with all its terms, who among our friends and allies would stand with an obdurate America then? Israel would applaud, the Saudis perhaps, but who else? And as foreign companies raced to Iran, and U.S. companies were told to stay out, what would GOP presidential candidates tell the business community?

Would the party campaign in 2016 on a pledge to get tough and impose new sanctions? “Coercive diplomacy,” the Wall Street Journal calls it. If so, what more would they demand that Iran do? And what would they threaten Iran with, if she replied: We signed a deal. We will honor it. But we will make no new concessions under U.S. threat.

Would we bomb Iran? Would we go to war? Not only would Americans divide on any such action, the world would unite—against us. And would a Republican president really bomb an Iran that was scrupulously honoring the terms of the John Kerry deal? What would we bomb? All the known Iran nuclear facilities will be crawling with U.N. inspectors.

It bears repeating. The spectacle of the US – or Israel – unilaterally surprise bunker-buster-bombing declared facilities, of a fully deal-compliant Iran, while U.N. inspectors are on-site, monitoring compliance. It’s almost enough to give a neocon pause.

Most of the what-if talk about GOP rejection I’ve heard proceeds to race-to-breakout scenarios. But that doesn’t seem the likeliest scenario. (And successful GOP deal-scuttling is already a stretch.) Isn’t unilateral compliance the smart Iranian play, in the event?

Imagine President Walker explaining to the US public how the fact that the GOP scuttled the deal justified surprise military intervention (you are hardly going to give them a heads-up!)

‘Yes, they were complying with the terms of the deal, but the fact that we broke that deal means they weren’t compelled to not do the thing they, in fact, weren’t. By bombing them, we compelled them to not do the thing they weren’t doing merely because they agreed not to, not because we compelled them by agreeing to agree for them not to. Because we broke that agreement, not them. It was us, all down the line. And that’s why we had to act.’ The gorge of grammar itself rises in protest.

But maybe I’m wrong. Please set me straight, dear commenters. I’m not an expert on the deal, let alone the region.

Iran has a strong motive to comply with the deal, as-inked. (It also has a strong motive to cheat on the deal. But that’s a generic point, following from the logic of ‘deal’ and ‘cheat’. No one has made a compelling case, so far, that Iran will be peculiarly capable of cheating on this deal.) Iran may have an even strongly motive to comply, unilaterally, with the letter of the deal if President Walker, and his 2016 GOP majority, unilaterally scuttle it. The payout is a bit different but, arguably, a bit sweeter actually. The US would be able to put sanctions back in place, unilaterally, forbidding US companies/banks to deal with Iran. But it would not, plausibly, be able to detain its P5 + 1 partners, and co., from going their own way. (And why wouldn’t they want to?) The US could, of course, leverage the fact that all financial roads, paved in dollars, run through New York. But things would just look worse and worse for the US if it came to that. Suppose the US started to sanction, say, German banks, financing German companies conducting legal, above-board trade with a fully deal-compliant Iran. Germany would reasonably regard the US as having ‘gone rogue’ (even if they didn’t say so in so many words. Which they wouldn’t.) It’s not just that the optics of the situation would be bad, though they would be. Our allies and partners would, privately, downgrade the US’ world leader credit rating to near-junk.

So, getting back to the payout matrix, from Iran’s point of view: if President Walker scraps the deal, Iran takes a dollar hit – but not such a hit. The upside is that the US is now diplomatically isolated. (Well, yeah, Israel and Saudi Arabia. That’s the point.) Imagine if, for a generation, anyone who doesn’t want to be part of some deal that has US fingerprints anywhere on or near it, can excuse itself by saying,’but why should I deal with you? You don’t keep deals’ (however utterly disingenuous in any given case)? Iran would literally have turned the tables on the US. It would be on its way to becoming regional hegemon, and would have rejoined the community of nations. The US would be heading in the opposite direction. It would still have guns. Lots of guns. But the whole point of being a hegemon is not to have to pull the trigger yourself every. damn. time.

This dilemma – and the fact that the neocons aren’t considering it – shows the limits of neocon thinking in a way I hadn’t quite considered (although recent history provides plenty of lessons.) The standard critique is that ‘benevolent global hegemony’ by the US is overambitious hubris (and morally atrocious, but pragmatic overambition is close enough, for government work.) But the problem is worse: the neocons (hence the GOP) want DIY hegemony. A contradiction in terms. There’s a kind of lone gunslinger fantasy in which the townspeople all rally round, after they see that guy brave enough to stand up to the man in the black hat and his goons. But, say what you will about Westerns, they aren’t even fantasy models of how to practice benevolent hegemony. Sure, hegemony is part of the ‘this town wasn’t big enough for the two of us’ happy ever after credit roll. ‘And that man became the new sheriff in town, and no outlaw dared walk down Main Street for many years after what happened to Black Bart and his gang that day.’ But we have to get through the movie before there’s credit to be rolled.

Someone is going to snark: really? it hadn’t occurred to you neocons think like cowboys? No, I’d thought of that. I just hadn’t thought about how weird it would be to dub in ‘hegemon’ at every point in a Western where someone calls the hero ‘hombre’.

Neocons dream of becoming hegemons, not of hegemony. I hadn’t quite thought of it that way before.

(To be fair, at least Krauthammer seems to see the problem, although he still advocates heroically going it alone. When the rational thing to say would be: we’re locked in.)

Title taken from this Sparks Franz Ferdinand collaboration. (Sparks is a great band Belle hates and that – per this thread – a lot of older folks reasonably suspect of having passed into non-existence, probably while Pat Buchanan was still working for Nixon, before Watergate was any worry. But we still have them to kick around! They are great!)

{ 598 comments }

1

Just An Australian 07.18.15 at 5:36 am

The rest of the world just takes this as more evidence that the neocons are little teenage boys acting out their fantasies. When is the rest of the country going to grow up and boot them out of public discourse?

2

Glen Tomkins 07.18.15 at 5:43 am

I wouldn’t waste a lot of time going over the strategery behind Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. The Likud/Saudi/Neocon axis doesn’t actually think Iranian nuclear weapons are any sort of threat. They’re BSing this because WMDs are still a way to sow panic. The administration doesn’t believe the nukes are a threat either, but WMD panic is bipartisan BS of long standing, and they feel they have to appear to treat Iranian nukes as a threat. Hell, they thought they had to treat the Underpants Bomber as a serious threat.

The Likud/Saudi/Neocon axis needs to sow panic because they feel a pressing need for the US to be at war with Iran, and there isn’t any other issue around besides Iranian nukes that has any prospect of getting a war started. These folks need us to be at war with Iran in order to prevent the diplomatic revolution the region would otherwise inevitably undergo within the next few years.

Iran and their alignment (the Iraqi Shiite govt, the Assad regime, and Hezbollah) are the best bet to stop ISIL. The Saudis fund ISIL (and I would be not even a bit shocked if Israel does too) because ISIL is their best bet to topple Assad and the Shiite govt in Iraq, thus isolating Hezbollah in Lebanon. The US interest right now is with the Iranian alignment, and against the Saudi/Likud axis. The public policy and rhetoric hasn’t caught up to that reality, and the axis can never let it, so it needs the US to become entangled in war with its natural partner in the region, Iran.

3

heckblazer 07.18.15 at 6:01 am

I would note that Pat Buchanan is very much a paleocon, so him pausing at the thought of breaking the agreement doesn’t really say anything about the neocons one way or the other.

4

John Holbo 07.18.15 at 6:06 am

Oh sure Pat Buchanan isn’t a neocon. I know that. The irony wasn’t so much that even Pat Buchanan has turned against them. It’s that the nightmare is not the Iran nuclear threat but, in effect, the threat of not being a nuclear threat.

5

Peter T 07.18.15 at 6:16 am

I think you overestimate the difficulty the neocons would have in coming up with a rationale for tearing up the agreement. I mean, it’s not like they don’t have form in doctoring up dossiers. That no-one with any brains or experience would believe them is not an obstacle – they would believe it themselves, and that’s all that matters.

It seems like Obama is bent on cleaning out the US foreign policy cupboard of messes that have lain rotting for decades. What else will he turn his hand to?

6

js. 07.18.15 at 6:20 am

Hey, Holbo, I’m 37! I may not be in the bloom of youth, admittedly, but I prefer not to think of myself as among the “older folk”! Yet!

7

js. 07.18.15 at 6:25 am

PS: That Pitchfork, umm, retrospective? was great. Thanks for that link!

Now you can all go back to talking about Iran and neocons. kthxbye.

8

Peter T 07.18.15 at 6:28 am

And I think the Iranian foreign policy establishment deserves a round of applause for persuading the P5+1 to give them pretty much everything they wanted in return for not doing something they were not doing anyway.

9

John Holbo 07.18.15 at 6:59 am

“Hey, Holbo, I’m 37! I may not be in the bloom of youth, admittedly, but I prefer not to think of myself as among the “older folk”! Yet!”

Well, the youngs just keep getting younger, so don’t count on being able to hold that position indefinitely. Pardon my inference that you must have been alive in 1972. (I was! Although I wasn’t listening to Sparks.)

10

kidneystones 07.18.15 at 7:25 am

The NYT http://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2015/07/14/republican-candidates-express-strong-opposition-to-iran-deal/ reports that among the candidates only Marco Rubio discussed overturning the deal, and even that was based on a hypothetical might.

It’s great fun watching the politics as paint-by-numbers crowd color code American and British love of bombing the living shit out of the uppity and the ungrateful. Labour, after all, lied Britain into Iraq and both Conservatives and Labour have an extremely long history of aiding corrupt despots around the globe, as do the conservatives and socialists in France and Germany. Canada, of all countries, is a leading arms exporter, as are India and Israel. So, there’s plenty of room in the market for all. Given President Drone Strikes appalling record – destabilizing Iraq by allowing a corrupt Iran-supported Shia government to remind many Sunni Iraqis that religious divides trump all other issues, not-knowing WTF he’s doing vis-a-vis Assad, ‘Red-lines? I never said that,’ and Libya, my own favorite western-created humanitarian nightmare, I’m not sure what people think Democrats aren’t willing to do. There’s no doubt in my own mind that Clinton, Biden, et al will be perfectly happy bombing the living shit out of Iran and any other nation should they deem such a strike in the US national interest. Ditto the current crop of Labour candidates, with the notable exceptions of Sanders in the US and Corbyn in the UK.

It’s fun forgetting that Josh Marshall and Matt Yglesias supported the US invasion of Iraq, or that Democratic heroes FDR and Harry Truman waged whole-scale war against civilians, including the ‘militarily necessary’ firebombing of Japan’s cities – 1800 raids over a three-month period, an holocaust Democratic leaning teachers are unlikely to know, but one that every junior-high school student in Japan must study and try to comprehend. As they should, so many little boys and girls were turned into human matchsticks in the schools where they sought sanctuary from US napalm. Did these children ‘deserve’ it, because of the appalling policies of successive Japanese governments? Bill Clinton, a politician I like, did nothing when his turn to stand up came – in Rwanda, not Iraq.

Iran is a nation that hangs gay people and is home to some of the most disturbed theocratic fascists on the globe. And they’re the saner ones in the region. Iran at least, theoretically, permits the teaching of evolution. I don’t see Iran as a threat, but I don’t live in Israel. I might feel very differently if I did. I was in Japan when Kim fired his rockets over the islands. Were I taking my kids into a bomb-shelter five nights a week as rockets fell around our homes, I might not trust Iran and the others in the region, either.

Dems will pull the trigger just as quick as the Republicans, deal or no deal. I suspect Bibi knows this.

11

John Holbo 07.18.15 at 7:42 am

“It’s fun forgetting that Josh Marshall and Matt Yglesias supported the US invasion of Iraq”

For the record, I myself am guilty of having followed them in supporting it.

12

John Holbo 07.18.15 at 7:51 am

As to the GOP candidates not threatening to overturn – as opposed to complaining about it – well, not to re-explain my joke, but I think it’s kind of funny that there are two problems:

1) the deal is terrible because those Iranians are sure to break it.

2) the deal is terrible because we can’t overturn it because, if we did, those Iranians would probably adhere to it anyway. Then where would we be?

13

kidneystones 07.18.15 at 8:18 am

@11 Hi John. An Australian friend remarked upon the election of President Drone Strike that he hadn’t seen that many Americans excited and happy since the bombs began falling on Iraq. I have to say that the second part of your piece is better than the first. As you rightly point out, the money is what counts, as it was, btw, in Iraq. I think it worth remembering that Buchanan is not, strictly speaking, a neocon.

You may wish to remind readers that traditional US conservatives, especially Republicans, are usually isolationists. Buchanan’s schtick is an isolationist “we (God’s Chosen People -WASPS) are being over-run by brown people who produce far too many babies.” Neoconservatives, such as Josh Marshall, are activist neo-Wilsonians who like to travel to new places and kill people who don’t recognize that deep, down, everyone wants to be an American.

As to mocking neocons, I’m not sure if anyone here has actually read Irving Kristol, who absolutely rejected the war Bush and Blair waged in Iraq with your support, and that of other great thinkers. Kristol was all in, not some half-assed Jonah Goldberg go in kill a bunch of brown folks and come home ten-year invasion. I’m almost certain Marshall falls into the Kristol camp. Kristol and company want/ed a big, bloody 2-6 million ‘enemy’ killed war that utterly devastates the defeated and paves the way towards a century-long occupation and establishment of military protectorates, similar to that of Germany and Japan.

On a personal note, speaking as of the very many millions who opposed the Iraq invasions, I find your smug chirping about the intractable suffering you helped cause extremely offensive. The damage you helped cause is ongoing.

14

Plucky Underdog 07.18.15 at 8:34 am

Peter T @8 — right. What NPV does Iran get from permanently normalising its in-the-toilet-since-1979 diplomatic and foreign-trade status? Certainly hundreds of billions of dollars, possibly a few trillion. And what would be the cost of an outwardly convincing, but actually Potemkin, nuclear weapons program? A program designed for one purpose: to be noisily and reluctantly traded away, in return for normalisation? Single-figure billions?

A silly idea of course, but it would make a great 70s-noir spy thriller.

15

John Holbo 07.18.15 at 9:32 am

“I find your smug chirping about the intractable suffering you helped cause extremely offensive.”

It is a bit of a dilemma for me. Should I not make jokes about neocons because I was a liberal hawk?

16

heckblazer 07.18.15 at 9:33 am

kidneystones @ 13:
Josh Marshall was never a neocon. While he did initially support the Iraq War, to his credit he quickly wised up and had the Bush administration hawks nailed before the invasion was over.

17

John Holbo 07.18.15 at 9:39 am

Yes, Marshall was a Ken Pollack “The Threatening Storm” liberal hawk, as was I (to my shame). That’s not the same as Kristol, by a long shot. But still too close for moral comfort, admittedly.

18

Lee A. Arnold 07.18.15 at 11:09 am

The US Right doesn’t want to give Obama a win.

The US Left may never admit that removing Saddam’s regime was the necessary precursor to getting Iran to the bargaining table.

Iran cannot be attacked militarily. It is 4 times as big as Iraq, with mountainous regions. Even a bombing campaign won’t work. Pentagon war game scenarios show that a bombing campaign won’t work for various ancillary reasons. Even without UN inspectors in harm’s way.

I don’t expect the US Republican candidates for President to stop being numbskulls, but the rest of us should try to keep arguing from the facts, no matter how messy and inconvenient to our cherished beliefs.

19

Josh Jasper 07.18.15 at 11:29 am

What neocons are advocating isn’t policy, it’s designed to rally voters. At this point nothing needs to be done.

20

ZM 07.18.15 at 11:42 am

js.

“Hey, Holbo, I’m 37! I may not be in the bloom of youth, admittedly, but I prefer not to think of myself as among the “older folk”! Yet!”

Yes you are quite young given life expectancies in the developed world. But I recommend no one ever write about life expectancies in the developed world in complaints to rude singers, as then the singers quite embellish this by getting back up singers to sing as if you claimed they were not older at all, which isn’t the same thing. So you very unfortunately find yourself immortalised for posterity with an insult that you made to a young man when you were nineteen and he didn’t know the difference between goats and calves, and also for claiming the singer wasn’t older — which is not what you wrote, plus any way no one asked your permission first which I read is the legal advice for artists and presumably companies that contract artists.

But even though I read this is the legal advice for artists, when I tried complaining to record companies, the record companies just think they don’t have to respond to complaints like normal companies do. But in the music press these very same companies say that Apple is not an ethical enough company — but if you complain about something to Apple they deal with the complaint properly, not by getting Royal Trux to mock and harass you by taking a photo of themselves behind what looks like a lemonade stand with a sign reading “Komplaint Department” :-/ http://pitchfork.com/news/59555-royal-trux-reunite/

21

Lee A. Arnold 07.18.15 at 11:46 am

“…At this point nothing needs to be done…”

Except to ratify the deal with Iran.

After that, watch carefully to make sure that all sides keep the terms of the agreement.

If someone fails, then after that, something else will need to be done.

This is like a big game, with the difference that you aren’t ever ALLOWED not to play.

22

hix 07.18.15 at 12:54 pm

“Our allies and partners would, privately, downgrade the US’ world leader credit rating to near-junk.”

Genuinly not sure if the US still can be donwgraded to near junk.

23

Tabasco 07.18.15 at 1:26 pm

I don’t get this assumption that Israel wouldn’t bomb facilities that had UN inspectors in them.

24

Bloix 07.18.15 at 1:51 pm

As far as I can tell, the deal is this: Iran promises that it won’t build nukes, and in return the West lets it takes its best shot at becoming the regional hegemon. That may be the best outcome achievable. But you can see why Israel (and Saudi Arabia, etc) aren’t too happy about it.

25

John Holbo 07.18.15 at 2:05 pm

Two points. First, speaking of Josh Marshall, I just misread this sentence over at TPM:

“But I think he gets this take on Obama, coming off his fractious and steely Iran deal press conference, simply wrong. The image is of a president frantically trying to cram as much legacy as he can into the final quarter of his presidency.”

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/obama-on-the-hoofbeats-of-history

I read that as ‘fractious and Steely Dan deal press conference’. For a moment I got very excited about the prospect of No Drama Obama transforming himself into a chilly, exquisitely slick, slightly seedy-lecherous yet session musician-precise … ok, I thought maybe the new Obama Phone was going to be No Child Gets Left Behind Without a Copy of Gaucho On Vinyl. Say what you will, it would be a legacy. But then I realized I misread the sentence entirely, quite changing its meaning – Iran into Dan. Totally different.

Second, I’m off for a day or so! (Probably.) Play nice in comments in my absence.

26

Layman 07.18.15 at 2:16 pm

“As far as I can tell, the deal is this: Iran promises that it won’t build nukes, and in return the West lets it takes its best shot at becoming the regional hegemon. That may be the best outcome achievable. But you can see why Israel (and Saudi Arabia, etc) aren’t too happy about it.”

If Iran’s nuclear program is a scam, concocted to make a deal like this possible, then Israel (and Saudi Arabia, etc) (and neocons) have only themselves to blame, because it is their pants-wetting about Iran’s nuclear program which is the impetus to make the deal.

If it is real, then Iran as regional hegemon without nuclear weapons is certainly preferable to Iran as regional hegemon with nuclear weapons. The regional hegemon part seems to be inevitable, deal or no deal.

27

faustusnotes 07.18.15 at 2:21 pm

I’m not convinced Iran can become the regional hegemon. A counter-weight perhaps, and certainly in a stronger and more influential position, but there’s a lot going on over there and Iran seems internally to have a lot of conflict. I think Israel would be better served worrying about instability in its immediate neighbours than consolidation of power in a country at a remove.

It’s looking to me like “Islamic state” is a spent force, and is going to start slowly imploding, but if it’s actually still got some power in it – and some regional influence – then Israel might actually find itself thankful for normalized relations with Iran, since it’s Iran that is most likely to be able to rein that little monster in…

28

Rich Puchalsky 07.18.15 at 2:48 pm

I tried to read the OP, I really did. But it would be too sickening to parse through the many layers of irony about something that, maybe just for once, should be written about non-ironically.

So let’s list what is obvious:

1. No deal will keep the U.S. from bombing Iran at some future time if the U.S. politics look right to elements of the elite. The U.S. attacked Iraq despite an inspection regime being in place and the inspectors finding nothing (because there was nothing to find).

2. Allies of the U.S. and neutrals can complain all they like, but as long as they still depend on the U.S. as world military hegemon, no amount of “discrediting” will mean anything.

3. The U.S. public is fundamentally bloodthirsty and only a bare minimum of propaganda is needed in order to point them at any particular target, because they want to go to war.

4. Media, pundits and so on are easily fooled — make that, eager to be fooled — and have learned nothing from previous wars. The people who have been fooled before will be fooled again.

29

The Temporary Name 07.18.15 at 2:53 pm

Josh Fucking Marshall?

As the budget deficit has receded from public view, Obama’s fucks deficit has come to the forefront. After six and a half years in office, he may have a small stockpile of fucks left. But he has none left to give.

30

Layman 07.18.15 at 2:56 pm

“But it would be too sickening to parse through the many layers of irony about something that, maybe just for once, should be written about non-ironically.”

Maybe some poetry would help?

Really, your act is quite tiresome. This elitist anti-elitism is almost indistinguishable from parody.

31

Anderson 07.18.15 at 3:11 pm

Holbo pretends that the GOP thinks about issues. They don’t. Obama made the deal. Thus, the deal must be opposed. That is all.

32

William Berry 07.18.15 at 4:02 pm

@kidneystones:

I’ve been trying hard to figure out where I’d seen your reactionary, faux-cynical crap before, and now I’ve got it!

Paul “Wanker” Johnson*. The Tokyo fire-bombing bit was the trigger, but the rest of it was there all along.

Bet you can quote Modern Times chapter and verse.

*A vile creep not worthy to lace the sandals of the real Paul Johnson, the guy who sang “Every Time You Go”, one of the half-dozen or so greatest love songs of all time.

33

Walt 07.18.15 at 4:19 pm

Why does anything think it’s likely Iran will become regional hegemon? The government is a dysfunctional theocracy, and the populace is very divided in its views of that government. They have little chance of catching up with Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia economically or militarily. They will have disproportionate influence in Shi’ite areas, but that seems the outer limits of their power.

34

Tom V 07.18.15 at 4:34 pm

>>4. Media, pundits and so on are easily fooled — make that, eager to be fooled

I think more accurately, “paid to be fooled”.

35

MPAVictoria 07.18.15 at 4:36 pm

“Holbo pretends that the GOP thinks about issues. They don’t. Obama made the deal. Thus, the deal must be opposed. That is all.”

Bingo.

36

yastreblyansky 07.18.15 at 5:35 pm

I believe that President Walker scenario, minus a couple of steps (like the bombing part), is how the Bush administration ensured that North Korea would build its bomb.

37

yastreblyansky 07.18.15 at 5:52 pm

@Peter T 8

And I think the Iranian foreign policy establishment deserves a round of applause for persuading the P5+1 to give them pretty much everything they wanted in return for not doing something they were not doing anyway.

Not quite everything; the unlifted US sanctions are pretty oppressive. But I think most of the credit should go to Binyamin Netanyahu, who convinced all the parties that only an anti-Semite would believe Iran was not doing the something in question.

38

P O'Neill 07.18.15 at 6:34 pm

Based on the experience so far, it doesn’t look like the neocons are going to win this argument by getting into the details of the inspections regime. That leads to points like Bibi claiming the Iranians could flush evidence of a covert program down the toilet before the inspectors show up — no doubt he has a cool Looney Tunes style illustration of this to show to the next UN General Assembly.

I think they’d be better off putting down some markers for increased regional misbehaviour by Iran over the next 18 months, for example if CIA analysts are scratching their heads 6 months from now, wondering how can it be that the Assads seem to have so much extra cash. These side costs were the weakest part of Obama’s press conference e.g. this straw man “I think it is a mistake to characterize our belief that they will just spend it on daycare centers, and roads, and paying down debt.” He needs to be really sure that Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq (just to start the list) still have enough load-bearing walls left for further IRGC power plays in the region.

39

Snarki, child of Loki 07.18.15 at 7:13 pm

When the rest of the world’s sanctions are removed, and the GOP congress is trying to decide whether to penalize US businesses by continuing US sanctions, Obama is going to have another opportunity to say:

“Please proceed”

40

christian_h 07.18.15 at 9:37 pm

The sanctions were never fundamentally about the nuclear program. They were always mostly about the alleged aspiration of Iran towards ” regional hegemony”, a term here used for “not falling in line with the Empire’s designs in the region”. (I say this not to defend in any way the support the Iranian state extends to the odious mass murderer Assad, for example. However the fact that who Iran is supporting is an oppressive autocrat is not what is bothering the imperial mandarins.)

The problem for those who want to continue besieging Iran (while actually strengthening the position of the Iranian government’s parallel economy as is well known) is that, as pointed out in the OP, Russia and China, and to some extent Europe, really did agree to the sanctions regime only as it pertained to the nuclear program.

41

Bruce Wilder 07.18.15 at 10:31 pm

Why does any[one] think it’s likely Iran will become regional hegemon?

Yah, it’s not like Iran has ever been the regional hegemon before in history. I’m sure calling it the Persian Gulf is purely accidental.

A better question would be why should the U.S. not prefer Iranian regional hegemony to local domination by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or Russia.

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are two of the worst “allies” imaginable for the U.S. Avowed enemies of long-standing have done less damage to the U.S. and U.S. interests in the world. By comparison, Iran looks pretty good — put aside the understandable hostility engendered by a history of U.S. and British subversion of Iranian domestic self-government, and Iran has interests that align very nicely with those of the U.S. in the region, in terms of modernizing politics and economy and in terms of securing oil supply and counterbalancing bad and/or inherently unstable actors in the region (did I mention what lousy allies Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have proven to be, repeatedly and how unstable)?

American critics make a big deal about ISIS and the destabilization of Syria, but that just illustrates my point. Iran backs the closest thing to a sane political force in Syria. The Baathist regime is vicious and allied with Russia. The U.S. has been reduced to the vain search for militant moderates, and “training” them militarily at the truly insane cost of $500,000 per, against crazy wahabists financed by our great good friends in Saudi Arabia.

42

Walt 07.18.15 at 10:32 pm

That’s your argument? That we call it the Persian Gulf?

43

Cranky Observer 07.18.15 at 10:45 pm

= = = (It also has a strong motive to cheat on the deal. But that’s a generic point, following from the logic of ‘deal’ and ‘cheat’. No one has made a compelling case, so far, that Iran will be peculiarly capable of cheating on this deal.) = = =

Unless of course the various factions of “Iran” [1] were in rough agreement that they didn’t actually want to possess nuclear weapons, whether for religious reasons or based on thorough analysis of strategic options under various scenarios with and without such devices. The latter is rumored to be the reason why Brazil terminated its {also rumored} nuclear weapons program in the 1970s: strategic analysis showed that as a midsized regional power it had more flexibility of action if it did not possess nuclear arms than if it did.

Given the US’ loving approach to Iraq, long-term relationship with Saudi Arabia (what is the current number of yearly judicial floggings and beheadings in that nation for 2015?), PNAC, David Frum, John Bolton, etc, I have a hard time understanding why the ruling class of any midsize regional power (which Iran is whether we like it or not given geography and population) would not pursue nuclear capability (as Israel has), but perhaps there are people in the world with better long-term calculus than I and most USians possess.

fn1: Iran being a large and diverse nation with at least 3 major factions within the ruling class it doesn’t make to much sense to speak of “Iran” as a single conscious entity, but there ruling class probably tends to think of the US a monolithic entity as well.

44

Tyrone Slothrop 07.18.15 at 10:45 pm

Well, there’s also Persian carpets.

45

js. 07.18.15 at 10:48 pm

Iran has over the twice the population of Saudi Arabia, it has oil, gas, and lots of other natural resources, it has extremely rich and deep-seated cultural and political traditions, etc. It’s a fair assumption that it has fair bit of potential that goes untapped precisely because of the imposition of international policies that negatively affect it. If Iran were in better standing with world powers, particularly the US, it’s a more than plausible assumption that even if weren’t a regional “hegemon”, what ever that may exactly mean, it would have significantly more geopolitical clout and influence in the region than it does now—in part because it would be economically stronger (presumably). I don’t quite see why one would doubt this.

46

Bruce Wilder 07.18.15 at 10:51 pm

My argument is
1.) many geopolitical factors favor Iranian regional hegemony. Without going into an elaborate enumeration of those factors, I point to 2500 years of history during which Iran has become the regional hegemon, again and again and again.
2.) Leaning against Iranian regional hegemony is leaning against those geopolitical facts, which have recurrently brought Iranian regional hegemony about.
3.) Why should the U.S. lean against Iranian regional hegemony? From what I can see Iranian regional hegemony would be mostly a good thing from a U.S. perspective. What is the least bit attractive about relying instead on the medievalists in Saudi Arabia or the completely untrustworthy Pakistanis?

47

LFC 07.18.15 at 11:13 pm

To start w a brief digression: The U.S. military’s Africa command (AFRICOM) recently established several new Marine bases, or “staging outposts” as it prefers to call them, in Senegal, Ghana, and Gabon (see link in next box). I believe, and this may be related, that there has been recent expansion of a U.S. mil. base in Spain. So the U.S.’s excessive and expensive global military base network continues to expand even as the Obama admin takes good steps w/r/t Cuba and now Iran. The basic outlines of the U.S.’s global mil. presence have remained in some respects quite constant in recent years or else expanded (not counting of course the end of combat ops in Iraq, before the recent reintroduction of trainers, and Afghanistan). Plus US mil. aid to Israel, now at approx 3 billion per year, is likely to go up, though maybe not by as much as the Israelis want it to. Worth remembering all this as one discusses the Iran deal and its potential effects.

I’ve not read the 150 pp. (or however long it is) agreement nor read any highly detailed analyses. That said, from what I’ve heard about the provisions, istm the GOP is being foolish, from the standpoint of their own political self-interest, in opposing the deal. Such opposition will not help their nominee in the general election.

As for regional hegemony: the main concern is not, or at least should not be, w Iranian ‘regional hegemony’, a fairly meaningless term in a region that contains Israel, S.A., UAE, and Egypt, all fairly significant mil. powers; rather, as P O’Neill suggests, concern is w Iranian behavior in terms of support for Hezbollah, Assad, Houthis in Yemen, etc. Cd be wrong, but I don’t see the nuclear deal as resulting in a hugely increased flow of money from Iran to these forces. As others have pointed out, the Iranian leadership, though not electorally accountable, can’t be unmindful of the expectations of its population, whose standard of living has declined under sanctions. This would point toward Iran govt spending most of whatever additional money it gets from increased oil sales and lifting of sanctions etc. on domestic economic development.

48

LFC 07.18.15 at 11:19 pm

B Wilder @46
From what I can see Iranian regional hegemony would be mostly a good thing from a U.S. perspective.

Not really. Iran is hostile to what the US still views as its main allies in the region, also funds Hezbollah, prob. Hamas etc. True, there is a convergence of interest in opposing ISIS. But the notion of Iranian regional hegemony is really a red herring, as I suggest above. We are not in the days of the Persian or Sassanian empires and it’s not going to be re-established in the foreseeable future. ‘Regional hegemony’ in this context is mostly just a scare phrase. It’s not like China in its neighborhood. The balance of power in M.E. is quite different.

49

LFC 07.18.15 at 11:22 pm

50

Collin Street 07.18.15 at 11:43 pm

From what I can see Iranian regional hegemony would be mostly a good thing from a U.S. perspective.

Principal-agent problem.

51

hix 07.18.15 at 11:46 pm

What does hegemony even mean? Even in the middle east which is sort of a hometurf it all sounds rather meaningless. The Israel-US relation and its entire dysfunctional dynamic for the region screams social constructisvism is the best analysis mode.

52

Bruce Wilder 07.19.15 at 12:19 am

LFC @ 48

Iran is hostile to what the US still views as its main allies

The official U.S. view that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are “friendly” is beyond delusional and self-destructive.

The U.S. is hostile to Iran, because Israel and Saudi Arabia are hostile to Iran. Those countries have reasons to be hostile to Iran; the U.S. not so much.

It would make much more geopolitical sense for the U.S. to be allied with Iran in hostility to Saudi Arabia (and Pakistan and Russia [locally to Iran]).

With respect to Israel’s hostility to Iran, the U.S. has nothing to gain, should Israel behave aggressively, while relying on an open-ended and unbalanced U.S. alliance. From a U.S. perspective, it makes more sense to put itself in the position of restraining Israel and having a visible interest (cooperation with Iran on other matters) in doing so.

53

Collin Street 07.19.15 at 12:31 am

It would make much more geopolitical sense for the U.S. to be allied with Iran in hostility to Saudi Arabia (and Pakistan and Russia [locally to Iran]).

Sure, but this would involve the psychic cost of admitting that the iranians were right all along, which would be paid not by the US as such but by the people making the decision. Like I said, principal-agent.

54

Bruce Wilder 07.19.15 at 12:32 am

Hegemony is where a dominant power subordinates allied powers, without actually absorbing those allied powers and their resources or administering them in an authoritarian structure.

The relation of the hegemon to its client ally starts out, at least, as a mutually beneficial relation that enhances the power or welfare of both parties. This is the (good) hegemon, providing some kind of anchor of economic stability or military protection valuable to the client ally, in part by means of the cooperation and tribute provided by the allied client.

The U.S. assumed the role good hegemon to Western Europe, Japan and Korea after WWII, providing military alliance, a world currency, a consumer market of first resort, and so on. Those countries loyally follow the U.S. into quixotic military adventures and financial crises. Everyone wins!

Iran plays the role of hegemon to Shiite Iraq right now, just as Saudi Arabia plays the role of hegemon to the Gulf States.

55

LFC 07.19.15 at 12:33 am

If you take the Mearsheimer definition of a regional hegemon as a country that dominates militarily a distinct geographical region such that no other country in the region can put up a challenge to it (‘Tragedy of Great Power Politics’ p.40), Iran doesn’t qualify. It is, and perhaps will increasingly be, one of the most powerful countries in its area, but that’s not the same as a regional hegemon. M. argues the U.S. is the only successful regional hegemon in modern history, as others’ bids for regional hegemony (Germany, Japan, Napoleonic France) ended in defeat.

56

LFC 07.19.15 at 12:52 am

BW @52
It would make much more geopolitical sense for the U.S. to be allied with Iran in hostility to Saudi Arabia (and Pakistan and Russia [locally to Iran]).

If we’re going to consider in a sort of historical vacuum what would make geopolitical sense, it might make the most geopolitical sense for the U.S. not to be closely allied with any country in the region except perhaps Bahrain, which presumably it needs as a client or ally b.c that’s where the US 6th fleet is based. But that’s not the situation as it exists, in which alliances (or lack thereof) are the result of decades-long histories, and usu. cannot be changed very rapidly.

The US doesn’t even have diplomatic relations w Iran and has 36 years of pretty much unbroken enmity w it, since the ’79 revolution. It makes no sense in these circumstances to start talking about a US-Iranian alliance. It’s going to be difficult enough to get the nuclear deal implemented. A thawing of relations might be in the cards but these things are usu. not done quickly. E.g. the Cuba thing was preceded by a fairly long thawing period, or such is my impression. I agree that S.A. and Pakistan, esp the latter, have been problematic as US allies/clients but that’s a different matter.

As to “hegemony” and “regional hegemon,” might as well retire them from the discussion b.c we’re not going to agree on definitions.

57

The Temporary Name 07.19.15 at 12:58 am

Iran and Iraq fought to a standstill. Saudi Arabia is bristling with the weapons neither of those two countries can muster.

58

yastreblyansky 07.19.15 at 1:19 am

LFC @56. It’s not so much that US needs to be allied with Iran as that if US was allied with anybody Iran would be the right country. Bahrain and its Sunni aristocracy stomping on a Shi’ite majority is a terrible candidate. Since the Bush wars roused the Sunni-Shi’ite conflict from its long sleep, the important thing is to find ways of letting it die back down, and an essential part of the effort is the reinstatement of Iran in its natural position (another, which the administration is working on as hard as it can, is allowing a normal Lebanon-like pluralist politics to develop in Iraq and Syria). The necessary Sunni counterweight is a terrible problem given how bad things are in KSA and Egypt. I think the hope is that the example of Iran making progress–as KSA is repeating its 2009 defeat by the people of Yemen and the Egyptian government fails economically and the demonstrations start again–will be an inspiration.

59

Omega Centauri 07.19.15 at 1:54 am

Many many very good comments. I think Iran was useful to the Likud, primarily as a bogeyman. Netanyahu has been playing that card pretty well, and he is still in power, at least in part because of it. Secondarily I discern a pattern in what Israel has done in its region, it has helped to destabilize and otherwise weaken potential regional rivals -getting the US to ruin Iraq was a major success of this policy. Holding back the one country with the greatest potential (Iran) has been another.

You will note that opponents of the deal are not just talking up the Nuclear bogeyman, they are openly proclaiming that removing sanctions will give Iran more resources with which to support its regional allies (Hezbollah, Assad, and now the Houthis). Thats the actual geopolitical motivation. Only tight sanctions can prevent Persian ascendency. And now these regional conflicts have been deepened into a Sunni/Shia struggle. So the plan all along has been to get Iran isolated and weak by using the false narrative of the Nuclear threat.

Internally, in the USA, hating on Iran has been standard fare ever since 1979. We aren’t a nation that easily lets bygones be bygones, look at how long it took to open up with Vietnam, and Cuba. All this provides plenty of highly emotional political fodder.

I suspect the Republicans want to show hostility for a deal, but to have it survive all the while portraying Democrats as naive surrender monkeys. How that will play with a plurality of voters I’m not sure. But, it plays well with the Republican base, and no Republican politician dares go against the base.

Buchanon, was hostile to the Iraq invasion, and has long warned about the desire of neocons to get us into a shooting war with Iran.

60

LFC 07.19.15 at 2:25 am

yastreblyansky @58
Well, I can’t address all of this (I agree w some, not sure about the rest), at least not right now.

But I must say that this phrase
as KSA is repeating its 2009 defeat by the people of Yemen

strikes me as a little strange, spec. the ref. to “the people of Yemen” as if there were one united people of Yemen. Now I don’t know a *huge* amt about Yemen, but isn’t it as divided as Iraq, say, in terms of sectarian and political divisions? Isn’t there basically a civil war (at least partly along Shia-Sunni lines) there with outside intervention, in the form of Saudi bombing — and none too “discriminate” bombing at that, from what I gather — and also AQAP (if you count that as ‘outside’)? Hasn’t the country been formally divided politically into a North Yemen and a South Yemen within living memory? Given all that, who are the people of Yemen (in the reference to KSA being defeated by them)?

61

Anderson 07.19.15 at 2:55 am

55: how is that not obviously incorrect? The USSR was a *regional* hegemon, no?

62

yastreblyansky 07.19.15 at 3:26 am

LFC Rhetorical overreach, sorry. But the Houthi movement, started by heterodox Zaydi Shi’ites, does attract a lot of Sunni support. And the establishment is largely Zaydi as well, if I’m not mistaken. The Saudi and now Iran involvement makes it sound as if it’s a sectarian war but it’s not. The North-South dimension is another thing with different issues–South Yemen was a “Marxist-Leninist” state.

63

yastreblyansky 07.19.15 at 3:33 am

A couple of useful sources on Houthi popular appeal: 2010 Rand report and Monkey Cage report by Silvana Toska.

64

Cian 07.19.15 at 4:49 am

#57 Saudi Arabia is bristling with the weapons neither of those two countries can muster.

Saudi Arabia’s armed forces are a joke.

65

Omega Centauri 07.19.15 at 4:51 am

yastre
From what I’ve read, the Houthi are an outlier type of Shia -and probably wouldn’t be accepted as such if they were transplanted to say Iran. But the outsiders (Saudis, and Iranians) have chosen sides to support, and just like with the coldwar superpowers intervention in local conflicts, once major sponsors have been locked in, then the schism widens. So as long as the regional powers that be are picking allies/enemies primarily on sectarian grounds, the Shia-Sunni split is wedged further apart.

66

js. 07.19.15 at 5:48 am

Actually, I might as well withdraw @45 and sign on to LFC @55 (and passim). But @55 is really a much clearer version of what I was trying to get at.

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Bruce Wilder 07.19.15 at 6:35 am

LFC @ 56

U.S. foreign policy is handicapped by the presence of corrupt and incompetent elements, hostile or indifferent to the national interests of the U.S. The long enmity of Iran is due to one of the numerous screw-ups attributable to some of those elements. It is not realistic to talk about U.S. foreign policy, without acknowledging the often dominant role played by those corrupt and incompetent elements, and its destructive consequences.

The Bahrain naval support facilities would be the responsibility of the 5th Fleet, if I understand the U.S. Navy’s command structure correctly.

68

Peter T 07.19.15 at 10:03 am

What Iran sought has never been a secret. It’s been laid out – repeatedly – in speeches by Khamenei, Rouhani, Larijani, Rafsanjani and just about every other senior leader of the Islamic Republic since 1979. It’s been a well-articulated ambition of just about every Iranian intellectual since the late Qajar period. It’s what nationalists in every old state that fell under Western control wants (see Non-Aligned Movement and several others). It’s to treat and be treated as sovereign powers – as active subjects and not as objects of others’ whims.

For Iran, the civil nuclear program became the test of this ambition. It signed the NPT, met all the requirements and was then subject to arbitrary demands, sanctions and threats. In a neat display of diplomatic judo, it has taken the narcissism of the US policy establishment, bottled it, and sold it back to the US in return for what it felt it had a right to. It took patience, the ability to absorb a certain amount of pain, and careful attention to local opportunities. This is not the achievement of a fearful or factious polity. Khamenei went out of his way to stress that Iran will not alter its general policies in return for this agreement.

Foreign policy is much simpler than most people realise, in that most countries are fairly plain about their wants. It is, after all, hard to conduct an orchestra if the music sheets are secret. The trick is not in knowing what the other wants, it’s in believing it. I think the difference is known to women everywhere.

69

maidhc 07.19.15 at 10:36 am

65. Omega Centauri.
The Houthi are Fivers (Zaydis) whereas most Iranians are Twelvers (referring to the number of Imams they recognize). However, having a common enemy can transcend theological differences. But the amount of support the Iranians have delivered is pretty limited. The Houthis have also been accused of Twelver sympathies because of their relationship with Iran.

The Houthi movement is relatively recent. Its origins go back to 1992 at most. But the Zaydis who dominate northwest Yemen have been resisting external control for centuries. They gave the Ottomans a rough time from the 1500s on. In more recent times the Saudis have become their main rival.

70

kidneystones 07.19.15 at 12:25 pm

@15 Not a bit, and I’m sure offending me should be among the least of your concerns.
@16 Marshall is a superbly trained Phd in history from Brown turned into a yellow-journalist spinning team blue memes for profit and fun, in that order. Marshall, like Clinton and the rest of the Dem hawks had no objection to killing brown people, Marshall just wants brown people killed to more efficiently advance US policy. Marshall isn’t publishing Ramparts at TPH.
@32 Thx for this. I’d never heard of the guy, but I do enjoy the original. You’re quite welcome to take the piss, but wrong I suspect on most counts. I pray daily which isn’t ordinarily the act of a cynic, but perhaps it should be. I served once upon a time, which makes me naturally suspicious of military ‘solutions’ to political and economic problems. I’ve lived in Japan for better than 20 years and taught in the schools where each year successive generations of students produced wall art and posters to give voice to a horror too stark for words.

I recommend this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dL9iARw_huw

71

Rich Puchalsky 07.19.15 at 12:57 pm

Peter T: “In a neat display of diplomatic judo, it has taken the narcissism of the US policy establishment, bottled it, and sold it back to the US in return for what it felt it had a right to.”

I think that this deal vastly increases the chance of a U.S. attack on Iran within the next decade. The removal of sanctions might be worth that to Iran: I don’t know.

Keep in mind that if we successfully go on a path towards decarbonization, the importance of the Middle East is going to decrease. If we don’t successfully go down that path, we’re going to have ever-larger other problems to worry about. Probably the best outcome for Iran is to have the world generally not care about the region.

72

Peter T 07.19.15 at 1:17 pm

“I think that this deal vastly increases the chance of a U.S. attack on Iran within the next decade. The removal of sanctions might be worth that to Iran: I don’t know.”

Why would you think that?

73

Rich Puchalsky 07.19.15 at 1:22 pm

What happened to Iraq under an inspection regime? What happens to pretty much any country that is a recurring U.S. favorite to attack that doesn’t have a possible deterrent?

The puzzle that Bruce Wilder brings up of why we’re still “allies” with Pakistan isn’t a puzzle. They have nuclear weapons.

74

Peter T 07.19.15 at 1:32 pm

Iraq was friendless, riven with internal discord, fairly small, open to attack staged from Kuwait. Iran is surrounded by neutrals and allies, large, fairly solid politically, discreetly backed by Russia and China. After this deal, it will have better relations with Europe and Turkey, get started on gas pipelines to Pakistan and maybe Europe, keep improving its links as the natural land-bridge…

In short, it’s a tougher proposition. Unless Iran makes a series of major mistakes, it’s looking to be in much the same position vis-a-vis the US as Brazil, Indonesia, Venezuela – too large to invade, too connected to bomb.

75

Rich Puchalsky 07.19.15 at 1:36 pm

Peter T: “In short, it’s a tougher proposition.”

I agree that it would be a crazy thing to do. I don’t agree that the U.S. is reliably not crazy. Who knows what President we’ll get within the next 3 terms? I thought that the attack on Iraq was crazy, and that happened.

(I also think that “fairly solid politically” is papering over some potential major problems, but that’s secondary.)

76

Michael Sullivan 07.19.15 at 1:46 pm

Omega@59: I’m not sure Vietnam is your best example. If relations with Iran were on the Vietnam timeline (end of Iraq Iran war == end of Vietnam war), we’d have normalized relations 7 years ago, and be on the path to permanent normal in another 5-6 years. Vietnam is now an ally even while still nominally communist. In think we actually did OK at letting our shit go there.

77

Peter T 07.19.15 at 1:47 pm

I have argued elsewhere that US policy in the Middle East has been a drunken clusterfuck for decades. But generally not suicidal. The US likes to throw small crappy countries against a wall. Ones that could bite back, not so much.

Out of 17 million Iraqis, the Kurdish 20% were with the US, the Shi’a 55% conditionally neutral, and the hostility of the the remaining quarter nearly broke a US force of 165,000 (combat troops pulling two and three tours in a row, shortages of specialists, desperate improvisation of equipment…). I doubt you could find 10% of 75 million Iranians who would side with the US. Which now has a smaller army.

78

Layman 07.19.15 at 2:20 pm

“I agree that it would be a crazy thing to do. I don’t agree that the U.S. is reliably not crazy. Who knows what President we’ll get within the next 3 terms? I thought that the attack on Iraq was crazy, and that happened.”

Fair enough, but if that’s your view, the Iran deal seems irrelevant to the calculation. Why does the deal ‘vastly increase’ the likelihood of an attack?

My sense of the deal is that there are 3 motivations for it from the U.S. perspective:
– the sanctions regime is crumbling, so we’re getting what we can for agreeing to relax them;
– we’re trying to reduce the likelihood of an attack by a future U.S. President, by eroding the nuclear WMD argument;
– Obama is legacy-building, trying to leave behind better relations with U.S. pariah states Cuba & Iran.

Anything can happen, of course, but it’s hard to see how that agenda leads to a ‘vastly increased’ likelihood of attack.

79

Rich Puchalsky 07.19.15 at 3:09 pm

Peter T: “I doubt you could find 10% of 75 million Iranians who would side with the US. Which now has a smaller army.”

The usual U.S. policy since the aftermath of WW II has been: be deterred by anyone with a real deterrent, prop up friendly dictators, destabilize everyone else. The deal removes any chance of Iran having a real deterrent other than its size, since no country can credibly claim to be developing one while inspectors roam around. It’s not in the friendly dictator category — obviously, it was back under the Shah, but that’s how we got contemporary Iran in the first place. Maybe it’s “too large to invade”, but is it really “too connected to bomb”? What can Iran promise to the countries that is it “connected” with that the U.S. can’t outbribe? If its supposed protectors have any large stake in preserving Iran, I don’t know what that is.

And is the current theocracy really supposed to last? What’s going to happen when the “democracy now” protests sweep the country? Surely we’ll have some kind of acronym like R2P ready to go that isn’t tainted with previous use but basically means the same thing.

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Barry 07.19.15 at 3:10 pm

heckblazer 07.18.15 at 6:01 am

” I would note that Pat Buchanan is very much a paleocon, so him pausing at the thought of breaking the agreement doesn’t really say anything about the neocons one way or the other.”

When Pat Buchanan is the sanest, most decent voice on the right………..

81

Bruce Wilder 07.19.15 at 3:12 pm

Within the U.S. foreign policy community and military-industrial complex, there might actually be some dim self-awareness that not all has been working out well. The old joke –Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran–haunts them.

There remains real mental disability — an inability to collectively reason effectively, to appreciate what motivates other leaders and peoples, to understand the costly inefficiency of American policy templates, but the idea that it really might be possible to make things worse is perceived, if only thru a dark and distorting glass.

I do not think it an accident that this is Kerry’s initiative: he belongs to a completely different era, a completely different set of ideas about how and why foreign policy is conducted.

82

Barry 07.19.15 at 3:12 pm

Peter T 07.18.15 at 6:16 am

” I think you overestimate the difficulty the neocons would have in coming up with a rationale for tearing up the agreement. I mean, it’s not like they don’t have form in doctoring up dossiers. That no-one with any brains or experience would believe them is not an obstacle – they would believe it themselves, and that’s all that matters.”

Seconding here. John, you’ve spent a lot of time assuming that there are Bizarro World things like good publicly known information.

83

Barry 07.19.15 at 3:15 pm

Kidneystones: “Given President Drone Strikes appalling record – destabilizing Iraq by allowing a corrupt Iran-supported Shia government to remind many Sunni Iraqis that religious divides trump all other issues, …”

Wrong, but do go on.

84

Ronan(rf) 07.19.15 at 3:37 pm

Foreign policy is indeed very easy, if you imagine away all the politics. This is basically the neoclassical view of FP. Imagine political actors removed from all bureaucratic, parliamentary and domestic politics, from all vested interests, spoilers, non rational policy preferences and incompetent advisors, where policy and alliance path dependance dont matter , where the decision maker has an endless source of perfect information and a capacity to process this information to create optimal policy, and where you and the other side are always acting in good faith.

