In memory of Edward S. Herman
b. April 7, 1926, d. November 11, 2017
An inspiration that lives on, may he rest in eternal peace.
From provoking potential war with North Korea, to the fabricated US hysteria and fear-mongering about Russia, to the deluge of identity politics, and the escalated neoliberal attacks on democracy, there were few bright spots in 2017. Yet the bright spots were very bright, including: the apparent defeat of ISIS, the victory of the Syrian government and people in reclaiming sovereign control over almost all of Syria’s territory, and the dramatic demise of neoliberal governments across Europe. Syria might have become another Libya…Libya, which made headlines in 2017 as it gave birth to a new history of slavery, part of the legacy of the US and NATO’s military intervention in 2011. Donald Trump spawned a new edition of himself, with “Trump 2017” actively disagreeing with “Trump 2016” on most major policy areas, displaying a remarkable continuity with his presidential predecessors—yet strangely enough attracting protests as if he had upended everything. Far from the non-interventionist, quasi-“isolationist” that he was accused of being, the skeptic of US overstretch, the critic of US involvement in conflicts worldwide, the one who preached in favour of sovereignty and against the US hectoring nations about their distinct political paths—Trump has instead ended no war, escalated several, and brought his country and North Korea to the brink of nuclear war, all while assiduously defending the interests of the transnational capitalist class. Trump’s populist and nationalist agenda, to the extent that it exists, seems to only be deployed on a low-cost basis, where the targets are relatively powerless, or the issue is relatively marginal.
Apart from what was mentioned above, some of the key events for 2017 that were given much attention were the huge increase in US military spending; instability in the Trump presidency, with multiple purges of key officials; Trump’s tours of the Middle East (May 20–23), Europe (May 24–27), and Southeast Asia (November 3–15); the breakdown of the Trans-Pacific Partnership after Trump withdrew the US; Trump taking steps that threatened an end to the Iran nuclear deal, resulting in international isolation of the US on this issue; and, the US’ recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which further isolated the US politically. Indeed, Trump has achieved sufficient isolation—precisely through “engagement”—that Americans will soon have to stop repeating the fiction that juxtaposes “isolationism” and “internationalism” as if they were opposites.
Now for our review, likely the longest available anywhere online. The point is a simple one: rather than read and forget in a constant cycle of consumption, we pause to re-examine key moments and great essays around a cluster of related themes: populism, nationalism, globalization, and imperialism.
What was so important about January 2017? Many might point to the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States of America. Squabbles erupted over the size of the crowd attending the inauguration ceremony, along with dishonest statistics coming from all sides, and some especially dishonest photo timelines that made it seem like virtually no one showed up. In Washington, DC, dominated by Democrats, where the overwhelming majority voted for Hillary Clinton, it was amazing to see how many travelled from far to be present—this fact was to be downplayed as near heresy in an oppositional environment geared toward domestic regime change. Right in the face of former presidents, and the defeated candidate, Trump stood up and delivered a thunderous speech that promised a mighty rebuke of their awful records, their disastrous wars, their allegiance to a globalism that cheated ordinary citizens, their arrogant tendency to dictate to other countries the model they should follow. It was a promising though ambiguous start…and then the wheels quickly fell off the Trump Train. If we were to hold the presidency to the standards of the Trump 2016 campaign, the promised Trump administration really lasted no more than three months. This fact was casually explained away by Trump’s third White House spokesperson: “I think there’s a difference between being a candidate and being the President”.
On Zero Anthropology, I was first encouraged by Trump’s apparent disavowal of a long-standing US policy of cultural imperialism. However, Trump’s comments about Mexico, his resentment of even the most illusory of supposed benefits it received under NAFTA, seemed to reveal another side: a contempt for natives in other countries who engage in production. His “America First” strategy—if it is a strategy—appeared to be premised on the notion that all production, certainly all value added, should accrue to the US, whereas others should happily relegate themselves to being customers. In other words, a simple reversal of what the economic nationalist that was Trump 2016 railed against. Few countries of course, unless led by highly incompetent or deeply corrupt persons, would sign on to such a deal. Indeed, by the end of 2017 the entire European Union was denouncing US sanctions on Russia that were aimed at displacing Russian oil and gas supplies to Europe in favour of US suppliers.
Trump’s cabinet choices revealed troubling tendencies that continued to play out through all of 2017, where he apparently handpicked persons who were ideologically at odds with each other, resulting in factions, infighting, and multiple purges. Trump’s personal choices included neoconservatives in military strategy and foreign policy, along with neoliberals from Wall Street—all in the name of “draining the swamp”. The most charitable reading of this was that Trump needed to recruit experts on “the swamp” in order to “drain” it effectively—but that proved to be illusory as his regime tilted more in favour of the swamp through the year, becoming, in Fox News’ Tucker Carlson’s view, virtually indistinguishable from what a Hillary Clinton administration might have been. The only renegade swamp creature, Steve Bannon (ex-Goldman Sachs), was himself purged.
The paradox was that Trump’s remarkable continuity with past administrations’ policies did not quieten opponents. They simply could not forgive that someone outside of the elite political class had trumped them all, outsmarted them, and defeated them. Then that would mean the opposition was merely partisan, basically personal, and not so much ideological or ethical. Trump’s opponents would resort, disingenuously, to turgid reminders that Trump lost the popular vote…when everyone who knows anything about US elections knows they are not won by the popular vote. Trump won the way he had to win, and that is all that counts. This simple fact seems to have agitated sore losers and their billionaire patrons, who had lost face, and even more than that, had lost all electoral momentum across the US, at all levels except select city governments and a minority of state governorships. There were mass demonstrations of sore losers, and the formation of a dubious and hypocritical “resistance”. But, as we know, nothing is permanent, and by the end of the year it seemed that Republicans were losing electoral ground.
Seeking to destabilize the Trump administration by fomenting mass hysteria and indulging in wild conspiracy theories, became one of the early trademarks of 2017. Which interests were behind this? One article that provoked waves of indignation and sometimes juvenile hyperbole (because its facts were incontrovertible) was Asra Nomani’s “Billionaire George Soros has ties to more than 50 ‘partners’ of the Women’s March on Washington”:
“Soros has funded, or has close relationships with, at least 56 of the march’s ‘partners,’ including ‘key partners’ Planned Parenthood, which opposes Trump’s anti-abortion policy, and the National Resource Defense Council, which opposes Trump’s environmental policies. The other Soros ties with ‘Women’s March’ organizations include the partisan MoveOn.org (which was fiercely pro-Clinton), the National Action Network (which has a former executive director lauded by Obama senior advisor Valerie Jarrett as ‘a leader of tomorrow’ as a march co-chair and another official as ‘the head of logistics’). Other Soros grantees who are ‘partners’ in the march are the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch”.
It should not have come as a surprise, given what we knew even earlier from another article by Kenneth Vogel, “Soros bands with donors to resist Trump, ‘take back power’”:
“George Soros and other rich liberals who spent tens of millions of dollars trying to elect Hillary Clinton are gathering in Washington for a three-day, closed door meeting to retool the big-money left to fight back against Donald Trump….The meeting is the first major gathering of the institutional left since Trump’s shocking victory over Hillary Clinton in last week’s presidential election, and, if the agenda is any indication, liberals plan full-on trench warfare against Trump from Day One. Some sessions deal with gearing up for 2017 and 2018 elections, while others focus on thwarting President-elect Trump’s 100-day plan, which the agenda calls ‘a terrifying assault on President Obama’s achievements—and our progressive vision for an equitable and just nation’”.
A deeply critical article in CounterPunch perfectly bored holes through the aura of the “Women’s March,” in C.J. Hopkins’ “The Resistance and Its Double”:
“Calling it a ‘Women’s March’ (a) imbued it with a grassroots aura, (b) obscured the larger power struggle between the neoliberal establishment and the neo-nationalist Trump regime, and (c) rendered it impossible to criticize without coming off as a misogynist creep. What kind of monster, after all, would want to criticize millions of women dressed as vaginas and other reproductive organs for ‘being proactive about women’s rights,’ and ‘joining in their diversity,’ and so on, because they accidentally happened to organize their protests in a way that perfectly aligned with the aims of the global neoliberal establishment, which is relentlessly delegitimizing Trump for reasons that have nothing to do with women? Imagine, if they had called it a ‘Liberals’ March,’ or a ‘Deep State March,’ or a ‘March to Restore the Democrats to Power as Soon as Possible.’ It wouldn’t have been anywhere nearly as effective, in terms of framing the official narrative.”
Two months before the “Women’s March,” another sharp analysis in CounterPunch dissolved the mystique of the “resistance,” while underscoring Bernie Sanders’ shady political track record, in a piece by John Stauber titled, “Why the Trump Protests, Like the Wisconsin Uprising, Will Fail”:
“So here is what the future looks like folks, but you don’t need your shades, it’s not very bright. The Trump protests are a guaranteed loser, an emotional vent that will only translate into support and sympathy for him, as the totally failed Wisconsin Uprising made Scott Walker a superhero and gave the GOP complete control in that state. As the protests subside, the progressive vultures will rise—the OurRevolution, Brand New Congress, Democracy For American, Move On professionals—a well established clique feeding together, pushing and shoving, at the same trough, blasting the same PR memes into the progressive echo chamber, building their political revolution within the Democrat Party, already working as its fronts for 2018 and 2020”.
Three of the most important essays to come out in January 2017 sought to carefully reflect on the meaning of Trump’s ascendancy. There was John Pilger’s “This Week the Issue is Not Trump. It is Ourselves,” which also critically reflected on the Obama presidency in detail. Pilger deflated the myth of a resistant “left” in the US, seeing in it the roots of a very real neo-fascism:
“Today, false symbolism is all. ‘Identity’ is all. In 2016, Hillary Clinton stigmatised millions of voters as ‘a basket of deplorables, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it’. Her abuse was handed out at an LGBT rally as part of her cynical campaign to win over minorities by abusing a white mostly working-class majority. Divide and rule, this is called; or identity politics in which race and gender conceal class, and allow the waging of class war. Trump understood this.”
“The obsession with Trump is a cover for many of those calling themselves ‘left/liberal’, as if to claim political decency. They are not ‘left’, neither are they especially ‘liberal’. Much of America’s aggression towards the rest of humanity has come from so-called liberal Democratic administrations—such as Obama’s. America’s political spectrum extends from the mythical centre to the lunar right”.
Another important essay was Zygmunt Bauman’s “How Neoliberalism Prepared The Way For Donald Trump,” long, critical of Trump, critical of Clinton, and particularly critical of neoliberalism:
“But to cut the long story short: neo-liberalism, now the hegemonic philosophy shared by almost the whole of the political spectrum (and most certainly the entire part classified by Trump and his ilk as the ‘establishment’ earmarked for annihilation by the popular wrath and rebellion) distanced itself from its predecessor [classical liberalism] and indeed set itself in stark opposition by doing precisely what the classic liberalism fought valiantly to prevent while leaning over backward to reverse in case it was already done: and that by exiling the precept of Egalité—for all practical intents and purposes, from the three-partite compact of the Enlightenment’s principles and postulates—even if not always from its entitlement to lip service”.
Finally, from Greg Ip at the Wall Street Journal, we had, “We Are Not the World”:
“The British vote to leave the European Union in June and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president in November were not about whether government should be smaller but whether the nation-state still mattered….Supporters of these disparate movements are protesting not just globalization—the process whereby goods, capital and people move ever more freely across borders—but globalism, the mind-set that globalization is natural and good, that global governance should expand as national sovereignty contracts. The new nationalist surge has startled establishment parties in part because they don’t see globalism as an ideology. How could it be, when it is shared across the traditional left-right spectrum by the likes of Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair, George W. Bush and David Cameron? But globalism is an ideology, and its struggle with nationalism will shape the coming era much as the struggle between conservatives and liberals has shaped the last”.
