Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Normality of War: Reading the History of Europe

Authors who wrote before 1950 regarded war as normal, something rather like bad weather. Many authors even thought it was healthy.

We do not yet understand how much even a short period of imperfect peace has changed us.

"We have been making this journey all our lives"

With the nomination of Trump, Republicans (and not a few libertarians and Democratic conservatives) are now seeing the great gates surmounted by “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” and are panicking. A Trump Presidency, we know, would be a disaster. It would probably include wars, outbursts of anti-Islamic, racist, anti-semitic, and nationalist violence, and an economic collapse that would make 2008 look minor. I am seeing reactions to these likelihoods that seem to me grossly out of touch with reality.

We have:
The final step into Satanism. Many Republicans, libertarians, Democratic conservatives, and even some Sanders supporters who ought to know better are simply supporting Trump outright.
The gates appeared from nowhere. Ezra Klein, quoted by Brad Delong (knew there was a reason I don't subscribe to Vox): "And I am, for the first time since I began covering American politics, genuinely afraid. Donald Trump is not a man who should be president." Almost everything Trump has said has been said before. In many ways, Trump is a coarser Ronald Reagan. But, no, there must have been no precedents. For a pundit to acknowledge otherwise would be to acknowledge complicity.
That's a stage set, not the real gates. The socialist scholar Corey Robin surprised me by claiming, first, that Trump has no chance (which is what liberals had been saying all along even as he rose to the Republican Presidential nomination) and then, second, by then pointing out that Trump's terrifying pronouncements on foreign policy had precedents. Which is true, but unlike those prior pronouncements they come at a time when the peace of European Union is unraveling and are therefore far more dangerous. The nightmarish echoes of the response to fascism on the part of some European socialists seem to me strong. Orwell, in response to Wells's errors during the depths of World War II, wrote: "Creatures out of the Dark Ages have come marching into the present, and if they are ghosts they are at any rate ghosts which need a strong magic to lay them." For people holding this view, it would seem that the threat is too terrifying to even acknowledge.

For myself, "I would see the White Tree in flower again…" I would rather see the threat acknowledged and actions taken to knit up the rents in our peace. But I'm a damn radical.

Why are peace and prosperity so hard to love? Why are these simple things so very radical?

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Plea for Solidarity

The world order is wobbling like a poorly-thrown pot on a potters wheel and Trump, May, and all the rest of the various neo-fascist movements want to see it go splat. This is the wrong time to repeat the division on the left of the 1932 German elections.

Can we please stop squabbling among ourselves long enough to keep the vulgar talking yam out of power?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Reflections on Kissingerism

None of the mechanisms of US constitutional democracy controlled Kissingerism. No matter what the offenses of the Kissinger-guided Nixon administration committed — secret wars, genocide, even treason — the only thing that shut it down was a third-rate burglary.

To The Democratic Party: Deliver!

Back in 2011, I wrote: “To win the first election you have to message. To win the next election you have to deliver.” The Democratic Party has not delivered for millions. The formative experiences of younger voters include the second Iraq war, the fraudulent taking of people's houses, and living in an economy that promises to leave most of them in poverty for the rest of their lives. If the Democratic Party wants them, the Democrats are going to have to credibly promise to deliver and then make good on the promises. Maybe with Sanders and Warren campaigning for Clinton, and working in the Senate, it is possible. But the Democrats will have to win back at least one house of Congress, and stifle their 1% wing.

Brief note on Sanders concession speech

"This speech is the best speech. It is a great speech. And if you don't like the TPP, come vote for me."—fakeDonaldTrump

And not a word on trade. The Democrats just couldn't dump the damn TPP.  That's going to hurt, come the general election. The anti-global sentiment is strong. So, Brexit. Perhaps, so Trump.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Review: Kissinger's Shadow

(This name has come up during the bruising politics of the current Presidential election. I decided to go learn something about this bĂȘte noire of the left, hence reading this book and my review of it. Review is also posted at Goodreads. If you want to buy a copy, I recommend powells.com or your local bookstore.)

Grandin, Greg. 2015. Kissinger's Shadow: the Long Reach of America's Most Controversial Statesman. Henry Holt, Metropolitan Books, New York, 2015. 279 pp.

A short easily readable political biography of the remarkable Henry Kissinger by respected New York University history professor Greg Grandin. The book covers Kissinger’s theoretical writings as a brilliant college student, his success as statesman, and his evolution into a respected elder statesman.

As only an amateur political scientist, it is hard for me, personally, to assess the book’s accuracy. At least, it is not obviously falsified and there are extensive citations. Some 10% of the book’s pages contain endnotes, and there are many long discursive footnotes as well. But multiple stories can be told from any set of facts and I can only wonder what other stories might be told from these. Still, it is hard for me to see how the record of military interventions and deaths that grew from Kissinger’s policies could lead to a story which gives a positive account of Kissinger. It is also difficult for me to see how one can honestly deny the long-term failure of these policies. Kissinger himself would probably say that these realities which US policy created can themselves be changed, but that does not in fact appear to be the case; the US ability to control the long-term results of its policies becomes less and less as allies and enemies become exhausted and resentful of abuse, and as new media technology makes quickly visible the results of policy. It was possible, back in the days of Nixon, for a compliant media to bury the endless deaths that US foreign policy produced and this is no longer so. Kissinger, as a student in the 1950s, hated the idea that policy could be grounded in measured sociological reality, what today we would call “big data,” but big data, aided by the internet, seems to have won the day.

Kissinger is the original “policy creates reality” man, a German Jewish refugee who came to the USA with his family at 15, yet it is striking to me how horrible the realities he created were. Was there never, in his philosophy, the idea that he might create peace and justice rather than simply making his adopted nation strong and terrible? Perhaps there was. Faced with a sufficiently powerful enemy, he did negotiate, creating pacts with the USSR and China. While these probably would have eventually been negotiated had Kissinger not been involved, it remains true that he did negotiate these deals, earning him the ultimate hostility of the far right, and his own marginalization. The peak of Kissinger's power came with the Nixon administration. By the time Reagan came to power, he was shut out.

Grandin argues, I think correctly, that the monster Kissinger created, which Grandin names “Kissingerism,” has outlived Kissinger’s direct participation. Kissinger was consulted by both Bush administrations. His ideas of power and intervention, and their uses in persuading a democratic polity to war, live on.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Brexit: Are We Without the Peace?

Unraveling, Coming Together, and Reaction

The purpose of the European Union is to make and keep peace within Europe and in Europe's relations with the rest of the world. Yet every state within the EU has its reactionary factions, which would rather leave the EU, regardless of consequences. People are driven in to the anti- side by years of steady immiseration and then the hard drop into poverty caused by austerity policies, and there is the queasy sense of loss of national identity.

If enough of these factions, all alike and all hating each other, come together the global economy will unravel. The networks of trade that make us a rich world, if not all of us rich people, will be dismantled and all nations will be the poorer for it. Refugees will be turned away to be crushed under brutal autocrats. Possibly shooting wars will follow.

In every country I have examined I can find specific issues, yet somehow all these issues have come together all at once. So I seek a unifying model. In the increasing unification of the world, I think I have found one. The world is now a global village, and people are not comfortable with their new neighbors. I seek in history for parallels, and I find them in the periods before the world wars. As the world become more and more connected, first by rail and telegraph and then by radio, we had vast reactions: World War I and World War II. And, indeed, the world became less unified for a while. But the process of unification continued, and now we have television and the internet, and global challenges that can only be addressed by more unification. And we have a reactionary movement. Dare I hope we can keep the peace?