On the point that an attack on Iran is inevitable. No, it obviously is not inevitable. It might be ‘likely’ (by some obscure measure) it might be more or less likely under some admins (a McCain) than others (an Obama) Regardless, throwing your hands up about ‘inevitablity’ is just an excuse not to think through a position in the here and now. This deal has probably made it less likely, in the long run. And yes, that’s mainly the purpose; Obama administration legacy concerns + trying to institutionalise a negotiating relationship with Iran to stave off pressures for war. (In the context of a regional breakdown where both sides need to co-operate, a bit more.)

Whether or nor the Kerry generation were more competent or responsible on FP. Well, it depend on who this generation is, but from Korea to Vietnam to Indonesia to Central America etc, it would make me think probably not.

85

Bruce Wilder 07.19.15 at 4:09 pm

Observing American foreign policy in action has long been like watching some kind of slow motion car wreck, perpetrated by a drunken fool at the wheel. Onlookers cannot look away, but neither are they able to intervene: they cannot take away the keys from the drunk, and of course, reasoning with a drunk is futile. The political logic of empire in decay drives all the dynamics. This is why talk of inevitable disaster seems so appropriate.

I was not suggesting that Kerry’s generation was wise or successful, but they were conspicuously more sophisticated than the generation dominated by the Bush II neocons. And, I include many contemporaries, who do not identify as neocons per se, but also apparently cannot frame in their minds the diplomacy of multipower agreement. That Americans cannot escape the mental frame of shackling a criminal, when negotiating non-proliferation with a country like Iran, which has strong reasons NOT to want nuclear weapons is an indictment of our own lack of . . . realism, if I can use that word without invoking some bizarre and baroque academic nonsense.

I despise Kissinger, but look at the quality of reasoning in the op-ed he published recently, and tell me if his thinking is not an order of magnitude above and beyond anything from the current generation’s public discourse. I do not think I am just disparaging younger folks; American foreign policy got dumber after 9/11 to a remarkable degree, and is only beginning to recover in the second Obama Administration.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.19.15 at 4:22 pm

Continuing on from #28:

5. The U.S. Congress has mostly given up on approving / disapproving of wars, and treaty limitations of various kinds on U.S. war making have become steadily less binding. As a result of this and #1-4, the U.S. President can essentially declare war at will.

6. Since this is one of the few major policies that a President can carry out at will, and since Presidents want legacies, every President post- WW II has done it. The question is not whether there will be a war in any new President’s term, the question is who the target will be.

7. Targets naturally will be chosen from those countries with no ability to strike back. Conventional military does not provide an ability to strike back. Neither does guerrilla capability, since although it reliably means that the U.S. will eventually lose every war, these wars are either irrational or done in order to destabilize.

8. Left-leaning Presidents will choose wars purported to prevent or decrease atrocities: right-leaning ones will choose wars purported to destroy enemies of America. In both cases the death toll will be similar, and a war purportedly of one type can be easily converted into one of the other.

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MPAVictoria 07.19.15 at 4:33 pm

Rich show me the war started by Obama that has caused the same number of deaths as Bush the Lesser’s insanity.

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Bruce Wilder 07.19.15 at 4:52 pm

Obama just had to keep Bush II’s various insanities going. Which he did. And, by this means, he has exceeded Bush’s bodycount.

The Lesser Evil turned out to be the More Effective Evil.

Or, he has managed a few debacles of his own, in Yemen and Libya and the (former?) Syrian-Iraq desert.

89

MPAVictoria 07.19.15 at 5:04 pm

Can you show me numbers showing that Bruce? Doesn’t sound right to me.

90

Rich Puchalsky 07.19.15 at 5:56 pm

“The death toll will be similar” is the least defensible part of that, since Bush W. really did exceed expectations and set a mark that will stand for some time to come. I’ll withdraw that while I try to think of a better way to phrase it.

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geo 07.19.15 at 5:59 pm

BW@85: American foreign policy in action has long been … some kind of slow motion car wreck

Not for us Chomskyans. The Vietnam War was a success: it prevented any revolutionary leftists in Thailand, Indonesia, or the Philippines from imagining that their countries wouldn’t pay an unacceptably high price for attempting to secede from the American economic sphere. The Cuban invasion/embargo was a success: it emboldened the Central and South American right to turn those regions into a collection of national-security states for a generation after the Cuban revolution. Even the Iraq war was a partial success: popular discontent with Bush’s incapacity for governing, reflected in unfavorable poll numbers before 9/11, simply evaporated; Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s cronies in energy and defense got immensely rich; and a no-longer-controllable dictator with a large army and the world’s second-largest oil reserves was eliminated.

What do you think they were trying to accomplish?

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MPAVictoria 07.19.15 at 6:44 pm

Cheers Rich. And just to be clear I agree that U.S. Foreign policy, like US domestic policy, is a hot garbage fire.

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William Timberman 07.19.15 at 6:45 pm

geo @ 91

Chomskyans must have patience. Going from look on my works, ye Mighty and despair, to the lone and level sands stretch far away is infamous for taking more time than we expect. It may, in fact, take more time than we have. If history is any guide, none who claim to have seen the Promised Land have ever gotten to live it, a fact which prompts prominent so-called realists to sneer at the Failures Of The Left. They may be proven right in the end, but the end hasn’t arrived just yet. In the meantime, I’d say that not being able to imagine Heaven can’t excuse them from being satisfied with Hell.

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geo 07.19.15 at 8:05 pm

I agree entirely, William.

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LFC 07.19.15 at 8:51 pm

@yastrblyansky @62/63
thanks for the notes re the Houthis.

Anderson @61
Yes, one wd think there is a case, albeit an arguable one, that the USSR was a regional hegemon, but I think one reason for Mearsheimer’s contrary judgment is that he sees it as straddling both Europe and Asia, so its relevant ‘region’ is very big. M. would not deny, of course, that the USSR had E. European satellites and other client states but he doesn’t see it as having been a regional hegemon. Fwiw.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.19.15 at 9:14 pm

Here’s what I think is a better way of putting it: it’s mostly a matter of luck whether a particular U.S. President’s war / intervention death toll is high or low. Yes, unusually bad intent or unusual incompetence can make the number likely to be higher than it would be otherwise. But mostly the death toll seems to be based on the historical accident of what’s happening around the time when a President is looking for something to do and the U.S. agrees that it’s time to kill again. We have a violent society — whether you want to measure that by crime statistics, incarceration statistics, frequency-of-war statistics, or pretty much any relevant statistics — and war is the usual state that we like to be in.

The problem that I have with Chomskyanism, by the way, is that it treats all of this as if elites purposefully made it all happen for evil elite purposes. Some of it is certainly that. But as usual, I think that a person fooled once may be naive, a person fooled twice may be a sucker, but once someone is fooled three or four or five times you might want to inquire about whether they are manufacturing their own consent.

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LFC 07.19.15 at 9:19 pm

Bruce Wilder @88

Obama just had to keep Bush II’s various insanities going. Which he did.

Bruce, you need to distinguish much more clearly than you have been doing between: (1) those underlying aspects of US f.p. that tend to either stay fairly constant from admin to admin or else change slowly (e.g., the global base network I mentioned earlier, or the basic alliance structure); and (2) those aspects that do change from admin to admin — and obvs. there are some aspects that do change.

Your statement above is incorrect, esp. in the light of the above distinction. Obama ended US combat ops in Iraq and later, in conjunction w NATO/ISAF, ended US combat ops in Afghanistan (while leaving a not-insignificant force of special-ops/counterterrorist and trainers behind under an agreement w the Afghan govt after Karzai left office). Obama increased the reliance on drones compared to GW Bush; O. did say, in the Natl Defense Univ speech, that drone use wd be cut back, but the consistent follow-through on that seems to have been, well, either largely absent or v. patchy, from what I gather.

In any case, simply to say that O. continued Bush’s policies is incorrect. It’s not good analysis, good prescription, or good description, it’s just bad, shoddy thinking.

Thank you for the correction re the 5th fleet. I didn’t see the recent Kissinger op-ed; if you want to link it I would be (mildly, at any rate) interested.

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LFC 07.19.15 at 9:29 pm

R Puchalsky @96

war is the usual state that we like to be in

Which doesn’t explain why there is very little public appetite for the reintroduction of US ground forces on any major scale into the M.E.; also hardly a groundswell of popular support for a strike on Iran.

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LFC 07.19.15 at 9:37 pm

p.s. to 97
of course the Obama admin has also been more supportive of multilateralism in general and spec. on, e.g. climate change negs., than Bush II was.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.19.15 at 9:52 pm

LFC: “Which doesn’t explain why there is very little public appetite for the reintroduction of US ground forces on any major scale into the M.E.; also hardly a groundswell of popular support for a strike on Iran.”

We’re at war right now, or had you forgotten? The glorious war in Afghanistan continues, and we are also involved in military operations in Pakistan, Yemen, Uganda, Iraq, and Syria. I didn’t say that the U.S. public had the appetite for the most war possible. Not that this would really matter if a President decided that we should have a strike on Iran.

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LFC 07.19.15 at 10:03 pm

The glorious war in Afghanistan continues

With Afghan forces now carrying most, if not virtually all, of the fighting. NATO/ISAF forces are no longer officially in a combat role, although some special-ops missions are presumably being carried out.

@97 I spec. mention, e.g., Obama’s increased use of drones compared to GW Bush. So it’s not likely I wd have “forgotten” mil ops in Pakistan and Yemen. (Or elsewhere, for that matter.)

(Btw Pakistan has recently hosted talks betw Afghan Taliban and Afghan govt. Not sure what resulted, if anything.)

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geo 07.19.15 at 10:40 pm

RP@96: Chomskyanism … treats all of this as if elites purposefully made it all happen for evil elite purposes

That’s a common and even a plausible objection, Rich, but it’s a mistaken one. Chomskyanism is a structural theory. It holds that the goals of those who control the society’s most important institutions — in a capitalist society, the institutions that determine investment and therefore employment — act as a fundamental constraint on the behavior (and, through the manufacture of consent, the beliefs) of all other institutions and individuals. That is, any policy or program whose effects will undermine the accumulation of profit which is the goal of the owning/investing/ruling class will face opposition in proportion to the degree to which they threaten that goal.

A great many worthwhile progressive or reformist policies — humanitarian aid, humane treatment of industrially farmed animals, banning of particular environmental pollutants, diversity in hiring and college admissions, support for a particularly vile but not very strategically important tyrant — don’t threaten that goal very deeply or widely or immediately, of course, so the ruling-class opposition is smaller and more localized. But those that do — enforcement of existing tax, labor, or election law, the Nader-proposed Department of Consumer Affairs, effective regulation of the financial industry, campaign finance reform, well-funded and independent public media, full employment policy — will mobilize the full resources of the ruling class, including, of course, deployment of the national political police (ie, the FBI), state militias, and local police. It’s simple, really: the more radical the reform, the more global and fundamental the interest of the owning class that is being challenged, the more intense and organized the opposition the left’s efforts will evoke.

Internationally, the main interest of the ruling class is an open and integrated global economy, i.e., one in which American business can make a profit anywhere. The importance of Vietnam and Cuba was not the danger of losing the few profit opportunities presented by their tiny economies, but the “danger of a good example” — the possibility that those countries might develop successfully without American tutelage and supervision. This might well give the citizens of larger and more important countries troublesome ideas — that is, in the words of American policymakers from Wilson to Kennan to Kissinger to Kristol, in one form or another, “the rot will spread.” Preventing ideological contagion of this sort requires an extensive global military presence, a continually updated arsenal, and a willingness to use violence, especially against brown people.

But since this is a rather ugly picture, it must be disguised, and that is the purpose of American exceptionalism, which is (along with the fiction of the “national interest”) probably the single most effective political mystification ever perpetrated. Virtually everyone (except we on Crooked Timber and, of course, those on the receiving end of American bombs) believes, as though it were a fact of nature, that the United States stands for universal freedom and human welfare. Those of us who don’t believe it can say so on Crooked Timber but not on Clear Channel or any other medium with a mass audience. And if we tried to pool our money and buy Clear Channel, the ruling class would sit up and take notice. Either the FCC wouldn’t let us, or if they did, the US Chamber of Commerce would make sure that no one advertised on our channel, and if we somehow survived, they’d create two, three, many Clear Channels to drown us out.

Sorry, I’ve rambled a bit, but my point is that there’s no need (yet) for an executive committee of the ruling class to hold a summit and issue marching orders to corporate executives and the state. The system is brilliantly designed to make widespread fundamental opposition unthinkable; and if thinkable, ineffective; and if effective, dangerous. The three best explanations I can think of at the moment of how they’ve done this are Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent, Ferguson and Roger’s “The Investment Theory of American Politics,” and Steve Fraser’s new The Age of Acquiescence.

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geo 07.19.15 at 10:47 pm

PS – And by “designed,” I don’t mean “designed,” I mean “evolved.” Marx wanted to dedicate Das Kapital to Darwin, I suspect because he recognized that his own theory of the evolution of capitalism was structural in just the same way as Darwin’s theory of the evolution of species, ie, the course of development is not consciously directed but rather is unconsciously constrained.

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geo 07.19.15 at 10:58 pm

PP.S. – Maybe instead of reaching for a possibly far-fetched Marx/Darwin analogy, I should have referred to an example closer to hand and even more relevant. A corporation is something like a society. It has (supposedly — I gather this notion of fiduciary obligation is contested) an overall purpose: to increase shareholder value. But not everyone employed by the corporation knows that, or cares about it. Most people’s purpose is to make a living, and a few people may actually enjoy the work. But if any of their activities run up against the overall constraint of profitability, they will be admonished or restrained, gently or severely depending on the threat to overall profitability they pose.

And while in the present economic environment, corporations need scarcely bother about manufacturing consent, they used to work quite hard at it.

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yastreblyansky 07.19.15 at 11:19 pm

One central reason I have always objected to the various versions of Chomsky’s linguistic theory is its presentation of the rules of grammar as a “constraint”, as if they were preventing people from saying things (ungrammatical utterances) that they want to say, rather than enabling them. I never understood that his ideas on political economy take the same form, that’s interesting!

In linguistics, Chomsky’s ideas have been notoriously difficult to reconcile with Darwinian evolution (they seem to require some single massive complex of mutations in a single generation in which one hominid community is suddenly gifted with all of language, with no transition), at least at the biological level (I think they also pose insuperable problems for historical language change). I wonder if the presentation of Marx’s or Darwin’s ideas as involving “constraints” on social or biological development isn’t wrong in a similar way.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.19.15 at 11:41 pm

geo: “That is, any policy or program whose effects will undermine the accumulation of profit which is the goal of the owning/investing/ruling class will face opposition in proportion to the degree to which they threaten that goal.”

I think that I understand this, and I agree as far as it goes. What I think that it persistently overlooks is the degree to which non-elite interests are served by the existing state of affairs, and the way in which large elements of the working class cooperate with the ruling class. Chomskyanism has to label this “mystification”, but it really isn’t. Do you think that, given overall levels of cynicism and the penetration of left critiques to just about everyone at a notional level, that people really generally believe in American exceptionalism? Sure, a few do. I assume that most of the people who claim to do so actually do so for reasons of tribal conservative belief, security forces affiliation, or simple viciousness. Doing so leads to greater possibilities for engaging in violence, and people understand that and “are fooled”. They’d rather have the psychic rewards that the right promises them than whatever material rewards the left can provide.

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bob mcmanus 07.20.15 at 12:05 am

The assumption or postulate, ala Foucault, that power flows from the bottom up is morally necessary to any goal of human liberation. If we aren’t doing it now, why do you we can do it tomorrow? It flows in complicated ways, needless to say.

But even with this postulate, a conclusion that macro or global manifestations are demonstrations of individual culpability and evil is at the least morally reprehensible.

The solution is found in viewing action and choice, and only one’s own, as individual but also inexplicable. Everything explicable or describable etc is social and systemic, as is the “act” of explaining or describing, the tools and language. Doing is Being/Becoming. Truth vs Wisdom in Lacan, enunciating act vs enunciated fact.

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geo 07.20.15 at 12:18 am

RP: It’s true that “non-elite interests are served by the existing state of affairs” and also that “large elements of the working class cooperate with the ruling class.” The elite are not omnipotent. Domestic popular opposition is in turn a constraint on the elite, as is nationalist opposition in countries we invade, and as were Soviet nuclear weapons and the Red Army. Nor are the elite, or anyone else, always — perhaps, for that matter, ever — conscious of their motives. Nor is every issue zero-sum, so that any agreement between elite and non-elite must be the result of mystification — as you say, imperialist violence may serve capital accumulation, national chauvinism, and sheer bloodlust among various actors or all at once.

I think what would falsify Chomskyanism is the consistent pursuit of a state policy, in the absence of substantial countervailing pressures, of a policy that inhibited capital accumulation: for example, a policy of genuinely (as opposed to, at present, merely rhetorically) promoting democracy — or even allowing democracy — in American client states, since that would predictably result in labor unions, environmental protection, public investment, social welfare provision, restrictions on capital flows and profit repatriation, etc. When and if we ever see such a foreign policy, I think Chomsky will happily admit that Chomskyanism is obsolete.

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DavidMoz 07.20.15 at 12:27 am

Rich P: Do you think that, given overall levels of cynicism and the penetration of left critiques to just about everyone at a notional level, that people really generally believe in American exceptionalism?

With a few exceptions (including you, Glen Tompkins, Bob McManus and Geo), it seems to me in Australia that American exceptionalism is so much a part of the fabric of Crooked Timber that it is unseeable to almost all of the US commenters. And many of the others as well. It’s a widespread form of self-deception indeed.

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LFC 07.20.15 at 1:13 am

DavidMoz
With a few exceptions (including you [i.e. R. Puchalsky], Glen Tompkins, Bob McManus and Geo), it seems to me in Australia that American exceptionalism is so much a part of the fabric of Crooked Timber [sic!] that it is unseeable to almost all of the US commenters. And many of the others as well. It’s a widespread form of self-deception indeed.

If by ‘American exceptionalism’ in this context you mean what geo said @102 (that the US [supposedly] stands for “universal freedom and human welfare” (w emph. on the ‘universal’) or the myth/notion/quasi-ideology that the US has some kind of special mission to improve or ‘uplift’ or ‘reform’ the world, by virtue of its supposed status as a beacon or “city on a hill” (Reagan via John Winthrop via the Bible), then I can assure you that pretty much anyone who has some familiarity w US history, and esp the history of US ‘foreign relations’, is going to be aware that this is one notable strand in the US ideological fabric. Lots of writers at varying pts on the political spectrum recognize this. But that doesn’t mean they’re always going to agree w you and the other named commenters on specific questions.

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Omega Centauri 07.20.15 at 1:52 am

American Exceptionalism is yielded as a political weapon by US conservatives against liberals.
Its politically dangerous to argue in a political context that some US system isn’t the best, for example on healthcare, asserting that your opponent doesn’t believe unconditionally that all things USA are best is a pretty common tactic on the right. Its yielded as a charge that the liberal opponent is being disrespectful of his country and countrymen, if you question whether the US is the best. I take this as evidence that the American Exceptionalism meme still has political power.

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LFC 07.20.15 at 2:37 am

geo @102
The preservation of an ‘open’ global economy, or removal of obstacles to capital accumulation, has been one of the goals, a key goal, of US foreign policy for a long time. And ‘the system’ and its elites do engage in the shaping of mass opinion (‘manufacture of consent’). But as I’ve said before, I think Chomskyeanism doesn’t always work well when it comes to explaining particular policy decisions or courses of action.

In particular and to take one example, Vietnam is a more complicated case than you suggest. George Kennan and Hans Morgenthau opposed US Vietnam policy on ‘realist’ grounds (Vietnam was not a vital natl security interest), and close US allies, incl Britain, thought US policy was wrong. I suppose there was perhaps an element of the ‘ideological contagion’ fear in ‘the domino theory’, but a lot of people, incl among the US fp establishment and allies, thought it made little sense. The destruction of the Indonesian Communist Party via mass slaughter in 1965 (shortly before the US escalation decisions) shd have made clear that the domino theory was no longer a live concern w/r/t much of SE Asia, and some CIA analysis at the time said as much. The fact that US Vietnam policy under Johnson went in the other direction swung on a host of considerations, some of them quite contingent as historians say, and the Chomskeyean approach is not going to capture that well.

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Harold 07.20.15 at 3:05 am

@13 Kidneystones: Buchanan’s schtick is an isolationist “we (God’s Chosen People -WASPS) are being over-run by brown people who produce far too many babies.”

Buchanan is not a WASP, but a far-right Catholic, educated by Jesuits.

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kidneystones 07.20.15 at 3:37 am

@113 Thanks for this. I’m not sure I see your point. Are you implying that Buchanan needs, himself, to be a WASP in order to make the “we the WASPs” argument? Or, are you implying something darker, a Bob Novak Opus Dei secret cult, association? I’m sincerely grateful for your comment, but within the context of foreign policy I’m not sure Buchanan’s preferred form of Christianity and education make a great deal of difference.

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geo 07.20.15 at 4:16 am

LFC: Chomskyism is a rather abstract, system-level theory. It doesn’t predict how elites are going to divide up about assessing the costs of some particular intervention. It does predict, though, that although someone as prominent and influential as Kennan or Morgenthau might have said “Let’s not do it — the chances of success are too small” or “Let’s not do it — it will cost too much” or “Let’s not do it — too many Americans will die” or “Let’s not do it — too many Vietnamese will die, and that will cost us diplomatically,” they would never have said “Let’s not do it — there are better ways to bring freedom and prosperity to the Vietnamese, which is after all our principal goal for that country” or “Let’s not do it — the use of military force except in self-defense, strictly defined, contravenes the UN Charter, which has the force of law and which our nation has solemnly promised to abide by.” Or that, if an influential person did express principled rather than cost-benefit opposition to the intervention and couldn’t prove that such a shocking lapse was the result of a temporary brain fever, s/he would soon become less influential.

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faustusnotes 07.20.15 at 4:31 am

Just a brief interjection here to observe that Obama’s policies have killed nowhere near as many people as Bush’s, and the only way anyone can believe that is to rely on discredited figures. Bush’s war killed a million and displaced 4 million. Obama has not done that.

You can argue that Obama’s mistakes have exacerbated the misery caused by others (e.g. the Syrian civil war) but it’s just silly to compare the death toll under “President Drone Strokes” [<-what a resoundingly stupid little sneer this is] with that under Bush. It's also unreasonable to compare mistakes in response to complex and evolving situations rooted in the bad decisions of previous administrations (e.g. Afghanistan, Libya, Syria) with the direct decision to invade a country and murder between 600,000 and 1.2 million of its residents.

Obama has introduced universal health coverage, withdrawn troops from Iraq, opened up relations with Cuba and negotiated a deal with Iran. But for some reason a whole bunch of leftists think he started a war as bad as Bush's, and is just to the right of Nixon. This kind of nonsense is just as stupid as anything the lunar right have come up with.

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steven johnson 07.20.15 at 4:47 am

Libya, Syria, Yemen, Islamic State and Ukraine may be “rooted in the bad decisions of previous administrations…” but key milestones towards the murderous consequences were laid by Obama. And continuing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq made those wars Obama’s, even if he wound them down. Nixon wound down the Vietnam war too.

What passes for realistic political analysis in academic circles sometimes astonishes me. The observation above that the slaughter in Indonesia removed the Communist threat, thereby rendering the Vietnam War unnecessary makes the mad assumption that the US government was responding to Communist aggression. Even more pitifully, it can’t even analyze that correctly. When your side (not mine) makes a huge win like in Indonesia, you don’t sit back on your laurels, you follow up with another big push. If Indonesian Communists remained powerful, that would have been a reason not to commit in Vietnam, raising questions about multiple fronts and secure rear areas and such.

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Peter T 07.20.15 at 4:51 am

Given that the US Secretary of Defense is currently assuring Israel et al that “the military option remains on the table”, I doubt Iranian policy-makers are silly enough to think that the agreement in itself protects against American bombs. What it does do, however, is sharply raise the costs and lower the benefits of USA action, short of Iranian non-compliance with NPT obligations obvious to the other members of the P5+1. Since there has never been such evidence to date under the current inspection regime, I doubt this will emerge. And although US actions have a somewhat random quality, something more than presidential pique is needed unless you are hapless Grenada or Panama.

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faustusnotes 07.20.15 at 5:39 am

What key milestones did Obama lay down for the creation of Islamic State? Is he some kind of omnipotent god who can reach back in time to persuade Bush to disband the Iraqi army? Was it Obama who set up the Ukrainian maidan movement, as Russia Today might like you to believe? And how is what Obama is doing in Afghanistan worse than the alternative, of leaving it to implode and go through another couple of decades of internecine violence? Obama inherited a foreign policy nightmare in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Africa and Israel, but to say that his mistakes in negotiating that quagmire make him as bad as the people who left it behind for him is not analysis, it’s snark – especially in a thread about a major milestone on the road to undoing some of the damage of previous administrations.

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Suzanne 07.20.15 at 6:04 am

@116: Rather than go through the fuss and bother of capturing people and then figuring out what to do with them (the Gitmo problem), Obama simply kills them outright, along with anyone else in their vicinity. Probably any currently conceivable US president would have done the same, but President Drone Strikes — or my own preference, the Prince of Drones — seems a very reasonable sneer. By me the picture of Obama and Brennan poring over the kill lists is a pretty creepy one — it’s the sort of thing you can imagine Nixon doing –, with unpleasant implications:

http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-presidents-kill-list

And whatever the ACA’s virtues, it is decidedly not universal healthcare coverage.

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ZM 07.20.15 at 6:34 am

LFC,

“The destruction of the Indonesian Communist Party via mass slaughter in 1965 (shortly before the US escalation decisions) shd have made clear that the domino theory was no longer a live concern w/r/t much of SE Asia, and some CIA analysis at the time said as much.”

I read an article a while ago by Errol Morris about this and the film The Act of Killing, and The New York Times had front page articles about this with reportage that George F Kennan had said “that the Vietnam War was unnecessary—the invasion of the South and the bombing of the North; the deaths of 58,000 American servicemen and more than 1 million Vietnamese were unnecessary. Not to mention the “collateral damage” to Cambodia and Laos.
Unnecessary.
Had Kennan’s testimony been reported? Yes, on Page 1 of the New York Times, Feb. 11, 1966, top of the fold, right-hand column—the lead story.”

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/history/2013/07/the_act_of_killing_essay_how_indonesia_s_mass_killings_could_have_slowed.2.html

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Peter T 07.20.15 at 8:59 am

The US President is elected to maintain – if possible expand – the system, just as Roman (or any other) emperors were selected to add to the empire, not diminish it. As such, one of the hardest things for a president to do in foreign policy is nothing. The US derives a great deal of its wealth and power from its international position, and it requires active management to keep it that way, just as it required active management to build. No empire is acquired in a fit of absence of mind.

It seems to me that the US will have great difficulty in keeping its position over the coming decades. Some prudent trimming, some carefully-managed withdrawals from high-cost/low return areas would be good policy. Bad policy would – as in Iraq – involve expensive efforts that yield little but damage core US interests in other areas. By this light, Obama’s initiatives in regard to Iran and Cuba are good policy, the drone strikes an inevitable gesture, and the GOP a predictable disaster.

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kidneystones 07.20.15 at 9:15 am

@119 This is simply excellent. We the ‘good’ commit no evil, we simply kill because the mistakes of others leave us no choice but to unleash more mayhem. As for inheriting problems. The Americans ‘inherited’ the former Ottoman province of Iraq from the British, who under Churchill and others, gassed the locals to induce ‘a lively terror.’

One of own favorite maxims is: “it’s never too late to do nothing at all.” In the run-up to the Iraq war I actually had a lively email correspondence going with a number of journalists on the left and the right – including Sullivan, Ignatius, and others. I literally begged them to do advocate delay. Following the US land forces sail around the Cape up the coast of Africa I tried to will them to stop, disembark, and start building roads, bridges, and hospitals in Malawi and other impoverished parts of East Africa.

What you fail to grasp is that liberals like John Holbo et al love the idea of killing the ‘enemy’ every bit as much as those on the right. And because you fail to understand that killing at a distance, with no risk, is highly intoxicating, you assume that Drone Strike doesn’t feel a thrill running up his own leg as he brags of his own death count. Or do you just tune out when liberal hawks adopt their John Wayne poses and go all steely-eyed.

There’s big, big money in selling and using weapons. Obama’s Navy is building a bunch of new ships, many of which will eventually find their way to the Saudi navy. The ebb and flow of war does not hinge on red and blue politics, but on the opportunity to make money through the waging of war. You’re welcome to go all Pat Buchanan and wall up America. That’s actually much closer to Bush’s position. As soon as we step out into a world where people kill for pleasure and profit, things get ugly, and self-restraint and humility become attributes to be prized and treasured. Libya, Syria, and an out-of-control Iraq all occurred under Obama. Will the Republican who follows O get a free pass for his own mayhem because he’s cleaning up the mess O left? Nixon, btw, ended the Viet Nam war, a war that Democrats absolutely own – lock, stock, and barrel. I’ll close by noting that Bush Sr. and Powell both understood what would happen if Saddam fell. Bush Jr. did what most Americans wanted – kicked ass among the brown folks. Bush’s crime in the eyes of many, was that he didn’t unleash a ‘highway of death’ like Stormin Norman and kill a lot more Iraqis.

My own view, unlike that of your golden-boy hero O, is that bombing the living shit out of civilians and others is rarely wise, even if the kill count runs to the millions.

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faustusnotes 07.20.15 at 9:47 am

More than a million people died and four million were displaced by the direct decision of a US president to invade a country for no reason. I want those peoples’ deaths to be counted and to count, which means that the gross crime committed against them needs to be given its proper place in the annals of assholery. When you say that Obama has killed as many people as George Bush you are stating something that is simply not true, unless you can somehow reduce those million lives to almost zero. Similarly, if you want to claim that the millions displaced and murdered by Assad are all on Obama’s scoresheet then you are saying that the omission of action – or early mistakes – are the same in intent and evil as the deliberate efforts of the Bush administration to start a war that killed a million people.

When you sneer at Obama’s drone strikes in the way presented here you are either ignoring the air war in Iraq during Bush and Clinton’s years, or you expect us to cleave to the foolish notion that drones and planes are somehow different. You again reduce the lives of Afghan and Iraqi citizens killed under previous presidents to nothing because you have some kind of domestic problem with Obama.

It’s also telling that simply attempting to have Bush’s crimes given their proper weight – and by extension, have his victims given their proper place – makes me some kind of sycophant to Obama, and him my “golden-boy hero.” I’m not American and I really couldn’t care less about who runs the country or their legacy, but I think it’s important to all the victims of the US neo-cons that the proper criminals be held to account. Since no US president of any stripe will ever hold their predecessors to account, we’re left with no better way than a proper accounting of the dead and those responsible. It seems that American leftists can’t even get that right!

Suzanne, the primary reason that Obamacare is not UHC is that the Republican states won’t sign up for Medicaid. Yet this is somehow Obama’s fault too, and he’s to the right of Nixon … It would be nice if Americans writing this kind of crap on slate and Salon would realize that a failure of analysis by the US left affects the rest of the world too, and tried just a bit harder …

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ZM 07.20.15 at 10:16 am

Rich Puchalsky,

“Here’s what I think is a better way of putting it: it’s mostly a matter of luck whether a particular U.S. President’s war / intervention death toll is high or low. Yes, unusually bad intent or unusual incompetence can make the number likely to be higher than it would be otherwise. But mostly the death toll seems to be based on the historical accident of what’s happening around the time when a President is looking for something to do and the U.S. agrees that it’s time to kill again.”

This is actually what the baseball chapter in the book I mentioned in the other thread Apologies To Thucydides is about.

Thucydides would write some events as being caused by The Athenians and The Spartans as collectives, but other events attribute to particular persons, such as Themistocles or Alcibiades. Recent work has suggested that the later books attribute more to particular persons. But there is no real theory in history as to when you should attribute something to collectives and when to individuals.

Sahlins looks at the argument that collectives are to trends what individuals are to events, with an example from baseball that a historian had written on earlier: “How did the New York Giants happen to play in the World Series of 1951?”

According to the book, when The Yankees won the World Series in 1939 this was developmental, but when The Giants won in 1951 this was evenemential. The Yankees were good all along, but The Giants suddenly overtook The Dodgers. And this was due to Bobby Thompson’s historic home run — “the most dramatic and shocking event in American sports” — so The Giants winning in 1951 needs to be told by noting individuals rather than collectives.

So probably there are parts of what the Presidents do that are appropriate to attribute to them, and others better attributed to America as a collective.

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William Burns 07.20.15 at 10:21 am

Rich Puchalsky said:

6. Since this is one of the few major policies that a President can carry out at will, and since Presidents want legacies, every President post- WW II has done it. The question is not whether there will be a war in any new President’s term, the question is who the target will be.

He forgot Jimmy Carter.

127

kidneystones 07.20.15 at 11:11 am

124 You’re really on a roll. Just to clarify my own position as one of those sneering at O, the paint-by-numbers sanctimonious crowd in general, and you in specific, I have yet to make any numerical comparisons between O and Bush.

You’re wrong on so many levels it’s difficult to know where to begin. Tony Blair, the UK Labour leader and a number of leading ‘liberals’ in Britain found lots of good reasons to invade Iraq. Your ludicrous wailing about one man being responsible for so much death suggests you don’t actually give a damn about the dead, but are deeply invested in laying the entire mess at the feet of one born-again Christian. America is a democracy and a large majority of Americans supported the invasion of Iraq and didn’t much care about whether or not Saddam was personally responsible for 9/11, or not. You really don’t get it, do you? How many US civilians do you think died in all of WWII? A handful, in relative terms. Yet, that was sufficient to unleash the horrors inflicted. There were a host of wrong reasons why Bush invaded and they certainly did not all pop out of Pat Robertson’s forehead. Lots of really ‘bright’ people signed on for this adventure including John and Yglesias. However, in our particular alternative universe all of these folks magically surrender all agency under the amazing mind-meld control of a man best fit to run a lumber yard. This is your explanation for the Iraq invasion?

Had Americans understood what the cost of the US invasion of Iraq were going to be, both in terms of loss of US military life, prestige, and cash, I’m convinced a majority would have happily allowed a US Democratic president such as Truman, to nuke Pakistan and any other nation that could be connected to the 9/11 attacks. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Viet Nam tell us what Americans wanted post-9/11. Even if the numbers you cite are accurate, this would still be too few for plenty of Americans on both sides of the political aisle. If you doubt this, just look at what O did in Libya just because he could.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.20.15 at 11:42 am

William Burns: “He forgot Jimmy Carter.”

I wasn’t sure whether to count arming the Afghans against the USSR as a military action or not. But, OK, we can treat Jimmy Carter is the single exception.

129

Lee A. Arnold 07.20.15 at 12:01 pm

Geo #115: “…Chomskyism…”

I’m not sure that Chomsky would approve this appellation. One reason is that Herman is sometimes listed as lead author on some of their best books. Another and much greater reason is that it is something they did not originate: they express a point of view which is and was ALREADY shared deeply by many of us. In the 1960’s many if not most people in the anti-war movement, throughout the Western world, fueled by psychedelics which cracked apart traditional philosophies, found themselves barenakedly confronting the fact of social control while at the same moment confronting another ill-justified war, and thousands of intellectuals among them reached to writers stretching back to Marx to develop ideas to describe how a society becomes set upon a half-unconscious course towards propagating its institutional relations, especially of private profit, and then hides the bad results. We all learned anew that governments and private firms are liars — which has become, by now, a general public opinion which healthily persists to this day. All of these ideas, including the rest of the concepts in Manufacturing Consent, are found within thousands of op-eds in college newspapers and alternative newspapers from the era.

Chomsky is a pretty humble man (I can tell from the pleasure of meeting him) despite his true innovations in another area, linguistics, and would probably find this appellation to be terribly wrong. I’ll bet that he would even find it dangerous, because it implies that he and Herman invented these ideas, and so, this very perception of individual origination would allow the power elite to cubbyhole the ideas, in order to destroy the ideas. But in fact there are now many hundreds of thousands, perhaps many millions of people who understand the real game: just “ask the nearest hippie” and many teenagers. The question is always, how to keep it alive in every new generation, because nescience is ever a childhood thing, until oldest age returns us to it. Herman & Chomsky’s greatest service is to provide documented histories of lasting import, not a named philosophy.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.20.15 at 12:02 pm

Here is Giordano Bruno in the year 1584 making a remarkable condemnation of colonialism, commerce, and its likely blowback:

“The Tiphyses [by which Bruno is referring to those like Christopher Columbus] of this world have found the way to disturb the peace of others, violate the ancestral spirits of the regions, muddle what nature had kept distinct, and FOR THE SAKE OF COMMERCE [my caps] redouble the effects, and add further vice to the vices of each party, violently propagating new follies and planting unheard-of madness where it had never been before, concluding at last that the stronger are also the wiser, displaying new sciences, instruments, and arts by which to tyrannize and murder one another, so that the time will come, thanks to those actions, that by the oscillation of all things, those who have thus far endured to their misfortune, will learn, and be able to give back to us, the worst fruits of such pernicious invention.”

— From “The Ash Wednesday Supper” by Giordano Bruno (1584), translated and quoted in, Ingrid D. Rowland, Giordano Bruno: Philosopher/Heretic (Chicago, 2008), p. 154.

Thus Bruno was perhaps the first person to see this all coming, 431 years ago.

131

Rich Puchalsky 07.20.15 at 12:15 pm

Peter T: “Given that the US Secretary of Defense is currently assuring Israel et al that “the military option remains on the table”, I doubt Iranian policy-makers are silly enough to think that the agreement in itself protects against American bombs.”

Wait a minute. Weren’t people here implicitly assuming that the agreement would protect Iran against American bombs? You wrote that unless Iran made major mistakes, it was moving into a position where it would be too connected to bomb.

The agreement does remove Iran’s only means of deterrence, so if it doesn’t protect against bombing, it increases the chance of war. That’s pretty much what I’ve been writing.

Peter T: “What it does do, however, is sharply raise the costs and lower the benefits of USA action, short of Iranian non-compliance with NPT obligations obvious to the other members of the P5+1.”

The evidence of Iraqi non-compliance was faked, with the cooperation of other countries. Why not simply fake it again? There were no penalties for obviously falsifying the evidence last time.

I realize that there is more going on than simply US / Iranian conflict and abstract non-prolferation– the other members of the P5+1 have other goals, including trade and so on. But I don’t see any of their core interests as involving the protection of Iran. Making the agreement with the P5+1 may help to lock it in against future U.S. Presidents — the perennial problem of any President who is actually interested in policy is to devise some way of keeping the next one from undoing whatever they’ve done. But given that we just saw an illustration of exactly how this could be undone, I don’t understand why it’s treated as fanciful.

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Layman 07.20.15 at 12:34 pm

kidneystones @ 123

‘…an out-of-control Iraq all occurred under Obama.’

I’m tempted to put this down to rhetorical excess, except I think you’ve said it several times. The implication that Iraq was not ‘out-of-control’ when Obama came to office is pure nonsense. And if you want to blame him for failing to ‘fix’ Iraq, that’s damned silly.

133

Layman 07.20.15 at 12:36 pm

‘Weren’t people here implicitly assuming that the agreement would protect Iran against American bombs? ‘

No.

134

Peter T 07.20.15 at 12:49 pm

Rich

While there is an obvious pleasure (and possible utility) in attacking places just because you can, an imperial power has to be careful about ventures that have a good chance of diminishing its prestige, blowing the budget or causing other – even lesser – powers to raise the nuisance level (Iraq did all of these). Iran will continue to oppose some US policies in the ME (and cooperate with others). That gives the US cause. But Iran is not in the Iraq case when it comes to invasion. So that leaves bombing or sanctions.

The US could well gin up a dossier alleging Iranian nuclear violations or some such. Getting it past the Security Council would be hard. Going it alone with either bombs or sanctions amplifies the risk of blow-back. If the Iranians continue to invest in defensive capabilities, the military will point out that a prolonged campaign is needed, and there will be losses. China may well weigh in. And so on. In short, large risks for little return.

Consider the countries that the US has attacked pretty much unilaterally: Panama, Grenada, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Serbia, Saddam’s battered Iraq. Not exactly a roll-call of the sturdy or well-connected.

135

John Holbo 07.20.15 at 1:11 pm

Goodness, what a thread.

I’m with Peter T.

136

faustusnotes 07.20.15 at 1:34 pm

Oh kidneystones, you aren’t making claims about the numbers of dead? Your last sentence was that unlike Obama you don’t consider bombing the shit out of millions of civilians to be “wise” (interesting you didn’t say “right” or “moral” – just “wise”). If you want to claim that all presidents are the same you need an accounting system, and you’re being fast and loose with yours.

I don’t particularly care what John Holbo or Matt Yglesias thought of the Iraq war, because I was responding to specific claims about Obama. But it’s a cute point you raise about those who were misled by Bush’s intransigent lies – didn’t Obama oppose the Iraq war? Maybe he’s smarter than you…

137

Bruce Wilder 07.20.15 at 2:14 pm

Peter T @ 134

You have said a number of smart things, as is your usual wont, but I wonder if the model of cost-benefit reasoning or adaptive behaviors is at all relevant.

Is there really anything remotely like adaptive behavior happening in toto?

I don’t think you can necessarily reject hypotheses that some other kinds of processes are operating. I am not persuaded by RP’s attempts to identify mechanisms, and I won’t go far in trying to identify mechanisms myself, but it does seem possible to me that factional struggle within existing internal structures produces a functionally irrational and self-destructive behavioral dynamic for the U.S.

It isn’t just that the Congress has become a clown show, but that Deep State structures are corrupt and incompetent and effectively ungoverned from above in the hierarchy.

A few top military officials have noticed that the existing staff structures underlying the Joint Chiefs and the command structures do not seem to be capable of producing military strategies and tactics that either restrain political officials in their policy choices or actually accomplish any objective nominally adopted by policymakers. They spend vast resources, of course, which satisfies some corrupt interest. But, the overall impression is serious dysfunction spiraling out of control.

The evidence of national dysfunction produces no sensible response from what ought to be responsible officials or from the political class or the electorate. Enormous resources have directed into gee whiz technologies of surveillance with great technological power on operational levels, but little or no deliberation, strategically. The most basic premises of the Global War on Terror are, of course, both beyond stupid and are morally vacuous, but they are not just idle slogans: they shape policy at the highest level.

In relation to Iran, the thing that troubles me most is the behavioral frame that refuses to accept that the world should persuade Iran by reason that nonproliferation is in Iran’s best interest and structure an agreement to reflect Iran’s commitment to its own interest in non-proliferation. Always lurking is the paranoid alarm that an Iranian Hitler is “6 months away from getting the bomb”. It is an insane way to think or for a country to operate in the world.

I don’t discount the possibility that an agreement with Iran increases the probability that Iran will be attacked by the U.S. or by its Israeli proxies. Libya’s Qaddafi made an agreement with the West and it got him killed by NATO bombs in fairly short order.

138

MPAVictoria 07.20.15 at 2:31 pm

Just going to point out that Nixon sabotaged ongoing peace negotiations with Vietnam to help his 1968 presidential campaign. So it seems pretty fucking stupid to give him any credit for being the one who ended the war.

139

faustusnotes 07.20.15 at 2:37 pm

Bruce, I get the impression that this craziness comes from the political class (a specific segment, in fact) and nowhere else. Also, I would question whether any Democrat thinks there’s any real risk of the Republicans winning the next election. I agree with Peter that the agreement makes it harder for a Republican president to declare war, but I think more than that, Obama is working on the assumption that the next president will be a Democrat. And why not? The Republicans are beyond disfunctional, they don’t have any strong candidates, and they’ve just bazooka’d themselves in the face with Trump.

This agreement obviously took longer to complete than the latest Republican political cycle of insanity, but it’s fairly obvious that the Republicans are slowly destroying themselves. I think that it’s reasonable for Obama and Kerry to include that in their calculations.

And all the more reason why this time, more than any other, this “both parties are the same” rhetoric is dangerous and counter-productive. America needs the Democrats for domestic health care policy, the world needs the Democrats in order to achieve a viable agreement on CO2, and the middle east needs the Democrats in order to construct a future beyond the insane geopolitics of the Repubs. But a lot of people on the US left think that Hilary Clinton and Jeb! are cut from the same cloth. The next 10 years are absolutely crucial for global warming policy, and we have a bunch of US leftists running around calling Obama President Drone Strikes and pretending they’re all the same. This is madness, at a critical juncture in human history.

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geo 07.20.15 at 2:37 pm

Lee@129, 130: Quite right. I should have said “Hermskyism.”

141

Bruce Wilder 07.20.15 at 2:37 pm

MPAVictoria @ 138

Also, Nixon managed to get more American troops killed in his prolonged ending of the Vietnam War after he became President than were killed before he became President. So, yeah.

Reagan never gets the credit he deserves for ending the Iran Hostage Crisis, though. Because to do so would be to admit that his people were involved in a traitorous conspiracy. So, there’s that.

142

MPAVictoria 07.20.15 at 2:43 pm

In just world they both would have been tried for treason. Oh well….

143

geo 07.20.15 at 2:48 pm

PS – On second thought, and by way of acknowledging Giordano Bruno, how about “Brunskyism”?

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steven johnson 07.20.15 at 3:27 pm

faustusnotes @119 “What key milestones did Obama lay down for the creation of Islamic State?” Much of the money and weapons for Islamic State come from the US and pretty much all of the rest comes from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, states that exist in their current form because the US props them up. And the US has tremendous influence on Turkey, which is key to logistical support for Islamic State. And the Shia government of Iraq has conducted its business in Iraq using most of the tactics Islamic State uses (the primary difference is Islamic State’s predilection for PR,) driving masses of Iraqi Sunni into opposition in a style of conflict it determined. And most of all the US under Obama has pursued its war against the Syrian government, discouraging any efforts at peaceful resolution, outraged that Russia has intervened in its campaign. The US government prefers Islamic State to Syria and that’s the primary condition allowing Islamic State to continue. But of course you know all this.

“Was it Obama who set up the Ukrainian maidan movement, as Russia Today might like you to believe?” Victoria Nuland decided who the new PM would be. You explain how she had nothing to do with being right. Russia Today? Do you really think hitting a right-wing talking point compensates supporting a fascist regime?

“And how is what Obama is doing in Afghanistan worse than the alternative, of leaving it to implode and go through another couple of decades of internecine violence?” It would be very much like Afghanistan before the invasion, an oppressive regime but not internecine war. The assumption that Afghanistan is ours to do with as “we” will is obscene. You may be one of the rulers of the world who get to decide whether war is preferable to a government you don’t like, but I’m not. Therefore I am not required to solidarize with the chief imperialist.

I don’t think your views are so much ignorance as insolence.

145

William Timberman 07.20.15 at 3:45 pm

It seems to me that what made US foreign policy effective, when — if — it was effective, was an accurate sense of the limits to US power. If Roosevelt, or later on McKennan, the Dulles brothers or Kissinger and Nixon in their China phase, were more effective than GW Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, it was because they understood that the constraints of negotiations and treaties were necessary, and had to be honored. Harking back to the thread on the Melian dialogue in Thucydides, it’s only when you’re sure of the superiority of your power that you can safely consider any treaty you sign to be conditional. Only then can you be confident that when a treaty no longer serves your needs you can abrogate it unilaterally without fear of the consequences. Mistakenly believing that you have that power when you don’t is in fact the only mortal sin of the statesman. (Ironically enough, it’s also precisely the sin being laid at the door of Greek prime minister Tsipras by people in the US who are laughably consider themselves to be political realists.)

The problem with US foreign policy today is that the foreign policy establishment has a delusional sense of its own power. When confronted with a practical demonstration of its limits, these masters of war simply don’t know how to respond. I mean, global jihadi networks? critical industrial production outsourced to China? the interminable Israeli tail-wagging-the-dog gambit? What do you do when there isn’t a bomb for any of that?

146

Lee A. Arnold 07.20.15 at 4:13 pm

Geo @ 143,

“Brunskyism” would certainly name the problem in honor of the person who may have been the first to comprehend and explain the full apparatus, up to and including paying for it with his life.

But our own way to solving the problem, I still feel that we will be lacking in our understanding, and we will be unjust to profound analysts, if we do not include C. Wright Millsism, Richard Hofstadterism, Herbert Schillerism, I. F. Stoneism. And what about William S. Burroughsism, Joseph Hellerism, Hunter Thompsonism, Vonnegutism and Pynchonism? …Lenny Bruceism! …Phil Ochism, really. Also maybe Abbie Hoffmanism. Mad Magazineism. And the Beats, they smelled it wholesale… Finnegans Wakeism: Joyce’s dreamer manufactures his own self-justification to deny the resurgence of his buried guilt, leading directly to the manufacture of false history, then leading to the Pecksniffian and murderous political psychology of our current age of “gossipocracy” (part III of the book), quite a stunning, deep, still-timely analysis. Joyceism! Dickensism! The surrealists saw it everywhere and played games with it: Duchampism! Ubu Roi: Jarryism!

I think that Nietzsche saw it coming. Marx and Engels were fairly explicit on the manipulation of morality and culture; it’s the flipside of alienation. I think that Ednoam Hermsky would be the first to concede that “manufacturing consent” was well-identified at least back into the 19th century.

I wish you would right another book Geo! “capitalism, communism, religion: Their Virtues vs. Their Vices”. Include a chapter on self-justification and lying. It wouldn’t even be necessary (or appropriate) to restate the analysis: just a chapter that lists a hundred authors with 50 words after each name, describing his or her variation upon the thesis. Where Adorno located the problem. Where Lasch located the problem. A non-fiction chapter structured narratively as an epic digression. Then, at the end of that chapter, write one sentence, only: “So now you, dear reader, can no longer claim that you aren’t part of the problem, too.”

147

Rich Puchalsky 07.20.15 at 4:13 pm

William Timberman: “When confronted with a practical demonstration of its limits, these masters of war simply don’t know how to respond.”

I don’t think that this is quite right. The “masters of war” really have the same kind of problem in analysis that all of us do: what really counts as a practical demonstration of limits to a there-is-no-alternative world system?

OK, let’s say the U.S. loses every war. So what? It didn’t lose anything critical, propped up spending on war industries, and destabilized some inconvenient country or other. Critical industrial production outsourced to China? Again, so what? The elite is international, and outsourcing that production to a one-party state only helps keep the working classes downtrodden elsewhere: they can’t demand more because China will underbid them. The interminable Israeli whatever — well, all of the best spending programs are interminable. What is supposed to be a “policy failure”, in any important sense? What’s supposed to stop things from going on as they are?