By the end of January, enacting one of the few economic nationalist promises made by “Trump 2016,” Trump cancelled US participation in negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Though February seemed to be dominated not just by the launch of Cold War II, thanks to Democrats and their anti-Russia conspiracy theories that alleged—always alleged, without any evidence of any worth made public—Russian hacking and/or “meddling” in the 2016 election, the month also presented some thoughtful essays that tried to make sense of Trump’s new presidency.
February opened with a remark by Donald Trump in an interview by Bill O’Reilly, that seemed to deeply offend those perpetually innocent Americans who plead saintly virtues at the end of a wide path of global destruction. O’Reilly called Vladimir Putin a “killer” and Trump simply responded, “We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country is so innocent?” Just as the fear-mongering, hysteria, conspiracy theories, and the new McCarthyism of Cold War II were reaching new heights of dangerous ignorance and deception—Trump’s comment came across to many liberals as virtual treason. (See C.J. Hopkins’ “Goose-stepping Our Way Toward Pink Revolution”.) Trump was, of course, absolutely right—and trying to figure out what else was right about Trump, and more importantly, what his supporters got right, occupied many pages of commentary in February. Also in February, Trump, who had been accused by Obama and Clinton of winning thanks to “fake news,” deftly seized and appropriated the “fake news” label as if he had invented it, and it became his. The Federalist published a list in February of the top anti-Trump fake news: “16 Fake News Stories Reporters Have Run Since Trump Won”. The month ended strangely with praise from all establishment quarters for Trump, following his joint address to Congress on February 28. When opposition to Trump begins by being superficial, personal, and emotional, it renders itself friable and can quickly turn to complicity.
Noteworthy essays and articles in this month seemed deeply engaged with trying to make sense of the Trump presidency just as it was beginning to take shape.
Given the transformation of “fascism” into a largely empty buzzword, in other words, a mere term of abuse deployed as part of the vocabulary of the anti-Trump “resistance,” it was unusually courageous of a neoliberal bastion such as The Guardian to publish John Daniel Davidson’s essay, “Trump is no fascist. He is a champion for the forgotten millions”:
“In many ways, the 2016 election wasn’t just a referendum on Obama’s eight years in the White House, it was a rejection of the entire political system that gave us Iraq, the financial crisis, a botched healthcare law and shocking income inequality during a slow economic recovery. From Akron to Alaska, millions of Americans had simply lost confidence in their leaders and the institutions that were supposed to serve them. In their desperation, they turned to a man who had no regard for the elites—and no use for them. In his inaugural address, Trump said: ‘Today, we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, DC, and giving it back to you, the people.’ To be sure, populism of this kind can be dangerous and unpredictable, But it doesn’t arise from nowhere. Only a corrupt political establishment could have provoked a political revolt of this scale. Instead of blaming Trump’s rise on racism or xenophobia, blame it on those who never saw this coming and still don’t understand why so many Americans would rather have Donald Trump in the White House than suffer the rule of their elites”. (Related: see “Donald Trump didn’t ‘hoodwink’ his voters, says professor who has spent nearly a decade researching them” and “Democrats can’t win until they recognize how bad Obama’s financial policies were” and “20 Questions Liberals Need To Ask About Their Reaction To Trump”.)
Examining the nationalism at the heart of the Trump 2016 phenomenon (Trump 2017 would prove to be quite different), an article by Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry, “For Love of Country,” provided a defense of nationalism:
“But the critics [of Donald Trump] also had this reaction because the [inaugural] address had a theme—nationalism—that has itself long been assumed in many quarters to be dark, divisive, and dangerous. That assumption has never been justified and should now be discarded. Nationalism can be a healthy and constructive force. Since nationalistic sentiments also have wide appeal and durability, it would be wiser to cultivate that kind of nationalism than to attempt to move beyond it”. (Related: see “The New Nationalism in America”; highly recommended is the American Affairs journal.)
Damon Hatheway elegantly dissected the growing mythology surrounding the Obama legacy, which cast Obama’s policies in a hallowed light simply by virtue of not being Trump’s. Read “2017 Should Be a Year of Atonement for Many Liberals”:
“Obama’s hawking spans the African continent, too. In 2014 alone the United States carried out 647 special operations missions in Africa. Last year, the Obama administration expanded its imperialism, running covert operations in 33 different African countries—covering more than 60 percent of the continent. Obama’s aggressive use of his military in the name of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ halfway around the world without congressional or international permission recalls the imperial abuses of the previous administration. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld would be proud….Under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the United States has been a real friend and benefactor to fascist regimes around the world. Donald Trump’s rhetoric pales in comparison. Those sounding the alarms about graffiti swastikas in ‘Donald Trump’s America’ had nothing to say while the U.S. and NATO helped recreate the antebellum South in Libya. Major media outlets ignored, obfuscated, and whitewashed the Obama administration’s support of militant Neo-Nazis in Ukraine, genocidal racists in Libya, and the ‘moderate rebel’ forces aligned with Al Qaeda or ISIS throughout the Middle East. Their present indignation at Trump’s support from the KKK and the ‘alt-right’ rings hollow”.
In a return to McCarthyism and the Cold War, US university campuses are renewing their suppression of opposing views and stifling debate, becoming engines of censorship. A few sober academics have taken notice, some even daring to speak out—such is the case of John Etchemendy’s “The threat from within”:
“Over the years, I have watched a growing intolerance at universities in this country—not intolerance along racial or ethnic or gender lines—there, we have made laudable progress. Rather, a kind of intellectual intolerance, a political one-sidedness, that is the antithesis of what universities should stand for. It manifests itself in many ways: in the intellectual monocultures that have taken over certain disciplines; in the demands to disinvite speakers and outlaw groups whose views we find offensive; in constant calls for the university itself to take political stands. We decry certain news outlets as echo chambers, while we fail to notice the echo chamber we’ve built around ourselves. This results in a kind of intellectual blindness that will, in the long run, be more damaging to universities than cuts in federal funding or ill-conceived constraints on immigration. It will be more damaging because we won’t even see it: We will write off those with opposing views as evil or ignorant or stupid, rather than as interlocutors worthy of consideration. We succumb to the all-purpose ad hominem because it is easier and more comforting than rational argument”. (See also: “Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression—A Statement by Robert P. George and Cornel West”.)
As for protests emanating from the identity lobbies that backed the Democrats, Victor Davis Hanson produced an interesting article titled, “The End Of Identity Politics,” which found five factors for the prospective collapse of identity politics. He concludes the article with this:
“The 2016 election marked an earthquake in the diversity industry. It is increasingly difficult to judge who we are merely by our appearances, which means that identity politics may lose its influence. These fissures probably explain some of the ferocity of the protests we’ve seen in recent weeks. A dying lobby is fighting to hold on to its power”.
By the beginning of March, we began to see an outline of how the Trump presidency would be reworked. Forces that attempted a pre-coup against Trump in 2016, leading what might be called pre-emptive pre-regime change, rededicated themselves to destabilizing his presidency, in an effort to re-establish the neoliberal order with its self-appointed patrons and guardians, and deny the legitimacy of a democratic election in order to cover for their own failure. The mantra that Trump was a traitor who “colluded with the Russians,” became deafening in the increasingly marginalized, discredited and distrusted ex-mainstream media. The ongoing results of all this were a continued escalation in tensions with Russia and the birth of a new, more dangerous Cold War, as well as the rebirth of McCarthyism—see Mollie Hemingway’s March 8th article, “The Hysteria Over Russia Is Causing Serious Foreign Policy Problems”. Meanwhile, “no evidence of collusion” between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia had been found ahead of the first public hearing on the matter in March, and none would ever appear throughout 2017.
Yet, the “Russia collusion” story was also turned back on Democrats, and the Clintons in particular, especially in this March 3rd article by Peter Schweizer, “Trump vs. Clintons’ Russia ties (guess who always got a free pass)”. This comment from Schweizer would, by the end of the year, attract the weight of top-level support from committees in the US Senate and House of Representatives and from the Department of Justice: “It seems strange that while some in Congress are eager to investigate the activities of General Mike Flynn and his contacts with Russia, they have no interest in looking into a transaction in which the Clinton Foundation received a staggering $145 million. It’s that kind of inconsistency that saps all credibility from those raising these issues”.
For his part, Mark Levin outlined the nature of the “silent coup” launched by Obama against Trump, summarizing it as follows: “the Obama administration sought, and eventually obtained, authorization to eavesdrop on the Trump campaign; continued monitoring the Trump team even when no evidence of wrongdoing was found; then relaxed the NSA rules to allow evidence to be shared widely within the government, virtually ensuring that the information, including the conversations of private citizens, would be leaked to the media”. Support for the “silent coup” thesis also came in a well reasoned, critical analysis by Andrew McCarthy in “The Obama Camp’s Disingenuous Denials on FISA Surveillance of Trump,” which also confirmed Trump’s claim that his campaign was wiretapped by Obama: “whether done inside or outside the FISA process, it would be a scandal of Watergate dimension if a presidential administration sought to conduct, or did conduct, national-security surveillance against the presidential candidate of the opposition party. Unless there was some powerful evidence that the candidate was actually acting as an agent of a foreign power, such activity would amount to a pretextual use of national-security power for political purposes. That is the kind of abuse that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation in lieu of impeachment”. (See also: “Nunes: Trump transition members were under surveillance during Obama administration” and “Nunes ‘Unmasking’ Report Vindicates Trump Claims on Surveillance”). Late March also featured testimony by then FBI director James Comey concerning “Russiagate”—with one of the best analytical summaries being the one produced by Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, and executive director of the Council for the National Interest (see “Russiagate’s Unasked Questions—Comey’s testimony settles nothing”).
With respect to some of the best essays, published in March, we can include the following article by Sean McElwee, Brian Schaffner and Jesse Rhodes, “How Wealthy Donors Drive Aggressive Foreign Policy”:
“On several key questions, wealthy people—and, in particular, ‘elite donors’ (those who contribute $5,000 or more, or the top 1 percent of all donors)—are much more enthusiastic about the projection of American force than are American adults. The enthusiasm of the most wealthy and influential private actors in American politics provides a durable reservoir of support for the assertion of American power abroad. Given the profound, and likely growing, influence of political donors in American politics, our findings suggest that strong political supports for American foreign interventionism will remain long after Bannon, and Trump, have departed the executive branch”.
Without endorsing its opinions, this Op-Ed by former UK prime minister Tony Blair can give one insights into the elite’s fear of the masses and the elite’s lack of any significant vision for maintaining the status quo. It is also an indirect admission of guilt, as well as a concession by elite technocrats such as Blair of what events have forced them to acknowledge—see “Tony Blair: Against Populism, the Center Must Hold”:
“The party structures on both sides of the Atlantic have their origins in the Industrial Revolution and the debates engendered by that epoch about socialism and capitalism, the market and the state. These parties have endured because the roots they put down were very strong. But now, there are different distinctions than those simply of traditional right and left….Today, a distinction that often matters more than traditional right and left is open vs. closed. The open-minded see globalization as an opportunity but one with challenges that should be mitigated; the closed-minded see the outside world as a threat. This distinction crosses traditional party lines and thus has no organizing base, no natural channel for representation in electoral politics”.
Likewise James Traub in his Op-Ed, “The Hard Truth About Refugees,” is also forced to acknowledge that the liberal, cosmopolitan dogma about the unvarnished value of unfettered immigration, is largely bogus. In this vein he writes:
“The answer to xenophobia cannot be xenophilia. For mobile, prosperous, worldly people, the cherishing of diversity is a cardinal virtue; we dote on difference. That’s simply not true for many people who can’t choose where to live, or who prefer the familiar coordinates of their life. That was the bitter lesson that British cosmopolites learned from Brexit. If the answer is to insist that the arrival of vast numbers of new people on our doorstep is an unmixed blessing, and that those who believe otherwise are Neanderthals, then we leave the field wide open to Donald J. Trump and Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen”.
