Draft transcript of the third session in the School of Activism series, which originally broadcast Wednesday, March 2, 2011.
This week saw the Democratic National Committee take a big step away from the President’s current timetable of 2014. Instead they passed a Barbara Lee resolution, without dissent, calling for an announcement that a “significant and sizeable” troop will occur starting this July. That is a significant pushback against those in the Pentagon and Congress who want combat to continue another 4 years or longer. Next will come a letter signed by 100 or more members of Congress in favor of the “significant and sizeable” withdrawal. The letter, drafted by Barbara Lee, says, "The redeployment of a minimal number of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July will not meet the expectatons of Congrss or the American people."
On March 19, hundreds are likely to be arrested across the street from the White House in Lafayette Park. Then Congress will begin consideration of Lee’s funding cutoff legislation and Jim McGovern’s call for a more rapid timetable that 2014.
Already public opinion is way ahead of the mainstream media and decision-makers on this one. A January Gallup poll showed 72 percent in favor of a more rapid pullout, including 88 percent of Democrats and over 70 percent of Independents and 61 percent of Republicans.
On many fronts, the crisis of democracy is deepening. 61 percent favor collective bargaining rights for public employees. 55 percent prefer to cut military spending instead of 21 percent for cutting medicare and 13 percent for cutting social security. [Mar 1] Only 8 percent favor cutting education. [Jan. 21].
WE ARE IN A DEMOCRACY CRISIS when the elites stubbornly continue in their direction in disregard of the expressed will of the people. We have seen democracy on life support during Watergate, during the Supreme Court battle over Bush v Gore, and it’s deepening again today.
I call this impasse the permanent conflict between social movements that arise unexpectedly from the margins and achieve majority support, and the Machiavellian class that represents the state, the corporation, the military and the mainstream media.
The Machiavellians divide between those – the extremists like the Tea Party - who will do anything to roll back history and reject the popular will and those more moderate who make significant concessions in order to avoid more radical possibilities and to preserve their system as much as possible. [Historically, social movements have achieved significant gains – the Bill of Rights, the Abolition of slavery, Women’s Suffrage, Collective Bargaining and Social Security, civil rights, environmental protections etc – but only when the elites sought to save their system by reforming it. So ending the war in Afghanistan will be forced on them only when they face military stalemate, economic bankruptcy and the the loss of electoral positions.
The ediface of the Long War on Terror is crumbling by the day. They will be forced sooner or later to reconsider, but for now they are trying to repair Humpty Dumpty.
The obvious solution is to de-escalate the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen and transfer the billions in Pentagon funds to address the budget crisis in states like Wisconsin. Instead, powerful forces insist on cuts in education, health care, infrastructure and the green economy apparently so that we can occupy and bomb Afghanistan. In all the blather about deficits, few in either party show a willingess to put the cost of war on the table.
It’s time for domestic reformers including labor, the environmentalists and the peace movement to come together.
I want to talk now about strategy of the Long Warriors to keep people divided and apart. During the Cold War, most Democratic Party liberals supported the Vietnam War, at least from 1961-1968 when it was their party’s war, saying that it was necessary to stop the spread of Communism. A doctrine was invented called Cold War liberalism. The idea was that we could afford both the war and domestic progress, “guns and butter” as it was called. If you really wanted to serve your domestic constituencies, they said, don’t take the risk of joining the anti-war movement and being accused of being “soft on communism.” That’s what they said about Martin Luther King when he broke his silence and spoke out in 1967. It took courage to break with the New York Times and Democratic liberals, but does anyone today consider that speech a mistake? And where are the liberal voices calling to end the war today? If 88 percent of rank-and-file Democrats want a faster withdrawal, where are the organizations representing them, like the AFL-CIO, SEIU, the Democratic Alliance donors, George Soros, the NAACP, the National Organization for Women, MoveOn? Where are Rachel Maddow, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, or Ed Schultz? After ten years of this war, are they still too confused to take a stand? Why are these progressive critics representing millions of Americans still on the fence? The only explanation for the timidity and silence that makes sense to me is that it’s a Democrats’ war and the liberals are worried about criticizing our president. That’s why the DNC resolution, while just a piece of paper, is so important, because it legitimizes differing with the Administration’s current policy. I’m not saying the ice is broken, but the cracking has begun and the current budget crisis makes it ever more necessary to link the costs of war to our economic and employment crisis.
The fact is that there never was a monolithic communist bloc. There were differences between the Soviets and Chinese as wide as those between Iraq and Iran in the Eighties. The Soviet Union fell apart, it is true, but America lost Vietnam to a communist-led revolution anyway. Today China is headed by a communist party presiding over a global capitalist economy. The US government enjoys diplomatic relations with both.
Before the Cold War, there were identical doctrines to describe and justify the expansion of an undeclared American empire – the Monroe Doctrine, Manifest Destiny, the Open Door Policy, and so on. The arguments were the same. There was an external enemy posing a mortal threat. The enemy could only be met with force. The enemy was demonized. There were dragons to slay. We were offering the gift of democracy to the world. And only our military could open the wagon trails that led to gold and oil.