Let’s say the U.S. attacks Iran within years of this agreement, laughingly obviously faking the evidence it needs to do so. What has been lost? Can anyone say “Wait, the U.S. has never done anything like this before!” No. Will the U.S. allies abandon it? Of course not: they rely on the U.S. for their defense. Will other countries be more hostile? If so, good, then future targets are lining themselves up. Will there be an economic catastrophe? I wonder what kind of economic catastrophe we’d have if we didn’t make a big bonfire of a lot of money and resource every decade or so, given that overproduction is the basic problem right now.

So people talk about dysfunction, but I don’t see it. The people get to chant “U.S.A.! U.S.A!” and think about how we’re killing those weaker than us and have a nice, warm feeling of imagined power and dominance. What’s going to stop that system?

148

F. Foundling 07.20.15 at 4:22 pm

Regarding the US under Obama (I see steven johnson has already made some of these points, but anyway):

1. Obama’s responsibility for Libya should be completely obvious to anyone, because he launched a direct military operation to topple the regime (illegally abusing a UN council resolution that did not endorse such an action). The US supported, armed, funded and lended decisive military assistance to the rebellion, which was guilty of atrocites and consisted to a great extent of radical Islamists. Whether it began as genuine popular pro-democracy protests is moot, although I wouldn’t be particularly surprised if it was intended as an armed rebellion from the beginning. The Qaddafi regime was tyrannical and brutal, but Libya used to be a functional secular society with relatively high living standards and now it’s a Somalia-style mix of complete social breakdown and medievalist extremism. The reason the regime was targetted was not its tyrannical nature (cf. the Saudis, Uzbekistan etc.), but the fact that it had pursued an independent, indeed anti-Western foreign policy during most of its existence.

2. Obama’s responsibility for Syria is not in failing to intervene against Assad (the US liberals’ tendency to become hawks in response to their government’s propaganda is incredible) – on the contrary. The Assad regime is also tyrannical and brutal, but if the rebels had had no outside support, there would have been no civil war and social breakdown; once again, what used to be a relatively functional secular society has been replaced by complete chaos and medievalist extremism. It is completely obvious that Obama is responsible for the actions of the regional allies of the US (the Saudis, Qatar and Turkey), which have supported, armed and funded the rebellion (guilty of atrocities comparable to those of the regime and consisting to a great extent of radical Islamists) all along. It is absurd to believe that the US has no influence on these allied regimes and that this initative would have been possible without US acquiescence and encouragement. It is also absurd to believe that it is a coincidence that the regime under attack just happened, once again, to be one undesirable to the US, as an ally of Iran and Russia and an enemy of Israel. Obama is also responsible for *directly* supporting, arming and funding some of the rebels, too, though this has begun more recently, at least officially.

3. Obama’s responsibility for the events on Ukraine is also clear. The Maidan movement, whose decisive operative component were far-right paramilitaries, with its illegal seizures of state buildings and violent attacks on police forces, culminating in the illegal overthrow of an elected (but, OMG, ‘corupt’!) government, was obviously and openly supported by the US and its regional allies (the EU). The post-Maidan Kiev regime has also enjoyed such support from the very beginning (no wonder, since it was even planned by Victoria Nuland, as heard on the ‘f**k the EU’ recording) and is heavily dependent on it, it acts pretty much openly as a US puppet in every respect, so its numerous undemocratic and inhumane actions (the obligatory neoliberal policies, of course) are likewise US responsibility. Putin’s actions, criminal and stupid as many of them were, were mostly a clumsy attempt to respond to all that somehow, as was the case in Georgia in 2008, so the whole conflict is very much the result of the US (thus Obama’s) initiative directed against Russia.

As for Obama ‘setting up’ the Maidan – pro-Western, pro-US organisations have been funded and sponsored by the US government (as well as private foundations) all over the ex-Soviet sphere for decades. There is an entire establishment of media intellectuals, think tanks and NGOs financed, trained and controlled by the US and its regional allies, always taking the pro-US and pro-Western (thus anti-Russian) position and ready to organise ‘citizens’ protests’ potentially morphing into rebellions (colour revolitions). Just because Russia Today says something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t also happen to be true. Incidentally, the same networks usually also work for neoliberal causes and get financing from international institutions and organisations dedicated to promoting neoliberalism. Admittedly, it’s not just US government and its allies, there are also the local oligarchs, whose ties to the West generally also make them follow a pro-US line.

That’s just the major armed conflicts. Apart from that, we have the usual nice details: support for the Honduran coup, the usual support for attempts at a Maidan in Venezuela, apparent Maidan-lite attempts to exert pressure on corrupt (OMG!) governments in Bulgaria and probably Macedonia related to the construction of Russian pipelines, tacit acquiescence to allied Saudi suppression of the democratic protests in Bahrain, at least no serious opposition to the outrageous right-wing first-Maidan-then-coup against an elected but (OMG!) ‘corrupt’ government in allied Thailand, etc. Interestingly, the Thai coup might possibly be one that the US, for a change, did *not* sponsor or encourage – at least I haven’t seen evidence to the contrary and the way it’s presented in Western media suggests that the State Department has no particular interest in supporting this particular coup (though that might just be my ignorance). Also on the plus side, I am pleased to note that I am not aware of any way whatsoever in which the US has contributed to Boko Haram, the war in South Sudan, or the Ebola outbreak. That realisation fills me with uncontrollable enthusiasm that can only be vented with a hearty, folksy, yet oh-so-charmingly self-ironic exclamation: America f**k yeah!

149

ZM 07.20.15 at 4:29 pm

“I wish you would right another book Geo! “capitalism, communism, religion: Their Virtues vs. Their Vices””

I wish geo would write this as an allegory, you would have the three set out together on some sort of a quest like Monkey and then their virtues and vices would be embodied by the characters traits and actions. It would be Pilgrim’s Progress for our times.

150

geo 07.20.15 at 4:40 pm

ZM, that is a genius suggestion. I won’t write it, because I suffer from narrative dysfunction — can’t properly tell a story, or even a joke, to save my life. But I’ll whisper the idea into the ear of everyone I know who can.

151

F. Foundling 07.20.15 at 4:41 pm

@F. Foundling 07.20.15 at 4:22 pm

‘Lent’.

152

William Timberman 07.20.15 at 4:42 pm

Rich Puchalsky @ 147

Rich, I guess I’d have to give you more or less the same response as I gave geo @ 93. These guys look like they’ve got a handle on everything right up until the moment when it becomes obvious to everyone that they don’t. Not that any dissenter should hold his breath, mind you, but we shouldn’t make the mistake of according them the same respect as they accord themselves. Go ahead and say fuck ’em even as they turn the key on you, or lead you blindfolded up the steps to the scaffold. You won’t be wrong — a little premature, perhaps — but anyway, the lift your defiance gives the rest of us will be much appreciated, even if it doesn’t make any immediate difference.

153

TM 07.20.15 at 4:46 pm

Good thread worth reading. I particularly appreciate several commenters’ eloquent rage – if you are not angry at US FP, you probably aren’t alive.

154

Lee A. Arnold 07.20.15 at 5:14 pm

ZM #149, Geo #150,

Just adapt A Tale of A Tub. It even has a “Digression on Digressions”.

155

Stephen 07.20.15 at 5:15 pm

Rich Puchalsky@128: other post-Big Mistake II US presidents who do not, to my admittedly very imperfect knowledge, seem to have taken the US into war might include:

Eisenhower: unless you count the US-sponsored coups in Iran and Guatemala, and the sending of US troops to the Lebanon, as “going to war”. I don’t, but then I do not regard Republican presidents as inevitably worse than Democrats. Am I wrong about Ike?

Arguably Johnson: yes, he disastrously increased the US commitment to the Vietnam war, but it was already running when he took over.

Nixon: what new wars did he start? (Sincere enquiry.)

Ford: Lord love his simplicity, but what wrong did he do?

156

Stephen 07.20.15 at 5:20 pm

Kidneystones@123: “Iraq [where] the British … under Churchill and others, gassed the locals to induce ‘a lively terror.’ “

Minor point tangential to this thread, but putting ‘a lively terror’ in quotes would appear to indicate you have some reputable source to indicate that the British, under Churchill (not PM till 1940) or anyone else, did at some point gas Iraqis. As far as I know, that never happened, but I may be mistaken. Could you provide a source?

157

Lee A. Arnold 07.20.15 at 5:24 pm

Many good comments above, but some of this seems misleading:

Kidneystones #10: “…President Drone Strikes appalling record — destabilizing Iraq by allowing a corrupt Iran-supported Shia government to remind many Sunni Iraqis that religious divides trump all other issues…” –This manages to combine two falsehoods: 1. that many Sunnis needed to be reminded, and 2. that Obama had any leverage to alter the Status of Forces Agreement that Sistani demanded of Bush.

Layman #26: “…Iran as regional hegemon…” –Highly unlikely. The only other Shia are in Iraq, and I’m not convinced that even they will stand for it. Walt @33 has got it right. Even the U.S.’s days as hegemon are slowly (although VERY slowly) nearing conclusion.

Faustusnotes #27: “…’Islamic state’ is a spent force…” –Don’t know what that means, but if it refers to ISIS, they’re picking up disaffected Sunnis from all over the globe, they’re still sitting on a big pile of money from their oil fields, and they certainly have some military strength remaining.

Rich Puchalsky #28: “The U.S. public is fundamentally bloodthirsty…” –This is just fundamentally false and nutty.

Cranky Observer #43: “…they didn’t actually want to possess nuclear weapons…” –I think this is a part of it. Having nuclear weapons propels your own policy into MAD territory. For Iran, that means a big waste of money. And after that, if a nuke goes off anywhere in the world, the West gets to blame Iran, and to reduce Teheran to rubble. What’s the point?

LFC #47: “U.S. military’s Africa command (AFRICOM) recently established several new Marine bases… Worth remembering all this as one discusses the Iran deal…” –I have not read any propaganda about the extent of Iran’s funding of fundamentalist armies in Africa, but these fundamentalists are a growing threat to many of the corrupt regimes already there, and they present an even bigger security problem for Europe, as well as being horrible human rights violators themselves, not least especially the rights of young females.

Yastreblyansky #58: “Bahrain and its Sunni aristocracy stomping on a Shi’ite majority is a terrible candidate. …the hope is that the example of Iran making progress…will be an inspiration.” –I think that this is a little part of it. As even Chomsky has repeatedly observed, the West’s idealism sometimes conflicts with the pernicious motives of its own power elite, and so then, they get with the program, and find another, different way to plunder for treasure and wreak their havoc.

Omega Centauri #59: “…getting the US to ruin Iraq was a major success of [Israel’s] policy…” –Not by most measures. The results in Iraq were: 1. a “democracy” ruled by the Shi’ite majority, which helps Iran, and 2. an unleashed Sunni fundamentalism (ISIS) more implacable with regard to Israel than Saddam and the Baathists ever were. These points have not been lost on Netanyahu’s critics from the tops of Israel’s military and security establishments.

Rich Puchalsky #71: “…this deal vastly increase the chance of a U.S. attack on Iran within the next decade.” –Doubtful. As everyone ought to know by now, studies of a bombing attack on Iran show little gain, in exchange for further loss of U.S. credibility in the region and around the globe. Chances of attack are always largely determined by the Pentagon’s studies of the pros and cans of all possible military actions, in the case of Iran a bombing attack (because a ground invasion is pretty much out of the question), not by diplomacy or politics. I imagine that this is one reason why the U.S. took the trouble to rope the P5+1 into a sanctions regime. In the case of Iraq, by contrast, the Pentagon thought it was doable (although some of them thought it was inadvisable), although Shinseki wanted a lot more troops.

Bruce Wilder #88: “Obama…has exceeded Bush’s bodycount.” –How do you tally this? The Iraq War may have killed around a million Iraqis and close to 5000 invading soldiers from various countries.

LFC #98: “Which doesn’t explain why there is very little public appetite for the reintroduction of US ground forces on any major scale into the M.E.; also hardly a groundswell of popular support for a strike on Iran.” –Exactly. U.S. pollsters will tell you that only around 10% of the population consistently responds to problems by wanting to go to war. It is certainly NOT the predominant view among US rank and file military that “war is the usual state we like to be in” (#96), for example.

Yastreblyansky #105: “One central reason I have always objected to the various versions of Chomsky’s linguistic theory is its presentation of the rules of grammar as a “constraint”…” –It should be noted that Chomsky’s methodology changed somewhat with the “minimalist program” (starting 1993), which attempts to bring greater generality to the idea of a universal grammar, and which would also comport more easily with an explanation by evolutionary origin. In regard to evolution, however, as I understand Chomsky, he doesn’t want to “not think about evolution”, he just believes that it may be yet another phase of scientific description (and feels the same about algorithmic explanations of mind), and until something is clearly predicted and verified in re language, he isn’t interested in circular “proofs in principle”, but would rather do real science. So I think he takes Richard Feynman’s rule seriously, “not to fool oneself”. See for example Chomsky’s acute survey of the history and philosophy of science in On Nature and Language (2002) which is rather close to Stephen Toulmin’s views.

DavidMoz #109: “…American exceptionalism is so much a part of the fabric of Crooked Timber…” –If we can twist this to mean that America’s failures are “exceptionally” idiotic, as in “idiosyncratically and uniquely” idiotic, then I would agree with you. Otherwise most of the self-deception here is by commenters who suppose that other people, those who don’t complain, aren’t paying attention.

Omega Centauri #111: “Its politically dangerous to argue in a political context that some US system isn’t the best…” –Observe however that it is becoming much less politically dangerous over time, and this is largely due to the fact that the mainstream media has less power over people’s opinions than it used to. Opinion about the Iraq War turned bad much faster than against Vietnam, for example, even though the military controlled battlefield reportage to an unprecedented degree. And since the time of the Iraq War we have entered the era of smartphones, also possessed by the besieged, and so it is going to be even harder to control public opinion, perhaps impossible — a point which I’m sure is not lost upon the Western militaries.

Peter T #122: “It seems to me that the US will have great difficulty in keeping its position over the coming decades.” –I would only add that it’s pretty clear from external writings that the foreign policy establishment understands this.

Kidneystones #123: “…liberals like John Holbo et al love the idea of killing the ‘enemy’ every bit as much as those on the right.” –This is so false and ridiculous that I have stopped reading further comments by this person.

Kidneystones #127: “…a large majority of Americans supported the invasion of Iraq and didn’t much care about whether or not Saddam was personally responsible for 9/11, or not…” –Well there is this inaccuracy and falsehood, however, which also manages to ignore the necessary manipulation the White House used, which was to imply that Saddam was indeed involved. Reality is complicated. Perhaps the easiest way to sort it out would be to refer to the Wikipedia article, “Popular opinion in the United States on the invasion of Iraq”.

Steven Johnson #144: ” Much of the money and weapons for Islamic State come from the US and pretty much all of the rest comes from Saudi Arabia and Qatar…” –Please provide links to some reports that support this statement.

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steven johnson 07.20.15 at 5:45 pm

One random link on a single aspect: http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-us-doesnt-want-to-stop-the-islamic-state-isil-only-exploit-them-for-other-means/5414354

It is true that Islamic State is now partly self-financing, using oil sales run through Turkey. I don’t believe the US has such poor relations with Turkey they couldn’t sanction Islamic State with at least half the vigor with which they sanction Iran.

On the general question of body counts, Obama’s presidency isn’t over yet. His efforts to target Russia and China may yet bear even more deadly fruit, including the possibility of a classic war. And South Korea is particularly unstable but tempted by Western propaganda to think the north is about to fall.

The US expansion of AFRICOM does not strike me as an accident, nor is it likely they are doing nothing. That said, it is true that most of the running is being done by the French. There is of course the on going support for the murderous Kagame regime, depressing proof the US government loves the worst. After Morsi split the democratic movement in Egypt, the US government supported a military coup, instead of continued efforts to revolutionize society.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.20.15 at 6:24 pm

William Timberman: “we shouldn’t make the mistake of according them the same respect as they accord themselves”

I wasn’t according them respect: quite the contrary. I was just saying that it’s impossible to convincingly describe what a screwup is within a system in which everything is a screwup yet all screwups seemingly maintain the system anyways. Look at the Chomskyan analysis of let’s say geo’s #91: “The Vietnam War was a success: it prevented any revolutionary leftists in Thailand, Indonesia, or the Philippines from imagining that their countries wouldn’t pay an unacceptably high price […] The Cuban invasion/embargo was a success: […] Even the Iraq war was a partial success: […]” I would have thought that these were three notable screwups, and I’d imagine that geo would agree that at some level, they were. But it doesn’t matter because they can always still be interpreted as successes of the system.

Now look at what geo would think falsifies Chomskyanism: real democracy promoted in client states. That would be like a thermodynamic miracle, right? You can’t actually create anything by screwing everything up. So incompetence actively works towards supporting the system.

We’re left with bromides like Lee Arnold’s in #137: we can’t say that one of the statistically most violent and punitive societies on Earth is “bloodthirsty” because that would be nutty. “As everyone ought to know by now, studies of a bombing attack on Iran show little gain, in exchange for further loss of U.S. credibility in the region and around the globe.” What credibility is there left to lose? We just engaged in an aggressive war based on a faked-up casus belli and killed more than a million people! And everyone else demonstrated that they couldn’t stop us, or, indeed, that they’d help us.

I have some ideas about how to change this situation, but they go beyond this thread. No doubt there will be some future thread better suited to going on about the same old things.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.20.15 at 8:10 pm

Rich Puchalsky #159: “…one of the statistically most violent and punitive societies on Earth…”

No, again. The US incarceration rate is the highest (and most racist) but the injustice of this fact is shown precisely by the fact that its violent crime rates are in the middle-to-low range among all countries on Earth. US has higher violent crime rates than most but not all the OECD countries. Death by guns are high, but total intentional homicides are, again, in the middle of the pack, on Earth.

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LFC 07.20.15 at 8:16 pm

geo @115
Actually there was a principled element in both Kennan’s and Morgenthau’s opposition to US Vietnam policy, as there was in some of their other expressions of policy views over the years; I was compressing for the sake of space and therefore didn’t go into this earlier. (The Johnson admin was so annoyed by Morgenthau’s dissent they had an entire mini-operation devoted to criticizing and trying to discredit him; Bundy debated him on TV, etc.)

I understand that Chomskyism is a system-level theory, but it is, perhaps, unfortunate that your adherence to it in this instance relieves you of the felt need to learn in any detail about dissension among elites on US f.p. [Btw, Alan Gilbert’s book of some years ago, Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? (which I haven’t read, only glanced through) has a section on Morgenthau and Vietnam. You wd prob like his general perspective well enough; not exactly Chomskyian, but anyway. See the reasonably full albeit not exhaustive bibliography at Morgenthau’s Wikipedia entry for much other relevant stuff.]

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Julius Cortes 07.20.15 at 8:21 pm

[iRAN contra]

Don’t miss 1989-2014 @2015AD party.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76E-thr2I14

[Try to imagine Chinese democracy. With Guns & Roses.]

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geo 07.20.15 at 8:23 pm

Rich@159: I don’t quite grasp your objection. I was simply trying to make some overall sense of US foreign policy, to suggest some consistency behind the apparently improvisatory chaos, some priorities behind the apparent confusion and haplessness. Of course not everything supports the system; of course there are screw-ups; of course the elites don’t achieve all their goals, or not completely. The US tried to get rid of the Islamic Republic by encouraging Saddam’s war against Iran, but that failed. It tried to organize a repeat of Chile in Venezuela and failed. The defeat of the Cuban exiles’ invasion in 1961 was a genuine failure. The outcome of the Iraq war was far from optimal: the US’s surrogates did not come to power and put in place an investors’ paradise, as hoped, and the cost was orders of magnitude greater than expected. All these were genuine screw-ups, and they didn’t help to “support the system.” On the other hand, the brutalizing of Indochina, the isolation of Cuba, the bleeding of Iran, and the eviction of Saddam had the real, positive (from the elite point of view) strategic and geopolitical effects I mentioned.

A theory, at least in the social sciences, doesn’t seek to predict every event in its domain. It simply tries to make them intelligible by establishing large-scale causal patterns. A US policy devoted to promoting democracy would indeed be, as you say, a “thermodynamic miracle.” You and I know that, but the entire mainstream commentariat and the overwhelming majority of citizens believe otherwise. So the left has to convince them. No easy matter, and I think a plausible and comprehensive explanation (like Chomsky’s) of how the world works is indispensable.

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kidneystones 07.20.15 at 8:25 pm

For John, http://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2015/07/14/scott-walker-says-he-would-kill-iran-deal-and-seek-crippling-sanctions/?_r=0

This nyt article confirms your initial premise that Walker, in particular, is using the deal to flesh out his “I’m a fighter” persona. Remember when Jon Steward ‘accidentally’ branded Truman a war criminal and 24 hours later discovered he’d uttered untruth? As we see from the team blue war boosters, only Republicans contain teh evil to commit war crimes, coz it’s in Republican DNA.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.20.15 at 8:27 pm

Stephen @ #155:

“Eisenhower”: willing to not include him as the last WW II President

“Arguably Johnson: yes, he disastrously increased the US commitment to the Vietnam war, but it was already running when he took over” He decided on direct military action, and to get the political cover of Congressional approval got the Tonkin Gulf Resolution passed, based on an incident that he knew was fake.

“Nixon: what new wars did he start? (Sincere enquiry.)”: Cambodian bombing. Probably a good share of responsibility for everyone Pinochet killed, but not clear whether supporting a violent coup is “war”.

“Ford: Lord love his simplicity, but what wrong did he do?”: Personally green-lighted Suharto’s invasion of East Timor, provided direct military support in terms of U.S. destroyers shelling targets, U.S. planes strafing targets and dropping Indonesian paratroops, etc.

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geo 07.20.15 at 8:30 pm

LFC: I knew of Kennan’s and Morgenthau’s opposition to the war, but my understanding is that they opposed it because they thought it couldn’t succeed at a reasonable cost. (See my comment @102.) In other words, the game wasn’t worth the candle. They had no principled objection, however, to the game.

167

LFC 07.20.15 at 8:36 pm

steven johnson @117
What passes for realistic political analysis in academic circles sometimes astonishes me. The observation above that the slaughter in Indonesia removed the Communist threat, thereby rendering the Vietnam War unnecessary makes the mad assumption that the US government was responding to Communist aggression.

This is bullshit. It is irrelevant, for purposes of the point at hand, whether the US govt was actually responding to Communist aggression or whether the US govt was intervening in what was essentially a civil war — rather, the key point is that some leading US policymakers saw Vietnam though, among other things, a prism of ‘containing’ Communism, whether they were justified by history and facts in so doing or not. Given that that was their mental frame or a significant part of it, my point was that the destruction of the Indonesian Communist Party undercut a main part of the containment prism here, i.e. the domino theory, by its own premises. Your failure to grasp that this was the point of the comment is so astonishing that I can only assume it’s deliberate on your part.

(Btw, Kennan’s 1966 Senate testimony, referenced by ZM @121 above, is well known and of some pertinence here. Thanks for the link, ZM; I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.)

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LFC 07.20.15 at 8:51 pm

@geo
Though Kennan at the time was not very explicit about this aspect of his opposition, I tend to agree with M.J. Smith that

…Kennan’s opposition [to the Vietnam War] inevitably reflected his values…. Kennan believed military victory to be possible “only at the cost of a degree of damage to civilian life and of civilian suffering, generally, for which I would not like to see this country responsible.” For him, maintaining tolerable relations with the Soviet Union for the sake of peace took precedence over “winning” in Vietnam. These are at least in part moral judgments. And even when they are strictly “political” they reflect a personal, transcendent hierarchy of values.

(Smith, Realist Thought from Weber to Kissinger, 1986, pp.188-9)

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geo 07.20.15 at 9:02 pm

LFC@167: The decision to intervene militarily in Vietnam was made in 1961 years before the Indonesian coup, which was sometimes accounted one of the fortunate results of our “show of strength and determination” in the former country. I think it was indubitably the domino theory that motivated the US invasion (see Michael Lind’s Vietnam: The Necessary War). But once major forces were committed, “credibility” became the predominant motive. (In the Pentagon Papers, one Pentagon executive is quoted as estimating that 70 percent of our reason for staying in Indochina was to preserve our credibility.) But remember, credibility is not distinct from geopolitical/strategic motives, it is part of them. Once a mafia boss is challenged, he has to punish the challenger or risk defiance from others.

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geo 07.20.15 at 9:09 pm

LFC: Sorry, but as I explained @102, I think what Kennan meant by “for which I would not like to see this country responsible” was that it would be bad public relations. Kennan was a imperialist bastard — though a cultivated, civilized one, hence able to snooker journalists and academics like M.J. Smith. I wouldn’t give a fig for his “personal, transcendent hierarchy of values.”

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Rich Puchalsky 07.20.15 at 9:26 pm

I wasn’t trying to further criticize Chomskyanism: I was pointing out that in a no-alternative system, screwups can more or less support the system just as much as successes do. Look at Greece and the Euro. Probably qualifies as a screwup, I’d imagine? OK, so is the Eurosystem stronger or weaker? The people who say it’s weaker talk about exactly what’s supposed to penalize the U.S.: “loss of credibility”, or loss of belief in the European ideal or some such thing. But you could say that it’s stronger, because look how much destruction can take place and still leave people demonstrably helpless to do anything else. Screwups are object lessons that control doesn’t depend on competence.

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Julius Cortes 07.20.15 at 9:30 pm

1963

Put a uniform [google glass] amongst kids that have them but are unaware, but (whose friends) can retrieve the data after . . . think about it.

[guerrilla . . . solo necesitas entender castellano]

9/11 was not only a mainland attack but an assassination attempt on President Bush, and tragically, for the mindset behind the trigger puller. On humanity. Or world trade.

[Must call my Indian mate for a smoke. Hopi.]

[dos.o]

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Stephen 07.20.15 at 9:41 pm

Rich Puchalsky@165

OK, so we’ve gone from “every President post- WW II has declared war at will” to “every president since WWII, apart from Eisenhower (who was really a WWII president, if I understand you rightly) and Johnson (who expanded a pre-existing war) and maybe Nixon (who expanded the war into Cambodia where the other side were already established, and who did not declare war on Chile) and certainly Carter and possibly Ford (I would be grateful for a reference for US involvement in the Indonesian invasion of East Timor: the National Security Archive (http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/ NSAEBB176/index.htm) describes only US equipment going to Indonesia) has declared war at will”.

You may think that makes a difference.

I wonder whether you think US involvement, under Truman, in the Korean war, under UN Security Council Resolution 83, was also a matter of the President “declaring war at will”?

Come tothat, when Chamberlain declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939, was that a matter of “declaring war at will”?

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steven johnson 07.20.15 at 9:53 pm

steven johnson @117 “What passes for realistic political analysis in academic circles sometimes astonishes me. The observation above that the slaughter in Indonesia removed the Communist threat, thereby rendering the Vietnam War unnecessary makes the mad assumption that the US government was responding to Communist aggression. Even more pitifully, it can’t even analyze that correctly. When your side (not mine) makes a huge win like in Indonesia, you don’t sit back on your laurels, you follow up with another big push. If Indonesian Communists remained powerful, that would have been a reason not to commit in Vietnam, raising questions about multiple fronts and secure rear areas and such.”

To rephrase, if you believe the “domino theory,” you don’t just believe in propping up one domino (Indonesia,) you believe in propping up the one before it (Vietnam.)

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Lee A. Arnold 07.20.15 at 9:56 pm

Geo: #169: “..’credibility’ became the predominant motive…”

That finally gets us right back to John Holbo’s final point in the top post. The problem with the neocons (and now US conservatives in general) is that they don’t have the individual intellectual ability to get through a complex policy negotiation, nor the ability to read through a paper on climate change, nor the ability to understand macroeconomics in its full implications. So “credibility” can ONLY be enforced by lone gunslinging.

The result is, for them, to wish upon a sort of Hayekian market libertarianism of the intellect, whereby individualistic “rules” are set up, by which things should come together properly — and if they do not, well then, lone gunslinging is the required response, until the varmints straighten up and fly right, or else are vanquished.

It is completely crazy, but it is an integral part of of the social cognitive bias outlined from the political science literature, here:
http://crookedtimber.org/2014/07/17/condemned-by-history-crosspost/#comment-543475

It has led the US to, among many other things, the policy of attempting to install a Hayekian market libertarian order in Iraq during the Bremer proconsulate, surely one of the goofiest things that has happened in recent history.

I am glad that John Holbo, at least, whom I greatly admire, is finally plumbing the unexpected dimensions of this deep psychological malfunction.

This is not something I think that Chomsky has really dealt with, perhaps because he doesn’t recognize it, or because he doesn’t want to engage the argument about its origination.

Where does it come from? I really don’t know. Half the time I think that this intellectual atomism is engineered by the social relations: i.e. what I take to be the basic Left position, that the cause is material. Which seems to be the usual unspoken premise of most commenters at Crooked Timber.

The rest of the time I think that the cause is psychological — fear of death and the need to accumulate material baubles to ward off death. Ernest Beckerism! This could be it, because it can be counteracted by psychotherapy, or epistemological or spiritual transformation.

Whatever this disease is, it almost overtook the US, and it is still pretty damned strong.

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Richard M 07.20.15 at 9:59 pm

Bruce Wilder #88: “Obama…has exceeded Bush’s bodycount.” –How do you tally this? The Iraq War may have killed around a million Iraqis and close to 5000 invading soldiers from various countries.

Whatever the actual numbers, or the allocation of responsibility, there really is no possibility that the Syrian war hasn’t killed 5 times more Syrians than the Iraq war killed Iraqis. 10 or 20 times more deaths is probably more plausible.

Syria is far too dangerous for anyone to go there and do mortality counts, but just count the number of city-months where there has been respectively artillery bombardment, heavy fighting, infrastructure disruption, skirmishes, terror attacks. No city is untouched, many are near leveled to a degree that only really applied to Fallujah in Iraq.

It’s interesting the degree to which this self-evident point is completely unacknowledged by the media; I guess it doesn’t really fit any side’s agenda…

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William Berry 07.20.15 at 10:35 pm

@Richard M: “It’s interesting the degree to which this self-evident point is completely unacknowledged by the media; I guess it doesn’t really fit any side’s agenda…”

Really? Who has prominently disputed the well-known fact of the devastation wrought by both sides in the Syrian civil war?

And it is Obama’s fault, how, exactly?

Those who think that the ongoing disaster that is much of the ME today is Obama’s fault* are stumbling backwards into the trap of belief in American Omnipotence. I’m a Chomskyite myself, but any political point-of-view can be elaborated into wrongness, and this belief (in American Omnipotence) is as good an example of this as there is.

*Well, sure, a lot of the ME’s problems trace back to USFP, and to the legacy of Western Imperialism generally, but that’s another (perhaps the real) story.

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sillybill 07.20.15 at 10:42 pm

yastreblyansky @105 – responding to geo’s previous :
I don’t see how this is relevant, as far as I know Chomsky’s academic work in linguistics is completely unrelated to his ideas about elite institutional domination of US foreign and domestic policy. I’ve never seen any cross over from that portion of his professional life to the books, essays, and public speaking tours which fill up the rest of his life. Am I missing something?

To all the non-yanks on this site commenting on the sad state of our corps of professional leftists – yep, they’re a bunch of hypocrites. I believe the problem is ‘institutional capture’ and the desire to get more grant money and invitations to sit at the table with all the ‘serious people’. Coincidently (or not) that is a phenomenon that Chomsky has described in some detail.

And lastly, I must agree that Americans in general are pretty bloodthirsty. I went to South Carolina this weekend to heckle the Ku Klux Klan and after about an hour listening to that nonsense I wanted to see a little blood myself.

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yastreblyansky 07.20.15 at 10:49 pm

sillybill @178–that’s what I thought too until I saw Geo’s comment and the use of the word “constraint”. I know much more about the linguistic work than the other, which I had always understood as mainly analysis rather than theory, and I was really startled to see this connection. Which I could of course be seeing wrongly.

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William Timberman 07.20.15 at 11:01 pm

Reconciling humane values with effective foreign policy clearly isn’t as easy as it looks. I suspect that it’s harder on individuals who accept the responsibility for foreign policy decisions to square that particular circle than we commonly suppose. One could argue that humane values and foreign service ambitions are mutually antagonistic, and that the former are necessarily abandoned early on by anyone with a genuine aptitude for such matters, but in my view that’s probably an overly cynical view. Are we really not willing to concede any difference between George Kennan and, say, Dick Cheney or Paul Wolfowitz, other than one of strictly technical competence?

That said, stupidity or evil in high places make less sense to me as an explanation of the mess we find ourselves in than ideological and institutional inertia do. In the 1950s, winking at the atrocities inflicted by Middle Eastern dictators on their own populations was at least arguably a reasonable price to pay to prevent the Soviets from meddling with the energy supplies a healthy and relatively democratic European society depended upon. Why no one in the foreign policy establishment could foresee in events since 1989 the diminishing need for such ugly and embarrassing trade-offs is another matter entirely.

The answer, I suspect, has little to do with the quality of the recruiting at the State or Defense Departments, and a lot to do with what everyone who was already part of the post-war institutional culture knew to be true, whether it actually was true or not. Rich Puchalsky’s argument, which asserts, in effect, that there’ll never be another Pearl Harbor big enough to purge the battleship admirals now running the Washington establishment may be true, but in my opinion, it also concedes to the guardians of the status quo more ground than they’re entitled to.

To put the point another way, I believe that in the long run, geo’s emphasis on values is the right way to go. Asking how, rather than why, may make us look more decisive, and fool our intended audience, but if it fools us as well, we might as well don the cap and bells and be done with it — history will have its way with us after all.

(Apologies for getting Kennan’s name wrong upthread. I plead Alzheimer’s, or cosmic rays, or demonic possession, or something. Whatever the real reason is, I don’t think I need to know it, so long as I can at least remember from now on to check Wikipedia before trusting my neurons.)

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LFC 07.20.15 at 11:01 pm

geo @169
The decision to intervene militarily in Vietnam was made in 1961

But the crucial escalation decisions were made in 1965. Before that, it was the sort of commitment that could have been ended w/o the ‘credibility’ notions coming all that much into play. Given that the crucial U.S. decisions were made in ’65, and given that the Indonesian coup/slaughter occurred fairly shortly before those decisions, my pt was that the latter tended to undermine the argument that if Vietnam was “lost,” all of SE Asia would be “lost.” Clearly not, since the Communists in Indonesia had just been wiped out.

As for Kennan (and Morgenthau), we’re not going to quite see eye to eye, so no pt going into it further. (I did have a nice Morgenthau quote lined up, but never mind.)

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Collin Street 07.20.15 at 11:24 pm

> Whatever this disease is

It’s autism, or at least autism-spectrum. Everything you’ve written fits in with the general thrust of autism spectrum problems of
+ black-and-white thinking: focus on differences rather than continua.
+ rigidity of thought and unwillingness to change
+ problems seeing that other people have differing interests and perspectives.

We also have a mechanism for explaining the prevalence of misogyny over misandry, which is a nice little bonus.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.20.15 at 11:28 pm

William Timberman: “Rich Puchalsky’s argument, which asserts, in effect, that there’ll never be another Pearl Harbor big enough to purge the battleship admirals now running the Washington establishment may be true, but in my opinion, it also concedes to the guardians of the status quo more ground than they’re entitled to.”

If it matters, it’s not really an argument that the status quo is going to last forever. Within 15 years or so, we’re either going to have solidly addressed the global environmental crisis or we’re going to not have done that. Either way, the consequences will drastically affect existing arrangements more or less unpredictably.

“Are we really not willing to concede any difference between George Kennan and, say, Dick Cheney or Paul Wolfowitz, other than one of strictly technical competence?”

Didn’t Kennan have the luxury of being able to say something like “winking at the atrocities inflicted by Middle Eastern dictators on their own populations was at least arguably a reasonable price to pay to prevent the Soviets from meddling with the energy supplies”? Later on people didn’t have that luxury, but they still had the necessity to wink at (or actually, support) the dictators. Doesn’t that reveal what the system was always about?

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Matt 07.20.15 at 11:41 pm

Whatever the actual numbers, or the allocation of responsibility, there really is no possibility that the Syrian war hasn’t killed 5 times more Syrians than the Iraq war killed Iraqis. 10 or 20 times more deaths is probably more plausible.

I’m not sure if you are underestimating the deaths in Iraq or overestimating those in Syria. If you use the Lancet study numbers for Iraq that would imply slightly over 13 million Syrian deaths if “20 times more deaths is probably more plausible,” or over half of the Syrian population. There are also about 3.5 million Syrians who have fled the country. 16.5 million Syrians are dead or fled compared to a 2010 population of 21.5 million Syrians, leaving only 5 million Syrians alive in the country? This really isn’t plausible.

For comparison, the ruin of Germany in World War II killed about 10% of the population. Japan lost closer to 5%. The USSR fared the worst of any major combatant nation in WW II and it lost about 15% of population. Even if you’re using the infrequently-updated, frequently-cited number of 230,000 Syrian war deaths (which I agree is too low), 20 times that would mean 4.6 million deaths, or 22% of the pre-war population. The deadliest conflict of the last 60 years, the Second Congo War, killed about 5.4 million in a population 3 times as large as Syria’s.

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William Timberman 07.20.15 at 11:41 pm

Rich, two points in response:

1) Yes, the effects of climate change may indeed be the Pearl Harbor that proves the cynics wrong, but jeez….

2) What the system was always about implies, I think, a coherent agency behind the developments of the past 70 or so years which I think all of us — even orthodox Chomskyans — would concede is hard to define other than in general terms, and then only if we beg all sorts of questions as our analysis proceeds. It’s too easy to say that things evolved the way they did because of some sort of impossible-to-perceive-in-its-entirety internal logic, yet at the same time too difficult to see what possible interventions, at what point, would have made a decisive difference in that evolution. Hence, among other things, this thread….

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sillybill 07.20.15 at 11:46 pm

yastreblyansky @179,

oh, yeah that’s a little confusing isn’t it? i know virtually nothing about his linguistic work so i missed that connection. thanks.
i agree that Chomsky’s political works should be termed analysis not theory, i’m sure he would agree.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.21.15 at 12:00 am

Lee Arnold: “The US incarceration rate is the highest (and most racist) but the injustice of this fact is shown precisely by the fact that its violent crime rates are in the middle-to-low range among all countries on Earth. US has higher violent crime rates than most but not all the OECD countries. Death by guns are high, but total intentional homicides are, again, in the middle of the pack, on Earth.”

As far as I know, the U.S. homicide rate was 4.5 per 100,000 in 2013, half of what it was in the early 90s but still among the highest in the industrialized world. I have to admit that I was comparing it to the other industrialized countries, since that is such a major factor underlying all sorts of social statistics. If we want to talk about OECD countries, then according to this report, the U.S. is essentially tied with Estonia for second in terms of homicide rates, with Mexico first.

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geo 07.21.15 at 12:25 am

yastreblyansky: Sorry, I had missed your comment @105. By “constraint” I just mean “limit” or “structural condition.” Scarcity is the fundamental constraint for biological evolution; the need to produce surplus value is the fundamental constraint in the capitalist economy; and a “favorable business climate” or investor rights or global economic integration is the fundamental constraint of American foreign policy.

sillybill: Yes, I think “analysis” is probably more accurate than “theory.” What exactly is the difference, again?

LFC: I suspect you think I’m applying the domino theory a little more mechanically than I am. I think it got them into the Big Muddy, and then they were stuck there.

WB@177: No, America is not omnipotent, nor is it to blame for everything everywhere. But because we are (or were) by far the most powerful nation economically and militarily, we’re largely responsible for the shape of the international system, to the extent it has a shape. I think that’s all Chomsky is trying to say. At any rate, it’s all I’d say.

WT@185: What the system was always about implies, I think, a coherent agency …

I don’t agree, William. It implies only that the system has a structure, a shape, and that we can describe that structure accurately for practical purposes — ie, to figure out what the people in power will allow and what they won’t. We all act all the time within constraints we’re not conscious of.

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William Timberman 07.21.15 at 12:41 am

geo @ 188

Can we really figure out what the people in power will allow and what they won’t? Perhaps after the fact we can analyze a developing pattern, but can our analysis predict future outcomes with reasonable accuracy? Looking at the inflection points — the events of 2007-2008, for example — I’m less confident of that than you seem to be. In short, I don’t believe that the system was always about anything, not, at any rate, unless the particulars are expressed in terms so general as to allow for some pretty startling exceptions.

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William Berry 07.21.15 at 12:42 am

@geo:

It’s what I’d say, as well.

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LFC 07.21.15 at 1:03 am

@Wm Timberman

Are we really not willing to concede any difference between George Kennan and, say, Dick Cheney

Kennan was a very complicated figure. It’s not hard to find, in his voluminous writings of various kinds (in government and out), a lot of material with which to criticize him, and some people have, of course, done that vigorously.

I’ve not read the Gaddis authorized bio (which was, on the whole, well reviewed, though w some caveats here and there) but have read some other things about Kennan (and some stuff by him). Because Kennan wrote well and wrote a great deal (memoirs, histories, articles, diaries, essays, government reports and memos and cables etc. [the famous Long Telegram being but the very tip of the iceberg]), he has attracted a lot of high-quality historical commentary. (Also an edition of selections from the diaries has been published in the last few years.) One of the more interesting books about him is Anders Stephanson, Kennan and the Art of Foreign Policy. Stephanson, a leftish historian also influenced by deconstruction, does some interesting things with Kennan’s “texts.”

What comes through pretty clearly in the secondary literature and his own writing is that Kennan did not feel much at home in his era or his country: he hated what he saw as the US’s vulgarity and materialism, its lack of sufficient concern for preservation of the environment, its love affair w the automobile, crowding, congestion, pollution, etc. He was rather elitist in many ways, not really a democrat (small “d”), and some frankly racist views can be found in his writings (esp. one rather notorious thing he wrote, I think, in the ’30s, never published but it eventually came to light). He was a Eurocentrist, didn’t care much about the developing world or its problems. And though he opposed the Vietnam war, he had no sympathy for the campus disruptions etc of the student antiwar movement. Thus, in many ways a conservative sensibility (‘organicist conservative’ in Stephanson’s phrase, fwiw).

On the other side of the ledger, however, Kennan was not a militarist, not really (contra geo upthread) that much of an ‘imperialist’ (certainly not compared to some of his Cold War peers), and wrote strongly about the threat of nuclear war and in favor of arms control, esp. toward the end of his life (though he also opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb in 1950). And of course he was a strong believer in professional diplomacy.

He had an enviable facility for languages (learning both Russian and German in his early years in the Foreign Service) and a deep interest in and knowledge of Russian culture and history, and his foreign-policy analyses, whatever one thought of them prescriptively, were often fairly subtle. (Hence geo’s grudging concession that he was “cultivated and civilized” although an “imperialist bastard” (geo upthread).)

In short, I agree w Timberman here and think that mentioning Kennan and Cheney in a comparative way in the same sentence is, for a variety of reasons, pretty absurd.

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LFC 07.21.15 at 3:10 am

P.s. In the interests of balance or something, I should note that full-throated support for geo’s view of Kennan can be found in Perry Anderson, “American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers,” New Left Review, Sept/Oct 2013.

Anderson writes (p.27):

Legend has…canonized the image of [Kennan as] a sober adviser whose counsels of moderation and wisdom were distorted into a reckless anti-communist activism that would bring disasters against which he spoke out…. The reality was otherwise… Kennan…in his days of power in Washington was a Cold Warrior à l’outrance, setting the course for decades of global intervention and counter-revolution.

In a long footnote attached to this passage, P. Anderson goes on to characterize Kennan as highly volatile and inconsistent, and says that his “actual record — violent and erratic into his mid-seventies — serves as a marker of what could pass for a sense of proportion in the pursuit of the national interest.” Anderson in the same footnote says that Kennan in later life tried “to cover his tracks” about his time in government. Anderson doesn’t accuse him of outright retrospective lying, but comes close. (See also the following pp, 28ff. and footnotes)

So this is one writer whom geo cannot accuse of having been “snookered” by Kennan. I express no settled opinion here on whether Anderson’s portrait is altogether fair.

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geo 07.21.15 at 3:18 am

LFC: I agree with you that “compared to some of his Cold War peers,” Kennan “was not a militarist, nor really … that much of an ‘imperialist’.” Certainly he was less of a bastard, or at least a higher class of bastard, than Cheney.

What I had in mind were remarks like this, which were not part of his public profile: “The U.S. has about 50 percent of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 percent of its population. In this situation we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security.” (State Department Policy Study 23, issued in 1948.) Suave but deadly. Or this, less suave (also from 1948, when he was on the inside): “We should cease to talk about vague and … unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization … [but instead] … deal in straight power concepts, [not] hampered by idealistic slogans … [about] altruism and world-benefaction.”

Sounds a tad like Kissinger, doesn’t he?

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William Timberman 07.21.15 at 3:50 am

geo @ 193

What all of these folks have in common — the supremely evil as well as the not so evil — is an apparently absolute aversion to admitting to each other, let alone to us, that they aren’t in control of events. Given what’s traditionally been considered their raison d’être and their mandate, is this really so surprising? If human rights, etc. are too vague in the present state of human evolution to pursue as the goals of a concrete foreign policy — and one must admit, there’s much evidence on that side of the argument — I don’t think we can escape at least partial responsibility for improving the conditions under which they’ve been forced to work.

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geo 07.21.15 at 4:50 am

I dunno, William. Certainly the bastards haven’t always been in complete control of events, thank God. But they’ve been a darn sight too much in control for the good of that 93.7 percent of the world’s population who, according to Kennan, would so unreasonably “envy” and “resent” the fortunate 6.3 percent of the world’s people for having 50 percent of the world’s wealth. Not that this 50 percent is all that equally divided among us fortunate 6.3 percent — another anomaly that never seems to have disturbed Kennan.

Would you like these “folks” any better if they candidly acknowledged their uneven success in frustrating democracy, equality, and human rights at home and abroad?

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William Timberman 07.21.15 at 5:44 am

No, I wouldn’t like them much even if they were more honest. If, on the other hand, they could manage a little genuine humility, I might look upon them more fondly, given that a change in how they understand their roles as individuals might eventually have a beneficial effect on the lives of those currently most.vulnerable to their official machinations. It’s unlikely, though, that such changes could ever occur piecemeal — one bastard at a time, so to speak — and having admitted that, I’d have to agree with those who believe we have to look to a more general political reform for such solace as is available to mortals. Again, it’s a question of values, and as bob mcmanus keeps reminding us at every opportunity, when it comes to abstractions as mysterious as value judgments, we’re none of us the sole masters of our own destiny.

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geo 07.21.15 at 6:13 am

WT: a change in how they understand their roles as individuals might eventually have a beneficial effect on the lives of those currently most.vulnerable to their official machinations

I’m sorry to sound doctrinaire, William, especially since you always sound so reasonable. But I think, on the contrary, that if Kissinger or Cheney became devout Chomskyites tomorrow, the New York Times, the networks, and the Council on Foreign Relations would drop him like a hot potato, and no one inside the Beltway would ever answer his phone calls again. And if a current senior office-holder, say Kerry, suddenly saw the light, he would quickly be cut out of high-level national security meetings, rumors would begin to circulate about “mental health problems” caused by “stress” and “overwork,” and he would soon retire to spend more time with his family or, perhaps, to pursue his quixotic new career as a radical activist.

Individuals matter only a little. Structures of power matter a lot.

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William Burns 07.21.15 at 11:00 am

Geo,

You don’t need hypothetical examples, there’s an actual example of this phenomenon, Ramsey Clark.

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kidneystones 07.21.15 at 12:34 pm

@156 You’re right, and thanks for asking for the source. On the current evidence, it seems I’m wrong. Churchill merely argued strongly in favor of gassing the ‘uncivilized tribes.’ There’s some question about how often and when Churchill began arguing in favor using gas to suppress revolts in former Ottoman provinces, but the “lively terror” quote is evidently from a War Office letter of 1919. To me the point is frankly moot. Simon Schama documents how the British government in India effectively starved millions of Indians in the latter half of the 19th century. And there’s little doubt in my own mind that’s there’s plenty of bad behavior go round. I avoid terror porn like the plague, but was struck by one snap recently published of a child looking straight into the camera as he prepared to cut some poor bugger’s head off. What makes the image so disturbing, of course, is that we’re really looking into the mirror. Given the right conditioning and sense of righteousness there’s not much I’d be unwilling to do. Course, I lack the moral purity of my team blue superiors.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.21.15 at 12:36 pm

Let’s return to one of the things I started with: what did people actually learn from Iraq? Not to trust Ken Pollack? OK. But what if, in a couple of years, someone named Tom Schmollack writes a book about how “Increasingly, the option that makes the most sense is for the United States to launch a full-scale invasion, eradicate Iran’s weapons of mass destruction, and rebuild Iran as a prosperous and stable society—for the good of the United States, the Iranian people, and the entire region.” Do they have any reason not to trust Schmollack?

I’ve never been able to get a clear answer on this, because I’ve never seen any of the people who changed their minds about supporting the invasion of Iraq move to something like an anti-war position. Here’s Yglesias, for example: “I was 21 and kind of a jerk”. That’s it? He talks about how he had an erroneous view of politics, and how he misread elite signaling and politics in general, but what does that add up to other than that now he’s older and cooler and won’t get fooled?

It adds up to things like this. “an operation the case for which looks increasingly weak”, “bombing without congressional authorization hardly puts us on the road to tyranny”, “we should ask whether there’s really no better way to spend $40 million a month on a humanitarian undertaking.” Yglesias seems in later essays to have settled on a kind of Lomborgism, asking whether we couldn’t save more lives for our money by buying mosquito nets as anti-malaria efforts. That kind of careful fiscal calculation is exactly what we need to stop us from going into a glorious new war before the fact.

So, again, what did people really learn, as some kind of generalized principle? “War is bad”? Oh but that’s too simple: you don’t need a pundit to tell you that. So what is it?

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Peter T 07.21.15 at 1:45 pm

Rich

Every two generations or so the money people blow up the financial system. Reliably, for the last 150 years or so. Despite books, treatises, large warning signs, laws and occasional revolutions that involve the nasty deaths of financiers. What makes you think foreign policy-makers are different?

Iran is trying to move itself from column A (“evil enemy”) to column B (“middle power we don’t like but can work with”). Since the US these days attacks only the states in column A (1) – (“weak, friendless evil enemies”), Tom Schmollack’s op-ed will be met with quiet derision within the Beltway (“fool doesn’t even know who’s on which list!”)