Perry Anderson wrote about the EU, anti-systemic movements, and neoliberalism in his article, “Too Frightened to Change a Hated Order”:
“The central fact is the greater overall weight of movements of the right over those of the left, both in the number of countries where they have the upper hand and in voting strength. Both are reactions to the structure of the neoliberal system, which finds its starkest, most concentrated expression in today’s EU, with its order founded on the reduction and privatization of public services; the abrogation of democratic control and representation; and deregulation of the factors of production. All three are present at national level in Europe, as elsewhere, but they are of a higher degree of intensity at EU level, as the torture of Greece, trampling of referendums, and scale of human trafficking attest. In the political arena, they are the overriding issues of popular concern, driving protests against the system over austerity, sovereignty, and immigration….For anti-systemic movements of the left in Europe, the lesson of recent years is clear. If they are not to go on being outpaced by movements of the right, they cannot afford to be less radical in attacking the system, and must be more coherent in their opposition to it. That means facing the probability that the EU is now so path-dependent as a neoliberal construction that reform of it is no longer seriously conceivable. It would have to be undone before anything better could be built, either by breaking out of the current EU, or by reconstructing Europe on another foundation, committing Maastricht to the flames. Unless there is a further, deeper economic crisis, there is little likelihood of either”.
Similarly of special interest was Angela Nagle’s article, “Enemies of the People—How hatred of the masses bridges our partisan divide”:
“As we veer into a brave new age of right-wing populism, a restive mood of contempt for the masses has seized the opposition. Demoralized liberals, still reeling from the debacle of the 2016 presidential ballot, are salving their wounds with reveries of metaphysical superiority. There are many curious things about this rhetorical shift. For starters, populism cuts across traditional ideological divides. Paralleling Donald Trump’s nationalist anti-immigration takeover of the GOP and the presidency was the left-populist crusade of Bernie Sanders, rallying workers to traditional (capital-P) Populist remedies of public ownership of higher education and health care access, among other things, and a reversal of the present inequalities of federal taxation. Meanwhile, the anti-globalist Brexit vote, captained by the nationalist rightist UK Independence Party, came in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s overthrow of the New Labour neoliberal orthodoxies festering at the heart of British left politics since the age of Tony Blair. You’d think the disenchanted forces of Anglophone liberalism would now embrace viable left populisms of the economic variety as an antidote to the confrontational, xenophobic cultural populism of the right. But you would, of course, be wrong”. (See also: “No Sympathy for the Hillbilly”.)
A key article by Bob Davis and Jon Hilsenrath outlined in detail the current process of deglobalization in, “Whatever Happened to Free Trade” and how few of the elites who championed globalization were willing to recognize its downsides:
“Nine years after the financial crisis, global trade is barely growing when compared with overall economic output. Cross-border bank lending is down sharply, as are international capital flows. Immigration in the U.S. and Western Europe faces a deepening public backlash. Nationalist politicians are on the ascent. On Wednesday, the U.K. formally started proceedings to remove itself from the European Union. In the U.S., President Donald Trump pulled out of a Pacific trade pact on his first working day in the Oval Office, declaring, ‘Great thing for the American worker, what we just did’”.
As if to prove correct the article above, Donald Trump signed two executive orders on trade, offering the following opening remarks:
“During the campaign, I traveled the nation and visited the cities and towns devastated by unfair trade policies, probably one of the major reasons I’m here today—trade….I saw the shuttered factories and spent time with the laid-off factory workers. I heard their stories, and I promised action and I promised them a solution….The jobs and wealth have been stripped from our country. Year after year, decade after decade, trade deficit upon trade deficit—reaching more than $700 billion last year alone, and lots of jobs. Thousands of factories have been stolen from our country. But these voiceless Americans now have a voice in the White House. Under my administration, the theft of American prosperity will end. We’re going to defend our industry and create a level playing field for the American worker—finally”.
As we would see with the eruption of conflict in Canada–US trade relations during 2017, the US was now putting the ball in the court of other nations, virtually demanding that they defend their own interests, in response.
Finally, March—barely two months into the Trump presidency—showed signs of a new turn, especially when it came to Trump’s policy on Syria. This involved increasing the number of US troops in Syria itself, escalating Obama’s illegal invasion and occupation of Syrian territory. Moreover, as we would learn by the end of the year, the reported numbers were likely half or less of the number of troops first reported. With that in mind, see: “U.S. Is Sending About 400 Marines To Syria”; “Marines have arrived in Syria to fire artillery in the fight for Raqqa”; and, “U.S. military likely to send as many as 1,000 more ground troops into Syria ahead of Raqqa offensive, officials say”. The serious threat posed by Trump’s escalation is that these troops could stay well past the defeat of ISIS, or be used as a pretext to launch direct war on the Syrian state using a “self-defense” argument if Syria attacked US forces, or that US forces could be involved in an accidental clash with Russian forces that could escalate further—see: “‘We’re bad day away from Russians asking, ‘Why are you still in Syria?’–top US commander”.
April was a month of turning points. Within a single week, the official position in Washington went from being one that stated disinterest in any regime change in Syria, to one that openly advocated it. Of all the events of April, the one that stood out the most in clearly identifying the existence of a “Trump 2017,” who stood in opposition to “Trump 2016,” was when Trump took a clearly liberal imperialist, war-mongering stance against Syria, backing regime change using a “humanitarian” pretext, and striking Syria with missiles. Trump reportedly acted at the urging of his neoliberal globalist daughter, Ivanka, whose politics are indistinguishable from those of Hillary Clinton. Given this turn, one can look at “Trump 2017” in a fierce argument with this former self, via all of his anti-intervention tweets on Syria that were directed at Obama. It was an extremely dangerous move that could have had disastrous consequences, as the US struck an airbase that was also used by the Russian air force. Regardless, tensions between the US and Russia were heightened, as shown in the tense encounter between Rex Tillerson and Sergei Lavrov in Moscow. Russia also slammed the UK for its “evil, undiplomatic behaviour” at the UN in connection with the conflict in Syria.
In a joint press conference with King Abdullah II of Jordan, Trump cast his actions under the shadow of humanitarianism:
“Yesterday, a chemical attack—a chemical attack that was so horrific, in Syria, against innocent people, including women, small children, and even beautiful little babies. Their deaths was an affront to humanity. These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated”.
This was an incredibly dangerous slant. First, it made clear that the US leadership would once again be open to the propaganda produced by forces affiliated with Al Qaeda. Second, the statement essentially created a market for the traffic in photos of dead children, used as the favourite trope in most major war mongering campaigns of the past quarter century. By the end of the year, Trump would give a speech in which he mentioned “bucket babies” in North Korea, adding to the infamous “incubator babies” lie about Iraq, and continuing the base exploitation of children as props for militarism.
Almost everything about the statement was either wrong or highly suspect, especially as the US State Department itself had already certified in 2014 that all chemical weapons in Syria had been removed. Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, revealed that military and intelligence personnel who were intimately familiar with the intelligence on Syria, saw no evidence of Russia or Syria being behind the alleged chemical attack, in fact, disputing that it was a chemical attack as such. Scott Ritter, former Iraq weapons inspector, published an excellent article (“Wag The Dog— How Al Qaeda Played Donald Trump And The American Media”) that went in depth in picking apart Trump’s flawed logic, contradictory excuses, and evidence-free assertions. One of Ritter’s conclusions is damning:
“History will show that Donald Trump, his advisors and the American media were little more than willing dupes for Al Qaeda and its affiliates, whose manipulation of the Syrian narrative resulted in a major policy shift that furthers their objectives”.
In “Is US Policy to Prolong the Syrian War?” Sam Husseini made the following argument, and it was one of Trump’s continuity with Obama, and US policy before that:
“To summarize U.S. actions and non-actions in terms of direct publicly announced U.S. air attacks targeting the Syrian regime: In 2013, when Assad was losing the war, Obama refrained from strikes that may well have ended his regime. Now, four years later, when Assad seems close to winning the war, Trump with a revamped NSC does a 180 on his previous pronouncements and attacks Assad. Push away the personalities. Dispense with the rhetoric. Free yourself from the spin cycle that much of the media obsess over. Just follow the policy. The evidence is that the underlying U.S. policy—whether the president is Obama or Trump—is to prolong the Syrian war as much as possible. Let Assad off the hook when he’s cornered, hit him when he’s about to win”.
Within a matter of one week alone, Trump’s choice of US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, had gone from stating that the US was “no longer focused on getting Assad out” to open support for regime change: “There’s not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime”.
For the liberal corporate media in the US, Trump had finally become their president. All of Trump’s usual detractors were now praising and applauding him, once the missiles started flying. No doubt Trump would read this as “great reviews”—ever so mindful as he is about his ratings, his brand, the numbers. On how the neocons/liberals saluted Trump, see Neil Clark’s “How Trump went from zero to hero for the pro-war Establishment”:
“The Extreme Center loves to brand all those who oppose the policies of ‘liberal interventionism’ and endless war as being ‘far right.’ Even if many of the opponents are socialists, Greens or Communists. By contrast, those who support regular attacks on Middle Eastern states are labelled ‘moderates.’ We live in a truly Orwellian world where those who are quite happy to risk World War III in order to get rid of a secular government in Syria are presented as ‘respected commentators,’ while those against this madness are marginalized. The events of the last seven days have shown us what a charade the Establishment Trump-bashing was. The Donald was portrayed as beyond the pale not because the neocon/fake-left elite were genuinely concerned about him being a sexist or racist President, but because they were worried that he wouldn’t be a regime-changing War President”.
April offered a sign of the beginnings of an exodus of support for Trump from the anti-interventionist right, from those who are sickened by the costs of permanent war, and others who saw Trump turning back on his campaign promises by validating the very neoconservatives who had berated him and which he had ousted from the GOP. As outlined in “Is Trump Losing His Support Base After Attacking The Syrian Government?” some of the loudest supporters of “Trump 2016” would become the most vocal opponents of “Trump 2017”. This opposition ranged from Nigel Farage to Ann Coulter, and to different degrees Tucker Carlson and even Steve Bannon himself, plus other popular conservatives who announced that, after Trump attacked Syria, they were getting off the “Trump Train” (see also: “By Going After Assange, Trump Will Alienate The Alt-Right Forever” and “Why Do We Want a Cooperative Relationship With Russia?”). Justin Raimondo, the libertarian figure heading AntiWar.com, went to the Los Angeles Times to publish his Op-Ed, “I voted for Trump. After Syria, I feel betrayed,” in which among other things he noted Trump’s desire to appeal to his enemies:
“The liberal media are thrilled by Trump’s transformation: The chorus of gushing praise on CNN and MSNBC as bombs fell on Syria was loud and practically unanimous. And Trump is reciprocating: Last week at a White House event honoring first responders, he characterized the media as ‘honorable people.’ Remember when he called them out as ‘the world’s most dishonest people’? Ah, those were the good old days! And while Trump praises his enemies, he denigrates his loyal friends, openly downgrading Stephen K. Bannon, the architect of his victory, as just ‘someone who works for me.’ As the elites rush to embrace the president, those of us who supported him are horrified, angry and increasingly convinced that instead of draining the swamp, Trump has jumped headlong into it”.
