American Turmoil: A Vice-Presidential Coup – And Now a Grassroots CounterRevolution?
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page, Special Article June 18 2007, http://www.thestatesman.net
The Cold War was lost by Soviet and East European communism, and the laurelled victor was the USA along with its loyal allies. Russia and East Europe then transformed themselves. Once there had been Dubcek in the Prague Spring and Sakharov in his apartment. Then there was Lech Walesa the electrician, who, on 14 August 1980, climbed over a fence and led an 18-day strike from which arose the first independent trade union ~ Walesa said “the very basic things: he stood on the shipyard gate and called things by their real names”. Then came Gorbachov and Yeltsin. The despised Berlin Wall was smashed into small saleable bits in November 1989 and people just walked across. That was the end of communism. An unknown student stood down the tanks in Tiananmen Square — though a dozen years earlier the death-watch of Chinese communism had begun with Wei Jingsheng’s “Democracy Wall”. Communist apparatchiks everywhere (except New Delhi and Kolkata) started to unlearn communism; communist societies and economies began to be placed on a road to health and taken off the road to misery.
What happened to the victors? Germany quietly unified. Italy‘s politics stabilised a little. France achieved its wish of being undominated in Europe. Britain, already forlorn from loss of empire, was left trying to arbitrage between Europe and America (though there too there was new competition from the Irish Republic).
Some political learning, reconciliation and growth took place in Europe but there was none in America ~ the biggest victor of all, the one country but for whose efforts all of Europe might have become and remained communist. Instead, the USA chose to gorge itself on self-accolades, bloated, then started to choke on its own hubris.
The result is that as the 2008 Presidential election campaign gets underway, and the Second Iraq War is at its peak, America’s polity at its highest level may be in turmoil of a sort not seen since the student revolts at the peak of the Vietnam War.
Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were an interregnum after the Vietnam and Watergate traumas. It was during the Reagan “restoration” that communism collapsed and Osama bin Laden was befriended. Carter’s military mission to rescue American hostages in Iran notoriously failed; Reagan restored American pride by sending in the US Army’s crack Rangers to defeat an almost non-existent enemy ~ in Grenada. It was the first successful American military action in a long time. But there was also failure in Beirut where Reagan withdrew after 241 US soldiers were killed by a suicide-bomber.
George Bush Sr glided into the Presidency in Reagan’s wake. He felt sure of being re-elected when Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait gave him a war with which to seal his chances. For his part, Saddam had primly and properly called in the US Ambassador to Iraq, the top career diplomat April Glaspie, and told her he had accounts to settle with Kuwait over the Iran-Iraq war. Glaspie, under instructions of the Bush-Baker State Department, famously told him the USA had no opinion on inter-Arab conflicts. Saddam took this to be a green signal, or at least not a red signal, from America and went ahead with his attack on Kuwait.
The American President worked himself into an angry indignation ~ and soon there were large numbers of American troops in Saudi Arabia, soon Iraq was forced to retreat with thousands slaughtered in a turkey-shoot from the air, soon there would be severe sanctions and bombings by the USA and UK. Bush was sure he would be re-elected in 1992, and indeed he led all the polls ~ except an oddball surprise Ross Perot pulled away his votes, and caused the third man running, a young governor of a minor State, to push through to victory instead. Bill Clinton was as surprised as anyone that he was President of the USA in 1992. Dissimulation and mendacity reached new heights during his time yet he came to be re-elected in 1996.
Osama bin Laden started to rant against his former ally. Remove your troops from our holy land, he said. Clinton and Madelaine (“It’s worth it”) Albright continued to bomb Saddam instead ~ who after all had launched a few backward Scuds at Israel during the First Iraq War of 1991. Somehow or other, Osama and/or someone else then designed the destruction of Manhattan’s tallest buildings on September 11 2001; it remains unclear what projectile hit the Pentagon or exactly what happened over a field in Pennsylvania the same morning. The mass murder of thousands remains unsolved.
America, under Bush’s elder son, attacked Osama’s hosts in Afghanistan (but not so as to upset their common Pakistani friends too much), then turned their really motivated firepower against their old foe, Saddam Hussein. Iraq by the summer of 2003 was destroyed as a nation-state, and today in 2007 under American occupation has been almost wholly destroyed as a culture and a society. The new US Embassy in Baghdad is as large as the Vatican. Fourteen permanent American military bases have been built. The US Government has spoken of moving troops from Saudi Arabia to Iraq, and of being in Iraq for ever on the Korean pattern.
United States history and political culture had never seen a Vice President as being anything more than an invisible silent shadow of the President of the land. That has changed drastically. Indeed in recent months there has been much serious Washington talk of the incumbent Vice President having unlawfully usurped political power from the President himself. Cheney’s people throughout the Bush Administration have been in almost open battle against the official foreign and diplomatic policy of Condoleeza Rice and the professional military represented by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Before the attack on Iraq they had overturned the CIA’s official intelligence assessments. There is a general perception that Cheney’s people have been far shrewder and more experienced of the Washington Beltway than Bush’s.