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AcademicLurker 07.21.15 at 2:03 pm

The only principled response from a reformed pro-Iraq war liberal that I’ve seen came from Dan Savage. He essentially said “I guess this proves that I’m not competent to have opinions about foreign policy and that I should just STFU about it from now on.” If only more people would follow his example.

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bob mcmanus 07.21.15 at 2:08 pm

200: Nah, not at all rational. It was 9/11 more than the propaganda.

They will need a shock, a black swan like 9/11. Not to go truther, but they will very likely get one they can use opportunistically. Probably not a domestic terrorist attack, but what if Saudi Arabian or Gulf State oil platforms get mysteriously bombed or sabotaged? What if chemical weapons are “traced” to Shia in Bahrain.

Marshall and Yggles will jump on board again.

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William Timberman 07.21.15 at 2:23 pm

geo @ 197

Just for the record, I agree with your analysis completely, i.e. that individuals matter little and structures matter a lot. One still has to account for the changes in structures over time, however, and how else to account for them except as the cumulated effect of changes in individuals? As I see it, the process involved — the feedback loop, if you will — is mysterious enough to turn the doctrinaire or the impatient into pessimists. I gladly defer to the clarity and the accuracy of their description of the status quo, but not necessarily to their seeming certainty about the long-run outlook. The short run I’ll give you, and in the long run, I suppose, you and I will be dead. Not everyone will be, though, and who knows what they’ll come up with by then?

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Guano 07.21.15 at 3:33 pm

#200 “What did people actually learn from Iraq?”

To learn from a bad decision you need to be clear about the thought-process that led to that bad decision; what assumptions were made, what were the objectives? One problem is that many of those who wrote or spoke loudly in favour of the invasion of Iraq didn’t really have a thought-process that led to that conclusion; they jumped on the band-waggon of pro-invasion hyperbole in late-2002 without too much thought. People were handing out talking-points, and intelligence agencies were selectively leaking information: what could be easier than copying it out, even if some of it was illogical or based on dubious assertions? The lesson to be learnt is to beware of these band-waggons, question carefully what these powerful sources are saying, don’t be afraid of asking questions (even if you’re accused of being a stinking hippy). But is this a realistic “lesson”? Wouldn’t it mean changing the whole way that politics and journalism works?

And from the invasion itself shouldn’t the lesson be that “regime change” is very difficult and presents high risks? Yet, strangely, that lesson was ignored and “regime change” was tried in Libya and Syria with the same bad results. It wold appear that there is some barrier to learning these lessons from experience. And the Chilcot Inquiry in the UK, which is supposed to be learning lessons fro the UK’s participation in the invasion of Iraq, has still not reported after 6 years. Perhaps finding words to express the lessons, without trampling on some people’s sensibilities, is just too difficult.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.21.15 at 4:05 pm

Peter T, how did moving from column A to column B work for Libya?

I think that the problem with this is a) it assumes no change in Iran’s stability, b) it assumes that a new U.S. administration won’t be able to take the same facts as we have now and interpret them in a whole new light, falsifying connections where convenient.

bob mcmanus writes that it was 9/11 more than the propaganda. OK, but what does that mean really? If someone’s thought processes are “I’m shocked, so now I want to kill people who have nothing to do with that shock”, should that person really be opining on how we go to war? If someone presented as their lesson learned from Iraq not simply that they don’t have expertise, like Dan Savage, but that they are personally, constitutionally unable to handle the most elementary duties of public decision-making as they involve mass killing, then I’d accept that as a lesson learned. But strangely enough that doesn’t seem to be anyone’s lesson learned.

Guano writes that “The lesson to be learnt is to beware of these band-waggons, question carefully what these powerful sources are saying, don’t be afraid of asking questions” and then immediately points out that this isn’t how journalism works, even though it’s supposed to. And that maybe we should have learned that regime change is very difficult, even though we immediately tried it again. Yes, those would be good lessons if people ever could learn them, but they’re still not the lessons that I think should be learned. They don’t go quite far enough. Here are a couple of sample ones:

1. War is bad.

People should just, by default, oppose all wars. Including all “humanitarian interventions” or “regime changes” that involve bombing, troops, etc. They are free to reverse themselves on this if another WW II -level threat ever arises. Calculations about saving more lives than those you kill are morally and factually so questionable as to be worthless.

2. All governmental statements about war might as well be lies.

Governments have every motive to lie, and no one really has the resources to check on them. Even when they are caught lying, they pay no penalty. So assume that all statements about war are lies. Don’t even assume that the opposite of what they say is true.

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Bruce Wilder 07.21.15 at 4:55 pm

Learning, contrary to CT traditions, is not ordinarily a matter of theoretical maxims and their literary expressions alone. Learning means deliberately changing institutions that govern behavior, and with institutional change, a change of personnel.

When Western Europe had tried absolute monarchy for several centuries and found arbitrary government, driven by court intrigue, disputes over religion and obsession with dynasty a sufficient bore, elective parliaments and an ideology of egalitarian rights was adopted, not without some failures in execution. (a pun?)

It isn’t enough to recognize stupidity. Such recognition is certainly helpful though human ambivalence and individual failures of taste can make a universal consensus on even the most blatant stupidity, cruelty, or misfeasance oddly elusive. It would not be difficult to find Russian admirers of Stalin. It is necessary to have an institutional program and the power to displace personnel, in getting it implemented. It is also helpful, sometimes, if that program is practical and yields intelligible feedback.

Whether TINA is a feature or a bug, a campaign slogan or a symptom of ennui, it is the capital fact of our politics. We stop thinking, we think too much and too uselessly, we lie and believe the lies. We do not behave as if we really thought anyone is in charge, is responsible for the way the system works.

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Bruce Wilder 07.21.15 at 5:51 pm

Guano: Wouldn’t it mean changing the whole way that politics and journalism works?

Yes.

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Bloix 07.21.15 at 6:04 pm

#126, 156 –
the full quote makes it clear that Churchill was talking about tear gas when he referred to “a lively terror” in a 1919 war office memorandum. He did not rule out use of “the most deadly gasses” but he was optimistic that “lachrymatory gas” would be sufficient to put down insurrections.

“It is sheer affectation to lacerate a man with the poisonous fragment of a bursting shell and to boggle at making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum. It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alleged_British_use_of_chemical_weapons_in_Mesopotamia_in_1920

At the time Churchill was Secretary for War and was deeply concerned with the problem of controlling the huge territories taken over from the Ottomans while trying to demobilize an exhausted army. His solution was air power. Gas was a weapon, he believed, that could effectively be deployed from the air. He was optimistic that airplanes equipped with gas would preserve and extend the Empire at minimal cost.

In the event, gas was never used in this manner.

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Bruce Wilder 07.21.15 at 6:19 pm

Guano: . . . shouldn’t the lesson be that “regime change” is very difficult and presents high risks?

No. That should not have been “the lesson” from Iraq Occupation and Reconstruction, at least.

Everyone knew it was going to be difficult, costly, and so on. The advocates knew that, too; even if they may engaged in some rhetorical minimizing, enormous resources were allocated, so it must be they understood that enormous resources were required.

The feature of Iraq Reconstruction that stood out was the scale of corruption and incompetence. Even an easy task would fail of execution, if carried on with palsied planning and negligent governance. Possibly the resources allocated were insufficient or the accidents of process would trip up even the diligent, but we cannot know that from our experience in Iraq, because that failure was fathered by epic stupidity and corruption. This was widely reported and there were at least some attempts to investigate. (There is a classic Frontline profile of L Paul Bremer that leaves few doubts that Doug Feith is not the dumbest guy on earth after all.)

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Stephen 07.21.15 at 7:16 pm

Bloix@209: that is what I had, approximately and uncertainly, remembered. Thanks for the full quotation.

It is surprising – well, maybe not surprising but depressing – how often the reality of “Churchill advocated dropping tear gas on Iraqis as preferable to dropping explosive bombs, but actually nobody ever did” becomes transformed into “Churchill dropped poison gas, maybe mustard gas, on the Iraqis”.

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Stephen 07.21.15 at 7:34 pm

Rich@200:
“I’ve never seen any of the people who changed their minds about supporting the invasion of Iraq move to something like an anti-war position.” Forgive me, but I can’t see the contradiction between saying “I thought this particular war was justified, but now I see it wasn’t” and “Nevertheless, I am not resolutely anti-war, since I still believe that several wars are and have been justified”.

I think the latter may be what you mean, since you say @206:
“People should just, by default, oppose all wars.” Query how this applies to the American Revolutionary War, the American Civil War, the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1898 (38 minutes: result, abolition of slavery in Zanzibar)?

Also “All governmental statements about war might as well be lies”. Query whether that is true for UK government statements in 1940, Greek government statements in 1941, US government statements re Korea …and would you accept the corollary, “All anti-governmental statements about war might as well be lies”?

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Barry 07.21.15 at 7:44 pm

Stephen : ““People should just, by default, oppose all wars.” Query how this applies to the American Revolutionary War, the American Civil War, the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1898 (38 minutes: result, abolition of slavery in Zanzibar)?”

Read his comment at 206.

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Barry 07.21.15 at 7:45 pm

Stephen: “People should just, by default, oppose all wars.” Query how this applies to the American Revolutionary War, the American Civil War, the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1898 (38 minutes: result, abolition of slavery in Zanzibar)?”

Query for Stephen – what percentage of wars meet the criteria for success as those three?

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kidneystones 07.21.15 at 7:56 pm

@211 Thank you, again, for getting me off my ass re: the Churchill meme. There’s quite a lot on the creation and propagation of the ‘Churchill used gas’ myth. I read the ‘source’ cited by Bloix and prefer to peruse Google and Google books using the search terms. ‘Churchill Saddam Iraq Gas. Google provides a large number of links from websites and blogs. The majority of the blog accounts seem to have been written by those attempting to argue that the British were every bit as brutal in their efforts to control populations as the despots western governments want to attack. Churchill literature traces the meme right back to the 20s, when Churchill’s enemies wanted to paint him as unstable. I’m often guilty of the same sort of behavior myself in web yap myself, but normally rationalize my excesses as part of the rhetorical give and take. I shot myself in the face with this one and have you to thank for helping me remove this faulty ‘weapon’ from my grip. Cheers!

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Yastreblyansky 07.21.15 at 7:56 pm

To the categorical “war is bad” it might be good to oppose some more useful rule like “all wars are failures (of politics)”, which would include the American Civil War and the Anglo-Zanzibar War (by the way, with 500 casualties in a little under 40 minutes it may have been the most violent war ever on a per-minute basis, and it didn’t just end slavery but also began British colonial rule). Then you could divide up who failed the worst, giving Germans and Japanese the large majority of the blame for World War II but insisting that a nonviolent end of the conflict, could it have been attained, would have been better, and so on.

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Trader Joe 07.21.15 at 7:57 pm

@200
“I’ve never seen any of the people who changed their minds about supporting the invasion of Iraq move to something like an anti-war position.”

I’d paint myself an “at the time supporter” who is hopefully since repentant. I’m not Yglesias so maybe my experience isn’t hip enough, but I suppose for myself the lesson of Iraq was “how to think about the potential or reality of government lies.”

To frame the mind-set, it was post 9/11 and as suggested, we had been primed for a bit of butt kicking and blood-shed. There seemed reasonably incessant reporting about dirty bombs, biological attacks and various lurking plots ranging from shoe bombers to other seemingly more organized efforts in Europe. It was difficult to discern from conflicting media reports whether Sadaam was being recalcitrant, shifty or was actually ‘clean.’ Prior biases pointed to him being a liar and the mood wasn’t to assume innocence or even the benefit of the doubt.

Racist? Maybe a bit, but pride and vengeance were probably closer to the pin. This wasn’t just war, this was a war on terror. It was noble and would make “never again” more than just words (yeah, it does sound stupid when I type it now).

When the government then trotted in with initially credible seeming reports on WMD, it was a message I was cued to accept. In hindsight, I can see that contrary evidence was available and probably more plausible, but that would have forced a shift in priors. My assumption likewise wasn’t the war we got, but more like the war that H.W. Bush waged – go in, capture the weapons, kick some ass…go home. In hindsight that too was probably a foolish thought, but it seemed ooh so plausible when the MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner flew and again, there was some precedent.

So what did I learn? Assume the government has reason to lie and assume convenient truth is too convenient – no doubt I’m a slow learner, but this was the first, best example in my lifetime though no doubt others could flag more. I can’t say definitively that I’m now “anti-war” as RP has used it, but at least believe I start more firmly towards that end of the spectrum and require more coaxing to more towards the possibility that war even could be an answer.

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geo 07.21.15 at 8:52 pm

kidneystones@215: The majority of the blog accounts seem to have been written by those attempting to argue that the British were every bit as brutal in their efforts to control populations as the despots western governments want to attack. Churchill literature traces the meme right back to the 20s, when Churchill’s enemies wanted to paint him as unstable.

From http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article999.htm. I think “brutal” and “unstable” are just about right:

“In 1917, following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the British occupied Iraq and established a colonial government. The Arab and Kurdish people of Iraq resisted the British occupation, and by 1920 this had developed into a full scale national revolt, which cost the British dearly. As the Iraqi resistance gained strength, the British resorted to increasingly repressive measures, including the use of posion gas.] NB: Because of formatting problems, quotation marks will appear as stars * All quotes in the excerpt are properly footnoted in the original book, with full references to British archives and papers. Excerpt from pages 179-181 of Simons, Geoff. *IRAQ: FROM SUMER TO SUDAN*. London: St. Martins Press, 1994:

Winston Churchill, as colonial secretary, was sensitive to the cost of policing the Empire; and was in consequence keen to exploit the potential of modern technology. This strategy had particular relevance to operations in Iraq. On 19 February, 1920, before the start of the Arab uprising, Churchill (then Secretary for War and Air) wrote to Sir Hugh Trenchard, the pioneer of air warfare. Would it be possible for Trenchard to take control of Iraq? This would entail *the provision of some kind of asphyxiating bombs calculated to cause disablement of some kind but not death…for use in preliminary operations against turbulent tribes.*

Churchill was in no doubt that gas could be profitably employed against the Kurds and Iraqis (as well as against other peoples in the Empire): *I do not understand this sqeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes.* Henry Wilson shared Churchills enthusiasm for gas as an instrument of colonial control but the British cabinet was reluctant to sanction the use of a weapon that had caused such misery and revulsion in the First World War. Churchill himself was keen to argue that gas, fired from ground-based guns or dropped from aircraft, would cause *only discomfort or illness, but not death* to dissident tribespeople; but his optimistic view of the effects of gas were mistaken. It was likely that the suggested gas would permanently damage eyesight and *kill children and sickly persons, more especially as the people against whom we intend to use it have no medical knowledge with which to supply antidotes.*

Churchill remained unimpressed by such considerations, arguing that the use of gas, a *scientific expedient,* should not be prevented *by the prejudices of those who do not think clearly*. In the event, gas was used against the Iraqi rebels with excellent moral effect* though gas shells were not dropped from aircraft because of practical difficulties […..]

Today in 1993 there are still Iraqis and Kurds who remember being bombed and machine-gunned by the RAF in the 1920s. A Kurd from the Korak mountains commented, seventy years after the event: *They were bombing here in the Kaniya Khoran…Sometimes they raided three times a day.* Wing Commander Lewis, then of 30 Squadron (RAF), Iraq, recalls how quite often *one would get a signal that a certain Kurdish village would have to be bombed…*, the RAF pilots being ordered to bomb any Kurd who looked hostile. In the same vein, Squadron-Leader Kendal of 30 Squadron recalls that if the tribespeople were doing something they ought not be doing then you shot them.*

Similarly, Wing-Commander Gale, also of 30 Squadron: *If the Kurds hadn’t learned by our example to behave themselves in a civilised way then we had to spank their bottoms. This was done by bombs and guns.

Wing-Commander Sir Arthur Harris (later Bomber Harris, head of wartime Bomber Command) was happy to emphasise that *The Arab and Kurd now know what real bombing means in casualties and damage. Within forty-five minutes a full-size village can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured.* It was an easy matter to bomb and machine-gun the tribespeople, because they had no means of defence or retalitation. Iraq and Kurdistan were also useful laboratories for new weapons; devices specifically developed by the Air Ministry for use against tribal villages. The ministry drew up a list of possible weapons, some of them the forerunners of napalm and air-to-ground missiles:

Phosphorus bombs, war rockets, metal crowsfeet [to maim livestock] man-killing shrapnel, liquid fire, delay-action bombs. Many of these weapons were first used in Kurdistan.”

Excerpt from pages 179-181 of Simons, Geoff. *Iraq: From Sumer to Saddam*.
London: St. Martins Press,

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geo 07.21.15 at 8:57 pm

PS – Perhaps not “unstable.” Where brown people were concerned, Churchill was quite dependably brutal.

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Guano 07.21.15 at 9:46 pm

#210

Rebuilding the institutions of a State is a very difficult task, and most of those who advocate “regime change” haven’t engaged with those difficulties. Let’s not imagine that it all would have been easy in Iraq if it hadn’t been run by neo-cons.

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Bruce Wilder 07.21.15 at 10:26 pm

Guano @ 220 Let’s not imagine that it all would have been easy in Iraq if it hadn’t been run by neo-cons.

Let’s excuse the neo-cons for their poor performance instead, because . . .

I never said the task would be “easy”. The difficulty of the task never figured in their failure, though. You might take some notice before retreating into counterfactuals.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.21.15 at 11:37 pm

It’s true that without the American Revolutionary War, the U.S. would have suffered through the grim, blood-drenched centuries of tyranny and horror that mark Canadian history.

Getting back to seriousness, what kind of statements are Bruce Wilder’s “Learning means deliberately changing institutions that govern behavior, and with institutional change, a change of personnel” or Yastreblyansky’s “all wars are failures (of politics)”? They are statements that, implicitly, are useful to people with power. Anyone who is reading this does not have power of this kind. We don’t get to change institutions, and failures of politics come to us in a pre-packaged form. Basically all we get to do is say “Well, I guess I’ll think about whether this is a good war” (this means Yes), or say No. We briefly had enough people say No during the Vietnam war to affect policy, but since then we’ve gone to volunteer armed forces and most of the people who said No really did only because they were concerned about being drafted.

How many people saying No would it take to have any effect? One of the other lessons of the Bush years is that all that matters is actual outcomes. It doesn’t matter if 49% of the people are highly opposed, as long as 51% will get the result you want. Protests, petitions and so on are meaningless. Nothing will change unless actual elections start to be influenced by people who are actually willing to vote some people in and some people out based on their war policies. But this can’t happen because you can’t even mention President Drone Strikes — the candidate who won the Democratic Party nomination in a almost-sure-to-win year because he appeared to be more anti-war than the others — without people scolding you about the Lesser Evil.

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kidneystones 07.22.15 at 2:34 am

@ 218 and 219 I looked at excerpts from the Simons’ text. Do you see Simons as a neutral observer? I disagree very strongly with your description of Churchill as ‘dependably brutal’ where brown people were concerned several reasons.

First, Churchill was a racist, by which I mean he believed in the taxonomy of cultures and potentials along ‘race’ lines. He was in no way exceptional in this respect. This taxonomy placed the powerful at the top, not because God wanted them there (although many no doubt discovered the hand of God in their own place on the economic totem pole), but because ‘race theory’ proved the inferiority of the Irish and the convict-colonial Australians, not to mention the yellow, brown, and black. Consider this the ‘wogs start at Calais’ view. England was the mother in the empire as family rationale of world exploitation. Women, lest we forget, were just winning the vote in Britain, but only as a reward for the White Feather campaign and for supporting the British war effort. Labour reform? Not likely.

In this universe, it was the system and values that were uniformly brutal, individuals were guided by experience and conscience to behave as they did within this world.

What seemed natural to Churchill scares the willies out of many of us today. Others dream of a new Churchill to lead another crusade into the Middle East. Silly Sully was a vocal advocate for this Anglo-sphere up to the very recent past. Had Bush signed off on gay marriage, Sully would probably still be baying for more blood. This tired clash of cultures trope is getting very old, but shows no sign of dying off.

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Bruce Wilder 07.22.15 at 3:26 am

RP @ 222: Nothing will change unless actual elections start to be influenced by people who are actually willing to vote some people in and some people out based on their war policies.

On any policy.

Citizens vote at random and their votes have no influence on policy. Voting controls nothing.

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novakant 07.22.15 at 8:55 am

I never get how people think the American Civil War is a good example for the necessity of war – 650.000 dead people for a change in policy? How very humane and efficient.

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Guano 07.22.15 at 10:08 am

In response to #221

Regime change is very difficulty. Getting rid of the old regime isn’t too difficult. The rebuilding of the institutions of a new state is very tricky.

The neo-cons tried to avoid this by ignoring the problem. They didn’t have a plan for the aftermath because they didn’t think that it was necessary, and they were willing to believe Chalabi’s assurances that he could assume power with no difficulty. This turned out to be untrue so Bremner was sent in and he demolished existing institutions while having no idea how to build new ones.

However my opinion is that it would be wrong to assume that everything would have been easy if Bremner hadn’t dismissed the army. An occupying power will always face serious difficulties in trying to build new institutions. After a short period it will be resented. It will be manipulated by various local stakeholders. It will have difficulty in knowing who is trusted and considered legitimate.

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Guano 07.22.15 at 10:28 am

In response to Trader Joe #217

You don’t mention weapons’ inspections in your narrative of 2002/2003. From my (British) point of view, the invasion was a disgrace because it happened while inspections were still in progress. The complaint of the UK government in mid-2002 was that Iraq was refusing to let in weapons’ inspectors. Then in August 2002 Iraq began seriously negotiating to allow inspectors in, and in November 2002 they went in. But then in March 2003 the USA and the UK invaded Iraq claiming that they already knew that Iraq had WMD. My opinion was that this was disgraceful even before it became clear that Iraq didn’t have WMD.

Where you were (USA?) did the fact that inspections were in progress not enter into people’s consciousness? Did the fact that Blair and Bush had failed to get a further UNSC Resolution, to end the inspections and authorise an invasion, not enter into people’s consciousness?

I had already learnt how much politicians (and journalists) would lie before the invasion. I am interested in understanding why this wasn;t more widely recognised.

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LFC 07.22.15 at 12:03 pm

B Wilder
Citizens vote at random
Not quite.

their votes have no influence on policy
Depends on the particular country/polity and the particular election. There are pivotal elections, obvs., where the result mattered (e.g. in the US context, pres. elections of 1860, 1932, prob some others [arguably, 2000]).

Policy in the contemp. US is often unconnected to the ‘median voter’s’ preferences, much more responsive to the preferences of elites and the wealthy. The political scientists who have documented this worry to some extent about whether the US can be still be called a ‘democracy’. OTOH there are different ways to define democracy and responsiveness to popular will is only one of them. There is something of a divide in the US betw empirical political scientists and pol theorists on this. There’s an article in the current ‘Perspectives on Politics’ on this very issue. I haven’t read it. Will give cite if anyone is interested.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.22.15 at 12:29 pm

BW: “Citizens vote at random and their votes have no influence on policy. Voting controls nothing.”

Well, I gave an answer that I thought would be suitable for the majority of people here: people who hold to representative democracy within a strong state. As an anarchist, I don’t actually think that voting would work either, and that the only real way of discouraging war is to not have a massive war machine lying around, built by the state and capable of being set into motion by a single politician. But the discussion here can’t even reliably distinguish between e.g. paleocons and neocons, and can’t wonder why conservative values complete with racist dog whistles and all the rest just haven’t taken off when they are accompanied by some degree of rejection of aggressive war i.e. “isolationism”, so I’m not expecting to go directly to why voting isn’t going to work.

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Stephen 07.22.15 at 12:55 pm

Barry@214: “what percentage of wars meet the criteria for success?”

Well, to answer that I would have to know how many wars there have been, and which of them were by my criteria successful (or maybe justified even if unsuccessful). Not surprisingly, I don’t.

But in general terms, I would be uncertain about the sense of applying 21st-century liberal democratic standards of justification to wars in previous ages: it can be done, but I don’t think it gets you anywhere useful. Perhaps the best that can be done is to say that wars of self-defence (Greeks resisting the Persian invasion, say) were probably justified. There are of course cases (Campbells vs. MacDonalds, say) where each side had been killing and plundering the other for so long that the question of who was attacking whom really does not arise.

If you want to consider wars since 1900, for those of which I have some knowledge I would say that there was justification for:
Belgians and French resisting German invasion in 1914, and British joining in on their side. Doesn’t mean that everything done in that war (or others) was also justified.
Poles defending themselves against Russians in 1920.
Pro-Treaty side in Irish Civil War.
Finns defending themselves against Russians in 1940.
Chinese defending themselves, however unsuccessfully, against Japanese from 1937 on.
Allies in WWII, obviously.
UN forces in Korean war, at least in the first part.
Some minor campaigns by British forces (Malaya, Borneo, Dhofar, Northern Ireland if you can call that a war, Sierra Leone) which were successful and for which the outcome was better than the alternative.
Falklands.
Some of the minor campaigns in ex-French Africa (Mali, the Toyota War in Chad against the Libyans).
The Tanzanian invasion of Uganda that got rid of Idi Amin.
The Indian invasion of East Pakistan that stopped the massacres of Bengalis.
The Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia that got rid of Pol Pot & Co.
The Gulf War under Bush I that got Saddam out of Kuwait.
Arguably, the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan, heavily qualified by subsequent incompetence (ius-ad-bellum, not ius-in-bello).
Probably, the Croatian-Bosnian war against the Serbs, though probably not the Kosovo war, alias the War of Clinton’s Prick.

There may well be others that escape my knowledge, or memory.
What these are as a percentage of the total I cannot guess: I expect a minority, but I think a substantial one.

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Stephen 07.22.15 at 12:57 pm

Kidneystones@213: Anybody can make a mistake. Not everybody would acknowledge their mistake with your intelligence and eloquence.

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kidneystones 07.22.15 at 1:03 pm

@226 I think you’re right in many respects. But I think you’re very wrong to mistake public pr spin for private musings and analysis. The anti-invasion movement failed to stop the invasion, but the French and Turkey certainly made the politics and logistics of occupation more complex. Resupplying Afghanistan was more of a nightmare. What I particularly appreciate in your comment is your sense of time and your feel for the confusion and instability of any project such as this. I’d argue the anti war movement did all we could to wreck the project just short of praying for defeat, although I am quite sure some crossed that line. We don’t know what the outcome of the current Iran deal will be. So, it’s probably a bad idea to make predictions of any kind. Phase 4 might well have worked if the U.S. public really had an appetite for empire. Worth thinking about.

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Peter T 07.22.15 at 1:24 pm

My day job used to involve looking at various wars in minute detail, trying to guess which way things would go, advising government on the issues. Not just the ebb and flow of battle, but the feelings, attitudes, purposes of the participants. A few things gelled for me over time.

First is that war is not one thing. It can be part of routine politics – a sort of testing the realities of power, with a view to adjusting shares, it can be a way of demonstrating power (imperial powers are prone to these), it can be an extension of diplomacy, it can be not so much a failure of politics as a rejection of politics (as in a reach for ends which cannot be obtained by politics as usual). There are probably others. Or a mix of any or all of these, evolving over time.

Sometimes one party thinks it’s mostly one of these, and the other something else. It’s nasty enough when it takes place in a fairly stable set of mutual understanding; when everyone has a different set of understandings it’s unpredictably dangerous and very hard to steer through.

So you don’t, it seems to me, get very far by talking about war in general. It’s always about why these specific people thought force would do something for them, and how, and how other people responded. Iraq was a criminal blunder because the Bush crowd thought it would be an imperial war of choice, a nice little demonstration of American power, with some handy pay-offs on the side. They never thought what it would be for the various Iraqi groups, that they were lobbing a grenade into a tense Mexican stand-off. I wrote above of the narcissism of American power; this was a symptom of it: a failure to take other people seriously.

That said, not all the consequences can be laid at the door of the US. The Kurds had been in revolt for decades, the Shi’a since the first Gulf War. Radical Islam has been making inroads socially and politically for decades. Syria fell apart pretty much all on its own, and the connections between northern Syria and northern Iraq are close (both on the Kurdish and Sunni Arab sides). It was, in short, an accident waiting to happen.

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Richard M 07.22.15 at 1:30 pm

> war is bad

To try and avoid purely partisan answers, there are two policies that can be usefully compared:

1. Obama’s decision to end the Libyan civil war.
2. Obama’s decision to continue the Syrian civil war, recently even participating at a level that seems specifically designed not to end it.

Which was less bad?

In other words, can ‘war is bad’ be usefully combined with the liberal patriot idea that anything not done by your own country cannot be worth speaking about? Because that means a war your country is not involved in is of no more interest than the plot line of a soap opera you don’t watch. And how can something be bad if you are barely aware it exists?

This all really goes wrong when your country takes non-warlike action related to a pre-existing war, and, under the liberal patriot ideal, you are supposed to judge whether or not those actions are moral and/or successful.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.22.15 at 1:40 pm

Peter T: “So you don’t, it seems to me, get very far by talking about war in general.”

I guess that it matters very much to the people killed why exactly they were killed? Surely we can’t be all naive and simplistic and just oppose war. It has to be more complicated than that, or we would fail in our duty to uphold our social status as people who think about complicated matters.

Richard M tries to equate acts of war with failures to act as world policeman. In this view, killing 100 people is really just as bad as failing to prevent 100 people from being killed. Even when the “preventing 100 people from being killed” part actually involves killing 20 people and no one knows whether it’s really going to prevent 100 people from being killed. I’m glad that the actual policemen in my neighborhood don’t go by the same tactics as the world policeman.

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TM 07.22.15 at 1:43 pm

230: Most people accept that self-defense against aggression is legitimate. With respect to US foreign policy, that is question-begging. None – not a single one – of the wars in which the US was involved since WWII were defensive. The defense argument also doesn’t help when an initially defensive war becomes offensive, e.g. the fire-bombing of Japan in WWII.

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Peter T 07.22.15 at 1:46 pm

Rich

Yes – it does matter to people why they are killed. That is why they fight.

And war is not policing. If it were, the US would be on trial for multiple murder.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.22.15 at 1:58 pm

Assuming that we reject war as policing, and (from a U.S. standpoint) clearly none of our recent wars have been for purposes of defense, then I don’t see why we need a complicated answer. If people are killing each other in a civil war somewhere, then it is neither our duty nor a good idea to blunder in and settle things by killing one side. We could try to intervene diplomatically in favor of peace, which I have no abstract objection to, although there is the practical objection that no one in their right mind should consider us to be an honest broker or anything like that.

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Val 07.22.15 at 2:05 pm

Interesting to browse this thread which appears to be (‘appears’ – I can’t know for sure) currently all male, and appears to be (I haven’t perused every comment in detail) about when, why or how are particular wars justified – or not. The view that war, per se, is wrong, doesn’t seem to get much traction

I do think wars are ‘wrong’ and I oppose war as such. I also think war is related to patriarchy, and is idiotic. I also think that, sadly, that view that is unlikely to be taken seriously on a thread such as this, or indeed on CT in general. Perhaps I’ll be proven wrong, but I doubt it.

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Ronan(rf) 07.22.15 at 2:11 pm

I’m not sure why ww 2 gets an out here. In the US case the war against Germany wasn’t self defence (ie threat of invasion) and wasn’t to prevent the holocaust. It seems the justification here is looking back after the fact.
If total war in Europe for strategic aims is justified, then why not limited war against isis, or in the Balkans or in the Congo? Is it just because people can associate to a greater extent with devastation in western Europe? Afaict once you’ve allowed an exception for ww2 (or the us civil war) then you’ve opened the door for multiple other exceptions.

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Harold 07.22.15 at 2:14 pm

Um, Ronan, @240, as an ally of Japan, Germany declared war on the USA. Therefore WW2 was a war of self defense for the US. Hand they won, invasion would have been a certainty.

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Ronan(rf) 07.22.15 at 2:21 pm

Invasion wouldn’t have been a certainty. But what we’re talking about here is when war is morally justified, not when it becomes a political reality. Rich is saying people should object to all wars (bar Ww 2) so why not say (theoretically) that you respond with a limited attack against Japan and ignore the European theatre (since we’re talking normatively, not about the world and politics as they actually exist)

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Harold 07.22.15 at 2:25 pm

@242 I really don’t understand. You are suppose to ignore it when someone declares war on you?

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LFC 07.22.15 at 2:26 pm

The jus-ad-bellum/jus-in-bello distinction, referenced by Stephen @230, is basic and important. For example, in the first Gulf War there was a pretty strong legal case for ejecting Iraqi forces from Kuwait (jus ad bellum), if not for every aspect of how the war was fought (jus in bello).

It’s interesting that Rich, given his general position, is apparently not willing to give Pres. ‘drone strike’ any credit for the Iran deal, which would appear to be a clear-cut case of (attempted, at least) war-avoidance.

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Ronan(rf) 07.22.15 at 2:32 pm

Harold- imo No, but it’s not my position I’m outlining .
Al Qaeda declared war on the US then attacked them from Afghanistan, but afaict rich didnt support that war. So it’s not the declaration of war + attack that’s the kicker.
Anyway afaicr the US declared at on Germany first ? (And Roosevelt was itching for a fight)

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Yastreblyansky 07.22.15 at 2:36 pm

Val @239 You should have been here earlier, it wasn’t quite so bad.

247

Layman 07.22.15 at 2:40 pm

248

Ronan(rf) 07.22.15 at 2:42 pm

Eh, yeah

“On December 11, 1941, several days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States declaration of war against the Japanese Empire, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States”

How does that contradict what i said?
Anyway, it’s beside the point to the question at hand.

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Ronan(rf) 07.22.15 at 2:43 pm

Im sorry,my misreading. Anyway, it’s beside the point as I said

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Layman 07.22.15 at 2:47 pm

“I do think wars are ‘wrong’ and I oppose war as such. I also think war is related to patriarchy, and is idiotic. I also think that, sadly, that view that is unlikely to be taken seriously on a thread such as this, or indeed on CT in general. Perhaps I’ll be proven wrong, but I doubt it.”

To be clear, you’re saying the British & French were wrong to make war on Germany in 1939, following Germany’s invasion of Poland; and that the Americans were wrong to make war on Japan after December 7, 1941?

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Harold 07.22.15 at 2:51 pm

Wikipedia timeline of WWII: “[December] 11: Germany and Italy declare war on the United States. The United States reciprocates and declares war on Germany and Italy.”

I thank you for enlightening me about your take on things. I invite anyone who is interested to have a look at Hitler’s declaration of war, which can be found on various places on the internet: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/hitler_declares_war.html

He agreed that Roosevelt and his wife and the supposed cabal that surrounded them were itching for a fight.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.22.15 at 2:51 pm

I think that the Iran deal predictably increases the chance of war. I don’t think that Obama had some kind of secret intention to increase the chance of war, so do I think that he was attempting to avoid war in this case. He’s clearly not attempted to avoid war in other cases, so what this tells us is that he at least picks and chooses which countries he wants to go to war with. That’s better than him being a Bond Villain or something like that.

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Layman 07.22.15 at 2:54 pm

‘Even when the “preventing 100 people from being killed” part actually involves killing 20 people and no one knows whether it’s really going to prevent 100 people from being killed. I’m glad that the actual policemen in my neighborhood don’t go by the same tactics as the world policeman.’

You’re fortunate to live in that neighborhood. Evidence suggests that this is precisely the calculus used by actual policemen in most neighborhoods. Why else shoot fleeing unarmed suspects, if not to ‘protect’ others from possible harm?

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Lee A. Arnold 07.22.15 at 3:03 pm

The 2003 Iraq War has had some good outcomes: 1. a murderous dictator gone, 2. Iraqi majority has self-determination (and is even free to choose a Shi’ite theocracy), 3. Iran can get to the bargaining table with its biggest, nearest threat removed.

Almost everybody (90%?) now thinks that “war is bad”, if we go by modern opinion polling of Western publics. This is a remarkable change from, say, 100 years ago. It is also very different from the current opinion that some wars may be justifiable, and are therefore supported by the majority anyway. And it is different again from the fact that a war which even many supporters have turned against (e.g. 2003 Iraq War), and have learned that they were manipulated about, has also had some good outcomes, anyway.

The questions about whether things could have happened differently, starting with different decisions hundreds of years ago, and about whether things could work differently now by an absolute pacifism on the part of one side, seem rather naive. If a hundred years ago the racist plundering West hadn’t carved up the region, we might have a different set of problems now, but not necessarily easier or harder problems, and not necessarily with less culpability on the part of the West. It is unknowable.

I think that the thing to watch for now is the state of public opinion on these issues, which seems to be going in the correct direction almost everywhere, towards peace, including in the countries which the West deems to be antagonistic. (Another reason, of course, to support the diplomacy with Iran: to help Iran’s own very clever and brilliant public to argue with its leaders, in favor of peace.)

It’s very clear that publics everywhere are becoming evermore suspicious of the reasons given by vested interests. This is largely due to the technological changes which weaken the influence of controlled mass media, and which have increased the ability of individuals to understand what is going on in other countries, without propaganda filters.

I don’t think that it is possible to overestimate the effects of one-way controlled mass media on the politics of war over the last century. If I had to choose one single culprit, that is it. And it is beginning to be over: mass media is losing its control. Correspondingly, we must be careful to renew our insistence on freedom of speech everywhere, because the internal logic of power structures demands that they must increase censorship over the internet and smartphones, while basing it upon claims of national security and war efforts.

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Ronan(rf) 07.22.15 at 3:07 pm

Harold – Roosevelt did want US entry into WW2 (and the US was deeply involved before the declaration of war) My position is that’s fine, and indeed even without an attack and having war declared on it the US would have been justified in declaring war on Germany.

But again, it’s not my position. If your argument (as Rich’s* is, afaict) that people should object to all wars except one specific war, then you have to lay out why you made an exception for that specific war. (If you’re opposed to all wars full stop, then you dont need to eleaborate.)
So if it’s the fact that you were attacked and war was declared on you, then this opens the door for a number of other (even lesser) military interventions. If it’s because of human rights abuses or the nature of the Nazi regime specifically, then this also opens up a number of justifications for other wars. If it’s due to the strategic importance of Europe, then this also opens up the door for other wars. If it’s that you only respond to existential threats or threats of invasion, then Germany or Japan didnt really fit this category.

So Im just trying to work out why this exception was made by Rich. You follow ?

* Unless Im mis-remembering/understanding his position, and he objects to US involvement in WW2, in which case my apologees.

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bob mcmanus 07.22.15 at 3:18 pm

Where’s Plume? I am not crazy about playing here.

Worrying about stopping the wars when the bullets start flying or the troops are mobilizing, like 1914 or 1939 or 2002, or deciding if the particular “cause is just” or if we can get a Capitalism without the military misses the point.

Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism

Plume (or maybe geo) might like to play when “What about the Bolsheviks?” comes up. I don’t enjoy these bourgeois morality melodramas.

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TM 07.22.15 at 3:24 pm

I always found the argument that WWII was a “just war” baffling. WWII (Europe) was started by Germany as a war of aggression. Of course it was not a just war. Of course defense against the aggression was legitimate.

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TM 07.22.15 at 3:24 pm

I always found the argument that WWII was a “just war” baffling. WWII (Europe) was started by Germany as a war of aggression. Of course it was not a just war. Of course defense against the aggression was legitimate.

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Layman 07.22.15 at 3:28 pm

I think Rich’s answer @ 238 is pretty clear and I tend to agree with it. Bombing or invading people ‘for their own good’ has a poor track record, and it’s interesting to note that people are always willing to send others money as long as it comes in the form of explosions.

None of the wars since WW2 are justified by self-defense, not even Afghanistan, though I suppose some argument could be made about it. But Afghanistan didn’t attack the U.S. or declare war on it; some private actors did. And you can’t fight a war against private actors, with the possible exception of civil wars – if you deem them private actors, and which are fought on your own territory, not someone else’s.

A few brave leaders along the way have made the point that terrorism by non-state actors is essentially a law enforcement problem, and I think they’re right. In any event, Al Qaeda and ISIS do not represent an existential threat to the U.S., and destroying countries and thousands (millions?) of innocent lives to get at them can’t be justified by the danger they represent to U.S. citizens.

260

Harold 07.22.15 at 3:36 pm

The 9/11 attack was a criminal attack of terrorism, not of war. A police action against Afghanistan would have been the appropriate response at the time. Declaring war on Iraq was not.

261

TM 07.22.15 at 3:36 pm

By the same token, Iraq 2003 was a clear-cut war of aggression forbidden by the UN charter, and that would be true even if the outcome had be less disastrous. There can be no serious debate about this. There are certainly cases that are harder to judge even from a generally pacifist point of view but of we can’t agree that clearcut wars of aggression can never be justified, it is hard to imagine that we can agree on anything.

262

TM 07.22.15 at 3:38 pm

had been less disastrous … if we can’t agree

263

Harold 07.22.15 at 3:40 pm

Saying that Roosevelt was “itching” for war is a rightwing trope. Roosevelt despised Hitler and judged that war was inevitable, a realistic assessment in my opinion. Saying that he was itching for war implies that he was a bloodthirsty person and is a calumny.

264

Harold 07.22.15 at 3:40 pm

That was the Nazi line.

265

Richard M 07.22.15 at 3:47 pm

Historically, the Nazis said the invasion of Poland was a defensive response to an attack by the Poles on the Sender Gleiwitz. They cared enough about that narrative to actually kill a guy and plant his corpse there, which seems like a lot of effort and even some risk of exposure.

AH, 1st September 1939:
This night for the first time Polish regular soldiers fired on our own territory. Since 5:45 a. m. we have been returning the fire… I will continue this struggle, no matter against whom, until the safety of the Reich and its rights are secured

In other words, any rule that focuses on the _theme_ of propaganda, rather than its _accuracy_, doesn’t seem to be very productive.

266

Harold 07.22.15 at 3:55 pm

@ 258 Thanks, Layman. Our posts overlapped.

267

geo 07.22.15 at 4:10 pm

McManus@256: I don’t enjoy these bourgeois morality melodramas.

Well, what’s your game, Bob?

268

Barry 07.22.15 at 4:14 pm

Rich: “I think that the Iran deal predictably increases the chance of war.”

I’m sorry, but I missed that, in the sense of ‘predictably increases the chance…’.

269

Barry 07.22.15 at 4:15 pm

..and I don’t mean ‘predictably’ as ‘possible to construct a scenario’.

270

bob mcmanus 07.22.15 at 4:17 pm

Marxists, or historical materialists, look at what happens and who gets what. Don’t worry about motivations or causes, good guys and bad guys, or who started what.

WWII was a clash of Empires (US, USSR) dividing the world into vassal states, including some that had permission to call themselves “allies,” and contested periphery. The war lasted at least until 1989, if it is over yet. The “armory” of the other side may now be moving East.

Germany, Japan, and Italy saw it coming.

271

geo 07.22.15 at 4:29 pm

So how do historical materialists choose sides, bob? Put your ass where your class is? Just go with the likely winner? Or stay out of it, coolly observing from the sidelines?

272

Richard M 07.22.15 at 5:34 pm

Historical materialism is rather poor at determining whether the York or Lancaster candidate for rightful king of England is more legitimate.

Instead, the goal is to abstract above that question and say ‘does that system work well’?

Those who favor civil war as a system for conflict resolution do have current international law on their side. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a better approach.

273

Rich Puchalsky 07.22.15 at 6:40 pm

Lee A. Arnold: “Almost everybody (90%?) now thinks that “war is bad”, if we go by modern opinion polling of Western publics. This is a remarkable change from, say, 100 years ago. It is also very different from the current opinion that some wars may be justifiable, and are therefore supported by the majority anyway.”

People almost universally say that war is bad, but for most people it’s a meaningless noise. They know that they are supposed to say that war is bad in the abstract, but this never equates, for them, into opposition to any particular actually existing war. Unless it’s after the fact, when it is socially acceptable to say that mistakes were made — although these mistakes can never be taken as a guide for why we should stay out of any future war. Opposition to wars is otherwise “naive” or “pacifism” or “impractical” or something, and that’s from the left of center. (The right of center prefers good old standards like “traitor”, “enemy sympathizer”, “useful idiot” and so on.) Richard M equated refusing to bomb a country in order to help the “right” side with treating the deaths going on there as a soap opera that you didn’t want to watch. So there’s no lack of reflexive defenses of killing people as the right policy, and I don’t think that anyone has to be worried that we may actually stop.

274

Trader Joe 07.22.15 at 6:54 pm

@272
“Historical materialism is rather poor at determining whether the York or Lancaster candidate for rightful king of England is more legitimate.”

I’m hardly the house expert on Historical Materialism, but if I understand it correctly such a person would spend no time whatsoever on deciding between York or Lancaster but would instead be asking “How the F is the king anyway and why do we need him.”

Val @239 – It goes without saying that women would have been superior leaders in avoiding war as a tool of conflict resolution, but thank you nonetheless for saying so. Much of the local patriarchy prefers to debate the world that was, rather than imagine the one that might be.

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Stephen 07.22.15 at 7:13 pm

Trader Jie@274: “It goes without saying that women would have been superior leaders in avoiding war as a tool of conflict resolution”.

The ghosts of Boudicca, Zenobia,the Rani of Jhansi, Constance Markiewicz, Indira Gandhi, Mrs Bandaranaike, Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher might not necessarily agree with you.

276

Stephen 07.22.15 at 7:29 pm

Trader Joe @217: I have not read Geoff Simmond’s work, but when you quote him as saying “Phosphorus bombs, war rockets, metal crowsfeet [to maim livestock] man-killing shrapnel, liquid fire, delay-action bombs. Many of these weapons were first used in Kurdistan” I can only call total and universal bullshit.

Phosphorous bombs: Wikipedia “During World War I, white phosphorus mortar bombs, shells, rockets, and grenades were used extensively by American, Commonwealth, and, to a lesser extent, Japanese forces, in both smoke-generating and antipersonnel roles”.

War rockets: oh come off it, Chinese invention centuries ago.

Man-killing shrapnel: invention by the diabolically wicked British, 1784.

Metal crowsfeet: in mediaeval times, known as calthrops. Still in use.

Liquid fire: aka Greek fire, Byzantium, 7th century.

Delayed action bomb: slow matches to give time-delayed explosions go back to at least the 16th century in Europe, probably much earlier in China.

Falsus in uno, falso in omnibus is a hard saying, but this example does not give much confidence.

277

Stephen 07.22.15 at 7:35 pm

Bob McManus@270: “WWII was a clash of Empires (US, USSR) dividing the world into vassal states”. I despair of persuading a certain sort of Russian/American that WWII did not, in fact, begin when their countries were attacked. And if Bob really believes that the non-Communist states emerging from WWII were American vassals in the sense that most Communist states were Russian vassals, I despair of persuading him of anything.

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Layman 07.22.15 at 7:52 pm

“WWII was a clash of Empires (US, USSR) dividing the world into vassal states, including some that had permission to call themselves “allies,” and contested periphery. The war lasted at least until 1989, if it is over yet. The “armory” of the other side may now be moving East.

Germany, Japan, and Italy saw it coming.”

This is rank nonsense.

279

geo 07.22.15 at 8:09 pm

Stephen @277: if Bob really believes that the non-Communist states emerging from WWII were American vassals in the sense that most Communist states were Russian vassals, I despair of persuading him of anything

I don’t believe bob said “in the same sense. The mechanisms of control were obviously different. But since “vassal” simply means “one in a subservient or subordinate position” (Webster’s New Collegiate), bob was right, as usual.

280

Trader Joe 07.22.15 at 8:25 pm

@276 Stephen

I’m not sure to which post you are referring (certainly not @217), but I’ve never written a post which includes any such thing and an only know Geoff Simmond as a person who has never been in my kitchen.

281

LFC 07.22.15 at 8:38 pm

TM @257
I always found the argument that WWII was a “just war” baffling. WWII (Europe) was started by Germany as a war of aggression. Of course it was not a just war. Of course defense against the aggression was legitimate.

If the defense vs. the aggression was legitimate — and it was — then WW2 was a just war from the standpoint of those who fought the aggressors. That’s all that the reference means. ‘Jus ad bellum’ in this broad sense refers to justifications for fighting, and the defenders’ cause was justified as a response to aggression. (Even if one goes back to, say, Grotius or even Aquinas, jus ad bellum is discussed in terms of justifications for going to war, i.e. for fighting: self-defense was one of Grotius’s three just grounds for war and it was the one he tended to emphasize most. It has been codified in contemp. intl law, of course, in Art.51 of the UN Charter.)

282

LFC 07.22.15 at 8:44 pm

mcmanus is (trollishly) confusing WW2 with the Cold War. The latter grew out of the former, in a sense, but they’re not the same, obvs.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.22.15 at 8:51 pm

Rich Puchalsky #273: “…this never equates, for them, into opposition to any particular actually existing war. Unless it’s after the fact…”

This is statement is false according to a number of facts found in these 4 Wikipedia articles: “Opposition to the Iraq War”, “Protests against the Iraq War”, “Public opinion on the Iraq War”, and “Popular opinion in the United States on the invasion of Iraq”.

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bob mcmanus 07.22.15 at 9:12 pm

282: I ain’t confusing nothing.

Ernst Mandel Meaning of the Second World War

I go further than Mandel, and consider Germany and Japan in the 1930s pretty much direct and deeply supported proxies for US global ambitions and counter-socialist goals.

I also find it hilarious that liberals can look at the freaking United States of America, the slaver genocidal expansionist empire of all time, and think that they were unwittingly and unwillingly pulled into a war that ended with the US in near uncontested military political economic dominance of half the world. Accidental empire of the benevolent saviors of democracy, my ass.

285

Layman 07.22.15 at 9:19 pm

“I also find it hilarious that liberals can look at the freaking United States of America, the slaver genocidal expansionist empire of all time, and think that they were unwittingly and unwillingly pulled into a war that ended with the US in near uncontested military political economic dominance of half the world. “

Hell, it’s easy and obvious. Once you realize that the masters are generally as stupid as most of the sheep, and rule out grand conspiracies on that basis, you’re left with circumstance and sheer dumb luck.

286

bob mcmanus 07.22.15 at 9:40 pm

Oregon History Project

This photograph of Chinese Americans picketing at the Port of Astoria appeared in the Oregon Journal on March 3, 1939. The picket was organized to protest the sale of scrap iron and steel to Japan, where it was recycled into war material. At the time of the protest, the Japanese government was waging an undeclared war against China. In 1939 approximately 2,000,000 tons of scrap metal were exported from the United States to Japan.

rule out grand conspiracies on that basis

Not necessarily talking about conspiracies. An ideology that enables a pretense of ignorance and indifference to the consequences of economics, trade, and business can work wonders.