To the extent one can trust opinion polls any longer, one showed popular support for Trump’s missile strike on Syria, but not for increased military action (such as putting US forces on the ground—which were already there). On the other hand, another poll showed a large drop in the number of voters who believed Trump would keep his promises, falling from 62% to 45%, which goes well beyond the issue of Syria of course, but it also reflects a growing condemnation of Trump’s betrayal of his own campaign promises (which were explicitly against regime change in Syria). It would be reported in subsequent months that Trump also lost a significant amount of support among the white working class in several key states, with his numbers matching Mitt Romney’s when he lost to Obama in 2012. By October, Trump’s support among the rural working class would plunge further, dropping among white workers, all people without a college degree, and men.
April was also the month when Trump ramped up his program of expanded US war, now turning to North Korea. This month saw a US naval “armada” deployed to the Korean peninsula. Even dropping the gigantic MOAB on Afghanistan in April was suggested as a message to North Korea. “Trump 2016” had never campaigned on bringing down the North Korean government or engaging in a devastating war with the country—and yet, here it was, “on the table” as Trump liked to continually remind audiences. Ahead of marking his 100th day in office, Trump told Reuters: “There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely”. That “Trump 2017” further alienated key sectors of his electoral support base was glimpsed in the increased number of sharply critical, anti-interventionist and anti-war articles…authored primarily by right wing commentators. One was Patrick Buchanan’s “War Cries Drown Out ‘America First’” where he asked:
“Why, 64 years after the Korean War, a quarter-century after the Cold War, are we still obliged to go to war to defend South Korea from a North with one-half the South’s population and 3 percent of its gross domestic product? Why are we, on the far side of the Pacific, still responsible for containing North Korea when two of its neighbors—Russia and China—are nuclear powers and South Korea and Japan could field nuclear and conventional forces far superior to Kim’s? How long into the future will containing militarist dictators in Pyongyang with nuclear missiles be America’s primary responsibility?…Will more wars make America great again?”
April was also the first time we would learn of Africans being sold in “slave markets” in Libya, via a UN agency and The Guardian’s article, “Migrants from west Africa being ‘sold in Libyan slave markets’”:
“West African migrants are being bought and sold openly in modern-day slave markets in Libya, survivors have told a UN agency helping them return home. Trafficked people passing through Libya have previously reported violence, extortion and slave labour. But the new testimony from the International Organization for Migration suggests that the trade in human beings has become so normalised that people are being traded in public. ‘The latest reports of “slave markets” for migrants can be added to a long list of outrages [in Libya],’ said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s head of operation and emergencies”.
Some of the key articles that explained the rise of populism and nationalism in France, with respect to the upcoming election were, first, Diana Johnstone’s “The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty,” which began by focusing on the importance of sovereignty vs. imperialism masked as globalization (with all its flag waving about human rights and anti-racism):
“Fifty years ago, it was ‘the left’ whose most ardent cause was passionate support for Third World national liberation struggles. The left’s heroes were Ahmed Ben Bella, Sukarno, Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba, and above all Ho Chi Minh. What were these leaders fighting for? They were fighting to liberate their countries from Western imperialism. They were fighting for independence, for the right to determine their own way of life, preserve their own customs, decide their own future. They were fighting for national sovereignty, and the left supported that struggle. Today, it is all turned around. ‘Sovereignty’ has become a bad word in the mainstream left. National sovereignty is an essentially defensive concept. It is about staying home and minding one’s own business. It is the opposite of the aggressive nationalism that inspired fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to conquer other countries, depriving them of their national sovereignty. The confusion is due to the fact that most of what calls itself ‘the left’ in the West has been totally won over to the current form of imperialism—aka ‘globalization’. It is an imperialism of a new type, centered on the use of military force and ‘soft’ power to enable transnational finance to penetrate every corner of the earth and thus to reshape all societies in the endless quest for profitable return on capital investment. The left has been won over to this new imperialism because it advances under the banner of ‘human rights’ and ‘antiracism’—abstractions which a whole generation has been indoctrinated to consider the central, if not the only, political issues of our times. The fact that ‘sovereignism’ is growing in Europe is interpreted by mainstream globalist media as proof that ‘Europe is moving to the right’—no doubt because Europeans are ‘racist’. This interpretation is biased and dangerous. People in more and more European nations are calling for national sovereignty precisely because they have lost it. They lost it to the European Union, and they want it back”.
The second key article begins as an analysis of France’s urban regions, as transformed by globalization, focusing on the works of the geographer, Christophe Guilluy, then moving into issues of immigration, political correctness, free speech, and class dominance—see Christopher Caldwell’s “The French, Coming Apart”:
“Guilluy doubts that any place exists in France’s new economy for working people as we’ve traditionally understood them. Paris offers the most striking case. As it has prospered, the City of Light has stratified, resembling, in this regard, London or American cities such as New York and San Francisco. It’s a place for millionaires, immigrants, tourists, and the young, with no room for the median Frenchman. Paris now drives out the people once thought of as synonymous with the city. Yet economic opportunities for those unable to prosper in Paris are lacking elsewhere in France. Journalists and politicians assume that the stratification of France’s flourishing metropoles results from a glitch in the workings of globalization. Somehow, the rich parts of France have failed to impart their magical formula to the poor ones. Fixing the problem, at least for certain politicians and policy experts, involves coming up with a clever shortcut: perhaps, say, if Romorantin had free wireless, its citizens would soon find themselves wealthy, too. Guilluy disagrees. For him, there’s no reason to expect that Paris (and France’s other dynamic spots) will generate a new middle class or to assume that broad-based prosperity will develop elsewhere in the country (which happens to be where the majority of the population live). If he is right, we can understand why every major Western country has seen the rise of political movements taking aim at the present system”.
Finally, a batch of articles came out that dealt with immigration, identity politics, and censorship on US university campuses—see:
“Sexual paranoia on campus – and the professor at the eye of the storm”
“Free Speech as Battleground—Censorship used against our enemies will soon be used against us”
One of the key events of May was Donald Trump’s first major foreign tour, which took place in the Middle East from May 20 through May 23, before continuing to Europe. What became immediately clear was the extreme degree to which Trump aligned US interests with those of Saudi Arabia, clearly overwhelmed by the ornate sight of ostentatious and gaudy Saudi wealth. This was another clear sign of how much of Trump’s policy is about boosting the Trump brand through service to the transnational capitalist class, which he hopes to firmly join. In addition, it was a means for Trump to continue ramping up arms sales to Saudi Arabia (a possible marriage of Trump’s militarism and economic nationalism).
Continuing with the theme of the aftermath of NATO’s intervention in Libya, May produced further evidence of blowback, and complicity by the British government, an acutely important subject given the several serious terrorist attacks that happened in the UK throughout 2017. In particular, Amandla Thomas-Johnson’s “‘Sorted’ by MI5: How UK government sent British-Libyans to fight Gaddafi”:
“The British government operated an ‘open door’ policy that allowed Libyan exiles and British-Libyan citizens to join the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi even though some had been subject to counter-terrorism control orders, Middle East Eye can reveal. Several former rebel fighters now back in the UK told MEE that they had been able to travel to Libya with ‘no questions asked’ as authorities continued to investigate the background of a British-Libyan suicide bomber who killed 22 people in Monday’s attack in Manchester”.
See also Jim Kavanagh’s “No Laughing Matter: The Manchester Bomber is the Spawn of Hillary and Barack’s Excellent Libyan Adventure”:
“Last Monday, jihadi suicide bomber Salman Abedi blew himself up at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, killing 22 people. Salman grew up in an anti-Qaddafi Libyan immigrant family. In 2011, his father, Ramadan Abedi, along with other British Libyans (including one who was under house arrest), ‘was allowed to go [to Libya], no questions asked,’ to join the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an al-Qaeda-affiliate, to help overthrow Qaddafi. In Manchester, as Max Blumenthal puts it, in his excellent Alternet piece, it was all ‘part of the rat line operated by the MI5, which hustled anti-Qaddafi Libyan exiles to the front lines of the war.’ In Manchester, Salman lived near a number of LIFG militants, including an expert bomb maker….As Middle East Eye reports, he ‘was known to security services,’ and some of his acquaintances ‘had reported him to the police via an anti-terrorism hotline.’ Could it be any clearer? The Abedi family was part of a protected cohort of Salafist proxy soldiers that have been used by ‘the West’ to destroy the Libyan state. There are a number of such cohorts around the world that have been used for decades to overthrow relatively prosperous and secular, but insufficiently compliant, governments in the Arab and Muslim world—and members of those groups have perpetrated several blowback attacks in Western countries, via various winding roads”.
An especially important critique of the impact of economic globalization on democracy came from Christopher Caldwell’s detailed article, “Sending Jobs Overseas”:
“In the United States and the united Kingdom this more cynical view has in recent months prevailed over the rosy official account that had been elaborated over decades. In 1993, during the first month of his presidency, Bill Clinton outlined some of the promise of a world in which ‘the average 18-year-old today will change jobs seven times in a lifetime.’ How could anyone ever have believed in, tolerated, or even wished for such a thing? A person cannot productively invest the resources of his only life if he’s going to be told every five years that everything he once thought solid has melted into air. Far from being a promise, this much-touted side of globalization would be worth a great deal of hardship to avoid. The more so since globalization undermines democracy, in the ways we have noted. Global value chains are extraordinarily delicate. They are vulnerable to shocks. Terrorists have discovered this. In order to work, free-trade systems must be frictionless and immune to interruption, forever. This means a program of intellectual property protection, zero tariffs, and cross-border traffic in everything, including migrants. This can be assured only in a system that is veto-proof and non-consultative—in short, undemocratic. That is why it is those who have benefited most from globalization who have been leading the counterattack against the democracy movements arising all over the West”.
Joan C. Williams’ article, “What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class” is a particularly important piece, that acts in some ways as a sample of her book. Here is just an extract from one of several key sections of the article:
“Economic resentment has fueled racial anxiety that, in some Trump supporters (and Trump himself), bleeds into open racism. But to write off WWC anger as nothing more than racism is intellectual comfort food, and it is dangerous. National debates about policing are fueling class tensions today in precisely the same way they did in the 1970s, when college kids derided policemen as ‘pigs.’ This is a recipe for class conflict. Being in the police is one of the few good jobs open to Americans without a college education. Police get solid wages, great benefits, and a respected place in their communities. For elites to write them off as racists is a telling example of how, although race- and sex-based insults are no longer acceptable in polite society, class-based insults still are”. (See also: “Stop Demonizing The White Working Class”.)
Paul Street’s “Beyond Neoliberal Identity Politics” produced an amusingly caustic critique of the foreign and domestic imperialism of the neoliberal elite:
“Last year, Daniel Denvir insightfully described Hilary Clinton’s political strategy as ‘peak neoliberalism, where a distorted version of identity politics is used to defend an oligarchy and a national security state, celebrating diversity in the management of exploitation and warfare’….This ‘peak’ neoliberal identity politics (NIP) is a great weapon on the hands of the privileged capitalist Few and their mass-murderous global empire. It was central to the Barack Obama phenomenon and presidency. And it is very much alive and kicking atop the corporate Democratic Party and its various media allies more than half a year after Mrs. Clinton’s humiliating defeat. It works like this. You couldn’t stand and vote even just ‘lesser evil’-style for the lying neoliberal warmonger (LNW) Hillary Clinton, the vicious tool and ally of the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, empire, and white supremacy? Well, NIP says, that just proves that you are a sexist. You’ve got a gender problem. You just can’t deal with women in positions of authority”.
Other essays from May that are worth reading are Andrew Bacevich’s “The Odds Against Antiwar Warriors”; Daniel Haiphong’s “Democracy Now Runs Interference for Imperialism in Syria”—which reminded me of what Democracy Now did in propagating regime change and military intervention in Libya in 2011; and, especially David Swanson’s “Believing the Russian ‘Hacking’ Claim”.