Attack on Iran?
Now the central issue has been whether to attack Iran, and if so how and when. Cheney’s people and their think-tank friends are determined America must do so, perhaps with a new Netanyahu Government in Israel early in 2008 or sooner. The President was apparently warned by his generals in December 2006 that such an attack would gravely endanger the supply lines of US troops who would face a Shia insurrection in Iraq; that may have been the sole reason no attack occurred, and also one reason for the present infantry “surge”. Three aircraft carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf indicate a potential strike, and that level of force has been coming and going from there for months.
The main Democratic Presidential candidates, especially Mrs Clinton, have said nuclear weapons are “not off the table” in reference to striking Iran without provocation. Nine out of ten of the Republican Presidential candidates agree. The exception is Ron Paul who has recognised the United States was not intended by its founders to be launching aggressive nuclear war against non-nuclear countries in the 21st Century. The Reagan-era economist Paul Craig Roberts has said such war will leave America more reviled than Hitler’s Third Reich.
A grassroots democratic counter-revolution could be starting to overturn the elitist coup d’etat that may have occurred in Washington. “People power” beat organised State power in many times and places. Can it win here? Or could there be tanks in Dupont Circle forty years after the tanks in Wenceslas Square?
Preface June 28 2009: Sometime in the last decade (probably about 2001 or 2002),while a “full professor” at an “institution of national importance”, I was invited by a purported liberal/libertarian group in New Delhi to write a course I might like to teach in an academic but non-institutional setting. From my files today it would seem that I penned the following lines and sent it to them — no further reply was received and it would not surprise me in the slightest if my ideas were simply stolen and used without acknowledgement by some or other nefarious character keen to spend some foreign donor’s funds. I have had a lot of things stolen over the years by a lot of nefarious characters, emerging mostly out of New Delhi, intellectual property only being one such class. (A notorious example was back in 1981-1982 when a person who had been sent my Cambridge doctoral thesis to read anonymously by a prominent British press, decided to alter his professional life based upon what he read; an even earlier example was when I was a visiting assistant professor in Delhi and yet to finish my doctoral thesis — a colleague who had been asked by me to read a chapter of my work on “dual economies” and comment on it, instead copied it and built a career thereupon!) A full and proper inventory of all this has yet to be made; in the meantime, here is the course I might have taught but never did, which may still be usefully read and made practical subject to the normal “fair use” rule that governs this site. I have taught so many academic courses at different universites over 30 years that I am quite happy to gradually release them all publicly as time permits. In this particular case, any close student of my published writings may easily surmise perhaps the contents of several of the putative lectures, especially 9-13.
“Freedom, Reason & Wealth in India and the West
The aim of this course will be to introduce Indian teachers (perhaps high school teachers, perhaps college teachers, perhaps a mix of both) and/or perhaps young(under 40) Indian legislators (members of provincial legislatures or parliament) to some of the major landmarks of the best of Western classical liberal thought in economics and political philosophy, and to re-examine Indian economic and political experience in its light. India, though rich in religious traditions, has not herself had notably strong traditions in economics or political philosophy. It is expected the course will be one-semester long, and consist of about 14 sessions of perhaps three hours each. If circumstances do not permit this, a course for 7 or 14 days may be planned as an alternative, with greater preparation expected of the participants….. The model for the course may be…(liberal/libertarian)… seminars attended at Oxford, England (1980); Blacksburg, Virginia (1981); Menlo Park, California (1983).
The proposed sessions are as follows:
01. Ancient Indians & Ancient Greeks: Differences in the Quest?
02. Freedom and Intolerance in India’s Religions
03. Western Renaissance and Enlightenment during India’s Dark Ages: from scholasticism to mercantilism to the physiocrats and Adam Smith, to JS Mill to Alfred Marshall, Wicksell and Von Mises
04. Western political freedom in India’s Enlightenment and Nationalist Movement, 1835-1947
05. Western socialism and communism and their impact on Indian Nationalism in the 20th Century
06. Socialist Economics in Practice in India: Did Economic Inequality Decrease?
07. Liberal Dissenters in India: Rajagopalachari, Shenoy, Masani, the Forum of Free Enterprise
08. The Resurgence of Western Classical Liberalism after World War II: Hayek, Friedman, Buchanan
09. The Origins of the 1991 Economic Liberalization in India
10. Successes and Failures in the Transition Towards a Liberal Society in India, 1991-2001
11. The Corrosive Effect of Corruption in Modern India: is Government too Weak or too Strong or both?
12. Fiscal and Monetary Problems in Modern India: the Monetisation of Inefficient Government Spending
13. Towards Liberal Solutions to the Conflict between India and Pakistan: the Problem of Jammu & Kashmir
14. Freedom, Reason and Wealth in India and the West: Overview and Conclusions
Tentative Reading List: To be sent tomorrow”