“In July of 1940, Congress gave President Franklin D. Roosevelt the authorization to subject defense industry exports to a licensing program…” ibid

Like I said above, limiting the opposition to war to the point when shooting starts will never work. The US (with help from British etc), as the primary trade partner through import of silk and export of almost everything (including credit), to a very large degree built the Japanese industrial and military machine in the 1920s and 1930s, only stopping when the arsenal was complete.

287

TM 07.22.15 at 9:53 pm

Oil of course was the biggest issue.

Since this topic has been broached several times, does anybody has an informed opinion on the book The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in Asia (http://www.amazon.com/The-China-Mirage-American-Disaster/dp/0316196673)? Or can point to reviews worth reading?

288

Val 07.22.15 at 10:33 pm

Layman @ 250
I am not saying ‘in the circumstances that prevailed at the time (WW2), the war was unjustified’. I am saying we should critically examine the circumstances. There is a long history of patriarchal states that have waged war on each other. If you accept those circumstances (patriarchal states), then some wars may be more justified than others. If you had a playground ruled by gangs, some gang wars would be more justified than others.

There hasn’t been a critical analysis of patriarchal states here yet, some fifty comments on from my comment, so I think my pessimism is justified. Trader Joe did say @274 that women as leaders would have avoided many wars, which could have been a starting point for a deeper discussion of the state and the notion of leadership, but was countered by the usual ‘but women leaders have waged wars too’ from Stephen @ 275, which does not address the issue about patriarchal states. In several of the cases Stephen cites, women became leaders because of their relationship to patriarchal leaders. In the case of Thatcher, she was clearly an instrument of the patriarchal state.

I guess what I’m saying is we need to look at patriarchy, gender and patriarchal states, rather than just talking about individuals. Certainly individual women can act as representatives of patriarchal states.

I think Trader Joe’s comment about local patriarchy preferring “to debate the world that was, rather than imagine the one that might be” is pretty right. I’m in favour of learning from history, but that implies to me that we can change, rather than just repeating the wars of the past with better (worse) weapons.

289

bob mcmanus 07.22.15 at 11:00 pm

Ok, so looking at Top 25 Countries to Be a Woman which I at first attempt might be some kind of proxy for “non-patriarchal state” I certainly can imagine some nations that don’t overlap with social democratic/socialist egalitarianism, but none that are in the actual examples all that determining. They are, at least at the top, some of the more peaceful, attractive countries, although mostly small, non-threatening, and protected by patriarchal states.

I might have a problem with “non-patriarchal state” being defined as one that has true equal opportunity for women, or ruled by women and is not warlike and aggressive, in other words if a hypothetical nation was both ruled completely by women yet remained warlike, it would be by definition still a “patriarchal state.”

I have no problem with patriarchy being defined as warlike, but that the absence of patriarchy means the absence of war and aggression remains radically unproven and IMO insupportable. Lack of opportunity and encouragement does not prove incapability.

290

bob mcmanus 07.22.15 at 11:04 pm

To put it another way,

“Peacemaker,” like nurturer and helpmate, is one of women’s assigned roles in the patriarchy and I have a huge resistance to accepting “peacemaker” as innate and biological.

291

Layman 07.22.15 at 11:19 pm

‘I am not saying ‘in the circumstances that prevailed at the time (WW2), the war was unjustified’. I am saying we should critically examine the circumstances. There is a long history of patriarchal states that have waged war on each other. If you accept those circumstances (patriarchal states), then some wars may be more justified than others. If you had a playground ruled by gangs, some gang wars would be more justified than others.’

There’s a difference between recognizing that the playground is ruled by gangs, and approving of that fact. I’m against war, but I’m just one patriarch, and the other patriarchs are going to play the gang game. I’ll try to convince them to stop, and I’ll not play at that game myself, until their version of it directly threatens me. When I do defend myself, I’ll not have patience with the idea that I did it because of my adherence to patriarchy.

292

Val 07.22.15 at 11:34 pm

Bob @ 289
The report is interesting, but given that it begins like this
Countries and companies can be competitive only if they develop, attract and retain the best talent, both male and female

– it’s set in a framework of global capitalism, which I assume you (like me) don’t take as an ideal starting point.

Dismantling patriarchy is a huge task, and as has been discussed here before, there are questions about whether women climbing the capitalist ladder is or is not a useful part of it. I am pragmatically inclined to think it is – that women change institutions by being there in sufficient numbers (not the lone Maggie Thatcher), since institutions can then no longer relegate all the work of caring to the ‘invisible taken for granted not important’ sphere (though they still try of course, because patriarchy fights on, if nothing else).

I still think you don’t get the feminist argument about caring and nurture Bob. It’s not ‘women are essentially better at nurturing than men’. It’s ‘caring and nurturing (including the specific experiences of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, but not confined to these) are essential parts of life and history, but have been relegated to a subordinate sphere (like ‘nature’) by patriarchy’.

As I’ve often said, the opposite of patriarchy to me (and most feminists as far as I know) is not a feminised version of patriarchy, or a matriarchy. It’s egalitarianism. Women’s valuable historical experience in nurturing can contribute to egalitarianism and the search for peace and non-violent conflict resolution, but that is not the same as saying women are biologically determined to be peacemakers (whose task would be vain and tokenistic in a patriarchy anyway). You seem to be making the old mistake of confusing feminism with that which it opposes.

293

Rich Puchalsky 07.22.15 at 11:45 pm

Lee A. Arnold: “Rich Puchalsky #273: “…this never equates, for them, into opposition to any particular actually existing war. Unless it’s after the fact…”

This is statement is false according to a number of facts found in these 4 Wikipedia articles: “Opposition to the Iraq War”, “Protests against the Iraq War”, “Public opinion on the Iraq War”, and “Popular opinion in the United States on the invasion of Iraq”.”

You might want to look back at who is referred to in the phrase “for them”. It refers to “most people”. You can look at this timeline of popular opinion, one of your four pages referred to above, which contains such gems as that 52% of the public favored an invasion of Iraq *seven months before 9/11*. As for protests, another of the pages that you refer to reads: “A March 2003 Gallup poll conducted during the first few days of the war showed that 5% of the population had protested or made a public opposition against the war compared to 21% who attended a rally or made a public display to support the war.”

294

Val 07.22.15 at 11:50 pm

@291
I didn’t actually call you a patriarch, that was Trader Joe, and I think we all allow a bit of rhetorical flourish for the sake of a good line, don’t we? Do you consider yourself a patriarch or an egalitarian?

The point is that if we accept that war is associated with patriarchy (as I do, and my historical reading of people like Gerda Lerner and Riane Eisler seems to support), then imagining a different future becomes a key task. Certainly if you were threatened with a real war right now – if invaders were entering your village with tanks and planes dropping bombs overhead – I wouldn’t expect you to be having this debate, but they are not, are they? This thread was about US relationships with Iran. How can they best be improved? How should Hilary Clinton handle this, as a feminist, if she succeeds Barack Obama? Will she, like Obama, be judged harshly because she can’t change the world overnight? What steps can she or should she realistically take towards lasting peace? Could there potentially be more pressure on her to be hawklike just because she’s a woman (quite possible I’d say)?

I think those are some interesting questions, but the bigger questions I’d also like to see debated are: how do we encourage peace through international structures (UN, International courts of justice and criminal court, etc)? How do we work towards egalitarianism, given that economic inequality is absolutely institutionalised to the point that most people find practical equality almost unthinkable, in my experience? And so on.

295

Rich Puchalsky 07.22.15 at 11:59 pm

Talking about WW II is always a mistake in these threads. I prefer to talk about the Falklands / Malvinas War. There’s something about the Anglo-American focus of this site that means that whenever any “I don’t like wars in general, but I like all of these wars” people lists which wars they think were justified, the Falklands is always one of them. We’ve been through it ad nauseum in previous threads, but surely not as much as WW II.

So let’s go. Wars between colonial states for possession of distant islands are worth the deaths of nearly a thousand people and similar wars should be embarked on in the future because a) self-determination of the islanders, b) national pride, c) states must respond to aggression and defend territory, d) the completely unplanned but beneficial collapse of the Argentine junta afterwards.

296

Rich Puchalsky 07.23.15 at 12:17 am

One more bit about our institutions: the real, direct contrast between Presidents in this matter is not between W. Bush and Obama, it’s between H.W. Bush and W. Bush. The first Bush, as Bruce Wilder has mentioned here before, did a pretty much textbook best-practices intervention in Iraq. Get buy-in and agreement from the international community — enforce actual, important basic rules like “no aggressive war that conquers other states” — intervention planned towards an achievable goal and not gratuitously going beyond that — there’s a temptation to say that the system, however horrible it appears from the left in certain senses, could have worked in some technocratic. competence-based way.

But look at how little it took to totally destroy that system. All it took was the same President advancing his son, and the system failed entirely. None of its strengths were inherent: all of them were completely dependent on the merits or lack thereof of the person in charge, and it had no ability to stop or correct itself. So it wasn’t actually a workable system at all.

297

Layman 07.23.15 at 12:28 am

“The point is that if we accept that war is associated with patriarchy “

I’ll plead ignorance on that point. It seems to me that war is associated with primacy – by which I mean it is the domain of primates. It almost certainly stems from inherited characteristics, which is not to say that such urges can’t be overcome by reason.

“How should Hilary Clinton handle this, as a feminist, if she succeeds Barack Obama?”

Questions constructed like this trouble me. If I asked ‘how will Obama, as a black empowerment advocate, handle Iran’, you could reasonably respond by asking what the heck his views on black empowerment have to do with it.

Clinton is a complex person with an extensive track record which is quite widely known. She is undoubtedly much more hawkish than Obama, and it is unlikely in my view that she would have made this deal had she been President. Note that it was not her initiative at State. If anything, she is much closer to the VSP ‘bomb Iran’, regime change position. And none of that has anything to do with her gender or her views on feminism.

298

yastreblyansky 07.23.15 at 12:28 am

I’ll take your Kuwait and raise you G.H.W.’s shameless Panama invasion, less “justified” than the Falklands/Malvinas (where I agree with you), killing somewhere between 500 and 3000 civilians and pioneering the use of rock music as a torture tool. It was that and Reagan’s Grenada that gave young George his standards.

299

bob mcmanus 07.23.15 at 12:29 am

Naw, Val wanted engagement

1) I shouldn’t have to delineate the problems with the patriarchal assigned role (“Now boys, stop fighting while I make some lemonade. I’ll just sit quietly and try to keep things calm”) of “peacemaker.” There’s plenty of literature, since overcoming the “peacemaker” was a necessary step toward self-assertion. Though there is still too much group support and tone policing in feminist fora.

2) Ok, difference feminism says that yes, “peacemaker” can be a patriarchal enforced role…but it can also be a free choice of a liberated woman, and from the outside, or as a man, it is not for me to judge or determine the degree of a woman’s agency. Fine. Fine.

But then why do I then have to judge say Thatcher’s agency, and claim she is acting as a agent of the patriarchy as warmonger, and not warmonger as woman, or warmonger as person?

And why does it concern me at all? Because there is an authority being claimed, qua woman, qua feminist, qua peacemaker.

I suppose this is where the “strategic essentialism” comes into play, in which feminists, cause they’re women and feminists claim to be able to determine the degree of Thatcher’s agency and/or control by the patriarchy because they as women, get to define what a woman is, or a feminist is. And women are self-directed peacemakers.
Therefore, Thatcher is not a feminist or acting according to her essential femininity.

You know what? Also, ok fine.

But that subject position is not available to me, so I am a socialist.

300

LFC 07.23.15 at 12:37 am

Mearsheimer, ‘Tragedy of Great Power Politics’ p.223:

On the eve of World War II, Japan imported 80 percent of its fuel products, more than 90 percent of its gasoline, more than 60 percent of its machine tools, and almost 75 percent of its scrap iron from the United States. This dependency left Japan vulnerable to an American embargo that could wreck Japan’s economy and threaten its survival. On July 26, 1941, with the situation going badly for the [Soviet] Red Army on the eastern front and Japan having just occupied southern Indochina, the United States and its allies froze Japan’s assets, which led to a devastating full-scale embargo against Japan. The United States emphasized to Japan that it could avoid economic strangulation only by abandoning China, Indochina, and maybe Manchuria.

From earlier on the same page: “In short, the United States employed massive coercive pressure against Japan to transform it into a second-rate power” (before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the onset of actual war). For fairly straightforward geopolitical reasons, the US did not want Japan dominating Asia, esp. at a time when it appeared that Nazi Germany was going to defeat the USSR and thus solidify its grip on Europe writ large. The US govt. also did not want Japan attacking the USSR while the latter was fighting the German invasion.

301

Lee A. Arnold 07.23.15 at 12:45 am

Rich Puchalsky #293: “You might want to look back at who is referred to in the phrase ‘for them’. It refers to ‘most people’.”

No, let’s be accurate and quote your whole phrase. “for them” refers to people you characterized this way: “for most people it’s a meaningless noise. They know that they are supposed to say that war is bad in the abstract, but this never equates, for them, into opposition to any particular actually existing war.”

This is false.

In the Wikipedia article it says that “in March 1992 55% of Americans said they would support sending American troops back to the Persian Gulf to remove Saddam Hussein from power.”

1992! But why would they think that? Because this was just after the US had to chase him out of Kuwait, and just after he killed maybe a half million swamp Arabs. Because he was a bad guy. That is not meaningless noise.

Going down further in that Wikipedia article, polls before the 2003 war show that US public opinion was tied closely to UN approval, UN inspections, UN evidence, UN involvement in an invasion, and the question of whether Saddam was evading the UN (which was twisted by the Bush Administration) –Not meaningless.

Quoting Wikipedia, “A consistent pattern in the months leading up to the U.S.-led invasion was that higher percentages of the population supported the impending war in polls that offered only two options (for or against) than in polls that broke down support into three or more options given (distinguishing unconditional support for the war, opposition to the war even if weapons inspectors do their job, and support if and only if inspection crews are allowed time to investigate first).” –Not meaningless.

It’s very clear from continuing further that the Bush Administration had to specifically misdirect the public’s opinion on these questions, as we all know, including whether Saddam was responsible for 9/11 –Not meaningless.

Indeed, quoting Wikipedia again, “Days before the March 20 invasion, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll found support for the war was related to UN approval. Nearly six in 10 said they were ready for such an invasion ‘in the next week or two.’ But that support dropped off if the U.N. backing was not first obtained. If the U.N. Security Council were to reject a resolution paving the way for military action, 54% of Americans favored a U.S. invasion. And if the Bush administration did not seek a final Security Council vote, support for a war dropped to 47%.” –Not meaningless.

The fact that the public rallied in support at the moment of the invasion is the typical home-team bounce, and was predicted long beforehand by pollsters. The fact that the public turned so soon against the war — in three years — was not predicted by pollsters, is historically rather unusual, and also, it is not meaningless.

302

LFC 07.23.15 at 12:50 am

The above relates to b. mcmanus @270 (channeling E. Mandel) saying that WW2 was “a clash of empires (US, USSR)”. One could argue such a clash was an outcome of the war and visible on the horizon by the time of Yalta and Potsdam, but (admittedly w/o having read Mandel’s bk on WW2) I’m having difficulty seeing how the period 1939-1945 generally can be viewed as a US/USSR clash. Mandel was smart so I’m sure he came up with something, convincing or otherwise… and I’m sure there are others carrying on in the same tradition, but I haven’t read their work.

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bob mcmanus 07.23.15 at 12:54 am

300: The Chinese I am sure took great comfort in that move in 1941, by some measure 10 years after the start of the Asian war, 10 years of the US providing the greatest measure of support for the Japanese war machine, 4 years after Nanjing.

304

bob mcmanus 07.23.15 at 1:04 am

The trick to understanding the US-USSR conflict is really to go back to the 20s and 30s, for example, Comintern and popular front in Europe vs nationalisms policy in the East and more direct Soviet support in China. It really wasn’t as if Mao was a shock. The Japanese always claimed to be caught between communism and Western Imperialism.

We went through some of this not so long ago, in a slight discussion of Adam Tooze’s Deluge. The US was the covertly accepted hegemon, based on economic, monetary and manufacturing might, before the end of WWI.

305

Layman 07.23.15 at 2:53 am

“I’m having difficulty seeing how the period 1939-1945 generally can be viewed as a US/USSR clash. “

Your difficulty is well-founded. It can’t reasonably be viewed that way.

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bob mcmanus 07.23.15 at 4:00 am

305: Aw hell, then how about a “competition?”

It crossed my mind to compare it to Mao and Chiang during the same period, or the very complicated maneuvers the US and USSR made in China during the 30s.

The way it works is to see history ass inevitable by definition, see the end result, a world carved up like a turkey, and then go back to look the preparatory maneuvers, the fighting on different fronts in different ways for somewhat different purposes, the attempted manipulation of each other, the use of the Axis to weaken the other, the late moves by the US (including the immediate postwar in Europe, and the bombing of Japan) to limit Soviet gains.

You see, I have trouble seeing what actually happened on the ground during WWII as a real cooperation between the US and USSR, no matter what was said. But I try to pay little attention to what is said.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.23.15 at 4:03 am

Yes, all the surveys that you quote @ #301 show that for most people, anti-war sentiments are a meaningless noise. They show that whatever ideas that people have that war is wrong do not stand up to someone being a “bad guy”, or to the reassurance of having some procedural boxes checked off (of course, they were not actually checked off, as was apparent at the time). Nearly six in 10 favored a war with U.N. security council approval — but only 54% if such approval was rejected! And only 47% if the war makers didn’t even bother to get a rejection. Since all wars are proposed against putative bad guys, and since all wars can be justified (?) with U.N. security council rejection, this is not a limit on warfare. The statement that I wrote was, of necessity, a generalization about most people, and these surveys support it.

Meanwhile, I’m frankly kind of surprised that all of the detailed lessons of this war have been forgotten by everyone. People don’t think it’s all problematic that inspectors are going to be wandering around Iran? Remember Scott Ritter and his claims that the CIA attempted to infiltrate the U.N. inspection teams? How difficult do people think it’s going to be for some future President to set up a casus belli by demanding to inspect more and more sites and then treating it as suspicious when the Iranians inevitably balk? They are going to have internal politics of their own to deal with, and having inspectors look over their entire military in a provocative way is not going to be the easiest way of staying in power.

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Val 07.23.15 at 6:14 am

@297 and 299
You both seem to find this concept of agency a bit less complex than many do. Let’s take an example of Bob McManus. Say he was living in a liberal capitalist democracy and he needed some money (because generally people do in such a society). Obviously it would not be his ideal socialist utopia, and he has relatively little chance of making that happen. So effectively he has choice between getting a job in a capitalist society, or living on the dole and being ritually punished and humiliated (as an example to the workers) in a capitalist society. Now in making such a choice, is he exercising agency?

Or take me. I would like to have sensible discussions on CT about patriarchy and war, but the orthodox discourse on CT does not allow such conversations to be meaningful. So I can keep trying or give up. Am I exercising agency in making such a choice?

Of course one can say that people like Maggie Thatcher who make stupid choices that are not in their best interests (as we might understand them as socialists or feminists) are exercising agency, but presumably we usually think it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Anyway you have not answered my question. What are ya*, a patriarch or an egalitarian? (Clue – saying ‘a socialist’ is not an acceptable answer, because as Engels knew, patriarchy preceded capitalism).

*I don’t know if you are familiar with the expression ‘what are ya?’. It’s an Australian expression, theoretically used by men to pick fights in pubs, at the football, etc (so it seems appropriate for this thread), but more often used as a joke, at least in the inner city latte-sipping hipster circles I frequent.

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ZM 07.23.15 at 7:11 am

bob mcmanus “But then why do I then have to judge say Thatcher’s agency, and claim she is acting as a agent of the patriarchy as warmonger, and not warmonger as woman, or warmonger as person?”

Val “Of course one can say that people like Maggie Thatcher who make stupid choices that are not in their best interests… are exercising agency, but presumably we usually think it is a bit more complicated than that.”

I mentioned Sahilns chapter on baseball (and a Cuban child who was taken in by Americans and given lots of consumerist gifts to spite Cuba) history and agency already.

I think there was a lot of interesting work in the ethography-history crossover in the 80s and 90s about this as previously anthropology had been dominated by structuralism and considered the objects of ethnographic inquiry to be without history and change, and history started being more post-colonial which meant looking at the interactions between western countries and colonised countries differently and looking at previous ethnography as primary sources about the ethnographers rather than as secondary sources of authority on the “primitive” peoples they write about.

I’m at bit wary of classifying the dominant structure of our contemporary society as patriarchal myself, because although men dominate in important roles it is not because they are patriarchs but because of other reasons.

I think normally you would look at Margaret Thatcher as exercising agency in a particular structure – but structures are kept by praxis and we see she altered the structure to be neoliberal. You would have to attribute this to her agency because millions of British women managed to live their lives without becoming Prime Minister and embarking the UK on a neoliberal political turn.

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Layman 07.23.15 at 7:22 am

“How difficult do people think it’s going to be for some future President to set up a casus belli by demanding to inspect more and more sites and then treating it as suspicious when the Iranians inevitably balk?”

I doubt anyone thinks the Iran deal makes it certain the U.S. will not attack Iran. I certainly don’t. But there’s still no argument you’ve made which convinces me the agreement makes such an attack more likely rather than less likely. Could the U.S. play dirty tricks in the future, as they have in the past? Certainly, but they don’t need an agreement to trump up a war.

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Layman 07.23.15 at 7:27 am

“You both seem to find this concept of agency a bit less complex than many do.”

Don’t do this thing where you decide what other people think. You don’t like it when other people do it to you.

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novakant 07.23.15 at 7:58 am

This thread was about US relationships with Iran. How can they best be improved? How should Hilary Clinton handle this, as a feminist, if she succeeds Barack Obama?

Maybe she shouldn’t go around threatening to “obliterate Iran”.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.23.15 at 9:13 am

On a television in a doctor’s office waiting-room yesterday (July 22) I saw a slick and somber advertisement to call US Congress to defeat the Iran deal. There must be an enormous cable ad-buy going on at this moment.

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Val 07.23.15 at 9:27 am

@ 311
Sorry that was poorly expressed but I’m not judging what you think. I think that what you and bob said was simplistic. I also think that what ZM said above was simplistic, so it’s not just judging teh menz (I think you are a man tho I dk for sure).

Consider this: we had about 5000 years of patriarchy, and we’ve had about 100 years trying to dismantle it. Therefore the freedom that female leaders have to challenge patriarchal discourses is necessarily going to be limited.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.23.15 at 9:50 am

Rich Puchalsky #307: “Yes, all the surveys that you quote @ #301 show that for most people, anti-war sentiments are a meaningless noise…”

“Meaningless” to you, because anti-war sentiments haven’t already ended all wars? …and if the US and the West did end war for its part, then there would be no more bad guys? …or at least, the West wouldn’t be responsible for having created or abetted those bad guys, in which case, we could all go to sleep at night with a clean conscience, because the killings that go on, could certainly no longer be our fault (even by your vaguest chains of inference)? …and we should even NOW withdraw from an inspection regime which has the full diplomatic participation of the UN Security Council +1, because the P5+1 don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, either? …and you wish to ignore the publics of those countries, too? …and it is actually HARDER for the US to bomb Iran now, than it will be later, because later, the international inspection will be in full swing, and people will forget the Bush-Cheney swindle?

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ZM 07.23.15 at 10:40 am

Val,

Well I guess you would probably look at Thatcher as a mixture of agency and existing structures, where you might include networks and discourses as structural as well , but also levers of praxis, whereas structural institutions like the House of Parliament are more continued so I am not sure she had much constitutional impact, although Tony Blair did so she may have.

I am wary of using patriarchy because I don’t think it captures today’s more complex social structures very well, as patriarchal societies are more old fashioned maybe like Afghanistan, except they have modern influences there now too. I think you could look at the influence of patriarchal cultural forms on society, as I guess for instance the Old Testament was written in a patriarchal society and still has continued cultural importance so it’s patriarchism informs perceptions of gender, or roles available to men and women etc.

And you are right that for a female like Margaret Thatcher or Hikary Clinton to climb to positions of power they are likely going to be navigating a web of notions of gender that are more conservative basically because they are mainstream compared to the roles available to women in the inner city. I guess in Australia we saw this with the fuss about Julia Gillard’s fruit bowl, and the PR emphasis on how she liked to knit.

But I think that not all women want to challenge existing power structures, for a variety of reasons, and for Margaret Thatcher it is because she supported the power structures except wanted to make them more neoliberal.

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Val 07.23.15 at 11:07 am

ZM @316
My gut feeling about women like Thatcher – and Gina Rinehart – is that they are daddy’s girls. They really want to be like father and succeed in his eyes.

It’s a mixture of structural factors, discourse and personal psychology.

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Val 07.23.15 at 11:13 am

Re ‘patriarchal societies are more old fashioned maybe like Afghanistan’ – I know that you like to express yourself simply and in plain language, but I think you are missing the point.

Think about patriarchy for 5000 years, and we are now trying to move away from it – most societies (including Afghanistan) are trying to move away from the pure patriarchal model, but they are at different stages of doing so.

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ZM 07.23.15 at 11:23 am

But I think patriarchal social structures are really basic social structures, like early in the Old Testament. Once you get Kings that is no longer patriarchy, then for eg. in England you have parliamentary liberalism, then parliamentary democracy with universal suffrage. Plus forms of power in the economy, religion, education, etc. So even though men still dominate in positions of power the structure isn’t the simple structure of patriarchy, it’s a more complex structure that retains gender inequality.

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Trader Joe 07.23.15 at 1:03 pm

Further to patriarchy and war (re several prior posts by Val, ZM, Layman and others)

The kind of societies that would elect a Hillary Clinton or a Thatcher are still fundamentally patriarchal. They are respecting the apparent strength of these women and choosing to value that despite gender. Its not necessarily a matter of politics, it’s a matter of the choice to give respect to views and accept the choices made thereon.

In a less patriarchal society, those aren’t the sort of women leaders we might get. The type of person we might get, and I’m going to throw a name here since she’s well known and indicative not because I want to debate the leadership chops, is someone with characteristics like an Oprah Winfrey projects. Open minded, collaborative, supportive, discussion oriented first – action oriented after discussion etc.

Such a leader would likely develop different power bases than many current leaders regularly use. Diplomacy would be based upon a degree of personal relationship, but also strong intermediaries and advisors. When such a leader faced a more patriarchal leader, the emphasis would be on finding commonality and building trust – not striking detailed multi-facted deals with strictly defined terms guaranteed to have conflict revolve around definitions (men love to debate rules and referee calls).

When such a leader interacted with a similarly elected leader (i.e. woman to woman), I’d imagine a quite different interaction than say Putin-Obama even if their interests were just as diametrically opposed. Dialog wouldn’t center exclusively around drawing boundaries and counting up war-heads but rather would set understood terms of acceptable behavior that would allow both countries to pursue their objectives if not collaboratively, at least not adversarially.

I appreciate that most of this commentary is unprovable John Lennon “Imagine” stuff. If you have a different take, I’m not saying its wrong. The timeline to achievement is unlikely to even be in my great-grandchildren’s lifetime (assuming they aren’t burnt up by global warming). In my unprovable opinion, patriarchal societies reinforce the idea that war is a solution and its unlikely that war won’t always garner +50% of the polls in any given sorry conflict as long as the decision making is dominated by predominately male elites.

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Layman 07.23.15 at 1:57 pm

“Well I guess you would probably look at Thatcher as a mixture of agency and existing structures”

If Thatcher is to be taken as an example of feminist agency, then apparently patriarchy isn’t responsible for some of the ills being attributed to it.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.23.15 at 2:55 pm

Lee A. Arnold: “and if the US and the West did end war for its part, then there would be no more bad guys?”

If you think that the existence of a bad guy is a reason to go to war, then you are not against war. It’s really pretty simple. There will always be someone doing something bad somewhere, so if you’re going to go to war to stop that, then you will be at war all the time. And the wars that you cause will predictably kill more people than all of those bad guys.

“and it is actually HARDER for the US to bomb Iran now, than it will be later, because later, the international inspection will be in full swing, and people will forget the Bush-Cheney swindle?”

People here have already forgotten the Bush-Cheney swindle, as far as I can tell — I’m the only one in the thread who expressed concern that involving Iran in an inspection regime that if “flouted” would lead to war would in fact lead to war just like last time.

If you took the surveys you’ve been quoting at all seriously, you’d be concerned too. If the U.S. attacked Iran just for the hell of it, it’s an unprovoked attack. If there’s an inspection regime that can predictably trigger war, then all of those people who vaguely feel that U.N. sanction makes wars good would be satisfied. In fact, the role of the U.N. in recent years has been to trigger war, not to prevent war.

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Bruce Baugh 07.23.15 at 3:31 pm

Indeed, a significant chunk of Iraq war rhetoric was about how the basically random, capricious exercise of American military power was a good thing in and of itself – the Ledeen Doctrine, Friedman’s “suck on this”, and so much more. If anything, the absence of an actual justification in terms of bad people doing bad things let the Hard Men make Even Harder Decisions.

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Harold 07.23.15 at 3:55 pm

When you have a huge military it’s hard to justify not using it, if only to see if it works.

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Layman 07.23.15 at 5:05 pm

‘People here have already forgotten the Bush-Cheney swindle, as far as I can tell — I’m the only one in the thread who expressed concern that involving Iran in an inspection regime that if “flouted” would lead to war would in fact lead to war just like last time.’

This is the sort of rhetorical flourish which frankly makes your posts a bit clownish. There’s plenty of room between ‘forgot the Bush-Cheney swindle’ and ‘agree the deal makes war more likely’. Why can’t someone reasonably both remember the swindle but think the war odds no worse than before?

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Lee A. Arnold 07.23.15 at 5:36 pm

Rich Puchalsky #322: “If you think that the existence of a bad guy is a reason to go to war, then you are not against war… the wars that you cause will predictably kill more people than all of those bad guys…. People here have already forgotten the Bush-Cheney swindle… all of those people who vaguely feel that U.N. sanction makes wars good would be satisfied.”

As it happens, I just spent 5 days last month with a conservative gay Army couple, one of whom did multiple tours in Iraq, from the deep south who have 5 adorable kids. I am not making this up. They are against war, they are very proud of the fact that they were involved in the effort to get rid of Saddam and his sons, they resent Bush and Cheney for lying to start the war, and they give grudging respect to Obama for Obamacare and his support for the gay marriage ruling. They are also in favor of the Iran deal. I said to them, “Wait and see what happens next with this Iran deal! Your buddies on the Right are going to say Obama’s selling the country out, my buddies on the Left are never going to admit that getting rid of Saddam was a necessary prerequisite to this.” They just rolled their eyes and snorted.

Thus it happens that there are some of us who are actually talking to each other.

It is very easy to be against war and also think that a bad guy is a reason to go to war. Particularly if the bad guy was Saddam. It is necessary to see this, indeed to internalize this, to understand how the US got into that war, and to feel the warning signs if it starts to happen again. If you want to make some other definition for your own purposes, perhaps to write a dictionary of peace for a bookshelf somewhere, go right ahead.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.23.15 at 5:47 pm

“It is very easy to be against war and also think that a bad guy is a reason to go to war. “

Then you will find yourself approving of every new war even though you feel that you are against war in some abstract sense, because all wars have a preparatory phase in which people are convinced that a bad guy is a bad guy. Let’s not have the “dictionary of peace” BS: this is the classical, typical way in which supposed anti-war sentiment never comes to anything.

That nice, conservative gay couple helped to kill a million people.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.23.15 at 6:12 pm

Rich Puchalsky #327: “Then you will find yourself approving of every new war even though you feel that you are against war in some abstract sense…”

Silly, only if people are convinced that the bad guy is bad enough to go to war against. But they aren’t always so convinced. Indeed at this moment, opinion polls in the US are against military action against Iran, despite the best efforts of conservatives to call for military action. Not having a deal might immediately tip the scale in favor of military action, so perhaps you can help the conservatives, by convincing everybody that a deal will increase the chances of military action in the future, so everybody will scuttle the deal instead, and just do the military action now.

“That nice, conservative gay couple helped to kill a million people.”

This sounds remarkably like that “classical, typical..anti-war sentiment” that “never comes to anything”. I’m sure the soldiers will be convinced, after they stop yawning! Good luck!

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TM 07.23.15 at 6:30 pm

“Silly, only if people are convinced that the bad guy is bad enough to go to war against. But they aren’t always so convinced.”

This is self-defeating. “The people” were convinced every single time. You cannot come up with a single counter-example. And do I need to mention that this is usually true of both sides – majorities on both sides can be convinced that the other side is a bad guy that needs to be bombed. It works every time. You are making RP’s point very well!

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TM 07.23.15 at 6:32 pm

And you say you are convinced (re Saddam). What argument are you even trying to make?

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Lee A. Arnold 07.23.15 at 6:45 pm

TM “You cannot come up with a single counter-example.”

I just came up with one. The majority is not convinced that military action against Iran is the way to proceed, despite the fact that a whole US political party (the GOP) is pushing for it.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.23.15 at 6:51 pm

Luckily, anti-war activism doesn’t have to depend on convincing former soldiers not to yawn. That is indeed a form of anti-war activism that has never come to anything, for good reason. Classically, the form of anti-war activism that has actually worked consists of giving people like this someone else to hate and fear.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.23.15 at 6:53 pm

“I just came up with one. The majority is not convinced that military action against Iran is the way to proceed, despite the fact that a whole US political party (the GOP) is pushing for it.”

It’s the political party that is currently out of power. You’d expect that result from simple tribal affiliation.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.23.15 at 6:54 pm

Example?

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Lee A. Arnold 07.23.15 at 7:05 pm

Rich Puchalsky #332: “the form of anti-war activism that has actually worked consists of giving people like this someone else to hate and fear.”

Example?

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Lee A. Arnold 07.23.15 at 7:07 pm

Rich Puchalsky #333: “It’s the political party that is currently out of power. You’d expect that result from simple tribal affiliation.

What are you saying? That the GOP really doesn’t want to bomb Iran, they are merely opposing the deal out of simple tribal affiliation? Or the majority of the public secretly really wants to bomb Iran, but they refuse to tell the pollsters this, because they don’t want to be seen as affiliating with the GOP?

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geo 07.23.15 at 7:25 pm

The fact that we’re discussing how we should decide whether or not to support a war is a very bad sign. Do we discuss whether or not we should support killing someone? Very rarely — arguments about the death penalty, about whether to assassinate terrorists (assuming it’s not possible to capture them and is possible to avoid collateral damage), maybe few other marginal cases. The reason is that there are clear and widely accepted laws about killing people, which cover nearly all cases and which nearly all citizens abide by. There is, in fact, a clear and widely accepted law about going to war, which covers nearly all cases. It’s the UN Charter, to which every government in the world is solemnly committed. Unfortunately, hardly anyone abides by it, which makes the world a mortally dangerous place.

Why does no one abide by it? To me, it seems perfectly obvious. When the UN Charter was new, there was one global hyperpower, one superpower, and everyone else. Everyone else naturally watched to see how seriously the two big guys took the Charter, whether they would actually relinquish their national sovereignty to the extent required by its security provisions. The answer was emphatically no. Neither the US nor the USSR submitted every proposed use of force to the arbitrament of the Security Council, as they had promised to. So naturally, no one else did either. Hence the return of power politics and the renewed likelihood of exactly what motivated the Charter in the first place: another, unimaginably destructive global war.

So: 1) Are all wars bad? Yes, unless sanctioned by the international community speaking through the Security Council, or else in self-defense very strictly defined. 2) Does “UN sanction make wars good”? Not good, but legitimate. 3) What about really, really bad guys? If they’re not attacking you, and you can’t convince the rest of the world (ie, the UN) that they’re so bad that nothing short of military intervention will prevent a holocaust, then oppose them nonviolently.

But let’s not automatically blame America first for this supreme perilous and irrational state of affairs . Think it over, and then blame first the overwhelmingly most powerful nation, militarily and economically, at the time when the effectiveness of the new and more rational international legal order was up for grabs, for blowing it off. And second, blame the next most powerful nation, which might have followed the most powerful nation’s lead if it had abided by the law, but also might not have.

And where do we go from here? Well, we should certainly … Hmm, I’m afraid I’m getting commenter’s cramp. I must leave the solution as an exercise for the reader.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.23.15 at 7:53 pm

Geo #337: “The fact that we’re discussing how we should decide whether or not to support a war is a very bad sign…”

George, that’s not what I’m discussing. I am trying to delineate the reasons why a certain war WAS supported, free of emotional judgments about those reasons. Why? I want intellectual clarity and specifics, not emotions. Why? Because this is going to happen again. The antiwar movement is not able to stop war, and one reason is clearly because it it childishly ignores or argues away all details it doesn’t like. It refuses to even acknowledge contingencies which might undermine its larger arguments.

Was it all due to propaganda? Mostly but not all the way; the majority had its reasons, and they are not meaningless, even now.

And now? See above. The Left is not ready to mention even one way in which the Iraq War had good outcomes. But a murderous thug is gone, the Shi’ite majority has electoral self-determination, and Iran doesn’t have to develop nukes to protect itself from another insane attack by Iraq.

In another year or two the public will come around to these reconsiderations, as it always does. Because “that’s the way that it goes/ everybody’s buying little baby clothes.” So this will come back and bite the Left in the butt. And this is exactly why the Left will be steamrollered over, yet again, right into the next goddamned war: the other 60% of the people are so easily persuaded to pay no attention.

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Harold 07.23.15 at 8:13 pm

It didn’t have good outcomes for the people whose arms and legs were blown off.

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TM 07.23.15 at 8:17 pm

331: Iran is not a counter-example. The US government is not currently pushing for war with Iran (and yet we have perhaps not a majority but a large minority in favor of bombing tomorrow!). A valid counter-example would be the public either opposing an ongoing war/military involvement, or better through public pressure preventing one from happening. The public not clamoring for a war that the powers that be currently don’t want anyway (and they don’t) proves nothing.

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LFC 07.23.15 at 8:53 pm

Given the ongoing conflicts in Syria, parts of Iraq, Afghanistan, and some other areas (e.g., Somalia, S. Sudan, northeastern Nigeria, northwest frontier regions of Pakistan, also recurrently in recent years in Gaza and S. Lebanon) and the unprecedentedly high number of refugees and internally displaced persons being produced by these conflicts (esp., currently, the Syrian one), it is easy to come to a pessimistic conclusion about the overall state of armed conflict in the world.

Such a conclusion, however, would need to be counterbalanced by recognizing that the majority of areas in the world are currently free of serious armed conflict and that, until the eruption of the Syrian civil war, the yearly number of deaths from armed conflict had been declining for several decades (even when factoring in deaths from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars).

Although certain political scientists are engaged in somewhat arcane statistical debates about whether interstate war (as opposed to civil war) is actually in decline, casual observation suggests that the last prolonged, ‘classic’ interstate war was the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), which killed on the order of 500,000 people. The 2003 Iraq invasion began as an interstate war but quickly devolved into more of an ‘internationalized’ civil war. The long-running, now largely I think ended, conflict in DRCongo was also basically an internationalized civil war. Does it matter whether people are being killed in interstate wars or civil wars? In an important sense, of course not: a death is a death. But a shift toward civil wars and other conflicts that don’t resemble standard interstate wars does require some change in the often still-prevailing notions of armed conflict and how to reduce it.

As for the UN’s role in armed conflict, research has shown that UN peacekeeping, although it has had notable failures and is still far from a perfect system (insufficiently quick and also underfunded), has become increasingly effective since the late 1980s / early 1990s. Research by Page Fortna and others showed that cease-fires in civil wars were more likely to stick and be observed if UN peacekeepers were inserted after the cease-fire, and a recent article (Hultman, Kathman and Shannon, “Beyond Keeping Peace,” Am Pol Sci Rev, Nov. 2014) finds that deployment of armed UN soldiers to ongoing civil wars leads to a reduction in the number of battlefield deaths (based on an analysis of all civil wars in Africa from 1992 to 2011). In plain language, armed UN peacekeeping operations reduce violence by giving the sides security guarantees and by separating and disarming combatants (ibid., p.737).

It’s true, as geo says, that the UN has not turned out to operate quite in the way that at least some of its founders intended and hoped. The UN has not displaced ‘power politics’ or always managed to restrain the behavior of powerful states. On the other hand, the UN’s overall effectiveness vis-a-vis armed conflict has increased, as just mentioned, since the end of the Cold War. From this standpoint, the glass, while not full, is not entirely empty either.

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LFC 07.23.15 at 8:55 pm

(Have long-ish comment in moderation.)

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Harold 07.23.15 at 9:00 pm

It also torpedoed the reputation and credibility of the United States.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.23.15 at 9:02 pm

TM #340: “A valid counter-example would be the public either opposing an ongoing war/military involvement, or better through public pressure preventing one from happening. The public not clamoring for a war that the powers that be currently don’t want anyway (and they don’t) proves nothing.”

Ongoing wars:

Vietnam, May 1967: the 50% crossing line, increasing majorities opposed after this time, including major street protests. US withdrew 4 years later; President resigns in face of impeachment for crimes relating to attempted suppression of antiwar movement

Iraq, June 2005: 60% opposed. US withdrew 6 years later.

By the “powers that be” do you mean the person in the Oval Office, or the majority party in both houses of the US Congress?

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Val 07.23.15 at 9:04 pm

ZM @ 319
While ‘patriarchy’ is a somewhat loose concept, I don’t think your definition would be shared by many people. I think the very name ‘kingdom’ should give you a clue that it’s a hierarchical power system headed by a man, for example.

I recommend that you read Gerda Lerner’s work, or if you don’t have time, there is a reasonable discussion in Wikipedia https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriarchy

Trader Joe @ 320
It is so great to see at least one person here who is prepared to speculate and imagine a different future, does my heart good. In my imagined egalitarian society the kind of collaborative style you discuss might be common to both men and women, but I agree that kind of leadership is likely to come more from women initially, because of women’s historical experience as carers.

Also my imagined society would be much more equal in economic terms, so no- one would be as rich as Oprah! But for sure a warm collaborative negotiating style would be valued.

I hope that we could move towards such a society earlier than in your great-grandchildren’s time (some of the Scandinavian societies already seem to be going that way, as in the report linked above by Bob, I think it was). Certainly the first step is being able to imagine and discuss more peaceful and egalitarian societies.

An example of the way in which patriarchal discourse can affect people’s thinking, is that I suspect many commenters here would consider this kind of discussion ‘soft’ and unrealistic.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.23.15 at 9:17 pm

Harold #342: “It also torpedoed the reputation and credibility of the United States.”

According to Pew, which follows these things, the global median of opinion about the United States returned to 65% positive by fall of 2014, positive everywhere but in the Middle East generally and Russia. Many countries reaching high 70’s to 80% approval. Obama’s personal international numbers are just as high; for a US President he is especially well-liked. If the Iran deal goes through, expect both sets of numbers to increase another 5-10%.

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Harold 07.23.15 at 9:21 pm

348

Harold 07.23.15 at 9:21 pm

People generally like Americans. I like them.

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Val 07.23.15 at 9:28 pm

It might be of interest to some here that I’m now looking at issues of gender and patriarchy in my research project in detail, including looking at the relationship with capitalism. (The research project is about health promotion with a focus on projects that promote equity/ social inclusion and environmental sustainability. )

It’s a bit off topic for this thread, but I’m trying to write something up on my blog so I might try to finish that off soon.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.23.15 at 9:40 pm

Harold #346: “Huh?”

Read the whole Pew report for yourself:
http://www.pewglobal.org/2014/07/14/chapter-1-the-american-brand/

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Harold 07.23.15 at 10:04 pm

The “American Brand” is not the same as American policy. But maybe to you it is.

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LFC 07.23.15 at 10:32 pm

Short version of comment in moderation:
The UN has not turned out precisely as some of its founders hoped, but the picture, for various reasons, is not quite as bleak as geo @337 suggests.

353

LFC 07.23.15 at 10:47 pm

Lee Arnold @344
I think I agree with the point here; however, the last US troops were withdrawn from Vietnam in ’73 — hence, shd read 6 years, not 4.

354

Lee A. Arnold 07.23.15 at 10:54 pm

Harold #350: “But maybe to you it is.”

The only thing I’m trying to do is following the exact meaning of your words, and I am having as little luck as with another commenter.

First I wrote, “Iraq War had good outcomes x,y,z.”

You wrote, “It didn’t have good outcomes for the people whose arms and legs were blown off.”

I have to figure, “Okay, that means Harold believes that the good outcomes x,y,z don’t justify the war. But I DIDN’T WRITE that they justified the war.”

Then you write, “It also torpedoed the reputation and credibility of the United States.”

Well I follow these polls, and I know that this torpedoing was fairly short-lived (which surprised me; I predicted that the distrust would last). So I put up the most recent reliable poll about the “brand” — which is synonymous with “reputation” and “credibility” to anyone in polling or marketing — but then you say, No, that it took a hit due to the Snowden revelations. Well yes, and that happens to be carefully analyzed in that same article; but more important, that is a DIFFERENT topic than the hit to the US’s credibility and reputation from the Iraq War. And now you say it’s about “policy”. Okay, a Pew report just came in on global attitudes about the US’s policy against ISIS, and except in the Middle East (again), the US has around a 70% approval rating on this, almost across the board. And I’m sure that there are other US policies which are NOT popular, and so forth and so on. So you needn’t bother responding to that. But it hardly matters anyway, right? Because I realize that, once again, I will be at a disadvantage if I try to follow the meanings of words, because you, too, aren’t arguing about what you say, you are arguing from how you feel.

355

Layman 07.23.15 at 11:16 pm

“I think the very name ‘kingdom’ should give you a clue that it’s a hierarchical power system headed by a man, for example.”

The set of ‘kingdoms’ headed by women is not empty.

356

Harold 07.23.15 at 11:20 pm

I will accept your points. But I must ask if the state department has been taken over by marketers? It figures.

As far as the “brand” — I should hope it is still good. As far as people’s faith in government, I don’t think so. I hear people in the younger generation questioning whether it was a good idea at all to have had the declaration of independence at all since everything it stands for is hollow. This is not my opinion, however. And I believe that such sentiments would have been inconceivable in the the 1960s.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.24.15 at 12:13 am

People turning against the Vietnam and Iraq Wars got troops pulled out a mere 6 years later in each case — the same approximate length of time as all of WW II. Now that’s effective.

My previous comment about “classic anti-war activism involves giving them someone else to hate and fear” was black comedy and I was originally going to follow it up with a quote from Lenin or a few remarks about the Paris Commune, or a synopsis of _Watchmen_ or the “frecks” episode of _Nemesis the Warlock_, but I won’t bother.

So, to be serious — anti-war activism does not depend on convincing people like that nice conservative gay couple and it never will. There always will be enough people willing to go along with any particular war, at least at the start, and asking a couple of killers not to yawn about killing people once they’ve been desensitized to it is pointless. Intervention has to be structural — removing the state’s ability to costlessly make war — or cultural, which involves a kind of sea change to people generally taking an antiwar stance seriously and not swaying back and forth over the 50% line. Culturally, given people’s desire for dominance and power, this is most easily done by redirecting them to smaller-scale forms of hatred and violence, but that’s not really a solution available to the left.

358

Lee A. Arnold 07.24.15 at 1:32 am

Rich, you now list possible redresses to the occurrence of war as: black comedy, pointlessness of speaking with soldiers, structural intervention, cultural sea-change, and a solution that is not available to the left.

Is this an exhaustive list of your “ideas about how to change this situation” (#159), or are there more? Because god knows, I was running out of my own bromides.

Yet curiously you disparaged (at #273) as “meaningless” the observation (at #254) that, in a remarkable sea-change in the millennial history of war, modern publics everywhere are turning against war and are becoming more suspicious of the vested interests behind them.

If this is meaningless, then what would a cultural sea-change look like, to you? Does Glinda the Good Witch have to come down and wave her magic wand, to suddenly make it all better? So that people won’t first “sway back and forth over the 50% line”? It all must happen on one day, or else it’s not good; they will be led astray? How do you know this, without bromides?

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Rich Puchalsky 07.24.15 at 1:58 am

Lee, your idea that “modern publics everywhere are turning against war” is millennial and techno-optimistic, and treats part of a cycle as if it’s a trend. If you want really solid numbers for a public turning against war, you might try, say, 1935 in America, when 39 percent of college students said that they would refuse to participate in any war, and 70 percent of Americans thought that intervention in WW I had been a mistake. It didn’t last. Or you might look at the antiwar movement before WW I. A cultural sea-change would be accompanied by actual distaste for war, not by the predictable bloodthirstiness that people in this thread evince when they write casually about how if we don’t kill bad guys there’s something wrong with us.

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engels 07.24.15 at 2:18 am

some of the Scandinavian societies already seem to be going that way

Are you referring to the Kingdom of Sweden?

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js. 07.24.15 at 3:18 am

Since we’re already past 350 comments, I might as well ask this. RP said this way back when:

They’d rather have the psychic rewards that the right promises them than whatever material rewards the left can provide.

He’s said this sort of thing several times before, obviously. It’s just that it makes _absolutely no sense_ to me. I mean, I have no idea how to conceptualize the “rather have”. So here’s a bizarrely implausible thing the formulation suggests that RP can’t possibly have in mind (because he’s presumably too sensible to think such a thing): The “they” in question think to themselves—well, if I go with the left, I get various material rewards, and if I go with the right I don’t get those but I get these psychic rewards. And look, I want the psychic rewards over the material ones!

I hope that everyone, including RP, would agree that that is a fucking insane model! Maybe some one person somewhere has gone through that thought process, but obviously, it’s not what is generally happening. So I don’t get it. Is this supposed to be some sort of revealed preference theory? “Well, they go for the psychic rewards, so they must prefer them to the material ones.” (Note: (a) the inference is invalid, and (b) fwiw, I don’t think the premise is obviously right.)

I mean, I guess what I am wondering is: when there are so many other ways to explain what’s going on, why would you opt for (what seems to me) a particular implausible explanation where there’s some sort of implicit comparison between “psychic rewards” and “material ones” (not totally comfortable with that opposition, obviously), and a preference for the former over the latter.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.24.15 at 3:53 am

“It must be remembered that the white group of laborers, while they
received a low wage, were compensated in part by a sort of public and
psychological wage.”