Continuing with analysis of the significance of the connection between the wars in Libya and Syria, and terrorism in the UK, see Nafeez Ahmed’s “ISIS recruiter who radicalised London Bridge attackers was protected by MI5”:
“It was Theresa May’s own ‘open door’ policy toward Britons fighting in foreign theatres which directly facilitated the expansion of this threat. Under that policy, the chief coordinator of the British-ISIS corridor, Choudary, had active ties to MI5 which prevented counter-terrorism police officers from prosecuting him. This draws a direct connection between Choudary’s impunity in Britain until 2015, and Britain’s short-sighted foreign policy goals in Syria”. (See my “How to Make Extremism Mainstream and Fake a Debate about Islamophobia”.)
In June, Saif Gaddafi was also released from prison in Libya, and immediately there were suggestions that he might well take on a prominent political role in Libya’s future. (Also recommended is “The ‘Humanitarian’ Destruction of Libya: Gaddafi, NATO, and the War on Africa”.) Also this month, Trump blundered his way into supporting the blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as if forgetting that Qatar is home to a large, critically important US military base. That Qatar did much to deserve punishment for supporting ISIS and for overthrowing Gaddafi while backing the most reactionary jihadists, is barely disputable—but the exact same could be said of those punishing Qatar, up to and including the US itself.
Continuing with Syria, and specifically Trump’s decision to launch an attack against Syria, Seymour Hersh’s “Trump’s Red Line” was essential reading for blowing the cover off the official lies told about Syria:
“The available intelligence made clear that the Syrians had targeted a jihadist meeting site on April 4 using a Russian-supplied guided bomb equipped with conventional explosives. Details of the attack, including information on its so-called high-value targets, had been provided by the Russians days in advance to American and allied military officials in Doha, whose mission is to coordinate all U.S., allied, Syrian and Russian Air Force operations in the region. Some American military and intelligence officials were especially distressed by the president’s determination to ignore the evidence. ‘None of this makes any sense,’ one officer told colleagues upon learning of the decision to bomb. ‘We KNOW that there was no chemical attack … the Russians are furious. Claiming we have the real intel and know the truth … I guess it didn’t matter whether we elected Clinton or Trump’”.
Another article relevant to the US’ illegal invasion and occupation of Syrian territory, and the US missile strike ordered by Trump, is Philip Giraldi’s, “Make No Mistake, We Are Already at War in Syria”:
“Something peculiar happens to American presidents after they take office on January 20. Campaign promises to right the easily perceived misdirections in foreign policy are abandoned, and the new program for dealing with the rest of the world winds up looking very much like the old one. Bill Clinton was an anti-Vietnam War draft dodger who preached the moral high ground for going to war before he turned around and got involved in the Balkans while also bombing Sudan and Afghanistan. George W. Bush promised non-interference and no nation-building overseas, but 9/11 converted him into an exemplar of how to do everything wrong as he sank into the quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan. Barack Obama’s margin of victory in 2008 was likely due to the perception that he was the peace candidate, particularly in contrast to his opponent Senator John McCain, but he wound up deeper in Afghanistan, out of, and then back into Iraq, interfering in Syria, and bringing about disastrous regime change in Libya while also allowing relations with Moscow to deteriorate. Donald Trump has surrounded himself with generals after promising no deeper involvement in foreign wars and the generals are telling him that winning wars only requires more soldiers on the ground and just a little more time and effort to stabilize things, all of which are self-serving formulae for policies that have already failed”.
Among the other valuable articles published in June was Roger Harris’ “Scapegoating Russia,” a timely review of Dan Kovalik’s new book, The Plot to Scapegoat Russia:
“The book’s subtitle, How the CIA and the Deep State Have Conspired to Vilify Russia, suggests a secret cabal concealed in the shadowy bowels of the State Department basement. The conspiracy that Kovalik reveals is far more shocking. It is composed of our leading public officials and state institutions hidden in plain sight and blatantly operating in the open, abetted by what is called the mainstream media with a little help from alternative sources (e.g., Democracy Now! on Libya and Syria). The CIA is not only an unreliable source (e.g. weapons of mass destruction), Kovalik demonstrates that it is also a far greater threat to US democracy than Russia. The Russian hack story is a ruse to excuse Hillary Clinton’s electoral defeat, but even more it is a justification for an ever more aggressive US imperial project. Kovalik’s The Plot to Scapegoat Russia is a worthy sequel to John Perkins’ 2004 Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, though with more sophistication and political insight than the earlier title. Just released on June 6, Kovalik’s book provides a most timely analysis and documentation to combat the unholy alliance of neo-conservatives and liberals fomenting heightened world tensions. Kovalik concludes with the admonishment that liberals have grown so apologetic about the bedrock militarism of Democrats that they don’t resist it when the other party is in power. ‘I wring my hands over my own country, which seems more out of control and dangerous than any other in the world, and which is tapping into old Cold War fears to justify its permanent war footing’”. (See also: “Russia-gate Flops as Democrats’ Golden Ticket” and Julian Assange’s note, “Why the Democratic party is doomed”.)
Finally for June, another article by Andrew Bacevich (“The ‘Global Order’ Myth—Teary-eyed nostalgia as cover for U.S. hegemony”) was a super sharp and much needed critique of the “alt facts” of what he calls the myth of a “liberal international order,” a phrase used as cover for a litany of disastrous and destructive US interventions.
This month showed the increased aggression on the part of the US in word affairs, taking significant new directions. In announcing further sanctions on Russia, curiously targeting oil and gas subsidiaries and distribution networks that served European customers, the EU rightly perceived that US sanctions were being used as a cover for plunder. Sanctions had thus become a trade tool, a tool of industrial policy. Far from being concerned with Russian “actions” in Ukraine, the sanctions would also target European companies doing business with Russia—as if European corporations were answerable to Washington. The aim appeared to be to advance US oil and gas interests, through coercion, by displacing Russian suppliers through sanctions. See: “‘America 1st doesn’t mean Europe last’ – EU lashes out at US sanctions against Russia”.
Also, far from respecting sovereignty, Trump imposed new sanctions on Venezuela by the end of July. Committing himself to a policy of regime change in Venezuela, Trump also expanded his list of targets to include Cuba. Whatever “sovereignty” means to Trump, it is not a property of either socialist or non-Western states. On a trip to Poland in July, Trump delivered a controversial speech that many understood to be a classic defence of “White, Western, Christian civilization”:
“Our adversaries, however, are doomed because we will never forget who we are. And if we don’t forget who are, we just can’t be beaten. Americans will never forget. The nations of Europe will never forget. We are the fastest and the greatest community. There is nothing like our community of nations. The world has never known anything like our community of nations. We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs, and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers. We reward brilliance. We strive for excellence, and cherish inspiring works of art that honor God. We treasure the rule of law and protect the right to free speech and free expression….That is who we are. Those are the priceless ties that bind us together as nations, as allies, and as a civilization”.
Published in July, but with a significance that exceeds the temporal bounds of a single month, Joe Lauria’s article, “Hiding US Lies About Libyan Invasion” began by detailing all of the US media that failed to cover the September 2016 UK parliamentary report on the disaster that was produced by NATO’s intervention in Libya in 2011, and the fictions that were produced to defend the war, and to cover up key facts about its main actors. Lauria then goes into the main details of the UK report, and begins with the following:
“The United States peddled its false story of a coming genocide in Libya under the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect to justify military intervention. On its face R2P appears to be a rare instance of morality in foreign and military policy: a coalition of nations with U.N. Security Council authorization would take military action to stop an impending massacre. It would have been hard to argue against such a policy in Libya if indeed its genuine purpose was to stop a massacre, after which the military operation would withdraw. But that is not where it ended. While arguing that intervention was necessary to stop a massacre in Libya, the real intent, as the British report says, was regime change. That’s not what American officials said at the outset and what corporate media reported”.
Another article that also lambasted the US media as an engine of propaganda was Robert Parry’s “MSM, Still Living in Propaganda-ville”: “As much as the U.S. mainstream media wants people to believe that it is the Guardian of Truth, it is actually lost in a wilderness of propaganda and falsehoods, a dangerous land of delusion that is putting the future of humankind at risk as tension escalate with nuclear-armed Russia”. A further blow against the anti-Russia conspiracy theory of the US’ liberal/neocon elites came from a group of former US intelligence officers who challenged the allegations that Russia hacked the Democrats during the 2016 presidential election. They also criticized analysts for not looking at the forensic evidence. The Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) sent their memo to Trump, as reported in: “Former intel officers send Trump memo challenging ‘Russia hack’ evidence”.
At the beginning of August, Trump escalated his threats against Venezuela’s sovereignty, going as far as threatening military action should Venezuela’s government reject Washington’s dictates. In response, Latin America and the Caribbean overwhelmingly denounced the US for threatening the use of force. Soon to make himself more preoccupied with North Korea, Trump would not repeat the exaggerated bellicosity against Venezuela. However, by the end of August, Trump announced further sanctions, this time against Venezuela’s economy, in what Venezuela saw as a means of forcing the country to default on its loans and provoke financial ruin. By the end of the year, that still did not happen—but we need to see what happens in 2018.
By the end of August, Trump announced a “new” strategy on Afghanistan, effectively entailing permanent occupation, and otherwise rehashing elements central to Obama’s policy which Trump had denounced as failures. As if finding it unbearable to continue pretending that he had not betrayed his campaign promises, Trump declared:
“My original instinct was to pull out—and, historically, I like following my instincts. But all my life I’ve heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office; in other words, when you’re President of the United States”.
Breitbart’s Raheem Kassam in, “His McMaster’s Voice: Is Trump’s Afghanistan Policy THAT Different from Obama’s?” hit several nails on the head in his critique of “Trump’s strategy,” finding several areas in which it is identical to Obama’s, including an implied nation-building strategy. Here is just one passage:
“Today’s Afghanistan speech by President Trump [August 21] may be equally alien to his electoral base, though it was not difficult to figure out whose influence led to the speech’s neoconservative bent. HR McMaster’s voice was clear to hear. It’s a voice that appears to have been carried over from the George W. Bush administration, and even the Obama White House”.
As if to prove that a hard turn toward the liberal imperialist/neoconservative policies of the past had taken place in the White House, one of the people responsible for Trump’s election victory, Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, found himself outside the gate. In one of the key articles marking this major turn—see “Steve Bannon, Unrepentant,” published while Bannon was still in the White House—we see the nature of the internal schisms in the Trump presidency, and the competing adversarial positions, where Bannon wanted to focus on China, not North Korea:
“‘We’re at economic war with China….It’s in all their literature. They’re not shy about saying what they’re doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path. On Korea, they’re just tapping us along. It’s just a sideshow.’ Bannon said he might consider a deal in which China got North Korea to freeze its nuclear buildup with verifiable inspections and the United States removed its troops from the peninsula, but such a deal seemed remote. Given that China is not likely to do much more on North Korea, and that the logic of mutually assured destruction was its own source of restraint, Bannon saw no reason not to proceed with tough trade sanctions against China. Contrary to Trump’s threat of fire and fury, Bannon said: ‘There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us’ [emphasis added]. Bannon went on to describe his battle inside the administration to take a harder line on China trade, and not to fall into a trap of wishful thinking in which complaints against China’s trade practices now had to take a backseat to the hope that China, as honest broker, would help restrain Kim. ‘To me,’ Bannon said, ‘the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we’re five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we’ll never be able to recover”.
Also interesting in that article was Bannon’s strategy on challenging free trade: “Bannon explained that his strategy is to battle the trade doves inside the administration while building an outside coalition of trade hawks that includes left as well as right”. Bannon also denounced “ethno-nationalism” and identity politics:
“‘Ethno-nationalism—it’s losers. It’s a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more. These guys are a collection of clowns’….‘The Democrats,’ he said, ‘the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats’”.