When the Cold War ended officially, the Cold Warriors searched for a new purpose, a new external threat, that might sustain the expansion of the Pentagon and the military contractors. They worried, to quote Michael Mandelbaum in The Case for Goliath that “democracy would favor butter over guns” and “that it will become increasingly difficult for the foreign policy elite to persuade the wider public to support the kinds of policies that, collectively, make up the American role as the World's Government."
They found their cause in the Global War on Terrorism, now re-branded as the Long War, with 150,000 combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and thousands of secret special forces in over a dozen countries, at a cost in the many trillions.
History now shows that their model was wrong, completely wrong. The events in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, the whole north of Africa, prove it.
In their model, Al Qaeda was a conspiratorial global insurgency that needed to be confronted by what some called a Global Phoenix Program. Phoenix was a Sixties counterinsurgency program aimed at capturing, detaining, torturing and killings of thousands who were identified as a clandestine Vietcong conspiracy in the countryside of South Vietnam. The Phoenix program was discredited by the media and congressional hearings. You can read about this in Alfred McCoy, but like the original Phoenix it rose again with Gen. David Petraeus and his top counterinsurgency adviser David Kilcullen and the collaboration of Harvard’s Carr Center on Human Rights.
If you look on pages 72-75 of the Army-Marine Counterinsurgency Manual  the Vietnam-era Phoenix program is described as “valuable” and “successful”, and a “useful model” for today’s conflicts.
Sometimes counterinsurgency experts use biological terms, a disease model, in describing their work. Al Qaeda is like a bacteria, a cancer, that requires targeted chemotherapy to kill the enemy and save the patient. Or a computer paradigm is invoked. Al Qaeda is a global network consisting of “nodes” and “links” that can be disrupted so the network can be “disaggregated.”
Everyone needs to watch again “The Battle of Algiers” to see the fallacy clearly. In that classic film, a French general directs an assassination campaign against FNL cadre, one by one, crossing them off his chalkboard until all are dead, and he claims success. Two years later there was a popular uprising in the Casbah that drove the French out of Algeria and led to revolt of the French generals against the Paris government, which had negotiated peace.
The blind spot of the Machiavellians, and especially those in the military, is the willful inability to see that the adversary arises like a Phoenix from the ashes of civil society, from humiliation, malnutrition, illiteracy, joblessness, and national pride. These underlying causes can only be inflamed by killing insurgents, never pacified. The Counterinsurgent agent cannot admit that he represents the foreign power, not the Taliban, he is the outside agent of manipulation and violence. A war of counterinsurgency requires an ally with popular legitimacy, not an ally propped up by Western powers like Hamid Karzai. Not Pakistan where the US client government cannot admit to what everyone knows, that US drone attacks and US special forces operations are killing people in violation of national sovereignty. Not an ally like Hosni Mubarak. Not an ally like Saleh in Yemen, Khalifa in Bahrain. Certainly not an ally like Qaddafi in Libya. Does anyone remember that the First Gulf War was to save Kuwait from Saddam Hussein – that was 20 years ago, and the popular movement in Kuwait is demanding the ouster of their failed prime minister. It never ends, because the counterinsurgent cannot imagine an end. “You’ll know success when you see it”, was how the late Richard Holbrooke put it.
Our government, military and corporations should be considering a global new deal addressing the real threats of unemployment, poverty, inequality, pollution and tyranny. The cost of accepting a redistribution of power, however, is too great, not even as necessary to many of them. But the Arab Revolution is demanding a reassessment, now.
Al Qaeda might benefit from the Arab Revolution in terms of prestige. Their goal in the beginning, after all, was to overthrow the Arab dictatorships. As a vanguard, though, they have been sidelined by the movement in the streets, which is more Al Jazeera than Al Qaeda. An opportunity to end, or at least reconsider, the Long War on Terrorism is at hand.
Neither US counterinsurgency or counterterrorism policies have relevance to what is happening. All the training of the Egyptian army, nor all the Special Forces advisers in Yemen, could block the popular movement, partly because they helped create it. Facts don’t lie. We are not “protecting the civilian population” when we spend $1.5 billion on Egypt, and fully $1.3 billion on the army. Or when 90 percent of our spending on Afghanistan is for military purposes, ten percent for civilian purposes in a country that ranks nearly worst in the world in poverty and corruption.
The Long War on Terrorism is a self-justifying, self-enclosed, self-perpetuating superpower syndrome that is incapable of conceiving any alternative, like a Frankenstein that walks the halls of power. The peace and justice movement as part of civil society has to oppose the War on Terrorism at its weakest link, which is Afghanistan, while doing everything possible to articulate an alternative to the groupthink that passes for mainstream liberal media and political commentary, where the simple words “get out of Afghanistan now” are prohibited and the policy of a 50-100 year Long War is beyond respectable conversation.
I wonder if this is what the Dinosaurs were like near the end.