Did I write that? No, that’s W.E.B. Du Bois, _Black Reconstruction_. Here’s some more for context:

The political success of the doctrine of racial separation, which over-
threw Reconstruction by uniting the planter and the poor white, was far
exceeded by its astonishing economic results. The theory of laboring
class unity rests upon the assumption that laborers, despite internal
jealousies, will unite because of their opposition to exploitation by the
capitalists. According to this, even after a part of the poor white
laboring class became identified with the planters, and eventually dis-
placed them, their interests would be diametrically opposed to those
of the mass of white labor, and of course to those of the black laborers.
This would throw white and black labor into one class, and precipi-
tate a united fight for higher wage and better working conditions.

Most persons do not realize how far this failed to work in the
South, and it failed to work because the theory of race was supple-
mented by a carefully planned and slowly evolved method, which
drove such a wedge between the white and black workers that there
probably are not today in the world two groups of workers with prac-
tically identical interests who hate and fear each other so deeply and
persistently and who are kept so far apart that neither sees anything
of common interest.

It must be remembered that the white group of laborers, while they
received a low wage, were compensated in part by a sort of public and
psychological wage. They were given public deference and tides of
courtesy because they were white. They were admitted freely with
all classes of white people to public functions, public parks, and the
best schools. The police were drawn from their ranks, and the courts,
dependent upon their votes, treated them with such leniency as to
encourage lawlessness. Their vote selected public officials, and while
this had small effect upon the economic situation, it had great effect
upon their personal treatment and the deference shown them. White
schoolhouses were the best in the community, and conspicuously
placed, and they cost anywhere from twice to ten times as much per
capita as the colored schools. The newspapers specialized on news that
flattered the poor whites and almost utterly ignored the Negro except
in crime and ridicule.

You basically can’t understand contemporary American politics without understanding how this wage — often called a “psychic wage” in blog posts and the like — still exists, and still is the basic payoff by which the elite keeps the votes of a big chunk of the white working class. And yes, for many people it is preferable to anything that the left can offer them. They don’t have to go through a conscious weighing and choosing process to feel that it is preferable and act as though they believe that it is preferable.

363

js. 07.24.15 at 4:08 am

They were admitted freely with
all classes of white people to public functions, public parks, and the
best schools. The police were drawn from their ranks, and the courts,
dependent upon their votes, treated them with such leniency as to
encourage lawlessness. Their vote selected public officials, and while
this had small effect upon the economic situation, it had great effect
upon their personal treatment and the deference shown them. White
schoolhouses were the best in the community, and conspicuously
placed, and they cost anywhere from twice to ten times as much per
capita as the colored schools.

I wouldn’t call these rewards “psychic”.

364

Rich Puchalsky 07.24.15 at 4:22 am

“Public and psychological” is a bit clunky. What would you suggest?

Of course a good chunk of the “public” part of it has gone away. There’s no longer differential public admissions. Much of the rest of it sounds like current news about e.g. what happens when a white person shoots a black person and vice versa, and there’s a whole lot that structurally hasn’t changed e.g. local school districts. But the Lee Atwater interview is a record of how it’s kept alive:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.

Subconsciously maybe that’s part of it — but he’s not saying that! The basic problem is that the left offers equality, solidarity, and greater material wealth, and that’s not really what many people want. What they want is social domination.

365

js. 07.24.15 at 4:27 am

And I do think that Du Bois’ “two groups of workers with practically identical interests” is problematic, or at least needs to be read and parsed very carefully. In a previous go-around on this, I remember noting that positional goods were a very real and very important thing. In a later comment on that thread, you parsed my “positional goods” as “psychic rewards” or “psychic wages”. I meant to flag that because I hadn’t meant that, and I found the gloss slightly bizarre, but I don’t think I got around to it. In any case, the idea that “they” choose psychic rewards on offer from the right over material rewards on offer from the left still makes no sense to me. I just don’t understand how the model’s supposed to work, psychologically, politically, etc.

(I guess this is also where I could link the famous Andrew Gelman [I think] chart showing that if only poor people had voted in 2004, Kerry would’ve carried 48-ish states or something, but I’ve linked that several times in the past.)

366

js. 07.24.15 at 4:37 am

What would you suggest?

I would suggest doing away with the “material” vs. “psychic” contrast.

367

Rich Puchalsky 07.24.15 at 4:43 am

I’m not sure if they are strictly positional goods. It’s something that gives people an innate sense of their meaningfulness and value. You can get richer or poorer throughout life, but your white privilege can never be taken away. So while positional goods “are a subset of economic goods whose consumption (and subsequent utility), also conditioned by Giffen-like pricing, depends negatively on consumption of those same goods by others” (quoting wiki), the whole point here is that these goods can’t be consumed by others.

But they can be “consumed by others” if the left starts to win. You can view this as a threat to positional assets if you’d rather, but I don’t really find that to be any less weird sounding.

368

Val 07.24.15 at 5:58 am

Layman @ 355

The set of ‘kingdoms’ headed by women is not empty.

As I’m sure you know, women usually became rulers as queen when there was no direct male heir. According to my readings, the idea that female members of the ruling family in patriarchal societies could ‘stand in for’ the male ruler is also quite ancient. In both cases, however, their authority was derived from their relationship with a male and reverted back to males.

I’m sure that you know all this, so I’m beginning to wonder if you’re trolling me :)

What is interesting is that some royal families have now ceased the male right of inheritance of the title. It is now simply primogeniture rather than primogeniture of males. That is the kind of thing I am talking about when I say that we are now ‘dismantling’ patriarchy.

As to the continuing existence of royal families, (engels) I think their meaning is now largely symbolic and I would suggest is more about the symbolic meaning of family than about hierarchical authority. (I grant you, they are problematically rich).

What I think is more interesting (and this is in relation to my research findings) is that while we are ‘dismantling’ patriarchy in terms of legal privileging of males, we are clinging remarkably persistently to the hierarchical structures that developed with patriarchy. Most businesses and state funded organisations are still structured like little kingdoms, even if they aren’t (at least in theory) privileging males any more. (A lot of them still do in fact of course, as we can see from the fact that most corporations listed on the stock exchange still have male CEOs).

The organisations that participants in my research are employed in are mainly publicly funded health and community services organisations, or local municipal councils. But generally they are still run like little kingdoms, with the CEO at the top earning the most money, all the way down to the lowest paid workers who are usually the ones who do hands on work like caring for the elderly and are often casual workers, not accorded the rights of full time employees.

Some of the participants in my research are community activists working in community groups (volunteers), however, and in that case the groups usually work on a democratic model with elected office bearers.

It really intrigues me that we have these two separate organisational systems and everyone seems to take it for granted, even though some of the work that is being done within them is very similar. It’s the same I guess with the way work moves in and out of the household – like child care – it only becomes visible in economic statistics when it moves out of the household, yet it is exactly the same work.

Anyway this is going way off topic now so enough said.

369

ZM 07.24.15 at 10:00 am

Layman,

“If Thatcher is to be taken as an example of feminist agency, then apparently patriarchy isn’t responsible for some of the ills being attributed to it.”

I always say there is not one feminism, women have different sorts of feminisms. I’m not sure if Margaret Thatcher would have identified as feminist, but her life demonstrates a great deal of agency in reaching her particular goals, as does Hilary Clinton’s and Julia Gillard’s.

Val,

“While ‘patriarchy’ is a somewhat loose concept, I don’t think your definition would be shared by many people. I think the very name ‘kingdom’ should give you a clue that it’s a hierarchical power system headed by a man, for example.”

Yes I agree that my usage is not the one usually meant, it’s just I think that there are other important structural features and the umbrella term of patriarchy doesn’t really do the development of these and the differences from the patriarchal organisation of early in the Old Testament much justice.

In terms of examples of collaborative female leadership the head of Urgenda, Marjan Minnesma, spoke at uni last night about the Dutch court case that Ingrid was involved in. She was very good and emphasised the importance of collaboration between citizens, government, business, and NGOs in moving to a new more sustainable sort of economy to mitigate climate change. She thought The Netherlands should move to 100% Renewable Energy in under 20 years time, since it is technically possible, and so doing this is just a matter of social and political determination.

370

Peter T 07.24.15 at 12:08 pm

If you want to think about about the dilemmas even a seriously anti-war (but non-pacifist) might face, think about the current US air campaign in north Syria in support of the Kurdish YPG. It has saved them from occupation by ISIS, killed very few civilians, and made a significant contribution to weakening ISIS overall (Val might also note the entirely matter-of-fact way Kurdish women have taken up combat in defence of their people).

Would it really have been better to have left them to fight it out among themselves? If not, how to keep support at the present level and no further?

371

Rich Puchalsky 07.24.15 at 12:18 pm

Peter T: “Would it really have been better to have left them to fight it out among themselves?”

Yes. Are you willing to acknowledge any kind of significant dilemma as the “support at the present level” (i.e. killing) escalates? Or tell the “very few civilians” who were killed that their children needed to die because we couldn’t do nothing? Or wonder what we’re going to do if / when we find out that this is an unstable situation and we can’t prop it up with bombing forever and that we either have to go away and “let them be killed” or step in and directly kill a whole lot more people?

372

Peter T 07.24.15 at 12:35 pm

Yes, I will acknowledge the issue of escalation.

Are you prepared to tell the survivors in exile that, sorry, although you could have made a difference, you decided not to? Personally?

373

Lee A. Arnold 07.24.15 at 12:40 pm

Rich Puchalsky #359: “your idea that “modern publics everywhere are turning against war” is millennial and techno-optimistic, and treats part of a cycle as if it’s a trend… A cultural sea-change would be accompanied by actual distaste for war, not by the predictable bloodthirstiness that people in this thread evince when they write casually about how if we don’t kill bad guys there’s something wrong with us.”

Rich, wake up. It’s very clear that “being anti-war” MUST BE both “millennial” and “techno-optimistic”, in the original meanings of: never happening in the last several thousand years before our era, and in depending upon the availability of new public communication technology + in reaction to the advent of technological “total war”. Because, before the existential horror of the US Civil War and WWI, there NEVER WAS an anti-war movement (I should write: I am straining to remember hearing of any with historical salience, although it was comically presented in Lysistrata). In fact, quite the opposite: as late as the 19th Century, you might have been thrown into Bedlam for trying to start an anti-war movement.

“Or you might look at the antiwar movement before WW I”-? Don’t confuse isolationism with being anti-war. The US public was “isolationist” in hopes of avoiding involvement in European religious and monarchic wars, from its founding up through the start of the Cold War (and we are now hearing remnants of isolationism in parts of the “debate” on Iran) — but all along, war was considered to be a natural condition, and fighting when duty called was an eternal source of honor and pride, even in the early US.

However, the social imperative that we must find ways to avoid all war is VERY “new”, which is to say, it has only started in the last 150 years. In fact we can place the beginning of the change rather precisely, at the US Civil War.

The Civil War has terrible significance to the US because it is intimately bound up with the racism and political divisions which still plague us.

Believe it or not, it has even GREATER world-historical importance, however, because it is the first modern war. European and other global publics and elites reacted with horror and strategic fear at the implications of the stories that came out of the American conflict, which showed everybody that railroad, telegraph, and early mechanization had propelled us all into a new era. The war was studied around the world and in his later years Grant received a constant stream of visitors from all corners of the globe. Grant was not only a truly great military general but seems to have had a sorrowful and intellectual appreciation of what it all meant in the larger picture. And everyone’s expectation of how horrible it would be, was completely verified 60 years later by the stories out of WWI.

Thus you cite, “say, 1935 in America” without recognition of the historical import of the arousal of those anti-war sentiments within the midst of the more-traditional US isolationism; you cite it as if it was just another ineffective bubbling that popped. No. It was new. It was rooted in the Civil War and reeling from the Great War, and it got run right over by WWII, but it is significant.

Yes, Versailles led to Hitler, and yes, the US supported Saddam (because he was against Iran) long before eventually removing him. Not only do bad guys exist, we also create bad guys.

Your lesson is that everybody else should have immediately awakened too, and corrected their differences at once, laying down greed and religions and hatred in the face of the obvious. And that, unless this happens, nothing good, nothing lasting, is coming out of it.

Thus your objections combine two things: 1. your unrealistic expectation that social psychology must change instantaneously + 2. your rather too-studied denial of the obvious MILLENNIAL fact that it is, indeed, really changing. You, like the rest of us, are right in the middle of it, and like the rest of us are another expression of it — but the difference is, you don’t see it.

So meanwhile, please forgive those of us who stop short of apologizing to you for the fact that we will continue to try to talk to each other under whatever preconditions exist, even if they are soldiers who fought in the last war, and if we hope to take advantage of “technologically optimistic” new forms of communication (and verification) that will help us to talk to people in other countries, to try to prevent the next war. And forgive us if we stop short of apologizing to you for the fact that there are still bad guys around. Some day, we will all live up to your expectations of us!

374

Rich Puchalsky 07.24.15 at 1:05 pm

Peter T: “Are you prepared to tell the survivors in exile that, sorry, although you could have made a difference, you decided not to? Personally?”

Yes. I’m Jewish, we’ve been exiles for 2000 years, and there was none of this BS about saving us any of the times we were being massacred, including WW II. In addition our attempt to get with the program, start bombing and killing, join the community of nations and reconquer a “land without a people” has not exactly gone that well from a humanitarian point of view.

You can’t be anti-war in any meaningful sense and still advocate bombing as a way of responding to crisis. What you’re proposing sounds like straightforward liberal hawkdom. If you still can’t get past “But if we don’t bomb the bad guys, good people will die!” then you are signing us up for forever war, a war which we can never give up because in every generation we have to redress the crimes of our last generation.

375

ZM 07.24.15 at 1:10 pm

Lee A. Arnold.

“Believe it or not, it has even GREATER world-historical importance, however, because it is the first modern war.”

The Ken Burns documentary on the Civil War made this point, and it was a pretty popular series at the time.

“the obvious MILLENNIAL fact that it is, indeed, really changing”

Near the end of 2013 I attended a talk on a book about what 4 degrees of global warming would be like in Australia. One of the guest panelists was a military expert, and she said that in military circles there has been talk about changing militaries’ focus from national security — which is very war and threat oriented — to human security, which would concentrate more on protecting civilians, peacekeeping, and responding to disasters etc.

This idea of human security replacing natural security is obviously not really popularised yet, but I think you can imagine the idea of the unending war on terror since 2001 being able to be moved constructively into this better idea of human security instead, which could incorporate responding to terrorism as well but it would be within an idea of human security which would have other elements.

I don’t really support the war on terror but I am also not fond of terrorism either. The worst thing has been the effect on legitimate independence movements like the one in West Papua. Guerrilla warfare in East Timor was acceptable and eventually did lead to their independence. Although now I don’t think West Papua will get independence as a bit more than half the population are Indonesian immigrants, so I guess they have to work out how to peacefully live together somehow. To be able to retain traditional lands and customs and avoid pollution by mining companies will need to be won through diplomatic means now, which is unfair as the Indonesian military and the mining companies use brutal force against West Papuans.

376

Rich Puchalsky 07.24.15 at 1:16 pm

Lee A. Arnold: “Because, before the existential horror of the US Civil War and WWI, there NEVER WAS an anti-war movement”

Um, google Eugene Debs.

377

Peter T 07.24.15 at 1:22 pm

Well, my wife and mother-in-law were bloody glad to see the Red Army.

You can’t advocate bombing as a way of responding to every crisis, certainly. Some people do. Force has limited utility. But limited is not none.

378

Rich Puchalsky 07.24.15 at 1:22 pm

I meant to quote the part of Lee Arnold’s comment that dismisses the pre-WW I tradition as “isolationism”, not claim that Debs was pre-Civil-War.

379

Rich Puchalsky 07.24.15 at 1:28 pm

Peter T: “Force has limited utility. But limited is not none.”

Liberal hawkdom is the delusion that military force is under the control of the liberal hawk, and will be turned to purposes that the liberal hawk approves of and will be executed under rules of engagement that the liberal hawk agrees are best, following political goals that the liberal hawk thinks are wise.

Like I wrote above: no one has really learned anything from Iraq. Same mistakes repeated over and over as the death toll mounts.

380

Harold 07.24.15 at 1:42 pm

No anti war before US civil war???? What about Fenelon? Kant? Voltaire? Leibniz ?Montaigne? Schiller??? The younger Breugel? Goya?

I guess the main thing that matters to VS people these days is “marketing”.

381

Lee A. Arnold 07.24.15 at 1:46 pm

ZM #375: “…moved constructively into this better idea of human security instead…”

They are definitely thinking about it in the war colleges and you can find some of the papers on line. There are a few different reasons converging on this new view: 1. The Army doesn’t really want to fight wars, despite what some commenters above have stated, they want to prevent having to fight them. 2. The 20th-century evolution of modern warfare, from large state actors, to small non-state guerrilla groups, to the coming diffuse combat in mega-cities, has forced the Western militaries into reading Mao’s brilliant “On Guerrilla Warfare” and David Galula’s fine book, and realizing that they must be ready to stay, and to help set-up schools for the kids, and electricity and sewer systems, once they move into an area: “nation-building”, which was disparaged as recently as in the 2ooo US election by its winner, George W. Bush. 3. In trying to put security over war, the US military has been producing reports on the effects of climate change, again since the time of Bush’s administration, and it doesn’t look good: sudden desperate population movements to find food and water: human security issues.

Here is one of Petraeus’ top civilian advisors in Iraq, the remarkable David Kilcullen, speaking recently at Google, well worth it if you want to understand how broad and deep military study now goes, and if you want to get up to speed on some of the latest thinking, including about what may be coming next:

382

Layman 07.24.15 at 1:56 pm

“I always say there is not one feminism, women have different sorts of feminisms. I’m not sure if Margaret Thatcher would have identified as feminist, but her life demonstrates a great deal of agency in reaching her particular goals, as does Hilary Clinton’s and Julia Gillard’s.”

No doubt Thatcher had plenty of agency. Perhaps it was ‘feminist agency’ – I have no idea. In any case, she is not good evidence for the proposition that women are naturally caring, nurturing peacemakers. That is all.

383

TM 07.24.15 at 1:58 pm

358: “in a remarkable sea-change in the millennial history of war, modern publics everywhere are turning against war”

I didn’t catch on that earlier but I am quite unconvinced of that claim. It is not afaik the case that publics have always enthusiastically applauded war – WWI was actually quite unusual in that respect (in 1939 there were no crowds on the street cheering the advent of war – didn’t prevent it from happening either). And even in WWI, German opinion turned against the war within a few years and led to revolution. So the fact that American opinion turned against the Vietnam war (after the damage had been done) isn’t such a novelty either. Your arguments just look a lot like wishful thinking.

384

Layman 07.24.15 at 1:59 pm

‘You can’t be anti-war in any meaningful sense and still advocate bombing as a way of responding to crisis. What you’re proposing sounds like straightforward liberal hawkdom. If you still can’t get past “But if we don’t bomb the bad guys, good people will die!” then you are signing us up for forever war, a war which we can never give up because in every generation we have to redress the crimes of our last generation.’

I just want to fully endorse this comment. Well said, Rich.

385

Lee A. Arnold 07.24.15 at 2:02 pm

Rich Puchalsky #378,
So now you are going to argue that Debs proves that there were significant anti-war movements before the US Civil War and WWI? Or are you arguing that Debs was as insignificant as the 1930’s college students? Because your contention was that none of this is significant — now it is that my use of the conjunction “and” to define the era “US Civil War and WWI” is faulty because of Debs.

386

ZM 07.24.15 at 2:02 pm

Lee A. Arnold,

“realizing that they must be ready to stay, and to help set-up schools for the kids, and electricity and sewer systems, once they move into an area: “nation-building”, which was disparaged as recently as in the 2ooo US election by its winner, George W. Bush. 3. In trying to put security over war, the US military has been producing reports on the effects of climate change”

Maybe last year I think, there was media coverage of a Pentagon report on the potential of collapse sue to climate change and other environmental and resource issues.

The US military, or at least parts of it, seems to be ahead of Australia in this. I saw a talk a few weeks ago about a report The Longest Conflict on the strategic implications of climate change and how the Australian Defence Force should be taking it into account. But this was an independent report, and the consensus was that the next Defence White Paper won’t attend to climate change very much.

It is also interesting how environmental and related resource issues, as well as nation building for peace, means that the goals of the military and international relations need to shift.

Geo quotes Kennan above after WW2 stating that the goal for US foreign policy is to ensure the disproportionately high level of US consumption of Earth’s natural resources into the future. But that is not really feasible these days taking into consideration the development of regions that were then much less developed like China, and also considering all the environmental problems caused by high levels of consumption globally.

“The U.S. has about 50 percent of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 percent of its population. In this situation we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security.” (State Department Policy Study 23, issued in 1948.)

387

Lee A. Arnold 07.24.15 at 2:06 pm

Harold #378: “What about Fenelon? Kant?…”

Harold, none of them led to an anti-war movement. The phrase “anti-war movement” includes the word “movement”.

You’d do better citing Christianity, but then most of the commenters here will come down on you for not citing Christ as a warmonger from the get-go.

388

TM 07.24.15 at 2:07 pm

365: “positional goods were a very real and very important thing”

In what sense are they real? Iirc, research shows that many people would rather have a lower standard of living, as long as it’s higher than their neighbors’, than have a higher standard of living that is the same as everybody else’s. That is clearly a preference of social domination over actual material well-being.

389

Layman 07.24.15 at 2:12 pm

“The Army doesn’t really want to fight wars, despite what some commenters above have stated, they want to prevent having to fight them.”

This is absurd. ‘The Army’ has no wants of any kind. It is instead peopled by individuals who do have wants, which vary, but which are predominantly pro-war. As a former line-level infantry soldier, I can tell you that the training and promotion selection process within the combat arms inculcates enthusiasm for war, and senior military leaders are almost invariably selected from the combat arms. If ‘The Army didn’t want to fight wars, there would be no wars. Who else would fight them? Show me the CJCOS sitting in front of a Senate hearing, explaining that the President’s argument for war was full of shit, that his case was unjust, that his plans were unworkable, and that the JCOS would all resign rather than carry it out, and then we’ll talk. Those guys are in the room because of the opportunity war gave them. Look at their damned ribbons.

390

Rich Puchalsky 07.24.15 at 2:27 pm

TM @ 388: Yes, I agree that insisting that positional goods (if this is a positional good) are just as “material” as actual increased food, living space etc. seems a bit weird to me. Is it an attachment to materialism in a philosophical sense and the use of “psychic” seems associated with idealism?

391

TM 07.24.15 at 2:38 pm

Lee: “none of them led to an anti-war movement” “Don’t confuse isolationism with being anti-war.”

Moving the goalposts.

392

Lee A. Arnold 07.24.15 at 2:56 pm

Layman #389: “Show me..and then we’ll talk”

Actually you seem to have no problem on the talking end of it already, but here is one list:

Opposition from US national security and military people to invading Iraq:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opposition_to_the_Iraq_War#Opposition_from_national_security_and_military_personnel

And this omits some remarkable examples of Navy admirals sitting in the Gulf and insisting that we should not invade Iran no matter what Cheney says, but it hardly matters to you, does it? This isn’t about rational argument either, it is about emotionalism. In fact it’s hard to believe that you think that wars always cause more wars, and that if the US Army lays down its arms, everybody else in the world will, too. Maybe you and Puchalsky should start a new club, The “John Milton was right about Original Sin” Club.

393

Layman 07.24.15 at 3:14 pm

“Opposition from US national security and military people to invading Iraq:”

I followed your link, eager to learn that ‘The Army’ opposed the Iraq war, as part of their broader stance of not wanting to fight wars. Imagine my disappointment!

394

Harold 07.24.15 at 3:17 pm

The Enlightenment was a movement. It was anti-war. You might say that it was inspired by the 16th c. wars of religion (that horrified Montaigne, an important precursor) and the thirty years war — still remembered on the continent. The enlightenment was made possible by a rise in periodicals addressed to the general reading public, especially and including women — which required printing and relatively cheap paper — the Republic of Letters.

Mass movements of any kind required mass education (especially and including education of women) and even cheaper, more effective mass communication — such as prevailed around the time of ww1. The anti-war movement was quite robust *before* the horrors of same and therefore it is questionable whether those horrors and those alone were responsible for the so-called mass movement of which you speak.

395

Lee A. Arnold 07.24.15 at 3:55 pm

TM #391: “Moving the goalposts.”

Sorry for the confusion. I am just running around, trying to imagine where the goalposts had been secretly standing!

I was thinking about the comment at #359. I thought that perhaps it would be good to distinguish an element in the 1930’s antiwar speeches and movements, which partly contained the strong component of isolationism that had characterized the US for far longer, indeed from the colonies before its inception. Because I thought that there must be no other way to confuse oneself into taking the position that the modern antiwar movement is not a new era which started after the US Civil War (or was seeded just before that war, by Emerson and Thoreau and the British socialists and pacifists, etc.). And has not yet played itself out, is still in active process, which I believe will eventually be successful — thus not just more of the same-old same-old that’s been going on forever, which appears to be Rich’s position.

396

Lee A. Arnold 07.24.15 at 3:56 pm

Harold #394: “The Enlightenment was a movement. It was anti-war.”

Good point, and if you want to look at it that way, then we can shift the other definitions. Although the Enlightenment is not a street protest movement, and also, it is still going on. But surely, it is a millennial change that is only about 400 years old, it is techno-optimistic, any current anti-war protests are a continuing part of it, and it may eventually work.

397

Harold 07.24.15 at 4:13 pm

Emerson was far, far from being anti-war. Thoreau was dead by that time, but I highly doubt he would have been, judging by his circle (look up the career of Theodore Parker).

For Emerson see for example: http://www.bartleby.com/90/1110.html

398

Harold 07.24.15 at 4:14 pm

The Transcendentalists were no hippies.

399

Harold 07.24.15 at 4:27 pm

On Thoreau (from the above link):

From the Mr. F. B. Sanborn, in his Familiar Letters of Thoreau, says that he introduced John Brown to Thoreau in March, 1857, and Thoreau introduced him to Emerson. This was at the time when Brown came on to awaken the people of Massachusetts to the outrages which the settlers and their families were suffering, and procure aid for them. His clear-cut face, smooth-shaven and bronzed, his firmly shut mouth and mild but steady blue eyes, gave him the appearance of the best type of old New England farmers; indeed he might well have passed for a rustic brother of Squire Hoar.

400

Lee A. Arnold 07.24.15 at 4:31 pm

Layman #393: “…eager to learn that ‘The Army’ opposed the Iraq war, as part of their broader stance of not wanting to fight wars. Imagine my disappointment!”

I wrote, in reply to ZM’s observation (#375) about new thinking, that the evidence out of the war colleges is that “the Army doesn’t really want to fight wars…they want to prevent having to fight them” (#381).

In your response (#389) you ignored that context, and wrote that if this were true, military people would protest the official plans.

Well a lot of this new thinking is dated after the beginning of the Iraq War, and perhaps it was partly engendered by the problems of that occupation. But in fact, it’s untrue — in another quite unusual occurrence of our era, numerous high officials did protest the plans, (and that’s a signal that a lot more of them were thinking it), and the Wikipedia article lists some of them.

You write back (#393) that this is no good because, I must gingerly interpret here, it had to be the entire army, refusing to fight the Iraq War, or else it disproves — what?… I have no idea, at least as to what we were talking about. It surely doesn’t disprove my original point that the Army has started to be engaged in new thinking about conflict and how to avoid it.

But of course it hardly matters how I respond, because you’re another emotional goalpost-mover. Imagine my disappointment!

401

Harold 07.24.15 at 4:36 pm

I was wrong about Thoreau he lived until 1862

After John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, many prominent voices in the abolitionist movement distanced themselves from Brown, or damned him with faint praise. Thoreau was disgusted by this, and he composed a speech—A Plea for Captain John Brown—which was uncompromising in its defense of Brown and his actions. Thoreau’s speech proved persuasive: first the abolitionist movement began to accept Brown as a martyr, and by the time of the American Civil War entire armies of the North were literally singing Brown’s praises. As a contemporary biographer of John Brown put it: “If, as Alfred Kazin suggests, without John Brown there would have been no Civil War, we would add that without the Concord Transcendentalists, John Brown would have had little cultural impact.” — Wikipedia

402

Layman 07.24.15 at 4:38 pm

Lee A. Arnold @ 400, your link does not name a single high-ranking active duty member of the military who openly voiced opposition to the Iraq war. Similarly, it does not name a single holder of a national security post who voiced such opposition. Or, if it does, I missed that gem among the many former office-holders and retired military persons it does name. If you knew anything at all about what motivates Army leaders, you would understand why it is that only retired ones oppose wars.

403

Lee A. Arnold 07.24.15 at 4:45 pm

So what?

404

TM 07.24.15 at 4:45 pm

Lee, this is not a fruitful line of argument. That modern anti-war movements have appeared only in modern times together with modern mass politics shouldn’t surprise anybody. It doesn’t follow that existence of such movements is evidence of secular progress towards world peace. That to me is just wishful thinking. As to the US specifically, which is really the topic of this thread, we all know it’s an incontrovertible fact that the US has conducted more wars of aggression, as well as been involved in more covert dirty wars, coups and terrorist activities, than any other power at least post-WWII. At the same time we are asked to believe that the US is the “good guy” and whoever is on the other side are the “bad guys”. And lo and behold, the American public including most of the liberal intelligentsia and punditry and even many of those identifying as anti-war or at least not-always-pro-war, are willing to subscribe to that fiction, ignorantly or knowingly. The cognitive dissonance is deafening.

405

Lee A. Arnold 07.24.15 at 4:56 pm

TM, after several thousand years of celebration of war, you would expect the cognitive dissonance to be deafening, wouldn’t you? Do you think that rejecting every possibility except Glinda the Good Witch waving a wand to make it all better, is a fruitful line of argument? Seems pretty juvenile to me.

406

Tom Bach 07.24.15 at 5:03 pm

The Peace of God Movement predates modern anti-war movements and, to some extent, it was more extreme as it was also an anti-violence movement.

407

Harold 07.24.15 at 5:07 pm

“Some eighteen hundred years ago Christ was crucified; this morning, perchance, Captain Brown was hung. These are the two ends of a chain which is not without its links. He is not Old Brown any longer; he is an angel of light” — H.D. Thoreau

408

Layman 07.24.15 at 5:22 pm

“So what?”

So this claim:

” in another quite unusual occurrence of our era, numerous high officials did protest the plans, (and that’s a signal that a lot more of them were thinking it), and the Wikipedia article lists some of them.”

…is false. There were no high officials who protested the plans, and the Wikipedia article does not list any.

409

Harold 07.24.15 at 5:26 pm

What is wrong with our country when people don’t know their own history. Too controversial I guess.

410

TM 07.24.15 at 5:27 pm

Lee, pairing wishful thinking with straw man arguments and ad hominems doesn’t make it more convincing.

411

Layman 07.24.15 at 5:31 pm

If you look at any picture of a very high-ranking Army officer, you will see that they wear a CIB – a combat infantryman’s badge. This is by design – very high-ranking officers are selected for promotion by having ticked a number of necessary boxes, of which combat service and (more importantly) a combat command are big ones. Gaining promotion requires combat experience, and combat experience requires wars. So career military officers are motivated to seek experience in wars, which means they are motivated to have wars in the first place.

Even Army officers from outside the combat arms – officers from the JAG Corps, for example – will volunteer into combat units to secure a CIB for career growth. It will get them faster promotion within JAG.

Any analysis which ignores the central fact of Army culture is fatally flawed.

412

Lee A. Arnold 07.24.15 at 5:34 pm

Oh I see, because they were all ex-officials and retired military, (except for the JOC as reported by Ricks in the WaPo), and so the ex’s are assumed to NOT be expressing what their friends currently in charge are ALSO saying, despite the fact that everybody takes it as exactly what this is about, so Hoar e.g. was brought in before the Senate because he was just wandering around out in the halls, and later, when Fallon had to resign as head of Centcom for saying that invading Iran was also a bad idea, and all the retired military now who are saying invading Iran is a bad idea, and all of this is a complete decoy, a misdirection, a perfidious attempt to fool us, because they really are bloodthirsty no matter what the cost, and so forth and so on. Got it.

413

Layman 07.24.15 at 5:41 pm

“Oh I see, because they were all ex-officials and retired military, (except for the JOC as reported by Ricks in the WaPo), and so the ex’s are assumed to NOT be expressing what their friends currently in charge are ALSO saying”

Oh, I see, presented with a situation where no high-ranking officials or military officers complained, you wish to claim that high-ranking officials and military officers did complain, and cite a source which doesn’t support your claim, and offer that as evidence that ‘The Army’ doesn’t want wars.

You’re wrong. Just move on. I certainly will.

414

Lee A. Arnold 07.24.15 at 5:41 pm

TM #410: “Lee, pairing wishful thinking with straw man arguments and ad hominems doesn’t make it more convincing.”

Tell it to Rich Puchalsky. He wants “structural intervention”, short of which all soldiers are bloodthirsty killers and antiwar sentiment is meaningless.

415

Harold 07.24.15 at 5:50 pm

“All wars are civil wars because all men are brothers… Each one owes infinitely more to the human race than to the particular country in which he was born.” — Francois Fenelon (1651-1715), Roman Catholic Archbishop

416

Lee A. Arnold 07.24.15 at 6:14 pm

Layman #413: “Just move on. I certainly will.”

You are certainly going to have to move on! The evidence that the military wants to prevent wars is in new war studies coming out of the war colleges, as I originally wrote, and as I just reiterated. Official opposition prior to the Iraq War has nothing to do with proof or disproof of that, despite your assertion that it must.

Still, your other assertion that sitting military officials didn’t object to invading Iraq is false, as shown by the very first link in that Wikipedia article section, to the Tom Ricks article in the WaPo. Now it is true, the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who opposed the invasion, did not do so in the name of the Peace of God Movement, but wouldn’t we all have guessed that anyway?

417

Layman 07.24.15 at 6:24 pm

“Still, your other assertion that sitting military officials didn’t object to invading Iraq is false, as shown by the very first link in that Wikipedia article section, to the Tom Ricks article in the WaPo. “

Tom Ricks names no sitting military officials who objected. Isn’t that right?

418

Harold 07.24.15 at 6:25 pm

What peace movement?

419

Barry 07.24.15 at 6:30 pm

Lee A. Arnold :
“TM, after several thousand years of celebration of war, you would expect the cognitive dissonance to be deafening, wouldn’t you? Do you think that rejecting every possibility except Glinda the Good Witch waving a wand to make it all better, is a fruitful line of argument? Seems pretty juvenile to me.”

Strawman, fallacy of the excluded middle, TINA,………..

Can anybody else come up with some more fallacies in the above statement?

420

Stephen 07.24.15 at 6:40 pm

Another fallacy: what is true for the USA is by definition true for the rest of the world?

421

Barry 07.24.15 at 6:58 pm

Layman: “Tom Ricks names no sitting military officials who objected. Isn’t that right?”

Perhaps people should be aware of US law, history and traditions before they find that significant.

422

Barry 07.24.15 at 7:29 pm

Layman: “Even Army officers from outside the combat arms – officers from the JAG Corps, for example – will volunteer into combat units to secure a CIB for career growth. It will get them faster promotion within JAG.”

When I was in the Army (waaaaay Back in the Day) I never heard of this, and it was an ironclad belief that one *could not* transfer *into* the combat Arms.

The only exception I was aware of was a sergeant who went from medic in an infantry battalion to infantry – and he probably got some ‘credit’ from a year in Vietnam.

423

LFC 07.24.15 at 7:40 pm

I have not been reading every single word of these exchanges above about the history of anti-war movements, but I have read enough to get the general line of the conversation. My own view is that John Mueller, in his Retreat from Doomsday and more recent works (a couple of articles are what I’m thinking of in particular), has made a good, if not necessarily airtight, case for the importance of WW1 in at least a couple of respects:

(1) the kind of unabashed pro-war sentiments (war is “healthy,” it’s “good for the ‘race’,” blah blah blah) expressed by some intellectuals and writers before WW1 were heard considerably less after 1918. They continued to be bruited about by extreme nationalists and fascists and Nazis and certain veterans groups like the Freikorps etc., but were less prevalent than before WW1.

(2) WW1 validated or confirmed the views and many of the arguments of the pre-WW1 antiwar movement, which had been obviously a minority movement in the countries concerned. “For those who now [i.e., after WW1] wished to believe that war was neither natural nor inevitable, the antiwar movement had already conveniently formulated a set of arguments and alternatives.” (Mueller, Retreat from Doomsday, p.55)

Whether there is a secular (i.e., non-cyclical) movement toward ‘world peace’, a notion derided by TM in comments, is indeed very debatable. But if we narrow the proposition to focus on great-power war, there hasn’t been one of those since the end of WW2 (or the end of the Korean War, depending on one’s definitions). A war between the US and China, while conceivable, is now viewed by many, correctly, as something eminently avoidable and as also as something that shd be avoided if at all possible. Hard to maintain that the history of the 20th cent. has had nothing to do w the current widespread adherence to that position.

424

Lee A. Arnold 07.24.15 at 8:05 pm

Barry #419: “Can anybody else come up with some more fallacies in the above statement?”

This query in itself would be classified as a “non sequitur”, trying to pose itself as a rhetorical question.

425

Lee A. Arnold 07.24.15 at 8:14 pm

The whole Ricks article is instructive, but here’s a goodie from page 2. The rest of this comment is a direct copy and paste:

Retired officers and experts who stay in touch with the top brass, and are free to say what those on active duty cannot, are more outspoken in supporting the containment policy and questioning the administration’s apparent determination to abandon it.

“I’d argue that containment is certainly a better approach than either marching on Baghdad or destabilizing the Iraqi government by killing Saddam,” said retired Col. Richard Dunn III, a former Army strategist. “It only has to work until something happens to him — he’s either killed or dies.”

Added Jim Cornette, a former Air Force biological warfare expert who participated in Gulf War targeting of Iraqi weapons bunkers, “We’ve bottled him up for 11 years, so we’re doing okay. I don’t know the reason the administration is so focused on Iraq. I’m very puzzled by it.”

Supporters of containment said they expect the United States would prevail quickly in any war, but in the course of the conflict would face several challenges. The Joint Chiefs have used their discussions of the war plan developed this spring, which calls for invading Iraq from the south, north and west with about 225,000 troops, to put before the administration their concerns about three major risks they see:

• What to do about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, especially its arsenal of biological weapons.

• How to engage in urban warfare in Baghdad, especially with the large numbers of military and civilian casualties that such a battle likely would cause.

• How to predict the costs of a post-victory occupation, which presumably would require tens of thousands of U.S. troops, not only to keep the peace and support the successor regime, but also to prevent Iraq from breaking up.

426

Rich Puchalsky 07.24.15 at 8:32 pm

LFC: “But if we narrow the proposition to focus on great-power war, there hasn’t been one of those since the end of WW2 (or the end of the Korean War, depending on one’s definitions).”

The U.S. has never failed to be deterred by another country that has nuclear weapons, including Pakistan and North Korea. That may be what is meant by “the history of the 20th cent.”, but I don’t see what the peace movement has to do with it, given that the peace movement has never stopped any U.S. war until arguably 6 years later.

Actively encouraging every tin-pot dictator to acquire nuclear weapons under pain of being deposed at some random later point otherwise is a monumentally stupid set of incentives, but it’s the foreign policy that we have.

The history of the peace movement is a tiresome cycle of growing support broken by enthusiasm for each new war as the suckers march off to kill and die in the name of whatever. Even the avatar of peace and satyagraha, Gandhi, found that the victory of Indian independence only led to partition, ethnic cleansing and war (and, eventually, another particularly dangerous nuclear standoff). This doesn’t mean that we should give up on peace, but it does mean that trying the same old thing over and over is not likely to work.

427

Scott P. 07.24.15 at 8:44 pm

“Why does no one abide by it? To me, it seems perfectly obvious. “

It is obvious why nobody abides by the UN Charter. The UN is not a government, has no army, its decrees do not have the force of law, and it has no way to enforce its decrees in any case.

Asking why the UN Charter didn’t end war is like asking why the Qur’anic admonition for Muslims to be kind to other Muslims hasn’t ended internecine conflict in the Middle East. It’s not one bad actor (the US), it’s the nature of the system. Rules have effect only so long as they are enforced, which means someone with the authority and power to enforce them.

428

TM 07.24.15 at 8:54 pm

LFC 423: Let me be clear that I not so much “deride” the “notion of a secular (i.e., non-cyclical) movement toward ‘world peace’” as warn against wishful thinking and self-serving confirmation bias.

429

LFC 07.24.15 at 9:12 pm

TM 428: Noted; I’ll retract “deride.”

430

LFC 07.24.15 at 10:15 pm

R Puchalsky

That [i.e., U.S. being deterred by countries w nuclear weapons] may be what is meant by “the history of the 20th cent.”

No, not what I meant.

——-

I had missed reading all of Lee Arnold’s comment @254, which I just did. Re the main part of the comment (on trends in public opinion), I basically agree, though I’d be inclined to a little more caution about the power that mass publics can wield.

431

Val 07.25.15 at 12:21 am

Layman
No doubt Thatcher had plenty of agency. Perhaps it was ‘feminist agency’ – I have no idea. In any case, she is not good evidence for the proposition that women are naturally caring, nurturing peacemakers. That is all.

I’ve never based my argument on that simplistic proposition, although I think there is some ground for a much more nuanced argument about this issue. That simplistic proposition has only been presented here as as a straw woman argument. However, I should know by now that expecting feminist arguments to be taken seriously and not over-simplified on the internet is like whistling for the moon.

So I suppose I should focus on the serious work of writing a thesis, and regard these discussions mainly as occasional field work to find out what people on the internet are saying about feminism now. Asking for the continuing impact of patriarchy to be seriously analysed seems a stretch too far for most here (though not all, I’m glad to say).

432

Val 07.25.15 at 1:31 am

Layman
My comment above may sound a bit dismissive, which I don’t intend. I appreciate most of your comments and think your perspectives interesting, but I find it frustrating that a discussion about war and patriarchy can apparently get reduced to some simplistic proposition about the ‘nature’ of women. If that wasn’t your intention, perhaps you could say so, but that’s what it sounded like.

I don’t think it’s particularly controversial to suggest there is a relationship between war and patriarchy, although the causation may be complex. One writer quoted in Wikipedia, for example, seems to suggest that egalitarianism was more likely in times of plenty, while war was more likely in times of famine, and that in a war like situation, patriarchy was likely to develop. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriarchy

So reverse causation – war causes patriarchy rather than vice versa. I think that also is probably a bit over- simplified, but it’s an interesting line of thought.

Certainly I suggest the relationship between war and patriarchy is worth serious thought, and it is not a matter of just talking about the ‘natures’ of men and women.

433

ZM 07.25.15 at 5:41 am

Val,

I read an essay yesterday for an assignment that reminded me of some of what you are saying and your thesis (funnily enough at the end it mentions the human security idea too). It would probably be better on the Galilee Basin thread, but as the gender and collaborative leadership discussion started here, I will just excerpt it here:

“Western culture has privileged the ‘self-assertive’ qualities of expansion, domination and competition above the more integrative (and characteristically female) qualities of cooperation, quality and partnership – yet these latter values are the ones we will need to draw upon if we are to build a new ethics based on the capacities of foresight intelligence and cooperation (Capra 1996: 11). I will return to this point after throwing the
idea of bearership into mix.

Welzer and Leggewie’s view of climate change as an invitation to learn about the “good life,” and call for the increasingly direct participation, democracy and responsibility of citizens, reflects Olivier’s notion of bearership ethics (Olivier 2007). The notion that we all bear equal responsibility for creating and upholding a “humane” society implies radically different roles, structures and parameters for leadership: a shift from guiding or directing ‘followers,’ to facilitating the emergence of bearers (Olivier 2007: 80).

Bearership, by contrast, articulates a form of Aristotelian virtue ethics, in which people “are directly liable for the flourishing of their society,” and therefore “each person takes care of societal affairs in the long run instead of entrusting the wellbeing of society to leaders elected for short terms.” (Olivier 2007: 81) A society in which every individual acts as custodian, is a society that is far more conducive to realising long-term sustainability (Olivier 2007: 81).

In this landscape of complex adaptive systems, organised as ecosystems, Lotrecchiano sees leaders as the facilitators and enablers of the system – the ones who keep the messy interchanges between the various actors within the system at a steady boil, allowing new knowledge to bubble up which can then be harnessed for the continuous adaptation of the system (Lotrecchiano 2010). In this framework, ‘dynamic tension’ drives cultural adaptation, with leaders serving as ‘moral agents,’ because of the role they play in enabling the bearers of the system, and harnessing their contributions towards the greater ends of collaboration informed by foresight intelligence (Olivier 1007: 75). As Lotrecchiano argues, complex adaptive systems are full of ‘entanglement’ and shifting equilibriums, yet when leadership plays an enabling role, such systems can be fertile ground for, albeit messy and imperfect, forms of cooperation to emerge (Lotrecchiano 2010).”

http://meganlindow.com/leadership-and-environmental-ethics/

434

Layman 07.25.15 at 1:04 pm

Barry @ 422

“When I was in the Army (waaaaay Back in the Day) I never heard of this, and it was an ironclad belief that one *could not* transfer *into* the combat Arms.”

Many of my fellow soldiers ‘back in the day’ were transferrees into the Infantry, and I know personally several retired military officers who so served in combat roles in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite being nominally non-combat arms officers before those wars. One of them was a lawyer in the JAG corps, which is why I chose that example. He served two tours in Afghanistan and wears a CIB.

435

Layman 07.25.15 at 1:22 pm

“My comment above may sound a bit dismissive, which I don’t intend. I appreciate most of your comments and think your perspectives interesting, but I find it frustrating that a discussion about war and patriarchy can apparently get reduced to some simplistic proposition about the ‘nature’ of women. If that wasn’t your intention, perhaps you could say so, but that’s what it sounded like.”

I don’t mean to be simplistic or dismissive, Val. I’ve said I’m not qualified to judge whether war stems from patriarchy, but think it stems from the nature of humanity as primates.

But, speaking of simplistic and dismissive, I will say that you entered this thread by noting that you’d come across a bunch of men who were of course (being men) only discussing when and how war could be justified, rather than whether wars were all bad regardless of any justifications. In response to my query about WW2, you said that of course if I were trapped in gang thinking I could come up with more gang rationales.

You asked how Clinton would deal with Iran ‘as a feminist’. I don’t know that Clinton is any more feminist than is Obama (why suppose so?), and I think questions of that form are inherently insulting even to the object of the question, precisely because they oversimplify what is almost certainly a complex person.

Someone mentions Thatcher’s ‘feminist’ agency. Was Thatcher a feminist? I have no idea, but judging from her career and actions, she was just about as entrenched in ‘gang thinking’ as anyone else you would care to name. I can only wish that she’d had less agency, feminist or not.

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engels 07.25.15 at 2:03 pm

Was Thatcher a feminist?

She was actually pretty clear on this

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Val 07.25.15 at 2:03 pm

Layman
I don’t think I used the expression ‘gang thinking’ about you or anyone else here, I compared wars to gang fights (I haven’t scrolled back through every comment).

I’m saying that history doesn’t suggest there have always been been wars, therefore we can’t just blame it on anyone’s ‘nature’. History suggests that war arose with patriarchal societies about 5000 years ago, although which came first may be a bit of a chicken and egg question.

I don’t think all men support patriarchy, but I think patriarchy has very much influenced the way we think, and because men were privileged (in certain ways) by patriarchy, men are likely to be more influenced by it. I think men were only privileged in ‘certain ways’ because fundamentally I don’t think it’s good for anyone. I think though that it existed for a long time (and still exists in certain ways and certain places) and it would be very valuable to critically examine its influence on the way we think, for example about war.

I don’t for a moment suggest it will be easy to end war, but I think acknowledging and examining its relationship to patriarchy is one step on the road.

Regarding Obama and Clinton, you may well be right – O may in practical terms be a feminist too, and I certainly think he’d be a better one than Thatcher! But they’re all constrained by the inherited structures and ways of thinking from thousands of years if patriarchy.

As regards the ‘nature’ of men and women, I think it’s a different argument. I don’t dismiss some degree of essential difference out of hand, but it’s a different issue than patriarchy which is a social system.

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Val 07.25.15 at 2:13 pm

@436
Well I try not to hate anyone, but I can’t help feeling pretty scornful of a woman who would take advantage of the rights feminism has won for her – like the right to vote and stand for Parliament and even become Prime Minister – while dissing feminism. Hard to imagine Thatcher acknowledging she owed anything to any social movement though.

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Layman 07.25.15 at 2:19 pm

“History suggests that war arose with patriarchal societies about 5000 years ago, although which came first may be a bit of a chicken and egg question.”

I doubt sincerely that war emerged just 5,000 years ago. Chimpanzees fight wars:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gombe_Chimpanzee_War

If no one had been present to see it, it would be undetectable as a matter of history. This suggests two things – that war is associated with high-order primates, and that the history of war is as old as are high-order primates.

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Harold 07.25.15 at 5:17 pm

The magazine “New Scientist” calls the Gombe Chimpanzee War a “societal split” and describes it as a rare event, quoting a scientist who says, “Unfortunately, the Gombe war is the only known chimp group split.”

It may perhaps be questioned whether it was a war at all, since war is formally defined as an “armed conflict”, but perhaps that is splitting hairs.

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Bruce Wilder 07.25.15 at 5:58 pm

RP @ 296:

The first Bush, as Bruce Wilder has mentioned here before, did a pretty much textbook best-practices intervention in Iraq. Get buy-in and agreement from the international community — enforce actual, important basic rules like “no aggressive war that conquers other states” — intervention planned towards an achievable goal and not gratuitously going beyond that — there’s a temptation to say that the system, however horrible it appears from the left in certain senses, could have worked in some technocratic. competence-based way.

But look at how little it took to totally destroy that system. All it took was the same President advancing his son, and the system failed entirely. None of its strengths were inherent: all of them were completely dependent on the merits or lack thereof of the person in charge, and it had no ability to stop or correct itself.

I think it actually took quite a lot to destroy the institutions that gave a foundation to that system: a multi-decade, well-funded political movement with long-term goals and the funding and discipline to pursue institution-building on its own behalf and concomitant dismantling of institutions.

Of course, you would have to notice and remember.