Even more arresting was Bannon’s apparent condemnation of the Trump presidency, once he was finally out of the White House. In another of the key articles on Bannon’s ouster, “Bannon: ‘The Trump Presidency That We Fought For, and Won, Is Over’,” we read the following words from Bannon:
“‘The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over. We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency. But that presidency is over. It’ll be something else. And there’ll be all kinds of fights, and there’ll be good days and bad days, but that presidency is over’”.
Continuing with the subject of Bannon’s departure, in a stinging rebuke of Trump The American Conservative’s Robert W. Merry wrote the following in “Bannon Firing Proves Trump is Winging It—He risks having no base from which to build, no prospect for governance”:
“It’s beginning to appear that Trump doesn’t see much of anything with precision or clarity when it comes to the fundamental question of how to govern based on how he campaigned. He is merely a battery of impulses, devoid of any philosophical coherence or intellectual consistency”.
As if to prove Merry right, we would soon see Bannon backing a candidate in a primary—Judge Roy Moore—against a candidate backed by Trump, and then beating the candidate Trump endorsed, who also had millions of dollars more to spend on the campaign. Suddenly, Trump’s words mattered little to his supporters who, as polls mentioned earlier showed, began drifting away. Bannon promised an insurgency against the GOP establishment, that Trump protected after supposedly defeating them with his successful candidacy—and now Bannon proved he would have to be taken seriously.
By the very end of August, another important departure from the White House was announced, this time by Trump’s Deputy Assistant, Sebastian Gorka. In a letter to Trump, published by The Federalist (“Breaking: Sebastian Gorka Resigns From Trump Administration”), Gorka indicted the powers behind Trump, and specifically their resulting policy on Afghanistan:
“Regrettably, outside of yourself, the individuals who most embodied and represented the policies that will ‘Make America Great Again,’ have been internally countered, systematically removed, or undermined in recent months. This was made patently obvious as I read the text of your speech on Afghanistan this week….when discussing our future actions in the region, the speech listed operational objectives without ever defining the strategic victory conditions we are fighting for. This omission should seriously disturb any national security professional, and any American who is unsatisfied with the last 16 years of disastrous policy decisions which have led to thousands of Americans killed and trillions of taxpayer dollars spent in ways that have not brought security or victory”.
Neil Clark’s “The Empire Strikes Back: with destructive and dishonest neocolonialism,” apparently inspired by the latest round of US threats against Venezuela, managed to pack a lot into a relatively short space. This is one of the striking passages:
“At least the British Empire—which at its peak covered almost a quarter of the world’s land surface, acknowledged it was an Empire. Today’s more shadowy Empire of Globalized Monopoly Finance-Capital does no such thing. Entire countries, such as Yugoslavia, Libya, and Iraq, are destroyed for not toeing the line, while those which continue to defy the neocon/neoliberal elites, such as Venezuela, are under a state of permanent siege.To add insult to injury this new wave of colonization, carried out to benefit the richest people in the richest countries in the world, is done in the name of ‘democracy’ and ‘advancing human rights’ and has the enthusiastic support of many self-styled ‘progressives.’ The hypocrisy of today’s imperialists who lambaste Venezuela’s Maduro for being a ‘dictator’ but who hail the unelected hereditary rulers of Saudi Arabia as they sell them deadly weaponry is truly breathtaking.”
Though mentioned before, it was in August—and with reference to Bannon’s exit—that we read John Lee’s important piece, “Americans did not elect Donald Trump to expand foreign military intervention”:
“US President Donald Trump is finding his campaign promises increasingly difficult to fulfill, but his leaning towards military interventionism could be the most fundamental breach of trust for his Rust Belt supporters. Across the globe, we see potential new Trump foreign military actions or the expansion of old ones. The US leader recently made threats of US military action in Venezuela and North Korea (of the nuclear variety), US operations in Syria were ratcheted up and there has been pressure from his advisers to expand rather than scale back US operations in Afghanistan. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The latest sacked apparatchik to emerge blinking into the light from the bunker of Trump’s White House, Steve Bannon, admitted on Friday that the Trump Presidency was ‘over’. And Trump’s former chief strategist was no ordinary adviser. Bannon most ably articulated what Trump and his supporters stood for”.
Also for this month, on the identity politics front, see Robert Bridge’s “Welcome to Charlottesville – proof that political correctness is wrecking America” and Pat Buchanan’s “America’s Second Civil War”.
In what should have buried the anti-Russia conspiracy theories, The Nation published “A New Report Raises Big Questions About Last Year’s DNC Hack,” which is essential reading. With respect to the transnational capitalist connections of the Trump presidency, see: “Trump Administration Ethics Entanglements: 9 Officials Getting Lobbied By Previous Employers”. And, in a preview of a wave of censorship that would strike across the Internet—in the deceitful name of fighting “fake news” and “Russian meddling”—see: “The US Senate is trying to brand WikiLeaks a ‘hostile intelligence service’—whatever that means”.
Finally, well worth reading twice was Peter Beinart’s essay, “How the Democrats Lost Their Way on Immigration,” offering a major dose of insider “reality checking” among liberal ranks:
“In 2005, a left-leaning blogger wrote, ‘Illegal immigration wreaks havoc economically, socially, and culturally; makes a mockery of the rule of law; and is disgraceful just on basic fairness grounds alone.’ In 2006, a liberal columnist wrote that ‘immigration reduces the wages of domestic workers who compete with immigrants’ and that ‘the fiscal burden of low-wage immigrants is also pretty clear.’ His conclusion: ‘We’ll need to reduce the inflow of low-skill immigrants.’ That same year, a Democratic senator wrote, ‘When I see Mexican flags waved at proimmigration demonstrations, I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment. When I’m forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration.’ The blogger was Glenn Greenwald. The columnist was Paul Krugman. The senator was Barack Obama”.
In September, Donald Trump turned North Korea into what would remain for 2017 a dangerously obsessive focus, confirming the worst fears about his presidency. On September 19, Trump distinguished himself by delivering what will probably go down in history as the most execrable speech ever delivered at the UN. Speaking at the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Trump spoke as if powered by an unrestrained bloodlust. His address mixed gloating with threats and standard US propaganda that echoed speeches of his predecessors. In that speech, while somehow promising to value sovereignty, Trump not only attacked Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, and Iran, but he also threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea. The threat to totally annihilate 26 million people, was uttered to the gasps of an audience in a hall that was supposed to promote world peace. Not even at the height of the Cold War would the most bellicose of US presidents have ever dared to utter such promises of total genocide. With just two words, Trump effectively terminated any pretence of the US ever credibly using “soft power” again. Elsewhere, Trump threatened “fire and fury upon North Korea like the world has never seen”—except that North Korea had already seen it, when the US killed off a third of its population during the Korean War and turned its cities into rubble. If anything, Trump proved North Korea right: that it was right to arm itself, to arm itself heavily, and to be prepared to defend itself against the very worst…only, this time, the US would be putting its own cities in jeopardy. Indeed, by the end of the month Trump was effectively declaring war on North Korea, by virtue of some intemperate and reckless statements that committed the US to wiping out North Korea’s political leadership, soon.
World reaction to Trump’s speech tended to appropriately depict an ignorant American savage at the helm of a nuclear stockpile. Speaking at the same UN session, Czech Republic President Milos Zeman stated, among other criticisms: “The speech reminded me of a teacher publicly handing out grades to misbehaving students. But the international community should not be a relationship between master and student. Either we are all teachers or all students”. Venezuela’s President, Nicolas Maduro, called Trump “a new Hitler”. Iran called Trump’s speech “shameless and ignorant”. In the UK’s The Guardian, “A blunt, fearful rant: Trump’s UN speech left presidential norms in the dust,” Julian Borger wrote: “His maiden address was unlike any delivered by a US president, and when it was over a sense of incoherence and menace hung in the air”.
To the extent that polls are credible, one reported by CBS showed that the public seriously disagreed with Trump’s approach to North Korea: “Most Americans continue to see North Korea as a threat that can be contained, though the number who say it requires military action has risen slightly in recent weeks. A majority disapprove of President Trump’s handling of the situation, and more voice concern that the U.S. would go to war too quickly than too slowly”.
Perhaps the most important article for this month was by Dr. Sreeram Chaulia—read in full, twice, “The international isolation of Donald Trump,” which concludes as follows:
“So far, the damage Trump has done to US alliances is not in the zone of total unraveling. All the aforementioned allies and partners are wary but not yet lost irretrievably from an American standpoint. Some partners are reluctantly renegotiating terms with Trump while trying to wait out his presidency and hoping for a return to the old, assuring liberal hegemonic America in the future. Gideon Rose has argued in Foreign Affairs that having been inured to open-ended US support for over half a century, ‘major US allies couldn’t return easily to a self-help system, even if they wanted to.’ But if Turkey’s turn to Russia is an early gauge of things to come, the unthinkable could well happen by the time Trump hangs up his boots. A wave of allies choosing autonomy over suffocating dependence is on the cards”.
Also deserving special mention for this month was Paul Street’s thorough critique: “Race v. Class? More Brilliant Bourgeois Bullshit from Ta-Nehesi Coates”. That was apparently offered as an early Christmas present.
A dizzying downward spiral into chaos, might be an understatement in describing events in October. These events included Trump’s continued threats against North Korea; Trump beginning to break up the Iran nuclear agreement; increased US hostility toward Russia and imposing restrictions on the operations of RT in the US; the attempt by Catalonia to peacefully gain independence from Spain, only to be met with brutal repression; and, the significant advance of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the German elections (destabilizing established political arrangements in the country to the end of the year)—and that was just for the first half of the month. By the end of the month, the US seemed to be provoking a trade war with Canada over Bombardier’s sales of passenger aircraft in the US, which aggravated the existing tensions over NAFTA and US attempts to penetrate the Canadian dairy market. As if to mimic Reagan, Trump once again withdrew the US from UNESCO. President Trump’s spurious “decertification” of Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement marked the first step in a possible US violation of the treaty, which was widely rejected by key US allies and all parties to the agreement. The Venezuelan ruling party’s overwhelming success in winning regional elections took a large bite out of US attempts to interfere in the country’s political process and to create conditions for regime change.
On North Korea, the dangerous aftermath of Trump’s threats at the UN continued to unfold. In a meeting with military leaders at the White House, Trump seemed to delight in making ominous threats:
“‘You guys know what this represents?’ Trump said after journalists gathered in the White House state dining room to photograph him and first lady Melania Trump with the uniformed military leaders and their spouses. ‘Maybe it’s the calm before the storm,’ he said. What storm? ‘You’ll find out,’ Trump told questioning reporters”.
In what at first appeared to be a credible interpretation—Senator Bob Corker’s assertion that Trump’s reckless threats put the US “on the path to World War III,” constituting October’s bruising public spat for Trump—the credibility wore thin when Corker also asserted that it was the generals in the White House who were somehow “restraining” Trump. However, the generals’ own statements on North Korea, both in this and the following months, clearly show from where the pro-war push comes in the White House, and who is clearly shaping Trump’s opinions (when North Korea was never a campaign issue for Trump). In fact, just a day after the “calm before the storm” comment by Trump, Defense Secretary James Mattis told the US Army’s annual meeting in early October that,
“there’s one thing the U.S. Army can do, and that is you have got to be ready to ensure that we have military options that our president can employ if needed. But that means the U.S. Army must stand ready, and so, if you’re ready, that’s your duty at this point in time. And I know the Army will always do its duty”.
(The peculiar nature of Mattis’ statements, which seemed to elude public commentary, is that they seem directed at quelling discontent about possible nuclear war, within the military’s own ranks—otherwise, why remind soldiers of their duty?) Not long after Mattis, Trump’s National Security Advisor, H.R. McMaster, spoke at the “Foundation for Defense of Democracies,” asserting that the “only acceptable outcome” for the US was the total “denuclearization” of North Korea—in other words, for North Korea to remain permanently vulnerable to US blackmail and aggression, without the ability to defend itself. Would the US accept any nation telling it to disarm even though it, unlike North Korea, is a proven threat to world peace? By the end of the month it was Mattis—not Trump—who was back implying that North Korea risked “preemptive” nuclear annihilation, as he declared that the DPRK’s nuclear program was “reducing its security”. While in South Korea, Mattis preposterously affirmed, “Our goal is not war, but rather the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”—an objective that could only be reached through war, since North Korea is not prepared to leave itself undefended, having learned all too well the lessons of disarmament in Libya and Iraq. Now Iran’s experience also showed the US could not be trusted to uphold any diplomatic agreements it signed.
By mid-October, Kim In-ryong, North Korea’s deputy UN ambassador warned the UN General Assembly that tensions with the US had “reached the touch-and-go point and a nuclear war may break out any moment,” adding that North Korea is the only country in the world subjected to “such an extreme and direct nuclear threat” by the US. As if to point out the obvious, which the US leadership insisted on missing, North Korea’s leaders said that the only path away from nuclear war would be for the US to accept the fact of a nuclear North Korea.
October was memorable for other events—not least of which was the US isolating itself on Iran—and included the complete fall to ruin of the Democrats’ “Russia collusion” narrative, to the point that the narrative was now being used against the Clintons, none of which gets the space here that they deserve. Instead, I want to draw attention to some noteworthy essays for the month.
Among the noteworthy articles for October, dealing with North Korea, was former US president Jimmy Carter’s “What I’ve Learned From North Korea’s Leaders”:
“As the world knows, we face the strong possibility of another Korean war, with potentially devastating consequences to the Korean Peninsula, Japan, our outlying territories in the Pacific and perhaps the mainland of the United States. This is the most serious existing threat to world peace, and it is imperative that Pyongyang and Washington find some way to ease the escalating tension and reach a lasting, peaceful agreement….What the [North Korean] officials have always demanded is direct talks with the United States, leading to a permanent peace treaty to replace the still-prevailing 1953 cease-fire that has failed to end the Korean conflict. They want an end to sanctions, a guarantee that there will be no military attack on a peaceful North Korea, and eventual normal relations between their country and the international community”.
Speaking from the depths of the neocon desert, John McCain’s and George W. Bush’s odes to imperialist domination were two speeches that attracted wide attention in October—and the applause of supposed liberals and leftists in the US, ever so eager to validate anything remotely anti-Trump even if it validated the Iraq and Libya war disasters. What the celebratory articles of course failed to notice is the imperialist nostalgia at the heart of both speeches, the desire to make America great again by reaffirming its imperial Manifest Destiny, and the fact that such speeches even needed to be made, a sign of a decadent orthodoxy that hopes to win the day by repeating the tired old “truths” of the past. Thus, see for example The Washington Post’s “George W. Bush’s unmistakable takedown of Trumpism—and Trump”. That echoed an earlier article in the same “newspaper,” which ran this breathlessly juvenile headline: “John McCain just systematically dismantled Donald Trump’s entire worldview”. For a more intelligent and useful analysis of McCain’s speech, read instead Paul Gottfried’s “McCain’s Anti-Trump Broadside a Half-Baked Brief For Empire—What does ‘spurious nationalism’ really mean?”:
“Those who aren’t of the same persuasion as McCain, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and Bill Kristol’s Weekly Standard might be puzzled as to how the senator can get away with attacking American nationalism while at the same time calling for an American imperial mission. Exhorting one’s country to advance its ideals and leadership across the globe, even against the wishes of those who don’t want this guidance, sounds very much like vintage Western imperialism….McCain’s remarks are mingled with verbal sloppiness, which either he or his speechwriter should have noticed and addressed. The senator decries ‘spurious nationalism,’ which makes one wonder whether he’s saying that he likes real nationalism but rejects the fake kind….”. (See also Andrew Bacevich’s “John McCain’s Tired Dogma”.)
Scott Taylor’s “Canada may have to answer for its role in Libya” was a rare gem for a Canadian media outlet:
“Although Libya is not in the news much these days, there have been some significant developments in that war-ravaged country of late, not the least of which is the release of Saif al-Islam Gadhafi from captivity last June. Gadhafi’s second-oldest son had been held prisoner by a militia group in the city of Zintan since his capture in the waning days of the civil war. Saif had always been seen as the heir to his father’s throne. Those familiar with the Libyan uprising of 2011 know that it was primarily an inter-tribal affair, aided and abetted by Islamic extremists and the might of NATO. The six years of subsequent anarchy have left Libya a failed state, with a citizenry longing for stability. For this reason alone, Saif has already become a political force on the embattled Libyan landscape. Last week he announced his intention to run in next year’s presidential election. With the backing of the Warfalla and Qadhadhfa tribes—Libya’s two most powerful tribes—and former loyalists of his father flocking to his banner, Saif has a strong shot at winning at the ballot box. If that scenario does evolve, Canada will have to do some serious soul-searching into our own allegedly lead role in that disastrous 2011 intervention. It is never too late for us to follow Britain’s lead in conducting an extensive parliamentary review into how we could have gotten it so wrong in Libya. So wrong that it looks like Gadhafi’s son will get the last laugh”. (See also: “Libya: Gaddafi’s Son and Heir Saif al-Islam Returns to Frontline Politics”.)
The Economist—not famous as a bastion of anti-war sentiment—published an unusual essay, “America’s love affair with uniformed men is problematic,” which received considerable condemnation from people at Fox News, in the form of knee jerk militarist slogans that rather proved one of the key points of the article: that the culture of military hero worship reflects a yawning divide between actual soldiers and the wider public, one that is unsustainable. The article offers an important conclusion (echoed by other sober analysts):
“The fact is, America’s foreign-policy doctrines envisage a degree of global dominance, based on military might, which its volunteer force is now too small to enforce. And to increase the force sufficiently, on current trends, appears unaffordable or impossible. ‘This force cannot carry out that foreign policy,’ concludes Andrew Bacevich, a historian and former army officer, who happens also to be a Gold Star father. This constitutes a looming crisis, which could logically end in one of two ways. Either America will have to reintroduce conscription. Or it must curtail its military ambitions. Neither outcome is palatable to American policymakers, however, so the problem is seldom discussed. Maintaining the happy delusion that America’s forces are ideal and irreproachable makes that easier. But reality cannot be deferred indefinitely”.
Elsewhere, Paul Street’s “The Not-So-Radical ‘Socialist’ From Vermont” raised significant questions about Bernie Sanders’ allegedly socialist program—for example, by justifying his proposals in terms of “boosting workers’ productivity” and “ensuring workers’ loyalty,” and “unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit”. Seen from this vantage point, Sanders shares a common ideological perception normally found at Fox News, that anything slightly pink, even barely “left” of laissez faire capitalism and unbridled plutocracy, is “socialist”. At the very least, Sanders’ own choice of terms reinforces the elites’ useful fiction.
Also deserving mention was Byron York’s “10 reasons to stay calm about those Russia Facebook ads”—showing a miniscule number of ads that “targeted” voters in key states, purchased for a paltry sum that could be rivalled by a single middle-class individual, hardly comparable to real electoral intervention, as routinely practiced by the US itself abroad (such as creating political parties, paying or even picking candidates, delaying elections when needed, paying for posters, radio and television ads, organizing rallies, planting propaganda in local newspapers, deposing democratically elected rulers through coups or invasions, and so forth).
President Trump spent nearly half the month in southeast Asia, in a 12-day tour of five nations, a trip with a bifurcated focus: opposing North Korea, while promoting US dominance in trade relationships. Trump’s speech on North Korea, delivered in South Korea, was an especially overblown piece of propaganda, even going as far as introducing the image of “bucket babies” (complementing the “incubator babies” myth invented about Iraqi forces). By the end of the month, Trump would baselessly reclassify North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, which apparently provoked an important new test on North Korea’s part, of an ICBM that could reach any city on the US mainland. Russia accused the US of looking for any pretext to destroy North Korea, in reaction to a particularly bloodthirsty presentation by US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, which resulted in no new action by the Security Council against North Korea. Meanwhile, the “Russia collusion” narrative continued to backfire on Democrats: now even White House chief of staff John Kelly called for a special counsel to investigate the Uranium One deal that took place under Obama and Hillary Clinton—with the Department of Justice later agreeing to direct federal prosecutors to examine unspecified “issues” with the deal. The Democrats further turned on each other, not just with the eruption of sexual scandals in their own ranks, but also with damning revelations published by former DNC chair Donna Brazile. As for Russia, after violating the premises of Russian diplomats in the US, the US imposed restrictions on RT, officially classing its US branch as an agent of a foreign power—a measure imposed on no other foreign state-owned media operating in the US, which includes the BBC, the CBC, and Al Jazeera. Apart from the notable exception of Tucker Carlson at Fox News (a rare figure for that network), virtually no one in the corporate US media bothered to comment on the obvious attempt by the US to intimidate and limit the work of journalists. Google, YouTube and Twitter all moved to impose restrictions on RT’s accounts—proving once more that “social media” are still fundamentally US media, serving as imperial proxies. Trump’s foreign policy on Russia is, according to the Russian Foreign Minister, barely distinguishable from Obama’s, reflecting an inertial continuation of Obama’s policies. Finally, it also became more than apparent by November that the US was in the process of losing two key satellites from its geopolitical orbit: the Philippines, and Turkey in particular, a NATO member. The Philippines turned to China and Russia for its arms supplies, while Turkey developed much closer relations with Russia on a variety of fronts, including Syria. On Syria, after the defeat of ISIS it appeared as if Trump’s policy was entering a dangerous, murky new phase of possibly permanent occupation—although this and this might suggest otherwise.
We might pause here to again reflect on how far “Trump 2017” turned from “Trump 2016”—the 2016 edition of Trump simply did not campaign on making North Korea the issue it has become. In fact, Trump appeared to push in the opposite direction. In 2016 he seemed to almost laugh off the prospect of any war with North Korea, keeping the US strictly out of the picture: if conflict between Japan and nuclear-armed North Korea were to break out, Trump said “it would be a terrible thing but if they do, they do. Good luck. Enjoy yourself, folks”. At the same time Trump complained about the US military presence in South Korea, and its costs, and added: “We can’t be the policeman of the world”. Did US allies need to have the US protecting them against North Korea? Trump back then argued: “the case could be made to let [Japan] protect themselves against North Korea, they’d probably wipe them out pretty quick”. Now, however, the US is suddenly indispensable once more. Back in 2016, North Korea’s leadership for its part let it be known that they hoped Trump would win the White House, as his occupancy would represent the best chance for North Korean engagement with the West. At the time a North Korean publication stated: “It turns out that Trump is not the rough-talking, screwy, ignorant candidate they say he is, but is actually a wise politician and a prescient presidential candidate”. A year later, North Korea was lambasting Trump as a complete dotard.