The way the Clinton Whitewater “scandal” was used to bully the Democrats into removing the Independent Prosecutor, for example. The way Gore was rolled, during the stealing of the 2000 election. The way the neoliberals cooperated in destroying the union movement. The role of Colin Powell’s son in “deregulating” the Media, so that the whole news media would be in the hands of corporate octopuses. The Federalist Society that undermined judicial norms, and the relentless campaign to undo the Church reforms of the security and intelligence establishment might be mentioned.

Of course, there were many sins of omission as well as commission: the failure of the Left to notice until it was too late, or to do anything except to protest mildly. The meek acceptance of the neoliberal / libertarian-conservative dialectic as representative of centrist political dialogue and the lesser evilism that pretends Obama isn’t just as much the problem as Bush II. The abject failure of much of the Left to even have an institutional agenda, as it works to raise consciousness about racism and the persistent patriarchy, transforming hearts and minds.

The old system could survive a buffoon. Hey, it survived Richard Nixon! But, only one side of the political spectrum took usable lessons from the experience of Watergate and Vietnam and invested in a plan of political action.

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Ronan(rf) 07.25.15 at 6:36 pm

“It may perhaps be questioned whether it was a war at all, since war is formally defined as an “armed conflict”, but perhaps that is splitting hairs”

Afaik this is the correct distinction. Interpersonal violence has always been present, war came with settlement, more complex societal organisation and greater competition for resources.

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kidneystones 07.25.15 at 6:47 pm

Maybe Thatcher was a Conservative because Pankhurst was a Conservative, and Conservatives wrote the Representation of the People Act of 1928 making women over 21 eligible to vote. Maybe Thatcher did not believe women belonged in the kitchen. Can anyone imagine Thatcher putting up with a sliver of the nonsense about ‘safe zones’ and ‘triggers’ from anyone, left or right? The list of powerful ‘left-wing’ female leaders is relatively short, compared with those on the right.

On a completely unrelated note, it was great watching O pretend he was a lifelong supporter of gay rights in Kenya this week, especially when his presidential career began with naked appeals to African-American homophobes.

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geo 07.25.15 at 7:57 pm

Bruce @441: the failure of the Left to notice until it was too late, or to do anything except to protest mildly

I was cheering you on until this point. But on the contrary, pointing out, at the top of their voices, the abuses you cogently enumerate was just what Nader, Chomsky, Greenwald, Ehrenreich, Cockburn, and dozens of other leftists in the Nation, In These Times, the Progressive, TomDispatch, Truthout, and a dozen other leftist publications spent those dreary decades doing. Credit where it’s due.

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Layman 07.25.15 at 8:26 pm

Harold @ 440

The Gombe war may be a rare civil war, but wars between rival bands of chimps are not uncommon.

Ronan @442

Chimp wars seem to be efforts to increase settlement size and acquire more resources, which is consistent with that definition. I think they are not armed (yet, but chimps are tool makers and users, so give them time!). But if you mean to exclude hand-to-hand combat from the scope of war, I’d say that’s a mistake.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/22/science/22chimp.html?_r=0

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engels 07.25.15 at 8:46 pm

This is what an armed chimp battle looks like
http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wstIBq2H0z8

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Harold 07.25.15 at 8:57 pm

“but wars between rival bands of chimps are not uncommon.” The 2014 New Scientist says the opposite.

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Harold 07.25.15 at 9:26 pm

The forty-seven-year-old film “2001” (1968) reflects the “hard primitivism” of the Devore “Man the Hunter” school of physical anthropology, popular during the Cold War, which has been somewhat superseded, to say the least. See John Reader’s , Africa (1999) pp. 117 and passim.

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Harold 07.25.15 at 9:36 pm

I just wanted to say, since this is an old, and perhaps moribund thread, how perceptive and on target I find the OP, FWIW.

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William Berry 07.25.15 at 9:38 pm

Val @349, passim, and in particular, this quote: “It might be of interest to some here that I’m now looking at issues of gender and patriarchy in my research project in detail, including looking at the relationship with capitalism.”

I always read your comments with interest, and some of what you say reminds me a good deal of Shulamith (sp?) Firestone. Can’t help but wonder what you think of her work.

(Fwiw, I find her analysis very convincing; never mind that critics have picked her apart over minor– even inconsequential– errors, misreadings of Marx, Freud, e.g.. I think The Dialectic of Sex is a monumental achievement, against great odds, and deserves to be much better known. )

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Rich Puchalsky 07.25.15 at 9:59 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 441: “Of course, you would have to notice and remember.”

I think that this is mostly mistaken analysis. Not all of it — certainly, the problems with left institution-building are there — but the idea that people on the left didn’t notice Clinton / Whitewater, the 2000 Bush / Gore election, the decline of the union movement, the deregulation of media etc. just doesn’t hold up. But these are symptoms, not causes.

The root cause is, I think, the failure of left theory. Immiseration just did not and is not happening in a way that will sustain anything like a traditional left idea of how things are supposed to work. Something like the psychic psychological wage that I’ve been talking about with js couldn’t hold against widespread actual grinding poverty. Without that, you get what I saw in Occupy: the depth of the recession produced protests: once past the inflection point of the recession the younger people started getting jobs and the protests went away. Is the decline of unions a cunning plot by neoliberals? In part, but come on: early 20th century unions would have eaten those guys for lunch. Labor solidarity is a fiction that can’t stand against actually better working conditions: even in one of bob mcmanus’ cites I saw the dreaded phrase “labor aristocracy”. People usually then turn to colonialist theory to say that we’re draining the periphery or something like that, and it’s never difficult to find horror stories, but in comparison with how universally bad things used to be conditions have generally improved.

So you have a situation where, even in Greece, people are still begging to stay in the Euro rather than risk leaving it, because even in a depression things are still not bad enough to make people desperate. That’s not a success of the right: it’s a success of past generations of the left. We made things better and now there’s a whole lot of room for the right to screw things up again before we hit any kind of natural floor. Positing a right wing that organized for the long term and made disciplined goals and so on that whenever you look at it closely looks like a collection of fools and grifters is just a way of blaming the problem on a bad guy and in order to make that credible, talking up the bad guy’s invincibility.

The problem is that people really don’t want what the left thinks they want. I’m not doing some kind of sociobiological thing where it all goes back to chimps: it’s certainly cultural. But that culture is the same culture that produces high productivity and mass democracy and education (in theory, at least) and the rest of the things that the left implicitly depends on.

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engels 07.25.15 at 10:40 pm

people really don’t want what the left thinks they want

What do they want? Poetry?

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Ronan(rf) 07.25.15 at 10:56 pm

Layman, I cant speak with any confidence on chimp wars, but afaik there’s a good bit of variation in ’em.

article wont let me link – ‘Is there a War instinct’, Aeon

“Human history demonstrates how recent warfare is in our own evolutionary story. But what about our closest ape relatives? As with human societies, we have no living ancestors among the apes. We doubtless share a common ancestor with today’s chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans and gibbons, but the social behaviour of the latter three are all dramatically different from that of modern human beings, while that of chimpanzees and bonobos are almost exactly opposed to one another: chimpanzees are known to engage in violent, group-level encounters, complete with search-and-destroy missions that conjure images of human skirmishing and outright warfare. Bonobos, on the other hand — genetically, no more distant from Homo sapiens — do nothing of the sort, and are renowned for making love, not war.

When it comes to human aggression, violence and war, there simply is no unitary direction impelled by evolution. On the one hand, we are capable of despicable acts of horrific violence; on the other, we evince remarkable compassion and self-abnegation. Our selfish genes can generate a wide array of nasty, destructive and unpleasant actions; and yet, these same selfish genes can incline us toward altruistic acts of extraordinary selflessness. It is at least possible that our remarkably rapid brain evolution has been driven by the pay-off derived by successful warlike competition with other primitive human and humanoid groups. But it is equally possible that it was driven by the pay-off associated with co-operation, co‑ordination and mutual care-taking.”

This Douglas Fry book, mentioned here

https://evolution-institute.org/blog/the-war-over-war/

is pretty good (athough by all accounts these questions remain debated)

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geo 07.25.15 at 11:05 pm

people really don’t want what the left thinks they want

Yes and no. Of course a lot of them hate taxes, abortion, pornography, homosexuality, easy divorce, rap music, etc., and generally want to keep blacks, women, and furriners down. But they also want good schools, affordable housing and health care, clean air and water, help for needy widows and children, etc. It’s the “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” problem: right-wing bastards with lots of money and no scruples skilfully and incessantly appeal to the worst instincts of a great many confused and beleaguered people. It’s hard for the left, with scruples and no money, to counter that.

455

Layman 07.25.15 at 11:13 pm

‘The 2014 New Scientist says the opposite.’

Perhaps it does, but I sent you a reference to another, so their claim that there is only one known chimpanzee war is at least suspect.

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engels 07.25.15 at 11:22 pm

The 9 charts that show the ‘left-wing’ policies of Jeremy Corbyn the public actually agrees with

…the general belief was that Mr Blair and his allies had won the overarching electoral argument: Labour could win elections only from the centre ground. That assumption is being challenged by the groundswell of support for Mr Corbyn — who is more Tony Benn than Tony Blair — from unions, constituencies and young activists. …

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engels 07.25.15 at 11:28 pm

Also, isn’t Rich’s argument about Syriza really, really weird? They won an election and a referendum on an anti-austerity platform. The fact that the leadership then caved in has nothing to do with ‘people’ not wanting left-wing policies…

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Layman 07.25.15 at 11:31 pm

“Layman, I cant speak with any confidence on chimp wars, but afaik there’s a good bit of variation in ’em.”

I don’t thing there’s much variation. As I read it, the wars involve territorial expansion, resource gain, the elimination of rival males and the co-option of females. Territorial expansion and resource gain in turn promote a faster reproduction rate in females. In light of that, it makes sense that selection pressure would apply and reinforce the tendency to war as an inherited characteristic.

I’m also aware of the differences between chimps and bonobos, and other primates. We don’t know where the ancestry branched, and whether we share a common ancestor exclusively with chimps vs. bonobos.

It certainly isn’t settled. My point is that any theory about humans and war should probably try to address chimp behavior.

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Matt 07.26.15 at 12:00 am

Yes and no. Of course a lot of them hate taxes, abortion, pornography, homosexuality, easy divorce, rap music, etc., and generally want to keep blacks, women, and furriners down. But they also want good schools, affordable housing and health care, clean air and water, help for needy widows and children, etc. It’s the “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” problem: right-wing bastards with lots of money and no scruples skilfully and incessantly appeal to the worst instincts of a great many confused and beleaguered people. It’s hard for the left, with scruples and no money, to counter that.

You say “confused,” I say “people with different (and IMO frequently repulsive) values.” There is very little money spent in US elections to support policies/candidates that would be recognizably “left” from the perspective of the mid 20th century, true, but there is plenty of money backing candidates who openly support or at least refuse to oppose easy divorce, reproductive technologies, sneaky furriners, women, etc. If there’s more money on the right wing side, it’s not overwhelmingly more.

If people buy more vanilla ice cream than chocolate when vanilla ice cream has twice the advertising budget, I’m not going to venture a strong opinion either way on whether the people are “really” expressing their own preferences or being persuaded. When the choice is a bit starker, like between a candidate who espouses comprehensive sex education and free contraception and another who promises abstinence-only and forced birth to punish those who aren’t chaste, imma gonna say that voters are picking who they want and aren’t just confused about what they want. If they are picking policies that lead to filthy air and forced birth for sexually active women over clean air and comprehensive health services, they’re not confused, they just value brutalization and control more than I can possibly empathize with.

I’m not going to try to come up with a comprehensive theory of values maintenance and inter-generational transmission for a blog post. I don’t really know why in the state of Washington the people will legalize abortion, gay marriage, and cannabis by voter initiative while in Kansas you can successfully take and hold the governor’s office on a “no abortion, no gays, no health insurance for the poor” platform. But I don’t think the voters of either state are “confused” when they chose a Sam Brownback or a Jay Inslee. They weren’t missing important factual information when they made those choices, and you couldn’t get one voter population to behave like the other by filling in more facts.

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engels 07.26.15 at 12:33 am

‘a lot of them hate taxes, abortion, pornography, homosexuality, easy divorce, rap music’

Apart from hating homosexuality aren’t these all legitimate opinions?

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Rich Puchalsky 07.26.15 at 12:45 am

geo: “But they also want good schools […]”

Do they? W.E.B. Du Bois from above:

White schoolhouses were the best in the community, and conspicuously
placed, and they cost anywhere from twice to ten times as much per capita as the colored schools.

The method of funding schools by school district has certainly persisted in the U.S. I would not say that people in general want good schools. They want better schools than other people.

geo: “Yes and no. Of course a lot of them hate taxes, abortion, pornography, homosexuality, easy divorce, rap music, etc., and generally want to keep blacks, women, and furriners down.”

I think that a lot of this is also symptomatic rather than causative. Sure, some people really are homophobic to the point where it affects their votes, or have religious objections to easy divorce. But the overwhelming commonality in all of this is that it preserves social hierarchy, which may be needed by people a step or two up from the bottom just as much as by people at the top. js argued (in the wrong thread) that he didn’t like the word “psychic” in psychic wages because he thought it implied a method of social action through private affective states. But this isn’t a matter of private affective states, it’s a ground of value matter.

Here’s another way of approaching it, through the famous Marx quote:

In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

OK. What if you’ve grown up in a “meritocracy”, where you’re always being tested and compared, and you think that really you can’t become accomplished in any branch you wish? Even if you had unlimited time and resources. What good is this ideal to you? Wouldn’t it just show your own inadequacy?

I find it very suggestive that in the U.S., the reliably left constituencies are the people at the bottom, for whom the left offers a step up, and the educated professionals, for whom something like the communist dream is attractive. For the rest, what do they get? Higher wages that allow them to buy a bit more? The thrill of “workership”, when they probably know as well as anyone else that most work is useless?

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geo 07.26.15 at 1:36 am

Matt: I had hoped my reference to “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” would save me from having to spell out the argument in detail. (We’ve had many lengthy arguments about the book and the subject on CT in the last few years.) What people are “confused” about is not taxes, abortion, homosexuality, etc — as you say, they’re quite clear about what they like and dislike and why. What they’re confused about is the shell game Republican candidates continually subject them to, the way, as Frank puts it, “cultural anger is marshaled to achieve economic ends.”

The trick never ages; the illusion never wears off. Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically correct college professors; receive electricity deregulation. Vote to get government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meat-packing. Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization. Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated that ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining.

engels: Apart from hating homosexuality, aren’t these all legitimate opinions?”

Yes. I was answering Rich’s contention that “people don’t want what the left thinks they want” by pointing out that in some cases they do and in some cases they don’t.

Rich: the overwhelming commonality in all of this is that it preserves social hierarchy

Yes, true. But they do also want good schools, affordable housing and health care, clean air and water, help for needy widows and children, etc.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.26.15 at 1:51 am

geo: “What they’re confused about is the shell game Republican candidates continually subject them to, the way, as Frank puts it, “cultural anger is marshaled to achieve economic ends.””

Are they really confused? Maybe they at some level feel that it’s more respectable to be anti-abortion than to be someone desperately seeking to preserve a society that gives them a just-up-from-the-bottom hierarchical position. The first can be depicted as heroic: the second is kind of pathetic.

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Harold 07.26.15 at 2:24 am

Layman 458. In the Times article a scientist, John Mitani, says he witnessed 18 “skirmishes” over 10 years which he believed were conflicts over territory. The article also says that some other scientists liken such behavior to conflicts over territory among among human forager (i.e, hunter gatherer) tribes, which result in “few casualties” — though casualties may mount up over many years. . Mitani finds the interesting thing is not the violence but that these “wars”/skirmishes evince cooperative behavior among males.

Not sure how this ties into wars over fruit, but cultural anthropologists now believe, according to John Reader, that early hominids were not hunters but scavengers that developed stone tools to get at the bone marrow from corpses killed by other animals. According to the archeological record, hunting is a fairly late development, relatively speaking, he says. (I am still reading this book.) In any case, the distinctive thing about humans is that they can adapt to different environments

Reader says that among organisms there are two type of populations, those that remain stable over time and those that boom and bust. He believes that humans belong to the second type.

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Peter T 07.26.15 at 2:51 am

Arguments about chimps miss the point. Violence is pervasive among living things, whether it’s bacteria ingesting one another, gum trees poisoning the ground around their roots, hominids beating the hyenas off a dead gnu or modern humans clearing ground for a crop. It’s an inescapable part of being alive. War is not about violence per se, but about violence as an organised resource, directed at other humans (usually similarly organised and resisting). As such, it’s an option available to the organised, an always-available part of the contention of groups that is politics. It can never be unthinkable, but it can be unthought – ruled out of the political game by custom, habit or constraint. Moves that enhance organisational capability simultaneously strengthen constraints on civil war and add to the capability to use war against other organisations. An anarchy cannot make war. It also cannot make peace.

Does the Iran deal strengthen the constraints on unilateral US attack on Iran? I think it does. Does it rule attack out entirely? No: the US is currently used to waving big sticks institutionally and culturally. The deal just nudges the odds a bit.

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Matt 07.26.15 at 3:07 am

I haven’t read What’s the Matter With Kansas? in a decade. I think I found it more persuasive then. The people of Kansas voted for Sam Brownback, who is genuinely and not just pretendingly trying to severely restrict abortion — and would have got away with it too, if not for those meddling courts. I could interpret this as voters being fooled, paying attention to abortion or sexual mores when they should be paying attention to income distribution and class. But that’s only assuming that they agree with the idea that absolute material prosperity is the most important issue and simply disagree (or are fooled) about who can serve them best.

If I have a choice to vote for the next president and the two leading candidates are a socially liberal friend to billionaires and big business on the one hand, and (improbably) a Hector St. Clare-like Catholic-Communist who wants to nationalize big business, eliminate abortion, and fight feminism on the other… I’m afraid I’m voting for Socially Liberal Big Money. When someone votes for a friend to billionaires who is a foe to abortion, he may well be making the same sort of compromise I am, only with the polarity reversed on his cultural values. I’d be both misinterpreted and insulted if someone said I was “fooled” into voting for the rising plutocrat who offered firm support for abortion instead of the economic leveler who promised to outlaw it.

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Bruce Wilder 07.26.15 at 3:18 am

Rich Puchalsky @ 451:the idea that people on the left didn’t notice . . . just doesn’t hold up.

What I said was, “notice and remember”. The left notices, and forgets with the next news cycle. Nothing signifies.

Rich Puchalsky @ 451:Positing a right wing that organized for the long term and made disciplined goals and so on that whenever you look at it closely looks like a collection of fools and grifters is just a way of blaming the problem on a bad guy and in order to make that credible, talking up the bad guy’s invincibility.

Well, they are a bunch of fools and grifters, and I certainly do not intend to talk up their “invincibility”. I know Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland, which is authoritative for some on the left, shows a tendency in that direction. My position is that the collapse of the Left played a very large part, particularly the mass surrender of the liberal centrists in the form of Charles Peters’ (publisher of the Washington Monthly) version of neoliberalism. I don’t think Movement Conservatism would have gotten very far, if it had met much opposition.

Movement Conservatism did not meet any sustained opposition at all. At most, maybe, there were a few speedbumps on their path, but it could be argued they’re just stumblebums from the get-go.

Rich Puchalsky @ 451:

The root cause is, I think, the failure of left theory. Immiseration just did not and is not happening in a way that will sustain anything like a traditional left idea of how things are supposed to work. . . .

even in a depression things are still not bad enough to make people desperate. That’s not a success of the right: it’s a success of past generations of the left. We made things better and now there’s a whole lot of room for the right to screw things up again before we hit any kind of natural floor. . . .

The problem is that people really don’t want what the left thinks they want. I’m not doing some kind of sociobiological thing where it all goes back to chimps: it’s certainly cultural. But that culture is the same culture that produces high productivity and mass democracy and education (in theory, at least) and the rest of the things that the left implicitly depends on.

I don’t have a theory — ok, maybe I have a bunch of theories, but no conviction that any of them are right or complete.

There’s a Ralph Nader quote to the effect (if these are not the exact words), The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers. To me, that’s stupid on so many levels, it makes my head hurt. I do think it reflects a common disappointment among the current generation of would-be leftists in finding that followers are followers, that they don’t want to lead, don’t understand leadership or politics and don’t really want to.

One thing I come back to, again and again, in searching for explanations for left failure that satisfy me, is the distaste of the left for their potential followers among the lower classes. And, allied with that is the general decline of social affiliation — the tendency to join and participate in groups. The Bowling Alone phenomenon is very real — whether attributable to teevee or whatever.

Your point about immiseration has some merit. The French Revolution and the Revolutions of 1848 had a lot to do with hunger. Ditto, for the current unrest in the Arab World.

Left theory often seems to want the oppressed to rise up against their oppressors from a deep, abiding and theoretical exasperation — it doesn’t typically happen that way. Slave rebellions happen, but they are surprisingly rare, as well as rarely successful. Utopian schemes have a certain romantic appeal for some who identify with the Left, but part of that appeal is their pure impracticality.

My view is that, if you want the bank run differently, you have to be willing to run the bank differently. Wishing banks did not need to be run, or that the world did not need banks — that seems idle, if not altogether goofy.

The Right will never lack for sociopaths, who want to dominate others for fun and profit. The Left’s task is to find people and fashion institutions that permit, but moderate domination, for the general good. A tall order, perhaps, but that’s the job.

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Harold 07.26.15 at 3:27 am

What Peter T. says makes sense. One little point though, the stone tools, were developed for the specific purpose of scooping out the bone marrow, not to beat off hyenas. There are still tons of these tools lying around Olduvai apparently, and local people, including children have been observed picking them up and using them to scoop out the marrow from a dead animal in a trice, even today, according to Reader. Hyenas and other animal predators don’t eat bone marrow, Reader says, it is a specialized human niche, according to him, in which there was little or no competition.

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Bruce Wilder 07.26.15 at 3:35 am

“Hyenas and other animal predators don’t eat bone marrow . . .”

Obviously, John Reader never had a pet dog. Mine will grind thru to the marrow in a thrice. Considering the number of dog treats at the supermarket that feature faux marrow, apparently this is common behavior. And, I, of course, will happily give her the bone, because this particular human isn’t normally that interested in the marrow.

Is it possible John Reader is an idiot?

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geo 07.26.15 at 3:42 am

Matt: Frank’s point is not that red-state conservatives are pretending. It is that they campaign — whether sincerely or not doesn’t matter — against abortion and political correctness, big government and elitism, pornography and Hollywood, feminism and homosexuality, which their voters like to hear, but don’t campaign in favor of deindustrialization, electricity and financial deregulation, cuts in the capital gains tax, Social Security privatization, and other pro-big business measures, which their voters would probably not like to hear (see, eg, http://mediamatters.org/research/progmaj/); and the Democrats let them get away with it.

Maybe, as you say, red-state voters are quite willing to be screwed economically in order to be revenged culturally. But we won’t know until Democrats force the choice on them rather than acquiesce in the Republicans’ framing of the issues.

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DavidMoz 07.26.15 at 3:47 am

Bruce Wilder: There’s a Ralph Nader quote to the effect (if these are not the exact words), “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” To me, that’s stupid on so many levels, it makes my head hurt.

Why? The function of freeways is to improve traffic flow. The fact that freeways are regularly in gridlock doesn’t change the arguments that continue to see freeways built. Nor does the fact that leaders too rarely produce more leaders disprove Nader’s statement.
I don’t know the context in which Nader stated this of course, but my immediate inference was that he was defining leadership – maybe the [proper] function of leadership…?

472

geo 07.26.15 at 3:49 am

BW@467: There’s a Ralph Nader quote to the effect (if these are not the exact words), The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers. To me, that’s stupid on so many levels, it makes my head hurt.

On the contrary, he was just restating Eugene Debs’s universally acclaimed trusim: “I would not be a Moses to lead you into the Promised Land, because if I could lead you into it, someone else could lead you out of it.” Nader, like Debs, is a genuine democrat.

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geo 07.26.15 at 3:51 am

“trusim” should be “truism”

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Harold 07.26.15 at 4:07 am

Bruce, I thought of that. Perhaps I misunderstood, or mis-remembered, since it was a while ago, — but he really did say there was no competition — perhaps he was thinking of big cats, which scoop out the inner organs and leave the rest behind. Could dog and human cooperation have evolved over this habit? Just a thought.

I have no idea what part of the carcass the hyenas feast on.

475

Peter T 07.26.15 at 4:43 am

IIRC, the argument was that tool-equipped scavengers could drive off hyenas and other secondary predators, and get at the bits (marrow, brains) that primary predators leave. The requisite for this include not just tools, but a high level of social cohesion – the band must present a united front. Barbara Ehrenreich’s Blood Rites makes the common-sense point that the savannah is a very dangerous place for medium-sized bipedal apes – meal-sized for leopards, hyenas and wild dogs, snack-size for lions in a landscape teeming with dangerous carnivores and equally dangerous herbivores. Our reactions to threat are much more consonant with us being prey than being predators.

In regard to war, not only is it a very highly social activity, it’s also much more about being willing to die for your group than being willing to kill for them. It’s not the loss of life that wins, it’s the loss of hope that dying will gain anything. Something that McNamara and his band of rational calculators entirely missed, and that continues to be missed.

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Val 07.26.15 at 9:17 am

@450
Thanks William much appreciated. I haven’t read Shulamith Firestone for many years, but from what I remember, she had a very challenging and interesting viewpoint. Where I didn’t agree with her though (and if my memory is correct, Kate Millet on similar lines) is that she saw childbirth as the source of women’s oppression and felt that women could only be liberated by being freed from it (I think by the development of scientific processes that didn’t require women’s bodies). I didn’t agree with that even in the 70s when I read her – I think it was an early track some second wave feminists went down but basically a false trail, not understanding that the oppression of women was not related to biology but social structures and systems (ie patriarchy). I think a lot of people still don’t get this, because patriarchal discourse has convinced them that having or caring for children is an essentially a subordinate activity.

(I think whenever there is a kind of double think, as there is with maternity and childcare – ‘yes that is really important, but at the same time it’s inferior and subordinate’ – one can look for discourses that are serving the interests of privileged groups. This would apply not just to feminism but a lot of the other issues that are being discussed on this thread, as in the ‘yes peace is important, but it’s also impossible and idealistic’ or ‘yes equality is important but we will never achieve perfect equality so it’s naive and foolish to talk about it’ etc etc)

I think most feminist theorists now would recognise that those ideas represent an early development of second wave feminist theory, which has since been seen as a false trail, but of course theory is always developing so early theories must be advanced and tested, even if they don’t persist. Some women might still like to be “liberated” from the physical processes of maternity (in fact the rising Caesarean birth rates probably provide some evidence that way) but the empirical evidence from IVF suggests the opposite – rather than wishing to ‘liberated’ from maternity many women will spend huge amounts of time and money in order to bear and give birth to a child. Anyway another issue that people could have endless debates about so better not continue down this track …

One thing I find interesting in this thread is how, even though I introduce the subject of patriarchy and some people at least seem prepared to talk about it, patriarchy and gender have now somehow disappeared from the conversation. For example, Layman above was talking about how war is an example of primate behaviour, and about primates showing patterns of fighting over territory and “females” – however this is actually about the behaviour of males, so it’s not clear if L thinks war is a ‘natural’ behaviour of primates or specifically of male primates. The tendency to talk as if ‘male’ is the same as ‘person’ is one of those phenomena that suggests the ongoing influence of patriarchy. (Layman pls feel free to comment on this, not meaning to talk about you rather than to you, but it was a very interesting example)

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engels 07.26.15 at 11:39 am

One thing I find interesting in this thread is how, even though I introduce the subject of patriarchy and some people at least seem prepared to talk about it, patriarchy and gender have now somehow disappeared from the conversation

Why is that ‘interesting’? Is the baseline case that whenever you say the word ‘patriarchy’ people should talk about it continuously until the end of the thread, even when it has no special relevance to the OP?

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engels 07.26.15 at 12:11 pm

Geo, sorry. perhaps I misunderstood: I was responding to your description of people who hold such views as ‘confused and beleaguered’. (I’m not disagreeing that there a lot of people in the US who are confused and beleaguered, just that that set of issues seemed odd. I’d consider myself anti-pornography and don’t like taxes, know people who hate rap music whose musical tastes I respect, have discussed abortion with very thoughtful people who felt it was immoral, etc.)

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Layman 07.26.15 at 12:44 pm

“For example, Layman above was talking about how war is an example of primate behaviour, and about primates showing patterns of fighting over territory and “females” – however this is actually about the behaviour of males, so it’s not clear if L thinks war is a ‘natural’ behaviour of primates or specifically of male primates.”

Chimpanzees are male-dominated and seem to fight wars, while bonobos are female-dominated and don’t seem to fight wars. On the other hand, it does seem to be the case that female bonobos sometimes band together to use violence against males in the group – though not lethal violence.

What isn’t at all clear is whether the war-fighting stems from the social organization, or both the war-fighting and the social organization stem from inherited genetic material. I think the latter, for the reasons stated – the combination of benefits which stem from successful war would act as selection pressure for war-like chimpanzees, resulting in successive generations skewing more an more to war-like chimpanzees.

If so, then changing the social order might have no effect, or at least less effect than you imagine. It could be that chimps are not like bonobos because they aren’t, not because of how their bands are organized. Change how they’re organized, and you’ll still have warlike chimps and peaceable, sex-crazed bonobos. And if humans are more closely related to chimps – if they share a more recent common ancestor with chimps than with bonobos – then they might very well still be warlike despite their social organization.

“The tendency to talk as if ‘male’ is the same as ‘person’ is one of those phenomena that suggests the ongoing influence of patriarchy.”

This sort of thing is frankly irritating, Val. Let me demonstrate: “The tendency to assume that your interlocutors are male chauvinists is one of those phenomena that suggests the ongoing influence of gender bias.” Now, how do you feel about that?

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Layman 07.26.15 at 12:52 pm

Harold @ 468

“Hyenas and other animal predators don’t eat bone marrow, Reader says, it is a specialized human niche, according to him, in which there was little or no competition.”

Hyenas famously crush & eat the bones of their prey – they have jaws & teeth evolved for that purpose. They eat entire carcasses. I’ve seen them do it, and they don’t spit out the marrow.

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Harold 07.26.15 at 3:47 pm

“Popular imagery gives the large carnivores a dominant role on the African savanna buy, in fact they account for no more than one-third of all deaths among migratory herds in the Serengeti system. The remainder die from natural causes. Many of these carcasses are found by scavenging vultures, whose survival depends entirely on an ability to locate dead animals over great distances. Lions and hyenas follow vultures to the carcass, but not as frequently as might be expected. A study in the Serengeti found they did not appear at 84 per cent of the carcasses that vultures had located. [3] People, able to understand the behavior of vultures and better adapted to the stress of remaining active through the heat of the day, could be expected to find them more frequently. Thus scavenging supplied the animal protein supplement that good nutrition demanded, and there was fat in the cannon-bones even when everything else had gone. Furthermore meat could be dried and the marrow would keep for weeks in an unbroken bone; marrow bones could be stored in trees or rock crevices ‘as we store meat in a fridge’,” said Louis Leaky. [4] — John Reader, Africa, the Story of a Continent (1999)

Mea culpa, I got the details wrong about the hyenas, nevertheless, there is nothing here about humans competing/fighting off hyenas with weapons or otherwise. I know next to nothing about hyenas, but I suspect neither does anyone else on this thread. Here is what wikipedia says:

“Hyenas, especially spotted hyenas, are known for killing as much as 95% of the animals they eat, and for driving off leopards or lionesses from their kills, although they have long been regarded as being cowardly scavengers. Hyenas are primarily nocturnal animals, but sometimes venture from their lairs in the early-morning hours. With the exception of the highly social spotted hyena, hyenas are generally not gregarious animals, though they may live in family groups and congregate at kills.”

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Harold 07.26.15 at 3:57 pm

Peter T. “In regard to war, not only is it a very highly social activity, it’s also much more about being willing to die for your group than being willing to kill for them. It’s not the loss of life that wins, it’s the loss of hope that dying will gain anything”

“Deus est mortali iuvare mortalem,” — “To help man is man’s God” — Pliny

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geo 07.26.15 at 4:00 pm

engels@478: Yes, that phrase was a little ambiguous. By “confused” I meant that they didn’t realize that people who promised to advance their spiritual values would also ruthlessly devastate their material welfare.

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Harold 07.26.15 at 4:02 pm

I have seen dogs and cats swallow whole animals, including the bone marrow, but they don’t specialize in the marrow.

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Harold 07.26.15 at 4:57 pm

On the other hand, “Some paleontologists believe that competition and predation by cave hyenas in Siberia was a significant factor in delaying human colonization of Alaska. ” — wiki. (By that time, humans had become hunters, however, whereas hyenas always had been primarily hunters, contrary to their reputations.)

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Rich Puchalsky 07.26.15 at 5:54 pm

geo: “It is that they campaign — whether sincerely or not doesn’t matter — against abortion and political correctness, big government and elitism, pornography and Hollywood, feminism and homosexuality, which their voters like to hear, but don’t campaign in favor of deindustrialization, electricity and financial deregulation, cuts in the capital gains tax, Social Security privatization, and other pro-big business measures, which their voters would probably not like to hear […] and the Democrats let them get away with it.”

Maybe the voters don’t want to hear because they already know but don’t want to admit it? Clearly the Red cultural issues can never be “won”: their function is cultural, both as tribal markers and as means to make others feel like lesser people, and if any of them went away *either through loss or through victory* it would have to be replaced by something else. Meanwhile deindustrialization and pro-big business measures hurt Red voters but they hurt disfavored minorities worse. It all looks like a consistent package to me.

Of course something similar is going on with Blue. It’s why, as Bruce Wilder mentions, “the left” seems to be puzzlingly contemptuous of followers. What does Blue have to hold itself together other than contempt for bigoted people from flyover states? How else do you keep a coalition of minorities, the urban / non-Southern poor, and educated professionals together?

Getting back to Iran, we’re able to have Red and Blue wars that divide them up by tribal markers without ever having to give up the thrills and just be anti-war. Blue wars are humanitarian interventions and involve us bombing bad guys once they provoke us by doing something bad to someone. Red wars are defenses of civilization and involve us bombing bad guys once they provoke us by being a threat. We’ll be able to pick either one for Iran in the future depending on who the President is, although — given the politics involved — it is more likely that it will be Red war in this case.

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William Timberman 07.26.15 at 6:06 pm

Is Ralph Nader an irresponsible fantasist, or a true small-d democrat? In the exchange between Bruce Wilder and geo here, it seems to me that we’re still nibbling around the edges of the same indigestible meal that has been sitting on our plates for centuries. How do we manage the powers available to us for the common good? Moreover, how do we settle on some idea of the common good which allows us to pursue it in peace and good order?

It seems intuitively true that what the communists used to call the masses — an ugly term, it seems to me, if you are in fact a small-d democrat — have, as Bruce says, little interest in leadership, which is to say in engaging in the politics of managing the essential institutions of society. On the other hand, whether we rely on tradition and inertia to supply us with a governing power, or invent a dictatorship of the proletariat to disguise the fact that we’re intent on getting on with things with or without the engagement of the people for whom we’re supposedly acting, it seems inevitable that we’ll wind up serving our own interests as managers, even at the risk of turning our constituents into beggars, political prisoners, or cannon fodder.

Whether it’s Edmund Burke sneering at what he understands to be the incompetence pf the French National Assembly, or dsquared sneering at what he considers to be the incompetence of Syriza, the serious message one distills from such sneering is a) that the sneering of the managerial classes remarkably consistent across the centuries, b) that these folks consider democracy not merely a chimera, but also a pain in the behind, and c) that they believe that people of the avanti il populo persuasion would be better off going back to their knitting, and leaving those who know what they’re doing — identifiable by the power that they wield — to run the machinery of the economy and the state.

Yeah, but…. If we accede to that, aren’t we in fact giving up any genuine concept of the common good? I mean, look at the dark satanic mills which were poised almost at the moment of Burke’s death to give the lie once and for all to his paean to English tradition, or the plight of the unemployed youth, pensioners and diabetics of Greece in dsquared’s and our own time (I’m not trying to pretend, mind you, that these examples cover all the bases, or are even the most egregious examples I could have selected.)

How do we reconcile the dilemma embedded in Bruce Wilder’s and geo’s very different views of Ralph Nader’s piously democratic bumper sticker? Whatever we come up with, it will have to be informed by some fairly dismal experiences. We know that representative democracies, and their checks and balances, whether structural or parliamentary, can be turned into their opposites by the dynamics of power. We know that there are no individual solutions to systemic crises — turning on, tuning in, and dropping out won’t save us, nor will returning to grandma’s farm, not least because grandmas with farms no longer exist in sufficient numbers in post-industrial societies. We know, thanks to Marx, et al., that our control of economic and technological forces and their structural metamorphoses — is largely illusory. Such forces determine us as much or more than we determine them — the dialectic, if you will, has no respect for our individual dreams and passions. We also know that we need — and the need is desperate — to guarantee that the supposed competence of our managerial classes is in fact as well as in theory more than a sick joke. Finally, we know that defining the public interest cannot be left to the powerful alone, but must be informed as well by those who have no interest in managing the global economy, or the national interest, but who are also not merely the human furniture put on the planet for our managers to arrange at their convenience.

In the collective, we may or may not be going about resolving all these identifiable contradictions in the right way. It’s difficult to see the overall trend of a complex process when you’re so firmly embedded in it. What we can be sure of is that ignoring what we already know is not an option, and that regardless of what we believe we know, it’s a mistake to think that we can construct our engagement with the forces impinging on us in such a way as to guarantee the sanctity of our ideologies, or, for that matter, our precious selves.

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yastreblyansky 07.26.15 at 6:46 pm

Wikipedia on the spotted hyena in particular:

The spotted hyena is very efficient at eating its prey; not only is it able to splinter and eat the largest ungulate bones, it is also able to digest them completely. Spotted hyenas can digest all organic components in bones, not just the marrow. Any inorganic material is excreted with the faeces, which consist almost entirely of a white powder with few hairs.

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Bruce Wilder 07.26.15 at 7:11 pm

DavidMoz: The fact that freeways are regularly in gridlock doesn’t change the arguments that continue to see freeways built.

If that experience doesn’t change the arguments, (and, reflexively, designs) that’s an archetypal failure of leadership. Freeway planning that ends in gridlock is hardly an argument for more freeways that will end in gridlock. Why would you think that?

The point of leadership is to take responsibility for the design and administration of “the system”, not to just keep doing the same old self-defeating things while hoping for a different result.

490

Bruce Wilder 07.26.15 at 7:25 pm

William Timberman @ 487

That was kind of wonderful, even if I can’t say I understood that last paragraph. (I have come to accept that I won’t understand your perorations; I’m good with it.)

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Harold 07.26.15 at 7:26 pm

If you think about it, it would make little sense for humans to confront hyenas, with or without weapons. Avoidance is the better tactic. This is not difficult since they are active at different times of day.

According to Reader, there are an abundance of herbivore carcasses lying around the Serengeti during the dry season, when vegetation dries up. At such times a severely stressed animal will have fat remaining only in the marrow of the cannon (lower leg) bones and mandible. Human tools were developed specifically to extract this particular source of fat during predictable times of scarcity.

Reader is a secondary author, with an honorary research fellowship in anthropology at University of London. He is not engaging in idle speculation but rather summarizing the research of other investigators.

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engels 07.26.15 at 8:20 pm

If you think about it, it would make little sense for humans to confront hyenas, with or without weapons. Avoidance is the better tactic.

It’s certainly always been mine.

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Bruce Wilder 07.26.15 at 8:42 pm

The long view (2+ million year) on human evolution is that humanity’s evolutionary “strategy” (not that there can be anything so teleological) traded away skeletal and muscular robustness to gain the potential for increased brain-size, and whatever advantages might attend to that (tool design as well as fine and precise use, complex social cooperation and so on).

My dog can easily crush bones to get at the marrow she evidently finds so rewarding, because she has very powerful jaws. The muscular anchorages on the skull needed for jaw power though, limit the space available for a brain. If I want the nutrition in bone marrow, I have to make soup. But, the good news is that I have the ability to conceive of soup and make it.

The long expansion of the human brain case and brain, which was accompanied by the decline of physical robustness, must have found substitutions of intelligence (broadly conceived) for individual strength, with a net gain to fitness, many many times, along its long path (more than 2 million years). It wasn’t a single leap from the bone-crushing power of neanderthal or a common ancestor with gorillas and chimps to making soup.

Most of the increase in human brain size went into the cerebellum, which endows us with flexible as well as very precise fine motor control. And, most of the more obvious gains to evolutionary fitness from our intellect, sociability, cultural evolution and fabulous hand-eye coordination, as evidenced by the human population explosion and migration across the face of the earth, came very late on the 2 million year path — the big gains are all in the last 70,000 years, and the biggest gains since the end of the last Ice Age, around 10,000 BCE. Before that, it was apparently all touch-and-go, a near thing bare survival passage.

I don’t know if there’s even a scholarly consensus yet on what exactly the package of genetic change was that put us over the top, so to speak, 70,000 years ago as “modern man”, allowing us to cross the threshold into our dubious career as the globe’s dominant species. Before that, with small numbers and shrinking stature, we could not have been all that impressive, even as apes. Yet, somehow, we found some source of high-quality protein, fats and carbs to feed our big(ger) brains. I imagine it is quite a difficult puzzle to trace out a two million year path of increasing fitness, due to some complex tradeoff of physical robustness for intelligence. Where were the advantages compensating for claws turning into fingernails? How did humans negotiate the ol’ red-in-tooth-and-claw with fingernails and our puny dentines?

And, especially difficult to puzzle this out, when all the obvious trump cards — the bow-and-arrow, say, or abstract communication, or even just large-scale community come after 70,000 BCE. Cooking, though, is one of the few trump cards that appears early in the emerging human repertory of trump skills, being, maybe 1.9 million years old. Once the human species can say “yes” to the age-old question, “is it soup, yet?” aren’t we pretty much home-free on the marrow question?

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Val 07.26.15 at 8:51 pm

Engels @477
No I mean the conversation continues, but those particular concepts are gradually elided.

495

geo 07.26.15 at 8:55 pm

I second Bruce @490.

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Val 07.26.15 at 9:03 pm

Layman @ 479
Let’s try to keep it civil, yeah? I’ve never suggested all or any of my interlocutors are “male chauvinists”, I said specifically that you talked about ‘primates’ in a situation when you appeared to be talking specifically about ‘male primates’. Your irritation doesn’t disprove the point.

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Val 07.26.15 at 9:19 pm

Harold @ 481

Thus scavenging supplied the animal protein supplement that good nutrition demanded

It’s a misconception that humans ‘need’ animal protein. Again I find it interesting to wonde whether there’s a whole set of behaviours or practices – killing and eating animals, killing (and sometimes eating or ritually eating parts of) other humans, and ultimately wars – that have their origins in famine, and that tended to be associated with the rise of patriarchy because upper body strength was a particular advantage in these contexts. But I admit that’s just my speculation, I’ve never read any authority suggesting that, I don’t think.

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Layman 07.26.15 at 9:21 pm

“I’ve never suggested all or any of my interlocutors are “male chauvinists”,”

Let’s let your audience decide that, if those fellows can stop justifying war, let go of their gang mentality, stop assuming that ‘person’ and ‘male’ are synonyms, and talk about what you want to talk about instead.

499

Val 07.26.15 at 9:25 pm

@497
Apologies Harold, that mistake was made by the source you quoted, not you.

500

Layman 07.26.15 at 9:26 pm

“It’s a misconception that humans ‘need’ animal protein. “

What were the other, non-animal sources of protein on the sub-Saharan savanah ~70,000 years ago?

501

Rich Puchalsky 07.26.15 at 9:32 pm

William Timberman: “Whether it’s Edmund Burke sneering at what he understands to be the incompetence pf the French National Assembly, or dsquared sneering at what he considers to be the incompetence of Syriza, the serious message one distills from such sneering is a) that the sneering of the managerial classes remarkably consistent across the centuries, b) that these folks consider democracy not merely a chimera, but also a pain in the behind, and c) that they believe that people of the avanti il populo persuasion would be better off going back to their knitting, and leaving those who know what they’re doing — identifiable by the power that they wield — to run the machinery of the economy and the state.”

Luckily we have old blog-comment flamewars between Bakunin and Marx about this. (All right, not blog comments. Actually Bakunin wrote a book and Marx copied parts of it into a notebook with interspersed comments.)

Here’s some Bakunin:

The Marxist theory solves this dilemma very simply. By the people’s rule, they mean the rule of a small number of representatives elected by the people. The general, and every man’s, right to elect the representatives of the people and the rulers of the State is the latest word of the Marxists, as well as of the democrats. This is a lie, behind which lurks the despotism of the ruling minority, a lie all the more dangerous in that it appears to express the so-called will of the people.

Ultimately, from whatever point of view we look at this question, we come always to the same sad conclusion, the rule of the great masses of the people by a privileged minority. The Marxists say that this minority will consist of workers. Yes, possibly of former workers, who, as soon as they become the rulers of the representatives of the people, will cease to be workers and will look down at the plain working masses from the governing heights of the State; they will no longer represent the people, but only themselves and their claims to rulership over the people. Those who doubt this know very little about human nature.

These elected representatives, say the Marxists, will be dedicated and learned socialists. The expressions “learned socialist,” “scientific socialism,” etc., which continuously appear in the speeches and writings of the followers of Lassalle and Marx, prove that the pseudo-People’s State will be nothing but a despotic control of the populace by a new and not at all numerous aristocracy of real and pseudo-scientists. The “uneducated” people will be totally relieved of the cares of administration, and will be treated as a regimented herd. A beautiful liberation, indeed!

Here’s Marx’ comments on this. Note that while Bakunin rejects representative democracy by saying that the state should not exist, Marx rejects the idea that elections will continue to be political as such:

This is democratic twaddle, political drivel. Election is a political form present in the smallest Russian commune and artel. The character of the election does not depend on this name, but on the economic foundation, the economic situation of the voters, and as soon as the functions have ceased to be political ones, there exists 1) no government function, 2) the distribution of the general functions has become a business matter, that gives no one domination, 3) election has nothing of its present political character.

But neither of these luminaries of the early Left believes that what people now consider to be democracy is anything but a chimera. Marx even uses the word “chimera” in his response. This is not something sneered at only by rightists.

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Val 07.26.15 at 9:33 pm

@ 489
No let’s have a discussion where you stop putting words in my mouth. Otherwise no point. A discussion where you misrepresent what the other person says isn’t actually a discussion.

Obviously a feminist coming in and critiquing aspects of an established conversation that appears to be mainly conducted by male commenters, has the potential to annoy or offend some of those commenters. I think you should try to rise above that annoyance and deal with the substance of the critique.

503

Julie 07.26.15 at 9:35 pm

Layman there may be a silent audience of people like me who admire Val’s attempts to identify patriarchy and the ways in which this system creates division and dysfunction in human societies but who don’t bother too much trying to change the men who already exist; the idea is that we can and should raise future men in a way that provides them with alternative methods of managing the urges and desires that condemn them to the unhappiness that comes from living in a patriarchy.

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Val 07.26.15 at 9:39 pm

@ 500
I don’t know – presumably nuts and seeds, like now?

505

Layman 07.26.15 at 9:45 pm

“No let’s have a discussion where you stop putting words in my mouth. Otherwise no point.”

I think ‘no point’ wins. I wasn’t putting words in your mouth, I was mimicking you making unwarranted assumptions about what other people mean. I’m sorry I wasn’t clear about that.

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Val 07.26.15 at 9:47 pm

@ 503
Thanks Julie, nice to hear from you!

I think though that even where men of the current generation resist hearing feminist critiques, misrepresent them and get “irritated” by them, some of it probably has an influence (I hope).

Ultimately I have to write a thesis which will potentially face some similar responses along the way, so I think of this in part as training in how to understand such responses and respond to them (without losing my cool :) )

507

William Timberman 07.26.15 at 9:53 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 490

Maybe what appears in my comments to be a preference for rhetoric over content comes of being old, and of having tried all sorts of things in the real world that didn’t work out so well in terms of having any lasting impact on what seemed to me to be wrong about the world I was born into, and wrong-headed about the people who’ve been running it while I’ve been alive. The ease with which a carefully-turned phrase can be divorced from the thought processes it supposedly represents is potentially corrupting, true enough. When your time is short, however, such trickery can be awfully tempting….

Anyway, let me see if I can make the intent of that last paragraph of my 487 a little more concrete. Activists by definition don’t attempt to foresee all the possible consequences of their actions — they have their eyes on the prize, and that’s enough for them. Intellectuals by definition rely on abstract analysis, and too easily forget that the god-like consciousness they assume when doing their analyses is essentially a metaphor. Acting on the results of their analysis reveals the limitations of the metaphor, which probably explains why intellectuals are often shy about moonlighting in anything like real politics.

Politicians and managers made as you would have them be made — and I’m judging here on the basis of having been as careful a reader as I can be of your comments on CT threads — would incorporate a bit of both the activist and the intellectual. They’d first of all be competent, and beyond that they’d be practical in the sense of not pursuing an idea, or sticking to an economic, technical, or political decision beyond the point where doing so ceased to be effective. They’d also be ethical in the sense that they’d always keep in mind the limited utility of self-aggrandizement and power for its own sake. The question left unanswered in your desideratum, it seems to me, is this: by what process visible in the modern world can such figures be created?

I gather that you don’t believe such a process is likely be initiated by the Left, given that its defeats have long since turned into a rout, and that its once meaningful political program has been reduced to a kind of unpalatable scholasticism on the one hand, and momentary hysterias of conviction on the other. There’s a lot to be said for that belief, but I would argue that the world has changed, and that what informed the unfinished projects of the left still has validity in that changed world. Despite everything, it’s not inconceivable, I think, that the lack of a rejuvenated left in modern politics may yet be remedied.

The point of my previous peroration, when shorn of its rhetorical indulgences, is simple enough: if we’re committed to changing things, we can’t demand beforehand that at the end of our day our beliefs will have been confirmed, or our virtues rewarded. Self-sacrifice is more or less the price of admittance to the game.

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Val 07.26.15 at 9:55 pm

@ 505
No you were making up things that I was supposed to have said. This game – misrepresent what feminists say in order to suggest they are fools – is wrong and you shouldn’t do it.

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Layman 07.26.15 at 9:56 pm

“I don’t know – presumably nuts and seeds, like now?”

I’ve read that the sub-Saharan continent is notable for an absence of indigenous high-protein plant foods. There are no indigenous beans, no high-protein grains or grasses, etc, as there are in the Mediterranean basin and elsewhere. Gathering enough protein would be a challenge. Even modern chimpanzees are omnivores for that reason.