By the end of November, a new round of attention was directed at Libya’s markets for African slaves (see the earlier reports under April). It is not clear why attention would be magnified now, and not when it was reported earlier. However, in connection with this, see John Wight’s “Libya ‘Chose’ Freedom, Now It Has Slavery”; Jonathan Fenton-Harvey’s “The EU Created Libya’s Migrant Abuses, Now It Must Address Them”; and, in particular, Robin Philpot who appeared as a guest for two consecutive episodes of RT’s “Watching the Hawks” (Nov. 29, Nov. 30) to talk in detail about US and NATO intervention in Libya, across Africa, and the consequences bred by intervention that resulted in the reintroduction of slavery—you can watch it here:
A particularly important article appearing this month was Eva Bartlett’s “Absurdities of Syrian war propaganda”. Having to abridge the volumes of information she has accumulated over the years, Eva Bartlett begins with this succinct introduction:
“In Syria, there never was a ‘revolution.’ Instead, it was a premeditated war on Syria by foreign powers (namely the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and Israel) who armed even Al-Qaeda (something Qatar recently admitted). In support of the conflict comes some of the most egregious war propaganda, endorsed by media, Hollywood celebs, and faux human rights groups. The following is a brief outline of some of the most obvious hoax personalities and purveyors of misinformation on Syria.”
Peter Apps’ “Commentary: The truth behind the U.S. show of force in Asia,” one of November’s more important articles, detailed the extent of US military overstretch and how unsustainable it has become:
“Getting three carriers to the Pacific has been an intrinsic part of Washington’s strategy to intimidate North Korea. But to do so required pulling forces from a host of other potential conflict areas, including the Gulf. The ever-increasing demand for military resources in a growing number of places is causing increased concern in the U.S. military. In June, a report by the U.S. Army War College described America’s military clout as ‘fraying’ and bluntly concluded that the era of U.S. global military primacy that followed the fall of the Berlin wall was over. America’s armed forces have a variety of strategies to tackle that decline but the truth is that coming wars will look very different from the sort of military deployments taken for granted in the recent past…. In the aftermath of 9/11, America’s conventional military capability was narrowly focused on a handful of locations, primarily Iraq and Afghanistan. The resources plowed into them were stupendous—$5.6 trillion so far, academics at Brown University estimated this month. That would imply a cost per individual U.S. taxpayer of more than $23,000, including future care for veterans. At their height, those wars dominated U.S. military thinking, planning and workload in a way that is hard to overstate. Working from Pentagon figures, the Brown researchers estimate that some 2.7 million American service personnel passed through those two countries in that time, more than half of them deploying more than once. Officially, however, these conflicts were never seen as endless wars – the hope was always that one last surge of troops would win the day and allow a larger withdrawal. That didn’t happen, and U.S. military planners now assume there will be a substantial presence in Iraq, Afghanistan and several other countries for years, if not decades, to come….Washington’s military capabilities still dwarf anyone else’s. But it now faces a very real danger that its foes may be able to bleed it to death without ever confronting it in battle”.
A regular source of informative, critical articles is Daniel Larison at The American Conservative. See his article, published in this month, “Trump’s North Korea Policy Is Divorced from Reality”:
“North Korea has said many times that its nuclear weapons and missile programs are not up for discussion. They consider them essential to their regime’s survival, and nothing Trump said in this speech would give them any incentive to give them up. On the contrary, Trump’s rhetoric implies that the U.S. might very well attack North Korea, which makes their nuclear arsenal and missiles all the more valuable to Kim as a deterrent”. (See also Larison’s “The Madness of Attacking North Korea”; “Trump’s Anti-Restraint Foreign Policy”; and, “Our Bankrupt Approach to North Korea”.)
Also worth mentioning is Patrick Buchanan’s “Nobody’s Quaking in Their Boots, Anymore,” which begins with a grim conclusion:
“A major goal of this Asia trip, said National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, is to rally allies to achieve the ‘complete, verifiable and permanent denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.’ Yet Kim Jong Un has said he will never give up his nuclear weapons. He believes the survival of his dynastic regime depends upon them. Hence we are headed for confrontation. Either the U.S. or North Korea backs down, as Nikita Khrushchev did in the Cuban missile crisis, or there will be war”.
Just as troubling was Evan Osnos’ “Is the Political Class Drifting Toward War with North Korea?”:
“Chalk it up to Trump fatigue or North Korea fatigue, or a combination of the two, but members of America’s political class—the “blob” of government officials, donors, and media types—have started to talk about war with Pyongyang as an increasingly likely prospect. Last week, I spoke to a former Cabinet secretary, a Democrat, who told me that if he were in the government today he would support attacking North Korea, in order to prevent it from launching a strike on America. This was not a vox-pop interview at the mall with a casual news consumer; it was a conversation with a seasoned American official who is inexpert on Asia but otherwise well informed and influential. It was a worrisome indicator not because the former secretary is privy to secret information—by his account, he is not—but, rather, because it reflects an emerging bout of groupthink that needs to be checked”.
In “Poll: Americans Skeptical of U.S. Military Interventions,” if the results are accurate, then the war-mongering from the White House is on the wrong side of US voters:
“Americans are uncertain that recent U.S. military interventions and overseas commitments have achieved positive results for the country, one of a range of findings in a new survey sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute and RealClearPolitics. The poll, conducted late last month, sampled two groups: the general population and current and former military service members. While 71 percent of all those polled agree that the threat of terrorism has increased over the last two decades, pluralities of both groups—41 percent of military/veterans and 43 percent of the general population—believe that U.S. intervention has rendered the country less secure. Forty percent of each group also say that it has had the same negative effect on the international community”.
Coverage of this month is necessarily incomplete, as this report was finalized by the middle of December. The month began with a renewal of the neocon interventionist dogma of pre-emptive war, spoken by US Senator Lindsey Graham with reference to North Korea, when he not only claimed to know that war with North Korea had become more likely, he appeared to be urging it. After months of characterizing Trump as dangerously unstable, and spreading rumours that members of the White House staff, or key generals in the military would act to prevent Trump from launching a nuclear first strike on North Korea—the media largely offered nothing except respectful deference to Graham’s plain call for outright war. The same was true when H.R. McMaster and Nikki Haley also issued shrill statements backing the annihilation of North Korea, and for doing so soon. In this connection it is worth reading Robert Bridge’s “How to make quick peace with North Korea: Let Lindsey Graham move to Seoul”. Keeping in mind that when Russia conducts military exercises, within its own borders, the event is classed as “Russian aggression” in Western media—the US launched yet another round of apparently unceasing military exercises in South Korea this month. How these are classed as “exercises” and not “aggression” by our media, when the US is clearly acting far beyond its borders and heightening tensions to the point where they could boil over to produce an international cataclysm, is beyond belief. The US and other Western corporate media must stop complaining about the “post-truth” environment where “fake news” predominates, since they are the guiltiest of all culprits in creating the problem, and their laments strike many as self-serving hypocrisy, which further undermines their credibility.
Three other events became internationally prominent in this period. One was Russia’s declaration that Syria was now fully liberated of all ISIS terrorists, an announcement that officially recognized that Syria was well on its way to completely winning its war against extremists in what has been misrepresented as a “civil war”. The second critical development, one that continues to create shock waves, was President Trump’s entirely unnecessary and internationally illegal recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Once again, Trump managed to produce isolation through international engagement and US “leadership”—with not a single US ally (apart from Israel) failing to condemn Trump’s action. For once, Nikki Haley was put on the defensive at the UN Security Council, appearing as a novice, an ideological simpleton, unable to cope with a wall of stony stares amid rounds of denunciation. Only once on friendly territory, at Fox News, was she able to recompose herself, though her excessive smiling was cloying, insincere, and a reflection of her insecurity. The final series of major events for this part of December hinged on reports of the FBI not only covering up and whitewashing Hillary Clinton and her staff’s illegal transgressions, but also of a biased, partisan force that was “investigating” the Trump team’s supposed collusion with Russia, with the overwhelming majority of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team consisting of those who financially donated to the Clinton campaign. The resulting picture so far is indisputably that of a rogue secret police, allied to the ousted party, doing whatever it could to engineer a pre-coup, or to put into effect the foundations for regime change within the US in the near future.
Finally, muted news that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered North Korea direct talks, without preconditions, was a barely hopeful sign. Tillerson was immediately contradicted by White House officials (yet again), and within a few days Tillerson publicly reversed himself, claiming that North Korea had to “earn” its way to talks–as if there were only one belligerent side to this conflict. Continuing to undermine diplomacy has thus far been a hallmark of the Trump administration, refusing all suggestions advanced by China and Russia for a freeze in US military exercises in South Korea in return for a freeze in North Korea’s testing. No rational, intelligent reason has been advanced for the US’ refusal.
Concluding 2017: The Top Five, and Looking Forward to 2018
By the time this report was finished, the US Congress had failed to do anything about the Iran nuclear deal, thus returning the whole issue back to President Trump, who had vowed to tear it up if Congress did nothing. Instead, there was silence from Trump. If Trump proves to be all bark and no bite, then we may have a lot less to worry about in terms of the US-manufactured conflict with North Korea—perhaps Trump and Kim Jong-un have agreed to simply trade loud insults and empty threats. This would be the hopeful view of things. We do have evidence from other arenas where Trump blows hard and loud about one issue, only to direct attention away from a quiet, subterranean effort in another field. Trump is not given much credit as a wily and crafty actor, a denial which comes at the peril of his detractors.
If, on the other hand, Trump does terminate US participation in the Iran nuclear agreement, we will enter a significant new phase. It is not Iran that will be isolated, it will be the US. Moreover, Iran would then be not just justified, but free to expand its nuclear program, and US allies would be less likely to impose sanctions. Meanwhile, giant US corporations like Boeing will lose lucrative contracts with Iran. Isolation through engagement. North Korea for its part would be able to turn and point to Trump’s abrogation as further clear evidence that no US diplomatic efforts could be trusted, likely accelerating the momentum towards outright war.
That takes us to the worst case, which would be a US build-up to war with Iran, while at the same time escalating tensions with North Korea to the point of direct military conflict. In the event of the latter, not only will tens of millions of lives be ended on the Korean peninsula, it is also quite possible that several major US cities will be reduced to dust, ending the lives not just of many millions of Americans, but also ending any semblance of the US as a world power, or even as a surviving nation. Is Trump ready to spend his remaining days sheltered in a secret underground bunker? Who would even want to share that space with the person responsible for such a holocaust? That we should even have such a discussion is a reflection of the extreme instability introduced by no one other than Trump and his generals.
Aside from all this, one of the remarkable features of 2017—as the selection of articles above showed—is that one could still manage to scrape up a sizeable collection of informative and intelligently critical essays and reports from US sources. That is despite the nearly total predominance of third-rate ideological garbage that is the norm for US media (not that Canada performs better, by any means).
Finally, after reviewing all of the articles mentioned above, I extracted the following list of those articles which I would recommend the most, as some of the best work made available online in 2017 that helped us to better comprehend events throughout the year, their interconnections, and their historical roots:
Damon Hatheway: “2017 Should Be a Year of Atonement for Many Liberals”
Angela Nagle: “Enemies of the People—How hatred of the masses bridges our partisan divide”
Diana Johnstone: “The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty”
Christopher Caldwell: “The French, Coming Apart” (special mention: “Sending Jobs Overseas,” by the same author)
John Pilger: “This Week the Issue is Not Trump. It is Ourselves”
5 thoughts on “Populism, Nationalism, Globalization, and Imperialism: A Thick Review of 2017”
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Thank you Max! Happy 10th anniversary! Keep it up! All the best for 2018 & always!
Maximilian C. Forte
Thank you Sima, and very best wishes for the new year!
One More by MaxF: https://fabiusmaximus.com/2017/12/28/maximilian-forte-and-cultural-appropriation/
On Thu, Dec 28, 2017 at 7:28 AM, ZERO ANTHROPOLOGY wrote:
> Maximilian C. Forte posted: “In memory of Edward S. Herman b. April 7, > 1926, d. November 11, 2017 An inspiration that lives on, may he rest in > eternal peace. From provoking potential war with North Korea, to the > fabricated US hysteria and fear-mongering about Russia, to the deluge” >
Reblogged this on Blinded by the Darkness and commented:
Worth the effort …
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