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bianca steele 07.26.15 at 9:56 pm

@508

+1

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Layman 07.26.15 at 10:01 pm

“No you were making up things that I was supposed to have said.”

I think you should grant that I’m the best judge of what I meant to convey, as I grant that you are the best judge of how you took it. I’ve apologized for how it seemed to you.

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bob mcmanus 07.26.15 at 10:02 pm

501 and 503 show a telling and important contrast, an aspect of the weakness and impotence of identity politics.

Socialist and communists want to change workers, and the material conditions under which they suffer. It is a liberation ideology directed at creating and maintaining a community, not particularly concerned with bosses or capitalists. “Nothing to lose but your chains” is an internal critique.

Julie:the idea is that we can and should raise future men

Feminists and anti-racists as an intrinsic part of their theory, are not interested in changing women or minorities, but in changing the affects, prejudices and attitudes of the oppressors, it is directed almost entirely at the Other, and thereby dependent on and controlled by the Other.

This is why so much mixed discourse breaks down, as in this thread. Feminism is way too much about men, and aggressive, domineering and personally offensive to that extent.

Didn’t used to be that way 50 years ago. Malcolm X wasn’t much about white folk; Shulamith Firestone wasn’t about men. Something has gone wrong.

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Layman 07.26.15 at 10:03 pm

“Layman there may be a silent audience of people like me who admire Val’s attempts to identify patriarchy and the ways in which this system creates division and dysfunction in human societies…”

I don’t doubt it. My objection is that not every use of words is an agenda. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

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bianca steele 07.26.15 at 10:13 pm

bob: Feminists and anti-racists as an intrinsic part of their theory, are not interested in changing women or minorities, but in changing the affects, prejudices and attitudes of the oppressors, it is directed almost entirely at the Other, and thereby dependent on and controlled by the Other.

I feel dubious about that statement. It doesn’t describe feminism as I know it, which is as concerned with consciousness raising as any Marxist ever was, and since you’re even older than me, it has a whiff of “these kids today” that makes it unconvincing. It’s true that more recent feminism has identified places where the feminist classics overly idealized a specific type of woman that in retrospect seems both excessively masculine (“grown up” in a certain way, educated in the classics without challenging those authors, nonsubmissive) and excessively feminine (indisputably heterosexual, well groomed, and nonaggressive).

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Val 07.26.15 at 10:15 pm

@ 512
Here comes bob the cavalry riding over the hill to defeat the wicked feminists and anti-racists. I’m not continuing now, must do some work, but bob, just as a personal favour, could you please give some thought to the possibility that we (feminists, anti-racists and you) are all about resisting oppression, and it’s better if we work together?

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bob mcmanus 07.26.15 at 10:24 pm

514: Maybe. I’m reading modern “difference feminists” (Braidotti, de Lauretis). There is certainly no reason to take me seriously on this, there are plenty of resources. Let’s say I am thinking out loud, purely for my own benefit.

One rule is that a hegemony or ideology is immanent, there is nothing outside capitalism, nothing outside neoliberalism, nothing outside patriarchy. Marxists recognize that Marxism itself is imbricated in late post capitalism, and resistance becomes a site of surplus extraction.

My own idea is that the Patriarchal roles persist in new liberatory bottles, and feminists asking men to be nicer, changing men, taming that savage beast, “domesticating” men, is not and can never be revolutionary. In any case, it disturbs me as much as pleading for nicer banksters.

I am old, and still have sympathies for separatist feminism. Men will change themselves when women…leave them alone. Bye.

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bianca steele 07.26.15 at 10:50 pm

bob: I’m reading modern “difference feminists” (Braidotti, de Lauretis).

Okay, but you were apparently trying to describe feminists in this actual discussion. Why the fact that one or two feminists believe X, would mean other feminists also believe X, escapes me.

You haven’t said anything that suggests you know anything about actual feminism–you read books–a small subset of them–but from books, without contact with reality, you can draw any conclusion you like, you can read feminist books as about quantum relativism if that’s what you’re determined to do. You clearly know nothing about what separatist feminism was about, but you’re presumably aware that it went the way of the hippie commune, with which it had a lot in common.

If you really believe that every discussion is essentially a men’s discussion and women have a responsibility to leave it (how many times on the Internet do we hear the call to leave the discussion to those to whom it “essentially” belongs, in how many permutations), you can probably guess what I have to say to you. If you think feminism is in favor of your right to have public spaces be, by default, male, you’re deluded. If you think the only reason a woman might disagree with you is that she’s a feminist who’s trying to change you, you’re simply nuts (with apologies to the actually mentally ill).

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geo 07.26.15 at 10:51 pm

I second William @507.

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Julie 07.26.15 at 11:01 pm

“I am old, and still have sympathies for separatist feminism. Men will change themselves when women…leave them alone. Bye.”

bob, I wonder if the problem is that when we consider male female relationships, we look at a ‘breeding pair’ as the foundation of male female attempts to live together and love each other unconditionally, because the real beginning point of any male female relationship is the mother son dyad and how that develops in response to the rules of the society.

I also like the idea of ‘separatist feminism’; I think that a version of this arrangement may have been the system that the Original – or Aboriginal – people of Australia used to manage their ‘war’ between the sexes.

I’d be very happy, at my age, to leave patriarchal men alone but they run the economic system and all the institutions and so leaving them alone to be their ‘natural’ selves means that I have to accept their patriarchal rules if I want to be part of the economy, rather than accept that as a woman I should remain part of the imaginary world that produces the new cogs for the capitalist machine to grind into the right shape. That’s not freedom.

But my insights from the 3 men I have ‘raised’, is that there are many ways men can be men and that we humans could and should try and organise ourselves in different ways, ways that were not available to people in any previous system.

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bob mcmanus 07.26.15 at 11:12 pm

I don’t care at all about men and men’s spaces. In most cases, I don’t think participating in men’s spaces and mixed discourses is at all good for women or feminists.

Look at where 517.3 reflexively went: Is anything there about women or feminism? All about “men’s discussion” “spaces by default… male,” what I, a male, thinks…I count 5 or 6 times. The victimization, the personal insult.

What, is your feminism all about…men?

You could have, should have ignored me if you thought me useless. Of course, women have the “right” (I guess, do men grant it?) to engage in mixed public spaces. Why do they want to? Can we make this about women?

Marxists don’t discuss reform with banksters in corporate boardrooms, unless they’re fools or sell-outs like Syriza.

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bob mcmanus 07.26.15 at 11:26 pm

Val keeps asking for the guys to engage patriarchy and war or eco-feminism. Val, you don’t need us. The rules are slight here, and there isn’t that much need to engage or socialize. I actually haven’t much use, don’t learn much from the shuttlecock competition in the threads, the preening posing dialecticians or rhetoricians. Stay near the topic, and post what you want.

Lecture us at length.

(There is theory for this, desertion-in-place, discourse sabotage, trolling. You don’t have to leave a space to separate yourself from it)

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Lee A. Arnold 07.27.15 at 12:09 am

William Timberman #487 & 507,

It’s just that “new social emergence” cannot be predicted beforehand. We can imagine its most general contours, but only maybe. Is it going to come from individuals or institutions, or both? We cannot know. So we keep pushing along all avenues. The only approach that I think is wrong is absolutism: “the system is incorrect over here, so it cannot be correct anywhere;” or, “this person had it wrong here, so she can’t be right anywhere.” –These are false, and it is also bad strategy. So I am an absolutist against absolutism.

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bianca steele 07.27.15 at 12:11 am

Bob, seriously? You think women shouldn’t engage in mixed groups? You’re going to have to be a lot more explicit about it if you want to persuade people! Maybe you should do less engaging with women if you don’t want to be misunderstood. Your preferences definitely aren’t having an effect here, with all the efforts to get more women participating. (And start fewer sentences with “I” if you don’t want the response to be about you.) Your post seems to be a simple insult, meant to convey lack of respect, though I suppose it could be some kind of poorly executed dialectic that I should respond to in kind if I had the . . . chops. Or . . .

I’m not going to defend Val’s ideas about patriarchy for her in particular, which have the peculiar shared property of seeming a bit out of date and discredited to me, and apparently making perfect sense to you.

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Julie 07.27.15 at 12:12 am

poor bob you were not lucky enough to be a raised right man and you missed out on so much love.

Here is a song for you to listen to instead of hearing those ‘other’ voices in your head; and I’m not trolling.

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bianca steele 07.27.15 at 12:38 am

I just started scrolling back up the thread–“gangs” OMG, another one for the Bingo card. Really, John, that Black Bart thing is such a cliche.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.27.15 at 1:25 am

Val #239: “I also think that sadly, that view is unlikely to be taken seriously on a thread such as this…”

Quite the reverse. I think almost everyone, at least on the left, imagines that human war is indeed related to patriarchy. However, I’m not sure how you could run an experiment to prove it.

There have been matriarchic systems — I think that N. American Hopi tribe had matriarchic passage of land tenure, or matrilineage, and it has been claimed for ancient Egypt, I think — but sometime, thousands of years ago, patriarchies became predominant everywhere, and traditions of matrilineage became subordinated to them, and women were held to be second-class until in our own time. Females who ruled (Queen Elizabeth, etc.) were still in patriarchies. Thatcher did not constitute a matriarchy!

So the question is, if early societies had instead developed as genuine matriarchies, would they still have gone to war? I imagine the answer is YES, because I would guess that war is about vicinal isolation that is interrupted, about population expansion, and about resource pressure — and whichever sex commands the land-tenure lineage system, will accordingly become aggressive. By later, by the time we get to the early ancient empires, conquering was almost a required norm. If they had been matriarchies, we would have all hailed the conquering heroines.

I think the real question is, why did patriarchal societies become predominant, in the first place? When I studied anthropology, the theory was that in the early, small, nonliterate hunter-gatherer tribal societies, the women would have stayed back in the camp to nurse the kids, so they became the more sedentary plant gatherers, while the males went hunting, so they developed strength with weapons. When external conditions changed — either population growth led to wars, or climate change caused food shortages — tribes with the stronger males survived the harsher conditions, and the males started making the rules about what to do next.

Nowadays, the west is NOT patriarchal in the sense of property lineage. What we really have is male sexism, unequal pay, etc., which is the new, expanded definition of “patriarchy”. “Male sexism” is better and more accurate, in my opinion.

It is changing rapidly, however, because also in my opinion, males are knuckleheads (as a perusal of some of the comments above should make abundantly evident!) In more recent times they had to keep women barefoot and uneducated because when freed, the women usually excelled them. But I think that game is nearly over. Females of my acquaintance seem to think that they are better at multi-tasking, and this may help them gain an advantage especially in the complex system sciences. I just read that there are now more women grad students in the medical and life sciences, for example. This is happening pretty much everywhere.

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Val 07.27.15 at 1:50 am

bianca @ 523
I’m not going to defend Val’s ideas about patriarchy for her in particular, which [seem] a bit out of date and discredited to me …

Very intriguing, care to expand?

Just to make my own position a bit clearer (hopefully), I’m influenced in part by recent debates in feminism about whether the shift from critical structural perspectives such as “patriarchy” to more apparently neutral categories like “gender”, is in part, a political process of appeasement/ respectability. I think, although gender is a very useful concept, there is definitely something in this critique, and that concepts like “patriarchy” (in a similar way to “capitalism”) do describe social systems that have had a major influence on discourse as well as social and economic arrangements. So my choice to use the concept is definitely deliberate, not just because I’m not up with the times, so to speak.

Definitely I’m an old feminist from the 70s but I’m also a contemporary PhD student!

Anyway that may all have nothing to do with your reservations, which I’m interested to hear more about.

I seriously have to do some work now, but will be interested to read your thoughts, if you have time to write them, and respond later as needed

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bianca steele 07.27.15 at 2:00 am

Val,

1. Lerner published a very long time ago, and although she’s still assigned, I think, when I read her in the 1990s I remember being warned not to take her as seriously as you’ve been doing in these threads.

2. I don’t think patriarchy as a concept has any usefulness at all, really. I agree with what ZM said about it in a different thread. It’s fine as long as you use it for a broad contrast with woman headed societies, I guess.

3. I don’t quite get your claim about a contrast between patriarchy and gender and their uses

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Val 07.27.15 at 3:01 am

bianca
Just had to have a quick peek.

There’s been some reconsideration since the 90s, here’s one reading if you’re interested:

Forum: On Judith Bennett?s History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006)
Lilith (2o12) issue 17-18

My brief notes:
Several historians discuss the contribution of Judith Bennett’s History Matters. Although the assessments differ, all seem to agree that it is a valuable work, that there are ‘patriarchies’, and to some degree at least that feminism and feminist history has lost some of its force in recent decades, perhaps as a result of being mainstreamed. The questions seems to be whether the equilibrium that Bennet identifies, whereby patriarchy is maintained and re-established at different historical periods, is still occurring now, or are we now seeing the end of patriarchy?

Can send some more if you have time and interest to follow up this topic. Cheers.

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Peter T 07.27.15 at 5:06 am

Some of this is getting perilously close to the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” trope. Which has been thoroughly debunked. Men and women have far more in common than in difference, and the overlap is substantial across every trait.

The “women as gatherers” line overlooks that a large part of what they were gathering were small animals, hauled from their burrows and clubbed to death. Or that ethnographic accounts make it clear that women were pretty much as often involved in personal violence as men in hunter-gatherer groups (see, eg the accounts of Australian convicts who fled into the bush and joined aboriginal tribes).

We may never know what particular factors shaped human evolution, but the thing that stands out is our groupishness. We hang together in large-ish groups – the 1000-odd minimum in frequent contact that is needed to keep a language alive. And we can organise in large numbers (although this is a social technology, slowly developed over time).

War is organised violence. My guess is that the connection to patriarchy is contingent: when you live on a demographic knife-edge (as humans did with the arrival of agriculture and the burdens it brought of high disease load coupled with lower nutrition), young women are a precious resource, to be guarded/corralled (one historian noted that every Roman woman of child-bearing age had to have 4 kids just to keep the population stable). Yet if the group is to survive it has to fend off rival groups. Young men can be spared. Since the public life of the group revolves around competition with rival groups, men come to dominate public life.

Note that once the demographic pressure lifted, we moved very quickly to women in combat.
If we want world peace, we need either world government or low population and an ethos of stability.

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Harold 07.27.15 at 6:32 am

Patriarchy is a way for older men to suppress/get rid of younger men and keep the young women for themselves. It is not the only social arrangement, however, that has prevailed among human societies, which have been more or less egalitarian, depending on circumstances.

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bianca steele 07.27.15 at 4:23 pm

Val,

From what I find from a search, Bennett seems to have a valid argument that the kind of scholarship she helped pioneer in the 1970s has fallen out of favor, and for no really good reason. She links this with the rise of a kind of theory she doesn’t like, and that doesn’t take on her beliefs and arguments about the persistence of “patriarchy”, which it seems she defines as the fact that women are always considered less than fully human, and here I don’t find her convincing. (She’s not talking about sociobiology, I think.) magistra, who sometimes posts here and blogs at “Magistra et Mater”, may have something more to say about it.

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William Berry 07.27.15 at 5:24 pm

Nearly dead thread and all, but, anyway:

I’m with Val on the structural argument, but disagree on the ultimate causes of patriarchy.

I don’t want to end up being the dirty reductionist here, but I can’t see how social/ cultural influences offer a “final” explanation for anything. They are obviously proximate causes of many things, but tend to be themselves treated as un-caused– they might as well have appeared magically.

I don’t understand the resistance to considering human male dominance as being a natural consequence of human sexual dimorphism, i.e., of the average greater male size and strength vs. the relative female disadvantage (in social power stakes, at least) in being exclusively burdened with child-bearing, and with the bulk of child-rearing. . Sexual dimorphism as the determiner of sex dominance is the rule throughout the “cultureless” animal world (indeed, if you want to go by numbers of species and their populations, females– even considering the phylum arthropoda alone– have the upper hand) ; why should humans be an exception?

Dawkins isn’t the most popular guy around these parts– and for some good reasons– but that doesn’t mean he is wrong about some very important matters. For Dawkins, as for many others (going back to Skinner, even), human culture appears virtually epiphenomenally, as a more-or-less inadvertent product of increasing human brain size. But it (culture) has produced a meme-set that is potentially virtually infinite.

It might turn out, as some have argued, that superior human intelligence is not even a survival trait, but, if it does turn out to be one it will be because it produced cultural/ ideological memes (the necessities of dismantling the patriarchy, ending socio-economic inequality, ending war, saving what’s left of the planet from environmental collapse, etc., etc.) that were up to the job. To say that the jury is still out on this process is an obvious understatement.

Plainly, I, nor anyone else, can prove absolutely that human sexual dimorphism is the root cause of patriarchy (I guess I should here acknowledge that, yes, there appear to have been basically matriarchal societies; they are an exception and, as such, don’t disprove the general rule of patriarchy), but I don’t see why it shouldn’t hold the field by default. One is free to insist on purely social/ cultural influences, but that doesn’t do the job by itself.

That sexual dimorphism is the root cause of patriarchy demands to be disproved.

Sorry if this comment is somewhat random/ disjointed. I really dislike getting into comment debates; much prefer reading, thinking, making my own notes on what interests me, sometimes learning something.

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William Berry 07.27.15 at 5:25 pm

Also, too.

bob, take a paxil, dude!

535

TM 07.27.15 at 5:44 pm

RP 461: “I would not say that people in general want good schools. They want better schools than other people.”

Spot on, unfortunately. geo 462 Doesn’t seem to grasp the difference.

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gianni 07.27.15 at 5:49 pm

I agree with bianca that patriarchy is not a particularly useful concept, especially for the present discussion. Trying to dis-entangle the rise of organized violence, the state form, and male -male systems of inheritance during human (pre)-history seems impossible to me. We do not have the requisite data, nor can adequately examine the alternative developmental paths that could have emerged, but did not.

Echoing something from upthread, I have always been more intrigued – in an academic sense – by the readiness to go off and die, compared to the readiness to kill. People kill/are violent towards others everyday, despite plenty of dis-incentives against that behavior. But the readiness to march off to one’s near certain death – this is truly a puzzle.

And incidentally, I think that this is a place where a ‘feminist’* critique of masculine norms really shines. Faced with this puzzle of what makes us march off to our deaths, the structural explanations that give a rational account for ‘why war’ are still insufficient at the level of personal motivation. I think that we need to dip into the cultural/psychological here. When we dip into the histories, but also the epics and other war literature, we find notions of heroism, valour, defending the home/mother-land. Boys becoming men through combat and sacrifice. The examples are endless.

We can say that these cultural notions emerge out of structural necessity – societies needed to develop some way of convincing young men to go off and fight (& die) if they were to resist invasion and thus death. My point being that we do not have to assign these sort of masculine norms a privileged position in the etiology of warfare to recognize that both today and in some of humanity’s bloodiest moments they played a significant part in bringing young men to the front lines.

This is not just about men either! Women are part of this culture just as well – not just Maggie in the Falklands, but also the White Feather Girls and all their historical predecessors. While I would agree that more energy must be dedicated towards ‘men’ in shifting away from these sorts of norms (more on this in a second), pointing the finger at one gender as the source of the problem is in my opinion doubly distracting.

Further: I would hazard that today, especially in the American context with the all-volunteer-force and all that (and who else is about to start a new war anyways?) : working against these norms, working against this form of masculine culture, may be the most effective way to forestall another large-scale war. We need men (and someday soon women too!) to enlist to fight and die in order to keep the war machine going. But politicians are also relying on the appetite for war and its symbology among the general public – that good old wartime bump in the approvals.

[“I don’t mind about the war. That’s one of the things I like to watch, if it’s a war going on. Cos then I know if our side’s winning, if our side’s losing…”]

I get that this has been long so sorry-not-sorry ’cause I have been gone for a while and I missed you all here.

(*fwiw I have come to very much come to dislike using the term ‘feminist/ism’ recently as the meanings of the term have proliferated widely with little quality control, making it of little descriptive value, as well as the fact that its usage often invites more heat than light, for various reasons. Now that ‘feminism’ has all of these waves and phases and really is a multitude with many parts at tension with itself, I am hoping for a bit of terminological house-cleaning, or at least taxonomy, that someone could point me to/do to help me&others out).

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engels 07.27.15 at 6:04 pm

RP 461: “I would not say that people in general want good schools. They want better schools than other people.”

Spot on, unfortunately. geo 462 Doesn’t seem to grasp the difference.

Do you have any evidence for this? Otherwise you’re just regurgitating neoliberal verities, not that there’s anything wrong with taht…

538

engels 07.27.15 at 6:19 pm

the idea is that we can and should raise future men in a way that provides them with alternative methods of managing the urges and desires that condemn them to the unhappiness that comes from living in a patriarchy

Doesn’t this approach ignore the problem that patriarchally oppressive behaviour among men isn’t just a matter of individual habit and choice but is also a response to structural pressures (if you’d agree it is)? Compare: ‘we should educate future CEOs to enable them to better manage the urges to profit-seeking and exploiting their workers and the environment’

539

Raisuli 07.27.15 at 6:56 pm

Layman@479: “And if humans are more closely related to chimps – if they share a more recent common ancestor with chimps than with bonobos – then they might very well still be warlike despite their social organization.”

This “more closely related to chimps” compared to bonobos via “more recent common ancestor” idea is very plainly false when used in this context. One might as well wonder whether humans are more closely related to mountain gorillas than to western lowland gorillas.

The ancestral line of humanity diverged from the line that would become chimps and bonobos well before chimps and bonobos diverged from one another other, so chimps and bonobos are much more closely related to each other than either is to us. Therefore we are necessarily equally related to both. All evidence is clear on this.

The case for humans having a more recent common ancestor with chimps than with bonobos would require an argument that humanity diverged from chimpanzee after the chimp/bonobo split, or that humanity interbred with chimpanzee (but not bonobo) after said split.

As for the larger point about related behavior, one can indeed learn much from our nearest ancestors, but I would suggest caution if trying to extrapolate what is in our behavioral “nature” as a species. Chimps and bonobos articulate this case beautifully- whatever differences in behavior that you see between the “sex-crazed bonobos” and “warlike chimps” have arisen merely in the last million or two years since the Congo river split what had previously been one population. Were they sex-crazed prior, or warlike? Both? And the population 6 or 10 million years ago that was not yet chimp, bonobo, or human, that was in some sense all of them, was that population sex-crazed? Warlike? Both?

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Harold 07.27.15 at 7:16 pm

Homo sapiens did not evolve in the forest like the chimps and bonobos gorillas and orangutans, but on the dry savannas. Their earliest tools were not weapons but fine precision instruments for the butchering of carcasses that that expired from drought. Tools that, whoever made them, were suitable for use by the entire community regardless of age and gender.

The intellect was the most important thing from the start. Ovid had it right:

While other animals look downwards at the ground, [Prometheus] gave human beings an upturned aspect, commanding them to look towards the skies, and, upright, raise their face to the stars. — Ovid (8 AD), Metamorphosis

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Layman 07.27.15 at 7:23 pm

“The ancestral line of humanity diverged from the line that would become chimps and bonobos well before chimps and bonobos diverged from one another other, so chimps and bonobos are much more closely related to each other than either is to us. Therefore we are necessarily equally related to both. All evidence is clear on this.”

Yes, that makes sense. I understood, though, that we share some DNA with chimps but not bonobos, and that we share some DNA with bonobos but not chimps.

Also agree that caution is warranted!

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Harold 07.27.15 at 7:30 pm

We share a lot of DNA with a daylily, as well! Possibly 50 percent.

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Harold 07.27.15 at 7:32 pm

I hope Mike Huben is listening.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.27.15 at 7:35 pm

gianni: “I would hazard that today, especially in the American context with the all-volunteer-force and all that (and who else is about to start a new war anyways?) : working against these norms, working against this form of masculine culture, may be the most effective way to forestall another large-scale war. We need men (and someday soon women too!) to enlist to fight and die in order to keep the war machine going. But politicians are also relying on the appetite for war and its symbology among the general public – that good old wartime bump in the approvals.”

I’m pretty familiar with U.S. all-volunteer-force recruiting, and they spend immense resources to locate people and get them to volunteer. They’ll certainly use stereotypical manifestations of masculine culture, but they’ll also use pretty much anything else that comes to hand. Desire to better oneself in a meritocratic sense: they’ll pay for higher education for people who couldn’t otherwise afford it. A desire to test oneself (in more than a stereotypical macho-masculine sense). A desire, for some women, to prove that they can break into what has been a stereotypically male role: a form of feminism. Even the most selfless impulse to protect others is grist for the mill of the war machine.

There are tiresome people here who think that it’s clever to point out that I write poetry as if there is something wrong with that, so I won’t link to a poem that I wrote about this. But the recruiting ads that I hear are about people rescuing people, people doing good works. Specifically, if they’re recruiting for the Guard — which predictably gets sent off to fight in any major intervention — they’ll talk about rescuing people in snowstorms or from tornadoes.

545

Harold 07.27.15 at 7:38 pm

546

Harold 07.27.15 at 7:41 pm

It’s our policy makers who are in thrall to malignant machismo.

547

William Berry 07.27.15 at 7:42 pm

Raisuli @539:

Excellent comment.*

If we have learned anything from genetics (or, perhaps more to the point, about epi-genesis), it is that such comparisons (chimps to bonobos to humans, or among primates generally) are at best very limited; whole complexes of phenotypical expression can be caused by minor changes in genotype. Closely related species can exhibit startling different characteristics or behavioral traits while sharing characteristics and traits with far more distantly related species.

Aggression is ubiquitous throughout the animal kingdom. But the important case (for the purposes of this discussion) is not aggression, per se; it is intra-species aggression. Here, it is almost exclusively the domain of the dominant (in cases of sexual dimorphism) sex, as in the cases of, e.g., the female mantis biting off the head of her pathetic little sex partner, of male lions devouring the cubs of prospective mates, and yes, of primate warfare.

This aggression business is basic stuff; the old Nazi, Konrad Lorenz, explained it in detail decades ago. There has been lots of new research and plenty of updates and additions to the knowledge base, but the fundamental understanding remains.

As I stated (in other words) in my earlier comment, sexual dimorphism is as likely to be the cause for sexual dominance in humans as it is for any other species.

We humans are animals all the way down, and, society/ culture notwithstanding, we don’t automatically get a pass when it come to the laws of Natural History.

But maybe we do have a special dispensation of a sort: we might have the capacity to fix ourselves.

Let’s get cracking, shall we?!

548

Harold 07.27.15 at 11:13 pm

Ants make war, too. And we share more of our genetic material with them than we do with daylilies. But genetics don’t need to be destiny, as William Berry says.

549

TM 07.28.15 at 1:21 am

I’m surprised that you think (546) that old Nazi’s theory of aggression has anything useful to tell us. My understanding of the literature is that no competent researcher today gives any credence to the old Nazi’s theories of aggression (or his other mostly discredited theories). As an example, Lorenz in 1963 quoted a researcher named S. Margulin on the Ute Indians’ aggressivity, but as Montagu pointed out, no such researcher was known among anthropoligists. E.g. http://www.swans.com/library/art18/barker97.html, http://www.gwup.org/inhalte/107-themen/sonstige-themen/734-der-so-genannte-aggressionstrieb.

550

William Berry 07.28.15 at 2:19 am

@TM:

You are right in that I shouldn’t give too much credit to Lorenz, and probably exaggerated his influence today. But his work, even when attacked, provided a foundation for an important area of ethology. E.O. Wilson’s work can be seen as not just a criticism, but rather as placing theories of aggression on a firmer biological basis, at least in the “higher” animals, by emphasizing the role of epi-genesis as opposed to Lorenz cruder ideas of hard-wired “instinct”. After all, several decades of genetic and ethological research intervened.

551

William Berry 07.28.15 at 2:23 am

To be clear, the “fundamental understanding” that remains, which was intended as the main point of my reference to Lorenz, is that intra-species aggression is primarily the domain of the dominant sex in any species in which sexual dimorphism is pronounced.

552

Val 07.28.15 at 3:21 am

‘Dear Val,
We know (or some of us do), that you’re researching stuff about this ‘patriarchy’ (because you keep telling us) and some of us are even interested. But sadly, we’ve thought about it a bit, and decided you’re just wrong about pretty well everything.
Sorry
CT commentariat.’

Me: ‘have I seriously wasted almost five years (MA + nearly competed PhD) of my life doing research in order to present findings that a whole lot of apparently intelligent, progressive people are totally unprepared to accept? Well I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but ouch, that really hurts!’

553

Harold 07.28.15 at 3:22 am

The fact that chimps or penguins or ants do it or spiders do it explains absolutely nothing, as far as I can see. I don’t understand why intelligent people would cling to these kinds of explantations.

554

js. 07.28.15 at 3:37 am

js argued (in the wrong thread)

Oops! Haven’t had a chance to look at CT in a couple of days, so didn’t realize until now. Sorry!

555

ZM 07.28.15 at 9:48 am

I read quite a few things about gender, violence, and war in the Pacific during my undergraduate degree.

In some pacific societies war would be organised kind of ritually — so if someone from kinship group A killed someone from kinship group B the two groups would go to war for maybe three days, but would largely shoot arrows to miss each other while fulfilling the ritual aspects of the conflict and then one person would be killed when it came time for the fighting to end.

Another example I read about was in the Papuan highlands where a particular headhunting tribe would take a head and the last sound the dying person made would be the name of the most newly born baby. But I was actually a bit skeptical of this account being accurate as it would seem to be too much headhunting and the neighbouring tribes wouldn’t appreciate that.

Another example was in the early stages of the colonial encounter when the laws governing the violence in a Fijian island were not strong as the missionaries were trying to convert the people, but then when the men went to war they did all sorts of terrible things that would normally be taboo but the missionaries had broken the traditional taboos in order to convert them to Christianity.

I had a women’s history professor who like Val thought that “gender” was a weakening of women’s studies (I can’t remember her views on patriarchy). And an essay I have always liked and re-read a few times looking at women, structure, and agency is Sherry Ortner’s Is Female To Male As Nature Is To Culture? :

“It is important to sort out the levels of the problem. The confusion can be staggering. For example, depending on which aspect of Chinese culture we look at, we might extrapolate any of several entirely different guesses concerning the status of women in China. In the ideology of Taoism, yin, the female principle, and yang, the male principle, are given equal weight; “the opposition, alternation, and interaction of these two forces give rise to all phenomena in the universe” (Siu, 1968: 2). Hence we might guess that maleness and femaleness are equally valued in the general ideology of Chinese culture.1 Looking at the social structure, however, we see the strongly emphasized patrilineal descent principle, the importance of sons, and the absolute authority of the father in the family. Thus we might conclude that China is the archetypal patriarchal society. Next, looking at the actual roles played, power and influence wielded, and material contributions made by women in Chinese society – all of which are, upon observation, quite substantial – we would have to say that women are allotted a great deal of (unspoken) status in the system. Or again, we might focus on the fact that a goddess, Kuan Yin, is the central (most worshiped, most depicted) deity in Chinese Buddhism, and we might be tempted to say, as many have tried to say about goddess-worshiping cultures in prehistoric and early historical societies, that China is actually a sort of matriarchy. In short, we must be absolutely clear about what we are trying to explain before explaining it.”

https://www.uio.no/studier/emner/sv/sai/SOSANT1600/v12/Ortner_Is_female_to_male.pdf

556

John Holbo 07.28.15 at 10:31 am

Sweet Sally, the thread is still alive!

557

Val 07.28.15 at 12:22 pm

I think it’s pretty close to being dead. A thread that’s clinging on by a thread, so to speak. As are my hopes of convincing people that patriarchy is a useful category of analysis, apparently.

(Not really. I know what I know, as Paul Simon said, even if he isn’t an ideal role model)

558

AcademicLurker 07.28.15 at 1:49 pm

On any list of most Crooked Timber-y threads ever, this one would have to rank fairly high.

559

engels 07.28.15 at 3:31 pm

have I seriously wasted almost five years (MA + nearly competed PhD) of my life doing research in order to present findings that a whole lot of apparently intelligent, progressive people are totally unprepared to accept?

I’m afraid this seems like an unavoidable consequence of the fact you’ve been doing academic research on politically contested issues and has a strong evaluative component. Look at it another way: would you want to live in a world in which everybody who wasn’t studying for a PhD deferred to the opinions of PhD students on questions like whether and how women are oppressed or whether capitalism is just and equitable? Or perhaps one in which PhD students deferred to Professors on such matters?

560

TM 07.28.15 at 6:13 pm

Just came across this BBC article on Turkey’s strategy in Syria. Well worth reading and reminded me of the exchange at 370-372 about the benevolent nature of US air strikes.

Turkey v Islamic State v the Kurds: What’s going on?
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-33690060

… The Washington Post reports that the US and Turkey finally reached agreement on a buffer zone in late July, just as they announced a deal on the use of the Incirlik base. Many analysts believe Turkey was spurred into action by the need to check the [Syrian Kurdish] YPG’s westward advance in Syria.

According to this theory, the Ankara government realised that its approach to IS has been counter-productive. By staying on the sidelines, Turkey had inadvertently allowed the YPG to prosper under the shield of American air strikes.

The buffer zone plan reportedly gives Turkey a starring role in the conflict alongside the US.

Details are still unclear, but the plan is said to envisage driving IS out of northern Syria, through US air strikes. Syrian opposition groups – vetted and supported by Turkey and the US – will fill the vacuum, putting a brake on Kurdish territorial gains.

561

AcademicLurker 07.28.15 at 6:40 pm

560:

Hopefully at least a few of the strategists involved are Crooked Timber readers, in which case they will have seen the learned disquisition on the considerable martial capacities of chimpanzees earlier in this thread and will recommend an all chimp special forces unit for deployment in the area.

562

Val 07.28.15 at 9:39 pm

@ 559

I’m afraid this seems like an unavoidable consequence of the fact you’ve been doing academic research on politically contested issues and has a strong evaluative component. Look at it another way: would you want to live in a world in which everybody who wasn’t studying for a PhD deferred to the opinions of PhD students on questions like whether and how women are oppressed or whether capitalism is just and equitable? Or perhaps one in which PhD students deferred to Professors on such matters?

Thought the thread was dead, but have to reply to this because:
a) I don’t completely understand it
b) I don’t want them to defer to my opinions (well not just that :) ) but to be prepared to listen to my conclusions and consider them seriously without shaking their heads and going ‘nup sorry, don’t think so’
c) don’t get the bit about professors. Was it ironic or what?

563

Val 07.28.15 at 9:42 pm

@ 561
Must confess I had some trouble responding to the comments about chimpanzees, because I kept forgetting whether it was chimpanzees or gorillas, and couldn’t be bothered scrolling back through a hundred comments to check.

564

Layman 07.28.15 at 9:45 pm

“The fact that chimps or penguins or ants do it or spiders do it explains absolutely nothing, as far as I can see. “

The limits of your vision are not necessarily shared by all. Parsimony is often helpful. If nothing else, it provides an alternative line of inquiry to the ‘because patriarchy’ hypothesis.

565

Val 07.28.15 at 10:43 pm

@564
I think your argument about chimpanzees, as I recollect it, could just as well be used to support the ‘because patriarchy’ argument, since one thing the evidence about animals discussed here suggests is that there are a variety of social organisations amongst animals, just like amongst humans.

Which takes me back to my original argument:
– war is not ‘natural’ or ‘inevitable’, it is socially organised
– it appears to be associated with patriarchal social organisations (though which ’causes’ which is another point, as I’ve noted above)
– the opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy but egalitarianism
– it should be possible for us to develop societies that are (reasonably if not perfectly) peaceful and egalitarian

566

engels 07.28.15 at 11:03 pm

I…want them to…be prepared to listen to my conclusions and consider them seriously without shaking their heads and going ‘nup sorry, don’t think so’

Who isn’t doing this? What’s wrong with listening seriously then saying ‘sorry, don’t think so’?

567

engels 07.28.15 at 11:11 pm

I should say I haven’t read the whole thread but fwiw I personally agree ‘patriarchy is a useful category of analysis’ and I agree with 1, 3 and 4 of your ‘original argument’ (I’d have thought most people would actually). I don’t think you’ve demonstrated 2, which doesn’t mean I’m opposed to it.

568

Harold 07.28.15 at 11:11 pm

I agree with Val’s argument.

569

engels 07.28.15 at 11:18 pm

It sems to me possible to have a gender-egalitarian form of capitalism which would atill lead to imperialism and war (but more than happy to hear arguments to the contrary…)

570

Val 07.29.15 at 1:22 am

engels I really want to respond to these comments but am having full on day at work so will respond later

571

Harold 07.29.15 at 1:33 am

https://www.nytimes.com/books/98/06/21/reviews/980621.21pakenht.html

Our Common Cradle
The story of Africa, from prehistory to the present.
By THOMAS PAKENHAM

AFRICA
A Biography of the Continent.
By John Reader.
Illustrated. 801 pp. New York:
Alfred A. Knopf. $35.

This strange, awe-inspiring book reminds me of that African prodigy, the baobab tree. Its size is immense — you can count 60 feet round the belly of some specimens — but its branches seem eccentrically small in relation to the conical trunk. John Reader has produced a baobab of a book, with 30 chapters devoted to geology and prehistory, leaving only a thin chapter for ancient Egypt, and nothing for Hannibal and the Carthaginians or for the golden age of Greco-Roman Africa; only 25 chapters cover the whole period from the arrival of the Portuguese explorers till today.

However, the eccentric shape he has given his ”biography” allows Reader to dig millions of years farther back into prehistory than is customary for African historians. The result is a masterly synthesis of the geological, climatological and paleontological discoveries of the last decades, which would have seemed more astounding to early Victorians than our ability to fly to the moon. Even today it may seem hard to grasp that Africa is the keystone at the center of a world of wandering continents. The science of plate tectonics reveals that the earth’s landmasses were originally united in a supercontinent, but this broke up into two landmasses, which then divided again, with the continents drifting to the positions they have occupied in recent geological time. By contrast, Africa stood firm, stationary for at least 200 million years. The continent blossomed, then withered. In fact, the unimaginable energy needed to push continents about exerted itself to raise Africa several thousand feet above the others. In due course there were vast mountain ranges and a climate that would be the envy of modern Africa. Dinosaurs roamed where the sands of the Sahara now conceal the traces of a river system once three times bigger than the Amazon’s. Then, 150,000 years ago, the cry of Homo sapiens was first heard in what is now Ethiopia and Kenya.

Reader, a British writer and photojournalist who lived in Africa for many years, is particularly good at describing the theories about the evolution of Homo sapiens. He explains how modern man first evolved in Africa and then spread to the Middle East and from there to Europe, Asia, the South Pacific and the Americas. These early colonists must have been hunter-gatherers, unlike the trader-farmer-diggers of historic times. There were only a handful, probably not more than 50, according to calculations made from DNA, who took the daring step of leaving their mother continent.

572

Val 07.29.15 at 8:47 am

Engels @ 566 and 569
Latter first because easiest – when I talk about egalitarian societies I mean egalitarian not just egalitarian on gender terms (though that would be part of it of course). As a broad generalisation there seem to have been two main types of societies, those that were male dominated and hierarchical (what I call patriarchies) and those that were relatively egalitarian in that resources were shared fairly equally and decisions taken communally (though often elders – of both sexes – dominated I guess).

Your other question – I mean the sorry nup being more of a gut response than a reasoned response – in other words not really being prepared to listen and consider the argument.

I could produce loads of evidence about why certain societies should be called ‘patriarchies’ but I don’t think that’s the point. I think people like ZM and bianca, at least, probably know already about at least some evidence I’d refer to. Also it might all get a bit tldr too.

Basically I don’t think the problem is to do with evidence though, so much as feelings and gender politics and the perception that as an analytical category, patriarchy is a bit of a blunt instrument such as might only be used by “aggressive” feminists. (I think someone up thread has already suggested this, non-ironically).

The perception of being “aggressive” still has a lot of power over women (including feminists) in my experience, so if discussion of patriarchy is making some men feel defensive, it’s a good one to trot out.

Basically, since this is a dying thread, I’ll be a bit blunt – I think quite a few men here are being defensive, and some feminists are being placating. But saying stuff like that (no matter if true) is not going to win me any friends or advance my arguments, so it’s a dilemna.

573

ZM 07.29.15 at 9:24 am

Val,

“Basically I don’t think the problem is to do with evidence though, so much as feelings and gender politics and the perception that as an analytical category, patriarchy is a bit of a blunt instrument…”

I think I would modify my criticism earlier here — while I would still not really agree that patriarchy is the best term to describe current Western social structures, I do agree with you that it does make a useful category of analysis, along with others — which is where maybe common ground can be made with other commenters.

The professor who taught women’s history (which was compulsory for history majors) at the uni I did my BA at, also taught Australian social history. I think one of the nice things about history is that as it is a narrative discipline you can move between modes of analysis and description much more easily than is the case in the social sciences, where I have found you are encouraged to stick with one major theory, or possibly a couple of smaller middle range theories. Although on the other hand, the social sciences are probably better at investigating cultural structures.

574

Val 07.29.15 at 10:23 am

@ 568
Thanks Harold.

I think I focus too much on those who disagree rather than those who agree sometimes :)

Didn’t really get the point about the excerpt about Reader though – what do you think about Reader?

575

engels 07.29.15 at 10:38 am

Basically I don’t think the problem is to do with evidence

Not sure how you can know that if you never give any…

when I talk about egalitarian societies I mean egalitarian not just egalitarian on gender terms

I know that’s your definition – I was asking why you think patriarchal and egalitarian exhaust the possibilities for social organisation (not only in pre-history but in the future)? Why couldn’t there be a society which is neither patriarchal (ruled by men) or egalitarian (non-hierarchical)? It seems to me contemporary capitalism could evolve in this direction (although nowhere it’s near it now)?

576

Val 07.29.15 at 10:39 am

ZM @ 573
Thanks ZM, what I’m saying is that although we have dismantled much of the structure that supported patriarchy, it still influences our thinking. Perhaps you would not disagree with that?

Since I’m being blunt at the end of this long thread, do you think that your earlier comments were placatory towards men at all?

577

Val 07.29.15 at 10:41 am

@ 573
I could write a long essay and I am kind of doing that gradually, perhaps I will link to my blog when I’m getting somewhere.

578

Val 07.29.15 at 10:45 am

Sorry my last comment was meant for Engels @ 575. It was my first teaching day (of the second semester here), and even though I’m only teaching in two units, it was quite full on for various reasons. So I’m quite tired and better stop now.

579

engels 07.29.15 at 10:48 am

So after 577 comments we made it to ‘I have a marvellous proof of my opinions which this comment box is too small to contain’. Fine.

580

Val 07.29.15 at 10:58 am

@579
Bit mean!
Anyway I don’t know why I didn’t link this earlier – maybe because I write so rarely on the blog at present that I’d forgotten about it – but it does link to some sources, not just those ‘old’ feminists that Bianca is sceptical about, but also some more recent voices
http://fairgreenplanet.blogspot.com.au/2015/04/taking-stand-against-glorification-of.html

Those references are a VERY SMALL selection of what I’ve read. You read that much, and then we can argue! Cheers

581

ZM 07.29.15 at 11:25 am

“Thanks ZM, what I’m saying is that although we have dismantled much of the structure that supported patriarchy, it still influences our thinking. Perhaps you would not disagree with that?”

I would agree with that.

“Since I’m being blunt at the end of this long thread, do you think that your earlier comments were placatory towards men at all?”

I don’t think so, I just have somewhat of a different approach to you. I have always tended to have mixed feelings about feminism, especially second wave feminism, and in gender based history assignments I gravitated to exploring gender and agency rather than strictly feminist analyses.

582

engels 07.29.15 at 12:22 pm

Those references are a VERY SMALL selection of what I’ve read. You read that much, and then we can argue!

Good grief.

583

engels 07.29.15 at 12:26 pm

To paraphrase Mr Biswas: egalitarianism, like charity, should begin at home.

584

Val 07.29.15 at 12:28 pm

@582
Good grief what? Didn’t you want evidence? I’ve never claimed to be an archeologist, so my evidence about pre-(written)-history is drawn from secondary sources. Have you read all those or what? I’m puzzled.

585

Val 07.29.15 at 12:31 pm

@583
Seriously, I am not sure what you are getting at. Perhaps you could explain more.

586

Layman 07.29.15 at 12:58 pm

Looking at these 2 points:

“– war is not ‘natural’ or ‘inevitable’, it is socially organised
– it appears to be associated with patriarchal social organisations (though which ’causes’ which is another point, as I’ve noted above)”

…I would say to the first that these are not necessary alternatives. War could be natural without being inevitable. It could be natural and socially organized. In fact, I think this is the case – that war is natural, socially organized, but not inevitable.

As to the second point, it may be that neither causes the other. Is there any reason to believe an egalitarian society would not fight a war? That a matriarchal society would not?

587

bianca steele 07.29.15 at 1:00 pm

Val,

That’s not what I think. Please do me a favor and leave me out of it, and I won’t question how your thesis can be about both the environment and forty year old feminist theoretical debates.

588

Layman 07.29.15 at 1:03 pm

engels @ 583

+1!

589

engels 07.29.15 at 1:04 pm

Good grief what? Didn’t you want evidence?

I asked why capitalism can’t evolve into a gender-egalitarian (but still oligarchic and hierarchical) form and you pointed to a list books about stone-age tribes and then said that unless I’d read them all there was no point in talking to me. Imo that is a. not rationally persuasive and b. rather snobbish and rude.

590

bianca steele 07.29.15 at 1:06 pm

While I’m being snippy, am I the only one who’s noticed that arguing with Val feels a lot like arguing with J Thomas? Except that J Thomas was mostly dismissive of women, and Val is equally dismissive of everybody. They have the same “you must respect me because I’m a scholar” vibe. Except that J Thomas was only pretending to be a scholar.

591

ZM 07.29.15 at 2:03 pm

“While I’m being snippy, am I the only one who’s noticed that arguing with Val feels a lot like arguing with J Thomas?”

Not to be mean to J Thomas, but I feel like you have rather forgotten what J Thomas was like in his absence, for instance the length of his comments, the number of his comments, and his particular sort of moral relativist arguments.

592

JanieM 07.29.15 at 2:04 pm

A while back, in frustration at yet another thread being heavily shaped by Val and people’s reactions to Val, I made a snarky comment about her use of feminism as a get out of jail free card. (That card says, in effect: “People don’t like the way I treat them? I don’t have to pay that any mind; they’re just doing it because they don’t like feminism or feminists.”)

On that occasion I got jumped on by another commenter with a female handle with whom, up to that point, I had always felt some camaraderie. Since life is too short to put up with unrelenting sanctimony, condescension, and officious policing of other people’s behavior by someone who IMO should really take a hard look at her own, I decided to stay away from Val as much as I could while still hanging around CT.

Life is short and I’ve got work to do, so I won’t rant on. But since you put yourself out there, I just wanted to say, as Arlo says in some song that I can’t bring to mind right now, “I’m with ya.”

593

JanieM 07.29.15 at 2:05 pm

Should have started the above with “@bianca”.

594

ZM 07.29.15 at 2:33 pm

I just want to say I don’t always agree with Val but I do enjoy and learn from her comments, she is well read, and also on numerous occasions I have found her supportive when I’ve felt over-criticised on threads.

595

Harold 07.29.15 at 4:08 pm

Reader’s book about Africa is one of the few books I could recommend to everybody (at least the first half), even though, after 16 years it is possible that some points may be slightly superseded. I recommend it because it gives a longue durée perspective and makes you see that these arguments about war and sexual dimorphism have little relation to our evolution. The important driver in human and pre-homo sapiens (erectus and habilis) evolution has overwhelmingly been the large size and cooling and nutritional requirements of the human brain. The copious sweat glands and upright stature served, probably, for efficient cooling. The human gut is half as long as that of animals of comparable size ,meaning that we have to spend more time seeking densely caloric, digestible food sources, or in making them easily digestible through pounding seeds and grasses and precision butchering to get at the marrow. This went on for several million years as opposed to the few thousand years of subsequent civilization. Reader says there are so many stone tools at Olduvai that it is difficult to walk there today without stepping on them. The brain was in many ways the driver of its own evolution.

596

bianca steele 07.29.15 at 4:50 pm

Thanks, Janie.

ZM, Yes. You have a point. J Thomas was annoying both because of the way he argued, including the way he expected other people to argue with him, and because of his opinions.

He acted like he thought his opinions were based on the same kind of scholarship the front page posters here did, when in fact he only listened to another person when he said what he wanted to hear. And he used his Y chromosome, or maybe better a kind of male supremacy, as in Janie’s words, a get out of jail free card. If you were a woman, at the point when you’d think you were having a normal conversation, suddenly he’d turn the topic to proper behavior for the genders (moral relativism? not that I saw from J Thomas) and submission. He was willing apparently to talk to a woman as long as she would listen to him tell her what he thought about her proper place. And increasingly IIRC it was sex roles he wanted to talk about in the first place.

It’s been a long time since there have been a lot of commenters at CT who used “I’ve done graduate studies and I’ve read a lot of books” as their get out of jail free card. I’m pretty sure it’s common to both sexes, though. And if it’s not, it’s understandable, when someone like J Thomas gets farther with less.

597

AcademicLurker 07.29.15 at 5:07 pm

It’s been a long time since there have been a lot of commenters at CT who used “I’ve done graduate studies and I’ve read a lot of books” as their get out of jail free card.

Given that this thread was largely concerned with military matters, I should think that “Do you know how many thousands of hours I’ve spent playing Call of Duty?” would be a more germane get out of jail free card.

598

Val 07.29.15 at 6:06 pm

My comment to Engels was specifically in response to these two comments:

“[Me] Basically I don’t think the problem is to do with evidence

[Engels] Not sure how you can know that if you never give any…”

And

“So after 577 comments we made it to ‘I have a marvellous proof of my opinions which this comment box is too small to contain’. Fine.”

They were not an attempt to say I’m better than engels, simply a specific remark to those comments. I’m sorry that they sounded like ‘you can’t talk about this unless you’re an academic studying this field’ or something, because that’s totally not what I think.

Bianca I can understand you may not like my suggestion that your views on patriarchy are placatory. As I said to engels, saying what I think about some aspects of this discussion may not win me any friends, it was just being honest. It may not seem like it at the time, but sometimes it’s actually more of a compliment for someone to be honest than not – it shows they care enough about your ideas to take the risk of offending you. Some of your earlier comments to me were a bit blunt too btw, but no point in getting into that. Think it’s better to leave it now and maybe continue the discussion at another time.

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